Are the New Testament Documents Reliable?

(continued from Was Jesus Christ a Real Person?)

..

The Bible, specifically that portion called the New Testament, is the main source of information about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

For someone honestly seeking to study the life of Christ, then, the question arises: “Are these documents reliable?”

They are supposed to be considered as eyewitness accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus. That means they were supposed to have been written more than 2000 years ago. But scholars agree that there are no extant samples of the original documents, or what are called autographs. The bases for all of the different versions of the Bible in different languages that are available now are what are called manuscripts, or copies of the autographs. How do we know that these manuscripts are faithful transmissions, through 20 centuries, of the original autographs?

[The following discussion is largely based on the excellent books Surprised by Faith by Dr. Don Bierle, and God Said That? So What? by Dr. Harold Sala. The book Surprised by Faith is available from FaithSearch International, while God Said That? So What? has been published in the Philippines and is available in this country through OMF Literature. I have also referred to the website Y-Jesus, which basically uses the same arguments.]

..

Three Important Questions

Scholars involved in the study of ancient manuscripts ask three important questions in ascertaining the integrity of the manuscripts:
1) how many manuscripts have been found?
2) how different are these manuscripts from one another?
3) how early are these manuscripts?

..

How Many?
There is an English saying, “The more the merrier”. In the case of ancient manuscripts, the more the better. This is because the greater the number of manuscripts found, the more samples there will be to compare for variations in content. Also, as Don Bierle says, “Even if there are variant readings, a large number of copies allows comparison and correlation in order to better restore the original text. Furthermore, a large number of manuscripts over the centuries minimizes the possibility that a little band of people created the documents ‘behind closed doors’, so to speak. A large number of copies means broader public exposure and greater accountability to integrity”*.

So, how many New Testament manuscripts have been found? Only about 24,000**.

Compare this with 643 extant manuscripts of Homer’s Iliad, ten of Caesar’s The Gallic Wars, seven for Plato’s Tetralogies, and twenty of Livy’s History of Rome ***.

fs-how-many-manuscripts.jpg
(This chart is copyrighted by FaithSearch International. Used with permission.)

..
..
The bar for the number of New Testament documents (24,000) cannot fit in the chart. The height of the bar would be 34 times the height of the chart shown!

Let me cite the words of Dr. Don Bierle, who used to be an atheist in his college years:

As a youth I knew virtually nothing about manuscript studies. My first exposure, though quite limited, came during college. In my skepticism, I remember thinking that it was probably certain that the New Testament evidence would be quite inferior to that of the writings of the great classical writers such as Plato, Homer, or Aristotle. Later in graduate school I discovered, to my surprise, that the New Testament is vastly superior. Additional study over the years has enhanced my understanding of this academic discipline. …

[After presenting the data, Bierle continues:] British scholar F.F. Bruce concludes from the data, “There is no book of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament.” …

The comparison is not even close. So much for my reasonable certainty that the New Testament would not fare well under scrutiny! When my reading during graduate school exposed me to these facts, I realized that I had been dishonest. I never questioned, or even examined, the accuracy of the ancient texts of other works that I read. But I somehow knew that the New Testament text could not be trusted, and feigned intellectual reasons for my distrust. … Later in my reading, when reading Sir Frederic Kenyon, eminent scholar of textual criticism, I found out that I had not been alone in holding to this double standard:

Scholars are satisfied that they possess substantially the true text of the principal Greek and Roman writers whose works have come down to us, of Sophocles, of Thucydides, of Cicero, of Virgil, yet our knowledge of their writings depends on a mere handful of manuscripts, whereas the manuscripts of the New Testament are counted by hundreds, and even thousands.

****

So—how do these thousands of manuscripts compare with one another? That is the subject of the second important question.
..
..

To be continued…

Related Posts:

Was Jesus Christ a Real Person?

Are the New Testament Documents Reliable? What About the Differences in the Manuscripts?
..
..

* Surprised by Faith, pp. 29-30.
** Ibid., p. 30. The 24,000 includes 5,664 manuscripts in the original Greek language, plus about 18,000 Syriac, Armenian, Latin, etc., plus New Testament text found in ancient lectionaries and hymn books.
*** Ibid.
****Ibid., pp. 30-31.
..
..

..
BlinkAdd to Blinkslistdel.icio.usadd to del.icio.usdigg.itDigg itStumbleUponStumble It! Redd.it Vineseed the vine

Advertisements

25 Responses

  1. Of course there are large numbers of copies of the NT. What else would one expect in a Christian society? But it is the earliest and best manuscripts that count, and we find some very interesting things in them, for example no resurrection appearances at all in the gospel attributed to John.

