Attacks against the Bible

edited December 1969 in Coptic Orthodox Church
Hey guys, I recently had a discussion with a really smart friend of mine at school and we started to talk about the Bible, and to make a long story short I couldn't figure out how to prove to this guy how we disprove such things as the gospel of St. Thomas, or the gospel of Mary, or the so called Nag Hammadi gospels, etc. Honestly I got really angry at him because of some of the things he said but anyway, I really want to get indepth on this to prove to this guy, (for lack of a better term), the Vailidity of the New Testament.

On a side note though, personally I can't stand having these arguements with people because I get too angry at them. I suppose they're not to blame for their lack of knowledge, but still, they just really get me worked up because it's almost like they dont want the Bible or anything in it. It's like they dont care at all for their lives because they look at the Bible and basically spit on it (metaphorically speaking.) In other words, I can't understand how they can choose to live in the darkness over the light.

Anyway, each and every response is really appreciated, thanks a lot you guys. ;D


  • This is a very fair question. However, as much as I would sincerely wish to give you an in-depth answer I believe that there is an immense scope to cover, regarding this area, which would be unconscionable to attempt with the confines of this simple message.
    It is imperative for people to go and research the truth regarding the historicity of their faith and to comparatively note the major difference of their faith to other faiths. I have no regrets in my belief and have come to find that the more one thoroughly researches the Christian faith, the more one finds his faith is established and well invested in. Here are but a few reasons in defense of the New Testament gospels;

    I. The Profound difference between the Gnostic and accepted New Testament gospels:
    The Gnostic sources (such as the gospel of Thomas, or the gospel of Mary) are not considered to have been written during the same time period as the authentic gospel writers Mathew, Mark or Luke (synoptic gospels) nor during the time period of St John's gospel. In fact, they have been measured with the same scrutiny as was used in determining the historicity of the 4 original gospels of Jesus Christ and have been estimated to have lapsed between a time period of at least three or more centuries since the original gospels were written--the Gnostic gospels were probably written around 350-500 AD., if not later. Historians have almost universally attested to the higher probability for the fabrication of an event in such a extensive time gap.

    Furthermore, the very substance within the Gnostics have inherently corroborated the very Truth of the New Testament gospels through their fatalistically erroneous claims. The original four gospels as well as various other New Testament books were chosen on the basis of commonly excepted tradition at the time, their exceptional uniqueness in comparison to Gnostic sources, and ultimately the martyrdom of the saints who gave their lives for the truth. The Gnostic sources differ extensively from the spirituality expressed in the regularly excepted four gospels.
    For instance, the claim against the original church fathers was that the early church had stolen Jesus from His original followers and shrouded His original teachings from the public. The claim suggested that Jesus was only later exalted in a position of divinity; a position that He had not previously possessed until the late council of Nicea. However, such a claim brought about by Gnostic followers is fallaciously unwarranted. The council and the Creed that followed thereafter represented what Christians had believed for over two hundred years prior to the council. Ultimately, the council had affirmed the texts that corroborated with such views….not the alteration of traditional views.

    The Gnostic gospels also emphatically differed in terms of their theological concept of God and Creation. Valentinis, one of the most famous gnostics, believed in hierarchies of spiritual beings called Aeons. The beliefs of his gospel went as follows. One of the lowest Aeons, Sohpia, fell and gave birth to the malicious god called the Demi-Urge.
    This Demi-Urge proceeded to create the visible world we live in, thus assimilating the “wickedness of the flesh” into all creation. The pure spirits suddenly and cataclysmically became entangled into the fleshy bodies. Christ was an Aeon that came to then free us from this ewntanglement by taking possession of the physical body Jesus. In essence He possessed the man known as Jesus. However, not all individuals could be freed from the imprisonment within the flesh….only those who were intellectually advanced. Ordinary Christians who lacked sufficient brain power could only reach the Demi-Urge’s middle realm. All other people were pre-destined to undergoe an eternal doom. Salvation was then only preserved for the few elite who inherently brighter then others.            
    In the Apochryphan of John2 v 9-25, another Gnostic source, we are given a definitive description of Jesus as he explains to John who He really was. It states,
    He said to me,” ‘John, John. Why do you doubt? And why are you afraid? You are not unfamiliar with this image are you? That is do not be timid. I am the One who was with all of you, always. I am the Father, I am the Mother, I am the Son, I am the undefiled and incorruptible One. Now I have come to teach you what is, and what was and what will come to pass that you may know the things which are not revealed and those that are revealed and to teach you concerning the unwavering race of perfect man. Now therefore lift up your face that you may receive the things that I shall teach you today and may tell them to your fellow spirits that are from the unwavering race of the perfect man.’ ” (Breaking the Davinci Code, Bach)      

