“Veni, Vidi, Vici.” “I came, I saw, I conquered.” You may recognize this famous quote from Julius Caesar – repeated in many books and speeches over the years. But how do we know he actually wrote or spoke this dramatic phrase? Likewise, how about the words of Aristotle, Homer, Plato, or other famous names in ancient history? How do we know if they actually wrote what is attributed to them? In fact, how do we know they existed at all?
Of course we believe these individuals lived and made certain statements because we have historical proof. But what is this “historical proof”? We have no living eyewitnesses or video documentation -- no ancient recordings on iTunes, or personally autographed books available on Amazon. So why does virtually every reasonable person believe our secular history books are accurate and true? And why do many of these same people feel so differently about the reliability of the Bible?
Questions like this became very relevant during the “Creation debate” between Bill Nye and Ken Ham last month. Throughout the presentation, Ham chose not to focus his argument on the large body of scientific evidences for Creation. Instead, he emphasized the Bible as an authoritative historical reference -- an accurate resource that contains all the answers for the origin of the universe, and much more!
That approach may have done little to sway skeptics seeking evidence for God or creation apart from the Bible, but the lingering question remains: why is the Bible treated as a dubious source for accurate information in the first place? After all, Bill Nye and most other unbelievers regard secular history books as fact, so why do they persistently doubt the validity of Scripture?
So, following up on our discussion of evidence for a Creator last month, let’s look at some basic evidence for the authenticity of Scripture, focusing on the New Testament.
Determining the accuracy of ancient documents
Are the New Testament books we read today accurate copies of the books as they were first written? This is the first question we should answer in defense of the reliability of the New Testament. After all, if the text has been changed in any way over the years, the credibility of the document quickly deteriorates.
A key method of determining the accuracy of a modern copy of any ancient document is to compare the existing manuscripts. (Ancient “manuscripts” are handwritten copies that were made before the days of the printing press). In this process, credibility and authenticity are established by the following criteria:
- How many manuscript copies have been found?
- What is the time span between the original writing and the copies?
- Do the manuscripts agree with each other, or is it obvious that some have been changed?
- How well does the content stand up to cross-examination when compared with other ancient historical sources?
Going back to Julius Caesar as an example: the original writing of Caesar’s “Gallic Wars” no longer exists, and only 10 manuscripts have been found. The time span between the earliest existing copy and the date of the original writing is close to ten centuries -- 1,000 years! We can cross-examine Caesar’s existence through other written and archaeological sources, but apparently these 10 manuscripts are enough for experts to characterize this document as authentic, and a credible source of historical facts.
So how does “Gallic Wars” compare with the New Testament? Although none of the original handwritten texts of the New Testament have been found, the earliest fragments we have of the Gospel of John are dated to a mere 40-60 years after the apostle John wrote the original text. Additionally, there are hundreds of copies of New Testament books dated to within several hundred years of the originals. To date, approximately 25,000 total manuscripts of the New Testament have been found in Greek and other languages!
These biblical manuscripts are incredibly accurate and consistent with each other. Many of them were copied by scribes who meticulously counted each letter on every page to ensure accuracy. Their methods were so exact that the New Testament text is considered to be 99.5% pure.
Archaeological and historical data also fully support biblical accounts. In fact, if we base historical reliability on manuscript quantity, purity, and accuracy, the Bible is in a class by itself -- by a very wide margin! Anyone who discredits the historicity of the Bible would logically need to reject the writings of Caesar, Homer, Plato, and Aristotle… and virtually every other historical figure, since their manuscripts are far less well-preserved than the Bible.
Is the content of the ancient biblical manuscripts true?
While we may have shown that the modern version of the New Testament is an accurate copy of what was originally written, unbelievers may still argue that the content is simply untrue, and that the “stories” about Jesus are just exaggerated legends. To logically address these issues, we can examine the credentials and motives of the authors themselves.
