"Can the Bible Be Trusted?"

Posted by Scott Palmer on 21 January 2015 | Comments

Can the Bible Be Trusted?


In the last 10 years we have had an onslaught of books, movies and documentaries like The Da Vinci Code, The Gospel of Judas, The Lost Tomb of Jesus that have raised questions about the validity of the New Testament  and more specifically about the bible’s  accuracy.  Johnathon Morrow in his book “Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible’s Authority” answers many of the questions that have been raised about the Bible in our culture.  The book is very well written and it is very readable.  I think it is a must read for those who want to share their faith in the post-modern world in which we are living.  In this blog I want to give you an overview of just one of the chapters.

In chapter 2, Morrow deals with the question  of how do we know what the earliest Christians believed?  I think this is a really important question that needs to be answered.  He begins with this quote from Bart Ehrman, “Christianity as we have come to know it did not, in any event, spring into being overnight.  It emerged over a long period of time, through a period of struggles, debates and conflicts over competing views, doctrines, perspectives, canons, and rules.  The ultimate emergence of the Christian religion represents a human invention…arguably the greatest invention in the history of Western Civilization.”   This thought process is what you hear over and over from people like Dan Brown (Da Vinci Code), the new atheists and skeptics.  The argument goes something like this.  If Jesus death, burial and resurrection occurred around AD 33 and the bible was canonized in AD 367 how can we be confident the core message of Christianity wasn’t changed, misremembered or distorted along the way?  The argument is that things like the resurrection and the deity of Christ were distortions and myths that grew over time.  Is that true?

Morrow examines the question and with good evidence shows that it is not true that the message of the Christian faith was changed, distorted and misremembered along the way.  I think most would argue that Jesus resurrection from the dead is the central claim of the Christian faith.  His first line of argument is that we know that the writings of the NT  were all written within 30 to 70 years of Jesus death burial and resurrection.  This is incredibly early when it comes to ancient writings.  For instance, “the earliest biography of Alexander the Great included by Plutarch in his Lives—wasn’t composed until about 400 years after Alexander’s death?”  So we know that the NT was written early and by eyewitnesses of the crucifixion and resurrection.   This means that there was not enough time  for myths about Jesus to surface because the eyewitnesses to the events in question were still alive.

He finished the chapter by answering the question, how do we know what the earliest Christians believed and how were they able to reliably pass core theology down before there was a functional canon of Scripture?  In other words how do we know what happened in AD 33 and what people believed then is what was canonized in AD 367.  Morrow cites the work of Richard Bauckham New Testament scholar from the University of St. Andrews.  Bauckman uses four  S’s to describe the organic process by which orthodoxy was maintained until there was a functioning canon.  Now, I am going to very briefly summarize his points but you will want to read the book.

SCRIPTURES- The earliest Christians were Jewish and they saw a continuity between what God had done in the Old Testament  and what God was doing through Jesus the Messiah.  So they read the OT (Hebrew Scriptures) at public worship services.  This means the foundational documents of the earliest Christians was the OT.  This was their theological base.  For instance, this means they had a monotheistic worldview.

SUMMARIES- The early Christians memorized and recited doctrinal summaries as they gathered for worship in house churches in the Roman world.  These oral summaries were later written in the NT  and often included technical language like “delivered” or “received” which was how Jewish rabbi’s passed formal tradition to their disciples.  “We have unequivocal evidence, in Paul’s letters, that the early Christian movement did practice the formal transmission of tradition.”  Some of the most famous doctrinal summaries are I Corinthians 15: 3-5, Romans 1: 2-4, I Corinthians 8: 4-6; 11:23-24.  Gary Habermas professor at Liberty University makes a strong argument that there are many more early summary type passages in the NT. In those memorized summaries we have the theological truths that Jesus died as substitute for our sins, was buried and then rose from the dead as promised in the OT.

SINGING- The early Christians sang their theology in devotion to God.  You probably did not sit down and memorize “Amazing Grace” but you absorbed it over time.  So when early Christians gathered for worship they sang these great truths about the Messiah back to God.  Two of the most famous are Philippians 2: 5-11 and Colossians 1: 15-20.  These songs not only affirm the death, burial and resurrection of Christ but they clearly proclaim His deity.  Just listen to this song, “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2: 9-11.

SACRAMENTS- Morrow points out that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper were practiced on a regular basis in the local churches.  They picture the basic elements of salvation and the core theology of the Christian faith.  So you had a theological object lesson every time the ordinances were practiced in the early church. 

It is important to remember these creeds, songs, and practices predated the NT writings.  It was an oral culture because most people could not read.  Morrow says “Think of the last three S’s as “oral texts” that the earliest Christian community recited and practiced before a completed New Testament existed.  These foundational beliefs established the nonnegotiable core of orthodoxy from the very beginning.”

Here is the point:  it is clear that the early Christians, those who were eyewitnesses of the death, burial and resurrection believed that Jesus was God who arrived in flesh.  He died on the cross as their substitute, was buried and rose from the dead.  It is clear the earliest Christian’s saw Jesus as divine and the promised Messiah.  He is the Savior.  These theological truths were not made up 300 years later but were convictions that Jesus taught and later his followers believed from day one.

So, can we know what the early Christians believed?  Yes.  Can we know that what we have in the New Testament is credible?  Yes.  If you have more questions, check out Morrow’s book.

Pastor Scott

Johnathan Morrow, “Questioning The Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible’s Authority”  pp. 45-55