The Battle to Discredit the Bible/Program 1

By: Dr. Darrell Bock, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace; ©2007
How did early Christians determine which books should be included in our Bible, and which should be excluded? How early were these books accepted by the Church?



Today, network television specials, bestselling books and magazines are causing Christians and non-Christians to ask many questions about the Bible. For example, how did the early Christians know which books to include in the canon of the New Testament and which to keep out? What about the other missing gospels that never made it into the Bible? If we don’t have the original manuscript copies of the New Testament books and letters that the apostles wrote, how do we know we have what they originally wrote? And how can we know what Jesus truly said, if Church scribes intentionally tampered with the words in the scriptural text?

Today you will find out. My guests on the John Ankerberg Show are two well-known scholars. First Dr. Darrell Bock, professor of New Testament research at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has appeared on NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, and the Discovery Channel as an authority on the historical Jesus. Second, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, one of the world’s leading authorities on textual criticism and the Greek manuscript copies of the New Testament. He is director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, the senior New Testament editor of the NET Bible, and Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. Listen as they present the evidence that every Christian needs to know to answer the questions of those who are trying to discredit the Bible.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. Let me ask you this question. How do you think that the early Christians picked out the 27 books that now form the New Testament canon? I am sure that you have been listening to television, you have been reading books, you have been hearing specials on the television that talk about a myriad of ideas of how that information came down to us. Some say that we lost all of the original stuff that the Christians said, and Constantine had the scribes write up a new one in the fourth century. Others are saying, no it wasn’t that bad, but we really don’t have the good stuff. We want to ask these men, who are leading scholars in the world, how you answer that question especially for students that are listening.
Darrell Bock is professor of New Testament Research at Dallas Theological Seminary. If you look at him carefully on our show today, you will recognize that he has been on ABC and NBC and Fox, and CNN almost every time you see a historical special about Jesus. And Dr. Daniel B. Wallace is professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is one of the world’s leading authorities on textual criticism and the Greek manuscript copies of the New Testament. He is director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. He is the senior New Testament editor of the NET Bible in his spare time. He has also written the standard Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics :An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. These are the top guys.
Dan, let me start with you. How did the early Christians pick out which books would go into the New Testament canon?
Dr. Daniel B. Wallace: That’s a great question, John. I think there were three basic criteria that they began to think about as they wrestled with what goes in and what doesn’t go in. The first one is what we might call apostolicity, or we might call it antiquity. And apostolicity means, is it written by an apostle or an associate of an apostle? But if we add the term antiquity, it tells it has to be written before AD 100. It has to be a document by either an associate of an apostle, an apostle, or one of those eyewitness or second generation Christians at the very most.
Ankerberg: Or it didn’t have the credentials.
Wallace: Or it didn’t have the credentials. And you get a lot of scholars today to say that the canon was wide open until the fourth century or fifth century or sixth century, which means there is no closing of the canon, which means there is no one who says these 27 books and only these 27 books go in. Well, the impression that the untrained reader is going to get from that is that, oh, then that means that they could have picked the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Philip, Gospel of Peter, you know, all sorts of documents that came around in the second century. Some of the apostolic fathers writings, they could have put those in the canon.
But that is not true. The fact is that the church began to realize very early on that it is only those documents that had the mark of apostolicity or antiquity. You get the Muratorian fragment, which I know we are going to talk about later, but in the Muratorian fragment it says, “In our time the Shepherd of Hermes was written.” It says “in our time,” so he is talking about the second century. And he says, this is a good book. And it was; it is one of the apostolic fathers’ writings. It is a good book, it is edifying; but it shouldn’t be read publicly in church because it doesn’t have the same stamp of authority as these other books that I have talked about. And so there is a demarcation that says AD 100, no more is this possible to be in the canon; before AD 100 it is possible.
The second criterion would be catholicity. And that doesn’t mean that it is Roman Catholic, it just means that it is universal. It is a book that would have been accepted by the churches. And from the tradition of the apostles telling, teaching these bishops, who then train other bishops after them right on down the line, they say, “We know this goes back to these men. We know that this is telling us what orthodoxy is about. This goes back to the apostles or it goes to their friends. We know that this is a book that is really telling us what scripture is all about.”
Ankerberg: And we recognize that even in the second century, the fact is, they were concerned about that issue. That is what they said.
