Is The New Testament Reliable Evidence for Christianity?

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https://intersectionvictoria.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/new-t-header.jpg
The New Testament is considered to be evidence for the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth. In order to establish its credibility, we must examine this ancient text to determine the degree of validity which can be lent to its claims.

One thing that is interesting concerning the New Testament is that it is the most well attested work of antiquity. For one, the sheer number of manuscripts still in existence is impressive: 5,300 texts in Greek , 10,000 in Latin Vulgate and 9,300 other early versions, adding up to more than 24,000 chunks and/or complete copies of the NT.[1] These 24,000-plus chunks and books and scrolls date from the first to the fifteenth century A.D. (until the invention of the printing press). These manuscripts have been found in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Italy, making it impossible for early Christians — who were in hiding and had no overseeing editorial body — to simply make up fictional details about Christ. If they had done so, we would now see these obvious discrepancies between the different translations. Instead, we see that whether we gather an early Greek manuscript or a Syrian one, or a Turk text, when we re-translate them all into a single language, say English, they are nearly word for word identical. There is not an original concept, or fact found in one early version that is not in another. There are a handful of verses in question but this amounts to about 0.5% of the total word count of the New Testament. And the verses do not change any of the established facts or doctrines of Christ’s life and teachings. This shows that these early Christians, who were of differing ethnicity, language and location and had no contact with each other,  simply stuck to the original story given by the apostles who had personally lived with Jesus.[2]

 

https://intersectionvictoria.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/manuscript-number-nt.jpgTable 1

Because Christianity was a missionary faith from its very inception (Matthew 28:19-20), the scriptures were immediately translated into the known languages of that period. For that reason other written translations appeared soon after, such as Coptic translations (early 3rd and 4th centuries), Gothic (4th century), Armenian (5th century), Georgian (5th century), Ethiopic (6th century), and Nubian (6th century).[3] These multiple versions, made in different languages, continents and multiple cities, made it impossible for these early Christians to corrupt the New Testament. A person living at that time would have to have secured all the texts, from all three continents, geographical locations and in all languages, in order to cover their tracks were they to introduce even a single faulty line! Today so many more translations and copies exist that the attempt at corruption would be multiplied in difficulty.

At this point, skeptics bring up the notion that many mistakes or variations can be found when comparing all the different manuscripts of the New Testament. Critics will usually say that there are 200,000 variations found when cross-analysis is performed. This is misleading because when one word is spelled differently from one family of texts to another, a variant is allotted for each and every single copy of that text. So, for example, if there are 3,000 copies of a particular New Testament, the one word found to be in error gets counted as 3,000 separate variations. This is like making 3,000 photocopies of a single misspelled word and saying 3,000 words are misspelled! In actuality, there are only 400 separate words in question in all of the New Testament manuscripts. This represents one-half of one percent of the text (0.5%). Furthermore, these errors can be attributed (in some instances) to difficulties encountered in the act of translation from one dialect to another, not to sloppiness with theology.[4]

The large number of early manuscripts and the range of geographical areas from which they were gathered  makes it relatively easy to recreate the New Testament as it would have been for the early church. To appreciate this we must take note that Caesar’s Gallic Wars, which was composed between 58 and 50 B.C., is recreated from about 10 pieces (incomplete “chunks”), the oldest of which is over 900 years after the original writing of Caesar’s work. Of Livy’s 142 books of Roman history (59 B.C. – A.D. 17), only 35 remain. Of the 14 books of the Histories of Tacitus (circa A.D. 100) only four and half survive, and of his 16 books of Annals, 10 survive in full and two in part.[5] Comparatively, we have every single piece of the NT by about A.D. 350 (only 250 years after the original writings).[6]

We currently possess pieces of the New Testament that date all the way to within the very beginning of the second century as well as late within the first century. Considering that the last New Testament books to be written were finished in late first century, this makes a relatively small time span when compared to the very best of ancient writings and their surviving manuscripts.  See the table below for comparisons:

Manuscript Evidence for Ancient Writings

Author

Written

Earliest Copy
We Currently Possess

Time Span

Number of Manuscripts

Caesar

100-44 B.C.

900 A.D.

1,000 yrs

10

Plato

427-347 B.C.

900 A.D.

1,200 yrs

7

Thucydides

460-400 B.C.

900 A.D.

1,300 yrs

8

Tacitus

100 A.D.

1100 A.D.

1,000 yrs

20

Suetonius

75-160 A.D.

950 A.D.

800 yrs

8

Homer (Iliad)

900 B.C.

400 B.C.

500 yrs

643

New Testament

40-100 A.D.

70-125 A.D.

25-50 yrs

24,000+

Table 2[7]

The following table lists the individual manuscripts (chunks) of the New Testament with their approximated dates. The earliest known pieces of our Scripture include the p52 John Rylands papyrus which contains parts of the Gospel of John and is dated to about 125 AD (approx. 25-35 years after this gospel is expected to have been written) and manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls dated from 50-70 AD. Recently, a manuscript containing Paul’s letters and Hebrews, a.k.a. p46, have been re-dated to 85 AD, making them around 25-30 years after the expected originals. The following table lists all early N.T. manuscripts, their respective dates as well as the portions of the N.T. that they contain:

 

 

Date

Name

Contents

50-70 A.D.

