Is the New Testament Accurate? – The Big and Small Questions

Is the New Testament Reliable_

In meetings for Twin Cities Apologetics, discussion has commonly focused on a specific time gap – the time between when Jesus lived, and when the information about him was written down. But one member of the group recently asked a question about another time gap. The question is:

What is the date of the earliest fragments and complete manuscripts of the New Testament?

This question points to the time gap between when the New Testament books were written, and when the earliest available manuscripts of those books were produced. The question is important because if that time gap is large, we have reason to doubt that those manuscripts accurately represent the original writings. Perhaps people added or changed large sections of the original writing during that time gap, for example.

There is a basic answer to this question, which I posted initially in the Twin Cities Apologetics Facebook group:

The earliest fragment we have of the New Testament is the gospel of John from around 130AD – 40 to 50 years after the date of writing. We also potentially have other fragments that date earlier, but those fragments are still being looked into by historians (they’ve been found within the past few years).

The earliest full copy of the New Testament we have is Codex Sinaiticus from the 4th Century AD. So let’s say around 300 years after the time of original writing.

This response is sufficient to answer the question as written. But that question points to a bigger question yet – Is the New Testament accurate? Put in another way, does the New Testament we have today faithfully represent the original writings?

To reach a conclusion about this big question of accuracy, we can focus in on four smaller questions about the New Testament manuscripts we have today:

1. How many manuscripts do we have?

This question is important in our ability to compare manuscripts . The more manuscripts we have, the more we are able to compare them to see if any information changed as the manuscripts continued to be copied.

2. When were those manuscripts produced?

If we have a ton of manuscripts, but they all come from 1,000 years after the original writing, then we are left with plenty of room for doubt. The text could have easily changed in that 1,000 year period! The quantity of manuscripts itself is not sufficient to establish accuracy; the dates of those manuscripts also need to be considered.

3. How many differences are there between manuscripts, and what is the nature of those differences?

If we find many differences between manuscripts, we have reason to doubt that the copying process was reliable in preserving the original text. But the number of differences is not the only thing to consider – we also need to consider the nature of the differences.

For example, let’s say the letter “b” was missing in a manuscript, and multiple earlier manuscripts do contain that letter. Based on this data, we could conclude that this difference resulted from a copying error that was not part of the original text. But if there are several paragraphs missing in a manuscript, reconstructing the original text becomes a more difficult task.

4. Do early external sources refer to the text in the manuscripts?

An external source can provide additional evidence about the accuracy of the New Testament. For example, let’s say an ancient historian quotes a paragraph from the New Testament. That quote indicates what was written in New Testament manuscripts available when the historian lived, and thus can be added to our collection of manuscript evidence.

These “small questions” can create some extensive discussion. For sake of space, I’ll address the questions in future posts (although I know doing so creates a huge cliffhanger!). After doing so, I’ll revisit the “big question” – Is the New Testament accurate? – and see if any clear answers arise from the data. I don’t expect that this investigation will be exhaustive, but I think I’ll learn something from it. I hope you do as well.

Are there any other “small” questions you think we should consider in addressing the “big” question of the New Testament’s accuracy? Do you know of any resources that would be helpful in investigating either “the big question” or “the small questions?” Feel free to comment below!


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I’m a Christian Because Of… The Resurrection


If you asked me why I am a Christian, my first response would involve the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection is one of the most important and one of the most historically verifiable aspects of Christianity. To explain how it’s historically verifiable, I’ll go straight to the best evidence supporting the idea that the resurrection of Jesus actually happened.

This evidence involves a letter written by the apostle Paul (a Christian who had previously opposed Christianity) back around 50 AD. Paul wrote this letter to Christians in a church located in the Greek city Corinth, for the purpose of addressing falsehoods that had been spreading amongst people in the church. Towards the end of the book, Paul reminds the Christians of the basis behind their beliefs.

Here’s what he wrote (translated from his language – Greek):

“I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.”

In the above paragraph, Paul summarizes the events that took place in the life of Jesus Christ – his death, his burial, and his rising from the dead (resurrection). He then lists individuals or groups of people who saw Jesus after this resurrection took place – as shown in the text I bolded above. All this information, according to Paul, had been passed down to him.

