Can we trust the New Testament?

Posted by on Sep 10, 2017 in Historical Argument, Knowing for Sure Blog, Tough Questions | 1 comment

Can we trust the New Testament?

This morning at church my pastor mentioned apologetics multiple times. To me, that topic acts as coffee in my system! He also mentioned some, what he called God questions. One of which was if the New Testament can be trusted. I went home considering writing a post on the topic since I had not done one in a while.

Then later this afternoon my daughter Beth shared in a text to me that a friend of her’s was questioning how accurate the bible can be if it was translated so many times through so many different languages. Beth pointed out that it is just one language to English. For example, Greek to English, or Hebrew to English. It is not as if we have to translate it from Hebrew, to Greek, to Coptic, to Latin, to English. Smart girl! So here is my answer to one of those God questions. 

Many equate bible translations to the old ‘telephone’ game where one person at the start of a line whispers a statement which is then shared quietly with the next person in line and so forth. By the time the message reaches the end of the line it is confusing, convoluted, and nothing like the original.

The New Testament authors not only support each other, but we have multiple sources outside of scripture that support the life, times, and teaching of Jesus. Ignatius, (AD 35-117), was a student of John, who is the author of the Gospel of John. Ignatius wrote at least three letters that have been preserved. Jim Wallace, in Cold-Case Christianity, reviewed some of Ignatius’ letters and listed the dozens of conclusions from those letters. Below I list only a few.

  • Jesus was in the line of King David.
  • He was, (and is), the Son of God.
  • He was baptized by John the Baptist.
  • He taught and had a ministry on earth.
  • He spoke the words of God.
  • He died on the cross.
  • Jesus was resurrected.
  • He had a physical resurrection body.1

Polycarp, (AD 69-155), was a student of John, who is the author of the Gospel of John. Polycarp became the bishop of Smyrna in what we now call Turkey. Polycarp wrote a letter to the church in Phiippi, and history has documented this, in which he talked about Paul and the other apostles who he had met. The following conclusions can be made from his letters.

  • Jesus was sinless.
  • He taught the Sermon on the Mount.
  • He suffered and died on a cross.
  • His death on the cross saves us.
  • We are saved by grace.
  • Jesus was raised from the dead.
  • Jesus is Lord.2
    As I did with Ignatius, I only listed a few.

Clement of Rome was taught by Paul, and he wrote a letter AD 80-140. According to Jim Wallace, “Clement quoted or alluded to seven New Testament books (Mark, Matthew or John, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians) as he penned his work.” From his work, which agrees with Ignatius and Polycarp, you can conclude the following.

  • The prophets predicted the life and ministry of Jesus.
  • Jesus provided His disciples with important instruction.
  • He taught principles as described by Mark and Luke.
  • He was humble and unassuming.
  • He suffered and died for our salvation.
  • He was resurrected from the dead.
  • He is alive and reigning with God.3

All of the above men had first-hand eyewitness testimony to the lives and teaching of the New Testament authors, all within the first century, not hundreds of years later as some may claim. History has recorded their correspondence, and this recorded communication confirms the writings and eyewitness testimony of the authors and Jesus.

According to Norman Geisler, in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, we have nearly 5,700 hand written Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and more than 9000 in other languages such as Latin and Arabic. Of these nearly 15,000 documents, (some are complete accounts while others are partial books, pages, or fragments), the message of the New Testament is clear and we have more copies than any other ancient document.4

In history, the next earliest surviving copies of the original document is Homer with a 500-year gap. All of the New Testament was written within a few decades of the events they recorded. If you look at the number of copies that support ancient documents, again it is Homer with 643 compared to nearly 15,000 of the New Testament.5

Other researchers have put the total over 25,000. David Limbaugh, (yes the brother or Rush Limbaugh) just published his book, Jesus On Trial wrote, “The evidence, however, is changing all the time based on new discoveries. Geisler recounts that when he began writing on this topic in the sixties, there were about 5,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts…and now there are closer to 5,800. The number of New Testament translations into languages of nearby countries – Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Latin, Coptic and others – totals about 19,300.”6 Add that to the Greek copies, then we have some 25,000 New Testament manuscripts.

Also, historical documentation is not limited to believers. Anyone who is familiar with biblical history has heard of Flavius Josephus, (ca. 37- ca. 100). He was a historian for the Roman Emperor Domitian. Josephus wrote, “At this time [the time of Pilate] there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and [he] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive, according he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”7 This is coming from a Jew who became a Roman and had nothing to gain from promoting Jesus and His life.

Pliny the Younger was a Roman senator and lawyer in Rome. He was a prolific letter writer and we have copies of most of his writings. In one of his letters, he was asking for advice on how to deal with Christians who refused to deny Christ. He wrote, “They had met regularly before dawn on a determined day, and sung antiphonally a hymn to Christ as if to a god. They also took an oath not for any crime, but to keep from theft, robbery and adultery, not to break any promise, and not to withhold a deposit when recliamed.”8

I mention the Piliny example, (one of many outside the New Testament) to point out the durability of eyewitness testimony decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Romans considered Christianity nothing more than a cult, yet despite frightful persecution, it was growing and spreading all over the Mediterranean and into Rome. Pliny the Younger would give Christian’s three chances to deny Christ, yet time and time again they would refuse and he would have them taken away to be executed.

Finally in the first 150 years after the birth of Christ, if we include Josephus, we have ten non-Christian writers who mention Jesus in their works. Looking at and then piecing together what the non-Christian sources say about Jesus we have the following list:

1. Jesus lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar.
2. He lived a virtuous life.
3. He was a wonder worker.
4. He had a brother named James.
5. He was acclaimed to be the Messiah.
6. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
7. He was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover.
8. Darkness and an earthquake occurred when he died.
9. His disciples believed he rose from the dead.
10. His disciples were willing to die for their belief.
11. Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome.
12. His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshiped Jesus as God.9

Keep in mind the above list is compiled from non-Christians and even those hostile to Christianity. This is a list void of anyone who believed in Christianity.

I will add as an end note, if we include the number of Christian authors who mention Christ within 150 years of his birth, and add the ten non-Christian sources, the total is forty-three sources who mention Jesus. Then if we look at the number of Christian and non-Christian sources that mention Tiberius Caesar in the same 150 year period the total is ten.

Christopher Hitchens author of ‘god is not Great’ says the authors of the New Testament cannot agree on anything of importance. You can see from the above list, even those who were not Christians and hostile to Christianity, agreed on elements of great importance, which are verified by the overwhelming number of copies we have of the New Testament.

The New Testament has documentation above and beyond any other ancient document. Not only in sheer numbers of copies that can be cross examined for accuracy, but also written within a few years of the events that took place, while other historical documents are written centuries later. The New Testament also has evidence from numerous sources outside of scripture and evidence from sources hostile to Christianity. You can trust the New Testament!

 

Sources:
1.Wallace, James Warner. Cold-Case Christianity. Colorado Springs: David C Cook Publishing, 2013. Print.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Geisler, Norman. Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, Crossway, 2004. Print.
5. Ibid.
6. Limbaugh, David. Jesus On Trial. Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2014. Print.
7. Josephus, Flavius. The Antiquities of the Jews. Trans. William Whiston. Blacksburg: Unabridged Books, 2011. Print.
8. Van Voorst, Robert, Jesus Outside the New Testament, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000. Print.
9. Geisler, Norman. Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, Crossway, 2004. Print.

 

 

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Can we trust the New Testament? by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

One Comment

  1. Thanks for putting this together, James. It’s nice to have a concise summary of the evidence of the validity of the new testament. I printed it out.

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