#STRask: July 14, 2016

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Published on 07/14/2016

Greg talks about New Testament variants, the purpose of Satan, making disciples, and people giving accounts at the final judgment.


  • Most New Testament text variants are minor. Are there any major ones aside from long ending of Mark, the woman caught in adultery, and the Johannine comma?
  • If Calvinists are right, all humans are depraved from birth and are already headed for Hell, what then is the purpose of Satan?
  • As Christians sent to make disciples of all nations, what advice do you give to those who are not gifted in apologetics or evangelism?
  • What verses show that all people must give an account of all their actions before God at the final judgement?


Melinda: Hi there, this is STRask. I’m the Enforcer with Greg Koukl. Hello, you’re over there?

Greg: Hi there, yes.

Melinda: I can see him so I know he’s there but it’s just like, “Are you really there?”

Greg: Sorry to wake you up, yeah.

Melinda: Okay, well this is #STRask, send us your questions on Twitter using #STRask. The program is about ethics, values, and religion in bite size pieces. Greg’s on a timer. We still do the other podcast, longer answers, but this one’s for people who have a shorter attention span which would actually normally be perfect for you, Greg, but when you’re talking you have a longer attention span. This is going to be a real short one isn’t it, if that’s how you’re going to answer. Okay, let’s just get going. First question comes from the mortal fool: “Most New Testament text variants are minor. Are there any major aside from the long ending of Mark and the woman caught in adultery and the Johannine comma?”

Greg: Well the Johannine comma is not major in terms of length but only in terms of significance as the one that says the three are one and so it seems to be a reference to the trinity, but it’s in very few manuscripts, ancient Greek ones. I think it does show up in the Vulgate. This isn’t my expertise, textual criticism. The big ones we know about and even the little ones that might make a difference somewhere we know about because we see...If you have a good bible in your reference, on the side it will indicate that this is a textual variant or earliest manuscripts do not include this. Sometimes they’ll be in brackets. They will have it in the text, bracketed out in the explanation in the side margin. Just letting you know that this wasn’t in the earliest manuscripts.

It helps you if you’re going to try to use it to make a significant point, it may not be the strongest verse.

Melinda: Or start handling snakes?

Greg: Yeah, well that’s the long ending of Mark and so that’s...

Melinda: You might want to check that out before you start doing that.

Greg: Actually the long ending of Mark is in two segments. There’s one segment that’s in some and then there’s a longer portion in others. That whole long section is questionable. What’s interesting about long ending in Mark is that virtually everything that’s in there is in other passages that are not in question. Even when we lose that big section and we are fully comfortable saying this is not just a variant but a variant that does not reflect the original, all that means is that it wasn’t in the ending of Mark originally. Most of the things that are theologically significant show up in other places that are not questioned.

I think those are the three biggies, the ones that were just mentioned. And although a lot of people don’t realize that the woman caught in adultery at the beginning of mostly end of chapter 7 I think, beginning of chapter 8 of John, that is also not in the earliest manuscripts. My opinion about that passage is - and I bounced this off of some others that agreed with me that know more about it than I do - I said, “I think that event really happened but it wasn’t actually part of the original text.” It’s true history but it’s not inspired text. The reason I say that though is because this rings authentic.

Melinda: Seems very Jesus.

Greg: Exactly. When you read certain books that speak for Jesus, “And Jesus told me thus and so and whatever,” it just doesn’t have Jesus voice, you can tell, it just sounds like somebody else. In this particular case, it seems, and what’s unique about this is that a lot of people think that Jesus gave her the short shrift on the law there...

Melinda: Just let her off.

Greg: Let her off, yeah is what I mean. What He said is, “Is anyone here left to condemn you?” She said, “No.” He said, “Neither do I condemn you.” Now, the point was He could not condemn her because He was not witness to the crime and anybody that might have been witness to the crime had left so there were no witnesses to the crime. There’s a brilliance here that Jesus kept the law but he prevented an injustice, how this woman was clearly being used because if she’s caught in the very act of adultery then where’s the guy? She was clearly being used and Jesus was able to maneuver out of that really wonderfully keeping the law but foiling this other attempt. That’s one of the reasons that rings true to me but I don’t think it’s inspired scripture as part of the oral tradition that got fit in later on.

Melinda: These are the only three really major examples of textual variance but none of them have to do with any significant theology?

Greg: No, they don’t and the other variants don’t either. The Johannine comma does have to do with significant theology but we don’t lose our Trinitarian theology by losing that text. That would be helpful, but if it’s not canonical, then we can make our Trinitarian claims on the basis of other scriptures.

