In this piece, I largely follow a presentation given by Dr. Danial Wallace*, but I add in some additional information about the early church to round out the information. Dr. Wallace underscores the fact that the early church was particularly concerned about the authorship of the writings they relied upon. They only trusted the writings of the apostles and associates of the apostles. We see this concern reflected in the writings of the earliest church fathers.
The original gospels, however, were anonymous, notes Wallce; that is they did not have internal references to who wrote them. They were only given names to distinguish them from each other externally, and this tradition went all the way back as far as we can trace them. The fact that the early church was so concerned with authorship, but universally accepted and used the four canonical gospels, suggests that the authorship of the Gospels was never in doubt.
This point will become more important below. How the Gospels and other documents that have come to comprise the New Testament became recognized as scripture and other documents did not, is the subject of this piece.
The Bible is ubiquitous in our society. More people have an opinion on the Bible than people who have read it, or at least much of it. The text was written over a period of 1500 years by about 40 some different people. As a literary text, I was struck when I first read it (for a class in college) by how complex, yet harmonious the Bible is. There was an internal authenticity that spoke to me.
While our society tends to view the Bible as just another book, a piece of our history and common culture, something that people tend to like (the most read book), but nothing to be taken terribly seriously, people of faith view it as the Word of God, sent from heaven, a revelation of God’s purpose and design for mankind. Few people really study the Bible in-depth and detail from an “objective” view. Maybe no one does. We come to it with our preconceived notions, and we look for support for what we already believe is true.
I have a great deal of doubt in the human ability to be objective. Scientists who live by the scientific method, in my opinion, can be as guilty of bias as the common man, and are all the more culpable for claiming it is science. But that is the subject of another discussion.
At the same time, there are stories of people who set out to disprove the Bible who come to believe it is true. Many of them in fact.
I did not approach the Bible initially like that; rather I approached it as I approached everything in my life during my search-for-truth-phase: I assumed there was truth in the Bible like there was truth in the Bhagavad gita, the Quran, Khalil Gibran, Aristotle, Plato and all of the philosophers, and Emerson, Shakespeare and all of the great writers. I still believe there is truth to that assumption. Truth is truth no matter where it is found. If truth is attainable and knowable, people from all over the world should have some grasp of it.
As a much older person, I have also come to believe firmly in the human capacity to ignore, overlook and dismiss the truth. There is so much at stake, chiefly our own pride and self-esteem. We commit to principles quickly sometimes, and we hold fast in the face of contrary evidence because we do not want to be wrong, especially once we have invested ourselves in those principles. We have fears and insecurities that we try to cover, and we try to protect ourselves from being exposed. There are probably hundreds of reasons, big and small, that we miss the truth – big truths and little truths. It takes a lot of energy to be on the lookout for truth, and many of us do not have that energy or the time in our fast-paced, busy lives to be that vigilant.
Much has been made about inconsistencies and contradictions in the Bible and lack of archaeological and historical evidence. The inconsistencies and contradictions that I have checked out are largely due to to lack of knowledge, misunderstanding or purposeful attempts to miscast the text. Archaeological and historical claims are based more on lack of evidence than contradictory evidence. Modern discoveries do more to substantiate the Biblical text than to disprove it. Still, there may be no absolute proof of the veracity of the Biblical text this side of heaven.
As intelligent, or capable of intelligence, we are as human beings, none of us can claim to be all-knowing, all-seeing or to have a corner on ultimate truth – at least none of us can claim it with a straight face or a sound mind.
With that said, I have found no reasons not to discount the Bible as the authentic revelation of God in the 30 years since I came to be a believer. In that time, I have found even more reasons to accept it.