When was the information passed to him? To answer that question, we can go to another letter that Paul wrote to Christians in Galatia (located in modern-day Turkey). In the letter, Paul describes his conversion to Christianity, which happened within a few years of Jesus’ death. Then he describes what happened three years after his conversion:

“I went up to Jerusalem to visit Peter and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James.”

It is highly probable that during these fifteen days, Paul and Peter talked about the events laid out in the letter to the Corinthians – Jesus’ death, rising from the dead, and appearances to others. Thus, Paul likely received the information about these events somewhere between three to six years after they occurred. And the eyewitness testimony behind that information goes back further – likely to the events themselves.

In comparison to other writings of ancient events, this timeline is impressive. Historical works that are considered reliable today were often written using information received decades or even centuries after the events. Considering the information about key events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection was passed on within a few years of the events, we have good reason to rely upon this information.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians isn’t the only evidence supporting the claim that the resurrection happened, but it is the most significant because of how close it gets us to the actual events. No matter what objections are raised against Christianity, the fact that we have early eyewitness testimony of the events cannot be ignored. Thus to me this letter is foundational in my faith – it gives me more confidence in the truth of Christianity than any other piece of evidence available.

With that said, there is other evidence that supports the truth of Christianity – whether the evidence comes through historical documents, archeological findings, or philosophical arguments. Over time, I hope to expand on this series – “I’m a Christian Because of…” – and dig into this evidence piece-by-piece.

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What’s With all the Bible Versions?


Imagine that you’re planning to head to a bookstore. Just as you leave, your friend explains that he lost his Bible recently, and he wants you to pick one up for him. You agree to do it… after all, the task seems simple enough, right?

At the bookstore, you approach the section filled with Bibles. And you start to notice all these strange labels on each one. NIV? TEV? NRSV? Suddenly, this errand becomes more daunting than you first imagined. You quickly text your friend to ask which specific Bible you should get.

As you drive home, questions start to enter your mind about all these Bible versions. Why can’t Christians all agree on one version to use? How does someone know they have the right version? And isn’t it a problem for Christianity that there are so many versions of the Bible out there?

We can start addressing these questions by understanding that the Bible was originally written in non-English languages – Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). Whenever you have a text from one language and want to write it in another language, translation is needed. Even though it’s needed, there are problems associated with translating from one language to another.

There’s the problem of vocabulary – a word used in one language may not have a precise equivalent word in another language. There’s the problem of sentence structure, where the basic sentence form of one language may be completely different than that of another language. And there’s the problem of cultural references that may be hard to translate from one language in a particular context to another language in a totally different context.

Translators have different ideas of how to address the problems. But no matter how they’re addressed, the final translation needs to be understood by a reader, and needs to represent what the original text said to some extent. These needs cause translators to find a balance between accuracy and understandability.

Accuracy involves staying as true to what the author wrote down as possible. A focus on accuracy could involve translating words literally, even if the resulting text doesn’t make  much sense to the modern reader. Translators who focus more on accuracy try to get to the formal equivalence of the original text – what’s written in the translation is the same as what the author wrote.

Understandability involves making the translation as easy to read for modern readers as possible. A focus on understandability could involve replacing cultural references from the original text with cultural references that have more of an impact in the present day. Translators who focus more on understandability try to get to dynamic equivalence of the original text – the meaning of the translation for modern readers is the same as the meaning that the readers of the original text would have had.

All the Bible versions fall on a spectrum between a formal equivalence (accuracy) focus, and a dynamic equivalence (understandability) focus. For example, the King James Version (KJV) falls heavily towards the formal equivalence end of the spectrum, the New Living Translation (NLT) falls heavily towards the dynamic equivalence end, and the New International Version (NIV) falls close to the middle.

But why do all these concepts matter? Understanding the concepts can help us address questions similar to the ones posed towards the beginning of this post. To explain how, I’ll list those questions again and address them one by one.

Why can’t Christians all agree on one version to use?

