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New Testament reliability questions

Published: 19 October 2019 (GMT+10)

Ronald M., Ukraine, submitted the following comment to the article The inspiration of Scripture comes in various forms:

This was an interesting and helpful article. I will recommend it to others. I would question one statement, and I know this is not a doctrinal statement and it is not a main issue. You said, “The careful reader of Scripture will notice that most of Paul’s letters are coauthored (1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; Philemon 1:1), even though Paul speaks in the first-person singular most of the time.” I would not agree with this because it seems Paul just politely mentioning his traveling friends and helpers - for certain important reasons, perhaps. You did not mention Galatians 1:1-2 where a whole team are surely not co-authors. In the end, we likely agree that every word and letter in the original autographs was directly inspired by the Holy Spirit, or, if not, we do not have assurance of absolute truth in everything the Bible says.

Lita Cosner responds:

No, Paul mentions “people who say hi” near the end of the letter. For instance: Romans is authored by Paul alone (1:1) and written down by Tertius (16:22), but much of chapter 16 is taken up with mentions of notable people who are with him. 1 Corinthians is by Paul and Sosthenes (1:1), but Aquila and Prisca are mentioned near the end as sending greetings (16:19). 2 Corinthians is by Paul and Timothy (1:1), yet ‘all the saints’ also say hi. Philippians is by Paul and Timothy, yet everyone says hi, particularly those in Caesar’s household (4:21). Colossians, by Paul and Timothy, but Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus who is called Justus say hi from among the Jews, and so do Epaphras, Luke, and Demas (4:10-14). This is enough to establish the pattern. “X says hi” goes at the end of the letter, the senders of the letter go at the beginning.

So what about Galatians? It’s the only letter that claims to be from “Paul and the brothers who are with me”—the others name people. Paul is likely indicating that this letter is not simply his personal opinion but is backed by the entire body of believers. Interestingly, the apostles and elders in Acts sent a letter from “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders”, when they wanted to repudiate the doctrines of the Judaizers (Acts 15:23), which is a direct parallel to the beginning of Galatians, for similar reasons. I hope this helps to clarify.

Leo W., U.S., submitted the following comment to the article Explaining resurrection details:

What about Mark 15:14 where it says Joseph of Arimathea moved the stone? If this were the case, anyone could steal the body. Also there was a whole day where there was no guard at all at the tomb. I get people say some things said in the Gospel accounts make them sound embarrassing, but it is as if the Gospel writers made so many holes, it causes problems, even with the Gospel as your source, they seem to have almost contradictions to what the text states. It says Jesus rose, yet they give so many possibilities even using the account on the possibility that He did not. Also the women at the tomb seeing Jesus first would not be embarrassing because in context, it was a norm for women to come to the tomb of dead people bringing spices. Not embarrassing, in fact it makes more sense. Of all people, it should have been the women because they closest to the actual event. So this should not be used to confirm the Bible because of embarrassing detail, but should just be taken as what would logically happen first if you were to write on one rising based off of the gender class and what the class did at that time.

Lita Cosner responds:

Mark 15:14 does not say anything at all about Joseph of Arimathea; Matthew 27:60 says that Joseph of Arimathea rolled a large stone in front of the tomb. However, just because a man, probably with help and before it was sealed with a Roman seal, could move the stone doesn’t mean that a group of women, after the stone had been sealed and with no man with them, wouldn’t worry about how they were going to get into the tomb. Do you really think that a guard would be set and the tomb sealed before making sure that the body was still there?

You don’t cite a contradiction; if you had I would have given it the same treatment I gave the proposed contradiction in the article; I would have shown how if you look at Scripture at its entirety, there are no contradictions, only differing details that when put together give a fuller picture.

Yes, if the resurrection actually happened we should not be surprised that women were the first to discover that Jesus was risen. But if this were made up, the prominent disciples would have been the first witnesses, because the testimony of females was not valued as much as males.

Leo W wrote further:

Sorry, I meant Matthew 27:60. I still wonder though that if Joseph had the ability to open the tomb at the time, why couldn’t others? Would not the idea that John the only apostle that did not go to his death was the one who took it? What if lesser known followers of Jesus took it? Also who says the Romans placed a seal on the tomb? Is that not an assumption? Many of these facts like the empty tomb are just givens like because the tomb is empty this rules out someone taking the body. Also Bart Ehrman who I really wish I could debate because I hold to a resurrection says that Romans could have run into disciples who stole the body of Jesus killing them and could not tell Jesus from the dead disciples and that Jesus’ body biodegraded within a few days and now we have a case. Ehrman says he does not believe this, but it is far less likely than Jesus rising from the dead. I am not trying to be a skeptic here because Indo believe, but I want to have answers to these tough questions which seem to not have good answers that I can find elsewhere.

Lita Cosner responds:

Leo, you can always make up a scenario of weird improbable events that no one in the 2,000 years since Jesus’ resurrection has thought of that might explain why the tomb could be empty. That’s not how historical investigations should be done, though. Jesus’ body was put in the tomb. The stone was rolled in front of the tomb. The stone was sealed and a guard was set. The Jews wanted to make sure Jesus’ body stayed in the tomb. The Roman guards were there to make sure Jesus’ body stayed in the tomb. Yet on the third day the body was gone. Mary Magdalene’s first thought was that someone had taken Him away. But she saw Jesus risen, and so did the other women, then so did the disciples. The risen Lord appeared to over 500 people at once, in history (1 Corinthians 15:6). Tradition states that 11 out of 12 apostles died for their testimony not because they had John’s testimony (which in your scenario would be the person who took the body)—they saw Jesus for themselves! Thomas said that he would not believe unless he saw and touched the wounds, and yet he was convinced.

Helpful Resources

From Creation to Salvation
by Lita Cosner
US $12.00
Christianity for Skeptics
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Readers’ comments

Peter C.
So the Romans killed them all but could not see the difference between a crucified body and other bodies killed from a military confrontation.......??? I don't think bands of Romans went through Judea just killing groups of people because they were carrying a dead body. Leo, this scenario is so illogical that no-one should waste more than 30 seconds on debunking it.
Mark G.
Thank you Lita. These sceptics make it sound like they have tough, unanswered questions. They leave the false impression that there are unanswered problems. Even when they are answered, they go to the next person claiming that tough questions go unanswered. I see this a lot. If answer to many questions come satisfactorily, as Lita just provided, they do not even acknowledge it but pump out another question. People who ask legitimate questions are happy to get answers and do not pump out more "yea, then what about this?" in an endless barrage. They are not ashamed at having a long line of unfounded doubts answered. Instead, they just bring up new ones (that have also already been answered). I call these people unbelievers. I doubt very much that new "tough questions" arise each month. It is the same questions that have been answered repeatedly. Very few are new doubts except in the case of very inventive skeptics. The next time someone claims that they have tough questions that have never been answered, check first. I think you will find that they have been answered not once or twice, but repeatedly. If the toughest questions you have get answered, don't fall back on the next toughest barrage. Admit instead that the worst doubts were baseless and it is time to believe. If you WANT to doubt, you will never be satisfied. Stop searching for more doubts. Stop doing the endless doubts game! It never ends and there is no winner. Listen to the Father and what He provided in inspired scripture. Listen to Jesus just as we are told to do. The Father is looking for those who believe Him, not those entertained with endless doubts. Thanks again Lita!
Jim M.
For Leo: Ok, let's say some lesser disciples or even John himself somehow found a way to take the body. This would mean that Jesus did not rise from the dead. But then what do we do with all the eye witness testimony, from John as well, claiming they saw the risen Savior? Did Jesus' disciples go against Jesus' clear teaching about bearing truthful witness and propagate a huge hoax on the whole world? Did all the eye witnesses see a ghost or a simultaneous dream or what? Did John spend his life spreading the Word of God which he knew to be a lie? Imagine keeping a secret like that from the other disciples while they gave their lives for a lie. You would think he would have felt a bit guilty when he saw others fall for his hoax and suffer for their faith in his lie. Sorry, your ideas just don' t make sense. Seems like you have a clear bias against the possibility of the resurrection so you are willing believe any weird illogical thing necessary to avoid having to believe it.
Lita, I do like your take on the Co-authorship of many/ all Paul's letters. I had personally never though of it, but being a research writer myself, I recognize the value of others sharing your ideas. Many of us have "fresh" ideas about a topic, and one of the first thing we want to do is share them with someone else to recognize IF we have made a logical error. I read a scientific paper yesterday with 30 coauthors from educational institutions all over the world. Yes, it was a very new and controversial idea about the origin of mascons on the moon. No, I do not think it is correct, but probably much closer than the last paper from another NASA group, with only a dozen coauthors. Thanx for your constant considered answered.
Deon B.
Thanks Lita.
Scripture leaves no doubt as far as the actual Resurrection of our Lord is concerned. No doubt about it - thanks dear Thomas. His return is the hope that every believer carries in his/her heart - may that be sooner rather than later.
Jimmy C.
The stone sealing the tomb would have been no more than 4-6 feet in size. The Bible says one of the angels sat on it. The entrance to the tomb was probably about 4 feet high and they had to squat to see inside of enter. The stone would be on a slight slope with probably a flat area at the top for the stone to rest prior to sealing. One person could start the stone rolling to deal the tomb, but it would more to roll the stone away back up the slope. The seal was probably wax with an impression on it so if the stone was rolled back enough the seal would be crushed. The impression we get from artists drawings or paintings is that from their perspective (artistic license) the stone appears to be about 8-10 feet in diameter. This is over kill as the tomb was prepared with the stone of a size that could be moved ( though not easily) in order to use for other family members bodies. That is why ossuraries were used to hold the bones after dessication of the body.
Dee M.
re: the questions on Jesus resurrection, and Joseph and the stone: I could imagine that tomb stones were created to easily roll in to place in front of the tomb, and be sealed in such a way that the stone won't roll away and seals the tomb entrance. In an area with earthquakes, tomb makers would want to make sure that the stone is secure once installed. While the seal would probably only be a wax seal, that would not have prevented movement of the stone if it could be moved. Also, Joseph, or anyone, would not have been able to move the stone due to the large amount of guards present. It wasn't until the guards were incapacitated by GOD himself, that the stone was moved without anyone noticing. Regarding the proof of the body being missing, would you have been willing to die for a lie? Would you have been willing to die, knowing that your other brothers have already gone under the sword and the Romans are not playing around. Also, recall, that the apostles did not believe he would rise. It wasn't until after he did, and after their infilling of the HOLY SPIRIT did they fully understand what Jesus had told them about his time on earth and his mission\duty\choice to die and rise in 3 Jewish days. There would have been no desire to take the body. Recall they were all downcast and depressed after Jesus was crucified and buried thinking all their hopes were in vain. And, if you believe in the resurrection, and the truth, then how could GOD allow a liar to help write the Bible. And if Jesus did not rise, then the whole of the Bible is a lie.
Christopher W.
"Joseph of Arimathea moved the stone" is no more improbable than "Hitler invaded Poland". Neither did it alone. Each statement simply declares who was responsible.
Peter A.
There is an Unbroken Manuscript Chain-of-Custody (UM-CoC) from the Apostles to the first printed Bibles, back by honest witnesses willing to be torched and die rather than lie. I think too often analysis is focused only on the text and not the many different diverse groups that spread out across Europe (and the world) that passed on this information, which made it to the first printing of the bibles in a method known as the Biblical Redundant Array of Independent Documents (B-RAID). Confusion on many matters primarily began in the 1800s when a series of events occurred which caused the abandonment of UM-CoC and B-RAID to begin. See the 1st and 2nd lecture sessions in the free peer-reviewed series called The Torchbearer Series.
Clifford R.
Ronald M from Ukraine, Phillip Shcaff church history volume 1 settles all authorship disputes. It is well worth the read; while your at it all 8 volumes are worth while, Sydney E. Ahlstrom professor at Yale divinity school and renown author of “A Religious History of the American People” said no persons church history library is complete without “Shaffs church history”.
Rodney P.
For further evidence of the authenticity of the Gospel stories, Google "Undesigned Coincidences". These instances will amaze and encourage you.
Lassi P.
Thank you for yet another well articulated article. It is notable that Matthew 27:60 does not say that Joseph had remowed the stone from the door of the grave. In fact, it says the opposite: that he rolled the stone to the entrance. This was easier, because the graves were designed to be shut with more ease than opened. Of course this means that someone did remove the stone to make sure the body was still in the tomb, when the guard was set. If they had not, they'd be quite unintelligent. So stealing the body at this point would'we be futile. At a later point in time it boils down to whether a poorly arranged group of ordinary people with no motive what so ever would really go and steal a body guarded by professional warriors and hide the body so that no one could find it without anybody being killed in the prosess. The missing motive is the elephant in the room. I find it a bit annoying for atheists to consieve the most imaginative scenarios on "how" of The Conspiracy without ever even attempting to answer the more central "why" of The Conspiracy.
Leo W.
The problem is that the answer was never truly addressed to my original question. If anyone can move the stone, then anyone could take the body. There is no saying whether that be John, but Scripture makes it clear that the stone was not even there for a full day in which a guard could have snuck by to move it elsewhere and the tomb could have been opened at any time even with the rock in place, so my question is how do you explain all this? The facts you present could have just been made up by writers who wanted to spread something like a fake Gospel in order to deceive people because there might have been an empty tomb. Who is to say the writers were truly the Apostles and that they were eyewitnesses, they could have been anyone, even people who just made up a complete fraud of a story to get the common people to believe.
Lita Cosner
Leo, like I said, you can come up with any weird sequence of events you want to get the stone moved. But no one in the long history of denying Christ's resurrection claimed that. And the Roman guard was used to guarding things, and wouldn't just let someone past. Then you also have the eyewitness accounts to deal with of the people who saw the risen Christ.
Jaroslav L.
I think that in Matthew 27:65 it is clarified that not Roman but Jewish guards were involved in guarding the grave. Pharisees asked Pilate but Pilate said you have your own guards ... which seems to be smart from Pilate because he probably wanted to avoid any possible accusations either from Pharisees or from Jewish people that might arise in the future. When Pharisees’ soldiers were guarding the grave it was sure that Pilate is out of the possible problem and Pharisees were expected to be very dutiful in guarding the grave. If somebody would like to open the grave the Jewish guards would deter them or even kill. If Jesus would get out somehow, they would kill Him.
Dee M.
Leo added: "but Scripture makes it clear that the stone was not even there for a full day in which a guard could have snuck by to move it elsewhere ...". A Roman guard, made up of a number of soldiers, would not have moved the body of a crucified Jew. They would have been told to guard the tomb to see that no one touched the body by their Legion Commander. This order came down from Pilate. The various guards present would not have violated that order, nor allowed a member of the guard to violate that order.

