The Reliability of the Bible By Jimmy KinnairdI think that every argument that we may have come at us who believe in Christ finds itself, in the end, attacking the reliability of the Bible. Other religions have their books of authority. How do they stack up to the Bible? I just had a conversation with a certain Elder Robinson. He is a Mormon missionary from Idaho Falls, Idaho. I was up in his hometown two years ago doing what he is trying to accomplish here in Oklahoma City. He believes that he is right.
Why? He believes he is right because of revelation and experience. How can we know that the book of Mormon is true? How can we know that the Bible is true? One thing is for certain. They both cannot be true for they each teach quite a different view of God. Then there are those who claim that there is no God. They obviously have a problem with the credibility of the Bible. After all, what they say cannot be true and the Bible still be reliable.
But if the Bible is reliable, then what the atheists or even agnostics say cannot be true. Webster gave a very simple definition of reliability. It simply means “dependable” or “trustworthy” (Webster, 385).
James Kennedy, Senior Pastor of the historic Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church has written on the unique nature of the Bible. He stated that: The Bible was written over a period of more than 1600 years by forty different human writers. There are sixty-six separate volumes contained in the Bible that are written in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic languages. What is also amazing is that with such diversity, each of the sixty-six books contain structural, historical, prophetic, doctrinal, and spiritual unity and after more than 1900 years has not needed updating or correcting. The human writers of the Bible come from a variety of backgrounds. Moses was a well-educated political leader.
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Joshua was a military general. Solomon was a king. Daniel was a Prime Minister. Nehemiah was a cupbearer.
Amos was a herdsman. Matthew was a tax collector. Simon Peter was a fisherman. Paul was a rabbi. What is amazing is that even though these people come from a variety of backgrounds, time spans cultures and languages they all agree on such important eternal issues. The only satisfactory explanation for this is that the Bible was penned by human writers but its author is God.
(Kennedy, 23-24) This diversity yet unity is one of Kennedy’s reasons for the unique nature of the Bible. Because a variety of people over a long period of time agree on issues that could be contested so easily is certainly impressive. Some may ask, “But did these people really write these words and did they mean them they way they are interpreted? This will be dealt with later in this paper. For now, the answer is an unqualified “yes.” This kind of unity in itself can be called a miracle. But there were other most unusual events surrounding the formation of the Scriptures we know today as the Bible. There are the authenticating miracles recorded in Scripture.
These cannot be easily written off as the product of a prescientific era. There is a restrained character to biblical miracles that distinguishes them from other ancient sources. They occur, as C. S. Lewis reminds us in “Miracles”, not randomly, but cluster around critical points in divine revelation. Where miracle is the order of the day, it loses any leverage as a means of verification.
It is rather when the miraculous appears in some meaningful context or another that we are impressed by its relevance. Such is the persistent and obvious pattern of the biblical account’ (Inch, 96-97) Thus the activity of the miraculous, which is presented at certain points in the formation of the scriptures points to the Bible as a most unusual book that deserves closer scrutiny. Reliability of the New Testament. C. Sproul wrote of the importance of the reliability of the New Testament.’ If the Biblical documents are not at least basically trustworthy then we have no historical basis for knowledge of Jesus at all.
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Without a reliable historical witness to Jesus the Christian faith would be reduced to an esoteric-gnostic religion’ (Sproul, 249).
It would be reduce Jesus to simply personal opinion. There are several tests of bibliographic data that can be performed to verify if a document is trustworthy. One of these is called the internal evidence test. The Internal Evidence Test Perhaps the strongest argument that the Bible is the Word of God is the testimony of Jesus. Even non-Christians believe he was a good teacher.
Jesus affirmed the Old Testament to be the Word of God and promised to guide his disciples to know all truth. Jesus accepted the Bible as not only authoritative, but as the very words of God. We also have abundance of scripture that bears testimony of itself as the word of God and as such, being reliable. For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty (2 Peter 1: 16, NKJV).
That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3, NKJV).
Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus (Luke 1: 1-3, NKJV).
While the record of scripture bears a unity within itself, that does not mean that the events that transpired really happened. What it does say is that they all have the same story. The question could be posed, “Could not there have been a conspiracy to makeup a story?” Don Bierle’s response to this is very interesting. The early dating of the New Testament documents within 20-30 years after Jesus’ death made the theory of legends untenable.
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As [F. F. ] Bruce says, The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracies (not to speak of willful manipulation of the facts), which would at once be exposed by those who would be only too glad to do so.” No legend is known to have developed within the same generation as the events and persons themselves (Bierle, 42).
Bierle further adds the incredible obstacles in fabricating a history during the lifetime of the original witnesses. The gospel accounts of the words and deeds of Jesus were being preached within fifty days and had limited circulation in written form within twenty-five years after his death and resurrection.
Imagine the difficulties today of trying to publish a totally fabricated biography of former president John F. Kennedy. In this account JFK is depicted as walking on water, healing the sick in front of crowds, raising the dead, and feeding 5000 people with five barley loaves and two fish. Following his death he was said to be resurrected as he ascended to heaven before over 500 eyewitnesses.
As a result, a massive religious movement has begun with which JFK is worshipped (Bierle, 41-42).
The only way that this fabricated biography would come close to being accepted would be by none of the people living at the time to see or hear about the biography or that the people who knew JFK were all dead. The same situation is true for Peter’s proclamation of Jesus on Pentecost. 3, 000 responded in faith and repentance. Hardly a showing of skeptical doubts just 50 days after his crucifixion and resurrection. The very place where all of the events happened to Jesus was the very place that he was first declared risen from the dead.
