Saturday, August 26, 2017

HOW Bible Scriptures were PASSED ON



The characters and events depicted in the ... bible are fictitious. Any
similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental/6
—Comedians and magicians "Penn and Teller"
How do we know that our holy books are free from error?
Because the books themselves say so. Epistemological black holes
of this sort are fast draining the light from our world.77
—Sam Harris, neuroscientist, speaker, and author of The End
of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

People who claim that the biblical narratives are mere fiction and filled with error presume that the authors of the Bible wrote the Gospels long after the reported events allegedly occurred and far from the locations they described. False, fictional elements can be inserted into an account if they are inserted well after any living eyewitnesses are alive to identify them as lies. In addition, if the true historical record has not been preserved well or guarded to prevent corruption, errors can slip in without much notice. If this occurred with the Gospels, they are untrustworthy. Even if they are corroborated at several points by archaeology or internal evidences, they may still be inaccurate about any number of episodes they describe.

Cold-case investigators understand the relationship between time and reliability. We have to evaluate the prior statements of witnesses and suspects and do our best to figure out if these statements are true or fictional. Sometimes the passage of time provides an advantage to cold-case investigators that was not available to the detectives who originally worked the case. Time often exposes the inaccuracy of eyewitnesses and the lies of suspects. I've taken advantage of this over the years.

I once had a case where the suspect (Jassen) provided an alibi at the time he was originally investigated in 1988. Jassen said that he was driving to a friend's house at the time of the murder, although he never made it there because he had a flat tire. When he said this to the original detectives, they wrote it in their notes. They failed, however, to document Jassen's statement in their final report. They never found enough evidence to arrest Jassen, and as a result, they didn't write an arrest report; their closing reports were far less complete than they would have been if anyone had actually been arrested for this crime.

Years later, I reopened the case and examined the original reports and notes of the first detectives. They had been carefully preserved in our department's records division, where they were originally copied and stored on microfiche. I saw Jassen's original statement in the first detective's notes and asked this investigator to meet with me. He told me about his interview with Jassen, and without prompting from his notes, he recalled the details of what Jassen said with great accuracy. When I showed him the copy of his notes, he recognized them without hesitation.

I next arranged an impromptu interview with Jassen. While the original detective was careful to take notes about the interview he conducted in 1988, Jassen made no such record. With the passage of time, Jassen forgot what he first told the detective. The story he now gave to me was completely different from the story he first gave to detectives. Gone was his claim that he was driving to a friend's house. Gone was his claim that he suffered a flat tire. Jassen now said that he was changing the oil in his garage at the time of the murder. When I presented him with the original story, he not only failed to recognize it as his own, but also adamantly denied ever making such a statement. Jassen couldn t remember (or repeat) his original lie. The more I talked to him, the more he exposed the fact that the original story was a piece of fiction. Once he knew he had been caught in a lie, his alibi and confidence began to crumble.

Jassen was ultimately convicted of first-degree murder. The jury was convinced that the original notes from the detective were authentic and well preserved. They were convinced that the notes contained an accurate description of Jassens first statement. They were also convinced that Jassens latest statement was untrue.


How do we know that the Biblical documents we have today are accurate and reliable? How do we know that they haven't been corrupted over time and contain little more than fiction? Like our cold-case investigations, we need certainty in two important areas of investigation. First, we need to make sure we know what the Gospels said in the first place. Second, we need to know if there is good reason to believe that these documents were preserved well over time. Jassens statement in 1988 was well documented and preserved. We were later able to make a case for the accuracy of his statement in front of the jury. Can a case be made for the accuracy of the Gospels? In order to find out if this is possible, we're going to investigate what the gospel writers first said and then study the way these statements were preserved over time.

One way to be certain about the content and nature of the early eyewitness statements is to examine the evidence related to the transmission of the New Testament. In chapter 8 we talked about the importance of identifying the original eyewitnesses and their immediate disciples in order to establish a New Testament chain of custody. If we can examine what these first eyewitnesses said to their students, we can reasonably trace the content of the Gospels from their alleged date of creation to the earliest existing copies. The oldest complete, surviving copy of the New Testament we have (Codex Sinaiticus) was discovered in the Monastery of Saint Catherine, Mount Sinai. Constantine Tischendorf observed it and published the discovery in the nineteenth century; scholars believe that it was produced sometime close to AD 350.78 The text of Codex Sinaiticus provides us with a picture of what the New Testament said in the fourth century, and scholars have used it to inform and confirm the content of Bible translations for many years now. Our examination of the New Testament chain of custody will attempt to link the claims of the original authors to this fourth-century picture of Jesus's life and ministry.


