J. Early Arceneaux
The question is often asked: “How do we know that the New Testament has the very writings of the apostles and their co-laborers? How do we know that the have substantially what they wrote?” Some contend that we do not know, and cannot. Infidels have been very zealous in propagating this assertion. There have been so many corruptions of the New Testament, they say, so many additions, so many subtractions; that even if the apostles did write by inspiration, we still don’t know that we have what they wrote.
We need, however, have little worry on that point. The Lord would hardly have taken the trouble to inspire men to write a book, and then not take the trouble to see that’ it was handed down. Scholars, some years ago, investigated this wild charge of the infidels very carefully; and revealed that in 300 years there were one hundred times as many corruptions in Shakespeare as there had been in 1800 years in the New Testament manuscripts!
Actually, when books were copied there were bound to be some errors. The copyists were not inspired. Their manuscripts, however, correct each other, and help the scholars by comparison with one another to determine where an error has been made.
One fundamental fact that some professed Bible students need to learn is that a very imperfect translation of the scriptures can convey the truth to us. We have the highest testimony on earth to the fact. Christ and the apostles quoted from a very imperfect translation of the Old Testament out of Hebrew into Greek. They quoted from the Septuagint version—the Greek translation. This accounts for the fact that sometimes the quotations from the Old Testament appear to be quite different from the words that we read in our Old Testaments; for our Old Testament was translated out of the Hebrew into the English.
Now if Christ could use an uninspired and imperfect translation, we can too, and not suffer too much damage. If you have any doubt on that point we might mention this one little incident: One printed English Bible was called the “Vinegar Bible.” This odd name arose from the fact that at one place in the gospels where the word “vineyard” occurred, they made it read “vinegar.” That didn’t deceive anybody. Everybody understood what had happened. Typesetters or proof readers made the mistake. (They often make them).
Date Of Books
Another thing that skeptics have been very much concerned about is to move every Bible book as far from the accepted composition date as possible—as far away as they can from the year or period in which the books are generally supposed to have been written. With reference to the New Testament books, as we shall see, they think if they can get folks to believe they were not written in the first century, but rather in the third or fourth, they can weaken faith and gain a foot-hold on which to stand and attack the Bible.
The main burden of this lesson is to show conclusively and by irrefragable testimony and evidence that the Book we read today is substantially identical with the writings of the apostles.
An Old Slander
It might be of interest to call your attention to the fact that there are more than 1,700 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, or some part of it. It is a very interesting fact too, that the oldest manuscript of the New Testament in existence is complete; it has every book complete. From these ancient manuscripts, of course, our New Testament is translated; and regardless of whether we read it in the Greek original or the English translation, we are reading the same book.
Not only have infidels charged the Book with being corrupted in its text, but one religious sect (the Mormons) borrowed this old infidel slander, and gave it circulation in the so-called “inspired” Book of Mormon This old slander, as propagated by the infidels, is that the New Testament was compiled about the year 325 A.D. They declare that this was the business of the Council of Nice, and that it happened on this wise: All the hundreds of books claiming to be the New Testament scriptures were piled together promiscuously on the floor; a table was set in the midst of them, and the learned bishops prayed to God that the inspired book would jump up on the table! According to the infidels ludicrous telling of the story, 27 books jumped. The only answer such a ridiculous charge needs is this: Those bishops were not fools. A man need not be classified a fool to be a believer—even a bishop believer.
The Mormons put this old slander into circulation in their Book of Mormon. In order to make place for this monstrous perversion of truth, they charged that “that great and abominable church” (the Catholics) had taken out many precious things, including a great many of the “covenants” of the Lord. One of the Mormon’s inspired (?) men, Orson Pratt, said, “We do not know that one single verse in the New Testament came down to us without change. And they have hundreds of them in the Book of Mormon absolutely identical with the same verses in the King James translation!
Any man who tries to write a book and deceive people into thinking that it was written 300, 500, or 1,000 years before, will always slip up. The writer of the Book of Mormon did. He said he translated the Book Mormon out of the Egyptian language, and that actually the book was 2,000 years old—maybe more. Yet this 2,000 year old book quotes at length from the writing of William Shakespeare and from the King James translation of the Bible! The signature of the imposter is on almost every page. He left the print of his cloven hoof for all to see.
However many things we may charge against Catholicism, we must defend them from this slanderous Mormon accusation. They did not make the changes charged against them. The oldest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament are older by far than the Catholic church. Nobody has changed the dotting of an “i or the crossing of a “t.” That is one thing the Catholic church is not guilty of!
