Feel free to copy me

In my last blog I discussed David’s census. One of the most common responses to the conflicting numbers presented is “copyist error.” In fact, the entire field of textual criticism centers around “copyist error” and attempting to determine what is, and what is not, an error introduced by a person making a copy.

Once we concede that the manuscripts we have contain errors that were not in the original, it is difficult to be persuasive that the originals were either inerrant, or even inspired. How can we determine what we have now is error or not?

The census presents two different numbers as to how many people were counted. Same census, different numbers. A solution presented is that one of the persons copying the numbers, mis-wrote or made a mistake, and introduced error. The story presents two different years of famine for punishment, 3 or 7. Again, a simple solution being that a copyist, at some point, inadvertently put in a “3” for a “7.” (or vice versa if you prefer.)

These are numbers we can clearly see conflict. If the believer agrees that the numbers we see conflict were due to error, is it not equally as likely that numbers that stand alone may also contain copyist error? Is it persuasive that the ONLY numbers that ever had any copyist error are the ones that we just happen to catch by two differing accounts? Could a copyist, for example, bolstered some numbers, to make a story sound more dramatic? Have David killing 10’s of thousands?

And why should it be limited to numbers? We also see names that conflict. Certainly if a copyist can introduce error in a number, they equally can introduce error in names. Or what about geography? Abraham is reported as traveling as far as the city of Dan. (Gen. 14:14) The only problem is that “Dan” was named after one of the 12 tribes 500 years later! (Joshua 19:47) Now there are arguments that there was another Dan that disappeared (oddly, right in the same line as the subsequent Dan) or that the city name was changed from Dan to Leshem and then coincidently back to Dan.

The better argument is that the story of Abraham was not recorded until long after Dan was an established city, and the author simply used the then-modern name of the city. Or could this, too, be a copyist error? Some writer “correcting” a mistaken name, and putting in what they thought was the correct one?

You see, once we concede there are any copyist errors, without the originals to compare, the best we can do is extrapolate back to the closest copy to the original, and even that becomes a matter of speculation. All of which is well and fine, if we were talking about a human book. But Christians proclaim that the Bible is unique. Different. Divine. I thought the idea was to propel its divinity, not indicate it is comparable to human efforts. The worst arguments that the Bible is unique are the ones that say it is like everything else.

Remember the simple game of telephone? Where you have twenty people in a circle, and the first whispers something to the second, the second whispers what they heard to the third, and so on? By the twentieth, we hear how the sentence has changed dramatically, and laugh. Let’s take that one step further. Instead of a circle, imagine a hub of a wheel, with spokes out.

Assume that the originator provides a document to a person on the hub, call them person 1. Person 1 will provide a copy (or the original) to two People, Person 2 (also on the hub) and Person A (on a spoke.) Then Person(s) 2 and 1A will provide a copy (or the original) to two People, and so on. The question comes up, as to which is the better document? If Person 1A introduces an anomaly, but Person 2 is more accurate, Person 2A is more accurate, Person 3 is more accurate, than someone literally farther from the original could be more accurate than the copy received from Person 1A! Person 3A is four times removed from the original, Person 1A1 is three times removed, and more incorrect. If a person on a hub provides an error, then every person on that spoke will also have that error. If Person 1 introduces an anomaly, ALL of the copies will be modified.

You can start to conceptualize how an error, introduced, can grow fairly quickly. Even to the point that the witnesses in favor of the error could outnumber the original, still in existence! It gets worse. In telephone, Person number 15 has to wait for the whisper to reach them. But particularly in New Testament times, the statements contained in the books would be transported by word of mouth faster than in written form. In our exercise, Person 15 could receive the written copy from Person 14, and already have a pre-formed opinion as to what was contained in the writing. “No, that is not how I heard it, I should make a correction.”

And it is also true that these books were not created in a vacuum. It is possible that rather than one copy, a scribe could have been comparing two. Which brings into play the trouble of which one does the scribe rely upon if there was a conflict?

It is not until the Early Third Century that we begin to have large portions of scripture to begin to compare textually for these copyist errors. Do you know what percentage of the New Testament we have conclusively dated on Papyrus prior to the Third Century? A portion of 18 verses. That is it.

Depending on when one dates the books, this is a time of 100-150 years before we start to have large sections to compare! We do not know if we are looking at copies of an original, a copy of a copy, or a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy. We simply have no way of knowing.

In dating these books, we hear a made-up rule of thumb that there were 10 years between Mark and Matthew because that is a speculative guess as to how long it would take to make that copy. The first scrap we have with Mark (P45) is in the third century. Using a late date for Mark, say 70 CE, and an extremely early date for P45, say 200 CE, what happens when we apply this “rule of thumb”? It is a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy!

This is a bit of a hyperbole, of course, because we do NOT have a 10 year rule of thumb, and since Matthew and Luke copied Mark, we could say their first appearance validates Mark. I merely point that out to impress how little we know about the formation of these books at the most critical time of their compilation, and how we have no idea as to the number of copies (one? None? Twelve?) made before we begin to have a frame of reference.

All allowing time for copyist error.

Which raises the question—how much was God involved in the transcribing of the Bible? Assuming, for the moment, that God literally inspired the original works. That God only inspired certain works. How much God-involvement was there in the preservation of those works? To begin, review the extremes:

On the one hand we could have God actively, continually and forcefully involved in every transcription, every translation, every copy, every single verse. All copies would be exactly as the original. Every time a verse was cited, it would automatically appear with the correct spelling, words, punctuation and sentence structure. It would be physically impossible to ever introduce an error, no matter how hard one tried. The copyist could become lazy in making the copy.

