There is a wide-spread belief amidst both professional scholars and laymen that the Bible now used by Christians is significantly altered from the historical documents upon which it was based. This, they say, is because of the Church’s agenda to make Jesus a divine figure. Understandably, the claim that God came to earth in the form of a man is a tough pill to swallow. So it could also be argued that those scholars who work so hard to discredit the authenticity of scripture are pursuing an agenda as well. The question becomes, which claim has the better support?
Much of the current controversy over the accuracy of the Bible can be linked to the recent popularity of Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code.
Brown is not the only person discrediting the authenticity of the Bible, however. In his book Misquoting Jesus, author and Bible scholar Bart Ehrman makes the claim that the scribes that copied the Bible for 1,500 years altered the text to fit an agenda.
Ehrman, however also wrote a book entitled The Da Vinci Code: Fact and Fiction. In an interview on the book, Ehrman makes the statement
“The problem I have with the Da Vinci Code is that it gets so much of its information about these matters wrong.”
Clearly Ehrman is no believer in biblical accuracy, but even he cannot embrace the outlandish claims Dan Brown makes in his fictional novel.
Church Historian Dr. John Hannah, in his book Our Legacy gives a detailed look at the history and development of scriptural authority within the church. In brief, Hannah divides the church age up into stages: “The Apostolic Period,” in the first century A.D. during which the New Testament was written; and the second century, “The Church Fathers Period,” is detailed by writings of the direct successors to the Apostles.
Hannah says that during the “Church Father” period there was general agreement on doctrines. While they cited as many as 19 out of the 27 currently accepted New Testament books, they lived in an age of vast illiteracy, and so the oral tradition was held as equally authoritative to scripture.
The next period of the Church that Hannah describes he calls the age of “The Apologists.” During this time overt hostility toward Christianity from the culture and governing powers was on the rise. Worse, disagreements and challenges were coming from within the Church itself.
These challenges forced the Church leaders of the time to have to define what their source of authority was so that they could address the many conflicting opinions regarding doctrine and beliefs. In defining their authority, the oral tradition became marginalized largely because the Gnostic sect was claiming a different oral tradition to support their views. Church Fathers began to look to the writings of the Apostles as alone being authoritative and the idea of a cannon of scripture began to emerge.
The cannons of the day varied. The entire Old Testament, and all 27 books of the currently accepted New Testament were held as sacred in one or another of the churches, but few if any had access to all of them.
Even if all of the books that were disputed at the time were removed, the core doctrines of the current Church are still affirmed by the remaining books including the Gospels and the epistles of Paul. This, then cannot be regarded as a change made to scriptures in order to advance an agenda.
The books of the current Bible were canonized officially in 397 AD. But the current cannon of scripture was unofficially recognized long before that.
Of the claim made by Bart Ehrman that scribes changed the Bible as they copied it, Wheaton College New Testament professor, Gary M. Burge writes:
“What Ehrman fails to tell us is that most of the scribal errors he likes to list are incidental. And when they do have substance, the thousands of Greek manuscripts we possess permit us to reconstruct the original by making minute comparisons of their discrepancies …but none of these variants jeopardizes a single major teaching of the New Testament.”
As Burge points out, by comparing the thousands upon thousands of sources, Bible Scholars can spot minor textual errors and have a very accurate idea about what the originals said.
There is more evidence supporting the authenticity of scripture than there is against it. The real issue becomes, not the documents themselves, but rather the claims that they make. Agendas are not always conspiracies to support lies. If the Church has the “agenda” of supporting the claim that Jesus was God, it might be because that claim is true.