What we can learn from FaceApp's #OldAge challenge

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“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” – Psalm 90:12

A couple of weeks ago, a funny thing happened. I logged onto social media one morning to find many of my friends, family, and even celebrities, had all aged decades. My feeds were filled with familiar faces with greyer hair and pronounced wrinkles. And no doubt you recognized this strange phenomenon as well—maybe you even put 30 years onto your own portraits!

The viral craze of the old-age filter on FaceApp brings up some interesting questions: questions about perceived self-image, insecurity, and even concerns about privacy. Nonetheless, there are some interesting issues that the popular trend has brought to the surface about ourselves.

From age to age

In a culture preoccupied with youth, we’re strongly interested in getting old.

There’s something strangely fascinating about seeing our friends, family members, colleagues, coworkers, and even ourselves, all of a sudden have the appearance of age. We live in a time where physical beauty is seemingly synonymous with youth. We long for decades passed; we chase smoother skin, youthful physical features, and perceived vitality, all concepts placed on a pedestal by our culture. 

Alphaville’s hit song Forever Young may be more than 30 years old, but its chorus of “Forever young, I want to be forever young” is, dare I say, a timeless mantra—repeated, for example, in Guards’ 2013 song Silver Lining: “I wanna live forever, I don’t care”.

In light of this, the inevitability of aging will always be a clear and present reality. Maybe this is why nostalgia creeps into the popular culture more and more. The notoriety of 90s vintage, the 80s setting of Stranger Things, watching reruns of Saturday morning cartoons long cancelled. Even Disney continues to make live-action versions of the animated features I remember watching in theatres as a kid thus playing on my own childhood angst. All of this is catering to our sense of sentimentality towards the past.

Keep reading…

Islam and coffee

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There’s a Turkish proverb I remember reading years ago that says that “the heart desires neither coffee, nor a coffee shop; the heart desires good company.” This is very poetic, and very sentimental, but misjudges my caffeine addiction by a few miles.

Hello. My name is Wesley. And I am a coffee addict.

I have been for a few years now. It started out during a co-op program in highschool where I spent a semester with the Ontario Provincial Police, and the officers I would ride along with would buy me coffee. Then I graduated to making it for myself in the morning; finally culminating in my appreciation of good coffee. Of trying to figure out the nuances of different blends and brews like the difference between coffea liberica, Arabica coffee, and robusta coffee. I enjoy the complexities of the flavours and the differences in the blends. So I was surprised a number of years ago, when reading about the history of coffee, by how intricately linked it was with another aspect of my upbringing: the Islamic world.

Did you know that the history of Islam and coffee traverses centuries? And that without the advent of Islam, the world’s most popular brown liquid may never have reached its Tim Hortons and Starbucks sipping, and Second Cup consuming fame and infamy?

Keep reading…

Addressing Ricky Gervais’ problem with God

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I recently watched a video that was featured on the “trending” section of Youtube. The clip was titled, “Ricky Gervais and Stephen Go Head-to-Head on Religion”. 

In it, Gervais, a popular atheist, and Stephen Colbert, a known Roman Catholic, explore the topic of belief in God. Gervais uses three objections to God’s existence. Each objection articulated a grievance you may have heard others use against theism, and more specifically Christianity. 

At face value, the grievances that Gervais brings up might sound genuine–convincing even! However, I believe the source of many of his objections stem from a place of misunderstanding, more than it does a genuine attack on what the Christian worldview teaches concerning God. Many who use these types of complaints may be doing so honestly, feeling that these objections are convincing and persuasive. The issue is that although the balloon appears quite large, it’s actually full of hot air; going through these criticisms will help us understand why. 

Keep reading…

One Bible many versions

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Henry Ford once said that, "any customer can have a car painted in any color that he [or she] wants, as long as it is black," (1) and before 1881 that largely applied to English Bible versions available as well.(2) You could read any English version of the Bible you wanted, as long as it was the King James Version (KJV). Since 1881 though things have changed, and a surplus of new translations have been published and printed - The New Revised Version (NRV), New International Version (NIV), English Standard Version (ESV), New Living Translation (NLT), New American Standard Version (NASB), and on and on you can go. 

So why did this happen? How did the King James get dethroned? Which translation is best for the modern reader? With so many different translations are any of them really faithful to the original?

These are all valid questions, and in order to address them we will need to step back a little to get a "big picture" perspective of the situation. To start, we simply need to ask the question, "why are there so many versions of the Bible?"


History of the Text

It is important to understand that there are three basic influences which have given rise to such a wealth of Bible translations over the last hundred years.

First, in 1881 two British scholars by the name of Brook Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, published a Greek New Testament established on the most ancient manuscripts then available. This text made many notable deviations from the Greek text which the King James translators used. For the most part, the Westcott and Hort text was a shorter New Testament than the one compiled from the KJV translators (known as the Textus Receptus or TR ). (3)

The older manuscripts, which Wescott and Hort used, did not contain passages such as the longer ending of Mark's Gospel, or the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), two sections of Scripture which do not appear in the most ancient witnesses. The printed editions which the KJV translators followed included these and many other passages so they likewise were included — for better of for worse — in that translation. 

Shortly following Westcott and Hort's text the English Revised Version made its appearance. Ushering in a new period of Bible translations, an era based on earlier manuscripts of the biblical tradition.

Second, since 1895 many discoveries concerning archaeological digs and manuscript finds have been made, bringing into question some of the renderings and translational choices of the KJV. The most important being that of the Egyptian papyri. In 1895, a German scholar named Adolf Deissmann published a work called Bibelstudien (Bible Studies), which revolutionized New Testament scholarship. 

Deissmann discovered that ancient scraps of papyrus buried in Egyptian garbage dumps close to 2000 years ago contained Greek which was quite similar to the Greek of the New Testament. He concluded that the Greek of the New Testament was written in the language of the common people. It was not an elitist dialect, as many in the Church had thought, but actually common place Greek like that spoken in the ancient marketplace. 

Since Deissmann's discovery, translators have endeavored to put the New Testament into the language of the average person, seeking to create a translation that is comprehensible without compromising the original language - just as it was originally intended in the Greek. Likewise, subsequent ancient manuscript finds have shed further light on many words and phrases in the original Greek, words the KJV translators only guessed at in terms of their original meanings.

Third, there are a great deal of philosophical issues that have influenced the subsequent translations. One of the major contributions in this area were missionaries, seeking to translate the Bible into many indigenous and tribal languages, so that people around the globe could read the Word of God in their own language. 

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The Text of the Modern Translations

During undergraduate studies I would routinely talk to the Mormons that frequented my neighborhood. They were polite and would show up knocking on my door regularly. During one particular conversation a young Mormon missionary challenged me: “You don’t think you’re Bible has been changed?” he asked. “No,” I replied. “Who took John 5:4 from your Bible then?” he said without missing a beat. Puzzled I turned to the Gospel of John chapter four, and sure enough there it went from verse 3 to verse 5 (for an explanation as to why there is no verse 4 click here). 


And as I continued to probe I found even more. For example, in 1 Timothy 3:16, in the KJV it says that, "God was manifest in the flesh," but most of the modern translations read, "He who was manifest in the flesh." At Revelation 22:19 the KJV has reference to the "book of life" while almost all of the modern versions have the "tree of life" in its place. And that was only the beginning, there are hundreds of these changes between the KJV and the modern translations. So what's going on?