Eight Tests of Eyewitness Evidence In Lee Strobel’s book, “The Case for Christ,” he interviewed noted New Testament scholar Dr. Craig Blomberg, Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary. Blomberg answered eight key questions on reliability of the evidences of the New Testament. In this he gave eight tests for verifying reliability. 1.
Was the stated or intended intention of the writers accurately preserved? A follow-up question is, ‘Were these first century writers really trying to write down accurately what happened? Craig Blomberg gives an emphatic ‘yes” (Strobel, 44).
Luke’s gospel and Acts begins with These words ” Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed (Luke 1: 1-4, NKJV).
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2. How well could the material in the gospels be preserved orally for thirty years before it was finally written down in the gospels? Blomberg states: ‘This was an oral culture, in which there was great emphasis placed on memorization.
And remember that eighty to ninety percent of Jesus’ words were originally in poetic form. This doesn’t mean stuff that rhymes, but it has a meter, balanced lines, parallelism, and so forth-and this would have created a great memory help. The other thing that needs to be said is that the definition of memorization was more flexible back then. In studies of cultures with oral traditions, there was freedom to vary how much of the story was told on any given occasion-what was included, what was left out, what was paraphrased, what was explained, and so forth. (Strobel, 45) What Blomberg states is that it was very probable that the New Testament story of Christ was preserved in a form especially suited for faithful oral transmission.
He then goes on to say: One study suggested that in the ancient Middle East, anywhere from ten to forty percent of any given retelling of sacred tradition could vary from one occasion to the next. However, there were always fixed points that were unalterable, and the community had the right to intervene and correct the storyteller if he erred on those important aspects of the story. (Strobel, 43) What is important to note is the community kept the checks and balances. Blomberg says that the synoptic are consistent with the ten to forty percent variations in the telling of the story (Strobel, 43).
3. Was there any evidence of dishonesty or immorality that would discredit their ability to correctly transmit what really happened historically? Blomberg stated: ‘We see them reporting the words and actions of a man who called them to as exacting a level of integrity as any religion has ever known.
They were willing to live out their beliefs even to the point of ten of the eleven remaining disciples being put to grisly deaths, which shows great character’ (Strobel, 45) 4. Are the New Testament documents internally free from internal contradictions? There has been accusation that the gospels are hopelessly contradictory. Scholars agree that there are many apparent contradictions. Blomberg states: ‘My own conviction is, once you allow for the elements I’ve talked about earlier-of paraphrase, of abridgment, of explanatory additions, of selection, of omission-the gospels are extremely consistent with each other by ancient standards, which are the only standards by which it’s fair to judge them’ (Strobel, 45).
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We must remember that if the gospels were too consistent with one another, that would invalidate them as independent witnesses (Strobel, 45).
Were the writers biased to reporting inaccurately? This test analyzes whether the gospel writers had any biases that would have colored their work (Strobel, 48).
Blomberg said, ‘These disciples had nothing to gain except criticism, ostracism, and martyrdom. They certainly had nothing to win financially. If anything, this would have provided pressure to keep quiet, to deny Jesus, to downplay him, even to forget they ever met him-yet because of their integrity, they proclaimed what they saw, even when it meant suffering and death’ (Strobel, 48).
The easiest thing to do would have been to accommodate. 6. ‘When the gospels mention people, places, and events, do they check out to be correct in cases in which they can be independently verified?’ (Strobel, 50).
‘Yes, they do, and the longer people explore this, the more the details get confirmed,’ Blomberg replied. ‘Within the last hundred years archeology has repeatedly unearthed discoveries that have confirmed specific references in the gospels, particularly the gospel of John-ironically, the one that’s supposedly so suspect!’ (Strobel, 50).
Archeology is examined in greater depth later.
7. “When the gospels mention people, places, and events, do they check out to be correct in cases in which they can be independently verified?” (Strobel, 50).
Blomberg stated that the more archeology we find in the Bible lands, the more the historical accuracy is verified. Blomberg further stated, “Within the last hundred years archaeology has repeatedly unearthed discoveries that have confirmed specific references in the gospels, particularly the gospel of John-Ironically, the one that’s supposedly so suspect!” (Strobel, 50).
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Through these non-Christian resources we see the verification of the historical setting as posted by the Bible. 8.
‘Were there others present who would have contradicted or corrected the gospels if they had been distorted or false?’ (Strobel, 51).
One must remember that many people could have had reasons for discrediting the Christian movement. ‘In later Jewish writings Jesus is called a sorcerer who led Israel astray-which acknowledges that he really did work marvelous wonders, although the writers dispute the source of his power’ (Strobel, 51).
These would have been effective in discrediting him if they had done a better job of it. Instead they did not deny his miraculous powers, they just denied that his power came from God.
Strobel asked Blomberg, ‘Could this Christian movement have taken root right there in Jerusalem-in the very area where Jesus had done much of his ministry, had been crucified, buried, and resurrected-if people who knew him were aware that the disciples were exaggerating or distorting the things that he did?’ (Strobel, 51).
‘I don’t believe so,’ Blomberg replied. ‘We have a picture of what was initially a very vulnerable and fragile movement that was being subjected to persecution. If critics could have attacked it on the basis that it was full of falsehoods or distortions, they would have. ‘But,’ he emphasized in conclusion, ‘that’s exactly what we don’t see’ (Strobel, 51).
The attacks are not on the veracity of his miracles or even the resurrection, but on the character and source of power.
