Is the New Testament Reliable? – Psalm 119:159-160

What is the Biblical doctrine of the inspiration of the scriptures? What is historical reliability? (Whether or not the history under consideration is accurate.) On the lost man’s “I care / I don’t care” scale where do arguments about inspiration of the scriptures fall? To the average lost person, would you expect more interest in whether the Bible is true or whether the Bible is inspired by God?

In this lesson, we’ll briefly think about the three basic principles of Biblical historiography. What is the meaning of the word “historiography”? (The principles used in historical research.) One of the results of of Biblical historiography is Biblical reliability. Three areas of historiological evidence are bibliographical, internal and external.

The Bibliographical test.
Since we don’t have the original copies of the 27 books of the New Testament can we be sure that what we have is accurate?

The numbers indicate that we do. We have about 25,000 copies of the New Testament or parts of the New Testament written between the second and the fifteenth centuries. There are over 300 uncials and nearly 3000 minuscules. What are uncials and minuscules? There are 10,000 copies of parts of the New Testament in Latin, and 2,000 Ethiopic copies. Do all these 25,000 manuscripts have perfect agreement? By comparing the majority of these 25,000 manuscripts can we determine what is the New Testament?

What ancient book provides us with the NEXT HIGHEST number of manuscripts? (Homer’s Iliad.) How many manuscripts of the Iliad do we have from the 2nd to the 15th centuries? (643.) When was the oldest extant copy of the Iliad made? (Sometime during the 13th century.)

The very fact that we have so many ancient copies of the New Testament should tell us something. What? When detectives investigate a crime, they gather information from as many witnesses as possible. Even though one person may have only seen one aspect of the crime, if there are enough statements, the crime can be completely reconstructed. Would 25,000 witnesses to a crime or an accident be enough to determine what had happened? Should the testimony of a witness be received as more accurate ten years or ten minutes after the event? Scholars believe that we have accurate copies of the seven plays of Sophocles; yet the earliest substantial manuscript that we have was written more than 1400 years after the poet’s death. The abundance of manuscript copies, and the dates of those copies, make it possible to reconstruct the original New Testament with virtually complete accuracy.

What is the name of the earliest known portion of the New Testament? If you say Codex Vaticanus or Codex Sinaiticus, you are hundreds of years too late. To the best knowledge of scholars as of five years ago, the oldest known partial manuscript is the John Rylands MS which is dated at 130 AD. This manuscript contains much of the Gospel of John as we have it in our Bibles. The Bodmer Papyrus also contains the Gospel of John and is dated between 150 and 200 AD. Among other smaller manuscripts there is the Chester Beatty Papyri from about 200 AD. The Codex Vaticanus manuscript, located in the Vatican is dated from between 325 and 350. Even though this uncial can be criticized as a deliberate attempt to minimize the deity of Christ, much of it agrees with our King James Version. The Codex Sinaiticus, now being kept in the British Museum dates from about 350 AD, and again for the most part it agrees with our Bibles. Among hundreds of others there is the Codex Alexandrinus from about 400 AD.

What are some of the ways that bibliologists date those manuscripts? They look at the materials on which the manuscripts were written – texture and color. They study the inks and their colors. They look at the letter size and form, punctuation used and the way that the text was divided. And then they study the way that the pages were decorated if at all.

One of the most important methods of proving the accuracy of copies, comes by comparing translations. How would that help?

Another method of authenticating scriptures is by looking at how they were quoted. When I am not actually reading the Bible, or directly reading my notes, how accurate is my Bible quotation? (Less than perfect.) Should the Biblical quotations of the early pastors be considered as scripture themselves? (No.) But those quotations do two things: They give overwhelming support of the 27 books of the New Testament canon. And they are so numerous that from those quotations themselves, large portions of the New Testament could be reconstructed if we had to. Whether or not we agree with the theology of these people the quotations of the following seven men are important. We have letters and documents in which Justin Martyr quotes the New Testament over 300 times. Irenaeus has over 1,800 quotations. Clement of Alexandria has over 2,400 quotations. Origen has nearly 18,000 quotations. Tertullian gives us over 7,200. Hippolytus nearly 1,400. And Eusebius nearly 5,200.

These are some of the Bibliological evidences for the trustworthiness of the scriptures.

The internal evidence.
What does blood look like? Does the fact that our eyes cannot see red and white blood cells, prove that they don’t exist? Just because the Bible contains things difficult to understand doesn’t mean that they are untrue. Are unsolved problems necessarily errors?

Gleason Archer taught Apologetics at the seminary level for over thirty years. One of his best know books is entitled “Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties.” While an undergraduate student at Harvard, he became fascinated with apologetics, so he dedicated himself to learning the languages which related to that subject. After he mastered thirty modern and ancient languages he applied himself to law and was actually admitted to the Massachusetts Bar. Together this knowledge gave him the expertise to judge evidence – Biblical and otherwise. After years of study, Gleason Archer has testified: “There is a good and sufficient answer in Scripture itself to refute every charge that has ever been leveled against it. But this is only to be expected from the kind of book the Bible asserts itself to be, the inscripturation of the infallible, inerrant Word of the Living God.”

The Bible is said to contain many contradictions. For example what is the supposed contradiction about the death of Judas? (Hanging and fall.) Can you describe the traditional site of the death of Judas? (A field at the bottom of a cliff outside the city of Jerusalem.)

Here are some principles to consider in regard to supposed Biblical contradictions: The unexplained is not necessarily unexplainable. For years it was impossible to explain how insects the size of the bumble bee could fly. Can bumble bees fly? Fallible interpretations do not mean fallible revelation. Every text comes within a larger context. Difficult passages should be interpreted in the light of clearer passages. For example, the Book of James appears to contradict the Book of Romans. An incomplete report doesn’t mean a false report. Not all New Testament citations of the Old Testament are direct quotes. The Bible at times accurately quotes the lies of sinners. The Bible uses the non-technical, everyday language of the people of its day. The Bible sometimes uses exact numbers and in other places round numbers to describe the same thing.

The external evidence.
Are there any outside sources which confirm or deny what the Bible says? In addition to Clement, Tertullian, Irenaeus and other early writers quoting the scriptures as we have them, they also quoted others about the scriptures. For example, Eusebius, the historian quoted Papias, the bishop of Heirapolis (130 AD) as saying, that John the Apostle said that Mark accurately wrote down what Peter said about personal ministry of Christ. “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. For he was neither a hearer nor a companion of the Lord; but afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who adapted his teaches as necessity required, not as though he were making a compilation of the says of the Lord. So then Mark made no mistake writing down in his way some things as he (Peter) mentioned them; for he paid attention to this one thing, not to omit anything that he had heard, not to include any false statement among them.” This Papias also made comments about the Gospel of Matthew. Irenaeus was a student of Polycarp who was student of John. 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, each one of them endeavors to establish his own particular doctrine.” Not only did these brethren quote and approve the scriptures as we know them, they died for them.

Then there are the non-believing historians, such as Tactitus, Seutonius, Pliny, Lucian and Josephus. Josephus refers to the canon of scriptures that we use, in contrast to that of the Roman Catholics. He referred to the death of James, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.” He reported the life and death of John the Baptist. “Some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, who was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another and piety towards God, as do to come to baptism.” Even the Talmud, a Jewish commentary written between 70 and 200 AD bears testimony to the history of Jesus.

And then we come to the subject of archeology. Archeologists have never unearthed anything which disproves a single statement from the Bible. For example, Luke names thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities and nine islands without error. He refers to the complicated political rank of regions, districts and countries under the Roman government. He accurately names several governmental officials from Publius to Gallio and Sergius Paulus. Roman and Jewish forms of money are all accurately described and used. All of the various places in Jerusalem such as the Pavement “Gabbatha” and the Pool of Bethesda are accurately described.

In other words the Bible should be trusted; the Bible needs to be trusted. And as far as I am concerned the Bible IS trusted.