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At the beginning of the fifth century, Jerome completed his magnum opus, the Vulgate. This work was the official Bible of the Middle Ages for roughly a thousand years. Jerome’s translation of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament into the ‘vulgar’ (hence the name Vulgate), in Latin, was commissioned by Pope Damasus, ca. AD 382 (Demarest 2013, 162). The medieval Vulgate was not without its problems, which is why, in part, during the Renaissance, a humanist, Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) got permission from Pope Leo X to revise Jerome’s Vulgate.
Using only a handful of Greek manuscripts, the first edition was published in 1516, a year before Martin Luther would nail his 95 Theses to the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Erasmus’ new version of the New Testament was the first Greek New Testament to be printed in history, not handwritten (Alvarez 2016). Erasmus’ translation had various errors, hence his many editions. The biggest problem for Erasmus were the Greek manuscripts; he did not have access to the full New Testament (missing were the last six verses of Revelation which he translated from Jerome’s Vulgate back into the Greek [Carson 1979, 33]). There are a variety of issues surrounding the abundance of manuscripts used when translators ‘translate’ the Bible into a modern or current translation. Yet, we can be assured that God has overseen the entire process and preserved His Word from the moment of revelation and inspiration right down to our present age.
The Manuscripts of the Old Testament and New Testament: Are They Reliable?
Historians are still not quite sure when, as well as where, the Enlightenment began. Some scholars believe it was in the mid-seventeenth century, while others hold to it beginning in the eighteenth. When and where, is not really what matters, what does is that everything was under suspicion, guilty till proven innocent. The golden age of the Enlightenment, however, was in the late eighteenth century, mostly in France with the two different, yet similar, philosophical schools: the materialists and the philosophs. Basically, both parties saw miracles as suspect, and anything found in the Bible that smacked of supernaturalism was suspect to superstition and therefore not historical. In Prussia (northern area of Germany, Lithuania, Poland, and most of modern-day Germany), a philosopher, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing stated that there was no way of knowing the Christ of Faith from the historical Jesus, which has become known as Lessing’s Ditch. Basically, for the Enlightenment philosophers, as well as their children and grandchildren, there is no way of knowing the actual historical events of the Bible.
Through the Enlightenment, most of the Old Testament was laid waste to the new tool of historical-methodology, which gave rise to what is known as higher criticism. Scholars began to dissect the Old Testament, the Torah was written not by Moses but by an editor, or actually, editors, at various points in time. The J, E, EP, P (the theory that a different author, writing at different time periods, edited the Torah, therefore there was the Jahwists, Elohimists, the Priests, and the combination of the Elohim and Preist schools), theory became the norm. Isaiah was not thought to be written by Isaiah, at least not the whole, therefore two versions were put together into one. All of this has led some modern scholars to question the validity of the documents behind the Old Testament.
Today, some of the Old Testament scholars, as well as a small handful of New Testament ones, believe and teach that the manuscripts of the Old Testament have been corrupted, which they argue makes the Bible itself invalid (Wegner 2011, 119-138).
If this is true, then as Paul Wegner (2011, 119) stated in his essay on the corruption of the Old Testament, which will also be the same for the New Testament, that if these manuscripts are hopelessly corrupted, then we are not to be held to any of the commands given by God, which therefore would mean that God failed at revealing Himself since scripture is to be the revelation of the One Living God. Basically, the Bible would be pointless and should be thrown out or burned. How do we know if there are corruptions in the Old and New Testament manuscripts? Easy, we look at them ourselves, we learn about the methods of preservation done through the scribes, and how the text critics come to their decisions of what the originals may have said.
What are the Manuscripts Behind the Old and New Testaments?
For the Old Testament, the sources are fewer than what we have for the New Testament, which still does not posit a significant problem. Text critics look at various Hebrew, as well as, the Masoretic Text (the majority text for the Old Testament), Targums (Aramaic paraphrasing of the whole of the Old Testament), the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) as well as other Greek versions (like Philo), the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Dead Sea Scrolls (found in the area of the Dead Sea in 1946), and finally, some of the early Church Fathers’ illusions to and quotes of the Old Testament in their writings (Norton 2001, 156-173). We have, for the New Testament, over 5,600 Greek, 10,000 Latin, and somewhere between 5,000-10,000 Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Georgian, Gothic, Syriac, and various other translated copies (Wallace 2011, 146; 2013, 27; Bruce 1981, 10; Ehrman 2005, 88-89). As Daniel Wallace (2011, 146; 2013, 28) likes to state, if we never found any of these copies of the New Testament, then we would still be able to compile most of it through the various quotes of the Patristic Fathers in their various commentaries and homilies. Amazingly, with all of this information on the New Testament, we can safely say we have around 20,000 copies of the New Testament (Wallace 2011, 146; 2013, 27-28).
The Old Testament Texts
The manuscripts of the Old Testament have a rougher time than the ones for the New Testament. This is due, mostly, to the dating. As we have mentioned before, the Old Testament was written over a period of about 1,500 years. For the longest time, the earliest Hebrew text for the Old Testament could only be dated to the Middle Ages, with the oldest portion of the Bible being dated to the twelveth-century BC (Norton 2001, 156). For a text critic, this is not unusual, though, for a valid argument for the validity of the Old Testament, it doesn’t bode well. However, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1946, a better source of attestation to the Masoretic Texts, ie., the earliest Hebrew source (Ibid.) has been made. What this means is that the Dead Sea Scrolls, which have both Hebrew copies, as well as some in Aramaic, is that a closer date to the autographs can be made, roughly 600-800 years (Ibid.). This find has also shown that the Masoretic Text has been well preserved, since most of the Hebrew versions found at the Qumran site match, almost completely, with the Masoretic manuscripts (Ibid., 160-166). This also means, which we will discuss a bit later, is that the scribal process of hand copying the manuscripts was very thorough (Ibid.).
The New Testament Texts
When looking at the New Testament, one has to take into account the classical world and their various manuscript evidence. So, for example, Caesar’s Gallic War. Caesar wrote this, supposedly, around 58-50 BC, to which we only have about ten good copies with the oldest dating to about 900 years later (Bruce 1981, 11). For a better example, let’s look at a couple of the more important Roman historians from the first-century, Livy and Tacitus. Most of our understanding of the Roman Empire leading up to the first-century comes from these two. Livy (59 BC-AD 17) wrote some 142 works on the history of Rome, yet we only have, roughly, 25% of his texts (Wallace 2011, 151). With Livy, though, we do not actually have his full collection, which is why Wallace (2011, 151) and F. F. Bruce (1981, 11) state that we only have about a quarter to a third of his works, which are found mostly in one copy of books iii-vi and are only fragments, which the oldest dates to about the fourth century. Tacitus’ (ca. AD 100) Histories were just fourteen books, we only have four and half of them (Bruce 1981, 11). Tacitus’ Annals were sixteen books long, which we only have ten full copies and two partials (Ibid.). Both of these works by Tacitus have their best manuscripts from the ninth and eleventh-centuries (Ibid.). More could be said, but I feel this is enough. Secular text critics wish they had the plethora of evidence that the New Testament scholars have.
Are Both the Old and New Testament Manuscripts Full of Errors and Corruptions?
To answer this question, we first need to understand what the scribal process was, define what an error is and what types of errors there are, and see if they actually matter for anything. The first thing we should do is read what the skeptics are saying about this. Basically, Bart Erhman (2005, 47-51), again the leading skeptic in New Testament textual criticism, states that the early Christian scribes were not professionals, ie., not trained, yet were literate and educated. What Ehrman (Ibid.) is saying is that the earlier manuscripts were very sloppy compared to those in the secular realm who were trained to do this as a profession, which to the Christians this was not a profession, it was necessary. Ehrman (Ibid. 47-55) proclaims that some errors were made by early scribes on purpose, to alter the text for theological purposes, while some were simply accidents (left out words, misspelled words, incorrect grammar, etc.). Ehrman (Ibid., 72) believes that the early Christian scribes lived in a vacuum apart from the other communities in the Roman Empire (eg., the community at Rome would still house the same errors in their various manuscripts because they would never have gotten a copy of any other manuscripts). Finally, for Ehrman (Ibid., 72-73) the rise of professional scribes in the Christian communities began to happen in the early to mid-fourth century with the conversion of Constantine, of which, according to Ehrman, requested 50 copies of the Bible be made for several of his new churches that were in the midst of being built (ironically, Ehrman gives no evidence for this, Eusebius, Life of Constantine VI.37). However, now that we know that for skeptics, all the mistakes in the copies, which has led to the so-called contradictions, of the Bible were made by educated unprofessional Christian scribes. Now, we need to know what the skeptics believe an error is.
For skeptics, it is beneficial for them to make statements, like what Ehrman (Ibid., 90) says in Misquoting Jesus: “[t]here are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.” For the skeptics, then, the errors in the manuscripts were one of two types: accidental changes and intentional changes, of which there are several kinds (Ibid., 90-95). In other words, for the skeptics, accidents were understandable due to abbreviations, no punctuations, skipping lines due to the ending words of some lines being the same, etc. (Ibid.). In regards to the intentional changes, the skeptics view them as very serious issues and make them their smoking gun. First, these intentional changes were done to correct those earlier problems, eg., Mark’s statement of a prophecy from Malachi, yet attaching it to Isaiah, or Matthew’s recording of Jesus saying that He doesn’t know the time of the end, which upset some later scribes who dropped that saying altogether (Ibid., 94-95). Another intentional error was to circumvent a possible misunderstanding of the text (Ibid., 95). Possibly, the most important one of them all for the skeptics was the changing of the text to promote “orthodox” theology (Ibid., 95-96). Lastly, there were scribes who would alter the text to “harmonize” them, mostly found in the synoptic gospels (Ibid., 97-98). What these mean to the critic and skeptic is that the texts cannot be trusted, we can never know what the original meant, and most importantly, the modern version of the Bible was the version of Christianity that won out, which means that the originals may actually have held more heretical views. Is this true though, are we hopelessly lost and unable to get back to the original words of the Old and New Testaments? Is our version of Christianity incorrect due to changes to the texts; is our Christianity actually the heretical one? What do you think? Do some exploring for yourselves, seek out the truth. The next post will be the answer to these questions, and maybe more.
The Bearded Scholar
Alvarez, Pablo. 2016. “500 Years of Erasmus’s New Testament!” Beyond the Reading Room: Anecdotes and Other Notes from the U-M Special Collections Research Center, July 29. Accessed July 14, 2018. https://www.lib.umich.edu/blogs/beyond-reading-room/500-years-erasmuss-new-testament.
Bruce. F. F. 1981. New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Carson, D. A. 1979. King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
Demarest, Bruce A. 2013. “Jerome.” In Introduction to the History of Christianity. Edited by Tim Dowley. 162-163. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Ehrman, Bart D. 2005. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. New York: Harper San Francisco.
