Is the Bible Reliable?
by Chris Plekenpol
The Bible is not a book. This might surprise you as every time you look at a Bible it sure looks like a book. It is a collection of 66 books written by 40 different authors. It is just way more convenient to put the 66 books into one handy carrying case we call the Bible. These books were written over 1600 years and originally in 3 different languages.
Philosophical thought based on the revealed ordered of the universe, what makes us happy, and universal morals can only take us so far. To go further in the discussion of who God is we must go to where God has revealed himself beyond what we can perceive from creation.
The Bible gets a lot of scrutiny and people make comments like we couldn’t possibly believe something that a bunch of Christians put together in 323 AD to appease an Emperor.
Evidence for the Old Testament
The Old Testament encompasses about 1200 years of history starting around 1600 BC with the writings of Moses. There are historical books that give a history of the Jewish people. There is the Law which details the civil, religious, and legal codes for the people. There are wisdom books that give practical instruction for day to day living. There are poetic books that detail the love between God and man and the love between man and woman. There are prophetic books that give warning and prediction of the future. Some literature experts break the Bible down even further, but that is what the Old Testament is.
The metanarrative of the Bible is that it is a love story between God and his creation. It is the story of God’s creation rejecting God. God’s judgment and finally a plan to redeem his people which is fulfilled in the New Testament.
The Old Testament was methodically copied over and over again by scribes. After a copy was made, the scribe would burn the previous copy. Until the 1960s the oldest extant copy of the Old Testament in Hebrew was 800AD. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls discovery was dated back to the very first century. There were no major errors in transcribing the Old Testament. The Old Testament we have now was an almost an exact match to the Dead Sea Scroll which relied upon translations.
Evidence for the New Testament
One criticism the Bible receives is that it hasn’t been copied properly and there are all sorts of errors. Oddly, We trust other historical documents from around the time of the Bible but no one ever doubts their accuracy. If they are held to be credible, let’s then see how the New Testament compares with them. We can’t reproduce the originals, but let’s compare the time gaps between date written and earliest copy for the New Testament documents with other credible secular documents.
It’s strange to think that we trust a man to write a history of Rome who is being paid by the emperor to record accurately what happened. Would there be any skew?
What happened to the authors of the New Testament? They were never paid. In fact, they all were persecuted for what they wrote and never received a dime in royalties.
The Bible contains four accounts of the life of Jesus. Three of them are super similar and are in fact identical in some places. Some have concluded that there was one original author for these three stories of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. However, there are too many differences in the accounts of Jesus for one to conclude that.
We don’t have any of the original New Testament writings. We don’t have any original ancient document. The best we have is copies. Turns out the New Testament copies are the closest to the originals by far. There isn’t even a close second. We know they were written before 100 AD because many of the early church fathers referenced their work as being known to all Christians in the 2nd century AD.
Church Fathers referenced NT
The early church fathers or the second generation of Christians referenced the writings of the first generation of Christians as they wrote to expand their faith. Over and over Ireneaus, Clement, and Polycarp reference the New Testament. This means that there had to be a New Testament for them to reference which means the early dating of the New Testament is correct and that there wasn’t enough time for Christ to have been simply developed myth.
You can check out their writings here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.pdf
If you were trying to “make up” a religion how many embarrassing details would you make up about your founders? I think this is where the New Testament in particular is very compelling for it being true. The disciples of Jesus looked like complete fools over and over again. They were accused of having no faith, they were rebuked for the way they treated women and children, and they denied Jesus under pressure.
What about Jesus? Jesus didn’t go to the cross fearless. He in his private moments sweat drops of blood as he was about to die. He even asked God, the Father, if there was a way out so that he didn’t have to go to the cross and absorb the wrath of God. While on the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” as the wrath of God was poured out on him. Without a Christian understanding of why Jesus would fear taking on the sin of the world or why Jesus would fulfill ancient scripture by screaming, “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?!” one might compare him to other martyrs who died more calm.
We could point to Socrates snarky comments and detached emotion about dying as he drank hemlock. When told no about pouring some of the hemlock out to honor the gods, Socrates said “I understand” said he. “But surely it is permissible, and necessary, to pray to the gods, that my migration from here to there will be blessed. So I pray for this, that it will happen in this way.” And as he said this he raised the cup and drank it down, very gently and calmly.
We could look at even Christian martyrs like Polycarp who when before the Roman magistrate asked him to recant Christianity. He said, “This fire will burn for but a moment and be quenched, but the fires of judgment will burn for eternity. But why do you delay, come do what you will.”
That line is worthy of a movie.
Variations of the Gospels
The Christian faith is based primarily off the four accounts of Jesus life: the Gospels. Now here is the interesting thing about Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (what we know as the Gospels). They all tell the same general story, but have at times what would look like conflicting details.
For example Jesus gives Bartimeaus his sight in Mark, whereas in Matthew we don’t get the names, but we read there are two men who receive their sight. Which is it? In Matthew a centurion comes to Jesus on his own to heal his servant. In Luke, the centurion sends Jewish elders to Jesus to ask for his son to be healed. Which is it?
There are many apparent conflicts between the Gospels. However it would be the same conflicts that might be seen in different newspapers covering the same story. The Austin-American Statesmen might recount the story of a University of Texas versus the University of Oklahoma football game different than the Norman Transcript. We know this to be true in the way we recount events in our own lives. How many times have you told a story only to have your spouse interrupt and say, “That’s not how it went.” The spouse would then say basically what you said, but differently. Same thing with the Gospels.
In fact the minor differences point to their truth. If they all said exactly the same thing, we could accuse them of collusion. But since there are so many pieces of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that appear to conflict, but they have the same basic story we must conclude that each independently wrote their own account.
When I was in college, I used a textbook for world history. In it, historians such as Tacitus were sourced as to what happened in the Roman empire during his day. Of what Tacitus wrote we have only
Manuscript Evidence for Ancient Writings
|Caesar||100-44 B.C.||900 A.D.||1,000 yrs||10|
|Plato||427-347 B.C.||900 A.D.||1,200 yrs||7|
|Thucydides||460-400 B.C.||900 A.D.||1,300 yrs||8|
|Tacitus||100 A.D.||1100 A.D.||1,000 yrs||20|
|Suetonius||75-160 A.D.||950 A.D.||800 yrs||8|
|Homer (Iliad)||900 B.C.||400 B.C.||500 yrs||643|
|New Testament||40-100 A.D.||125 A.D.||25-50 yrs||24,000|
The manuscript evidence for the New Testament is overwhelming. It seems that there is nothing that can come close. The thing that is so powerful to me is the fact that the New Testament was completed at a time when others who knew Jesus when he was alive could testify that what he did didn’t happen.
For example there is no dispute of Jesus cleansing the temple. There would have been hundreds of thousands of people at the temple when Jesus shut down sacrifices. You would think as the Christian faith spread someone might have spoke up and said that didn’t happen. But there are no writings contending anything that Jesus did.
Question: “How do we know that the Bible is the Word of God, and not the Apocrypha, the Qurâ’an, the Book of Mormon, etc.?”