I feel sheepish. I think I learned “sheepish” from Joseph Heller in Catch-22. Anyway, through an unexpected coordination of similar lessons in my Koine Greek class and my Christian Apologetics class, I was introduced to text criticism last week.
Text criticism is the term for analyzing all things written and copied by hand prior to the invention of the printing press–such as the New Testament. Have you ever heard or thought about this? It’s kind of fascinating if you take the time to dig into it a bit. The reason I feel sheepish after learning about text criticism is because I’m a sucker who fell for the theory that the recently discovered hidden gospels/epistles had something to contribute to (possibly were even able to refute) orthodox Christianity’s claims that God created the universe, Adam and Eve sinned, and Jesus Christ died on the cross and on the third day rose from the grave thereby offering forgiveness of sin, salvation, and eternal life to all comers.
Long story short, I have a friend at work that is a conspiracy theorist. I know, I know. Many of you think Christians are simply conspiracy theorists. But that’s not true. Here’s why. This man is in his 50s, is divorced, and he believes the Illuminati are running the world. He believes that they wrote the Bible and are interested in having the Christians and Muslims kill each other off, after which the Illuminati, themselves, will finally begin overt rule. He shows me websites and proudly reads off lists of unremarkable names as if he’s reading scripture from a pulpit. The other day after a song came on the radio, he began espousing how there is some psychological training facility in England which is funded by the Rockefellers (an Illuminati family) that trains bands to wage psychological warfare on America, bands like the Beatles. I pointed out to him that the wikipedia entry had a paragraph that began, “Conspiracy theorists believe…” about the facility. It had no effect. The reason I bring him up is to illustrate specifically what a conspiracy theorist is. He’s the definition of a conspiracy theorist. They are people who believe profoundly fascinating, yet ultimately baseless theories founded upon theoretical evidence, not empirical evidence.
What about Christianity? The recent archaeological discoveries of non-canonical “hidden” gospels/epistles seem to suggest/confirm the theories that orthodox Christianity is the product of plotting conspirators manipulating the historical record in order to advance their agendas.
Books such as the “gospel of Thomas” capture so much History Channel attention that even Christians themselves need be given some clear guidance about these books and their claims.
Specifically, there is a theory that argues that the church fathers adopted the New Testament canon for their own secret (or apparently not so secret) reasons. The trouble with this theory is that none of these recently discovered hidden gospels were even brought to the church father’s attention for consideration. Put inversely, the church fathers (early Christian leaders) did not consider the “gospel of Thomas” for inclusion in the 27 book New Testament Canon. We know this because we have empirical evidence of the their decisions, which books they did consider and reject, and their reasoning that led to their decisions.
Therefore, it is academically irresponsible and I’d go so far as to say unthinkable to discard the New Testament and its 5300 plus fragments/copies that are nearly perfect matches of each other on the basis of a few fragments of other writings. Does that make sense? It’s simple math. If you have 5300 pieces of evidence for one conspiracy, and 20 pieces of evidence for a competing conspiracy, and no evidence (leaving only a theory) of a conspiracy to ensure these numbers vary so greatly, then in order to favor the 20 pieces of evidence over the 5300 pieces, you must believe in a conspiracy theory, not a conspiracy based on empirical fact. Because the fact is there are no empirical facts that support the theory that early Christians, beginning with the apostles, manipulated the truth. Instead, there is only a plethora of empirical data that supports that early Christians, beginning with the eye-witnesses to Jesus Christ’s resurrection, believed a conspiracy–that Jesus Christ was and is the Son of God.
So you have to decide. Do you want to believe/create theories about life on planet earth as conspiracy theorists do, or do you want to examine the empirical facts of recorded human history as conspiracy empiricists–Christians–do?
If you want any empirical books about my claims, comment below or email me.