The Bible is Truly Unique Among ‘Sacred Texts’
The Bible is truly unique among all books. Composed of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), and the New Testament Scriptures, it is a book that over 2 billion people today consider to be divinely inspired, penned by people that were “moved by God’s Spirit” as they wrote. What makes the Bible different from other so-called “holy books”, and why should we trust it alone to be God’s uniquely inspired written word?
- The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, exists in the form of literally thousands of ancient manuscripts. Whereas other ancient books may exist in only a few or perhaps dozens of copies, the Bible is supported by thousands of ancient manuscripts.
- Unique among sacred texts, the Bible contains a high percentage of text concerning prophecy. Statements attributed to God by a prophet, concerning the certainty of future events. A few examples include:
- Over 300 prophecies concerning the coming of a future Messiah, which were literally fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth
- The prophecies concerning the major kingdoms of the world, foretold in the book of Daniel – the Persian, Greek, Roman, and the future one world government.
- Prophecies concerning the “diaspora” – the dispersion of Israel throughout the whole earth, and the eventual return of Israel back to their native land, to become a people and a nation once again.
And as far as we can tell, all of these predictions have come true! Why is an important testimonial to the divine inspiration of the Bible? Because one of the characteristics God states about Himself in the Bible is that “I tell about things before they happen, so that when they do, you may know that I am the Lord.” Only God can see the future before it happens. The fact that the Bible is filled with prophecy, and we see these statements fulfilled, leads us to the inescapable conclusion that the Bible is like no other book. It has God’s fingerprints upon it.
- The support of archaeology for the truthfulness of the people and events in the Bible. Many objections have been raised by skeptics about the people and events in the Bible, but time and again skeptics have been proven wrong, and the Bible has been vindicated. A few examples include:
- The claim that the ancient cities of Sodom and Gamorah never existed has been answered by the discovered of the remains of these cities in the southern end of the Dead Sea
- The claim that a people called the Hittites never existed has been met with the discovery of evidence that they in fact were a people group
- The notion that a Pontius Pilate never existed – answered by finding his name inscribed in stone near the ruins of his seat of power near the coast of Israel
- The corroboration of other non-biblical writers as to the people and events in the Bible. We can look to dozens of non-biblical historians and writers who provide us with written historical documents about the people and events in the Bible – Jewish historians, Roman historians and government officials, all recorded information about various people and events.
- The amazing consistency and unity of the Bible. The Old Testament predicts and foreshadows the New Testament, and the people and events in the New Testament explain and fulfill the prophecies in the Old Testament. Although penned by over 40 authors during a period of over 2,000 years, the Bible has an amazing consistency and unity about it.
- The support of modern science for the Bible. At one time it was thought that the Bible and modern science were in conflict. However, we are discovering more and more that science is not only no in conflict with the Bible, but it is amazing supportive of the Bible. Some examples include:
- The creation of all matter, time and space from a singularity. In Genesis 1, the Bible states that “In the beginning God created (bara – out of nothing) the heavens and the earth (the cosmos)”. We now know that at one time there was in fact a “beginning” – that all things have not always been as they are today. Science has concluded that all matter, space and even time originated at the “big gang” – some 13.7 billion years ago.
- The “fine-tuning” of the universe, the solar system, and the earth system. It seems as if the “dials” of these systems have been set just so, enabling complex life to form on the earth. If these “cosmological constants” were not set as they are, not life would be possible.
- Evidence of design. As we peer into the microscope, and the telescope, scientists are witnessing evidence of design. Examples include the “irreducible complexity” in many bio-mechanical systems.
- The science of Archaeology consistently supports the Bible – see additional supporting evidence in this document
- The Bible changes people and society for the good. In contrast to other so-called sacred texts, the Bible has changes more lives, and cultures, for the good than any other. Because it is God’s inspired Word, it has provided millions with God’s guidance for every aspect of their life. Not only that, one could say that “western civilization” has based their laws on the foundation of the Bible.