Admit it. How many typing in word processors (and I assume you are not typing on typewriters) with the “auto-correct” on, have become lazy with spelling? You pound out “envrinment” figuring the computer will figure out you are trying to type “environment” and do the correct spelling for you? Come on. There has to be at least ONE other person besides me guilty of this offense.

With God actively involved at every step we could do the same with the Bible. Want to copy John 3:16? Start writing, “God…love…world…gave…begotten…son...whosoever..” and the next thing you know John 3:16 appears in perfect form and syntax. We could never have another errant copy again. (By the by, this would certainly go a long way towards eliminating atheism!)

Or take the other extreme. God inspired the original, and then was completely hands-off. Whatever copies were made, whatever errors were introduced, He had no intervention. Almost a deistic creator of writing—make it and let it go on its own.

This introduces other problems. What if God inspired the Gospel of Jairus? What? You never heard of the Gospel of Jairus? That is because God was completely hands-off. Sadly, his daughter inadvertently used it to start a fire, and the inspired Gospel was heard of no more. All God did was inspire it in the first place. Whatever happens after that is completely up to humans.

If this proposition is true, what books are inspired and what are not? Why couldn’t the Gospel of Thomas be inspired? Just because it was not well-preserved by humans makes no difference. Using this as an extreme, that most certainly does not disqualify it from inspiration.

We lose any ability to determine what is inspired and what is not. God did not leave any distinguishing marks on those original inspired books. Nothing by which a human could say, “Hey, that’s God’s signature, so we know it was inspired.” The Wisdom of Solomon could be inspired. The Epistle of Barnabas, 1 Clement, the Shepard of Hermas all qualify. 2 Peter may not be. Revelation is up for grabs. And where is there any time-limit on God? He could STILL be inspiring books, and then letting the chips fall where they may. I know many Christians that wish Mere Christianity was inspired!

And what if 2 Timothy was not inspired? We wouldn’t even have the word “God-breathed” by which to claim anything was God-breathed! This becomes just as unworkable as the all-involved God, without any way to determine what was originally inspired, and what was not.

Most believers fall somewhere in-between these two extremes, in that God is somehow partially involved, not only in the original manufacture of these books, but their eventual transcription and prominence in the Christian community. Now the only thing left to do is determine a method, a system, by which we can ascertain where God was involved, and where he was not.

Remember, we started off this discussion on copyist error in numbers. Our method must incorporate some way, some reason, by which we determine either God didn’t care about numbers being mis-copied, or God actively desired numbers to be mis-copied, or some other reason by which God stays involved, and lets errors through.

And this method must include areas besides numbers. However God treated numbers, the method must either make an exception, for some reason, for numbers, OR it must equally treat other areas, such as names, places and events as to how God chose to preserve them or not.

We are aware of the addition of the Story of the Adulterous woman, or the ending of Mark, or the Johannine Comma. Our method must include a way, in which God either did not care, or tacitly sanctioned, or merely allowed such errors to creep in. Textual criticism would reduce to the use of this method to determine God touching it or not.

Seriously, by what means can we possibly come up with any way in which to determine where God was involved in the preservation or not? I cannot fathom, nor have I seen any such system proposed. How can we account for the variations in every single manuscript? Look at the variations we see. This method would require accounting for these variations, why God was involved, or if he stopped being involved, when he stopped.

What I see is a method by fatigue. To avoid the hard work of actually coming up with a method, one throws up one’s hands, and says, “God is involved with what we have today.” What we see is what God was involved in. If there is an error, then God was not involved. If there is not, God was. What we have comes from the inspired. If we don’t have it, it wasn’t inspired.

Immediately we see the problem. This becomes a self-authenticating solution.

1. God preserved these particular scriptures because they are inspired.
2. We know these particular scriptures are inspired because they were preserved.

If the only method we have, to determine either inerrancy or inspiration, is that we have to accept what we have, it becomes no method at all. God’s involvement appears the exact same as any human involvement.

Arguing for how this book looks, acts, transcribes, introduces errors, and is canonized just like any other book is not even remotely compelling for the claim that it is any different. Oh, sure, it is unique. All books, including my teen-age daughter’s diary are unique. The Bible is getting an ad hoc definition of being unique, by conforming the definition of uniqueness to exactly what the Bible is.

We know what ad hoc is—after the fact. If someone is dating a fellow and it doesn’t work out, they say, “Oh, he would not have made a good husband anyway.” Whether he would or would not have, AFTER the fact, when it is no longer an option, he is ruled a poor candidate.

Same thing with the Bible. After the fact we have it, it is defined as unique for its properties. One of the claims that the Bible is unique is how various writers all agreed on the same principles. O.K. Then why not add 1 Clement (another writer) and make it even MORE unique because there are even MORE writers? Or add the Gospel of Peter? Or the Gospel of Thomas? Seems to me, if agreement among various writers is the qualifier, we can find a whole bunch more to REALLY make the Bible stand out. The only reason this is used as an indicator of the uniqueness of the Bible is that it already has a number of different writers.

