It is written:
But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:25)
There are many conspiracy theories about Christianity swirling around the world, and one of the most popular is the belief that the New Testament Scriptures were unknown to the early church and were collected centuries later by politicians in line with Rome.
(I do not understand how otherwise seemingly reasonable people can believe such things when the Apostle Paul quotes from the Gospel of Luke [10:7] in 1 Timothy [5:18) and refers to this writing as Scripture, and the Apostle Peter likewise refers to the Writings of Paul as Scripture (2 Peter 3;16-17), especially when these writings are easily dated to the first century A.D.)!
These conspiracy theories were, of course, made popular by the novel and subsequent movie, The Da Vinci Code.
Sadly, many have traded historical fact for fiction by embracing such theories without examining the facts.
An example may be found in a book I am currently reading on the topic of reincarnation, where the writer says:
“As one of Christianity’s most distinguished early scholars, Origen—who is believed to have been Egyptian—is credited with being largely responsible for the coalescence of Christian writings that became the New Testament, an event that took place long after he had died.” (Roy Stemman, The Big Book of Reincarnation: Examining the Evidence that We Have All Lived Before, 15 (Kindle Edition); San Antonio, TX; Hierophant Publishing)
The facts show clearly that the New Testament was written and well-known within a few years of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
One sample of evidence for this comes from the community located near the Dead Sea, known as Qumran, and which was inhabited by a group of Jewish scribes known as the Essenes. These were responsible for the collection of books known today as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
One author has written of the history this community:
“The Zadok line of high priests that extended from Zadok to the Babylonian captivity were: Ahimaaz, Azariah, Johnan, Azatiah, Amaria, Ahitub II, Zadok II, Shallum, Hilkiah, Azariah IV, Seraiah, and Jehozadak. After returning from the Babylonian captivity, the Zadok line started with Joshua the son of Jehozadak. Around 175 BC a rebellion occurred that deposed the godly line of Zadok. The priests after the return from Babylon were: Joshua, Joiakim, Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan, Jaddua, Onias I, Simon I, Eleazar, Manasseh, Onias II, Simon II, Onias III, Onaias IV, and Jason. Most of us remember Antiochus Epiphanes, who persecuted the Jews. He killed all those who refused to live a Grecian lifestyle. They could not study the Bible, practice circumcision, or do Jewish sacrifices. The Jerusalem temple was desolated with idols and Jews were forced to sacrifice to pagan gods or be put to death. The Zadok priests refused to obey, and the assassination of Zadok priests began. The Zadok priests knew of the apostasy that was to come, and under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, took the temple library to Qumran. There the Lord protected them, and they prepared the hearts of the people for the coming of the Messiah. They did this as best as they could in the midst of a growing apostasy in the Sanhedrin, and in the Pharisee and Sadducee parties. The Dead Sea Scrolls found in Qumran and its surrounding caves are the legacy of the Zadok priests with a complete history from their point of view. The community in Qumran called themselves “Yahad.” This is a contraction of two Hebrew words. “Yah” is the name of God and “ehad” means “one” in the sense of one group of brothers. So, the name “Yahad” literally means unity in the Spirit of God. They believed they were led directly by the Holy Spirit, so they truly were “one in the Spirit.” Their major center of ritual that we call Qumran, they called New Damascus. We learn this in the Damascus documents. Their name “Damascus” is made up of two Hebrew words; “dam” meaning blood and “Masheq” meaning “heir” or “stronghold.” Look this up in Strong’s concordance. “Dam” is H1818 and “mashaq” is H4944. New Damascus was the stronghold of the ancient ways and those loyal to the true blood heir, the coming Messiah.” (Ken Johnson, Ancient Order of Melchizedek, 31-32 (Kindle Edition))
What is fascinating to consider is that the evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrates that there were copies there found-not only of the Old Testament Books-but also of the New Testament Scriptures!