Christians who translate the Bible do agree that translations should be produced from the original text (using the most reliable copies of that text that we have). The disagreement comes from how this text should be translated. Christians use different versions because there are many versions available that use different translating methods, all of which have both advantages and disadvantages.

How does someone know they have the right version?

There isn’t necessarily a “right” version, where all the others are “wrong” versions. Proper selection of which version to use depends on the purpose of using the Bible. For example, if you want to do an intense study of the Bible with the purpose of learning what an author originally said, a version with a formal equivalence focus is likely better to use. If you want to quote the Bible in a book that will be geared towards people who don’t have much experience reading the Bible, a version with a dynamic equivalence focus is likely better to use.

Isn’t it a problem for Christianity that there are so many versions of the Bible out there?

The Bible versions actually provide a solution to a problem. The problem is that the Bible is written in languages that many people do not understand. The solution (aside from learning those languages) is comparing versions with different translation focuses. Doing so can give you a fuller picture of what the authors originally said and originally meant.


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Nabeel Qureshi and the Brevity of Life

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About a month ago, Christian speaker and author Nabeel Qureshi passed away after a year-long battle with stomach cancer. Nabeel was a former Muslim who turned to Christ through an incredible series of events described in his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. His ministry has led many other people to Christ as well.

Nabeel died at age 34. From my perspective, there was so much more that Nabeel could do if he had just lived longer. When I met him a few years ago, he had plans of writing books about a bunch of important topics. But his life ended after writing three books focused on the topic of Islam.

While I wish that Nabeel could have lived longer, my perspective completely changed when I watched Ravi Zacharias give a eulogy about Nabeel’s life. Towards the end, Ravi mentioned how Nabeel’s life was taken at such an early age. But he also said that Nabeel is not the first to go early. Other notable Christians also died very young:

Keith Green – A pianist, singer, and songwriter now inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Died at age 28. 

Robert Murray McCheyne – A Scottish minister who created a reading through the Bible program still used today. Died at age 29.

Blaise Pascal – One of the most well-known Christian authors ever. Died at age 39. 

Oswald Chambers – Most known for writing My Utmost for His Highest, a book still widely read today.  Died at age 43.

Henry Martyn – A missionary who translated the Bible into several languages spoken in India. Died at age 31.

Hearing this list caused me to focus on the impact that these peoples’ lives have made, rather than the length of their lives. And it’s the same with Nabeel. I can complain that he didn’t live long enough, or I can be thankful for how God used his life to make a deep impact in the lives of others.

The list also causes me to reflect on my own life. I have all these hopes for the future – that more opportunities for ministry will arise over time, or that I’ll get married some day. But no matter what hopes I have, the fact is I am not guaranteed another day on this earth.

This concept has been running through my head constantly this week. It turns me to focus on what I can do today – be obedient in whatever God has for me right now. It also keeps me in proper perspective – that I am not in complete control of my future, as much as I want to know what is going to happen. And it provokes thankfulness – that each day is a gift, rather than a given.

I am not guaranteed another day on this earth, and Nabeel did not have that guarantee either. But God can use a short life to make a big impact. He did it with Nabeel. He did it with others. And whether our lives are long or short, he can do it with us.

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The Four Assumptions of FOMO

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You come back to town after being out on vacation. You check Facebook. You see a group picture of friends taken at a social event. You see that a person you kind of like got into a relationship. You read about the fun that someone had on another vacation.

All of these things lead to a particular feeling –

FOMO – The Fear Of Missing Out 

This FOMO is a feeling that has infiltrated my mind on a daily basis. Part of the feeling derives from the fact that I live in a city that has all sorts of things I want to be involved with. But much of the feeling derives from four assumptions that often times are not true:

If I miss an event, others won’t like me as much

There is an element of this assumption that is true – if you spend less time with a group of people, you may have less opportunity to become close with that group. However, this assumption is also led by lies – that people are always thinking about you (rather than focusing on the event) and those thoughts are always negative (instead of their thoughts about you not being affected by you missing one event).

The assumption leaves out room for understanding, celebration, and patience. Understanding from others about the circumstances surrounding your absence. Celebration of the fact that people had fun at the event you missed. And patience to wait for another opportunity to enjoy time with that group of people.

