Category Archives: The Bible

Galatians 2:17-21, Commentary


Here is my attempt at writing a commentary on a few verses in Galatians. It reads like a regular biblical commentary. Please enjoy!

Galatians 2:17-21

[17] But if, in our endeavor to be justified [dikaioō] in Christ, we too were found [heuriskō] to be [Gentile] sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! [18] For if I rebuild [law] what I tore down [law], I prove myself to be a transgressor [law-breaker]. [19] For through the law [nomos] I [egō] died to the law [nomos], so that I might live to God. [20] I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I [egō] who live, but Christ who lives in me [egō]. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith [pistis] in the Son of God, who loved [agapaō] me [egō] and gave himself for me [egō]. [21] I do not nullify the grace [charis] of God, for if righteousness [dikaiosynē] were through the law [nomos], then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:17-21 ESV)



    The Epistle to the Galatians is a sampling of the best of Paul’s writings in a single letter. New Testament Scholar, N.T. Wright refers to it as the “flamboyant younger sister of the more settled and reflective letter to Rome.” It contains a poignant biography of Paul, a personal plea for a purified gospel, a trinitarian shape, an argument against the Jewish legalists, and a practical message that is relevant to all Christians today. His tone is sometimes motherly and affectionate, sometimes fatherly and confrontational, but always ingenious in rhetoric. His clever word-plays, declarative statements, and paradoxes skillfully over-turn the arguments of his opponents and lead the churches of Galatia back to the true gospel, that is “not from men…but through Jesus Christ”(1:1). The book is a microcosm of Pauline theology, a taste of the law and gospel, faith and works, theology and practice, adoption, justification, freedom, identity, and union with God. He moves from the letter of the law to the spirit, the outward sign to the thing signified, the circumcision of the flesh to the circumcision of the heart, and the commonwealth of Israel to the spiritual household of the faith. All the mighty threads of Paul’s theology combine into one strand in the book of Galatians, a chord so strong so as to whip the churches of Galatia into maturity, and so gentle as to bind them up in unity of love once they’ve been shattered on the Rock of Christ.


A Brief History

    The theology and substance of Paul’s letter in Galatians is rooted in a historical time, place, people-group, and cultural setting. His audience is made up of primarily Gentiles from the region of Galatia, a province of the Roman Empire. During Paul’s missionary journeys he planted churches in Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, which are all in the region of Galatia. It is to these churches that the letter is written. Acts 14:12 informs us that on his journey “…the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.” The “unbelieving Jews” who sought to destroy the faith of the Gentiles “poisoned their minds” through a false teaching. In Acts 15 he describes the nature of this false teaching, “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” The book of Galatians is fundamentally a refutation of this false teaching of the Jews, a response to a theological aberration, and a polemic against the insidious ideology that was poisoning the gospel for the Galatian churches. It has an urgency, as Paul probably penned this letter while abroad. It has an earnestness, as Paul desired to preserve the purity of the gospel entrusted to him among the Galatian churches. Finally, it has a deep-set conviction, as Paul wrote this with a zeal to maintain the flourishing of the souls that were being usurped by a false gospel.


Sinners & Saints [2:17]

[17] But if, in our endeavor to be justified [dikaioō] in Christ, we too were found [heuriskō] to be [Gentile] sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!

    Three clauses exist in verse 17. (1) “In our endeavor to be justified in Christ.” (2) “We were found to be sinners.” (3) “Is Christ then a servant of sin?” The first clause is the argument of Galatians, namely, what is the proper mechanism of justification? Paul argues that justification is not by the Law, but “in Christ.” The second clause is the accusation. The rejection of justification by the law, and the acceptance of justification in Christ, necessitates a movement away from the law to Christ. This movement means that Paul is equating Gentiles and Jews as equals, by rejecting the single-most identifying quality of the Jews—their Law. The third clause is the question. If they reject the law, and are found to be equal to Gentiles, who were known as sinners (see 2:15), then is Christ the servant or promoter of sin? The question makes the jump from equating the Jews with Gentiles, via the rejection of the Law, to Christ being the initiator of sin, because the Gentiles are sinners. He rejects the objection with the most emphatic negative available in the Greek, certainly not! Paul concludes that, even though they reject the Law, which is the essential identifying aspect of Judaism, and claim to be no better than Gentile sinners, Christ is not the servant of sin, rather he is the source of true justification.


