Has the Teaching in the New Testament Become Corrupted Over Time?

A few years ago, Newsweek magazine celebrated Christmas by publishing a withering attack on the Christian Church and its view of the Bible. You can read their piece here.

Their thesis is that our New Testament does not reflect what the first Christians originally wrote. Rather, we have a hodgepodge of ideas that have been inserted into the original text much later on. We are left with the results of a gradual evolution of religious ideas that were imposed on the Christian Church through the re-writing and downright fabrication of New Testament books. This makes the Bible an unfortunate piece of literature:

  • containing logical contradictions and translation errors.
  • was not written by eye witnesses at all, but later individuals with no connection to the events described.

The Bible is not what evangelical Christians want it to be, Newsweek says. To allow people to continue revering it is pure ignorance, cynicism and laziness on the part of today’s Church. Besides, Christians might claim to revere the Bible but they are just Biblically illiterate. So – Newsweek intends to helpfully set the record straight on what the Bible really is.

How charitable of them!

It’s going to take a few posts to respond to the specific claims. Here’s the first one:

 

CLAIM – We don’t know what the New Testament originally said. What we have are words reflecting the convictions of later scribes.

In other words, you can’t take what the text says at face value because its meaning has been gradually corrupted over the centuries.

One example is supposedly Christian belief in the deity of Christ. They claim that later translators falsely reinforce this idea about Jesus by selectively translating a particular Greek word (“adoro” in Latin) as “worship” when referring to Jesus. When applied to another person, it is translated “bow.”

They say, “with a little translation trickery, a fundamental tenet of Christianity – that Jesus is God – was reinforced in the Bible, even in places where it directly contradicts the rest of the verse.”[1]

So – are they saying that Christ’s deity is not a basic tenet of first century Christianity, but manufactured later on?

If so, this claim is demonstrably false because:

1 – Early second century documents written by the Church Father’s make constant reference to belief in the deity of Christ.

These documents are not contained within the Bible. They were written by Christian leaders to various churches. They give us a window into first century Christianity, and we see early beliefs which match the reading of our current New Testament. So, was Christ’s deity manufactured later on by creative scribes?

Of course not. Here’s what they were talking about amongst the 1st/2nd century church leaders:

Polycarp (AD69 – AD155) – “Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … build you up … all those under heaven who will yet believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ.”[2]

Ignatius (AD50 – AD117) – “by the will of the Father and Jesus Christ our God”[3]

Justin Martyr, Melito of Sardis, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, the list goes on. These first and second century Christian leaders affirm the New Testament gospels and Paul’s letters and they refer to Christ’s deity as if it’s a known and purely basic Christian belief.

 

2 – There are Four S’s of Pre-New Testament Christian Belief

The four S’s are:

Scripture – the Christians began with the Hebrew scriptures (our Old Testament) and this was their foundational baseline.

Summaries – in his letters, the Apostle Paul writes down oral summaries, or creeds, of Christian beliefs including belief in Christ’s deity (1 Corinthians 8:4-6).

Singing – Christians took songs and Psalms from the Hebrew scriptures that referred to Yahweh and used them to refer to Jesus. This shows that the first century Christians believed in the deity of Christ. This is incredible for Jewish monotheists, and demands an explanation. We can see one of them in Philippians 2:9 – 11 (a reworking of Isaiah 45:22-23)

Sacraments – When the church practiced Baptism and the Lord’s Supper they acted out their early beliefs of the salvation story.

These four S’s all pre-date the original writing of the New Testament documents so they help us understand what the first Christians really believed and taught.  My crucial point is – the first century Christians used these four approaches to stay on track in terms of their beliefs. Fast forward to the 21st century, these four S’s allow Christians today to show that our New Testament reflects first century Christian belief correctly.

 

So – I’ve pointed to two lines of evidence that Christ’s deity was not manufactured later on, but was present in the initial New Testament documents.

Given that, is it not more reasonable to lay aside scepticism and cynicism around the use of the word “adoro?” New Translator translators are not injecting false notions into their translation. Rather, they are helping the contemporary English audience understand how the original audience would have interpreted the original Greek text. This, after all, is the whole point of a “dynamic equivalent” translation!

 

Conclusion

We can see that the New Testament reflects first century Christian belief, specifically about the identity of Jesus. So Newsweek’s specific claim is false.

Of course, if you’ve read a Book by the scholar Bart Ehrman, you know where the Newsweek article got its inspiration from. Yet Ehrman’s arguments are viewed by so many academic historians as scepticism that has decided to throw out the historical evidence itself. If we do that, we can claim whatever we want. But the evidence is clear. “Devotion to Jesus as divine erupted suddenly and quickly, not gradually and late, among first century followers.”[4]

[1] Kurt Eichenwald, The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin, Newsweek, published 23rd December, 2014, accessed 10th October, 2019, https://www.newsweek.com/2015/01/02/thats-not-what-bible-says-294018.html.

[2] Tim Barnett, Nine Early Church Fathers Who Taught Jesus is God, Stand to Reason, published 24th November, 2016, accessed 10th October, 2019, https://www.str.org/blog/nine-early-church-fathers-who-taught-jesus-god#.XZ8Tvm5Fw2w.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Jonathan Morrow, Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible’s Authority, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014), 54.

 

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Respond

I live in the UK, I'm married to Janet and I'm passionate about proposing a case for the historic Christian faith. You can find me on Twitter at @stuhgray.

13 thoughts on “Has the Teaching in the New Testament Become Corrupted Over Time?”

  1. “1 – Early second century documents written by the Church Father’s make constant reference to belief in the deity of Christ.” No they all do not. We have various ideas of what Jesus Christ was. Why would you lie about this?

    1. If you can demonstrate I’ve said something misleading based on the appropriate references (perhaps starting with the one I’ve given in the blog) then I am interested. Please tell me more!

      1. ah, yes, my mistake. Your blog deals with ignoring Jewish Christians, who did not believe that Jesus was god, but only the messiah. You consider your only sources to be the “church fathers” and ignore who likely wrote the NT.

        Your claim “So – I’ve pointed to two lines of evidence that Christ’s deity was not manufactured later on, but was present in the initial New Testament documents.” is based on ignoring other Christians.

      2. What can I say? I’m a sucker for cogent ideas combined with rich volumes of documentary evidence!! lol

        Go write a blog about these issues rather than firing links you’ve googled at me please. Look forward to reading it!

      3. no, you don’t, stuart. If you cared about the evidence you’d read, the links. but nice try to deny reality. Like most Christians, you try to pretend that only your version is the “true” one, and insist that no one else teaches it “right”. And of course, no Christian can show that their claims are true; no god approval seen.

      4. You are confusing “evidence” with “argument”, I think. Do the work to pose me an alternative argument and – I’ll be very glad to consider it and respond. But – I don’t respond to random links dropped into the comments.

      5. nice excuse to keep up your willful ignorance, Stuart. And no, I’m not confusing evidence with argument. But if you think I am, please indicate how.

        and “Stuart, why do you declare that your version of Christianity is the only right one and ignore the Christians who came before you?”

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