I am a believer, but have an atheist father who is searching. After a long conversation with him regarding the Bible, he is convinced that the Bible was formed by "church authorities" and is in fact not true writings (based on a TV show he saw). He believes that it was written only to give the church power. His question is what is in the hundreds of other ancient manuscripts and why were they not included in the Bible? I told him I would do the research for him. Any suggestions?? He wants facts/not opinions.
Unfortunately, the things presented in the media are generally coming from people with a strong bias and commitment against belief in the authority of the Bible. Such biased treatment is extremely suspect. Some of what is presented in such shows is true, some is outright fabrication, but the biggest amount is biased interpretation, presented as if it were truth. So, our job as believers is to simply give a respectful response to this biased interpretation.
Let me respond. First of all, there is at least a sense in which the first thing your father said is true. The content of both the Old and the New Testament was selected by a consensus of the leaders in Judaism for the Old Testament and in the very early church for the New Testament. In other words, although Paul wrote a number of letters, as did Luke, Peter, John and so forth, the ones selected for inclusion in the canon (official received list of authoritative books) was selected by consensus of the early church. God used human beings in this process. The evidence tells us that by about AD 100, a collection of the four gospels, as well as a partially complete collection of Paul’s letters was already circulating in the churches and being accepted as authoritative. Between AD 100 and AD 150, the canon was not fixed, but it moved in the direction of its final content. The apparent criteria for acceptance into the Christian canon was apostolic authority. We know this because we can read the words of early church "fathers" such as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Eusebius. The first three were writing in the late second and very early third centuries. They reported what books were received as authoritative, and stated that they were accepted because of apostolic authority. Some, such as Irenaeus, even tell us who they knew who had known the original writers. In other words, those books which were considered in the very early church to have been "apostolic" were received into the canon. So, in a sense, your dad is correct. God used the leaders of the very primitive church to select the New Testament canon.
From there, however, his statements go downhill considerably. These accusations are not well supported by the evidence. There are many scholars today who create a false impression that certain scriptures were included, excluded or changed because of political or theological agendas. The problem with all these "theories" is that they lack any evidence at all. They are speculations based on modern theories about what might have happened. The evidence runs thoroughly counter to these speculations. People say Constantine changed the New Testament. This is an absolutely ludicrous charge. The New Testament had been fixed for over one hundred years before Constantine took power. We have dozens of manuscripts of the New Testament from before Constantine, as well as many hundreds of quotes from early church writers before this time. There is literally no evidence that any of the New Testament was changed by Constantine or by any of his contemporaries. There were thousands of manuscripts in circulation by this time, which would have made any such project impossible. Of course, there were minor copying errors and things like that, but with thousands of manuscripts in circulation, it would have literally been impossible for a person to add a book or to take out a book or to change a major doctrine by changing large sections of scripture. These speculations are a figment of the imaginations of skeptical scholars who create these questionable theories.
At the time Luke and Matthew wrote their gospels, the church was a tiny persecuted minority within the Roman Empire. The idea that they wrote these things to gain power makes no sense. What did these men get for their efforts? They were hounded, persecuted, and many of them were killed. By the time the church gained some measure of power (in the fourth century), the Bible was a fixed scripture for which we have many manuscripts before that time. What your father is saying does not agree with a common sense understanding of the facts. During the time the canon was being established, the same situation held true for the church. Many of the leaders were being thrown in jail and even killed for their faith.
I will admit that I do not completely understand the last statement. Perhaps you even have what he said incorrect. What is in the hundreds of other manuscripts? What manuscripts is he talking about? Perhaps he is talking about the rather large body of apocryphal letters which are not included in the New Testament. Such letters include the Gospel of Judas, Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter and so forth. These letters were written in the second or third centuries. Most of them were written by Gnostics–a group which denied the resurrection of Jesus and which denied the humanity of Jesus. These were definitely not Christians. In any case, they wrote spurious letters which have none of the marks of inspiration of the four canonical gospels. In fact, even the Gnostics never claimed these letters should be included in the New Testament canon. Marcion, a gnostic teacher from the middle of the second century, published his own list of inspired writings. Even he does not include Thomas or any of the gnostic writings.
If your father does not agree, what you can do is get a copy of the Gospel of Judas or the Gospel of Thomas on line. You will find immediately that these books are not even in the same league as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in terms of their quality and reliability. The Gospel of Thomas is perhaps the earliest of these Gnostic writings. It may have been written as early as AD 125 (which still puts if fifty years after the canonical gospels and proves that Thomas did not write it). It has no account of the miracles of Jesus or of his death and resurrection. The Gospel of Thomas is made of 114 supposed sayings of Jesus, some of which are recognizable from the canonical gospels. However, it has many sayings attributed to Jesus which make no sense at all. For example “Jesus said, ‘Lucky is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human. And foul is the human that the lion will eat, and the lion still will become human.’” (GT 7). Another passage which seems to make no sense is, “Mary said to Jesus, ‘What are your disciples like?’ He said, ‘They are like little children living in a field that is not theirs. When the owners of the field come, they will say, "Give us back our field." They take off their clothes in front of them in order to give it back to them, and they return their field to them.’” (GT 21). In this case, what seems like nonsense actually makes sense if one understands that this is a Gnostic gospel. The reference to removing one’s clothes is not about walking around nude. It is about removing the body which clothes us (to paraphrase the Gospel of Judas). This is an oblique reference to shedding our gross, physical body in order to occupy a higher, spiritual body. Here we have Gnosticism revealed.
Another passage from Thomas which has rather obvious Gnostic influence is in GT 22; “They said to him, ‘Then shall we enter the kingdom as babies?’ Jesus said to them, ‘When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom].’” A rather disturbing “saying” of Jesus is found in GT 114, “Simon Peter said to them, ‘Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.’ Jesus said, ‘Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven.’” This is in dramatic opposition to the kind of respect that Jesus showed to the women who followed him. such as: Saying 113/114: "Simon Peter said to them, "Let Mary leave us, because women are not worthy of life." Jesus said, "Behold, I shall guide her so as to make her male, so that she may become a living spirit like you men. For every woman who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven." The Gosple of Phillip has Jesus working silly miracles as a baby. These other documents are not included in the New Testament because the early church easily rejected them as not being inspired writing. There is literally no evidence of a debate about the inclusion of these gnostic writings–none. Anyone who does not recognize this should read the supposed "Gospel of Judas." The will immediately see that these are not inspired writings.
One suggestion I can give is that you get a copy of the book "Reasons for Belief," available at www.ipibooks.com This will give a basic summary of evidence supporting the reliability and inspiration of the Bible. Perhaps it will help. I hope this will get you started.