Reliability of the Bible

Is History Written By Those Who Believe Their Writings Reliable?

Recently, I was surprised by an assertion that I had read about, but had not given much thought to since I’d never heard it before in personal conversation. After some inquiry, I found out that it is becoming a popular objection to the trustworthiness of the Gospel records.

The main premise of the argument is this: The New Testament accounts are unreliable simply because the authors of the books were followers of Jesus, and because of that were prone to exaggeration and fabrication.

Now, the person who presented this to me was quite convinced that this was not only a valid argument, but a powerful one as well. After all, if you can’t trust the authors to be accurate, you can’t reasonably believe what they write to be true. Therefore, the argument goes, Christianity cannot be true.

By the strict rules of logic, this argument is valid, but only if the premise is true. Show that to be false, and the conclusion becomes not only irrelevant but rather silly.

The premise (the text is unreliable because the authors believed the unique claims about the subject) is obviously false once you apply it to other works of nonfiction. If it is true, it is also true that all of the following are unreliable simply because the authors believed the facts presented are true:

* All history texts, both modern and ancient
* Any published scientific texts
* Any owner or service manual for a mechanical device
* All biographies
*Any courtroom testimony

… and the list goes on. My point is that just because the presenter of an implausible fact or historical event believes it to be true, it does not follow as a necessity that what he is relating is untrue. So, with the premise being shown false, the argument falls apart.

But the logical fallacy is not the only problem with this argument. It presupposes that the Gospel writers were purposely making up their writings in order to deceive people into believing that Jesus is the Christ when in fact he was not.

I’ve dealt with that idea before here and here if you want more detail and many resource links. Briefly, it is highly unlikely that the writers could have gotten away with it if that was their goal – there were scores (if not hundreds) of witness to the activities of Jesus alive at the time of publication who could easily refute their claims. The only Gospel account that is disputed by any available contemporary writings is the resurrection of Christ, and those few texts offer no evidence other than speculation to support the allegation. No body was ever found or said to have been found by contemporary writers.

It should also be noted that three of the Gospel writers did not start out as ‘true believers’, and not enough is known about Mark to be able to tell when he became a follower of the Christ. Two of the authors (Matthew and John) were disciples of Jesus, but even they admit that it wasn’t until after the resurrection that they realized that He was God. Luke was an historian (and probably a doctor); according to the introduction to the Gospel he wrote, his intent in writing it was to provide an orderly and factual account of the Christ. That many archaeological finds and ancient text corroborate formerly disputed passages and none have contradicted him is testimony to the truth of Luke’s Gospel.

So, because the Gospel accounts agree with known history on every point in which they can be verified AND there are no contemporary historical accounts that give any verified evidence to contradict them, the argument that the Gospels are untrustworthy because the authors believed that Jesus was the Christ falls apart on historical as well as logical grounds.

“Swooning” and the Resurrection

Every Easter season, it seems that at least one old supposed refutation of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ is itself resurrected and trotted out to ridicule the central tenet of the Christian faith: that Jesus was crucified, died, and by His own power was raised from the dead three days later.

I was a bit surprised to see what is commonly referred to as the ‘swoon theory’ being used by quite a few people this time around, particularly since it has been so thoroughly disproven many time in the past. But, since it seems to be fairly popular once again, I’ll briefly deal with it here.

The variations of the swoon theory all state that Jesus did not really die when crucified; he merely became unconscious (“passed out” or ‘swooned”) and woke up while in the tomb. Sometime before the discovery of the open tomb, he either rolled the stone away himself, or someone opened it for him, and he simply walked out.

There are so many ways to refute this argument that it is hard to decide where to start. I’ll begin with a quick rundown of the relevant facts of the case, using the eyewitness accounts recorded in the Gospels. Continue reading

In part 1, I started a point-by-point rebuttal of Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek article entitled The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin. I dealt with his misunderstanding of both the transmission and translation of the Biblical text, and I’ll start out part 2 with his rather lengthy assertion that many of the core doctrines of the faith are not found in the Bible.