Wallace: Yes. They were concerned about the authority of the apostles in the first half of the second century. I am not so sure that they even recognized that much that the New Testament should be regarded as Scripture. That is a different issue we will take up a little bit later, I suppose. But in terms of the authority of these documents, it had to be something that was widespread accepted by the churches. And then the third issue is, it had to be orthodox. That is, it had to conform to the other books that we knew would already be telling the truth about Jesus.
Ankerberg: Darrell?
Dr. Darrell Bock: Well, and I think the important point about the third category, this idea that it had to orthodox, is that you had the teaching of orthodoxy in terms of what its core was, moving through the church in the way that we have already talked about in earlier shows. That is, through the schooling, through the doctrinal summary, through the hymns, through the singing, through the sacraments. So there was a rule of faith. We sometimes use the phrase regula fide. There was a rule of faith, and these books lined up with that. Many of the books that ended up not being in the canon, not being recognized, had problems with the regula fide, they had trouble with the rule of the faith. And so they were excluded because of their content.
Ankerberg: Let’s stick with that point. What made some books unorthodox, and what were the core beliefs that the Christians held to that made them reject everything else but these books?
Bock: Well, the core beliefs that exist had to do with God being the creator; that that creation was good; that Jesus was both really truly human and truly divine; that the creation was something that needed redemption and not just the person, not just their soul, but even down to the material elements. There was something physical about the creation that needed redemption. And even creation itself groans for redemption. There is a famous passage in Romans 8 that says that the creation itself groans for the redemption of the sons of men. [Rom. 8:22] And so there is this idea that that salvation is going to extend to the entirety of the creation. That the resurrection has a physical element to it, that it’s not merely immortality of the soul or something like that. So when the extrabiblical documents hold to a creation that is flawed at the beginning; that God isn’t directly responsible for it but some underling god is; that Jesus is often times not completely human; usually the problem in the early church wasn’t the belief that Jesus was divine, interestingly enough, it is the problem that Jesus wasn’t human enough – you know, he left footprints in the sand, but it was more an impression; that his soul…
Wallace: Or that he never even left footprints in the sand.
Bock: Exactly right, or that he walked on the beach and there were no footprints. That when he died on the cross his presence that was residing within the human body left, so he never genuinely suffered. The moment you did something like that, you were out of here. And then the idea that there is no physical aspect to the resurrection; you were out of here. And so there were certain elements of content that disqualified these books, because the teaching that the church had already established even before, in many cases, these books were even written, had been passed on. And they knew what that was, and so they said, “This doesn’t match out.”
Ankerberg: Alright. I love that. Let’s go to the fact of, when were certain books included? A lot of talk is about the gospels, the four gospels. You know, Dan Brown had that whole deal in The Da Vinci Code, there were really 80 gospels, and only four were picked out, and that was political, and blah, blah, blah. The fact is, let’s talk about what actually happened in history. When did the early church start to recognize, how early did they recognize these four gospels were the four gospels they were going to include?
Wallace: If you start with Dan Brown’s list of 80, I have no idea where he got that number. For one thing, we are not really sure how many gospels there were that were circulating. However, what he is also suggesting is that this belongs in the earliest period, when it doesn’t. What we have in terms of documents are the four canonical gospels from the first century. After that we have gospels that were written in the second, third, all the way up through the ninth century. And if you count all those documents from the second to the ninth, even to the eleventh maybe – I know you have Pseudo-Matthew that is ninth century – we are talking about 45 to 60 gospels, something like that. But they are all later; that is the point. Now, that’s the first thing that I would argue, that let’s look at the earliest materials that we have got, those four gospels.
And one of the things that many people don’t realize is that the modern book form we have today, that is, binding on the left side where you turn the pages, it’s called the codex. That was invented probably the last decade of the first century. And we have very firm evidence that it was Christians that popularized this first and they just took off with it. For the first five centuries AD, Christians had 80% of their books written on a codex, whereas the rest of the world had only 20% of their books on a codex. And so the Christians were the ones who were really using this far more than others. And some have suggested that perhaps the codex form was invented because it could incorporate more than one book, whereas a roll or a scroll could only have something like the size of Luke in it. You couldn’t put all four gospels on it. And so there is a suggestion that the original codex form used by Christians was to put all four gospels on it. And therefore you are able to spread this collection and get the news out about, “These are the books that we actually prize and treasure.”
