Some objections are better than others…

18 Mar

I’ve written before about engaging folks through social media – this time I’d like to break down a series of interactions I had last week. It started when a friend posted the following:

That's not insanity...it's false!

That’s not insanity…it’s false!

I just couldn’t let it slide, because frankly it’s misleading on several levels. I’ll use todays post to break down this picture which you may see floating around and then Wednesday and Thursday I’ll detail some of the fallout. I think all of it will be helpful in your conversations with non-believers, even though you may not encounter the exact same circumstances and objections that I did.

So, what’s wrong with the information in the picture?

Facts that mislead intentionally

–          There were and still are no original texts to translate This is only scary if you don’t know about the world of ancient documents, which most of us don’t! Because we’re dealing with thousands of years, original documents are unlikely to exist. Some other ancient works for which we have no originals: Plato, Homer, Caesar, and basically any other ancient author. We still read their works as if they are accurate however…why? Because we trust the transmission of the text. The average age gap between original and oldest copy for the authors above? Around 800 years. There are fragments of the New Testament from 125 CE, 200 CE and completed manuscripts from the 4th century (200 years or so). This is not a hurdle for scholars of antiquity.

 –          Over 8K manuscripts, no two alike What the person who made this complaint doesn’t want you to know is that we can use such a wealth of information (dwarfing any other ancient document in terms of number of manuscripts) to verify which text was most likely original. There are variances, but the text is estimated to be 99.5% pure which is again unheard of when compared with other ancient documents.

 

–          4th century scrolls that claim to be copies of lost first century letters If they are copies of those letters, then the letters aren’t really “lost” are they? Even if we lack the original documents, the content lives on – which is what’s important in the first place.

 Facts that have a plausible explanation

–          “Contradictory” manuscripts The vast majority of errors in the manuscripts can be traced to scribal error: substituting “we” for “you” and similar slip ups. Almost every other error is a clear example of a copyist inserting or deleting something from the text in order to clarify an existing point of doctrine. Nowhere has a critical belief or teaching been added or subtracted. The remaining discrepancies – while interesting academically – do not impact in any way any doctrine of the Christian Church.

Falsehoods

–          The oldest manuscripts we have were written down hundreds of years after the last apostle died The oldest manuscripts we have were copied within 100 years of the likely death time frame of the Apostles. This margin is the historical equivalent of a photo-finish when compared with the gaps from other trusted ancient documents!

 

–          21st century Christians believe the word of God is (a) the KJV (b) a book Christians are not committed to the idea that there is one authorized or specific translation of the Bible. Some sects (more often these are technically cults) will advocate that any non-KJV translation isn’t the true word of God, but this is a fringe belief and unsupported by any evidence. Christians do believe that the Bible contains the words of God, but the Word (the Logos in Greek) is Jesus (the Word made flesh). To the degree that it accurately depicts what God has communicated about himself, the Bible is God’s word to humanity – but this isn’t the fullest expression, that title is held by Jesus of Nazareth.

All in all, I think this particular piece of propaganda falls under the category “sensationalist misinformation.” While most of what it reports is true in the technical sense, the rhetoric compels the reader to come to false conclusions because not all the data is given. Don’t let someone steamroll you with an argument like this one.

Resources for further reading:

Stand to reason – A brief article focusing on the overall reliability of the New Testament

Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry – Charts comparing the NT docs with other ancient manuscripts

*books*

Misquoting Truth – my all time favorite book dealing with NT reliability and transmission

In the Beginning – a fascinating look at the story behind the production of the KJV Bible

The NT Documents: are they reliable? – originally published in the 1940’s it was reproduced in 2002 because the logic and conclusions are still relevant today. The only things that have changed have all changed in favor of the reliability of the NT

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2 Responses to “Some objections are better than others…”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Attempting to re-route a conversation | What do I say to that? - March 20, 2013

    […] I wrote about stirring the pot a little bit on a Facebook post, and mentioned that some of the comments were worth reflecting on. […]

  2. You’re a Christian because you’re American! | What do I say to that? - March 21, 2013

    […] will conclude the series examining some recent interactions I had on Facebook. The first two are here and here. One of the objections that cropped up in several forms (and also appeared in the comments […]

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