Debunking Silly Statements in Greg Gilbert’s “Debunking Silly Statements about the Bible: An Exercise in Biblical Transmission.”

Editor’s note: Robert D. Marcello, CSNTM’s Research Manager, has written a blog for my site. I approve this message.

Daniel B. Wallace

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By: Robert D. Marcello

I recently came across Greg Gilbert’s article, “Debunking Silly Statements About the Bible: An Exercise in Biblical Transmission” at the Gospel Coalition, which is an excerpt from his book Why Trust the Bible? by Crossway. Since I work in the field of textual criticism every day, I am keenly interested in how people present this oftentimes difficult material to a lay audience. I began reading his article and found myself agreeing with his points even nodding my head in agreement to the claims. There is much that is helpful in this book and I’m always encouraged when Christians are thinking seriously about the text of the New Testament. However, some minor mistakes turned into major ones as I kept reading. Below is a list of some of the more glaring errors. This brief treatment is meant to highlight some of the significant issues that continue to surface in apologetic works.

  1. In an obvious attempt to write on a popular level Gilbert refers to the “pieces of paper that Luke, John, or Paul used to write Luke, John, or Romans.” Tischendorf even does this when speaking about Sinaiticus being thrown in the fire in his When Were Our Gospels Written? An Argument, with a Narrative of the Discovery of the Sinaitic Manuscript. Tischendorf was writing a popular work, in a language not his own, before the nature of the material of the manuscripts was widely known. None of this is true with the present book. Nevertheless, as I am sure Gilbert is well aware, paper manuscripts were not used until very late in the transmission of the text. Papyrus is what the “originals” were likely written on and parchment didn’t become popular until the 4th century. Paper, on the other hand, wasn’t used regularly until the 14th and 15th centuries. In fact, the author uses the mistaken illustration 8 different times. When writing an apologetic piece as opposed to a casual narrative, I find it helpful to make sure it is both readable and accurate even in the finest details. One never wants to have someone who is questioning or doubting to have any reason not to trust a book or article.
  1. Moving on from that minor issue, Gilbert’s sub-section “Mind the Gap” is where the major errors begin. First, Gilbert attempts to mitigate the “gap” by pointing out that Vaticanus was used for a long period of time, showing that the current manuscripts do not have a multi-generational distance from the original. These claims alone are debatable; even so, this is a false analogy. Vaticanus is a codex on parchment and very nice parchment—a much more durable substance than papyrus and not at all representative of the average manuscript. Papyrus, as was previously discussed being the material of these manuscripts, is very fragile and easily deteriorated. Assuming these manuscripts were used frequently in early churches, viewed by the congregants and clergy, and copied to spread to other churches and cities, they probably were handled so often that they didn’t and couldn’t have lasted very long. Thus, it is likely they had to be copied rather quickly, and those copies would suffer from the same use and deterioration as the original. Yes, we have many copies and the gap is important, but not detrimental. However, to assert confidently that it is “well within the realm of possibility that we have in our museums today copies of the originals, full stop [emphasis his],” is misleading. Less than 1% of all manuscripts could even be considered within a few generations of the original, and most of the very early manuscripts are largely fragmentary. As such, his claim, even if remotely possible, is highly improbable and misleading.
  1. When Gilbert discusses the number of variants, he states, “One scholar has asserted there are, astonishingly, up to 400,000 variants in the New Testament! There are several things to say about this charge. First, the manuscripts are not in fact riddled with variants, and that 400,000 number isn’t nearly as scary as it seems, even if it’s accurate.” Multiple scholars have used that number, not just one, even though it seems as if he is setting up this unnamed “scholar” as a foil or antagonist. In fact, even conservatives hold this same number or even higher. Recently, Peter Gurry, a PhD student at Cambridge and a popular contributor to the Evangelical Textual Criticism Blog, presented a paper at the Evangelical Theological Society which was later published in New Testament Studies argued that 500,000 is probably a better estimate—and that number did not include spelling differences! Furthermore, Gilbert goes on to claim that the number is composed of not only Greek NT manuscripts, but also versional support (other languages), and quotations. This is simply not true; the most recent and well-researched variant estimates only include Greek manuscripts. It is true that most variants are inconsequential, and that the reason we have so many differences is because we have so many manuscripts to work with. As this blog’s author is noted for saying, we have an embarrassment of riches. Nevertheless, it does no good to minimize the number—to the point of falsely claiming, as Gilbert did, that there are only 16 variants per manuscript.
  1. Gilbert also gets his number of manuscripts wrong by stating we have only 5400 manuscripts, which is low by almost any standard. The current total of known extant MSS is 5839 (according to INTF). Even providing for lost, stolen, misnumbered, and destroyed manuscripts, the total would be around 5600 at minimum.
  1. The most egregious error is this: Gilbert perpetuates a common mistake in apologetic circles. He states, “Second, keep in mind that ‘400,000 variants’ here doesn’t mean 400,000 unique readings.” In fact, that is exactly what it means. He illustrates his point by claiming, “What it means is that if one manuscript says, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood’ and ten others say, ‘I am innocent of this righteous blood,’ then you get to count all eleven as ‘variants.’” In reality, that would merely count as one variant. This is a common mistake beginning with the 1963 publication of Neil Lightfoot’s, How We Got the Bible, and perpetuated by other apologists. For a lengthy and very helpful discussion of the history of this mistake see the blog post by Daniel B. Wallace, “The Number of Textual Variants: An Evangelical Miscalculation.”