    Further, we can see by comparing the gospels that they are not eyewitness testimony but consist heavily of what we would today call plagiarism.

    And we should not forget that one reason why we have so few religious documents from ancient times is that the Christians were busy destroying anything that did not agree with them.

    We also have to ask the motivation for altering texts such as a work on Julius Caesar or the Odyssey as compared to the incentive for altering texts that affect Christian religious doctrine — big difference!

  2. Hi Mel!

    Thanks for inviting me to your latest post! 🙂 Very interesting indeed! I’d like to investigate this more myself.

    Thank you so much for sharing this info. I cannot wait for the next edition! 🙂
    You know, there are so many people who look for “proof” in history books or science, but they will never know the truth unless they are willing to accept it when they find it… only God knows the state of their heart and that’s what matters.

    The student in your post fortunately was open to receiving the truth and did, fantastic!

    God bless you.
    nemo

    p.s. im female, not male 😉 i should have chosen a better screen name huh? hehe…

  3. Hi, Nemo.

    Oops! I’m so sorry. Please accept my apologies. Well, the name did throw me off 🙂 . Sorry!

    The student, Dr. Bierle, now has two MA degrees and a PhD. He has been teaching for 30 years now, and was once an academic dean. Brilliant man.

    Thanks very much for your visit. Please drop by again, and please bring some friends along 🙂 . You’re all welcome!

    By the way, your site says you live in Italy. Beautiful country! My brother has been staying in Firenze (Florence) for more than 10 years now. My wife and I got a chance to visit him in 2004, and aside from Florence he also took us to Venice and Rome (and to see the Tower of Pisa 🙂 ). He boasts that, of all the countries in Europe, Italy has the most number of artworks per square kilometer. I think he’s right.

    God bless you!

    Mel

  4. Hi, hokku.

    You said:

    Of course there are large numbers of copies of the NT. What else would one expect in a Christian society? But it is the earliest and best manuscripts that count,

    “Christian society”? I doubt that Western society during the first century or so immediately following the crucifixion of Jesus Christ could be classified as such. It was during this time that the earliest manuscripts could be dated (that would be the subject of the third important question—”How early were the manusripts written?”)—what you call “earliest and best”. And it was during this time that Christians suffered intense persecution, were crucified, thrown to the lions, burned, sawn in two, beheaded, etc.

    First you said:

    Further, we can see by comparing the gospels that they are not eyewitness testimony but consist heavily of what we would today call plagiarism.

    Then later in the same comment:

    We also have to ask the motivation for altering texts such as a work on Julius Caesar or the Odyssey as compared to the incentive for altering texts that affect Christian religious doctrine — big difference!

    I remember that, in your previous comment, you said that one problem with the Gospels is that they had “substantial discrepancies” from each other. So, what’s your stand, really? Were they plagiarizing or were they altering? Were they too different or were they too similar?

    and we find some very interesting things in them, for example no resurrection appearances at all in the gospel attributed to John.

    ??? Your comment itself is very interesting. Have you actually read the last TWO CHAPTERS of “the gospel attributed to John”?

    All Christians, skeptics, agnostics, and atheists are welcome to join in the discussions here. All I have asked before was courtesy and refraining from personal attacks.

    Now it seems that I also have to ask for honest skepticism. I’m sorry if I’m being too blunt. I had hoped that this would be obviously necessary and would not have to be explicitly stated.

    As Anthony Flew, former atheist, would advise, “Follow the evidence wherever it leads.”

  5. ” for example no resurrection appearances at all in the gospel attributed to John.”

    That is obviously just the result of typing in a hurry. It should have read “in the gospel attributed to Mark.”

    I do however agree completely with following the evidence wherever it leads. I just thing some people do not follow it long enough or thoroughly enough, but get distracted by personal psychology and emotion.

    As for manuscript evidence, the earliest evidence is extremely scanty. The earliest fragment is dated by scholars to the early 2nd century. The bulk of NT manuscript evidence comes later, particularly growing from the Constantinian era onward.

    So I suggest you do follow the evidence, but first make sure that it is evidence and not just fantasy based on wishful thinking, then examine all of it and follow it to its end. Enough said.

  6. ” for example no resurrection appearances at all in the gospel attributed to John.”

    That is obviously just the result of typing in a hurry. It should have read “in the gospel attributed to Mark.”

    Have you read the last chapter of Mark?

