You can Trust the New Testament

You can Trust the New Testament

Reading Time: 7 minutes

One morning at church my pastor mentioned apologetics multiple times. To me, that topic acts as coffee in my system. He also mentioned some, what he called God questions. One of the questions was if we could trust the New Testament. I went home considering writing a post on the topic since I had not done one in a while.

Later that same day my daughter Beth shared a text with me that a friend of hers was questioning how accurate the bible can be if it was translated so many times, through so many different languages. Beth pointed out to her friend that it is just one language to English. For example, Greek to English or Hebrew to English. So it is not as if we have to translate it from Hebrew, to Greek, to Coptic, to Latin, to English.

Many equate Bible translations to the old ‘telephone’ game where one person at the start of a line whispers a statement which is then shared quietly with the next person in line and so forth down the line. By the time the message reaches the end of the line, it is confusing, convoluted, and nothing like the original message.

The New Testament authors not only support each other, but we have multiple sources outside of scripture that support the life, times, and teaching of Jesus.

Ignatius, (AD 35-117) was a student of John, who is the author of the Gospel of John, and history has preserved at least three letters written by Ignatius. Jim Wallace, in Cold-Case Christianity, reviewed some of Ignatius’ letters and listed the dozens of conclusions from those letters. Below I list only a few.
-Jesus was in the line of King David.
-He was, (and is), the Son of God.
-He was baptized by John the Baptist.
-He taught and had a ministry on earth.
-He spoke the words of God.
-He died on the cross.
-Jesus was resurrected.
-He had a physical resurrection body.((Wallace, James Warner. Cold-Case Christianity. Colorado Springs: David C Cook Publishing, 2013. Print.))

Polycarp, (AD 69-155) was also a student of John, and Polycarp became the bishop of Smyrna in what we now call Turkey. Polycarp wrote a letter to the church in Phiippi, and history has documented this, in which he talked about Paul and the other apostles he had met. The following conclusions can be made from Polycarp’s letters.
-Jesus was sinless.
-He taught the Sermon on the Mount.
-He suffered and died on a cross.
-His death on the cross saves us.
-We are saved by grace.
-Jesus was raised from the dead.
-Jesus is Lord.((Wallace, James Warner. Cold-Case Christianity. Colorado Springs: David C Cook Publishing, 2013. Print.))
As I did with Ignatius, I only listed a few.

Paul taught Clement (AD 80-140) of Rome, and Clement wrote a letter about Jesus, His ministry, and His followers. According to Jim Wallace, “Clement quoted or alluded to seven New Testament books (Mark, Matthew or John, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians) as he penned his work.” From his work, which agrees with Ignatius and Polycarp, you can conclude the following.
-The prophets predicted the life and ministry of Jesus.
-Jesus provided His disciples with important instruction.
-He taught principles as described by Mark and Luke.
-He was humble and unassuming.
-He suffered and died for our salvation.
-He was resurrected from the dead.
-He is alive and reigning with God.1

All of the above men had first-hand eyewitness testimony to the lives and teaching of the New Testament authors, all within the first century, not hundreds of years later as some may claim. History has recorded their correspondence, and this recorded communication confirms the writings and eyewitness testimony of the authors and Jesus.

According to Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, in their book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, we have nearly 5,700 handwritten Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and more than 9000 in other languages such as Latin and Arabic. Of these practically 15,000 documents (some are complete accounts while others are partial books, pages, or fragments), the message of the New Testament is clear, and we have more copies than any other ancient document.((Geisler, Norman. Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, Crossway, 2004. Print.))

In history, the closer the copy was penned from the original, the better. In other words, historians expect the copies to be more accurate if they were written within a few years of the original vs. hundreds of years later. Aside from the letters in the New Testament, the earliest surviving copies of original historical documents are poems and stories from the Greek author Homer, with a 500-year gap. All of the New Testament was written within a few decades of the events they recorded.

Historians also look at the number of copies a document may have. The more copies, the better. If you look at the number of copies that support ancient documents, again, it is Homer who has the most with 643 copies compared to nearly 15,000 of the New Testament.((Geisler, Norman. Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, Crossway, 2004. Print.))