There is ample evidence to support the claim that the text of the New Testament is both reliable and stable. At the same time, we don’t need to appeal to false claims of bad counting or incorrect numbers to muster that evidence. These “Silly Statements” need to end if we are ever going to provide solid evidence for the reliability of the text.

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46 thoughts on “Debunking Silly Statements in Greg Gilbert’s “Debunking Silly Statements about the Bible: An Exercise in Biblical Transmission.”

  1. Steve

    Robert/Daniel–thanks again for helpful clarifications. As one who discusses such matters fairly often with people who either struggle with the reliability of the Bible or who want some accurate resources addressing these topics, what sources/books/articles/etc. might you recommend that represent accurately the trustworthiness of the Biblical text? (both on a popular level as well as an academic/scholarly level) Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

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    1. Robert D. Marcello

      Thanks for including the link Alan. If you find any other reviews out there, please don’t hesitate to add them as well.

      As I explained to you on Facebook, the two articles were written completely independent of one another. It is never good to assume one author knew of another’s work, unless you have solid evidence to back up that type of serious claim.

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  2. Hear, hear; silly statements need to end. Those who perpetuated them should withdrawn them at the same volume-level used to perpetuate them, or higher (rather than hidden in a footnote in an appendix — though this would be contrary to tradition).

    So . . . about that claim that text-critically relevant asterisks accompany Mark 16:9-20 in minuscules 264, 1221, 2346, and 2812 . . . .

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  3. Thanks for your work and attention to detail. I applaud TGC for doing an article on Textual Criticism, but I think TGC should have scholars who are well known in their field when publishing articles on specific topics such as this one. Thanks for defending the Truth.

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  4. Justin Taylor

    This is not to excuse error, but a couple of things to note:

    (1) In Gilbert’s book, he writes: “Ancient writers didn’t actually write on paper but rather on papyrus or vellum or even, later, parchment. But as a shorthand for this book, paper will suffice.”

    (2) It should be noted that the information on Vaticanus, 400,000 variants, 16 variants per manuscript, etc. come from Craig Blomberg’s “Can We Still Believe the Bible?” (E.g., Blomberg writes: “Although Ehrman doesn’t total all the numbers, Wallace does, and the result is that those 400,000 variants, if there are that many, are spread across more than 25,000 manuscripts in Greek or other ancient languages. . . . This is an average of only 16 variants per manuscript.”) Wallace reviewed the book here and criticized these mistatements: https://danielbwallace.com/2014/03/24/can-we-still-believe-the-bible/. But it’s interesting that Dr. Wallace categorizes these as “rather niggling concerns” for the most part, while this article uses the more sensationalistic critique as being “silly statements.”

