Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Has the Creator of the universe ever spoken to us?

Has God every reached out to humanity?

Has God every reached out to humanity?

People often ask the question, “why must I believe in Jesus and only Jesus in order to be rightly related to God?”

Indeed. Why should we care about the teachings of Jesus more than any other religious leader. Well, we know from scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning, and hence a Creator. We know from the fine-tuning argument that there is a Designer of the cosmos, as well. So the question becomes, has there ever been a human being who could give us accurate information about who the Creator and Designer is?

It turns that there is such a person, and we know it because we have evidence that this person rose from the dead – a feat only possible if the Creator and Designer wanted to draw attention to this person, and to his teachings. The account of this is recorded in a collection of ancient writings called the New Testament, which can be investigated using the ordinary rules of ancient historiography. Although much of what is written in the New Testament cannot be proven historical, a few facts that are reported there pass the mainstream historical tests. From those facts, we can infer that God was putting his stamp of approval on the teachings of a very important person.

The man who returned from the dead

Dr. Craig’s famous minimal facts case for the resurrection has been posted at the Christian Apologetics Alliance. He presents 4 facts admitted by the majority of New Testament historians, and then he supplies multiple pieces of evidence for each fact.

Here are the four facts:

  • FACT #1: After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. 
  • FACT #2: On the Sunday following the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.
  • FACT #3: On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.
  • FACT #4: The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary.

He shows how each fact is supported reasons which pass the standard historical rules used by ancient historians.

Here’s the detail on fact #3, the post-mortem appearances.

FACT #3: On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.

This is a fact which is almost universally acknowledged among New Testament scholars, for the following reasons:

1. The list of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection appearances which is quoted by Paul in I Cor. 15. 5-7 guarantees that such appearances occurred. These included appearances to Peter (Cephas), the Twelve, the 500 brethren, and James.

2. The appearance traditions in the gospels provide multiple, independent attestation of these appearances. This is one of the most important marks of historicity. The appearance to Peter is independently attested by Luke, and the appearance to the Twelve by Luke and John. We also have independent witness to Galilean appearances in Mark, Matthew, and John, as well as to the women in Matthew and John.

3. Certain appearances have earmarks of historicity. For example, we have good evidence from the gospels that neither James nor any of Jesus’ younger brothers believed in him during his lifetime. There is no reason to think that the early church would generate fictitious stories concerning the unbelief of Jesus’ family had they been faithful followers all along. But it is indisputable that James and his brothers did become active Christian believers following Jesus’ death. James was considered an apostle and eventually rose to the position of leadership of the Jerusalem church. According to the first century Jewish historian Josephus, James was martyred for his faith in Christ in the late AD 60s. Now most of us have brothers. What would it take to convince you that your brother is the Lord, such that you would be ready to die for that belief? Can there be any doubt that this remarkable transformation in Jesus’ younger brother took place because, in Paul’s words, “then he appeared to James”?

Even Gert Ludemann, the leading German critic of the resurrection, himself admits, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”3

Yes, Gerd Ludemann is actually an atheist new Testament historian, and he has even debated Dr. Craig on the resurrection – not once, but twice. That’s the kind of evidence Dr. Craig uses in his case.

So, if you are undertaking an investigation to see if the God who creates and designs the universe has anything to say to you, a good place to start is seeing what this guy Jesus had to say to you. No faith required.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

James White debates Adnan Rashid on trustworthiness of the Bible vs Quran

It’s on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable radio show, from the UK!

The show starts with introductions by each speaker, then the debate begins.

James White’s opening address:

The Bible:

  • most Christians have a naive view of how holy books come to us from antiquity
  • the Bible and Koran were written and transmitted in two different ways
  • the Koran was written down and spread in a controlled way
  • the Bible was written in an uncontrolled way
  • Christianity was illegal until 313, so early Christians were persecuted
  • the Bible had to be copied and spread illegally by individuals
  • people risked their lives to copy pieces of the text
  • the good part of this is that there are tons of manuscripts
  • the manuscripts are earlier than the Church councils that define the Canon
  • a persecuted minority would not have been able to conspire to change the text
  • there are tons of minor variants from misspellings and typos in the manuscripts

The Koran:

  • the Hadith (writings that post-date the Koran) record how the Koran was written
  • the authorities worried that many fragments and manuscripts would cause disputes
  • the authorities got together and created an approved version to distribute
  • all the other Koranic materials (fragments and manuscripts) were burnt
  • this happened soon after the death of Mohammed
  • there are fewer variants with this centralized, top-down approach