    As scholars have noted, the Gnostic belief construed God as being more of a diad (father and mother), rather then in a Trinity. There was the ineffable Father and the consoling mother within the One God. The womb (mother) was considered to be the feminine aspect of God that permitted for Divine beings to spring forth. The Judeo-Christian belief holds the apparent difference of labeling God as neither male nor female. Christianity never assumes a feministic engendering towards Our Lord and His character. By the same token, it should be taken as certain that the Gnostic gospels did not view women as being equal by any means.
    Refer to the gospel of Thomas 1:14; “Peter said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let Mary Leave us for women are not worthy of Life. Jesus said I myself will lead her in order to make her male so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every women that will make herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven.”

    If anything, one finds that the Gnostic gospels held a portrait of gender that attempted to re-write the account of creation through human standards of gender and power. The Gnostic accounts depict a distant impersonal God, who works through emissaries, to enter into the world apathetically. It is far distinct from the Christian God who enters into the world personally and beneficently, and into the sufferings of humanity for the redemption of our souls.     
    Most significantly the person of Jesus is comparatively different in both the Gnostic and New Testament gospels in regard to His person, work on the cross and salvation. Consider three Gnostic texts. Apocalypse of Peter 81:4-24 shows the dialogue between Peter and Jesus with Peter being the first speaker,
    I saw Him apparently being seized by them and I said ‘What am I seeing Oh Lord? Is it really you whom they take? And are you holding on to me? And are they hammering the feet and nails of another? Who is this One above the cross Who is glad and laughing?’ The Savior said to me ‘He whom you saw being glad and laughing above the cross is the living Jesus. But He whom they are driving the nails into His hands and feet is the fleshly part which is the substitute. They put to shame that which remained in His likeness,..and look at Him and look at Me”
    This passage indicates a key difference between the Christian faith and that of the Gnostics. The “secret” gospels indicate that there are two beings. The Savior ids from the Father who has nothing to do with flesh, bodies or death.

    This God becomes too transcendent to bother with any fallen, corrupt or material existence. The Gnostic Savior does not actually suffer but causes a mere earthly substitute, the living Jesus, to suffer while He laughed from up above at the world’s ignorance.
       A second text comes from Trietus 2 of the great Seth v56: 6-19. Jesus speaks about His experience on the cross,
    “It was another who drank the gall and vinegar, it was not I. They struck me with the reed. It was another Simon who bore the cross on his shoulder. It was another upon whom they placed the crown of thorns. But I was rejoicing in the height over their error and I was laughing at their ignorance.”
    Once again the significant separation of the divine from the physical is clearly iterated in the Gnostic gospels. The Savior from Heaven did not suffer on the cross and lacked genuine humanity….a concept utterly rejected by the apostolic teachings.

    The Gnostic gospels constantly advocate the belief that men have the wisdom or the energy within to attain salvation. Ultimately, salvation is attained through the ability to discover one’s true inner self in sharp contrast with salvation obtained through the grace of God. It very much resembles type of Karmatic law initiated by Hindu and Buddhist religion, except without any hint of re-incarnation. The light from God merely triggers a light within individuals that leads to knowledge. This knowledge grants the individual salvation.