 

 

 

117-138 A.D. or
110-125 A.D. (
The Complete Text of the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts p.367)

Qumran cave 7

 

 

 

 

p52 (John Rylands) (= Papyrii Rylands 457)

 

 

 

 

7q4 1,2 is 1 Timothy 3:16-4:3
7q8 is James 1:23-24
7q6 1,2 is Mark 4:8 and Acts 27:38

7q5 is Mark 6:52-53

 

 

John 18:31-33, reverse side 37-38

100-150 A.D.

p104 (=P. Oxyrhynchus 4404)

 

 

Matthew 21:34-37,43,45(?) Matthew 21:44 was not originally present

c.125 A.D.

p87 – The handwriting is nearly identical to p46.

Phm 13-15,24 (part),25b with gaps

 


100-150 A.D. (Comfort) 81-96 A.D. (Young Kyu Kim)

 

Chester Beatty II (p46)

It has 1,680 verses from Paul and Hebrews. This is 70% of the 2,389 verses in Paul and Hebrews.

 

 

 

 

Romans 5:17-6:3; 6:5-14; 8:15-25,27-35; 8:37-9:32; 10:1-11:11; 11:24-33; 11:35-15:9; 15:11-16:27; Hebrews 1:1-9:16; 9:18-10:20,22-30; 10:32-13:25 (all but 3 verses); 1 Corinthians 1:1-9:2; 9:4-14:14; 14:16-15:15; 15:17-16:22 (all but 5 verses); 2 Corinthians 1:1-11:10,12-21; 11:23-13:13 (all but 3 verses); Ephesians 1:1-2:7; 2:10-5:6; 5:8-6:6, 8-18, 20-24 (all but 5 verses); Galatians 1:1-8; 1:10-2:9, 12-21; 3:2-29; 4:2-18; 4:20-5:17; 5:20-6:8, 10-18 (all but 9 verses); Philippians 1:1, 5-15, 17-28; 1:30-2:12, 14-17; 2:29-3:8, 10-21; 4:2-12, 14-23 (all but 20 verses); Colossians 1:1-2, 5-13, 16-24; 1:27-2:19; 2:23-3:11, 13-24; 4:3-12, 16-18 (all but 16 verses); 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 1:9-2:3; 5:5-9,23-28

2nd century

Magdalen papyri

 

 

Matthew 26:7-8, 10, 14-15, 22-23, 31-33


150-200 A.D.
(Muslims source says this is c.200 A.D.)


p32


Titus 1:1-15; 2:3-8 (21 verses)


100-150 A.D. (Hunger, Philip Comfort)
or 125-175 A.D.
c.200-250 A.D. (Turner due to broad delta, broad theta, narrow alpha, finial end on the crossbar of epsilon, apostrophe between double consonants like other third century manuscripts.
However, we go with Hunger and Philip Comfort because second century manuscripts have been found with these features. This was discovered close to Nag Hamadi (second century). Hunger has found many late first and early second centuries manuscripts that are closer to p66 than 3rd century documents.


Bodmer II (p66 and p14/15, p75)
808.5 verses, which is 92% of the 879 verses in John

 

 

 


John 1:1-6:11; 6:35b-14:26, 29-30;15:2-26; 16:2-4, 6-7; 16:10-20:20; 20:22-23; 20:25-21:9, 12, 17. (John 7:53-8:11 is missing)


c.175 A.D.


p90 (P. Oxyrhynchus 3523)


John 18:36-19:7


2nd century


p98 (P.IFAO Inv. 237b [+a]


Revelation 1:13-2:1 (9 verses)


Mid to Late 2nd century


p77 and p103


Matthew 23:30-39; Matthew 13:55-57; 14:3-5 (10 + 6 verses)

 

 

 


Late 2nd / early 3rd century


p38 (P. Michigan Inv. 1571)


Acts 18:27-19:6, 12-16


Late 2nd / early 3rd century


Uncial 0189


Acts 5:3-21 (earliest parchment of the N.T.)


c.200 A.D.


p1


Matthew 1:1-9,12,14-20; 2:14? (17 or 18 verses)


125-150 A.D. (Comfort)


p64 and p67. All agree these are from the same manuscript.


(p67) Matthew 3:9,15; 5:20-22,25-28
(p64) Mt. 26:7-8,10,14-15,22-23,31-33
(19 verses)


Early to mid 2nd century
In 1963 Aland dated it to the third century. However, if it is the same original as p64 and p67 then it would have to be early to mid 2nd century.


p4 (the handwriting is the same as p64 and p67.) (Aland disagreed but never gave a reason.) Also, all three have an unusual abbreviation for “Jesus”.). p4 was used as padding for a copy of Philo’s works that was hidden to avoid confiscation in either 292 A.D. or 303 A.D. The Philo Codex was written about 250 A.D.


