Do We Have the Same Gospels?
It is clear that presently we have four Gospels that were considered authoritative for the Christian Church since the time of their writing.
It is clear? When was that proven? We don't even know exactly when the writing of the Gospels were. There are some good ideas based on what they write about but an exact date is not known.
Trustworthy sources attest to the genuine authorship of these documents, and their style and literary genre indicate historical accounts of actual people and events.
Reasserting unproven things that were asserted earlier with no evidence does not make them true.
Yet, the question arises: how sure can one be that the Bible one reads today reflects what was originally written? Were the Gospels preserved and copied reliably? This is the question of reliability of transmission.
These are valid questions. This is also where Textual Criticism comes into play. The definition of Textual criticism from Wikipedia: Textual criticism (or lower criticism) is a branch of literary criticism that is concerned with the identification and removal of transcription errors in the texts of manuscripts. Ancient scribes made errors or alterations when copying manuscripts by hand. Given a manuscript copy, several or many copies, but not the original document, the textual critic seeks to reconstruct the original text (the archetype or autograph) as closely as possible. The same processes can be used to attempt to reconstruct intermediate editions, or recensions, of a document's transcription history. The ultimate objective of the textual critic's work is the production of a "critical edition" containing a text most closely approximating the original.
For all ancient writings, the question of reliability of transmission hinges on the quality, quantity, and dating of the documents themselves.
I believe the blogger is trying to describe eclecticism approach to textual criticism. This has been the most common way in the past to determine the New Testament but different techniques can provide a better assessment.
There is still a lingering question. What is meant by quality? This question is never answered and quality is never discussed. Quantity is fairly straight forward, but there is a problem with having too much. The sheer number of New Testament copies makes stemmatics impossible and thus eliminates one type of textual criticism. A really good book on the problems of textual criticism and the New Testament is Bart Ehrman's book Misquoting Jesus. I highly recommend this book.
I could easily continue on about textual criticism but the Wikipedia article covers it well enough and there is more to cover in this blog post.
It was the practice of the early Church to meet together for worship, fellowship, celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and for the reading and teaching of scripture. The scripture of the early Church was the Old Testament. Bruce elaborates:At the beginning of its existence, then, the Christian church found itself equipped with a book, a collection of sacred scriptures which it inherited. It was not based on the book: it was based on a person, Jesus Christ . . . acknowledged by his followers as Lord of all. But the book bore witness to him; in this role they found it indispensable. At the same time they found the record of his life and teaching, his suffering and triumph, indispensable to their understanding of the book.11
Where did Bruce get this from? What evidence does he have for any of this? You can read about the early church on the Wikipedia page on Early Christianity. So much happened during that time period to Christianity that Bruce's couple of sentences just doesn't begin to cover. The main thing is that the Gospels were at best written around 65CE. That would be 30 years after the crucifixion. That is 30 years without any writings on the life of Jesus. There was no book. When proselytism started it was the leaders of the church going to communities and sharing their beliefs. Later they would write/dictate letters back to these churches. There was no Bible and no standard as to what Christians believed, that is how the early Heresies started.
Clearly the early Church’s reliance upon the testimony of the Gospels was central to the faith, and in the light of the Gospels, the fulfillment of the Old Testament writings became clear.
How? For most of the early church period they didn't have the writings. John wasn't written until at the earliest 90 CE. The apostolic period ended in 130 CE. How can a book that isn't even around for most of the period be central?
As for fulfillment of the Old Testament, these were Jewish men talking about Jewish prophecies. They could make the stories fit the prophecies.
Bruce adds: “…the perpetuation of the words and deeds of Jesus could not be entrusted indefinitely to oral tradition…”12 The early Church valued the Gospel writings as authoritative, and was particularly concerned with the transmission and preservation of the writings.
Of course oral tradition is worse than written. This is common sense. In grade school we used to play the gossip game. It would start with a single phrase whispered into one person's ear and then passed around the room by whispering in ears. The last person in line would say the phrase they were told, it was never anything like what started. Now imagine that happening for 30+ years. Including the originators refining their own story, because that is what we do as humans. Then finally writing down the stories after 30+ years. The only problem is that people considered literate then, would not be in our own time. Ehrman often uses the example of a famous scribe in Egypt, Petaus. Petaus was asked to judge the literacy of another scribe, Ischyrion. Petaus said that Ischyrion was literate because he could write his name. These were two men hired and trained by the government and it seems they could not read. Now a bunch of lower class farmers and fishermen are expected to suddenly learn how to read and write and copy perfectly?