Nomina Sacra  (sacred names) are abbreviations of certain words that are particular to Christian manuscripts. The difference between the  Nomina Sacra  for “God” and the Greek word “he who” is two lines. In the fourth century manuscript, Codex Sinaiticus ( א ), an inscription can be seen in the text of 1 Timothy where the original scribe has written “he who” and a later scribe has come and written “God” over top.

Nomina Sacra (sacred names) are abbreviations of certain words that are particular to Christian manuscripts. The difference between the Nomina Sacra for “God” and the Greek word “he who” is two lines. In the fourth century manuscript, Codex Sinaiticus (א), an inscription can be seen in the text of 1 Timothy where the original scribe has written “he who” and a later scribe has come and written “God” over top.

First, it is important to note that the textual changes in the modern translations effect no major doctrine of the biblical message. The deity of Christ, virgin conception and birth, salvation by grace alone, and all the rest are still clearly found in the modern translations.


Second, the textual changes in the modern translations are based on the judgement of weighing the most ancient manuscripts of the Greek New Testament and Hebrew Old Testament. These manuscripts date from the early second century (AD) and onward. The “alterations” we see in our modern text are not a case of “who took John 5:4 out of your Bible,” as the Mormon missionary asserted, but rather, “who put John 5:4 in to your Bible?”

The KJV translators used printed editions of the Greek New Testament (specifically, a 1525 Hebrew text and the seven printed versions of the Greek New Testament then available), based on only six to eight manuscripts in total that existed when those printed editions were compiled. None of those seven manuscripts even came close to how old the ancient discoveries we possess today. What we are able to do now with the evidence that we have before us in the case of biblical manuscripts is get a clearer picture into what the original authors wrote. In the case of John 5:4 we know that that particular text was a commentary note in the margin. Over time the text went from briefly explaining the context of John 5 to making its way into the text. For the record, these verses are not missing. In nearly every case you can find a citation and a note at the bottom of your Bible explaining the why and what of these “missing” passages. 

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Third, the KJV New Testament did not always follow the majority of manuscripts. As previously mentioned, the Greek text behind the KJV was based on only about half a dozen manuscripts, all of which belonged to what is referred to as the Byzantine text. Due to the small number of manuscripts available there were gaps left in the full text. The compiler of these manuscripts, a man named Desiderius Erasmus, had to fill in a great deal of these gaps by translating the Latin back into the Greek. Because of this, some of the readings that exist in the KJV such as the "book of life" passage from Revelation 22 are not found either in the majority of manuscripts or the most ancient manuscripts. And the development of these texts from words like “God” to “he who,” or “book” to “tree” have reasonable and understandable explanations. Some where honest mistakes, others were copyist errors, and still others were the well intentioned, albeit mistaken, efforts of scribes to render the text accurately. At the end of the day it is due to the wealth of evidence we have for the Bible and the number of manuscripts we have, that we can be confident that we know these insertions should not be there, and that our modern translations are the accurate readings that the original author’s wrote 2000+ years ago.

Word-for-Word, Thought-for-Thought, or Paraphrased? 

Translation style is also a big part of why modern translations look like they do. Many presume that a Bible translation that reflects a more "word-for-word" style is more faithful to the original text. If the original text has a noun in a certain place it is expected that a noun sit in that word's place in the translation. If the original has ten words in one verse, the translation should have as close to ten words in its place as possible. This is what is referred to as "formal equivalence." This type of translation ideal is reflected in the King James (KJV), the American Standard (ASB/NASB) and the English Standard Version (ESV). 

On the other side of things is a "thought-for-thought" or "phrase-for-phrase" translation. This translation is not concerned with grammatical form in its translation of the original text as much as it would be about rendering the intended meaning. This is what is referred to as "dynamic equivalence," allowing the translation to be more interpretive in order to be easier to understand by the reader. This type of translation ideal is reflected in the New International Version (NIV) or the New Living Translation (NLT).

A simple way to check whether your translation is a word-for-word (formal equivalence) or thought-for-thought (dynamic equivalence) translation is to turn to Luke 9:44. In this passage Jesus predicts his betrayal and crucifixion, however, he prefaces his statement with a comment to the disciples:


"Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you..." (NIV)


"Let these words sink into your ears..." (NASB)


The Greek in this passage literally says, "Let these words sink into your ears," as rendered by the NASB. However, in English we don't talk like that. What the NIV, and other dynamic equivalence translations do, is replace it with a more understandable English equivalent: "Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you." The thought-for-thought translator takes the meaning of the text and translates it for the English reader to understand, staying faithful to the meaning; the phrase-for-phrase translator takes the form of the text and translates it directly, staying faithful to the form.

When we speak of faithfulness in regard to translation we need to clarify what we're talking about. Do we mean faithfulness to form or to meaning? This does not always have a simple answer, for at times when we're faithful to one we are not always being faithful to the other. There are certain passages in the King James that simply don't make any sense, and frankly, they didn't make much sense in 1611 when they were originally translated either. Likewise, many thought-for-thought translations push the line on interpretation and boarder on saying something the original author did not intend.


Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe: Which Translation to Use?

So what does all this mean? Is there no hope for knowing what the original text of the Bible said? Is all lost in translation? Should we conclude that there are so many translations that all read so different from each other, and therefore, anyone who doesn't know Greek or Hebrew can't possibly understand the text? The answer is a resounding “no!”

Every individual who is serious about Bible study should own at least two different translations. Specifically, a thought-for-though (formal equivalence) translation as well as a phrase-for-phrase (dynamic equivalence) translation. This will help to flesh the original meaning and the original language of the text out for the reader - broadening their understanding of what the text actually says.

Finally, a note must be said regarding the King James Version and modern translations. The King James Bible is a fine translation, and no one should be faulted for using it. However, it is neither the best translation nor the most accurate. Likewise, the KJV of today is not the KJV of 1611, it has undergone a number of revisions and the vast majority of printed KJV Bibles today are either an Oxford or Cambridge printing of a 1769 reprint. (3)

I am also not saying that all translations are created equal. There exist some "translations" that distort in the name of interpretive translation, working not to be authentic to form or meaning but rather to a specific agenda by the translator(s). Any translation that is a sectarian translation is highly suspect, and works done by single individuals often suffer from personal and theological bias (whether intended or unintended) and should therefore, almost always be avoided. 

The best example of a sectarian translation (that hardly warrants the title "translation") is the Jehovah's Witness' New World Translation (NWT). Due to the sectarian bias of the JWs in conjunction with the lack of true biblical scholarship among the group, this is easily the worst English translation available. The NWT works to be phrase-for-phrase the vast majority of the time, sometimes to an unreadable point. However, when issues of theological questions arise that do not match with JW doctrine, a "phrase-for-phrase" method is enacted that far too often twists the text in a way that it hardly allows for. 

Examples of translations done by single individuals include Moffatt's, The Living Bible, Kenneth West's Expanded Translation, and the Berkley New Testament. While these are not necessarily bad translations, and can often be of use alongside of committee translations, for personal use it is not always wise to restrict reading to simply these types of Bible versions.

Again, the individual who seeks serious Bible study should take into consideration a multi-translational approach, possessing at least one formal and one dynamic equivalence translation for personal use. The most important note however, is that whatever translation you use you read it!


Also, here is the Star Wars fan in me labeling Bible translations as if they were Star Wars characters….


