"O L-RD, Who are my power and my strength and my refuge in the day of trouble, to You nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, 'Only lies have our fathers handed down to us, emptiness in which there is nothing of any avail! Can a man make gods for himself, and they are no gods? 'Therefore, behold I let them know; at this time I will let them know My power and My might, and they shall know that My Name is the L-RD".
Jeremiah 16:19-21

by Alan W. Cecil

“The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the [New Testament] Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed.” — Sir Frederic Kenyon.1

“Most Greek manuscripts differ only in a few verses, missing a few or some with a reduction in the amount of total words.” — Messianic “Rabbi” — Moshe Yoseph Koniuchowsky2

“There is strong internal testimony that the Gospels were written at an early date…this evidence leads us to believe that the first three Gospels were all composed within 30 years from the time these events occurred.”— Josh McDowell3

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” — The Wizard of Oz.

From the very beginning of Christianity, missionaries have developed and honed their attacks against Judaism. Galatians, one of the first of Paul’s epistles (and one of the very first books of the New Testament written,) attempted to explain Christianity’s supposed superiority to Judaism. Taking their cue from Paul, Christian writers unleashed a flood of propaganda against the Torah. The Epistle of Barnabas and Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho in the mid-second century developed the argument, saying that Christianity had replaced Judaism. In the late fourth century John Chrysostom’s Eight Sermons Against the Jews unleashed a flood of abuse not only on Judaism, but on those Noahides who were interested in learning Torah.4 The Church, armed with political power as the official religion of Rome, often forced Jews to convert to Christianity when its missionizing arguments failed. This missionary attack continued throughout the Middle Ages with the apostate Pablo Christian’s disputation in Barcelona with Ramban and Martin Luther’s On the Jews and Their Lies.  Even today, missionaries are still putting out books to entice both Jews and Noahides into becoming Christians.

For most of Christianity’s history, one of the bulwarks of its argument was the uniformity of the text of the New Testament. From the start of the Middle Ages, the Christian Church —Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox — used the Byzantine text, the text most familiar to us as the King James Version of the Christian Bible. Christianity built an elaborate defense of their faith based on this text, memorizing their favorite verses such as 1 John 5:7-8, “the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth” and Acts 8:37, “And Philip said, If you believe with all your heart, you may. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of G-d.” Whenever a Christian debated a non-Christian, particularly a Jew, he could trot out these faithful verses, like a guard dog protecting his theology, to “prove” Christian claims of the trinity and of Jesus’ divinity. After all, it had to be true since it said so — right there in the New Testament.

Unfortunately for the church, mid-nineteenth century scholars and archeologists started finding ancient texts of the Greek New Testament stashed away in monasteries and buried in desert trash heaps. These texts were far older than the medieval texts that had been used for translating the King James Version of the New Testament. Two of the most spectacular finds, Codex Sinaiticus —which had the complete New Testament — and Codex Vaticanus, which was almost complete (it broke off in the middle of the book of Hebrews), were thought to have been two of the fifty texts of the Bible that Constantine requested Eusebius to produce in the early fourth century. They also discovered ancient papyrus fragments of the New Testament, some of which were dated going back to the second century CE.

But there was a problem; these ancient but newly-discovered Greek texts of the New Testament were substantially different than the Byzantine text the church had used for so many centuries. Many of the missionary’s favorite “proof-texts,” such as the two verses listed above —1 John 5:7-8 and Acts 8:37 — were not in any of the ancient texts. In fact, many of the favorite verses and stories used by the missionaries seemed to be missing — verses about Jesus’ divinity, the virgin birth, and about Jesus’ miracles — theologically important verses that had been major weapons in the missionary’s arsenal were not found in these ancient documents. As scholars went back and read over the writings of the early church fathers, they noticed that many of these “proof texts” were absent from the writings of the early church as well. The differences in the 5000 Greek manuscripts of the Greek New Testament texts number into the hundreds of thousands, differences too numerous to simply explain away by any logical argument. Yet the missionaries continued to respond like the actor David Leisure (the man who played the inveterate liar “Joe Isuzu” in those humorous Isuzu car commercials of the late 1980s) — There is nothing wrong with the Greek texts,  you have my word on it!