Luke 1:58-59; 1:62-2:1,6-7; 3:8-4:2,29-32,34-35; 5:3-8; 5:30-6:16


200-225 A.D.


p29


Acts 26:7-8, 20


200-225 A.D.


p45 (Chester Beatty I)
Matthew 71 verses
Mark 147 verses
Luke 242 verses
John 84 verses
Acts 289 verses


Much of Acts and the Gospels. Mt 20:24-32; 21:13-19; 25:41-26:39 [71 verses]; Mk 4:36-5:2; 5:16-26; 5:38-6:3; 2 letters of 6:15; 6:16-25, 36-50; 7:3-15; 7:25-8:1; 8:10-26; 8:34-9:8; 4 letters of 9:9; 9:18-31; 11:27-12:1; 12:5-8,13-19,24-28 [147 verses]; Luke 6:31-41; 6:45-7:7; 9:26-41; 9:45-10:1; 10:6-22; 10:26-11:1; 11:6-25, 28-46; 11:50-12:13 (12:9 was never written); 12:18-37; 12:42-13:1; 13:6-24; 13:29-14:10; 14:17-33 [242 verses]; John 4:51,54; 5:21,24; 10:7-25; 2 complete out of 16 letters of 10:30; 10:31-11:10; 11:18-36,42-57 [84 verses]. Acts 4:27-36; 5:10-20; (8 out of 33 letters in 5:21) 30-39; 6:7-7:2; 7:10-21; 7:32-41; 7:32-8:1; 8:14-15, 8:34-9:6; (8:37 was never written); 9:16-27; 9:35-10:2; 10:10-23, 31-41; 11:2-13; 11:24-12:6; 12:13-22; 13:6-16,25-36; 13:46-14:3; 14:15-23; 15:2-7,9-27; 15:38-16:4; 16:15-21,32-40; 17:9-17) At Acts 15:7 this scribe lost his place and repeated from Acts 15:2. [289 verses]


Early 3rd century


p5 (=Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 208 1781)


John 1:23-31, 33-40; 16:14-30; 20:11-17, 19-20, 22-25 (47 verses)


ca.200 A.D. (Comfort and Barrett) vs. 3rd century (Aland)


p23 Urbana (=Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1229)


James 1:10-12, 15-18


200-250 A.D


p39


John 8:14-22


c.170 A.D.


0212


Tatian’s
Diatessaron (Harmony of the Gospels) Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; Luke 23:49b-c; Luke 23:54; Matthew 27:57; Mark 15:42; Matthew 27:57; Luke 23:50; Matthew 27:57; Luke 23:51b; Matthew 27:57; Luke 23:40; John 19:38; Matthew 27:57; Luke 23:51c; Luke 23:51a


225-250 A.D.


p13


Hebrews 2:14-5:5; 10:8-22; 10:29-11:13; 11:28-12:17


3rd century


p9 (= Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 402)


1 John 4:11-12, 14-17


3rd century


p20 (=Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1171)


James 2:19-3:2; (6 out of 96 letters of 3:3); 3:4-9)


3rd century


p27 and p40


Romans 1:24-27; 1:31-2:3; 3:21-4:8; 6:2-5, 15-16; 9:17,27


c.250 A.D.


p22 (=Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1228)


John 15:25-16:2; 16:21-32


c.260 A.D.


p53


Matthew and Acts


285-300 A.D.


p12


Hebrews 1:1


3rd century


p27


Romans 8:12-22; 24-27; 8:33-9:3; 9:5-9


3rd century


p28 (=Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1596)


John 6:8-12, 17-22


200-225 A.D.


p29


Acts 26:7-8, 20


early 3rd century


p30


1 Thess. 4:12-13, 16-17; 5:3, 8-10, 12-18, 25-28; 2 Thess. 1:1-2; 2:1, 9-11


3rd century


p35


Matthew 25:12-15,20-23


3rd century


p70, p101


Matthew


3rd century


P Antinoopolis


Matthew 6:10-12 (Part of the Lord’s prayer)


Mid 3rd century


p49 + p65


Eph 4:16-29; 4:31-5:13


3rd century


p69


Luke 22:40, 45-48, 58-61. It never contained Luke 22:43-44


3rd century


p70


Matthew 2:13-16; 2:22-3:1; 11:26-27; 12:4-5; 24:3-6, 12-15


Mid 3rd century


p37


Matthew 26:19-52


Mid 3rd century


p53 (= Papyrus Michigan Inv. 6652)


Matthew 26:29-40; Acts 9:33-38; 3 letters of the 124 letters in 9:39; 9:40-10:1


Late 3rd century


p15


1 Corinthians 7:18-8:4


Late 3rd century


p16


Philippians 3:10-17; 4:2-8


250-300 A.D.


Chester Beatty III (p47)


Revelation 9:10-11:3; 11:5-16:15; 16:17-17:2 (125 verses)

 

 

 


3rd/4th century?


p7

 


3rd/4th century


p18


Revelation 1:4-7


3rd/4th century


p37


Matthew 26:19-52


c.300 A.D.


p72, somewhat similar handwriting to p50. 1 and 2 Peter have page numbers 1-35. Jude has page numbers 62-68. Also contains the Nativity of Mary, the apocryphal letter of Paul to the Corinthians, the 11th Ode of Solomon, Melito’s Homily on the Passover, part of a hymn, the Apology of Phileas, and Psalm 33 and 34.


1 Peter 1:1-5:14, 2 Peter 1:1-3:18 and Jude 1-25


c.300 A.D.


p38.