Eichenwald starts out this section of his article by stating that both the deity of the Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity are not found in the Bible. He does so by postulating that the passages identifying Jesus as God are all mistranslated, and that since there is no verse explicitly stating, “God is a Triune God” or “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all the same” that therefore the Trinity is non-Biblical.

Eichenwald once again makes another basic common to the majority of skeptics pontificating in the popular press. He ignores both context and reason. Continue reading

Newsweek Does it Again

It seems that at least once a year, the editors of Newsweek feel compelled to publish yet another arrogant, condescending, misinformed, and poorly researched article proclaiming to the world that those idiotic Christians are all wrong.

Last year was no exception. The latest, written by Kurt Eichenwald, was published on Dec. 23rd and is a prime example of the kind of anti-Christian arguments found spewed throughout the popular press and across the internet. You can read it here. I’m not nearly as upset over the arguments as I am about the attitude with which they are presented. Mr. Eichenwald presents his “The Bible : So Misunderstood it’s a Sin” article with the apparent expertise of a high school student who has just watched a Hogan’s Heroes marathon and on the basis of what he has learned from the series can confidently lecture any and all about how the history texts are all wrong about WWII.

In this post, I’ll start a point by point analysis of his screed, and show how sloppy both the research and the thinking of the modern pop-culture pundits really are. Continue reading

About the Virgin Birth

Now that what is for most families the whirlwind Christmas season has wound down, I thought it would be appropriate to step back a bit and take a look at how we as Christians can be assured of the authenticity of the virgin conception of the Christ.

I will point out right away that other than the resurrection of the Christ, the virgin conception is the most attacked fact presented in the Gospels, precisely because it is one of the hardest to defend if you do not take a thorough, open-minded examination of the evidence to support it.  I’ll summarise much of that here.

Continue reading

Signpost – Historical Reliability of the New Testament pt. 1

When looking at the historical reliability of the Bible, I’ll first concentrate on the Gospels since the accounts of the life of Jesus are the linchpin of the Christian faith. Falsify that, and everything else falls apart as well. Confirm the historicity of the gospels, and you cannot avoid the truth claims of the faith.

There are many attacks against the historicity of the gospels. The most popular today include the assertions that the gospels are a bunch of stories made up to deify a man who may or may not have actually lived in order to advance some nefarious agenda, that the gospels were written in order to solidify the political power of Constantine, or that the gospels are nothing more than a retelling of other savior myths. There are many others, but the vast majority of them depend upon an easily disprovable premise: that the gospels originate hundreds of years after the time that Jesus lived.

If it can be shown that it is reasonable to conclude that the gospel narratives originate early enough that they could have been easily disproven by eyewitnesses to the events, then these ‘late date’ based arguments are falsified, and the gospels must be taken as at least as accurate as other contemporary histories.

Continue reading

Textual Reliability of the New Testament

Last week, we looked at the reliability of the Old Testament text that we have; this week, we’ll look at the New Testament, and especially the Gospels. I’ll present the following measures by which we can make a determination of the reliability of the text:

1. The age and number of the available manuscripts
2. The amount of time between the original writing and the earliest known manuscripts.
3. The number and type of differences between available manuscripts
4. Citations or quotations of the NT from other early writers

While none of these alone may provide definitive evidence of the reliability of the text, I believe that the cumulative evidence is more than sufficient to give us reasonable proof that what we have is an accurate text. Continue reading

Signpost – Textual Reliability of the Old Testament

One of the most common objections to Christianity among academic crowd is “It doesn’t matter what the Bible says. We don’t really have any idea what the original manuscripts said anyway.” The reasoning goes something like this: The copies of the Biblical text that we have are just copies of copies and are so much newer than the originals that we can’t possibly know what the original writings actually were.

This week, we’ll address this idea by looking at how we can be reasonably certain that the Old Testament texts that we have today accurately present the content of the original manuscripts. 

Continue reading