Perhaps you don’t read the Bible because you don’t think it’s reliable. It’s amazing what studying the Bible’s reliability can do for the skeptic and Christian alike. For the skeptic, it challenges their presupposed ideas that have been hammered in their minds from the Discovery Channel, and for the Christian, it strengthens their faith in God and encourages them to read and meditate more often. It’s a privilege to chat with Simon Peacock this week, a young Christian leader who’s taken upon himself the study of the New Testament’s reliability. We ask him about the need to study the Bible’s reliability, what some of the best arguments are for it (and against it), as well as how we can use what we’ve studied in our evangelism.


 

Who is Our Guest?

Simon James Peacock is a 20-something British Expat living in BC, Canada. Married to Jenna and with a newborn son, Everett, Simon is the Student Ministries Assistant at Coquitlam Alliance Churchand founded The Death of Doctrinein 2017.


Episode Links

Check out the Christian resource ministry that Simon founded called The Death of Doctrine. The Death of Doctrine is a movement working to: reverse the tragic neglect of theology, increase biblical literacy & understanding, and equip the saints for critical engagement with culture, by providing resources & teaching in a variety of mediums.


Read It

Isaac:

Today with me is Simon Peacock. Simon is a Student Ministries Assistant at Coquitlam Alliance Church outside of Vancouver, BC for those who are familiar with the area. He’s also the founder of The Death of Doctrine, which we’re going to get into in just a moment. He’s a husband to Jenna and a father to Everett. Yeah, it’s just great to have you in the studio today. That’s awesome.

Simon:

Thanks so much for having me, Isaac.

Isaac:

You were here with a friend of ours, Dave Jonsson, like two years ago.

He dragged you along and we just got you to talk.

I’m trying to remember what that even was on. I feel it was on … Was it decision making? Do you remember?

Simon:

Yeah, it was on like discerning God’s will.

Isaac:

Yeah. Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s so good. Why don’t you first kind of share with us a little bit about who you are?

Simon:

Yeah, so I’m Simon and originally from England, as you can probably tell from the accent. I’ve been out here in Canada for a couple of years now, moved out here pursuing a girl who I’m now married to. We got married just after I finished Bible college in England. Graduated two years ago, and then a week after I graduated from Bible college moved out here, 5,000 miles away from family and friends and got married.

Then we had little Everett a year after that.

Isaac:

That’s awesome, that’s so good. You’re working at obviously Coquitlam Alliance Church. What do you do there?

Simon:

Yeah, so I’m a Student Ministries Assistant. Essentially I help and aid both the young adults’ ministry alongside Pastor Dave Jonsson and the youth ministry alongside Cameron Daily and Ryan Drennan. I kind of just try to keep an eye on the big picture and help them with anything that comes along, preach a bit at Ethos as well, and involved with the leadership for those two ministries. It’s a great time.

Isaac:

One day out of your week it’s like crazy youth group games, and then the next week with young adults? What does that look like?

Simon:

Oh, it’s such a mix, man, because I work alongside people from all the ages of grade six up until 30 years old. Yeah, definitely a mix of the people that I interact with. Ethos, we have services on Sunday night, and so we tackle a number of different topics. We look at Scripture in depth. Then with youth then we do, we just actually had this past weekend what we call the lock-in. Every year we do this 12 hour, 8:00 PM to 8:00 AM, all the middle schoolers, grade six to eight, we had 220 kids this past weekend. By the time it gets to 6:00 AM in the morning all of us over the age of kind of 18 are done.

Isaac:

Yeah. To be honest, I hated lock-ins when I grew up. I went to a few of them. I was like, I can’t do it.

Did you stay up the whole time?

Simon:

I did, yeah.

Isaac:Oh, Simon, that’s terrible. Okay. Before we get into our topic today, you’ve founded The Death of Doctrine.

Tell us a little bit about what that is.

