Are Today’s Gospels the Same as the Originals?

Gospel manuscript evidence dates back to the lifetimes of the Disciples with a fragment of Matthew whereas the earliest nearly complete Gospel manuscripts date to about 300 years later.[1] How can there be confidence today’sGospels are the sameas the originals?

Patristics is the science of comparing early Christian writings to Gospel manuscripts to help bridge the gap of the “dark period” – from the originals to the first complete manuscripts. Westcott and Hort, expert Bible textual critics, viewed patristics to be of “the highest degree exceptional” in their comparisons.[2]

Writing about the teachings of Jesus in the form of letters, called “Epistles,” was a common means of written communication by the second and third generation disciples, known as the Ante-Nicene Fathers.[3] Four – Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Papias – were taught personally by the Apostles, the original Disciples of Jesus.[4]

Within these Epistles appear quoted phrases and verses that correspond with Gospel manuscripts written after them. The premise of patristics is that quotes from the Epistles had to come from older, pre-existing Gospel sources. As such, these Epistles serve as “witnesses” that “attest” or “testify” to the content of older, now non-existent Gospel manuscripts, in some cases quite possibly the originals.[5]  

One, The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, was written in Rome to the church in Corinth, Greece, around 96 AD. The Epistle is named for Clement of Rome, the reputed author, who studied under the Apostle Paul and knew Luke, the presumed author of the Gospel bearing his name.[6]

Another is The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians written in Smyrna, Turkey, to the church in Philippi, Greece. Named for its author, Polycarp, he was a disciple of the Apostle John, received instruction from additional Apostles, and met others who had witnessed Jesus. Date of authorship is unknown, but it had to be written before Polycarp’s martyrdom in the arena of Smyrna about 155 AD when he professed to have served his King for 86 years.[7]

An example of how patristics works can be seen using the three verses of Luke 6:36-38 quoted in both the Epistles of Clement Corinthians and Polycarp Philippians whose authors were separated by time and hundreds of miles. Their quotes as compared with two modern Bible translations:[8] 

The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians [9]

“forgive, that it may be forgiven to you; as ye do, so shall it be done unto you;

as ye judge, so shall ye be judged; as ye are kind, so shall kindness be shown to you;

with what measure ye mete, with the same it shall be measured to you.”

Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians [10]

“Judge not, that ye be not judged;

forgive, and it shall be forgiven unto you;

be merciful, that ye may obtain mercy;

with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again…”

King James Version, Luke 6:36-38:

Be ye therefore merciful as your Father also is merciful, v36

Judge not and ye shall not be judged…v 37

…forgive and ye shall be forgiven.v37

For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.v38

New American Standard Bible:  Luke 6:36-38:

Be merciful just as your Father is merciful…v36

Do not judge, and you will not be judged…v37

…pardon and you will be pardoned. v37

…For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.v38

Attestations from these Corinthians and Philippians Epistles are not word perfect matches, but neither are the more modern KJV and NASB versions due to translator variations. Both Epistles referenced Luke to support the message of their letters – the quotes were not intended to be a transcription of Luke’s Gospel, yet they match very closely.[11]

Treasure trove of patristic attestation is found in Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies) quoting from over 600 verses from all four Gospels and over 300 verses from other New Testament books.[12] Its author, a disciple of Polycarp, was Irenaeus who in later years moved to Lyons, France.[13]

Patristics has a secondary consequence – producing evidence that challenges the theory alleging the Gospels and Christianity evolved from legend over a long period of time.[14] Intuitively, what are the odds both Epistles quoting Luke were accidentally consistent with each other? Or did these authors quote from the same pre-existing Gospel of Luke?

If the Gospels “evolved,” why is their content consistently the same from the beginning until centuries later? The answers can be revealing.