The Support of Ancient Manuscripts: Old and New Testaments
Old Testament Ancient Manuscripts
Although the Old Testament does not have quite the number of ancient manuscripts that the New Testament has, the number of documents available is still quite remarkable (given the time span of 2-3,000 years that these documents had to endure).
|Collection||Number of Manuscripts|
|Benjamin Kennicott (1776-1780), published by Oxford||Listed 615|
|Giovanni de Rossi (1784-1788)||List of 731|
|Second Firkowitch Collection, Lenningrad||1,582 Biblical manuscripts and Masora on parchment, plus 1,200 Hebrew manuscripts in the Antonin Collection|
|British Museum||161 Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts|
|Oxford University, the Bodleian Library||146 Old Testament manuscripts, with a large number of fragments|
|Dead Sea Scrolls (300 B.C to 100 A.D.)||A complete copy of Isaiah, plus thousands of fragments (representing every book except Ester)|
New Testament Ancient Manuscripts
One of the criteria for the authority of ancient documents is the extent of supporting ancient manuscripts – the more the better, and the closer to the time of the original documents as possible. In light of these tests, the New Testament is the best attested to work from the ancient world.5 It has by far the greatest number of existing ancient manuscripts (see the Appendix for more on this). Ancient classical works are attested to by very few ancient copies, usually less than 10. In contrast, the New Testament is attested to by over 5,000 full or partial Greek manuscripts. In addition, thousands of other copies in other languages exist, especially Latin.
The Bible is Unique in its Amazing Consistency and Unity
The Bible – Old and New Testaments – was written by 40 different authors over a 1,500 year period. The books of the Old Testament can be broadly divided into several sections: 1) the first five books or Pentateuch (Torah); 2) the history books telling the history of the Israelites, from their conquest of Canaan to their defeat and exile in Babylon; 3) the poetic and “Wisdom” books dealing, in various forms, with questions of good and evil in the world; 4) and the books of the biblical prophets, warning of the consequences of turning away from God. The writers of the Old Testament, inspired by God’s Spirit, included Moses, David, Solomon, and prophets such as Isaiah, Jeramiah, and others.
The New Testament (discussed in more detail later in this study) was written by Jesus’ Apostles (John, Matthew, and of course Paul), disciples (followers) such as Luke and Mark, and half-brothers such as James and Jude – many of whom were eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus, and his ministry.
The Bible is one unified book containing in fact many different kinds of “books”…
- Historical works
- Legal documents
- Personal correspondence
.. by a variety of writers, from poor to wealthy, from many walks of life.1
And yet, the Bible is amazingly unique in its “unity” – the Old Testament prefigures the coming of the Messiah documented in the New Testament, and the books of the New Testament continually refer back to and fulfill the writings of the Old Testament. In fact, the Bible itself asserts that “All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16).
Unlike other religious writings, the Bible reads as a factual news account of real events, places, people, and dialogue. Historians and archaeologists have repeatedly confirmed its authenticity. Using the authors’ own writing styles and personalities, God shows us who he is and what it’s like to know him. There is one central message consistently carried by all 40 authors of the Bible: God, who created us all, desires a relationship with us. He calls us to know him and trust him.
The Bible not only inspires us, it explains life and God to us. It does not answer all the questions we might have, but enough of them. It shows us how to live with purpose and compassion. How to relate to others. It encourages us to rely on God for strength, direction, and enjoy his love for us. The Bible also tells us how we can have eternal life. This study will explore multiple categories of evidence that support the historical accuracy of the Bible, as well as its claim to divine authorship.