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(1) Henry Ford and Samuel Crowther, My Life and Work (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1923), pg. 72.
(2) There were of course, other English translations available such as the Wycliffe Bible (c. 1384), Tyndale Bible (c. 1520s), Coverdale (c. 1520s), and the Geneva Bible (c. 15
(3) When many today refer to the Textus Receptus (TR) what they mean is the Trinitarian Bible Society’s Textus Receptus. This however, is a document compiled by a man named Frederick Henry Scrivener in the mid 1800s. Scrivener compiled the readings that were chosen by the KJV translators and codified them in a single document. It is not based on the manuscripts used by the translators, but rather, their finalized chosen text. In this way, it is a document put together nearly 200 years after the KJV’s final publication in 1611 and represents a Greek New Testament based on an English New Testament based on a Greek New Testament.
(4) For more on the topic of “King James Onlyism” I would recommend James White’s The King James Only Controversy


1st Century Mark - fragments and figments of our imagination

Nearly ten years ago rumors started to circulate of a Bible manuscript that had been discovered having been dated to the first century. The News first appeared during a debate with Bart Ehrman of UNC Chapel Hill and Dan Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary (and CSNTM) back in 2012. In the course of the back-and-forth between the two scholars, Dr. Wallace made remarks regarding a yet unpublished manuscript of Mark that had been dated by a world-class paleographer to the first century.

Until recently, our earliest extant manuscript of the Gospel of mark was manuscript P45, a third century codex that contained all four Gospels and Acts.

Until recently, our earliest extant manuscript of the Gospel of mark was manuscript P45, a third century codex that contained all four Gospels and Acts.

Since then the rumor mill has churned with pieces of information that no one has been able to truly verify. The academic community has largely been confused, the evangelical apologetics world has been buzzing with excitement, and the people seemingly “in the know” have been bizarrely covert. This all came to a head, however, in June of 2018, when the Egypt Exploration Society announced a re-date update to P137 (P.Oxy. 83.5345), a two sided papyrus fragment of Mark discovered in 1903. In this announcement it was confirmed that P137 was in fact the manuscript purported to be the mysterious “first century Mark” manuscript that everyone was talking about. And that the document in question was not in fact first century, but late second or early third century.

This announcement would have normally been momentous, as it would push P137 into the space of our earliest surviving copy of Mark’s Gospel. But, due to all the hype over an alleged date from the first century, this news was completely overshadowed by more than a little confusion and unanswered questions. The Egypt Exploration Society seemed to share in everyone’s bewilderment concerning the facts, as the manuscript had been in their collection for over a hundred years. The EES likewise has claimed that this papyrus fragment had never been for sale or been passed around within the communities who were making subtle statements about said document.

Manuscript P137 (P.Oxy. 83.5345), courtesy of Egypt Exploration Society

Manuscript P137 (P.Oxy. 83.5345), courtesy of Egypt Exploration Society

The saga of the first century Mark fragment has been a bewildering one, and if for nothing else, a good example of being cautious and not jumping to conclusions. I personally have been skeptical from the beginning, as an unpublished manuscript find, redating, or discovery, might as well be non-existent. However, the whole debacle just does not seem to want to subside, leaving lingering questions in its wake as new evidence continues to trickle into the public sphere.

What follows is my attempt at summarizing the story so far:

In the Beginning
2012

As previously mentioned, it all started during Dr. Dan Wallace’s comments in the debate between himself and Bart Ehrman at UNC Chapel Hill on February 1st, 2012. Wallace announced that there was a yet to be published manuscript of Mark’s Gospel that had been redated to the first century by a reputable source, and that this information would be published by E. J. Brill the following year (2013). If true, this meant that there would be a new manuscript in town to be named the earliest New Testament evidence to date.

Shortly after the debate Dr. Wallace wrote a short blog where he stated:

I mentioned that seven New Testament papyri had recently been discovered — six of them probably from the second century and one of them probably from the first. These fragments will be published in about a year.

These fragments now increase our holdings as follows: we have as many as eighteen New Testament manuscripts from the second century and one from the first. Altogether, more than 43% of all New Testament verses are found in these manuscripts. But the most interesting thing is the first-century fragment.

It was dated by one of the world’s leading paleographers. He said he was ‘certain’ that it was from the first century.


These assertions from Wallace came with their fair share of skepticism from the academic community. Larry Hurtado, Mark Goodacre, and Peter J. Williams, all weighing in with a good dose of apprehension and hesitancy. But nothing could be said one way or the other until something was published for open scrutiny and examination. And so the scholars held a collective breath to see what would come in the following year.

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?
2013-2014

As everyone waited to see resulting fruit from Dr. Wallace’s announcement the upcoming date of its publication came and went with silence. However, there seemed to be some aspect of a connection with the newly formed Green Scholars Initiative, a project which endeavored to publish and display antiquities as part of the Green family’s (owners of Hobby Lobby) personal collection, now on display at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.

This project was directed by antiquities scholar Scott Carroll, who announced in a lecture on archeology and the Bible, that a first century manuscript of Mark had been found and “dates between 70 and 100 (AD/CE).” This immediately set up red flags for many as such a narrow window of dating is highly improbable if the evaluation had been done based on paleographic evidence alone, which is what had been alluded to by Wallace and others. In this lecture Dr. Carroll also mentions a process of manuscript extraction where manuscripts are discovered by dissolving papier-mache Egyptian mummy masks (a process which is highly controversial as it results in the destruction of one ancient artifact to retrieve another).

Earlier that same year at the Apologetics Canada conference in Abbotsford, BC, Craig Evans of Houston Baptist University, gave a presentation where he made a connection between the alleged first century manuscript of Mark and papyri being pulled from Egyptian mummy masks. That same year well known Christian apologist Josh McDowell gave a talk entitled The Bible: Fact, Fiction, or Fable where he described participation in this process of extracting manuscripts from Egyptian funerary masks. In minute 16 of the video, McDowell makes reference to the first century manuscript of Mark’s Gospel and says it came from one of these mummy masks. Going on to say that the manuscript should have been published the year previous.

As 2013 came and went nothing was published. Some new information did come to light however, on the papyri discovered from the mummy masks. A video appeared from 2012 which shows a crowd of individuals going through with the mummy dissolving. Dr. Carroll can be seen at the beginning of the video describing some of the process and saying that he believed that first and second century biblical documents could very well be uncovered.

A slide Dr. Craig Evans used in his presentation that states a date for both the manuscript of Mark and its forthcoming publication.

A slide Dr. Craig Evans used in his presentation that states a date for both the manuscript of Mark and its forthcoming publication.

The sound of silence
2015

In 2015 Live Science published an article explaining the approach taken by scholars who do seek to extract ancient manuscripts from Egyptian funerary masks, the article explicitly mentioning the first century Mark “discovery.” The article included an interview with Dr. Evans where he states that the manuscript publication had been delayed and should surface at the end of 2015. However, by the end of the year there was still no scholarly publication or positive identification of the manuscript. At a National Apologetics Conference in October of 2015, Josh McDowell interviewed Scott Carroll, asking about the Mark manuscript. Dr. Caroll names Dr. Dirk Obbink, of Oxford University, as the papyrologist who made the official dating.

Doctor, doctor, please - Oh, the mess I’m in

2016

Dr. Obbink, the papyrologist named by Dr. Carroll in 2015, during the Q&A section of a presentation on the Ancient Lives Project, makes the statement in context to a question about the importance of smaller manuscript fragments:

But the collection has juxtaposed very large fragments with very small fragments because even a small fragment can confirm or disconfirm a disputed reading in one of the Synoptic Gospels, for example, and provide the earliest manuscript witness to it.

