Friday, April 1, 2016
What it is not vs what it is. . .
These have varied between the moderate extreme of suggesting that some books are not authored by who claim to have written them (half the Pauline corpus, for example, is not by Paul) and the radical in which few words of Jesus are judged authentic and the New Testament is slimmed down from book to mere pamphlet. In nearly every case the things that survive are inevitably moral, not doctrinal.
So much of academia has worked to say what the New Testament is not that even people in the pew who have never heard of source hypothosis theories or computer reviews of the linguistic, vocabulary, and stylistic clues still are somewhat uncertain about the veracity of the New Testament. The scoffers and skeptics have won the battle for the moment and placed a goodly amount of fear in the minds and hearts of people. What do we REALLY know about Christ and the faith that bears His name? Ah, yes... except for the fact that spending all our capital on what it is not, forgets what it is and what it claims to be and what the earliest of Christian history attests.
It appears that even hardened hearts are being softened. Now it seems that some of those so sure that Paul did not write what he claimed now wonder if, indeed, he did write at least some of it. But let us now be drawn into the video game culture of New Testament criticism. It was always more about the pursuit than the end result, more about playing with presumptions than finding objective answers, and more about the game than the reality of it all.
What we know for certain is that the New Testament was pretty much nailed down within a hundred years after Christ. Sure, there were some books less widely known and read than others but there is no conspiracy here. The facts are right out there in the open -- in the critical apparatus of any Nestle text and in every volume of Christian history. What we know is far more than what we do not know. Even unfriendly authors of history attest to the basic claims of Christianity. The liturgical shape of the faith developed a permanent heritage and legacy of texts and truth. The early Christians were far more confident of what they read than most NT scholars today.
It is fool's fancy to play around with the text as if it is some sinister scandal or lewd story of power, politics, and prurient interest. The immense details of the NT and the fact that the earliest texts were surrounded by people who walked and talked with Jesus and who could have complained if a hoax or lie were being perpetrated in His name. Christian history seems like it is an endless archaeological dig looking for clues to the real story when in reality it is dull and boring. Things are what the NT says they are. We have to discard the obvious to find a hint of something dark and hidden.
But that is where the media loves to operate and where we gullible goofs dare to give them credit. The New Testament is not like the rags near the register line at Walmart. No sireee... There is a tidbit of truth in those rags -- usually the cost sticker on the paper. But that is not the truth about the Bible, specifically about the NT. Truth is the commodity of NT. St. Paul insists that if a lie is hidden there, we are of all people the most to be pitied. Jesus insists that His Word vindicates His claims or judges Him wrong.
Yes, it is true. We are not dealing with a newspaper that interview twelve witnesses to a tragedy in order to sell copies of a paper to people who believe there may be fifteen sides to the story. We are dealing with a book that has one purpose -- to tell the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The witnesses within the pages claim not what they thought or believed but what they heard and saw. Some of them were very badly treated for their courageous stand. Some were martyred for their insistence upon the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Christian, do not despair what some claim the New Testament is not. Be encouraged by what it is. You stand not alone but with more than billion in present company and too many more to count who went before us. The Word of the Lord endures forever. There is no April fools moment to wait for. The fool says in his heart there is no God. Nope, the Word of the Lord endures forever. You can count on that.