For more on the formation of Canon/orthodoxy – see CanonNTSpecialEdit

Why History Requires Expertise

The problem with most of Biblical research is that it has largely been conducted through a scope of sub-par standards in methodology, often with more regards to theological exegesis rather than historical understanding. It is also a conflict of interest in most instances for a theologian to perform an objective exegesis on a passage, and rather difficult considering most theologians are not experts in history or methodology of historical research, as it is outside their field. Biblical literature is plagued with diverse thoughts, research, and interpolations; it is not something that the lay man can correctly understand without proper reading, time, and effort, as well as a good education in regards to research methods. Let’s go over what is typically done for a text to determine historicity.

Textual Analysis[1]

Textual Criticism and Paleography are two commonly used ways to ascertain authenticity of a document and if it reflects the original. (or earliest redaction available) – Critical Editions of ancient texts are results of these efforts.  Performing these techniques require skill, training, and experience in areas that goes beyond simple amateur knowledge.

Literary Analysis

What we assume about genre & the semantic ranges of words in an ancient text if based solely on experience with modern literature/vocabulary will be wrong; likewise for assumptions about what was normal, known, or believed in that time. A good understanding of language as it was spoken/written as well as a strong grasp to the  historical, cultural, political, social, economic, and religious context in which it was written is needed. All of this requires extensive time/experience/knowledge that drastically separates the professional vs the amateur.

Source Analysis

Assessing/Identifying an author’s source of information requires a vast knowledge of what sources existed then and survive now, what sort of sources an author will have used, and methodologically, how to ascertain when a particular claim/passage uses a source at all, or some known or hypothesized source in particular. Again, expertise is indispensable.

Historical Analysis            (Must be last)

Historical analysis comes last; the other three stages are often completed by other experts & specialists upon whose work subsequent experts rely. Understanding when to rely on groundwork and how to understand it correctly and critically requires honing under the guidance of experts who have experience and can give you feedback to the errors/mistakes that are being made.

Scholarship on Methodologies & Criteria

  • Most modern experts, apart from Inerrants, agree Jesus in the Bible is buried in Myth/Legend
  • Experts in Methodological studies agree there are no reliable criteria for separating authentic from inauthentic Jesus tradition.
  • Methodologies used have not led to uniformity
  • Quest for Criteria has failed thus far
  • Overly speculative or presupposes information/theology

Suggested starting point readings on Methodology/Criteria

Bart Ehrman “Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in The Bible”
Gerd Theissen & Annette Merz “The Historical Jesus: A comprehensive guide”
Burton Mack “The Christian Myth: Origins, Logic, and Legacy
Stanley Porter “Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research: Previous Discussion and New Proposals”* Sheffield Academic Press
Michael Bird ”The Criterion of Greek Language and Context: A Response to Stanley Porter” – See Porter’s response to Bird in Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 4, no 1 pp 69-74
Dale Allison “Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage” & “Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet”
Hector Avalos “The End of Biblical Studies” Prometheus Books
Gerd Theissen & Dagmar Winter “The Quest for the Plausible Jesus: The Question of Criteria” Trans. John Knox Press
Chris Keith & Anthony Le Donnes “Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity” T&T Clark
M.D. Hooker “Christology & Methodology” – New Testament Studies 17 pp 480-87
John Gager “The Gospels and Jesus: Some Doubts about Method” – Journal of Religion 54, no 3 pp 244-72
Christopher Tuckett “Sources & Methods” The Cambridge Companion to Jesus pp 121-37

John Meier “Criteria: How Do We Decide What Comes From Jesus?” A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus vol 1 pp 167-195
H.W. Shin “Textual Criticism and the Synoptic Problem in Historical Jesus Research: The Search for Valid Criteria” pp 135-220; 320-34
Eric Eve “Meier Miracle, and Multiple Attestation” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 3 no 1 pp 23-45
William Lyons”The Hermeneutics of Fictional Black & Factual Red: The Markan Simon of Cyrene and the Quest for the Historical Jesus” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 4 no 2 pp139-54 & “A Prophet Rejected in His Home Town (Mark 6.4 & Parallels): A Study in the Methodological Consistency of the Jesus Seminar”  Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 6 no 1 59-84
Rafael Rodriguez “Authenticating Criteria: The Use & Misuse of a Critical Method” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 7 no 2 pp 152-67
Fernando Bermejo-Rubio ”The Fiction of the ‘Three Quests’: An Argument for Dismantling A Dubious Historiographical Paradigm” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 7.3 pp 211-53******
Walter Weaver “The Historical Jesus in the Twentieth Century, 1900-1950” Trinity
Mark Strauss ”Four Portrais, One Jesus: An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels”
Bruce Chilton & Craig Evans “Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research”

Why the Church Fathers are not credible sources. (Non-Apostolic)[2]
            – Methodologies used by church fathers[3]
Individual Examination – focus on number of passages vs quality.
– Cohesion – must not directly contradict teachings
– Out of known Manuscripts: Forgeries hold a ratio of 10:1
– Under threat of Emperor to unify sects [council of nicea]
– See Formation of Canon by RC for thorough analysis 

Manuscripts/Ancient Texts & various readings/interpolations: What we DO have.

