Today, many academics and their disciples scoff at the efforts of Christian Apologists in the past who seemed desperate to prove the veracity of the Bible through archaelolgy, paleography, epigraphy, numismatics, or any piece of debris that the ancients threw into their trash piles.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was the source of great and enduring controversy for many reasons. One reason was that among those manuscripts were writings from the Hebrew Bible that basically demonstrated that the Hebrew Text we have received today had been faithfully copied from ancient times.
That simple fact demolished the generations of unbelieving scholarship that sought to undermine the text of the Bible by questioning the reliability of its transmission from generation to generation.
Irony plays into this, because there are many unbelieving scholars today who pin their hopes of undermining the Scriptures and the doctrine of God's Word on the discovery of some previously unknown manuscripts. These discovered manuscripts are held up as proof that the Bible is a dishonest representation of Christ and His teaching.
The latest attempt at this was just published at the International Congress of Coptic Studies by Karen L. King in Rome last week.
Her manuscript is a papyrus fragment about the size of a business card, acquired from an unnamed collector. It happened to be in a collection of manuscripts that this collector bought, and no one knows where the slip of papyrus came from.
The writing is in Coptic (Egyptian). King's translation of the fragment is as follows:
The NY Times wrote: "Even with many questions unsettled, the discovery could reignite the debate over whether Jesus was married, whether Mary Magdalene was his wife and whether he had a female disciple. These debates date to the early centuries of Christianity, scholars say. But they are relevant today, when global Christianity is roiling over the place of women in ministry and the boundaries of marriage."
In that paragraph, the Times' author, Laura Goodstien, has told us why she chose to publish an article about this scrap in their paper. The issue of Gay marriage is at the forefront in this election cycle. The Roman Catholic church is currently being attacked because of its Scriptural and traditional stance against women in the priesthood. Many mainstream protestant and reformed denominations are changing their theology away from the Biblical teaching to adapt their teaching and practice against the Sixth Commandment in accordance with popular society.
The discovery and publication of this scrap would appear to lend some academic credibility to these changes from the Bible's teaching.
But the scholars are never without their own bias and agenda. Consider the theological and political direction of Dr. Karen King's other publications: (from the Harvard website)
- The Secret Revelation of John
- The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle
- What Is Gnosticism?
- Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity (with Elaine Pagels)
- Revelation of the Unknowable God.
- Images of the Feminine in Gnosticism (ed.)
- Women and Goddess Traditions in Antiquity and Today (ed.).
"Her particular theoretical interests are in discourses of normativity (orthodoxy and heresy), gender studies, and religion and violence."
There is nothing in the scrap that calls the text a "Gospel." That was a term used by King to provoke interest and controversy.
Perhaps the controversy around the "Gospel of Judas" may be the best illustration of what happens when such texts are discovered and published in sensational ways. National Geographic did a big production about how that manuscript undermined key teachings of Scripture and the Church. Then later analysis showed that the hoopla was all incorrect--that the so called "Gospel" of Judas didn't say anything that it was made out to say.
So how should a Christian understand and react to discoveries like this?
Consider the teaching in this prayer.
Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide,
For round us falls the eventide;
Nor let Thy Word, that heav'nly light,
For us be ever veiled in night.
In these last days of sore distress
Grant us, dear Lord, true steadfastness
That pure we keep, till life is spent,
Thy holy Word and Sacrament.
Lord Jesus, help, Thy Church uphold,
For we are sluggish, thoughtless, cold.
O prosper well Thy Word of grace
And spread its truth in ev'ry place!
O keep us in Thy Word, we pray;
The guile and rage of Satan stay!
O may Thy mercy never cease!
Give concord, patience, courage, peace.
O God, how sin's dread works abound!
Throughout the earth no rest is found,
And falsehood's spirit wide has spread,
And error boldly rears its head.
And ever is there something new
Devised to change Thy doctrine true;
Lord Jesus! as Thou still dost reign,
Those vain presumptuous minds restrain;
And as the cause and glory, Lord,
Are Thine, not ours, to us afford
Thy help and strength and constancy.
And keep us ever true to Thee.
Thy Word shall fortify us hence,
It is Thy Church's sure defense;
O let in its pow'r confide,
That we may seek no other guide.
O grant that in Thy holy Word
We here may live and die, dear Lord;
And when our journey endeth here,
Receive us into glory there.