    Dr Pagels, an eminent researcher on Gnostic teachings notes “For this religious group, Theology is really Anthropology.” The gospel of Thomas 45:43-47 puts it as such, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you”. The gospel of Thomas 3 explains, “The Kingdom is inside you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will be known. Then you will see it is you who are the children of the living Father.” Here, spirituality is not obtained through life in Jesus Christ. Nor does love play any role in the life of an individual. Salvation is obtained through self-revelation, regardless of God and of His work on the cross. Essentially, God becomes an insignificant force that really has nothing to do with the live of His followers.

    Such is merely a glimpse of the fallacious claims the church fathers found in the Gnostic sources and why such sources were firmly rejected as being divinely inspired.

    II. The Historical distinctiveness of the New Testament Gospels             
    When looking at the reliability of very ancient texts, it is essential to note that the original manuscripts of an historical event is not the major source used in critiquing an event’s reliability. Until the around the fourth century A.D. original manuscripts could not be preserved for long durations of time. Rather, historians look at the number of the most ancient manuscripts available psoterior to the fourth century. The greater amount of manuscripts, the greater the credibility. Due to time and wear, the majority of ancient worlds have left very few historical manuscripts from which we can look at.   

    For instance, there are only 8 copies Heodus’s historical works, from which the originals were written in 480-425 BC. Likewise there are only 5 copies of Aristotle’s writings in the present century and only 10 copies of the writings of Ceasar. For the historian Tacitus we have 20 copies and for the historian Philly only 7 copies both originally written in the first century.
    However, such is not at all the case when one looks at the manuscript evidence for the New Testament documents. It is by far the most documented source to exist in all of history. The difference is absolutely astounding. Unlike with other sources, Atheistic historians can not help but shudder at the implications that the New Testament documentation as has shown.
    As Dr Jay Smith, doctoral candidate for a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies, best describes;
    We have today in our possession 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, another 10,000 Latin Vulgates, and 9,300 other early versions (MSS), giving us more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today!..... a total of 230 manuscript portions are currently in existence which pre-date 600 AD. These can be broken down into 192 Greek New Testament manuscripts, 5 Greek lectionaries containing scripture, and 33 translations of the Greek New Testament (Aland 1987:82-83).” In comparison with other documented ancient historical source, the New Testament by far is unprecedented in terms of it’s preservation over time.

    Even more so, historical events are judged on the basis of timing between the actual event’s occurrence and the earliest manuscript following up to that event. Interestingly, the majority of historians will note that for an event to become significantly fabricated in terms of its facts there must be a gap of at least two centuries in between the time of the vent and the earliest written source. The reason being, any attempt to fabricate a story at within the first century of that event, would be adamantly opposed by any eye-witnesses who lived through the occurrence. This includes even hostile eye-witnesses who would have austerely strived to preserve the teachings of a founder.
    This is especially true for the New Testament books, in which the majority of scholars have come to date all of the gospels origin within a time frame of the beggining to the end of the first century. In fact, some scholars have denoted the gospels as having been founded within only 20-30 years since the life of Jesus. It is then impeccable to claim that any notion of fabrication comes about only through unwarranted pre-suppositions.

    As Dr Smith concurs;
    “In fact, outside of the book of Revelation and the three letters of John considered to have been written later, when we look at the rest of the New Testament books, there is no longer any solid basis for dating them later than 80 AD, or 50 years after the death of Jesus Christ (Robinson 1976:79).
    Most of the New Testament was likely written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and perhaps before the fire of Rome (64 AD), and the subsequent persecution of Christians, since none of these events, which would have had an enormous impact on the nascent Christian community, are mentioned in any of the New Testament writings. Had the documents been compiled in the second century as …certainly they would have mentioned these very important events.”

