Books like The Da Vinci Code by author Dan Brown have made it popular to believe that our current understanding of Jesus is wrong. In fact, some would even say that our current understanding of who Jesus is comes as a result of a single man, Constantine, in the fourth century. It is argued that Constantine put together a selection committee to determine what books circulating around at the time should be considered Scripture and be a part of our Bibles. In the process, it is argued, Jesus was transformed from the merely human king of the Jews into deity. Of course, all of this was to serve Constantine’s political aspirations.
Thankfully, Bible scholars have answered The Da Vinci Code’s version of history with a little reality. There are many books available today written at a popular level so readers can look into this matter for themselves.
Fred von Kamecke, while not writing specifically to answer the claims of Dan Brown’s novel, has written a book that does address this issue (and others). In his book, Busted: Exposing Popular Myths about Christianity, von Kamecke sets out to “bust” popular myths about Christianity in the style of the popular cable show Mythbusters. The book is a great entry-level work that gives a fair overview of the issues it addresses. It is written in an engaging, easy-to-read way with a good amount of humor mixed in. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to know what some of the popular myths about Christianity are and how to think clearly about them. If you are a blog reader, I am sure you have run across a few already!
When von Kamecke addresses this myth about Constantine re-writing the Christian Scriptures, he points out several things to keep in mind:
- All of the New Testament documents were written in the first century and widely circulated by the fourth. Even skeptical scholars affirm this as true.
- To pull off a re-write of Christianity, Constantine would have had to gather all of the other versions already circulating and replace them with his version.
- Unfortunately, Constantine would not have been able to accomplish this because hundreds of Greek manuscripts (as well as Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and Ethiopic versions) were being used by the Church throughout the Roman Empire.
- Many of these early manuscripts were already buried in the Egyptian sands where they would not be discovered until the 1800s.
- We have many manuscripts today dating from the second and third centuries that disprove any “changes” that Constantine’s group supposedly made. There are no New Testament manuscripts that tell us of a simply human Jesus in opposition to the divine Jesus of Constantine.
- All New Testament manuscripts present the same Jesus. He is always Christ, the Lord who is the divine Son of God and who died for our sins and rose again.
- The early church fathers, writing before Constantine, quoted the New Testament so extensively that even if all of the New Testament manuscripts would disappear, we could virtually reconstruct the New Testament from their writings.
- The writings that present a different Jesus than found in the New Testament are from a later time period and originate in foreign areas with no Jewish root.
- There never has been 100 percent agreement on which books to include in the canon. This shows that there never has been an authority powerful enough to make the Christian world accept its canon.
- The 66 books of the Protestant canon are accepted by all Christian groups as Scripture – there is no dispute on these. (This last point is my own, not the author’s.)
Want to hear more about Busted: Exposing Popular Myths about Christianity? There are several other blogs discussing this book today. You can find them at the links below. Also, on Thursday, July 16, Ann Jackson will be giving away copies of Busted on her blog at http://flowerdust.net .
Thanks for the review, Tim!
Would you use Busted in a classroom? Or a church setting?
As I was reading the book, I was thinking it would be great to use in a Sunday school or small group study. I also believe it would be good for a youth or college ministry to work through.
again, where to begin. Let’s start with the real human logic that we all use in our lives. If you do not keep with this can not be true to your own faith, it would be vain, or your lifestyle would be vain, one or the other.
If a republican candidate says that “XYZ policy is the best way to accomplish something”, and you are a republican, of course you are probably going to agree, while the converse is true if a Democrat address said issue. Would everyone one agree with this general concept?
Fred Von Kamecke is a teacher at a biblical school, OF COURSE he is going to not going to write a book at disagrees with the what he has already taught. He would be a fool. Meanwhile, a person that has no vested interest in the outcome of the book will almost always write a less bias document.
First, you can not use the bible as a reference of truth since it is what you are debating. You must prove your case otherwise. This is very standard methodology. If you remove bible passages, and if the bible if correct, there should be no problem arguing for your case using only other historic documents.
Having said that, I am not certain what group or person should be believed when citing the bible. Certainly, modern Christianity might not be around today if it weren’t for Constantine. Lets look at information I hope we can all agree with.
