The Reliability of the Scriptures Part 1

Originally published Tuesday, 08 April 2014.

Are the scriptures that we preach as truth historically accurate compared with other documents of their time and in light of archaeological finds? Can we trust that scribes accurately copied the scriptures as they were passed across the ancient world and how do we know that what comprises our Bible is what the original authors wrote? These are reasonable questions which you or someone you know may have asked and for which there are ready answers.

Today we will look at the historicity of the scriptures. 

The New Testament is comprised of twenty-seven different books written by nine different authors over a twenty to fifty year period. All New Testament books (scrolls) were written before 100 A.D. which is about seventy years after the death of Jesus. However, most books were probably written much earlier, before 70 A.D. placing the manuscripts forty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. This reasoning is due to the omission within the New Testament writings of the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem which occurred in A.D. 70. This omission would be akin to leaving out the bombing of the World Trade Centers on 9/11 when writing a text on American History.

In order to prove the reliability of any ancient text, historians look at the time gap between the original and first surviving copies of ancient documents. The New Testament manuscripts found to date were written within twenty-five years of the original documents. The next closest in years is Homer’s Iliad at five-hundred years between the original and first surviving copies.  (Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, 2004)

Next, historians look at the number of manuscripts (copies of the original documents). The Bible has an embarrassment of manuscripts. The number of manuscript copies in the Greek alone is nearly 5, 700 and add to that more than 19,000 manuscripts in other languages and the nearly 25,000 manuscripts (some total Bibles others books, pages, or portions of scripture) vastly outnumber the next closest works, the Iliad by Homer with 643 manuscripts. Most other ancient works are considered reliable with fewer than a dozen manuscripts. (Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, 2004) (McDowell J.,1999)

A closer look at the gospels and sources outside the scriptural authors on the events recorded therein, further add to the authenticity and reliability of the text. Consider:

  • The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are historical biographies written by firsthand eyewitnesses (Matthew and John) or recorded from written and oral traditions passed down and carefully documented by early apostles (Mark and Luke).
  • Early Christian leaders between 120-170 A.D. including Papias, Justin, and Irenaeus, reported that Matthew and John were two of the twelve Disciples of Christ and attribute them to writing the gospels baring their names. Further, they record that Luke was a companion to Paul and wrote the gospel we know as Luke and that Mark had written what had been told to him by his companion, Peter. (Licona, 2012)
  • Twenty-five of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament  are recorded and referred to within the writings of the early church fathers, Clement, writing from Rome (c. A.D. 95), Ignatius, writing from Smyrna in Asia Minor (c. 107) and Polycarp, writing from Smyrna in Asia Minor (c. 110). Further, including Jewish, Roman historian, Josephus, there are ten known non-Christian writers who mention Jesus within 150 years of his life.(Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, 2004)

When tested, the historicity of the Bible withstands the tests better than any other ancient document. Next we will consider the variants within the gospel accounts.