Other researchers have put the total over 25,000. In his book Jesus On Trial, David Limbaugh wrote, “The evidence, however, is changing all the time based on new discoveries. Geisler recounts that when he began writing on this topic in the sixties, there were about 5,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts…and now there are closer to 5,800. The number of New Testament translations into languages of nearby countries – Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Latin, Coptic, and others – totals about 19,300.”((Limbaugh, David. Jesus On Trial. Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2014. Print.)) Add that to the Greek copies, and then we have some 25,000 New Testament manuscripts.

Historical documentation is not limited to believers. Anyone who is familiar with biblical history has heard of Flavius Josephus (ca. 37- ca. 100). He was a historian for the Roman Emperor Domitian and wrote, “At this time [the time of Pilate] there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and [he] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive, according he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”((Josephus, Flavius. The Antiquities of the Jews. Trans. William Whiston. Blacksburg: Unabridged Books, 2011. Print.)) This is coming from a Jew who became a Roman and had nothing to gain from promoting Jesus and His life.

Pliny the Younger was a Roman senator and lawyer in Rome. He was a prolific letter writer, and we have copies of most of his writings. In one of his letters, he asked for advice on dealing with Christians who refused to deny Christ. He wrote, “They had met regularly before dawn on a determined day, and sung antiphonally a hymn to Christ as if to a god. They also took an oath not for any crime, but to keep from theft, robbery and adultery, not to break any promise, and not to withhold a deposit when recliamed.”((Van Voorst, Robert, Jesus Outside the New Testament, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000. Print.))

I mention the Pliny example (one of many outside the New Testament) to point out the durability of eyewitness testimony decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Romans considered Christianity nothing more than a cult, yet it was growing and spreading all over the Mediterranean and into Rome despite dreadful persecution. Pliny the Younger would give Christians three chances to deny Christ, yet time and time again they would refuse and he would have them taken away to be executed.

Finally, in the first 150 years after the birth of Christ, if we include Josephus, we have ten non-Christian writers who mention Jesus in their works. Looking at what the non-Christian sources say about Jesus, we can piece together the following list:

1. Jesus lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar.
2. He lived a virtuous life.
3. He was a wonder-worker.
4. He had a brother named James.
5. He was acclaimed to be the Messiah.
6. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
7. He was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover.
8. Darkness and an earthquake occurred when he died.
9. His disciples believed he rose from the dead.
10. His disciples were willing to die for their belief.
11. Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome.
12. His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshiped Jesus as God.((Geisler, Norman. Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, Crossway, 2004. Print.))

Keep in mind the above list is compiled from non-Christians and even sources hostile to Christianity. This is a list void of anyone who believed in Christianity.

I will add as an endnote if we include the number of Christian authors who mention Christ within 150 years of his birth and add the ten non-Christian sources, the total is forty-three references who mention Jesus. Then if we look at the number of Christian and non-Christian sources that mention Tiberius Caesar in the same 150 year period, the total is ten.((Geisler, Norman. Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, Crossway, 2004. Print.))

Christopher Hitchens, author of ‘god is not Great’ says the authors of the New Testament cannot agree on anything of importance. However, you can see from the above list even those who were not Christians and hostile to Christianity agreed on elements of great importance, which are verified by the overwhelming number of copies we have of the New Testament.

The New Testament has documentation above and beyond any other ancient manuscript. Not only in sheer numbers of copies that can be cross-examined for accuracy, but also written within a few years of the events that took place, while other historical documents are written centuries later. The New Testament also has evidence from numerous sources outside of scripture and sources hostile to Christianity. So you can trust the New Testament!
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Can you Trust the New Testament by James W Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://christianapologetics.blog/you-can-trust-the-new-testament/.

Sources:

  1. Wallace, James Warner. Cold-Case Christianity. Colorado Springs: David C Cook Publishing, 2013. Print. []

Can we trust the New Testament?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

This morning at church my pastor mentioned apologetics multiple times. To me, that topic acts as coffee in my system! He also mentioned some, what he called God questions. One of which was if the New Testament can be trusted. I went home considering writing a post on the topic since I had not done one in a while.

Then later this afternoon my daughter Beth shared in a text to me that a friend of her’s was questioning how accurate the bible can be if it was translated so many times through so many different languages. Beth pointed out that it is just one language to English. For example, Greek to English, or Hebrew to English. It is not as if we have to translate it from Hebrew, to Greek, to Coptic, to Latin, to English. Smart girl! So here is my answer to one of those God questions. 