This is the same act performed with inspiration. An ad hoc determination that what we have stems from the inspired originals, when we have no clue what the originals stated, nor any method to determine original inspiration, nor any method to determine how God was involved in maintaining accurate copies.

Finally—a story on humanity.

I have no clue how many hours I have spent in courtrooms. We sit and wait and wait for our case to be called, watching other cases. Assuming I have seen 5 cases a day (which is quite low for some periods of my life, and high for others) I have seen upwards of 20,000 cases for various reasons. Judges will see 5,000 cases in a year or more.

And some Defendant will have exactly one case—his. He hasn’t seen the 3,500 cases before him, nor will he see the 1,500 cases after. At best, he will see the same 5 cases I get to see waiting for our turn.

Now this defendant is thinking of some way to explain to the judge why he didn’t appear for the previous court hearing, where he was likely going to be sent to jail. The easiest excuse readily available? “I forgot.” But even he knows that is not very believable, since most people are intimately aware of their brushes with the judicial system, nor will the judge be very sympathetic.

So blame it on someone else. That’s the ticket. And in America, it is the United States Postal Service. The Defendant pipes up, “I never received my notice in the mail.”

I suppose they expect the Judge to pause, think for a second, and say, “O.K. I can see that. Things DO get lost in the mail. It must not be your fault.”

But what that defendant doesn’t know (it is, after all, his only case) is that the Judge has heard that exact same excuse before. Three times. That day. And five times the day before. And eight times the day before that. And 25 times the week before. And 100 times the month before. In a Judge’s lifetime, s/he could hear it 25,000 times!

The defendant is presenting the same, tired, excuse that 1000’s before him have presented, and 1000’s after. What makes this excuse, at this time, any different?

I once heard a Judge say, “You know, after hearing how little of my mail gets delivered, I sometimes wonder if the Postal Carrier has some grand conspiracy against me. ‘Ho Ho! A letter from Judge Smith? I will toss that in the wastebasket, because certainly that could never be important.’ After hearing how no mail sent from this courthouse is able to reach its intended recipient, I wondered if there was some great black hole that sucks our mail from the box before it even reaches the post office. And you know what? The funny thing is, every notice we send for someone to come pick up their bond money, THAT notice they seem to get!”

See, we have heard this excuse thousands of times. To the defendant, since it is his/her first shot at it, they think it is unique. To us, it is the same lame excuse the hundredth time over.

I get the same sort of feeling when the Bible is discussed. With the Bible, any errors that portray its humanity should be overlooked, or not considered. With the 1000’s of other books, it is an indication of not being divine. We should overlook the fact that our copies have copies, and variant readings. That is not a sign of humanity, but divinity. We should overlook the fact that inspiration is a circular argument. That is a sign of divinity, whereas other books that make the same claim are clearly human.

What I see is a defendant, scratching their head and coming up with the same excuse that millions of other human endeavors have stated.

If one is going to claim that there are copyist errors in the Bible, time to step up. Explain how the errors we see make it divine, whereas the errors in other books make them human.

13 comments:

Kaffinator said...

Hi Dagood,

You present two extremes, with God either mechanistically directing every action in regards to scripture, or God is a hands-off deist after setting the original texts in motion. Your claim is that Christians land somewhere in between these two extremes. But a better way to think about this is that Christians believe God works differently in different circumstances.

In the case of authorship, we believe that the Spirit carried the authors along, protecting them from the teaching error, while at the same time not abridging or removing any of the human faculties that went into the writing. So even at the very outset, in the autographs themselves, we do not see a mechanistic God-typewriter at play in the human authors. For example, the idea that Paul, as he wrote an epistle, might have made a spelling error, does not present any real theological problem. However, we believe that the real meaning of what the canonical books teach is true and is from God.

In the case of the recognition of the canon, remember that the early saints did not use a criteria of “is the book inerrant” to determine what was scripture and what was not. Their criteria was more along the lines of, does the book have apostolic backing? Does it faithfully reflect the apostolic faith? Is it in common use among the churches of God? Does it agree with what we already have?

In the case of the canon’s transmission, God makes no promises that we will receive a letter-for-letter correct copy of exactly what fell from the mouth of any apostle or even Christ himself. Nor is such a guarantee necessary to preserve the essential truths that can make us "wise for salvation". All that is necessary is that we have a reasonable confidence that the teachings we receive are indeed apostolic, and despite decades upon decades of sustained text criticism, no such teaching of scripture has truly been jeopardized. Even without the Johannine Comma, we have a fully sufficient view of the diversity and unity of the Trinity. Even without the Markan addition we have a sufficient view of the resurrection of Christ.

I would like to say you are presenting a strawman defendant but I don’t think you are. Plenty of Christians do rest on an argument for inerrancy that they cannot defend. But there are plenty of Christian thinkers that do fairly grapple with the issues and I think you do yourself a disservice to pick on the easy targets who “throw their hands up” at the issue.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dagood,

I just finished reading Bart Ehrman's book "Misquoting Jesus, the Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why." You, very closely, echo what Ehrman has to say about transcript changes to the New Testament. If any readers would like more detail on textual and transcribing accuracy then I would highly recomend Ehrman's book. Some 300 or so years ago a scholar, "John Mill" spent 30 years examining 100 NT manuscripts and the early writings of the church fathers and found 30,000 transcriptual variations! Today, with 5700 manuscripts and/or pieces thereof Ehrman says there are more variations between the manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament! Doesn't seem very "God inspired" to me.