In a recent and popular missionizing book, Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, Strobel begins his book with several chapters talking about the importance of “eyewitness testimony” and the lessons he learned while being a journalist and applying these principles to the Greek New Testament, saying that the writers of the gospels were actual eyewitnesses to Jesus. He mentions Papias,5 who was quoted in the fourth-century by Eusebius, the Father of Church Propaganda, as saying that Mark had written down the sayings of Peter, and that Matthew had written a gospel in Hebrew. Strobel also mentions that Ireneaus claims that the apostles wrote the Gospels (cf. The Noahide Code: A Guide to the Perplexed Christian, p. 62). What Strobel fails to mention is that there is not a single “eyewitness testimony” of the written Gospels by any church father before the mid-second century (about 150 CE), even though the early church fathers often speak of Paul’s writings as well as the written Tanach. For over a hundred years after Jesus’ death, there was no mention of any gospel texts. If Jesus’ teachings were transmitted orally then written down in the second century, how is that different from the Oral Law, the Talmud, which the missionary claims are mere “oral teachings and interpretations” which were also written down at the end of the second century? If the Gospels and theology were shown to be merely “oral teachings and interpretations,” the Christian argument against the Talmud would be rendered moot.

Jewish anti-missionary techniques have traditionally centered on “proof-texting” and giving alternate kosher translations and interpretations to the passages in the Tanach that Christians use to back up their Gnostic theology. As reasonable as these arguments are, they are generally ineffective. For one reason, the Jewish anti-missionary stance has simply been to defend Judaism, since Jews are not supposed to proselytize. Also, Christians (Protestants in particular) like to argue sola scriptura (Latin for “scripture alone”) when debating, which is, according to their rules, using only the Christian Bible with the “Old” and “New” Testaments. The Talmud, according to the Christians, is not “scripture” since it is not in their Bible. Instead of wasting time trying to defend the Talmud to the missionary, the question should be: what on earth is the “New” Testament doing in the Bible in the first place, since it is, by their own definition, simply oral teachings and interpretations and not “scripture?”

Most Noahides have come out of fundamentalist/evangelical Christianity, and know the tactics of the missionary. Noahides know all the arguments, they know the theology, and they know what verses the missionary will use to back up their claims. Noahides also know the fatal errors in the Christian argument, not the least of which is the validity of the Greek texts of the New Testament. There is substantial evidence that most of the books of the “New Testament” (with the possible exception of six of Paul’s epistles) were not written in the first century, but developed and written much later. The most important texts of the New Testament, the Gospels which were believed to be written by the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are actually oral teachings and stories that were written in the mid-second century. The problems with the Greek texts can be denied, certainly, but the Noahide who knows about these problems with the Greek texts can raise questions about the New Testament that no theological answer can allay, and can show the missionary that the New Testament is no more “scriptural” than the Manhattan phone directory.  Without the New Testament, the Christian argument falls apart.

Christians like to validate the authenticity of the New Testament by the vast number of the Greek manuscripts there are, thumping their Bibles proudly and pointing out that no other ancient document has such a well-preserved pedigree. There are indeed over 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. However, most of these date from the Middle-ages onward, long after the texts had been edited to their proper theological content. It is the early texts, the pre-Nicean texts instead of the later edited texts, that pose a problem for the missionary. The closer one gets to the first century and the time of the apostles, the more dissimilar the texts become. The missionary explains textual divergence as sloppiness and errors by the scribes who copied the texts. It stands to reason that, if that were the case, the early texts would be more uniform, and as errors crept in from copyists, the texts would become more and more diverse. However, it was just the opposite; the early texts are the most divergent, and only became more uniform as the scribes edited and smoothed out the language and errors in the Greek texts. Still, that no two texts of the more than 5000 are exactly identical in all their wording shows that the task of making the texts uniform was a task beyond the abilities of the Christian scribes. The problem was not that the scribes incorrectly transmitted the original writings of the apostles; the problem was there were no “original” writings of the apostles to begin with.

Let us look at the two earliest scraps of Greek New Testament text we know of. Both are from the second century. One is very well known, a papyrus fragment the size of a credit card named Rylands 52. It contains a small handful of words from the Gospel of John, and is touted as the earliest evidence of the gospels, tentatively dated around 125 CE. Of course, manuscript dating is far from being an exact science; most manuscripts are dated with a plus/minus fifty year difference, which means that the Rylands papyrus could be dated anywhere from 75 CE to 175 CE. The dating of a textual fragment as small as Rylands 52 also makes the dating more problematic; the more text you have, the easier it is to date a document by comparing the text to other texts of the same era.

