The Battle to Discredit the Bible/Program 4

By: Dr. Darrell Bock, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace; ©2007
Critics have raised a number of questions about Jesus and about the Bible. But what does the historical evidence say when it is handled honestly?



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.

Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We are going to talk about conversation stoppers that have been introduced into our society by books, TV specials, and other ways, scholarly books and so on, so that when you talk about Jesus all of a sudden somebody says, “Well, what about this?” And we are going to talk about those questions that are listed in our society today that are out there all over the place. And we have got two of the world’s best scholars right here. Dr. Darrell Bock has been on almost every historical Jesus special that you’ve got on the networks. And he is professor of New Testament Research at Dallas Theological Seminary, and the author of just a ton of books. Just great. And they have written a new book, Dethroning Jesus. And his cohort in that was Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, who is one of the leading authorities on textual criticism and the Greek manuscript copies of the New Testament. He is also the director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, the senior New Testament editor of the NET Bible, and has written Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: an Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Darrell, tell me a little bit more about these conversation stoppers, because you actually coined the phrase.
Bock: A conversation stopper is something that stops a conversation when you go to talk about Jesus. You start to talk about him and someone has heard something on a television special, they have read it in a book, that is kind of, it isn’t about the Bible, per se. It is about what is going on around the Bible, or something that is a supposition to how the Bible is put together. And so they raise this question, and if you don’t have any background to answer the question, the conversation stops. You will never get to Jesus. You will never talk about what you had hoped to talk about, because this stops the conversation. Our hope has been that in this series of program that you have gotten the answer to these questions. So, as kind of a review, if you will, because all professors like to review….
Ankerberg: A quiz.
Bock: That’s right. Take out a piece of paper and number to 10. Here they come. We have got 10 questions for you that are conversation stoppers.
Ankerberg: Alright, number 1. I mean, this goes back to The Da Vinci Code. If they go into Barnes and Noble or any secular bookstore they will find a ton of books over on one side that have something like the Gnostic Bible, the Lost Gospels of Christianity, you have got the book of Thomas, you’ve got the Gospel of Peter, and Mary. And people look at all of this and it revolves around the question that Dan Brown put into The Da Vinci Code, what about all those other gospels that never made it into the Bible? And he went and said, “Well, you know, there were 80 other gospels and only four were chosen.” Start me off.
Bock: Well, and the way this is usually formulated is, at least the way Dan Brown said it, is that Constantine was responsible for that choice. Constantine did not have schmatz to do with the canon.
Ankerberg: A technical word.
Bock: That is a technical word, it means nothing – N O T H I N G, okay. He didn’t have anything to do with this process. The books that didn’t make it into the New Testament didn’t make it into the New Testament because either their theology was different than the regula fide that we have been talking about on this show, the core orthodoxy that’s moving through even before we get to the recognition of the canon and that we can see in doctrinal summaries and in hymns and in the sacraments. Or they are too late. In some cases it’s actually both; in fact, in most cases it is actually both. And so they never had a chance to get in because they did not reflect the faith, not of the fathers, but the faith of the apostles and Jesus. And so they never made it in.
There weren’t 80 of them, okay. I think Dan mentioned a number of about 45 earlier. It is in the high 30s, low 40s, is the number of what we actually have in our hands. So it’s almost half of what Dan Brown suggested. And there wasn’t any dispute about most of these works. The one work that comes the closest is a gospel called the Gospel of Thomas. The Gospel of Thomas is a hybrid gospel. It probably has some content that may go back to the earliest traditions tied to Jesus. If you read the Gospel of Thomas, 25% of it, you read and you go, “Boy, that looks familiar.” Well, the reason it looks familiar is it’s saying something very similar to Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. You read another 25% and you go “that sounds sort of familiar.” And it sounds sort of familiar because it is sort of like Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. And then there is the 50%, “I have never heard or seen that before.” And that is because you’ve never heard or seen that before. It is coming from somewhere else. And so the Gospel of Thomas is a hybrid gospel. It is an early second century gospel, and because it has some overlap with the synoptic gospels, it has gained a lot of attention. But Origen told us in the early third century that the Gospel of Thomas is not read in the churches, which is a way of telling us it was not viewed as Scripture.
Wallace: Let me add, too, that Dan Brown argues that these gospels emphasized the humanity of Jesus, not his deity, which is exactly the opposite of what we see. The vast majority of these extracanonical gospels are putting an emphasis on his divinity or his other than human aspects. They did not view him as fully human. You have got one that says, “I saw Jesus and his feet never left any prints in the sand,” that kind of a statement. This is someone who is a super human. He is not quite really human at all.