Although not an explicit mention of the Mark manuscript, many take this to be an illusion. However, this brings up questions for many as to the nature of ownership of the document. Dr. Obbink in this talk is specifically talking about the Oxyfhynchus papyri, a particular grouping of manuscripts discovered in the early twentieth century in Oxyfhynchus Egypt. Until that point all information trickling out about the first century Mark manuscript implied that it was owned by a private collection, such as the Green collection. If not owned privately, the inclusion of so much discussion of mummy masks in context to its mentioning pointed to it, at the very least, being part of a larger project involving such exploration techniques.

Manuscript P52 (John Rylands 457), remains our oldest extant evidence for the biblical New Testament. This fragment measures 3.5 by 2.5 inches, containing writing on both sides and is dated to bet ween 125-175 AD/CE.

Manuscript P52 (John Rylands 457), remains our oldest extant evidence for the biblical New Testament. This fragment measures 3.5 by 2.5 inches, containing writing on both sides and is dated to bet ween 125-175 AD/CE.

It’s the final countdown
2018

Dr. Gary Habermas of Liberty University, gives at lecture at Purdue University in February, where he mentions the first century fragment of Mark. Habermas, once again, repeats the slightly problematic 80-110 AD window as an off handed comment.

In April, Dr. Elijah Hixson writes a post on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, indicating that the illusive manuscript could be part of the forthcoming Oxyrhynchus Papyri volume 83. Shortly after Dan Wallace broke his silence and confirmed that the dating of the Mark manuscript was P.Oxy. 5345 and in fact not first century, but late second or early third century. Wallace also issued an apology, stating that his announcement six years previous in his debate with Ehrman was done with the permission of the representatives of individual’s claiming to be the fragments owners.

Scott Carroll, in the comment section of the Evangelcial Textual Criticism blog said that:

D. Obbink offered a papyrus of Mark 1 for sale in late 2011 to the Greens and it was still in his possession and he was trying to sell it in 2013. On both occasions, he unequivocally said that the papyrus dated to the late first or early second century and detailed reasons for his dating. He gave no clear indication about its provenance. Without seeing the pictures, I can not confirm if P.Oxy LXXXIII 5345 is the same papyrus he was trying to sell but it seems certain.

The Egyptian Exploration Society, the owners of the manuscript in question, made a statement shortly after saying that:

In the latest volume of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, volume LXXXIII text 5345, Professor Obbink and Dr Colomo publish a fragment from a papyrus codex (book). The two sides of the papyrus each preserve brief traces of a passage, both of which come from the gospel of Mark. After rigorous comparison with other objectively dated texts, the hand of this papyrus is now assigned to the late second to early third century AD. This is the same text that Professor Obbink showed to some visitors to Oxford in 2011/12, which some of them reported in talks and on social media as possibly dating to the late first century AD on the basis of a provisional dating when the text was catalogued many years ago. Papyrus 5345 was excavated by Grenfell and Hunt, probably in 1903 (on the basis of its inventory number), and has never been for sale, whatever claims may have been made arising from individual conversations in the past. No other unpublished fragments of New Testament texts in the EES collection have been identified as earlier than the third century AD.

The University of Birmingham’s Candida Moss and Yale Divinity’s Joel Baden, in an article for The Daily Beast, highlight a number of contradictions in the stories of the different parties involved in the Markan manuscript saga. This only opened up more questions as Dr. Carroll insisted that the manuscript was put up for purchase to the Green family (who apparently never purchased it) with Dr. Obbink and the Egypt Exploration Society denying it was ever up for sale.

No time like the present
2019

On June 23rd of 2019 Brent Nongbri, an Honorary Research Fellow at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, posted on his blog the text from an email he received from Mike Holmes, a senior figure associated with the Museum of the Bible. This email includes information allegedly confirming an offer of sale by Dr. Obbink during his time as curator of the Oxyrhynchus collection.

Take aways?

This brings me back to the beginning — if we have learned anything throughout this misadventure thus far it is that caution should rule the day. This follows for any discoveries: claims by individuals to have found Noah’s Ark, Isaiah’s name inscribed in a signat ring, James the brother of Jesus’ tomb, or more Dead Sea Scroll fragments for that matter, all need to be vetted and verified by experts and specialists before we should be announcing anything definitive.

The existence of a manuscript, any manuscript, from the first century would be an exciting discovery indeed! And I do not blame those who did caught up in the sensationalism of the existence of something that had a slow trickle of perceived reputable individuals. Calmer heads prevail, and the debacle regarding the first century Mark fragment has been a good test case in that lesson.

At the end of the day, while it would have been momentous to have this Markan manuscript date to the first century, it would have done absolutely nothing to change the dating, text, or perception of Mark’s Gospel as we know it. The Gospel of Mark remains an ancient first century writing. An example of an early biography of Jesus drawn from — if the Early Church Fathers Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian, are to be trusted —the apostle Peter.

The document we call the Gospel of Mark that so many of us have the blessing to have in English translations in our hands today still remains a reliable source for the words, life, and events of Jesus of Nazereth two thousand years after it was penned. That fact we can rely on, and one more manuscript added to the pile will not change the truth of it.

If the Qur'an is true, then it's false

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Many Muslims make objections to the Christian faith in the form of accusations against the reliability, preservation, and trustworthiness of the Bible. There are all sorts of arguments for the tenacity of the biblical text: its historical reliability, trustworthiness, and verisimilitude. However, when it comes to Muslims in particular I think a very cogent argument can be made that the Qur’an itself argues for the preservation of the Christian scriptures. The following is what I routinely present to Muslims as an argument commonly referred to as the Qur'anic Conundrum:


1. The Qur'an routinely refers to the "previous Scriptures," identified as the "Torah" (توراة‎ - Tawrat, mentioned 18 times) and the "Gospel" (إنجيل - Injil, mentioned 12 times). These books are prefaced with the descriptors of being "sent down by God," as seen in places like Surah Ali 'Imran 3:3 and Surah Al Ma'iadh 5:68: :



"He has sent down upon you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth, confirming what was before it. And He revealed the Torah and the Gospel;"

"Say, "O People of the Scripture, you are [standing] on nothing until you uphold [the law of] the Torah, the Gospel, and what has been revealed to you from your Lord." And that which has been revealed to you from your Lord will surely increase many of them in transgression and disbelief. So do not grieve over the disbelieving people."


2. Muhammad is told by Allah in Surah Yunas 10:94, that if he has doubt he should look to the Jews and the Christians because they have the previous Scriptures:



"So if you are in doubt, [O Muhammad], about that which We have revealed to you, then ask those who have been reading the Scripture before you. The truth has certainly come to you from your Lord, so never be among the doubters."



3. In context to mentioning the previous Scriptures the Qur'an declares that Allah's words cannot be changed in Surah Al-An'am 6:114-115:


"[Say], "Then is it other than Allah I should seek as judge while it is He who has revealed to you the Book explained in detail?" And those to whom We [previously] gave the Scripture know that it is sent down from your Lord in truth, so never be among the doubters. And the word of your Lord has been fulfilled in truth and in justice. None can alter His words, and He is the Hearing, the Knowing."


4. Christians in Surah Al-Ma'idah 5:46-47 are told to judge by the Gospel and if they do not do so they are "defiantly disobedient":


“And we sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that which came before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel, in which was guidance and light and confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as guidance and instruction for the righteous.

And let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah has revealed therein. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed - then it is those who are the defiantly disobedient.”


Conclusion: If the previous Scriptures sit in a chain of succession (as is alluded to by verses like 4:46) then it makes logical sense that you cannot remove one of the links of the chain without compromising the others. If indeed the Torah and the Gospel are corrupt, as modern day Muslims would have us believe, then the author of the Qur'an seems to have no knowledge of it. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary that the author of the Qur'an actually articulates their trustworthiness and authenticity as God's word.

