Sunday, April 5, 2009

Buried Treasure or Pandora's Box

In a previous post I wrote about the field of textual criticism in religion, analyzing surviving manuscripts to flesh out what the originals might have said. It is sad that we don't have the originals to any of our documents that make up the New Testament, but on the other hand it is amazing that we have over 5200 Greek Manuscripts that have endured the tests of time. We have made several incredible archeological finds related to the Bible in the last century and I hope we have many more to come. But what if someone did find an original copy, or at least 1 or 2 generations removed, of one of the 4 gospels in our New Testament? How would this affect modern Christianity? Would our various modern Christian theologies fold like a house of cards if the documents stated something contrary to what our Bible says, or would the faith reinvent itself to align itself with the newly discovered scripture?

[The recto of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from the Gospel of John. Date:2nd Century CE, generally accepted as the earliest extant record of a canonical New Testament text.]

Although all of this is purely speculation but it is within the realm of speculation and imagination that Man is able to progress and grow as a species. What if man could fly? What if man could travel in horseless carriages? What if man could build calculating machines? What if man found a way to capture light and sound in a device to be played back later? Without man's passionate curiosity we might still be living in the jungle with our ape brothers (that is, if you believe in evolution).

What if someone did find an original copy, or at least 1 or 2 generations removed, of one of the 4 gospels of the New Testament? This would be the greatest find of the 21st century that will support or challenge the faith of billions of people. It all comes down to the context of the document.

  1. Does it line up with any modern theology? The Trinity? Jesus' resurrection?
  2. Does it include additional lines that we lack in our modern gospels?
  3. Is it missing lines that we have in our modern Gospel? For example, some biblical theologians believe that Mark's ending (our earliest witness), including the resurrection and ascension stories, were added after the original was written.
There is a whole list of questions that would arise from the discovery of this document. But no matter how much proof or evidence is given for the authenticity of the document there will always be those who will believe it is a forgery, forged by man's hand at the behest of the Devil. "True believers" are more likely to claim it as Satan's work than change their beliefs. Any document would not require you to change your beliefs, but there is something powerful about religious artifacts. When found, the believers cry, "behold, God is our on side, look at the truth that he has revealed to the world." When the artifact clashes with certain faiths the believers cry, "the work of the Devil and Man, liars and blasphemers, look away from the lies these demons spread."

No matter how authentic the original document is claimed to be the main importance are the words themselves and not the document. The original gospel documents can NEVER EVER prove that the events they contain actually happened exactly as they portray those events. It all comes down to faith. Do you have faith that these events occurred? What do these events mean to you? And how important is it that these events as portrayed in the gospels are 100% accurate? If the accuracy of the events are not important then how does this affect your faith?

These are questions that every person needs to ask themselves of their beliefs. More importantly is the fact that you are ABLE to ask yourselves these questions. Asking questions should never raise fear in your heart but should spark the flame that we have carried throughout human history, "What if".

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