How do we know the New Testament writers told the truth?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Up until 7th grade, this girl showed great promise, despite her having an absent father and several family members who were drug abusers and alcoholics. Once she started in 7th grade, she began to slip and and her grades were dropping. By the first trimester of 8th grade, she was failing in all her classes.

Just so poor grades will not be a surprise to parents, at least those who are involved, I print up progress reports every Monday, hand them out to my students who are to take them home, have their parents sign them, and return them the very next day on Tuesday. If they are not returned signed, I have a variety of consequences to pull out of my hat. I have been doing this since my first year of teaching, and this practice has thwarted many potentially uncomfortable situations between teacher, parents, and students.

This one young lady had been diligently returning her weekly progress reports since she started 8th grade. At the end of the first trimester, it was time for parent teacher conferences. When the mother gazed at the report card, she was silent for a moment and then expressed anger and shock because of the D’s and F’s. Her instinct kicked in and she immediately defended her daughter, and was astounded I would not communicate these grades with her. I raised my eyebrows and pointed out to her that she had been signing the progress reports every Monday.

The mother’s eyes narrowed and she hissed at me, “What progress reports!?”
I asked her, “You have not been getting the progress reports every Monday?”
“No!” She was indignant. “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
I pulled out the file of signed progress reports and handed them over, “You did not sign these?”
She flipped through several and I watched her shoulders sink. “No, these are not my signature, some look like it, but no, I did not sign them.”
Both our gazes turned to the daughter who was looking like death warmed over in her chair. Our little triangle in the front of our room was very quiet for several long moments.

This young girls had two main reasons to have forged her mother’s signature for several weeks.
1. It was an embarrassment to have D’s and F’s when she had always been an A and B student.
2. She was avoiding the obvious consequences from having poor grades.

So what do those have to do with our knowing the New Testament writers told the truth? One of the several criteria that historians consider when researching the truthfulness of an ancient author is called, ‘the principle of embarrassment’. Simply put, if an author reveals embarrassing details about himself, they are likely telling the truth. Who is going to take the time to document a story, and not make themselves look good? At the very least, they will not make themselves look like an idiot.

A few examples in Scripture where the New Testament authors included embarrassing details are Mark 9:32 and John 12:16. Anyone who has spent any time reading the New Testament should recall the numerous times the disciples did not understand what Jesus was telling them. Some accounts suggest not only were they uncomprehending of his lessons, but they were afraid to ask him to explain it. Makes me wonder if they sensed Jesus was frustrated with their lack of understanding and was tired of explaining. As a teacher of algebra, I can certainly understand that. Matthew 17:16-18

Two other obvious examples are when Peter was rebuked by Jesus, “But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (NIV) Also included was when Paul confronted Peter, considering Peter’s position, and then documenting any conflict with one of the original apostles, it would suggest truthfulness. Galatians 2:11

The second reason we can believe the New Testament authors told the truth were the consequences they faced by telling the truth. Just like the young girl up above who had been forging her mother’s signature for weeks to avoid punishment, if we are avoiding punishment or persecution, we certainly don’t proclaim the truth, if punishment and persecution is what truth will bring.

The student above was not proclaiming, “Look at the D’s and F’s I am earning, Mom!” Why? Because she was avoiding the obvious consequences to truth. Yet, the apostles continued to proclaim the truth despite the consequences. Insulted, whipped, beaten, stoned, arrested and some crucified. If this is the result for telling the truth, then calling it a significant truth would be an understatement.

For the apostles, proclaiming the truth of Christ, His birth, life, death and resurrection, punishment and persecution is exactly what they received. How many of us can think of a truth we would die for? I think of my own children, and if the outcome of my telling others that I love my own children was death, I would become silent about it. I would just quietly, when no one else was around, tell them I love them and show them devotion and affection privately.

What would be the point of publicly proclaiming my love for my children if I was going to be beaten, arrested, imprisoned, or put to death? I would think they would rather keep me around for those private moments of love and support. Yet, the apostles would have none of this. After the resurrection they were not only bold, but very public in their belief and commitment to Christ.

J. Warner Wallace wrote, “The New Testament accounts repeatedly use words that are translated as ‘witness’, ‘testimony’, ‘bear witness’, or ‘testify’. They are translated from versions of the Greek words marturia or martureo. The modern word martyr finds its root in these same Greek words; the terms eventually evolved into describing people who, (like the apostolic eyewitnesses), remained so committed to their testimony concerning Jesus that they would rather die than recant.” 1

After presenting those arguments for the truth of the New Testament, someone might say, “So what? They were willing to die for what they believed. The 911 terrorists also died for what they believed and dying for what you believe, does not make it true.”

That is an excellent point. People die all the time for something they believe to be true; those who flew planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon are perfect examples. So are the deaths of Jim Elliot and his other missionary friends who died in Ecuador at the hands of Huaorani warriors. They all died doing what they thought was what their God wanted them to do. Martyrdom is not proof to the truth of a religion, Martyrdom is proof to the trust individuals have in their religion.

Yet, there is an important distinction between the apostles and those mentioned above. The apostles did not just believe in the resurrected Christ; they ‘knew’ there was a resurrected Christ because they saw Him. J Warner Wallace put it this way, “While it is reasonable to believe that you and I might die for what we mistakenly thought was true, it’s unreasonable to believe that these men, [the apostles] died for what they definitely knew to be untrue.” 2

Finally, Norman Geisler and Frank Turek list several other indicators the New Testament authors told the truth. I will briefly share those with you.

– They included embarrassing details and difficult sayings of Jesus. Mark 3:21, Mark 3:31, John 7:5 are just three examples.
– They left in the demanding sayings of Jesus. Matthew 5:28, Matthew 5:32, and Matthew 5:39.
– They include events that would not have been invented. Luke 8:2, and Acts 6:7 where a large number of priests became believers. This could have been easily checked out for accuracy. If you are making up a story, you want to be sure to cover your tracks. If you suggest you have a large number of witnesses, you better be able to produce them.
– New Testament authors include numerous historically confirmed people. Pilate, Caiaphas, Festus, and Felix to name a few. Again, if you are making up a story, you don’t want anyone to be able to check out facts by naming individuals who were not there.
– New Testament authors encouraged or challenged anyone to check out the facts of their story. 2 Peter 1:16, and 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 3

1. Wallace, James Warner. Cold-Case Christianity. Colorado Springs: David C Cook Publishing, 2013. Print.
2. Ibid.
3. Geisler, Norman. Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004. Print.

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How do we know the New Testament writers told the truth? by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
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Telling the Truth

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Some non-believers might say we don’t know if the New Testament writers were telling the truth. People claim all the time to have seen Elvis and we know it is false. Seeing Elvis became a sort of pop culture joke, but some seemed to seriously believe it to be true. The infatuation some feel for Hollywood stars is prevalent in our culture. Some people become obsessed with a particular movie star, writing them letters, e-mails, texting them, reading their Facebook or Twitter accounts several times a day, all the while their commitments to school, work, family, or friends suffer. I think most of you have had a crush at one time or another on someone. You thought of that person all day and would fall asleep thinking of that person, dream of that person, wake in the morning to thoughts of that person. If you thought you saw them across the street, or in a store your heart would leap in your chest and start beating against your chest. Well imagine those feelings times ten, and you might have a clue into those who are obsessed with a movie star, feel. Granted, the crushes we feel for someone are often short lived and normal, but obsession is not normal or healthy.
Throughout history, we have had leaders that can draw people into them, to the point people give up all else just to be with them. In 1978, Jim Jones convinced nearly a thousand of his followers to commit suicide by drinking poisoned punch in what has become known as the Jonestown Massacre in Guyana. This is also the only time a U.S. Congressman, (Leo Ryan), was killed in the line of duty. I can’t help but wonder how many of our Congressmen and Senators today would be willing to step into harm’s way to protect the people of our country. Congressman Ryan, with an NBC film crew, traveled to Guyana and the Peoples’ Temple, which is what Jones called his compound, to check on reports that some U.S. Citizens were being held against their will. Ryan and his crew attempted to escape with some members of the Peoples’ Temple, and were shot at the dirt airstrip field a few miles away. Within a few hours after that incident, Jones coerced almost all his followers to drink poisoned Kool-aid. Nearly 300 were children poisoned by their own parents.

Were the apostles obsessed with Jesus? Were they unable to accept his death, his human side? Did they somehow fake his resurrection to keep the followers they had for reasons of power, money, influence?

You can consider several pieces of evidence that point to the fact that the New Testament writers were telling the truth.

First, the New Testament writers included embarrassing details about themselves and Jesus. If anyone is writing an account to make themselves look brave, intelligent, wise, or powerful, you would not include embarrassing details in your account. In fact you would do just the opposite.

Mark 9:32 They don’t understand Jesus.
Mark 14:32-42 They fell asleep.
Mark 3:20-21 His own family said he was out of his mind.
John 7:5 His own brothers did not believe him.

Second, the New Testament writers included more than 30 historically confirmed people in their accounts. People that were around and could be interviewed to confirm or deny the accuracy of their accounts. People such as Pilate, Caiaphas, Festus, Felix, and others.

Third, the New Testament writers included divergent details about the story and resurrection of Jesus. For example, Matthew said there was one angel at the tomb while John says there were two. Some might ask how this could possible strengthen an account, but it is obvious the New Testament writers were not collaborating their story, which is exactly what they would do if they wanted to be credible to the followers they had, and the ones they wanted to acquire.

Fourth, the New Testament writers included women in the eyewitness accounts. This is especially troublesome considering the culture at that time. The word of a woman was not even admissible in a court of law. If you wanted any eyewitness to an event, and expected people to believe you, you better have something better than a couple women.

Finally, the New Testament writers had life long beliefs that they gave up. Suddenly, these men who abandoned Jesus after his arrest and crucifixion and scattered to the four winds, abruptly became ardent believers who did not deny Christ even under the threat of death. What is most significant about this particular piece of evidence is not that the apostles gave their life preaching the resurrection of Christ, because they believed it to be true, but they gave their lives because they knew it to be true. Many of us today would give our lives for our faith. Just consider what took place on 9/11. Those terrorists extinguished their lives for what they thought was true. The apostles gave their lives for what they knew to be true, as they were the eye witnesses to his life, death, and resurrection.

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek
On Guard by William Lane Craig
Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace

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