By Ed Croteau
Isaiah 1:18 "Come, let us REASON together", says the Lord."
I was recently in a debate with a skeptical friend over a supposed major problem with the New Testament. ‘Sure’, he said, ‘There’s a time gap of anywhere from 50-100 years from when the authors lived and the first hand-written copy we have of what they said. So if all we don’t have the very original manuscript, but just copies, it’s impossible to be absolutely certain that the New Testament in our Bibles today contains the original words from the authors.
I am always amazed by how some people need this ‘absolute certainty’ when it comes to the Bible, before they are willing to consider its contents. But this is what he was saying: "Unless I can be proven 100% that the recorded words are the originals, I consider the New Testament just a bunch of mistranslated words from obscure authors. Who knows what they really said." What do you think? Should a time gap of 50-100 years worry you? We talked last week of the 1,000-year time gap in other ancient literature that is taught today in our schools and universities as real history. So a gap of only 50-100?
The late Dr. Bruce Metzger (PhD New Testament Textual Studies and former Professor at Princeton University), considered by many to be one of the greatest New Testament scholars who ever lived, explains how he came to trust completely in the New Testament’s contents through intense skeptical examination: "When I first found out that there are no surviving originals of the New Testament, I was really skeptical. I thought, ‘If all we have are copies of copies of copies, how can I have any confidence that the New Testament we have today bears any resemblance whatsoever to what was originally written?’ How do you respond to that?"
He goes on to explain: "This isn’t an issue that’s unique to the Bible; it’s a question we can ask of other documents that have come down to us from antiquity. But what the New Testament has in its favor, especially when compared with other ancient writings, is the unprecedented multiplicity of copies that have survived. The more often you have copies that agree with each other, especially if they emerge from different geographical areas, the more you can cross-check them to figure out what the original document was like. The only way they’d agree would be where they went back genealogically in a family tree that represents the descent of the manuscripts.
In interviewing Dr. Metzger for his book ‘The Case for Christ’, Lee Strobel asked him this question: "All these decades of scholarship, of study, of writing textbooks, of delving into the minutiae of the New Testament text-what has all this done to your personal faith?" His answer will encourage you: "It has increased the basis of my personal faith to see the firmness with which these materials have come down to us, with a multiplicity of copies, some of which are very, very ancient… I’ve asked questions all my life, I’ve dug into the text, I’ve studied this thoroughly, and today I know with confidence that my trust in Jesus has been well placed. Very well placed."
Don’t be afraid to ask the difficult questions. The answers you find will be well worth the efforts. God is willing and able to help you in answering your questions. As the Lord says in our verse this week, ‘Come, let us reason together."
Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called "Faith: Substance and Evidence." He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.