Norton, Mark R. 2003. “Texts and Manuscripts of the Old Testament.” In Origin of the Bible. Edited by Philip Wesley Comfort. 155-183. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, INC.
Wallace, Daniel B. 2013. “Has the New Testament Text Been Hopelessly Corrupted?” In In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture. Edited by Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder. 139-163. Nashville: Broadman and Holman Academics.
________. 2011. “Lost in Transmission: How Badly Did the Scribes Corrupt the New Testament Text?” In Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence. Edited by Daniel B. Wallace. 19-55. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.
Wegner, Paul D. 2013. “Has the Old Testament Text Been Hopelessly Corrupted?” In In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture. Edited by Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder. 119-138. Nashville: Broadman and Holman Academics.
Earlier in the week, I watched a debate between Christian scholar Dr. Michael Licona and atheist New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman. Sadly, I do not feel Licona did a good job debating Erhman. The debate was on whether the Gospels were historically reliable. Honestly, Licona did a good job explaining how an actual historian views ancient manuscripts. However, during his actual debate with Ehrman, he conceded to ridiculous, fallacious arguments put forward by Ehrman. I am continually amazed at how agnostic/atheists, critics, and skeptic scholars commit heinous fallacies without even blinking an eye. If you watch the debate, you will notice that Ehrman presents his argument for viewing the Gospels alone, we are not even allowed to compare them to any other writings, we cannot interpret them, if they do not say something then it did not happen, we are only allowed to read the Gospels in English, and we have to approach the Gospels with modern worldview presuppositions.* Today, this is how most scholars are teaching their students in secular colleges (as well as in a few divinity schools and seminaries). The truth is, the Bible is completely reliable, historically, socially, economically, and theologically. This is why Paul charges Timothy to be prepared, in season and out, to preach the word (2 Tim 4:1-5 CSB). The Word itself is God-breathed, inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 3:16 CSB). God prepared it for us to be able to know Him, to teach, rebuke, correct, and be trained in all righteousness (2 Tim 3:16 CSB). It’s also why the authors of the Westminster Confession stated, in regards to the whole of the Scriptures, that
“the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men” (Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6.1).
As the evidence will show, the Bible is more reliable than any other source for history. The evidence will also show that God has worked in and through history, proving that Christianity and the Bible are reliable, authoritative, and completely accurate for today.
To understand the reliability of the Bible, we have to approach them as any good historian would. First, we need to be aware of several fallacies, especially those made by the agnostic/atheist, critic, and skeptic scholars make and make sure to avoid them. One of the first things to know about the Bible is that it is a historical document. What this means is it is prima facie (at first view). In other words, the Bible records history, which means we do not need to accept outside material as more historical in nature, or more authoritative in regards to describing historical facts (Barrick 2008, 16). Unfortunately, critics and skeptics do this all the time. If the Bible records a historical event, such as the census by Caesar Augustus and the governing of Syria by Quirinius, the critic and skeptic look at other sources during the time, find no record of a census and conclude that the Bible is incorrect and the other sources are more authoritative in their telling of the events; in regards to Quirinius as governor, they state that Luke was wrong because of the dating of Jesus’ birth and that Josephus was correct, yet they do not wonder whether Luke was correct and Josephus was wrong (Luke 2:1-3 CSB; Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 18.1-2). We also need to avoid the fallacy of arguing from silence. If there is silence in the Bible we have to find out why; we cannot just determine that the silence means that nothing happened. We also cannot make any over-generalizations, in other words, history is done in a very specific way. The past did not just happen in a vacuum. We cannot expect to think that the Bible is not reliable because it left material out, or shortened certain events, or even reorganized them. Doing historical research is best explained in the way Conal Furay and Michael Salevouris (2010, 12-13) do in their book on historical methodology; Furay and Salevouris stated that history is like walking in a dark landscape where you have a spotlight that only lights up sections at a time. All you want is to be able to see the whole thing, however, you can only see what the spotlight shines into view for you (Ibid.). This is how historians perceive history, they are unable to completely see the whole, instead, they are only able to imagine the whole with the small amount they can see. John says something similar in his Gospel when he explains to his audience about all of the deeds of Jesus, John states that the world would not be able to hold them (John 21:25 CSB).
Oral Tradition into Written Tradition or A Brief History of How the Bible Became Written
Doing history prior to the 15th-century is a bit difficult. This is mostly due (as is true for all nations’ histories, including America’s) to the fact that these earlier nations and cultures had passed their histories down verbally, to which at some point someone believed these stories to be important enough to have been written down. This is known as oral history. This is where the problem of manuscripts comes in and why historians, as well as the rest of us, need the field of textual criticism. This is a field of science that takes various copies of manuscripts, like the ones behind the modern English Bible, compare them together, and decide what the original (also known as an autograph from the German which loosely means author’s original work) said. This means, unfortunately, that anything pre-15th-century, or ancient works, are copies of the original works (Presnell 2007, 122). What makes this difficult is that many times the copies may have been altered, whether on accident or on purpose, leaving the text critic and historian to decide what the original may have actually said. What is good about this, especially for the Bible, is that the more copies there are the more precise the text critic can be on discovering what the original said, as well as knowing that there were more people who could read them as well (Ibid., 123). This also means that the knowledge of how important the message of the manuscript was weighed on the people of the time the copy came from (Ibid.).
For us, then, it is the same with the Kingdom of God. God spoke, the universe and mankind came into being, Abraham and his descendants acted, Moses moved, and a nation bowed to the power of Him by releasing His people from their slavery (Pelikan 2005, 9-11). The same should be said of the New Testament. Paul recounts the words of Jesus when he expresses to the Church at Corinth about the Lord’s Supper as being instituted by Christ Himself (Ibid., 18). Paul says,
and when he had given thanks, broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24-25 CSB).
Peter told his congregation that the Bible had been orally passed on by the Word of the Holy Spirit,
No prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20b-21 CSB).
In regards to showing the oral history of the early church, Paul tells the Church at Corinth, again, how he had passed on to them the Gospel, which he, himself, had received:
Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, on which you have taken your stand and by which you are being saved, if you hold to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he also appeared to me (1 Cor 15:1-8 CSB).
And Paul tells the various churches in Galatia, possibly the earliest written document of the New Testament, how he received his Gospel (that is, for us, here, his oral history):
I did not go up to Jerusalem to those who had become apostles before me; instead I went to Arabia and came back to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to get to know Cephas,and I stayed with him fifteen days. But I didn’t see any of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother…Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas,taking Titus along also. I went up according to a revelation and presented to them the gospel I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those recognized as leaders. I wanted to be sure I was not running, and had not been running, in vain…On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter was for the circumcised, since the one at work in Peter for an apostleship to the circumcised was also at work in me for the Gentiles. When James, Cephas, and John—those recognized as pillars—acknowledged the grace that had been given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to me and Barnabas, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only that we would remember the poor, which I had made every effort to do (Gal 1:17-19; 2:1-2, 7-10 CSB).
Luke also, in his Gospel (which I believe one of his major sources was Paul), gives an example of the passing of the early churches’ oral history on to his community:
Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us. It also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed (Luke 1:1-4 CSB).
And Peter also tells his congregation about how he passed on orally the message of Jesus’ life, ministry, and death. Peter explained that they did not pass on myths, but that they were actually there, they saw and heard everything. Peter even reminds his audience about being present at the Transfiguration of Jesus and hearing God give his approval of Christ:
For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased!” We ourselves heard this voice when it came from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain (2 Peter 1:16-18 CSB).
From oral to written was a process that took time. For Marcus Borg (2012, 11), a Liberal Christian and former New Testament Scholar and Jesus Seminar Fellow, the world of the New Testament may have only had, roughly, five percent of people who were literate (this is debatable). Borg (2012, 12) also holds that the only reason the Gospels were written down was two-fold: to preserve a Christian Communities tradition in regards to Jesus and due to the process of early institutionalization of some churches. Borg (Ibid.) holds that oral history in the Christian tradition “involved memory, development, and testimony” making it a communal process. One of the things that would have helped in the ability of the oral tradition to become written is an example from the New Testament. Jesus was a rabbi, who moved around the land of Palestine teaching and preaching the Tanakh. In order for his close students, the twelve disciples, to remember His words, Jesus taught in aphorisms and parables, which he would have done several times. In other words, Jesus, more than likely, repeated all that is recorded in the four different Gospels more than once to different audiences all over Palestine (Borg 2012, 13; Howard 2010, 1596; Keener 2009, 149).
The biggest part of any culture’s oral tradition has to do with memorization. Craig S. Keener (2009, 139-152), in his book on the Historical Jesus, states that in both the Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures, memorization by disciples of teachers and rabbis was a critical part of their education, more so than having something written by the teacher (though, the oral portion was more important in the Jewish world than in the Roman). In the Greco-Roman world, it was not uncommon for people, ie. Seneca, to work extraneously hard to memorize names, sayings, teaching, and even lifestyles of their master teachers (Ibid.). Keener (Ibid.), gave an example of the students of Pythagoras who would not even get out of bed until they had completely recited, by memory, everything they had learned in class the day before. Josephus (Life of Josephus 2; Against Apion 1.2; 2.17; Keener 2009, 149) even mentions how the Jews worked extremely hard to memorize the whole of the Torah.
The rabbis would expect their students to be able to memorize their teachings and be able to recite them back; this was done through repetition (Keener 2009, 149). In the oral history of Jesus and his Gospel that His disciples passed on was mostly, if not completely, inflexible (Ibid., 150). In Judaism, eyewitnesses were more important in the reliability of the passing on of the oral history, which passed on through early Christianity (Ibid., 139). What was important to the memorization, especially when it comes to the Gospels and to the oral tradition passed on within the early Church, was that the “gist” of the events and sayings was made since verbatim sayings was slightly improbable (Ibid., 150). Also, it was not uncommon for both the Greco-Roman world and the Jewish one to have some who would be able to take notes, to be able to polish up the lectures, sayings, and speeches to publish them for their teachers later on (Ibid., 148-149). The Apostles came from this world, they sat at Jesus’ feet, learned how He lived, what he taught, saw why He came and placed it all to memory. The message of the Bible is reliable because the process that was used to safeguard it was predetermined by God. That means, simply, God has kept His message safe, from beginning to end. Thus, the Scriptures are historically and theologically reliable.