REFERENCES:
[1]  “The Magdalen Papyrus P64: possibly the earliest known fragments of the New Testament (or of a book!)” University of Oxford | Magdalen College.  30 October 2013. <http://www.magd.ox.ac.uk/libraries-and-archives/treasure-of-the-month/news/magdalen-papyrus>  “The Magdalen P64 Papyrus Fragments of the Gospel of Matthew (Year ~ 50 A.D.).”  Archaeology. <http://www.lavia.org/english/archivo/magdalenen.htm>  Smith, Ben C. “Gospel manuscripts – The manuscripts extant for the four canonical gospels.” TextExcavation.com.  13 Jan. 2014. <http://www.textexcavation.com/gospelmanuscripts.html
[2] Westcott, Brooke F. & Hort, John A. The New Testament in the Original Greek. “Introduction.”  CR page 112. https://books.google.com/books?id=0xtVAAAAMAAJ&pg=ACfU3U33CMW3331Vv20NgGvjyOs52I1mlA&vq=%22will+not+be+out+of+place+to+add+here+a+distinct+expression+of+our+belief+that+even+among+the+numerous%22&source=gbs_quotes_r&cad=2_0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[3] Richardson, Cyril C.  “Early Christian Fathers.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. <http://eaglemissions.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/fathers.pdf>
[4] Foster, Lewis. “Quotations in the Apostolic Fathers.” The Cincinnati Bible College & Seminary. 1969. Volume XV —  Number  4.  <http://www.dabar.org/SemReview/v15n4-Fathers.htm#N_23_
 [5] “Patristics.”  Merriam-Webster. 2017 <http://www.merriam-webster.com>   Gloag, Paton J.  Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels.  <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595>  Foster. “Quotations in the Apostolic Fathers.”
[6] Richardson. “Early Christian Fathers.”  Schaff, Philip. “Introductory Note to the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 13 July 2005.  <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ii.i.html>   Schaff.  “Introductory Note to the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library.  2005.  <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ii.i.html>
[7] Schaff, Philip. “Introduction Note to the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians.”  Kirby, Peter. “The Martyrdom of Polycarp.” Early Christian Writings. 2017. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/martyrdompolycarp.html
[8Kirby, Peter.  “Gospel of Luke.”  EarlyChristianWritings.com. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/luke.html>  Kirby, Peter. “Gospel of Mark.”  EarlyChristianWritings.com. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/mark.html
[9] Clement of Rome (aka Clement I). “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.” Classics Ethereal Library. 2005.  <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ii.ii.html
[10] Polycarp. “The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippian.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.iv.ii.html>   Davis, Glen. “Polycarp of Smyrna.”  NTCanon.org. 2008.  <http://www.ntcanon.org/Polycarp.shtml>  Lake, Kirsopp. “Polycarp to the Philippians.” EarlyChristianWritings.com.  <http://earlychristianwritings.com/polycarp.html
[11] Polycarp. “The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippian.”
[12] Davis, Glen. “Irenaeus of Lyons.”  NTCanon.org.  25 July 2008.  <http://www.ntcanon.org/Irenaeus.shtml>
[13] Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies.   Schaff, Philip. “Introductory Note to Irenæus Against Heresies.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library.   <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.i.html> Schaff, Philip. “Introduction Note to the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians.” Goodspeed, Edgar J., “Irenaeus.  Proof of The Apostolic Preaching.” Ante Nice Fathers.  2014. <http://antenicenefathers.org/irenaeus>  Davis, Glen. “Irenaeus of Lyons.”  Westcott & Hort.  The New Testament in the Original GreekIntroduction; pages 113, 194-195.  Gloag. Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels.  “General Introduction.” 
  [14] Rochford, James M. “Legend Theory.’ Evidence Unseen. 2017. <http://www.evidenceunseen.com/christ/defending-the-resurrection/1-legend-theory>  Billingsley, Greg. “Alternate Theories To The Resurrection – The Legend Theory.”  2012.  <http://etheology.com/blogs/greg-billingsley/alternate-theories-to-the-resurrection-the-legend-theory>

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A Simple Way to Check the Integrity of the Gospels

Integrity of the Gospels, for many, is the first step in accepting their believability. Checking the integrity of the Gospels and their story about Jesus can be as simple as comparing one Gospel account to another, a process known as “literary analysis.”[1]

The term sounds intimidating, complicated and boring – not! Almost anyone can do it at a basic level…and it can be very interesting. Chances are, literary analysis in its simplest form is part of a routine personal activity. It happens naturally when reading a text and mentally breaking it down to understand it better such as with books, magazine articles, Internet blogs, instructions, maps, etc.[2]

In the case of the Gospels, literary analysis can be as simple as comparing two or more Gospels for such things as word usage, consistency, theme, and meaning or factual accuracy.[3] Performing any type of comparisons or cross references…that’s basic literary analysis. It does not require the considerable time and effort invested by many experts using scientific methods to evaluate the integrity soundness of the Gospels.

