November 4, 2008

The History and Audience of the Bible

Over at AnAtheist, James has posted a response entitled God: The Great Communicator? to my article More On Faith focusing on critiquing God's decision to use inspired writings to communicate His truth.

Jewish Texts

James is of course correct regarding the division of the Bible, primary source languages, etc. However, he makes several errors in later descriptions.


James claims the Jewish scriptures are written by anonymous authors. While some books may have unclear or anonymous authorship, many of the books in scripture make claims concerning authorship or have traditionally accepted authors. As the primary reason for rejecting those traditions is largely rejection of the truth of the text and not solid archaeological discoveries that contradict said authorship, the credibility of authorship critiques is largely questionable and often hangs on accepting the Word or rejecting it (and as such, is generally a circular argument when applied as an attack on the integrity of the Word). A good example is the argument James cites in the next post which regards the authorship of Daniel. Because the book is prophetic and it is assumed to be true, the author is assumed to be anonymously written after the events rather than by Daniel be for the events, primarily because the idea that God revealed the events to Daniel before they happened is rejected.

Salvation in the Old Testament

While it is true that the Old Testament focuses primarily on Jewish people, it does not teach that salvation was limited to them. Numerous non-Jews are listed as being saved in it. The best examples are probably Job and the Ninevites (to whom God sent the unwilling prophet Jonah). Throughout both testaments, salvation is offered to all.

Eternal Fate Dependency

Both testaments of the Bible are about a lot more than salvation. Salvation itself is a fairly simple proposition: Faith, not in our works, but the works of Jesus or the Messiah, as the basis for escaping the condemnation of sin (hell) and the reward of a heavenly future. A lot of the book is post-salvation details and guidance directed primarily towards believers. Your eternal fate does not depend upon a detailed study of the totality of scripture and the correct understanding of numerous intricate and complex propositions.


Moving on from his background discussion, James proceeds to make 3 distinct arguments:

Transcription Errors

This is a common claim made about the Bible, that it inevitably is inaccurate. Not only would God obviously have an interest in preserving the text, but men dedicated to the preservation of the scripture were placed in charge of maintaining an accurate transmission.

In The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell cites Dr. Gleason Archer as saying:

in this respect [to transmission] the Old Testament differs from all other pre-Christian works of literature of which we have any knowledge...we do not possess so many different manuscript of pagan productions, coming from such widely separated eras, as we do in the case of the Old Testament. But where we do, for example, in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the variations are of a farmore extensive and serious nature. Quite startling differences appear...Whole clauses are inserted or left out, and the sense in corresponding columns of text is in some cases altogether different...[In contrast] even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered [among the Dead Sea scrolls] were a thousadn years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (AD 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The...variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling. They do not affect the message of revelation in the slightest. [1]

McDowell also cites Dr. Robert Wilson:

The proof that the copies of the original documents have been handed down with substantial correctness for more than 2,000 years cannot be denied. That the copies in exstence 2,000 years ago had been in like manner handed down from the originals is not merely possible, rendered probable by the analogies of Babylonian documents now existing of which we have both originals and copies, thousdands of years apart and of scores of papyri which show when compared with our modern editions of the classics that only minor changes of the text have taken place in more than 2,000 years and especially by the scientific and demonstrable accuracy with which the proper spelling of kings and of the numerous foreign terms embedded in the Hebrew text has been transmitted to us. [2]

McDowell includes similar citations regarding the New Testament, such as John Montgomery:

to be skeptical of the resultant test of the New Testament books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament [3]

and Sir Frederic Kenyon:

besides number, the manuscripts of the New Testament differ from those of the classical authors...In no other case is the interval of time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest extant manuscripts so short as in that of the New Testament. The books of the New Testament were written in the latter part of the first century; the earliest extant manuscripts (trifling scraps excepted) are of the fourth century -- say from 250 to 300 years later. This may sound a considerable interval, but it is nothing to that which parts most of the great classical authors from their earliest manuscripts. We believe that we have in all essentials an accurate text of the seven extant plays of Sophocles; yet the earliest substantial manuscripts upon which it is based was written more than 1400 years after the poets death. [3]

As a result, the claim that the Bible is an old text and therefore comes to us only in a highly distorted form is unsupported by the facts. While there may be some minor changes that scholars discuss, they do not appear to effect the message in any substantial way. If anyone has any specific examples they believe contradict this conclusion, please present them.


James also repeats the lack of ubiquity argument. I addressed this in On the Implications of Consensus and Gospel Ubiquity.

Not all Scripture is Directed to All People

James also refers to a remark a made regarding Jesus's clear intent to obfuscate teaching through parables. The point of this argument was to point out that not all the truth God has given us is directed towards all people. Some of the message clearly is, that being the message of the gospel. Other communications from God clearly were not, such as the parables of Christ.

The foundational premise to arguments regarding the inefficiency of God communicating to us via the Bible is that God intended to write an open letter to all people for the express purpose of making sure everyone in the world had access to this book in its entirety. That is clearly not the case. Based on Jesus's remarks, this is clearly not God's sole purpose in all His communications.

[1] Josh McDowell. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. 1999. Here's Life Publishers, Inc. pg. 70.
[2] Josh McDowell. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. 1999. Here's Life Publishers, Inc. pg. 71.
[3] Josh McDowell. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. 1999. Here's Life Publishers, Inc. pg. 35.

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