A Look at the New Testament Canon
Before beginning I want to emphasize that I revere the Messianic writings (New Testament) and consider them highly reliable. The reason for this discussion is not to destroy the credibility of the New Testament. However, it is a simple fact that the New Testament as it is exist today is not perfect or free from error. It is reliable but definitely not perfect, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either ignorant of the facts or a deceiver. It is crucial to understand that a writing can be revered, useful, and of utmost importance without it being “perfect.” Therefore, as you read the material below allow yourself to understand the sometimes uncomfortable truth but do not overreact with feelings of severe anxiety or doubt regarding New Testament reliability.
I often attempt to remove the cover of falsehood that many leaders of Christianity appear to place over the truth surrounding various issues. One issue is the New Testament Canon (the official listing of books comprising the “New Testament”). More specifically, I inform Christians that what they call the New Testament was formed during very turbulent times and that there is clear and irrefutable proof of some scribal manipulation during its formation. There definitely were “changes” made to the texts, changes that occasionally impact crucial doctrine.
Anyone can check and will discover there are literally thousands of differences between the various New Testament manuscripts. I hasten to add that most of these differences are minor and do not impact the truth to be found in the writings; however, the differences are nonetheless there and sometimes they do or may impact truth. I also wish it to be known that my comments do not apply to the ORIGINAL autographed copies; however, it is important to note that there are no original autographed copies existing today. I think some people actually think that the actual original writings of Biblical books are stored away somewhere and were used in the creation and translation of Scripture. That is not the case. Such texts do not exists, and if they do they have yet to be found.
The available New Testament manuscripts are hand made copies of hand made copies of hand made copies of hand made copies of hand made copies of hand made copies… In short, the available manuscripts are far removed from the originals penned by whoever actually wrote them. Given all the potential for error in copying and the fact that these copies were often done by biased scribes, it is certain that what we have today is not a perfect transmittal of what would be found in the originals. If I recall correctly from my study of this topic, no two manuscripts out of the thousands that exist agree completely. Even if there are some that do agree, that still does not diminish the fact that thousands of textual variations exist in a document that is naively considered by many to be the “perfect” Word of G-d. If such is the case, those that exalt the New Testament as being “infallible” or “without error” must consider G-d to be a rather scatterbrained, confused deity.
It is deceptive and strange that many Christian apologists use the existence of thousands of manuscripts as “proof” of the New Testament’s authenticity. What they conceal is that those manuscripts differ in some important passages and virtually none of the manuscripts completely agree with one another. So, in actuality, their “defense” of the “infallibility” of the New Testament falls apart when the entire truth is told, which of course is why they conceal it. You do not have to believe me. All you have to do is look in a good Bible version that has center column references or some other form of references to see that there are numerous “alternate renderings” or even doubt about the authenticity of some passages.
Why are Christian leaders so fearful of the truth getting out, often misrepresenting the problem that exists? Why do they sometimes implant deep distrust of scholars among Christians – scholars that are generally simply reporting the facts as they really are? If Christian leaders are truly promoting “Truth,” why do they fight against truth in their representation of the New Testament as some sort of “perfect” writing? I have become increasingly alarmed at the actual suppression of truth within Traditional Christianity and am forced to ask many “Why” questions. Of course, most Christians are unaware of this and are simply trying to worship in a sincere manner and thinking they are following what they are told is the “Word of G-d.” They are placing their trust in organizations and men they do not expect will deceive them.
I firmly believe the New Testament to be filled with much truth; however, those who say it is “infallible” or the “Word of G-d” are either ignorant of the facts, ignoring the facts, or being untruthful. I am not suggesting the New Testament is worthless and do not consider most potential scribal errors to be significant. I simply point out the sure fact that the New Testament is not perfect and certainly not the perfectly infallible “Word of G-d”. Did you know that even the identities of who authored some of the New Testament books are educated guesses? But that is actually no different from the Tanakh (Older Testament) and is really no reason for serious doubt. Nevertheless it is the case.
As a side note, a core reason for my opposition to groups such as the KJV-Onlyist, those who promote the King James version is the only pure Word, is because they purposely hide the fact that the manuscripts from which the King James version were written were few in number compared to what is now available and that even those few had thousands of textual differences. Whereas I do feel the KJV is one of the best translations – possibly THE best – I do not think it proper to misrepresent the facts as do those promoting that the KJV is free of any error.
Conversely, the same is not the case regarding the Tanakh (Tah-NOCK, commonly called the Old Testament). Even though it is almost 4 times larger than the New Testament (77% of the Bible is the Tanakh), the Hebrew manuscripts show amazing similarity. One reason for this is the extraordinary care and reverence shown the Hebrew Scriptures by the hebrew scribes.