Tear Down That Wall [2:18]

[18] For if I rebuild [law] what I tore down [law], I prove myself to be a transgressor [law-breaker].
    Three primary verbs drive verse 18: “rebuild, “tore”, and “prove”. The “if” at the beginning of the first clause shows that this sentence is a two part conditional statement: “If I do [this], than I am [that].” We need to ask three questions. What is Paul rebuilding? What has Paul torn down? Why does rebuilding what Paul tore down make him a transgressor? The context of verse 16 and verse 19, which are both about the law, show that he is referring to the law. As a conditional statement, if Paul hypothetically rebuilds the law—the very law that he tore down—he will be seen as a law-breaker. The law brings guilt, not acquittal, judgement, not righteousness, for the one who cannot fulfill the whole law is a transgressor or lawbreaker. Therefore, if he re-erects the law, like the Galatian churches are being tempted to do, than Paul will be under the shadow of condemnation, and not righteousness.


I Died to the Law [2:19a]

[19] For through the law [nomos] I [egō] died to the law [nomos]

    Two apparent interpretations of this verse exist. The first is the figurative interpretation. Here, “died to the law” is a figure of speech, used to convey Paul’s rejection of the law. He is simply claiming to be dead to the law, like we might say that someone is “dead to us”, if we have cut off all ties of relationship to them. In other words, Paul is divorced or disunited from the law, relationally. The second interpretation is the literal interpretation. Here, “died to the law” is a spiritual reality, that occurs when Paul was put to death by the law, since it made him a transgressor, with the lawful penalty of death. So he used the death that was given to him “through” the law to die “to” the law. Here, both are feasible interpretations, especially when they are combined, because they give the sense that Paul has not only turned from the law, but that he has also been made spiritually dead through the law.


I Live to God [2:19b]

[19] …so that I might live to God.

    As the second part of a two-part statement, Paul dies to the law—a literal and figurative death to the law—so that he might live to God. The contrasting states of being, death and life, suggest a resurrection from death to life, with the agent of the law. The law that put Paul to death, made it so that he might be capable of being brought back to life by God. As a connective statement, he now lives to God, in a qualitative manner, as one might live to a person they were once dead to, but have not been made alive to. This makes sense in both the figurative and literal sense. Paul, who has been made alive to God, did so in the same way that we might say we’ve been made alive in a restored relationship to a lost friend. Additionally, Paul has been made alive to God in the literal sense that he has been spiritually resurrected to God. The subjunctive verb “might live” suggests a present and future tense, for living to God, as the life to God, is initiated for all time in the future.


Crucified with Christ [2:20a]

[20] I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I [egō] who live, but Christ who lives in me [egō].

    Paul makes use of the first-person pronoun “I” in order to place himself into Christ for the following verses. Theologically, this is called union with Christ, which is a spiritual participation in the economy and person of Christ. He uses the preposition “with” to describe this union as a mutual undertaking, as if he was crucified with Christ, at the same time. This signifies a present application of a past event, as if he went into the past to be crucified with Christ. He also uses the preposition “in” to describe his union as a present indwelling of a past event. The crucified Christ lives in him in the present, even though it happened in the past.

There are three parts to verse 20a. (1) I have been crucified with Christ. (2) It is no longer I who live. (3) Christ lives in me. After, Paul describes how he is dead to the law and alive to God, he describes how that happens. The first step is being crucified with Christ. The crucifixion is a death, which would make void the penalty of the law, for the law is for those who are living. Then, as he repeats himself, he clarifies that it is no longer “I” [egō] who lives. Finally, Christ lives in him, by indwelling within his person.


Faith in the Son of God [2:20b]

And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith [pistis] in the Son of God, who loved [agapaō] me [egō] and gave himself for me [egō].

    Several undeveloped technical terms pop up in verse 20b. The word “flesh”, since it hasn’t been fully developed, cannot yet mean a carnal desire, but rather it means the body that encapsulates the soul. The body still encumbers him, just as fleshly desires encumber, but it is the body that Paul is still dwelling in, until the finality of his salvation, when his body is resurrected. The word “faith” is the mechanism of his new life, which unites him to the template, the Son of God, like a stamp pressed into a mold to receive its impression. Faith is the tethering branch that binds the new egō to the righteous Son of God. Finally, the words “Son of God”, since the title is not fully developed here, means Jesus Christ, but later on it will be developed that participation in the sonship of Christ is the only person available to obtain the riches of God’s inheritance, which are available to first-born sons, namely the Son of God. Finally, the motivation for the Son of God to willingly be crucified on our behalf is his agape, love. As John Calvin puts it, “The love of Christ led him to unite himself to us…faith makes us partakers of every thing which it finds in Christ.”


The Purpose of Christ [2:21]

[21] I do not nullify the grace [charis] of God, for if righteousness [dikaiosynē] were through the law [nomos], then Christ died for no purpose.

