It doesn’t happen too often, but every once in a while I become aware of some new piece of data that explodes what I think I know about some area I’m interested in. New Testament scholar (and fellow Pentecostal) Larry Hurtado just dropped a bomb on me.
In his blog post How Long Were Manuscripts Used? he mentions something that had never occurred to me before. Not even a little bit.
One matter Houston addresses is how long manuscripts appear to have been in use. On the basis of manuscripts from Oxyrhynchus and from Herculaneum in particular, Houston notes numerous examples of manuscripts discarded when they were ca. 2-3 centuries old. Overall, he judges that the evidence indicates “a useful life of between one hundred and two hundred years for a majority of the volumes, with a significant minority lasting two hundred years or more” (p. 251). And, as he notes, the evidence from Qumran leads to a similar view.
This is of potential relevance for questions about the transmission of early Christian texts, especially those that became part of the NT. If early copies were intact for something approaching a century or more, then this could be a factor against notions that these texts were highly unstable and susceptible to major revision in the course of transmission. But we might adjust our thinking to allow for an earlier wearing-out of NT manuscripts through greater frequency of usage. OK. Let’s suppose that early manuscripts of NT writings typically wore out sooner: twice as fast (ca. 50-75 years)? That still means that the manuscripts from which copies were made remained available for potential checking for a fair period of time.
This probably means nothing to most of you, but this is huge if you’re interested in the textual reliability of the New Testament. This is surprising and strong evidence in the “Bible is reliable” column. Check out his comments section where Dr. Hurtado unpacks this a bit more.
Something Dr. Hurtado does not mention is that this makes it plausible that our earliest papyrus fragments (such as P52 or one of the handful of others from the mid-second century) might actually be direct copies from the autograph or only one generation removed. It’s impossible to know, of course. But the mere fact that we can even think it plausible is mind-boggling.
Dr. Hurtado got this data from UNC’s George W. Houston in his article “Papyrological Evidence for Book Collections and Libraries in the Roman Empire,” in Ancient Literacies: The Culture of Reading in Greece and Rome, ed. William A. Johnson and Holt N. Parker (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 233-67.
I was recently interviewed by a student writing for the Stanford Daily. A group of off-campus Christians had put on a controversial outreach activity and he wanted to know why Christians share their faith. Apparently my answer wasn’t pithy or interesting enough, because I didn’t make it into the final article. 🙂
His questions (which he asked separately but which I combined for my answer): “Why do Christians try to spread their beliefs? With so many other problems in the world, why expend so much energy on spreading the gospels instead of, for example, feeding the hungry?”
My emailed response:
Jesus said that he is the way, the truth, and the life – he even said that no one could come to God apart from him. So the same compassion that compels Christians to build hospitals and orphanages and feed the hungry also compels us to share the news that everyone can be reconciled to God through Christ.
In addition, we know that by spreading the gospel we also increase the number of people who are feeding the hungry and otherwise doing good deeds. We know from research that religious people give more to charity than nonreligious people do, and so we see that compassion and evangelism are not antithetical. If anything, they reinforce each other.
In summary, we share the gospel with someone because we believe that the gospel meets their deepest needs and will also catalyze them to likewise go meet the spiritual and practical needs of others.
He asked me more questions than that, but I didn’t have time to answer them before his deadline. And even this answer was kind of rushed. If I had my answer to give over again I probably would have put a line about heaven and hell in there, but as it is I feel pretty good about it.
So if you’re not a Christian and wonder why we keep urging you to trust in Jesus, I hope my answer helps you understand our motives. We love you and we love Jesus, so we want to arrange an introduction.
I have a student taking a sociology of religion course right now, and she asked me for some advice on how to integrate what she’s learning in class with her faith.