Adnan Rashid’s opening speech:

The Bible:

  • the Bible we have today is not infallible, was not transmitted infallibly
  • none of the 4 gospels are written by eyewitnesses
  • there are around 400,000 variants in the manuscripts (cites Ehrman)
  • the huge number of variants touches on virtually every line of text
  • the manuscripts have differences – which manuscript is the inspired one?
  • editors are needed to adjudicate between all of the variants (cites Metzger)
  • editors have to rely on probabilities in order to choose the text itself

The Koran:

  • the text of the Koran was selected by Mohammed’s immediate successor
  • the purpose of this selection was to unify the Arab tribes on one text
  • rejected fragments and manuscripts were burned
  • no coercion was used to get the bad manuscripts burned

James White’s rebuttal:

  • 99% of the variants are technicalities of the Greek language
  • only 1500-2000 variants change the meaning of the text
  • there are many variants is because there are many manuscripts
  • more manuscripts makes it harder for any authority to change the text
  • the editors don’t hide the variants – that why everyone knows about them
  • the photographs of the fragments and manuscripts are available, not burnt

Adnan Rashid’s rebuttal:

  • we are in the process of photographing our fragments and manuscripts
  • what the photographs show is that the Koran has no shocking variants
  • Metzger is clear that editors are deciding the text based on probabilities

Crosstalk about Metzger:

  • James: editors decide the main reading and the rest goes in footnotes
  • James: Metzger doesn’t think that this makes the Bible unreliable
  • Adnan: prove it

Crosstalk about the Koran:

  • James: The Koran has variants too and manuscript issues
  • James: Mohammed appointed Ibn Masoud as the authority on the Koran
  • Adnan: actually Mohammed pointed out four authorities, not just one
  • Adnan: we don’t have manuscript problems or variant problems as bad as yours

Crosstalk about the crucifixion of Jesus:

  • James: the crucifixion is denied in Surah 4:157
  • James: the Koran is written 600 years after the cruficixion
  • James: the Koran is written hundreds of miles from the crucifixion site
  • James: non-Christians like Ehrman and Crossan do not deny the crucifixion
  • James: for 600 years after, history is unanimous that the crucifixion happened
  • Adnan: the gospel of Thomas doesn’t mention the crucifixion
  • Adnan:  Thomas predates Mark and is contemporaneous with Q
  • James: Thomas contains NO HISTORY – just sayings of Jesus
  • James: Thomas is not written by eyewitnesses to the events
  • James: Thomas is written in Coptic, originated in Syria, in the 2nd century
  • James: Thomas reflects gnostic theology, not Christian theology
  • Adnan: if the Koran says that the crucifixion didn’t happen, then it didn’t
  • James: Adnan believes one person 600 years later instead of the eyewitnesses
  • Adnan: Paul invented the crucifixion out of nothing
  • Adnan: The gospels are just theology, not history, written to confirm Paul
  • Adnan: some scholars say Thomas isn’t gnostic
  • Adnan: some scholars say Thomas is early
  • Adnan: Metzger says Thomas was rejected because it was non-Christian
  • James: I agree that it was rejected for theology because it’s gnostic

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Finally: more details on alleged first-century fragment of Mark’s gospel emerge

Here’s the latest on it from Live Science.


A text that may be the oldest copy of a gospel known to exist — a fragment of the Gospel of Mark that was written during the first century, before the year 90 — is set to be published.

At present, the oldest surviving copies of the gospel texts date to the second century (the years 101 to 200).

This first-century gospel fragment was written on a sheet of papyrus that was later reused to create a mask that was worn by a mummy. Although the mummies of Egyptian pharaohs wore masks made of gold, ordinary people had to settle for masks made out of papyrus (or linen), paint and glue. Given how expensive papyrus was, people often had to reuse sheets that already had writing on them.

In recent years scientists have developed a technique that allows the glue of mummy masks to be undone without harming the ink on the paper. The text on the sheets can then be read.

The first-century gospel is one of hundreds of new texts that a team of about three-dozen scientists and scholars is working to uncover, and analyze, by using this technique of ungluing the masks, said Craig Evans, a professor of New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

“We’re recovering ancient documents from the first, second and third centuries. Not just Christian documents, not just biblical documents, but classical Greek texts, business papers, various mundane papers, personal letters,” Evans told Live Science. The documents include philosophical texts and copies of stories by the Greek poet Homer.

The business and personal letters sometimes have dates on them, he said. When the glue was dissolved, the researchers dated the first-century gospel in part by analyzing the other documents found in the same mask.