Simon:

Yeah, so where that kind of came out from, I founded it back in I think it was August of last year, 2017. There were three aspects to it. The first is a recognition. I think there’s a neglect of theology among Christians in the West today. Then second is a kind of biblical illiteracy. People don’t know and don’t read the Scriptures. Then third is just being able to engage with culture well. Those are the three aspects, kind of trying to respond to and give answers to the biblical illiteracy, the neglect of theology and engagement with culture. It’s quite broad. We’ve done a number of different articles, some looking at kind of social media and how for instance quotes like misquotes.

You know, C.S. Lewis, as the great C.S. Lewis said, such and such. That doesn’t actually come from C.S. Lewis. Actually, as Christians we should be careful what we post, because when we’re talking about the truthfulness of the Scriptures and the truthfulness of Jesus’ resurrection, and then we just pull out some random quote from who knows where and attribute it to C.S. Lewis, why should people trust what we say? That’s an example of the kind of things that we’re looking at.

Isaac:

That’s awesome. It’s thedeathofdoctrine.com if you’re interested in that.

Alright, so we’re going to be talking today a little bit about the New Testament manuscripts and their reliability and stuff like that, which is awesome. It’s really cool to have Simon who is a millennial, is someone that’s young. He’s kind of just dove into some of these books, and he’s learned and he’s understood some of these things. It’s just encouraging to have someone younger like ourselves up here that knows these things. That’s really important.

Anyways, I guess the first kind of question is what makes you personally interested in this?

Simon:

Definitely. Probably where it first came from is when I was around about 17 years old, 15, 16, 17. Then I started really thinking more deeply about the faith that I had “inherited” from my parents. Actually, I really need to grasp with this. If I truly do believe this, then I should start reading the Bible more and such. I started reading through the Bible, read through the Bible the whole way for the first time when I was 17 years old, and from that had a number of different questions, theological questions, but also questions about the reliability of the Bible. Then I started digging deeper into different books, looking at what different apologists said. I became acquainted with the topic of apologetics. Over that time then I gradually built up this picture of, “Okay, why should I believe the Christian Scriptures are reliable?” As that happened, then I saw that I was more encouraged to actually dig deeper into the Bible itself. As I became more encouraged by its authenticity and reliability, then I was more encouraged to actually read this and dig deeper into it.

Isaac:

Right, so it wasn’t just like there wasn’t this natural interest in this historical kind of endeavor. It was actually to the point of reading the Bible more and being more devoted to it?

Simon:

Yeah, definitely. That was the starting point, and then that was the natural consequence from it as well.

Isaac:

Yeah, that’s awesome. Hopefully that’s kind of what we’re able to help people think critically and biblically about this, so that they would have that same end that you did as well. I guess before we get into kind of the more, some of the, I don’t know if arguments is the right word, but just some of these different things that speak to the reliability of New Testament manuscripts, why do you think we need to be talking about this in the 21st Century? Someone, I’m sure, someone maybe at your young adults group or your youth group saying “Why are you spending all this time researching this when it’s just about Jesus and the gospel, sharing the gospel? Why do we need to know how many manuscripts compared to this person or whatever?”

Simon:

I think the reason that the reliability of the New Testament is so important is that without that we don’t have the gospel. Some people might say like, “Okay, forget about the academic stuff. Forget about reliability and supposed contradictions, all these different questions. I believe. I have faith, and we need to be preaching the gospel.”

The problem is that’s where we get the gospel from. We get it from the New Testament documents. That tells the true story of Jesus and the gospel. There’s that aspect.

We also need to be able to respond to questions that people have when they ask us about our faith. You know, you think of the verse in 1 Peter 3:15. Peter says about like, you know, make sure that you’re prepared to give an answer for those that ask you about the hope that you have. That’s a responsibility that we actually have as Christians, to be able to respond to the questions that people have to us about our faith.

Then there’s also the final thing, which is I think, and this is what I’ve seen in my own life, which is if we don’t believe in the absolute authority and reliability of Scripture, then we’re not going to be reading the Bible that much. What I saw in my life is as I became more confident in the authority of the Bible, then I read it more. If we want our churches, if we want our young adults to be reading the Bible more, then we need to give them a greater confidence in the reliability.

