The Reliability of the Bible
All of these studies are based on what is commonly called “The Holy Bible”. Perhaps one of the first things we should do is to consider how reliable the source book is. If you already believe in it as the Word of the Living God, then the following will simply be a confirmation of your belief. If you have any doubts then the following is meant to be a short explanation of why so many people believe it to be fact. I say “short” because there are a number of excellent authors through the ages who have written many thousands of pages on this subject. I will just bring up a few points, but for much more complete information, I recommend a book by Josh McDowell called “New Evidence that Demands a Verdict” or a much shorter book which he has written called “More Than a Carpenter” (and which has been quoted to a large extent below). Another excellent book, written by C. S. Lewis, is called “Mere Christianity”. In the following text I reference a third author, Ralph O. Muncaster, from his book “The Evidence for Christianity”.
Some people think that accepting the Bible as the true Word of God is simply an exercise in wishful thinking and liken it to jumping into a dark hole, hoping against hope that there will be something or someone at the bottom to catch them. Josh McDowell was an atheist who set out to prove the futility of the Christian faith. Through his study, and against his will, he found the evidence for the Bible to be so compelling that he had to believe it was true and he came to the fantastic conclusion that Jesus Christ was Who He claimed to be—the Son of God. He now likens the experience to stepping out of a dark hole and into the light.
In the Bible God tells us to “Come and let us reason together”. When evidence for faith in the Bible is objectively examined, it will be found that faith is not blind but a very reasonable and logical conclusion based on objective information. It centers on the historical fact of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Around the world all time is measured in units before and after His birth.
It is hard for us to get our minds around the miracles Jesus performed since no one was ever able to do those things before, no one has done them since, and despite the skill of modern day masters of deception, we do not expect to see the real article now or any time in the future. What basis do we have for a belief in a real, historical Jesus who actually was who He claimed to be? Let’s objectively evaluate the information that is available and you can draw your own conclusion.
History is not an experimental physical science like biology, chemistry or physics. In those disciplines you can control conditions and repeat experiments and then analyze the results. History as a discipline goes back just as far as those sciences, but historical circumstances cannot be controlled or duplicated.
It is impossible to totally prove any historical event beyond all possible doubt so, how do we go about finding answers to our questions about anything that has happened in the past? For example, how can you prove where you had lunch yesterday? Even photos and videos can be tampered with. Some exhibits purportedly “proving” evolution have been proven to be hoaxes. All we can do is try to go beyond a reasonable doubt in order established the validity of what we believe the truth to be. To do that there has to be an evaluation of oral evidence, written documents and exhibits. When all has been objectively considered then a conclusion can be reached as to what the truth most likely is. What happens when we objectively evaluate and reconstruct the Biblical records?
There is an accepted systematic, objective approach that is used to establish the credibility of historical documents. McDowell quotes historian Philip Schaff who said, “The purpose of the historian is not to construct a history from preconceived notions and to adjust it to their own liking, but to reproduce it [reconstruct events] from the best evidence and to let it speak for itself.”
HOW MANY COPIES OF A DOCUMENT ARE AVAILABLE AND DO THE COPIES AGREE?
One test for credibility is to see how many copies there are of the original document and how consistent the copies are with each other. If there are a number of documents and they are consistent, it most likely reflects the true facts of the story being reported. Less confidence can be placed in a story if there are a very limited number of documents that do not agree.
To quote directly from McDowell, “More than A Carpenter”, Chapter 4…
“Archaeologist have discovered very early copies of the New Testament that prove that the message we have in the New Testament in our Bibles now does compare well with the original manuscripts…
“The history of Thucydides (460-400 B.C.) is available to us from just eight MSS dated about A.D. 900, almost 1,300 years after he wrote. The MSS of the history of Herodotus are likewise late and scarce, and yet, as F. F. Bruce concludes, “No classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest manuscripts of their works which are of use to us are over 1,300 years later than the originals.”” Aristotle wrote his poetics around 343 B.C. and yet the earliest copy we have is dated A.D. 1100, nearly a 1,400-year gap, and only five MSS are in existence.
Caesar composed his history of the Gallic Wars between 58 and 50 B.C. and its manuscript authority rests on nine or ten copies dating 1,000 years after his death.