[…]The technique is bringing many new texts to light, Evans noted. “From a single mask, it’s not strange to recover a couple dozen or even more” new texts, he told Live Science. “We’re going to end up with many hundreds of papyri when the work is done, if not thousands.”

[…]Evans says that the text was dated through a combination of carbon-14 dating, studying the handwriting on the fragment and studying the other documents found along with the gospel. These considerations led the researchers to conclude that the fragment was written before the year 90. With the nondisclosure agreement in place, Evans said that he can’t say much more about the text’s date until the papyrus is published.

[…]Evans said that the research team will publish the first volume of texts obtained through the mummy masks and cartonnage later this year. It will include the gospel fragment that the researchers believe dates back to the first century.

The team originally hoped the volume would be published in 2013 or 2014, but the date had to be moved back to 2015. Evans said he is uncertain why the book’s publication was delayed, but the team has made use of the extra time to conduct further studies into the first-century gospel. “The benefit of the delay is that when it comes out, there will be additional information about it and other related texts.”

The previous earliest-ever fragments are P52 and P104.

Evangelical Textual Criticism explains:

A lot has happened since then in the study of Greek palaeography and with the increase in readily available collections of digital images and refined classification one would assume that the experts are able to form an even more informed opinion now than they were in the 1930s. A 2012 article by Orsini and Clarysse provides exactly this re-evaluation. Their method is solid and responsible, both scholars have a tremendous track record, and in general I don’t find much to disagree with, even though in some of the finer distinctions Orsini and Clarysse make I cannot always follow them. Their evaluation of the date is not far off from what Roberts came up with in giving the range 125-175 for P52. So is P52 still the earliest fragment of the New Testament?

Possibly, but looking through the results presented by Orsini and Clarysse there is another candidate, P104, an interesting fragment of Matthew 21, published in 1997. This papyrus receives a date 100-200. Some particular scripts are easier to pin down than others and that is why P104 has a span of a century, whilst P52 only half a century. So we have P52 and P104 both dated by a range that has its median in the centre of the second century (it may be earlier, it may be later).

So what is the oldest manuscript? Well, there are two candidates, P52 of John 18, and P104 of Matthew 21; the former oldest manuscript has become part of a double act (two times 52 is 104).

P52 has John 18:31–33 and John 18:37–38 on it.

It will be interesting to see how scholars respond to this new fragment of Mark.

Filed under: News, , , ,

Kurt Eichenwald: wilful ignorance of New Testament scholarship so severe, it’s a sin

Dan Wallace is the best-known evangelical expert in New Testament manuscripts. He wrote a strong response to a non-scholarly article from a journalist, which appeared in the far-left Newsweek.


Every year, at Christmas and Easter, several major magazines, television programs, news agencies, and publishing houses love to rattle the faith of Christians by proclaiming loudly and obnoxiously that there are contradictions in the Bible, that Jesus was not conceived by a virgin, that he did not rise from the dead, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. The day before Christmas eve (23 December 2014), Newsweek published a lengthy article by Kurt Eichenwald entitled, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.” Although the author claims that he is not promoting any particular theology, this wears thin. Eichenwald makes so many outrageous claims, based on a rather slender list of named scholars (three, to be exact), that one has to wonder how this ever passed any editorial review.

Best snip:

Error 1: Gross Exaggerations that Misrepresent the Data

I will address just one issue here—the notion that the original Bible is unknowable. Eichenwald claims:

“No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we’ve all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.”

So, none of us today has read anything except a bad translation that has been altered hundreds of times before it got to us? Although Eichenwald enlists Bart Ehrman as one of the three scholars he names in the essay, he has seriously overstated Ehrman’s argument. At one point, it is true, Ehrman says in Misquoting Jesus, “Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals.” Here he is speaking of Greek copies of Greek manuscripts. Nothing is said about translations. At many points he admits that the vast majority of the changes to the text of the New Testament were rather minor over the many centuries of handwritten copying. And in the appendix to the paperback edition of his book Ehrman says, “Essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.” But Eichenwald makes it sound as though all translations current today are bad and that we can’t possibly recover the wording of the original text. The reality is that we are getting closer and closer to the text of the original New Testament as more and more manuscripts are being discovered and catalogued.