Randy F.

John W. Loftus said...

DagoodS, I read what you wrote this morning and I've mulled it over in my mind all day today. After thinking about it I'd say that you very wisely pinpointed the exact problem Christians have when they affirm the canonical Bible is God's Word. What about the Gospel of Jarius? :-)

When I used to defend inerrancy I was never troubled by the problem of not having the autographic texts from the hands of what I believed were the inspired writers. And I haven't thought much about that particular problem since leaving the faith, until you wrote this Blog. Kudos to you.

Christians must believe that God not only inspired men to write the Bible, but also that he inspired those who transcribed it and inspired those who chose which books go in it.

What's interesting to me is how God could inspire men to do and say one thing while also allowing them to be wrong on other things (Peter, for instance Galatians 2:11ff). I'm sure all of those who transcribed the Bible didn't have inspired views of what it said, and I'm sure the men who chose the canonical texts had views about the Bible which Christians might reject. And surely none of the men in this whole process were pure and free from sin. Sin. That's selfishness, arrogance, power hungry, greedy, and lustful. And yet we're supposed to think that these men were inspired only when it comes to the writing, transmission, and choosing the canonical Bible. That's a whole lot to swallow.

DagoodS said...

Kaffinator, as always, thanks for your comment.

I would agree that the “hands-off God” or the “spell-check” God are strawmen. I have never met a Christian that held to either proposition. (Having said that, watch one pop out!) What I was trying to figure out, if it is not Black, nor is it White, what shade of gray is it, and how do we determine it? Where, in the middle, can we come up with a system?

You state that God works differently in differing circumstances. Then, are you claiming that it is all after-the-fact? However it comes out, that must be the way God works? If we have a direct copy of Mark, then God worked that way. If we have no copies of the Gospel of Jairus, then God worked that way.

If so, then we really have no way whatsoever to determine how God was involved. Or if he even was. It all remains very human looking.

I wasn’t really talking about the creation of the canon, but more its transmission, so I will focus on your answer, there. (another time on the canon, of course.)

You are right that God makes no promises about receiving letter for letter copy of what Jesus or the apostles said. Of course, nor did He make any promise about receiving word for word. Or paragraph for paragraph. Or book for Book. Or even teaching for teaching. There is no promise at all! So, in using this as a basis, we have no reason to believe, whatsoever, that anything we have has been touched by God at all.

Where did God indicate that you will have “reasonable confidence” that the teaching you receive are apostolic? Why is apostolic a requirement? Couldn’t the Spirit teach non-apostles? The entire Tanakh is written by non-apostles. Can you explain the sudden shift?

This is one of those after-the-fact definitions. Because early authors attributed writings to apostles, Christians later defined “apostolic authorship” as a basis for canonicity. Yet nowhere is that requirement spelled out. Is every teaching that appears “apostolic” a basis for entering the Bible? 1 Clement, and the Epistle of Barnabas qualify. The Gospel of Thomas purports to be from an apostle. Or are we going to limit which apostles the teaching must come from?

Let’s see if we can stay consistent in this methodology. Mark was not an apostle. He got his information from Peter, according to Papias. Yet Papias is incorrect about Mark not being in order (it is in a very specific order) and if Mark got his information about Peter, Peter seems to have forgotten the very geography in which he lived! As well as the ten commandments!

Scholarship is veering away from Mark as either being an apostle (no one has claimed he was) or that he got his information from an apostle. If this is demonstrated with “reasonable confidence” can you stay consistent and strike it from your Bible? Certainly we have no proof of where the ending of Mark came from, so claiming that it should be chopped out entirely.

We know Luke was not an apostle. Nor do we know where he obtained his information (other than Mark) It should get the axe. The fact that Matthew relies upon Mark demonstrates this author was not an apostle. At best he got his information from a person who got their information from an apostle. How far down the line before it is no longer from apostolic authority?

Hebrews has always had an unknown author. Can an unknown, as long as it follows apostolic authority, be inspired? Recent study demonstrates that Colossians, Ephesians, the Pastorals, and 2 Thess. were not written by Paul. Do they get the “grandfather” clause because we always thought they were? Even Eusebius determine Revelation was not written by John the Apostle. 2 Peter is a copy of Jude, an unknown, but presumed apostle. Does this qualify? 1-3 John are unknown authors.

Christians cannot stay consistent in this method. Without knowing who originally wrote the books, claiming transmission is along the lines of apostolic teaching is not helpful. Worse, without having the original to determine, how do we know if the copies introduced non-apostolic teaching?

In order to substantiate this method, we would need the original teachings to compare. Obviously, (as the point of the blog) something we do not have.

If conformance with apostolic teaching is the method by which we determine the validity of transmission, is the Johannine Comma correctly added or not? I would think you agree that the trinity is part of the apostolic teaching. Therefore it fits the requirement. If you say it is added too late, then you must come up with a method by which “adding” is timely. As the earliest MSS we have are Early third Century, there is no feasible way to determine what was added (although we can hypothesize) prior to that date.

Finally, I might add, what we see is very human. What is transmitted and accepted by current Christians as correct is determined to be divine. What is transmitted and NOT accepted by current Christians is determined to be human. The only problem is that “current Christians” cannot agree with each other as to what should be accepted!

Kaffinator said...

