Why We Trust Our Bible - Lesson 3

Historical Reliability: Q&A (3/6) - Dr. Blomberg

You will get an in-depth look at the different translations and interpretations of the Bible and how they affect our understanding of the Bible. Additionally, you will learn how oral tradition and memorization of verbatim works, the two larger Gospel stories added after the original writing, and the differences in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew and Luke. Finally, you will gain insight into the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

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Why We Trust Our Bible
Lesson 3
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Historical Reliability: Q&A (3/6) - Dr. Blomberg

1. What is the impact of different types of translations, specifically paraphrases?

2. Question not understandable (on speaking in tongues), but Craig makes the point that people who have questions sometimes are just repeating what they hear.

3. What about the work of the Holy Spirit and different interpretations of the Bible?

4. How do we synthesize flexible oral tradition and memorizing verbatim?

5. What about the two larger gospel stories that appear to be added after the original writing (John 7:53-8:11; Mark 16:9-20)?

6. How does a “flexible” translation affect our handling of the precise words of Scripture?

7. Why differences in Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogy of Jesus?

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Class Resources
  • Dr. Craig Blomberg begins by introducing the issue of the historical reliability of the New Testament documents, focusing on Dan Brown and some of the other recent "discoveries." He will cover 12 truths agreed upon except by the most liberal theologians. In this lesson he talks about the authorship and dating of the gospels.

  • Would the gospel writers have wanted to preserve accurate history? Why are there four Gospels, with all the similarities and differences?

  • Gain an in-depth look at translations, interpretations, oral tradition, memorization, Gospel stories, and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy with this seminary professor's class.
  • In his series of reasons, in this lesson Blomberg answers 7 – 9.

  • Blomberg addresses the issues of the non-Christian testimony to Jesus, archaeology, and the testimony of other early Christian Writers. He concludes with a powerful discussion of three ways to believe, and what the relationship is between faith and reason.

  • This class provides an overview of the core beliefs of Christianity and the sources that back them up.
  • Are books in the canon because they are authoritative, or they are authoritative because they are in the canon? The Davinci Code and the common assertions about Constantine are historical fabrications. “Canon” can mean three different things. Has God given us a structure to know which books should be in the canon? Can you prove, or is the point to have sound reasons for what you believe?

  • A canonical worldview is a set of beliefs as to what the canon is and how someone “knows” if a book is canonical or not.  There are three models. According to the community model, a book becomes canonical upon its reception by the community.

  • In the historical model of canonicity, a book becomes canonical when it is examined historically, looking at issues such as authorship and reception. This model suffers  by the absence of an absolute criteria by which you can make this decision.

  • The self-authenticating model of the canon claims that the Bible is itself its own ultimate authority. All beliefs of ultimate authority are circular, otherwise the criteria for deciding would be greater than the ultimate authority itself. The real question is whether or not God has provided a means by which Christians can know what books are truly canonical. The self-authenticating model encompasses the other two, incorporating the best of each model.

  • A “defeater” is an idea that undermines your confidence in knowing something. Are there defeaters for our understanding of the canon? The New Testament books have unity with prior revelation and with each other, and in fact the New Testament completes the Old Testament in surprising ways.

  • Kruger shows that Covenants in the Old Testament needed written documents, and a new covenant required new documents. Writing was not an afterthought. The apostles saw themselves as agents of the New Covenant and saw their writings as having authority. They would have been surprised to be told that it wasn't until Irenaeus that people throught their writing was authoritative. They had to write to accomplish their apostolic ministry within their lifetime.

  • Even if a few of the books took a while to be accepted, there was a core canon of 22 books very quickly. Even the Muratorian Fragment, while including two non-canonical books, recognizes that they are different and may be listing them as such. Just because the early church read non-canonical books does not mean there was not a canon.

  • The early church was a culture of textuality; they liked and publicly read books. The frequency of ancient manuscripts shows us which books were the most popular and were therefore understood to be canonical. The church preferred the new codex format because they could group books together, especially the gospels. We can also tell that the manuscripts were written in order to be publicly read, which means the church knew which books were authoritative.

  • Eusebius described four types of books: accepted, disputed, rejected, and heretical. The early church was careful in what they accepted as authoritative, and there really was not that much of a question.

  • Answers to common questions about the canon, now that these question are targeted to the lay level. 

  • In Part 1, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses the challenges to the believability of the Bible brought by the issues related to the Greek manuscripts, and especially the influence of Dan Brown and Bart Ehrman.

  • In Part 2, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses discussion of the historical process that led to manuscripts and variants, with some examples of variants.

  • In Part 3, Dr. Daniel Wallace responds to three basic challenges by Bart Ehrman: the "black hole"; the quality of the copies; the effect of Constantine on the manuscripts.​

  • In Part 4, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses how now that we understand why there are variants in the manuscripts, how does the art and science of textual criticism help us determine which variants are most likely to be original?