    As for manuscript evidence, the earliest evidence is extremely scanty. The earliest fragment is dated by scholars to the early 2nd century. The bulk of NT manuscript evidence comes later, particularly growing from the Constantinian era onward.

    That is the subject of the third important question—“How early”? Coming soon 😉

    So I suggest you do follow the evidence, but first make sure that it is evidence and not just fantasy based on wishful thinking, then examine all of it and follow it to its end.

    That’s exactly what I meant by honest skepticism. I’m glad that you say you agree.

  7. You wrote:
    “Have you read the last chapter of Mark?”

    That is an interesting question, because in the manuscripts there are at least four different endings to Mark, none of them original. The earliest and best manuscripts of Mark end with the women running from the tomb in fear and saying nothing to anyone. No post-resurrection stories are found in it.

  8. That is an interesting question, because in the manuscripts there are at least four different endings to Mark, none of them original.

    None? Really? The consensus of most Biblical scholars is that verses 1-8 constitute the ending of the original Gospel. They are included in the best manuscripts.

    No post-resurrection stories are found in it.

    Have you (actually) read the last chapter of Mark? Have you read verses 1-8? If so, why do you say that it is not a post-resurrection story?

  9. You wrote:
    “The consensus of most Biblical scholars is that verses 1-8 constitute the ending of the original Gospel. They are included in the best manuscripts.”

    Correct. What follows verse 16:8 is addition.

    You wrote:
    “Have you (actually) read the last chapter of Mark? Have you read verses 1-8? If so, why do you say that it is not a post-resurrection story?”

    What I mean by a post-resurrection story or narrative is an account of an appearance of a resurrected Jesus. That is what we find in Matthew and Luke (both of which use Mark’s basic framework but tack on birth and resurrection narratives, with lots of other revisions), and that is what we find in John as well.

    The significant thing about Mark is that it gives us a very different tale. Instead of carrying word of resurrection to the “brethren,” the women run in fear from a tomb found empty, where they meet a strange young man who tells them Jesus is risen and will meet them in Galilee. But Mark gives no post resurrection appearnce account.

    Now if we compare all four accounts, that in Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, and we look at them line by line to see what is said and done and seen and when and who says it or does it or sees it, we find them quite incompatible. One tradition has Jesus appearing only in Galilee. Another has appearances only in the Jerusalem vicinity. And if we add to these the brief resurrection appearance narratives in Acts and in 1 Corinthians, the discrepancies only deepen. They are not historical accounts, but “religious” fiction, as we see from the discrepancies and the manner of composition.

    I invite you to write and post a single narrative of what happened from the time of the burial of Jesus to the ascension, including every detail of the six narratives, omitting nothing, and having it in chronological, sensible order. Just doing that exercise demonstrates how fallible the stories are.

    Then we can discuss the result.

  10. Hi, hokku.

    I will address this concern in a later post, so I hope you don’t mind that I don’t give you a direct response right now via comment.

    It’s not just because I want to keep you guys coming back to this blog (which I do 🙂 ), but a post gets read more than a comment, so more people will (hopefully) read that and (hopefully, again 🙂 ) post more comments.

    For now, though, let me say that the next post in the series will be about differences in the manuscripts of the individual documents—this is the concern of the second important question in evaluating manuscript evidence. This is different from evaluating differences between different Gospels, which is your concern. BUt I’ll see if I can also include that in the next post so that we can get to it immediately. Depends on space and time constraints.

    Right now I can only afford to sneak in short posts and short comments like this. I’m caught up with other things, the biggest of which is the Christmas service message which I’ll be delivering at our church on the 23rd. I’m already preparing for that. But we’ll see if I can have some time before this weekend to write the post on the differences between manuscripts.

    Stay tuned 🙂 !

  11. You wrote:
    “For now, though, let me say that the next post in the series will be about differences in the manuscripts of the individual documents—this is the concern of the second important question in evaluating manuscript evidence. This is different from evaluating differences between different Gospels, which is your concern.”

    I hope you do not fall into the usual trap of minimizing the differences in manuscripts. While it is true that many variants fall simply into the category of the scribal equivalent of “typos,” some are definite and intended variants and have significant effect on consequent doctrinal understanding.

    These differences also show, as do the differences between the Synoptic gospels, that there was an ongoing process of editing and revision to suit scribal intent from very earliest times.

  12. @hukko, If every gospel account was in perfect detailed agreement would we not be suspicious & distrust them?

