#3 Can we trust the Bible?

Question: Christians claim the Bible is true and the other religious books are false, what makes the bible true?

 

Answer: The Bible is a miraculous collection of stories, biographies, poems, prophetic writings, letters, laws and history, written over a period of about 1,500 years. Miraculous because the Bible contains almost 2,500 prophecies that were given hundreds or thousands of years ago, and nearly 2,000 of them have already been fulfilled.  Not impressed?  What if I told you the probability of these 2,000 being fulfilled is 1-in-1,020,000.. pretty cool right?  Given this probability, it’s hard to claim that the bible is NOT a miraculous book.

My methodology in demonstrating the reliability of the Bible will be to show that the New Testament (NT) is true, simply because the NT states that the Old Testament is true. If I can show the reliability of the NT, we automatically get confirmation of the Old as well.  The two questions we need to answer to determine if the NT is true are:

  1. Do we have an accurate copy of the NT?
  2. If we do, how do we know that the NT is telling the truth?

Let’s start with question number one and see if we have a good reason to believe that we have an accurate copy of the NT today.

 

Manuscript Support

The NT was originally written in Greek, and today, we have over 5,800 individual greek manuscripts from the ancient times. We also have over 25,000 ancient manuscripts that appear in other languages.  If that wasn’t enough, we have over 1 million NT quotations from the early church fathers, confirming the NT texts. Still not enough? Well, there are over 36,000 non-biblical letters and documents that add support, not to mention numerous archeological discoveries that substantiate the NT writings as well.  Scholars have concluded that the quantity and dating of these manuscripts makes the New Testament the most reliable document in all ancient history.

The wealth of manuscripts, and above all the narrow interval of time between the writing and the earliest extant copies, make it by far the best attested text of any ancient writing in the world [tooltip title=”John A.T. Robinson, Can we Trust the New Testament? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 36. “]⊕[/tooltip].

Okay, we have enough evidence today, to show that the NT was successfully copied & translated since the ancient days, but now let’s explore what actually makes the NT true.

 

Early Dating

The closer a historical record is to the date of the event, the more likely the record is accurate. Early dating allows for eyewitnesses to verify the accuracy of the claim(s) and this precisely the case while the Gospels were still in circulation. Early records can also be striped of any legendary developments, again, because there are enough people alive to validate the truth.  Historians have demonstrated that it takes around eighty years for legend to develop.  Fortunately, the Gospels were all written in the first century, where the numerous eyewitnesses were still alive and could verify/falsify the records, making the “legendary possibility” highly unlikely.