Similarly, if the Gospel and Torah are God's word and no one can change God's word then how have these previous Scriptures become corrupted? Did Allah not know they would be corrupted - in which case he is not all-knowing? Could he not stop individuals from doing so - in which case he is not all powerful? Or is what we have in Surah 6:115 incorrect, in which case the Qur'an itself has been compromised?

In conjunction with accusations of change, why would Muhammad be encouraged to talk to a people who had corrupt Scriptures in 10:94? Would this not only confuse Muhammad as there are clear teachings being revealed to him for the Qur'an that inherently contradict what is in the Torah and Gospel?

We know exactly what "the Torah" and "the Gospel(s)" looked like during the late 5th and early 6th centuries of Muhammad's lifetime. We even have manuscripts from the areas near Syria and the Arabian peninsula from this specific time period. They are virtually identical to the modern Gospels and Torahs we have in translation today. Thus, if these commands had any application for their original audience then what was "the Gospel" and "the Torah" being discussed in Surah 10:94? If we know what these documents looked like in the time period that these verses have application then the evidence shows no serious difference from what we have today.

Finally, why would Allah tell Christians to judge by the Gospel if it had been corrupted? If the Torah and Gospel the Qur'an is continually talking about are not the Torah and Gospel(s) we have today then how is the eternal revelation of the Qur'an to speak to modern day Christians? Why bother making the statement that Christians are to "judge by what Allah has revealed therein" lest they be "the defiantly disobedient?" Why not simply tell the Christians outright that these former revelations were corrupt and to get rid of them in place of the more perfect Qur'an?

If I take the Qur'an at its word as a "person of the Gospel" and I judge the Qur'an by the Gospel that has been revealed to me, in accordance with the command in Surah 5:47, I find it wanting. I see no interaction with any of the discussions taking pace in the Gospel nor any indication regarding knowledge of what Jesus is recorded saying there. In fact, what I do see are continual contradictions and misunderstandings regarding what the Gospel says and teaches and therefore, if the Qur'an is true and I obey its command to me then I have to conclude that it is false.

Good coffee, bad advice

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A handful of years ago, I worked as a delivery driver for an organic, non-pasteurized, cold-press juice company in Toronto. I would spend the summer mornings and early afternoons hopping from cafe to yoga studio to health food store. I provided overpriced fruit and vegetable goodness to the masses who were willing to shell out $15 for a bottle of liquified carrots, celery, and apples. It was a good gig, and I drank enough cold-pressed juice that summer to make a vegan-hipster-yoga instructor blush. But it wasn’t just the juice that was a perk of the job, it was the coffee. I would deliver to some of the highest quality artisan and hipster cafes in downtown Toronto. I would show up, unload that day’s juice into a mini fridge or a display behind the counter, and pray that I would hear those magic words from the barista: “hey, juice guy, you want a drink?” 

One particular day, when I had just dropped off a crate of charcoal lemonade, green, carrot, and beet juices, and was waiting for the benevolent barista’s brew, I happened to look up at a chalkboard that had the words, “How we live is more important than what we believe,” scrawled in an artistic font above the drink menu. I couldn’t help but think that such a well intentioned saying might sound nice, but I was left wondering how that would actually work in practicality.

Keep reading…


 

Why the Gospels are embarrassing

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You may have never thought about it before, but if you have ever read the biblical Gospels they’re actually quite embarrassing. Not that the gospel itself is embarrassing, but the four biographies of Jesus’ life—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—are embarrassing.

While that might sound controversial to some, it’s actually not. The fact that the four biblical Gospels are embarrassing—that is, that their content would have made the early church a little uncomfortable—is one key reason that we know they are reliable and authentic.

This is what historians have termed the “criterion of embarrassment.” In other words, when historians are trying to measure and establish the truthfulness of written historical accounts(1), it is generally accepted that when people fabricate, exaggerate, or embellish stories, they don’t tend to incorporate facts that would make the author or the author’s key protagonists look foolish or leave room for the loss of their credibility.

Keep reading….





The Apologetic Books You Should [Already] Have on Your Shelf

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APOLOGETIC EVANGELISM

"Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions" by Greg Koukl

"The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How it Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between" by Greg Koukl

"Unanswered: Lasting Truth for Trending Questions" by Jeremiah J. Johnston

"But is it Real?" by Amy Orr-Ewing

"Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis

"What's Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life's Biggest Questions" by James N. Anderson

"Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels" by J. Warner Wallace

"Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith" by Alister McGrath

"Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World" by Andras Kostenberger, Darrell Bock, and Josh Chartraw 

"Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion" by Os Guinness 

"Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message" by Ravi Zacharias

"Apologetics for a New Generation: A biblical and Culturally Relevant Approach to Talk About God" by Sean McDowell

"How do You Know You're Not Wrong?: Responding to Objections that Leave Christians Speechless" by Paul Copan

"Faith Has its Reasons: Integrative Approaches to Defending the Christian Faith" by Rob Bowman and Kenneth Boa

"Defending Your Faith: An Introduction to Apologetics" by R.C. Sproul 

"Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief" by John M. Frame  

"Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith" by Greg Bahnsen

"Christian Apologetics" by Cornelius Van Til

"The Defense of the Faith" by Cornelius Van Til

 


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ISLAM  

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ATHEISM & AGNOSTICISM 

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 ETHICS & THE PROBLEM OF PAIN/EVIL

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SCIENCE

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 MORMONISM & JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES  

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"Is the Mormon my Brother?" by James White

"Letters to a Mormon Elder?" by James White

"The Forgotten Trinity" by James White

"Mormon Crises: Anatomy of a Failing Religion" by James Beverley and Sandra Tanner

"Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ" by Robert Bowman and J. Ed Komoszewski

"Kingdom of the Cults" by Walter Martin

"The Watchtower and the Word" by Stephen Bedard

"Crisis of Allegiance" by James Beverley

"Reasoning from the Scriptures with Jehovah's Witnesses" by Ron Rhodes



SAME SEX ATTRACTION & HOMOSEXUALITY

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APOLOGETICS FOR KIDS

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Fat Bastards and Crucifixion

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Have you ever  had a Fat Bastard? Now that might be a bit of a shocking even offensive sounding question at first. But the surprising thing is that many many people would actually answer that question with, "yes." Back in the late '90s, a renowned French winemaker invited his British wine distributor friend over to his winery to sample a new vintage. They tasted samples from dozens of barrels, were pleased with the stock but not blown away. Then the French winemaker offered his British friend a taste of an experimental wine that had stayed in a barrel with yeast sediment longer than the other wines. They noted a dramatic difference, it possessed an incredibly full-bodied flavour, which prompted the winemaker to exclaim: "Now that is what you call a fat bastard!"

From then on it would be the only name they ever considered. Fat Bastard wine was an incredibly unlikely name for a wine back in the '90s, long before quirky names became a trend in wines. It was shocking and borderline offensive in a category known for poetic designations like Chateau Margaux or Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Fat Bastard was a cowbell in a symphony orchestra.


Nonetheless, the wine was launched in 1998, and quickly became the largest selling French Chardonnay in the U.S. It was a huge success (except in Iceland. Where a direct mailer for the wine was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority there) despite its off-putting, seemingly offensive face value appearance. A wine with the tagline "Outrageous name, outrageously good."


You may be asking, "what on earth does that have to do with anything regarding Christianity?" The fact remains that we live in a culture where the term "Christianity" and the image of the cross are common place. But for centuries after its inception, both the name and the iconic symbol that would come to symbolize the religion were considered absurd, off-putting, and offensive.