One step is defining the genre of the Gospels, fiction vs. non-fiction. Is their content about real people, places and events (non-fiction) or are the Gospels an invented story (fiction) written for some other entertainment purpose, in this case, requiring collusion between four authors? To help figure it out, a reader can rely on certain commonly recognized literary characteristic guidelines.

In fictions, the characters are not real although they could believably be real people with resemblances to real persons. A fiction can include real places, periods and events as a setting, but the story is always imaginary, artificial, not real. A big clue is the purpose of the author – was the intent to be entertaining, amusing, or enjoyable reading?[4]

Non-fictions, on the other hand, are written with the intent to be informative about real people, places or events based on historical, geographical or biographical facts. Aside from research or reference documents, other non-fictions can reflect the author’s recollection of events or facts quite possibly influenced by their personal experiences.[5] Quotes of real people are inherent non-fiction characteristics where their words can be very revealing in multiple ways.

Another part of literary analysis involves studying the characters in the story. Who are they – their gender, background, age, personalities, strengths and weaknesses, etc.? What did these characters say or how did they behave in various situations such as adversity, conflict, competition, challenges, interaction with others, etc.? Does it ring true – are their behaviors under the various circumstances what is to be expected by a normal person?

Understanding the theme is a key component – what is the central idea of the writing?[6] For the Gospels, is the theme about the chronicles of the birth, life, trial and execution of Jesus in the Judean Roman province – historical? Is the theme to teach Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness – philosophical? Or is the central theme to convey the message of salvation through the resurrection of Jesus – religious?

A very close cousin to literary analysis is known as “textual criticism,” another term that seems intimidating and boring to be reserved only for experts so inclined for such torture – not necessarily true. This is where natural investigative curiosity kicks in…that urge to verify historical, geographical and biographical information to see if it is accurate.[7] For the Gospels, this is multiplied by a factor of 4 setting the highest bar of direct answerability for all the works of antiquity.

Fact checking is very simple today using topical searches on the Internet to find reliable secondary sources such as encyclopedias, historical websites, university library websites – even the original texts of antiquity such as Josephus, Augustus, Suetonius and Tacitus. The more knowledgeable about the subject matter, the better the analysis.

Performing literary analysis and literary criticism of the Gospels are a form of the scientific methodology. First, reading what has been written (observation); then gathering information (evidence, research, intuitive analysis) to identify the premise, the theme (hypothesis); and finally validation to see if it stands up to scrutiny (testing, retesting).[8]

Using a scientific methodology approach allows for repeating the process to gain confidence in the outcome or conclusion. For some, a conclusion one way or the other about the integrity of the Gospels may come quickly; for others it may take longer.

Do the Gospels meet the standard of integrity? In the end, the conclusion will be one reached on a personal level perhaps influenced by opinions, even biases weighed against observations, evaluation and factual accuracy.[9]

Ultimately, if the Gospels are found to be credible non-fictions, then the bigger question becomes – is their central message theme believable?

REFERENCES:

[1] Ramlawi, Aisha. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.”  Prezi.com. 16 October 2016 <https://prezi.com/ararehyeyma0/literary-analysis-genretonemoodtheme>  Mareghni, Pamela.  “Different Approaches to Literary Criticism.” Ehow.com. 2014.  <http://www.ehow.com/about_5385205_different-approaches-literary-criticism.html  Preble, Laura. “Traditional Literary Criticism.” Ehow.com. 2014.  <http://www.ehow.com/info_8079187_approaches-literary-criticism.html>
[2] Godin, Katherine. “How to Analyze a Literary Passage: A Step-by-Step Guide.” Study.com. 2017. <http://study.com/academy/lesson/how-to-analyze-a-literary-passage-a-step-by-step-guide.html>   Ramlawi, Aisha. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.” 
[3]  Cherran.  “What is Literary Analysis?” Infomory.com.  August 21, 2011 <http://infomory.com/what-is/what-is-literary-analysis>   Ramlawi, Aisha. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.” 
[4]  Ramlawi. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.”  Prabhat S. “Difference Between Fiction and Non fiction.” 2011. DifferenceBetween.net. <http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/difference-between-fiction-and-non-fiction>   Cherran.  “What is Literary Analysis?”
[5] “Introduction to Literary Criticism and Analysis.” National Endowment for the Humanities | EDSITEment. <http://edsitement.neh.gov/sites/edsitement.neh.gov/files/worksheets/Critical%20Ways%20of%20Seeing%20The%20Adventures%20of%20Huckleberry%20Finn%20in%20Context%20-%20Introduction%20to%20Literary%20Criticism%20and%20Analysis.pdf>   Cherran.  “What is Literary Analysis?”
[6] Reade, Dan.  “Selecting topics for literary analysis.” Sophia.org. 2017. <https://www.sophia.org/tutorials/selecting-topics-for-literary-analysis>   Ramlawi,. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.” 
[7] “Introduction to Literary Criticism and Analysis.” National Endowment for the Humanities | EDSITEment
[8]  Reade.  “Selecting topics for literary analysis.”   Jenkins, Rob. “Literary Analysis as Scientific Method.”  The Chronicles of Higher Education. March 6, 2012.  <http://www.chronicle.com/blogs/onhiring/literary-analysis-as-scientific-method/30565>   “Introduction to Literary Criticism and Analysis.” National Endowment for the Humanities | EDSITEment.
[9]  Cherran.  “What is Literary Analysis

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Five Big Promises God Made at Mt. Sinai About “the Place”

Mt. Sinai is famed as the place God gave the 10 Commandments to Moses. What many may not realize is that God also made five big promises at Mt. Sinai about “the place” that were key to the Israelites’ destiny and to the future Messiah.

The place – what were these promises?  God promised to lead the Israelites to the land that He swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as the place for their descendants to possess; the place to establish a kingdom of the nation of Israel; the permanent place for His Name to dwell; the exclusive place for Israel to observe the Passover; and the place for the judgement seat of Israel.[1]

God just didn’t say exactly where the place would be. Great faith in these promises was required for a fledgling nation of people who had just fled the only life they had ever known – slavery in Egypt.

Spies on a recon mission found the land promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Canaan to be occupied with many enemies, their kings and their militaries. Moving to that place seemed an impossible task, especially for a ragtag nation of former slaves without a military. In fact, doubts and lack of faith by the Exodus generation at Mt. Sinai would cost them from seeing God’s promised land.[2]

A kingdom required a king and his dominion over a land with boundaries, but the Hebrews were a people isolated in the desert wilderness without a king or a country. Everywhere they would trek, the local inhabitants would go to war to defend their lands to keep out the Israelites. Every kingdom had a seat of the Throne, the monarchy’s base of power, which for security reasons must be located in a fortified city protected by a military. If there was no king, no land, and no fortified city for the Throne, how could there be a kingdom?

For a permanent place for the Name of God to dwell required a temple to replace the temporary Tabernacle tent and its Holy of Holies. A temple also required protection from heathen enemies inside a defensible, centralized city. Fundamental to a theocracy, this temple had to be located in the nation’s capital.

According to the Law, the Passover was to be celebrated at its appointed time requiring the sacrifices to be offered by the priests of God at the central place of worship. For a perpetual place to observe the Passover required a permanent sacrificial alter in close proximity to the Temple with enough open space surrounding it to accommodate tens of thousands of people and priests.

A high court to judge the most important and most complicated cases of the nation in the place God chose, by its definition, was to become the judgement seat of Israel.  As the highest court in a theocratic government, it had to be located in close proximity to the seat of the Throne and the Temple.[3] This highest court was part of the hierarchal judicial system structure previously implemented by Moses.

None of these promises seemed like even the remotest reality to the Israelites who, after 400 years, were starting from scratch after escaping from under the harsh rule of Pharaoh. Yet against all odds over the coming centuries, these five prophetic promises did become a reality.

Israel conquered its enemies and took possession of the land promised by God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, where each of the 12 tribes of the sons of Israel were allotted their own land apportionment. Israel’s now formidable military protected the nation even before the establishment of a kingdom.