Examples of Support from Archaeology
|Mari Tablets||Over 20,000 cuneiform tablets, which date back to Abraham’s time period, explain many of the patriarchal traditions of Genesis.|
|Ebla Tablets||Over 20,000 tablets, many containing law similar to the Deuteronomy law code. The previously thought fictitious five cities of the plain in Genesis 14 (Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar) are identified.|
|Nuzi Tablets||They detail customs of the 14th and 15th century parallel to the patriarchal accounts such as maids producing children for barren wives.|
|Black Stele||Proved that writing and written laws existed three centuries before the Mosaic laws.|
|Temple Walls of Karnak, Egypt||Signifies a 10th century BC reference to Abraham.|
|Laws of Eshnunna (ca. 1950 BC) Lipit-Ishtar Code (ca. 1860 BC) Laws of Hammurabi (ca. 1700 BC)||Show that the law codes of the Pentateuch were not too sophisticated for that period.|
|Ras Shamra Tablets||Provide information on Hebrew poetry.|
|Lachish Letters||Describe Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Judah and give insight into the time of Jeremiah.|
|Gedaliah Seal||References Gedaliah is spoken of in 2 Kings 25:22.|
|Cyrus Cylinder||Authenticates the Biblical description of Cyrus’ decree to allow the Jews to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (see 2 Chronicles 36:23; Ezra 1:2-4).|
|Moabite Stone||Gives information about Omri, the sixth king of Israel.|
|Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III||Illustrates how Jehu, king of Israel, had to submit to the Assyrian king.|
|Taylor Prism||Contains an Assyrian text which detail Sennacherib’s attack on Jerusalem during the time of Hezekiah, king of Israel.|
|PAST CHARGES BY CRITICS||ANSWERED BY ARCHAEOLOGY|
|Moses could not have written Pentateuch because he lived before the invention of writing.||Writing existed many centuries before Moses.|
|Abraham’s home city of Ur does not exist.||Ur was discovered. One of the columns had the inscription “Abram.”|
|The city built of solid rock called “Petra” does not exist.||Petra was discovered.|
|The story of the fall of Jericho is myth. The city never existed.||The city was found and excavated. It was found that the walls tumbled in the exact manner described by the biblical narrative.|
|The “Hittites” did not exist.||Hundreds of references to the amazing Hittite civilization have been found. One can even get a doctorate in Hittite studies at the University of Chicago.|
|Belshazzar was not a real king of Babylon; he is not found in the records.||Tablets of Babylonia describe the reign of this coregent and son of Nabonidus.|
Source: EveryStudent.com web site: www.EveryStudent.com
Answering Common Objections to the Bible
Objection: “The Bible is just a bunch of myths. There is no archaeological evidence to support the Bible.”
Archaeology cannot prove that the Bible is God’s written word to us. However, archaeology can (and does) substantiate the Bible’s historical accuracy. Archaeologists have consistently discovered the names of government officials, kings, cities, and festivals mentioned in the Bible — sometimes when historians didn’t think such people or places existed. For example, the Gospel of John tells of Jesus healing a cripple next to the Pool of Bethesda. The text even describes the five porticoes (walkways) leading to the pool. Scholars didn’t think the pool existed, until archaeologists found it forty feet below ground, complete with the five porticoes.1
The Bible has a tremendous amount of historical detail, so not everything mentioned in it has yet been found through archaeology. However, not one archaeological find has conflicted with what the Bible records.2
Yet this is not the case with other religious texts. For example, author Lee Strobel comments about the Book of Mormon: “Archaeology has repeatedly failed to substantiate its claims about events that supposedly occurred long ago in the Americas. I remember writing to the Smithsonian Institute to inquire about whether there was any evidence supporting the claims of Mormonism, only to be told in unequivocal terms that its archaeologists see ‘no direct connection between the archaeology of the New World and the subject matter of the book.'” Archaeologists have never located cities, persons, names, or places mentioned in the Book of Mormon.3
In contrast, many of the ancient locations mentioned by Luke, in the Book of Acts in the New Testament, have been identified through archaeology. “In all, Luke names thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities and nine islands without an error.”4
>> Watch the 3 minute report on Biblical Archaeological Evidence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyW1ivme2CA
Archaeology has also refuted many ill-founded theories about the Bible. For example, a theory still taught in some colleges today asserts that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), because writing had not been invented in his day. Then archaeologists discovered the Black Stele. “It had wedge-shaped characters on it and contained the detailed laws of Hammurabi. Was it post-Moses? No! It was pre-Mosaic; not only that, but it was pre-Abraham (2,000 B.C.). It preceded Moses’ writings by at least three centuries.”5
Archaeology consistently confirms the historical accuracy of the Bible. For further study, see the attachment at the end of this document on archaeological finds supporting the Bible. Also visit the Biblical Archaeological Society web site for interesting articles and news updates: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/
>> Watch: Real Places in the Biblical Accounts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avyfKA4zAEU
Objection: “The Bible has changed over time through many translations, so how can we be sure we have what was originally written?”
Some people have the idea that the Bible has been translated “so many times” that it has become corrupted through stages of translating. If the translations were being made from other translations, they would have a case. But translations are actually made directly from original Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic source texts based on thousands of ancient manuscripts.
The Old Testament’s accuracy was confirmed by an archaeological discovery in 1947, along today’s West Bank in Israel. “The Dead Sea Scrolls” contained Old Testament scripture dating 1,000 years older than any manuscripts we had. When comparing the manuscripts at hand with these, from 1,000 years earlier, we find agreement 99.5% of the time. And the .5% differences are minor spelling variances and sentence structure that doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence.
Regarding the New Testament, it is humanity’s most reliable ancient document. We have thousands of copies of the New Testament, all dated closely to the original writing. In fact, we are more certain the New Testament remains as it was originally written by its authors, than we are sure of writings we attribute to Plato, or Aristotle, or Homer’s Iliad. See the appendix for a comparison of the New Testament documents to other ancient writings.
> Watch and Listen: Ravi Zacharias on the Reliability of the Bible https://youtu.be/c24okgroOiw
Objection: “The gospel accounts of Jesus don’t all agree; they were just stories made up by people who wanted to believe in a Savior.”
Four of the authors of the New Testament each wrote their own biography on the life of Jesus. These are called the four gospels, the first four books of the New Testament. How can we be sure these biographies of Jesus are accurate?
When historians try to determine if a biography is reliable, they ask, “How many other sources report the same details about this person?” Here’s how this works. Imagine you are collecting biographies of President John F. Kennedy. You find many describing his family, his presidency, his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and almost all of the biographies report similar facts. But what if you found one biography reporting that he lived ten years as a priest in South Africa? The other biographies show he lived in the U.S. his entire life. A sensible historian would go with the accounts that agree with one another.
Regarding Jesus, do we find multiple biographies reporting similar facts about his life? Yes. Here is a sampling of facts about Jesus, and where you would find that fact reported in each of their biographies.
|Jesus was born of a virgin||1:18-25||–||1:27, 34||–|
|He was born in Bethlehem||2:1||–||2:4||–|
|He lived in Nazareth||2:23||1:9, 24||2:51, 4:16||1:45, 46|
|Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist||3:1-15||1:4-9||3:1-22||–|
|He performed miracles of healing||4:24, etc.||1:34, etc.||4:40, etc.||9:7|
|He walked on water||14:25||6:48||–||6:19|
|He fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish||14:7||6:38||9:13||6:9|
|Jesus taught the common people||5:1||4:25, 7:28||9:11||18:20|
|He spent time with social outcasts||9:10, 21:31||2:15, 16||5:29, 7:29||8:3|
|He argued with the religious elite||15:7||7:6||12:56||8:1-58|
|The religious elite plotted to kill him||12:14||3:6||19:47||11:45-57|
|They handed Jesus over to the Romans||27:1, 2||15:1||23:1||18:28|
|Jesus was flogged||27:26||15:15||–||19:1|
|He was crucified||27:26-50||15:22-37||23:33-46||19:16-30|
|He was buried in a tomb||27:57-61||15:43-47||23:50-55||19:38-42|
|Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his followers||28:1-20||16:1-20||24:1-53||20:1-31|
Again, the gospels read like news reports, a factual accounting of the day’s events, each from their own perspective. The descriptions are unique to each author, but the facts are in agreement. The gospels give specific geographical names and cultural details that have been confirmed by historians and archaeologists.
Evidence that New Testament Writers were Primary Sources
Two of the gospel biographies were written by the apostles Matthew and John, men who knew Jesus personally and traveled with him for over three years. The other two books were written by Mark and Luke, close associates of the apostles. These writers had direct access to the facts they were recording. The early church accepted the four gospels because they agreed with what was already common knowledge about Jesus’ life. The writers of the New Testament documents wrote as eyewitnesses or from firsthand information. And the authors stressed this point:
- Luke 1:1-3: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them unto us, it seemed good to me also, having had a perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus.”
- 2 Peter 1:16: “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”
- 1 John 1:3: “That which we have seen and heard we declare unto you”
- John 19:35: “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe.”
According to Professor Richard Bauckham, the people who saw and heard Jesus were still alive, and still telling their stories, when the Bible’s accounts of Jesus were written. The Gospel accounts are based on the testimony of eyewitnesses. From the series ‘Jesus Myths,’ exploring modern myths about Jesus. With Professor Richard Bauckham, University of St. Andrews, author ‘Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.’
Reflect: Why is it so important to stress the fact that the New Testament gospels were based on eye witness testimony? Where is this used so often today?
Objection: “You can’t believe the New Testament, since there is no evidence outside the Bible for what it has to say about Jesus.”
The Bible reports that Jesus of Nazareth performed many miracles, was executed by the Romans, and rose from the dead. Numerous ancient historians corroborate the Bible’s account of the life of Jesus and his followers:
Cornelius Tacitus (c. A.D. 55-120)
A Roman historian who lived through the reign of over a half-dozen Roman emperors1, Tacitus has been called “the greatest historian of ancient Rome. His most famous works are the Annals and the Histories. The Annals covers from 14 A.D. to approximately 68 A.D. (the death of Augustus up to the time of Nero), while Histories proceeds from 68 A.D. (Nero’s death) to 96 A.D. (the time of Domitian). Here is what Tacitus wrote concerning the history of Jesus, and the existence of Christians in Rome:
“But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the price could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also.” (Annals XV, 44)1.
Some points about the narrative from Tacitus:
What is the name he calls Jesus? Scholars state that referring to Jesus by this name was a common practice among the pagan writers at that time
- Does Tacitus’ writing support the fact that Christ existed?
- What does it say about His death? Under whom was He put to death?
He alludes to “the pernicious superstition” which broke out, was repressed, but then spread even more – even throughout the city of Rome itself. This may indeed be referring to the core belief which caused the early church to explode and “turn the world upside down” — that Jesus had died indeed, but that He had also risen from the grave.
Josephus ben Mattathias (c. 37/38 A.D.- sometime after 100 A.D.)
Josephus has been described as a Jewish aristocrat, a priestly politician, a reluctant commander of rebel troups in Galilee during the first Jewish revolt again Rome (66 – 73 A.D.), a Jewish historian in the pay of the Roman emperors, and a supposed Pharisee. After capture by Vespasian in 67 A.D., Josephus served the Romans as mediator and interpretor during the rest of the revolt. He is famous for two great historical works: The Jewish War (written in the early 70’s), and Jewish Antiquities, finished about 93-941.
There are three passages in his Jewish Antiquities that are of particular interest.
Josephus’ Writes About Jesus
The first records testimony about Jesus, his life and impact during the rule of Pilate. Parts of this passage have been disputed by some, based on the contention that Josephus, being a Jew, would not have said some things in the passage. There is some evidence that later scribes elaborated on the original text. I have bolded the sections which are not in dispute by scholars, so that the reader can clearly see those sections which are agreed by most scholars to be the historian’s original words.
“3. “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal menu among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”
Points to note:
- There is some contention among historians than some words may have been added to Josephus’ original account. However, the words and sentences in bold above are without dispute – all historians agree that the words in bold were penned by Josephus.
- What does this say about how Jesus died?
- What does this say about what happened three days after He died?
- What is tribe called that sprung up after this?
Josephus Writings About John the Baptist
The second passage refers to John the Baptist. Almost all modern scholars consider the reference in Book 18, Chapter 5, 2 of the Antiquities to the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist also to be authentic.
“2. Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, …”
Josephus Writing about James, the Brother of Jesus
“Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.”
The James referred to in this passage is most likely James the first bishop of Jerusalem who is also called James the Just in Christian literature, and to whom the Epistle of James has been attributed. The translations of Josephus’ writing into other languages have at times included passages that are not found in the Greek texts, raising the possibility of interpolation, but this passage on James is found in all manuscripts, including the Greek texts.
Suetonius, a Roman historian
Another Roman historian, Suetonius, a court official under the emperor Hadrian, stated in his Life of Claudius (written about 120 A.D.) that Christians were expelled from Rome because of Christ (whom he calls Chrestus):
“As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome”. (Life of Claudius, 25:4)1
In another of his works, Suetonius records the punishment that Christians were receiving in Rome during the time of Nero (64 A.D.):
“Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.” (Lives of the Caesars, 26.2)
Thallus, a Roman historian
Thallus, a Samaritan-born historian who lived and worked in Rome about 52 A.D., “wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean world from the Trojan was to his own time.” (Habernas, VECELJ, 93). Although the original writings of Thallus are lost to us, Julius Africanus, a Christian historian of the late second century (2221 A,D.), was familiar with them and quotes from them. One very interesting passage from Thallus relates to the darkness that enveloped the land at the time of Christ’s crucifixion. Julius Africanus writes as follows:
“Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun – unreasonably, as it seems to me (unreasonably, of course, because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was at the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died.” (Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18.1)
Points to note:
- Does Thallus dispute that Christ died upon the cross? No.
- The Bible records that darkness fell upon the land about the time of Jesus death on the cross. Is Thallus attempting to explain by naturalistic means what happened?
Pliny the Younger, Governor of Bithynia
Plinus Secundus, called Pliny the Younger to distinguish him from his uncle, was governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor about A.D. 112. He wrote to the emperor Trajan to seek advice on how to deal with the problem of Christians in his province. He recounted to Trajan in his letters that he had been killing so many, he was considering whether he should continue killing anyone who professed to be a Christian, or only certain ones. He explains that he made them bow down to statues of Trajan, and “curse Christ, which a genuine Christian cannot be induced to do.“ In the same letter he say of the people who were being tried:
“They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to do any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up.” (Epistles X, 96)
The Jewish Talmud
Even the Jewish Talmud, certainly not biased toward Jesus, concurs about the major events of his life. From the Talmud,
“we learn that Jesus was conceived out of wedlock, gathered disciples, made blasphemous claims about himself, and worked miracles, but these miracles are attributed to sorcery and not to God.”9
This is remarkable information considering that most ancient historians focused on political and military leaders, not on obscure rabbis from distant provinces of the Roman Empire. Yet ancient historians (Jews, Greeks and Romans) confirm the major events that are presented in the New Testament, even though they were not believers themselves.
Objection: “There are so many contradictions in the Bible, it just can be believed.”
While some claim that the Bible is full of contradictions, this simply isn’t true. The number of apparent contradictions is actually remarkably small for a book of the Bible’s size and scope. What apparent discrepancies do exist are more curiosity than calamity. They do not touch on any major event or article of faith.
Here is an example of a so-called contradiction. Pilate ordered that a sign be posted on the cross where Jesus hung. Three of the Gospels record what was written on that sign:
- In Matthew: “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.”
- In Mark: “The king of the Jews.”
- In John: “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.”
The wording is different, hence the apparent contradiction. The remarkable thing, though, is that all three writers describe the same event in such detail — Jesus was crucified. On this they all agree. They even record that a sign was posted on the cross, and the meaning of the sign is the same in all three accounts!
What about the exact wording? In the original Greek of the Gospels, they didn’t use a quotation symbol as we do today to indicate a direct quote. The Gospel authors were making an indirect quote, which would account for the subtle differences in the passages.
Here is another example of an apparent contradiction. Was Jesus two nights in the tomb or three nights in the tomb before His resurrection? Jesus said, prior to his crucifixion, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). Mark records another statement that Jesus made, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:33,34)
Jesus was killed on Friday and the resurrection was discovered on Sunday. How can that be three days and nights in the tomb? It was a Jewish figure of speech in Jesus’ time to count any part of a day or night as a full day and night. So Friday, Saturday, and Sunday would be called three days and three nights in Jesus’ culture. We speak in similar ways today — if a person were to say, “I spent all day shopping,” we understand that the person didn’t mean 24 hours.
This is typical of apparent contradictions in the New Testament. Most are resolved by a closer examination of the text itself or through studying the historical background.
>> Watch and listen: “Why the Bible”, by Ravi Zacharias (6:52) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHRP0I2SrVs
Objection: “There were many gospels. How were the books of the New Testament determined? Why not accept the apocrypha, the gospel of Judas, or the gospel of Thomas? What about other holy books?”
What Was the Criteria for Acceptance into the Canon?
From the writings of biblical and church historians we can discern at least five principles that were used to determine whether or not a writing was to be included in “the canon”4. If the book met these criteria, it became part of the cannon. If not, it ended up being excluded.
- Was the book written by a prophet of God? The notion was that if the book was written by an authentic prophet of God (Isaiah, Zechariah, et.), then it was “the Word of God.”
- Was the writer confirmed by acts of God? Frequently miracles separated the true prophets from the false ones. For example, Moses was given miraculous powers to prove to the Egyptians that he was called by God. (Ex 4:1-9) Elijah triumphed over false prophets by a supernatural act (1 Kings 18). Jesus was attested to by God “with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him” (Acts 2:22).
- Did the message tell the truth about God? God cannot contradict Himself (2 Cor 1:17-18), nor can He utter what is false (Heb 6:18). Hence no book with false claims can be the Word of God. For these reasons, the early church fathers maintained the policy “if in doubt, throw it out”.
- Does it come with the power of God? The apostles, disciples, and early church fathers believed that the Word of God is “living and active” (Heb 4:12). As a result, it ought to have a transforming force for bringing people to the faith (1 Per 1:23), as well as building them up (2 Tim 3:17). Those that became part of the canon manifested these qualities; those that did not failed in this and other areas.
- Was it accepted by the people of God? The people in the best position to know a book’s prophetic credentials were those who knew the prophet who wrote it. The four gospels were accepted early on because those living at the time knew the writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They also accepted Acts due to Luke’s authorship. Paul’s writings were accepted as He was known and well regarded as one of the Apostles, although the last to come to that state. The other epistles were accepted due to having been written by disciples (actually the Lord’s half brothers) – James, and Jude. Thus, when a book was received, collected, read, and used by the people of God as the Word of God, it was regarded as canonical.
>> Watch: Ravi Zacharias, on the difference between the Bible and the Quran in 1 minute: https://youtu.be/sQgxXEecJG4
How Did We Arrive at the Books in the New Testament?
In contrast to what “The Da Vinci Code” and other modern sources would have you believe, the list of books of the New Testament were settled and recognized as authoritative by the church long before the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.
During the second century many “cults” started to spring up among the early Christian community, their leaders seeking to draw away many from the faithful. One of these groups, led by a man from Asia Minor named Montanus, claimed to have received revelations from God about the apocalypse. By this time, the fours gospels and the writings of Paul had received widespread acceptance among the church as being authoritative – the problem was they hadn’t been bound into a single book yet.
Montanus took the opportunity to claim authority for his revelations, hoping to gain acceptance along with the four gospels and Paul’s writings. The church met this challenge in 190 A.D. by defining what was called the “Muratorian Canon“3, after its modern discover. This canon, dated to 190 A.D., is nearly identical to the New Testament we have today — the difference being that it included two books that were later excluded from the canon – 1) the Revelation of Peter, and 2) the Wisdom of Solomon. By the time of the Council of Nicea (in 325 A.D.), the New Testament canon was pretty much settled – the only debate was concerning a few books, chief of which were Hebrews and Revelation (due to questions of authorship).
There are other solid reasons for trusting in the New Testament books. The church accepted the New Testament books almost as soon as they were written. Their authors were friends of Jesus or his immediate followers, men to whom Jesus had entrusted the leadership of the early church. The Gospel writers Matthew and John were some of Jesus’ closest followers. Mark and Luke were companions of the apostles, having access to the apostles’ account of Jesus’ life.
The other New Testament authors had immediate access to Jesus as well: James and Jude were half-brothers of Jesus who initially did not believe in him. Peter was one of the 12 apostles. Paul started out as a violent opponent of Christianity and a member of the religious ruling class, but he became an ardent follower of Jesus, convinced that Jesus rose from the dead.
The reports in the New Testament books lined up with what thousands of eyewitnesses had seen for themselves. When other books were written hundreds of years later, it wasn’t difficult for the church to spot them as forgeries. For example, the Gospel of Judas was written by the Gnostic sect, around 130-170 A.D., long after Judas’ death. The Gospel of Thomas, written around 140 A.D., is another example of a counterfeit writing erroneously bearing an apostles’ name. These and other Gnostic gospels conflicted with the known teachings of Jesus and the Old Testament, and often contained numerous historical and geographical errors.10
Athenasius, one of the early church fathers, provided us with the earliest list of the SAME New Testament canon we have today in one of his letters to the local churches. Extracts from this 39th Festal Letter, written in AD 367, are below. This is very same list of books that we have today in our New Testament.
“Continuing, I must without hesitation mention the scriptures of the New Testament; they are the following: the four Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, after them the Acts of the Apostles and the seven so-called catholic epistles of the apostles — namely, one of James, two of Peter, then three of John and after these one of Jude.
In addition there are fourteen epistles of the apostle Paul written in the following order: the first to the Romans, then two to the Corinthians and then after these the one to the Galatians, following it the one to the Ephesians, thereafter the one to the Philippians and the one to the Colossians and two to the Thessalonians and the epistle to the Hebrews and then immediately two to Timothy, one to Titus and lastly the one to Philemon. Yet further the Revelation of John“.
“These are the springs of salvation, in order that he who is thirsty may fully refresh himself with the words contained in them. In them alone is the doctrine of piety proclaimed. Let no one add anything to them or take anything away from them… “
Soon after, Jerome and Augustine circulated this same list. These lists, however, were not necessary for the majority of Christians. By and large the whole church had recognized and used the same list of books since the first century after Christ. As the church grew beyond the Greek-speaking lands and needed to translate the Scriptures, and as splinter sects continued to pop up with their own competing holy books, it became more important to have a definitive list.
Objection: “Many of the New Testament books were written years after the events. Why did it take so long for the New Testament Gospels to be written?”
The main reason the Gospel accounts were not written immediately after Jesus’ death and resurrection is that there was no apparent need for any such writings. Initially the gospel spread by word of mouth in Jerusalem. There was no need to compose a written account of Jesus’ life, because those in the Jerusalem region were witnesses of Jesus and well aware of his ministry.11
However, when the gospel spread beyond Jerusalem, and the eyewitnesses were no longer readily accessible, there was a need for written accounts to educate others about Jesus’ life and ministry. Many scholars date the writing of the Gospels between 30 and 60 years after Jesus’ death.
Luke, at the beginning of his gospel, tells us why he wrote it:
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may have certainty of the things you have been taught.12
Does it Matter if Jesus Really Did and Said what is in the Gospels?
Yes. For faith to really be of any value, it must be based on facts, on reality. Here is why. If you were taking a flight to London, you would probably have faith that the jet is fueled and mechanically reliable, the pilot trained, and no terrorists on board. Your faith, however, is not what gets you to London. Your faith is useful in that it got you on the plane. But what actually gets you to London is the integrity of the plane, pilot, etc. You could rely on your positive experience of past flights. But your positive experience would not be enough to get that plane to London. What matters is the object of your faith — is it reliable?
Is the New Testament an accurate, reliable presentation of Jesus? Yes. We can trust the New Testament because there is enormous factual support for it. This article touched on the following points: historians concur, archaeology concurs, the four Gospel biographies are in agreement, the preservation of document copies is remarkable, there is superior accuracy in the translations. All of this gives a solid foundation for believing that what we read today is what the original authors wrote and experienced in real life, in real places.
John, one of the authors sums it up well,
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;
but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
- EveryStudent.com web site: www.EveryStudent.com
- Reliability of the Bible, from www.evidencetobelieve.net
- Blue Letter Bible – New King James Version: http://www.blueletterbible.org/
- “Why the Bible is the Word of God”, by Rabbi Glen Harris. http://www.gospeloutreach.net/bible.html
- Origin of the New Testament Canon: http://www.ntcanon.org/Athanasius.shtml
- “Early Christian Writings” – The Muratorian Canon –http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/muratorian.html
- “New Evidence That Demands a Verdict”, Josh Mcdowell.
- “Why I Am a Christian”, edited by Norman L/ Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman. Baker Books, 2001.
- “History of Christianity”, J.W. Montgomery. P 34-35.
- The Probe: http://www.probe.org/theology-and-philosophy/theology—church-missions/the-council-of-nicea.html
- Tertullian.org: http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/nicaea.html