The apostle Paul exemplifies this twice in his letter to the church in the ancient city of Corinth: "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God... we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness" (1 Cor. 1:18, 1 Cor. 1:23).


Crucifixion (the act of dying on a cross) in the ancient world was humiliating. Under Roman penal practice crucifixion was a means of exhibiting a criminal's low social status. It was the most dishonorable death imaginable, originally reserved for slaves. Seneca the Younger, Nero's tutor and advisor, describes the practice as the artem autem infelix lignum (art of the unfortunate wood),(1) referring to the humiliating nature of being flayed, tortured, and displayed to die in public. 


The famous Roman historian Tacitus, while commenting on Nero's decision to blame the Christians for the fire that destroyed Rome in 64 AD, wrote:

Nero fastened the guilt... on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by  the populace. Christus (Christ), from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of... Pontius Pilatus.(2)

Tacitus' description sheds light on a few things: first he mocks the title "Christian". A group that derive their very name from someone who "suffered the extreme penalty" - crucifixion, an act Tacitus doesn't even mention because of its heinous connotation.


This notion transcended the writings of the higher classes though, we have cases of Ancient Roman graffiti mocking Christians and their admittance and acceptance of Jesus' crucifixion. Known as the Alexamenos graffito (seen below), a satirical piece of ancient vandalism from 85 AD, represents Christian worship. It depicting a man worshiping a crucified donkey, the inscription ("ΑΛΕΞΑΜΕΝΟΣ (ΑΛΕΞΑΜΕΝΟC) ΣΕΒΕΤΕ (CEBETE) ΘΕΟΝ") translates to "Alexamenos respects his god".

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Yet, despite all of that, Christianity during this period of time (100-300 AD) spread,  grew, and flourished. Regardless of its foolishness and often perceived offensiveness, Christianity in the course of the first four hundred years after Christ's crucifixion proved to be exceptionally popular - despite its name.


It might be somewhat crude and a little bit ostentatious to try to make the connective illustration of Fat Bastard wine and Christ's crucifixion, but it was done to prove a point. Our culture does not hold the same intensity with the concept as it did in its own day. Sure, maybe if you've watched Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ you might have some idea, but something is still lost. The intensity remains in subtle glimpses such as the English word excruciating, derived from the Latin  excruxio, literally translating "off the cross", but that simply represents the muted remains of a passed understanding. 


Cicero, the second century Roman philosopher-politician, declared that "the very word 'cross' should be far removed not only from the presence of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears".(3) In antiquity there was an inherent cringe factor that would have been associated with the whole thing. Much like naming a high quality wine Fat Bastard. It is a concept that should just not have worked, and yet, it did.


However, unlike the wine, Christianity and the idea of "Christ crucified" is popular for a completely different reason. At the heart of the gospel message are the concepts of grace and reconciliation. Despite its taboo nature, humiliation and agony were the paths that Jesus chose with which to accomplish those two concepts. The idea of sin (which is often tragically minimized) cuts to the very heart of our relationship with our maker and breaks the grandeur for which we were created. It brings disgrace to our essence and stains our very existence.


The act of Jesus' crucifixion two thousand years ago was the ultimate act of disgrace, shame, and pain, working to bring us back to the dignity of relationship with God - picking up the peaces of the broken relationship and healing our shattered souls. The very reason that the apostle Paul declares that he preached Christ crucified was because it transcended the face-value perception of his day. In among all of the absurd, off-putting, and offensive connotations it held, the cross was the ultimate act of the justice and mercy of God coming together. 

 

 

 



[1] Tertulliani Liber Apologeticus, Apologia, IX, 1. 

[2] Tacitus, Annals 15.44, Cambridge Greek & Latin Classics, (Cambridge University Press,  2002.

[3] Cicero Pro Rabiro 5.16, quoted in Martin Hengel, The Crucifixion of the Son of God, (London: SCM Press, 1986), p. 134. 

The question of Canon: the who, what, and where of the books of the Bible

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The modern biblical New Testament canon (BNTC) as we possess it today did not come to us in the way that we know it; the original autographs of the BNTC were not leather-bound books with thumb indexing and gold edges on the pages. There was a very lengthy process in which these books were passed down to us. When this subject is being addressed, what is being discussed is the twenty-seven books we find in what is now called the BNTC. These twenty-seven books represent the message of Jesus of Nazareth recorded by his followers in the first few decades after his death. The issue of canon is the question of how these books were assembled and put together. More so, however, the issue encompasses the differentiation of these books from other contemporaneous stories of Jesus in the successive centuries after his death; therefore, in order to understand this issue in its entirety, it needs to be defined, outlined, and addressed under the setting of its theological significance and its first-century context. It must be traced back and proven reliable. This can be done through a number of categories. The first, can be summarized as the origin of the cannon, that is, addressing why the early church intrinsically created a cannon of scripture. The second is that of the date of canon, namely, tracing its historicity and reliability, and the third, through recognizing and examining the contenders for the cannon, their context, content, and direct address.

THE ORIGIN OF THE NEW TESTAMENT CANON

 

The issue of canon must be examined through its origin. Why did the early church decide to put together the documents that we now recognize as the BNTC? Why a New Testament canon at all? As mentioned previously, this is a theological discussion, one that has far too often been framed not theologically, but historically alone. History has a part to play in this, but ultimately the issue of cannon is framed in theological language. Some theologians and scholars have proposed that the BNTC is what we can refer to as an ecclesiastical product, or what can be described as an extrinsic model, imposed onto the church by the outside. However, this retroactive imposition doesn’t always make sense in light of the early church in regard to both their eschatological theology and their covenantal mind frame.1

 

This can be concretely seen in the eschatological nature of early Christianity. The first Christians were Jews, who were living in a tense situation of displacement. Not a physical displacement, but rather a spiritual one. The anticipation for the deliverance of Israel discussed in the Old Testament (OT) was still very much in the sub-conscious of first century Jews.2 We see this language of deliverance and redemption in the biblical testimony in places like John 1:41 (looking for the Messiah), Luke 2:38 (redemption of Jerusalem), Luke 2:25 (consolation of Israel), and Acts 1:6 (restoration of the kingdom). In other words, the Jews within early Christianity did not view the story of the OT as complete. As N.T. Wright states, “the great story of the Hebrew scriptures was therefore inevitably read in the second-temple period as a story in search of a conclusion.”3This is evident in the very structure of the OT canon, with first-century Hebrew TANAKHs (Hebrew Bibles) most often ending with the book of Chronicles. The idea being that of the openness of the OT canon ending with the Davidic reign, distinctly inviting the coming Davidic King and ending in a posture of anticipation for first-century Jews.4

 

This then, sets the stage for the first Christians and their eschatological mind frame. Early Christians believed that these OT prophecies were indeed fulfilled and accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of their Messiah, Jesus (Deut. 18:18 in juxtaposition with the arguments in Hebrews). This was not eschatological in terms of a second coming, but rather, eschatological in terms of the culmination of the story of the OT. It is what Wright describes as “the climax of the exile [being] reached.”5 Consequently, the fact that the Jews of the first century viewed the OT as incomplete and in need of a conclusion brings with it the need for a new corpus of books, i.e. the BNTC. It is also worth noting that the OT biblical witness describes a pattern, one of God revealing a new set of word revelation after His major redemptive events. As Richard Gaffin writes, “revelation never stands by itself, but is always concerned either explicitly or implicitly with redemptive accomplishment. God’s speech is invariably related to his actions; it is not going too far to say that redemption is the raison d’etre of revelation.”6 The pattern therefore being that, redemption leads to word revelation; it would not be hard to see why the early Christians would intrinsically posit this revelation in the BNTC. This process would not have been seen as forced in the early Christian mindset, rather, through this pattern of word revelation following redemption, it would have seemed innate, intrinsic, and organic.