    And as Dr Craig Bloomberg explains in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels,
    “The short period of time between the actual events described (c AD 27-30) and the time in which Mark wrote (c AD 70-75 at the latest, and probably pre-70) distinguishes the formation of the gospels from most other allegedly parallel processes of oral transmition in antiquity, which generally span several centuries”

    For the majority of widely accepted historical figures, the interval of time places a much larger gap between the earliest manuscript evidence and the actual original source document. For instance, Thucydides, who wrote History of the Peloponnesian War, lived from 460 BC to 400 BC. Everything we know about the war comes from his history.
    Yet, the earliest copy of any manuscripts of Thucydides' work dates around 900 AD…. a full 1,300 years later. The Roman historian Suetonius lived between AD 70 to 140 AD. Yet the earliest copy of his book The Twelve Caesars is dated around AD 950… a full 800 years later. (Dr Smith). Consider the following table and the gaps between documentation and event for the following widely secular documents.

    Author Date Written Earliest Copy Time Span

    (Secular Manuscripts):
    Herodotus 480 - 425 BC    900 AD    1,300 years
    Thucydides 460 - 400 BC    900 AD    1,300 years
    Aristotle     384 - 322 BC    1,100 AD    1,400 years
    Caesar     100 - 44 BC    900 AD    1,000 years
    Pliny     61 - 113 AD    850 AD    750 years
    Suetonius 70 - 140 AD    950 AD    800 years
    Tacitus    100 AD    1,100 AD    1,000 years

    Now compare those to the timing for the various New Testament manuscripts:

    Author Date Written Earliest Copy Time Span

    (Biblical Manuscripts): (note; these are individual manuscripts)

    Magdalene Ms 1st cent    50-60 AD    co-existant(?)
    John Rylands (Jn)    90 AD    130 AD    40 yrs
    Bodmer Papyrus II (Jn) 90 AD 150-200 AD 60-110 yrs
    Chester B. Papyri (N.T.) 1st cent    200 AD    150 yrs
    Diatessaron (Gospels) 1st cent    200 AD    150 yrs
    Codex Vaticanus (Bible) 1st cent    325-350 AD 275-300 yrs
    Codex Sinaiticus (Bible) 1st cent   350 AD    300yrs
    Codex Alexandrinus (Bible) 1st cent  400 AD    350yrs

    Many of the early church fathers were still in existence during the time an original manuscript of the New Testament was written and the time the earliest copy, available to us now was written. There would be insufficient amount of time for drastic embellishment to take place, not to mention that the apostles were individuals who would have refuted any false oral embellishments.

    Furthermore, it is significant to note that recently biblical scholar, Dr. Thieid has published a new finding regarding the gospel of Mark in his book Jesus Papyrus. The book explains that within ancient scrolls called the Qumran scrolls, a fragment from Mark’s book is found within in it. This suggests that Mark may have been written as 68 A.D. Since Christ dies in 33.A.D this leaves only 35 year gap in between, which implies that Mark’s account was written during the life time of the eye-witnesses. This is especially important since the gospels Mathew and Luke are said to have used Mark’s gospel as a reference as well as another source called Q and outside traditional (oral) sources.

    Also according to The Jesus Papyrus, a manuscript fragment from the gospel of Mathew (Chapter 26) called the “Magdalene Manuscript” was analyzed in terms of it’s handwriting. It was compared, using a special state-of-the-art microscope, with the Qumran scroll and the Herclaneum scroll (both dated between 58AD and 79AD) as well as an Egyptian papyrus in the town of Oxyrnchusin in terms of the ink used and style of writing. The Magdalene Manuscript matched all of the other manuscripts, thus, demonstrating that St Matthew’s gospel was written no later then 65/66 AD. This would then be the oldest manuscript portion of our Bible in existence today. (This of course suggests that Mark’s gospel was written even earlier.)