When I first began to examine the "chain," I searched the historical record to identify the first students of the apostles. After all, the apostles claimed to have seen Jesus and experienced life with Him; I wanted to know what, exactly, they said to their students. While the apostles had a number of pupils, not every one of these second-generation Christians became a leader in his own right or was identified by history. Not every apostolic student had occasion to lead a group or author a letter revealing what the original disciples taught him. While many of the apostles' students may have written about the content of their teachers' testimony, only a few of these documents have survived. That shouldn't surprise us given the antiquity of the events we are examining. In spite of all this, I was able to identify several chains of custody that give us an idea of what the apostles observed and taught. In fact, I bet we could comfortably reconstruct an accurate image of Jesus from just the letters of the students of the apostles, even if all of Scripture was lost to us. Let's take a look at the evidence from the New Testament "chains of custody":


The apostle John (ca. AD 6-100) was the youngest of Jesus's disciples. He was the son of Zebedee and Salome and the brother of James. Unlike all the other apostles (who died as martyrs), it appears that John lived to approximately ninety-four years of age and died a natural death. John taught two important students and passed his gospel into their trusted hands.


Ignatius (ca. AD 35—117) also called himself "Theophorus" (which means "God Bearer"). Not much is known about his early life, although early church records describe Ignatius as one of the children Jesus blessed in the gospel accounts. We do know, however, that Ignatius was a student of John and eventually became bishop at Antioch (Turkey), following the apostle Peter. He wrote several important letters to the early church, and seven authentic letters from Ignatius survive to this day (six to local church groups and one to Polycarp).79 Some of these letters were corrupted in later centuries and amended with additional passages. We do, however, possess copies of the shorter, genuine versions of each epistle, and these brief writings reveal the influence of John (and other apostles) on Ignatius. It's important to remember that it was not Ignatius's desire to retell the gospel narratives; his writings presume that these Gospels were already available to his readers. It was Ignatius's goal to encourage and admonish local church groups. Along the way, he did, however, refer to the New Testament documents and the nature of Jesus, even though this was not his primary goal. It's clear from Ignatius's letters that he knew many of the apostles, as he mentioned them frequently and spoke of them as though many of his older readers also knew them. Scholars have pored over the letters (written in AD 105-115) and have observed that Ignatius quoted (or alluded to) seven to sixteen New Testament books (including the gospels of Matthew, John, and Luke, and several, if not all, of Paul’s letters). While this establishes the fact that the New Testament concepts and documents existed very early in history, Ignatius’s letters also provide us with a picture of Jesus and a glimpse of how the apostle John (as an eyewitness) described Him. As I read through Ignatius’s letters, I found the following portrayal of Jesus:

The prophets predicted and waited for Jesus.80
Jesus was in the line of King David.81
He was (and is) the "Son of God."82
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit.83
A star announced His birth.84
He came forth from God the Father.85
He was born of the virgin Mary.86
He was baptized by John the Baptist.87
He was the "perfect" man.88
He manifested the will and knowledge of God the Father.89
He taught and had a "ministry" on earth.90
He was the source of wisdom and taught many commandments.91
He spoke the words of God.92
Ointment was poured on Jesus’s head.93
He was unjustly treated and condemned by men.94
He suffered and was crucified.95
He died on the cross.96
Jesus sacrificed Himself for us as an offering to God the Father.97
This all took place under the government of Pontius Pilate.98
Herod the Tetrarch was king.99
Jesus was resurrected.100
He had a physical resurrection body.101
He appeared to Peter and the others after the resurrection.102
He encouraged the disciples to touch Him after the resurrection.103
He ate with the disciples after the resurrection.104
The disciples were convinced by the resurrection appearances.105
The disciples were fearless after seeing the risen Christ.106
Jesus returned to God the Father.107
Jesus now lives in us.108
We live forever as a result of our faith in Christ.109
He has the power to transform us.110
Jesus is the manifestation of God the Father.111
He is united to God the Father.112
He is our only Master113 and the Son of God.114
He is the "Door,"115 the "Bread of Life,"116 and the "Eternal Word."117
He is our High Priest.118
Jesus is "Lord."119
Jesus is "God."120
He is "our Savior"121 and the way to "true life."122
His sacrifice glorifies us.123
Faith in Christ's work on the cross saves us.124
This salvation and forgiveness are gifts of grace from God.125
Jesus loves the church.126
We (as the church) celebrate the Lords Supper in Jesus’ honor.127

The letters of Ignatius demonstrate that the New Testament’s claims and writings existed early in history; Ignatius appears to be very familiar with many passages from the Gospels and the letters of Paul. In addition, Ignatius echoed Johns description of Jesus.


