There are two general bodies of thought toward the writings which have remained from the New Testament, Apostolic times.
The standard Christian understanding is that certain writings were inspired by the Holy Spirit and should be respected as such, given place in the collection (canon) of texts which are regarded as Scripture. Other works, which are not canonised, are either helpful but not inspired, or are spurious, and to be ignored.
The standard secular understanding is that the writings of the New Testament era are simply human texts, reflecting the development of a religious belief system which is based on real people and real events, but which is ultimately an evolved human construct.
As is the case in scientific circles today, scholarly, academic endeavour is meant to be devoid of faith elements which might bias the researcher. However, what prevails is a strong bias against the faith elements reflected in the scientific and scholarly work. God cannot be allowed in science, so the empty theory of evolution is promoted, with religious zeal, as if scientific. Such a state is foolish and contrary to true science, yet it is defended with evangelistic fervour by those who reject religious interpretation.
Similarly, scholars who investigate ancient Christian texts are bound to assume that they are nothing more than human writings. There is no place in the study for recognition of inspiration, revelation or divine qualities in the text or the writers.
Due to this blinkered approach the scholars are inclined to base their thinking on doubt and scepticism and to come up with conclusions which feed both as well. Hence the scholarly trail is decorated with constructs out of the imagination of the researcher – suggesting multiple authors, lost sources, deliberate embellishments, corrupted texts, evolving thought, suspect motives and so on. Further scholarship often mocks the scholarly constructs, but that does not heal the condition.
Expressions of Doubt
Scholarly discussion injects into the picture a range of thoughts which are counter to acceptance of the texts as divinely created resources for us.
One suggestion is that Jewish sources, which are now non-existent, were picked up by the early Christians and adopted for guiding their gatherings. These documents were then edited and ‘Christianised’ with insertions of references to Christ or quotes from Christ, to give the content a distinctly Christians flavour. This suggestion clearly exists around a notional “Two Way” document which is believed to have influenced such writings as the Epistle of Barnabas.
Non-canonical texts, with their various weaknesses and flaws, give scholars cause to smear the canonical writings with suspicion and to discredit the content as simply a refinement of poorer documents.
Terminology used by the scholars clearly expresses their academic contempt for the spiritual principles presented in the New Testament writings. Consider the implications of such terms as “the Christ myth”, “epic-apocalyptic mythology”, “narrative material that could easily be turned into a more eventful depiction of Jesus’ public appearance” (ie: fabricated additional content), “old Jesus-traditions” (meaning different notions of Jesus which were brought together to create the current religious myth we call Christianity), and “redaction” (the process by which various notions about Jesus were cooked together to create a cogent religious story.
Further evidence of the inclination by scholars to doubt the canonical documents is their creation of imaginary texts. Lists of documents from the Apostolic age, also known as Apocryphal texts from the New Testament era, will most likely include such documents as the Passion Narrative and the Lost Sayings Gospel Q. These texts have never been referred to in the ancient literature and are purely imaginary.
Scholars, seeking to identify New Testament books such as the four Gospels as concocted works drawing on earlier material and editing it to suit their purposes, have suggested the existence of earlier texts from which the Gospel writers have drawn.
The purpose of these imagined documents is simply to suit scholastic scepticism about the divinity of Jesus, the miracles, supernatural phenomena and man’s moral accountability to a holy God, among other things.
Consideration of Biblical texts, therefore, either reflects a faith-based application of the texts as divine communication to us, or a scepticism-based academic analysis, intent on denigrating the text to expose human construction.
Many well-meaning Christians, intent on broadening their understanding of the Bible, try to take seriously the sceptical and antagonistic suggestions of the scholars, possibly to show that they are open minded and not blind believers. The two streams do not converge and confusion can result.
It is interesting, therefore, to take a look at the ground that is under question, and to approach the available source documents without feeling the need to cow-tow to academic constructions. This is my hope, and, given time, I am keen to rake over the ground and see what it yields.