27 December 2009

Reinventing Jesus (Pt. 1)

Reinventing JesusOne day last week, I rented and watched the Dan Brown inspired movie "Angels and Demons." Unlike the previous "Da Vinci Code" movie, which had it's little 15 minute segment directly attacking Scripture and the historic Jesus, this movie was pretty tame. It was more an "attack" on fictitious corruption in the Roman Catholic Papal system and the Vatican, and nothing against Christianity itself. After watching the movie, it made me recall a book I had started reading about two or so years ago called Reinventing Jesus: What The Da Vinci Code and Other Novel Speculations Don't Tell You, which I know I never finished. So, I went and got it off the shelf and started up where I left off (though I do plan to go back and re-read the early sections), and spent part of my Christmas vacation reading (surprising I know).

The book deals with issues of concern based on attacks from modern people like Dan Brown, the Jesus Seminar, and other such "intellectuals" who have written book after book attacking historic Christianity and the Bible. This book covers many items of biblical history that are really needed for the even lay person to defend their faith in today's society. These areas that are rarely covered from the pulpit, and unless you are a reader of deeper issues or one who reads and fancies themselves an apologist who studies this information, it is doubtful that most would know this information already. Since we should always be ready to give a defense for what we believe, this type of book is a much needed resource today.

I just wanted to share some of what I have read as I continue through this book. The first section (which I do want to re-read) deals with the issues behind the writing and formulation of the four Gospels, and discussions of the writings known as the "Q" which is a book of supposed quotes from Jesus. When I initially read through this section, I was so new to this area. Now, a couple years later, I have a little more knowledge on the issue, so do want to go back and read this part again for a better grasp.

Even careful copyists make mistakes, as every proofreader knows, so we will never be able to claim certain knowledge of exactly what the original text of any biblical writing was.
- Robert W. Funk,
Roy W. Hoover,
and The Jesus Seminar, The Four Gospels, 6
The second part which is where I picked up, deals with issue surrounding the New Testament manuscripts and concerns and attacks on them. With so many thousands of manuscripts from different time periods, how do you explain the variants between them in places; how do these variants affect the content of the text? I found this section quite enlightening as they go through some of the major points of attack and explain just what the issues are, and how in the end they actually affect the end meaning of Scriptures very little. We also get a look at the issues behind the various manuscripts, to include obviously the issues surrounding the KJV manuscripts and the many others that have since come into use. This was helpful and further enlightening since I was raised through most of my early Christian life as more or less a "KJV Only" advocate. In recent years I have backed off of that stance for other reasons, but the information contained here helps to understand the issue further.

The KJV had many additional words, sometimes whole additional paragraphs of content that is not found in other manuscripts. However, the amount of additionas is often overstated.

Over a period of many centuries, only about twenty-five thousand hundred words were added to the original text. The New Testament grew in size from the earliest copies to the latest copies - fourteen hundred years later - by about 2 percent. That is a remarkable stable transmission process....

Nevertheless, even twenty-five hundred words is not an insignificant amount. Furthermore, these represent only the additions. There are also hundreds of substitutions that do not add to the length of the New Testament but are nevertheless differences between earlier manuscripts and later ones. And what happened to all those hundreds of thousands of variants? .... they need to be reckoned with. (Reinventing Jesus, p. 55)
Looking at the thousands of manuscripts, there is often found many additional words and alternate words in places, between all of the different copies. How do these affect the meaning of Scripture? These issues are discussed here as they break down the variants into four main groups: spelling and nonsense errors, minor differences not affecting translations, differences that affect the meaning but are not viable, and differences that affect the meaning and are viable. They examine some of the various variants, and we see that the issue is blown out of proportion. We end up with issues that are of little concern with the overall teaching of Scripture, and we can confidently stand on the Word, and not buy into the fear that modern authors attempt to spread.

When Constantine commissioned new versions of these documents, it enabled the custodians of orthodoxy to revise, edit, and rewrite their material as they saw fit, in accordance with their tenets. It was at this point that most of the crucial alterations in the New Testament were probably made and Jesus assumed the unique status he has enjoyed ever since. The importance of Constantine's commission must not be underestimated. Of the five thousand extant early manuscript versions of the New Testament, not one predates the fourth century. The New Testament as it exists today is essentially a product of fourth-century editors and writers - custodians of orthodoxy, "adherents of the message," with vested interests to protect.
-Michael Baigent,
Richard Leigh,
and Henry Lincoln,
Holy Blood, Holy Grail, 368-369
How would you respond to such comments if someone hit you with this? That is where this book is helpful, especially since this is the type of stuff modern scholars spew forth and the everyday simple readers of this fiction will regurgitate to you. They do not know the real issues, they simply read books like Dan Brown's and the like, and believe this information as fact.

The reality is that there are at least forty-eight Greek New Testament manuscripts that predate the fourth century. (Reinventing Jesus, p. 116)
This book deals with these issues, and gives detailed examples and breakdowns of doctrines affected, if any, and how these attacks are based on frivolous and false assumptions.

Part three deals with the attacks on canonizing the books of the Bible. Did the early church dismiss some books from the canon of Scripture because they did not like what was taught in some of them? Did they pick and choose what made it into the 66 books we have today based on their desired views of Jesus and the Gospel? What about these other writings and other "gospels" that exist from that time period. What about the Gnostics and their writings? This is the section I am currently in the middle of, and I will write more on this when I am done.

Continue to PART 2