Search Results for 'new testament reliable'

Download the ebook: PDF file PDF or Amazon Kindle or Online (Scribd)

The Historical Reliability of the New Testament eBookNote: The format of the Amazon version isn't perfect yet, I'm still tweaking it, but once you get past the cover and table of contents you'll be fine. :)

As featured on: Apologetics Index , ThinkingChristian , Apologetics 315 , Pray Connecticut , TruthBomb Apologetics , Apologetics Junkie , and Atheism is Dead

Is the New Testament a reliable historical document, or just a bunch of myths? Philosophers Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli claim that loss of confidence in the reliability of the Bible is "by far the most widespread intellectual reason why Christians have lost their faith in the twentieth century." This is tragic, because there are good answers to the challenges made against the New Testament and good positive evidence for its reliability! Although this ebook is not a comprehensive treatment on the subject (nor is it meant to be) it provides a summary and outline of reasons why we can be confident in trusting the biblical text and many of the cited resources are excellent reading for those who would like delve deeper into this topic.

Now in its "second edition" with a new chapter, epilogue, and many updates and additions!

Download/view: (Last updated: August 20, 2010 (minor edits))

Creative Commons License
Feel free to copy and redistribute this PDF file! (See the Creative Commons License above for more details.)

For Google: The Historical Reliability of the New Testament in directory listing

Comments Off on The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Free eBook!
Permanent Link to 'The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Free eBook!'

BibleThis post seeks to answer two questions regarding the documents that comprise the New Testament:

  • When were the New Testament documents written?
  • Who wrote the documents? Were they really eyewitnesses?

1. When were the New Testament documents written?

Although we cannot pinpoint exact dates for the New Testament books, we can use both internal evidence and external evidence to determine their approximate dating. (Most of the information in this section is adapted from Dr Paul Barnett's excellent book Is the New Testament Reliable?)

First, the external evidence. In the early church fathers we find many quotations of the New Testament. Three authors who wrote at the turn of the century (Clement in about 96AD, Ignatius in about 108AD, and Polycarp in about 110AD) all quote heavily from the New Testament. In summary, the only two books not quoted by these writers is 2 John and Jude. This of course does not mean that these two books were definitely not written by 100AD, but only that they were not specifically quoted by these three early writers. So on this basis, we can conclude that all (or nearly all) of the New Testament books were written before the end of the first century.

However, we can in many cases be more exact. In the case of Paul's letters, I'll quote Dr Barnett rather than try to reinterpret his already concise prose:

When Paul arrived in Corinth, he met Aquila and Priscilla who had recently "come from Italy … because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome" (Acts 18:2) This dovetails with the Roman historian Suetonius, who wrote that Claudius banished from Rome all Jews because they were continually making disturbances about Christ and Christianity (Claudius 25). Scholars of Roman history date this expulsion to c. AD 49. We conclude that Paul arrived in Corinth some time during AD 50. An inscription that fixes the beginning of Gallio's one-year appointment as proconsul in Achaia at July AD 51 confirms this, a detail that corresponds with the reference in Acts that "when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack upon Paul and brought him before the tribunal" (Acts 18:12) Since 1 Thessalonians, by common consent, was written from Corinth soon after Paul's arrival there (1 Thes 3:6 and Acts 18:5), we conclude that this letter was written in AD 50. This represents the earliest generally accepted extremity of the time frame. Few scholars dispute this date, although some may place Paul's letter to the Galatians earlier, about AD 48. (Paul Barnett, Is the New Testament Reliable?, 37-38)

So the earliest of Paul's letters was written approximately 20 years after Jesus' death. This fact is not generally disputed among scholars (Christian or not). The earliest of Paul's letters are in fact the earliest books of the New Testament. Barnett goes on to explain that the latest of Paul's letters would have been written at the end of the sixties (before AD 68 when Nero died).

Sunburst While 20 years may seem like a long time, this is much, much sooner than other historical documents we have that are considered reliable by all historians. However, we have even earlier material than this. In 1 Corinthians (written by Paul in about 54AD) chapter 15, verses 3-8 comprise an early church creed which is much earlier than 1 Corinthians itself. There are many reasons why scholars conclude this is an early creed (See Gary Habermas in Lee Strobel's book Case for Christ, 229):

  • Paul introduces it by using the words received and passed on. The original Greek words were rabbinic terms for passing on tradition.
  • The stylized structure of the passage indicates it's a creed. (It is similar to other known creeds.)
  • The creed uses words and phrases that Paul rarely or never uses himself.
  • It uses certain words that are similar to Hebrew ways of narration.
  • There is no copy of 1 Corinthians that lacks the creed.

The creed itself has been dated to within only a few years after Jesus' death! For comparison, this creed is at least 100 years earlier than the so-called "Gospel of Judas" which was recently made famous. This is the equivalent of a newsflash in ancient times. Here is what the creed, the earliest Christian testimony we have, affirms: "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles …"

This of course does not prove the claim is true, merely that the Christian gospel claim was not made up many years later, but was in fact preached from the very beginning. For an analysis of this passage and the significance of its contents, see The Significance Of 1 Corinthians 15.

2. Who wrote the documents? Were they really eyewitnesses?

Doubting ThomasGiven that the New Testament documents were written within the timeframe that the eyewitnesses to Jesus were still alive (as per above) it is certainly possible that the documents were indeed written by eyewitnesses, as the authors themselves claim to be (ex. Luke 1:2, John 21:24, 1 John 1:3, 2 Peter 1:16). I have already written a brief post on Dr Richard Bauckham's excellent book (published just this year) Jesus and the Eyewitnesses which argues persuasively from (again) both internal and external evidence that the New Testament was indeed written by eyewitnesses.

If you are interested in this topic, here's a link to Bauckham's brief interview with Christianity Today magazine: They Really Saw Him: Richard Bauckham argues that the Gospels are based on eyewitness testimony, not "anonymous community traditions." The key, he says, is in the names.

So in summary, we do have very good reasons to believe that the New Testament documents were both written extremely early (especially compared to all other ancient historical documents) and also were written by eyewitnesses as claimed by the authors themselves.

Walking on WaterI'm currently in the process of working on my research essay for my Apologetics class (PDF course outline). We're allowed to choose any topic we want for our essays, so I chose the historical reliability of the New Testament. One book that I was sure I wanted to use was Richard Bauckham's newest, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, which argues that "the four Gospels are closely based on eyewitness testimony of those who knew Jesus". (Bauckham is professor of New Testament at St. Andrews University in Scotland.) I haven't had a chance to read the entire book yet (this topic comprises only part of my overall argument in my essay) but it seems like a fantastic book so far; thoroughly researched and convincing, as well as being evenhanded and logical.

Here is the relevant excerpt from my paper. The footnotes are removed; the majority of the references are from Dr Bauckham's book. (See "Further Reading" below for more sources.)


Although everyone recognizes the limitations of eyewitness testimony, it is still powerful evidence that was highly valued in the ancient world and is still valued highly today. Communication in the first century was primarily oral, necessitating that people develop strong memory skills. Some first century Rabbis even memorized entire books of the Old Testament! (I personally once witnessed a man dramatically recite the entire book of Luke from memory.) This lends credibility to the idea that the eyewitness accounts would still be reliable many years after the events themselves took place; even today amazing feats of memory are still possible, especially when the circumstances are ripe for strong memory retention.

Ancient historians did not place as high a value on recording the exact words spoken by an individual, and instead attempted to communicate the speaker's intended meaning as fully as possible. Therefore, while different authors may record a speaker's words slightly differently, their testimonies can still be reliable. Additionally, if the stories in the gospel were all related in exactly the same way, we might suspect collusion between the authors: “If the gospels were too consistent, that in itself would invalidate them as independent witnesses.” (Craig L. Blomberg) That the gospels relate the same events but in slightly different ways suggests that what they present is a common historical core from different perspectives.

Doubting ThomasIf the New Testament material comes directly from eyewitness accounts rather than secondary or tertiary accounts, the case for the reliability of the New Testament is strengthened. Since the New Testament was written within the lifespans of those who observed the events it records, the eyewitnesses to the events would still be alive to verify the contents of the New Testament when it was written and began to be circulated. [Note: In the full essay I develop the case for the early dating of the New Testament texts.]

A good case can be made that Mark's gospel is based on eyewitness testimony, namely that of Peter, and perhaps also of Mark himself and others. (Cases can also be made for other New Testament documents.) Firstly, Mark's gospel places more emphasis on Peter than any other gospel. For example, Mark notes Jesus speaks to Peter directly twice in Gethsemane, whereas the other gospels are more general. Mark also mentions Peter more times per page than any other gospel writer. Secondly, Mark uses the technique of inclusio (a literary “framing” device) at the beginning and end of his gospel which likely indicates that Peter is the source of the gospel's material. Finally, external testimony from Papias in the late first or early second century (as quoted by Eusebius) confirms Mark as author of the gospel and his use of Peter as a source. Taken together, this evidence strongly suggests that Mark's gospel is based on testimony from Peter, a direct eyewitness to Jesus' ministry. (Bauckham also suggests several other lines of evidence, such as the curious wording of section 13 of the "Gospel of Thomas".)

A unique and puzzling detail in Mark's gospel is recorded in Mark 14:51-52: “A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.” This seemingly inconsequential incident does not appear in the other gospels. Why did the author choose to include it? It seems quite possible that the author himself was the “young man … following Jesus” (the young man was not one of the apostles) and therefore chose to include this incident in the gospel because it involved himself. This theory is inconclusive, but nonetheless an intriguing possibility, and regardless it is an example of one of many “anonymous witnesses” in the gospels, any of which are probable eyewitness sources for the gospels.

Further Reading:

Please indulge me as I proceed to conduct a bit of a thought experiment. Note that if I quote the Bible, I am not doing so in an attempt to prove that the Bible is true (that would be a circular argument) but rather to allow it to speak for itself as to what it really claims.

Mr Burns - One evil dudeThe question to ponder is: How can Christians claim that all human beings are "sinners"? Isn't that just being unnecessary pessimistic? Aren't people essentially good?

Yes, people are, in a sense, "essentially good". But Christians use those words in a slightly different way. To say a person is essentially good means that since people are made in God's image (that is, resemblance, likeness) we never are able to fully erase that essential quality, regardless of how much we may deface it.1 Essential goodness in this sense means that we cannot entirely remove or escape our divine worth; since God has given us this worth, it is not within our power to expunge it.

However, a more widespread expression of "essentially good" has a different meaning. What does it mean to be good, in this context? That is, what is the most important thing? It seems that in this popular worldview, the most important thing is that you should be nice to people. In our society (and most churches, for that matter) this is the most important thing. I mean, of course it is … right? What else could be more important … ?

As it happens, Jesus was once asked this very same question by the religious leaders of His time: What is the most important thing?

… but before we consider Jesus' answer, consider this short parable:

Guy by waterA man was walking by a river, when suddenly he heard a splash, and saw a woman flailing her arms in the water. The man recognized that she could not swim. He knew that she would surely drown in the fast moving water. Throwing off his coat, he dove in the river, grabbed her arm, and dragged her to safety.

For saving her life, the man was lauded as a hero, and the tale of his act of valor began to spread. Observers called for the man to be awarded a medal of honor, and a reporter even interviewed the man for the local paper.

However, the next day's newspaper told the rest of the story. When asked why he saved the woman, the man answered "I don't care about the woman herself. I only saved her because she owed me a hundred dollars. I'm an expert swimmer, and I knew that if she drowned she would never be able to repay my money. Frankly I couldn't care less if she drowned." The townspeople were aghast, and no one ever spoke again of awarding him a medal of honor.

Now, why do we react differently to the story after hearing the man's intentions? The act itself does not change, and although the act is not entirely negated, it seems in a sense tainted by the man's motivations. The man could no longer be considered a hero. It seems as though if a person does a right act for a wrong reason, we are innately (and rightly) repulsed by it. Motivation matters. For example, a person who commits manslaughter receives a lesser sentence than one who commits first degree murder; what differs is their motivation. So we can agree that motivation for an act can change the worthiness (or unworthiness) of the act. Let's keep this fact in mind.

Back to Jesus. When Jesus was asked what was most important, He answered by twice quoting the Old Testament:

Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matthew 22:37-39)

Notice what is first: Loving God. This is what Jesus said is the most important thing. Loving God = #1. Loving your neighbors (by which Jesus means all people, even your enemies) is #2. Still important, you understand, but secondary. And according to Jesus, our #2 flows from our #1: our acts made in love for God will likewise be manifest in love for others, but the reverse is not necessarily true. John explains further: "This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome." (1 John 5:2-3)

Hope doveIf Jesus is right (this is how Jesus argued, not me) how can we be "good" if our motivation for acting ignores what Jesus claimed is most important? How can a person be "good" if their motivation is all wrong? How can a person be "good" if they ignore God?

Some will say, "But I believe that God exists. Just not in the Christian God."

Notice how Jesus responded to temptation, by quoting the Old Testament: "Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only." (Matthew 4:10, Luke 4:8) He didn't say to worship any 'ol god, but to worship the Lord. There are many false "gods" in the world, but only one God. I am reminded of James' admonishment: "You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror." (James 2:19, NLT)

Back to our original query: Are we basically good? Generally nice guys/gals? Mostly free from sin? That's like asking if a glass of water that's been repeatedly spit in is still "mostly good to drink". As Paul said, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) Sorry to be blunt, but sometimes doctors have to be blunt in order to begin a process of healing. Jesus Himself noted "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:17)

The CrossTrying to 'save ourselves' (by our own effort) won't work, either. I know that's counterintuitive in our culture, because we're always told to do it ourselves. But how can someone drowning in quicksand pull themselves out? The good news (that is, the "gospel") is that we don't have to save ourselves. In Jesus Christ, God Himself came into our world in the flesh in order to save us from ourselves and certain death, and show us the way. Paul explains:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

Maybe you've never been inside a church and your life (I know I avoided churches like the plague before I started following Jesus) and have never considered this before. Or maybe you grew up in a church but never heard any of this before. There are a lot of terrible churches out there, but that doesn't affect one bit the truthfulness of what Jesus said and did.

No matter where you're coming from, what you've just read is something worth thinking about. Anyone who says all the religions are basically the same has never really grasped what Jesus was offering: Good people don't go to heaven. Forgiven people do.

All that remains is to accept God's offer of grace.

Thanks for listening. Please feel free to read my story or contact me.

Further reading:

1 Thanks goes to Rev Victor Shepherd for his way of stating things so eloquently.
Note: Bible quotations are from the NIV or TNIV unless otherwise noted.