When it comes to the manuscript authority of the New Testament, the abundance of material is almost embarrassing in contrast. After the early papyri manuscript discoveries that bridged the gap between the times of Christ and the second century, an abundance of other MSS came to light. Over 20,000 copies of New Testament manuscripts are in existence today. The Uiad has 643 MSS and is second in manuscript authority after the New Testament.”
HOW FRESH WAS THE EVENT IN THE EXPERIENCE OF THE WRITER?
Another test is to determine how much time passed between the time the events occurred and the time the writer documented them. The farther away a writer was from the date of the event, the less reliable it is likely to be.
A number of years ago some critics taught that the New Testament was written several hundred years after the fact and that it was built on various myths and legends that had come down through oral history. In recent years Archeologist have discovered very early copies of the New Testament and a number of Archeologist now believe that the entire New Testament was completed before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
IS THIS FIRST HAND KNOWLEDGE OR RUMOR?
To take another step, was the story recorded by someone who actually saw what happened? We can have greater confidence if the author wrote as they personally saw the events unfolding as opposed to an author who only wrote what they heard about the events, without the benefit of being an eyewitness or interviewing people who were eyewitnesses–and again, history is considered more reliable if it was about current events and less reliable if it was not written until some number of years after the events happened.
New Testament writers were eyewitnesses to the events they reported or they related accounts from people who were eyewitnesses. Just to give you an abridged list of a few references Josh McDowell provides in his introduction to the “Evidences” book I mentioned above:
- “We were eyewitnesses” 2 Pet 1:16
- “that which we have seen and heard we declare to you” 1 John 1:1-3
- “Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among 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…” Luke 1:1-3
- “He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days.” Acts 1:1-3
- “After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present… he was seen by James, then by all the apostles… last of all He was seen by me also” I Cor 15:6-8
- “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe…” Jn 20:30-31
- “Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, he was taken up and a cloud received Him out of their sight Acts 1:9
IS THIS EVENT LIMITED TO THE PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF THE WRITER?
If this is a personal event in the life of the writer which no one else knows about, there is much more room to “create”. If the report is about public events that a large segment of the population knows about, the author had better have the facts straight. It is interesting to note that reports of the Biblical events were widely circulated. Most everyone was aware of them.
- “Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know. -Acts 2:22
- “[I]…speak words of truth and reason. For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner… Acts 26:24-28
Notice that in the above statements, the writers not only testify of what they have seen personally, they also appeal to the firsthand knowledge of the people they are communicating with. If you are reporting something to the public, you had better be sure of your facts because if what you are saying is not the truth it will be well known and you will have no credibility.
HOW MUCH IMPACT DID THE REPORTED EVENT(S) HAVE?
If the events reported were of minor significance, few people would care, let alone be moved by them.
In the case of the New Testament, another piece of evidence to consider is the change that came over the followers of Christ. Before the resurrection Peter denied knowing Him and the disciples deserted Him. The book of Acts says that they were hiding for fear of the Jews (John 20:19). They were extremely depressed. They had thought He was the Christ who would lead them out of Roman bondage, but instead they saw Him arrested, nailed to a cross, pierced through, pronounced dead and buried. The record tells us that the disciples had a difficult time believing it was Jesus when He appeared to them after the resurrection.
Why would anyone promote a “Savior” who had destroyed all of their hopes and was now dead? But just a few days after the crucifixion they were loud, persistent and very courageous witnesses for Him. Nothing could shut them up. Not persecution, jail, torture or the threat of death. Not even death itself could stop them.
And it was not just a few lonely apostles, but also many thousands of other first century witnesses believed so strongly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that they became Christians and willingly gave up their possessions, family, friends, social position and everything else. The activities at the Roman Coliseum are well documented along with numerous other persecutions that took place in the first century. A very large number of believers ultimately choose to be torn apart by wild animals rather than deny their faith in Jesus as the Son of God.
These people would certainly have known if the resurrection was a lie. They would not have been willing to sacrifice everything for anything less than what they absolutely knew to be a spectacular, soul shaking, genuine miracle.
WHAT ABOUT PROPHECY?
Prophecy of the Old Testament gives credence to all of the claims of Jesus Christ in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. How on earth could the Old Testament predict such a Person as Jesus if it had not been inspired by a super natural force? Josh McDowell points out that there are at least 60 major prophecies and 270 other references to the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And the newest one was recorded at least 400 years before the event. Some of the prophecies were over 1,000 years old. Author Ralph O. Muncaster in his book “The Evidence for Christianity” points out that most books of the world’s religions do not have prophecies, and the prophecies of those that do have a very poor record of accuracy.
Could the prophecies in the Old Testament have been written after the fact and been made to look like they were written earlier? No, the Greek translation of the Old Testament was completed at least 150 years before the events took place. Further proof of this has been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were also recorded many years before the birth of Christ. What were these prophecies? I will not take the space and time in this document to discuss them in detail, but will rather refer you to any of the books above or any other reliable Bible commentary. A very short list of common prophecies would include:
- The birth of Christ to a virgin
- He was born in Bethlehem
- He would grow up in Nazareth
- Be rejected by his people
- Many details of His death are provided
Just one Biblical reference is Chapter 53 in the book of Isaiah but there are many others. The prophecies were in place. Could he have arranged His life so that it would meet all of these conditions? No, most of the prophetic events, like the soldiers gambling for his robe, were conditions that were completely out of His control.
LIAR, LUNATIC OR LORD?
That is a classic question raised by C. S. Lewis in his book “Mere Christianity”.
Through the centuries there have been many who have claimed to be God. Most of them can be immediately dismissed as liars. The rest may be very sincere and think they really are God, but it is pretty clear that they are suffering from delusions. No one possessed the prophetic credentials before Jesus, and no one since Him has been able to satisfy even a small number of the prophecies.
Was He a liar? He certainly did not approve of telling lies and he apparently modeled this honesty because those who lived with him from day-to-day for three years had complete confidence in what he did and what he said.
Was He someone who simply had great delusions of grandeur? Again, there is no evidence to support that. Those who were closest to Him report that He did many unexplainable miracles. They participated in some of those miracles and the influence he exerted over the people of that time was completely out of proportion for an uneducated, small town carpenter who never got more than 200 miles from home, whose ministry only lasted three and a half years and whose ministry was violently terminated at a cross (as predicted in prophecy).
The previous paragraphs are a very brief reference to some of the evidence which has led Christians to our conclusions about the validity of the Holy Bible and about Jesus Christ who is the central figure in the Bible.
WHY ARE CHRISTIANS SO “INTOLERANT” OF OTHER RELIGIOUS SYSTEMS?
Are Christians being obstinate and intolerant by their belief that Christianity is the only true religion and that all others are false counterfeits?
McDowell points out that the Webster’s New World Dictionary defines “tolerate” as “to recognize and respect [other’s beliefs, practices and so forth] without sharing them” and “to bear or put up with [someone or something not especially liked]”. Because of the influence postmodern philosophy has had on our society and within the educational system, the meaning of “tolerate” is now thought to mean “[accepting] every individual’s beliefs, lifestyle, and perception of truth claims as equal… all truth is relative”. In other words, everyone’s beliefs must be accepted as being as equally valid as your own.
When this philosophy is taken to its logical conclusion, it leads to all kinds of obvious problems. One example that McDowell uses is the belief that Washington D.C. is the capital of the United States. If someone else believes our capital is Boaz, Alabama, or Bagdad, Iran, is McDowell being intolerant if he does not accept their belief as equally valid as his? There is only one correct answer to the question of “What is the capital of the United States?” Like it or not, there is an absolute truth and if you say anything different than Washington D.C. you will be wrong.
Some of the many reasons true Christians believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the only way to eternal life are stated above. Christians are as firm in that belief as they are in their belief that Washington, D. C. is our nation’s capital. It is not a question of tolerance but of what is the truth.
A person must objectively examine as much evidence as practicable. In coming to a conclusion, they cannot reasonably cling to a concept when the weight of the evidence is overwhelmingly against it. On the other hand, when the overwhelming weight of all the evidence all points to one conclusion, it would be foolish and intellectually dishonest to cling to some alternative.