Many equate bible translations to the old ‘telephone’ game where one person at the start of a line whispers a statement which is then shared quietly with the next person in line and so forth. By the time the message reaches the end of the line it is confusing, convoluted, and nothing like the original.

The New Testament authors not only support each other, but we have multiple sources outside of scripture that support the life, times, and teaching of Jesus. Ignatius, (AD 35-117), was a student of John, who is the author of the Gospel of John. Ignatius wrote at least three letters that have been preserved. Jim Wallace, in Cold-Case Christianity, reviewed some of Ignatius’ letters and listed the dozens of conclusions from those letters. Below I list only a few.

  • Jesus was in the line of King David.
  • He was, (and is), the Son of God.
  • He was baptized by John the Baptist.
  • He taught and had a ministry on earth.
  • He spoke the words of God.
  • He died on the cross.
  • Jesus was resurrected.
  • He had a physical resurrection body.1

Polycarp, (AD 69-155), was also a student of John. Polycarp became the Bishop of Smyrna in what we now call Turkey. Polycarp wrote a letter to the church in Phiippi, and history has documented this, in which he talked about Paul and the other apostles who he had met. The following conclusions can be made from his letters.

  • Jesus was sinless.
  • He taught the Sermon on the Mount.
  • He suffered and died on a cross.
  • His death on the cross saves us.
  • We are saved by grace.
  • Jesus was raised from the dead.
  • Jesus is Lord.2
    As I did with Ignatius, I only listed a few.

Clement of Rome was taught by Paul, and he wrote a letter AD 80-140. According to Jim Wallace, “Clement quoted or alluded to seven New Testament books (Mark, Matthew or John, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians) as he penned his work.” From his work, which agrees with Ignatius and Polycarp, you can conclude the following.

  • The prophets predicted the life and ministry of Jesus.
  • Jesus provided His disciples with important instruction.
  • He taught principles as described by Mark and Luke.
  • He was humble and unassuming.
  • He suffered and died for our salvation.
  • He was resurrected from the dead.
  • He is alive and reigning with God.3

All of the above men had first-hand eyewitness testimony to the lives and teaching of the New Testament authors, all within the first century, not hundreds of years later as some may claim. History has recorded their correspondence, and this recorded communication confirms the writings and eyewitness testimony of the authors and Jesus.

According to Norman Geisler, in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, we have nearly 5,700 hand written Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and more than 9000 in other languages such as Latin and Arabic. Of these nearly 15,000 documents, (some are complete accounts while others are partial books, pages, or fragments), the message of the New Testament is clear and we have more copies than any other ancient document.4

In history, the next earliest surviving copies of the original document is Homer with a 500-year gap. All of the New Testament was written within a few decades of the events they recorded. If you look at the number of copies that support ancient documents, again it is Homer with 643 compared to nearly 15,000 of the New Testament.5

Other researchers have put the total over 25,000. David Limbaugh, (yes the brother or Rush Limbaugh) just published his book, Jesus On Trial wrote, “The evidence, however, is changing all the time based on new discoveries. Geisler recounts that when he began writing on this topic in the sixties, there were about 5,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts…and now there are closer to 5,800. The number of New Testament translations into languages of nearby countries – Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Latin, Coptic and others – totals about 19,300.”6 Add that to the Greek copies, then we have some 25,000 New Testament manuscripts.

Also, historical documentation is not limited to believers. Anyone who is familiar with biblical history has heard of Flavius Josephus, (ca. 37- ca. 100). He was a historian for the Roman Emperor Domitian. Josephus wrote, “At this time [the time of Pilate] there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and [he] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive, according he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”7 This is coming from a Jew who became a Roman and had nothing to gain from promoting Jesus and His life.

Pliny the Younger was a Roman senator and lawyer in Rome. He was a prolific letter writer and we have copies of most of his writings. In one of his letters, he was asking for advice on how to deal with Christians who refused to deny Christ. He wrote, “They had met regularly before dawn on a determined day, and sung antiphonally a hymn to Christ as if to a god. They also took an oath not for any crime, but to keep from theft, robbery and adultery, not to break any promise, and not to withhold a deposit when recliamed.”8

I mention the Piliny example, (one of many outside the New Testament) to point out the durability of eyewitness testimony decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Romans considered Christianity nothing more than a cult, yet despite frightful persecution, it was growing and spreading all over the Mediterranean and into Rome. Pliny the Younger would give Christian’s three chances to deny Christ, yet time and time again they would refuse and he would have them taken away to be executed.

Finally in the first 150 years after the birth of Christ, if we include Josephus, we have ten non-Christian writers who mention Jesus in their works. Looking at and then piecing together what the non-Christian sources say about Jesus we have the following list:

1. Jesus lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar.
2. He lived a virtuous life.
3. He was a wonder worker.
4. He had a brother named James.
5. He was acclaimed to be the Messiah.
6. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
7. He was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover.
8. Darkness and an earthquake occurred when he died.
9. His disciples believed he rose from the dead.
10. His disciples were willing to die for their belief.
11. Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome.
12. His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshiped Jesus as God.9

Keep in mind the above list is compiled from non-Christians and even those hostile to Christianity. This is a list void of anyone who believed in Christianity.

I will add as an end note, if we include the number of Christian authors who mention Christ within 150 years of his birth, and add the ten non-Christian sources, the total is forty-three sources who mention Jesus. Then if we look at the number of Christian and non-Christian sources that mention Tiberius Caesar in the same 150 year period the total is ten.

Christopher Hitchens author of ‘god is not Great’ says the authors of the New Testament cannot agree on anything of importance. You can see from the above list, even those who were not Christians and hostile to Christianity, agreed on elements of great importance, which are verified by the overwhelming number of copies we have of the New Testament.

The New Testament has documentation above and beyond any other ancient document. Not only in sheer numbers of copies that can be cross examined for accuracy, but also written within a few years of the events that took place, while other historical documents are written centuries later. The New Testament also has evidence from numerous sources outside of scripture and evidence from sources hostile to Christianity. You can trust the New Testament!

 

Sources:
1.Wallace, James Warner. Cold-Case Christianity. Colorado Springs: David C Cook Publishing, 2013. Print.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Geisler, Norman. Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, Crossway, 2004. Print.
5. Ibid.
6. Limbaugh, David. Jesus On Trial. Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2014. Print.
7. Josephus, Flavius. The Antiquities of the Jews. Trans. William Whiston. Blacksburg: Unabridged Books, 2011. Print.
8. Van Voorst, Robert, Jesus Outside the New Testament, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000. Print.
9. Geisler, Norman. Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, Crossway, 2004. Print.

 

 

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Can we trust the New Testament? by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Lack of Evidence for the New Testament?

Lack of Evidence for the New Testament?

Reading Time: 6 minutes
How do we know we can trust the New Testament?

Sam Harris, an American author, neuroscientist, philosopher and the co-founder and chief executive of Project Reason, a non-profit that promotes science and secularism wrote, “…religious faith is the belief in historical and metaphysical propositions without sufficient evidence.” 1

Another notable atheist, Christopher Hitchens, who mentioned Moses ben Maimun, a Jewish philosopher from the 1100’s said, “However, he fell into the same error as do the Christians, in assuming that the four Gospels were in any sense a historical record. Their multiple authors – none of whom published anything until many decades after the Crucifixion – cannot agree on anything of importance.” 2

It can be hard to know where or even how to begin to respond when you are confronted by comments like those above; comments that attack Christianity that are made by intelligent, respected, and highly educated people.

Now don’t be confused. The atheists, as much as they might like to believe, don’t hold the market on intelligence. Maybe you have seen a poster of Lincoln, Franklin, Jefferson and other prominent people that states atheism is good enough for them. There are dozens of posters that claim, or imply, the most intelligent among us are atheist in their belief. I already addressed this in another post. For now, I just want to explore the claims of Harris and Hitchens that Christianity lacks evidence, or historical record, and agreement.

The historical record
In 303 A.D., Roman Emperor Diocletian passed three edicts that addressed his fear Christianity was undermining the covenant between the people of Rome and their gods. These edicts or laws had a devastating effect on Christianity in the 3rd century.

First, all Christian churches were to be demolished. Second, all manuscripts, scrolls, books, letters, etc. that promoted Christianity were to be destroyed. Third, all Christians were to be killed. This continued for 8 years till 311 A.D., when Emperor Galerius declared on his death bed religious freedom, ending the persecution of Christians in the Eastern Roman Empire. Well, at least on parchment.

What if Diocletian had been successful in destroying the gospel records; the accounts recorded, copied, and transcribed for the specific purpose of furthering the good news and sharing the gospel with fellow believers?

If we were to compile all the quotes from the early church fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and many others, we would have a total of 36,289 quotes. We have enough to reconstruct all but eleven verses of the New Testament. Geisler and Turek put it this way, “…you could go down to your local public library, check out the works of the early church fathers, and read nearly the entire New Testament just from their quotations of it.” 3

Obviously, Diocletian was not successful because we have ample records that survived this attack on Christianity. How many examples? How many compared to other classical works?

Number of manuscript copies:
Plato – 7 copies
Tacitus, (a Roman historian) – 20 copies
Demosthenes, (a Greek statesman from Athens) – 200 copies
Homer, (author of the Iliad) – 643 copies

I could list others, but by far Homer, followed by Demosthenes, has the most supportive copies we can compare for accuracy with 643. 4

But the question is now, how many copies of Scripture do we have? Kenneth Samples, author of Without a Doubt wrote, “…more than 5,000 individual Greek manuscripts that contain all or part of the New Testament exist.” 5 Samples went on to say that we have another 8,000 copies in languages such as Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Slavic, Ethiopic and of course Latin. Altogether we have about 13,000 manuscripts, books, pages, and fragments to compare.

Other researchers have put the total over 25,000. David Limbaugh just published his book, Jesus On Trial wrote, “The evidence, however, is changing all the time based on new discoveries. Geisler recounts that when he began writing on this topic in the sixties, there were about 5,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts…and now there are closer to 5,800. The number of New Testament translations into languages of nearby countries – Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Latin, Coptic and others – totals about 19,300.” 6 Add that to the Greek copies, then we have some 25,000 New Testament manuscripts.

If we went with Samples lower estimate of 13,000 and he was only half correct, we would still be left with well over 6,000 copies. That would be ten times the number of copies we have for Homer’s Iliad.

No credible historian claims we have other ancient works that outnumber what is available for the Bible. And this, despite the attempts of some Roman dictators to destroy Christianity and its followers.

Agreement in evidence
Hitchens claimed above that the authors of the New Testament could not agree on anything of importance. Let’s set aside for a moment what Scripture and other Christians say about Jesus, and see what others, those outside the Bible, some even hostile to Christianity, say about Jesus.

In A.D. 66, the Jews in Palestine rose up against the Roman rule. Rome sent General Vespasian to put down the rebellion and regain control of the area. A year later, General Vespasian was laying siege to the town of Jotapata in Galilee. Near that town was a young Jewish rebel who opted to surrender. Over time, he won favor with General Vespasian and returned to Rome with General Titus after he (Titus) destroyed the Jewish temple in A.D. 70.

This young man was named Flavius Josephus, and he eventually served as a historian for the Roman emperor Domitian. Josephus wrote ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ and in book 18, chapter 3, section 3 he wrote, “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 men amongst 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.” 7

In the first 150 years after the birth of Christ, if we include Josephus, there are ten non-Christian writers that mention him in their works. Looking at and then piecing together what the non-Christian sources say about Jesus we have the following list:
1. Jesus lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar.
2. He lived a virtuous life.
3. He was a wonder worker.
4. He had a brother named James.
5. He was acclaimed to be the Messiah.
6. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
7. He was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover.
8. Darkness and an earthquake occurred when he died.
9. His disciples believed he rose from the dead.
10. His disciples were willing to die for their belief.
11. Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome.
12. His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshiped Jesus as God. 8

Keep in mind, the above list is complied from non-Christians and even those hostile to Christianity. A list void of those who believed in Christianity. To claim the gospel writers cannot agree on anything of importance is absurd when we have a list of non-Christian sources that make a case for the person of Christ. I will add as an end note, if we include the number of Christian authors who mention Christ within 150 years of his birth, and add the ten non-Christian sources, the total is forty-three sources. Then if we look at the number of Christian and non-Christian sources that mention Tiberius Caesar in the same 150 year period the total is ten. 9

Hitchens says the authors of the New Testament cannot agree on anything of importance, yet you can see from the above list, even those who were not Christians and hostile to Christianity, agreed on elements of great importance, which are substantiated by the overwhelming number of copies we have of the New Testament.

 

 

Sources:
1. Harris, Sam. The End Of Faith. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. Print.
2. Hitchens, Christopher. god is not GREAT– How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2007. Print.
3. Geisler, Norman. Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004. Print.
4. Ibid.
5. Samples, Kenneth R. Without a Doubt. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004. Print.
6. Limbaugh, David. Jesus On Trial. Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2014. Print.
7. Josephus, Flavius. The Antiquities of the Jews. Trans. William Whiston. Blacksburg: Unabridged Books, 2011. Print.
8. Geisler, Norman. Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004. Print.
9. Ibid.

 

 

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Lack of Evidence for the New Testament by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.dev.christianapologetics.blog/.

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

Sources:
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.

Creative Commons License
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.
Based on a work at http://www.dev.christianapologetics.blog/.

Diving for answers

Reading Time: 7 minutes

My wife and I took my daughter Beth sky diving for the first time. Beth had mentioned a desire to do this for a few years, and we decided that for her 17th birthday, (and right after we signed the million dollar life insurance policy), we would take her. It was a great experience, and she walked away with a desire to do it again, (Yes the insurance policy is still good), and hopefully next time she can take some friends who will join in the experience with her.

My wife Gloria, the smarter of the triangle, has no desire to jump. I myself jumped for the first time when I was 18 and still remember the experience. And today, I actually was able to ride along in the co-pilot seat and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the aviation experience, along with watching my daughter jump. For many of the old time pilots, the thought of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane makes no sense to them. Back in their day, pilots would only jump out of aircraft that were shot out of the sky by other aircraft or some other kind of anti-aircraft weapon.

I remember my first jump; there was one piece of information no one warned me about. It had to do with when the chute opened, I would experience some swinging, or pendulum motion. When my chute deployed, (deployed sounds more sophisticated than opened), I swung onto my back, startling me greatly, (which sounds better than other descriptions I can think of). The initial swinging motion gave me the sensation I was going to swing up, and all the way over, on top of my chute. Scared me more than being the only adult in a room full of 8th graders who expect you to teach them something.

I wonder if those who have experienced sky diving had been able to experience an initial fear without having jumped, would still decide to try it?

Having information prior to an experience is important to some people, but in other ways the lack of experience will allow you to try something you never did before. Imagine if our wives could have briefly experienced the pain of child birth, without actually being pregnant and in labor? Even if was only for 30 seconds, we would all be childless.

Or what if carpenters were able to experience the pain of smashing their finger with a hammer for 30 seconds, with out actually having done it. I wonder how many would stand up and say, “I have decided to become an accountant”, and walk out of the journeyman carpenter’s class.

I wonder how many would have opted out of Christianity had they known some things were not going to be easy?

Patheos.com is a web site, (mostly atheist), that also has links, blogs, and posts about atheism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Mormonism, Islam, etc. On Patheos, Richard Hagenston wrote a piece titled, Eight things your pastor will never tell you about the Bible. I will have to ask my Pastor if any of these are true.

Hagenston is not the first to write about difficult subjects, and Patheos.com is not the first site to give a platform to others to share their doubts. Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time will come across issues or teachings that are difficult and confusing, or even seem to conflict with common sense. As I have begun to explore the world of apologetics, more often than not, these difficulties are answered by others before me who have explored in depth these troublesome topics.

I wanted to take a look at Hagenston’s first claim.

1) The Apostles of Jesus Seem to Have Known Nothing about a Virgin Birth
The earliest mention of the birth of Jesus to be written is not the nativity stories in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, but verses in Paul’s letter to the Romans. He wrote it after having met with Peter and others who had known in person not only Jesus but also his mother and brothers. Despite learning from them everything they could tell him about Jesus, Paul shows no sign of having heard of a virgin birth. Instead, he wrote that Jesus “was descended from David according to the flesh” and was declared to be the Son of God not through any special birth that Paul mentions but by his resurrection (Romans 1:3-4).
The nativity stories in Matthew and Luke, suggesting that Jesus had a virgin birth in Bethlehem (the birthplace of David), were composed later and even his own apostles showed no indication of knowing anything about it.

The title itself claims the Apostles did not know about Jesus’ virgin birth, which is clearly false. Matthew was an Apostle, and he wrote about the virgin birth. For example, in Matthew 1:18, “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.” Here is an obvious example of an Apostle writing about the virgin birth.

The above statement by Hagenston must be implying that since the ‘other’ Gospel accounts did not mention the virgin birth, it must not be true. This is a fallacy known as an Argument from Silence. Simply put, Hagenston draws a conclusion that that the virgin birth is false, because the other Gospel writers were silent on the matter. But we all know, we can’t claim something is false just because someone did not say it was true.

It should be obvious, even if all the canonical gospels, (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), did mention the virgin birth, then Hagenston would ask why was the virgin birth not mentioned in the whole of the New Testament, from Acts to Revelation.

What someone mentions in a letter will depend on the purpose of their letter. What was the purpose of the Gospel writers? Was it to outline and detail the linage, birth, and childhood of Jesus? Hardly. Mark and John don’t even mention Jesus’ birth, because it was not their intent to describe that event.

So today, I went through my Bible, looking at the themes and purposes of each book in the New Testament. That is, the ones after the canonical gospels, (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Starting with Acts, I will list them below with a brief purpose.

Acts: To present a history and give a defense of Christianity.
Romans: To prepare for Paul’s coming to Rome and to present the basic system of salvation.
1 Corinthians: To instruct the church, correct the church, and restore the church in Corinth.
2 Corinthians: Express Paul’s joy at the church listening to his corrections, explain his troubles, why he changed his plans, and the sufferings and joys a Christian can expect.
Galatians: Paul establishes his apostolic authority and that people are justified by faith, not works.
Ephesians: To expand on God’s eternal purpose for the church.
Philippians: Paul wants to thank the Philippians for their gift, to update them on his own circumstances, and encourage them.
Colossians: Paul addresses the Colossian heresy by focusing on the image and character of God.
1 Thessalonians: Paul wants to encourage new believers in their trials.
2 Thessalonians: Again Paul wants to encourage believers, and correct a misunderstanding of the Lord’s return.
1 Timothy: To give Timothy more instruction concerning the church at Ephesus.
2 Timothy: Paul requested visitors while imprisoned in Rome under Nero and wanted Timothy to come see him. Also to encourage Timothy to  guard the gospel.
Titus: Paul wanted to give Titus personal authorization and guidance.
Philemon: Paul wrote to Philemon to defend Onesimus, a slave.
Hebrews: To highlight the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Christ.
James: To instruct and encourage believers in the face of difficulties.
1 Peter: To teach about Christian life and duties.
2 Peter: To instruct what to do with false teachers and deal with persecution.
1 John: To expose false teachers, and give believers assurance of salvation.
2 John: Was written to use discernment when supporting traveling teachers.
3 John: Was written to commend Gaius for his support.
Jude: To warn about false teachers who taught that salvation was a license to sin.
Revelation: To encourage believers despite the increased persecution and that a final showdown is imminent. 1

So just because all the other books in the New Testament do not mention the virgin birth, (they had no reason to), does not falsify the virgin birth. For something to be true, it does not have to be mentioned in all four Gospels.

You might ask Richard Hagenston if the virgin birth was mentioned in all four Gospel accounts, if he would believe it. Of course he wouldn’t. You might ask Richard Hagenston if every-single-book in the New Testament mentioned the virgin birth, if he would believe it. Of course he wouldn’t.

People attack the Bible for having the same stories or accounts, because the authors obviously collaborated their story in an effort to increase their following and power. People attack the Bible for having different versions of the same story because the accounts were written hundreds of years later and must be false.

The Christian walk can be difficult at times. You will often encounter people who will ask questions, or make comments you have no answer for, but let me encourage you.  Thousands of others have been there and experienced the same doubts, concerns, and questions you have. Some of them did their homework and found answers. Others have walked away after some difficult, confusing, or fearful experiences.

Had my daughter walked away from the opportunity of skydiving at the first hint of fear, she would not have experienced something she thoroughly enjoyed and wants to do again.

It would be detrimental to someone’s character if they walked away from everything that was difficult or painful in life. When a layman like myself can spend some time and answer some of these troublesome questions or statements, I can’t help but think those who have walked away from Christianity do so for personal reasons. Not because Christianity lacks explanatory power, scientific evidence, or philosophical reasoning, but simply because they don’t want any restrictions placed on their behaviors and the choices they make about life.

There is a reason the ancient historical accounts of the life of Jesus of Nazareth do not start with the phrase, “Once upon a time…” – Greg Koukl

Sources:
1. New International Version Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002. Print.

 

 

Creative Commons License
Diving for answers by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.dev.christianapologetics.blog.

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