Polycarp (AD 69-155) was a friend of Ignatius and a fellow student of John. Irenaeus (we’ll about his conversations with John), and Polycarp was known to have been converted to Christianity by the eyewitness apostles themselves. Polycarp eventually became the bishop of Smyrna128 (now Izmir in Turkey) and wrote a letter to the church in Philippi, in response to its letter to him. The content of Polycarp’s letter (an ancient document written from AD 100 to 150 and well attested in history) refers to Ignatius personally and is completely consistent with the content of Ignatius’s letters. Polycarp also appears to be familiar with the other living apostles and eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus. He wrote about Paul, recognizing Paul’s relationship with the church at Philippi and confirming the nature of Paul's life as an apostle. Polycarp’s letter is focused on encouraging the Philippians and reminding them of their duty to live in response to the New Testament teaching with which they were clearly familiar. In fact, Polycarp mentioned that the Philippians were well trained by the “sacred Scriptures” and quoted Paul's letter to the Ephesians as an example of these Scriptures. Polycarp quoted or referenced fourteen to sixteen New Testament books (including Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 1 Peter, and 1 John, with some scholars observing additional references to 2 Timothy and 2 Corinthians). Along the way, Polycarp also presented the image of Jesus he gleaned from his teacher, the aposde John, describing Jesus in the following ways:

Jesus was sinless.129
He taught commandments.130
He taught the Sermon on the Mount.131
He suffered and died on a cross.132
He died for our sins.133
His death on the cross saves us.134
Our faith in Jesus's work on the cross saves us.135
We are saved by grace.136
Jesus was raised from the dead.137
His resurrection ensures that we will also be raised.138
Jesus ascended to heaven and is seated at God's right hand.139
All things are subject to Jesus.140
He will judge the living and the dead.141
Jesus is our "Savior."142
Jesus is "Lord."143

Like that of Ignatius, Polycarp’s writing affirms the early appearance of the New Testament canon and echoes the teachings of John related to the nature and ministry of Jesus. Ignatius and Polycarp are an important link in the New Testament chain of custody, connecting Johns eyewitness testimony to the next generation of Christian "evidence custodians." We have a picture from the "crime scene" taken by the apostle John (recorded in his own gospel); this image was carefully handed to Ignatius and Polycarp, who, in turn, treasured it as sacred evidence and transferred it carefully to those who followed them.


Irenaeus (AD 120-202) was born in Smyrna, the city where Polycarp served as bishop. He was raised in a Christian family and was a "hearer" (someone who listened to the teaching) of Polycarp; he later recalled that Polycarp talked about his conversations with the apostle John. He eventually became the bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul (now Lyons, France).144 Irenaeus matured into a theologian and guardian of Christianity and wrote an important work called Against Heresies. This refined defense of Christianity provided Irenaeus with the opportunity to address the issue of scriptural authority, and he specifically identified as many as twenty-four New Testament books as Scripture (including Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, 1 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, and Revelation). Irenaeus provided us with another link in the chain of custody, affirming the established eyewitness accounts and faithfully preserving them for the next generation as he connected the students of the apostles to the generations that followed him.



One of these "next-generation" Christians was a courageous man named Hippolytus (AD 170— 236). Hippolytus was born in Rome and was a student and disciple of Irenaeus.145 As he grew into a position of leadership, he opposed Roman bishops who modified their beliefs to accommodate the large number of "pagans" who were coming to faith in the city. In taking a stand for orthodoxy, Hippolytus became known as the first "antipope" or "rival pope" in Christian history. He was an accomplished speaker of great learning, influencing a number of important Christian leaders such as Origen of Alexandria. Hippolytus wrote a huge ten-volume treatise called Refutation of All Heresies. In this expansive work, Hippolytus identified as many as twenty-four New Testament books as Scripture (including Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, 1 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, and Revelation). Unfortunately, Hippolytus was persecuted under Emperor Maximus Thrax and exiled to Sardinia, where he most likely died in the mines. The writings of Hippolytus (like the writings of Irenaeus before him) confirm that the New Testament accounts were already well established in the earliest years of the Christian movement.

As a result of Hippolytus’s exile and martyrdom, this particular chain of custody ends without a clear next link, although it is certain that Hippolytus had many important students who preserved the Scripture with the same passion he had as a student of Irenaeus. While Origen of Alexandria may have considered himself to be a disciple of Hippolytus, we have no concrete evidence that this was the case. To be safe, we simply have to acknowledge that history has not yet revealed the certain identity of Hippolytuss students. One thing we know for sure: the truth about the life and ministry of Jesus (and the canon of Scripture) was established in the first century. The eyewitness account of John (along with the other New Testament documents) was recorded and handed down to his disciples.

Johns students recorded this teaching and identified the sources for later generations. Long before the Codex Sinaiticus was first penned or the Council of Laodicea formalized the canon, the New Testament was established as a reliable eyewitness account.