    Again, it’s unfortunate when errors arise, and they should be acknowledged and corrected. But I hope specialists can see that it’s a difficult situation when a well-educated and thoughtful pastor tries to write a book and article for laypeople, relying upon the work of scholars who have written on this subject for decades, and then it is the popularizer who is publicly mocked for writing “silly” things about the Bible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Justin, thank you for your thoughtful interaction to the blog. I wish the note about paper were included in the Gospel Coalition’s piece. Obviously, this review was based on the article from TGC’s website and wasn’t a formal book review. Nevertheless, that clears up the reason for that comment.

      As I am sure you noticed, the “silly statements” blog title was drawn from the same wording found in the title of the article on TGC’s website. It was, in no way, meant to be sensationalistic or even worse, mocking, but rather a play on the title of the article. If the author can characterize the false statements of others as “silly,” one would think that his own false statements are open to the same type of criticism. Nevertheless, it seems that Dr. Wallace’s own blog demonstrates that it isn’t just the popularizer who is criticized. Rather, everyone—from Craig Blomberg and Greg Gilbert to Kurt Eichenwald and Bart Ehrman—is held to the same standard of excellence in scholarship on this blog. In fact, I would expect evangelical Christians to take that calling even more seriously than most, since we represent Christ.

      Finally, a scholarly book correcting these false statements may only be read by a handful of interested parties, but popular books sell by the 100s and sometimes even thousands. Last time I checked, the article alone had over 6000 likes. As such, those writing for a more widely-read popular audience ought to be held to a higher standard, since the risk of misinformation is much greater. It is very good that he consulted Blomberg’s work, and it is an excellent work, but Blomberg isn’t a textual-critic. He should have used any number of those resources, and there wouldn’t have been an issue.

      As I said in my review, I enjoyed the article. It had a lot of helpful content. However, it unfortunately perpetuated misinformation. I think it is important to try and dispel these errors loud and clear in hopes that we don’t continue to repeat them. There is so much good evidence to use; let’s stick with that.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Tim

      Justin,
      This line of reasoning is a non-starter. All this information included in this critique is readily available to any person who takes the time to look. If one is going to write an article, even at a popular level, accuracy is essential.

      Tim

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  6. nonsupernaturalist

    Imagine this: The story of the Cinderella and her fairy godmother originated in the first century. It was first written down circa 65-75 AD. Three other books were written in the next couple of decades regarding the same basic story; however, at least two of these books borrowed heavily, sometimes word for word, from the first book, and, it is possible that the fourth author used the first book as a boiler plate for his story.

    Over the next 1,500 years, tens of thousands of copies were made of the story of Cinderella and her fairy godmother, and amazingly, these copies, many of which we still have today, have only minor variations between them. The original story has remained intact for two thousand years!

    Does the fact that tens of thousands of copies of the original story, which have only minor variations, in any way, confirm that a girl named Cinderella rode in a pumpkin, pulled by field mice. to a ball, all arranged by a fairy?

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    1. supernaturalist

      Imagine this: The story of Jesus Christ–his ministry of miracles, death and resurrection–began as an oral tradition circa 33-40 A.D. Imagine a religion was soon founded on these stories, and that we have a letter from Paul, one of the earliest known converts, dated to around 55-57 A.D. telling us that he confirmed the truth of the resurrection story from one of Christ’s apostles. Then, some 10-20 years later, the first known written accounts begin to surface.

      Imagine that the oral traditions and the written accounts both date back to a time when even the most outrageous claim about Jesus Christ–that he died and was buried in a rich man’s tomb, and came back to life on the third day after his crucifixion–was easily debunkable as some, if not most of the key players would have still been alive at the time of this legend’s transmission. Imagine this cult of Christ followers were unpopular with Roman and Jews alike, and that opponents of this religious craze would have done anything in their power to disprove the claims about the so-called messiah that lie at center of it.