To continue the discussion…

> You state that God works differently in differing circumstances. Then, are you claiming that it is all after-the-fact? However it comes out, that must be the way God works? If we have a direct copy of Mark, then God worked that way. If we have no copies of the Gospel of Jairus, then God worked that way.

I hate to have to point out the obvious, but we are talking about historical events, which by definition means every statement of fact, every hypothesis, every argument, and every conclusion will indeed be “after the fact”. We simply seek good explanations that are consistent with the facts at hand. There’s nothing “ad-hoc” (in the sense of logically fallacious) about this process. Heck, it’s what you ask a jury to do in the courtroom all the time, is it not?

> If so, then we really have no way whatsoever to determine how God was involved. Or if he even was. It all remains very [human-looking].

Your critique as it is presupposes God. In such a context it is absurd to ask whether the God who numbers the very hairs on our heads was involved. Of course he was. The question is simply how and to what end, and on this matter scripture itself speaks.

If, on the other hand, you are looking for some kind of incontrovertible proof of God in a manner that will satisfy the requirements of a hardened evidentialist who presupposes God’s non-existence ... well, then the conclusion that God was not involved shouldn't surprise anybody, because you've already paid off the refs to throw the game.

> There is no promise at all! […] Where did God indicate that you will have “reasonable confidence” that the teaching you receive are apostolic?

Actually scripture does promise that the teachings necessary for salvation will survive. We find it in Isaiah’s prophecy that God’s Word will not return empty but accomplish that for which he sent it. We find it in Christ’s promise that the church (the upholder of the apostolic witness found in scripture) will always stand against the forces of Hell. We find it in Christ’s prophecy that even when heaven and earth pass away, His words will not pass away.

> Why is apostolic a requirement? Couldn’t the Spirit teach non-apostles?

“Apostolic” is the requirement because it is acknowledged by Christ’s command in Matthew 28 and God’s visible anointing at Pentecost that His closest disciples, the apostles, would be the ones to carry forward the institution of Christ’s church. They apostles had a unique, divine mandate for their initial activity. Others can certainly be taught by the spirit but we recognize the Apostles as having this special role.

> The entire Tanakh is written by non-apostles. Can you explain the sudden shift?

Yes, and the New Testament authors were quite clear that Christians stand in legitimate succession to the prophets of the OT. Why the shift? You will have to look to the empty tomb for that reason I guess.

> Is every teaching that appears “apostolic” a basis for entering the Bible? 1 Clement, and the Epistle of Barnabas qualify. The Gospel of Thomas purports to be from an apostle. Or are we going to limit which apostles the teaching must come from?

1 Clement was never considered by Christians as a candidate for addition to the canon because Clement, though a respected church leader, was not closely associated with that initial, anointed burst of activity we call apostolic. Thomas’ obviously late authorship and dubious teachings would have made it an even poorer candidate. There’s no double-standard here, my friend.

> Scholarship is veering away from Mark as either being an apostle (no one has claimed he was) or that he got his information from an apostle. If this is demonstrated with “reasonable confidence” can you stay consistent and strike it from your Bible?

Frankly in this matter I have more respect for the conclusions of the early church, amongst whom few if any disputed Mark’s canonicity, than I have in the ability of scholars 2000 years after the fact to piece together what they consider to be the truth. Maybe Peter dictated to Mark, maybe not. We’ll never know for sure. But what we do know without any doubt is that early Christians preserved Mark, read from Mark, discussed Mark’s contents, and ultimately agreed on Mark’s canonicity.

> Hebrews has always had an unknown author. Can an unknown, as long as it follows apostolic authority, be inspired? Recent study demonstrates that Colossians, Ephesians, the Pastorals, and 2 Thess. were not written by Paul. Do they get the “grandfather” clause because we always thought they were? Even Eusebius determine Revelation was not written by John the Apostle. 2 Peter is a copy of Jude, an unknown, but presumed apostle. Does this qualify? 1-3 John are unknown authors.

Here is a flurry of assertions that I’m not really qualified to rebut, except to say the demonstrations of “recent study” are always provisional, tentative, and lacking in real data upon which to base solid conclusions. Nobody has, or ever will have, videotape proof that Paul did not write Colossians. Again, what we do have is the unified voice of the early church in its acceptance of all of the Pauline epistles, save the disputed epistle to the Laodiceans, which you’ll note is not in our Bibles.

> If conformance with apostolic teaching is the method by which we determine the validity of transmission, is the Johannine Comma correctly added or not? I would think you agree that the trinity is part of the apostolic teaching. Therefore it fits the requirement. If you say it is added too late, then you must come up with a method by which “adding” is timely. As the earliest MSS we have are Early third Century, there is no feasible way to determine what was added (although we can hypothesize) prior to that date.

I’m no text scholar and so not qualified to discuss how we arrive at the conclusion that the Comma was a late addition. The teaching of the trinity is accurate but no, the words of the Comma do not represent our best picture of what the autographs contained. The fact that current translations point this out should signify to you our care for preserving the fidelity of the Bible’s message, even when this is inconvenient.

Kaffinator said...

Just noticed that I misread you, you were suggesting the Epistle of Barnabas, not Thomas. I'll have to check my references before commenting on it.

treadwell said...

