The New Testament Is Inspired (I)
It is not the purpose of this article to answer every question that may arise on the subject of inspiration. I recognize the need for faith in the providence of God and His power to preserve the Word of mankind. It is my desire to show that the claim for the inspiration and credibility of the New Testament is scientifically sound, and that there is substantial evidence assuring us that we have the original text.
CANON. People often ask, "How do you know that you have the books of the Bible, and how do you know that they were written in the first century? Could these not have been written by an imposter?"
The word "canon" literally means rule or measure. Metaphorically used, it means the rule or measure. As it is used in its application to the scriptures it means measured and accepted. Therefore the canon of scriptures are those writings which have been measured and accepted as divine.
It was about twenty years after the ascension of Christ before the first book was written and some sixty-five years before the last book was completed. During this time the Old Testament was the only scripture. Peter in Acts 2, 3, 10; Stephen in Acts l; and Phillip in Acts 8 were preaching the Old Testament. They were preaching Jesus and Him crucified. This story of Jesus drove the people back to the Old Testament to see if these things were so (Acts 17:11). The gospel of Christ was in danger and books were written such as Romans and Galatians in its defense. The Gospel was first taught by word of mouth as the apostles were moved by the Holy Spirit. However, it was not long after that the New Testament books were written that these books were soon gathered together in a single collection (2 Peter 3:15, 16).
Did they investigate these writings. They examined them at the most opportune time, i. e., during the period of history in which they were written. Westcott says, "All the fathers at the close of the second century agree in appealing to the testimony of antiquity as proving the authenticity of the books which they used as Christian scriptures. The appeal was made at a time when it was easy to try its worth."
There were four things used in the determination of the canonicity of the books. First apostolicity: Was the book written by an apostle, or one who sustained such a relationship to an apostle to raise the book to this level? Second, contents: Are the contents of any given book of such spiritual character as to entitle it to this rank? Third, universality: Was the book universally received? Then fourth, inspiration: Does the book give evidence of being divinely inspired? Remember that one of these did not establish genuineness or authenticity by itself, but were all taken together.
Existence of the Books
There is more than sufficient evidence to establish the existence of the books of the New Testament in the period of history claimed for their origin. The evidence listed is taken from three different sections of the world: Syria and Asia Minor, Egypt and Palestine, Italy and North Africa.
Syria and Asia Minor
Ignatius, (martyred 116), knew our New Testament in general. He knew the Epistles of Paul and the Gospels of Matthew and John.
Polycarp, (69-155), uses much of our New Testament. He had the gospel of Matthew and probably the other three gospels, also all of Paul's epistles, I Peter, I John and probably the book of Acts.
The Didache, (120), refers to most of our New Testament.
Theophilus, (115-188), it seems clear, had the bulk of the New Testament and held it in equal esteem with the Old Testament.
Basit the Great, (329-379), recognized all the books in our present canon.
Gregory of Nazianzes, (330-390), accepted all our books of the New Testament except: Revelation, although he once quoted it as being by John.
Egypt and Palestine
Justin Martyr, (100-165), knew the Gospels, Acts, Romans, I Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, I Peter, and Revelation.
The Gnostics, (130), knew and generally accepted the books which we have in our New Testament.
Clement of Alexandria, (155-215), accepted all the books which we have in our New Testament, not by-passing those disputed by some.
Origin of Alexandria, (185-253), knew Rome, Antioch, Arabia, Athens, and Caesarea, as well as Alexandria. He was a world traveler and one of the greatest Biblical scholars of his day. Origin's testimony is of unusual value. He accepted all the books except 2 and 3 John.
Italy, Gaul, and North Africa
Clement of Rome, (30-100), knew the books of Matthew, Romans, I Corinthians, Hebrews, and may have been acquainted with James, I Peter, I Timothy, and Titus.
Tatian, (120-??), came to Rome as a disciple of Justin. Tatian knew our four gospels and nearly all our New Testament books.
Irenaeus, (140-203), saw Polycarp when a boy and heard him tell of his association with the apostle John and with others who had seen Christ. He definitely used the four gospels, Acts, I Peter, I John, and all of Paul's epistles except Philemon, and Revelation.
Tertullian, (150-222), accepted the four gospels, thirteen epistles of Paul, Acts, I Peter, I John, Jude, and Revelation.
You realize that for the New Testament books to have been known in the later part of the first century and the first of the second century, they must have been written sometime prior to these dates. This will date them in the proper time. Yet we have only scratched the surface in listing those who could testify to the existence of the books of the New Testament. This list was not given to prove inspiration, but it does show that the books did exist in the period of time claimed by them and for them.