Ankerberg: What are some of the statements that stand out to you as you go from the apostles, to their students, to the students of the students. And then you get these church leaders that are coming down the pike and this flow of consistent doctrinal belief. When did they start making statements to the effect that we recognize we have got four gospels and four gospels only?
Bock: Well, what is happening in the second century is this. If you look at the early portion of the second century, we are talking now about the apostolic fathers, the generation that begins with I Clement – you know, studied under an apostle, but not an apostle themselves – and go to Justin Martyr, who is generally called to be the first of the apologists. There is a collection called the Apostolic Fathers that represent those books. And they generally represent the early part first half of the second century. If you look at those works and you ask, how often are books that now end up in the New Testament, how often are they cited? The answer is, not as often as you would think. They are not cited that often.
Now, there is a lot of material that is like what we see in the New Testament in there, so sometimes we can’t tell, are we citing a biblical book or are we citing a representation of the tradition that is represented in the biblical book? That kind of thing. That’s not to get more complicated, but it is simply to say that people are not citing books yet, they are simply presenting theology. We get to Justin Martyr and we get to Irenaeus. What has happened is that other movements have started to surface. As other movements have started to surface, they are writing books themselves that they are treating as authoritative for their kind of theology as a way of buttressing their theology. So now we have got to begin to ask, who has got the real deal and who doesn’t? And so that process of dialogue starts to happen and you start to get a sense of what the books are that represent what we believe.
Ankerberg: How did they include this stuff in? What were the marks in history that tell us this?
Bock: Well, we begin with Justin Martyr who actually begins to cite these works in extensive portions, and there is no debate it’s coming from this material, etc. And he is using it to buttress his argument as he is defending Christianity. And then you come to someone like Tatian. I like Tatian. Tatian had a great idea. He said, you know, it is confusing to have four gospels, why don’t we tell it in one story? Let’s have one mega gospel and we will call it, you know, we will call it the Diatessaron. Now, that doesn’t mean anything to anyone, because no one knows Latin. But if you know Latin, it means “through the four.” So what he does is, he combines the story of the four, plus a few other things, puts them in one running account and issues it to the church as the new industrial strength gospel that tells the story in one sitting. And it is supposed to simplify things. And although it did get picked up for liturgical use in certain contexts and proved valuable to the church, it never replaced the four gospels. Why? Because the four gospels were too well established to be replaced. And so that is in 170.
In 180 we get Irenaeus writing. He says there are only four gospels. End of story. And so by the time that we get to the end of the second century, we have the core of the canon in place. You know, sometimes people say, “Well, you know the canon wasn’t fix until the middle of the fourth century.” Technically speaking that is correct, but it is also misleading. Because 20 or 21 books of the New Testament, by the time we get to the end of the second century, are in place. We have our four gospels, we have Acts, we have the many epistles of Paul, we probably have 1 Peter as well. And so you put that all together that is a huge core collection that is in place by the end of the second century.
Then the rest of the discussion that runs out until the middle of the fourth century is about books that were perceived, for one reason or another, to be on the fringe because there were questions about them. The books were short, or they were a little different, like the book of Revelation. Short like Philemon, Jude, 2 Peter. Second Peter and Jude are a little more apocalyptic, so that is a little different. So it took a little while for those to settle in. Plus some other books that didn’t make it in: 1 Clement, the Didache, Shepherd of Hermes, which some people at certain points treated as authoritative, but never got the corporate recognition that the other books did. And so eventually we come to 367. Athanasius writing what is called the Festal Letter, and he names the 27 books. And then that gets reasserted or reaffirmed in councils that extend to the end of the fourth century and the beginning of the fifth century.
Ankerberg: Alright. Go back, though. The fact is that when we started this whole series of programs, we were saying there was Jesus, he picked out 12 guys, those were the apostles. They preached at Pentecost 50 days after Jesus was put into the grave. And then they were the living apostles, then they wrote the letters and books. Alright, now, when you get down to what is in the canon right now that we are carrying around, the New Testament – that Athanasius said, this is it, boy, nothing else gets in there – and what you are saying basically was already in place by the end of the second century.
Bock: Long before Constantine. That is important.
Ankerberg: That is the key point. But the fact is, go back to the sources of these books. It is really mind-blowing when you say this. Just spit it out here.
