II. WHY THIS CLASS?
A. There are lots of ideas out there about how we got the Bible, and many of them are critical of the view Christians hold. We ought to be informed about these viewpoints for two reasons: so we can keep from being deceived by them, and so that we can discuss them with people who have been influenced by them.
1. Bart Ehrman
Ehrman argues that modern Bible translations are “all based on texts that have been changed in places. And there are some places in which modern translations continue to transmit what is probably not the original text… There are some places where we don’t even know what the original text was, places, for example, about which highly intelligent and impressively trained textual critics continue to dispute. A number of scholars… have even given up thinking that it makes sense to talk about the ‘original’ text.” – Misquoting Jesus, 209-10
Ehrman also argues that “sometimes the texts of the New Testament were modified for theological reasons. This happened whenever the scribes copying the texts were concerned to ensure that the texts said what they wanted them to say; sometimes this was because of theological disputes raging in the scribes’ own day.” – Misquoting Jesus, 151
2. Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Judas, etc.
The Gospel of Thomas is a text, probably written in the second century, (100-200 AD) that consists of 114 sayings that it attributes to Jesus. The reason why it is called the “Gospel of Thomas” is that its beginning states that these “secret words” were written down by Didymus Judas Thomas. It was discovered in 1945 near the town of Nag Hammadi, in Egypt.
“For spiritual seekers and those dissatisfied with the teachings of the established Church, the Gospel of Thomas Collection is a series of spiritual writings that provide unique explanations and insights into Jesus’ teachings in the Gospel of Thomas.” – from the Web site http://www.gospelofthomas.net.
The Gospel of Judas is a text, probably written in the second century, (100-200 AD) that presents Judas as Jesus’ closest disciple, who betrayed Jesus because Jesus told him to. It was translated and publicized by National Geographic in 2006. Some scholars, like Elaine Pagels, argue that it was written by a group of Christians that was suppressed by the church:
“It [the Gospel of Judas] contradicts everything we know about Christianity. But there’s a lot we don’t know about Christianity. There are different ways of understanding the death of Jesus that have been buried and suppressed. This author suggests that God does not require sacrifice to forgive sin, and that the message of Jesus is that we come from God and we go back to God, that we all live in God. It’s not about bloody sacrifice for forgiveness of sins. It suggests that Jesus’ death demonstrates that, essentially and spiritually, we’re not our bodies. Even when our bodies die, we go to live in God.” – Elaine Pagels, in an interview at Salon.com
3. The Jesus Seminar
This is a group of about 150 people organized in 1985 by Robert Funk. They vote on whether the sayings of Jesus recorded in the gospels and other ancient accounts are authentic. They use a voting system with four different color beads: red indicates that Jesus definitely said something, pink indicates that Jesus probably said something, gray indicates that Jesus did not say it, but it contains Jesus’ ideas, and black indicates that Jesus did not say it; it came from later tradition. They have concluded that Jesus probably said only about 18% of the sayings attributed to him in the gospels and the Gospel of Thomas. Their ideas have been published in three books: The Five Gospels (1993) – this includes their translation of the four canonical gospels plus the Gospel of Thomas, The Acts of Jesus (1998) and The Gospel of Jesus (1999).
4. The Da Vinci Code
This is a 2003 novel written by Dan Brown. It has sold over 60 million copies and inspired a 2006 movie starring Tom Hanks. The main antagonist in the novel is Sir Leigh Teabing, a British historian. Brown got some of his ideas from the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which he refers to in his novel. Here are three excerpts:
Teabing cleared his throat and declared, “The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book.” (Chapter 55, p. 231)
“Who chose which gospels to include?” Sophie asked.
“Aha!” Teabing burst in with enthusiasm. “The fundamental irony of Christianity! The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great.” (Chapter 55, p. 231)
More Teabing: “Because Constantine upgraded Jesus’ status almost four centuries after Jesus’ death, thousands of documents already existed chronicling His life as a mortal man. To rewrite the history books, Constantine knew he would need a bold stroke. From this sprang the most profound moment in Christian history.” Teabing paused, eyeing Sophie. “Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned.” (Chapter 55, p. 134)
B. Christians should be able to explain why we trust the Bible as the word of God.
Important Disclaimer: the information given in this class is meant to correct misconceptions and help evangelism, but not to give ammunition for arguments. We can know all about the Bible’s origins, but if we don’t practice what it teaches (loving our neighbor), then the information is useless (1 Corinthians 13). Also, even though this information is helpful, it has limited usefulness. Even if we can convince people that Jesus really lived, or Paul really wrote the letters that have his name on them, only the Holy Spirit can convince someone that the Bible is the Word of God. As Christians, we believe this because the Holy Spirit convinced us of it. We need to leave room for the Spirit to do his own work in the hearts of others.
“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” – 2 Peter 1:20-21 (NIV). This emphasizes that the Bible was given to us by God, but through human writers. See also 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
From Covenant Affirmations: This We Believe – “The Holy Spirit accompanies the Word of God as it goes forth to accomplish its work. God may be said to work with two hands: the one is the Word; the other is the Spirit which makes the Word effective in our lives. Word and Spirit are conjoined and cannot be separated. The Spirit does his work through the instrumentality of the Word, and does not work redemptively apart from the Word. On the other hand, the Word is without effect unless the Spirit gives it power.” – 23
III. THE PLAN OF THIS CLASS
Week 2 (October 5): How Did We Get the Bible: Old Testament. We will discuss how the Old Testament (OT) was formed, looking especially at why the Apocrypha is part of Catholic Bibles and not Protestant ones.
Week 3 (October 12): How Did We Get the Bible: New Testament. We will discuss how the New Testament (NT) was formed, why some books made it in and others didn’t, and why and how this was decided.
Week 4 (October 19): How Do We Know What the Bible Says? We will discuss textual criticism: the art and science of sifting through manuscripts to figure out what the originals said (and why this isn’t as scary as it might seem).
Week 5 (October 26): How Do We Choose a Translation? We will discuss the history of translating the Bible into English, and what the difference is between translations available today.