    Another interesting fact, is that beyond the 24,000 manuscripts we have a whole host of other manuscripts from other portions of the world as well. For instance, we have more than 15,000 existing copies of the various versions written in the Latin and Syriac (Christian Aramaic), some of which were written as early as 150 A.D (one example is the Syriac Peshitta manuscript written in 150-250 A.D.) Or as Dr Smith better explains,

    “Because Christianity was a missionary faith from its very inception (Matthew 28:19-20), the scriptures were immediately translated into the known languages of that period. For that reason other written translations appeared soon after, such as Coptic translations (early 3rd and 4th centuries), Armenian (400 A.D.), Gothic (4th century), Georgian (5th century), Ethiopic (6th century), and Nubian (6th century)

    it would have been almost impossible, had the disciples or later followers wanted to corrupt or forge its contents, for them to have amassed all of the translations from the outlying areas and changed each one so that there would have been the uniformity which we find witnessed in these translations today.

    The very uniformity of the various thousands of manuscripts suggests that either that all the translators in various parts of the world astoundingly wrote the same gospels, by coincidence…..or, the gospel message never changed from eye witness to eye witness."

    Finally, it is interesting to note that the early Church Fathers, some as early as the third century, have quoted passages from the gospels and recorded in their writings. Considering that the earliest manuscript copies we have are found around the 3rd century or earlier, these quotations all the more attest to the constancy of the gospel message all throughout. (In fact, Sir David Dalrymple found that all but eleven verses from the New Testament were quoted). It is reasonable to assume that had all of the gospel messages been fabricated, at least a few fathers would have felt the need to inform us of this error….yet there is not. Thus either the totality of the church fathers had accepted a fabricated gospel and followed through with a conspiracy, or the gospel message remained unchanged since the lifetime of our lord and His apostles.

    These are all but a few of the attested facts that indicate the credibility and reliability of the New Testament documents. There are of course a whole multitude of other reasons to consider the credibility of the gospels. A few instances include,

    a.) The 2,135 lectionaries recorded from the 6th century that would also have to have been fabricated, had the gospels been fabricated. Especially since many were brought about due to the continuing oral tradition since the time of Our Lord.

    b.) “Paul's reference to Erastus as the treasurer of Corinth (Romans 16:23) was thought to be erroneous, but now has been confirmed by a pavement found in 1929 bearing his name.” (Smith)

    c.) “Luke's use of the word Meris to maintain that Philippi was a "district" of Macedonia was doubted until inscriptions were found which use this very word to describe divisions of a district.”

    d.) "Luke's mention of Quirinius as the governor of Syria during the birth of Jesus has now been proven accurate by an inscription from Antioch.”

    e.) “Luke's usage of Politarchs to denote the civil authority of Thessalonica (Acts 17:6) was questioned, until some 19 inscriptions have been found that make use of this title, 5 of which are in reference to Thessalonica.”

    f.) "Luke's usage of Proconsul as the title for Gallio in Acts 18:12 has come under much criticism by secular historians, as the later traveller and writer Pliny never referred to Gallio as a Proconsul. This fact alone, they said, proved that the writer of Acts wrote his account much later as he was not aware of Gallio's true position. It was only recently that the Delphi Inscription , dated to 52 A.D. was uncovered. This inscription states, "As Lusius Junius Gallio, my friend, and the proconsul of Achaia..."

    Here then was secular corroboration for the Acts 18:12 account. Yet Gallio only held this position for one year. Thus the writer of Acts had to have written this verse in or around 52 A.D and not later, otherwise he would not have known Gallio was a proconsul. Suddenly this supposed error not only gives credibility to the historicity of the Acts account, but also dates the writings in and around 52 A.D. Had the writer written the book of Acts in the 2nd century as many liberal scholars suggest he would have agreed with Pliny and both would have been contradicted by the eyewitness account of the Delphi Inscription.”

    So as the renowned William F. Albright best states;

    "The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible by important historical schools of the 18th and 19th centuries, certain phases which still appear periodically, has been progressively discredited. Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history."

    May God Bless

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