  1. I’d like to take a look at the four Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke, John) and explore their dating.  It’s believed that Messiah was crucified in either 30AD or 33AD, and I’ll demonstrate that the four Gospels were all written prior to 70AD, making the last Gospel at most, only 40 years after the crucifixion event.  40 years is too short a time period for legend to develop, and is well within the lifetime of majority of the eyewitnesses who can testify against false claims.  It’s reasonable to date the Gospel’s before 70AD because there were some key events that are absent in the Gospels, but would have been beneficial to have been included.  The best explanation on why these events were not recorded, is because they hadn’t happened at the time the Gospel’s were being penned. A couple of these exclusions are:
    1. Destruction of the Temple in 70AD. Messiah predicts the destruction of the Jewish temple in Matthew 23:36-38, yet none of the Gospel records actually record this happening.  History has shown us that this prediction was fulfilled in 70AD, giving us good reason to believe the Gospel’s were written prior to this date.
    2. Deaths of James (62AD), Paul (64AD) and Peter (65AD).  These three three individuals played big roles in the NT, and Luke wrote pretty extensively about them, at least about Paul and Peter.  Interestingly enough, as much as Luke has to say about these figures, he only mentions the deaths of some “lesser” figures such as Stephen [tooltip title=”54 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. 58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.”]Acts 7:54-60[/tooltip], and James the brother of John in [tooltip title=”12 Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. 2 And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword.”]Acts 12:1-2[/tooltip].  The absence of these important deaths gives more good reason to believe in the early dating of the Gospels.  This would date the Gospels before 62AD.
  2. [tooltip title=”23 For what I received from the Lord is just what I passed on to you — that the Lord Yeshua, on the night he was betrayed, took bread; 24 and after he had made the blessing he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this as a memorial to me”; 25 likewise also the cup after the meal, saying, “This cup is the New Covenant effected by my blood; do this, as often as you drink it, as a memorial to me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes.”]1 Corinthians 11:23-26[/tooltip] is dated by scholars, to have been written in 53-57AD, and this passage quotes [tooltip title=”19 Also, taking a piece of bread, he made the blessing, broke it, gave it to them and said, “This is my body, which is being given for you; do this in memory of me.” 20 He did the same with the cup after the meal, saying, “This cup is the New Covenant, ratified by my blood, which is being poured out for you.”]Luke 22:19-20[/tooltip], which would date Luke prior to 53AD.
    1. When writing to [tooltip title=”An honorary title used to describe a friend of God”]Theophilus[/tooltip] in [tooltip title=”3 Therefore, Your Excellency, since I have carefully investigated all these things from the beginning, it seemed good to me that I too should write you an accurate and ordered narrative,”]Luke 1:3[/tooltip]., Luke references that his Gospel is an “orderly” account.  If his account is “orderly” then what was the “disorderly” account?  Well, a first century bishop named Papias informs us that Mark’s Gospel is “accurate, but not orderly”, connecting the dots of what Luke was referencing.  Luke actually references Mark’s Gospel more than any other source, dating Mark prior to Luke’s.  Scholars all agree that Mark was the earliest Gospel, and given that Luke was written prior to 53AD, we can place Mark’s Gospel in the late 40’s to early 50’s, with the classic dating being 45-50AD.
  3. Next, we have the early creedal statement about Messiah, that is dated to have originated in the 30s AD.  Paul’s letter in [tooltip title=” 3 For among the first things I passed on to you was what I also received, namely this: the Messiah died for our sins, in accordance with what the Scripture says; 4 and he was buried; and he was raised on the third day, in accordance with what the Scripture says; 5 and he was seen by Cephas, then by the Twelve; 6 and afterwards he was seen by more than five hundred brothers at one time, the majority of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Later he was seen by James, then by all the apostles; 8 and last of all he was seen by me, even though I was born at the wrong time”]1 Corinthians 15:3-8[/tooltip] mentions that he [Paul] is “passing on what he received”, which is the message of Messiah’s death & resurrection, that was passed along via oral tradition. Critical scholars, including atheist [tooltip title=”Michael Martin, The Case Against Christianity (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991), 81. “]Michael Martin[/tooltip], concede Paul’s writings have a very early date as well as eyewitness testimony, and that Paul genuinely believed he witnessed a resurrection appearance of Messiah.  This early dating makes it hard for false testimony to flourish, given the number of eyewitnesses available to set the story straight.

 

Uninvented Testimony

The NT writers include event details surrounding the resurrection, that would not have been included if they were inventing the whole thing.  Specific details, especially ones that create levels of controversy, are taken seriously by scholar who study ancient history, because these details again, could be falsified by eyewitnesses.  As you can tell, eyewitnesses play a huge role in historical investigations.  Lets explore a few of these details.

  1. Joseph of Arimathea
    1. Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, which is the council that sentenced Messiah to be crucified due to blasphemy.  The NT writers say that Joseph of Arimathea gave Messiah an honorable burial by placing Him in one of his [Joseph’s] family tombs.  It would make no sense to invent a story about Messiah being placed in the tomb of a Jewish authority, unless it’s true. Interestingly, the hostile Jews never denied this burial account, and to this day, no alternate story exists.  It’s safe to conclude that this claim is true.
  2.  Women discovered the empty tomb
    1. All four Gospels say that the first people to witness the empty tomb, and the resurrection were women, one of which was Mary Magdalene who was said to be demon-possessed in [tooltip title=”2 and a number of women who had been healed from evil spirits and illnesses — Miryam (called Magdalit), from whom seven demons had gone out;”]Luke 8:2[/tooltip]. This is significant because women in first century culture, were not considered to be reliable witnesses.  Why would the Gospel writers invent a story using unreliable witnesses, one of which was embarrassingly claimed to have been demon-possessed previously, and make them the original discoverers of the empty tomb? They wouldn’t!  The writers provided this information because, as uncomfortable as it might have been to admit that the women were the brave ones, while the disciples ran in cowardice, these women were in fact the ones who discovered the tomb empty.
  3. The Jewish Explanation of the Empty Tomb
    1. In [tooltip title=”11 As they were going, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 Then they met with the elders; and after discussing the matter, they gave the soldiers a sizable sum of money 13 and said to them, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole his body while we were sleeping.’ 14 If the governor hears of it, we will put things right with him and keep you from getting in trouble.” 15 The soldiers took the money and did as they were told, and this story has been spread about by Jews till this very day.”]Matthew 28:11-15[/tooltip], we read what the Jewish leaders invented, in order to explain the empty tomb.  Interestingly, this helps to confirm that the tomb was empty by acknowledging the need for an invented explanation. If Matthew had invented the empty tomb story, it wouldn’t make sense for him to include the information about the chief priests, mainly because Matthew’s readers could verify whether or not he was lying.
  4. Embarrassing Details
    1. The NT writers record embarrassing details about themselves and about Messiah.  Historians use something called “the principle of embarrassment” as a test for truth when evaluating eyewitness testimony.  When inventing stories about yourself, no one lies to make themselves look bad, on the contrary, we lie to make ourselves look good.  Because the NT writers were either writing about themselves, or were friends with the people they were writing about, it would be strange to purposely make themselves look bad, unless they were telling the truth. Let’s see some embarrassing claims from the NT writers
      1. [tooltip title=”32 But they didn’t understand what he meant, and they were afraid to ask him.”]Mark 9:32[/tooltip] and [tooltip title=”34 However, they understood none of this; its meaning had been hidden from them, and they had no idea what he was talking about.”]Luke 18:34[/tooltip] both describe the disciples as dumb, and failing to understand the teaching of Messiah.
      2. [tooltip title=”33 “I will never lose faith in you,” Peter answered, “even if everyone else does.” 34 Yeshua said to him, “Yes! I tell you that tonight before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” 35 “Even if I must die with you,” Peter replied, “I will never disown you!” And all the disciples said the same thing.”]Matthew 26:33-35[/tooltip] describes the disciples as cowards.  All but one of the disciples ran and hide when Messiah is taken into custody, meanwhile, the women demonstrate bravery by staying by Messiah’s side throughout the trial and crucifixion.
      3. [tooltip title=”30 Many people who heard him say these things trusted in him. 31 So Yeshua said to the Judeans who had trusted him, “If you obey what I say, then you are really my disciples,”]John 8:30-31[/tooltip] says that the Jews who believed in Messiah, had deserted Him and wanted to [tooltip title=”John 8:59 At this, they picked up stones to throw at him; but Yeshua was hidden and left the Temple grounds.”]stone Him[/tooltip].
      4. [tooltip title=”36 One of the Pharisees invited Yeshua to eat with him, and he went into the home of the Pharisee and took his place at the table. 37 A woman who lived in that town, a sinner, who was aware that he was eating in the home of the Pharisee, brought an alabaster box of very expensive perfume, 38 stood behind Yeshua at his feet and wept until her tears began to wet his feet. Then she wiped his feet with her own hair, kissed his feet and poured the perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw what was going on, he said to himself, “If this man were really a prophet, he would have known who is touching him and what sort of woman she is, that she is a sinner.””]Luke 7:36-39[/tooltip] tells the story about Messiah having His feet washed by a prostitute, which was considered a sexual advance.
      5. [tooltip title=”Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.”]Matthew 21:19[/tooltip] records Messiah cursing a fig tree for not having any figs on it, even though it was not fig season.
  5. Confirmed Historical Figures
    1. The NT writers include more than thirty figures that have been confirmed historically.  This is significant because there is no way these writers would have included real people (some of great noteriety), in a fictional story. Given the number of historically confirmed people listed, we know the writers were truthful in their reports.  I’m not going to list all thirty, but lets take a look at a few of the figures:
      1. Yeshua the Messiah.  I’m not going to list all the citations for Him
      2. Ceaser Agustus in [tooltip title=”In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.”]Luke 2:1[/tooltip]
      3. Herod Antipas in [tooltip title=”17 For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her.“]Mark 6:17[/tooltip] & [tooltip title=”1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the news about Jesus, 2 and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” “]Matthew 14:1-2[/tooltip]
      4. Cladius & Felix in [tooltip title=”24 They were also to provide mounts to put Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the governor. 25 And he wrote a letter having this form: 26 “Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor Felix, greetings.“]Acts 23:24-26[/tooltip]
      5. Pilate in all four Gospels as well as other places in the NT.

 

Geographic Separation

The geographic separation of some of the early church leaders was significant. By the end of the 1st Century, Clement, Polycarp and Ignatius were leading the church in separate regions of the kingdom, yet identified the core of the New Testament. At this early point in history, the New Testament books were already written and accepted as scripture by the first disciples of the apostles.

  1. Clement of Rome (95AD)
    1. Clement of Rome was a disciple of Paul, who had access to many of Paul’s letters and collected many of the New Testament eyewitness documents personally.  Clement confirms Mark, Matthew, John, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians.
  2. Polycarp (110AD)

    1. Polycarp was a disciple of the apostle John and wrote a letter of his own to the Church in Philippi, where quoted many passages from the NT writings.  Polycarp confirms Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 1 Peter, 1 John, 2 Timothy and 2 Corinthians.
  3. Ignatius (110-115AD)

    1. Ignatius was a student of the apostle John, and he wrote two letters, one to the church in Philadelphia and another to the church in Smyrna.  Ignatius actually confirms 16 of the NT books in his writings by either quoting or alluding to them.

The NT books that are confirmed by just these three leaders are: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, 1 Peter and 1 John

 

Dissimilarity or Discontinuity

This section is a favorite amongst skeptics.  It’s often referred to as contradictions in the Bible.  Most skeptics attempt to dismiss the Gospel writings, because of the numerous discrepancies within the text.  We need to remember that the information recorded in the Gospels was provided by multiple eyewitnesses, and eyewitnesses will always provide information from their own unique perspectives.  True reliable eyewitness accounts will differ from each other, and we need to differentiate between complimentary and conflicting accounts.  Let’s take a look at a quick example:

  1. Women at the Empty Tomb

    Matthew mentions two women by name, Mark mentions three by name, Luke mentions at least three by name but describes more and John only mentions Mary Magdalene.  Skeptics like to grab something like this as confirmation that the Gospel accounts are unreliable, when in fact, it’s better they these testimonies are different.  What facts are confirmed by these accounts?

    1. The location of the tomb was known
    2. The tomb was found empty
    3. The tomb was discovered empty by women.

This is perfect.  We have multiple, independent attestation of the above facts!  So how do we know which eyewitness got it right?  They all did.  What?  Yep, all four accounts are accurate, let me explain.  When we examine the number of women at the empty tomb, we need to realize that all four authors identify a group of women, some of which are mentioned by name.  None of the authors made the claim that there were only X number of women, but rather only chose to name a select number.  The group of women that can account for all four Gospel records are Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary the Mother of James, Salome, and Joanna.  After closer examination, we can see that rather than these records contradicting each other, they actually compliment each other.

 

Eyewitnesses Were Martyred for Their Faith

The NT writers suffered persecution and death, for the claims they were making.  All they would have had to do to save their skin, would be to change their story and claim something else.  When investigating eyewitnesses, you can always determine who is being authentic, because they wont change their story.  The remaining disciples (besides James who was exiled to the Greek island of Patmos), were martyred for their faith.  Peter was crucified upside-down, James was stoned and Paul was beheaded.  Why would anyone die for a known lie?  What would that accomplish?  These NT writers were willing to die for their claims because they believed everything to be true.  Obviously dying for what you believe is true, and whether or not the belief is actually true, are two separate things, but I believe enough information was provided above to demonstrate that the NT claims were indeed truthful, reliable and factual.

Before the resurrection, the apostle Peter [tooltip title=”56 One of the servant girls saw him sitting in the light of the fire, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it: “Lady, I don’t even know him.” 58 A little later, someone else saw him and said, “You’re one of them too”; but Peter said, “Man, I am not!” 59 About an hour later, another man asserted emphatically, “There can be no doubt that this fellow was with him, because he too is from the Galil!” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” -Luke 22:56-60 “]denied[/tooltip] Messiah three times to spare himself from being persecuted. After the resurrection, we see that Peter had no desire to save his skin and actually continued to spread the words, teachings and message of Messiah. What changed?  The only explanation that can fit here is that Peter sincerely believed that he witnessed the risen Messiah, and knew the eternal implications involved with denying this truth.

 

Archeology

On the whole … archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the Scriptural record. More than one archaeologist has found his respect for the Bible increased by the experience of excavation in Palestine. Archaeology has in many cases refuted the views of modern critics[tooltip title=”Millar Burrows, What Mean These Stones? (New York: Meridian Books, 1956), p.1.”]⊕[/tooltip].

Archaeology adds to the cumulative case for the historical reliability of the New Testament by empirically verifying references to places, people, writings, living conditions, buildings, coins, tools, cultural practices and so much more.  While we don’t have (and shouldn’t expect to) archeological evidence for every part of the NT, we do have a good number of findings to corroborate the NT.  Lets take a quick look at some of this evidence:

  1. The Nazareth Decree
    1. The ‘Nazareth decree’ is a marble slab found in Nazareth in 1878 with an inscription issued in AD 41 by Emperor Claudius. The inscription reads: no graves should be disturbed or bodies extracted, with offenders sentenced to death.  We can relate this to the Jewish argument that Jesus’ body had been stolen in[tooltip title=”11 As they were going, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 Then they met with the elders; and after discussing the matter, they gave the soldiers a sizable sum of money 13 and said to them, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole his body while we were sleeping.’ 14 If the governor hears of it, we will put things right with him and keep you from getting in trouble.” 15 The soldiers took the money and did as they were told, and this story has been spread about by Jews till this very day.”]Matthew 28:11-15[/tooltip].
  2. The Crucifixion Victim
    1. In 1968 an ancient burial site was uncovered containing the body of Yohanan Ben Ha’galgol, who had a 7-inch nail driven through both feet. Yohanan’s legs were crushed in accordance to the Roman ‘crucifragium’ found in [tooltip title=”

      31 It was Preparation Day, and the Judeans did not want the bodies to remain on the stake on Shabbat, since it was an especially important Shabbat. So they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies removed. 32 The soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man who had been put on a stake beside Yeshua, then the legs of the other one“]John 19:31-32[/tooltip]. This shows that a victim of crucifixion could receive a proper Jewish burial (like Messiah did).

  3. Capernaum
    1. [tooltip title=”21 They *went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach. 22 They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”]Mark 1:21-22[/tooltip] and [tooltip title=”31 And He came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and He was teaching them on the Sabbath”]Luke 4:31[/tooltip] mentioned that Messiah taught in Capernaum, in a synagogue in which its foundations can be seen today under the remains of the 4th century lime-stone synagogue which in now in place. A 1st century dating of the original synagogue is confirmed by pottery finds beneath the floor.

From the period of the New Testament there has been uncovered the evidence of the fishing industry (anchors, fishhooks), which employed [the] disciples, as well as a street and houses certainly used by them on occasion[tooltip title=”Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out: What Archaeology Reveals about the Truth of the Bible (Eugene, Origon: Harvest House, 1997), p.305.”]⊕[/tooltip].

4. Tiberius Caesar

The Denarius coin, 14-37 AD, is commonly referred to as the ‘Tribute Penny’ from the Bible, shows a portrait of Tiberius Caesar.  [tooltip title=”17 Yeshua said, “Give Ceaser what belongs to Caesar. And give to God what belongs to God!” And they were amazed at him.”]Mark 12:17[/tooltip] records Messiah talking about Caesar, and given the dating of this denarius coin, we can confirm the existence of Tiberius Caesar

5. Pontius Pilot

In 1961, in Caesarea Maritima, an inscription was found at the place where Pilot lived, which confirms the rule of Pilate in Judea as well as his preference for the title ‘Prefect’.  The inscription reads: “To Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea.”

In 1961, in Caesarea Maritima, where Pontius Pilate lived, an inscription was found which, among other things, confirms not only the rule of Pilate in Judea but also his preference for the title ‘Prefect’. The inscription isn’t complete anymore, but there’s little question about what it once said[tooltip title=”Roberts, op. cit., p.152.”]⊕[/tooltip].

 

Conclusion

We’ve been able to see through ancient manuscript evidence, that today, we have a reliable copy of the NT.  We have also demonstrated the significance of early testimony, and we have evidence of the original creed, orally transmitted by the disciples dates back to the cross itself in 30 or 33AD.  Combine that with the uninvented evidence that contains embarrassing testimony, and historical people that wouldn’t have been included in fictional stories, the multiple, independent testimony of eyewitnesses who could verify/falsify the claims, and the accuracy of the early Church Fathers who confirmed 20 out of 27 NT books.  We have differing eyewitness accounts that demonstrate true & reliable eyewitness attestation.  Follow that up with the fact that the individuals claiming the truths of the NT were willing to die for what they were saying, and finalize everything with multiple archeological discoveries that confirm multiple places and people that were mentioned in the NT.

This level of evidence makes it virtually impossible to label Messiah as a legend, or to claim that the disciples were liars.  Like mentioned in the beginning of this article, we have good reason to trust the NT, and if we have a reliable NT, we automatically get confirmation of the Old as well, showing that we can reasonably trust the Bible.