Greek Manuscripts

– Normal mode to forge/modify documents by beginning of 2nd century.
– More than 150,000 different readings have been found in the older witnesses to the text of the New Testament–which in itself is a proof that Scriptures are not the only, nor the principal, means of revelation.
– The ancients were aware of the variant readings in the text and in the versions of the New Testament; Origen, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine particularly insisted on this state of things. In every age and in diverse places efforts were made to remedy the evil; in Africa, in the time of St. Cyprian (250); in the East by means of the works of Origen (200-54); then by those of Lucian at Antioch and Hesychius at Alexandria, in the beginning of the fourth century. Later on (383) St. Jerome revised the Latin version with the aid of what he considered to be the best copies of the Greek text. Between 400 and 450 Rabbula of Edessa did the same thing for the Syriac version.

More than 4000 have been already catalogued and partly studied, only the minority of which contain the whole New Testament. Twenty of these texts are prior to the eighth century, a dozen are of the sixth century, five of the fifth century, and two of the fourth. The most celebrated of these manuscripts are:

  • Vaticanusd 1, Rome, fourth cent.;
  • Sinaiticusd 2, Saint Petersburg, fourth cent.;
  • Ephræmus rescriptusd 3, Paris, fifth cent.;
  • Alexandrinusd 4, London, fifth cent.;
  • Cantabrigiensis (or Codex Bezæd 5, Cambridge, sixth cent.;
  • D 2 Claromontanusa 1026, Paris, sixth cent.;
  • Laurensisd 6, Mount Athos, eighth-ninth cent.;
  • Basilcensise 55, Bâle, eighth cent.

Ancient Versions

  • Several are derived from original texts prior to the most ancient Greek manuscripts. These versions are, following the order of their age, Latin, Syriac, EgyptianArmenianEthiopian, Gothic, and Georgian. The first three, especially the Latin and the Syriac, are of the greatest importance.
  • Latin version— Up to about the end of the fourth century, it was diffused in the West (Proconsular Africa,Rome, Northern Italy, and especially at Milan, in Gaul, and in Spain) in slightly different forms. The best known of these is that of  Augustine called the “Itala”, the sources of which go as far back as the second century. In 383 St. Jerome revised the Italic type after the Greek manuscripts, the best of which did not differ much from the text represented by the Vaticanus and the Sinaiticus. It was this revision, altered here and there by readings from the primitive Latin version and a few other more recent variants, that prevailed in the west from the sixth century under the name of Vulgate.
  • Syriac Version— Three primitive types are represented by the Diatessaron of Tatian (second cent.), the palimpset of Sinai, called the Lewis codex from the name of the lady who found it (third cent., perhaps from the end of the second), and the Codex of Cureton (third cent.). The Syriac Version of this primitive epoch that still survives contains only the Gospels. Later, in the fifth century, it was revised after the Greek text. The most widespread of these revisions, which became almost the official version, is called the Pesittâ (Peshitto, simple, vulgate); the others are called Philoxenian (sixth cent.), Heraclean (seventh cent.), and Syro-Palestinian (sixth cent.).
  • Egyptian Version— The best known type is that called Boharic (used in the Delta from Alexandria toMemphis) and also Coptic from the generic name Copt, which is a corruption of the Greek aiguptosEgyptian. It is the version of Lower Egypt and dates from the fifth century. A greater interest is attached to the version of Upper Egypt, called the Sahidic, or Theban, which is a work of the third century, perhaps even of the second. Unfortunately it is only incompletely known as yet.
  • These ancient versions will be considered precise and firm witnesses of the Greek text of the first three centuries only when we have critical editions of them; for they themselves are represented by copies that differ from one another. The work has been undertaken and is already fairly advanced. The primitive Latinversion had been already reconstituted by the Benedictine Sabatier (“Bibliorum Sacorum latinæ versiones antiquæ seu Vetus Italica”, Reims, 1743, 3 vols.); the work has been taken up again and completed in the English collection “Old-Latin Biblical Texts” (1883-1911), still in course of publication. The critical edition of the Latin Vulgatepublished at Oxford by the Anglicans Wordsworth and White, from 1889 to 1905, gives the Gospels and the Acts. In 1907 the Benedictines received from Pius X the commission to prepare a critical edition of the Latin Bible of St. Jerome (Old and New Testament). The “Diatessaron” of Tatian is known to us by the Arabic version edited by 1888 by Mgr. Ciasea, and by the Armenian version of a commentary of St. Ephraem (which is founded on the Syriac of Tatian) translated into Latin, in 1876, by the Mechitarists Auchar and Moesinger. The publications of H. Von Soden have contributed to make the work of Tatian better known. Mrs. A. S. Lewis has just published a comparative edition of the Syriac palimpset of Sinai (1910); this had been already done by F.C. Burkitt for the Curetoncodex, in 1904. There exists also a critical edition of the Peshitto by G.H. Gwilliam (1901). As regards the Egyptian versions of the Gospels, the edition of G. Horner (1901-1911, 5 vols.) has put them at the disposition of all those who read Coptic and Sahidic. The English translation, that accompanies them, is meant for a wider circle of readers.