The apostle Paul (ca. AD 5-67) wrote the largest portion of the New Testament and was closely associated with several key apostles, historians, and eyewitnesses who helped to document and guard the Scripture we have today. Paul’s friend Luke, for example, was a meticulous historian with access to the eyewitnesses and a personal involvement in the history of the New Testament church. As described in chapter 11, Paul quoted Luke’s version of the gospel in 1 Timothy 5:17-18 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-25. Those who knew Paul were probably familiar with the writings of Luke. Paul had several key students and disciples who protected and transmitted his writings (along with the emerging writings of other eyewitnesses, including Luke) to the next generation of Christian leaders. Paul’s chain of custody is much harder to trace than that of John, but we can follow Paul’s influence through the early leadership in Rome to places as far away as Syria.


Paul spent his last years in Rome under house arrest, awaiting trial. During this time he had free access to other believers and taught many men who would eventually lead the church. We know two of these men specifically. Irenaeus described a man named Linus as one of Paul's coworkers (Paul identifies a coworker named Linus specifically in 2 Timothy 4:21 along with Eubulus, Pudens, and Claudia). History tells us that Linus was born in Tuscany to Herculanus and Claudia, and became the pope of Rome following the deaths of Peter and Paul.


History is unclear on the precise order of popes in these first years, and some early records indicate that Clement of Rome may have preceded Linus.146 Clement was also a coworker of Paul (mentioned specifically in Philippians 4:3), and he became an important assistant to Paul and Peter in the first years in Rome.147 In fact, Peter appears to have elevated both Linus and Clement to positions of leadership so that he could focus on prayer and preaching. Clement wrote several letters, and one of these letters (The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians) survives as the earliest Christian document outside the New Testament. Clement’s letter (written in AD 80-140) was written to encourage the Corinthian church and call it to holy living. Clement referenced a number of examples from the Old Testament and also referred to the life and teaching of Jesus as it was passed on to him from Paul and Peter. In fact, Clement talked about the chain of custody that existed from the apostolic eyewitnesses to his own second-generation readers. Clement told the Corinthian believers that "the Apostles for our sakes received the gospel from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent from God. Christ then is from God, and the Apostles from Christ. Both therefore came in due order from the will of God."148 Clement understood the "appointed order" of the eyewitness "chain of custody." When examining the letter carefully, scholars have observed that Clement quoted or alluded to seven New Testament books (Mark, Matthew or John, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians) as he penned his work. Clement also described the person and work of Jesus, echoing the description of Jesus that was first communicated by the eyewitnesses. Clements description of Jesus was very similar to the description offered by Ignatius and Polycarp:

The prophets predicted the life and ministry of Jesus.149
Jesus provided His disciples with important instruction.150
He taught principles as described by Mark and Luke.151
He was humble and unassuming.152
He was whipped.153
He suffered and died for our salvation.154
He died as a payment for our sin.155
He was resurrected from the dead.156
He is alive and reigning with God.157
His resurrection makes our resurrection certain.158
We are saved by the "grace" of God159 through faith in Jesus.160
He is "Lord"161 and the Son of God.162
He possesses eternal glory and majesty.163
All creation belongs to Him.164
He is our "refuge"165 and our "High Priest."166
He is our "defender" and "helper."167
The church belongs to Him.168

While it is clear that Clement presumed his readers already understood the truth about Jesus from the Gospels he quoted, Clement still referenced many attributes of Jesus that were consistent with the picture painted by Peter, Paul, and the gospel writers. Clement certainly wrote much more than this single letter and may have affirmed an even larger number of texts. His surviving letter to the Corinthians provides us with another link in the chain of custody, acknowledging the delivery of the eyewitness accounts from the original eyewitnesses to the next generation of believers.


Linus and Clement of Rome established the lineage of bishops who followed Paul (and Peter) at Rome.169 They taught, discussed, and passed the eyewitness Scripture along to their successors, from Evaristus (AD ?-109) to Alexander I (AD ?—115) to Sixtus I (AD ?-125) to Telesphorus (AD ?-136) to Hyginus (AD ?-l40), to Pius I (AD 90-154). The writings of Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement demonstrate that the second generation of Christian leaders already considered the writings of the eyewitnesses to be precious Scripture. It’s reasonable to conclude that the papal leaders who followed Clement were raised to appreciate and honor the primacy of the eyewitness accounts as well; they understood the importance of guarding these accounts for future generations.