    By reverse engineering his statement, Paul returns to his initial argument, that justification is not by works of the law. He first claims that he does not nullify or reject, the grace of God. How is it that Paul avoids rejecting the grace of God, which he accuses the Galatian churches of doing? Nullifying the grace of God means making void the death of Christ. Paul claims that he is not making void the death of Christ, because he is seeking in union with Christ, his righteousness. Therefore, seeking righteousness through the law, makes void the death of Christ, because it is seeking without Christ, for that which is only found in Christ—his “righteousness”.


Works Cited

  1. Schreiner, Thomas. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Galatians. Edited by Clinton Arnold. 1st ed. Vol. 9. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010.
  2. Longenecker, Richard N. Galatians. Vol. 41. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1990.
  3. Calvin, Jean, and William Pringle. Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948.

Revelation, the Bible


Destruction of Leviathan, Gustave Dore (1865).

 “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” -Revelation 1:17

A Recapitulation of All Things

For a book of endings there are just as many beginnings. The newness of the new Jerusalem contrasts with the ending of Babylon on earth. Every sorrow created in wrath is renewed in the wiping away of the tears of the saints. The death of rebels shadows the death of the reigning Lamb that now wars against the nations that killed His saints. All things in heaven and the earth, and under the earth are brought to a stand-still. The enmity in creation’s curse is revived to a boiling point. The battle between Eve and Satan now looks like a battle between a Dragon and a Woman. The beasts of the world peer with hundreds of eyes on the earth, a frightening portrayal of a new order and a new biology and a new science.

“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” -Revelation 21:5

The miracles of Revelation are ordinary occurrences and the allegorical symbolism seems real and tangible. The symbols are coming to life, and what does the form of a Lion look like? Bigger and larger and more weighty, Revelation renews the fears and multiplies them by 10x. Everything that happens on earth happens in this new experience of John, but different. All things are made and remade. The order is enhanced in magnitude and breadth. The new order is the same but different. There is, in the Last Days, a recapitulation of all things in heaven and on earth, and under the earth.

Symbolism or What?

“And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison…” -Revelation 20:7

In Revelation 20, John talks about a thousand year period that is heavily debated. Is the period a thousand year period after the return of Christ or is it a thousand year period that we are currently living through or is it a thousand year period between Adam and Christ’s first advent? The symbolism of Revelation makes determining the chronology and the meaning very difficult! This is the origin of the millennial, post-millenial, amillenial debate. Some see the chaining of Satan as the cross chaining the power of Satan. Some see it as a future fulfillment where Satan will be finally chained by Jesus.

My View on the Millennial Debate

Since this is a debate I tend to take the side of the premillenialists (you’ll see why). Revelations is recapitulating the things that have happened on the earth again, but in a different way. It is true, as the amillenialists say, that we are Israel and that we do conquer the power of Satan through the cross. I completely agree. But the nature of Revelation is that it is a repetition of what happens on earth, but in a more cosmic way. In the future millenium, God will do something different with Satan. He will chain Satan forever, and slay the Dragon, which is a larger picture of the serpent in Eden, once and for all. The Dragon-serpent image isn’t unintentional. Satan has transformed to something mythic-ally great. His power grows and God’s vengeance is resisted. So God once and for all chains Satan, when he makes all things new.

Future Salvation

The futurity of the event goes back to the nature of how Revelation is written. John uses images from the past to talk about the future, he uses the Gospel to speak about the future final salvation of God’s people. All the Old Testament imagery is there, but revived to a greater magnitude. The salvation in the Gospel of the saints is there, but in truth. Worship is there but it also is something much greater. It reminds me of what Jonathan Edwards once said in a sermon of his on heavenly love.

“That which was in the heart on earth as but a grain of mustard-seed, shall be as a great tree in heaven. The soul that in this world had only a little spark of divine love in it, in heaven shall be, as it were, turned into a bright and ardent flame, like the sun in its fullest brightness, when it has no spot upon it.” -Jonathan Edwards; Heaven a World of Love

Revelation is the unvarnished flame of the Sun, shining its bright glorious light in full magnitude. The oddness of Revelation is due to the fullness that meets our experience and seems different to it. I long to be united with God fully! Love will be there with no shadow of complacence or in-authenticity. We will be pure in his sight, refined from the darkness that is sin.  Come soon!