Restoring the Text
Streeter says, "That we have more than 1400 Greek manuscripts of the Gospels, of which about 40 are a thousand years - old; over 1300 lictonaries fifteen versions in ancient languages; and multitudinous quotations in the early fathers." (Streeter -- The Four Gospels). He was talking only about the Gospels and the given figures would be considerably larger in respect to the whole New Testament. How shall we use this bewildering amount of material to restore the original text?
Basically there are two kinds of evidence: (1) external, and (2) internal. Internal evidence is interested in the probability of a reading from the standpoint of author (intrinsic) and scribe (transcriptional). The reading that makes the best sense in context and harmony of the author's style is accepted. External evidence inquires into the testimony of single, and families of documents. External evidence is the more objective of the two. When the oldest text is the purest text, we may be pretty sure that we have the true text. However, not all of the oldest are the purest. All the manuscripts have suffered some corruption in copying, some more and some less. It is possible sometimes to find the true text by an appeal to the evidence of families of documents. Westcott and Hort made a great contribution to textual criticism by establishing the theory of families of documents. They selected four basic families; Syrian, Neutral, Alexandrian, and Western. However, with the increase in findings there have been new divisions. Presently the most widely accepted divisions (families) are Byzantium, Alexandrian, Caesarean, Western, Syriac.
In the materials of textual criticism (manuscripts, ancient versions, and writers) the Greek manuscripts are by far the most important. These manuscripts are of three kinds: papyri, uncials, and minuscules or cursive.
The Papyri. The use of papyrus as writing material was known a long time ago. Due to the tendency of the material to deteriorate, most of these are very fragmentary. Some of the more famous are the Chester Beatty Papyrus and Rylands Papyrus.
The uncials. The great vellum manuscripts are commonly classified according to the kind of writing that characterize them. On this basis they fall into two classes: the uncials and minuscules. The uncials are those written in sort of half-capital characters. These letters were not only large but were made singly without connection to other letters. The most famous are probably the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. These are dated around the fourth century.
The minuscules. The minuscules or cursive style binds the letters together. It is more like our writing. These date generally from the eighth century, although there is some over-lapping in the two kinds of writing.
Our second source of material for the reconstruction of the Greek text are the ancient versions. The importance of these versions is evident when we observe the Syriac and Latin translations. These versions appear in the remoter parts of the country into which the gospel was introduced. Three of these are called "primary" because of their age and general character.
Syriac versions. Tatian's Diatessaron, about A. D. 170, was a harmony of the gospels made by interweaving the materials into a continuous story. Another very important version is the Old Syriac Version. It was formerly thought that the oldest version was from the second century, but now the OId Syriac Version is dated earlier than the Diatessaron. There is also the Peshitta, formerly regarded as the oldest of the Syriac versions but now dated from the fourth or fifth century.
Egyptian versions are of less importance than the Syrian, but the Sahidic version was current in upper Egypt. It is probably the oldest of Egyptian versions, going back to about A. D. 200. Knowledge of Egyptian versions will probably be greatly increased in the future.
Latin versions. It is safe to say that Latin versions existed as early as A. D. 150. However, those now possessed date about the fourth or fifth century.
The third source of material for a study of the text is the early uninspired writers. The value of the writers is that we know rather closely when and where the authors lived when they wrote, though we are not equally sure about the time and place of their manuscripts.
The writings have, however, certain disadvantages. They often quote loosely, or quote the same verse in several different ways. And since we do not have the original documents but only copies, we cannot always be sure we have the exact wording that they (the Fathers) employed.
But even with these disadvantages there is much value in these writings for textual criticism. They often quoted formally and indicated that they quoted. Also in their commentaries we may assume that they quote accurately, especially in using Greek manuscripts. Again these writers are observed as textual critics, not only as to what was used by them, but from what family of writings did they prefer to quote. This may indicate a preferred family of documents of the passage being considered. They were textual critics at a time when they could more easily determine the accurate text.
To what extent can we trust the present text? Without taking into account one's faith in the providence of God, we have the assurance of accuracy. "When we remove such trivialities, such as changes of order, the insertion or omission of the article with proper names, and the like, are set aside, the words in our opinion still subject to doubt can hardly amount to more than a thousandth part of the whole New Testament." (Westcott Hort, Greek New Testament). McGarvey suggests there is only the chance of one error in ten thousand. Westcott's figure would involve less than half of a page in our New Testament. Yes, the New Testament canon is genuine and authentic!
Truth Magazine VII: 11, pp. 15-17