A Muslim friend proposed this to me: I have seen this “issue” before and I haven’t done a proper investigation into it. He said there’s no evidence to support Jesus’ divinity in the first century. I believe (although I am yet to see) that there is evidence of early Christians in first century honoring the trinity doctrine and worshipping Jesus etc although our earliest New Testament text is 125 AD. I believe it is called p52 (please correct if I’m wrong). Pliny the younger in 112 AD describes Christians worshipping Jesus. Is their any evidences for Jesus being worshipped earlier than that? I say that the Church used the original epistles and gospels in the first century, yes? That’s why we don’t have (for now) any 1st century NT manuscripts? Did the Church just rely on the sole original NT texts from the authors themselves in 1st century after Jesus or were there copies being made straight away? Could you recommend any books that could tackle this down to the core that’s easy to read and explain? Thanks a lot, God bless all you do.
I think sometimes it might be a good idea to stop listening to Muslim critics, as their criticisms, are, almost without exception, disingenuous, self-serving, highly biased, and prejudiced with the intent of destroying the faith of Christians. It is almost as if we are listening to Satan himself. I suppose we ought to be aware of such claims so as to refute them, but they become quite tiring after a while, as I have heard this unfounded claim many times.
As to this example, there is a LOT of evidence that Jesus told his followers that he was God. There is John 1:1 and John 1:14, as well as John 1:18. There is also John 8:58-59 and John 10:29-33, as well as John 20:28 and Colossians 1:15-17 as well as Coll 2:9, Titus 2:13 (Isaiah 43:11), Phil 2:5-6, Isaiah 9:6-7, Heb 1:6, Zech 12:10, Zech 11:12-13 and dozens of other passages in the Bible which clearly demonstrate that Jesus–the Messiah–is God in the flesh.
This critic says that there is no support for this conclusion before AD 125. What this person may actually mean is that we have no surviving manuscripts from the first century. That is true. However, no scholar believes that any of the New Testament was written in the second century. All of these documents are from the first century. This is settled fact, as Clement of Rome and the author of the Didache were quoting from the NT books by the end of the first century. The evidence from the New Testament proves that Jesus was believed to be God in the first century (John 1 for example) and that he claimed to be God (John 8:58-59 for example).
Besides, we have only three manuscripts of the Qur’an from the first seventy-five years after the death of Muhammad (three fairly small manuscripts: the Birmingham Manuscript, the Tubingen Manuscript and the Sana’a Manuscript), and about sixty fragments for the first two hundred years after its composition. This is similar to the amount of data we have for the New Testament. The data to support the Qur’an is similar to, although slightly stronger than that for the New Testament. Will this Muslim concede that this means we cannot trust any of the sayings in the Qur’an to be true? Of course not. This is the typical hypocrisy of Muslims in their criticism of the Bible, when they literally refuse to even listen to similar evidence about their own Scripture. The church in the early second century, when p52 (the Rylands papyrus) was written, still contained members who knew the apostle John. The early church had been copying and using the New Testament documents since they were written. I am sure that within one year of the Gospel of Mark having been written there were many dozens of copies. Anyone wanting to change the Book of Mark would have had to change the dozens or perhaps even hundreds of copies being read in all the churches. They knew that their copies were reliable because, for example, in 120 AD there were still people alive who had read Matthew or Mark or Romans when they were first written! There were very minor copying errors, but these do not put the truth that Jesus is God in doubt at all. This claim of corruption of the New Testament is an old and tired lie from the Muslims. Let us put these bogus claims to rest.
The reason we do not have any of the original manuscripts is that 99.99+ percent of all documents written on papyrus two thousand years ago have already fully decomposed. Of the many thousands of copies of the New Testament documents that existed in the first three centuries, only a precious tiny fraction have come down to us. What would be the probability of the original surviving? Besides, if copies were made immediately, how would we ever know if we literally had the original, given that copies were made almost immediately, as they surely were? This would be absolutely impossible to prove.
Now, one can argue that Jesus was a liar about being God, or that the apostles were deceived in their belief that he was God, but what one cannot legitimately argue is that Jesus did not make this claim and that the apostles did not believe this in the first century. The New Testament documents make it abundantly clear that both of these claims (that his deity was taught and believed) are true, and all the New Testament manuscript evidence fully supports this conclusion, as do the writings of second century believers such as Justin, Tertulllian, Irenaeus and many others. It was the unanimous (or more accurately nearly unanimous) belief of all Christians in the second century that Jesus was God. Even the Gnostics agreed with this!!! Muslims have no evidence for Christians in either the first or the second century NOT believing that Jesus was God. Unless this critic can come up with some evidence from the first century for Christians who did not believe Jesus was God, they ought to stop making such claims.
As for a book that talks about the manuscript evidence, let me suggest my book Reasons for Belief, available at www.ipibooks.com
We strive to produce material that is biblical, life-changing, grace-filled, that calls people to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Toney Mulhollan has been involved in Christian publishing for more than 40 years.He is the Owner/Chief Editor for IP, which he started in 2006. He started DPI with the help of Tom/Sheila Jones