Isaac:

That’s so good. I love it. I guess a natural situation would be, here’s someone going out. They’ve shared the gospel, they’re doing evangelism. That person says, “That’s awesome. How can we trust that that’s true.” Then instantly if you knew, even just some of the basic kind of understandings of the reliability you’d be able to say, “Oh, perfect, boom, boom, boom”. That person has now this chunk of like, “Okay, this is why I can trust this as well”, which just makes total sense in evangelism.

Simon:

Totally, 100%.

Isaac:

Alright, in your studies of the subject, because I know you have done a lot of reading and stuff like that, what would you say are the few kind of big cases where you could really convince a skeptic on the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts?

Simon:

Yeah, I think it’s such a broad question, so we kind of need to split into a couple things.

First of all, you can split it into internal evidence or external evidence. Internal evidence would be, “Well, are the New Testament Scriptures consistent within themselves” or “Is there anything within the New Testament that gives evidence that for instance it was written by eyewitnesses as it claims to have done”. Then you have external witness. What are the things outside of the New Testament that corroborate the claims that it has? Is there archeology? Are there other documents? Things like that. There’s kind of those two aspects.

Then there’s another couple of questions, which is the first would be the question of the text. How do we know that the Scriptures that we have in front of us today are an accurate representation of what was written in the first place? If we can’t be sure of that, or if we know that’s not correct, then we can just scrap the whole thing. It doesn’t even matter. Then if we can affirm that, then the second question is the truthfulness. The question of the text, and then the question of the truthfulness.

Okay, we’ve established this is what it actually said. Now, is what it actually said true and reliable? Kind of leading on from that then I’d say the first evidence would be the external evidence for the question of the text, which is the manuscripts. When we look at the actual number of manuscripts, the handwritten copies that we have of the New Testament, then we have such a breadth of evidence. You think we’ve got, I think the latest count is over 5,800 Greek manuscripts, and somewhere along the lines of over 18,000 manuscripts of other languages. We have almost 24,000 manuscripts of the New Testament.

Now these are kind of mixed, and so you have some which would just be a few verses, you have some which are the entire New Testament or the entire Old and New Testament put together. The earliest one would be P52, Papyrus 52. This is dated to 130 AD, thereabouts. Now it only contains five verses from John’s gospel, but you know if you really just think about it, the fact that we have an actual manuscript, an actual copy of part of John’s gospel from AD 130, when we’re talking about John’s gospel being written kind of the end of the first century, so we’re talking about a gap of kind of maximum 50 years. In comparison to anything else, that is just phenomenal.

When we think about even just the actual material of papyrus and how it’s not very robust, it’s going to fall apart, and so the only papyri that we really have are those that have been for instance found in Egypt or somewhere where it’s really dry and …

Isaac:

Dead Sea Scrolls maybe.

Simon:

Yeah, really dry or protected. It’s just amazing what the evidence, the textual evidence that actually have for okay this is what the New Testament says. Then also when we compare these manuscripts then we can say there are some differences here. There’s kind of four different categories that we can put these differences in. This is how Daniel Wallace, a textual critic, a New Testament reliability guy, this is how he puts it. There’s viability and there’s meaningfulness. You can have something that’s not viable and not meaningful. Viable would be like there’s no chance, that there’s one manuscript that says this. Okay, it doesn’t even matter then. This clearly isn’t the original reading. Viability would be, “Okay, there’s a lot of manuscripts that have this reading. There’s also a lot that have this other reading.”

Then there’s meaningfulness, which is does it actually change anything. For instance, would we even translate it differently? Is it certain prepositions being used and, in another manuscript, has a different preposition? It wouldn’t even be translated differently. Daniel Wallace’s conclusion is when we actually look at those that are both meaningful and viable, then we’re left with less than 1% of all the variants. When we get to that point, then we can say, “Okay, the New Testament as we have in front of it, the kind of the critical Greek editions that we have, that is 99% of what Paul, what Luke, what Matthew originally wrote.”

The analogy that’s sometimes used is “this is like a game of telephone. You whisper something in someone’s ear and then you pass it down. In the end it’s just so different. The New Testament is like that.” No, it’s actually completely, completely different. The conclusion that we come to is, no you actually have to grapple with the fact that what we have in front of us is what was originally written.