There are Christians who see danger in both extremes. I once had a friend (who thought I was becoming too liberal in my viewpoint) tell me that if the Bible is not the infallible, inerrant word of God than his faith is nothing... which honestly made me feel ill. On the other hand, my heart aches to see those who totally dismiss the Bible because of contradictions and the very fact that it is words on paper that can be copied, mis-copied, even burned and destroyed... that it is a chronicle written, passed down, read and interpreted by humans.

I am a Christian who does not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. Of course this is also dangerous ground. (But hey, even Martin Luther dismissed some of the books that are now held as law.) I guess to be human... to try to live according to any belief is to encounter danger and questions and doubts and fears. The hope is that there is also joy, beauty, peace and love.

It seems to me that this idea of errant/inerrant is a very human problem. If a modern or post-modern human were to say "I want to make up a religion, so I'm going to create a scripture" they would try as hard as they could to make it as un-contradictary and as provable as possible. The fact that the Bible contains contradictions and ideas that can be interpreted in different ways seems to me to speak to the experience of living in this world. Anyone who is alive experiences contradictions and a difference of ideas between themselves and other people (and even within themselves). It is true that defining a shade of gray is not and cannot be an exact science, but does that mean that we should throw up our hands and say it must be either black or white... that we either have guidance that is 100% certain or none? I know what it is like to wonder about a seeming contradiction in the Bible but not to say anything because you feel like you're not allowed... I also know what it is like to want an empirical answer. At both of these times I was missing the point. Those who have posted here know much more than I about the canon of scripture and how it was brought together. These are great things to study and understand and debate. Just don’t miss the forest for the trees.

One other thing... I cannot see how proving that the Bible is errant means that, therefore, it is not inspired. (And, for the record, I would say that the diary of a young girl can be inspired writing.) Now to try and define what is inspired and what is not would take us chasing the tail in the other direction. There are not easy answers to these things and there shouldn't be... it is all a process, a journey. Debate away, just don’t forget to tend to those in need and let yourself be tended to in turn.

DagoodS said...

Kaffinator, good discussion.

You switched methodologies on me. First it was apostolic teaching, now it is what the early church accepted as apostolic teaching. Bit of a difference.

What I meant by after-the-fact is deriving a method to obtain the results desired, with no real basis for why that method is appropriate other than it comes out with the desired results.

Using a (poor) analogy, imagine I hold for the proposition that the Chinese are the smartest people in the world. You could ask what method I used to determine that fact. I say the Chinese registered more patents per capita last year, and that is how we know.

So, the method I used to determine “smarts” was the registering of patents. But what if China did not recognize patents of the rest of the world? Only their own. And any person could borrow a patent registered elsewhere and register it in China.

As you can see, my results are stated—“Chinese are smarter”--, my method demonstrated, and I have even stayed consistent within it. The biggest problem being, that the method, even applied, is not an accurate determinative of “smarts.”

In the same way, Christians recognize transmission problems. Yet they desire the Bible to be divine. So you have indicated a method, “that the apostolic teaching stays consistent.” Yet how do we know that this is the method God uses? We don’t. It is a default position, desired to address the questions I presented with what you have.

But you don’t have the originals, so any claim that the “teaching” stayed consistent is as difficult as stating the copies are the same as the original.

Kaffinator – we cannot even agreed on what, exactly, an “apostle” is! Is it someone that was taught directly by Jesus? Unfortunately, as discussed previously, Paul was taught through the use of visions. Could Jesus teach a person in visions today?

1 Cor. 12:27-28 says apostles are appointed. Is that a list of people that do not exist today? Worse, Paul indicates there are false apostles. 2 Cor. 11:13. How do you know, in your method, whether it is a true apostle or a false apostle’s teaching that is being preserved? Or do you assume the results, and say if it was preserved it was true, if it was not , it was not?

You are correct, we DO perform this type of methodology in front of juries all the time. Because we are trying to convince the jury of our position! I am not going to use the prosecutor’s method, because I will lose. I attempt to show the jury why my method of determining the truth is much, much better, with the hope of getting the intended result. How does this help you position—pointing out how we bend methods to fit our proposition? Again, it seems quite human.

I like the bit about what the early church accepted.

O.K., simple question. What year is the cut-off? At what year do we switch out of the “early church” and any accepted list thereafter is considered null and void? At what point do we say, “HERE they were incorrect before, they will be incorrect after, but are most certainly correct now.”?

And how do you come up with that year? Are you simply taking the Bible as it stands, and finding the earliest date by which some list conforms to it?

In 144 CE, Marcion proposed a canon of Paul’s writings and the Gospel of (modified) Luke. Is that “early Church”? Or will I be told that this is “Early (wrong) church”?

You have the Diatessaron, which was a harmonization of the four Gospels, in 150 CE. Already, the “kinks” are being worked out! Is that part of the Early Church? He rejected 1 Timothy. How does that conform to your methodology?

The Gospel of Peter was accepted as an apostolic teaching up until at least 200 CE. Is that too early, or too late to be in the “early church”?

Clement of Alexandria, in 200 CE held the Gospel of the Hebrews, Shepard of Hermas, Apocalypse of Peter and Epistle of Barnabas as canonical.

The Muratorian Canon does not include Hebrews, James, 1 &2 Peter, and 3 John, but does include the Apocalypse of Peter and the Book of Wisdom.

I could go on and on, but prior to the Fourth Century, the lists of what books were accepted and what ones were not is varied (for lack of a better term.) In order to maintain this methodology of “what the early church accepted” one will have to skip around to find the correct “church” and the correct “date.”

