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Bible’s reliability defended by seminary prof at UNO event

NEW ORLEANS, La. (BP)–Should the Bible be categorized with fads and fallacies? Or, is the Bible the inerrant Word of God?

Robert Stewart, assistant professor of philosophy and theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, defended Scripture’s reliability March 22 during an event at the University of New Orleans.

Jointly sponsored by the Baptist Collegiate Ministry and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at the university, the event was organized in response to questions raised by two course offerings at the university that raise questions about biblical inerrancy. The title for the event, “Fads and Fallacies or Truth and Conviction?” played off the name of one of the courses.

Beginning with the question of the purity of the text, Stewart posed four tests for the trustworthiness of Scripture: How many manuscripts do we have? What is the time lapse between the original manuscripts and existing manuscripts? How complete are the available manuscripts? How much variance between manuscripts is there?

The reliability of the New Testament manuscripts far exceeds that of other books of antiquity, Stewart said. He added that the number and completeness of the New Testament’s manuscripts, the early dating of the manuscripts and the small, mostly inconsequential variance between the manuscripts is a solid foundation for confidence in the transmission of the text.

He then charted the differences between the New Testament and the works of authors such as Homer, Plato and Tacitus. Nearly 5,000 complete manuscripts of the New Testament are in existence, and the earliest partial manuscript — the John Ryland fragment — is thought to be within 70 years or so from the original, he said.

But Homer’s “Iliad” comes in a distant second to the New Testament, having only 643 complete or partial manuscripts with a time gap of 500 years from the original, Stewart noted.

Critics sometimes disparage the trustworthiness of Scripture by pointing to 150,000-200,000 points of variance between manuscripts, Stewart said, adding that the number is somewhat misleading. For example, one misspelled word in 3,000 copies would be considered 3,000 variants. Philip Schaff, a biblical scholar from the 19th century, said that of these only 400 are truly variants, with only 50 of these being of any significance, and none endangering a tenet of the faith, Stewart said.

Those considered outside the conservative evangelical camp also acknowledge the wealth of New Testament manuscripts, he said.

“Textual reliability is a must for the Bible to be historically reliable but in and of itself does not ensure that the biblical authors actually wrote the truth,” Stewart said.

Unanimous acceptance of the authorship of the gospels by the early church and the early dating for the original manuscripts strengthen the case for reliability, he said. The gospels and the book of Acts were affirmed as being written by apostles or close associates of apostles, he said.

Eyewitness accounts were an important commodity for the early church and signify historicity, Stewart said. He noted that Judas’ replacement was required to be an eyewitness to the resurrected Christ.

Paul’s defense of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 is built on the testimony of eyewitnesses, Stewart said

“Paul’s reference to the 500 who saw the resurrected Jesus has the ring of truth when he identifies the witnesses by stating that ‘most of whom are alive today,’” Stewart said.

Another indicator of historical reliability is the gospel writers’ use of writing style consistent with the historians of their day, Stewart said. Luke prefaced his works stating his intention to use earlier sources, eyewitness interviews and oral tradition, all of which were tools of the trade for ancient historians, such as Josephus and Herodotus, he said.

Biographers of that time felt free to reorder and condense and even to interpret, Stewart said, adding that the gospels employ the same style.

“They didn’t have Turabian [a writing style guide used by many college and seminary students],” Stewart said. “And they didn’t have quotations.”

Speaking specifically to the issue of the Bible as myth, Stewart said that the term has many definitions. “Myth” may mean something imaginary, or something symbolic, he said. The word may also be applied to any story that has the power to shape one’s worldview. Knowing how the word is used is important in defending the faith, Stewart said.

But biblical writers distinguished their message from the imaginary and symbolic and claimed that their writings were not myth, he said. Stewart cited examples of such claims in 2 Peter 1:16, 1 Timothy 1:3-4 and 2 Timothy 4:3-4.

Stewart concluded the event by affirming his belief in the reliability of Scripture and urging the group to read the Bible with a mind and heart open to God.

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