    Also, if Seutonius, Tacitus & Cassius proffer different accounts of what Nero was doing during the Great Fire of Rome, do we disregard their writings as fiction?

  13. Sam wrote:
    ” If every gospel account was in perfect detailed agreement would we not be suspicious & distrust them?”

    Only if there were evidence of plagiarism. Other than that, we would see from agreement that they were telling the same story, which could then be judges on its own merits. In the biblical accounts, however, there is great discrepancy and different stories. If people offer DIFFERENT accounts of details of an event, we know that not all accounts can be accurate in detail.

    Again I ask you to read the six accounts of resurrection — the gospels and the accounts in Acts and 1 Corinthians, then make them all into a single story, omittng no detail and presenting events in chronological order. That makes obvious how completely unreliable the gospel accounts are.

  14. @hokku: Thanks for the response. You say “[the gospel accounts are] completely unreliable”.

    I think you are disagreeing with the consensus of scholars & ancient historians when you make this claim. There is a great deal of published work establishing the historicity and reliability of the gospel accounts. Note that being historical and reliable does *not* mean perfectly correct in every minute detail.

    I’d like to suggest the crux of your objection is that standards you’re trying to judge the gospel accounts by are unreasonable, at odds with those used by secular historians, and furthermore at odds with those used by our secular courts of law when assessing eyewitness testimonies.

    In 1874 Harvard Law professor and attorney Simon Greenleaf published The Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administrated in Courts of Justice. Regarding the resurrection accounts, he wrote:

    “The character of their narratives is like that of all other true witnesses, containing — as Dr. [William] Paley observes — substantial truth, under circumstantial variety. There is enough of discrepancy to show that there could have been no previous concert among them; and at the same time such substantial agreement as to show that they all were independent narrators of the same great transaction, as the events actually occurred.”
    http://www.tektonics.org/harmonize/greenharmony.htm

    Some further quotes from him and others:

    I know not a more rash or unphilosophical conduct of the understanding, than to reject the substance of a story by reason of some diversity in the circumstances with which it is related. The usual character of human testimony is substantial truth under circumstantial variety. This is what the daily experience of courts of justice teaches. When accounts of a transaction come from the mouths of different witnesses, it is seldom that it is not possible to pick out apparent or real inconsistencies between them. These inconsistencies are studiously displayed by an adverse pleader, but oftentimes with little impression upon the minds of the judges. On the contrary, a close and minute agreement induces the suspicion of confederacy and fraud. When written histories touch upon the same scenes of action; the comparison almost always affords ground for a like reflection. Numerous, and sometimes important, variations present themselves; not seldom, also, absolute and final contradictions; yet neither one nor the other are deemed sufficient to shake the credibility of the main fact.
    http://www.tektonics.org/harmonize/greenharmony.htm#two

    The discrepancies between the narratives of the several evangelists, when carefully examined, will not be found sufficient to invalidate their testimony. Many seeming contradictions will prove, upon closer scrutiny, to be in substantial agreement; and it may be confidently asserted that there are none that will not yield, under fair and just criticism. If these different accounts of the same transactions were in strict verbal conformity with each other, the argument against their credibility would be much stronger. All that is asked for these witnesses is, that their testimony may be regarded as we regard the testimony of men in the ordinary affairs of life. This they are justly entitled to; and this no honorable adversary can refuse. We might, indeed, take higher ground than this, and confidently claim for them the severest scrutiny; but our present purpose is merely to try their veracity by the ordinary tests of truth, admitted in human tribunals.
    […]
    If the evidence of the evangelists is to be rejected because of a few discrepancies among them, we shall be obliged to discard that of many of the contemporaneous histories on which we are accustomed to rely.
    http://www.tektonics.org/harmonize/greenharmony.htm#one

    Also see: Acceptable in a Court of Law: The Eyewitness Testimony of the Evangelists, http://www.tektonics.org/guest/truthfulness.htm#app1

  15. You wrote:
    “If the evidence of the evangelists is to be rejected because of a few discrepancies among them, we shall be obliged to discard that of many of the contemporaneous histories on which we are accustomed to rely.”

    a FEW discrepancies? Apparently you have never compared them line by line. And one should always be wary of versions of history, which are, in any case, not considered by historians to be infallible or divinely inspired — just fallible human documents, as are the books of the NT.

    It takes only reading the Bible with a careful and examining eye to find that it is the best witness against its own reliability.

  16. That was a quote, from the link below it.

    I’m not making any arguments for infallibility or divine inspiration right now.