Acceptance from others is the most important thing for me to pursue

This assumption is closely tied with the last one. When acceptance from people or a particular person becomes the focus in social events, then you are going to worry about losing that acceptance when missing out on an event. Those worries could carry over to the rest of life, consuming your daily thoughts to the point that it becomes a primary life focus.

But there are more important things to pursue than acceptance. Things that are important to almost everyone – building relationships with family, making a difference in the world, or building a career/vocation. And there are things that are of most importance to Christians – glorifying God, growing in character, and building God’s kingdom. When these things are in the forefront, acceptance is no longer something you have to chase after in order to feel fulfilled.

The event that I missed would be better than the one I went to

This assumption plagued me last summer. I went on a trip to London, and for the first few days I had continuous thoughts about missing a cruise that happened the same week. I held the constant assumption that the cruise would be better, no matter how much I enjoyed the London trip.

When you are choosing between two events, you can never actually know which event would be “better” unless you fully experience both, which is impossible to do. But it is very possible to idealize the event that you missed and always assume that it would be better. This assumption causes stress as you focus on what you may be missing, instead of what you are actually experiencing.

Photos from the past are realities in the present

Looking at photos of past events can trigger worries – things like “Did I miss out on something important?”, or “Would I have connected more with this specific person if I was there?” These present worries derive from knowledge about an event that happened hours or even days ago.

But this knowledge is limited – it’s usually based on a few pictures of people smiling and apparently having fun. And the knowledge isn’t about something happening right now. So does this knowledge about a past event need to affect the way you think in the present? This is a question I continue to wrestle with.

The FOMO that is led by these four assumption will continue to be a problem for many, including myself. But digging into these assumptions has helped me to understand where my fears come from. I may continue to get FOMO through Facebook, but I hope to better recognize when these assumptions are producing that fear.


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Explaining 9/11 and the Life of Jesus

And the Life of Jesus

A few months ago, I started digging deep into 9/11 conspiracy theories. Once I started watching videos about them, it seemed like I couldn’t stop! Something about these videos drew me to near-obsession for a couple days.

As I was deep into watching them, I realized that consideration of 9/11 conspiracy theories can connect to something else that intrigues me – the life of Jesus Christ.

To explain the connection, I first need to define what a conspiracy is. A conspiracy is basically an event where multiple people come together and agree to do something wrong (i.e. immoral or unlawful). Usually an intent to deceive others is involved.

This definition could be applied to the two most common explanations of 9/11 – that it was carried out by Al-Qaeda, or it was carried out by the U.S. government. In both cases, people would have to come together and agree to do something wrong. But the U.S. government explanation is the one called a conspiracy because it involves an attempt to deceive (lying about who planned the attacks).

People who support either explanation generally agree on a few facts:
– Airplanes hit towers 1 and 2 of the World Trade Center
– Both towers collapsed
– World Trade Center building 7 also collapsed
– A section of the Pentagon was severely damaged
– All people on flight 93 were killed after the flight changed its course of direction
– Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack
– The U.S. identified 19 highjackers of the airplanes involved

Both the standard and conspiracy explanations need to take these facts into account. The main question in a search for the correct explanation is: which one best explains all of the facts on hand? In other words, which one has the most explanatory power?

In order to answer this question, we need to look at the big picture of both explanations. This big-picture outlook could provoke some questions. For example, does it make sense that Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks if the U.S. government actually did it? Wouldn’t the leaders of Al-Queda have greater motivation to call out the U.S. as liars if that were the case?

When it comes to the life of Jesus, we can go through a similar process. Like the 9/11 conspiracy, there are a few leading explanations for the events that were written about Jesus’ life. There’s the standard explanation – Jesus is God and rose from the dead as the writers claimed. There’s the conspiracy theory – Jesus’ early followers elevated him to the level of God in an attempt to deceive others. And there are other explanations – such as his followers were deceived themselves through something like a hallucination.

