Should we trust the Bible?
Since Creation Ministries International is based on the Bible, the question arises, why should the Bible be trusted? How should we answer those who claim that it’s been re-written so many times that we no longer have the original? And even if we do, was it written long after the events it claimed to report? Also, does archaeology disprove the Bible? Finally, even if it is true, what’s the point?
Is our New Testament Text Reliable?
Some critics doubt that we even have the original New Testament. This issue can only be settled by using bibliographical tests for reliability, similar to what would be used to judge the Iliad or Caesar’s writings.
The NT was completely written by baptized Jews1 in the 1st century AD. We have at least 24,000 manuscripts of the NT [Ed. note: 5,824 in the original Greek, according to the latest count by NT scholar Dan Wallace], the earliest of which are dated within 100 years or so of its actual composition. The earliest known manuscript is the John Rylands papyrus fragment of John’s Gospel known as P52, containing John 18:31–33, 37–38, dated to c. AD 125. Compare this to other great works (MSS = manuscripts):
|Author||Date Written||Earliest MSS||Time Span||No. MSS|
|Caesar||100–44 BC||AD 900||1,000 yrs||10|
|Plato||427–347 BC||AD 900||1,200 yrs||7|
|Thucydides||460–400 BC||AD 900||1,300 yrs||8|
|Tacitus||AD 100||AD 1100||1,000 yrs||20|
|Suetonius||AD 75–160||AD 950||800 yrs||8|
|Homer (Iliad)||900 BC||400 BC||500 yrs||643|
|New Testament||AD 40–100||AD 125||25–50 yrs||>24,000!|
So, by applying the tightest standards scholars can muster (without eliminating all the other classical works), we can conclude that the NT we have is a trustworthy copy of the original.2 NT scholar F.F. Bruce (1919–1990) wrote:
“The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no-one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.”3
Reliability of the New Testament content
Given that we have a trustworthy copy of the original, is the original itself trustworthy? Liberal scholars usually argue that the gospels were written long after the events they claim to record. They typically date Mark between AD 65–75, Matthew at mid 80s, Luke and Acts between 83–90 and John about the turn of the first century. So with a time gap of 35–75 years, there is allegedly no chance that the gospels are reliable records.
The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no-one dreams of questioning.— NT scholar F.F. Bruce
However, there are cogent arguments by J.A.T. Robinson (1919–1983), who was a liberal and Bishop of Woolwich, for redating the gospels to between AD 40 and 65.4 If Robinson is right, the gospels were written in the lifetimes of people who knew Jesus personally (~6 BC – AD ~30 for His earthly lifetime). Matthew and Luke record Jesus’ prophecy of Jerusalem’s demise and the destruction of the Temple (Matthew 24:2, Luke 21:20–24) but do not record its fulfilment in AD 70.5 Matthew, especially, would not have failed to record yet another fulfilled prophecy if he had written after the event. Acts, written by Luke after he wrote his gospel, mentions neither the fall of Jerusalem, the horrific persecutions under Nero Caesar (mid 60s)—although other persecutions are mentioned—nor the martyrdoms of James (61), Paul (64) and Peter (65), so was probably written before then.6
The Swedish scholar Birger Gerhardsson has shown that the canonical gospels drew on a collective communal memory made strong by the oral teaching methods of the time. These techniques would have enabled ‘very accurate communication between Jesus and his followers’ and would have ensured “excellent semantic recall”.7,8
So Jesus’ disciples would have been very capable of recording His statements accurately, and they give evidence of having done so honestly. For example, they admit certain facts which forgers probably would have left out (e.g. the cowardice of the disciples, the competition for high places within the Kingdom, Peter’s denial, the failure of Jesus to work many miracles in His hometown of Galilee (because of their unbelief—Matthew 13:58, Mark 6:6), references to accusations against His sanity and parentage, and that He didn’t know the timing of His return.
If the gospels were written by church communities (as many skeptics argue) instead of the four evangelists, it is likely that they would have tried to solve their problems by putting solutions into the mouth of Christ. But the gospels do not mention some of the controversies of the early church (e.g. circumcision), but record things quite irrelevant to a mainly gentile church, such as Christ’s being sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:5–6). Thus the internal evidence points to the gospels being written before many of the Church’s problems arose.
Paul wrote even earlier: the summary of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 was written in c. AD 55, but Paul says he is reminding them of something he preached to them about 15 years earlier. Therefore Paul records a tradition which was well established within a decade of Christ’s death.