Vanitas, 1627; Pieter Claesz

Old men see the world through the privileged lenses of time and experience. After writing two other books, Song of Solomon and Proverbs, Solomon retells his own search for truth as if it was a vapor, a mist, or a fleeting memory. Is this the musing of a mad man, the delirium of dementia, or the sincere reflection of a deeply conflicted man? Is there a continuous narrative from beginning to end, or is there a break and a shift in thought? Is this autobiographical or the tale of someone else? Are there many conflicting voices or one voice with a shift in the end? Is there a progression of thought or a consistency of message? Should I trust the Preacher, or should I be suspicious? I have many questions for Solomon, because the book of Ecclesiastes is a book for the questioner, the skeptic, the inquirer, the man who must go deeper. Is there consolation in the end, or am I lost for hope? Does Solomon gain redemption or does he die in despair?

All is Vanity

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
           vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”

The numbing thesis of the entire book: all is vanity. I don’t quite know what to do with the idea. Why does Solomon write the book, then? What kind of irony is being presented here? What qualifies for all? And what does he mean by vanity? Useless, pointless, purposeless, meaningless, worthless, are all words I might use in place of this idea of vanity. Yet none of them, on there own, seem to convey the full meaning of vanity. The picture of vapor is helpful. On a cold winter, if I breath out, vapor expels from my mouth, emitting short-lived steam. In a moment, the heated water vapor evaporates into the crisp atmosphere. All existence quickly dissolves. This is what Solomon is talking about, but what does he mean?

Under the Sun

This book is not like the Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun” because everything is not all right. Solomon paints a striking image of the world. “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after the wind.” The sun is an image of time, constancy, and repetition. The sun rises and sets every day, over and over and over again. There seems to be this state of being, living under the sun, which separates man from God. We live, even now, under the sun, under the time limit, under the clock, racing against the rising and setting of our existence. One question I had was, is there anytime in the book when Solomon removes himself from under the sun? In the end he incorporates God into this picture, which he calls the Creator. This could indicate a shift of viewpoint, where Solomon finally realizes that in order to live a life free from vanity, one must take joy in the Creator that made the sun, the Creator that has placed eternity in man’s heart, the Creator that made everything beautiful in its time, and the Creator that is, as Paul puts it, the day-star in our hearts. He doesn’t go as far as Paul, but he at leaches breaches the water, and faces northward the guiding star. He’s on the road to Paradise, but he seems to be stuck in Purgatory.

Striving After the Wind

Solomon stages the world, once again, with another jarring image. We are all striving after the wind. Wind is an image  elusiveness, evasiveness, and lack of substance. The very nature of the image is that of futility, and a striving after something, which is actually air. In contrast to the blazing sun, wind cools the atmosphere, and is a welcome friend on a heated day. But who would chase after wind? It also denotes a stupidity of some sort, as if mankind was acting like a three year old that sees itself in a mirror and thinks it is a clone. Solomon concludes that all of life is a game of chasing after the wind, or ring around the rosie, or duck duck goose, or some other game that has little in its substance, and is in reality a takeover and representation of death.

Everything Has a Time

Time for me has always been one of the most fascinating notions. A measurement, an event, a point, a repetition? What is time? Skipping the complexity, Solomon mentions that, “everything is beautiful in its time.” He mentions this after the often quoted passage, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…” He frames the vanity of existence within the idea of time. Like clockwork, things happen when they need to happen, and this picture of necessity is reminiscent of the stoics. But there is a difference. While Marcus Aurelius would agree that everything has its time, Solomon adds, “Also [God] has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Two movements push within human experience, that of the sun measuring the finitude of time, and that of the soul measuring the eternity of time. How can we begin to imagine the eternal in a time driven world, and how can we begin to imagine the finite with a soul that is eternal. So we are perplexed, confused, and beaten from full knowledge of why we are here and what we are to pursue. Time is put against the eternal, and the eternal is put against the time.

Enjoy Your Lot

In a surprising move, Solomon encourages his readers to “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which our toil under the sun.” How does this follow from the vanity of everything? Is Solomon pulling at straws, making due with what he has, and putting up the white flag? He seems to recognize the weakness of his position in determining the purpose of all things, so he is concluding with what he has experienced. He knows, if he knows anything, that it is good to have enjoyment, even if for a little while. This has Epicurean notes within it, yet tempered with the conclusion of the fear of God. Is this an Stoic turned Epicurean? I will never know because Solomon, in his profundity proceeds them all.

The Exodus


The story of Exodus is gigantic; rich in its unkempt shapes and forms, it portrays redemption from captivity, divine justice, providential deliverance, and human fallibility like no other book that’s ever been written. Its layer are deeper than the seas that were up-heaved by God, wider in its applicability than all of Egypt, richer than Pharaoh’s precious jewels.

Cinematic Blasphemy?

