Recently a student of mine told me about someone who claimed he could never be a Christian because manuscripts of the New Testament have undergone so many changes through the centuries that it’s impossible to really know what the New Testament authors really said. I wish I’d been there to set him straight!
The fact is that the writings of the New Testament are better attested by far than any other ancient works without exception. Today we have manuscripts copied far closer to the time of the original autographs and in far greater numbers than for any classical work of history or literature. Although there are numerous minor variants among the manuscripts (as is always the case in hand-copied writings), none of the variations bring into question any matters of doctrine.
For a brief overview of the facts, read this interview with Daniel B. Wallace, one of the world’s leading experts in the comparative analysis of manuscripts, a discipline called textual criticism. Not only does Wallace explain the reasons for the trustworthiness of the New Testament text, he reports the discovery of a fragment of the Gospel of Mark from the first century, an incredible find if it stands up to scholarly examination when it will be published in the near future.
From Ephesians by Peter S. Williamson, commenting on Ephesians 2:4-6:
After succinctly describing humanity’s desperate predicament, Paul bursts out with a declaration of the good news, beginning with the hopeful words, But God. God has not left us in our misery. God saw the situation of the human race, much as Exod 2:23–25 tells us he saw the plight of his people Israel enslaved in Egypt and acted to save them. Paul describes what kind of God this is: he is rich in mercy. Mercy, eleos, refers to the good will and kindness that seeks to help someone who is in trouble or need.
God’s motive for acting was his desire for our welfare: he acted because of the great love he had for us. The Greek is more forceful, using the word for “love” both in its noun and verb forms: “because of his great love with which he loved us.” Love (agapē) refers to cherishing and caring in a self-giving, disinterested way. To make plain that we did not deserve this love, Paul indicates that God loved us even when we were dead in our transgressions. This line recalls Rom 5:8, where Paul says that “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
© 2009 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.
Some friends recently made the excellent decision to read through the entire Bible in the course of a year and asked for advice. When I first read through the Bible in a year it had a transformative effect on my life. Spiritually speaking, it was like eating a perfectly balanced diet for a year while working out daily! I felt stronger; I had more energy for doing what I should do! Although I had more questions, I felt I had more insight into God’s way of seeing things and familiarity with Sacred Scripture. Continue reading
We have been reflecting on what God is saying to the Church today through the prophet Malachi. After reproving priests for their failure to teach, Malachi turns his attention to the state of marriage among God’s people, focusing on two problems. Continue reading
This Sunday’s first reading from the prophet Malachi contains a sharp rebuke of priests for causing “many to falter by [their] instruction.” If we read the context, we discover that the problem was with the whole people, not only with the priests, and that the crisis Israel faced bears many similarities to that which the Church is facing today. Continue reading
America is going through hard times economically, socially, and politically. Does Jesus have a message for Christians in America? And if so, what is it? The best place to look is the word of God. Continue reading
This morning reading Scripture gave me the strength I needed to begin a fast for the remaining 40 Days for Life (check out their inspiring website).
I have been reading through the prophets and am now in Daniel. Today I read Dan 10, which begins like this:
In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks. (Dan 10:2-3)
Daniel was “mourning” (the NJB says “doing a three-week penance”) because the attempts to rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem after the exile were stalled due to intense opposition (see Ezra 4:1-4). Daniel, however, was not merely grieving over the situation, but was appealing to the Lord to act.