In the early years of the Christian church, the city of Rome was filled with people who either came to faith there (under the preaching of the apostles or their disciples) or traveled there after coming to faith somewhere else in the Roman Empire. One such person, Justin of Caesarea (AD 103-165), became an important philosopher and contributor to the history of Christianity. Justin Martyr, as he came to be known, was one of the earliest Christian apologists.170 He was born in Flavia Neapolis (now Nablus, Palestine) to Greek parents. He was raised as a pagan and called himself a Samaritan, but he studied philosophy and eventually converted to Christianity. He taught Christian doctrine in Rome when Pius I was leading the Christian community. He wrote several voluminous and important works, including the First Apology, Second Apology, and the Dialogue with Trypho. In these early Christian texts, Justin Martyr quoted or alluded to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Revelation. While we don’t have surviving writings from some of the earliest bishops and popes of Rome (including Pius I), Justin Martyr provided us with a contemporary glimpse of how these men viewed the eyewitness accounts and guarded them for the future.


Not everyone who played a role in the Scriptural chain of custody had orthodox beliefs. Many recognized (and wrote about) the eyewitness accounts, while misinterpreting them for themselves and their followers. Tatian the Assyrian (AD 120-180) was one such example.171

Tatian was born (and probably died) in Assyria. He came to Rome, however, for some period of time and studied the Old Testament. He met and became a student of Justin Martyr and converted to Christianity. He studied in Rome with Justin for many years and eventually opened a Christian school there. Over time, he developed a strict form of Christianity that forbade marriage and the eating of meat. When Justin died, Tatian was driven from the church in Rome. He traveled to Syria and eventually wrote his most famous contribution, the Diatessaron, a biblical paraphrase, or harmony which recognized the existence of the four eyewitness accounts of the Gospels, even as it sought to combine them into one document. The earliest church records in Syria (traced back to Tatian) identified an early canon that included the Diatessaron, the letters of Paul, and the book of Acts. Tatian’s work, combined with this ancient canonical list, acknowledges the early formation of the canon in the chain of custody from Paul to the late second century.

History does not provide us with precise information about the next link in this particular chain of custody. In any case, this custodial sequence from Paul acknowledges that the eyewitness accounts existed, were treated as sacred Scripture from a very early time, and were handed down with care from one generation to another. All of this happened many years before any council determined what would officially become the New Testament record.


The apostle Peter (ca. 1 BC-AD 67) was perhaps the oldest of Jesus’s disciples. He was also known as Simon Cephas (from the Aramaic version of his name). He was the son of Jonah (John) and was raised in Bethsaida (in Galilee). He was a fisherman (along with his brother Andrew) when he first met Jesus and quickly became a disciple. His story is well known, replete with human failures and triumphs. After the ascension, Peter established the church in Antioch and served there as its bishop for seven years. He eventually traveled to Rome and became bishop there as well. [NO,  THERE WAS A PETER OR SIMON THAT WENT TO ROME BUT IT WAS NOT THE APOSTLE PETER AS THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH FOUND LIKE TO CLAIM   Keith Hunt].   In chapter 5 we discussed the evidence that supports the claim that Mark authored Peters eyewitness account in the gospel of Mark. This gospel (like the gospel of John) is a critical piece of evidence from the "crime scene," and Peter carefully handed it (along with other eyewitness texts that were emerging in the first century) to his own students and disciples.


John Mark was the cousin of Barnabas, and his childhood home was well known to Peter (Acts 12:12-14). Mark became so close to Peter that the apostle described him as "my son" (1 Pet. 5:13). Peter preserved his eyewitness testimony through his primary disciple and student, who then passed it on to the next generation in what we now recognize as the "gospel of Mark."

MARK TAUGHT ANIANUS, AVILIUS, KEDRON, PRIMUS, AND JUSTUS Mark established the church in Alexandria and immediately started preaching and baptizing new believers. History records the fact that he had at least five disciples, and these men eventually became church leaders in North Africa.172 Mark discipled and taught Anianus (AD ?-82), Avilius (AD ? -95), Kedron (AD ? -106), Primus (ca. AD 40-118), and Justus (AD ?-135), passing on his gospel along with the other early New Testament accounts from apostolic eyewitnesses. These five men eventually became bishops of Alexandria (one after the other) following Marks death. They faithfully preserved the eyewitness accounts and passed them on, one generation to another.


While Mark was still alive, he appointed his disciple Justus as the director of the Catechetical School of Alexandria. This important school became an esteemed place of learning where the eyewitness accounts and Scriptures were collected and guarded. A key figure in the early development of this school was an ex-Stoic philosopher who converted to Christianity. His name was Pantaenus.173 He became an important teacher and missionary, traveling east of Alexandria (perhaps as far as India) and reporting that believers were already established in the East and were using the gospel of Matthew written in Hebrew letters. In any event, Pantaenus provided another important link in the chain of custody because the writing of one of his students survives to this day, chronicling and identifying the books of the New Testament that were already considered sacred. [IF THERE EVER WAS A HEBREW VERSION OF THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, IT HAS NOT BEEN PRESERVED,  WHEREAS  THE  GREEK  MSS  OF MATTHEW IS PRESERVED IN VARIOUS  AND MANY MSS   Keith Hunt]