The Bibliographical Test of the New Testament The bibliographical test is one that examines the reliable transmission of the documents. The question that is asked is: “Are the copies faithful to the original?” What we are establishing here is the historical reliability through historiography of the Scripture, not its inspiration. C. Sanders, in Introduction to Research in English Literary History, lists and explains the three basic principles of historiography. These are the bibliographical test, the internal evidence test, and the external evidence test (McDowell, 33).
To illustrate the importance of the bibliographical, imagine this scenario by Don Bierle: There is a well-known work written about 50 BC entitled ‘Ceasar’s War Commentaries.’ They are the personal memoirs of Julius Ceasar’s brilliant military campaigns.
Let us suppose shortly after they were written that a friend of Caesar was visiting the palace, noted the work, and requested a copy for his own library. Caesar granted his request, but there was no Xerox machine in his office. Instead, the friend needed to send for a trained copyist who would labor for days to hand write every letter, word, and sentence. Would the copy be exactly like Caesar’s original? That is unlikely. Now a person visits the home of Caesar’s friend, notes his copy, and secures permission to have his copyist come in to make a second-generation copy for himself.
Will it be exactly like the first generation copy? That is also unlikely. Furthermore, it is even less like Caesar’s original. To the extent that changes occur in the copies, that is the extent to which they lack authenticity. So far the changes are probably minor, but multiply that scenario by hundreds of generations over centuries of time. The authenticity is certain to degenerate.
by the time we reach the fifteenth century and put it on the printing press, only a shadow of Caesar’s original writing may remain’ (Bierle, 29).
The logical thing to do would be to go to Caesar’s original, but that no longer exists. The same is true of every other ancient document, including the New Testament writings. Because of this, we must work with whatever copies have been found. This is the reason for developing some guidelines to determine to what degree the document is authentic (Bierle, 29).
An abundance of manuscripts will help determine the accuracy of the transmission.
The New Testament is unique in that it has more manuscripts that any other document of antiquity. There are now more than 5, 686 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Add over 10, 000 Latin Vulgate and at least 9, 300 other early versions (MSS), and we have close to, if not more than, 25, 000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today. No other document of antiquity even begins to approach such numbers and attestation. In comparison, Homer’s ‘Iliad’ is second, with only 643 manuscripts that still survive. The first complete preserved text of Home dates from the thirteenth century.
(McDowell, 34) The New Testament clearly outshines the next earliest document by a millennium. Bierle expands on the importance of the large numbers of manuscripts noted earlier. The more abundant the number of ancient copies that are found, the better. Even if there are variant readings, a large number of copies allows comparison and correlation in order to reproduce the original.
Furthermore, a large number of manuscripts over the centuries minimize the possibility that a little band of people created the documents ‘behind closed doors’, so to speak. A large number of copies means broader public exposure and greater accountability to integrity (Bierle, 29-30).
When there are more manuscripts, that means that a better correlation can be found, bringing it closer to the original, but also it indicates that these copies were also known in various public arenas. On a purely bibliographical examination, if the New Testament documents are not deemed reliable, then no ancient documents can be deemed reliable. ‘John Warwick Montgomery says that ‘to be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament.’ ‘ (McDowell, 35).
Sir Fredrick G.
Kenyon served as the director for the British Museum and was second to none in authority on manuscripts (MSS).
He wrote: The interval between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established (McDowell, 35).
This should leave no room for doubt in the historicity of the New Testament.
Archaeologist W. F. Albright confidently informed: No other work from Greco-Roman antiquity is so well attested by manuscript tradition as the New Testament. There are many more early manuscripts of the New testament than there are of any classical author, and the oldest extensive remains of it date only about two centuries after their original composition (McDowell, 36).
The New Testament is much closer to the originals in its copies than other documents of antiquity. In comparison to other documents of antiquity, Metzger wrote: The textual critic of the New Testament is embarrassed by the wealth of his material. Furthermore, the work of many an ancient author has been preserved only in manuscripts which date from the Middle Ages (sometimes the late Middle Ages), far removed form the time at which he lived and wrote. On the contrary, the time between the composition of the books of the New Testament and the earliest extant copies is relatively brief. Instead of the laps of a millennium or more, as is the case of not a few classical authors, several papyrus manuscripts of portions of the New Testament are extant which were copied within a century or so after the composition of the original documents (Metzger, 34-35).
This gives the New Testament an advantage of a thousand years or more in most cases.
Ravi Zacharias added: In real terms, the New Testament is easily the best-attested ancient writing in terms of the sheer number of documents, the time span between the events and the document, and the variety of documents available to sustain or contradict it. There is nothing in ancient manuscript evidence to match such textual availability and integrity (Zacharias, 162).
The New Testament beats every other document of antiquity in the bibliographical test. Bierle gave us a direct comparison of the scriptures to a comparable document of the times. Dr. Metzger reported that 746 lines of the ‘Iliad’ were corrupted, a distortion rate of about 5%.
Said another way, the meaning of one out of every twenty lines is uncertain. Which Iliad do we read in literature class? Who decided which manuscript was correct? Yet, it is probably rare that an instructor would caution students about the authenticity of the Iliad when it is assigned or discussed. The authenticity is assumed. The data for the New Testament is incredible.
Only 40 lines of 1/5 or 1% (0. 2%), are distorted. This is twenty-five times more accurately copied than the Iliad, which is considered good. Besides, F.
F. Bruce has said that the variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual critics of the New Testament affect no material question of historic fact of Christian faith and practice (Bierle, 34-35).
With these kinds of numbers, one can have assurance of the reliability of the Bible in comparison with other world literature. The question of whether the Bible we hold in our hands today is the same as the original is also germane to all ancient works that have been handed down to us. Bruce Metzger said, ‘What the New Testament has in its favor, especially when compared with other ancient writings, is the unprecedented multiplicity of copies that have survived’ (Strobel, 59).
Metzger further stated: The more often you have copies agreeing with each other, especially if they emerge from different geographical areas, the more you can crosscheck them to figure out what the original document was like.
The only way they’d agree would be where they went back genealogically in a family tree that represents the descent of the manuscripts. In addition to Greek manuscripts, we also have translations of the gospels into other languages at a relatively early time-into Latin, Syriac, and Coptic. And beyond that, we have what may be called secondary translations made a little later, like Armenian and Gothic. And a lot of others-Georgian, Ethiopic, a great variety (Strobel, 59).
These copies, in all of these languages are also found in many different geographical parts of the ancient world and some are written close to the time of the original documents. Metzger said, “We have copies commencing within a couple of generations from the writing of the originals, whereas in the case of other ancient texts, maybe five, eight, or ten centuries lapsed between the original and the earliest surviving copy’ (Strobel, 59).
The wealth of quotations from the New Testament books in sermons and other literature from the early church father and their disciples is also extensive and gives another valuable historical verification. “The textual critic has available the numerous scriptural quotations included in the commentaries, sermons, and other treatises written by early Church Fathers. Indeed, so extensive are these citations that if all other sources for our knowledge of the text of the New Testament were destroyed, they would be sufficient alone for the reconstruction of practically the entire New Testament’ (Metzger, 86).
This fact is often overlooked by critics of the New Testament.
Often the question comes up as to how certain books made it into the Bible. Basically the early church had three criteria,’ Metzger said, ‘First, the books must have apostolic authority-that is, they must have been written either by apostles themselves, who were eyewitnesses to what they wrote about, or by followers of apostles. Second, there was the criterion of conformity to what was called the rule of faith. That is, was the document congruent with the basic Christian tradition that the church recognized as normative? And third, there was the criterion of whether a document had had continuous acceptance and usage by the church at large (Strobel, 66).
This process did not occur immediately, but as the need arose in the church for a definitive authority, these criteria emerged. The acceptance of the Old Testament was recognized from the beginning.
The protestant Church accepts identically the same Old Testament books as the Jews had, and as Jesus and the apostles accepted. The Roman Catholic Church, since the Council of Trent in 1546, includes the books of the Apocrypha. By the time of the Christian era the term ‘Scripture’ had come to mean a fixed body of divinely inspired writings that were fully recognized as authoritative (Little, 81-82).
Thus now the conclusion can be reached based on internal and textual evidence that the New Testament was faithfully transmitted down through time.
External Test: Evidence outside the New Testament Dr. Gleason Archer, who taught for over thirty years at the graduate seminary level in biblical criticism has an impeccable background. As a classics major at Harvard he received training in Latin and Greek, French and German. At Seminary he majored in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic; and in post-graduate years he studied and taught courses in Syriac and Akkadian. He also acquired a special interest in Middle Kingdom Egyptian studies which he later taught classes in the Eighteenth Dynasty historical records at the Oriental Institute in Chicago. Dr.
Archer was also admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1939. This gave him a thorough grounding in the field of legal evidences (McDowell, 45-46).
This quote is from the forward in Archer’s book: ‘Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties ” As I have dealt with one apparent discrepancy after another and have studied the alleged contradictions between the biblical record and the evidence of linguistics, archaeology, and science, my confidence in the trustworthiness of Scripture has been repeatedly verified and by the discovery that almost every problem in Scripture that has ever been discovered by man, from ancient times until now, has been dealt with in a completely satisfactory manner by the biblical text itself-or else by objective archaeological information (McDowell, 46).
In Dr. Archer’s opinion, every Bible discrepancy is just an apparent discrepancy until further facts are in. Authorship and Dating Lee Strobel asked Craig L.
Blomberg, ‘Tell me this, is it really possible to be an intelligent, critically thinking person and still believe that the four gospels were written by the people whose names nave been attached to them?’ (Strobel, 22).’ The answer is yes, ‘ Blomberg said with conviction. ‘The uniform testimony of the early church was that Matthew, also known as Levi, the tax collector and one of the twelve disciples, was the author of the first gospel in the New Testament; that John Mark, a companion of Peter, was the author of the gospel we call Mark; and that Luke, known as Paul’s ‘beloved physician,’ wrote both the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles’ (Strobel, 22).
‘There are no known competitors for these three gospels,’ He said. ‘Apparently, it was just not in dispute’ (Strobel, 23).
There are testimonies from those who knew some of the disciples or their disciples. The oldest and most significant testimony comes from Papias about A.
D. 125. He specifically confirmed that Mark had ‘made no mistake’ and did not include ‘any false statement.’ He also concluded that Matthew had preserved the teachings of Christ as well (Strobel, 24).
Later about AD 180, Irenaeus confirmed the traditional authorship. ‘Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.
Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia” (Against Heresies).
Here, Irenaeus’ testimony also attributes to Paul’s work as does the Book of Acts written by Luke. Eusebius wrote the following of the Gospel of Mark: And so greatly did the splendor of piety illumine the minds of Peter’s hearers that they were not satisfied with hearing once only, and were not content with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, a follower of Peter, and the one whose Gospel is extant, that he would leave them a written monument of the doctrine which had been orally communicated to them.
Nor did they cease until they had prevailed with the man, and had thus become the occasion of the written Gospel which bears the name of Mark. And they say that Peter when he had learned, through a revelation of the Spirit, of that which had been done, was pleased with the zeal of the men, and that the work obtained the sanction of his authority for the purpose of being used in the churches. Clement in the eighth book of his Hypotyposes gives this account, and with him agrees the bishop of Hierapolis named Papias.’ (Eusebius, 196).
Here we have several references to testimonials of the authorship of Mark’s gospel. One thing that must be remembered in studying the authorship and dating of the New Testament is that these works were not written long after the events themselves. This is important for primary documentary source study.
‘The books of the New Testament were not written down a century or more after the events they described, but during the lifetimes of those involved in the accounts themselves. Therefore, the New Testament must be regarded by scholars today as a competent primary source document from the first century’ (McDowell, 52).
Irenaeus wrote that even the critics of Christianity in the first centuries did not deny the authentic authorship of the gospels. ‘So firm is the ground upon which these Gospels rest, that the very heretics themselves bear witness to them, and, starting from these [documents], each one of them endeavors to establish his own peculiar doctrine’ (Against Heresies).
Of all the attacks on Christianity, one would have thought that if there were even a hint of doubt concerning the dating and authorship of the New Testament, that would have come out. It did not. Evidence from Secular Sources Secular sources out side of the followers of Christ are almost unheard of to most people. Many would be fascinated to know that there is great documentation in antiquity concerning the person of Christ and of the early church.
One such important source was the Jewish historian, Josephus. Josephus was a very important Jewish historian of the first century. He was born in AD 37, and he wrote most of his four works toward the end of the first century. He was a priest, a Pharisee, and he was somewhat egotistical.
His most ambitious work was called ‘The Antiquities’, which was a history of the Jewish people from Creation until his time. He probably completed it in about AD 93. In ‘The Antiquities’ he describes how a high priest named Ananias took advantage of the death of the Roman governor Festus-who is also mentioned in the New Testament-in order to have James killed.’ (Strobel, 77-78).
Josephus was in a unique position to chronicle the spread of early Christianity as it interacted with Judaism. In speaking of Ananias, Josephus wrote of how he tried to destroy the fledgling church.’ Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned’ (Josephus, 1251).
Concerning Jesus, Josephus wrote: Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure.
He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day (Josephus, 1122).
What Josephus wrote is entirely consistent with the testimony of the church in the gospels and Acts. Edwin Yamauchi said, ‘Tacitus recorded what is probably the most important reference to Jesus outside the New Testament. In AD 115 he explicitly states that Nero persecuted the Christians as scapegoats to divert suspicion away from himself for the great fire that had devastated Rome in AD 64’ (Strobel, 82).
Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.
Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome… Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty. Then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind (Annals, 15. 44).
Here we have from a Roman historian the account of the persecution of Christians by Rome, but also the acknowledgment of Pontius Pilate’s decision to crucify Jesus Christ. This is what is meant by “the extreme penalty.” One Jewish and one Roman historian are examples of evidence from secular sources of that day of the trustworthiness of the New Testament.
Archeological Evidence If the Bible is to be reliable, there would certainly be some kind of archeological data to back up the geographic locations and the customs of the people of that day. John McRay is Professor of New Testament and Archeology at Wheaton College. As to the contribution of archeology he stated: Archeology has made some important contributions, but it certainly can’t prove whether the New Testament is the Word of God. If we dig in Israel and find ancient sites that are consistent with where the Bible said we’d find them, that shows that its history and geography are accurate. However, it doesn’t confirm that what Jesus Christ said is right.
Spiritual truths cannot be proved or disproved by archeological discoveries… “Archeology has not produced anything that is unequivocally a contradiction to the Bible,’ McRay replied with confidence. ‘On the contrary, as we ” ve seen, there have been many opinions of skeptical scholars that have become codified into ‘fact’ over the years but that archaeology has shown to be wrong’ (Strobel, 95, 100).
The archeology should be collaborative evidence with the written documents.
If the customs, dress and rituals included in the text checks out with the archeological evidence then we can have greater confidence in the text. Archeology has collaborated that the background of the New Testament will not fit any other time period than the first century. F. F. Bruce wrote, ‘For the most part the service which archaeology has rendered to New Testament studies is the filling in of the contemporary background, against which we can read the record with enhanced comprehension and appreciation. And this background is a first-century background.
The New Testament narrative just will not fit into a second century background’ (McDowell, 62).
The archeological evidence has also validated conservative biblical scholarship. The book of Daniel is but one example. For years, critics dismissed the book of Daniel, partly because there was no evidence that a king named Belshazzar ruled in Babylon during that period.
Later archaeological research, however, confirmed that the reigning monarch, Nabonidus, appointed Belshazzar as his co regent while he was waging war away from Babylon’ (Hanegraaff, 130).
Once again the Bible is confirmed over its critics. An example of further archeology giving evidence for the reliability of the New Testament is found in Luke’s gospel. In Luke 3: 1 he refers to Lysanias being the tetrarch of Abilene in about AD 27. For years scholars pointed to this as evidence that Luke didn’t know what he was talking about, since everybody knew that Lysanias was not a tetrarch but rather the ruler of Chalcis half a century earlier. If Luke can’t get that basic fact right, they suggested, nothing he has written can be trusted.
That’s when archaeology stepped in. “An inscription was later found from the time of Tiberius, from AD 14 to 37, which names Lysanias as tetrarch in Abil a near Damascus-just as Luke had written,” McRay explained. “It turned out there had been two government officials named Lysanias!’ (Strobel, 97).
Luke was shown to be exactly right.
Another example is also found in Luke’s reference to city magistrates. During the apostle Paul’s second missionary journey he visited the city of Thessalonica. Luke refers to the city magistrates there by the term ‘Politarchs’ (Acts 17: 16).
The problem is that this title does not occur anywhere in other literature, and it was assumed that Luke coined the term because he did not have first-hand knowledge of the area. Obviously this was an alleged example of the New Testament’s sloppy history. But beginning with William Ramsay in the late 19 th century, at least nineteen inscriptions have been found by archaeologists, which cite ‘Politarchs’ as the correct title of magistrates in Macedonian towns.
Luke was historically right (Bierle, 38).
Luke again has shown that the critics wrong when more evidence was found. Don Bierle sums up very well what archaeology has done for confidence in the New Testament documents. Nearly everything that I have read over the years in the field of archaeology seems to confirm the trustworthiness of biblical statements. The census referred to by Luke which took Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem to be registered is now known to be something the Roman Empire did every fourteen years beginning with Augustus, and can be reconciled with the biblical date of their journey (Bierle, 39).
The New Testament has been able to withstand every turn of the shovel that archaeology has brought. Not only has it withstood it, but has gloried in it. It has been vindicated by some of its most severe critics. Having done a careful study concerning the reliability of the New Testament, I now turn and examine documents much older in scope, those of the Old Testament. In this part of the paper I will look at the Old Testament in its transmission, archaeology, history, testimony of Christ, and its fulfillment of prophecy. Reliability of the Old Testament Transmission of the Old Testament Eyewitnesses wrote much of the Old Testament and greater manuscript support than any other document of antiquity.
The Bible has stronger manuscript support than any other work of classical literature, including those of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, and Tacitus. The reliability of Scripture is also confirmed through the eyewitness credentials of the authors. Moses, for example, participated in and was an eyewitness to the remarkable events of the Egyptian captivity, the exodus, the forty years in the desert, and Israel’s final encampment before entering the Promised Land, all of which are accurately chronicled in the Old Testament (Hanegraaff, 129-30).
All of the above works of classical literature do not come even close to the Old Testament in its transmission.
A dismissal of the Old Testament would mean an immediate dismissal of all classical works on the same basis. The form that the Old Testament takes today was given to us by a group of Jewish scholars called Masoretes, who lived between 500 and 900 AD. F. F. Bruce stated: The Masoretes were well disciplined and treated the text with the greatest imaginable reverence, and devised a complicated system of safeguards against scribal slips.
They counted, for example, the number of times each letter of the alphabet occurs in each book; they pointed out the middle letter of the Pentateuch and the middle letter of the whole Hebrew Bible, and made even more detailed calculations than these. The scribes could tell if one consonant was left out of say the entire book of Isaiah or the entire Hebrew Bible. They built in so many safeguards that they knew when they finished that they had an exact copy (McDowell, 75-76).
These scholars took the most exacting precautions to preserve what they believed to be the very words of God. The regulations or rules that all official copies of the Old Testament were made are impressive. I quote extensively from what Harry Ropp discovered on the diligence of Old Testament transmission.
Samuel Davidson describes how the Talmudist went about making a copy of the Old Testament text. The minute regulations were as follows: (1) A synagogue roll must be written on the skins of clean animals, (2) prepared for particular use of the synagogue by a Jew. (3) These must be fastened together with strings taken from clean animals. (4) Every skin must contain a certain number of columns, equal throughout the entire codex. (5) The length of each column must not extend over less than 48 or more than 60 lines; and the breadth must consist of thirty letters.
(6) The whole copy must be first lined; and if three words be written without a line, it is worthless. (7) The ink should be black, neither red, green, nor any other colour, and be prepared according to a definite recipe. (8) An authentic copy must be the exemplar, from which the transcriber ought not in the least deviate. (9) No word or letter, not even a yod, must be written from memory, the scribe not having looked at the codex before him… (10) Between every consonant the space of a hair or thread must intervene. (11) Between every new paragraph, or section, the breadth of nine consonants; (12) between every book, three lines.
(13) The fifth book of Moses must terminate exactly with a line; but the rest need not do so. (14) Besides this, the copyist must sit in full Jewish dress, (15) wash his whole body, (16) not begin to write the name of God with a pen newly dipped in ink, (17) and should a king address him while writing that name he must take no notice of him. Rolls that did not measure up to the standards were destroyed (Ropp, 88-89).
With all of these precautions in place, It is easy to see how the text of the Old Testament was preserved so accurately. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls testifies to that fact. ‘With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, scholars have Hebrew manuscripts dated one thousand years earlier than the great Masoretic Text manuscripts, enabling them to check the fidelity of the Hebrew text.
There is a word-for-word identity in more than 95 percent of the cases, and the 5-percent variation consists mostly of slips of the pen and spelling’ (McDowell, 90).
It is important to know the value of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The first pieces were discovered in 1946 when a shepherd boy threw a rock into a cave near the Dead Sea and heard a jar break. This led to a series of excavations that uncovered one of the richest biblical manuscript finds ever…
The Dead Sea Scrolls contain portions of every Old Testament book except Ester. Until the discovery of these manuscripts, the oldest Old Testament manuscript in existence dated from around AD 900. The Dead Sea Scrolls were produced between 200 BC and AD 68. That means the Dead Sea Scrolls are from 900 to 1, 100 years older than the oldest previously existing manuscript (Ropp, 87-88).
These scrolls have been one of the most important manuscript finds to date. This showed the accuracy of the transmission of the Old Testament. An example of the accuracy of transmission is given from the book of Isaiah. Consider how the Masoretic text of Isaiah 53 (produced in AD 916 and used in making most English translations) compares with Isaiah 53 in a portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls (dated 125 BC): Of the 166 words in Isaiah 53, there are only seventeen letters in question. Ten of these letters are simply a matter of spelling, which does not affect the sense. Four more letters are minor stylistic changes, such as conjunctions.
The remaining three letters comprise the word ‘light,’ which is added in verse 11, and does not affect the meaning greatly… Thus, in one chapter of 166 words, there is only one word (three letters) in question after a thousand years of transmission and this word does not significantly change the meaning of the passage. (Ropp, 88).
The passage on the “suffering servant” in Isaiah has only three letters, which are truly in question, after over 1, 000 years of copying.
And these letters do not affect the meaning of the text. The conclusion that comes is that the Old Testament was faithfully transmitted in the copies, right down to today from the original. Archeology and History The value of archeology has already been explained in the section of the paper on the New Testament. However it is worth noting again the value of archeology as it relates to the reliability of the scriptures. Millard Burrows of Yale recognized the value of archaeology in confirming the reliability of the scriptures: The Bible is supported by archaeological evidence again and again. On the whole, there can be no question that the results of excavation have increased the respect of scholars for the Bible as a collection of historical documents.
The confirmation is both general and specific. The fact that the record can be so often explained or illustrated by archaeological data shows that it fits into the framework of history as only a genuine product of ancient life could do. In addition to this general authentication, however, we find the record verified repeatedly at specific points. Names of places and persons turn up at the right places and in the right periods (McDowell, 100).
The Bible is not just a book of history, but archeology shows that it is a book that was written in the context of actual events of real people in real time. An example of this evidence came from the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, according to the book of Genesis, were judged and destroyed by God (Genesis 19).
Because these cities had never been found or identified in any other literature, they were viewed as teaching a moral lesson but were not actual historical places. But now they are known to be very real places according to excavations at Ebla, a city in northern Syria dating from the third and early second centuries BC. Inscriptions on some of the more than 20, 000 tablets found there refer to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah as trading partners of Ebla (Bierle, 39).
So the excavations of these tablets at Ebla dispel the theory that Sodom and Gomorrah were just moral lessons. These tablets let us know that the two cities were real and that based on reliable evidence they were destroyed.
The Bible tells us why. Men my refuse to believe the why, but they cannot any longer doubt that they were not really there. Archeology has become an important aide in the battle of the reliability of the Bible. The Testimony of Christ There are several references in the New Testament of Jesus affirming the reliability of the Old Testament. ‘Jesus affirmed the Old Testament to be the Word of God and promised to guide his disciples to know all truth’ (Geisler, 93).
What we have is Jesus doing more than affirming the Old Testament as reliable, but as the very Word of God. Jesus used the Old Testament to defeat the devil in his temptation. ‘But He answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4: 4, NKJV).
Jesus relied on the Old Testament and attributed it as the very word of God.
In this he defeated the devil in temptation. Jesus also states the purpose of his ministry in conjunction with the Old Testament: ’17’Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18’For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5: 17-18, NKJV).
Jesus attributes permanence to the law of the Old Testament.
What we have in these verses is Jesus Christ attributing the Old Testament as the Word of God, the rule for life and conduct and permanence. Jesus certainly looked at the Old Testament of his day as reliable. Fulfilled Predictions Dr. Frank Harber wrote of the value of prophecy in the Bible.
Only in the Bible does one find predictive prophecy. This important verification is noticeably absent from all other major religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, or in the writings of Confucius and Lhotse. Other self-proclaimed prophets such as Nostradamus, Mother Shipton, Edgar Cayce, and Jean Dixon have delivered prophecies of which almost all have failed. The few which could be deemed as true are for the most part nebulous, general, and capable of multiple meanings’ (Harber, 54).
There are no other writings that contain the detailed predictions of what will happen in the near future and the distant future than the Bible.
This test, if one could call it that, is one that the Lord God gave through Isaiah to the other gods of the nations. Present your case,’ says the Lord. ‘Set forth your strong arguments,’ the King of Jacob says. ‘Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; as for the former events, declare what they were, that we may consider them, and know their outcome; or announce to us what is coming. Declare the things that are going to come afterward, That we may know that you are gods… .’ (Isaiah 41: 21-23, NASB).
The challenge is that if these gods can foretell the future then they truly are gods. ‘The God of the Bible is calling for a rigorous test which involves the objective prediction of future events in human history. The God of the Bible does not ask us to trust Him on the basis of a ‘leap in the dark’ kind of faith or a mere emotional experience’ (Bloom, 175-76).
John A. Bloom wrote what the criteria were for fulfillment of predictions. The first is clarity.
It must be clear and specific enough to be recognized when it occurs, without ambiguity. A second criterion is that of prior announcement. The event and the evidence of the prediction must come before the event. Independence is a third criteria. A prediction must be fulfilled independent of the one making the prediction or his followers. The final criterion that Jones gave is one of likelihood.
The question is asked, ‘How likely is it that this event will happen?’ If it is something that could happen in all probability then it could be something simply human in origin (Bloom, 176-77).
To discover whether or not true prophecies of the Bible were fulfilled, we would have to find instances that without a doubt were prophesied long before the actual events occurred. ‘For our purposes, this is any time near or after the time of Christ, as by then the Old Testament was at least two hundred years old and was widely distributed throughout the Roman Empire both in Hebrew and Greek translations, making it difficult to insert changes, ‘corrections,’ or adjustments’ (Bloom, 178).
With such a wide distribution and history behind the document, it would be virtually impossible to fabricate the outcome of the prediction. Frank Harber notes a specific prophetic fulfillment in Isaiah.
The Bible records many instances of specific, detailed prophecies, which were given hundreds of years in advance of the fulfillment. One example is Isaiah predicting that a man named Cyrus would rebuild the temple (which was still standing in his day! ) in Jerusalem (Isa. 44: 28).
Cyrus, the Persian king, was born 150 years later. He released the Jews from their 70 year captivity in order that they might return to their homeland for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple’ (Harber, 55).
We need to remember that Isaiah is one of the books found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, making it one of the most accurate of the archeological finds to date. Also one of the signs of a prophet of God was 100% accuracy. Bloom gave a historical fulfillment of prophecies concerning the cities of Memphis and Thebes. It is a rather length ly quote, but one well worth including in this paper.
The prophet Ezekiel wrote: ‘Thus says the Lord God, ‘I will also destroy the idols and make the images cease from Memphis” (Ezekiel 30: 13, NASB).
It is a prediction of the end of the religious idolatry in Memphis, which was a northern center for many of Egypt’s religious groups. The big question is: did this prediction come true? Yes it did, about the seventh century AD, several hundred years after its prediction. It was destroyed by the followers of Muhammad.
The idols and images of Memphis were used to build the city of Cairo. The prophecy came true exactly. Of Thebes, the Bible says, ‘And I will… execute judgments on Thebes. And I will… also cut off the multitude of Thebes…
Thebes will be breached’ (Ezekiel 31: 14-16, NASB).
This city was attacked, captured and burned on at least three occasions after the prophecy was made but not totally destroyed. Nebuchadnezzar was the first. In 92 BC Thebes withstood a three-year siege before Ptolemy Lathy rus (the grandfather of Cleopatra) sacked and burned the city in anger.
The city removed to some measure, but was finally destroyed by Cornelius Gallus during the reign of Augustus for rebellion against taxes. Thus it was not until about two hundred years after the latest liberal date for this prophecy that the ‘hordes of Thebes’ were reduced to only a small collection of villages. This area has never regained its stature as a city and its ruins still stand. We have seen two cases of predictions made centuries before the fulfillment’s occurred. The predictions were concise, rather than so vague that they could be applied to any ancient city.
No zealous band of followers assisted the fulfillment of these prophecies. Note how the prediction concerning one city is in effect a control for the other: If Ezekiel had merely reversed the city names in his prophecies, both would have been wrong. It appears then that these are genuine prophecies which were given by the God of the Bible to substantiate His claim that He can be trusted (Bloom, 180-81).
From history we know that all of these things happened to these two cities of Memphis and Thebes. Isaiah was not the only prophet of God to give ample predictive prophecy concerning cities. Ezekiel also testified to the fact of the sovereignty of God in history.
‘In Ezekiel 26, which was written in 587 B. C. , Ezekiel prophesies that the mighty city of Tyre would be destroyed. Tyre was made up of two parts, a mainland port city and an island city half a mile off shore.
Ezekiel predicted mainland Tyre would be destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, many nations would fight against her, the debris of the city would be thrown into the ocean, the city would never be found again, and fishermen would come there to lay their nets. In 573 BC, Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the mainland city of Tyre. Many of the refugees of the city sailed to the island and the island city of Tyre remained a powerful city. In 333 BC, however, Alexander the Great laid siege to Tyre. Using the rubble of mainland Tyre, he built a causeway to the island city of Tyre. He then captured and completely destroyed the city.
Today, Tyre is a small fishing town where fishing boats come to rest and fisherman spread their nets. The great ancient city of Tyre to this day lies buried in ruins exactly as prophesied. If we were to calculate the odds of this event happening by chance, the figures would be astronomical. No, it was not by coincidence (Zukeran).
The fulfilled predictions concerning the cities of Memphis, Thebes, and Tyre give great credence to the reliability of the Bible, but more than reliability to the past. This reliability can be translated to the future.
This shows that the Bible is more that just a reliable book. It is a supernatural book. The last example of predictive prophecy is not found to be a place, but a person. There are over three hundred prophecies made of Jesus in the Old Testament. Prophecies such as His place of birth, how he would die, His rejection by the nation of Israel, and so on. All these prophecies were made hundreds of years before Jesus ever came to earth.
Because of the accuracy of the prophecies, many skeptics have believed that they must have been written after 70 AD — after the birth and death of Jesus, and the destruction of Jerusalem. They have thereby tried to deny that they are even prophecies. However, in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. These scrolls contained the book of Isaiah and other prophetic books. When dated, they were found to be written from 120 to 100 BC, well before Jesus was born.
It would have been an incredible accomplishment for Jesus to have fulfilled all three hundred prophecies. Some say these prophecies were fulfilled by chance, but the odds for this would be exceptionally large. It would take more faith to believe in that chance happening than in the fact that Jesus is God and these prophecies are divinely inspired (Zukeran).
Archeology and bibliography both played a part in the verification of this prophecy.
More than anything else, predictive prophecy points way beyond reliability to supernatural origin of the scriptures. In summation, with the wealth of bibliographic material, archeology and secular sources outside of the scriptures, there should be no doubt as to the veracity of both the New Testament and the Old Testament as reliable documents. When fulfillment of specific, predictive prophecy concerning places and people is added, the Bible moves from being just reliable to supernatural in origin and transmission. Works CitedBierle, Don. Surprised by Faith.
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The FACE that Demonstrates the Farce of Evolution. Nashville: Word, 1998. Harber, Frank. Reasons for Believing. Green Forrest, AR: New Leaf, 1998. Inch, Morris.
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Madison, WI: Inter Varsity Press, 1978. Sproul, R. C… ‘The Case for Inerrancy: A Methodological Analysis.’ God’s Inerrant Word: An International Symposium… Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ.
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Can Man Live Without God? . Dallas: Word, 1994. Zukeran, Patrick. ‘Authority of the Bible.’ 1 June 1999. web the bible. htm..