Not all of the early members were of lower class, there were exceptions such as Paul of Tarsus. The majority though were lower class citizens that felt abandoned by the Jewish religion of the time.
Because of this, the Gospel texts began to be copied and circulated widely among the early Church. To quote Barnett, “Clearly it was that Christian ‘habit’ of assembling on a ‘fixed day’ to hear the Scriptures read that explains both the multiplicity and the survival of New Testament texts.”13
That would make the assumption that most of the copies we have are from this period of time. That would be a bad assumption. If you scroll down a little ways on the Wikipedia Biblical Manuscript page, you will see a list of all the major sources for the New Testament and when they are dated. Granting a little leeway, the number of sources from the period being discussed is 8. That is it, 8 sources. Yet Apologetics 315 is telling us that they were copied and circulated widely. Those 8 sources are also fragments. None of them are a complete book. If you are truly interested in why there were not a lot of copies made, read the Biblical Manuscript page I just linked. The basics are, the church had to hire scribes to copy and this was very expensive.
The majority of scholars date the Gospels between 30 and 70 years after the death of Jesus.14 Scholarly opinion varies on the dating, but the fact of the circulation of the Gospels is not disputed. As Barnett observes, “Although no one can say exactly when the Gospels were written, we can say with certainty the dates by which they were in circulation.”15 The early circulation and authorship make the Gospel documents the earliest historical manuscripts available for events of their period.
No one can say exactly when the Gospels were written, that is true. They have narrowed it down to within a few years. Mark was written first around 65 to 70 CE. Luke and Matthew were next around 70 to 100 CE. John was written around 90 to 110 CE. They were in wide circulation by the mid 2nd century, so around 150 CE. Not sure how this helps their case.
That last sentence is just false. Josephus' two major works were written around 75 CE and 90 CE. Tacitus wrote his works around the late 90's and early 100's.
The time gap between the originals and the first surviving copies is around 25 years.16
There is a fragment of John, dated between 125 and 160 CE. That is the only thing that even comes close to this claim. Although the Apologetics 315 makes it sound like it is a complete copy of all the Gospels. It is not. Papyrus 52 is the name of the fragment. It contains 5 partial verses from John 18. That is all. The 25 years is if you claim John written around 100 CE and the papyrus around 125 CE.
Geisler and Turek state that the New Testament documents “have more manuscripts, earlier manuscripts, and more abundantly supported manuscripts than the best ten pieces of classical literature combined.”17
Logical fallacy alert! This is a False Analogy or sometimes called Comparing Apples and Oranges. There is a reason for the religious preserve religious writings, not so much for classical literature enthusiasts. Instead they should compare the Hindu Vedas or the Koran.
Due to the extensive copying and propagation of the Gospel writings, scholars now have over 5,700 manuscripts that contain some portion of the New Testament. Roberts points out that “Among these manuscripts, a couple thousand contain all or portions of the biblical Gospels.”18 This abundance of manuscripts is astounding when compared to the available manuscripts for other ancient writings of the same period. “The number of Gospel manuscripts in existence is about 20 times larger than the average number of extant manuscripts of comparable writings.”19
Didn't we just go over all this? That most of those copies are from much later. That comparing religious texts to non-religious text is comparing apples to oranges.
Princeton textual critic Bruce Metzger and New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman elaborate on the wealth of New Testament manuscript evidence:Besides textual evidence derived from the New Testament Greek manuscripts and from early versions, the textual critic has available the numerous scriptural quotations included in the commentaries, sermons, and other treatises written by early Church fathers. Indeed, so extensive are these citations that if all other sources for our knowledge of the text of the New Testament were destroyed, they would be sufficient alone for the reconstruction of practically the entire New Testament.20
I know I have read more of this quote from Ehrman about discrepancies between what the church fathers wrote, but I cannot find it. It is true we can recreate the new testament from the writings of the early leaders. Some even from the late 2nd and early 3rd Century.