Just like when I talk to a jury, it appears to be a method designed to find an outcome that I want.

DagoodS said...

Treadwell,

I would agree that proving the Bible is errant does not equate to it not being inspired. I was discussing more the transmission of the Bible.

As we all know, inerrantists, will often make the claim that it was only inerrant in the original And that copyist errors have crept in since then. In the same light, though, if it was only inspired in the original, how can we determine how much (if any) inspiration, or verses based on inspiration, are left?

I do not dismiss the Bible because of errors. I do not dismiss the Bible at all. I dismiss the notion that it is divine, for the very same reason that Christians dismiss other books as divine—because it appears so human.

If I showed you six apples and said Apple No. 3 was made by magic, wouldn’t you request some demonstration? Something that points Apple No. 3 out as different? And if I told you that it is because it has a stem, and the others don’t, would that be convincing?

And I heartily concur—regardless of the enjoyment of our debate here, we must never forget to tend to those in need.

Kaffinator said...

Hi Dagood,

Sorry for the delay, weekend and all ya know.

> You switched methodologies on me. First it was apostolic teaching, now it is what the early church accepted as apostolic teaching. Bit of a difference.

Is there? Please demonstrate.

> What I meant by after-the-fact is deriving a method to obtain the results desired, with no real basis for why that method is appropriate other than it comes out with the desired results.

So you are saying that I’m tailoring my approach to the subject to arrive at the 27 books of the New Testament. But I’m not really deriving any method at all, but simply giving you my best explanation of how the early church came to recognize a New Testament canon, and why it is reasonable to accept that canon as reflecting apostolic teaching. It’s not like they did this in a black box, we have tons of letters that discuss the process.

> But you don’t have the originals, so any claim that the “teaching” stayed consistent is as difficult as stating the copies are the same as the original.

You’re going to have to be more specific. Can you demonstrate that the teaching changed? I mean, what would you think if I alleged, without any proof, that in the original version of Romeo and Juliet, the mailman arrived in time and the young lovers lived happily ever after, and then some mystery writer after Shakespeare changed the story to its present tragic form. You’d rightly think I was wasting your time, unless I had evidence of some kind.

> Kaffinator – we cannot even agreed on what, exactly, an “apostle” is! Is it someone that was taught directly by Jesus?

The term is used somewhat loosely in the New Testament. My best definition would run something like, an early, specially appointed, and authenticated witness of Christ.

> Unfortunately, as discussed previously, Paul was taught through the use of visions. Could Jesus teach a person in visions today?

In some legitimate Christian traditions, this question is answered “yes”. To be honest I’m not sure what to make of such claims.

> 1 Cor. 12:27-28 says apostles are appointed. Is that a list of people that do not exist today? Worse, Paul indicates there are false apostles. 2 Cor. 11:13. How do you know, in your method, whether it is a true apostle or a false apostle’s teaching that is being preserved? Or do you assume the results, and say if it was preserved it was true, if it was not , it was not?

Wow you ask a lot of questions. Let me answer with a thought-experiment. Let’s suppose we recently discovered what appears to be a brand new Pauline epistle. Would it be scripture? The early church appeared to use a three-pronged standard: apostolicity (authorship or backing from someone with a close connection to Jesus Christ), consistency (aligns well with existing scripture), catholicity (common use amongst many or most churches). So, even if it aligned perfectly with known scripture, probably not. First, it would be impossible to verify whether it was authentic, putting its apostolicity into question. Second, we would know definitively that it was not in common use. So maybe 1.5 out of three stars? :-)

> I could go on and on, but prior to the Fourth Century, the lists of what books were accepted and what ones were not is varied (for lack of a better term.) In order to maintain this methodology of “what the early church accepted” one will have to skip around to find the correct “church” and the correct “date.”

You also ask how we define the “early church” since there some variation between pre-Nicean (325AD) churches on the question of the canon (although the gospels, Acts, and the Pauline epistles—the vast majority of the New Testament—were pretty much always accepted by everybody). The variations are completely understandable. First, the churches were subject to heavy persecution. Second, information did not flow as swiftly as it does today; it would take time for genuine apostolic letters to reach global circulation. Third, there was no globally acknowledged governing body to make such determinations; evidently each church read from those letters it possessed, and considered genuine and edifying. Over time, as pressure eased, information shared, and councils convened, we find the church coming to broad consensus in short order.

> Just like when I talk to a jury, it appears to be a method designed to find an outcome that I want.

Again I’m not spinning a tale but simply telling you what I understand about how the church arrived at the canon. What is the point on trial here? That God was not involved in any of this? Perhaps you feel that if God were involved, that there would be a kind of clockwork precision? That each church would consult some kind of secret God-oracle every Sunday and a flawless, complete, and slightly warm copy of the New Testament would pop out? I guess I’m a little confused where your courtroom analogy is going, since the defendant doesn’t exist. But go ahead and throw him in jail, if you please.

Ultimately, any argument on the inspiration of scripture is going to hinge on the acceptance of an Inspirer, who you presuppose not to exist. Therefore, no argument will satisfy.

paul said...

DagoodS (can i call you "Da"?)
You're sure prolific on a subject (inerrancy) you find "boring." I'd like to read what you have to say on subjects that really interest you! Still , this is good.

