Comment Here



The Testimony of Four.

February 9, 2009 Radio

Somewhere in the Middle East, probably near Jerusalem, an older gentleman settled himself with his writing tools and pondered how he would begin to tell his story.


          At one time he had been a contracted customs agent. A man well versed in the various goods transported through his jurisdiction as well as all the currencies of various people.


                      Being a contractor of a foreign power made him very unpopular with his countrymen.


          But as life would have it, his knowledge, his attention to detail, and his fluency in the two major languages had suited him well enough for the task he was about to undertake.

It had been more than 30 years since the Master had called him away from his career and his wealth and had set his feet on a very different path.

For the past 30 years, he and the others had been in great demand, because there was only a handful of men who could tell the whole story. Many knew a part of it, but he and a select group were the only ones who could tell the whole story as eyewitnesses of the astonishing story.


          And witnesses were vital. People would simply not believe the story from one man and they should not.


          So, they had told the story over and over until it was a part of them.

Our man’s name was Levi, also known as Matthew and for the first time since it all happened, he was sitting down to write the story he had told orally so many times, he surely didn’t need any notes to work from.


          We have his work in the book we call the New Testament. Scholars say his work was written no earlier than 60 AD, and the absence of any awareness of the events of 70 AD are strongly suggestive that the Temple still stood.

Why, after all these years, is he starting out to write the story.


          A very strong oral gospel existed among the Christians of that age, and it would continue to be told.

In an odd sort of way, Peter had suggested the necessity in the days just after Jesus had left them.

(Acts 1:15-22 KJV) And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,) {16} Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus. {17} For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry. . . .. {20} For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishopric let another take. {21} Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, {22} Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.


          They seem to have found only two, and by lot selected a man named Matthias.


          But it was that last sentence of Peter’s that finally told Matthew he had to write this down.

Up to this point, they might have thought it was unnecessary. Perhaps the Master would return in their lifetime.


          But if one or two of the original 12 had died by this time, the realization was dawning that, should the Master delay his coming, only a written testimony could survive.


          So, Matthew sat at table to write his story.

Ironically, about the same time, and for many of the same reasons, Mark was taking the same steps to tell the story as he knew it.


          If I were to guess, I would say Mark was likely in Rome in the mid 60's


In his last letter from Rome, Paul wrote to Timothy


(2 Timothy 4:6-11 KJV) For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. {7} I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: {8} Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. {9} Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: {10} For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. {11} Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.


          So Luke may have been in Rome as well, and may have written his Gospel while there.


          I think John also wrote his Gospel in that same decade, and he was somewhere in Asia Minor.

One might conclude that the Holy Spirit decided that the time had come to record the depositions of these men


          But their testimony would have been of little value if it were not transmitted elsewhere.


          So, Matthew finished his original manuscript.


                      It appears to have been written in Greek, although one ancient source says Matthew wrote a Hebrew Gospel.


                      If he did, it has long since been lost, but in any case, a Hebrew gospel would not have served the purpose intended.


          This Gospel was not just for the Hebrew speaking peoples, but for mankind.

All three of the other Gospels were written in Greek as well, for the purpose of the widest distribution possible in that world.

So, we return to Matthew to see what he might have done with the autograph of his Gospel, because the same pattern would have prevailed in the others as well.


          Considering the purpose of the document, one can hardly doubt that it was immediately copied, systematically, or spontaneously, or both, and sent to the known Christian communities in the ancient world.

Copies of mss, or fragments of them have been found in widely scattered places, and lead one to the conclusion that the manuscripts of the books of the NT originated in various places, were copied with greater or lesser care, and became scattered all over the known world.


          There is perhaps as method in what seems kind of willy nilly.


          Imagine, for a moment, that they all had been written in Jerusalem and full control had been maintained over them at all times by the group there.


                      This would have been a very bad idea, given the persecution of the church in that era.


                      Second, it would have defeated the purpose of bearing the witness to the whole world.


                      Third it would have made destruction or corruption of the books possible.


