Thursday, October 11, 2018
Help from Early Church Fathers. . .
Biblical scholarship works like detectives sifting through evidence, archeology, and sources outside the Bible itself. The faithful scholarship finds more to bolster the claims of Scripture than to destroy them. Like a detective sorting through clues, such faithful scholars find surprising evidence not only to the early dating of the New Testament but to the canon of the New Testament and to its truthfulness (it is what it claims to be and it says what it claims to say).
Take, for example, the case of Justin Martyr, one of the early Christian writers typically called the Apostolic Fathers. He lived from 100-160 AD -- barely a hundred years after the death of Jesus. We know something of this fellow. He was a convert who wrote apologetic works defending the Christian faith. Part of his importance to us is the earliness of his writing as well as the region form which he wrote -- from the area of Samaria, between Judea and Galilee.
According to Justin Martyr,“It is said that he [Jesus] changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter; and it is written in his memoirs that he changed the names of others, two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means ‘sons of thunder’….”
You might also note the reference to St. Peter’s “memoirs.” No this is not the so-called Gospel of Peter which dates from much later and is not authentic. In fact, it is the Gospel of St. Mark and from this and other clues we have come to recognize that John Mark, the author of the Gospel, was the companion, translator and scribe for Peter and the recorder of St. Peter's memoirs. If you think this a stretch, how about the fact that only in the Gospel of St. Mark are James and John referred to as “Boanerges" or Sons of Thunder.
Skeptics try to distance the New Testament from the actual time and even geography of our Lord and His life. They would suggest that the text is not accurate, mythology has been mixed with fact, and legend reported as history. These voices of doom and gloom, think here Bart Ehrman, have long ago given up the faith and seem to be on a crusade to persuade us of their doubts that they pass off as facts. If, however, the early church fathers give witness to the reliability of the New Testament and to the early character of its witness, we have something to counter their speculation. If Justin Martyr could speak of Peter’s “memoirs” and mention a detail found only in the Gospel of St. Mark, then it gives credibility to the accuracy both of the account and the timetable of the New Testament witness.
So what am I trying to say? That you do not need faith -- that we have enough evidence to silence the loudest skeptic? No, only this. The claims of Scripture are not fanciful but reasonable. The Word of the Lord is not myth or legend but the reports of witnesses on the ground who were guided in their witness by the Spirit. It takes as much faith to invent ways not to take Scripture at its word as it does to believe what it says and to trust that it does what it promises. We are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition and not a people with meager resources to support the claims of Scripture. Before you abdicate your faith to the loud protests of the skeptics, read a little more. Like Luther wrote and we sing, The Word they still shall yet remain. . . the Kingdom ours remaineth.