Thus, as the primal sin, it is blasphemous against art to flatten the image of Exodus with the sensuous visual diorama of Cinema. As John Calvin warns,

…we must cling to this principle: God’s glory is corrupted by an impious falsehood whenever any form is attached to him (Institutes 1.11.1).

Yet the sin of portraying literature, even Scripture, through Cinema continues. Ridley Scott was digging his own grave in the production of such a movie. He was walking on hallowed ground. It was not the way it was done, it was the fact that it was done. He made a movie in graven image.

What Have we to Expect?

Still, I want to applaud the effort. He directed a piece of cinematic art. What holy art can portray Scripture rightly? None. What have we to expect? All that we have to portray divinity is the shadows of iconography. We have no other tools. We have but our graven images.

The Log in our Eye

Do we really know how to watch movies? Some reviewers complained when Pharaoh claimed to be god. If you look at Ancient Egyptian religion, this is not a false claim. Pharoh’s are sons of the god Ra, the god of the sun. Some reviewers complained that God was represented by an unruly boy. Still, this is not inconsistent with former portrayals of God as an audible voice. Both are cinematic incarnations of art, portraying God in a physical way. How else can we portray the Transcendent?

The Art of Cinema

The art of Cinema is like no other art. When done well, the artist pits dozens of ideas against each other in order to expose a universal idea. Propaganda is when an idea is subliminally unquestioned throughout the whole movie—it is stiff. Art is when an idea is put to the test, exposed for its universal appeal—it is vibrant. Movies sweep the dust off an untouched truth, making it move and breath again—it resurrects.


Movies are redemption in art-form; they take the enslaved cliches of culture and set them free; they reanimate the imagination to visual tapestries of what might have been; they are a rebirth, a revival of captive beauty; they are an Exodus.

The Bible. Literally?

man-speakingCan we really take the Bible literally—all of it?

Let’s answer that question with another question. Should I interpret that question literally?

Many will tell you that there are thousands of ways to interpret the Bible and they’re all valid, but moments later they will go back on that claim if you proceed to interpret their words wrongly. They will say to you, ‘You don’t understand. That’s not what I mean.’ And they admit just the opposite of what they’re claiming: there really is a correct way to interpret them. So can there really be thousands of ways to interpret the Bible?

Sure, you can interpret the Bible just like those literary critics do to Tom Sawyer (poor Tom). But, wow did they ruin Tom Sawyer…! Now everyone hates that book. We’re liable to do the same if we start assuming that everyone’s interpretation is valid. It’s like saying I read the stop sign and I thought my interpretation was valid to then run it. Then the police officer will politely (roughly) say, “______”. That’s not interpretation, that’s rationalization.

The Bible is like no other book, but the way we interpret it is the same way that we interpret any person’s speech: Author’s Intent.

Almost always arguments are caused by misinterpretation of someone’s speech or body language. I myself have offended quite a few people that have misinterpreted my sarcasm for mean-spiritedness. But in the end of the day the law for interpreting my speech is my motive, purpose, intent, agenda, aim, or goal. What was I trying to convey? If I conveyed it poorly many will misinterpret my speech, and assume I’m saying something I’m not. Then I will clarify, “No, that’s not what I mean. I’m just terrible at being funny.”

When it comes to interpreting the Bible the mystics will say something like, “We must not seek to understand in order that we may believe, we must seek to believe in order that we may understand.” That’s a confusing way to put it. But what they really mean is that we have to first strip down our preconceptions, prejudices, false notions, biases, agendas, until we’re naked before the text. Don’t bring any of your baggage when you interpret. Leave it at the door.

This holds true when we’re in conversations, when we’re reading Pride And Prejudice (a romantic satire), when we open up a political article from someone we absolutely detest. We have to be on our toes for our preconceptions. Or else we’re liable to that lovely term, Confirmation Bias.

This holds true for Christians as much as it does for Atheist Joe on the street. Remember: The intelligent man or woman knows how to present his opponents view better than they do themselves. The atheists, I’ll say, have been cheated just as much as the Christians have. Some persons will dismiss Evolution without ever reading Darwin’s Origin of Species just as fast as certain other people will dismiss Christianity without ever reading the Bible. You have to do your homework in order to express your opinion. And please, no baggage. I said that already, right?

Fancy theologians like to call interpretation “hermeneutics” and Bible interpretation “exegesis”. That, I’ll say, is why everyone is confused.

The truth is we interpret on a daily basis, namely in the conversations we have. When someone says, “I loooovveee Calculus.” They’re being sarcastic. Everyone knows that no one loves Calculus. So interpret them like they’re kidding. (If you’re really savvy, you’d realize that I was being facetious myself. Again, I’m terrible at being funny.)