      Imagine this new religion survives somehow. Imagine that the believers of the day took the gospel stories as eyewitness accounts because they were written as eyewitness accounts, and that 2,000+ years later you come along ignoring that fact so that you could build a Cinderella strawman.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. supernaturalist

      Imagine this: The story of Jesus Christ–his ministry of miracles, death and resurrection–began as an oral tradition circa 33-40 A.D. Imagine a religion was soon founded on these stories, and that we have a letter from Paul, one of the earliest known converts, dated to around 55-57 A.D. telling us that he confirmed the truth of the resurrection story from one of Christ’s apostles. Then, some 10-20 years later, the first known written accounts begin to surface.

      Imagine that the oral traditions and the written accounts both date back to a time when even the most outrageous claim about Jesus Christ–that he died and was buried in a rich man’s tomb, and came back to life on the third day after his crucifixion–was easily debunkable as some, if not most of the key players would have still been alive at the time of this legend’s transmission. Imagine this cult of Christ followers were unpopular with Roman and Jews alike, and that opponents of this religious craze would have done anything in their power to disprove the claims about the so-called messiah that lie at center of it.

      Imagine this new religion survives somehow.

      Imagine that the believers of the day took the gospel stories as eyewitness accounts because they were mostly written as eyewitness accounts.

      Imagine that 2,000+ years later you come along ignoring that fact along with the decades of scholarship confirming the historical validity of names and places mentioned throughout the gospels and epistles, choosing to focus solely on the supernatural aspect of the accounts so that you could post a weak comparison between written accounts based on oral tradition passed down by alleged eyewitnesses and the patently fictional story of Cinderella.

      It’s fun to imagine.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Pingback: February 2016 Biblical Studies Carnival | Pursuing Veritas

  8. Thank you for this blogpost. I am studying the causes behind the differences between older Textus Receptus based versions like the KJV and NA or United Biblesociety’s based versions like the NIV on my blog. Though I am not really interested in counting the number of differences, I try to methodically weigh the differences. I have posted the results of my study of more than 100 differences on my blog. The only difference that I found that touches on a Christian doctrine is Revelation 22:14. But thank you for putting the counting of differences into perspective.

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  9. Regarding the first point about the word ‘paper’ in “pieces of paper that …”
    I agree, words have meanings, and should be used carefully when writing serious articles.
    Good catch!

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    1. Robert, I have a question that you may help me understand. I posted on the Textual Criticism’s Yahoo Group page but have not received an answer. I am looking to find out the number of variants between the collation of our current CT and the Sinaiticus. Do you know how many variants there are?

      Sorry, but I didn’t know where else to post this. Is your email available anywhere?

      Like

  10. nonsupernaturalist

    Two of the biggest assumptions that many Christians make regarding the truth claims of Christianity is that, one, eyewitnesses wrote the four gospels. The problem is, however, that the majority of scholars today do not believe this is true. The second big assumption many Christians make is that it would have been impossible for whoever wrote these four books to have invented details in their books, especially in regards to the Empty Tomb and the Resurrection appearances, due to the fact that eyewitnesses to these events would have still been alive when the gospels were written and distributed.

    But consider this, dear Reader: Most scholars date the writing of the first gospel, Mark, as circa 70 AD. Who of the eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus and the alleged events after his death were still alive in 70 AD? That is four decades after Jesus’ death. During that time period, tens of thousands of people living in Palestine were killed in the Jewish-Roman wars of the mid and late 60’s, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem.

    How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus in circa 30 AD was still alive when the first gospel was written and distributed in circa 70 AD? How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus ever had the opportunity to read the Gospel of Mark and proof read it for accuracy?

    I challenge Christians to list the name of even ONE eyewitness to the death of Jesus who was still alive in 70 AD along with the evidence to support your claim.

    If you can’t list any names, dear Christian, how can you be sure that details such as the Empty Tomb, the detailed resurrection appearances, and the Ascension ever really occurred? How can you be sure that these details were not simply theological hyperbole…or…the exaggerations and embellishments of superstitious, first century, mostly uneducated people, who had retold these stories thousands of times, between thousands of people, from one language to another, from one country to another, over a period of many decades?

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    1. Note: I had originally written a much longer rebuttal than what you see below, but it’s been three days and Dan has yet to approve the comment. It was probably too long. In case the original doesn’t go through, here’s a condensed answer to your question:

      “I challenge Christians to list the name of even ONE eyewitness to the death of Jesus who was still alive in 70 AD along with the evidence to support your claim.”