* I need to make a single disclaimer here about the approach of Ehrman’s points from the debate. First, Ehrman is not an actual historian, though he does teach NT history at UNC (and all the Duke fans now understand the problem with Ehrman). He is a textual critic, which means he deals, mostly, with finding the original texts of the Bible. This means that he does need to know some history. Second, an actual historian would never approach an ancient document as Ehrman speaks of in the debate. To do proper history, historians must compare different documents from the same time period, this is done to help corroborate the reliability of the document, in other words, is the document telling the truth in events it gives of the time period of which it is said to be written in (Marius and Page 2010, 49-54; Presnell 2007, 130). History is all about interpretation, you cannot do history without this. The best way to explain this is is that historians evaluate their sources and make inferences based on the evidence (Marius and Page 2010, 49-54). When the text is silent, then the historian begins to question why. Erhman makes the fallacy of arguing from silence. Historians want to know why an author did not say something, was it due to ignorance, was it to make a statement, or was it on purpose for whatever reasons we may never know (Presnell 2007, 130). The silence is another reason why comparing different primary sources together is important. Ehrman knows better than to infer on his audience to only use the English translations, mostly because he is a textual critic. Historians know that ancient documents are best understood when read in their original language (Ibid., 122). Ehrman also knows that we cannot truly approach the Bible, as an ancient document, with 21st-century mindsets. To do so corrupts the original message of the material. The best historians know what their biasses and presuppositions are before they approach any historical material so they can keep the original message as pure as possible (Ibid., 88-89). If you want to see a better debate, check out the one I linked in my previous post between Daniel B. Wallace and Bart Ehrman on whether the original writings of the New Testament are forever lost. Also, if you want to watch a great lecture on the oral history of the early church, then watch this video by Darrell L. Bock:
The Bearded Scholar
Barrick, William D. 2008. “Exegetical Fallacies: Common Interpretive Mistakes Every Studen Must Avoid.” In Master’s Seminary Journal 19, no. 1 (Spring): 15-27. https://www.tms.edu/m/tmsj19a.pdf.
Borg, Marcus J. 2012. Evolution of the Word: The New Testament in the Order the Books Were Written. New York: Harper One.
Furay, Conal and Michael J. Salevouris. 2010. Methods and Skills of History: A Practical Guide. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.
Howard, Jeremy Royal. 2010. “Origin, Transmission, and Canonization of the New Testament Books.” In HCSB Study Bible. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.
Keener, Craig S. 2009. Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Marius, Richard and Melvin E. Page. 2010. Short Guide to Writing About History. New York: Longman.
Pelikan, Jaroslav. 2005Whose Bible is it?: A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages. New York: Vikings.
Presnell, Jenny L. 2007. Information-Literate Historian: A Guide to Research for History Students. New York: Oxford University Press.
In 1820, Thomas Jefferson created his Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth: Extracted Textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French, and English. As the title states, Jefferson compiled some of the sayings and events in the Gospels that he believed were authentic to Jesus and threw out the “rubbish” (Pelikan 2005, 188). If this sounds familiar, it should. This notion of chopping up the Bible and finding “the authentic words of Jesus” is something the Jesus Seminar did in the 1980s.
In their massive tome, Five Gospels: What did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, published in 1996, the Gospels were sifted through, the sayings of Jesus were voted on, and the outcome was very bleak. William Lane Craig (Reasonable Faith), in an article he wrote for his website criticizing the Jesus Seminar, states their view of Jesus as ” a sort of itinerant, social critic, the Jewish equivalent of a Greek cynic philosopher.” Interestingly, in Jefferson’ s situation, he had Latin and Greek texts, which means he could have found variants to base his dissecting of the Gospels, however, the Jesus Seminar did not use textual criticism (the science of comparing ancient documents together to come to a conclusion of what the original may have been), they used a non-canonical gospel, one based in a heresy, to decide what the authentic words of Jesus were. Unfortunately, this is what happens daily in pop-Christian criticizing circles. They take the English rendering of the Bible and decide, both inside the faith and outside the faith, whether there are contradictions or not. I am not saying this is wrong, however, there is no looking at the Hebrew and Aramaic texts for the Old Testament and the same for the Greek of the New Testament. R. C. Sproul (2009, xii) says it best: “If the Bible is unreliable in what it teaches…[then] the church is left to speculate and has nothing of value to speak to the world.” The reliability of the manuscripts behind the English Bible gives us the trust we can have in the teachings of God’s Word, making it possible for the Church to have value in speaking to the world today.
What the Skeptics are Teaching
Before we can get into the actual understanding of the manuscripts, what they are, and how they are used in translation, we need to first look at the arguments, used by textual critics (some are not textual critics, but historians and such) who are not believers, as well as those who are so-called Christian scholars.
One of the first things most non-Christian and liberal-leaning Christian scholars state about the Bible are the various variants (differences in the texts of the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts). Sometimes, these are considered contradictions. In one of Rob Bell’s (2017, 273-277) latest books, What is the Bible?, he states that the reasons for the contradictions is with the evolution of the thinking of God that, he assumes, happened in the Jewish communities. Bell (2017, 275) says “[o]ver time, peopled evolved in their thinking about God.” In this section of his book, Bell poses questions, which then he proceeds to answer (honestly, Bell is a very confusing author; he writes with very short sentences and almost in a bloglike fashion). Bell (2017, 276) attempts to answer the question of why there are contradictions by saying that it is better to look at them as not contradictions but as an evolution in thinking. Timothy Beal (2011, 104) talks about the various variants between most of the older manuscripts, not just the Greek but those in Latin, Syriac, and Coptic. Beal (2011, 104) does state, somewhat correctly, that some of the variants are not important, simply scribal errors, but that most are extremely important, made on purpose (this is where I disagree with him, as well as scholars like Daniel B. Wallace, and we will discuss this more in a bit). We will come back to the issue of the variants later, however, let us now turn to another argument posited by the skeptics and critics of the manuscripts to the Bible–we do not have the originals of the manuscripts.
One of the major arguments, as outlined above, is that we do not have the originals of the letters penned by Paul, Peter, or James, or the Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We do not even have the originals of the Torah written by Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Because of this, many skeptics and critics see this as a huge problem. To them, this means we cannot be sure that what we have today as the manuscripts behind the Bible are faithful in their representation of the originals (also known as autographs, which comes from the German which translates, loosely, as written by the author). Bart Ehrman (2005, 4-5), an agnostic leaning atheist, New Testament scholar (who ironically began as a conservative Christian who studied at Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College, and then received his MA and PhD from Princeton), in his book Misquoting Jesus, says that his changing from an evangelical believer to an agnostic began when he learned of the dilemma of not having the originals of the New Testament and the many variants within them. Ehrman (2005, 7) says that there were two seemingly problematic questions he kept having while he learned to study the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew and Greek, mostly the Greek). These two questions were spurred by the doctrine of inerrancy and plenary inspiration, which he had presupposed while studying at Wheaton (Ibid.). His questions were: “how does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact [sic] we don’t have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes—sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly? What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired” (Ibid.). Ehrman (2005, 7) then goes on to state “[w]e don’t have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them, evidently, in thousands of ways ” (emphasis not mine). After Ehrman (2005, 10) reached his time in Seminary at Princeton, he realized that there were errors in the Bible, which is ok because we don’t have the originals (Ehrman 2005, 10). However, he begins to answer his own questions with one point, simply, that for most of Christian history we have not had access to the originals and therefore, we cannot say with certainty that they inspired (Ibid.). Here is what Ehrman says, and this is the crux of his argument, this is the foundation to his understanding of the Bible; here is where atheists, skeptics, critics, and now, Muslims get their information for attempting to debunk the Bible as God’s holy word. Ehrman (2005, 10) says:
…the vast majority of Christians for the entire history of the church have not had access to the originals, making their inspiration somehting of a moot point. Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. What we have are copies made later—much later. In most instances, they are copies made many centuries later. And these copies all differ from one another, in many thousands of places…these copies differ from one another in so many places that we don’t even know how many differences there are…there are more differences among our mansucripts than there are words in the New Testament.
Basically, Ehrman’s argument is this—since we don’t have the original manuscripts, we do not have the original words given by God. If we do not have these words, then God did not give them. If God did not give the words, then God did not preserve the words either. Therefore, God did not inspire the Bible (Ehrman 2005, 11). For Ehrman (2009, ix-xii), his coming to this knowledge was not about keeping to a doctrine, it was chasing the truth and for him, the truth is that God did not inspire the Bible, nor did He preserve it. Therefore, for Ehrman (2005, 12-15; 2009, ix-xii) the Bible is nothing more than another book, from history, that was written by humans, for humans, that helps to explain life (if this also sounds familiar, see anything written by Rob Bell on the Bible and the Christian faith).
How do we Answer the Critics and Skeptics in regards to their Arguments?
Honestly, it’s not easy to answer these guys. Most of them have studied, for years, in prestigious universities. To answer these arguments, we must first realize that there is nothing new under the sun. Basically, what is being lauded today as genius and, sometimes, as original, is really recycled attacks on the Bible.
In the second century, a Greek philosopher and writer, Celsus, wrote an attack on the belief of Christianity which included the Bible. He says
[i]t is clear to me that the writings of the christians [sic] are a lie, and that your fables are not well-enough constructed to conceal this monstrous fiction: I have heard that some of your interpreters…are on to the inconsistencies and, pen in hand, alter the originals writings, three, four and several more times over in order to be able to deny the contradictions in the face of criticism (Hoffman 1987, 37 quoted at http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/celsus3.html).
In the late third century, a Roman philosopher Porphyry wrote about the Christian Bible, saying,
If ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote concerning me.” He said it, but all the same nothing which Moses wrote has been preserved. For all his writings are said to have been burnt along with the temple. All that bears the name of Moses was written 1180 years afterwards, by Ezra and those of his time. And even if one were to concede that the writing is that of Moses, it cannot be shown that Christ was anywhere called God, or God the Word, or Creator. And pray who has spoken of Christ as crucified (Macarius, Apocriticus 3.3).
If that sounds familiar, as well, then it is because modern scholastics still hold to this view today. Modern academia believes the Torah to have been either written, or finalized, in the return from Exile by Ezra or some other scholar. With the Enlightenment and its redheaded step-child Romanticism, many fanciful ideas in regards to the Bible were put forward. One of them, a child of Romanticism, Walter Bauer argued that there were many different types of Christianities during the early church, which, basically, battled over which faith was to be the correct one. Bauer believed that some of the heretical sects of Christianity were most likely earlier than those of the orthodox one (Wasserman 2012, 326-327). All of these arguments seem to actually be absurd when you look at the evidence. So, again, how do we answer their arguments? Daniel B. Wallace gives some great advice in this area.
Basically, we have more copies of the New Testament than any other material of the ancient and classical period (Wallace 2012). Wallace (2012) also states that we can answer with the relative dating of the New Testament (this just means how close we can date the earliest copies with the events they speak of or to their actual written time period). Next, Wallace (2008) also argues for the understanding of the various variants in the manuscripts. Finally, Wallace (2008) states we can know for sure what this means in regards to the manuscripts themselves and our faith.