A king, the most famous in Hebrew history, was born in Bethlehem in the lineage of Judah fulfilling the royal prophetic blessing of Judah by his own father, Israel. The giant slayer, King David, conquered and occupied the fortified city of Jebus or Salem, soon thereafter called Jerusalem. The city became the seat of the Throne of David over the kingdom of Israel.

King Solomon, son of David, built the Temple still known to this day as the Temple of Solomon, its Western Wall remnants a most holy place for Jews today.[4] This new Temple was consecrated and blessed by Solomon where the first sacrifices offered on its permanent alter were burned by fire sent down from heaven.[5]

The Passover was observed at its appointed time with the sacrifices offered by the priests of God on the permanent altar at the new Temple.[6]Annual pilgrimage to The Passover would resume after the Babylonian captivity at the Second Temple until Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome.

Lastly, the judgement seat of Israel, the highest court in the land for both civil and criminal cases, was established in the capital city of Jerusalem. Civil cases were judged in the Hall of Judgement, initially decided by the famed wisdom of Solomon, on the porch of the King’s palace.[7]

Built into the northern wall of the Temple was the Chamber of Hewn Stone. It served as the meeting place for the 70 elders of Israel, later to become known as the Great Sanhedrin.[8] In a theocratic government where God’s Law serves as the criminal code, the highest level of criminal offenses, including some capital death cases, were judged in this Chamber.[9]

God’s five big promises at Mount Sinai laid the ground work for the appearance of the House of David and the subsequent prophecies of the Messiah tied specifically to its legacy. Once the Throne of David legacy was established, over the coming centuries prophets Isaiah, Zechariah, Jeremiah and Micah would reveal specific prophecies announcing the Messiah would come from the House of David, son of Jesse, of the Tribe of Judah, the son of Jacob.[10]

Isaiah’s prophecy of “My Servant” described a cruel sacrificial-type judgement resulting in a death verdict which, during the period of the Second Temple, could only be rendered in the judgement seat of Israel, Jerusalem.[11] Zechariah’s prophecy predicted God would comfort the descendants of David in the city of Jerusalem as they mourned over the death of the one whom they had pierced, their depth of mourning as for the death of a first born only son.[12]

With 100% accuracy of fulfillment of all five big promises made by God at Mt. Sinai about “the place” – from the Exodus to King Solomon’s reign, which in turn fulfilled the prophetic promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah – what are the odds it was all just a gigantic coincidence?[13]

REFERENCES:
 [1] Genesis 17, 22, 35, 49; Exodus 23, 33; Deuteronomy 12, 16, 17.
[2]  Numbers 14.
 [3] Exodus 18; Deuteronomy 1, 17, 19; Numbers 11.
 [4] 1 Kings 6; 2 Chronicles 3.
 [5] I Chronicles 6; Leviticus 9; Nehemiah 11.
 [6] II Chronicles 8.
 [7] 1 Kings 3, 4, 7.
[8] Exodus 18; Deuteronomy 1, 17; Numbers 11; I Chronicles 19.  Shachter and Freedman.  “Introduction to Sanhedrin.”  Soncino Babylonian Talmud. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/index.html>  Ariel, Yisrael. “The Chamber of the Hewn Stone.” The Temple Institute.  2014.  <https://www.templeinstitute.org/illustrated/hewn_stone_description.htm>  Ariel, Yisrael. “Blueprints for the Holy Temple.”  <http://www.templeinstitute.org/blueprints-for-the-holy-temple.htm
[9]  Schoenberg, Shira. “Ancient Jewish History: The Sanhedrin.” 2017.  <http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-sanhedrin>   Shachter, J. and Freedman, H.  “ Sanhedrin.”   
[10] Isaiah 7, 9; 11; Jeremiah 23, 33; Zechariah 3, 6, 12.
[11] Isaiah 52-53. Sanhedrin 16a, 17a. Shachter, J. and Freedman, H.  “Sanhedrin.” Josephus.  Antiquities. Book IV, Chapter VIII.14; Book XX, Chapter IX.4.  “Ancient Jewish History: The Beit Din.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2017.http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-beit-din>
 [12] Zechariah 12.
 [13] 2 Chronicles 6.

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