Saturday, March 30, 2013

New Testament: Fact or Myth?


Last year in London I saw the world's oldest existing copy of the entire New Testament at the British Museum. It’s called the Codex Sinaiticus and is over 1600 years old. It is called, “one of the most important books in the world.”[1]

Is the New Testament fact or myth? Specifically, between the reported resurrection of Christ and the writing of the New Testament did the stories change?

Gregory Boyd writes, “the earliest record of what followers of Jesus believed comes from the apostle Paul. While most scholars date the four Gospels between AD 70 and 100, Paul’s letters were written between the early 50’s and early 60’s.”[2] That is a span of 20 to 30 years after the events concerning Jesus of Nazareth. This period is the so-called “silent period.” It’s good to remember that 1st Century Palestine was an orally dominant culture.

Were the stories about Jesus passed on accurately? Paul’s letters give us some clues.

First, Paul expresses a deep concern for passing on established traditions. Now I praise you that ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you....”[3] he wrote to the Corinthians, then adding, “For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you…”[4] So by the 50’s these Christians already had fixed teachings.

Secondly, Paul emphasized “teachers.” “It was he who "gave gifts to people"; he appointed some to be apostles, others to be … teachers…”[5] he wrote to believers in what is now Turkey. A first century book called the Didache says, “Elect, therefore, for yourselves … men who are meek and not covetous, and true and approved, for they perform for you the service of prophets and teachers… they are those who are honoured among you ...”[6] These were men of character.

Paul’s third clue regarding oral transmission is his use of the theme “bearing witness.” Being a witness makes us think of courtrooms, swearing on a Bible, and fear of the punishment of perjury. It had similar meaning in the first century. "So then, someone must join us as a witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus…” said Peter before choosing a replacement for Judas,  “He must be one of the men who were in our group during the whole time that the Lord Jesus traveled about with us…”[7]. Eyewitness testimony was called for.

Finally, Paul urged his readers to recollect already known traditions. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel…” he told Timothy. We only remember that which we already know.

Neither the oral traditions nor the writings of Paul and the Gospels were haphazard or mythical. Boyd concludes, “Had these authors expressed a vision of Jesus that was substantially inconsistent with the church’s oral tradition, that community never would have accepted them.”[8]








[2] Gregory A. Boyd and Paul Rhodes Eddy, Lord or Legend? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007) 40
[3] 1 Corinthians 11:2 (American Standard Version)
[4] 1 Corinthians 11:23 (American Standard Version)
[5] Ephesians 4:11 (Good News Bible)
[6] Didache 15:1-2
[7] Acts 1:22 (Good News Bible)
[8] Gregory A. Boyd and Paul Rhodes Eddy, Lord or Legend? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007) 93 

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Quotes of Note ... The Invisible World

“Spiritual warfare is learning to recognize the strategies, refusing to cooperate with them, and aggressively cutting off the schemes of the devil in Jesus’ name.” Dean Sherman

“those who protest that God cannot exist because there is too much evil evident in life… Evil exists; therefore, the Creator does not. That is categorically stated… If evil exists, one must assume that good exists in order to know the difference. If good exists, one must assume that a moral law exists by which to measure good and evil. But if a moral law exists, must not one posit an ultimate source of moral law, or at least an objective basis for a moral law? By an objective basis, I mean something that is transcendingly true at all times, regardless of whether I believed it or not.” Ravi Zacharias

“But the Devil is no big threat to God’s purposes; he is not even remotely comparable in power. He has been given a limited time before his final judgment to try to prove his case, just as all other moral beings who have chosen to live in rebellion against heaven.” W.A. Pratney

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I've served as a life-long missionary in Samoa, the Pacific region, India, and now in Pennsylvania. The Christian faith is reasonable and works in real life. It is true to the facts. Hope you enjoy some of the thoughts. I appreciate feedback.

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