Titus Flavius Clemens (ca. AD 150-215) was also known as Clement of Alexandria.174 He was a student of Pantaenus and eventually became the leader of the Catechetical School of Alexandria. Clement was very familiar with the pagan literature of his time and wrote extensively. Three important volumes (the Protrepticus, the Paedagogus, and the Stromatd) address Christian morality and conduct. Most importantly, Clement discussed the existing Scripture of the time (as it was handed down to him by Pantaenus) and quoted or alluded to all the New Testament books except for Philemon, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, and 3 John. Clement appears to have received and accepted the same New Testament documents that were known to his predecessors in the "chain of custody."


Origen (ca. AD 185-254) carefully preserved and identified those ancient eyewitness accounts used by the Christian church around the Mediterranean. He was an Egyptian who came to faith and eventually taught at the Catechetical School of Alexandria.175 He wrote prolifically and penned commentaries for nearly every book of the Bible. Along the way, he quoted all of the New Testament books. He did express hesitation about James, 2 Peter, 2 John, and 3 John, but included them in his list of reliable orthodox eyewitness documents. Origen played a pivotal role because he had a number of students who became important links in the New Testament chain of custody.


In his later life, Origen fled Alexandria (under the persecution of an archbishop who expelled Origen because he had not been ordained with proper permission) and setlled in Caesarea Maritima. Pamphilus176 also setlled in Caesarea Maritima after a long stay in Alexandria, where he became devoted to the works of Origen and even wrote a five-volume treatise called Apology fir Origen. Pamphilus guarded and defended the work of Origen, and he also accepted the eyewitness accounts of Scripture as authoritative, expressing his confidence in these documents to his own pupils.


One of Pamphiluss students was Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. AD 263-339), a man who later became an important church historian, church father, and devoted student who documented Pamphilus’s career in a three-volume work called Vita.177 Eusebius was a prolific writer, and much of his work survives to this day, including his Church History. A close survey of Eusebius’s work reveals that he recognized and identified twenty-six New Testament books as Scripture. He strongly affirmed Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, 1 Peter, 1 John, and Revelation, and less-strongly affirmed James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 John, and 3 John. This chain of scriptural custody, from Peter to Eusebius, brings us well into the period of time in which the Codex Sinaiticus was penned and to the doorstep of the Council of Laodicea. It is clear that the eyewitness accounts and writings of the apostles were collected, preserved, and transmitted from generation to generation during this span of time.

The New Testament chain of custody preserved the primacy and sacred importance of the eyewitness documents and delivered them faithfully to those who would later identify them publicly in the councils that established our present canon of Scripture. These councils did not create the canon or the current version of Jesus we know so well; they simply acknowledged the canon and description of Jesus that had been provided by the eyewitnesses.


Now let’s imagine for a moment that all the alleged Christian eyewitness accounts have been destroyed. Imagine that all we have available to us is the written record of a few students of these supposed eyewitnesses. If this were the case, we would have to rely on the writings of Mark, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement. This remaining record would certainly be sufficient for us to learn the truth about Jesus; after all, Mark was tasked with chronicling the memoir of Peter and wrote a thorough account. So lets make it a little more challenging. Let’s remove Mark's gospel from consideration and force ourselves to consider only the nonbiblical letters of the other three students, even though these students made no conscious effort to record the details of Jesus's life and ministry. What would we learn about Jesus from just these three men? Would their nominal description affirm what our twenty-first-century Bible tells us?

From the earliest nonbiblical records, we would learn the following: Jesus had been predicted by the Old Testament prophets; He was a man in the line of David, conceived by the Holy Spirit as the only begotten Son of God, born of the virgin Mary, and announced with a star. He came forth from God and manifested God's will and knowledge. He was baptized by John the Baptist, lived a humble, unassuming, perfect, and sinless life, spoke the words of God, and taught people many important divine truths (including the principles we recognize from the Sermon on the Mount). Although Jesus was anointed with oil, He was unjustly treated and condemned, whipped, and ultimately executed on the cross. This execution took place during the government of Pontius Pilate and the reign of Herod theTetrarch. Jesus's death was a personal sacrifice He offered to God in our behalf as a payment for the debt of our sin. Jesus proved His divinity by physically resurrecting from the dead, appearing to Peter and the other disciples, eating with them, and encouraging them to touch Him and see for themselves. The disciples were so emboldened by their observations of the risen Jesus that they became fearless, understanding that Jesus's resurrection ensured eternal life and the resurrection for all of those who placed their faith in Him. Jesus returned to God the Father and now reigns in heaven, even as He lives in everyone who has accepted His offer of forgiveness and salvation. Jesus is the "Door," the "Bread of Life," the "Eternal Word," the "Son of God," our "High Priest," "Savior," "Master," "Guardian," "Helper," "Refuge," and "Lord." Jesus and the Father are one; Jesus possesses eternal glory and majesty. All creation belongs to Him and is subject to Him. Jesus will judge the living and the dead. Jesus is "God."