The Nicene Council (325 A.D.) published a list of the 27 books we have in our New Testament. Before the Council met there had been some rather hot controversy about a few of the books in the list. Some thought they ought to be there; some thought they should not. It is well for us to know that the Council, in publishing its list of 27 books, did not accept just any book that was suggested. They had to know that the book came either from an apostle or from the co-laborer of an apostle. If Paul wrote it, or John, or Peter, or James, or Jude; or if some man closely associated with one of the apostles, as for example Luke was with Paul; if this was the origin of the book, it was recognized as having the necessary background and authorship. Otherwise, it was not even considered. For a while there was a hot controversy over 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. But once the question of authorship was settled, all question or dispute over these books was at an end. The doctrine of the books was not controverted, only the authorship.
A few years ago here in Texas a very sad thing happened for one man who tried to repudiate Mark 16:16 on the ground that it is not in the two oldest manuscripts of the New Testament. He made quite an argument on that score; but he back-tracked mighty fast when he was shown that every manuscript on earth that omits Mark 16:16 also omits the whole book of Revelation! And Revelation was the book in which this character lived, and moved, and had his being. The great Fort Worth debate became an utter debacle for this notorious premillennialist and his doctrine. Repudiating a few verses of Mark’s gospel completely robbed him of the use of the whole book of Revelation. J. Frank Norris was the Baptist blunderer who made this mistake. He should have been a more careful student of the history of the manuscripts. For the last few verses of Mark have never been questioned by any reputable scholar as to their doctrine and inspiration. The only thing that has been questioned was whether Mark wrote them or not. And the evidence is such now that there is little controversy even over that.
Catholic vs. Protestant Bibles
Sometimes the question is asked, Why did Protestants leave out some books that Catholics have in their Bible? The question is hardly proper. The right question should be, Why did the Catholics put some books into their Bible which are not in the Bible as it was originally written?
But how do we know these extra Catholic books ought not to be in the Bible? For the very simple reason that they were never included, even by the Jews themselves, in the Old Testament. Of course the Catholics have made no additions to the New Testament canon; all of their apocryphal books have been added to the Old Testament. And we know these books should not be in the Bible because they were not in the Bibles used by Christ and the apostles, to which they gave their sanction and approval. Thus, the Lord recognized as inspired the Bible which excluded these apocryphal books. The Catholic church is not greater in authority than the Son of God.
Let us trace the human linkage which brings our Bible up to the Council of Nicea. Eusebius, the father of church history, was present at that historic meeting in 325 A.D. Jesus Christ was born in the year 1 of our calendar. Actually there is a little inaccuracy there, as Christ was really born about four years before the time we begin our dating. This was due to an error of calculation made in the year 532 A.D. when our present calendar was adopted. We now live in the year 2020; every atheist and infidel on earth writes that date on a letter when he wants to locate it in time. That simply means that no fact in all history has yet occurred to eclipse the birth of God’s Son into this world.
Jesus lived through one-third of a century, let us say to the year 33 A.D. The apostle John died in the year 100 A.D. He was contemporary with Christ during his lifetime, and outlived him by two-thirds of a century. Polycarp was a disciple of John, and was born in 69 A.D., living till he reached the age of ninety years. Justin Martyr and Irenaeus were both contemporaries of Polycarp, the former of them being martyred in 165 A.D. and the latter living on until 202 A.D. Tertullian, the great Christian scholar was born 160 A.D. and died in 230 A.D., just thirty years before the birth of Eusebius the church historian. Thus there were less than half a dozen men between Eusebius and Christ. These were the men who along with hundreds like them lived, wrote down, and copied time and time again the words of the New Testament. They preached it night and day. They had every opportunity in the world to know exactly where these books came from. And they did know! That is why they were so positive in their contention for their inspiration.
The Old Testament Books
Just a brief word about the Old Testament. Since the Old Testament was a completed volume several centuries before one word of the New Testament was written, we have the strongest possible evidence that one mind was superintending and directing the writing of both. This is clearly seen in the attitude of the New Testament writers toward the old. Jesus and the apostles used it, read it, reverenced it, and quoted from it as being absolutely and unquestionably the word of God.
The Old Testament was translated out of the Hebrew into the Greek in the year 280 B.C. (the Septuagint Version). This is the Bible Jesus and the apostles used. This is the one from which they quoted. This is the one they recognized as being inspired of God. Naturally that Hebrew Bible had to exist for some little time before it could be translated into the Greek. So we are safe in saying that it was completed centuries before the New Testament was written. Catholics miss their chance completely in this respect. If they were going to add books to the Bible, they should have added them to the New Testament, not the Old. For we have the authority of Jesus himself as to the canon of the Old Testament. There can be no appeal from that.
There is no “church ordinance” in the sense in which denominationalists use the expression. The church is not a legislative body; it has no right to issue decrees, rules, laws, etc. Christ commands; the church obeys.