Julius Müller (1801–1878) challenged 19th century skeptics to show anywhere in history where within 30 years, legends had accumulated around a historical person and become firmly fixed.9 But even if one accepts the late dates of most liberals, one must note that Prof. Sherwin-White (1911–1993), the eminent classical historian from Oxford University, has pointed out that legends require a time gap of more than two generations. Therefore, if the Gospels are legendary, the rate of legendary accumulation would need to be “unbelievable”.10 He wrote:
“For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming … any attempt to reject its basic historicity, even in matters of detail, must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.”10
Also, John claims to be an eye-witness (John 21:24). Luke claims to have relied on eye-witnesses (Luke 1:1–4), and was a companion of the Apostle Paul (Colossians 4:14). He may have been Cleopas’ un-named companion on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13 ff.).11 Mark relied heavily on Peter, who claimed that he “did not follow cleverly devised tales” (2 Peter 1:16). Matthew, according to early church tradition, was written by the disciple and ex-tax-collector of that name.
Is there any archaeological confirmation for the Bible?
In actual fact, we have many first-century non-Christian historians and writers who confirm the life and execution of Jesus: Cornelius Tacitus, Lucian of Samosata, Flavius Josephus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Thallus, Phlegon, Mara Bar-Serapion, and references in the Talmud and other Jewish writings. Encyclopædia Britannica sums up the force of the data:
“These independent accounts prove that in ancient times even the opponents of Christianity never doubted the historicity of Jesus, which was disputed for the first time and on inadequate grounds by several authors at the end of the 18th, during the 19th, and at the beginning of the 20th centuries.”
The gospels have also been supported by archaeology. Sir William Mitchell Ramsay (1851–1939), the archaeologist and professor from Oxford and Cambridge Universities, started investigating Luke’s gospel with the assumption that Luke was mistaken in many areas. But Ramsay discovered time and time again that Luke was absolutely precise about place names and the many varied titles of rulers. Ramsay concluded:
‘Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy … this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.’—Archaeologist Sir William Ramsay
“Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy … this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”12
The Old Testament has been supported repeatedly by archaeology. The Hittites were once thought to be a biblical myth, but their enormous ancient capital, Hattusa, was discovered at modern Boghazköy. Archaeology has also vindicated the war of four kings vs five in Gen. 14. and Belshazzar’s kingship in Daniel.
What is the key teaching of the New Testament?
So, given that Jesus existed, what are we to make of the reliability or unreliability of those documents that claim to give a historical account of His life and teachings? If we accept the historical evidence that the NT is a reliable record, what does it teach?
The bodily Resurrection of Christ is one of the key doctrines of Christianity, as it demonstrates His claims to deity (Romans 1:4), confirms the truth of all He said (Matthew 28:6), and shows that He conquered death, thus guaranteeing the resurrection of believers (2 Corinthians 4:14). The apostle Paul wrote:
“… if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still dead in your sins. …. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. …. If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19, 32b).
The Jews regarded the body as an integral part of Man, so the Resurrection must include the body:
“The notion that Jesus was resurrected in a totally spiritual sense, while his old body lay in the grave, is a purely modern conception. First-century Jewish thinking would never have accepted such a view and that is not how Jesus’ Resurrection was proclaimed in the earliest accounts. It would have been impossible for Resurrection claims to survive in the face of a tomb containing the corpse of Jesus.”13
One major difficulty for non-Christian scholars has been to explain what happened to Christ’s body, as a plausible alternative to the Resurrection. Christ’s enemies would not want to steal it, since that would promote the resurrection stories they wanted to quash—and they would have quashed them by simply producing the body. The disciples had no motive to confront a heavily armed Roman cohort and steal the body to promote Resurrection stories. The disciples were tortured and killed, and no-one would die for what he knows is a lie. However, one of the earliest arguments against the Resurrection was the story the Roman soldiers were bribed to say: “His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep” (Matthew 28:13). This is absurd: how could they know what happened if they were asleep? Also, any Roman soldier who slept on duty was executed.
At least 17 factors meant Christianity could not have succeeded in the ancient world, unless it were backed up with irrefutable proof of the Resurrection.
Some critics try to explain away the empty tomb by claiming that there was no tomb, and that Jesus was buried in a common grave. However, Paul stated that Jesus was buried, which in Greek is etaphe, which literally means entombed (from en, ‘in’; taphos, ‘tomb’). Peter also contrasted Jesus, whose body did not “see decay” (NIV), with David, whose body still lay in his tomb (Acts 2:22–35).
Paul’s statement of the gospel in 1 Cor. 15 cites an ancient tradition dating back to only a few years after the event. Mark’s account of the empty tomb reflects the Aramaic, pointing to a very early source. Dr William Lane Craig gives much evidence for the reliability of the burial and empty tomb accounts.14 Also, James Patrick Holding provides at least 17 factors that meant Christianity could not have succeeded in the ancient world, unless it were backed up with irrefutable proof of the Resurrection.15
What’s it to me?
Scripture show that there is a God who created us and therefore owns us. He has set a perfect moral standard of which we fall short (Romans 3:23). He is perfectly just, so must punish transgressions. Since our transgressions offend His infinite holiness, the punishment must also be infinite.
Either we must suffer such punishment, or else a Substitute must endure it in our place (Isaiah 53). The Substitute must be fully human to substitute for humanity (Hebrews 2:14), and must be fully Divine to endure God’s infinite wrath (Isaiah 53:10). To be the mediator between God and Man, Jesus must be both. 1 Timothy 2:5 states:
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”.
We cannot earn salvation by any deeds we do (Romans 3:24, 4:2, Ephesians 2:8–9). These verses teach that justification, the declaration of legal innocence before God, is a gift. It takes place the moment one has faith in Christ (Romans 5:1).
The content of faith (the Greek is pistis = belief) is set out by Christ’s chosen apostle Paul:
“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1–4).”
- Is there a universal way Christians should interpret the Bible?
- Why Christianity is true -- Creation Magazine LIVE! (2-17)
References and notes
- Including Luke, since “the Jews are entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2); many Jews of the New Testament had Greek names such as Peter, Andrew, Stephen … . See also A brief history of the Jews. Return to text.
- See also Holding, J., On the textual reliability of the New Testament, tektonics.org/lp/nttextcrit.html. Return to text.
- Bruce, F., Are the New Testament documents reliable? The Inter-Varsity Fellowship, London, UK, p. 19, 1956. Return to text.
- Robinson, J., Redating the New Testament, SCM Press Ltd, London, UK, p. 353, 1976. Return to text.
- NB:This is not an argument from silence, i.e. an event is not mentioned, therefore it didn’t happen. This form of argument is an example of the fallacy of denying the antecedent. Instead, we are using arguments from conspicuous absence, i.e. an event that almost certainly would be mentioned if it had happened, yet it wasn’t. E.g. we would expect anyone writing on the Twin Towers after 11–9 to mention their obliteration by terrorists; if such an event were not even hinted at, we would suspect that the author wrote before that attack. The same logic holds for the magnificent Jewish Temple destroyed in AD 70. This is a form of valid argument known as denying the consequent. Sarfati, J., Loving God with all your mind: logic and creation, Journal of Creation 12(2):142–151, 1998. Return to text.
- See also Holding, J., Basic issues in defence of the authenticity of the gospels, tektonics.org/ntdocdef/gospdefhub.html. Return to text.
- Gerhardsson, B., Memory and Manuscript Trans. Eric Sharp, Villadsen og Christensen, Copenhagen, 1964. Return to text.
- See also Holding, J., On the reliability of oral tradition, tektonics.org/ntdocdef/orality01.html. Return to text.
- Müller, J., The Theory of Myths, in Its Application to the Gospel History Examined and Confuted, John Chapman, London, p. 26, 1844, cited in Craig, Ref. 14, pp. 196–197. Return to text.
- Sherwin-White, A., Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, Baker Book House, Michigan, USA, pp. 188–191, 1992. Return to text.
- See also Anderson, D., The nativity: fact or fiction? 23 December 2006. Return to text.
- Ramsay, W., Bearing of Recent Discoveries on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, Baker, Michigan, USA, p. 222, 1953. Return to text.
- Barnett, P., Jensen, P. and Peterson, D., Resurrection: Truth and Reality, Aquila Press, Sydney, Australia, p. 14, 1994. Return to text.
- Craig, W., Apologetics: An Introduction, Moody, Chicago, USA, Ch. 5.2, 1984, and lists at least 30 prominent scholars who agree. Return to text.
- Holding, J., The Impossible Faith, Xulon Press, Florida, USA, 2007; tektonics.org/lp/nowayjose.html. Return to text.
A very nice article, good reading.
Thank you for this excellent and brief article. It is helpful and informative.
This article addresses the validity of the Bible, and touches on the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. I found the books of Lee Strobel helpful and informative on that issue.
It's mentioned that one indication of the accuracy of the Gospels is the inclusion of less-than-flattering items, indicating the sincerity of the authors, and devotion to historical accuracy. Further proof of that is the accounts testifying that it was women who first discovered the empty tomb: at that time in history, a woman's testimony was not regarded.
I've heard a description of how the first Gospels were carefully copied, and how hundreds of copies were made over the years by different believers in different places, yet were found to be precise duplicates. That has to be a witness to their sincerity.
I'd like to request such an article, describing what we know about the provenance of the first manuscripts.
Best regards, Peter Warner.
You forgot one of biggest things is that it’s not all there. I believe it was the Council of Nicaea that sat down and arbitrarily picked which Gospels went in the Bible and which didn’t.
You are mistaken. The Council merely ratified what had already been functioning as authoritative, as opposed to later forgeries being used by heretics.
As we pointed out in The Da Vinci Code: Secret hidden truth?:
Leading NT scholar F.F. Bruce put it well:
‘The NT books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, …. [Church] councils [did] not impose something new upon the Christian communities but codif[ied] what was already the general practice of those communities.’ [The New Testament Documents: Are they reliable? IVP, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1960.]
One of the world’s greatest authorities on the Greek New Testament, Bruce Metzger, pointed out:
‘You have to understand that the canon was not the result of a series of contests involving church politics. … . You see, the canon is a list of authoritative books more than it is an authoritative list of books. These documents didn't derive their authority from being selected; each one was authoritative before anyone gathered them together.’ [interviewed in Strobel, L., The Case for Christ, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1998.]
I think skeptic attacks on the Bible are hypocritical. They’re willing to accept a handful of manuscripts available, and all of them written thousands of years after the event, but they reject the Bible even though it’s only written a handful of years after the event (if that) and has tens of thousands of manuscripts available.
Bible = few years after the fact and thousands of manuscripts available, but is rejected.
Non-Biblical = thousands of years after the fact and only a few manuscripts available, but is accepted.
Does anyone see the hypocrisy here?
Thank you, Dr. Sarfati, for this highly informative article. I would add only this: If there is no God, it doesn't matter what the Bible says because there would be no heaven or hell waiting for us beyond this life; if there is a God such as the one described in the Bible (one who cares about his creation and is personally concerned with the temporal and eternal welfare of human beings), he would see to it that his Word was preserved until the Last Day so that the saving power of the Gospel would be available in every generation.
John 19:25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene.
Luke 24:13 And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs.
Don’t you find it strange that Cleopas would go home leaving his wife in Jerusalem and walking with another man?
Surely the two on the Emmaus road were Cleopas and his wife, Mary?
I find it hard to believe that it wouldn’t mention his wife, if that’s who it was. It is another conspicuous absence, as explained in Note 5. Similarly, most scholars believe that the unnamed young man who escaped naked in Mark 14:51–52 was Mark himself.
Fantastic article, Dr. Sarfati. It’s always great to build up one’s knowledge and the information here is great. I am busy reading a book, The Case For Christ. The author, Lee Strobel, a former athiest and legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, documents his journey to dicovering the historical truth about Christ. A worthy read.
Thank you for your kind words. I’ve cited that book a few times, including a few posts above this one.
As mentioned, the papyrus P52 is only a fragment. It contains only a few lines, with a small number of words, barely making sentences. Furthermore, the NT is not just John. You cannot conclude from that that "So... the NT we have is a trustworth copy of the original".
Second, the date of this fragment is about AD 125, so almost 100 years after the facts. That does not prove anything about the reliability of the original. Legends are known to develop extremely fast in some situations, sometimes even during the life of the person on which the legend is based (that person, even refuting the legend, unable to prevent it from spreading).
The mistakes introduced in the copies of copies of copies … of the NT are known for long, their existence forms a consensus among serious scholars, they have even been counted. We have plenty of old manuscripts with a huge number of differences, and not only in minor places. These have been discussed at lengths and many of them, even in important places, have been accepted by most scholars.
As stated, by your ‘reasoning’, we couldn’t trust any ancient documents.
It would also require a growth in mythology unparalleled in the ancient world, as documented. There would be too many hostile witnesses ready to contradict myth-making. But even Jesus’ enemies couldn’t produce a body.
When you say “huge numbers of differences”, this is misleading. Most are not even translatable, such as an article before a name or not; movable nu (the equivalent of “a hypothesis” vs. “an hypothesis”); spelling variants, esp. of names, including differences like Cephas v Peter (Hebraic v Greek forms of the same name; as an example of how name spelling was very flexible, Henry VIII’s first wife Catherine of Aragon spelled her own name in several ways 1500 years later); different word orders that make no difference to meaning in an inflected language like Greek (e.g. there are about 16 different Greek ways of saying “Jesus loves Paul” just using the verb agapao). Only about 1% of the variants make a difference in meaning, but even so, no doctrine depends on a disputed passage.
You can find much more by a specialist in textual criticism, Dr Dan Wallace, at http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2012/03/21/an-interview-with-daniel-b-wallace-on-the-new-testament-manuscripts/
I merely want to encourage you in your work. I believe the Holy Spirit in part uses your writings to strengthen my own faith and to prepare me for witnessing when I have the opportunity. This article has to be one of your best … so succinct and direct. Praise God.
Re. the refuted “written by church communities” beloved notion to liberal theologians. Liberal theologians aren’t so much open to a late writing of the gospels as they are driven to want that the gospels were written late and by church communities. These theologians need this escape mechanism in order to (supposedly) refute the ‘intolerable’ miracles of Jesus. Ever since 1670, when Spinoza, in his Theologico-Political Treatise, attempted (but failed, as did Hume) to reject the category of miracles, these liberal theologians have been locked into a false obligation to that rejection. From this false obligation, they are motivated either (1) to degrade the signal from scripture (doing so by assuming textual deconstruction and the inability to access author’s intent [i.e., “when the gospel writer said miracle, he really meant something else”], or (2) to blindly and desperately assume that a later church community cooked up miracle stories. Until such theologians can jettison their false obligation to the ‘horror’ of need-to-be-rejected miracles, they won’t have ears to hear or eyes to see the plentitude of hard evidence for the reliable and early writing of the New Testament documents.
A very helpful discussion, thanks a lot Jonathan.
In response to SG of the UK—Thanks for your comment SG, I have had a similar misgiving in the past and Jonathan’s response here to your post helps confirm explanations I've read elsewhere.
I’d also point out that most of the discrepancies between what may be referred to as “manuscripts”, occur in the non-Greek translations—e.g. the English versions.
These arose from different interpretations of the Greek by the translators and are not indicative of corruption of the Greek MSS, they are simply sincere differences of opinion amongst translators and reflect their conscientious striving for accuracy.
The difficulty these English discrepancies provide can be addressed by referring to an old Greek MS.
I just want to encourage you for writing an easily understood article combined with such depth!
Really enjoyed reading it and also think your responses to the ignorant comments are great to!
Thank you for being such a blessings.
This is a great article but you only covered the reliability of the New Testament but didn’t cover anything about the reliability of the Old Testament. Considering that the OT makes up around ¾ of the Bible that means the reliablility of around ¼ of the Bible was proven in this article. After the all the title of this article is Should we trust the Bible? not Should we trust the New Testament. With all this in mind I feel the article ws incomplete as the Bible is far more that just the New Testament.
That’s a fair point. Unfortunately, the article was already quite long by Creation magazine standards. I would proceed as follows, on the line of Using the Bible to prove the Bible? Are biblical creationists guilty of circular reasoning? and The Authority of Scripture.
That is, the above article points to the New Testament authors as trustworthy, and they affirmed the Old Testament’s reliability.
Also, as shown in the article, the New Testament provides powerful evidence that Jesus rose from the dead, so proving that He was divine just as He claimed. Further, He said “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35), and even affirmed the parts of Scripture most attacked by atheopaths and their churchian allies, as documented in Jesus Christ on the infallibility of Scripture.
I just want to thank you for the clarity and encouragement for this article. Once I heard from a friend, BIBLE = Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth. How true is that. We are here but for temporary, our purpose and destiny is with our Father. May many yet-believers found their ways to your article and the seed of Christ be permanently planted in their hearts.
Indeed, I have long shown a slide in my talks with that acrostic.
Regarding the dating of the Gospels, 1 Corinthians 11:24–26 could be circumstantial evidence of the earlier dates. This Epistle was written circa AD 53–57, and I often wonder how Paul knew about these events. One might speculate that they were narrated directly to him by the risen Jesus, but I think it more probable that he learned it from the Apostles. In the NKJV, it is rendered as a direct quote, which suggests that earlier scholars might have thought that Paul learned this from other writings. For me, the complete absence of reference to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 affirms the earlier dates. If I was writing at the time and wanted to bolster my case regarding the Messiah, I could not help but blurt out: “See, just as He prophesied!”