We would learn all of this, not on the basis of what is taught in the gospel accounts, but on the basis of what is taught by the earliest first-century students of the gospel writers (and only three of them, at that)! The letters of Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement confirm the accuracy of the Gospels. Even if, as skeptics, we had some doubt about the minute details that exist in each eyewitness account, there can be no doubt about the major themes and claims of the Gospels. Jesus was described as God, walked with His disciples, taught the masses, died on a cross, and rose from the dead. This version of Jesus is not a late invention or exaggeration; it is the version of Jesus that existed from the very first telling. This version of Jesus was witnessed and accurately described by the gospel writers and confirmed by their students. Unlike the man I interviewed, Jassen, whose early story was not aligned with the version he provided twenty years later, the earliest account of Jesus’s story (as given by the eyewitnesses and their students in the first century) is aligned with the version we have two thousand years later.


But how do we know if the other gospel details (not specifically mentioned by the students of the apostles) are accurate? How do we know that these portions of the Gospels weren't corrupted in the period of time spanning from the first century to the inking of Codex Sinaiticus? I came to trust the detective’s notes in Jasse’s case because I had confidence in the record-keeping ability of my records division. I understood the precise and careful manner in which they copied and preserved the case files. Is there any good reason to believe that the primitive, first-century Christians would be equally willing and capable of such preservation?


In chapter 4 we looked at the role the apostles played as eyewitnesses. They clearly understood the gravity and importance of their testimony. The apostles recognized that their role in God’s plan was simply to tell others about their experiences with Jesus and their observations of His resurrection. Its reasonable that people who saw themselves as critical eyewitnesses would be careful to protect the accuracy of their testimony. In the earliest years, their contribution came in the form of verbal testimony. That's reasonable, given the sense of urgency the apostles felt as they eagerly awaited the imminent return of Jesus. But as the months and years passed without the arrival of Christ, the apostles inked their testimony so their observations could be shared with local church congregations. If the Gospels were written early (during the time in which these eyewitnesses actually lived), it is reasonable to expect that the witnesses would fact-check the content of their testimony as it was being told to others. If, for example, Mark's gospel was written as early as the circumstantial evidence in chapter 11 suggests, it's reasonable to expect that Peter would have caught (and corrected) any errors.


The ancient Jewish religious culture was already well established in the first century, and it was from this culture that the apostles and first believers emerged. It's clear that the Jews guarded Scripture with extreme care and precision. From the postexile time of Ezra (and even before), there were priests (Deut. 31:24-26) and scribes (called Sopherini) who were given the responsibility of copying and meticulously caring for the sacred text. The scribes continued to work in Jesus’s day and were mentioned throughout the New Testament by the eyewitnesses who observed them alongside the Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders. The Old Testament Scriptures were revered and protected during this period of time, largely because early believers considered them to be the holy Word of God along with the New Testament documents. Paul described Luke's gospel as Scripture (1 Tun. 5:17-18), and Peter also described Paul's letters as Scripture (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Paul told the local churches to treat his letters accordingly, making them available to other congregations so they could read them during their meetings (Col. 4:16 and 1 Thess. 5:27). It's reasonable to conclude that the New Testament documents were handled in a way that was similar to the manner in which other ancient Scripture was cherished and preserved. It's difficult to know with complete certainty the exact method in which the first-century Christian scribes copied and cared for their sacred texts, but we do know that they worked within a religious tradition that spanned hundreds of years, both before and after the first century. The Masoretic tradition, for example, gives us a glimpse into the obsessive care that Jewish scribes historically took with their sacred texts. Scribes known as the Masoretes (a group of Jewish copyists living and working primarily in Tiberias and Jerusalem) took over the precise job of copying the ancient Scripture and transmitting it for later generations. They developed something now known as the MasoreticText.178 These documents are recognized as an incredibly trustworthy replica of the original Scripture, and we’ve come to trust these texts because

The Meticulous Masoretes

The Masoretes established comprehensive procedures to protect the text against changes:

When they noted an obvious error in the text, they labeled it as a "kethibh" ("to be written") and placed a correction called a "qere" ("to be read") in the margin.

When they considered a word textually, grammatically, or exegetically questionable, they placed dots above the word.

They kept detailed statistics as a means of guarding against error. Leviticus 8:8, for example, was identified as the middle verse of the Torah. In Leviticus 10:16, the word "darash" was identified as middle word in the Torah, and the "waw" located in the Hebrew word gachon in Leviticus 11:42 was identified as the middle letter of the Torah.