Melinda: There are textual variations, some of them a little more significant than others, but none of them are really important in terms of what Christians believe?

Greg: Nothing changes anything significant, that’s correct. Most of the variations of the hundreds of thousands of variations are not meaningful variations with regards to recapturing the original; their sentence, their rather misspellings or their...You have a Jesus Christ versus Christ Jesus, well, that order doesn’t make any difference as far as the meaning is concerned. The other ones where it seems to be they are legitimate variants, they’re not just outliers like what they call solitary variants or something like that. The ones that are significant in terms of they do alter the meaning of the text, the meaning that it alters in the text may not be meaningful theologically and that’s most of those.

There are very few that have any real significance whatsoever and those we can work with.

Melinda: Even though these textual variations have gotten a lot of news in recent years, 20 years ago, the Jesus seminar people and now Bart Ehrman. These have been known for centuries and studied quite closely and they’re not a surprise.

Greg: The thing is there’s a lot of people who read Bart Ehrman don’t know that everything he’s uncovering is things that the educated Christian has known about so there’s no big surprise and not because it’s in our bible, but they’re caught by...

Melinda: Average church goers may not have known about those things.

Greg: They get caught by surprise and then he takes advantage of that unfortunately. No, there’s not been any variation in I think 50 or 60 years that has changed our understanding of the text. This came from Dan Wallace a couple of years ago, who’s a world expert in this area. He said something like...I have the exact quote but I think it’s like 50 to 75 years, nothing has been found, has come to light. There’s been a lot of manuscripts that have come to light in that time that hasn’t changed anything substantially in terms of our understanding of the original text.

Melinda: Well what was found 50 or 70 years ago?

Greg: I don’t know what the particular one was but see, the thing is, once you get this vast amount of manuscripts registered and analyzed and then you make your assessments on what the original meant, once you have all of these, it’s very difficult for a new discovery to change what you’ve already had because of the new discovery, if it’s different is just going to be a single witness against all of these other witnesses to a different wording. The single witness is not going to be enough to change one’s opinion on what the original actually was.

Melinda: A good interview to go back and listen to, re-listen to if you’ve listened to it already, back in early April, Greg on the longer podcast, you talked with Michael Krueger about Bart Ehrman’s article at Easter time and goes over all these issues, very helpful.

Greg: Didn’t Tim just recently write something on...I saw something, an email, Tim Barnett?

Melinda: Tim Barnett, one of our Canadian speaker, he’s doing a series up at his church about those and he’s posting the videos on his Twitter feed and we’re retweeting them. Next question comes from Ben, “If Calvinists are right, all humans are depraved from birth and are already headed for hell. Well what then is the purpose of Satan? We’ve already done all the damage on our own.”

Greg: I’m crinkling my brow here because I’m trying to see the connection between the two. If Calvinism were false and Arminianism were true, I don’t see why the same question couldn’t be asked. I don’t see the connection with the purpose of Satan and anything to do with salvation. The implication here is that the purpose of Satan is to influence our decisions for or against and therefore if our decisions are already set in concrete by God beforehand then there’s no need for Satan. That isn’t the reason for Satan, God didn’t create Satan so he could tempt people to disbelieve and therefore go to hell. I just don’t even see the connection. Satan came first and he fell and he rebelled against God and that’s a whole different thing. Now he is God’s mortal enemy and so when it comes to the people on earth, he is one of the factors that influences men’s decisions, he holds human beings captive to do his will.

There’s actually 5 verses that say almost the same thing, “Blinded the minds of the unbelievers,” in 2 Corinthians 4 and 1 John chapter 5 and 2 Timothy chapter 3 right at the end, you’ve got the same things. Then in Revelations you’ve got another statement where it is so clear that he controls the world, it says it directly. “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one,” so how is it that anyone can escape that? The only way anybody can escape is by a sovereign act of God. That human beings are fallen from birth, that was raised as theologically questionable. This is orthodoxy, maybe Eastern Orthodox or Coptic churches don’t believe in that but you’re at very thin ice theologically I think if you don’t acknowledge original sin in some way.

This is Pelagian, which - Pelagius was a heretic who opposed Augustine. Rather, Augustus was Caesar. Augustine was the church saint and so...He held that we didn’t have a fallen nature, but as I take it, that’s orthodoxy whether you’re Arminian or Calvinist. I actually don’t see how this complaint goes through at all, kind of misconstrues the role of Satan.