Unlike the New Testament scribes, who often looked upon the NT manuscripts as weapons to be fashioned to promote their biased views, the Hebrew Scribes considered it unthinkable to dare alter their sacred texts.
Although it is a different topic, there is a fact that is crucial to know when discussing the New Testament writings. Did you know that the New Testament authors did not consider their writings to be “Holy Scripture?” I suspect you did not. I prove this fact quite conclusively in a separate article and invite you to read it. Be my guest at trying to disprove it. I assure you that the facts are on my side.
Strangely, my exposure of these facts causes many to label me as “evil”, a “heretic”, “damned”, or even a “disciple of the antichrist”. It is more than a bit odd how someone who promotes truth that is supported by strong facts is condemned by Traditional Christian leaders. (What does that suggest regarding the true “spirit” that guides leaders of Christianity? Would the Holy Spirit lead them to lie, conceal the facts, or attack those who present the true facts?)
Many who are revered as “church fathers” rejected entire books of the New Testament, something far more “destructive” than my mere suggestion that scattered crucial verses show clear signs of corruption and that the only true “Scripture” is the Tanakh – the same Tanakh the noble Bereans used to test all they were taught (Acts 17:11)! Also, of course the non-catholic churches do not accept the Catholic apocrypha. My point is, what makes my rejection or doubt regarding scattered verses “evil” yet the rejection or doubt regarding entire books and the war of canonization that existed in the early centuries “divine inspiration”? I say again, many of the “church fathers” rejected entire books of the New Testament, yet they are revered! So, if what I suggest is “evil,” then why are men who promoted greater “evil” by rejecting large chunks of the New Testament considered “church fathers”?
A cursory study of the canonization of the New Testament confirms there was indeed widespread disagreement as to what to include in the New Testament. Here, linked to the blue letters in this sentence, is a brief example showing the opinions of only a few of the “church fathers” regarding what they considered scripture. I realize Marcion was condemned as a heretic; however, Marcionism continued (and continues) to deeply influence Traditional Christianity. It is my firm conviction that the historic disregard and/or reduction of importance that most Christians feel toward the Tanakh, which became known as the “Old” Testament due to Marcion’s influence, is due largely to the disciples of Marcion that infested (and still infest) Traditional Christianity. Despite Marcion’s eventual dismissal as a heretic, all the “church fathers” were exactly like him in their strong opposition to the Torah (G-d’s Eternal Law).
A noteworthy point is that what we today call the New Testament was largely finalized by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, who just so happened to be among the most forceful advocates of his day for the deity of Yeshua (Athanasius was the leader of the faction) and who was – shall we say – not very nice to his opponents. He was also, of course, anti-Torah. Athanasius was “The Man” among the Trinitarians of his day. (Check out the list again, and you can see how HIS list became YOUR list of New Testament books.) So, obviously, he (the chief trinitarian) strongly leaned towards adopting any questionable passages or writings that supported his view against what was in the early centuries the dominant opposition to the trinity. Yes, up to the time of the council at Nicea, the Trinity position was not necessarily the majority opinion, although Athanasius actually rose to power following Nicea.
So, what Bishop Athanasius – the most forceful trinitarian of his day – defined as “Scripture” in the year 367 c.e. became the “New Testament” section of the Bible. He, above all others, is the ultimate source of our “New Testament” canon, and he was the primary advocate of his day for the adoption (actually forced acceptance) of the trinity theology!
Facts like these underscore the need for Christians to learn the history – true unbiased history – of the early centuries (first 4 centuries). Unfortunately, most Christians are woefully ignorant of the history of their faith or, at least, only study selective sections of history as part of their biased approach. In most cases the years before the fourth century are ignored, and those are the most important years with regard to the formation of Christianity. Just as the first few years of life are the most crucial in terms of setting the physical and emotional characteristics of a human, the first “infant and toddler” years of Christianity were what set the course for what we have today. Nevertheless, ignorance of those years abounds within the minds of almost all Christians. And please, study for yourself! Do not let a biased preacher or anyone else tell you the history. Chances are they do not even know the depth of history themselves, and if they do you can be sure they will present their own biased version.
It is almost funny how most Christians seem to assume the New Testament just fell from heaven one day into the laps of the early church fathers. Such people have no idea of the intense, biased, political, often bloody battles that were fought for what we now consider the New Testament. Obviously, mistakes in such a horrendously heated struggle were inevitable as battle lines were drawn and each faction solidified its position as they struggled for the ear of the various emperors. Of course, at the time of the Nicean Council the Roman emperor was Constantine – a man of historically unwholesome character. The same Constantine that actually hosted the council at one of his plush estates and largely authored the creed that set Christianity on the course of ultimately abandoning the One G-d and accepting, instead, the pagan traditions of Rome.
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