The abundance of manuscripts is a key element in testing the reliability of the Gospels. Not all manuscripts are exactly the same. Some manuscripts are complete, while others only contain fragments. Among these manuscripts, some contain variant readings of the texts. These variants, however, rarely affect the meaning of the text.
This last sentence is just a lie. There are quite a few variants that completely change the meaning of text, that was the whole purpose of the variant. Earlier he used Marcion to confirm Luke as the author of Luke. The book Marcion called Luke looked nothing like the book we call Luke today. That is because Marcion was anti-Semitic and a gnostic.
As Roberts points out:“If you were to take two different teams of text critics and ask them to work independently on a critical edition of the Greek New Testament, they would agree more than 99 percent of the time…having many manuscripts actually increases the likelihood of our getting back to the original text.”21
Wow, yet another lie. This has actually been done. Kurt and Barbara Alund in their book The Text Of The New Testament compared the 7 major Greek versions of the new testament. They came up with this graph from Wikipedia. You will notice that over the entire New Testament the seven copies agreed 62.9%, that is actually quite impressive. Notice though that the main areas of disagreement were the Gospels and Revelations. Mark being disagreed upon the most with 10.3 major variations per page. This completely refutes Roberts hypothetical.
It is the great quantity of manuscripts that allows for the crosschecking of the manuscripts with one another, filtering out errant readings. According to text critic Daniel Wallace, only about 1% of the textual variants make any substantive difference, with Roberts noting that “few, if any, of these have any bearing on theologically important matters.”22 In other words, the number of manuscripts for the Gospels reveals that any variant readings make no difference in the meaning of the text. The Gospels stand up to the scrutiny of textual criticism.
Go back and read what I just wrote. Apologetics 315 is just making stuff up now.
Were There Other Gospels?
Recent popular fiction and conspiracy documentaries seem to have raised awareness of “alternative Gospels” among the general public. Although it is true that there are other documents that can be called “gospels,” it should be noted that these so-called “gospels” bear little resemblance to the biblical Gospels.
I guess that is why they were taken seriously when voted on to make up the Bible. Most were considered heretical and thus why there was a vote for what was canon. Here go to Wikipedia and read about the heresies and canonization. There is just so much wrong here that I cannot possibly cover it all.
These gospels are referred to as the apocryphal gospels, meaning hidden writings. These would include such writings as The Gospel of Judas, The Gospel of Mary, The Gospel of Philip, The Gospel of Thomas, and a number of others. A cursory examination of the apocryphal gospels tends to strengthen the case for the reliability of the biblical Gospels.
Actually apocryphal means of dubious authenticity, not hidden writings. Those are a list of some of the New Testament Apocrypha.
How they strengthen, I have not a clue, as they show that there were a lot of writings about Jesus that were simply made up or not in line with what the church leaders said in 325 CE.
First, the apocryphal gospels are dated much later than the biblical Gospels. They came much later – most scholars agreeing on dates in the second or third century. Unlike the biblical Gospels, the apocryphal writings were self-titled – obviously in an attempt to gain credibility, as their writing postdates the death of their purported authors. Roberts tells us “Almost no scholar believes that the extrabiblical Gospels were actually written by their purported authors.”23
Yes, much later, like the second century as opposed to late first century early second century. Something like 30 to 70 years after the others. This sounds familiar...
Yes, self titled by other people because they didn't know who wrote them and wanted to give them authority. I am getting a strong sense of déjà vu here.
None were probably written by the claimed authors. Damn still can't shake that feeling of familiarity...
Second, the other gospels were not historical narratives like the biblical Gospels. The Gnostics were a contemporaneous sect of mystics professing themselves to be keepers of “special knowledge,” and many of the alternative gospels were clearly written from a Gnostic point of view. With their mystical tone, emphasis on secret sayings, and esoteric nature, the Gnostic writings show no substance of historical narrative. In this regard, they do not match the style and content of the biblical Gospels. What narrative does occur includes stories of Jesus’ mystical boyhood miracles and his secret conversations with the apostles after his resurrection. They rely on the biblical Gospels for their context, often filling in the “untold” stories of Jesus’ life. Whereas the miracles of the biblical Gospels are presented plainly, the apocryphal gospels contain embellished accounts of miracles without any particular purpose.
