NT Textual Variations and Why They’re Not a Big Deal

Matthew Fragment

Fragment of the Gospel According to Matthew (original autograph: ~60-70 A.D.); This is a copy dating to ~250 A.D. (Wikimedia Commons)

In a 2013 article entitled, Is the New Testament Text Reliable?, Greg Koukl tacked the old assertion that the New Testament has been copied and recopied so many times over the ages that today, we can’t even know what the original texts said.  To kick off that article, Koukl used a great example of how this meme continues to be perpetuated:

In the spring of 1989 syndicated talk show host Larry King interviewed Shirley MacLaine on the New Age. When a Christian caller contested her view with an appeal to the New Testament, MacLaine brushed him off with the objection that the Bible has been changed and translated so many times over the last 2000 years that it’s impossible to have any confidence in its accuracy. King was quick to endorse her “facts.” “Everyone knows that,” he grunted.

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Busted (14): Mark’s “Error” Regarding Jewish Handwashing Rituals

Washing-handsCritics are fond of claiming that the gospels are full of historical errors, and that they are therefore unreliable as historical documents.  Today’s article focuses on an alleged error in Mark’s gospel.  Let’s get started by allowing biblical scholar, Bart Ehrman, to enlighten us regarding Mark’s ineptitude as an historian:

Mark 7:3 indicates that the Pharisees ‘and all the Jews’ washed their hands before eating, so as to observe ‘the tradition of the elders.’ This is not true: most Jews did not engage in this ritual.1

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Busted (13):  On Mark’s (& Matthew’s) Geographical Ineptitude

Mark Coptic IconIn this short article, we tackle yet another alleged error in the Gospel of Mark (and address the same “error” in Matthew’s gospel, as well).  Let’s dive right in by reading the first verse in question, Mark 10:1 (NIV):

 Jesus then left that place [Capernaum, in Galilee] and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

 Some critics have argued that this verse contains a geographical error because it says that Jesus went from Capernaum, across the Jordan, and into Judea.  That’s impossible, we are told, because Judea is not actually across the Jordan river from Capernaum…They’re both on the same side of the river. Continue reading

Busted (12): Mark’s Alleged Geographical Ignorance

In this article, we tackle an alleged error in the Gospel of Mark.  Critics point to this “error” as clear evidence that Mark’s gospel was not actually written by Mark.  Let’s see if the argument is persuasive.

The passage in question is Mark 7:31, which describes the route that Jesus took on one of his travels.  Here’s the verse:

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Before we dive into the alleged error, it would be helpful to view Jesus’ route on a map.  As you can see in figure 1, Jesus would have left the vicinity of Tyre, then travelled north, seemingly about 15-20 miles out of his way, before turning south and heading towards the region of the Decapolis. Continue reading

Busted (11): The Nazareth Myth

A scene from modern-day Nazareth

A scene from modern-day Nazareth; Source – Wikimedia Commons

To some people, the very idea of Jesus is apparently so threatening, that they will go to great lengths to pretend he never even existed.  Some of the shoddiest biblical “scholarship” I have ever read defends the so-called “Jesus Myth” theory:  The idea that Jesus never existed—or that he was just a normal guy around whom great myths were developed after his death.  From Richard Carrier to Acharya S (a pseudonym for author Dorothy Murdock, apparently meaning “guru”), we get treated to numerous varieties of the Jesus myth.  One element of the Jesus myth is the idea that Nazareth, Jesus’ home town, did not exist in his day.  As this fringe argument goes:  Nazareth didn’t exist, and so Jesus didn’t either.  As evidence, they tell us that Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament, the Talmud, or in other early rabbinic literature. Continue reading

Busted (10): Mark’s Bad Geography?

Image credit: Map adapted from one created by Ralph F. Wilson, pastor@joyfulheart.com

Image credit: Map adapted from one created by Ralph F. Wilson, pastor@joyfulheart.com

Throughout our ongoing Busted series, we’ve been exploring critics’ claims that the gospels are full of historical and geographical errors, and are therefore untrustworthy sources of information.  So far, the gospel writers are coming out looking pretty good.

In today’s short article, we tackle a totally nit-picky, never-should-have-been-made accusation against Mark. The verse in Question is Mark 11:1 (ESV): Continue reading

Busted (9): The Census

Census

Byzantine Mosaic (c. 1315) showing Joseph and Mary registering for the census before Quirinius. This demonstrates a common misunderstanding of what Luke’s text intended to communicate. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

As I write this article, Christmas is just a few days away.  So, it’s only fitting that we study a part of the Christmas story that critics love to attack:  The census.  According to Luke’s gospel, Joseph and a very pregnant Mary travelled from Nazareth to Joseph’s home town of Bethlehem to be “registered” as part of a census decreed by Caesar Augustus.  Here is the relevant passage, Luke 2:1-3 (ESV): Continue reading

Busted (8): The Question of Jesus and the Demoniac

Busted 1The story of Jesus and the demoniac, as told in Mark 5, Matthew 8, and Luke 8 is a familiar one in which Jesus encounters a man possessed by a large number of demons.  After a brief conversation, Jesus commands the “legion” to leave the man and enter a herd of nearby pigs.  These pigs then rush down a steep incline and drown in the sea below.

To Bible critics, this story is a potential gold mine.  Across these parallel accounts, they claim, we have both historical error and contradiction that clearly prove the Bible is neither inerrant nor even reliable. Continue reading

Busted (7): The Book of Acts Agrees With the Skeptics!?

Painting of Luke, the author of Acts, Andrea Mantegna, 1453-54

Painting of Luke, the author of Acts, Andrea Mantegna, 1453-54

Many anti-Christian commentators argue that the gospels and other New Testament documents, contrary to Church teaching, could not have been written by direct eyewitnesses to the events they describe.  This is because, they argue, Jesus and his disciples were just simple, illiterate, Aramaic-speaking peasants who probably couldn’t write their own names, let alone a Greek gospel account.  The argument is weak, and we have countered it in other articles (here and here).

However, there is another angle to this argument that we should address.  Let’s allow Matthew Ferguson, a Ph.D. hopeful—and activist atheist—from UC-Irvine to lay it out for us: Continue reading

Busted (6): The Massacre of the Innocents…Did It Happen?

Herod the Great

Herod the Great

The second chapter of Matthew relates a story found in no other gospel, known as the Massacre of the Innocents.  In this story, King Herod (the king of Judea and client of Rome) orders the killing of all boys less than two years of age in Bethlehem.  Herod takes this “scorched earth” approach in a desperate attempt to find and kill the recently-born Jesus, who he believes will grow to become a threat to his throne.

Critics have long alleged that this story never happened, saying that the gospel author just made it up to create a fulfillment of prophecy.  Continue reading