Acts 18:27-19:6, 12-16


ca.300 A.D.


0162 (P. Oxyrhynchus 847)


John 2:11-22


ca.300 A.D.


0171 (PSI 2.124)


Matthew 10:17-23,25-32; Luke 22:44-50,52-56,61,63-64


ca.300 A.D.


0220 (MS 113)


Romans 4:23-5:3, 8-13. 100% agreement with Vaticanus except Romans 5:1


ca.300 A.D.


0232 (P. Antinoopolis 12)


2 John 1-9


325-350 A.D.


Vaticanus (B)


Most of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament up to Hebrews 9:15


340-350 A.D.


Sinaiticus (Aleph)


Almost all of the New Testament and half of the Septuagint Old Testament


4th century


p8

 


4th century


p10

 


late 3rd century


p17


Hebrews 9:12-19


4th century


p24


Revelation 5:5-8; 6:5-8

3rd/4th century

p35

Matthew 25:12-15, 20-23

4th century

p62 (Oslo)

 

4th century

p71

 

Late 4th century

p25

 

c.400 A.D.

p51

 

Table 3[1][2][3]

[1] Comfort, P. W., and Barrett, D. P. 2001. The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale.)
[2] Metzger, Bruce M. Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to Palaeography. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.)
[3] Aland, Black, Metzger, Wikren, Martini, Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Bruce Metzger, Allen Wikren, Carlo Martini, The Greek New Testament. 4th edition. (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies 1993).
_____________________________________________________________________________________________

The following are of some of the earliest New Testament pieces of papyri. Unlike the codexes of the 3rd centuries and beyond, we only possess “chunks” of actual writings:

Rylands Papyrus (P52)
One of the earliest surviving pieces of New Testament Scripture is a fragment of a papyrus codex containing John 18:31-33 and 37-38, called the Rylands Papyrus (P52). This papyrus was found in Egypt, and has been dated at about 125 A.D.
It currently resides at the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England.

 

Bodmer Papyrus (P66, P72-75)
This collection of approximately fifty Greek and Coptic manuscripts was purchased by M. Martin Bodmer of Switzerland in 1955-56, and has been dated at around 200 A.D. Most of the collection is located in the Bibliotheca Bodmeriana in Cologny (near Geneva). The exception is Pap. VIII (including 1 & 2 Peter), which was given as a gift to Pope Paul VI in 1969; it is in the Vatican Library. The documents were discovered in Egypt. They are from both codices and scrolls; most are papyri, but three are on parchment (Pap. XVI, XIX, and XXII). The manuscripts include Old and New Testament texts and writings of the early churches. The papyrus manuscript P75 (the gospel of Luke and John) showed a virtually identical text to the Codex Vaticanus.
Seen hear is John 6:58-71

 

The Chester Beatty Papyrus P45
Dated 200-250 A.D.), made public in 1931, contains the Gospels, Acts, Paul’s Epistles, and Revelation.

 

Magdalen Papyrus (P64)
The papyrus scraps had been housed at the library of Magdalen College for more than 90 years, the gift of a British chaplain, Rev. Charles Huleatt, who bought them at an antiquities market in Luxor, Egypt. Using new tools such as a scanning laser microscope along with more conventional handwriting analysis, Thiede re-dates the fragments, previously dated in the mid- to late second century, to sometime between 30 and 70 A.D.In three places on the Magdalen Papyrus, the name of Jesus is written as “KS”, an abbreviation of the Greek word Kyrios, or Lord.
Matthew 26

 

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri – mid second century; sayings of Jesus which have parallels in all four gospels. More than two thousand papyri from Oxyrhynchus in Egypt have been published, most of which are not Biblical. The Biblical passages are thought to have been copied from an even earlier manuscript, perhaps 110-130 A.D.

 

Qumran cave 7
7q4 1,2 is 1 Timothy 3:16-4:3
7q8 is James 1:23-24
7q6 1,2 is Mark 4:8 and Acts 27:38 Dated to possibly between 50-70 A.D.[11]

 

Qumran cave 7
7q5 is Mark 6:52-53Dated to early to mid 60’s A.D.[12]

 

Table 4[13]

Beyond Manuscripts: the Codex
A Codex is a book, as opposed to a papyrus which is a scroll. The Codex Sinaiticus is the earliest full copy of the New Testament found in one single book. The Chester Beatty Papyri is a compilation of papyri that make up most but not all of the N.T. It is important because of it is comprised of several papyri dating from the second and third centuries:

Manuscript (MS)

 

Date

Notes

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chester Beatty Papyri

 

200 A.D.

Much but not all of NT on papyrus.

 

Codex Vaticanus

 

325-350 A.D.

Much but not all NT in a codex.

 

Codex Sinaiticus

 

350 A.D.

Full N.T. with some Old Testament.

 

Codex Alexandrinus

 

400 A.D.

Full N.T. with some Old Testament

 

Codex Ephraemi

 

400 A.D.

Full N.T. with some Old Testament

 

Codex Bezae

 

450 A.D.+

Full N.T. with some Old Testament

 

Codex Washingtonensis

 

ca. 450 A.D.