          But as it played out, and there is no doubt about this whatsoever, no one nor any group, ever had any book of the NT, much less all of them, under their exclusive control.



          I cannot overstate the importance of this.


          (2 Timothy 2:7-9 KJV) Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things. {8} Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel: {9} Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.

Another interesting thing was accomplished by the way this all came down.


          The witnesses, at the time of writing, were separated, much like witnesses in a trial are not allowed to hear the testimony of other witnesses.


          I am aware of the scholars opinion that Mark’s gospel was written first and that Luke and Matthew borrowed heavily from Mark.


                      The result is the term synoptic—seeing with one eye—to describe the first three gospels.


          One scholar postulated a source document he called Q to account for the similarities.


                      Q, of course, is not assumed to exist in written form.


                      But the very strong oral tradition developed by the early church could easily account for the similarities.


          Memorization was a cultivated skill—a skill that has all but vanished since the invention of printing.

In any case, The way the documents were scattered and copied has left a fertile field for scholarship, as they try to get as close as they can to the content of the original documents.


          It is a real challenge, and one totally unfamiliar to most of us in these days of the computer and copy machines.


          Those of us who are old enough to remember writing love letters by hand know how easy it is to make a mistake.


                      And if you took a lot of notes while doing research in the days before these great tools came along, you made a lot of the same mistakes the early copyists made.

I never pursued textual studies very far, but I can see how it can capture a man completely as he tries to track a ms back to its source.


          Take a simple grammatical error for instance.


          Imagine that Matthew himself fail to match the number of subject and verb in one of his sentences.


                      Singular subject with a plural verb. Chances are, you got caught out on that in some paper you wrote for your English class.


                                  I have proof readers catching me on this even now. Not so much in agreement in number as in tense.


                                  I have a tendency to put myself back in the time I am writing about and then write in the present tense. My editors tell me I shouldn’t do that.


          Now, imagine you are copying Matthew’s Gospel, and you come across a disagreement between subject and verb—a grammatical error.


                      It is possible that you will correct it in your head and never know you did.d


                      It is also possible that you might correct it on purpose as an editor might.


                      Your copy is destined to Alexandria in Egypt, and off it goes with that small lapse in grammar corrected.


          In the cubicle next to you another copyist is working on a ms destined for Ephesus.


                      He notices the error, but makes a decision not to correct it but to be faithful to Matthew’s hand.


                      His copy, error and all is sent off.

Now we come forward in time where a scholar, examining two manuscripts notices that they differ in the way they treat this error.


          He doesn’t really have any way to know for sure which version is what Matthew wrote in his own hand.


                      It doesn’t matter very much, because what Matthew is saying is unaffected by it.


          What does matter, though is that the scholar is able to conclude from this and other clues that one of the manuscripts before him came from Alexandria, and the other came through Greece.


                      So old Mss of the NT have a family tree.


          And you may be comforted to know that most of the variances in the text are merely grammatical variations.


          And if there is a significant variance, any good study Bible will have a marginal note on it.

One interesting example is

(Acts 18:21 KJV) But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus.

(Acts 18:21 NIV) But as he left, he promised, "I will come back if it is God's will." Then he set sail from Ephesus.

This clause is missing in some of the earliest mss: “I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem:”

Personally, I am inclined to think a copyist simply left out a line, but some scholars think someone made a marginal note to explain, and later copyists included the marginal note in the text.


          With all the information in hand, you can decide for yourself.


          Not much hangs on it really, because we know from other sources that the Biblical festivals still played large in the thinking of the First Christians.


According to one significant scholar, 7/8ths of the words of the NT are agreed upon in all quarters. Of the remain 8th, nearly all are grammatical, word order, or other insignificant differences.

None of them threaten the integrity of the message in the documents.

One would never imagine that chaos would be the way to preserve the NT for us, but it appears to have been just so.

An intriguing question is why?


          Now if you are a Christian who believes in the Bible, you logically may ask what difference it makes.


          To a person who is not yet a believer, it makes all the difference in the world.