  • In Part 5, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses a brief overview of why the King James Bible is different from all modern translations, and issues of the Greek texts behind it.

  • In Part 6, Dr. Daniel Wallace focuses in on variants, how many there are, how many significant variants are there, and how good of a job has textual criticism done.

  • You will gain knowledge about translation philosophy, including different methods, how to evaluate a translation, and a comparison of the NIV and ESV translation philosophies, with examples of their differences. Understanding translation philosophy is important when interpreting the Bible.
  • You will learn about the first principle of interpretation which involves determining the meaning of words by looking at the word's immediate context, broader context, and historical and cultural context. By accurately interpreting the meaning of a word, it can be applied to the passage as a whole.
  • In this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible by exploring topics such as the development of the canon, textual criticism, historical accuracy, and theological coherence.
  • You will gain an understanding of the principles behind why we trust the Bible, including the bibliographical, historical, and internal tests.
  • You will gain knowledge and insight into the process of canonicity, which is the recognition of which books belong in the Bible based on criteria such as apostolicity, orthodoxy, catholicity, and traditional use. Understanding canonicity is essential for recognizing the authority of the Bible and its significance in the Christian faith.

The uniqueness and authority of the Bible are always under attack. Professors and writers are claiming that Jesus never existed, Jesus never claimed to be God, the early church changed the basic preaching of Jesus, books were left out of the Bible, the copies of the Bible that have come down through the centuries are hopelessly corrupt

Dr. Blomberg discusses the reliability of the Bible. Dr. Kruger discusses the process of formation of the New Testament Canon. Dr. Wallace discusses issues relating to manuscripts and textual criticism. Dr. Mounce discusses the philosophies and process of translation. 

1. What is the impact of different types of translations, specifically paraphrases?

We are going to talk about the writing history of the ancient world, something called hard sayings and something called missing sayings, a little about non-Christian writer’s testimony and a little about archaeology and about Christian writer’s testimony.

First, I want to answer the question about paraphrase Bibles. A paraphrase Bible can be very useful such as the Message Bible. There are things in the Message that are theologically true but there is no way to say that the Greek or Hebrew of the passage says in any particular verse, especially when you compare the length of the different translations where everyone else takes three lines and the Message takes seven, you know something has been added. As long as you use such a Bible in a supplementary way to get fresh insights and to help make something come alive, it is a very useful. I have often preached a sermon on 1st Corinthians 13, that wonderful chapter on love. I think Peterson, who is responsible for the Message Bible, was almost inspired when he did his paraphrase of this chapter. That is so beautiful and it is wonderful for many people who were so used to hearing it. We need a fresh way of hearing it, but if I am stepping on the toes of any leaders here, nobody has given me inside information on any of this; so this is hit and run speaking. I could never preach from the Message; I could never use it as my main teaching or study Bible. To supplement something else, it’s fine. So which Bible you use depends on the situation. If you are doing deep personal study and have no ability or desire to use any other resource that rely on Greek or Hebrew, you want something that is highly literal like the New American Standard or the English Standard Version. If you can handle ancient English, there is always the King James Version. If you want something that is a bonafided translation, not a paraphrase but is very clear and easy to understand, maybe with those whose English is a second language or for your children, something like the New Living Bible is really good and some other contemporary English versions, the New Century Version. But, in most settings that have a broad cross-section of people with varying walks of life with facilities in English, you would want a translation that tries optimally to be both accurate and as clear as possible. I think the NIV is the best of all translations in that category, but there are others like the Net. In Roman Catholic circles there is the New American Bible. You would never guess that the Catholic Church did this as long as you don’t look at the study notes.

2. Question not understandable (on speaking in tongues), but Craig makes the point that people who have questions sometimes are just repeating what they hear.

In a very genuine and sincere way, I would say perhaps, oh, that is interesting, what has led you to that opinion? If they actually have a reason, then hopefully it will focus the conversation in a certain direction and maybe some of what we will talk about this morning will be relevant and if not, hopefully something in my book will be relevant. Well, what do you do if you are having a political conversation and you meet someone with different and extreme views who think there is no difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party in America? There may be a series of follow-up questions. What led you to that conclusion? Why are you convinced of that in order to decide how to respond?

3. Can we not trust the Holy Spirit? What about the work of the Holy Spirit and different interpretations of the Bible?

The problem is, what do you do then when you come to church or a Bible Study with two or more people equally Godly and faithful and filled with the Holy Spirit, but both have a different understanding of a passage and mutually contradictory where both can’t be true. So yes, I don’t want to say anything to deny the reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit, but there has to be more than that to be able to do what Paul and John said to test the spirit. We are finite fallen people and it is very easy to misunderstand what we think God is saying by his Spirit to us. So, pray and rely on the Spirit but use knowledge as well.