They also placed statistics at the end of each book, including the total number of verses, the total number of words, and the total number of letters. By assembling statistics such as these, they could measure each book mathematically to see if there was any copyist error. (Refer to Gleason Archer's A Survey of Old Testament Introduction.)

We understand the manner in which they were copied. To ensure the accuracy of the Masoretic copies, the Masoretes developed a number of strict guidelines to guarantee that every fresh copy was an exact reproduction of the original. The rules of the Masoretes were every bit as comprehensive as any set of regulations used in modern-day records divisions; they copied and handled their documents with all the precision available to them.

History has demonstrated the remarkable accuracy of these ancient scribes who worked under the conviction that the documents they were copying were divine in nature. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran confirms their amazing ability. In 1947, a Bedouin herdsman found some unusual clay jars in caves near the valley of the Dead Sea. The jars contained a number of scrolls revealing the religious beliefs of monastic farmers who lived in the valley from 150 BC to AD 70. When this group saw the Romans invade the region, it apparently put its cherished scrolls in the jars and hid them in the caves. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain fragments of almost every book in the Old Testament and, most importantly, a complete copy of the book of Isaiah. This scroll was dated to approximately 100 BC; it was incredibly important to historians and textual experts because it was approximately one thousand years older than any Masoretic copy of Isaiah. The Dead Sea Scroll version of Isaiah allowed scholars to compare the text over this period of time to see if copyists had been conscientious. Scholars were amazed by what they discovered.

A comparison of the Qumran manuscripts of Isaiah "proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text."179 Some of the 5 percent differences were simply a matter of spelling (like you might experience when using the word favor instead of favour). Some were grammatical differences (like the presence of the word and to connect two ideas or objects within a sentence). Finally, some were the addition of a word for the sake of clarity (like the addition of the Hebrew word for "light" to the end of 53:11, following "they shall see"). None of these grammatical variations changed the meaning of the text in any way.

What was it that compelled the ancient scribes to treat these documents with such precision and meticulous care? It was clearly their belief that the documents themselves were sacred and given to them by God. When Paul and Peter identified the New Testament documents (such as the gospel of Luke and the letters of Paul) as Scripture, they ensured that the documents would be honored and cared for in a manner befitting the Masoretic tradition. The first-century Christian scribes didn't have access to photocopiers, microfiche, or digital imaging like modern police-department records divisions do, but they understood the importance of divine record keeping, and they used the first-century equivalent in technology (the meticulous tradition of their predecessors) to carefully guarantee the accuracy of the texts.


Given the evidence from the chain of custody and what we know about the diligence of the first-century copyists, what is the most reasonable inference we can draw about the accuracy of the Gospels? Unlike Jassen’s statement in my cold-case investigation, the message of the apostles appears unchanged over the span of time; it is the same in the first and twenty-first centuries. Like the notes from the first detective, the details of the first-century account appear to have been adequately preserved. The Jewish records division was capable and efficient; it copied and guarded the eyewitness accounts over time.


Some are still skeptical of the accuracy of the Gospels, in spite of the strong circumstantial evidence that supports such a conclusion. Let s see if a little abductive reasoning can help us determine if any of the objections of critics are reasonable when they describe the Scriptures as "fictitious."


Some have argued that the writings of the first-century students of the apostles either cannot be authenticated or fail to precisely quote the Gospels in a way that would vouch for their accuracy. These critics claim that the letters attributed to Ignatius, for example, are not truly from this student of John. Many have also argued that those passages where these second-generation students appear to be quoting from a gospel (such as their references to the Sermon on the Mount) are not precise word-for-word quotes; they argue that the students were only alluding to vague and unreliable early oral accounts that hadn't yet been inked on papyrus and were corrupted long before they were ever finalized.


While there has been controversy related to some of Ignatius;s letters, there is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the seven letters we've isolated in our chain of custody. Yes, there are additional letters that appear late in history and are falsely attributed to Ignatius, but the seven letters we've referenced are listed in the earliest records of Ignatius's work, and they are corroborated by Polycarp's letter (which refers to Ignatius).

It is true that Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement often referenced passages of Scripture in a way that captured the meaning of the passage without quoting the specific verse word for word. But this was not uncommon of authors at this time in history. Paul also paraphrased Scripture (the Old Testament) on occasion (e.g., 1 Cor. 2:9, where Paul is likely paraphrasing both Isa. 64:4 and Isa. 65:17). Polycarp's and Clement's use of paraphrase is not evidence that the New Testament documents didn't exist at the time these second-generation authors wrote their letters any more than Paul's use of a paraphrase is evidence that the Old Testament did not exist when he wrote his letters.


Keith Hunt 

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