      I’ll give you two: Peter and John.

      1. Peter. In referring to Mark as the earliest Gospel, you conveniently neglected to mention the widely attested church tradition that Mark received his Gospel from Peter. Papias (70-163) writes:

      “And the elder said this: “Mark became an interpreter of Peter; as many things as he remembered he wrote down accurately (though certainly not in order) the things said or done by the Lord. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but he came later—as he said with reference to Peter who taught whenever the need arose, but he did not [teach] according to the arrangement of the oracles of the Lord, with the result that Mark did not err when he thus wrote certain things as he recalled them. For he planned out one goal ahead of time, namely, to leave out nothing which he heard and not to falsify any [of the words of Peter].”

      You want to suppose that Peter died some time during the Roman persecution of the 60’s, but this would, presumably, be the very same period in which Mark was collecting Peter’s recollections about Jesus from Peter himself (assuming Mark’s Gospel was written in 70… which has yet to be shown).

      1a. Clement of was the Bishop of Rome from 88 to his death in 99. He is reported by Tertullian to have been consecrated by–you guessed it–Peter.

      2. John! Good grief, how can you pithily challenge Christians to name even ONE eyewitness to the death of Jesus who was still alive in 70 AD when the majority of scholars dates John’s own gospel to the last decade of the first century? (although I’ll note that Wallace makes a good case for an earlier, pre-70 date)

      Unless you’re prepared to argue against Johannine authorship (and bear in mind that the tradition is long, and that no alternative authorship was ever suggested by the early church), you must accept that at least one supposed eyewitness to Jesus’ death would have lived to see Mark’s Gospel. How could you forget John?

      2a. Irenaeus (130-202) records that Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, had learned from John:

      ” I could tell you the place where the blessed Polycarp sat to preach the Word of God. It is yet present to my mind with what gravity he everywhere came in and went out; what was the sanctity of his deportment, the majesty of his countenance; and what were his holy exhortations to the people. I seem to hear him now relate how he conversed with John and many others who had seen Jesus Christ, the words he had heard from their mouths.”

      Polycarp was born in 69 AD.

      2b. Ignatius (35-108), Bishop of Antioch, was a known friend of Polycarp, and tradition holds that he too was a hearer of John.

      Now, since I’ve responded to your challenge, I’ll give you one of my own:

      I challenge Atheists to list the name of even ONE historical source which maintains that the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ death died before 70 AD.

      If you can’t list any names, dear Atheist, how can you be sure that details such as the Empty Tomb, the detailed resurrection appearances, and the Ascension never occurred?

      Like

  11. Gary

    There is a difference, my Christian friend, between basing your beliefs regarding ancient truth claims on (catholic) traditions and scholarship. I believe you will be hard pressed to find a source in mainstream NT scholarship today who believes that it is more probable than not that Peter was still living after 70 AD.

    Remember, Papias never said that his sources were eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus. He stated that his sources were “disciples of the disciples of the disciples” or something to that effect. At best his sources were third hand. Therefore his information MAY have been correct, no one will ever be able to say for sure either way, but his information was definitely NOT based on statements he had received directly from eyewitness sources.

    Your statement regarding the authorship of John correctly reflects the position of many evangelical and other conservative Christian NT scholars, but I challenge you to provide a mainstream NT scholarship source which states that “the majority of NT scholars” believe that John the Apostle, son of Zebedee, the fisherman, wrote the Gospel of John. I think you will find that the majority of New Testament scholars (of all theological persuasions) do NOT believe that Matthew, John Mark, Luke the physician, or John son of Zebedee wrote the four Gospels. in fact, many sources state that the majority of scholars now believe that NO eyewitness wrote the Gospels. If you believe this claim is false, please provide the proof.

    Polycarp may have sat at the feet of “John” but there were many “John’s” then just as there are now. What proof do you have that Polycarp met the John THE APOSTLE, son of Zebedee, after 70 AD, or whenever the first Gospel was written? Again, there is no evidence, other than traditions from later centuries, that any eyewitness to the crucifixion of Jesus was still alive in 70 AD.