Melinda: Next question, Martin submits this on Twitter, “As Christians sent to make disciples of all nations, what advice do you give to those who are not gifted in apologetics or evangelism?”

Greg: Discipleship means to train first off and so it doesn’t necessarily...Well, the command for the church to make disciples does entail evangelism because you have to win people to Christ, the church has to win people to Christ before the church can disciple. As it turns out, it may be that some people in the church are winning people to Christ and the other ones are the ones investing in the lives of those young Christians to disciple them so that different people have different roles to fulfill the larger purpose or command of the church. You may still be able to disciple quite well even if you’re not a particularly clever evangelist or if you don’t know a lot about apologetics. You can still disciple someone. Remember, Jesus said, “Teaching them all these things that I have taught you.”

There’s a theological foundation that is part of discipleship. In a practical sense I think apologetics should be part of that because if we then as disciples are to go out and communicate the gospel in the context of our culture especially, apologetics is really important. I wouldn’t want to give apologetics the short shrift but strictly speaking, you can disciple without being good at evangelism and without being clever in apologetics. The way the question was worded though, it says, “If I don’t have the gift of evangelism or the gift of apologetics.” I don’t think apologetics is a gift, I think it’s a possession that people have through study.

In other words, we become effective in apologetics because we’ve been schooled one way or another, formally or informally in that material. Even though there are people who are gifted evangelists, Ephesians 4 mentions that we are all supposed to do the job of evangelism even if we don’t have the gift of evangelism, so there’s a couple of things going on there.

Melinda: I think you can still give a good answer to this, you’re an extrovert, right?

Greg: Well, yeah, I’m not uncomfortable with crowds in that sense.

Melinda: What advice would you give to an introvert, someone who’s more uncomfortable starting conversations, talking to strangers to do evangelism because it’s not just the gift of evangelism or all Christians have the job of evangelism.

Greg: Right. Well, I think introverts have friends, they have associations, they just...They are not probably going to do well as street preachers. Introverts still have friends, they have people they come in contact with that are strangers with whom they are friendly. I think those occasions are occasions where they can make the best use of the moment, make the most of the opportunity. “Conduct yourself with wisdom towards outsiders making the most of the opportunity,” is what Paul says in Colossians 4. That may look different for introverts but I still think it can be done in a way that’s consistent with their personalities. Now, I think for everybody, even extroverts and if you want to include me in that category then...I even find that I have to push myself, I have to go beyond my comfort level to engage people about spiritual things.

This is where the game plan comes in where you begin asking questions to gather information initially. There’s nothing at risk there, you have a goal to maybe put a stone in somebody’s shoe regarding spiritual things but all you have to do at first is ask questions to draw a person out and gather information to see if you can find an opening to go a little further. I think the tactical approach is great for introverts because it allows them a lot of safety in moving carefully forward without putting themselves at risk. It still gives them a way to move forward and push the envelope a little bit for their own personalities.

Melinda: Do you want to answer a question in 1 minute?

Greg: Sure, well, I can take a shot at it.

Melinda: Right. What verses...

Greg: I guess it depends on what the question is.

Melinda: Yeah, well I think you can do it. What verses show that all people must give an account of their actions before God at the final judgment?

Greg: Well the best place to go is the final judgement, “and there the books are opened,” it says, “and each one is judged according to his deeds.” That seems to be adequate to the task here with the question.

Melinda: What passage is that?

Greg: That’s somewhere in Revelation 20, I can turn to it now. I’ll just do some filler talk.

Melinda: Yeah, you’re good at that.

Greg: Yes, as usual. Great white throne judgement starts in Revelation 20:11 and what’s interesting is that the ones that are before the great white throne are dead, all the dead. Now, my take on this is that it’s referring to the spiritually dead because everyone who is there is judged by his works and everyone judged by his works is found wanting and is thrown in the lake of fire. If their name is not written on the book of life then they’re thrown in the lake of fire. Those whose names are written on the book of life are not there because Jesus has already taken judgement for them. John chapter 3 says, “Those who believe are not judged.”

Melinda: Thank you, very good.

Greg: A minute, 12 seconds.

Melinda: See, I knew you couldn’t do it in one minute. Well, that’s it for this episode of #STRask, send us your questions on Twitter using that #STRask. Two episodes a week posted Mondays and Thursdays. I’m Melinda the Enforcer, with Greg Koukl. for Stand to Reason.