4. How do we synthesize flexible oral tradition and memorizing verbatim?

That explains why sometimes the Gospels may be word for word the same and why sometimes they aren’t. Like most plays and musicals, the second act is not as long as the first.

So if people here have dire biological needs, feel free to leave temporarily but I would like to go another seven or eight minutes before taking a break.

5. What about the two larger Gospel stories that appear to be added after the original writing (John 7:53-8:11; Mark 16:9-20)?

In regards to the woman caught in adultery and the longer ending of Mark, do scholars still teach on them and do they think they still happened? The answer is very different for those two accounts. The story of the woman caught in adultery; my goodness, if that is not what Jesus did, who else in his world was doing anything that radical or that gracious toward sinners and the marginalized and that in your face toward the Jewish leaders. So, even Bart Erhman has written entire journal articles defending this story saying it probably happened. That is not the same as saying it was in what John wrote originally. So I like what I have seen twice in the Denver Metro area in recent years where pastors who have been doing a series on the Gospel of John; they take a shorter passage, either right before or after that one and take some time within that message either in the beginning or the end to explain why they will not have a formal sermon on it. The reason is that we believe that only the originals were inspired and inerrant and therefore we should preach on. But we can educate the congregation about what was going on and how is appeared and all that.

Mark 16:9-20 is very different. Most of it reads like a collage of bits and pieces that you can find in Matthew or Luke or John or something from someplace else that got twisted like they will pick up snakes and not be harmed and drink their venom. In West Virginia, it is still legal to have snake handling and venom drinking in church and in also rural Appalachians congregations, there are a handful of churches that still do this and they have all had fatalities. It is not just because of a lack of faith as such! There is actually something dangerous about treating that as inspired and on the same level as everything else. Our church, a couple of years ago spend about nine months going through the Gospel of Mark and timed it so that our pastor preached on the first eight verses of Mark 16 on Easter. Before we started something new, he asked me if I would give a talk the following week on those verses. I did and I started with a video clip of a documentary from a major network from about the year 2005 which you can find on U-Tube. It explained how that story got there and evolved and then I took questions and answers.

6. How does a flexible translation affect our handling of precise words of Scripture?

For every Biblical character and write and every time they open their mouths, it was inspired by God. Our belief and inspiration is that God superintended the process of the composition of the Biblical document so that exactly what he wanted to have written was written. So we have every right and every responsibility to read Matthew’s account studying it as close as possible because it is how God inspired Matthew. But later if we do a series on Mark, there ought to be a few noticeable differences. You shouldn’t be able to play the tape from Matthew because Mark will include things that Matthew didn’t and not include things that Matthew did. It will reword things that aren’t contradictory but they are not identical either. So we should be able to help people understand what Matthew taught and perhaps different than what Mark taught and the different ideas on Jesus because his congregations had certain needs. And Mark was writing to a different community, under different circumstances and highlighted other aspects and Luke again. This helps us to see why we have four Gospels. There are different aspects that we are meant to learn from each Gospel.

7. Why are there differences in Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogy of Jesus?

Matthew starts with Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, he moves forward in a series of forty-two names, grouped into three sets of fourteen each. If you don’t have the Hebrew alphabet at hand, you will also know that letters doubled as numbers. The fourteenth name is David and the use of these categories divided into fourteen is a Hebrew practice called demotchriya, taking the numerical values of the consonants of a word and interpreting them as meaning something. David is the fourteenth name; the demotchriya of his name is fourteen. As I said the genealogy is grouped into three series of fourteen and all kinds of people’s names are left out. This is okay because so and so begat so and so means was the ancestor of. It doesn’t mean or tell us how many generations were in between that. Once we got away from using the word ‘begat’, we then started to use things like, ‘was the father of’ which could have been the grandfather of or the great grandfather of. Luke on the other hand, starts with Jesus and goes backwards all the way to Adam who was the Son of God. Matthew is the most Jewish by far of the four Gospels; writing to the Jewish Christian community to convince them and to help them to convince others that Jesus was the Messiah. This does it; it wouldn’t impress us but it worked back then. Luke is the most universal, he is the one gentile writer; he is showing that Jesus is descended from the first man but is also the Son of God. When I study the overall patterns and emphasis of the Gospels, the differences in the genealogies sit wonderful.

What about the differences in the names closer to Jesus, for example, Joseph verses Mary? Both of whom were Davidic in ancestry but goes back by a different grandfather. Luke is the Gospel that most emphasizes women. It tells the story of Jesus’ birth largely from the perspective of Mary and Elizabeth.
Matthew tells it from Joseph’s point of view. It all matches. That is the exciting part about studying the Gospels; to see those diverse aspects. And any of you who know the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy, I have an unanswered question that I want to leave you with. Did they know about Matthew genealogy and the forty-two names when they said that the answer to life and the universe was forty-two? I don’t know. The name used for David is four plus six plus four which is fourteen.