The key to correct interpretation is: context. If I wield a sword and start yelling “conquer the Galls!” It’s important to note whether or not I’m on a stage, acting out Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar. That detail is important. See, context is key.

Furthermore, if you quote me saying, “I loooovveee Calculus”. You would need the context of what I said after that statement to have a valid interpretation (i.e. “I’m just kidding.”)

When it comes to interpretation we just have to realize common sense is our best friend. So use your common sense and interpret like you’ve never interpreted before.

And the next time you hear someone say “There are thousands of ways to interpret the Bible.” Politely, do unto them what they have done to the Bible (Jesus never said this) and begin to interpret they’re words like they’re acting on a stage in Broadway (actually, don’t do that).

Are the New Testament Documents Textually Reliable?


1. Plan of Investigation

The investigation examines the reliability of the textual transmission of the New Testament documents, assessing whether or not we possess accurate copies of the New Testament that was written in the first century A.D. In order to discern the extent of the New Testament’s textual reliability the investigation evaluates, (1.) the number of New Testament manuscript copies in possession, and (2.) how early those manuscripts are in comparison to the originals. The investigation uses scholarly publications on New Testament textual criticism from both a conservative and liberal perspective. Two of the sources used in this essay, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by F.F. Bruce and Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed The Bible and Why by Bart Ehrman are evaluated for their origins, purposes, values, and limitations.

            The investigation concludes that, while we do not possess the original New Testament autographs, in comparison to both the number of extant manuscripts and the interval of time between those manuscripts and the originals—juxtaposed with all other classical ancient documents of that time period—the New Testament is vastly superior, and is thus regarded as a fully reliable ancient textual manuscript in terms of textual purity in transmission.

2. Summary of Evidence

The New Testament contains 27 books, and was originally written in Koine Greek by nine different authors, and canonized into one testament.[1] Modern scholars typically date the four Gospels: Matthew, c. A.D. 85-90; Mark, c. A.D. 65; Luke, c. A.D. 80-85; John, c. A.D. 90-100.[2] The Pauline Epistles are typically dated between c. A.D. 63-65.[3] A manuscript is a handwritten copy of a document, and an original is referred to as an autograph.[4] There are three different types of New Testament manuscripts: papyri, uncial, minuscule, and lectionaries.[5] As of 1986 there are 88 papyri manuscripts, 274 uncial manuscripts, and 245 lectionaries, and, in addition, 1,964 lectionaries and 2,795 manuscripts, summing up to total of approximately 5,366 New Testament manuscripts catalogued.[6] All of the New Testament manuscripts are either fragments or complete copies, transcribed from the second through the fifteenth centuries.[7] In order of date, the manuscripts penned in the second-third centuries are: the John Rylands Fragment (c. A.D. 117-138) found in Egypt containing John 18:31-33, 37-38, the Chester Beatty Papyri (c. A.D. 250) containing large portions from all four of the Gospels as well as Acts, and the Bodmer Papyri (A.D. second-third century) containing almost all of the epistles, as well as most of the book of John.[8] From the fourth-ninth centuries: Codex Vaticanus (c. A.D. 325-350) containing the whole Bible except for a few epistles, and Codex Sinaiticus (c. A.D. 340) containing the whole New Testament, and many other manuscripts up to the fifteenth century.[9]

Lower (textual) criticism is the scholarly method of restoring an ancient text to its most original by cross-examining all existing manuscripts, throwing out obvious errors and variants, and pin-pointing exactly what the original words must have been.[10] The best textual restorations of the New Testament contain about 138,000 words and around 400,000 individual variations of the text of the New Testament, yet in a side-by-side-comparison of the Majority texts and the critical text, there is full agreement 99% of the time.[11] There are four types of variants: the largest are spelling and nonsense errors, the second largest are minor changes, including synonyms and alterations, the third largest are meaningful changes that are not “viable”[12], and the smallest are meaningful and viable, which are noted with footnotes in modern translations.[13] The majority of New Testament scholars vouch that the sheer number of manuscript attestation and the relatively miniscule amount of years between the original and the earliest extant manuscripts manifest the superior reliability of the New Testament in comparison to all other ancient literature.[14]

3. Analysis

In 1989, syndicated talk-show host Larry King interviewed Shirley MacLaine on the New Age and when a Christian caller inquired, quoting the Bible, she employed the common objection that the Bible has been changed and translated so many times over the last 2000 years that it is impossible to have any confidence in its accuracy. King quickly agreed, “Everyone knows that,” he complied.[18]

Is the New Testament text unreliable, and has it been changed significantly in its 2000 years of copying and recopying? Bart Ehrman insists, yes, the New Testament is unreliable. His primary argument is that “There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament”.[19] While such a statistic may seem unsettling to those uninformed in the field of textual criticism, it is misleading.