    You said, “I challenge Atheists to list the name of even ONE historical source which maintains that the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ death died before 70 AD. If you can’t list any names, dear Atheist, how can you be sure that details such as the Empty Tomb, the detailed resurrection appearances, and the Ascension never occurred?”

    I never claimed that I can prove that no eyewitness was alive after 70 AD. There very well may have been several/many eyewitnesses still alive in 70, 80, or 90 AD! My point is that we don’t know for sure either way. Therefore the oft repeated conservative Christian claim that eyewitnesses were alive to “proof-read the Gospels” for accuracy when these four books were first written and distributed is an assumption based on nothing more than “faith”.

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  12. Gary

    Here is some information about Polycarp and Clement of Rome:

    •First we look at the case of Polycarp. ◦Early Christian tradition claimed that Polycarp was a disciple of John, son of Zebedee and was appointed to the position of bishop of Smyrna by the apostle himself. The main source of this tradition was Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon.

    ◦There are three argument against this tradition:

    The silence of earlier tradition about connection between Polycarp and the apostle John.
    Irenaeus’ mistake about Papias’ connection with John.
    The presence of an alternate tradition about the succession of bishops in Smyrna.
    In conclusion these three arguments make a strong case against the historicity of the connection of Polycarp with the apostle John.

    Next we look at Clement of Rome. ◦The same tradition claimed that the church of Rome was founded by the apostles Peter and Paul and that they appointed Clement as Bishop of Rome.

    ◦Like the case with Polycarp, there are many difficulties with this tradition:

    The statement about the appointment of the bishop of Rome is anachronistic
    It is a virtual certainty that neither Paul nor Peter founded the church in Rome.
    There is evidence to show that the tradition of Peter and Paul founding the church in Rome was an invention of the Roman church in its battle with heretics and its aim for hegemony over Christendom.
    In conclusion, we can say that the tradition that Rome was founded by the apostles and the appointment of its first bishop has no grounding in historical fact.

    Being the earliest, the tradition of Polycarp of Smyrna and Clement of Rome, form the strongest cases for the Christian claims of apostolic succession. Yet as we have seen, these claims are spurious. With the elimination of these two names, there is no connection which Christendom can claim that goes back to the apostles who knew the earthly Jesus.

    Gary: Now, I’m sure you can find conservative scholars who have arguments in favor of the Christian apostolic tradition of Polycarp and Clement but I challenge to prove that the majority of NT scholars, today, believe that these two men personally knew the apostles.

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    1. Re: Polycarp

      “The silence of earlier tradition about connection between Polycarp and the apostle John.”

      Granted.

      “Irenaeus’ mistake about Papias’ connection with John.”

      I don’t see how this could pass muster as an argument when there are many who still equate the presbyter John with the John the Apostle. It’s not a settled debate.

      “The presence of an alternate tradition about the succession of bishops in Smyrna.”

      Not necessarily evidence of anything, but okay.

      Re: Clement

      “The statement about the appointment of the bishop of Rome is anachronistic”

      It’s anachronistic in the sense that “bishop” implies a certain kind of monarchical episcopacy, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t church leaders and that Clement wasn’t a successor of Peter’s leadership in Rome. He wasn’t a Pope in any sort of modern sense of the word.

      “It is a virtual certainty that neither Paul nor Peter founded the church in Rome.”

      How’s that? As Tomasz noted below, Paul’s letter to the Romans shows that there was already a church established in Rome at that point, so we can cross him out. But Peter? How are you virtually certain that Peter never left Jerusalem and kick-started a church in Rome?

      “There is evidence to show that the tradition of Peter and Paul founding the church in Rome was an invention of the Roman church in its battle with heretics and its aim for hegemony over Christendom.”

      Hey man, I’m all for a good Catholic conspiracy, but where’s the evidence?

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  13. Gary

    FYI: When I refer to the “Apostles”, I am talking about the Twelve. It is possible that Clement knew and met Paul, but Paul was not an eyewitness to the life of Jesus. (You may believe that Paul saw the resurrected Jesus on the Damascus Road and therefore should be considered an eyewitness of the Resurrection, but the only information we have is that Paul saw a bright light on the Damascus Road, not a walking/talking dead body.)

