Monday, December 13, 2010

The Modern Academic Position Examined

In my previous post I listed the five main planks in the modern Academic position on the Bible:

(1) The Bible is just like any other book.

(2) Biblical books were exposed to corrupting forces.

(3) Biblical books were not exposed to 'special forces'.

(4) Ordinary text-critical methods are valid and adequate.

(5) The Bible has not been protected by God (no Divine Preservation).

The Academic position depends to one degree or another on every one of these points. And to the extent that these do not hold, the academic view will be false, misleading and unreliable.

If we leave supernatural questions aside for now, and treat (5) above as something to be established at the end of an investigation, then we have four remaining points which are open to scientific and historical investigation and susceptible to practical testing.

(1) Is the New Testament (NT) like other Books?

On the 'supernatural' side of the question, we strongly hold that such a question is not testable by scientific means. So we must move on to the more practical aspect of this question. The qualified answer on the one hand, is "yes", in the sense that these texts were collected and hand-copied, and display the expected physical features of such a (non-supernatural) process. That is, the NT is represented by hand-copied manuscripts of varying condition and quality, and these show signs of scribal activity and method, such as hand-correction, spelling variants etc.. This makes the evidence open to ordinary scientific investigation.

On the other hand, there are so many startling and significant differences between the Bible documents and other books (both secular and religious), that we have to conclude that the Bible has been transmitted under special, if not extraordinary, circumstances. Some specific and unique details about the Bible's transmission include:
(a) The NT books form the core of a major Religious Movement. The only near-parallel is the OT Judaism from which Christianity sprang. Most ordinary books, even valuable scientific works, had a relatively luke-warm following.

(b) The NT books are represented by some 15,000 copies and fragments, 10,000 in Latin, 5,000 in Greek, and hundreds of manuscripts containing other language versions. No other group of writings in antiquity has ever been so profusely replicated and dispersed. Other writings survive in perhaps one or two, up to at most a few hundred ancient copies.

(c) The NT religion has been the root of unprecedented political activity and upheaval. This began with the hijacking of the Roman Empire, and was followed by centuries of large-scale conflict with other cultures.

(d) The NT religion has suffered violent opposition and persecution, including the destruction of its writings, in the earliest era. Very few other works have suffered such targeted destructive forces in antiquity.

(e) The NT writings have been exposed to attempted 'heretical' alterations due to subsequent theological and political conflicts and controversies. Attacks came from within and without the Christian Movement, but seem to have been effectively repulsed in favor of the core-teachings.

As should be obvious, the NT writings have been exposed to powerful distorting forces, and have been defended by equally powerful interests and concerns. These historical forces make many of the claims about the NT being 'ordinary' patently absurd.

While seeming to affirm Plank #(2) above, these facts strongly contradict Plank #(3), and call into serious doubt the central claim of Plank #(4).

Plank #(4) appears even more ludicrous, when we realise that secular historians have no real experience, skill, or credibility in dealing with the unique documents of a major, living World Religion. The sorry record of propagandizing against 'foreign religions' and the staggeringly unprofessional and dishonest portrayal of religions generally by historians triggers an alarm-bell that screams for caution in accepting the claims of modern academics.

Placing secular historians in a position to 'pronounce' on Plank #(5) Divine Inspiration, is simply too obviously like putting the foxes in charge of the hen-house, to need any further comment.


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