 

Equally, first century Judaism as well as early Christianity was covenantal. When looking at the writings leading up to the first century, an interpretation of what can be described as covenantal categories is seen very strongly. The Jewish people understood the actions of God through the lens of His covenantal promises. What is interesting is that when we get to the earliest Christian writings this theological covenantal mind frame crosses over.7The acts of Jesus circulating in the Kerygma (oral Jesus stories) and recorded in the gospels were framed in the context of Jesus bringing with Him a new covenant. The last supper was understood as a covenantal meal, as Jesus describes (Luke 22:20; Matt. 26:28; Mark 12:4); Zachariah understood the coming of his son, John the Baptist, as the fulfilling of God’s covenant and the coming Messiah (Luke 1:5-25); Paul describes the ministry of the Apostles as being “ministers of a new covenant” (2 Cor. 3:6), alluding to the “making [of a] new covenant with the people” in Jer. 31:31; and so on. There are many examples of this in the text. What does covenantal theology have to do with the origin of the BNTC? The answer lies in the connection between covenants and written texts. The OT idea of a covenant was linked with the written text representing the terms and arrangements of that covenant promise (Ex. 24:7, 34:28; 2 Kings 23:2; Deut. 4:13, 29:21).8 Therefore, if the early Christians themselves were immersed in this covenantal structure and mind frame then it is not hard to imagine the New Covenant, through Jesus Christ, also being received with written text. These Christians, by virtue of their Christian heritage, would have naturally seen this promise manifested in conjunction with written scriptural books. Once again being seen as innate, intrinsic, and organic to their faith.

 

THE HISTORICAL RELIABILITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT CANON

 

Secondly, there is the issue of the BNTC, namely, tracing its historicity and reliability. Here the “when” of it all is addressed. When exactly were these books first viewed as scripture? If it is argued that canon is an ecclesiastical product, an extrinsic model imposed onto the church, than the date of canon is essential to the discussion. The majority consensus on the date of canon is the end of the second century as the point when this shift takes place, specifically because of the writings of Irenaeus (130-202 CE), when he writes, “but it is not possible that the gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For since there are four zones of the world in which we live and four principle winds, and the cherubim too were four faced”9. Not only this, but Irenaeus quotes other BNTC books extensively. Along with the four-fold gospels, he names the entire Pauline corpus (excluding Philemon), Acts, Peter, James, Hebrew, 1st and 2nd John, 1st and 2nd Peter, and Revelation. Irenaeus quotes BNTC passages over a thousand times, identifying them directly as “graphe” or scripture (there is also some evidence he thought the Shepherd of Hermes was scripture but that will be discussed later). However, because of this fact many scholars have posited the idea that Irenaeus was the innovator of the BNTC, Elaine Pagels describes him the “principal architect”10  of the BNTC itself. The problem with such a theory is that in IrenaeusAgainst Haresies he gives no proof-texting for his citations of BNTC being scripture. Instead he cites the BNTC frequently, as if his audience would have known of them, and confidently as scripture. There is no defense or argument of their scriptural integrity, he simply quotes them rather as fact. If the extrinsic model is true, it would be foreign within the early Christian community to see BNTC books being cited as scripture either before Irenaeus’ or by contemporaries. If true, this would push back the date of canon beyond the second century.11

 

Irenaeus however, was not the only second century writer to mention the books of the BNTC as scriptural. Theophilus (169-183 CE), a contemporary of Irenaeus, and the bishop of Antioch, states in the mid to late second century that, “concerning the righteousness which the law enjoined, confirmatory utterances are found both with the prophets and in the gospels, because they all spoke inspired by one Spirit of God."12 This stands as a very bold statement; essentially, Theophilus is arguing that the authority and veracity of the OT prophets is shared in its scriptural nature with the gospels. Not only this but Theophilus makes mentions of Paul’s letters as well. So too does Clement of Alexandria (95-97 CE). In his letters to Corinth he quotes BNTC with ease and regularity, establishing all four gospels, the epistles of Paul, Acts, Hebrews, 1st Peter, 1st and 2nd John, Jude, and Revelation.13 Likewise, the early document of the Muratorian fragment (there is some argument as to the dating of this document but the earliest it's attested is 170 CE) suggests that Irenaeus was not alone in his views. Not only this but the evidence of the Muatorian fragment works to place these books in a list, suggesting restriction rather than mere usage of BNTC. The Muratorian fragment is strong evidence but even more is the testimony of Tatian’s work of the Diatessaron (160-175 CE), which promotes a complete gospel harmony of all four BNTC gospels. In this we start to see somewhat of a pattern evolving in the second century Christian community. For not only Irenaeus but also Theophoilus of Antioch, Clement of Alexandria, Tatian, and the witness of the Muratorian fragment, all baring testimony to a very early date and idea of canonicity. Dispelling ideas of Irenaeus being alone and working to show that the BNTC was accepted at a very early date showing both geographically diversity and recognition as canon throughout the second century; ideas that, due to their regularity and ease of quotation by these second century Christians, may well have predated the second century.

 

EVALUATING THE CONTENDERS

 

Finally, the issue of canon can be recognized and examined by the category of looking at the contenders for the cannon, their context, content, and direct address. For it is true that there are other books written in the first few successive centuries after Jesus’ death; books that discuss the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in a different light than our BNTC presents them. Apocryphal (that is, non-canonical) works started to appear and be circulated relative early in regard to the story of the early Christian church, donning the titles of Apostles and other members of Jesus’ followers (Mary Magdalene, Nicodmus, Judas, etc.). 14 The question therefore must be asked, how do these apocryphal gospels, letters, and books fit into the conversation in regard to the BNTC as we know it today? Did they ever have a chance at being included the BNTC? This conversation is key in understanding the BNTC because many of the early church fathers already mentioned (Irenaeus, Clement, and Tatian) make use of and quote apocryphal sources. So the question in regard to the BNTC and its contenders is that of use. Is mere use of apocryphal books proof of their authoritative status?

 

Some scholars and theologians have indeed argued for the mere use of a book demonstrating its authoritative standing. The issue in regard to canon and contenders is not whether their use is true or not, for this is evident, the question is the conclusion that is drawn from that fact. The content of how these books were discussed and used is very important.15 Eusebius (260-339 CE) refers to the apocryphal Gospel of Peter when the Christian community of Rhossus writes to Serapion of Antioch (191-211 CE) in regard to the supposed work of Peter. Serapion, after reading the Gospel of Peter discovered it contained a docetic teaching (that is, denying the incarnate physical nature of Christ). Serapion condemned the apocryphal gospel of Peter on all counts because of its content. 16 In regard to Serapion and the community of Rhossus, can we draw the conclusion (as previously stated) that the four-fold gospel collection that we find in the BNTC was actually normative? The answer remains that there seems to be no indication on the part of the Serapion event, that the Gospel of Peter was either considered as scripture by the church at Rhossus or Serapion himself. 17 No indication from the documents themselves that it even functioned as scripture in any one of those contexts. 