    Without Clement and Polycarp, there is no direct link between the Twelve and Christianity.

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  14. Tomasz

    “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
    He said to the woman, “Did God actually say,…?”

    Challenges are good. They make us research and learn.

    We should test everything and hold onto what’s good.

    Keep the discussion.

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  15. We have no certain knowledge of the founding of the Christian church congregation in Rome, although apparently visitors from Rome were among those who heard the gospel preached on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10). Upon returning to Rome they could have started the first church congregation there, long before Peter and Paul visited that city.

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  16. According to the first verses in Romans, it looks as though Paul wrote his letter to the Christians in Rome before he visited that city. That means the Christian church had a congregation in Rome before Paul visited that city.

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  17. Gary

    Hi Matthew,

    I agree that the issue of whether “John the Presbyter” was John the Apostle is not settled, but the question is: Does the majority of modern NT scholars today believe that Papias met and received information directly from John, the son of Zebedee. I don’t think you can say that. Maybe, maybe not. However, isn’t it odd that if Papias had met John the Apostle, he never quotes or mentions the existence of the Gospel of John?

    And the same can be said of Polycarp. Do most NT scholars believe that there is evidence that Polycarp knew the Apostle John? If so, please give me a source. I find the following as odd: We have copies of some of Polycarp’s writings. In them, he quotes from other NT books, but never once (as far as I know) quotes from the Gospel of John. How odd. A disciple of John who never quotes from John’s gospel? Odd. Possible, but I think unlikely.

    I agree with you that my source’s claim that it is “virtually certain” that Peter did not found the church in Rome is overstated. What he should have said is that the evidence for this claim is weak to nonexistent. Do we have any statement from Clement in which he states that Peter founded the church in Rome or that he had ever met Peter? If so, please provide a link as I would like to review this.

    Bottomline: There may have been a connection between some of the Eleven and the earliest Church Fathers, but to date, I have not see it. If someone has it, please provide it.

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  18. Gary

    Hi Tomasz,

    I agree. It is very unlikely that Paul founded the Roman church. It is possible that Peter did, but as of yet, I haven’t see any good proof of that, only catholic church tradition. However, I find it odd that Paul would not mention this fact in his epistle to the Romans, but of course, his silence on that issue does not prove that Peter did not found that church.

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  19. Gary

    So again I ask,

    “I challenge Christians to list the name of even ONE eyewitness to the death of Jesus who was still alive in 70 AD along with the evidence to support your claim.”

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  20. Who wrote this? When? Where?

    “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our[a] joy may be complete.” 1 John 1:4 (ESV)

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  21. Commentary about 1John 1:4

    “The central event of history is the appearance of eternal life in Jesus Christ. John is one of the chosen witnesses who saw, heard, and touched One who had existed from the beginning—the Son of God, whose eternal fellowship with the Father is now extended to others. This extension takes place through the apostolic proclamation, including the writing of 1 John itself.”

    Reformation Study Bible provided by Ligonier Ministries

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  22. J Martin (Joe) Thomas

    Thanks Dan and Robert. I came looking to find out if the 400K was from the Greek MSS only, or if that counted the translations. (answer – Greek only).

    What I also learned was the I had made the same mistake as the others – saying that one error in 1000 MSS = 1000 variants. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve been teaching that incorrectly in my apologetics lectures. It will be fixed the next time I teach on textual criticism. Thanks for this excellent blog (and also “The Number of Textual Variants: An Evangelical Miscalculation.”).

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  23. J Martin (Joe) Thomas

    To the comments by critics about eyewitnesses…

    Let’s say that AD 70 is a good date for Mark. (I think it should be dated earlier). That is 40 years after the fact.

    John F Kennedy was murdered 53 years ago. I suggest trying to start teaching that he was killed by an arrow by a female assassin, and that his entire cabinet and all 100 senators saw him alive 3 days later.

    It should be easy to gain a following, since the actual events were so long ago.

    Let me know how that goes.

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