Bock: Well, the key source, the key source that lets us know that this is beginning to fall into place at the end of the second century is Irenaeus. He is writing and describing the four gospels. Now he makes an argument we would never make, okay; it is a rhetorical argument. He basically says, just like there are four corners, the four winds of the world, so there have to be four gospels. But the point is, it shows how well established this is. This is like nature, okay? That is what he is saying.
Wallace: And he is not coming up with something new. He can’t just make that kind of a statement up. It has to have a long tradition recorded.
Bock: It has to have something rooted in truth or people [would say], “Wait a minute, wait a minute. No, it’s not just four. I’ve got, I know about five or six others over [here].” No, the only way that he can get away with making that statement is because it has got to reflect something like what is going on.
Ankerberg: But there were nine sources that the 27 books came out of. What were they?
Bock: Yes. There are basically nine people who contributed to what ended up in our New Testament. They are Matthew; Mark; Luke is responsible for Luke/Acts; John, responsible for the gospel and Revelation, the Johaninne epistles. Some people will dispute that, but many people think it’s all one person. You have got Acts that’s tied to Luke. And so you have got Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and of course Acts goes with Luke. Then you have got Paul, and then you have got James. You have got the author of Hebrews, as Origen says, only God knows who that is. And then you have got Peter. I think that’s it…
Wallace: Jude.
Bock: Jude. Jude at the end, okay? So nine people contribute these 27 books, basically.
Ankerberg: They were either the apostles or companions of the apostles. End of the discussion.
Bock: Right exactly.
Ankerberg: What else would you contribute to in terms of how would students know that this is correct, that they picked out the right stuff?
Wallace: I think you have discussions of the authorship of these books that goes very early on and into the second century. We have discussion from Papias. We have discussions from Irenaeus that go beyond that. Ignatius talks about the apostles. Clement does. And those discussions are telling us that these books were written by these people. And even though they did not yet perceive of the New Testament as scripture, not at that early stage. They are still saying, “These are the authoritative guys who wrote this stuff.” And one of the things for us to wrestle with is, today if someone came along and said, “You know, there are 66 books in the Bible, but I think I want to add a 67th, and I just wrote this thing. Who should I get this published with?” And you get some people that probably should be put in an asylum that are making those kind of claims every once in a while. But when you get the New Testament documents, it would be that kind of a statement as well. How long is it going to take for the church to say “What we have today is in addition to our complete Bible,” namely the Hebrew Bible? By the second century they are already viewing that Hebrew text as a complete text. And now you have got New Testament documents.
Ankerberg: Alright, again, the contemporary question is, didn’t the powerful write history the way they wanted it to? What is your response to that?
Wallace: I would say it wasn’t the powerful who did it, but it was those who knew the truth and conveyed the truth and persuaded people, because the message that they had was so unbelievably persuasive and because it changed lives.
Bock: And I think it is important to recognize that the core of this canon is in place before the political powers of Rome are Christians,…
Wallace: Exactly.
Bock: …so that we have got this period at the end of the second century where Irenaeus and others are writing, certainly in defense of orthodoxy. They are bishops. They have some authority in the church while there is a larger discussion going on. But what would cause that to be persuasive? What would cause that to be persuasive is that that material and those claims are rooted solidly in the tradition. And you have got surprising choices in this. I mean, we talked in an earlier show about that Luke wouldn’t be the normal Pauline companion that you would attach to a gospel, if you could just pick someone who is a Pauline companion. Mark wouldn’t be the person you would have write the gospel associated with Peter. After all, he failed in a Pauline mission and went home. He chickened out, and then Paul wouldn’t even take him on the next mission. So if you were picking out of the blue, you wouldn’t pick someone like that. And so there are these disconnects, as I say, these what we call these embarrassments, in the midst of the tradition that point to its authenticity.
Ankerberg: Give me a wrap up statement, Dan.
Wallace: What I would say is, the fact that these early church writers recognized that these documents were written by the apostles and their associates, gave them an authority that could not be matched from the second century on. And ultimately they recognized that those were the books that belonged in the canon.
Ankerberg: Terrific stuff. Now we have only got one more broadside that has come, and that is basically, didn’t the scribes tamper with the text? And Bart Ehrman would say in Misquoting Jesus that there are 400,000 manuscript variants, differences in the copies that have come down; there is only 136,000 verses?
Wallace: 138,162 words.
Ankerberg: Okay, so you have got three variants for every word in the New Testament. How do you know that you have got the original words the apostles used? That is our topic next week. Hear it from the authorities. I hope that you will join me.

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