“The caves at Qumran are famous for the hoard of Old Testament and other manuscripts that have been found there. But the thing which receives the least publicity (if any publicity at all) is the fact that the caves have also yielded fragments of New Testament books. This absence of publicity – this blanket denial of their identity is not to be wondered at. The fact of the matter is this, that these manuscripts were deposited in the caves at Qumran by the year AD 68 at the very latest, when Qumran and the surrounding area was overrun by the Roman 10th Legion, and according to the critics, the New Testament – especially the Gospels – had not yet been written by that time…Cave 4 at Qumran is of some interest to us here. In that cave was discovered a particular fragment known today as 4QAlpha. Though not actually a fragment of Mark’s Gospel – it was originally thought to be a medical text it does reflect the healing miracle of the blind man recorded in Mark 8:22- 26, and moreover contains the New Testament names of Caiaphas, Peter (the first time that this name has been found in an Hebrew/Aramaic document), and Aquila…Fragments of various New Testament books were themselves found in the caves of Qumran, most notably in Cave 7. One that is of particular interest is called 7Q5, and carries nothing less than a passage from Mark 6:52- 53. 3…identifying other fragments from Cave 7 as parts of the New Testament, especially fragment 7Q4 which contains 1 Timothy 3:16- 4:3….The discoveries in Cave 7 at Qumran – and the commendable diligence of O’Callaghan who identified them – proves that what the critics have been teaching all these years is wrong, misinformed and mistaken on all levels. Archaeology has never spoken plainer than it speaks right now. Copies of the New Testament books of Mark, 1 Timothy, James, Acts, Romans and 2 Peter (at least) were all in circulation by AD 68 at the very latest, and clearly years before. But what is more, they were in circulation internationally and not just locally amongst Christian groups or churches….We spoke earlier of the lack of publicity which surrounds the discovery of New Testament books – or rather their fragments – at Qumran, and their omission is pointedly displayed by Emanuel Tov, who has issued a ‘complete’ list of all the Biblical texts discovered in the Qumran caves. 22 It is indeed a prodigious and comprehensive list, except that when it comes to Cave 7 he omits all reference to the New Testament fragments which were discovered there….As we have seen, represented amongst these ‘unclassified’ fragments are the New Testament books of 1 Timothy (7Q4); Mark’s Gospel (7Q5) (7Q6, 1) (7Q7) (7Q15); James (7Q8); Acts (7Q6); Romans (7Q9); and 2 Peter (7Q10). How these can all be omitted from a list which claims to be ‘complete’ is something to be wondered at. (Bill Cooper, The Authenticity Of The New Testament: part One-The Gospels, 300-470 (Kindle Edition))
Speaking of these facts, Geisler has documented:
“Jose *O’Callahan, a Spanish Jesuit paleographer, made headlines around the world in 1972 when he announced that he had translated a piece of the Gospel of Mark on a DSS fragment. This was the earliest known piece of Mark. Fragments from cave 7 had previously been dated between 50B.C. and A.D. 50 and listed under “not identified” and classified as “Biblical Texts.” O’Callahan eventually identified nine fragments….A date beforeA.D. 50 leaves no time for mythological embellishment of the records. They would have to be accepted as historical. It would also show Mark to be one of the earlier Gospels. Further, since these manuscripts are not originals but copies, it would reveal that the New Testament was “published”—copied and disseminated—during the life time of the writers. It would also reveal the existence of the New Testament canon during this early period, with pieces representing every major section of the New Testament: Gospels, Acts, and both Pauline and General Epistles.” (Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia Of Christian Apologetics, 188 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)
These facts demonstrate conclusively that the New Testament Books were written within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ, and that these Books were known and accepted internationally by the Christian community of the first century.
Critics sometimes claim, however, that these fragments were references to the book of Enoch.
“Back in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a brave and concerted effort by three leading scholars, Nebe, Muro and Puech, to convince the world that 7Q4, 7Q8 and 7Q12 were actually part and parcel, when combined, of the apocryphal Book of Enoch, instead of being 1 Timothy (7Q4), James (7Q8), and so on. 1 Sadly, the world at large has accepted their proposals uncritically (the irony of it!). But what the world doesn’t know is this: the identification is wrong on so many levels that it really shouldn’t stand. Consider. The papyrus of 7Q4 is light brown in colour-“castaño claro”–and is written in Herodian Zierstil script. 2 7Q8, on the other hand, which is said by Nebe et collegae to belong to 7Q4, is somewhat dark brown in colour–“castaño algo oscuro”–and is written out in the Herculaneum style. 3 In contrast, 7Q12, judging by the visual evidence, is written in turn in Herodian Zierstil (see Fig. 11 above). Our three scholars could have saved themselves an enormous amount of time and effort had they taken these simple and observable facts on board before embarking on their attempts to show at all costs that our fragments could not possibly be from the New Testament. The ink that has been spilled in this cause could fill a swimming pool, and all because folks are in such a hurry to disprove a New Testament origin for the Cave 7 fragments, that they fail to see even the simplest facts before them. Pedantry and nit-picking, even when accompanied by scholarly apparati and annotated bibliographies, are all very fine, but if they ignore the primary facts, then they will always and ever come to entirely the wrong conclusion. Each fragment is from a different batch, evidenced by their different colours, and they are written in three different hands under two different styles of calligraphy. Why was that not noticed at the very beginning? Nebe, Muro