The Bible Holds True Against Attacks From Critics

The synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – tell the story of Jesus. These books present themselves as eyewitness accounts of historical fact. Critics of the gospels attack the gospels by telling us they are untrustworthy. Common criticisms include:

1. The gospel stories were passed down orally for a long time and therefore are untrustworthy.
2. The gospels copied from each other or from another single source.
3. The writers have accounts so different as to make the whole affair riddled with mistakes.

For several reasons, I find these criticisms weak at best. First, I do not see how 2 and 3 could both be true. If the accounts copied from each other so much that we can obviously tell that the copying happened, then it is difficult to see how there are so many differences that the accounts are sloppy. It would seem the claims for both of these contradict each other.

Second, it is difficult to see how 1 and 2 could both be true. If the account was passed on orally for long enough to make the account riddled with error, it would take more than one generation, indeed at least two to four generations. The claims of oral corruption are mere surface-level persuasion techniques by the critics with no credible argument behind it. I pose as an example my father, who this year turns 90. He spent his career in parts warehouses, manually stocking shelves and filling orders for parts. To this day he can repeat the inventory numbers for the parts he sold over 50 years ago, and do so with full accuracy. He has taken me to the spot where he grew up and described his farmhouse in detail, giving vivid descriptions of how he and his brothers played as children. These events happened 80 years ago, yet his memory is intact. We all can describe events that happened to us years ago. Indeed, for significant, life-changing events, we often cannot get the details out of our minds. How much more would we recall if we had seen and heard Jesus, the living God in human flesh.

Third, in support of the second, the manuscripts we now have do not allow oral tradition to have time enough to corrupt the account. Up to now the John Ryland fragment is held as the oldest (see here) dating to about 125 to 140 AD. Now, it appears that scholars have found copies of the gospels that date even earlier, one copy dating to about 90 AD, well into the first century (see here). First century dating put the existing written accounts into the lifetime of the authors and eyewitnesses. The number of Bible manuscripts, along with the early dating, do not allow for oral tradition to corrupt, nor do they allow enough time for oral tradition to finally allow a written copy, which was then used as a single source for the other gospels.

Fourth, given the early dating of the existing manuscripts and the accuracy of firsthand oral testimony in a single generation, 1 and 3 above cannot both be held as true, at least not credibly. This is further supported by the number of original language Bible manuscripts. Greek manuscripts now number over 5,800.

Therefore, the attacks listed above are failures at attacking the Bible. Once again, the Christian scriptures withstand the attacks of the skeptics and critics, as they always have. A wise person will read them for what they are: eyewitness testimony of those who saw Jesus.

About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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5 Responses to The Bible Holds True Against Attacks From Critics

  1. Pingback: The Bible Holds True Against Attacks From Critics | A disciple's study

  2. Nate says:

    These are just assertions — you haven’t really shown anything.

    The example of your father is interesting, but it’s not exactly the same as oral tradition. Oral tradition passes from person to person to person to person, etc. Whether that happens over 100 years or 1 year doesn’t make much difference. It’s the journey among various individuals that tends to add differences. As you know, most scholars today accept that the gospels were not written by the disciples whose names are attached. They aren’t thought to be the work of eye-witnesses at all.

    Secondly, if someone wants to understand how the 3 points you mention fit together, they just need to spend some time reading the gospels side by side. It’s not hard to see where some passages copy one another word for word, while others give versions of the same story that vary so greatly they can’t both be true. At the very least, they can’t be reconciled without heavy doses of speculation.

    In other words, if any of your readers are truly interested in this topic, they should first read something like Misquoting Jesus or Jesus, Interrupted (both by Bart Ehrman) before just taking your word that the Bible is unassailable. It has a number of serious problems that really aren’t hard to find. They should read Christian authors too — but if they don’t first read the opposing view, there’s no way they’ll get to the truth of the matter.

    • humblesmith says:

      Howdy, Nate. Good to see you back.

      The idea that a rumor could spread from person to person over a short period of time and distort the truth is a false idea. It is especially false in a culture that depended more on oral communication than we do in our day. The New Testament writers were eyewitnesses, as shown by several passages, such as 1 John 1:1-3, where John says he heard Jesus personally, 2 Peter 1:16 where he says he was an eyewitness, Luke 1:2 where he claims to have gotten the information directly from eyewitnesses, John 21:24 where John points out that he was the disciple mentioned repeatedly throughout the book, the second half of Acts where the writer says “we” did these things.

      So the eyewitnsses are throughout the book, and as long as the eyewitnsses are alive, especially as leaders of the church, false rumors could not spread. A modern-day example of this are the holocaust deniers. As long as there were lots of people around who saw the holocaust, we did not see any credibility given to holocaust deniers, but as soon as the eyewitnesses started to die out, the false claims became more prevalent. So the idea that the apostles’ eyewitness account could have become riddled with error during the lifetime of the apostles, when they were the ones leading the church, is a very false idea.

      As to the gospels copying from one another, I would refer you to the work of Eta Linnemann. She published a few books late in life that are very relevant to this, but specifically her book Is There a Synoptic Problem? refutes the idea proposed by liberals about the writers copying from one another. Linnemann goes into tedious detail, passage by passage, comparing phrase by phrase, even to the point of counting words in all the relevant gospel accounts. If there are any scholars who has gone to this much detail, I am unaware of them. Her conclusion is a mathematical certainty that the gospel accounts were not direct copies of each other, but only have the same similarities that would come from different eyewitnesses writing about the same events.

      As to Mr. Ehrman, he is as much persuasion as fact. Anyone can read his works, they are widely available, and you have pointed to one. To anyone who takes him seriously, I would encourage them to also read the writings of the qualified scholars who disagree. Daniel B. Wallace being the first to come to mind. See the book he edited, Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament. As Wallace wrote the standard textbooks for teaching Greek, and debated Ehrman (three times, I think), he is qualified to rebut him. There are many more…..I refer you to here:

      But Nate, my friend, if you take Ehrman for his criticisms, you must be consistent and take him for his positions that conservatives would agree with.

      Another good work that I’ve found helpful is An Introduction to the New Testament by D. Edmond Hiebert. He goes into the history of each book, giving what we know as fact about it, then lists the common criticisms against that book, and responds to each. I think he deals with the issues fairly.

      BTW, I read your posts on Tyre. My points still stand.

      Hope you are well.

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