Up until 7th grade, this girl showed great promise, despite her having an absent father and several family members who were drug abusers and alcoholics. Once she started in 7th grade, she began to slip and and her grades were dropping. By the first trimester of 8th grade, she was failing in all her classes.
Just so poor grades will not be a surprise to parents, at least those who are involved, I print up progress reports every Monday, hand them out to my students who are to take them home, have their parents sign them, and return them the very next day on Tuesday. If they are not returned signed, I have a variety of consequences to pull out of my hat. I have been doing this since my first year of teaching, and this practice has thwarted many potentially uncomfortable situations between teacher, parents, and students.
This one young lady had been diligently returning her weekly progress reports since she started 8th grade. At the end of the first trimester, it was time for parent teacher conferences. When the mother gazed at the report card, she was silent for a moment and then expressed anger and shock because of the D’s and F’s. Her instinct kicked in and she immediately defended her daughter, and was astounded I would not communicate these grades with her. I raised my eyebrows and pointed out to her that she had been signing the progress reports every Monday.
The mother’s eyes narrowed and she hissed at me, “What progress reports!?”
I asked her, “You have not been getting the progress reports every Monday?”
“No!” She was indignant. “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
I pulled out the file of signed progress reports and handed them over, “You did not sign these?”
She flipped through several and I watched her shoulders sink. “No, these are not my signature, some look like it, but no, I did not sign them.”
Both our gazes turned to the daughter who was looking like death warmed over in her chair. Our little triangle in the front of our room was very quiet for several long moments.
This young girls had two main reasons to have forged her mother’s signature for several weeks.
1. It was an embarrassment to have D’s and F’s when she had always been an A and B student.
2. She was avoiding the obvious consequences from having poor grades.
So what do those have to do with our knowing the New Testament writers told the truth? One of the several criteria that historians consider when researching the truthfulness of an ancient author is called, ‘the principle of embarrassment’. Simply put, if an author reveals embarrassing details about himself, they are likely telling the truth. Who is going to take the time to document a story, and not make themselves look good? At the very least, they will not make themselves look like an idiot.
A few examples in Scripture where the New Testament authors included embarrassing details are Mark 9:32 and John 12:16. Anyone who has spent any time reading the New Testament should recall the numerous times the disciples did not understand what Jesus was telling them. Some accounts suggest not only were they uncomprehending of his lessons, but they were afraid to ask him to explain it. Makes me wonder if they sensed Jesus was frustrated with their lack of understanding and was tired of explaining. As a teacher of algebra, I can certainly understand that. Matthew 17:16-18
Two other obvious examples are when Peter was rebuked by Jesus, “But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (NIV) Also included was when Paul confronted Peter, considering Peter’s position, and then documenting any conflict with one of the original apostles, it would suggest truthfulness. Galatians 2:11
The second reason we can believe the New Testament authors told the truth were the consequences they faced by telling the truth. Just like the young girl up above who had been forging her mother’s signature for weeks to avoid punishment, if we are avoiding punishment or persecution, we certainly don’t proclaim the truth, if punishment and persecution is what truth will bring.
The student above was not proclaiming, “Look at the D’s and F’s I am earning, Mom!” Why? Because she was avoiding the obvious consequences to truth. Yet, the apostles continued to proclaim the truth despite the consequences. Insulted, whipped, beaten, stoned, arrested and some crucified. If this is the result for telling the truth, then calling it a significant truth would be an understatement.
For the apostles, proclaiming the truth of Christ, His birth, life, death and resurrection, punishment and persecution is exactly what they received. How many of us can think of a truth we would die for? I think of my own children, and if the outcome of my telling others that I love my own children was death, I would become silent about it. I would just quietly, when no one else was around, tell them I love them and show them devotion and affection privately.
What would be the point of publicly proclaiming my love for my children if I was going to be beaten, arrested, imprisoned, or put to death? I would think they would rather keep me around for those private moments of love and support. Yet, the apostles would have none of this. After the resurrection they were not only bold, but very public in their belief and commitment to Christ.
J. Warner Wallace wrote, “The New Testament accounts repeatedly use words that are translated as ‘witness’, ‘testimony’, ‘bear witness’, or ‘testify’. They are translated from versions of the Greek words marturia or martureo. The modern word martyr finds its root in these same Greek words; the terms eventually evolved into describing people who, (like the apostolic eyewitnesses), remained so committed to their testimony concerning Jesus that they would rather die than recant.” 1
After presenting those arguments for the truth of the New Testament, someone might say, “So what? They were willing to die for what they believed. The 911 terrorists also died for what they believed and dying for what you believe, does not make it true.”
That is an excellent point. People die all the time for something they believe to be true; those who flew planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon are perfect examples. So are the deaths of Jim Elliot and his other missionary friends who died in Ecuador at the hands of Huaorani warriors. They all died doing what they thought was what their God wanted them to do. Martyrdom is not proof to the truth of a religion, Martyrdom is proof to the trust individuals have in their religion.
Yet, there is an important distinction between the apostles and those mentioned above. The apostles did not just believe in the resurrected Christ; they ‘knew’ there was a resurrected Christ because they saw Him. J Warner Wallace put it this way, “While it is reasonable to believe that you and I might die for what we mistakenly thought was true, it’s unreasonable to believe that these men, [the apostles] died for what they definitely knew to be untrue.” 2
Finally, Norman Geisler and Frank Turek list several other indicators the New Testament authors told the truth. I will briefly share those with you.
– They included embarrassing details and difficult sayings of Jesus. Mark 3:21, Mark 3:31, John 7:5 are just three examples.
– They left in the demanding sayings of Jesus. Matthew 5:28, Matthew 5:32, and Matthew 5:39.
– They include events that would not have been invented. Luke 8:2, and Acts 6:7 where a large number of priests became believers. This could have been easily checked out for accuracy. If you are making up a story, you want to be sure to cover your tracks. If you suggest you have a large number of witnesses, you better be able to produce them.
– New Testament authors include numerous historically confirmed people. Pilate, Caiaphas, Festus, and Felix to name a few. Again, if you are making up a story, you don’t want anyone to be able to check out facts by naming individuals who were not there.
– New Testament authors encouraged or challenged anyone to check out the facts of their story. 2 Peter 1:16, and 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 3
1. Wallace, James Warner. Cold-Case Christianity. Colorado Springs: David C Cook Publishing, 2013. Print.
3. Geisler, Norman. Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004. Print.
How do we know the New Testament writers told the truth? by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://www.knowingforsure.com/.