          For we are asking them to believe that a man was killed and buried for three days and three nights. And then that same man was raised from the dead and received into the sky right in front of the eyes of his disciples.

The testimony of those disciples becomes crucial to laying a foundation for faith.


          And for their testimony to be valid, it must be independent.


          Critics are fond of pointing to discrepancies in the gospel accounts to show they cannot be accurate.

But wait. Imagine you are sitting on a jury and the testimony of witnesses is being drawn out before you.


          If you hear four witnesses who tell exactly the same story in the same words, what will you think?


          If you don’t pick it up, one of the lawyers will call it to your attention. The witnesses have been coached to get the story straight.


          The question is not whether the record is accurate, but whether it is true.

So, if Luke records events in Jesus work in the order of A, B, C, D, and then Mark records the same events in the order A, C, B, D, would you conclude that the events didn’t happen?


          Bear in mind that they did not have editors, word processors and spell checkers.


          They worked from memory, and may not have considered the order of events as important.


          Or they may have listed them in a non chronological order to underline a point.


          We are thinking chronologically. They are thinking theologically.

So discrepancies in the account demonstrate the independence of the witnesses.


          Now if you think of the manuscripts as witnesses, you have the same result.


          The differences in the mss testify as to their independence.

No one ever had the whole testimony of the NT under his control.


          What appears to be chaos is actually method.


          It is consistent with a characteristic of God seen throughout the Bible: Freedom.


          Out of freedom, order can emerge in the hearts and minds of the readers.


          And we can know the truth of what Matthew sat down to write so many generations ago.

Now if you think this is chaotic, let me add one other fellow the mix.


          A little earlier than Matthew started to write his story, this man sat down to write a letter.


          He had got bad news from a set of churches that were turning in the wrong direction, and he sets out to correct them by letter since he could not go there.


          His name was Paul, and many of his letters survive.


                      It is amazing when you think about it. His letters were written from various locations and sent to still more locations.


                      And they were copied, recopied, and spread throughout the known world.


                      And 2000 years later, scholars are still poring over the text to discern Paul’s hand and his intent.

Not long ago, a lady wrote to me concerned about her daughter, who had gone off to university and decided she was an unbeliever.


          She was looking for answers to the arguments the professors were making contra the Bible.


          I suggested she not argue with the young lady at all. Just ask her to do one thing. Sit down, read through the Testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and ask herself if, as a jury of one, she believes the testimony.


          If she does believe them, the argument is over. If she doesn’t believe them, then there is no point in arguing. Just commit her to God and love her.


          In his time, God has a way of bringing people around.


          In my experience, something has to happen in a person’s life to make them aware of a need.


          Until it does, argument goes nowhere.


          But it is important that the testimony be lodged in a person’s mind when that hour of need comes.


          And you must start early. For that reason, we have developed a series of lessons for children and young people that you can use at home to systematically teach them the core message of the bible.


                      Just send us the ages of your children, and we will send you, free of charge a sample book of lessons and a teachers’ guide.

One of the fascinating, and largely unnoticed things that is happening in the world is that the Christian faith is spreading rapidly in Africa, India, Korea, and even China.


          It seems the poor and needy are finding in the Bible an answer to a pressing need.


          While those of us who are rich and increased with goods, have no need.

And what surprised me. And it shouldn’t have, is that the Bible is what is making the difference. I knew there was a reason why I feel driven to speak about it.


          While rich Christianity is acting like they don’t really need the Bible.


          Poor and needy Christianity are turning to its pages and finding hope and relief.


          Thank God for those pioneering missionaries who risked life and limb to carry the Gospel where it had not gone.


          And who introduced the poor and suffering to an old Jew named Matthew.

(Ecclesiastes 12 KJV) Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them; {2} While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain: {3} In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened, {4} And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of music shall be brought low; {5} Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets: {6} Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. {7} Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. {8} Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity. {9} And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs. {10} The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. {11} The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. {12} And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. {13} Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. {14} For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

Contact us              Copyright 2009 Ronald L Dart, all rights reserved.