    Can I suggest you engage with the point I’ve tried to make about standards? I think it still stands.

  17. Sam wrote:
    “Can I suggest you engage with the point I’ve tried to make about standards? I think it still stands.”

    No, it does not. If we apply even the most basic standards of evidence to the resurrection narratives, for example, they fail. Imagine a court case in which the incident under discussion is a bank robbery. One witness says the robbery took place in San Francisco. Another witness says the robbery took place over a hundred miles away, in Monterey. As there is no other evidence for a robbery, the judge would be justified in considering those involved less than sane.

    How does this apply to the Bible? Matthew says the post-resurrection appearance “to the brethren” took place in Galilee. Luke, however, has post-resurrection appearances only in the vicinity of Jerusalem, which is far from Galilee.

    We find the same kind of incompatible discrepancy in the birth narratives. One gospel has a flight to Egypt, the other a relatively short trip to Jerusalem for post-birth ritual and back.

    Such things again, cannot even meet basic standards of evidence.

  18. Hi, hokku.

    If two reports are referring to the same incident which occurred at the same point in time, but reporting it as occurring in two different places, then of course either one or both are incorrect. That is the case with your hypothetical example of the bank robbery—same bank robbery (only one specific incident) reported as occurring in two different places.

    However, this is not the case with the examples from the Gospel narratives which you cite.

    The resurrection appearances, for example, were a series of appearances (not just one appearance) which occurred over a period of more than a month. It is not unreasonable to suppose that during that time the resurrected Christ appeared to his followers who were in Galilee, in Jerusalem, on the road to Emmaus, at Bethany, etc.

    I will be working on the combined records of post-resurrection appearances as they are recorded in the Gospels, Acts, and 1 Corinthians, as you asked me to. However, I will get to that after the holiday festivities, probably next week. But I’ll do it, don’t worry. I want you to keep coming back 🙂 .

    At this point, however, I would like to address a point which you had made earlier about a “problem” with the Gospel of Mark: that verses 1-8, which are the verses common in all manuscripts, do not record a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus himself. That is true. But the passage does say that Jesus Christ, who was crucified and had died, has risen. See especially verse 6.

    It would be wrong to claim that the four Gospel records are unreliable or even false because three of them record appearances by Jesus himself to his disciples, while verses 1-8 of Mark do not—when these verses are about nothing else but the resurrection of Christ. Mark may not cite a specific appearance by Christ himself, and Matthew, Luke and John may record different and separate occasions during which Christ appeared to his followers, but all agree that Jesus Christ had risen.

    To claim an error in such a case would be analogous to a situation where there are four news reports of a president’s (any country’s) state visit to another country (again, any other country) in which the following are true: News report A cites the president’s visit to a specific place in that country, news report B cites a meeting with a specific businessmen’s group, report C tells of a meeting with a different group of people, while report D simply says that the president went to that country but ends its report there and does not give any further details on what the president did while in that country. On this basis, would you then say that the news reports are unreliable and that the president probably did not make that state visit?

    Now about the reports of the flight to Egypt and the visit to the Jerusalem Temple. Again, these two events occurred during different times, and there is no discrepancy.

    The flight to Egypt occurred after the visit of the magi (Greek magoi), to escape the treacherous Herod. The account says that the magi found “the child” in “the house”. Scholars agree that this must have been some weeks or even months after the actual birth, because of three factors: (1) Jesus was already referred to as “child” (paidion); (2) the family was staying in a house (oikia), not in the stable or in an inn anymore; and (3) Herod made allowance for the possibility that the child was already two years old, based on what the magi said was the time when the star first appeared to them.

    The tradition, where the magi are portrayed along with the shepherds as kneeling before the infant in a stable (in Christmas cards, along with some animals) is wrong. The visit of the shepherds to the manger, as recorded in Luke, is completely separate from the visit of the magi, which occurred much later, and which is recorded in Matthew. Again, simply based on this difference, we cannot say that one or both accounts are unreliable, because they are records of two separate events. What can be said for certain is that the traditional depiction in Christmas cards and Christmas plays is the one that is wrong, but not the biblical accounts.

    Matthew and Luke were recording different accounts which occurred at separate times—Matthew reported the later visit of the magi and escape to Egypt but not the earlier visit of the shepherds, while Luke reported the earlier visit of the shepherds and the presentation at the Temple but not the later visit of the magi and escape to Egypt.