Isaac:

Yeah. I remember doing a little bit of work myself thinking about this. If you were a scribe, and maybe you know a little of this too, but it was very important and kind of a strict environment when you were writing, copying these kind of things. It wasn’t just this like thrown up together, “Oh, I’ll do that.” Sometimes you will find like a little incoherence because they wrote “you” twice. Who wouldn’t if they’re writing for a long time, right?

Simon:

Certainly. You have different variants. One would be accidental, they accidentally misspell a word. You can easily figure out, “Oh, no they just meant this, or this was the problem.” Then there’s also slightly more complex ones, so there’s an addition, like an additional bit of information, which is clearly intentional, but why is that there? Then that’s when you weigh up the kind of, “Okay, how many manuscripts have this reading? How early are those manuscripts?”, then also different kind of criteria for figuring out what the original reading was. For instance, one of these criteria would be the criteria of difficulty. When you look at these manuscripts it tends to be the case that the more difficult to understand reading is the more original one because people or scribes will naturally try to even out, like iron out the inconsistencies. With things like that, then you can come to a very close representation of what the New Testament said in the first place.

Isaac:

Yeah, absolutely. In your studies, what have you found to be the piece of evidence that you just find so fascinating? Maybe you’ve already said it, but what is it that has just kind of opened your, kind of put the light bulb on like, “Oh my goodness, this is really important”?

Simon:

Yeah, I think the … This is an argument that I wasn’t familiar with until probably a couple of years ago. It’s interesting because it seemed to have come about and been popular in the 19th Century and then just kind of been buried for 100 years. It’s the argument of undesigned coincidences. What this is it’s when one account of an event leaves out a bit of information, which is then filled in or often quite incidentally by a different account, which helps to answer some natural questions raised from the first.

The first person to realize this was William Paley, and then there was this guy called JJ Blunt in the 18th Century that wrote this book called the Undesigned Coincidences of the Gospels. An example of this would be, for instance, you go to John’s gospel and you go to chapter six. It’s the feeding of the 5,000. You see that Jesus turns to Philip, one of his disciples and says, “Philip, where do you think that we should buy bread for all these people?” You think, “Oh, okay that’s interesting. I wonder why he asked Philip. Maybe it’s because he was just the closest guy to him.” Then actually you go to Luke’s gospel and what it says in Luke is it says that the place, that this took place, the place of the feeding of the 5,000 took place was Bethsaida.

Then you go back to John’s gospel and earlier on it says Philip came from Bethsaida.

Then you think, “Oh, okay so the reason that Jesus asks Philip where they should find bread is because Philip is from that place. He’s a local there.”

Isaac:

Yeah, he’ll know the places, he’ll know the bread joints.

Simon:

Yeah, he knows the bakeries close by. He’s like, okay you need to check out this bread.

It’s these two gospels that separate they have information, and together they fit like a jigsaw puzzle. These are undesigned coincidences. These are so subtle that what it points to is these are eye witness accounts that are describing the same events, but from different perspectives. It’s exactly what you would expect from two people describing the same event from a different perspective.

Isaac:

Yeah, I love that. What’s kind of cool about that too is that you didn’t have to do any major work outside of the Bible to find that out. If you were just studying your Bible, you could come across some of those things. It’s evidence in itself when you read through the different gospels, which is really cool.

Simon:

Yeah, it really is, and definitely it takes a detective’s eye to figure these things out.

Isaac:

Yeah, absolutely.

Simon:

It’s there, it’s in the text itself, it’s internal evidence.

Isaac:

We have a few more questions left, Simon. I was kind of interested in this one. What has been, I don’t want to say maybe the most convincing, but what has been an argument against the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts that you’ve been like, “Oh, that’s actually not a bad argument against it?”

Simon:

Yeah, I think one of them would be the supposed contradictions in the New Testament. Hey, you know what, some of these are tricky. There are some which certainly there are completely easy answers for. For instance, you think about Jesus and his disciples traveling to the Geresenes. In one gospel it says a demoniac, a demon possessed guy, met them. In another one it says that two demon possessed guys were there. You’re like, “Well one says one, one says two.” Actually, that’s not a contradiction. What it is it’s the same event from two perspectives. One gospel writer is focusing on the most important guy. For some reason he just wants to focus on this one guy, so he doesn’t even mention the other guy.