Leo added: "....and the tomb could have been opened at any time even with the rock in place". I am not able to comprehend this statement. How could you open a tomb with the tomb seal in place? It is possible to chisel out another access hole, but I'd imagine that process would take longer than 3 days. And am sure, that during those 3 days the guards were assigned, they might have had a problem with someone trying to chisel their way in to the tomb.

I understand that you are trying to make logical sense of the events around the resurrection, but if you can't believe this aspect of the story, then how can you believe the virgin birth? Or creation itself? Do you even believe Jesus walked on water?

The Bible is written from a collection of eye-witness accounts to events that took place at the time, or a short time beforehand, but verifiable by those who lived through it. Ever wonder why there is NO debate of these incidents at all until a thousand years later?
Jordan C.
Jesus was a high profile person, executed by order of Pilate charged with “King of the Jews” and an enemy of the Jewish leaders who were afraid of an uprising movement would not be so easily at rest with an unguarded tomb, so a Roman seal and guard does make sense. But for the sake of argument, let’s just say that "someone" stole the body, well they'd obviously be at risk of a torturous and humiliating death by the Romans if caught.
The "stolen body" excuse noted in Matthew 28:11-15 by the Jewish elders is a tacit admission that the tomb was indeed empty and a problem for the Jewish leaders. If the apostles made this up, they are accusing some powerful Jewish authorities of lying. They had Jesus killed, they could be next.
But how would you explain the resurrection appearances (individually and collectively) of the apostles, and the 500(who were still alive and could have been questioned and cross-examined by skeptics) noted in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 which is early attested by historians and dating back to within a few years of the cross, what about Paul's Damascus experience and conversion(Paul's letters which are also early attested 50-60AD)? What about the historical data that note the followers of Christ were tortured and killed for what saw, people don’t die for a lie they made up. The stolen body hypothesis isn't convincing at all.
Philippus S.
By the Bible we will be judged, that is Gods word and that is where He gave His commandments., His salvation and the truth about it. Jesus Himself said:
Mat 16:24-28  Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. 

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