An Overview of Reasons to Trust the New Testament
“Evidence” is a funny thing—it’s not as plain and obvious as we’d prefer. Instead, people can look at the same collection of facts and then create different conclusions, dispute those facts, or just ignore them. It’s a byproduct of human nature. When it comes to the New Testament, Christians can point to loads of reasons to take seriously the claims of Scripture, but many people just don’t find the same set of facts convincing. Typically, understanding why the evidence is so convincing takes some deep study, like what Lee Strobel did, as told in his book The Case for Christ. As a starting point for your deep study, I’d like to share the overview of evidence I see for the New Testament’s historical and theological reliability.
Jesus Certainly Existed
For one, the existence of Jesus is well established—there are about 10 non-Christian sources who mention Jesus within 150 years of his life, compared to only 9 sources who mention the Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar at the time of Jesus. These independent sources put together paint a remarkably similar picture to that of the Gospels.Other examples of the accuracy of the New Testament include the remarkable 84 facts in the last 16 chapters of Acts that have been confirmed by archeological and historical research.
It’s clear, based on citations in other Christian works coming later, that the New Testament documents were written by about 70 years after Jesus’ death—but probably even early because there is no mention of the destruction of the temple, which would be an important note to add! Because the time between writing and the actual event isn’t too long, we can add another reason to trust the account—in that short time frame, witnesses would still likely be alive and there would not be enough time for legendary influences to erase fact.
The Writing Style Points to Accuracy
Other marks of the Gospels that bear to its historicity rather than legendary quality include the way in which it was written. For one, the Gospels include embarrassing moments for the followers of Jesus, which probably wouldn’t occur if a writer were creating a myth to support Jesus. The occasional dim-witted nature of some of the chief leaders of the faith (Cf. Mark 9:32; Luke 18:34; John 12:16) would be counter-productive to include in a made-up story. The inclusion of embarrassing events about the disciples and insults toward Jesus shows that the authors were instead interested in historical truths, not in mythological propaganda.
Additionally, the New Testament books do not have easy teachings. They make people uncomfortable, demand a radical life, and in general aren’t the most attractive rules for people. Geisler and Turek also point out how the New Testament writers abandoned their cherished long-held beliefs and ended up being persecuted for these new beliefs—but they didn’t recant their stories.
The Resurrection of Jesus Certianly Occurred
Moreover, the resurrection of Jesus is well-attested too. This is a major and central Christian claim and, if verified, means a lot for Christianity! Remember, we know the New Testament writers wrote very accurately and believed what they experienced was true. This gives the New Testament reliability points, right off the bat. Writing accurately about random historical details means they are very credible to talk about more important events.
Nevertheless, some of tried to suggest alternative theories to cut their credibility. Let’s look at a few common suggestions about the resurrection.
1. The Disciples Stole the Body
First, one popular theory imagines the disciples stole Jesus’ body. Though if they had simply stolen the body of Jesus, they would not have willing faced persecution. Also, a stolen body doesn’t explain how they got past the elite Roman guards. Nor does it explain the numerous sightings of Jesus walking, talking, and eating. And why would the Gospel writers include in their writings that the chief priests held this theory (Cf. Matthew 28:11-15)? What motive did they have to submit a counter theory? On top of all that, the very document that records the resurrection says not to lie.
2. The Disciples were Deceived
Secondly, could they have been deceived? Considering how well the disciples knew Jesus, it would be difficult to suggest they mistook someone for Jesus post-resurrection. Also unlikely is a group hallucination. Hallucinations are typically individual things, and it’s even more unlikely if 500 plus people experienced the same waking dream about Jesus coming back from the dead!
3. Jesus Just Fainted
Another possible way to explain the resurrection is the idea that Jesus merely fainted on the cross—called the Swoon Theory. But that doesn’t explain how even the enemies of Jesus—and Romans who were professional executers—believed he was dead. Crucifixion was designed to kill. If the crucifixion experience didn’t get him, the spear in his side would have probably perforated his heart or lung. To put it bluntly: There’s no coming back from that!
Since the alternatives don’t add up, the most logical conclusion is that the New Testament writers were recording history when describing Christ’s resurrection.
Is the New Testament Reliable?
These facts, mostly gleaned from Norman Geisler and Frank Turek’s book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, show me personally that it makes sense to believe that the historical accounts in the Gospels and Acts really did happen! Because the Bible is so important to Christians, it’s refreshing to know it’s importance is merited by the data.
Why do you think are the strongest arguments for the New Testament’s reliability? What arguments might not be as strong? Sound off in the comments below or start a forum post about the subject.
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