Wednesday, 26 January 2011

You couldn't make it up

I was speaking to someone last week who mentioned that there were books that the early Christians threw out of the Bible.  It is a common charge - the Christians cherry picked and edited the books that suited their agenda and threw out the rest.  It's a common charge but that doesn't make it a good one...

The assertion shows a lack of knowledge about what the early Christians had access to.  There was not a book bound in black leather called "The Holy Bible" that they began to tamper with and from which they removed books.  They had a collection of documents from the apostles and from companions of the apostles written during the lifetime of those apostles.  Because these documents had apostolic authority they were, quite naturally, the documents that the early Christians held to be authoritative.  Books that didn't come from apostles or from their companions quite simply did not have that authority over the Christians.  The books might have been interesting and profitable, but were not authoritative and obligatory. 

It can be seen early in church history, and indeed even in the New Testament (1Timothy 5 v 18; 2Timothy 3 v 16; 2Peter 3 v 15-16), that these apostolic writings were viewed as Scripture.  It's not the case that later writings were "thrown out of the Bible", but it was a mere matter of fact that they were different, and could not be grouped with the apostolic writings of the first century.

But were these early writings edited to present a more divine Jesus?  Well, if we are going to suggest editing, then why didn't they remove the passages that cults have used to try to show that the Lord was less than divine?  If editing was going on then why did they not harmonise the passages that unbelievers pounce on to try to show contradictions?  Now if the cults read fairly and contextually they would see that the passages they point to do not show that Christ was not divine, and if the unbelievers read fairly and contextually they would see that the passages have differences but not contradictions.  However, if there had been a committee of editors they surely would have done a job that would have left a whole lot less for the church to have to explain and defend (again, just to emphasise, the passages can be explained, and inspiration can be sensibly defended)!

Furthermore, the idea of a church government that sat in an ivory tower editing manuscripts is a completely inaccurate view of what the church was.  It was not an organisation, it didn't have offices, secretaries and board meetings.  It was a persecuted group of individuals for the first 300 years of its existence.  They didn't have the means, motive or opportunity to start lying about the Gospel accounts and changing what they said.  If the Gospels didn't proclaim a divine Saviour, risen from the dead, then what were they being persecuted for?  What got the Jews so worked up?  And why would they invent a blasphemous lie that would not only put them out of favour with their families and nation, but out of the fold of the Jewish ceremonies and out of fellowship with the God of Israel who said that He alone was to be worshipped.  When these Jewish believers worshipped the Lord Jesus Christ they did not believe they were violating that commandment - they wouldn't have dared.

Church history shows us that the manuscripts were rapidly copied and widely distributed, so that we can see that editing did not and could not have taken place - there were multiple lines of transmission allowing comparison, and thus confidence that no corruption had taken place.

We can have every confidence that there are no missing books from the Bible, and there are no manipulated books in the Bible.