The Witness of Scripture: Work of Men, or Word of God?
- Thursday, May 08, 2008
"Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:20-21)
Work of Men?
Two generations of postmodern thought has led to growing cynicism about truth claims, institutional authorities, and even history. Among revisionists, the historical record is a product of oppression and coercion written by the ruling class. At best, history is unreliable; at worst, it is propaganda—a story written by the winners in the perpetual struggle for power. That also goes for the biblical record, which many dismiss as myth or legend.
A person who was eminently qualified to answer that charge was C.S. Lewis. As a literary historian and scholar in ancient literature, Lewis wrote, “I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are, they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legend (myth) and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing.”
Lewis went on to explain why he came to that conclusion: “They are not artistic enough... Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us. . . . and no people building up a legend would allow that to be so.” In other words, they lack the drama, the colorful detail and rich imagination of the ancient story-tellers.
If not legend or myth, what?
The Written Word
Commonly referred to as the Bible, the Written Word is the account of God’s activity in and beyond time. It is a divinely-inspired collection of books penned by dozens of authors over a millennium and a half. But is it a trustworthy account? To answer that we need to establish three things:
1. When was it written?
2. Is what we have what the authors wrote?
3. And, is what they wrote the Word of God?
When it Was Written
Paleography is the study of the script and letter style of written records. A competent paleographer can pin the date of writing of an ancient text within a decade and even identify the school of scribes where the author was trained. For many New Testament manuscripts, paleographic analysis supports a first century authorship.
There's also the fact that the Scriptures make no mention of the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Jesus predicted that calamity 40 years earlier. Since fulfillment of that prophecy would have bolstered Jesus' messianic claims, its omission in the NT suggests authorship before AD 70.
There can be little doubt that the NT narratives were written within the lifetimes of individuals who were contemporaries of the events described. For example, when Paul wrote about Christ’s resurrection in his first letter to the Corinthians, he appeals to the testimony of over 500 eyewitnesses who were still living that his readers could seek out and question. And that’s important.
An authorship very close in time and location to the events recorded is contraindicative of legends. Legends spring up centuries to millennia after the fact; in lands distant from the place(s) of occurrence. They endure because no one is close enough to the purported stories to challenge their authenticity.
The early church canon included the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Septuagint. Written between the third and second centuries BC, the Septuagint contained the scriptures quoted by Jesus and the Apostles. When Luke wrote “Now the Bereans... examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true,” (Acts 17:11) he was making reference to this Old Testament canon.
The early church canon also included apostolic testimony. Peter acknowledges Paul’s writings as holy writ when he stated, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures...” (2 Peter 2:16)
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