But let’s examine a bit more the actual statement that Eichenwald makes. We are all reading “at best,” he declares, a “bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.” This is rhetorical flair run amok so badly that it gives hyperbole a bad name. A “translation of translations of translations” would mean, at a minimum, that we are dealing with a translation that is at least three languages removed from the original. But the first translation is at best a translation of a fourth generation copy in the original language. Now, I’m ignoring completely his last line—“and on and on, hundreds of times”—a line that is completely devoid of any resemblance to reality. Is it really true that we only have access to third generation translations from fourth generation Greek manuscripts? Hardly.

Although we know of some translations, especially the later ones, that were based on translations in other languages of the Greek text (thus, a translation of a translation of the Greek), this is not at all what scholars utilize today to duplicate as faithfully as possible the original wording. No, we have Greek manuscripts—thousands of them, some reaching as far back as the second century. And we have very ancient translationsdirectly from the Greek that give us a good sense of the Greek text that would have been available in those regions where that early version was used. These include Latin, Syriac, and Coptic especially. Altogether, we have at least 20,000 handwritten manuscripts in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic and other ancient languages that help us to determine the wording of the original. Almost 6000 of these manuscripts are in Greek alone. And we have more than one million quotations of the New Testament by church fathers. There is absolutely nothing in the Greco-Roman world that comes even remotely close to this wealth of data. The New Testament has more manuscripts that are within a century or two of the original than anything else from the Greco-Roman world too. If we have to be skeptical about what the original New Testament said, that skepticism, on average, should be multiplied one thousand times for other Greco-Roman literature.

What of the differences among these witnesses? To be sure, there are more variants for the New Testament than for any other piece of ancient literature, but that’s because there are more manuscripts for the New Testament than for any other piece of ancient literature. Consider the King James Version compared to virtually any modern New Testament translation: There are about 5000 differences in the underlying Greek text between these two. The vast majority of the differences cannot even be translated. The KJV is based on significantly later manuscripts, yet not a single cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith is affected by the different variants.

The title of Eichenwald’s section that deals with manuscript transmission is “Playing Telephone with the Word of God.” The implication is that the transmission of the Bible is very much like the telephone game—a parlor game every American knows. It involves a brief narrative that someone whispers to the next person in line who then whispers this to the next person, and so on for several people. Then, the last person recites out loud what he or she heard and everyone has a good laugh for how garbled the story got. But the transmission of scripture is not at all like the telephone game. First, the goal of the telephone game is to see how badly the story can get misrepresented, while the goal of New Testament copying was by and large to produce very careful, accurate copies of the original. Second, in the telephone game there is only one line of transmission, while with the New Testament there are multiple lines of transmission. Third, one is oral, recited once in another’s ear, while the other is written, copied by a faithful scribe who then would check his or her work or have someone else do it. Fourth, in the telephone game only the wording of the last person in the line can be checked, while for the New Testament textual critics have access to many of the earlier texts, some going back very close to the time of the autographs. Fifth, even the ancient scribes had access to earlier texts, and would often check their work against a manuscript that was many generations older than their immediate ancestor. The average papyrus manuscript would last for a century or more. Thus, even a late second-century scribe could have potentially examined the original document he or she was copying. If telephone were played the way New Testament transmission occurred, it would make for a ridiculously boring parlor game!

One of the most remarkable pieces of illogical reasoning in Eichenwald’s essay is his discussion of corruption in the manuscripts. Every single instance he raises presupposes that he knows what the original text said, for he speaks about what text had been corrupted in each instance! And more than once he contradicts his opening gambit by speaking authoritatively about what the original text actually said. In short, Eichenwald’s opening paragraph takes exaggeration to new heights. If his goal is to shame conservative Christians for holding views that have no basis in reality, perhaps he should take some time to look in the mirror.

If I were going to give people any advice about investigating religious truth claims, it would be this – for goodness’ sake, look to formal academic debates featuring scholars like Dan Wallace, Michael Licona, William Lane Craig, Stephen C. Meyer, Michael Behe, etc. and their opponents. You will get a lot more out of a formal academic debate with fixed-length speeches than you will get from any left-wing sermon written by a journalist in magazines like Time or Newsweek.

If you want to hear a good debate between Bart Ehrman and Peter Williams, then click here for my summary and a link to the audio from Apologetics 315.

UPDATE: Mathetes points me to another response from noted New Testament scholar Michael Krueger at the Canon Fodder blog.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Is the story of the woman being stoned for adultery in John 7-8 authentic?

Here’s the leading conservative New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace to explain.


