Why We Trust Our Bible - Lesson 6

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

This class will provide an overview of the relevance of genealogies to Genesis, the martyrdom of the saints, the order of the Gospels, Matthew's genealogy, the Scriptures in 1st Corinthians 15, the credibility of scribes, evidence of transformed life, the process of canonization, and scanned libraries of original sources. You will gain a better understanding of the core beliefs of Christianity and the sources that back them up. 

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

1. Relevance of genealogies to Genesis, and martyrdom of the saints.

2. Is there any other ancient document for which there is so much evidence and yet scholars are skeptical?

3. Reason for the order of the gospels

4. Matthew’s genealogy

5. “Scriptures” in 1 Cor 15 is the Old Testament

6. How credible were the scribes?

7. Evidence of the transformed life?

8. Process of canonization

9. Scanned libraries of original sources

All Lessons
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. Relevance of genealogies to Genesis, and martyrdom of the saints.

There is relevance of the genealogies in the New Testament to Genesis itself. In regards to the martyrdom of the saints, except for the apostle John, the other ten apostles were martyrs for their faith. It is one thing to be a martyr for a cause you believe in, but would you be a martyr for something you knew wasn’t true or deceptive in some way. The reason I don’t put much stock in that as many Christian speakers do, is because for at least some of the apostles, the works those traditions appear in are the same apocryphal documents that we are very reluctant to believe in than most of the other things they tell. I don’t want to be accused of being so bias that I would use maybe spurious documents when it helps my case.

2. Is there any other ancient document for which there is so much evidence and yet scholars are skeptical?

Not to my knowledge, but on the flip side there are documents of Arrian and Plutarch in regards to the life of Alexander and there are lives of various Roman Emperors that could be added in the mix and the lives of the imminent philosophers. There was a writer around the beginning of the 2nd century by the name of Diogenes, who wrote a dozen small biographies of Aristotle, Plato and other ancient Greek philosophers and occasionally, we have one or more texts that such works are based on, oftentimes, centuries later of people they narrate. Usually, the historical core is viewed as trustworthy.

3. Is there any reason for the order of the Gospels?

Well, Matthew was probably put first because he was the most Jewish and by far, he has the largest number of quotations from the Old Testament that ties back in with Hebrews Scriptures and there is a recurring ancient church tradition that he was the first Gospel writer but in Hebrew, not in Greek. Some of those traditions say that what he wrote were the sayings of Jesus, which doesn’t sound like a full-fledged Gospel. So, he may have written something first in Hebrew and later in light of an awareness of what Mark wrote in Greek, created a revised and expanded edition. So there are several possibilities.

4. Matthew’s Genealogy

When you talk about the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew, the three segments of fourteen generations, isn’t it true that one of them is only thirteen. You have to count the beginning of one and the ending of the other. It is obvious that Matthew is making sure that it fits his numerology. So there must be something behind it.

5. Scriptures in 1st Corinthians 15 is the Old Testament

The last thing you just put up was Corinthians. You were talking about the Scriptures and I am curious whether you were referring to the Old Testament Scriptures? Anytime a New Testament writer referred to the Scriptures, he is referring to the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament.

6. How credible were the scribes?

If you go back to the time of the Hebrew Scriptures, there are some remarkable stories. There was great care taken in copying manuscripts. And then when a manuscript was completed, it would be checked and there are rabbinic traditions of it sometimes being given to the most venerable rabbi in the community so that he could check it against his memories. Now Bart Ehrman likes to point out that there are two kinds of ancient documents: there are those written in a careless scrawl like writing a handwritten note and then there are more formal carefully written documents by people that do calligraphy producing beautiful documents by hand. And you can find both of these in the ancient world. So Ehrman says, well, it was only after the New Testament was formally canonized in the 4th century that people would have taken the kind of care in copying those documents that they did with Hebrew Scriptures. Except, Greg Evans, an evangelical who speaks a lot on the same topics that Bill Mounce and I do; he has gone out of his way to travel to see the actually originals of the 102 oldest fragments of various parts of the New Testament and there is absolutely no difference in the care which every one of those were copied, not a one of them has the casual or informal scrawl that Ehrman claims the original manuscripts might have had. The evidence isn’t in Bart Ehrman’s favor. They copied those manuscripts very carefully.

7. Evidence of the Transformed Life?

The transformed life is fabulous, but I live about six-tenths of a mile from the Mormon Temple in the Denver area and some of the most transformed people in all of Denver are in the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints. Does that make their religion the truth religion? If you claim to be a Christian and don’t have a transformed life, I would say that there is something wrong, but there are people around the world such as Gandhi, lead of the Indian revolution against Britain in the forties and fifties; the Dali Lama; incredible transformed lives. Are they Christians? Not to my knowledge. So, I give glory to God when I see a transformed life in an explicitly Christian context; would that we all had the greatest transformation possible, but transformation by itself needs to be supplemented with something else because it might come in a variety of religious circles.

8. The Process of Canonization

There are already hints in the New Testament that some writers were treating other books in an unusual way. The most dramatic being at the end of 2nd Peter when Peter writes that there are those who find parts of Paul hard to understand and twist his words as they do the other Scriptures. Interesting! In the early 2nd century, you start to find Christian writers saying things like, ‘I give you the following instructions,’ but not with the authority that the Apostles had. By the middle of the 2nd century, you get heretical threats from several different fronts to apostolic Christianity so that people start to make lists. There are approximately forty documents that we know of from the 2nd to the 6th century that give lists of books that were treated as uniquely authoritative or canonical. From the earliest list that we have, there is never any evidence to suggest that any Gospel other than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and all four of those were treated as canonical. There were never any dispute of about Acts or the Letters of Paul and they are always there. Where there are questions; these are in the case of seven books: Hebrews, James, 2nd Peter, Jude, 2nd John, 3th John, and Revelation. Hebrews because no one was ever sure who wrote it and James, Martin Luther wasn’t the first person to notice that faith without works is dead and how does that fit the Apostle Paul? 2nd Peter was questioned because of the style as it was so different than 1st Peter. For Jude, he quotes non-canonical texts, but seemingly authoritative. Then there were 2nd and 3rd John because they were so short. And finally, Revelation as no one has still figured it out. And you can look at these lists and people like Tritolian and Arenas and Orient and others and you can watch as twenty-one accepted books become twenty-two becomes twenty-three and by the time you come to AD 367, you have Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandrea sending an encyclical like Catholic Bishops do today at Easter saying, here are the twenty-seven universally acknowledged. The Council that formally ratified them came around AD 390 in the North African town of Hippo and Carthage. From that point on, it was fairly much settled.

9. Scanned Libraries of Original Sources

Yes, you can see facsimiles of countless manuscripts. In fact, if you go to Dan Wallace’s center for the study of Christian manuscripts; they have an extensive website and it is his goal to eventually get photographic material for all of the documents, but some are extremely fragmentary and so it takes a while to do this. But you can go see the most common and most complete of the early manuscripts. It is the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.