It’s like if I go to church on Sunday morning. I come home and I say to my wife, “I spoke to John earlier and we had this conversation.” She turns and says, “You liar, because I know that you spoke to Dave as well.” I’m like, “No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying like, just focusing on the one that I said.”

Yeah, so there are those that can be easily explained. When you kind of whittle through these there’s a couple which are still difficult and still I have questions about. I think about the death of Judas. In one place it talks about him hanging himself. Then in another place it talks about him falling kind of headlong and his guts spilling over, which is kind of gruesome. There are plausible explanations for these, but there are still questions I have. I think the flip side of this is when we’re talking about the reliability of the Bible, this actually really, this actually points to the reliability itself as well. When you see differences, what you would expect from one source, just one source is all of the details to be exactly the same. Then you’d start to get a bit suspicious and be like, “Well, I think this is just from one place that all these things are coming from.”

When you start to get these variations, then it seems much more authentic. It’s what you would expect from different people talking about the same things. Yeah, I think one of the arguments would be the supposed contradictions. There’s still certainly a few questions. These are questions that scholars would still have and scholars still debate. Actually, on the flip side, it points to the reliability and the authenticity and the eyewitness accounts of the New Testament.

Isaac:

I guess what you’re modeling to us as well is that when you come up to a contradiction, because you might. If you’re reading your Bible through the gospels, you’re probably going to find a contradiction. It shouldn’t be a wall or a barrier for you to be like, “Oh, well I can’t trust this.” It’s like, no. Let’s just dig a little deeper and let’s try to find a plausible explanation for it. That’s important.

As we wrap up here, how can … We’ve talked a little bit about this. We’ve scratched the surface. How can we now, if someone is listening and they’re on the radio or on the podcast, how can they take what we’ve learned and actually apply it to their task of sharing the gospel?

Simon:

I think one of the things that I’ve encountered is when I come across someone who doesn’t follow Jesus, doesn’t believe in the New Testament, they are actually very surprised to know like what we have now is what was originally written. The most common thing I come across is it’s like the game telephone. We have no idea what it originally said, whereas actually it’s not as easy as that. You kind of need to challenge your friends and say, “Hey, like actually this isn’t as easy as that. You can’t just use a get out of jail free card. No, you have to grapple with this. This is what it originally said. This is what it was written in the first century. There’s evidence for it being eyewitnesses. You’re going to have to do better than that. Really think this through.”

When we’re talking about it being the evidence of eye witnesses and that these disciples, these guys that wrote down these events ended up dying for their faith as well. You start to compile these things. Then it gets to a really challenging way of sharing the faith. You start to really question people’s just natural assumptions, I guess.

I think there’s also a flip side, which is one of the difficulties is to do with the presuppositions that people bring to reading the Bible. For instance, the miracles. We know that miracles don’t happen, they don’t happen, therefore the New Testament is wrong. However, you can’t pick and choose. Then another challenge would be, “Hey, if you really believe that then we have verifiable facts from the New Testament. We know that they’re true even in the very subtle details, so why are you picking and choosing and then just saying no because of something that I’ve already decided beforehand, then these things can’t be correct.” Actually, I think that’s a challenge to that view as well.

Isaac:

I love it. How do we kind of apply this to evangelism? Challenge them in a good way, challenge your friends. I love that. That’s really good. Thank you so much, Simon, for hanging with us today. If you’re listening and you’re interested in more of kind of what Simon is talking about, we talked a little bit of The Death of Doctrine. Go to thedeathofdoctrine.com. I know that you even did like a sermon kind of on the reliability of the Bible as well.

Simon:

Yeah, that’s correct.

Isaac:

Yeah, so that’s on The Death of Doctrine. You can go check that out, because I’m sure that he probably talks even more detail about some of these things. Anyways, thanks so much for hanging with us today Simon.

Simon:

Thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure.