Can We Trust the Bible?

The following is an excerpt from the SES ebook Why Trust the God of the Bible? The ebook can be downloaded in its entirety here: http://ses.edu/whytrustgod

Now that we have metaphysical certainty that the theistic God exists, it necessarily follows that any non-theistic view of reality, or world view, must be false. Atheism, agnosticism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Wicca, and any other non-theistic world view must be false regarding their views of God. This conclusion means an incredible amount of work has already been done in showing that Christianity is true as we are left with only Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and any other unnamed theistic world view as possible contenders for the one true view of reality.

How can we adjudicate between these views? If one of the above belief systems were confirmed by miracles, then we would have reason to believe its truth claims. We can know that miracles are at least possible because we know an all-powerful God exists who is currently sustaining in existence the whole of physical reality in which He can act. Thus, the miracles recorded in the Bible, specifically the resurrection of Jesus, will distinguish between our remaining world views of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any other theistic belief system.

But can we trust what the Bible says? For our purposes we will focus on the New Testament (NT). Why?

Because Jesus, whom the NT shows is God, says the Old Testament (OT) is the Word of God.

Thus, while there is independent evidence for the reliability of the OT, by confirming the NT we get the OT as well.

Two questions must be asked regarding the NT’s reliability. One, do we have an accurate copy of the original writings, and two, did the NT writers tell the truth? Accurate copies of fairy tales would do little to help in our search for truth.

Ranging from fragments with a few verses, to pages, to whole books and collections of books, the manuscript evidence for the text of the NT far outweighs any other ancient literary work. There are currently around 5,500 NT manuscripts in the original Greek, most of which date from AD 1,000 and later, though many date well before that (at least six from the second century AD).1 Our earliest known copy of any portion of the NT is around 25-40 years removed from the original.2 In second place is Homer’s Iliad with 1,757 manuscripts, our earliest copy of which is 400 years removed from the original.3 Support for other ancient documents drops significantly from there. When you add in the tens of thousands of copies of early translations of the NT and over a million quotations from the church fathers (ranging from the first century AD to the middle ages), the text of the NT is incredibly well attested.4 While there are over 200,000 places where these NT manuscripts differ amongst themselves, only about 1% of those differences (which affect about 0.1% of the NT text) have any significant bearing on the meaning of the verse in question. Most importantly, not one of those differences affects any essential Christian doctrine.5

Do these well-attested NT documents tell the truth? We have good reason to believe they do. For instance, none of the NT documents mention the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, an earth-shattering event for the Jews, which occurred in AD 70. There are also indications within the text that imply the temple was still in operation. It stands to reason that the most likely reason for the absence of such information is because most, if not all, of the NT was written prior to the events of AD 70. Thus, there is good reason to believe the NT contains early testimony about Jesus and the Apostles.

The authors of the NT claimed to be eyewitnesses of the events recorded or claimed to have interviewed eyewitnesses.

Even if we only have 1 Cor. 15:3-8, which critical scholars grant was written by Paul around AD 55, we have the core of Christianity and a powerful apologetic for Jesus’ resurrection preserved in those few verses. We have much more than that, however. There are hundreds of archaeological finds that verify various persons and places mentioned throughout the NT and several ancient non-Christian sources that corroborate many aspects of the NT narrative. Perhaps most powerfully, we know from both tradition and history that most of the Apostles were killed for proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. While people die everyday for what they believe, no one willingly dies for what they know to be a lie when they have nothing to gain. The Apostles would have been the perpetrators of the lie if the resurrection did not actually happen. Yet, they never recanted their testimonies. While it is true that some ultra-skeptical critics today attempt to question the very existence of a historical Jesus, there is virtually no reason to entertain such a notion. It is almost laughable, within the academic community, to suggest that a historical Jesus did not actually exist.

The real question is “Who was this historical Jesus?” For those details, download the full ebook at http://ses.edu/whytrustgod

ENDNOTES

  1. Justin Taylor, “An Interview with Daniel B. Wallace on the New Testament Manuscripts,” The Gospel Coalition Blog, March 22, 2012, accessed February 7, 2018, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2012/03/21/an-interviewwith-daniel-b-wallace-on-the-new-testament-manuscripts/.
  2. Clay Jones, “The Bibliographical Test Updated,” Christian Research Institute, accessed February 7, 2018, http://www.equip.org/articles/the-bibliographical-test-updated/.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Taylor, “An Interview with Daniel B. Wallace on the New Testament Manuscripts,” The Gospel Coalition Blog.
  5. Thomas Howe, A Response to Bart Ehrman, accessed February 12, 2018, http://www.isca-apologetics.org/sites/default/files/papers/Jared%20Martinez/Howe-AResponseToBartEhrman.pdf, 15.

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