With confidence, we can know that we have “an embarrassment of riches” (Wallace 2008). Basically, we have too many copies, which is a problem worth having. Just in the Greek, we have roughly more than 5,700 copies to compare (Ibid.). If Greek wasn’t enough, we know that the New Testament, alone, was copied (a lot), early on, into various local languages (Ibid.). To date, we have about 20,000-25,000 various copies in Latin, Coptic, Syrian, Georgian, Armenian, Arabic, and Gothic (Ibid.). Not to mention the overwhelming amount of quotes, in their entirety, of the New Testament by the early Church Fathers, that’s about a million quotes; that means we could basically reproduce the entire New Testament if we only had their quotes and no other copies (Ibid.). This is just the tip of the iceberg. We will spend the rest of the next post touching on the arguments surrounding the manuscripts and how to best answer them.
Helpful Links on the Battle over the Bible
That is a great place to start because its a discussion in regards to the canonicity of the Bible between Dr. James White and Dr. Michael Kruger.
This next video is a wonderful instruction on how the early church used and saw the Bible by Dr. Michael Kruger.
Next, this is a bit more popular level, making it more understandable, plus the videos are very short. Matt Whitman, the host of Ten Minute Bible Hour, has a complete series on the Bible called the Nuts and Bolts of the Bible. I linked the first video below, however, I highly suggest you watch all 22 videos (you know, when you can).
Lastly, this is a great video, extremely long coming in at just over three hours. This video is a debate over the original texts of the New Testament between Dr. Bart Ehrman and Dr. Daniel B. Wallace.
The Bearded Scholar
Beal, Timothy. 2011. Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Bell, Rob. 2017. What is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything. New York: Harper One.
Craig, W. 2018. “Presuppositions and Pretensions of the Jesus Seminar.” Reasonable Faith. Reasonablefaith.org. Available at: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/jesus-of-nazareth/presuppositions-and-pretensions-of-the-jesus-seminar/ Accessed 23 Jun. 2018.
Ehrman, Bart D. 2009. Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them). New York: Harper One.
________. 2005. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. New York: Harper San Francisco.
Pelikan, Jaroslav. 2005Whose Bible is it?: A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages. New York: Vikings.
Sproul, R. C. 2009. Can I Trust the Bible? Vol. 2. Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.
Wallace, Daniel B. 2012. “Bart Ehrman Blog and the Reliability of the New Testament Text.” Daniel B. Wallace, Daniel B. Wallace, May 1, 2012, https://danielbwallace.com/2012/05/01/the-bart-ehrman-blog-and-the-reliability-of-the-new-testament-text/.
________. 2008. “Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts.” In ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
Wasserman, Tommy. 2012. “Misquoting Manuscripts?: The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture Revisited.” In Making of Christianity: Conflicts, Contacts, and Constructions: Essays in Honor of Bengt Holmberg. Edited by Magnus Zetterholm and Samuel Byrskog. 325-350. Coniectanea Biblica: New Testament Series 47; Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns.
The Bible, as God’s inerrant, inspired, and without errors, Word has a fascinating history. Ever since the close of the first century, the Bible has been debated, used, interpreted, and misused. The battle for the Bible began, in the late second century, when early Church father’s, like, Iraeneus, Tertullian, and Origen began to compile lists of what most early Christians believed to be authoritative Holy Scripture, mainly a list of New Testament writings (Smith and Bennett 2005, 62-65). The Bible’s next major battle began in the seventeenth century with the birth of the Enlightenment. Skeptics and Critics began to question everything. This battle has been raging for centuries. It would not be till the 1970s when about 200 evangelical scholars would get together and produce the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. This battle for the Bible is still ongoing today.
In the Barna Group’s State of the Bible 2017 (2017), a controlled group of roughly 2030 people was polled in regards to their views and practices of the Bible. The largest percentage in the group was what Barna labeled “Bible-friendly.” This group holds to the traditional Evangelical doctrine of the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible, however, they only read the Bible four times, or less, in a week. What this tells us is that most Americans, in 2017, believe the truth of the Bible, though, they do not participate enough in reading and studying of God’s Word (only 38% of the 2030 people, that’s about 771 people). The next largest group, right under the “Bible-friendly” are the “Bible neutral.” Only 23% of the group held to the Bible being inspired as the Word of God, yet they believed there to be some historical and factual errors in it (Barna Group 2017). 20% believed the Bible to be God’s inspired Word, factual, historically accurate, and without any errors and read the Bible four or more days a week, these are the ones the Barna Group (2017) called “Bible-engaged.” Right underneath the “Bible-engaged” are who the Barna Group (2017) call the “Bible skeptics.” This group made up only 19%, with a sub-group that the Barna Group (2017) called the “Bible hostile” which were 13%. However, most skeptics tend to be more hostile toward the Bible, roughly 78% (Barna Group 2017).
Both of these groups held that the Bible is not inspired and chalk full of errors and is nothing more than just another book written by mere men (Barna Group 2017). Ironically, most of these skeptics still have at least one Bible in their house with 62% being the hostile ones and 67% of the skeptics (Ibid.). Apparently, only half of Americans, according to this statistic study and/or read, listen, or pray with their Bibles one to three times a year (Ibid.). Also, one in five “Bible-neutral,” as well as the skeptics, wished they read the Bible more often (Ibid.). This is what this series on the Bible is going to be about. Why have a high view of the Bible (ie., that the Bible is God’s literal Word, historically accurate, written by the Holy Spirit through human authors, without any errors)? What will reading, studying, and praying the Bible do for you, in your life? How you view the Bible will define how you view God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the human condition.
History of the Old Testament
The Old Testament, as we Christians call it (the Jews know it as the Tanahk), was written and covers a history of some 1500 years. It covers the beginning of time, from creation to the fall and return of the Jews. Beginning with Genesis-Deuteronomy (also known as either the Torah or the Pentateuch), Moses wrote all five books sometime in the fourteenth or thirteenth century BC. The next portion of the Old Testament is categorized as the Historical Books. Inside this collection are the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, and Esther. These books were written around the thirteenth century to around the closing of the fourth century BC. The next section of the Old Testament is known as the Wisdom Books. These books contain Job, Psalm, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon). The dating for when the Wisdom Books were written between the tenth century to around the close of the fourth century BC. Finally, there is the Prophetic Books, which can sometimes be split into the major prophets and the minor prophets. The books included in this section are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel (these are usually known as the Major Prophets). Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obediah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi (sometimes referred to as the Minor Prophets). The dates for their composition are between the sixth century and the fifth century BC. As can be seen, then, the Bible has been written by several human authors, one divine author (who is the Holy Spirit), and tells one overarching story within 1500 years. There is much more to the Old Testament than just knowing the composition of the books, though this is very helpful in attesting to its historicity.
The Old Testament, though, is not just one massive book, it’s a massive multivolume text. The Old Testament is, as well as the whole of the Bible, a library. It has, according to the Protestant tradition (the Catholics believe in the same list, though they have added to it with the Apocrypha, expanding it to 57) 39 books. All of these books fit into particular genres: historical narratives; poetry; prophetic (a sub-genre of prophecy is apocalyptic); and wisdom literature. Basically, all of these genres help us to understand what the human authors intended message (also what the divine author, the Holy Spirit) is trying to teach.
The structure of the Old Testament is based on the Hebrew layout. The Jewish Scriptures are aligned differently, mostly in the grouping. The Hebrew Scripture is called the Tanahk, which is actually an anacronym for the Law (Torah), the Prophets (Nebi’im), and the Writings (Ketubim). This is how each section, within the Tanahk, are structured. The Torah has five books (which are also known as the Pentateuch meaning five books/scrolls); they are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Prophets have, well, all the prophets except for Lamentations and Daniel; they also add Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel (which in their text is only Samuel), and 1-2 Kings (also only known as Kings). The Writings have the rest, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Job; however, it also adds Ruth, Ezra/Nehemiah (which I also believe is only one book in their text), 1-2 Chronicles (which is also only one book, Chronicles), Esther, Lamentations, and Daniel.
As stated before, the Old Testament is a library of books, all with their own story to tell, yet they have one overarching message. The Pentateuch begins with the beginning, tells the story of creation, the fall of humanity, the call and lives of the Patriarchs, the enslavement of the Israelites, God’s calling of them from Egypt, God’s deliverance of them from slavery, the structure of their culture and religious lives, a census, and ends with God’s promises for them as long as they follow His decrees. The Historical Books cover the conquering of Canaan, the set up of the judges (not judicial characters, these guys were more like individual heroes for Israel), the establishment of the monarchy, the division of the Northern tribes (ten total) and the Southern ones (Judah and Benjamin), the fall away from following God and his decrees, the conquering and captivity of the Northern and Southern kingdoms into Babylon, as well as their return. The Wisdom Books hold more theological statements. These books offer reflections of who God is, His role in regards to Israel, as well as how Israel should live and act. The Prophets tell what would happen to both kingdoms if they would not return to a proper relationship with God. Essentially, these books show the relationship of God to Israel (as well as humanity itself), by the creation of everything, how God covenants with us, our fall and God’s plan of redemption for us.
History of the New Testament
The New Testament is a collection of 27 books (a diverse eclection) that shows the climax of God’s plan for redemption. Just like the Old Testament, the New Testament is structured in a very particular way. The New Testament opens with the Gospels and Acts, written between ca. AD 50s to 90s. The Epistles of Paul, James, Jude, John, and Peter, along with an anonymous Hebrews dating from the early to mid AD 40s to 90s. The last section of the New Testament is known as the Revelation of John, or also as the Apocalypse of John, dated either around Nero’s reign, AD 60s, or Domitian’s, AD 90s. Also, just like the Old Testament, the New Testament has various genres. The Gospels and Acts are considered Historical Narratives (some scholars do believe the Gospels are a genre all their own, while other scholars tend to believe them to be historical/ancient biographies), Epistles, and Apocalyptic literature. Within the structure of the New Testament, as we just saw, are the Historical Narratives which have Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts. The Epistles which hold the thirteen letters of Paul (there are no so-called Pseudo-Pauline Epistles as some Liberal scholars believe, Paul wrote all the letters attested to him) Romans, 1- 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1- 2 Thessalonians, 1- 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, Hebrews (which some of the Church fathers believed was written by Paul), James, 1- 2 Peter, 1- 3 John, and Jude. Interestingly, The Epistles are set up in several minor structures; Within the Pauline corpus, the letters are arranged longest to smallest, with Hebrews following because the Church fathers thought it written by Paul, though they were unsure. Also, Paul’s letters are divided into his usual letters Romans through 1- 2 Thessalonians and Philemon; however, 1- 2 Timothy and Titus are sub-categorized into the Pastoral Epistles. The rest of the Epistles, the ones not written by Paul, are known as the Catholic Epistles (not because they teach Catholic doctrine, but because they have universal teachings, the word catholic actually means universal, which is why this grouping of the letters is known as catholic).
The New Testament, just like the Old Testament, is a library of books that have their own message, yet tell an overarching story. The Gospels tell us the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (all from various viewpoints, which is a historian’s dream).
