By David Russell
“I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are they are not legends.” -C.S. Lewis
Almost every objection I deal with comes down to this. Is the bible reliable? Besides the common objections and errors due to lack of reading the bible correctly, I deal with defending the historicity and authenticity of the bible. Welcome back to the blog. In this article I will deal with common objections to the bible. I will also give the argument on why I think the bible is reliable and that God is the best explanation for the resurrection of Jesus. As we have made the case for the existence of God, we will now narrow the scope to the Christian God. This argument held the most weight for me in my quest. I hope it does the same for you.
It was a cold day in October. I was walking home from elementary school. I was in second grade and my teachers name was Mrs. Legget. As I made my journey home, I began to hear the typical teasing I got from a boy named John. He would ridicule me on any number of issues, but on this special day he got close enough that when I turned, I grabbed his hair and flung him around. Now, the joke was on him. Needless to say he was embarrassed. As I moved on, all I could think about is the trouble I could get into from the school, and after, Momma! As I continued, I suddenly felt a hard shove to my back and soon realized I was looking up from a puddle of mud. John had recovered and I had turned around to quickly. After that day, me and John became best friends in the second grade. This happened twenty eight years ago, as I write this, my memory of that event are as clear as if it just happened. One objection I often get is the “telephone game” objection. That the bible isn’t authentic because it was written down to late for it to be credible. That what we have now is a case of passed down legend, the truth has been lost etc. But is this true?
I usually answer this question with a question. So, your familiar with the translation process? This usually opens up the conversation and we hit specifics. Ninety nine percent, just got the info from a meme on the internet. But the truth of the matter is, we have copies (Gospel of Mark) circulating in the first century. This means, it was written during the life of those that could verify its authenticity. Many historians place the completion of the entire New Testament before 70 AD. To dampen the skeptics claim further, we have the early creed tradition expressed in 1st Corinthians 15:3-5 in which most historians place around 33 CE. Even Atheist historians agree:
“Gerd Lüdemann (Atheist NT professor at Göttingen): “…the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than three years… the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in I Cor.15.3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE.” [The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. by Bowden (Fortress, 1994), 171-72.]”
This evidence alone suggests no time for legendary corruption or a simple game of telephone. Moving on, I constantly hear the New Testament authors where just making it up. That they where biased. To the first statement, it is a fact that people don’t die for what they “know” to be a lie. They will die for what they believe, even if a lie, but not in what they know to be a lie. The early Christians had everything to lose and nothing to gain by spreading this known lie. I often ask those who claim bias this, “And that matters why?” Just because someone has a bias doesn’t mean they are wrong. Maybe their bias gave us a more detailed account. Not to mention, they converted. I also have a hard time casting the earliest source documents out, that’s doing bad history. Like me describing my first fight at school, I remember, in detail that day and what transpired. This also goes far in disproving the telephone game objection. Big events that take place in your life, like seeing somebody you love coming back from the dead, will burn itself into your memory. I have known many people that knew exactly where they where when the twin towers fell on 9-11. Some describe the entire mood, emotion, and even what they were smelling the moment the first tower fell.
Another objection I often get is, “what about all the errors?” This is another misunderstanding, by errors, we mean that there contains simple grammatical errors, punctuation, things like that. Nothing changes the context or any doctrinal truth. Upon reflection, there is a simple way one can study whether or not the bible is reliable. I have covered mainly the New Testament here and will continue, but it applies for the rest of the bible.
First, Manuscript evidence. We covered this briefly above. Dan Wallace calls what we have historically, from the New Testament alone, “An embarrassment of riches”. Meaning, what we have of other historical ancient writings, the bible, has an embarrassing amount more. Kind of silly to think, that those claiming the bible to be untrue, don’t realize that it is supported by more manuscript data than those they accept with no problem or take as absolute. But to compare, we can just take a look, Pliny wrote from 61-113 CE, the earliest copy we have comes from around 850 CE. This is a span of 750 years from the original, and all we have is about two hundred copies according to updated sources*. Take Caesar, written 100-44 BCE. with the earliest copy dated at 900 CE. That span is 1000 years from origin with about 251 copies. Most copies are way later than the earliest copy as well. Homer, 900 BCE. earliest copy 400 BCE. Spanning 500 years from the original writing with 643-1,800 copies. The New Testament, written first century 50-100 CE. earliest copy from 70 CE., less than 100 years, with 5,838 Greek manuscripts, 18,524 early New Testament translations, and 42,000 Old Testament scrolls and codices. This combined manuscript evidence for the bible is 66,362. WOW!
With the Manuscript evidence overwhelming, it’s hard to add that we have extra biblical sources confirming the scriptures, in that piecing every early church father quotation we can construct New Testament belief. Then we have plenty of Roman sources that confirm Jesus existence as well as Jewish ones. But lets move on to archaeology. One of my favorite conversion stories is that of archaeologist, Sir William Ramsay, who set out to debunk the books of Luke, (Luke and Acts). He converted after confirming over and over again, the statements of Luke which has over 84 evidences, alone, in the second half of his writings (Acts). This lead Ramsay to conclude, “(There are) reasons for placing the author of Acts among the historians of the first rank” This is only two books.
If the Archaeological evidence doesn’t do, then continue to some of the predictive prophecies, regarding Christ, made in the Old Testament. His Abrahamic lineage, (Genesis 12:3 and 17:19), Birth in Bethlehem, (Mich 5:2), Crucifixion next to criminals, (Isa 53:12), the piercing on the cross, (Psalms 22:16) and the list goes on and on.
Finally there is the statistical probability of it all, Hank Hanegraaff sums it up well, “The Bible was written over a span of 1500 years by forty different human authors in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), on hundreds of subjects. And yet there is one consistent, noncontradictory theme that runs through it all: God’s redemption of humankind. Clearly, Statistical probability is a powerful indicator of the trustworthiness of Scripture.”
So if the Bible is reliable, and we have only scratched the surface, we are faced with the ultimate question. Who is Jesus and did he rise from the dead? Most all historical New Testament scholarship agrees with the minimum facts, an approach made famous by Gary Habermas. “1) that Jesus died by crucifixion; 2) that very soon afterwards, his followers had real experiences that they thought were actual appearances of the risen Jesus; 3) that their lives were transformed as a result, even to the point of being willing to die specifically for their faith in the resurrection message; 4) that these things were taught very early, soon after the crucifixion; 5) that James, Jesus’ unbelieving brother, became a Christian due to his own experience that he thought was the resurrected Christ; and 6) that the Christian persecutor Paul (formerly Saul of Tarsus) also became a believer after a similar experience. ” That is one big cumulative case, considering the bible is reliable, there is this approach dealing just with the resurrection. We all have to do something when it comes to Jesus. The question is, What are you going to do?
For a look at updated sources: (https://www.josh.org/wp-content/uploads/Bibliographical-Test-Update-08.13.14.pdf)