J. Early Arceneaux
The American Standard Version of the Bible was translated in 1901. This was the last standard version of the New Testament scriptures until a modern revision was made several years ago. Likely there is not a skeptic on earth skeptical enough to say that the Bible is no older than the American Standard Version.
Going 300 years back in time, we come to the King James, or Authorized, Version. There’s not an infidel on earth who would say that the Bible began then. There were several English translations (maybe a dozen in all) a hundred years or more before the King James translation. Conspicuous among these earlier translations is that of William Tyndale, dating back to 1525. But even earlier than Tyndale’s translation was the one of Wycliffe, which goes back even before the time of printing. It was copied out by hand, and made its appearance in 1380. But no infidel could be found who would argue that Wycliffe’s translation was the real beginning date of our Bible. The New Testament had been translated into numerous tongues (Coptic, Latin, Syriac, etc.) centuries before Wycliffe was born and before there was even any written English language at all. The Syriac version, for example, dates from about the year 175 A.D.
Everybody agrees that the New Testament was written in Greek. That very fact attests powerfully as to the time of its writing. For if it had been written 300 years later than it was, it would not have been in Greek at all, but in Latin. For the Latin language had superseded the Greek, and all documents of any importance and all literature was in Latin rather than Greek. If one admits that the New Testament was written in Greek (and only a fool would deny it), he admits that it was written at a very early period in the Christian era of the world, not far from the very time Bible believers claim that it was written.
Only Time for Changes
The oldest manuscripts we have date back to the year 350 A.D. or thereabouts. No changes have been made in the text since then, we know, because we have actual copies of the book that old. The apostle John died about the year 100 A.D., and we can take it for granted that no changes were made and there were no serious corruptions in the text of the New Testament while the apostles were still living. Then the only period of time when there could have been changes made is a period between the year 100 A.D. and the year 350 A.D. No changes were made before 100; we know none have been made after 350.
How do we know then that there were no changes made during this period of 250 years? There is the chasm that we must bridge. And we can do it. First of all, the Syriac version was made about the year 175 A.D. Thus 75 years after the death of the last apostle, the New Testament was translated into the Syriac tongue. The evidence is not quite conclusive, but it is pretty strong that there was also a Latin translation of a good portion of the New Testament even before this Syriac version was made. Before the end of the second century they were making frequent quotations from a Latin translation.
Consider the ante-Nicene fathers. During every single year between the year 100 A.D. and the year 350 A.D., there were scores and hundreds of faithful Christian men preaching, teaching, writing; and there were New Testament quotations almost without number that they had to copy. There were not copies enough of the Bible to make it possible for every reader or hearer to have a copy. So the men who taught would quote copiously and extensively from the scriptures. Instead of just giving a citation to a passage, as we do, they would carefully and painstakingly write out the whole quotation in full.
Some years ago the question arose in .a literary club in England as to how much of the New Testament might be reproduced from the writings of the ante-Nicene fathers. “Suppose,” said one man “that every Bible in the world had been burned up in the year 325. Could we reproduce a New Testament from the quotations made of it by Christian writers prior to that date?”
One of the other members of the club accepted the challenge. About two months later he was visited by the man who had first asked the question. The visitor found his friend almost knee-deep in books; every table in the room was crowded with them, notes and markers were lying all over the place. “What are you doing with all these books scattered around?” he asked.
“Two months ago,” the friend replied, “I began the task of checking the ante-Nicene fathers for scripture quotations. I have here every line they wrote—more than 13,000 pages of double column print. I have not completed all these books yet, but so far I have found every verse, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, in all the New Testament except eleven verses! And I believe I’ll find those verses before I finish the task.”
From the writings of one man, Origen, nearly three-fourths of the New Testament can be found verbatim ad literatum. Probably if all of Origen’s writings were extant, the whole New Testament could be reproduced from the writings of that one man.
The Nicene Council List
The Nicene Council did not in any part of its proceedings determine which books would be recognized as canonical books of the New Testament. They published a list of books which Christians all recognized as being the inspired New Testament. That list contained 27 books, the books we have, Matthew through Revelation. The very fact that they published a list proves conclusively that they did not compile the New Testament. They could not have published a “list” if the books had not been in existence already.
Long, long centuries after the Nicene Council, a group of Methodist preachers got together and wrote the Methodist Discipline. In the Discipline they gave a list of the New Testament books. Nobody has accused them of writing the books—they simply published a list of them. They made a list and simply said we recognize these books as being the New Testament.
That is exactly what the Nicene Council did. No more and no less.