An interesting challenge was put forth over on the Martian Anthropologist blog. He and the contributors there are firm atheists, who occasionally put out the challenge for those that believe in a God to prove it.
I don’t generally enter these kinds of discussions simply for the reason that I don’t know that you can make a case for either side in a comment box. There are too many facets, too many rabbit trails, not enough time, no well worded definition of success– besides the fact that it’s a lot of reading and because of the nature of the beast it is not usually friendly.
All that being said, I chose to enter discussion a couple of times, and I believe that it would be good for you to see at least part of the argument I was making. Due to the fact that things around the MInTheGap house have gotten really hectic as of late, I don’t know that I have the time to continue the line of thought on that site, the comments of which are still going strong. As of this writing they are up to 191 comments.
To lay the ground work (and be forewarned that this will be a long post (and is one of my comments from that site), I was attempting to use document evidence to prove the existence of Jesus and then go from there to proving the existence of God. And now, to the post:
C.Sanders, in Introduction to Research in English Literary History, lists and explains three basic principles of historiography. These are the bibliographical test, the internal evidence test, and the external evidence test. (Sanders, IRE, 143 ff.)
This test looks at how reliable are the copies of the documents that we have (since we do not have the originals) in regard to the number of them and length of time between the original and the currently existing documents.
There are at least 25,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in Latin (10,000) and Greek (5,656). The next work from antiquity is Homer’s Iliad that comes in at 643. John Warwick Montgomery states that “to be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament.”
Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, who was the director and principal librarian of the British Museum and second to none in authority for issuing statements about the NT manuscripts states:
besides number, the manuscripts of the New Testament differ from those of the classical authors…. In no other case is the interval of time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest extant manuscripts so short as in that of the New Testament. The books of the New Testament were written in the later part of the first century; the earliest extant manuscripts (trifling scripts excepted) are of the fourth century– say from 250 to 300 years later. This may sound a considerable interval, but it nothing to that which parts most of the great classical authors from their earliest manuscripts. We believe that we have in all essentials an accurate text of the even extant plays of Sophocles; yet the earliest substantial manuscript upon which it is based was written more than 1400 years after the poet’s death. (Kenyon, HTCNT, 4)
I could go on.
The document must be given the benefit of the doubt, and not assumed to be in error unless the author disqualifies himself by contradictions or known factual errors.
Dr. Archer, in the forward to his Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, gives this testimony about the internal consistency of the Bible:
As I have dealt with one apparent discrepancy after another and have studied the alleged contradictions between the biblical record and the evidence of linguistics, archeology, or science, my confidence in the trustworthiness of Scripture has been repeatedly verified and strengthened by the discovery that almost every problem in Scripture that has ever been discovered by man, from ancient times until now, has been dealt with in a completely satisfactory manner by the biblical text itself– or else by objective archeological information.
The NT makes claims that it was based on primary sources.
Luke 1:1-3 states that he set out to give record from eyewitnesses.
2 Peter 1:16 states that the letters are not based on fables.
1 John 1:3 states that what is written is what the author saw and heard.
Acts 2:22 is an address by Peter to those that have seen and heard Christ.
John 19:35 states that the author has seen the things he wrote with his own eyes.
Luke 3:1 gives a specific date and background saying that the event happened at a specific time.
Acts 26:24-26 shows Paul saying that the things attested to in the gospels happened in the open, not “in a corner.”
External Evidence – Believers
Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History III.39 preserves writings of Papias, bishop of Heirapolis (A.D. 13), in which Papius records sayings of “the Elder” (the apostle John):
The Elder used to say this also: “Mark, having been the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately all that he (Peter) mentioned, whether sayings or doings of Christ, not, however, in order.
Ireneus, bishop of Lyons (A.D. 180), who was a student of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna; martyred in A.D. 156, had been a Christian for eighty-six years, and was a disciple of John the Apostle. He wrote: “So firm is the ground upon which these Gospels rest, that the very heretics themselves bear witness to them, and, starting from these [documents], each one of them endeavors to establish his own particular doctrine.” Ireneus also referred to all four Gospels being present.
Shall I continue with believers?
External Evidence – Non-Believers
Tacitus states the following about the burning of Rome:
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of the procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, this checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.
Josephus was a Pharisee of the priestly line and a Jewish historian, though working under the Roman authority and with some care as to not offend Romans. He makes many statements that verify, either generally or in specific detail, the historical nature of the Old and New Testaments.
The list goes on to Pliny the Younger, Emperor Trajan, the Talmud, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, The Gospel of Truth, The Acts of Pontious Pilate.
Dr. Geisler summarizes:
The primary sources for the life of Christ are the four Gospels. However there are considerable reports from non-Christian sources that supplement and confirm the Gospel accounts. These come largely from Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Samaritan sources of the first century.
In brief, they inform us that:
- Jesus was from Nazareth;
- he lived a wise and virtuous life;
- he was crucified in Palestine under Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius Caesar at Passover time, being considered the Jewish King;
- he was believed by his disciples to have been raised from the dead three days later
- his enemies acknowledged that he performed unusual feats they called “sorcery”;
- his small band of disciples multiplied rapidly, spreading even as far as Rome;
- His disciples denied polytheism, lived moral lives, and worshiped Christ as Divine.
This picture confirms the view of Christ presented in the New Testament Gospels.
So, this about wraps up “Is the New Testament Historically reliable”, though I could go into it further upon request. This also shatters the myth that the Gospels were written some time much later and not by eyewitnesses.