The challenge usually goes something like this. You Christians believe in the Bible, and that it’s the inerrant word of God. But you don’t even know where it came from. The Bible isn’t some divinely transmitted text to humanity. It’s just the book made when Emperor Constantine decided their religion needed a book. It only includes the writings he, and the other men in authority, wanted. They left out dozens of better books. Writings that prominently featured women or showed Jesus as more human were discarded. Further, this was all done 300 years after Jesus supposedly lived. The Bible isn’t God’s word. It’s just a bunch of letters arbitrarily stitched together so that Romans could feel good about their new state religion.
I heard a version of this from my American History professor in class. At the time I didn’t know enough to contest it. There’s a lot to unpack in this objection, and some details will have to wait for another time. For now, I want to give you a framework for how to break down and respond to this objection in three points.
1. Was the New Testament decided by Constantine?
The biblical canon was recognized at the Council of Laodicea in 363 A.D. The Council of Nicea was led by Constantine in 325 A.D. so already they are confusing two events. But even then, this is not true. The New Testament already existed. The New Testament was canonized in the 4thcentury, but it had already been circulating for centuries by then. The Council did not use their own authority to change the Bible, but instead recognized the authority already found in the books and locked them in place.
2. What about the other gospels?
You may have run into this a few years ago when Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code was making a big splash. Brown made claims such as, “More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them.” This completely ignores required credentials such as eyewitness authority. There were only four gospels that passed the tests to be considered reliable and authoritative.They didn’t go into the council with a pile of books and a paper shredder, arbitrarily tossing some books out like the Gospels of Thomas or Judas, while keeping others like the Gospels of Luke and John.
There are very specific and straightforward reasons why they chose the books they did. The Gospel accounts needed to be authoritative. They had to either be written by eyewitnesses, such as Matthew and John, or someone with direct access to the eyewitnesses, like Mark and Luke. Beyond the Gospels, every book was written by apostles of Christ, such as Peter and John, brothers of Jesus, like James and Jude, or Paul, an admittedly unconventional eyewitness but still a witness of the risen Jesus. Every non-canonical Gospel we can find is either written too late to be reliable, or not coming from a trustworthy eyewitness.
3. Was it changed in those 300 years?
It can be worrying that there’s 300 years in between the life of Christ and when the Bible became decided. Skeptics like to argue that the texts changed in that time. However, this gap is only a concern if we were to lose track of the text during that time. There were no Dark Ages for the Bible, where we don’t have any idea what changed. We can follow the chain of writings well enough to see that the Bible we have today has the same message and content that was being circulated in the first century.Early church fathers, such as Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement of Rome, and many more, gave us their own writings, who then passed it on to their students, giving us a chain to follow all the way to 363 A.D.
How do we know this is true?
As J. Warner Wallace describes, “We can examine all the ‘links’ in the ‘chain’ to see if the story of Jesus was altered. As it turns out, the story of Jesus never changed. The description of Jesus wasn’t altered. From the first ‘link’ to the last, Jesus was born of a virgin, worked miracles, preached sermons, died on a cross, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and seated at the right hand of the Father. Nothing about the Jesus story has been altered. You may not believe it’s true. But we can demonstrate with certainty that the content of the Gospels and the story of Jesus has not been altered.”
Altering the texts would not be an easy task, given the uniformity in the message between these different sources. We have every reason to believe that the Bible we have today matches not only the Bible from the council of Laodicea, but also the writings and message from the apostles in the first century AD. So, when someone tells you the Bible was written in the 4thcentury by Roman leaders, break it down and share what really happened.
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