The Acts of the Apostles tells the story of how the Apostles took the Gospel message (also known as the kerygma) to various nations in the Roman Empire. The Letters or Epistles are much like the Old Testament Wisdom literature. Within the Letters are theological statements, how to live with each other in communion, how to worship God, and how to live as Christians within God’s Kingdom. The Apocalypse is the only tough one to explain, mostly because John echoes many Old Testament prophecies and apocalypses, as well as sharing what he sees of the Spirit that has to do with both his day, time, and culture, and with the future when God will complete his salvific history plan. However, as stated earlier, the major story of the New Testament is the completion of God’s salvation history, His redemption plan, for humanity. The New Testament tells of how God became a man, Jesus Christ, lived, died, and rose from the grave to give us life and to completely heal the fall that we caused. This plan ends with the glory of God in his defeat of Satan and his minions, the re-creation of humanity, earth, and heaven. Where the New Jerusalem sits on the new Earth, where God’s glory is our own light, where we live in peace forever.
The Bearded Scholar
Barna Group. “State of the Bible 2017: Top Findings.” Barna Group, Barna Group, 4 Apr. 2017, http://www.barna.com/research/state-bible-2017-top-findings/.
Beckwith, Roger T. 2008. “Canon of the Old Testament.” In ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
________. 2003. “Canon of the Old Testament.” In Origin of the Bible. Edited by Philip W. Comfort. 51-64. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale Publishing.
Smith, Charles Merrill and Jame W. Bennett. 2005. How the Bible was Built. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Paul has completed his introduction. Paul has given is greetings, has even begun his argument from verse one, right out of the gate. Paul has established his authority, in case it was being questioned. Now we move from the introduction to why Paul wrote his letter. Here, we find Paul’s argument. Paul says that we should not turn from the Gospel that has been taught us. We are not to accept anything stating to be the gospel when there is no other gospel at all, and those that deliver a false gospel are to be cursed, cursed to Hell. Paul teaches us that we are to stand fast, firm, to the Gospel.
This is the portion of the letter where we get the purpose or occasion. Here, in this section of the epistle, we are introduced to the notion that there are “some who are troubling you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Gal 1:6 CSB). Some of the Galatians are turning away from the Gospel that Paul had preached to them. The Gospel is so important that if anyone else were to teach something other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they are to be damned to Hell. One major thing, here to note, is Paul’s use of the rhetoric device of omission (Osborne 1991, 40). Paul omits his usual, and customary Greek/Jewish, thanksgiving/prayer section. This is important because his audience would have expected it, may have been excited to see what he may have been thankful for in their Churches. However, Paul is not extremely happy with the Galatians, therefore he moves right in to tell them why he is upset with them. A close reading of this section will show how serious it is as well, the reason why Paul is upset and writing to his Churches in Galatia.
Don’t Quickly Flee from the Gospel
I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel (Gal 1:6 CSB)
Two key words in this section are vitally important. In most of my studies for this section, I have noticed that they are overlooked. Paul uses an adverb, followed by a verb. These words are tacheōs, the adverb meaning quickly, and metatithesthe, the verb meaning turning. Of these two, we can safely say that tacheōs is easily understood at face reading. However, metatithesthe needs to be explained more for us to understand it.
In Greek, this word had a tone of revolting, in a military style, and a complete attitude change (Boice 1976, 428). The word was also used to show someone’s conversion from one school of philosophy to another (Hays 2000, 204). Since this was in the middle voice, the only persons forcing the Galatians to do this was themselves and no one else (Boice 1976, 428). To the Galatians, who heard this message in the original language, they would have heard Paul telling them that they were abandoning the Gospel on their own volition. This would have been crushing to the Galatians. That is how serious Paul sees this issue, the Galatians were revolting against God by their own doing.
Not only are the Galatian’s revolting against God, they are ignoring the fact that it was He who called them. Paul uses the aorist verb, kalesantos when he speaks to the Galatians as being “called” by God. The aorist verb, as we stated last time, is something that happened in a fixed moment, however, it is something that is on-going without completion (Osborne 1991, 51). The other thing to note about the word kalesantos is that it is connected to the word Christou.
In Greek, much like in Latin, the verbs are connected to nouns by cases. Since this verb is in the genitive (this is sometimes the case of possession), it must match the noun of the same case. It was Christ who did the calling, not Paul, this is the main point of this statement. It must be made evident that Paul is not claiming, here, to be the one who called the Galatians. Most other scholars, linking back to John Calvin’s interpretation of this verse, believe that it is Jesus who called the Galatians (George 1994, 92). Paul’s writings use “him who called you” interchangeably with God (Gal 1:15; 5:8; Rom 4:17; 9:12; 1 Thess 2:12; 5:24 CSB; George 1994, 92). The Galatians were defecting from God, Christ, and Paul—though it is more important to note that it was God who they were deserting (George 1994, 92). Paul calls God the Father in this letter, several times (Gal 1:1, 3, 4; 4:2, 6 CSB). It was this God the Father, the One who calls, who created everything, and who raised Jesus from the dead that the Galatians were deserting (George 1994, 92).
This is where there are variant readings on Gal 1:6. Remember that variants are differences between the manuscripts we have on the various collections of the base texts for the Bible. Most manuscripts, all from the west (Latin side of the Roman Empire), have “by the grace of Christ.” However, there are some manuscripts (P46 c. 200 AD and the heretical Marcion Canon, mid to late second century) that have “by grace” (which is thought to be the original since it is the smallest version), some have “by the grace of Jesus Christ”, and some that have “by the grace of God.” Since the version that just has “by grace” is thought to be the original, we can make an assumption that later scribes felt the need to clarify who’s grace the Galatians were called by, hence the modern translation of the “by the grace of Christ” (textual note in the NET). It can also be argued that in the Pauline Corpus, the use of “by the grace of Christ” is used more often. Since this is also true, we can also deduce that the original statement was this one. However, most scholars see the first argument as the valid one (Ibid.). Either way, what is most important is that whichever variant someone takes, the theology is still the same—the Galatians were called by God, either through Christ as God, or just God as Himself by His grace.
The word grace is very important, especially to those of us practicing orthodox Protestant Christianity. In the Greek, this one-word chariti is where the action is taking place. This word is stating that grace is what the Galatians (as well as us) receive. What is grace? A. Boyd Luter (2016), in his article on grace in the Lexham Bible Dictionary (LBD), defines grace, simply, as “a more powerful person toward another.” It is also demonstrated by God towards His people (Luter 2016). Contextually, here, Paul is using the word “grace” as being distributed divinely. There are plenty of texts in the Old Testament (OT) that shows God’s grace (sometimes favor) toward Israel. Noah found favor in God (Gen 6:8 CSB); Moses was also able to find favor in God in Exod 33, 34 (CSB). God is expressed as being “compassionate and gracious.” Israel worshipped God as being gracious, mostly throughout the Psalms (Ps 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 112:4; 116:5; 145:8 CSB; Luter 2016). Even the Prophets spoke of God’s graciousness (Jer 31:2; Zech 12:10 CSB; Luter 2016). By the time of Paul, the early Christians had expanded upon the notion of God’s grace, as being fulfilled in Christ Jesus. The early Church saw grace as being connected to salvation, Spiritual gifts, and was used in some of the epistles as greetings and farewells (Luter 2016). It is here, though, where we need to understand what Paul means when he uses the word chariti. From beginning to end, Paul soaks this letter in the notion of charis—grace (Gal 1:3, 15; 2:9, 21; 3:18; 5:4; 6:18 CSB; George 1994, 92). The word grace, here, is meant to be taken as absolute. Timothy George (1994, 92), in his commentary on Galatians, states that grace “show[s] that this is the only basis on which we can relate to God in any sense.”
A Different Gospel that is not Another Gospel
Not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Gal 1:7 CSB)
The end of verse six and the beginning of verse seven are connected together with the notion of a different gospel, which Paul states is no other gospel at all. The words heteros (different) and allos (another), as J. Louis Martyn (2008, 110) in his commentary on Galatians states, “are virtual synonyms in Paul’s vocabulary.” In ancient Greek, these words were not differentiated from each other, however, Paul, here, makes that happen (Martin and Wu 2002, 106). A distinction between the two words, heteros and allos, needs to be drawn. Heteros was a word that differentiated something different from the statement or thing already mentioned, where allos expresses another of the same thing (George 1994, 93). Basically, then, what Paul is stating is that the Galatians have embraced something completely different than the Gospel, yet there is no other similar or same version of the Gospel. Timothy George (1994, 93), in his commentary on Galatians, says it best—”[the Galatians] had embraced a heteros gospel, one drastically different in kind from that they had received from him, for there is, in fact, no other (allos) genuine gospel to be placed alongside the real thing.”
The true Gospel that Paul distinguishes in this letter is that of Christ crucified and resurrected—that we are saved by the grace of Christ and justified by our faith in that grace. Euangelion throughout the New Testament, basically, means a message of good news, or the process of delivering it (Seal 2016). First, an understanding more broad than Paul, the early Christians, and the other New Testament authors needs to be sought—context is everything. To really understand this, we need to look at the Greek translation of the Old Testament—the Septuagint (LXX) which was, for the most part, the translation the early Church used. The Septuagint uses the term “good news” as verbal form and once in the noun form (Smith 2016). In the Greek translation of Isaiah (Esaias) Jesus quotes, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me; he has sent me to preach glad tidings to the poor” (Esaias 61:1a; CSB translation is “The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor“). Isaiah also said of God speaking of Himself “as a season of beauty upon the mountains, as the feet of one preaching glad tidings of peace, as one preaching good news: for I will publish thy salvation, saying, O Sion, thy God shall reign” (Esaias 52:7, LXX—”How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the herald, who proclaims peace, who brings news of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Isa 52:7 CSB).The Romans had their own understanding of “good news.” On an inscription from Priene (a Roman city on the western portion of Turkey) that states the divine Roma (a believed goddess who personified the divinity of the city of Rome) had made Augustus bring an end to all wars (there had been three separate civil wars in roughly twenty years over the single control of Rome) and usher in peace, a saviour of the Roman people, as prophesied of—possibly a nod to the Aeneid—denoting the “good news” of his victories (Crossan and Reed 2004, 239). After this inscription (ca. 9 BC) the Romans began using “good news” for the imperial cult, for military victories and honors for an emperor (Hays 2000, 205; Martyn 2008, 127-128). However, by the time of Paul’s writing, anyone who was a Christian euangelion came to mean something completely different in Jesus the Christ.
Paul’s Gospel, in a nutshell, was the centrality of Jesus—the climax of the salvation history was on the death and resurrection of Christ, not the Torah (Schreiner 2001, 22-25). In 1 Corinthians 15:3b (CSB), Paul says “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Again, in Acts 13:37-39 (CSB), Paul gives his message of the Gospel to Pisidian Antioch in Galatia. There he tells them that God raised Jesus from the dead, unlike David, to justify those that could not be justified under Moses. This was Paul’s Gospel.