Yes, none were narratives. Well I mean The Gospel of Thomas, a gnostic text, just give a list of quotes from Jesus. The book that never claimed to be written by Judas called the Gospel of Judas was another gnostic text. It tells a story of Jesus through Judas but that is nothing like the canon Gospels.
There are so many Apocrypha that this claim is just ridiculous. Several were very similar to the canon Gospels. History is written by winners.
Finally, the apocryphal gospels failed to edify the church. In the history of the canon of the New Testament, the second-century Christian writer and theologian Tatian authored his Diatessaron. In writing the Diatessaron (from a musical term meaning harmony of four), Tatian’s goal was to combine the four Gospels into one complete whole. As Metzger puts it, “The Diatessaron supplies proof that all four Gospels were regarded as authoritative, otherwise it is unlikely that Tatian would have dared to combine them into one Gospel account.”24 Although Tatian’s Diatessaron was eventually rejected in favor of the original and authoritative four, it should be noted that he didn’t choose among the apocrypha. Metzger continues: “…it is certainly significant that Tatian selected just these four…”25 The four biblical Gospels were accepted immediately; the apocryphal gospels came much later and were considered more heretical than beneficial.
No, they didn't reflect the beliefs of the majority of the group in control at the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. Where they voted on things like the trinity and whether Jesus was merely a human or all God (that debate was settled with a compromise). There were sects during the period of the early church that didn't even believe Jesus had been human at all (Docetism).
The whole Tation thing is a red herring (another logical fallacy). It has nothing to do with the claim that the apocrypha did not edify the church.
Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, published a list of authoritative writings that contained all of the books of the New Testament. In A.D. 367 he wrote concerning the apocryphal gospels and their shortcomings:[N]or is there in any place a mention of apocryphal writings. But they are an invention of heretics, who write them when they choose, bestowing upon them their approbation, and assigning to them a date, that so, using them as ancient writings, they may find occasion to lead astray the simple.26
In summary, the other gospels did not prove to be genuine in the eyes of their first audiences. Those closest to the Gospel message and the apostles, the early Church fathers, rejected their authorship and denounced their teachings. These false gospels failed the test of antiquity due to their late authorship. They were not copied due to their lack of impact with Christian believers, and they had no seal of apostolic authority. When compared with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the other gospels pale in comparison. In short, the apocryphal gospels failed to be reliable historical accounts of the life of Jesus.
A guy several hundred years after says that the apocrypha don't agree with what he voted on as canon for Christianity. Color me impressed.
Obviously they did appeal to a large mass of people or they wouldn't have been written and distributed. They also wouldn't have been written about by Paul as being heretical.
We see that the Gospels we have today were written very early by trusted sources. Their readers received them as the authoritative account of the life of Jesus Christ. Because of this, they were copied and preserved more than any other ancient writing. The abundance of manuscripts show that there is virtually no difference between what was originally written and what we have today. Other false gospels were rejected because they failed to show themselves to be genuine historical accounts. In conclusion, the New Testament Gospels can be trusted as reliable historical records of Jesus.
Yeah, uh huh.
1 Mark D. Roberts, Can We Trust the Gospels (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007), pp. 84-86.
2 Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), p. 240.
3 Ibid., pp. 91-92.
4 Paul W. Barnett, Is The New Testament Reliable? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), p. 15.
5 F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), p. 132.
6 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978-1980).
7 Roberts, p. 43.
8 Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), p. 136.
9 Roberts, pp. 48-49.
10 Ibid., p. 49.
11 Bruce, p. 55.
12 Ibid., p. 118.
13 Barnett, p. 45.
14 Ibid., p. 58.
15 Ibid., p. 39.
16 Normal Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), p. 225.
18 Roberts, p. 31.
20 Ibid., p. 32., citing Metzger and Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 126.
21 Roberts, p. 33.
22 Ibid., p. 34., citing Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace, Reinventing Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2006), p. 56.
23 Ibid., p. 40.
24 Metzger, p. 115.
26 Roberts, p. 179., citing Athanasius, Festal Letter for Easter 367 A.D., A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978-1979).