I thought this might be of interest to more students than just her, so here’s what I had to say (slightly modified from the email):
We need to meet face-to-face to talk this through, but I have some initial thoughts for you:
1) Many times we confuse description with explanation. To explain how something works is not to explain why it is. Clearly everything must work some way, and so interesting descriptions of everything ought to abound – I should be able to describe thinking, love, humor, and gravity. But that does not mean that I have understood the things I am describing interesting aspects of. For instance, I can describe the physics of golf in great detail, and then another scholar can come along and describe the rules of golf in great detail, and then a third scholar can come along and describe the history of golf in great detail. All of these descriptions may be accurate, but none of these descriptions will explain why I play golf. And none will capture what it feels like to play golf. And likely none of them, if written for a scholarly audience, will be of the slightest use to golfers desiring to hone their craft. Remember that there is a sociology of marriage, but should you become married one day you will discover that there is a level of reality that the sociological descriptions never adequately communicated.
2) If you assume there is no God at the beginning of your analysis then your analysis will not persuade me that there is no God, for how could it conclude anything else? It reminds me of a story Francis Collins told us last year: “A marine biologist casts a net into the lowest part of the ocean, brings up the catch, and analyzes it. He makes an amazing discovery: there is no creature at the bottom of the sea less than two inches in diameter! The problem, of course, is that his net has two inch holes. It is incapable of discovering anything smaller than its mesh.” In the same way, a methodology that rules out the supernatural from the beginning will never discover evidence of the supernatural. This should not be surprising at all.
3) There are some faith-friendly sociologists out there. Three worth
investigating are Rodney Stark
Bradley Wright, and Christian Smith. Read some of their writings, particularly Stark’s. You can find him in the library. Maybe even email one of them and explain that you’re an undergrad and you have some questions about how to relate sociology to your faith (do not be offended if they do not reply – they are busy people). Also, check out some of the books at http://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/vocation/sociology/
Hope that’s useful to some of you. Much of it applies to the social sciences in general.
Many of you have seen this before, but Hector just forwarded me a link to Are You Living In A Computer Simulation? is a site that argues that at least one of the following is true:
(1) The chances that a species at our current level of development can avoid going extinct before becoming technologically mature is negligibly small
(2) Almost no technologically mature civilisations are interested in running computer simulations of minds like ours
(3) You are almost certainly an artifical entity in a computer simulation.
The author leaves off option 4 (or rather, dismisses it in his setup).
(4) It is not possible to run a computer simulation of a mind like ours.
Anyway, it struck me as a Christian that my response is that numbers 1 and 2 (and possibly number 4) are true. The world will end via divine intervention before our civilization is capable of such a feat (and once in heaven we will presumably have no interest in running such simulations even if they prove technologically feasible).
Funny how Christianity affects your reponses to everything–even bizarre academic papers. 🙂
This caught me off-guard (kudos to Christianity Today Blog for finding it): a scientist has done a Bayesian calculation to determine the probability of God’s existence (which he pegs at 67%).
The scientist’s name is Stephen Unwin (read an interview), and the book detailing his thoughts is The Probability of God: A Simple Calculation That Proves the Ultimate Truth
The opening line of his book is “Do you realize that there is some probability that before you complete this sentence, you will be hoofed insensible by a wayward, miniature Mediterranean ass?”
How cool is that?
I’ve not read it yet–so I have no further comments except to say that it looks extremely interesting.
Shaowei’s talk on the relationship between science and religion went really well last night.
Around 55 people showed up in the Okada Tea Room and listened intently as Shaowei laid out his thoughts for them.
Shaowei did a great job, and I saw several people engaged in very serious discussion afterwards (Shaowei got them thinking in a major way).
Shaowei’s talk was inspired by a paper he wrote for one of his classes and has put on his website: Is There Room For God in Science?
He even has a section of his website devoted to Chi Alpha. Aww…
I just ran across an engrossing article carried by U.S. News and World Report: Divining Nature’s Plan.
It’s about Conway Morris’ new book Life’s Solution : Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe, in which the renowned paleontologist evidently suggests that humans were pretty much the inevitable result of an evolutionary process and leaves open the possibility that God could have designed us as we are without needing to specifically create our species.