While there are 400,000 textual variants, an overwhelming majority of them are spelling errors and slightly inverted phrases that are inconsequential to the meaning or viability of the text.[20] Greek scholar D.A. Carson remarks, “The purity of text is of such a substantial nature that nothing we believe to be true, and nothing we are commanded to do, is in any way jeopardized by the variants.”[21]

What and how many significant changes to the New Testament are there? In the entire text of 20,000 lines, only 40 lines are in doubt (about 400 words), and none affects any significant doctrine.[22] In his book, Ehrman focuses upon one of those lines in doubt: the popular story of Jesus forgiving the woman about to be stoned. While it may be surprising to discover from Ehrman that some popular stories could have been added in at a later date, in every one of our English Bibles (the English Standard Version for example), there is a footnote that warns all readers that the following verses might have been added at a later date. In other words, Ehrman exacerbates the significance of a disputed line as a reproach against the New Testament text, when, in fact, all modern Bible’s have been warning people of this for decades in the footnotes.

Is the New Testament reliable? First, this is an academic and not a religious question. According to F.F. Bruce, “The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning…their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.”[23] What New Testament scholars do, is they compare the number of copies of the New Testament and the dates of the earliest manuscripts in comparison to the originals, and juxtapose those to all other reliable ancient documents (e.g. Homer, Demosthenes, etc.), in order to decipher which one is most reliable. Bruce Metzger concludes, “The works of several ancient authors are preserved to us by the thinnest possible thread of transmission…I contrast…the textual critic of the New Testament is embarrassed by the wealth of his material.”[24]

4. Conclusion

In terms of numbers of manuscript attestation and date of earliest manuscripts in comparison to the originals, the New Testament documents, can be confidently received as authentic and reliably transmitted. Although there are numerous variations, few are consequential (and are mentioned by footnotes) and none affect any primary Christian doctrines. In comparison to all other documents in ancient literature, the New Testament is superior in both numbers and earliness of the dates of copied manuscripts, that, all people can be remarkably confident that the New Testament documents are textually reliable.

[1] Aside popular opinion, the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) had nothing to do with the canonization of the Bible. Each book was authenticated as inspired, rather simply, (1.) because they internally claimed to be inspired and (2.) because they had authenticating miracles and prophecies to validate that claim.

[2] Bruce, F. F. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 7.

 [3] Ibid, 8.

[4] Geisler, Norman L., and William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible: Revised and Expanded. Chicago: (Moody, 1986), 386.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, 387.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid, 388-391.

[9] Ibid, 392-394.

[10] Geisler, Norman L., and William E. Nix. From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), 176.

[11] Wallace, Daniel B. “The Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts.” In The ESV Study Bible, (2587-589. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008).

[12] “Viable” means that a variant has some plausibility of reflecting the wording of the original text. For example, instead of “the gospel of God”, it is “the gospel of Christ”.

[13] Ibid.

[14] McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict. (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1999), 41-42.

[18] Larry King with Shirley MacLaine, spring 1989.

[19] Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed The Bible and Why. (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 89-90.

[20]   Wallace, Daniel B. “The Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts.” In The ESV Study Bible, (2587-589. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008).

[21] Carson, D.A., The King James Version Debate (Grand Rapids:  Baker, 1979), 56.

[22] Geisler, Norman L., and William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible: Revised and Expanded. Chicago: (Moody, 1986), 386.

[23] Bruce, F. F. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 10.

[24] McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict. (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1999), 42. Also, see appendix.

  1. Appendix
[1] Geisler, Norman L., and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007.

Quest for Joy: Six Biblical Truths (by John Piper)

It has been my experience that telling someone the entire gospel sets itself up to be a formidable task, especially in view of the many people who are presupposed to object to it. So, in order to avoid the tendency a majority of people have—to leave out key ingredients of the delicious gospel sandwich (e.g. repentance and faith and humanities sinful condition, etc.)—I’ve thought it helpful to myself, as well as anyone who agrees, to post a clear presentation of the gospel basics. In my opinion, who more reliable to explain the key elements of the biblical gospel than author and pastor John Piper? I hope this helps you as it did me. Enjoy—’gospel me’! (BTW: this is not plagiarizing because I cited it)

Did you know that God commands us to be glad?