Bock: In fact, there is only one Christian group that does not affirm the deity of Jesus that I am aware of. It is the group that was known as the Ebionites. They were so Jewish they couldn’t admit to the deity of Jesus, because they thought only God the Father could be God. That is the only group out of all this material. So Dan Brown’s reason is dead wrong. And what we have had with Jesus from the very beginning is a high view of Jesus, which is interesting in light of what Jesusanity wants to make of Jesus, which is, they want him to not be divine. That doesn’t fit in with the ancient evidence.
Ankerberg: What is the difference between Jesusanity and Christianity?
Bock: Jesusanity is the idea that Jesus’ teaching matters, that he is a prophet, that he can be respected for that reason. But his person does not matter to the program of God or to the nature of the Christian faith. Christianity is that Jesus is the anointed one and that his person is at the center or at the hub of what God is doing, and that his person is very much relevant to what Christianity is. Orthodox Christianity has always been Christianity.
Ankerberg: I know this next one is one of your favorites. And, unfortunately, it is still on the table today, we will probably see specials up ahead that have this theme. Question is, don’t you know that history is written by the winners and now that we can hear the losers, Gnostic Gospels, we need to revise the Bible story?
Bock: And this is an interesting one because, generally speaking, it is true that the history that survives is the history that comes from the people who win. And it is true that we have gotten our hands on a lot of material now that we didn’t have before, and that does fill out the picture of our understanding of history. All that is true. But here is what is false in the implication. That revision, what we have learned from what we have dug up, does not require that the traditional understanding of Christianity as being rooted in the apostles and being rooted in Jesus, needs a significant change. Nor does it change the fact that this Gnostic Christianity or this Christian Gnosticism is really a deviation from historical Christianity that grew out of Judaism. Those two cardinal facts are not altered by what we have found. And the interesting thing, too, is that Christianity is also a work that is written by the losers, okay? If you look to the time when Christianity was flourishing and beginning to grow, when it sprouted, I would say the Romans were doing pretty well.
Ankerberg: Yep. Alright, let’s take this next one, and there is just a fascination with this question. Didn’t Jesus marry Mary Magdalene and have a daughter in France? You want to take that one?
Wallace: I will let Darrell take that one.
Ankerberg: That’s so easy we will let him answer that one.
Bock: It is so silly. This is one I like to have fun with, because when this question was initially raised, well, it was initially raised in a book called Holy Blood, Holy Grail a long time ago, but it was re-raised by the Dan Brown special. And it has been resurrected in a varied form in some of the stuff that happened with the Jesus team. But this was one that asked myself and John Dominic Crossan to tackle, because I was the conservative and he was the non-conservative. And they had a thing on their website called Smackdown, which is kind of like Worldwide Wrestling Federation, except on theology. I know it is a horrible image. Don’t think about who is in the white trunks and who is in the black trunks. But anyway, so they had us do this Smackdown. And the expectation was, the conservative would take one position and the liberal would take another position. Well, in fact, what happened is that I argued that Jesus was never married and that there is no historical evidence for it. And John Dominic Crossan, who is the liberal, argued that Jesus was never married and there they never had evidence. There was no Smackdown, okay? It was a love fest. And I tell my students that when you can get liberal and conservative historical Jesus scholars to agree about something, it doesn’t happen very often, but when it does happen, it is probably true. The fact is, there is no good solid evidence anywhere that Jesus was married to anybody, much less Mary.
Ankerberg: Alright, let’s take another one that is in our society, and it came off of a television special not long ago. And here is the question, didn’t they find the bones of Jesus in a suburb of Jerusalem in Talpiot and he had other members of his family in the tomb? And that goes right along with the next question, well, you know, Jesus’ resurrection was only a spiritual resurrection. It wasn’t a physical, so it really doesn’t matter.
Wallace: Let me take this to start with. This is probably where I would have a disagreement with Darrell. I think that they did find Jesus’ bones in the Talpiot tomb. And the reason that we know that it was Jesus is because on the left wrist there was a little wristband, and it said “What Would I Do?”
Ankerberg: Your turn.