    The visit to the temple in Jerusalem occurred soon after the birth, in line with Mosaic regulations, while the visit of the magi occurred when the family was already settled in a house (after which the family fled to Egypt for some time),

    To summarize the sequence of the events we are citing: Christ was born–>the shepherds visit Jesus in a manger (Luke)–>after the time of Mary’s purification, Jesus is presented at the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke)–>after some more time, the magi come to visit Jesus in a house (Matthew)–>Joseph is warned in a dream to flee to Egypt (Matthew).

  19. You wrote:
    “To summarize the sequence of the events we are citing: Christ was born–>the shepherds visit Jesus in a manger (Luke)–>after the time of Mary’s purification, Jesus is presented at the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke)–>after some more time, the magi come to visit Jesus in a house (Matthew)–>Joseph is warned in a dream to flee to Egypt (Matthew).”

    The problem, of course, is that you are simply jumbling together events from two different stories without regard for context.

    According to Luke, not long after the birth, Jesus is taken to Jerusalem for ritual, after which “they returned to Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.” Of course earlier Luke has stated that the family had only come to Bethlehem because of a tax census.

    According to Matthew, however, the family appears to live in a house in Bethlehem. There is no mention at all of Nazareth until later, when, after a flight to Egypt and the death of Herod, the family does not return to live in Judea (Bethlehem), but deliberately avoids it and comes to live (for the first time) in Nazareth, so, Matthew tells us, a prophecy might be fulfilled that Jesus should be called a “Nazoraios.”

    In short, context precludes your attempted harmonization of the two very discrepant accounts.

  20. The magi’s visit to Jesus and the family in Matt. 2:1-12 was some time after the purification ceremonies recorded in Luke 2:21-40. As the following verse, Luke 2:41 says, it was the custom of the family to go to Jerusalem every year. During one of those early years (probably the first year after the birth of Jesus), the family was in Bethlehem for a feast. It’s quite likely that it was then that the magi came to visit them.

    A more detailed discussion of seeming contradictions in the birth narratives of Jesus in the Gospels can be found at http://www.tektonics.org/af/birthnarr.html.

    Note: Both Joseph and Mary were of the “house of David”. As such, it is likely that one, or even both, of them, had relatives in Bethlehem with whom they stayed during the times when they had to visit Jerusalem, such as for the annual feasts and for special occasions like the census (during which trip Mary gave birth to Jesus).

  21. Melcartera wrote:
    “The magi’s visit to Jesus and the family in Matt. 2:1-12 was some time after the purification ceremonies recorded in Luke 2:21-40. ”

    That is sheer fantasy on your part. Luke tells us that after the purification “they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.”

    However Matthew coordinates the arrival of the Magi with the residence of Joseph and Mary IN BETHLEHEM!
    It is only after the departure of the Magi that Joseph and Mary LEAVE BETHLEHEM for Egypt. And then, of course, when they are returning after the death of Herod, THEY WERE AFRAID TO RETURN TO JUDEA (where their “home town” Bethlehem is), because Archelaus had taken Herod’s place in Judea — so “being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee, and he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth.”

    In other words, according to Matthew Joseph and Mary were not residents of Nazareth until AFTER THE FLIGHT TO EGYPT. Prior to that they live in a house (1:11) IN BETHLEHEM.

    So your attempted harmonization makes no sense at all, and that is not surprising considering that you apparently have some reliance on the very poor and irrational “Tektonics” site. If you would just read what the Gospels of Matthew and Luke say, without looking at them through a “Tektonics” glass darkly, you would see that they are clearly two quite different stories with quite different but significant elements that are not shared in common. This is not surprising, because both rely on the structural framework of Mark, and Mark has no birth narrative. That is why Matthew and Luke each had to come up with one on their own, and that is why Matthew and Luke have quite different stories, with very little in common except the names of Joseph and Mary and the (likely derived from supposed prophecy) use of Bethlehem, but in quite different ways.

  22. Man, you are one angry and hostile guy! Where’s all that hostility coming from? You use emotionally-colored words like “jumble” and “fantasy”, and you even taunted me in another post about seeing only blank spaces where video placemarkers should have been (which I actually doubt, but to be courteous I assumed in my response that you were telling the truth), and then said that that’s exactly what the case for Christmas is. I have tried my best to be courteous to you, and I will continue to do so, but I wonder—why are you so angry? Or is it part of your tactic to provoke the other side so that the argument turns into personal namecalling and labeling, instead of focusing on the points?