Credentials of the Authors
Most of the New Testament writers spent several years in close company with Jesus during His ministry on earth. They lived alongside Him, they traveled with Him, they ate meals with Him. They were eyewitnesses to His greatest works. They heard His many teachings. They witnessed His life, death and resurrection. Their writings certainly reflect and recount all of that in great detail. But their accounts also include significant information about the surrounding culture, people, civilizations, and events during that time frame. When cross-checked with archaeology and other reliable written sources, the biblical information proves to be accurate. This lends great credibility to the Bible and its authors.
Motives of the Authors
Why did the authors write these documents? Let’s face it, most of us wouldn’t make the effort to write a biography about our best friend unless we had a spectacular reason to do so. And we certainly wouldn’t have much incentive or leeway to fabricate sensational and even fraudulent stories about this person! Others who also knew this friend would question our credibility, and news would spread quickly that our book was full of exaggerations and lies.
So logically speaking, why would a random group of common individuals (who were not authors by trade) spend a large amount of their own time writing detailed accounts of a carpenter named Jesus unless there were some extraordinary circumstances involved?
Why would their books include many identical accounts of various miracles and other wonderful works if they weren’t true? Could they have dreamed this whole story up? Could it all have been an elaborate plan of deception, with selfish and corrupt motives? If so, what would they gain from this plan, and how would they get the people of that time to buy into their story?
With these questions in mind, let’s look at six brief reasons why it makes more sense to believe that the New Testament is simply the written truth.
1. Fabricating the New Testament would have been a monumental undertaking for a group of rookie authors. They would have spent hundreds of hours attempting to match their accounts and write stories that were not only inspirational, but also accurately reflected history from a variety of personal viewpoints. (Keep in mind, 1st century writers didn’t have the luxury of pulling out their laptops and iPads to compose drafts, make edits, and email details to each other!)
2. Creating a series of fraudulent writings that would withstand decades and then centuries of scrutiny and cross-examination is unprecedented. Their work would have been known and read by possibly hundreds (if not thousands) of people who had also seen and interacted with Jesus during their lifetimes. Later these writings would be scrupulously studied by millions of people worldwide. If the authors’ stories were contradictory in any significant way, their conspiracy (and Christianity) would have fallen apart. Yet no reputable historical documents exist that refute the biblical accounts. In fact, secular historians of their time, like Josephus, confirm the life and works of Jesus.
3. If their plan was to gain power or money with their work, why would they write narratives that went directly against the political and religious leaders of that time? In doing so, they would risk ridicule, physical persecution, loss of job, family and friends, etc. Is it reasonable to think that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, Jude… etc. all bought into this sham, putting their reputations, their families, and even their lives at risk?
4. If they wrote these books for their own enjoyment or sense of accomplishment, why would they pick themes that directly contradicted their own behavior? Their writings encouraged a lifestyle that was honorable, upstanding, honest… living in truth, pursuing integrity, etc. However, if the New Testament was created around a conspiracy, the outstanding Christian lifestyle they taught would have been based on their own continuous lies!
5. Why would an intelligent and dynamic character like Paul abandon a promising career and radically change his lifestyle if something extraordinary hadn’t happened to him? Transformed from a dedicated persecutor of Christians to a devout follower of Jesus in just few days, Paul’s miraculous conversion cannot be explained in human terms. And Romans 9:20 says he began to preach about Christ immediately! Who would do this if he knew what he was teaching was nothing more than a myth?
6. And finally, does anyone choose to face prison, torture, and a martyr’s death for something they know is a lie? According to historical records, most of the New Testament authors and the other apostles endured painful deaths as martyrs for Christ. Have you ever heard of someone who’s willing to suffer and die for a cause they don’t believe in?
The authenticity and reliability of Scripture is big subject, and we’re just scratching the surface with these brief examples. As our discussion last month showed that belief in a Creator is not a blind faith, so the wealth of evidence for the authenticity of the New Testament confirms that the words we read are accurate and true. Further logic indicates the motives of the authors were pure. They simply had an unprecedented “call of duty” to spread the extraordinary good news of Jesus Christ!
- Ron Reid----------------
For further study on this topic