Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Conversations with Angie: Does evidence of editorial work on the Bible imply that God did not inspire the writings?

Since it had been so long since we started our conversation, and since the conversation seemed to be dying a premature death, and since I hate to leave things undone, I went ahead and started replying to the rest of her email.


I was just reading over that old email, and there are two more things I wanted to respond to. Here's the first:

"On one hand, I was studying biblical literature - reading commentary from Christians and non-Christians, and learning about the "integrity" of the biblical texts. I found that it wasn't as I had learned, and had been edited various times throughout history, which I felt negated the claim that it is complete as is, and completely inspired of God."

Like I said, I'm going to try to keep this short, and there are only two points I want to make in response to this.

It's hard to respond to such a broad statement about the Bible. As you know, the Bible is a collection of various writings; it isn't just one book. So the way it was written varies from book to book, and the manuscript evidence we have is better with some books than with others.

The evidence for the New Testament is better than the evidence for the Old Testament, because the earliest copies we have date closer to their originals than most of the old testament, and we have far more early copies of new testament books than old testament books.

So let me talk about the New Testament first. I agree that the New Testament has evidence of editorial work. This is especially evident in the gospels. Some scholars think 2 Corinthians is a compilation of at least two different letters of Paul. Some say as many as six. This editorial work is perfectly consistent with the idea that the Bible is inspired by God. God didn't put the authors in a trance and write through them in one sitting. The authors' minds were obviously engaged in the whole affair, and God's inspiration implies only that he guided the process. The process could have involved using sources, and making revisions, until a final product was arrived at. Nothing about that negates the idea that God inspired the writings.

There are textual variants in the manuscript evidence, which shows that later editorial work was done on the New Testament, but there are enough old manuscripts that it's not too hard to discover what the originals said. The whole field of textual criticism involves itself in this kind of research. Bruce Metzger has a good book on the subject where he discusses the evidence and the techniques textual critics use. The Nestle Alands 27th edition is the result of years of work in textual criticism. The integrety of the New Testament is actually pretty good.

The old testament is not as certain, because we don't even know when several of the books were written. Most of the scholarly literature on the old testament is highly speculative. But, like the new testament, it does seem clear that the authors used sources (sometimes each other) and that some editorial work was done. Again, this seems consistent with the idea that God inspired the texts.

The question of whether the old testament has been accurately preserved is not as clear as it is with the new testament. The oldest manuscripts we have come from the scrolls at Qumran that were found in the 1940's. Before those were found, the earliest we had dated from the middle ages. Some people speculate that since the Qumran scrolls are so consistent with the later copies, that we can have some confidence in the carefulness with which scribes have preserved the old testament writings even before Qumran. This, I don't know about. I know far more about the literary history of the new testament than the old testament.

I realize I've been avoiding specific discussion, but I hope my reasons are obvious. The Anchor Bible commentary series is HUGE, and each volume discusses the various views about the literary history of its subject. This discussion would be unending if I got into specifics. I told you I'd try to keep this short.

to be continued...

Conversations with Angie:  Could Christianity be true even if the Bible was not inspired by God?


At 8/17/2005 4:03 AM , Blogger Steve said...

true but the only evidence that God guided the process comes from the Bible itself. And thats a little unfair!

At 8/17/2005 4:54 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Why is that unfair?


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