But the truth is, -- I am not a wise man ; ---- and besides am a mortal of so little consequence in the world, it is not much matter what I do ; so I seldom fret or fume at all about it.
-- Tristam Shandy
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
On the reliability of Scripture
I was asked to fill in for one of the pastors at Church this past Sunday in his Sunday School class, as he was scheduled to be out of town. The topic was the reliability of Scripture, which I knew a whole lot about...twenty-five years ago, that is. But I went ahead and filled in, and because I have a mother I taped it, and except for (to adapt a Facebook meme) "the awkward moment when you check the tape for sound quality and are appalled to hear yourself saying 'terminus ad quem' instead of 'terminus post quem' over and over and over," it was not bad. Oh, and I got the dates of the Iliad and the Trojan War wrong, but that wasn't particularly important.
So, anyway, if you're interested, here's an hour of me, a quarter of a century removed from my Classics degree in Princeton and my years as an agnostic, talking about how I came to have confidence in the reliability of Scripture.
(If you have Internet Explorer, then you can listen to a much shorter talk I gave on the meaning of "faith" in the New Testament here -- but the plugin doesn't work on Firefox, which is why I went to the trouble to make this one into a six-part "video" and put it onto YouTube.)
Part 1 of 6. Prologue: personal background / testimony; on the difficulty of practicing Christianity "because it works" without believing that it is true. Opening prayer. Context for question, "Can I trust Scripture?" Basic syllogism for why one should trust Scripture.
Part 2 of 6. Elements of valid argumentum ad auctoritatem. More precise tests for historical documents. Show-and-tell with my copy of Thucydides: the apparatus criticus, manuscripts and their families, textual variations and editorial emendations
art 3 of 6. Bibliographic evidence: measuring the quality of manuscript evidence and recoverability of an ancient text; Thucydides compared to New Testament. External evidence: archaeology.
Part 4 of 6. External evidence (cont.): contemporary documents; fulfilled prophecy. Internal evidence: terminus post/ante quem (I'm horrified, upon hearing the tape, to discover that I kept saying "terminus ad quem" rather than "terminus post quem"), as illustrated by editorial preface to Thucydides; I give my dates for the Synoptics and explain my reasoning.
Part 5 of 6. Internal evidence (cont.): the creedal statement in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. Difference in genre between memoir and myth: the "garden plots" of Mark 6:39-40, and the use of unbroken limited-first-person perspective in the narrative of the appearance of the Risen Christ on the shore of Galilee in John 21. Concluding thoughts on the reliability of memory: the example of Sophia Williams. Closing prayer.
Part 6 of 6. Conversation and personal reminiscences as class is breaking up.