Apostolic Fathers: Problematic Theology[4]

The Didache is a compilation of the earliest known tenets of Christian faith that were put together by the Apostolic Fathers; more precisely, a text on how Jewish Christians should behave & what rituals to follow as the progress into a Jewish-Gentile c. Could these possibly pose a problem to Fundamentalist faith?  The Didache utilizes a wide knowledge of scriptures that were deemed heretical/non-canon: Shepard of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas, Epistle of Polycarp, and Epistle of Ignatius of Antioch.  Apart from these scriptures that often contain contradictory ideologies to later beliefs; their works include a baptismal emphasis on salvation that is rejected by most Fundamentalists today.  – The earliest church fathers had their material & thoughts rejected by the Council of Nicea, our earliest sources of canon teachings, are immediately not recognized by the Church only 2 centuries later & often not followed today. What’s worse is the text was lost for centuries until 1873 when the Greek manuscript containing it was found.  Orthodoxy becomes a tricky assertion with discontinuity between Apostolic Fathers and later Church Fathers, as the Bible itself also speaks of other competing sects (2 Peter) as well as Galatians that exposes arguments as to what should be orthodoxy within the apostles as well.

So the Bible is errant, with forgeries and translation errors, and while producing a redaction without high speculation on some scripture will remain impossible with current knowledge, that does not mean the whole body is to be discredited – as we can pull information from a text – it just typically requires reliance from another expert for translation and such things.


[1] In a recent article published in the journal of Biblical Literature, Eldon Jay Epp discusses the urgent need for serious involvement in the area of textual criticism. According to Epp, the present status of New Testament textual criticism in North America is one of inactivity. Says he, “It is, in fact, difficult to name more than one or two recognized graduate institutions in North America where doctoral studies in the textual criticism of the New Testament can be pursued under some established specialist.”



[3] We know most changes to a text occur in the first century of its transmission, because… (1) It is then much easier to get away with it (or to make an error that goes unnoticed and uncorrected) (2) The quality of scribes at work on the Bible in its first two centuries has been proven to be substantially inferior to the professional quality of later centuries (cf. Barbara Aland). (3) A curve showing the stability of the NT text over the first twelve centuries shows stability increasing every century, which entails its stability was worse in the first century than in any following century —precisely the century invisible to us.


[4] Second-century  controversy  over  revelation  with  Marcion, various  Gnostics,  and  the  Montanists   demonstrated   the  need  of  clarity  about   the deposit left in trust by the apostolic witnesses. Influential  figures like Irenaeus,  Origen, and  Athanasius   expressed  their  views on  the  value  of  different  Scriptures  then  in circulation.  Finally,  bishops  and  synods  gave voice to  decisions  which  in the  main confirmed  long-standing  practical  utilization  of books  in the  liturgical  lectionaries. But the fourth-century   synods  also  settled doubtful  issues, such as the  status  of the Epistle to  the Hebrews,  the value of John’s  Apocalypse,  and  the full number  of the Catholic Epistles. Different criteria were applied at different times, for example, as the inclusion of some disputed books was settled on the basis of their harmony with the traditional   rule of faith.  The  rule of faith,  however,  could  hardly  be applied  to  the synoptic  gospels  and  Paul  as their  criterion  of canonicity,  since the  rule  had  been closely linked  from  the  beginning  to  these  documents,   being  taken  as  the  concise recapitulation  of the sense of their witness to the Christ-event. See Jared Wicks, Gregorianum, Vol. 67, No. 2 (1986), pp. 368-370 – Gregorian Biblical Press


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