This seems like a good spot to wrap-up our study in Galatians this week. I apologize for the long wait on this passage. Galatians, it would seem, has become a very difficult book to study. As you can, hopefully, see in this post. Next week we will finish this portion of the text by looking at who the troublemakers are in the churches of Galatia. Till next time, please subscribe, like, comment, and share.
The Bearded Scholar
Boice, James Montgomery. 1976. “Galatians.” In Expositor’s Bible Commentary With the New International Version: Romans through Galatians. Vol. 10. 407-508. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelien. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Crossan, John Dominic and Jonathan L. Reed. 2004. In Search of Paul: How Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom, a New Vision of Paul’s Words and World. New York: Harper San Francisco.
George, Timothy. 1994. Galatians. Vol. 30. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Hays, Richard B. 2000. “Letter to the Galatians.” In The New Interpreter’s Bible: General Articles and Introduction, Commentary, Reflections for each Book of the Bible Including the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical Books in Twelve Volumes. Vol 11. Edited by Leander E. Keck. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Luter, A. Boyd. 2016. “Grace.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Martin, Ralph P. and Julie WU. 2002. “Galatians.” In Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Romans, Galatians. 100-134. Edited by Clinton E. Arnold. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Martyn, J. Louis. 2008. Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 33A. Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven; London: Yale University Press.
Morwood, James. 2001. Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek. New York: Oxford University Press.
Osborne, Grant R. 1991. Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Schreiner, Thomas R. 2001. Paul Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press.
Seal, David. 2016. “Euangelion.” In Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Smith, Zachary G. 2016. “Gospel Genre.” Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
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George Barna was the founder of the Barna Group. Barna had founded his think tank in 1983 and sold it in 2009. While he owned it they began their marketing talents for Disney, this was long before they took off on researching for evangelicals, the church, and culture. Barna has written several books. Of which, I have now read two authored by him (Revolution and The Power of Vision) and a third one he co-wrote with Frank Viola (Pagan Christianity). Barna is a rather interesting author, with some interesting thoughts about the church. In Revolution, Barna discovered, long before the Doners even became a thing, that the churched were massively leaving the Church in an exodus. In this book, Barna seems to be ok with them leaving, almost stating that they should. In Pagan Christianity, Barna did most of the research (to which I have a lot of complaints about, having a history degree). Viola and Barna attempt to state, incorrectly, that the problem with the modern Church stems back to the practices brought in by pagan converts to Christianity, who then took on leadership roles within the church. Now, in Power of Vision, which is in its third edition, Barna gives church leaders, pastors, and individuals a way to grow their churches.
Do not get me wrong, this book, as it stands, is very well written. I also find myself very torn as I write this review. I do like a lot of what Barna offers in this book, however, I have to rely more on what the Bible teaches about growing a church.
Barna’s argument is that in order for any church to grow and thrive, it must have a vision. This vision cannot be any vision, however, it must be one that is God-given. Barna, then, begins his book by explaining how there are examples of biblical and non-biblical, modern visionaries. Barna’s examples are Paul, David, Nehemiah, and Moses. He then moves to the modern ones: Mother Teresa, Marin Luther King Jr., Donald McGavran, Bill Hybels, and Supreme Justice Antonin Scalia. Barna defines vision as “a clear mental image of a preferable future imparted by God to His chosen servants to advance His kingdom and is based on an accurate understanding of God, self, and circumstances” (Barna 20018, 28). Barna then explains that most churches tend to confuse a mission statement with a vision. He follows that up with 20 different myths (along with their realities). Barna spends the next eight chapters of the book describing how a church can find God’s vision for themselves and grow their congregations. Barna’s final chapter is spent showing how the individual Christian can take the same method and use it for their own personal lives.
First, Barna is correct, one needs a vision and a mission statement. Neither one is synonymous, but you can not have one without the other. However, the Bible does not actually teach this. When Paul went around, preaching the Gospel, he was not spending time in board meetings trying to decide what each churches mission and vision statement was going to be. Jesus did not come to give his disciples a mission statement and a vision. No, Jesus came to die for our sins, taken on God’s wrath that was due us, and give us his righteousness upon his resurrection. Paul was concerned with only one thing, to preach the true Gospel of God—Jesus crucified and resurrected. David was chosen—his vision was not an answer to him being predestined by God to be king, nor was it his choice. David’s actions were the consequences of being chosen by God.
Second, every Christian, pastor, and church, aside from what Barna believes, should have one vision and it should be the same—to preach the true Gospel of God, Jesus crucified and resurrected. What Barna states is not really wrong, or bad, it’s just that we don’t need different, individualized vision statements for seeking God, knowing ourselves, and to spread the message of God’s kingdom. As Christians, we should be doing this daily, along with our churches throughout the week. Unfortunately, this, in my honest opinion, is what is wrong with the Church in America. Pastors are brought up to believe that they need to treat their churches as an individual, personal businesses. They are taught that, in order to grow, they need marketing, mission, and vision statements. Sadly, what works in the secular business world, should and, does not work in Christ’s church. The early church did not spend time in board meetings, devising statements, and coming up with grand plans to grow their churches. No, the apostles were directed by the Holy Spirit. All of the Apostles had one thing in common—to preach Christ crucified and resurrected and nothing else. As I have said before, Barna makes several good statements in this book and I do agree with several of them, however, as a Christian, I cannot promote this book to any pastor who is having problems and troubles in their church.
Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers http://www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.
Today there is a startling problem within the Church of America. About 10% of the American population are leaving the church, yet staying faithfully orthodox in their beliefs within Christianity. However, Chris Sonksen’s book Quit Church is not actually about that. Instead, Sonksen decided to use the term “quit church” in a bit of an oxymoronic form. Basically, what Sonksen is doing with this book is telling pastors, as well as their congregants, how to actually fill their pews with more people. In this post, I will be reviewing Chris Sonksen’s book—thanks to the guys at Baker Books—I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers http://www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.htm.
Chris Sonksen is the pastor and co-founder of South Hills Church based out of California. Sonksen’s church is not just a church, it’s multiple churches. South Hills Church is in several cities, states, and a few territories of the US. Sonksen has written several books and started the Church BOOM ministry (an online program designed to help pastors grow their churches and ministries).
In Quit Church Sonksen begins with an analogy, one that I actually liked. Sonksen travels a lot, by a lot I mean A LOT. Sonksen explains that there is this organization within airport terminals known as the Admirals Club Lounge. When Sonksen was laid over he ran into a friend who was taking the same flight. Sonksen’s friend saw him sitting in an uncomfortable chair out in the terminal. He invited Sonksen to the Admirals Club Lounge, which Sonksen thought was for pilots. Upon his entrance into the Club, Sonksen found out that it was for those who fly several more times than the usual airport visitor. Sonksen also found out that he had been a member of the Club for years, unbeknownst to him. Once he checked into the Club, he was met with wonderous comfort. Sonksen quickly explains this is how many Christians live their lives within Christianity, they just tough it out in the uncomfy seats when there is something better for them in the Club.
Unfortunately, this is where I began to lose interest in his book. The something better Sonksen promises are not the Gospel or sanctification, it is God’s blessings. Sonksen’s argument throughout the whole book is that if you want God’s blessings for your life, then you must quit church (Sonksen 2018, 24-25). By quitting church, as in stop being religious, you begin to receive God’s blessings. The very first chapter, however, is not about gaining God’s blessing. Sonksen changes gears immediately. He labels the first chapter “Quit Expecting to Wake Up in Heaven.” Sonksen immediately begins to tell another anecdote, this time it’s about a cranky man who does nothing but complain, which caused everyone around him discomfort and fear. Sonksen then links this with the people in our current culture, in America, who complain about anything and everything in the Church—these people then leave the church for the next one down the street, in some cases right next door (Ibid., 29-34). Sonksen spends the rest of this chapter telling his people that Church is not heaven and to stop expecting it to be. Sonksen also argues for people to stay in their churches, love their church families, and support their pastors and leaders (Ibid., 29-43).
Unfortunately, Sonksen commits one of the more basic fallacies in Christianity. Throughout Sonksen’s book, the argument given is in the fallacy of negating the antecedent. This fallacy looks like this: If P, then Q. Therefore not P, then not Q. Also, If not P, then not Q. Therefore, If P, then Q. To put Sonksen’s words to it, then it would like this:
If you do not want to be blessed by God then stop going to your church, tithing, volunteering, witnessing, attending every service, and definitely do not develop a community.
Therefore, if you want to be blessed by God, then stay loyal to your church, tithe, volunteer, witness, attend every service there is, and develop a community within the church.
Or—If you don’t want God to bless you, then continue doing Church your way.
Therefore, if you want God to bless you, then quit Church.
This is not the only fallacy Sonksen commits. Throughout his conclusion, in order to drive his point home, he commits the fallacy of oversimplification, appealing to emotion, along with complex questions. In short, Sonksen’s view of Christianity, put through in this book, seems to be a superficial one. Behind all of Sonksen’s complex questions is how to make your Church bigger. In our Church culture, along with the unchurched culture and those leaving the Church altogether, this is not the correct question, it needs to be—How will Christ change and deliver you from addictions, alcohol/drug abuse, porn, sexual affairs, and spousal/family abuse? However, none of these are even discussed in Sonksen’s book. Inside this book, sadly, is the preaching of the Prosperity Gospel (only it is repackaged and made to sound better than what is currently taught by the likes of Osteen). The true message of the Gospel, which is not delivered in this book, is that Jesus came to save us from our sins—the very ones which placed us under God’s wrath. Jesus did not come to give us health, wealth, and a prosperous church. In my honest review, I would not recommend this book to anyone. Baker Books has been one of the leaders in Evangelical resources. It is a shame to me that they allowed this book to be published under their name. However, I still trust Baker Books to continue to give Gospel-centered material.
The Bearded Scholar
Sonksen, Chris. 2018. Quit Church: Because Your Life Would be Better if You did. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Who wrote the Letter?
The opening of the letter gives us the author’s name—Paul, the Apostle (Gal 1:1 CSB). The ending of the letter also shows us that Paul wrote this letter with his own hands: “[l]ook at what large letters I use as I write to you in my own handwriting” (Gal 6:11 CSB). However, since this is our first look at a letter of Paul’s, we are forced to ask just who he is?
Paul tells his audience, in this letter, that he “intensely persecuted God’s church and tried to destroy it” (Gal 1:13 CSB). Paul was a Jew among Jews, if anyone was to enter heaven with their self-righteousness, it would have been Paul (Gal 1:14 CSB). Eventually, God called Paul out from his sinful life through the grace of Christ to become the Apostle to the Gentiles (Gal. 1:15-16a CSB). However, there is more to know of the Apostle Paul.