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)

1) God created us for his glory

“Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth,… whom I created for my glory” (Isaiah 43:6-7)

God made us to magnify his greatness – the way telescopes magnify stars. He created us to put his goodness and truth and beauty and wisdom and justice on display. The greatest display of God’s glory comes from deep delight in all that he is. This means that God gets the praise and we get the pleasure. God created us so that he is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

2) Every human should live for God’s glory

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

If God made us for his glory, it is clear that we should live for his glory. Our duty comes from his design. So our first obligation is to show God’s value by being satisfied with all that he is for us. This is the essence of loving God (Matthew 22:37) and trusting him (1 John 5:3-4) and being thankful to him (Psalm 100:2-4). It is the root of all true obedience, especially loving others (Colossians 1:4-5).

3) All of us have failed to glorify God, as we should

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

What does it mean to “fall short of the glory of God?” It means that none of us has trusted and treasured God the way we should. We have not been satisfied with his greatness and walked in his ways. We have sought our satisfaction in other things, and treated them as more valuable than God, which is the essence of idolatry (Romans 1:21-23). Since sin came into the world we have all been deeply resistant to having God as our all-satisfying treasure (Ephesians 2:3). This is an appalling offense to the greatness of God (Jeremiah 2:12-13).

4) All of us are subject to God’s just condemnation

“The wages of sin is death…”(Romans 6:23).

We have all belittled the glory of God. How? By preferring other things above him. By our ingratitude, distrust and disobedience. So God is just in shutting us out from the enjoyment of his glory forever. “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

The word “hell” is used in the New Testament twelve times – eleven times by Jesus himself. It is not a myth created by dismal and angry preachers. It is a solemn warning from the Son of God who died to deliver sinners from its curse. We ignore it at great risk.

If the Bible stopped here in its analysis of the human condition, we would be doomed to a hopeless future. However, this is not where it stops…

5) God sent his only son Jesus to provide eternal life and joy

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” (1 Timothy 1:15)

The good news is that Christ died for sinners like us. And he rose physically from the dead to validate the saving power of his death and to open the gates of eternal life and joy (1 Corinthians 15:20). This means God can acquit guilty sinners and still be just (Romans 3:25-26). “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Coming home to God is where all deep and lasting satisfaction is found.

6) The benefits purchased by the death of Christ belong to those who repent and trust him

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19). “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

“Repent” means to turn from all the deceitful promises of sin. “Faith” means being satisfied with all that God promises to be for us in Jesus. “He who believes in me,” Jesus says, “shall never thirst” (John 6:35). We do not earn our salvation. We cannot merit it (Romans 4:4-5). It is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is a free gift (Romans 3:24). We will have it if we cherish it above all things (Matthew 13:44). When we do that, God’s aim in creation is accomplished: He is glorified in us and we are satisfied in him – forever.

Does this make sense to you?

Do you desire the kind of gladness that comes from being satisfied with all that God is for you in Jesus? If so, then God is at work in your life.

What should you do?

Turn from the deceitful promises of sin. Call upon Jesus to save you from the guilt and punishment and bondage. “All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Start banking your hope on all that God is for you in Jesus. Break the power of sin’s promises by faith in the superior satisfaction of God’s promises. Begin reading the Bible to find his precious and very great promises, which can set you free (2 Peter 1:3-4). Find a Bible-believing church and begin to worship and grow together with other people who treasure Christ above all things (Philippians 3:7).

The best news in the world is that there is no necessary conflict between our happiness and God’s holiness. Being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus magnifies him as a great Treasure.

“You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11)

Bible Verses

Jesus replied: “`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'” (Matthew 22:37)

This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. (1 John 5:3-4)

Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he, who made us, and we are his [1]; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. (Psalms 100:2-4)

…Because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints—the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel… (Colossians 1:4-5)

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:21-23)

All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. (Ephesians 2:3)

Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great horror,” declares the LORD. “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:12-13)

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20)

God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26)

Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Romans 4:4-5)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

And are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:24)

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. (Matthew 13:44)

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. (Philippians 3:7)

Appearances of the word “hell” in the New Testament

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, `Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, `You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:22 Jesus speaking)

If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29 Jesus speaking)

And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:30 Jesus speaking)

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28 Jesus speaking)

And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. (Matthew 18:9 Jesus speaking)

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. (Matthew 23:15 Jesus speaking)

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? (Matthew 23:33 Jesus speaking)

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. (Mark 9:43 Jesus speaking)

And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. (Mark 9:45 Jesus speaking)

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, (Mark 9:47 Jesus speaking)

But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. (Luke 12:5 Jesus speaking)

In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. (Luke 16:23 Jesus speaking)

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. (James 3:6 James speaking).

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; (2 Peter 2:4 Peter speaking)

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of International Bible Society. “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark office by International Bible Society.

By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: Email: Toll Free: 1.888.346.4700.