This dialogue centers on the Bible in general and the New Testament in particular – how is it that we have the documents we now have and can we trust them? I trust that these documents are what the original authors wrote, that the documents are what they claim to be, that the authors are telling the truth in what they write, and that all the truths bear witness to Jesus Christ as Messiah of Israel and the God of all creation. (And, yes, there is a sequence and a progression in and through those phrases.) Steve is challenging my beliefs at various points.
My interaction with Steve (we don’t otherwise know each other) began when he entered into my Dialogue with Rob. Steve has since commented on other posts on this blog and other posts on my other blogs. He wrote this particular set of challenges in a response to my post I Invite You to Challenge Me at My Most Vulnerable Point. I moved them here because they deserve to be answered in a separate setting and don’t really respond to the challenge I was inviting there.
(For a quick background on dialogues that appear on this site, see the post Dialogues.)
Steve: The New Testament documents are culled from assorted stories and lore edited by men about three centuries after many of the alleged events took place by men you seem to understand may be of dubious motivation and intent.
Mike: If you can explain how the New Testament documents were “edited by men about three centuries after many of the alleged events took place” please post it at I Invite You to Challenge Me at My Most Vulnerable Point because that is just what I’m looking for there. As for your statement here, it’s just an assertion I’ve heard people make but I’ve never heard anyone credibly explain how it could have happened.
I do not claim that church leaders were so pure they could never have done anything like that. I’m claiming that they would not deem it in their interest to do so, and even if they had, they would lack the ability to pull it off. In other words, they lacked motive, means, and opportunity to pull off such a caper. My goal in saying these things is not to exonerate them but rather to exonerate the New Testament.
Steve: Who actually were Mathew, Mark, John and Luke?
Mike: Matthew was one of the original twelve apostles. Mark was an associate of Peter, one of the original twelve apostles. John was one of the original twelve apostles. Luke was an associate of Paul, a later apostle.
Steve: Where are their other works and where do other contemporaries identify them as authoritative authors that actually lived, had families, wrote additional narratives (and not mere additional characters crafted for the story to be chronicled)?
Mike: If they did write other works, those works have not yet been recovered. Those that wrote are all contemporaries and bear witness of each other. For example, Matthew bears witness of John and Peter. Peter bears witness of Paul and Mark. Paul bears witness of Mark and Peter and John. And so on.
Steve: Were these men actual eyewitnesses to events depicted in the stories attributed to them?
Mike: Matthew would have been. Mark could have been for some and probably relied on Peter and others for the rest. Luke compiled eyewitness accounts for all except the last third of the book of Acts for which he himself was an eyewitness. John was an eyewitness.
Steve: Why are there internal inconsistencies regarding certain events?
Mike: The charge of inconsistencies is often made but examination usually reveals them to be only nonexistent, superficial, or immaterial.
Steve: Where are the depictions of Jesus’ childhood?
Mike: His conception, birth, and infancy are described in Matthew and Luke. Luke also writes of an event that occurred when Jesus was twelve years old.
Steve: How many New Testament documents were accepted and canonized from unknown authors?
Mike: The only New Testament document that does not have an author’s name associated with it is Hebrews. However, it has always been associated with Paul even if only to dispute his authorship. The most common alternatives to Paul as author are associates of Paul.
Steve: What reason was given by the men on the Council of Nicea for not including some of the other contemporary stories of the day involving some of the same characters as books or letters within the New Testament?
Mike: The biblical canon was not an issue at the Council of Nicea.
Steve: Why isn’t there anything written by Jesus himself, why the short story narrative compilation that reads as an edited work?
Mike: While it’s possible Jesus wrote something (He certainly wrote in the sand once, and He certainly knew how to read), there’s nothing in the New Testament to make us think that He wrote something or that would encourage us to look for something He wrote. He seemed content to let others bear witness of Him. As for the second part of your question, I don’t understand it.
Steve: Why do some Bibles include some books, but other versions leave them out?
Mike: Bibles worldwide are noteworthy for their similarity. The core – which constitutes the vast majority of the books – appear in all Bibles. There are a few additional books which some Christian denomination include that others do not.
Steve: How come the Christian Old Testament doesn’t count the number of books as the Jews in the Tanakh?
Mike: The Jewish Tanakh and the Protestant Old Testament have the exact same books, though the order is slightly different (owing to the different keepers of the documents). The Catholic Old Testament includes some additional books called the Apocrypha (I know you know a lot of this stuff, Steve; I’m just filling in some blanks for readers who might not be as knowledgeable as you.)
Steve: Why don’t the Jews, via the “Men of Great Assembly” originators of the Tanakh, believe in the evolution of claims made of their foundational lore as canonized by the Council of Nicea (yet more men of great assembly)?
Mike: Steve, I don’t know what you mean by “the evolution of claims made of…” Also, the Council of Nicea did not deal with canonical issues.
Steve: You would think that such an important event in such close proximity would have universally convinced all humankind immediately.
Mike: I’m not sure in this context which “important event” you’re speaking of. In any event, however, God’s looking for faith – not coercion.
Steve: By the way, [you say the New Testament is similar to the Old Testament, but]Islam channels the Old Testament lore and characters as well, so, given your subjective assertions [about your faith in the Bible], shouldn’t you also conclude that the Qur’an is also the word of God.
Mike: No. The New Testament appeals to the Old Testament as its authority. With rare exception, whenever the New Testament is talking about Scripture, it’s talking exclusively about the Old Testament. The New Testament gives the Old Testament new meaning. And the Old Testament prophesies of that to which the New Testament testifies. The Quran may appropriate certain information from the Old and New Testaments but it is not about to defer to them. (The same can be said of the Book of Mormon.)
Steve, if I’ve failed to answer any of your questions, or answered inappropriately because I misunderstood the question, please let me know.