    Before I respond to your points, let me clarify that I am not, as you say, looking at the Gospels through a Tektonics glass darkly (and, in suggesting this, you couldn’t help but throw around the words “very poor and irrational”, which is quite unfair, because that site’s author doesn’t visit this site and can’t defend himself). I have had my own training in Biblical exegesis and translation, as you can see from my “About Blog and Blogger” page. It’s just that I know the Tektonics site is much more “dedicated” to answering questions about apparent inconsistencies in the Bible, much more than my site is, which is more general (as I put it in “About This Blog”, this site is about “Questions, challenges, thoughts (random, organized, otherwise) on society, God, Jesus, life, sex, religion, politics, Christianity, education, food, cellphones, computers, movies, books, videos, business, etc. etc. etc.”). I also know that that site is much more visited than this one. So I thought that if you had any further questions, you might find that it has already been raised by others and discussed there. I didn’t want to steal his thunder, and his traffic 🙂 . But since you have so blithely disparaged his site as “very poor and irrational”, I guess the only fair thing for me to do would be to invite any one who reads this to go visit that site and see for yourself if indeed the author is “very poor and irrational”. So there, he gets traffic, anyway 🙂 . Guys, I hope you will come back to this site and not decide to stay there, OK?

    Now back to the points under discussion. Each Gospel writer, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, had their own purposes for writing their respective accounts. They had their own intended audiences, to whom they wanted to convey targeted messages.

    Who were Matthew’s and Luke’s intended audiences? Briefly, Matthew was probably writing for a Jewish audience, in order to present the case that Jesus, whom the authorities had rejected and incited Pilate to crucify, was in fact the Messiah that had been promised in the Old Testament. This was why, more than the other three, he cited OT passages as being fulfilled in the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ. In fact, in just the account of the Magi’s visit and the escape to Egypt, Matthew cites four prophechies as being fulfilled.

    Luke, on the other hand, was probably writing for a Gentile audience (the intended recipient of his Gospel and of Acts was Theophilus, most probably a non-Jew, judging from his name). He was also very compassionate and concerned about the poor and the marginalized. This was probably why he chose to emphasize that the King of kings and Lord of lords was born in a very humble manner, even laid in a feeding trough. Also, Luke’s account highlights that the first recipients of the Good News of Jesus’ birth were shepherds, who did not have exalted status in society, instead of political or religious bigwigs.

    So each writer had his own message for his own target audience. We have to respect that, and not insist that they should have written their accounts according to our own standards. Matthew had his reasons for emphasizing the visit of the Magi and not narrating the visit of the shepherds, while Luke had his own reasons for recounting the visit of the shepherds and not narrating the visit of the Magi.

    As United Bible Societies Translation Consultant Dr. Daniel Arichea put it, “Viewing it from a strict historical point of view, Luke’s story deals with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the purification of the parents and the circumcision of the baby, and then complete silence until Jesus is 12 years old”, with just the short note in v. 42 that the family regularly came to Jerusalem for the yearly feasts.

    That is sheer fantasy on your part. Luke tells us that after the purification “they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.”

    Who’s fantasizing? My proposal did account for this. From Jerusalem, after the purification, the family returned to Nazareth, where they stay for about a year. The next year they return to Jerusalem for the annual feast. And it was during that return, from Nazareth to Bethlehem, for the feast in Jerusalem, that the magi came. Please read my proposal again.

    However Matthew coordinates the arrival of the Magi with the residence of Joseph and Mary IN BETHLEHEM!

    You don’t have to shout, specially since what you’re saying is exactly what my proposal is also saying. The family did go back to Bethlehem when they went back for the feast in Jerusalem. The Matthew account in chapter 2 does not necessarily imply that their residence was in Bethlehem. Matthew only says that the magi found Jesus with his mother in a house in Bethlehem. This does not preclude the probability that they were staying there only temporarily, for the feast in Jerusalem, which again would be full of visitors as always happens during feast days.

    It is only after the departure of the Magi that Joseph and Mary LEAVE BETHLEHEM for Egypt. And then, of course, when they are returning after the death of Herod, THEY WERE AFRAID TO RETURN TO JUDEA (where their “home town” Bethlehem is), because Archelaus had taken Herod’s place in Judea — so “being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee, and he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth.”

    In other words, according to Matthew Joseph and Mary were not residents of Nazareth until AFTER THE FLIGHT TO EGYPT. Prior to that they live in a house (1:11) IN BETHLEHEM.

    The account only says that the magi found them in a house in Bethlehem (2:11, not 1:11), not that they were residents in Bethlehem. The magi found them there because they were there for the annual feast in Jerusalem. Also, the account only says that after the stay in Egypt they were afraid to return to Judea, not that their hometown is there.