According to Gerd Theissen (2003, 50), in his New Testament introduction, Paul was a Diaspora Jew (a Jew who was not from Palestine or Jerusalem) from the city of Tarsus, in Cilicia, and had studied in Jerusalem which caused him to become “a Jewish fundamentalist.” However, according to Theissen (2003, 50-53), Paul is not the author of the Christian religion (of which I would agree), but that he was merely a liberal Jew who wanted to open up Judaism to encompass everyone—Jew and Gentile together. Another set of liberal scholars, Bruce Chilton and Deirdre Good (2011), in their introduction to the New Testament, state that:
Paul wove his devotion to Israel together with the Stoic philosophy of the Hellenistic world, a school of thought that searched for a single, rational principle underneath the world of nature as well as human society. On that basis, Paul framed a new perspective on the meaning of Jesus as the exemplar and the hope of all humanity…Paul made following Jesus into a radically new and powerful religious movementn (55).
Paul’s hometown of Tarsus was a wealthy one, of which some scholars hold that Paul came from a well-off family, this is due to his citizenship and being able to study Torah in Jerusalem (Chilton and Good 2011, 59). Against this argument, Raymond E. Brown (1997, 425), holds that Paul came from a lower-class family, though he was a step up from one who was still a slave because he was a citizen. It is held by some scholars that Paul was well educated in the city of Tarsus, before he went to Jerusalem, being able to read and write Greek, as well as quote extensively from the Septuagint (LXX), and exemplary skills in Hellenistic rhetoric (Brown 1997, 423-425). For most of these liberal scholars, though, this is all mostly just speculation. What can we really know of Paul?
We can know for sure that Paul was from the city of Tarsus, as we have already noted with the liberal scholarship, and that this city was, indeed, an extremely influential place of Roman imperialism and culture (Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 254). Even though Paul’s hometown was heavily influenced by Greco-Roman paganism, as Walter Elwell and Robert Yarbrough (1998, 254) state, in their New Testament survey, “his writings show little significant influence of pagan authors.” It was the Jewish Bible, our Old Testament, that dominates Paul’s thinking (Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 254). Paul was, unlike how the liberal scholars hold, educated in Jerusalem, not in his hometown of Tarsus ( Acts 22:3* CSB; Ibid., 255). It was in Jerusalem that Paul studied under the greatest rabbi of his time, Gamaliel I (Acts 22:3 CSB). Paul was a strict and zealous Pharisee (Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 217). All of this gives background to who Paul was when he wrote Galatians.
When was the Letter Written?
Dating Paul’s letters is a complicated matter. There are three arguments around the dating of the Epistle of Galatians. All of these arguments stand on the notion of where in Galatia the letter was written to, northern or southern. The Northern Galatia Theory holds to two arguments—due to the argument in Gal 1:6 (CSB) of teachers coming in and presenting a different gospel, it is believed that Paul wrote this around the mid-fifties, that is AD 54-55 (Brown 1997, 477). The second argument for the Northern Galatia Theory is that Paul was planning to gather a collection from his Galatian churches for the Jerusalem church (1 Cor 16:1 CSSB), and after hearing that his flock had accepted a different gospel, he changed his mind and sent a letter instead to correct the problem (Ibid.). Those in this argument for the Northern Galatia Theory hold to a late date, ca. AD 57 while Paul was in Macedonia, written between 2 Corinthians and Romans (Ibid.). The third argument comes from the Southern Galatia Theory, which states that Paul wrote Galatians after the Second Missionary Journey (Ibid., 476). For those within this theory date the letter between AD 48 and early 50s (Ibid.). For some scholars, such as Bruce Chilton and Deirdre Good (2011, 70), the letter is dated to ca. AD 53. For other scholars—ie., Gerd Theissen (2003, 56), holds that Galatians is too difficult to date and could either be dated early, ca. AD 52 at the beginning of his time in Ephesus, or later ca. AD 55 right before he writes Romans, while he is ending his time in Ephesus. Raymond E. Brown (1997, 477), holds to a date of the mid-fifties, which puts him in the first argument for the Northern Galatia Theory.
At the heart of these arguments is the number of times Paul actually visited Jerusalem. Within this argument circles the view that there are three visits in Acts and two in Galatians, as well as why wouldn’t Paul mention the famine in Acts 11, which is within in the South Galatia Theory, and the mentioning of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, which is part of the North Galatia Theory (McClelland 2012, 1329). On the North Galatia Theory, the argument is that either Luke added one extra visit, or that Paul left one out (Ibid.). This is the argument that most liberal scholars like, due to the simple fact that they do not trust the accuracy of the Luke in his telling of the story in Acts, however, they honor the truth from Paul, since he lived his life and Luke wrote everything much later. However, to hold this view, as I have mentioned in the author’s note, is a misinterpretation of the Scriptures. Basically, we are able to hold to a South Galatia Theory, which would date this letter to ca. AD 48-50 (Ibid.; Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 293-294). We are able to do this for various reasons. Paul’s explanation of his two visits to Jerusalem (of which Acts was written after Galatians, thus it has an extra visit different than Paul’s in Galatians) in Gal 1:17-24 (CSB) and 2:1-10 (CSB) with those in Acts 9:26 and 11:28-30 (CSB; Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 293). Paul mentions nothing of the council in Jerusalem from Acts 15 (CBS; Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 293). Along the same line is Peter’s retreat from the table fellowship (Gal 2:11-21 CSB), showing that this was before the Council (Carson, Moo, Morris 1992, 293).
Who were the Original Recipients of the Letter?
As we have seen, the dating of the letter relies heavily on the notion of who the original recipients were. Again, the argument is based on two theories, the North Galatia and the South Galatia Theories. For those in favor of the North Galatia Theory, think that Paul visited the cities, and established churches, in the northern-central portion of the Roman province of Galatia, which would have been the possible towns of Pessinus, Ancyra, and Tavium (Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 297). The only problem with this is that it was during Paul’s Second Missionary Journey, as described in Acts 15:36-18:22 (CSB).
Acts only report of the previous towns that Paul had gone to were from his first trip, traveling to Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium. Then Luke states that they went through the regions of Phrygia and Galatia, which sounds like Luke stating that Paul did not actually stop anywhere in Galatia, but moved through the region to his next stop in Troas. Just who, then, were the Galatians?
To begin, Galatia was actually a province of the Roman Empire that was taken over in 287 BC (McClelland 2012, 1328). It is was in the area known as Anatolia in the Classical period, Asia Minor during the Second Temple period, and Turkey in our period. Caesar Augustus made it a province in 25 BC. Augustus wasted no time in this area, restructuring the province into a more progressive urbanization making cities, roads, and the creation of the imperial cult throughout the region (Egger 2016). The ethnic Gauls established the ancient cities of Ancyra (modern-day capital of Turkey, Ankara), Tavium, and Pessinus (McClelland 2012, 1328). These three cities were established in Northern Galatia. The Romans made Ancyra the capital of the province, bolstering some marvelous “baths, stadiums, theatre, temple to Augustus, and numerous other public buildings” (Egger 2016). Pisidian Antioch was made into a Roman colony in 6 BC, also known as Caesarea Antiocheia, and the capital city of the Southern portion of the Galatian province (Barry et al. 2016). Lystra was one of the southern cities of Galatia, made a Roman colony, of which Pisidian Antioch was a chief military colony, in 6 BC (Odor 2016). Lystra was a trade and market town (Ibid.). During the time of Paul’s journeys and this letter, Lystra did not have many inhabitants (Ibid.). Since this is more of a circular letter, then, the question is still asked of who the people of Galatia were? What we do know is that the area known as Galatia was colonized by the people of the ancient Gauls (Mclelland 2012, 1328).
* How you view the authority of scripture is going to determine how you interpret it. What I mean by that is if you find it inerrant and infallible then you are going to take the Bible, as a whole, as authoritative and divine in regards to your interpretation; if however, you take a more liberal, or moderate, view of the Bible (meaning that you do not hold it infallible or inerrant) then you decide what is factual in the Bible, instead of the Bible tell you what is factual or not. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy defines inerrant as “the quality of being free from all falsehood or mistake and so safeguard the truth that Holy Scripture is entirely true and trustworthy in all its assertions” (MacArthur 1980, 197). Further, the Statement defines infallible as “the quality of neither misleading nor being misled and so safeguards in categorical terms the truth that Holy Scripture is a sure, safe and reliable rule and guide in all matters.” (Ibid.). If you are not holding to these truths in regards to interpreting the Scriptures, then you are misinterpreting it (Ibid.). Basically, we need to know that there were human authors, who wrote in the genres of their time, yet God was completely in control of the whole thing from start to finish (Ibid).
Barry, John D., David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder, eds. 2016. “Antioch of Pisidia.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Brown, Raymond E. 1997. Introduction to the New Testament. Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library. New York: Doubleday.
Carson, D. A. and Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. 1992. Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Chilton, Bruce and Deirdre Good. 2011. Studying the New Testament: A Fortress Introduction. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Egger, John A. 2016. “Galatia.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Elwell, Walter A. and Robert W. Yarbrough. 1998. Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
MacArthur, John F. 1980. Why Believe the Bible? Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
McClelland, Scott E. 2012. “Galatians.” In Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary. Edited by Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill, 1327-1354. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Odor, Judith A. 2016. “Lystra.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Theissen, Gerd. 2003. Fortress Introduction to the New Testament. Translated by John Bowden. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
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Every letter in the New Testament fits into a genre known as an epistle. Paul used letters for several reasons. First, thanks to the Pax Romana (Peace of Rome), travel between areas, cities, and territories of the Roman Empire was easy and safe. The Romans were one of the first to create, some would say engineer, roadways and then police them with their soldiers for safety. Because of this, mail carrying was easy, quick, and safe. Second, Christianity was fastly growing within the Roman Empire, especially within the cities (Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 231). Due to the speed of her growth, Paul needed to be able to reach his churches, with instructions, with the utmost rapidity. Second, as D. A. Carson, Douglas Moo, and Leon Morris (1992, 232) state, in their New Testament introduction, “[p]eople in Paul’s day saw the letter as a means of establishing personal presence from a distance, and this perfectly served the needs of the apostles in pastoring their flocks from a distance.” The genre of letter writing, in the Second-Temple period of Paul’s day, was pretty generic. Basically, Greco-Roman authors ranged in their styles, the number of actual letters, and words. For example, Cicero (actually pronounced Keekaro) has 776 letters averaging between 22-2,530 words, Seneca has 124 letters averaging between 149-4,134 words, were as Paul has 13 letters (that we know of, some scholars believe that he had one written to Corinth before 1 Corinthians was written) averaging about 1,300 words, where Romans bolsters a significant 7,114 words (Ibid., 232). We can see that Paul was very verbose about instructing his churches. As amazing as this is, a look at the structure of the letter genre is vitally important.
In the Greco-Roman world, letters had an address and greeting (of which were very short), a body, and a conclusion; Paul’s letters followed this, only with a few minor changes (Ibid.). As we have mentioned in the Intro to Jude, Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart (2014, 59), in their book on how to read the Bible, state that there are six features common, mostly, between the secular and the New Testament letters format: author, recipient, greeting, prayer/thanksgiving, body, and a farewell/final greeting. Paul takes some liberties with his formatting. Paul addresses the Galatians (by the way this is what we call an occasional letter, also known as an ad hoc epistle—see Fee 2002, 17), which is the author and recipients (Gal. 1:1-5 CSB).
Then, Paul changes the greeting, to fit his own personal style. In the Greco-Roman world, the greeting was the Greek word chairein. Paul uses the word charis, “grace” (Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 232). Typically, after the greeting portion, Paul would go into a prayer or thanksgiving. However, Paul is not so happy with his audience, so therefore he offers no prayer or thanksgiving. Instead of this, Paul moves right into the body of the letter (Gal. 1:11-6:10 CSB). Then, Paul ends his letter with a personal appeal, no doxology or benediction—again, Paul is not very happy with the Galatians (Gal. 6:11-18 CSB).
The main point of Paul’s greeting is, a, straight out of the box defense of where he received his Gospel from. Paul comes out swinging, right from the corner. Paul already knows that he is under attack because his message is assaulted. For Paul, this is personal and very serious. In the Churches of Galatia, there are some serious issues of how someone is saved, which means that the wrong message or view of this will send you straight to hell.
The Role of an Apostle
First things first, a complete understanding of an apostle and his role in the Church. Even though the word cloud has the word “apostle” very small—meaning that it is not that important, it is significant for our understanding of who Paul claims to be. Granted, Paul only uses the word once, mainly in this passage, it’s highly influential for Paul’s authority and for his Gospel. Paul uses this word at least three times in this letter (Gal 1:1, 17, 19 CSB). This needs to be completely clear, Paul uses this word, a lot, in all of his letters. Paul is constantly defending himself as an apostle in every one of his letters. So, what is an apostle? The word, in Greek, is apostolos and loosely translates as apostle, messenger, or envoy. At its simplest form, the word means “[s]omeone, or something, sent” (Nässelqvist 2016; Fitzmyer 2008, 231). However, there is history to the term, one that gives it its meaning. Outside of the Bible, it was used for maritime messages—Joseph Fitzmyer (2008, 231) claims it was used for naval expeditions—of certain colonies being sent, or trade-vessels, and even, as Herodotus used in his Histories “an envoy, messenger, ambassador” (History 1.21; 5.38 quoted in Fitzmyer 2008, 231; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 17.300 cited in Nässelqvist 2016). Within the Bible, it’s used in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament, also known as LXX); in 1 Kgs 14:6 (NASB) the Hebrew šālûaḥ is translated into the Greek apostellein, “send” (Fitzmyer 2008, 231). Within the New Testament, the word takes on a different meaning, one that is more than a message or messenger, it becomes one with a message and authority. The best way to understand this shift in meaning for the New Testament period is in first century Judaism. Basically, the Jerusalem authorities (most likely the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin) would send out rabbis as “commissioned emissaries” with the authority of the Sanhedrin to settle matters of financial, calendar, and doctrinal issues that sprouted up within the Diaspora—disperssed Jews throughout the Roman Empire (Fitzmyer 2008, 231). Jesus stated, “that something [Himself] greater than the temple is here” (Matt 12:6 CSB). For Paul, his authority, as one sent out (an apostle), came not from men unlike those rabbis from Jerusalem and the Temple where the Sanhedrin resided, but “by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead” (Gal 1:1 CSB).
God as the Father
Paul moves quickly from stating his role as an apostle to his main point, within the greeting—where his real authority comes from. Before we talk about the role of Christ in Paul’s theology, we must first look at his view of who God is. Paul call’s God “the Father” (Gal 1:1 CSB). Paul uses the word Father three times in his greeting (Gal 1:1, 3, 4 CSB). This signifies how Paul sees God, just as Jesus saw God as His and our Father, so does Paul. He uses the word some forty-three times in all of his epistles. Twice he quotes Jesus, “Abba Father” (Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15 CSB). In Greek, the word is pater and is literally translated as father. For Paul, God is the only Father—God is the Father of Jesus (Gal 1:1 CSB) and He is the Father of all Christians (Gal 1:3, 4 CSB)—which is shown as God giving life to both Jesus through his resurrection and then to all Christians by way of justification (Martyn 2008, 84). Because God is Father, Jesus was raised back to life from death, redeeming all who believe in Him, of which Paul saw Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6 CSB). In other words, Jesus is Paul’s way to salvation, yet it was God who was the main source (McClelland 2012, 1332).
Jesus’ Death and Resurrection as an Atonement
To understand what Paul’s Gospel is, we need to carefully dissect Paul’s statement in verse 4: Jesus Christ “who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal 1:4 CSB). First is the understanding of the word sin. Paul uses this word some sixty-four times in his letters. Paul, however, only uses this word three times in his Epistle to the Galatians. In Greek, hamartion is the plural form of hamartia, which simply means sin. It can also be used as wrongdoer and guilt. In the Old Testament, sinning was defined as missing the mark, [k]hata. This word, for the ancient Israelites, was more than an individual missing the mark or failing; to be honest, this word meant a problem for the whole of the community. In other words, sinning was not merely an individual act, its consequences covered the whole kingdom of Israel ( Henderson 2016). In the overall understanding of the Jewish view of sin, it is this, as J. Henderson (Ibid.) states in his article on sin, its a “direct violation of His [God’s] will.”
During the Greco-Roman era or the Second Temple Period, sin (hamartia) was viewed as a deviation from justice (Ibid.). For Socrates, sin, as well as guilt, was rooted in ignorance (Ibid.). Plato, modifying Socrates’ understanding, says that sin is not only just stemming from ignorance, it also comes from a conquering of reason by passion and appetite (Ibid.). Again, Henderson (Ibid.), in his article on sin, states that Aristotle (expanding on both Socrates and Plato’s understanding) viewed sin as
“further distinguish[ed] between the various was the rational part of the soul can know right from wrong: There is in fact a type of knowledge of right and wrong that cannot be overcome by passion or appetite, while there is a weaker type of knowledge seen in those under the influence of the passions that is similar to one who is dreaming, mad, or drunk.”
To the early Church, the Jewish notion of sin was kept, but modified around the death and resurrection of Jesus (Ibid.). Henderson (Ibid.), states in his article on sin that Jesus’ death and resurrection was seen by the early Church as an
“inaugurat[ion] [of] the new age, though they did not maintain that the old age had fully passed away. Thus, the early early Christians find themselves still living in the world surrounded by sin until the second coming of Christ and the new creation.”
Therefore, sin is not simply missing the mark, nor thinking incorrectly, it is, as Henderson (Ibid.) states, ” an internal, impersonal force within each person and within the church, closely connected with the very personal force of Satan, who seeks to turn people away from God.” Therefore, it is a complete struggle for power over people, sin is seen as a powerful force (Ibid).
Ther is only one thing that can save us from the struggle of sin—Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Greek word, exaireo, means rescue, deliver.
It can also mean to take out, tear out, or remove. Paul’s use of this word is actually difficult, the Greek word is actually exeletai. In Greek, there is a form of language that we Americans do not have—the aorist tense. This tense is mostly past, however, it also indicates present and future at the same time. Paul uses the word rescue, which is tied to Jesus’ action of atonement, as a fixed moment in time, that was done in the past, however, continues to be used into the future (Morwood 2001, 61). This word is difficult to translate, however. The lexical form of the word is exaireo, as mentioned earlier, which means to deliver, take out, rescue. Strangely, the root of the word is aireo, which means to destroy; execute. To help matters, the word is not translated the same in all Bible versions. In the ESV, the word is “deliver.” However, in the CSB, NIV, NABRE, NET, and LEB* it’s “rescue.” The GNB has it as “set free,” and in the NJB it’s “liberate.” In all cases, what Paul is referring to is the theological understanding of the atonement.
J. I. Packer (1993, 134), in his Concise Theology, defines atonement as the “means [of] making amends, blotting out the offense, and giving satisfaction for wrong done; thus reconciling to oneself the alienated other and restoring the disrupted relationship.” To be completely clear, this entire epistle is about salvation—soteriology—or the work of the person of Christ. Though Paul does not use the word, atonement, in this letter, he does use it in thought for Jesus’ actions, ” who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age” (Gal 1:4 CSB). However, to completely understand the atonement of Christ, we need to look closer at the context of it. After God saved Israel from the Egyptians, He had to set up ways that He could commune with His people. For that to happen the people needed to be cleansed of their sins because God is holy and incorruptible. God despises sins (Jer 44:4; Hab 1:13 CSB). Because this is who God is, He must punish those who are sinful (Ps 5:4-6; Rom 1:18; 2:5-9 CSB). That being said, God had to make ways for the people to be atoned for. Leviticus tells us all about how the priests were to make atoning sacrifices for the people (Lev 17:11 CSB; Packer 1993, 134-135). By the time of the early Church, the understanding of atonement, established by the ancient Israelites, revolves around the work of Christ—Jesus’ death was a once-and-for-all, fixed moment in history, atoning event, one that surpassed what the Law required (Brockway 2016). Paul cashes in on this notion when, in Romans, he speaks of the atonement of Jesus. It’s in Romans 3:25 that Paul says, “God presented him as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed” (CSB). It’s here, in Romans, that the word hilasterion is used. This word can mean propitiation or mercy seat. Propitiation means that God demanded a righteous sacrifice to wipe away our sins, that we may be reconciled to Him(Lightner 1995, 195). As we have seen in the meaning of the use of exeletai, “rescue,” Paul was thinking of this notion, long before he wrote Romans. Paul understood the work of Christ, how his death and resurrection was done for us, to bring glory to God. This notion of salvation is all throughout the entirety of the epistle and we will look at it every time we come to it.
*These translations are: English Standard Version, Christian Standard Bible, New International Version, New American Bible Revised Edition (not to be confused with the New American Standard Bible), New English Translation, Lexham English Bible, Good News Bible, and the New Jerusalem Bible. The NABRE and NJB are two different Catholic translations, both of which are good for Protestants to use, due to seeing what Catholics view as Christianity.
Brockway, D. 2016. “Atonement.” Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. 1992. Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Fee, Gordon D. 2002. New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stuart. 2014. How to Read the Bible for all its Worth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Fitzmyer, Joseph A. 2008. Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 33. Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven; London: Yale University Press.
Henderson, J. Jordan. 2016. “Sin.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Lightner, Robert P. 1995. Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.
Martyn, J. Louis. 2008. Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 33A. Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven; London: Yale University Press.
McClelland, Scott E. 2012. “Galatians.” In Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary. Edited by Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Morwood, James. 2001. Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek. New York: Oxford University Press.
Nässelqvist, Dan. 2016. “Apostle.” Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Packer, J. I. 1993. “Sacrifice: Jesus Christ Made Atonement for Sin.” In Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
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