However, there is good reason to believe that the latter date is the more accurate one,6 and not by the stylistic form of the text or “internal evidence,” but by the simple fact that no one — not a single church father — ever mentioned that any of the gospels existed before the mid-second century. For example, Heracleon, who was a member of the Gnostic Valentinian sect, was the first person to write about the Gospel of John in 160 CE. Irenaeus was the first “orthodox” church father to write about John, around 180 CE. When you think about the importance of the Gospel of John to Christianity, it is hard to believe that the Gospel of John was not mentioned once by any church father before 160 CE. If one takes the “eyewitness” testimony at face-value, then it is logical to believe that the Gospel of John did not exist until the mid-second century CE, especially when one considers the advanced Gnostic and theological motifs found in John’s gospel.

Rylands 52 is perhaps the most famous papyrus text of the Gospels, and is often used by Christians to “prove” their claim that John was written in the late first century, even though Rylands 52 is dated to the mid-second century. But there is another papyrus fragment that is as old, if not older, than Rylands 52 — a papyrus fragment called Egerton 2. This scrap of text is larger than the Rylands fragment, and contains a good deal more text. But it is hardly ever mentioned by Christians, for it is from a “gospel” tradition that is unknown in any other of the 5000 Greek New Testament texts. The language of Egerton 2 is much less developed than the later traditional gospels, and it combines elements of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John into its narrative. It also contains a “miracle” story that is not found in any other text of the gospels. Christians do not like to talk about Egerton 2, for this earliest of all texts, written around the mid second century, is obviously part of a written oral tradition before the traditions were separated into the different gospels. When Egerton 2 is added along with the evidence of the disparate oral gospel quotations of the early second century church fathers, and that no church father quotes directly from any of the Gospels before the mid-second century CE, this leads one to the conclusion that the gospels themselves were not written until the middle of the second century, over one hundred years after the death of Jesus. Other early papyri that have been dated to the late second and early third centuries show an amazing amount of variances and alterations. The oral traditions of Jesus, along with “miracle stories” (many more of which never made it into the four Gospels of the New Testament) were woven together and edited into the four gospels that we know today. The earliest gospel that we know of, Marcion’s gospel (which was based on the Gospel of Luke, minus any “Old” Testament references,) was written around the middle of the second century. Although theologians claim that Marcion edited out the pro-Jewish portions, it is also highly likely that his gospel was an original creation, replete with oral teachings of Jesus and “miracle” stories. This gospel, by all accounts the first gospel written, triggered a gospel-writing frenzy among the early Christians; by the end of he second century, there were dozens of gospels floating around Christendom, including the four gospels that were later included in the “New” Testament.

Although Christians like to “prove” through “internal evidence” that the Gospels were written in the first century, the hard evidence points to a different conclusion. Sir Frederic Kenyon’s quote, “The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the [New Testament] Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed” sounds forced, a “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” plea to not look at the evidence too closely, but to trust the Christian’s claims that the gospels were written in the first century based on “internal” evidence (i.e., because Christians say so.)

Instead of playing “proof-text” with the missionary, these problems with the early gospel texts, the obvious flagrant alterations and omissions, should be the point of attack on the missionary’s claims of the validity of the New Testament. Playing “proof-text” with the missionary plays right into their hands, for it validates their claim that the Gospel texts of the New Testament are “Holy Scripture” rather than pieced-together stories and teachings written long after the original apostles had died.

Notes

1.Sir Frederic Kenyon, The Bible and Archaeology. (New York: Harper and Row, 1940), p. 288- 89.

2.Moshe Yoseph Koniuchowsky, The Messianic Believer’s First Response Handbook, 2003, p. 22.

3.Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Answers to Tough Questions. (Wheaton, Illinois: Living Books, 1980), p. 25.

4. “What is this disease? The festivals of the pitiful and miserable Jews are soon to march upon us one after the other and in quick succession: the feast of Trumpets, the feast of Tabernacles, the fasts. There are many in our ranks who say they think as we do. Yet some of these are going to watch the festivals and others will join the Jews in keeping their feasts and observing their fasts. I wish to drive this perverse custom from the Church right now. My homilies against the Anomians can be put off to another time, and the postponement would cause no harm. But now that the Jewish festivals are close by and at the very door, if I should fail to cure those who are sick with the Judaizing disease…” (John Chrysostom, Homily 1.)

5. The Church’s argument of an early date for Mark’s gospel rests on the fourth century works of Eusebius, who looked at historical truth as merely a matter of convenience, and his only proof was quoting a source known to us as Papias the Stupid (“For he [Papias] appears to have been of frenzy among the early Christians; by the end of he second century, there were dozens of gospels floating around Christendom, including the four gospels that were later included in the “New” Testament.

PURCHASE ALAN CECIL’S NEW BOOK  “THE NOAHIDE COD

 

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