Sunday, July 05, 2009

A Review Of Trusting The New Testament

I recently finished reading the second book in J.P. Holding's Tekton Building Blocks series, Trusting The New Testament (United States: Xulon Press, 2009). I highly recommend it.

The book is 300 pages long, and it covers four topics (oral tradition, New Testament textual transmission, New Testament authorship, and the New Testament canon) in thirty-six chapters. The foreword is written by Richard Howe of Southern Evangelical Seminary, and two chapters are written by Charles Jake IV (an attorney writing on the application of legal standards to the New Testament) and Jonathan Kendall (a lay Christian apologist writing on memorization of the Koran in Islam), but most of the book is written by Holding. There are chapters on the nature of oral tradition in antiquity, whether Jesus was illiterate, Bart Ehrman's view of the New Testament text, the Gospel Of Thomas, whether the Council of Nicaea determined the New Testament canon, and many other issues. There's a defense of the traditional authorship attributions of all of the books of the New Testament. Each of the New Testament documents is addressed only briefly, however, as you would expect in a book that's 300 pages long and covers so many other topics as well. He discusses more than twenty books not included in the canon, with the Gospel Of Thomas and the Gospel Of Judas each given a chapter of its own.

Those who have been active in apologetics for a long time should already be familiar with the general outlines of his argumentation. But he adds many significant details along the way, and he often interacts with books published within the last few years.

Here are a few passages from the book in which he addresses some of the inconsistencies of Christianity's critics, a theme he often addresses in this book and elsewhere:

Indeed, that despairing textual critics nevertheless proceed with their textual and historical work shows that they have their own presumption that we do know something; in particular, that someone like Bart Ehrman continues to use the New Testament as a source to argue for matters concerning the history of Christianity - as well as that he continues to use, without qualification, sources like Josephus and Tacitus with far, far less textual evidence - shows that "we don't know" is not the philosophy which critics employ in practice....

It is somewhere between 250 and 300 years before external testimony directly grants authorship of the Annals to Tacitus. We will see with further examples below that this is actually fairly quickly, as classical works go. But it needs to be said that this evidence is vanishingly small compared to the incredible number of attestations and attributions of NT documents by patristic writers, some few earlier than (but many as late as) those listed for Tacitus above....

Plato's later works show a broader range of vocabulary [than] his earlier ones [as New Testament documents attributed to the same author sometimes vary in their range of vocabulary], and Hamlet has more unique words than any other Shakespearian play - yet no one denies Shakespeare its authorship. (pp. 93-94, 141, n. 42 on p. 214)

I disagree with Holding on some points, such as his view of the authorship of Hebrews and some portions of his approach toward the New Testament canon. (For an explanation of my views on those subjects, see here.) He doesn't say much about hostile corroboration of the New Testament, such as affirmations of the traditional authorship attributions in non-Christian sources. His section on New Testament authorship is weighted too much toward answering objections and too little toward making a case for his own view. I agree with him that the sort of evidence he does discuss is more significant than critics suggest, but there's so much he doesn't include, sometimes leaving unmentioned some of the most significant evidence.

These are relatively minor disagreements, though. It's a very good book that covers many topics. And it's meant to address a general audience. The large majority of Christians would learn a lot from the book, and even those who are more knowledgeable on these subjects should find some valuable material they weren't familiar with.

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