Full N.T. with some Old Testament

 

Codex Claromontanus

 

500’s A.D.

Full N.T. with some Old Testament

 

Table 5[14]

 

The following is a graphic evaluation of the first six centuries and the 230 of N.T. texts found in separate manuscripts/codexes:

https://intersectionvictoria.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/new-testament-manuscripts.jpgTable 6[15]

 

Putting the New Testament Timeline in the Context of 1st Century History
An important factor to consider is the extreme likelihood that what we possess today is but a remnant of what actually existed in the first century A.D. Needless to say that time and human activity will diminish the number of texts available for us to study 2000 years after a particular event. The time of writing for the New Testament books can be estimated by placing certain of its texts in the light of specific historical events and extrapolating the time of initial authorship:

  • A.D. 70 Invasion/destruction of Jerusalem (Jesus prophesized it, would have been included in ACTS to add credibility to his teachings)
  • A.D. 64 Nero’s persecution (not mentioned in ACTS)
  • A.D. 62 James martyred
  • A.D. 64 Paul martyred…
  • A.D. 65 Peter martyred…. Yet we find none of the deaths referred to in any of the 27 canonized books of the New Testament (and significantly not in Acts, the most comprehensive historical record we have of the early church).

None of these above events (which would have had an enormous impact on the nascent Christian community) are mentioned in any of the New Testament writings. On these grounds it will be argued that the New Testament books were written before these historical occurrences.

  • The only explanation can be that they were all written prior to these events, and thus likely before 62 AD, or a mere 30 years after the death of Jesus, of whose life they primarily refer.
  • Luke predates ACTS and is based on Matthew and Mark. Therefore, Matthew, Mark earlier than early 60’s. Which puts it at least into the late 50’s.

Does History Teach Us To Trust the New Testament?
The Christian authors, like their Jewish counterparts, were careful to preserve traditional material about Jesus.[16] They meticulously preserve the tradition of Jesus’ words and life. Why do so in random myth making? The date of writing places all NT books between 20 to 70 years after Jesus’ life; well within the lifetime of eyewitnesses and Jesus’ contemporaries. Making wild fantasy as difficult as possible (e.g.: imagine deifying John F. Kennedy today, 40 years after his death!)

When normal historical methodology is applied to the New Testament (as it is applied to all other ancient history literature: such as, “are there independent accounts of peoples, places, events, laws found elsewhere in civilization which corroborates the N.T.), a reliability emerges that is at least as strong and respectable as the most uncontested works of antiquity.[17]

Critics accuse Gospel and epistle authors of having an agenda to promote, and therefore making them unreliable as “journalists”. Many other works of history (e.g.: Herodotus, Livy, Tacitus) have bias injected into them by their authors who themselves admit to pursuing a moral or political ideal.[18] And yet, no critic holds it against these authors nor do they question the validity of the reporting simply because of the author’s convictions.

We must also realize that the Gospels are a unique form of literature, found nowhere else in antiquity, making it difficult to perform a side-by-side form critique to other works found in other times. The Gospels are quite close to the period of time that they record, while ancient histories such as those by Plutarch and Livy often describe events that took place even centuries earlier. Yet this poses no problem to modern historians who successfully draw correct data from these texts.[19] Ancient histories sometimes “disagree amongst themselves in the wildest possible fashion,” such as the four ancient sources for the figure of Tiberius Caesar or the great first century fire in Rome (under Nero), yet the history they record can still be ascertained. [20]

The Book of Acts’ historical accuracy is confirmed externally via non-biblical history.[21] [22] The Gospels also give historical landmarks which can be tested. Their spiritual message is infused with historical accuracy. This acts to bolster their early writing, as well as their local authorship in the time and place of Jesus’ life and travels.

 

The following text was cut and pasted from: http://www.leaderu.com/offices/rusty_wright/newtestament.html    &     http://answering-islam.org.uk/Shamoun/documents.htm

Independent archaeological research has solidified the authenticity and the historical reliability of the New Testament. Some of the discoveries include:

  • Luke refers to Lysanias as being the tetrarch of Abilene at the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry, circa 27 A. D. (Luke 3:1) Historians accused Luke of being in error, noting that the only Lysanias known was the one killed in 36 B. C. Now, however, an inscription found near Damascus refers to “Freedman of Lysanias the tetrarch” and is dated from 14 and 29 A. D.
  • Paul, writing to the Romans, speaks of the city treasurer Erastus (Romans 16:23). A 1929 excavation in Corinth unearthed a pavement inscribed with these words: ERASTVS PRO:AED:P:STRAVIT: (“Erastus curator of public buildings, laid this pavement at his own expense.”)
  • Luke mentions a riot in the city of Ephesus which took place in a theater (Acts 19:23-41). The theater has now been excavated and has a seating capacity of 25,000.
  • Acts 21 records an incident which broke out between Paul and certain Jews from Asia. These Jews accused Paul of defiling the Temple by allowing Trophimus, a Gentile, to enter it. In 1871, Greek inscriptions were found, now housed in Istanbul which read:

NO FOREIGNER MAY ENTER WITHIN THE BARRICADE WHICH SURROUNDS THE TEMPLE AND ENCLOSURE. ANYONE WHO IS CAUGHT DOING SO WILL HAVE HIMSELF TO THANK FOR HIS ENSUING DEATH.

  • Luke addresses Gallio with the title Proconsul (Acts 18:12). A Delphi inscription verifies this when it states, “As Lucius Junius Gallio, my friend, and the Proconsul of Achaia …”
  • Luke calls Publicus, the chief man of Malta, “First man of the Island.” (Acts 28:7) Inscriptions now found do confirm Publicus as the “First man”.[23]
  • Luke referred correctly to provinces that were established at that time, as indicated in Acts 15:6.
  • He demonstrated a clear knowledge of local customs, such as those relating to the speech of the Lycaonians (Acts 14:11), some aspects relating to the foreign woman who was converted at Athens (Acts 17:34), and he even knew that the city of Ephesus was known as the “temple-keeper of Artemis” (Acts 19:35) …
  • Luke refers to different local officers by their exact titles –
    • the proconsul (deputy) of Cyprus (Acts 13:7),
    • the magistrates at Phillipi (Acts 16:20,35),
    • the politarchs (another word for magistrates) at Thessalonica (Acts 17:6),
    • the proconsul of Achaia (Acts 18:12),
    • and the treasurer of Corinth (Aedile) – which was the title of the man known as Erastus at Corinth (Acts 19:22; Romans 16:23 …)
  • Luke had accurate knowledge about various local events such as the famine in the days of Claudius Caesar (Acts 11:29); he was aware that Zeus and Hermes were worshiped together at Lystra, though this was unknown to modern historians (Acts 14:11,12).
  • He knew that Diana or Artemis was especially the goddess of the Ephesians (Acts 19:28); and he was able to describe the trade at Ephesus in religious images.
  • The five porticoes of the pool of Bethesda by the Sheep Gate and the pool of Siloam mentioned in John 5:2 and 9:1-7 has now been unearthed.
  • The pavement (Gabbatha) of John 18:13 and Solomon’s porch in the Temple precincts (John 10:22-23), have been found.
  • Mark writes of Jesus healing a blind man as He left Jericho. Luke, apparently writing of the same event, says it happened while Jesus was approaching Jericho. Excavations in 1907-09 by Ernest Sellin, of the German Oriental Society, showed that there were “twin cities” of Jericho in Jesus’ time–an old Jewish city and a Roman city separated by about a mile. Apparently Mark referred to one and Luke referred to the other, and the incident occurred as Jesus traveled between the two.
  • Archaeologists have unearthed Jacob’s well at Sychar. (John 4:5)
  • An inscription found in Ceasarea confirms Pilate’s role as the prefect of Judea during the time of Christ.
  • The discovery of a bone-box of a crucified man named Johanan from the first century Palestine confirms the fact that nails were used to pierce the ankles of the victims. Such was the case of Christ, of course, and this discovery is significant in answering the skeptics who believed that the Romans used only ropes to tie the victim’s legs to the cross.
  • Finally, in 1990, the burial grounds of Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest, and his family were uncovered. This is an undeniable fact that Caiaphas existed as a true historical figure.

What Do Non-Christians Say About the Bible?
The significance of such extra-Biblical evidence is of such magnitude that honest skeptics are now forced to agree that the Bible is historically accurate and reliable. One such person was Sir William Ramsey, considered one of the world’s greatest archaeologists. He believed that the New Testament, particularly the books of Luke and Acts, were second-century forgeries. He spent thirty years in Asia Minor, seeking to dig up enough evidence to prove that Luke-Acts was nothing more than a lie. At the conclusion of his long journey however, he was compelled to admit that the New Testament was a first-century compilation and that the Bible is historically reliable. This fact led to his conversion and embracing of the very faith he once believed to be a hoax. Dr. Ramsey stated: “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy … this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.” Ramsey further said: “Luke is unsurpassed in respects of its trustworthiness.”[24]

Other skeptics who have conceded the Bible’s historical accuracy include the renowned Jewish archaeologist Nelson Glueck: “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference,” and “the almost incredibly accurate historical memory of the Bible, and particularly so when it is fortified by archaeological fact.”[25] This is a very significant statement since it is made by one who totally denied the inspiration of Scripture. Earl Radmacher, former president of Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, notes:

“I listened to him [Glueck] when he was at Temple Emmanuel in Dallas, and he got rather red in the face and said, ‘I’ve been accused of teaching the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scripture. I want it to be understood that I have never taught this. All I have ever said is that in all my archaeological investigation I have never found one artifact of antiquity that contradicts any statement of the Word of God.’”

Another one time skeptic was Dr. Clifford Wilson who, due to the discoveries made, concluded that, “It is the studied conviction of this writer that the Bible is … the ancient world’s most reliable history textbook …”[26]

The “Street Slang” of the Bible
After discovering non-biblical papyri and pottery inscriptions, we realized that the New Testament was written in a common form of Greek of that time.[27] Is it not wonderful to know that the most important book inspired by the Creator of the Galaxy was handed down in layman’s language?! On top of being written early and containing historically accurate information, the New Testament letters were written in a fashion which would have severely handicapped someone attempting to create a religion from scratch, based on lies: they claimed to be eye witnesses and named other such witnesses. Furthermore, the authors and their third party witnesses were currently living as contemporaries to the hostile non-believers to whom they were preaching. The writers of our N.T. repeatedly mention the names of eyewitnesses to the miraculous healing ministry of Jesus as well as His Resurrection. When outrageous claims such as these are made by several different authors, most of which are making references to third party eyewitnesses and other disciples, it becomes much easier to falsify the story if it is a hoax. The events concerning Jesus’ life, as reported by the N.T. letters, are multiple in occurrence, location and witnesses. Unlike the Book of Mormon and the Qur’an, which were created by one person’s uncorroborated, single event experience, the N.T. is written by several authors, describing several events, including several testable historical landmarks, people, places and customs.

Finally, the NT documents indicate that there were eyewitnesses present for nearly every moment of Jesus’ final hours and eventual resurrection:

  • There were eyewitnesses present at Jesus’ arrest. (cf. Mt. 26:47-56; Luke 22:44-54; John 18:1-13)
  • There were eyewitnesses present at Jesus’ trial. (cf. John 18:15-28; Luke 22:61-62)
  • There were eyewitnesses at the cross. (cf. Mark 15:40-41; John 19:25-27)
  • There were eyewitnesses to his burial. (cf. John 19:38-42)
  • There were eyewitnesses who saw the empty tomb. (cf. Matthew 28:11-15; John 20:1-7)
  • Finally, there were eyewitnesses who testified that they had seen Jesus alive from the dead, and who were willing to die for their claim. (cf. Luke 24:36-46; Acts 1:1-5; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8- more on this passage later)

We cannot prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, that texts written 2,000 years ago accurately describe the most outstanding claims ever recorded: that of the miraculous Jesus Christ. One must gather the global evidence concerning the New Testament in order to ascertain whether or not it can be trusted. I would argue, however, that if it is a hoax, it is the most cleverly devised and unspeakably odd religious phenomenon in our history. Why would men decide to nurse the N.T. letters with such unequaled care? Why would they die for a lie? How could a story so outlandish be fabricated and passed around in the lifetime of Jesus’ contemporaries and not be laughed out of existence? Imagine trying to put Gandhi through a divine and miraculous make-over even a full 60 years after his death? Would it work? The tone of the New Testament is different than that of myth. The themes are layered in historically accurate details. Other holy books describe laws, regulations and philosophical statements. The New Testament describes the actions of the early church and contains communications between pastors and their churches. Not typical fodder for false religious hoaxes. What is the New Testament if not the well preserved writings of the earliest Christians?

These questions must be answered by the skeptic if he/she wants to make an educated decision for or against the validity of the New Testament. The Christian New Testament is the most well-attested document in ancient history. It cannot be treated lightly as it makes the most astonishing claims in all of literary tradition.


[1] Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense (Thomas Nelson Publishers 1993) p.43.

[2] http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/bibleorg.html

[3] Josh McDowell’s Evidence That demands a Verdict, vol.1, 1972 pgs. 48-50.

[4] Geisler. Inerrancy – “Alleged Errors and Discrepancies in the Original Manuscripts of the Bible”. (Zondervan Corporation, 1980).

[5] F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are they reliable (InterVarsity Press 1981)

[6] Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (College Press Publishing Company 1996) p.55.

[7] Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense (Thomas Nelson Publishers 1993) p.45

[8] Comfort, P. W., and Barrett, D. P. 2001. The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale.)

[9] Metzger, Bruce M. Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to Palaeography. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.)

[10] Aland, Black, Metzger, Wikren, Martini, Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Bruce Metzger, Allen Wikren, Carlo Martini, The Greek New Testament. 4th edition. (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies 1993).

[11] http://www.physics.arizona.edu/physics/public/dead-sea.html

[12] http://www.physics.arizona.edu/physics/public/dead-sea.html

[13] http://biblefacts.org/history/oldtext.html

[14] McDowell, Josh, EVIDENCE THAT DEMANDS A VERDICT, Vol. I (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life, 1972), p.386

[15] derived from data of Table 4. It is only accurate in as much as Table 4 is correct and  full.

[16] A.M. Hunter, Bible and Gospels, p.32-37.

[17] A.N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1963), p 187.

[18] Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review. p. 175-184, 198-201.

[19] Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review. p. 186.

[20] Paul Maier, First Easter: The True and Unfamiliar Story (New York: Haper aand Row, 1973) p. 94.

[21] A.N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1963), p 189.

[22] Halley, Henry, Halley’s Bible Handbook (Zondervan Publishing House, 1959) p.579.

[23] Josh McDowell, The Best of Josh Mcdowell: A Ready Defense, pp. 110-111

[24] Josh McDowell, The Best of Josh Mcdowell: A Ready Defense, pp. 108-109

[25] Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands A Verdict p. 65

[26] Wilson, Rocks, Relics And Biblical Reliability, p. 126

[27] http://www.bible.ca/b-new-testament-documents-f-f-bruce-ch8.htm

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Is The New Testament Reliable Evidence for Christianity?

  1. Several points, firstly the assumption that because many manuscripts have survived their content is accurate is a logical fallacy so obvious that it is not really worth commening on further.