 

Likewise, Clement of Alexandria, and his pupil Origen, both quoted extensively from apocryphal books such as the Teaching of Peter, the Gospel of the Egyptians, the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Shepherd of Hermes, and the Epistle of Barnabas. Yet Clement, as recorded by Eusebius, declares “about the four gospels, which alone are undisputed in the church of God under heaven" 18, directly highlighting Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Consequently, the content and context as to which both Clement and Origin use these sources is very important. They are clear in their use of scripture, often outlining BNTC as such in comparison with apocryphal works. Therefore, Clement works as a very concrete example of an early church source having no issue with using apocryphal works as sources, but through his context, content, and direct address, specifies which are and aren’t scriptural. In this way, mere use does not equate to reception or acceptance on the part of scripture.

 

 Frequency likewise must be noted in the discussion. Irenaeus makes over 1000 references to the BNTC books (400 of which are gospel quotations). Comparably, Tertullian accredits the four-fold gospels, making 2500 references to the BNTC books (700 being gospel citations). Clement quoted the BNTC books far less than Irenaeus or Tertullian but still made 230 references. In comparison, Clement quotes apocryphal sources a total of 16 times in all his writings; Irenaeus and Tertullian’s numbers of apocryphal citations being similarly low in comparison to their BNTC references.19

 

It is also paramount to address some of these specific contenders directly in order to refute their relation to the BNTC. The two closest contemporaneous contenders for the BNTC were not the sensational Gnostic or Decetic Gospels. Rather, the two who had the best possibility at being incorporated into the BNTC were the Shepherd ofHermes, and the Epistle of Barnabas. The number one contender is the Shepherd, so therefore it will be addressed directly. Neither of these books were gospels at all, rather, the Shepherd of Hermes was an apocalypse, comparative to the book of Revelation (last book in the BNTC).  The issue with the Shepherd as a book was its late authorship; being a mid to late second century writing, with no direct apostolic connection. It is interesting to note that the Muatorian fragment (mentioned previously) rejects the Shepherd (along with the Epistle of Barnabas) outright stating that “it was written very recently, in our times by Hermes while his brother Pius was sitting in the chair of Rome."20 This gives a very strong indication that recent productions (after the first century) were never truly seen as contenders to BNTC. Apostolic succession for documents of the BNTC was considered the core criteria for the early Christian church and its leaders. All in consideration, while Irenaeus seems to have no interest in Barnabas, he does at one point call the Shepherd of Hermes graphe, “scripture” in his work Against Heresy, but afterwards never mentions it again.  Origin too regarded the Shepherd as valuable but leaves it out in his explicit list of BNTC books. Tertullian, much like Irenaeus had very little to say about Barnabas but rejected the Shepherd outright stating, “But I would yield my ground to you, if the writing of the Shepherd… had deserved to find a place in the Divine canon; if it had not been habitually judged by every council of Churches (even your own) among apocryphal and false (writings) 21”. The Shepherd of Hermes remains the closest contender for inclusion in the BNTC, but as seen, the leaders of the church did not seriously consider it part of canon in the second century.

 

The dating of these apocryphal documents is crucial. While the BNTC documents all predate the second century in autograph and origin, the apocryphal documents all date from the second century or later. The only apocryphal book that could possibly be dated close to the first century is that of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. While being an early work of antiquity, the Gospel of Thomas had very little possiblity of actually making its way into the BNTC. Thomas is practically absent from any mention in early Christianity, apart from a few mentions of condemnation by patristic writers. Thomas is not a traditional narrative gospel like that of the BNTC gospels; rather, it is a list of 114 sayings of Jesus. Narratives of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are absent from Thomas. Even more to the point, is the content of these sayings, most of which draw heavily on the BNTC gospels for its content with a very strong leaning towards Gnostic heresy. Gnosticism as a defined religion was not solidified till the mid second century. These teachings not only recognized as heretical in terms of doctrine but also revealing late authorship, ultimately excluding writings like that of Thomas from anything connected to the apostolic writers and therefore the BNTC. 22

 

CONCLUSION

 

The issue of canon and the documents that make up the BNTC have great implication in the picture of the Christian message and theology as a whole. Theology lives and dies in the message of scripture, all coming back to the notion of God’s revelation. It hinges on the question of how God has revealed Himself to us, and in what way has He done this. This ultimately funnels down to the inquiry of whether we know that what we possess today in the BNTC is what God gave to the original authors, and whether we can trust that message. Therefore, the faith seeking understanding Christian need to ask themselves honestly what the BNTC is, and how we know it is reliable. This can be done through looking at the origin of the cannon, flushing out the eschatological nature of the early Christians and the intrinsic, organic, and natural process of the pattern of word revelation following redemption linked with covenantal promise and written texts, by analyzing the date of canon, tracing its historicity and reliability through looking at the perception of the early church fathers, and their view of the BNTC documents as scripture and therefore divine revelation, and finally, through recognizing and examining the contenders for the cannon, their context, content, and direct address. By examining how they were viewed and related in regard to BNTC, and by examining the credibility of contending works of antiquity, we can conclude the authenticity, reliability, and credibility of the documents we know call the BNTC.

 

 

[1] Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. New York: Oxford University Press (2012), pg. 8-10; Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities: Battles for Scripture and the Faiths we Never Knew. New York: Oxford University Press. (2003), pg. 236-237

[2] Michael J. Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy. Illinois: Crossway Publishing. (2010), pg. 125-127.

[3] N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press (1992), pg. 217.

[4] Michael Coogan, The Old Testament: A Very Short Introduction. (2008), pg. 119,127; Richard B. Gaffin, Ressurection and Redemption. Phillipsburg: P&R. (1978), pg. 22; Michael J. Kruger. Canon Revisited. Illinois: Crossway Publishing. (2012), pg. 166-170

[5] N.T. Wright, Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology. London: Biddles Publishing Ltd. (2004), pg. 150.

[6] Richard B. Gaffin, Ressurection and Redemption. Phillipsburg: P&R. (1978), pg. 22.

[7] N.T. Wright, Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology. London: Biddles Publishing Ltd. (2004), pg. 150.

[8] Michael J. Kruger, The Question of Canon. Illinois: Inter Varsity Press. (2012), pg. 57-59

[9] Irenaeus, Against Heresies. 3.11.8

[10] Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. New York: Random House Publishing. (2003), pg. 111.

[11] Michael J. Kruger. Canon Revisited. Illinois: Crossway Publishing. (2012), pg. 214, 228.

[12] Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus 3.12.

[13] Michael J. Kruger. Canon Revisited. Illinois: Crossway Publishing. (2012), pg. 211, 212.

[14] Denis Farkasfalvy, Inspiration and Interpretation: A Theological Introduction to Sacred Scripture. New York: Catholic University of America Press. (2010), pg. 94.

[15] Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities: Battles for Scripture and the Faiths we Never Knew. New York: Oxford University Press. (2003), pg.146-167

[16] Patrick Healy, St. Serapion, The Catholic Encylopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company. (1912), pg. 248-252

[17] Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities: Battles for Scripture and the Faiths we Never Knew. New York: Oxford University Press. (2003), pg.14-16

[18] Eusebius, H.E. 6.25.4-6

[19] Thomas Cooper, The Bridge of History Over the Gulf of Time: A Popular View of the Historical Evidence for the Truth of Christianity. London: Hodder and Stoughton. (1871), pg. 74-75.

[20] M.A. Smith, From Christ to Constantine. London: IVP, (1971), pg. 65-66.

[21] Tertullian, De Pudicitia. 10.12

[22] H,H Drake Williams, Jesus Tried and True. Wipf and Stock Publishers. (2013), pg. 26-27.