DagoodS: ..."And where is there any time-limit on God? He could STILL be inspiring books..."

sure, why not? and there is scriptural support for such a notion: "If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God..." IPeter4:11. It seems logical that if we are given such a directive, we should be able to do so, no? Such a notion is quite consistent with the scripture. How much of the bible is the words of "the prophets?" Prophecy is one of the gifts given to the church. ICor. 12.10.
The Timothy scripture stating that "all scripture is God breathed" would seem to me to be referring to what? The Tenach? The New Testament wasn't around at that point was it? And then, it is "useful for teaching, rebuking,correcting and training in righteousness." (NIV). This doesn't really state the scripture exists in order to prove the existence of God, that is already presumed. So, it seems to me, that those who would use it as such have a faith problem.
As to "method of ascertaining where God was involved, and where he was not." I'm a little surprised no one's brought this up: (if I might indulge in hyperbole) maybe we could call "God breathed" "God whispered." ie, to truly get the real story we cannot rely on the 15th whisperer in line but must go to the original source. Isn't that the goal, to know God? So maybe God puts his stuff in code, which to the unaided eye is gibberish ("foolishness" ICor.2:14) Heck my whole conversion experience was based on this, not some convoluted arguments on why God must be so. And, I know, I can't be alone in this. I was raised in the church. But, didn't really consider it real until i was 14 and had what i considered an encounter with God. Reading the bible out of boredom one day i had the uncanny feeling that someone was talking to me. I'd heard this stuff all my life, this was very different, a presence. I spent most of my life trying to re-create that 'presence' and I would guess that many who look for reasons to believe are in the same boat. Some look for reason, some look for experience (signs and wonders...can you say pentecostal?) Can't find God so they look for a reason to believe and either hold to some untenable reasons because of some former experience or de-convert noting that reason points another way. sorry, this may have nothing to do with what your talking about, but i'm not going to erase it to preserve my dignity.

DagoodS said...

Kaffinator –

I, too, had a busy weekend. Sorry for not getting back to you sooner.

The difference between what the actual apostles stated, and what the church accepted?

You used three criterion for the what the early church accepted—consistency with existing scriptures, apostolicity, and common usage among the church.

Take Jude for example. Allegedly written by the brother of Jesus, and technically qualifies as an apostle. What he stated, did the church accept? He quotes a passage as authoritative in vs. 14-15. Where is that from?

1 Enoch. The Apostle’s teaching including holding 1 Enoch as authoritative. Did the Church accept 1 Enoch as authoritative? Some did, some did not. By the time of your cut-off date, 325 CE, it did not. What the church accepted was not being authoritative, an apostle did. Hence a difference. There are more, but that’s a good one.

You are right, we have numerous letters that discuss the process. Letters that disagree. You pick a date, 325, which happens to closely (although not completely) align with the current 27 books. Why that date? What makes that date special? If I pick 250 CE as the cut-off for the “early church” or 150 CE, or 100 CE, why are those dates better or worse? Can you show a method by which we can determine God stopped being involved as of 325?

Sure I can demonstrate the teaching changed. How many signs did Jesus give?

Paul: 0 – Christians do not need signs. (1 Cor. 1:22)
Mark: 0 – (Mark 8:12)
Matthew & Luke: 1 sign. (Mt. 12:39 Lk. 11:29)
John: Many signs (Jn. 2:11)

What is the greatest commandment?

Paul: Love your neighbor Rom. 13:9
Jesus: Love God. Mark 12:30.

In the books we HAVE the teachings vary. If you are claiming they are close to the original, than the originals have contradictory teachings. If you claim these are errors that crept in, then you would have to agree that what we have does not conform to the original.

Simple question—what is the teaching on the number of signs? Is the same as the original or has it changed?

You bet your buckles the term “Apostle” is loosely used in the Bible. That is because its definition has changed over time. At the time Paul was using it, it did not have to do with authenticated witness of Jesus. It was a gift. An office. Something that arguably could be granted to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Since Paul himself did not witness Jesus post-resurrection, the last thing in the world he would use is that as a qualification. Is a “false apostle” someone that did not see Jesus, but claims they did, or is it someone that did, and teaches something Paul disagrees with?

It is only later that we have re-defined apostle to be only limited to Christ’s time. Can you provide any verse that prohibits an apostle from existing today?

You may desire to do some research into how the early church, at any given time, determined what was in the canon. It is a very late development for apostle authorship, or alignment to be considered. Primarily it was what was popular. The Shepard of Hermas, for example or the Apocalypse of Peter were both popular and retained in the canon.

I have no idea how a book, written by a God, would be transcribed. That is why I am asking. Show me a method, in which we can see something different than human effort. And this method that you have provided appears very, very human. After-the-fact determination as to what should have been done that directly comports with what was done.

Why would any argument on inspiration rest on presupposition of an Inspirer? Shouldn’t the argument demonstrate an inspirer, due to it being different? Regardless of your presupposition of whether the sun orbits the earth, or the earth orbits the sun, argument and proof should demonstrate the stronger position.

(By the way. I did presuppose a God that inspired scripture. And was convinced by the arguments presented that I was incorrect. So, for me, the argument did not hinge on presupposition. It hinged on what was more likely to be true.)

Anonymous said...

Even without the Johannine Comma, we have a fully sufficient view of the diversity and unity of the Trinity.

then please present a verse from the NT which mentions that God is a trinity, like the Joahine comma