One hundred and forty years ago, conservative biblical scholar and Dean of Canterbury, Henry Alford, advocated a new translation to replace the King James Bible. One of his reasons was the inferior textual basis of the KJV. Alford argued that “a translator of Holy Scripture must be…ready to sacrifice the choicest text, and the plainest proof of doctrine, if the words are not those of what he is constrained in his conscience to receive as God’s testimony.” He was speaking about the Trinitarian formula found in the KJV rendering of 1 John 5:7–8. Twenty years later, two Cambridge scholars came to the firm conclusion that John 7:53–8:11 also was not part of the original text of scripture. But Westcott and Hort’s view has not had nearly the impact that Alford’s did.

For a long time, biblical scholars have recognized the poor textual credentials of the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53–8:11). The evidence against its authenticity is overwhelming: The earliest manuscripts with substantial portions of John’s Gospel (P66 and P75) lack these verses. They skip from John 7:52to 8:12. The oldest large codices of the Bible also lack these verses: codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, both from the fourth century, are normally considered to be the most important biblical manuscripts of the NT extant today. Neither of them has these verses. Codex Alexandrinus, from the fifth century, lacks several leaves in the middle of John. But because of the consistency of the letter size, width of lines, and lines per page, the evidence is conclusive that this manuscript also lacked the pericope adulterae. Codex Ephraemi Rescriptusalso from the fifth century, apparently lacked these verses as well (it is similar to Alexandrinus in that some leaves are missing). The earliest extant manuscript to have these verses is codex Bezae, an eccentric text once in the possession of Theodore Beza. He gave this manuscript to the University of Cambridge in 1581 as a gift, telling the school that he was confident that the scholars there would be able to figure out its significance. He washed his hands of the document. Bezae is indeed the most eccentric NT manuscript extant today, yet it is the chief representative of the Western text-type (the text-form that became dominant in Rome and the Latin West).

When P66, P75, Sinaiticus, and Vaticanus agree, their combined testimony is overwhelmingly strong that a particular reading is not authentic. But it is not only the early Greek manuscripts that lack this text. The great majority of Greek manuscripts through the first eight centuries lack this pericope. And except for Bezae (or codex D), virtually all of the most important Greek witnesses through the first eight centuries do not have the verses. Of the three most important early versions of the New Testament (Coptic, Latin, Syriac), two of them lack the story in their earliest and best witnesses. The Latin alone has the story in its best early witnesses.

Even patristic writers seemed to overlook this text. Bruce Metzger, arguably the greatest textual critic of the twentieth century, argued that “No Greek Church Father prior to Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century) comments on the passage, and Euthymius declares that the accurate copies of the Gospel do not contain it” (Textual Commentary, 2nd ed., loc. cit.).

It is an important point to note that although the story of the woman caught in adultery is found in most of our printed Bibles today, the evidence suggests that the majority of Bibles during the first eight centuries of the Christian faith did not contain the story. Externally, most scholars would say that the evidence for it not being an authentic part of John’s Gospel is rock solid.

But textual criticism is not based on external evidence alone; there is also the internal evidence to consider. This is comprised of two parts: intrinsic evidence has to do with what an author is likely to have written;transcriptional evidence has to do with how and why a scribe would have changed the text.

Intrinsically, the vocabulary, syntax, and style look far more like Luke than they do John. There is almost nothing in these twelve verses that has a Johannine flavor. And transcriptionally, scribes were almost always prone to add material rather than omit it—especially a big block of text such as this, rich in its description of Jesus’ mercy. One of the remarkable things about this passage, in fact, is that it is found in multiple locations. Most manuscripts that have it place it in its now traditional location: between John 7:52 and 8:12. But an entire family of manuscripts has the passage at the end of Luke 21, while another family places it at the end of John’s Gospel. Other manuscripts place it at the end of Luke or in various places in John 7.

The pericope adulterae has all the earmarks of a pericope that was looking for a home. It took up permanent residence, in the ninth century, in the middle of the fourth gospel.

Wallace teaches at the ultra-conservative fundamentalist Dallas Theological Seminary, and is the foremost evangelical manuscript expert in the world.

Why is this important? I think it is important because this story is very prominent for a great many Christians, especially Christian women, who use this to justify a variety of positions that are inconsistent with the rest of the Bible. These Christians do not like the idea of anyone being judged and so they are naturally inclined to blow this disputed passage into an entire theology that repudiates making moral judgments on such things as capital punishment. In fact, in another post, I was accused of being the equivalent of one of the people who wanted to stone the woman taken for adultery because I oppose fornication and single motherhood. That’s how far this has gone, where some Christians, especially Christian feminists, have leveraged this passage to redefine the Bible so that women are no longer responsible to the Bible’s moral rules and can never be blamed for acting irresponsibly.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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