Can we Really Trust the New Testament?

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The foundations of the Bible have been under increasing attack over the last few centuries. Many people now hold to the view that the Bible has been disproven through science, history and the ‘fact’ that there is no God. Whilst the average person can appreciate that Jesus was a good man with great teachings (much like Buddha, or Confucius), they cannot accept the idea that he was supposedly God in human form, and that he proved it by dying on the cross and then resurrecting three days later. (In fact, read ‘Mere Christianity‘ by C.S. Lewis and he will inform you of why it is illogical to call Jesus just another good human moral teacher)[1]

Believers in Christ do hold to the former and the latter, however it is surprising to note that not many Christians today can actually defend why they believe this without referring to personal experience or ‘it is what I was raised to believe.’ (whilst these approaches are not wrong in themselves – they are vital in fact – they do not ultimately offer any solid objective reason for why your faith should be prescribed to a non-believer. A Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu could use the exact same reasoning).

When we look at the stats in UK, the fact is that “In five decades, the number of people with no religion in Britain has grown from just 3 per cent of the population to nearly half…[2]

The biggest drop out age rage is from the teens to the 20s. By the time this age group have gone through the educational system, many of them leave the faith. This is a huge number! Something is not right here.

When many of these former Christians are interviewed, the most common answers they give are that, they left the faith because there were too many unanswered questionstheir science classes on evolution disproved the bible, and/or they just didn’t know why they believed what they believed anymore:

Mitch’s testimony 

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(Mitch’s Testimony about his faith being shaken and then coming back to Christ)

The first thing Christians need to realize is that there really is evidence for what we believe and the evidence doesn’t consist of historical scraps loitering around that have been pieced together. On the contrary, there is an overwhelming load of well-preserved evidence right from the beginning in Genesis persisting up until our current times today. In this article I am just going to focus on the New Testament (NT) and Jesus Christ, however a strong case can be made for both the Old and New Testament equally.

World renown atheist Historian and NT scholar Dr. Bart D. Ehrman talks us through how historic records are compiled and how we can trust their reliability:

What kinds of evidence do scholars look for when trying to establish probabilities in the past? Well, the best kind of evidence, of course, consists of contemporary accounts; people who were close to the time of the events themselves…To determine which things are the things that happened, you want contemporary accounts, things that are close to the time of the events themselves, and it helps if you have a lot of these accounts. The more the merrier! You want lots of contemporary accounts, and you want these accounts to be independent of one another.[3]


Now lets use this criteria in comparing two ancient historical documents (Plato’s earliest writing, and the New Testament). We should be able to see which of the two we must consider more reliable.

Historical evidence for the NT and Jesus Christ?

  • I’m sure most people have heard of a person called Plato. Plato was a Greek philosopher who lived and died at about 428 – 347 BC. No one in general would argue that Plato didn’t exist, or that his writings weren’t his own (I believe just as most do that they probably are accurate and that he did exist). But when we look at the actual historical evidence, we detect a varying picture. In terms of actual manuscript (MMS) copies of Plato’s first writings, in total we don’t have 1000 of them, we don’t have 100 of them, we don’t even have at least 50 copies. All we have are 7 manuscripts copies total regarding his earliest writings (Tetralogies).[4] This might not seem significant, and that is understandable. The reason for this is because we have not yet compared it against anything else in order for us to make a valid judgement on, so lets do just that. Lets take NT manuscript copies and contrast them with Plato’s manuscript copies. The NT doesn’t just have 7 manuscripts, or maybe 100, or even 1000. The NT has over 5000 Greek manuscripts alone available[5] that we can access currently (this number was also confirmed when I had to the opportunity to ask Dr Drake Williams III who is a NT Scholar in a FOCL session he held discussing the question, ‘Are we mistaken about Jesus?‘ – 05,10, 2016).[6] The issue escalades downhill for Plato when we find out that all of the copies of Plato’s earliest writings only arrive roughly 12-1300 years after his death.[7]  The problem with this huge gap is that essentially, nobody on earth knows if the documents we have, have been altered within that timespan or not. Again when we compare this with the NT, document manuscripts arrive merely 20 years after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. Furthermore eyewitness accounts are found only 40 years (the book of Mark in the Bible) after Jesus’ ascension. 20-40 years compared to 12-1300 years is a big difference.

In saying all of this, my aim isn’t to disprove Plato’s writings (as I mentioned, I don’t doubt that his writings aren’t his own), but rather to show that from a logical standpoint, if someone is willing to believe in the reliability of Plato’s work based on the limited and delayed evidence we have of it, then there is not much excuse for not believing in the reliability of the NT. The evidence for the NT far outweighs the evidence for Plato’s dialogues.

 

Referencing:

[1] C. S. Lewis (2012) Mere Christianity, : Collins. [P52]

[2] R. Gledhill (2014) Exclusive: New figures reveal massive decline in religious affiliation, Available at: https://www.christiantoday.com/article/exclusive.new.figures.reveal.massive.decline.in.religious.affiliation/

[3] Dr. W.L. Craig (March 2006) Is there Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?, Available at: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-there-historical-evidence-for-the-resurrection-of-jesus-the-craig-ehrman 

[4] Jeremy Norman (2017) The Oldest Surviving Manuscript of Plato’s Tetralogies, Available at: http://www.historyofinformation.com/expanded.php?id=1880

[5] [Norman Geisler & Peter Bocchino, Unshakable Foundations, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2001) p. 256.

[6] D. Williams (2016) Are we mistaken about Jesus? Examining other Gospels outside of the New Testament, Available at: https://www.anymeeting.com/WebConference/RecordingDefault.aspx?c_psrid=E954DE8784473E

[7] Bill Pratt (2012) HOW DO OTHER ANCIENT TEXTS COMPARE TO THE NEW TESTAMENT?, Available at: http://www.toughquestionsanswered.org/tag/manuscripts/

One thought on “Can we Really Trust the New Testament?

  1. Pingback: Is Christianity a Blind Faith? | Evidence and Faith

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