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What’s the right answer? Every student worth their salt at some point asks this question when making lab measurements. Often in the teaching labs we engineer the results by giving them an “unknown” to analyze. But the professor has the certificate of analysis from the company that sold the unknowns.

But how do we come to have confidence in this certificate of analysis? Sometimes the certificate has the designation of “NIST Traceable“, which for chemical analysis is something of a gold standard. What goes into this confidence?

Traceability relies on several things – library standards, trained personnel, and calibrated instrumentation. Each of these criteria have their own rigorous vetting process, because nature does not ever explicitly tell you the right answer. In the end, self-consistency is in play. This process serves as canon, rule, or law for chemical analyses.

There are chemists who spend their careers improving this traceability vetting process, and some of my own research has been dedicated to creating physical standard reference objects for calibrating contact angle measurement devices and instrumentation.

Interestingly, I see the same process at work in analyzing the canon, rule, and law of the Bible. There is a great iPad app from Doug Powell on the traceability of the New Testament. This post image is from that app from selflessdefense.com.

In this app Doug lays out the criteria used by the church to recognize traceability. They are:

  1. Apostolic Authority and Apostolic Age – The book should be written by an apostle (i.e. Matthew or John) or by a close companion of the apostle (i.e. Mark and Luke) who accurately recorded his teaching. Also, the book had to be written while the apostles were still alive so that the apostles could correct or oppose a false recording. This is analogous to the Control Chart in instrumental terms. There must be a seamless record of reliable behavior for confidence to be preserved.
  2. No book could contradict the teachings of the apostles. The teachings of Christ and the power he bestowed upon the apostles through the Holy Spirit at Pentacost is the “standard reference” to use NIST terms. This testimony is the “accepted true value”.
  3. Finally, the book had to be accepted by most of the churches and in continuous use as Holy Scripture for worship since the apostolic period. This is analogous to the “Round Robin” trials of standard development. Several reliable and qualified labs will analyze the standard. If all or most of the labs agree, there is confidence in the consistent results obtained by different analysts in different locations.

This seems to be a reasonable approach, but it is not without controversy. Dan Brown (in fictional Da Vinci code) and others (like Bart Ehrman) have claimed that the Canon was created as a power play of Constantine or that the deity of Jesus was a late invention. But even a tip-toe into the historical record falsifies these claims.

For more detail, I highly recommend Doug’s apps and books. A second and more forensic treatment of this topic is given in J. Warner Wallace’s book Cold Case Christianity in the chapter where he discusses the Chain of Custody of the story of Jesus of Nazareth.

I hope you will dig into these resources. It is my birthday, today, and I give this gift to you. Don’t leave it unopened.