The King James bible (authorized) has a ton if issues, it was written when certain documents were not available to his group of 100% church of England scholars, and they were given instruction to form a bible that followed the episcopal church’s ecclesiostical (is that a word) views. I’m sure this could never be slanted! There is no humanly way a King would ever do anything to please themselves or their politics, it could never ever happen.
Throw into the mix that is it impossible to prove or imply that the bible as we know it is complete at all. We, as shown in #4 above, are always finding new documents. How can we assume that we have 100% of his word? Because Paul said so? Man has free will, thus, man has not always “looked under all the right stones.”
We must also keep in mind translation. Part of my wifes job is to translate German, French, and Italian (mostly 19th century versions of the languages) into in English. She will be the first to tell you that you often have a choice, translate the word, if there is one, or translate the meaning. The problem witth the later is that meaning from language to language does not always match, and, it is subjective.
I have friend from India, his name is Suranjan, when i asked what his names means, he said English has no equivalent. The closest thing is symphony of light, but that is still a stretch. Imagine not being able to describe you own name in our language because of lack of vocabulary and context. I digress.
Tim is more qualified than I to discuss other issues with defining the bible. And this also stress one of my points about Christians not agreeing.
Should we believe a British King that TOLD his scholars how to translate? A didn’t they only use the Received Text in Greek and Masoretic Hebrew. Yes, greek and hebrew have multiple languages through the ages. this also fightes point #3’s logic assuming the author follows the KJ edition.
What about the Tridentine Council? The Bishops Bible, The council of trent, why do people toss aside the Gnostic Gospels the various more recent gospels? Because a human failed to enter these into the bible, does that mean God never meant for them to be in the text? Man is falable.
Again I do not agree or disagree with this, but to make a quick unbiased statement on each.
1. The key word here is “widely”. this proves nothing.
2. CRAZY talk! He would, and did, only have to place his verison as law! Follow or die. that might convince me. The authors statement is not even logical.
3. So what? See above. Plus these translations we not used by King Jimmy either.
4. The Gospels from Thomas were not found until 1945, I think we need to rewrite everything. If the bible IS history, then this is a part of that history.
5. Constantine was a ruler, like James. Every ruler in history took liberties. It is a matter of license in writting. Furthermore, I need a reference her in context and we need to know who wrote it and why.
6. Not debating this issue, its the minutia.
7. This is 100% a matter of interpretation. You can read anything you wannt into a phrase. Again, I need context here.
8. Everything coming out of the fruital crescent at that time had some type of Jewish link. How did he prove a lack of Jewish root?
9. Are you kidding, evangelicals make the same claim today! They are the new Constantine. It’s the golden rule: he with the gold, makes the rules. History has always been this. Look at the dead sea scrolls, even they have text that matches this bible. and others that are omitted? Why the discrimination? This is consistant in all bible canon documentation.
10 The earth is flat was widely accepted by the entire world for a longer period of time then the truth that it is round (spherical). Acceptence is not validation, but that people believe.
I am not going to respond point-by-point because I do not have the time, but I will make a few observations.
First, I find it interesting that some want to argue so adamantly that Constantine established our current Bibles when we do not even know what Constantine’s Bible consisted of! No one knows which books were included or not. None of the 20 Bibles that he commissioned have survived and we do not have a record of what they contained. Most scholars simply speculate that our current Bibles are a mirror reflection of them.
I also think you miss the point of the manuscript evidence. You seem to think that every new manuscript found is a brand new book that has never been heard of before. This simply is not the case. When I write that the manuscripts of the New Testament that pre-date Constantine present the same Jesus as the manuscripts that come after Constantine, I am talking about the manuscript evidence of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, etc. The oldest versions of these books present the same Jesus as the latest versions. Constantine’s group did not re-write them. We have manuscripts that pre-date Constatine that prove this point.
We also know that there was already an established rule of faith long before Constantine. The writings of the early Church, dating to the early second century affirm this. We have a good idea of what writings they considered sacred because we know what writings they quoted from extensively.
Many scholars are convinced that a canon was generally in place prior to A. D. 144 as a result of the Marcion controversy. Marcion was excommunicated from the Church for doctrinal heresy and trying to establish his own Bible. He included the Gospel of Luke and ten of Paul’s letters that he “cleansed” of Old Testament influences. Tertullian and Polycarp both blasted Marcion for heresy and “nibbling away” at the Gospels (those already accepted as authoritative).