Having read part of the Bible every day since the age of eight—and having been ‘Ordained’ 44 years ago this week—and having checked out the Bible where it can be checked—e.g. during 12 visits to Israel—and having experienced its truth over these years—I have discovered it to be a totally reliable and authentic and authoritative Book which repays reading and study in so many various ways. Read it. Study it. Be blessed by the risen living Lord Jesus Christ.
Thank you, sir. The article is very inspiring. I love the Bible and have for these 30 years now. I have heard it said that it is like a lion in that it defends itself. I especially was blessed by reading 1 Cor 15 again but this time in the context of your article and the Lord gave me 1 Cor 15:33 “Do not be deceived: bad company ruins good morals.” Excellent and blessed—Duane.
Thanks for the comments above. Note that we disagree with that lion saying—see Caged lions … And the young generation in the church.
I would add the Inspiration of the writers. “But when the Comforter is come whom I will send unto you from the Father,even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father,He shall testify of Me: … “
‘Thus the internal evidence points to the gospels being written before many of the Church’s problems arose.’
The Church, spoken of once by the Lord (‘ … I will build my church … ’), according to the records we have, is a strikingly yet-unknown entity to the authors of the four Gospels.
Thank you for your article. I have been engaging with an atheist on Twitter and he has come up with the following 2 questions:
“I have asked you to produce a) contemporaneous external accounts and b) archaeological evidence to corroborate gospels.”
I have researched this and am finding it a difficult process. Does he have me barking up the wrong tree?
Now that we have the book Christianity for Skeptics, it should be much easier to answer those questions (chapter 5 covers both).
As a professional scientist, I combed the scriptures for experiments that it stated would ‘prove’ God and the reliability of the writings. Starting with tithing, and going on to numerous other ‘conditional’ prayers or experiments, I did all I could, and never found a falsification, nor ever found anyone else reporting these experiments failing to confirm the basic hypothesis that God is and that He has inspired the scriptures.
But, the scriptures themselves stress that they are to be trusted only in a limited way. The letter kills. We are only to trust the Spirit, they assert. They exist to get us to the Spirit, where, and where only, we find truth and life. On that point, the scriptures are completely reliable. On all others, one must get the Spirit to comment before one can get any truth from, can trust, the scriptures.
Thank you for those comments.
Just a small thing: you allude to 2 Corinthians 3:6 (For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.). The “letter” (γράμμα gramma) Paul refers to is metonymous for the written Law of Moses, the main feature of the Old covenant (v. 14), “carved in letters on stone” (v. 7). this could never bring life, because no one but Christ could obey it. So Paul contrasts this with the New Covenant through Jesus Christ, making believers a “letter from Christ”, which the Holy Spirit wrote “on tablets of human hearts”.
But the Holy Spirit would not go against the letters of Scripture which He inspired (2 Peter 1:21). Indeed, in Matthew 5:18, Jesus affirmed the inspiration of Scripture even down to the smallest letter, “jot” (yod י) or part of a letter, “tittle” (e.g. the small bottom stroke of a pen differentiating between beit ב and kaph כ).
I’ve always liked the truth in the saying, “The Bible is a book man could not write if he would, and would not write if he could,” in regard to its inspiration of God.
I’m a little puzzled. I often hear that we have 24000 manuscripts of the NT, but just as often I hear that we have as little as 5000, which I know is still a huge amount. But I’m just wondering why is it that there seems to be such a difference depending on the source documenting how many manuscripts of the NT we have?
A fair question. The answer is that they refer to different things: the ~5,000 figure refers to the Greek manuscripts, while ~24,000 refer to manuscripts in all languages.
Geisler and Nix, in General Introduction to the Bible (1986), document that there are 88 papyri, 274 uncial manuscripts in codex (like a book, with leaves joined together), 245 uncial lectionaries (selected Bible readings for churches), plus 2,795 manuscripts and 1,964 lectionaries in minuscule (lower case). The total is 5366; if anything, the number has increased since the book was written. There are also 10,000 Latin and 9,000 in other other languages like Coptic, Aramaic, and Syriac, so totalling >24,000.
Thank you so much for this article. It’s the first I’ve read that has dealt with the authenticity of the New Testament beginning at the person who wrote the originals. Thank you for showing that it could not have been make up later by those who wanted to create a nice religion based around a cool guy called Jesus who walked the earth a few thousand years ago.