Bock: What else can I say? No seriously, the gist of the response to the Talpiot tomb claim is that these names were too common to make anything out of it. First of all, the location of the tomb for being a family tomb of Jesus is in the wrong place. He lived in Galilee. He would have had a family tomb up there. So the ability to procure this tomb and do the reburial within the space of a year, keep it completely secret, etc., is very, very unlikely. So between the social factors that were involved in it, as well as the common nature of the names, it didn’t take more than a week to two weeks before almost everyone—and again this is the conservative Christians, not so conservative Christian, secular Jews, conservative Jews, atheists—I mean, there was almost universal agreement in the scholarly world that there was nothing to this.
Ankerberg: You spent time with Amos Kloner right in Jerusalem right after the special with Ted Koppel. What did he say?
Bock: Amos Kloner was the guy who was in charge of the original excavation of this site. And he basically said that that special had a mistake about every five minutes.
Ankerberg: Tell them you met with Tal Ilan too, and tell who Tal Ilan is.
Bock: Tal Ilan is the expert on names in this period and the frequency of names in this period. And she basically said when they interviewed her she felt like a hostile witness on behalf of defending a murderer, because they tried to back her into a corner. And finally they asked a question so hypothetical she had to answer it the way they wanted her to answer, to answer it honestly. But she realized what it was that they were up to.
Ankerberg: You warned the people that did the special, you warned them of the reaction and that they really didn’t know what they were getting into. And then you were part of the Ted Koppel special. And especially one of the things you said was, “You say that it was only a spiritual resurrection and not a physical resurrection. This has vast implications. You really don’t know the territory you are getting into.” Tell us why.
Bock: Yeah. This was advice that the film maker, who was Jewish, had received from his Christian consultant, a man named Jim Tabor, who does archaeological work and teaches at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. And I said the idea that there would be a resurrection without a physical body in Judaism is very, very unlikely. All the texts that we have about what Jews believed assumed a physical resurrection. And this is said very clearly in books like 2nd and 4th Maccabees. In fact, one of these events, one of these texts has seven sons being killed at the same time, in sequence, mutilated one after another. And when the third son goes to be mutilated, he sticks out his hands and he sticks out his tongue and he says, “You can have these, because one day God is going to give them back to me.” That is a pretty physical take on resurrection. And so it is granted that the resurrection body, the glorified body, is pictured as being not just physical, it is not just matter, but there is something physical about it. And Paul defended that teaching and doctrine in 1 Corinthians 15. In fact, he inherited that view into Christianity from his Pharisaical background, which was rooted in the Jewish view of resurrection. So the idea of a spiritual resurrection in the Christian faith has to not only ignore the New Testament evidence, it has to ignore the Jewish roots that feed into the New Testament.
Ankerberg: Talk about 1 Corinthians 15. I mean, this is an important thing that goes right straight back to the time when Jesus resurrected and not too far after that. And tell them what it says.
Bock: Well, the beginning has actually one of these doctrinal summaries that we have been talking about that says, you know, Jesus died according to the scriptures, that he was buried on the third day, and he was raised according to the scripture. And the picture is of an empty tomb and appearances of a physical raised Jesus. And Paul is honest enough to say in the midst of this chapter, if Jesus is not raised we are the most pitied of all men. Because what he is saying is, we have believed, in effect, a lie and we have hoped for a lie. [1 Cor. 15:12-19] So Paul is very clear about how central an actual resurrection is to the hope of the Christian faith. Because part of the hope to the Christian faith is an unbroken, unceasing, relationship with the living God that lasts forever. And that requires a resurrection to take place.
Ankerberg: Yeah, if you just took a list of people that are in 1 Corinthians 15, which goes back how far?
Bock: You mean in terms of where it ….
Ankerberg: The date.
Bock: The date. Well, it is talking about appearances that happened immediately. It’s Paul writing in the mid to late 50s, but it reflects his experience in the passing on of tradition that probably happened somewhere in the 30s. So we are within years of the actual event.
Ankerberg: And the list of people that was given to him that were eyewitnesses is over 500 people. Someone has added it up….
Wallace: Even at one time 500 people.
Ankerberg: Yeah, 500 people at one time saw Jesus. But if you put all the guys, it was 515 or something like that. If you gave each of them just 15 minutes in court it would be 129 hours for five straight…
Bock: You wouldn’t want to be on that jury.
Ankerberg: …five straight days of testimony, okay? You know, who would say after hearing 129 hours of testimony, “Ah, nothing really happened”? I mean, it just doesn’t work. Alright, let’s roll on to the next one. Didn’t Emperor Constantine invent the deity of Christ in 325 at the Council of Nicea, and before that the Christians thought of Jesus like any other man?