    There is nothing in the language to suggest that they have never lived in Nazareth before. As Dr. Craig Blomberg says: “Matthew, however, in composing his narrative around the five main prophecies fulfilled by Christ’s conception and just after his birth, has to narrate his story in a way that will make sense to his readers who don’t necessarily know Luke’s account, and so it can sound as if Mary and Joseph are going to Nazareth for the first time, but, again, nothing in the language actually requires that.”

    Dr. Blomberg also notes that is not surprising at all that the family would seriously consider settling in Bethlehem rather than going back to Nazareth after their stay in Egypt. They would have been under incredible pressure in Nazareth because of the mysterious circumstances of the birth of Mary’s child. As he says, considering “the probable ostracism and stigmatism to this family involved in so irregular a birth (from the viewpoint of those who didn’t accept Mary’s version of events), it would have been natural for them to want to move to a new place altogether, and if they had relatives in the ancestral town of Bethlehem that would have been the natural choice.”

    Dr. Ben Witherington agrees. As he says, if the family waited out Herod for a long enough period of time, it is likely that they had also given up their residence in Nazareth. Couple that with the social pressure there, contrasted with family relations in Bethlehem, and it would be natural for them to prefer the latter. But then of course Archelaus was the ruler in Judea.

    So to present my earlier proposal in another format, this time with the locations indicated so as to prevent misunderstandings:
    (a) Joseph and Mary are originally from Nazareth (Luke)–>
    (b) Christ was born in Bethlehem (Matthew and Luke agree)–>
    (c) the shepherds visit Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem (Luke)–>
    (d) after the time of Mary’s purification, 40 days after Jesus’s birth, Jesus is presented at the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke)–>
    (e) after which the family returns to Nazareth (Luke 2:39)–>
    (f) but, it is the custom of the family to go to Jerusalem for the yearly feasts (Luke 2:41), and it was during one of those visits that the magi come to visit Jesus in a house in Bethlehem, probably in the first or second year after Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:1-12)–>
    (g) after the Magi’s visit, while still in Bethlehem, Joseph is warned in a dream to flee to Egypt (Matthew)–>
    (h) from Bethlehem, they flee to Egypt where they stay until Herod’s death (Matthew), which is at least 1 year later–>
    (i) After some time in Egypt, they are told that those who seek the child’s life are dead and they could return to Israel (Matthew)–>
    (j) Joseph initially wants to return to Judea, probably specifically in Bethlehem where he or Mary or both have family relations, but Archelaus is the ruler there, so they go and live instead in Nazareth (Matthew).

  23. Note how many suppositions and things not stated in the text your mixed attempt at harmony requires! It is far more logical to just read the divergent accounts as they stand, without adding all kinds of fantasies unsupported by the text to them. But to do that, one has to drop one’s preconceptions.

  24. The only event unstated in the texts is the return to Bethlehem the year after the birth, circumcision, and purification. And the possible ostracism and social pressure arising from the mysterious pregnancy, which caused the couple to prefer Bethlehem to Nazareth. These are both quite logical and plausible and not “fantasies”, as you imagine them. All the rest of the events in the proposal are in the texts of Matthew and Luke.

    But to do that, one has to drop one’s preconceptions

    Every reader approaches every text with his or her own preconceptions or presuppositions. These are influenced by his background and by his attitude towards the text.

    One preconception is that the author had a particular audience and motive for writing. Also, the author was necessarily influenced and limited by the literary conventions of his time. Thus giving due respect to authors who present themselves as writing about the same subject’s life, the reader does not assume that two or more authors would necessarily include the same events in the same subject’s life in their respective accounts. Rather, if the reader is faced with accounts of different events as recorded by different authors, he or she will try to see if the events can be accepted as both occurring in the subject’s life. This we are willing to do with modern biographies, and we should also be willing to do with ancient biographies—and perhaps with even more leeway, since the ancient writers, as already mentioned, would be writing using quite different conventions than we are used to.

    An alternative preconception is to suppose that all literature should conform to modern conventions, or to the conventions which the reader is used to, even in terms of exactness of chronology and volume of details. For example, ancient biographies written in a different culture are expected to conform to conventions of modern biographies written by Western authors. This allows very little respect for authorial intent and audience, and for differences in literary conventions across time and culture.

    I would rather drop the second preconception than the first.

  25. Thanks for the informative information – I enjoyed reading it! I always enjoy this blog. 🙂 Cheers, woman giving birth videos

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: