First, the usual disclaimer: the purpose of these posts is to pose questions to Christians who come here (or go anywhere, for that matter) with the intent of converting us to Christianity, but also with an open mind about their own faith. You may post your answers here, or answer them privately, at your discretion. My ultimate goal in asking these questions is to have you deconvert from Christianity. If you are not open to at least the possibility of that happening, then I suggest you not respond to these questions, as that will be a waste of your time (and possibly our bandwidth). At the same time, I am open to the possibility of learning a thing or two about Christianity along the way -- but if you answer these questions publicly, with the intention of being a teacher instead of a learner, then please don't bother doing so here. These questions are for your educational benefit.
This is one in a series of "Questions..." posts that deal with the Bible, the scriptural compilation that constitutes the conceptual framework of the Christian faith. If you were ever a Christian, chances are you've read some of the Bible. If you are still a Christian today, chances are you haven't read all of it.
These questions deal with the actual development of the Bible that we know today, particular the New Testament
1. How do we know we can trust the authors of the Bible?
With regards to authorship, we know that some of the epistles attributed to Paul really were written by Paul, but that's all we know. It was a commonly accepted practice in those days to attribute written works to a well-known person -- the first five books of the Old Testament, for instance, are attributed to Moses, the gospels are attributed to various disciples, etc. This kind of forgery, called pseudipigrapha, was not considered immoral or fraudulent.
We know that many of the books of the Bible could not have been written by the people to whom they were attributed -- the gospels, for instance, were written 40 to 80 years after the purported resurrection, at a time when the average life expectancy was 45 years. But we have no way of knowing who actually wrote the various books of the Bible. So how do we know we can trust them?
2. How can we verify the original documents, when none exist?
All we have are copies of copies of copies. We don't have a single original document of any of the Biblical works. So how can we verify, as inerrantists want us to believe, that the originals are inerrant?
3. Can we trust the translators of Jesus's words?
Jesus, if he lived, would have spoken Aramaic -- but the entire New Testament is written in Greek. Who were the translators, and how can we be sure they were competent?
4. How do you know there aren't lost documents which disprove Christianity?
We know for a fact that the early Church sought out and destroyed documents critical of Christianity; whatever evidence these documents might have offered is now lost to us forever. What do you suppose the early Christians had to hide?
5. How can you trust documents which are known to have been edited by the church?
The second part of the last chapter of Mark, for instance, was not written until the fourth century or later -- and this is the only mention made in Mark, the earliest gospel written, of any post-resurrection appearances. Another example: 1 John 5:7, the verse most often cited to support the doctrine of the Trinity, was written and inserted into the Bible around the twelfth century. How else were these documents edited over the centuries? What embarrassing passages might have been removed and destroyed over time?
6. Why do you have so much faith in a fourth century compilation?
That is, essentially, what the Bible is. The assembly of the New Testament was a process that began around the year 325, when Constantine convened the Council of Nicea, and cumulated in the canonization of the twenty-seven books we know today eighty years later, by the Pope. Why were those particular books chosen from so many candidates? Why, for example, did they include the gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but not those attributed to Peter, Thomas, Andrew, Bartholomew, Judas Iscariot, Mary Magdalene, Pontius Pilate, and Jesus himself?
Did these extremely primitive scholars just happen to pick the "right" ones? Were they, as the Bible writers themselves purportedly were, divinely inspired? How can you be sure of that?
This is the last "Questions..." post that I have planned directly relating to the Bible; there may be others in the future, but in the near future I will be concentrating on more abstract and/or more contemporary matters related to Christianity.