Bock: That one is another one that’s just simply dead wrong. And we have a letter that Pliny the Younger wrote to Emperor Trajan in the second decade of the second century. Pliny was governor of what is now central Turkey, an area called Bithynia. And he writes a letter and he is dealing with persecuted Christians. And he is trying to figure out if he can restore Christians that he has persecuted if they do certain things. Can he forgive them? Can they get clemency from the state? And he writes and he says, “I basically have been told that a real Christian won’t bow the knee before the statue of Caesar. And we have taken a look at their worship services. And when we go into their worship services they sing hymns to Jesus as God, to Christ as God.” It has the teaching of the worship service of the church in Turkey, miles away from Israel, in the early second century. And so we know that the early church, vast segments of it, of course we knew this from our documents as it is anyway, are worshipping a deified Jesus. Constantine did not put an imprimatur on that view of Jesus. Let’s say it this way, Christianity didn’t become what it is because of Constantine, Constantine became what he was because of Christianity.
Ankerberg: Love that.
Wallace: Let me add, if I could, that you have the biblical manuscripts themselves, that on John 1:1 we have got P66, P75, two very early papyri that are well over 100 years earlier than Constantine. And they say exactly what all the other manuscripts say: that, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” So if Constantine invented the deity of Christ, that means he had to have lived in the second century. I don’t think he was quite that old.
Bock: Sometimes you get a variation of the argument that says that Constantine is responsible for the makeup of the canon or something like that. But, again, as we have already covered, that is not the case either. What Constantine did do is he embraced Christianity, which did give it an open door across the Roman Empire that he was head of, and certainly was responsible for it solidifying its position as the religion of what became Europe. There is no doubt about that. But he isn’t responsible for the theological content.
Ankerberg: Alright, next question. How do we know that the church scribes didn’t tamper with the text so that what we’ve got now is not what the apostles wrote?
Wallace: Well, actually we do know that they did tamper with the text at times. And the primary thing that they did in terms of changing the text was to make it more explicate. For example, in Mark chapters 6-8 there are 89 verses in a row in which Jesus is not once mentioned by name or title. And so the scribes had a tendency to want to add words. And so in three different places they add the name Jesus, or call him Lord, so that people can understand whom they are talking about.
Ankerberg: Especially in lectionaries.
Wallace: Yeah, exactly. In lectionaries, in these liturgical books that the church would be reading week after week in terms of, this is the passage that you read for this week. You can’t just start out with “he did this,” the “he” has to be named. And so they did change the text. But over a 1400-year period of copying manuscripts, the manuscripts grew only by 2%. Now, that is not the kind of investment I think anybody would ever want to pool in. It is not going to make much money. But 2% growth of the text over 1400 years is not that substantial of a change. There are differences, that is true; but they don’t affect any of these key doctrines that we are dealing with.
Ankerberg: Yeah. Let’s go to, doesn’t the New Testament disagree with itself? For example, don’t Paul and Peter disagree with each other in Galatians?
Bock: They do disagree with one another in Galatians. But they also extend to one another the right hand of fellowship in terms of what the theology teaches. What they were disagreeing about is how Jews and Gentiles should get along. What they agreed about was the idea that Jesus taught things like the golden rule, and the faith that gathered one around Jesus meant that people had to live in a certain way. They absolutely overlap in that area.
Ankerberg: Summarize these conversation stoppers and give advice to Christians. What should they do?
Bock: Well, the first thing I think that Christians should do is get up to speed, if I can say it that way. This series has been designed to get you quickly up to speed, to give you some handles, to read some good material that is out there that discusses these areas so that you are able to have a conversation. And have a conversation, don’t have an argument.
Wallace: Exactly.
Bock: Listen to where the other person is coming from when they ask their questions. In many cases all they are doing is raising sincere questions because they’ve heard something on television or they’ve read something in a book. And so engage them, don’t fight with them. You are not going to win a fight, so you want to engage them. And I think the third thing is, learn to explain your Christian faith, not only in terms of your personal experience, but in terms of the historical rootage that the Christian faith has. And that the Christian faith has historically left itself open for.
Ankerberg: Guys, I think it is a high privilege to be able to talk with you guys and have you as guests on the program. And I know that the folks that are listening have benefited greatly from this. Thank you. And thank you for your new book, Dethroning Jesus.

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