A few agreed-upon facts also need to be taken into account for these leading explanations:
– A man that people called Jesus Christ lived during the first century A.D.
– Jesus did things that people claimed to be miraculous
– Jesus made authoritative claims about himself (i.e. at or close to the same authority level as God)
– Jesus died of Roman crucifixion
– People who were closest to Jesus claimed that they saw him alive after his death.
– Early Christians considered Jesus to have the same status of God (i.e. someone to be worshipped)

Which explanation has the most explanatory power when using these facts? Again, we need to look at the big picture by asking some questions. For example, if it was a conspiracy, what motivation would the followers of Jesus have to deceive others? If the followers were deceived, could hallucinations have caused that deception? If Jesus actually rose from the dead, is it possible for a miracle like that one to occur?

When we ask these big-picture questions, we can start to understand which explanation best fits all the facts. In the case of 9/11, Al-Qaeda taking responsibility for the attacks and the unlikelihood of the large-scale collusion that would be necessary for the U.S. to deceive others tip the scale towards the standard explanation – that Al-Qaeda did it. In the case of Jesus, the losses that the early followers of Jesus experienced (loss of life in some cases, loss of acceptance from others) and the unlikelihood of hallucinations leading to the experiences that they had tip the scale towards the standard explanation – that Jesus is God.

Whatever we may conclude about these events, it’s incredible that the same principles can be used to evaluate events that happened 2,000 years apart from each other. There is power in looking at the big picture, asking relevant questions, and seeking the best explanation.

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3 Notes about Judging Others

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A couple months ago, I wrote a post about “The Good Way to Judge Others”. This post was a summary of thoughts I had about the concept of judging. By the time I was done with the post, I had cut out a bunch of notes that didn’t support the main idea. However, the pushback that I received on that post all involved those things that I had cut out.

As a result, I thought it would be good to revisit those notes in this post. I know they won’t address all concerns about judging, but I hope that the notes will provide some additional clarity about this complex topic. So here it goes – three separate notes about the topic of judging others:

1. The word “judging” can be used to describe a wide array of actions

Here are just a few possible actions:
– Making some kind of assessment about one aspect of a person’s life
– Assessing someone’s overall moral character based on an action the person took
– Considering someone less valuable that yourself because the person has inferior traits compared to you
– Determining someone’s destiny based on actions the person has taken
– Calling someone’s lifestyle wrong or immoral

It is possible that some of these actions could be labeled something else, like “assessing”. But the array of definitions that could be used shows the need to be specific about what one means when using the word “judging”. For simplicity, I will assume that the use of “judging” involves all of these actions for the rest of this post, unless otherwise specified.

2. People who accuse others of judging may also be judging

When someone makes a statement like “You’re judging me!”, there is usually a moral claim behind the statement – judging is a bad thing to do. The person accuses the other of doing this bad thing.

But the person making this statement is potentially doing this bad thing as well. The person uses the information that is available to make an assessment about what the other person is doing, which is one potential definition of judging. Under this definition, the person who says judging is a bad thing ends up doing that bad thing.

This dilemma can be avoided by being more specific about the action someone is taking towards you, and explaining why it is wrong to take that action.

3. The “Judge not” passage in the Bible does not condemn all judging of others

There a passage in the Bible that says “Judge not, that you be not judged”.

So that’s it. The Bible tells us to not judge others. Case closed, right?

Not exactly. In order to understand if this passage is explaining that we should never judge others, we need to look at the entire line of thought being expressed in the passage. In this case, the line of thought comes from Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5.

Here’s the passage in it’s full context:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

At first, Jesus appears to condemn judging in terms of pointing out the immoral actions of another person. But Jesus then turns the focus away from judging and shifts it to self-evaluation. He indicates that one’s focus should be dealing with personal immorality rather than trying to point out and fix the moral shortcomings of others.

However, the passage does not rule out all moral judgment. It actually points to the proper circumstance to judge. Let’s look again at the last sentence – You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Jesus is saying that addressing your own immorality (the log) is necessary before making a judgment about someone’s moral shortcomings (the speck), and helping the person to address those shortcomings.

This passage does provoke questions like “How do you know when you are able to make a moral judgment about someone?” But the passage is not saying something like “Judging others is never an appropriate thing to do”.

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