    Secondly, the assumptions made regarding dating are perfunctory to say the least, at nearly every turn we see the earliest estimates provided and noted as fact, no mention is given of later estimates. To take the fragment in John Rylands library, the estimate given is 117-138. This is presented as the only date, in fact scholars have placed estimates as late as 150.

    Thirdly, being the earliest fragment available, and even assuming and early date of 117, this is still not evidence of the materials validiy, and it does not contradict the standard dating of between 90-110 for the gospel.

    Fourthly, your dating of the gospels has a clear error. You contend that the NT contains zero refence to the fall of the Temple, yet you reference Jesus’ prediction of this event. So clearly it is mentioned, therefore the earliest Gospel, that if Mark, must have been written after this event 70 ad.

    Fifthly, again your dating of the gospels is based on the earliest possible estimates made (Matthew and Mark as early as 50), and ignore those dates typically agreed as most likely. In reality scholars generally agree on a much later series of dates ranging from between 70-100 ad. As a result, even the earliest of the Gospels, Mark, was written over four decades after the death of the subject whose life they provide a narrative. This, in it self, makes it highly unlikely that they were written by witnesses of the events described. More likely they are a collection of oral narratives based on rumour, annecedote and popular mythology recorded by the growing Messianic cults of the period.

    Historical research is based on the Rankian notion of primary evidence, i.e. material emerging from the period which they describe. The Gospels, the documents purporting to document the life of Jesus, are near certainly not primary sources of any calibre. But even if we ignore the unlikely possibility that they are, then they are at best memoir accounts. Memoirs, are by their very nature, rarely trusted as accurate accounts by historians, and when used are universally treated with delicate care by historians and typically supported by a wealth of additional corrobarative material from other sources. No such materials exist to corroborate the Gospels, most of which actually copy each other. Therefore, even if we dismiss the likelyhood that they aren’t actually memoirs and treat them as such, they are still very poor sources for establishing whether the NT is accurate.

    1. “the assumption that because many manuscripts have survived their content is accurate is a logical fallacy”
      the assumption is that because a large number of very early manuscripts survived and stayed 99.5% identical even though they were translated into several languages over 3 continents shows that the early Christians were unprecedented in history in making sure they stuck to the original story. We have the strongest case in literary history for saying we have now what the early Christians had then.

      “the assumptions made regarding dating are perfunctory to say the least, at nearly every turn we see the earliest estimates provided and noted as fact, no mention is given of later estimates.”
      I took the mainline dates. Besides the Rylands you give no specific examples.

      “your dating of the gospels has a clear error. You contend that the NT contains zero refence to the fall of the Temple, yet you reference Jesus’ prediction of this event. So clearly it is mentioned, therefore the earliest Gospel, that if Mark, must have been written after this event 70 ad.”
      We see Christ’s prophecy regarding the temple, but no mention of its fulfillment. Whenever Christ fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy, the New Testament authors mentioned it. Every time. When Christ fulfilled His own prophecy about His Resurrection, the New Testament points to this. These authors would have included a major prophecy (the fall of the sacred centre of Jewish life: the Temple) if it had been fufilled during the time of the compilation of the New Testament.

      “again your dating of the gospels is based on the earliest possible estimates made” That is incorrect. The reason for placing Mark in the ’50s is because it predates Matthew and Luke. Acts is the second half of Luke and makes no mention of Peter or Paul’s death. It does list the martyrdom of Stephen, an apostle, and therefore would surely make mention of the Chief Apostle’s (i.e.: Peter’s) death. Luke was the author of Acts and a missionary companion of Paul. He would have mentioned Paul’s death. This type of internal textual criticism is standard.

      “In reality scholars generally agree on a much later series of dates ranging from between 70-100 ad.”
      Not correct. You are simply choosing the later end of the dating spectrum and parking there. Further, these documents are what survives 2,000 years later. Are you seriously resting on the assumption they were the earliest ones? The reasonable assumption is to see the massive, unprecedented number of early manuscripts and realize they are the survivors. But not the entire compilation. And then to proceed using internal critique (see above) and non-Christian sources (i.e.: Jewish, Roman mentions of Christ) and to see where the best place on the timeline is for the original penmanship. Which clearly predates even our earliest copies.

      “the documents purporting to document the life of Jesus, are near certainly not primary sources of any calibre.”
      As I’ve argued above, we have much more reason to place the authorship of the Gospels and the New Testament epistles within the lifespan of the people who walked and talked with Christ. We will have to disagree on this.

      “Memoirs, are by their very nature, rarely trusted as accurate accounts by historians, and when used are universally treated with delicate care by historians and typically supported by a wealth of additional corrobarative material from other sources. No such materials exist to corroborate the Gospels, most of which actually copy each other.”
      First, the Gospels follow the standard format for middle eastern biography. Secondly, we have Jewish, Roman and other source work which corroborate some of the core beliefs about Jesus by His contemporaries (see my post: https://intersectionvictoria.com/2010/02/12/243/ for specifics). We also have the Church Fathers, those who came one generation after Christ. If we compile their writings to each other and highlight each time they quote New Testament verses to each other, we can recreate the entire New Testament except for 11 verses. There is no such secondary attestation for any other ancient document.

      Hope this helps.

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