The Authority of the Historical Books of the New Testament #2: The Respect With Which the Earliest Sources Treated Them

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In analyzing the integrity of the books of the New Testament, our next step is in analyzing the respect with which the books of the NT were held. The reason for doing this is closely associated with the purpose of my last article which is to simply show that if the books of the NT were quoted by an early date, the quoted books could not have come any later which is valuable in dating the books which in turn is useful for establishing whether or not they are historically credible. This article will further establish that, even though there was some discrepancy among some early leaders about certain epistles, the Gospels, Acts, and most of the epistles were quoted from an early date, and they were quoted with a high degree of respect which will show us that the aforementioned books were thought to be Scripture by the Church early on.

This will establish two main points:
1.  The Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles (or at least most of them, for the sake of debate) could not have come after centuries in which legends and myth lead to the main tenets of Christianity as we know it today. If Christianity is founded upon myths, and the NT is the accumulation of these legends, then the myths would have needed to arise and spread within 100 years.
2. The books of the NT were not believed by people who came centuries after the alleged events of Christianity. Within only one or two centuries after the Gospels were written, there were established canons to which the Christian church held with high respect as if they were Holy Scripture.

The following information is taken from chapter 9, section II of Paley’s Evidences of Christianity.

Only about 100 years after the books of the New Testament were written, Theophilus, the Bishop of Antioch, quoted the book of John and called it Holy Scripture. Additionally, he claimed that the prophets of the Old Testament and the Gospels of Christianity were inspired by the same spirit of God. Now I am not saying you should buy the accounts of the NT just because Theophilus did, but we can deduce some important facts from his writings. Theophilus was a bishop, so it might seem redundant to claim that he bought the NT just like any pastor today would accept the NT, that was just his job. But his acceptance of Scripture is remarkably important since it disproves the idea that Christianity was started centuries after the supposed events, and it lends credibility to the accounts which he called Holy Scripture.

100 years, in terms of history, is almost nothing. If someone wrote a book a century ago telling you and me that George Washington was really a British spy, we would never believe it since George Washington’s life, over 200 years ago, is recent enough that we still know many of the details of his life. Within these details, we have no known information telling us that he was a spy all along. Therefore, starting a legend that he was a British spy would never work. Imagine how much harder it would be to collaborate with four other authors to write the Gospels and Acts to create a coherent narrative that a man fulfilled established prophecy by living a very public life, dying a public death, and rising from the dead in a very public way to save people from their sins only 150 years ago. The very thought of people listening to such accounts, if they are false, seems far fetched at best. But yet the accounts were written, and people listened to them eveN though they were easily falsifiable.

Theophilus of Antioch was roughly as far removed from Jesus as we are from George Washington, and the thought of either of them being called a death-defeating, miracle-working Messiah if they were not actually that, is utterly ridiculous. The thought of people believing such legends in that frame of time is even more ludicrous, assuming that the claims were not actually based on true events. And the idea that someone could simply make up Jesus’ entire existence and roughly 250 years later have an entire movement following him with established religious literature (which people believed and respected as Scripture as is evidenced by Theophilus) that gives accounts of a publicly notable life is as laughable as the idea that George Washington’s existence was also just a myth.

Imagine that someone claimed that in New York City, only 250 years ago, a man was going around healing people through miracles, and eventually he was publicly executed but rose from the dead. This kind of testimony would not be difficult to disprove if it was all fabricated. If nobody ever saw the public execution at the stated time, or nobody saw the miracles that reportedly had happened, then nobody would listen to the claims about our hypothetical man, at least not aftet a little investigation. Yet we know from Theophilus that only 250 years after the reported events, there was a following of Jesus which viewed the books which he mentioned as historical fact and Holy Scripture.

The next notable source from Paley is a treat since it inadvertantly came from a person who actually opposed Christianity. Artemon was an enemy of Christianity who wrote about 150 years after the NT was written. His critiques of Christianity are lost, but we have a rebuttal from Eusebius which quotes his writing verbatim. In his critiques, Artemon claims that there was inconsistency between early Christian leaders and the accepted Canon of Christianity to which they submitted. He lists Justin, Militiades, Clement, Irenaeus, and Melito, and he includes a more general address to those whom he did not mention.

The beauty of his attack and what it means for our interests is that an unfriendly source acknowledged for us that before the times of the aforementioned Christian leaders, there was an established canon of writings that were revered as Scripture. This further demonstrates that the books of the NT were written early on and were held with high esteem. Therefore the idea that the writing of the NT or its acceptance by its followers could not have come after centuries of myth, pagan influence, and political distortion. The accounts we have came early on and were thought to be legitimate by people who came soon after their writings.

So far we have seen that early Christians accepted John and the Gospels through Theophilus, and Artemon gave a passing reference to an established canon of early Christianity. It may seem intuitive to assume that this early canon is the canon that we have today, but some critics are not so kind, and we must, therefore, look to Hippolytus, who was a near contemporary of Artemon, to show that the Gospels and the writings of Paul were acknowledged as Scripture. However, we should first notice that the books which give the historical events of Christianity have already been shown to be accepted by the early Church (with almost no dissent from various factions within the church), and these are essentially all we need for Christian doctrine.┬áBut just for the fun of it, let us also look to Hipplytus’ writings which include Paul’s letters to Timothy as well as several other NT books as Sacred Scriptures.

From this we may see that within the early Christian canon, Paul’s works were acknowledged as legitimate and cited as Scripture alongside the Gospels which were also cited as Scripture. Overall we have established that all of the crucial books of the NT were written and accepted by early sources which lends credibility to these books, their authors, and the NT as a whole.

I gave three of the most relevant sources of reverent quotations of the New Testament, but Paley lists several more which go all the way through Jerome. This means that from Theophilus in the second century through Jerome of the fifth, the Christian Canon remained the same, unmorphed by pagan myths or political influence.

Kyle Huitt
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Kyle Huitt

Part of the multitude that has lost their faith, but part of the few that has returned to it. This blog is my attempt to describe why I returned to the faith, and to maybe prevent somebody else from leaving it in the first place. Studying philosophy and history at Hillsdale College. Member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity.
Kyle Huitt
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