and Puech are accomplished scholars, highly regarded in their fields. Yet each of them failed to notice the mismatch in the fragments which would have told them immediately that, whatever these fragments are of, they could never be considered to represent a particularly narrow reference in any single book, never mind the Book of Enoch. It is remarkable, though, that given the miniscule size of fragments 7Q11; 7Q12; 7Q13; 7Q14, these three scholars still felt themselves able to assert with such confidence that they knew which work they were from, the Book of Enoch, when their first and major objections to the New Testament identification of any of the Cave 7 fragments had always rested on the scholarly assertion that in each case the fragments were far too small for any kind of identification to be made. But what is good for the goose, must surely be good for the gander. Thiede, as always, has done a splendid job of pulling down their assertions by dint of textual analysis4, but even he might have saved himself an enormous labour had he spotted the clear differences between these fragments. Using the same critical methodology as Nebe, Muro and Puech, he makes an excellent case for 1 Timothy being the better option, but of course that argument cannot stand if it is built upon the same shifting sands as that of his antagonists. The fact of the matter is, fragments 7Q11; 7Q12; 7Q13; 7Q14, are far too miniscule to be of any use apart from being able to tell us what they are not fragments of.” (Bill Cooper, The Authenticity of the New Testament Fragments of Qumran, 733-755 (Kindle Edition))
Speaking of some of the evidences of the early dating of the New Testament Scriptures, scholar Carsten Thiede informs us:
“Some readers of this book may remember the excitement in 1976 when John A.T. Robinson published his mould-breaking Redating the New Testament. Here was an arch-liberal theologian, labelled by some as the heretic Bishop of Woolwich, allegedly a proponent of the fashionable ‘God is dead’ tendency, who was suddenly stating, in a well-documented monograph, that every single New Testament text was written before the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. Overnight, he became a traitor to the ‘liberal’ cause and the new hero of the ‘conservatives’. And yet he was and remained the same John A.T. Robinson. He had merely discovered that sober textual scholarship must not be hidden under the bushel of ideological preconception. Take also the prototype of German liberal theology at the turn of the twentieth century, Adolf von Harnack. As a textual historian, he remained a classical scholar to the bone. When he realized that he and his colleagues had placed the Acts of the Apostles much too late in the first century, he corrected his error publicly and stated, in a carefully argued study, that Acts was obviously written before the deaths of James, Peter and Paul–in other words, before AD 62/ 64. This meant that Luke’s Gospel was written earlier still, perhaps as early as the late fifties, and that for those who propose the chronological sequence Mark-Matthew-Luke-Acts, Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels must have been written in the fifties of the first century, if not earlier. This was (and is) sensational or provocative only to those who refused to envisage an early Christian community that did the obvious thing and wrote about Jesus, spreading the written message as well as preaching it by word of mouth. In fact, many professional historians have now begun to turn the tables. For many of them, dating the Gospels in the fifties or sixties of the first century is not early at all but still too late. One would have to explain why it took the first Christians twenty, thirty or even up to forty years to produce the earliest written record about Jesus. In other words, dates around the fifties of the first century are the latest conceivable ‘middle ground’. John’s Gospel, often presented as the odd one out and at best seen as a latecomer, has also been rescued from the dumping ground of second and third-generation datings. Again, it was John A.T. Robinson who set the tone when he advocated a publication date in the late sixties and argued his case persuasively in The Priority of John in 1986. Continental scholars like Klaus Berger of Heidelberg University have taken up his baton…Paul’s letters in particular are meant to correct errors and to put local communities back on the right track. In one of his letters, Paul explicitly asks for his teaching to be passed on to others and to make sure that they read what he had written elsewhere (Colossians 4: 15–16). Written records were needed, and there are scholars today who are convinced that at least one Gospel, Mark’s, existed when Paul wrote his letters, and that another one, Luke’s, may have been known to him in his later years. Indeed, it looks as though Paul assumes his readers knew the Gospel accounts, so that he did not have to refer to the life, public sermons and miracles of Jesus to any great extent. In one instance, it looks as though his preaching was even checked against written records. In Berea, the Jewish community listened to him and ‘examined the scriptures every day to see if these things were so’ (Acts 17: 11)….And if we abandon the implausibly late dates commonly suggested for the publication of the Gospels and accept the date of AD 40 suggested for Mark’s Gospel by the Jewish classical philologist Guenther Zuntz, or the mid to late forties preferred by other philologists and historians, we can see how soon this Jewish messianic document could have reached synagogal libraries throughout the Roman empire. It looks as though it even reached the library of the orthodox messianic movement of the Essenes at Qumran, where, according to a group of Jewish and non-Jewish scholars, a fragment of Mark’s Gospel was found in Cave Seven. The people who collected these writings did it for a purpose. They wanted to read, study, compare and make up their own minds about the ways of God and his Messiah with his people.” (Carsten Peter Thiede, Jesus? Man Or Myth? 85-105, 378-408 (Kindle Edition); Oxford, England; Lion Books)
How thankful we can be that the Word of God enjoys such powerful historical confirmation.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.