Mythbusters Bible Questions Part 2
This is the second part of a post responding to questions that came during and after the third installment of our mythbusters series on the Bible. See the first part here.
10. How do you coincide John’s 3 year missions of Jesus with the synoptics 1 year teachings?
The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are somewhat silent on the length of Jesus’ ministry. Luke suggests an approximate start date (3:1, 23) but not an end date. Therefore they can be read compatibly with the three year period that John’s slightly later gospel suggests. John mentions three Passover festivals in his writings (2:13; 6:4 and 12:1) and it seems likely that a significant amount of time had taken place prior to John 2:13 in which there was a fourth unmentioned Passover festival. Jesus had already been baptised, tested in the wilderness for 40 days, preached in towns and villages, selected His first followers, performed the miracle at Cana in Galilee and then traveled to Capernaum. That’s a period of several months, so we’re talking about a 3 year ministry.
Ah, you say, but why don’t the synoptic gospels mention these festivals? As I mentioned in my previous post, the gospel writers were entitled to include the material that best served their purpose and the people they were writing to, and so I don’t see a contradiction here.
11. Why does God seem to be differently portrayed in the Old and New Testament?
This seems to be a question rooted in a misunderstanding about the character of God, suggesting that hard to understand acts of violence in the Old Testament are difficult to reconcile with a meek and mild Jesus, or God, in the New Testament. The Bible, however, teaches that God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8) so how do we make sense of this?
Well, it helps to know that there’s actually a lot of grace, love and mercy in the Old Testament. For starters, God is merciful in postponing the immediate death sentence mankind deserved post the fall in Genesis 3. Moreover, the book of Jonah teaches that God is more merciful than we are! Most Christians know Jonah as the reluctant prophet who was swallowed by a big fish in order for God to convince him to go to Nineveh. God pointed out (at the end of the book) that Jonah’s priorities were completely messed up, since he was more concerned about a plant that gave him shade than the fate of 120,000 souls in Nineveh. God says to Jonah “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” The Ninevites were an immoral, blood thirsty people, yet God had mercy on them, despite Jonah’s protests!
It’s also worth knowing that there’s judgement in the New Testament, not least the wrath of God meted out on Jesus at the cross (John 3:36). Jesus said “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49 (RSV)) In Acts 5 Ananias and Sapphira are struck dead for their dishonesty. And have you read Revelation? It tells us that a third of mankind will be killed in three plagues of fire, smoke and sulphur (9:18)?
I would argue therefore that God is consistent in character throughout Scripture. There is a progressive revelation of God, particularly in the person of Jesus Christ throughout Scripture but he’s still the same God.
That may still leave some questions unanswered for you, like, how can you explain or justify some of these horrible things that happen? I’ll try to get to that in another blog post in the next few weeks. But in short the cross is the answer, whenever God acts in judgement, His love and mercy are also present. God is just to punish sin and evil but He is also loving for He is punishing His one and only Son, the second person of the Trinity, and indeed, therefore Himself (John 3:16).
12. What are your thoughts on the q-source theory?
The Quelle (Q) or Source theory is exactly that – a theory. It’s said to be a collection of the sayings of Jesus without narrative explanation, upon which the gospel writers relied and hence why they contain so many uniform and consistent sayings of Jesus. Unfortunately, apart from the gospels themselves, there is no other manuscript evidence for Q’s existence. Another way of explaining why there is so much similarity in the gospels as to what Jesus said is that it testifies to the accuracy of the eye-witness accounts. However, if it does exist, it would narrow the time gap even further increasing the reliability yet more of the New Testament.
13. Could the popular names [for first century people in Palestine] not have been gathered from a census at the time?
Yes, in theory I suppose it’s possible. But then as my old law professor used to say ‘everything is possible, it’s what’s probable, that’s the issue’. There is evidence that censuses were undertaken, and one in particular around the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-7). Second century church historian Tertullian, however, in his book “Against Marcion”, mentions Jesus’s “enrolment in the census of Augustus— that most faithful witness of the Lord’s nativity, kept in the archives of Rome”. This suggests that census material would be very difficult to get hold of for a humble Christian and former Jew, part of an increasingly persecuted community. Any census results would not have been readily available for such people to browse and analyse in a thorough way for centuries, and who would have the significant amount of time it would take to give priority to this, in such a day and age without the technological assistance we have, so that they could fabricate a gospel (centuries later) (which I presume might be the implication of the question) that would appear to be more accurate to later readers, following the work of Tal Ilan in 2002 ,when the popular names in first century Palestine could be cross-referenced with the popular names in the Gospels and Acts for the first time.
14. How do you explain the stories that are present in later manuscripts but not earlier ones? (can’t think of any specifics)
Along the same lines of how we explained the ending of Mark’s gospel in the previous blog.
15. Couldn’t the eyewitnesses have been mistaken about miracles etc…? Isn’t there a more straight forward explanation?
We have to be careful here not to be chronological snobs and presume that the people who lived around the time of Jesus were foolish and gullible. They were probably just as switched on as you or I.
Miracles were not common events to them and would have been hard to accept. Accordingly, the reaction we see to miracles in the New Testament is one of awe and amazement, even fear. The people involved in them were often down to earth types like fisherman, men who do not easily let their imaginations run away with them. They are described as happening in realistic not mythical or fantastical Harry Potter like ways. It’s also hard to be mistaken about things like a storm being calmed on Jesus’s command, walking on water, healing people again and again, feeding thousands of people with so little, and so on. Either they did or didn’t happen, and the New Testament body of evidence strongly suggests they did.
If I may ask, why are you looking for a more ‘straight forward explanation’? Couldn’t the straight forward explanation be that these are simply what they’re described to be; miracles? Many people today are biased against miracles from the outset but if God exists, miracles are likely events, and so they are in effect presupposing that God doesn’t exist to presume miracles aren’t possible; their quest to determine whether the Christian God does or doesn’t exist is biased from the outset. And to be absolutely sure that miracles don’t occur you’d have to claim absolute knowledge, which is in effect a claim to be God (which I don’t think a typical anti-supernaturalist would want to make).
16. Is the copy of Luke’s gospel that we have today the same as the original copy?
To a very high degree of accuracy, yes, I believe so. The general principles for this have already been set out in the talk and previous blog. In terms of Luke’s gospel itself, the earliest fragmentary copy we have is p75 which is dated to 175-225 AD the number goes up dramatically from then, and in different languages as the gospel spread geographically. Collectively, and together with the other gospels (particularly Mark which Luke clearly referred to) they can be examined to determine what the original said, as per the other gospels.
17. What does the Bible have to say to me personally?
To a non-Christians the Bible speaks faith. Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” However, a person can only truly understand the Bible by the Spirit of God, which comes from making a conscious decision to follow Jesus, no matter how many qualification or degrees in theology they may have. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says: “The man without the Spirit [which searches the deep things of God] does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The Holy Spirit opens up the wisdom of the Scriptures, an unprecedented amount of personal, pastoral and practical topics, from marriage to what love really is and looks like. It really does speak to all of life, as well as being an extraordinary love letter from God to the human heart.
The key message of the Bible Romans 10 refers to is the gospel. God in the person of Jesus died to rescue you from all the rubbish you’ve said thought and done, and all the good things you should have done but never did, and the pollution, penalty and partition with God and others these cause. This gospel changes a person’s heart, as they understand the burning heart of God revealed in the agony of the cross, suffering what you deserve that you might go free, and thereby be ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. It cost Him everything that it would cost you nothing.
If you want to find out more read the Bible or visit a local church, you’re welcome to come to ours!