Books that were left out simply failed the test. They were written too late (not during the first century). They did not adhere to the established rule of faith that we can find in the early writings of the Church. And they were not generally thought of as sacred by the Church.
Why not the Gospel of Thomas? Because it was not written early enough and it did not adhere to the established rule of faith. It is likely from the mid- to late- second century since it contains quotes or paraphrases from many of the other New Testament letters.
Thank you Aaron for your honest questions and concerns. I think the easiest way for me to respond (assuming you want a response) is to address some of your objections in the order they appear. You first raise the issue of bias; I addressed this in chapter 8, pp.112-113:
Unbiased Is Fine, But How Do You Do It?
It is often assumed that in order to address any issue fairly we have to do so without any bias. This is a fine goal, but the fact is we’ll never make it, at least not completely. Anytime we come to a topic we bring ourselves to the task: who we are, what we already believe, and what we expect to find or accomplish. Progress is made when facts either verify or contradict our preconceived notions (leading us to new conclusions). Such is the process of learning. My Christian worldview is certainly a bias, but so is a non-Christian worldview. If we both share an underlying desire to see our views vindicated in the light of investigation, how is it that only the unbeliever can be fair-minded with the evidence?
The simple fact is a purely unbiased approach is beyond our reach. When it comes to reconstructing the events of first-century Palestine, particularly the fate of one Jesus of Nazareth, we have to sift through the sources, both secular and sacred.
Bias, then, is unavoidable. The real question is whether the available evidence validates or contradicts a given view.
Ruling the Bible out of court is in itself a bias. Why rule out any historical document if the facts of history are what you’re trying to establish? In any case, here’s what I said in the introduction concerning my use of the Bible, p. 27:
Throughout this book, I’m not using the Bible as proof, per se. Rather, I’m using it as evidence. Particularly when you consider the New Testament, the writers made incredible claims about the life, death, and resurrection of a carpenter from Nazareth. Their claims about Jesus had the effect of painting a bull’s-eye on their brave foreheads. Their preaching sealed their fate, and many of them met with cruel deaths. This leads me to ask why they would say such things in the face of this kind of hostility. The only satisfying answer is their encounter with Jesus, both before and after his crucifixion. At the very least, these first-century documents deserve a fair hearing.
It’s a subtle difference, but my goal in this book is to demonstrate that Christianity is reasonable, an ancient movement rooted in historical events. As such, the New Testament is a peace of that evidence that reliably reports the events of Jesus life, death, and resurrection. The secular historical sources listed on pp. 109-111 lend remarkable weight to the veracity of this early account.
I’m going to leave the comments about the KJV alone for two reasons: (1) The KJV was published in 1611, centuries after the time of the original writings, which are my primary concern, and (2) the KJV wasn’t a major concern in the book (a good book on the topic is THE KING JAMES ONLY CONTROVERSY by James White, should you be interested).
Constantine’s role is indeed addressed, and Tim has a fine summary of my views in his blog comments. The upshot is that Christianity was spread far and wide long before Constantine. If you think all a ruler needs to do to change deeply-help religious convictions is proclaim a new belief and threaten bodily harm for obstinate believers, you need look no further than communist regimes, past and present. They did not fair well in changing any belief; they merely forced it underground (where it, incidentally, thrived).
The issues you raise concerning the possibility of finding new manuscripts under “the right stones” is interesting, but impossible to resolve. One never knows what tomorrow may bring. But here’s a fact of history: the early church fathers and the churches within the empire unanimously affirmed the four Gospels, Acts, Paul’s writings, 1 Peter and 1 John. Whatever didn’t conform to this testimony, whether teaching in the churches or later writings, was rejected because it didn’t fit the historical facts. The other books (Hebrews, James, etc.) gained entry because they affirmed the testimony. This is a testimony passed on by the eyewitnesses. Here’s what I said in chapter 5, pp.77-78:
The testimony about Jesus, initially delivered and guarded by the apostles, was carefully preserved. That is why the biblical writers used technical terms for passing on an oral tradition, whether translated as “passed on” (1 Corinthians 11:2), “handed down” (Luke 1:1-2), or “entrusted” (Jude 3). In 1 Corinthians 11:23 and 15:3, Paul clearly distinguishes that which he “received” from the Lord and what he “received” from the apostles. In both cases he “passed on” this teaching. The New Testament writings are the end product of the process.
You’re right about the difficulties of translation, but I think you overstate the case. God’s word is constantly being translated into the languages of the world. Often the “punch” is lost, but the ideas can be faithfully transmitted. The long stretch of history proves how well Christian beliefs can be translated from one to another language and culture.
Well, thanks for hearing me out, We can talk again sometime.
Fred von Kamecke
Mr. Von Kamecke,
I appreciate your response, it is rare to have an author address questions/statements directly. So many books to read, so little time. This is a topic that I do have an interest in, and I will read your book sir. I appreciate your effort.
I understand that some type of bias is inherent in the system. But, it is the job of the researcher to make every effort to show they are trying to avoid bias. Maybe a joint effort with someone that does not work for a religious based school, or even some that has no vested interest in the bible.
Clearly, I can not address the pages you have cited, as I do not have the book, but the basic premise is not new.
Tim, I think I avoided the trust of my point, which is not pro Constantine. I am not adamant about him per se, but I adamant about saying there is huge bias and often questionable methodology when addressing the topic. Christ is also in the Koran and the Torah, are these not testaments to his life as well? Yet these are rarely ever mentioned.
You even said “Books that were left out simply failed the test. They were written too late” Who wrote these test, and do we challenge them today? Much like the scientific method, should we not try to disprove, or rigorously test a methodology/test to prove it holds water? How late is to late, how long form the time of the events were the books written? Days, weeks, months, years, dozens of years? How long is to long?
To often when defending the bible as we know way too much is taken for granted. Sort of the way that every image of Christ looks like a tall white guy when he was anything but that. And again, The earth is flat was widely accepted by the entire world for a longer period of time then the truth that it is round (spherical). Acceptence is not validation, but that people believe.
Thanks for the reply. I think the questions you ask about who decided the test is a good one. I think Busted would be a good place to start for an overview of the topic. Mr. von Kamecke does a good job of discussing the issue and then also giving a “suggested further reading” section at the end of each chapter.
Maybe you could get one of those free copies of Busted being given out tomorrow at the blog listed in my original post. Sorry I am not sure how many copies or how they are going to determine who gets them.
Hello again Aaron,
I actually affirm the very thing you suggest about bias in the book. It’s unavoidable, but we should strive to recognize it and pay close attention to opposing views. A joint venture may be interesting. You said that Christ is mentioned in the Torah and Koran, “are these not testaments to his life as well?” Yes and no. The mention of Jesus in the Torah, though not by name, is prophetic. Whether we accept Moses as the author in 1400s BC, or anonymous writers/compilers in the 500s BC, the important observation is “BC.” The “seed of the woman” who will crush the serpent (Genesis 3) comes through Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 12), from a line of kings (Genesis 17), from the tribe of Judah, to whom all nations will bow (Genesis 49), whose coming was also predicted by a pagan prophet (Numbers 24). He would be the prophet in whom are God’s words (Deuteronomy 18). The NT picks up these strands and applies then to Jesus. Jesus himself said that his coming fulfilled not only the Law of Moses, but the rest of the OT as well (Luke 24:44).
The NT was written by eyewitnesses (or, in the case of Luke, was based on interviews with eye-witnesses). This “testament” was the account of the life, death, and resurrection of the Carpenter from Nazareth who proved himself to be the Messiah. Paul encountered him in a post resurrection and ascension (his return to heaven) vision. He was personally called, instructed, and empowered by the One he previously persecuted. All of these writings were written and distributed in the 1st century AD. Their united testimony is that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, whose death on the cross paid the price for our sins, and whose resurrection validated all his claims. Faith in him brings grace and eternal salvation.
The Koran was written several centuries later and denies all of the central Christian teaching of the early disciples (who know him). It does affirm that he was holy, even sinless, but that he most emphatically was not the Son of God. Should I believe the testimony of the eye-witnesses or the writings of a different religion 600+ years later?