Sunday, February 5, 2017

Is the Bible the words of God? (New Testament)

What is the truth about God?  Which religion is true?  These and other similar questions can be answered by determining whether the Bible is the truth about God.  Many religions teach many diverse beliefs concerning the nature of God, life after death, and spiritual issues.  Some beliefs of different religions are similar; for example, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are monotheistic.  However, the doctrines of diverse religions may be contradictory on critical issues, such as the nature of Jesus.  If the Bible can reasonably be demonstrated to be accurate, then Christianity is true and most other religions would by necessity be false.  Many volumes have been written concerning the veracity of the Bible and some outstanding resources are listed at the end of this document for more intensive study.  For the purposes of this discussion, a few key points will be made to determine if the New Testament (N.T.) is a trustworthy written record.  If, by a preponderance of the evidence, this can be shown, then the Old Testament (O.T.) will have also been shown to be reliable.  The reason for this is that the O.T. was completed in written form approximately 450 years before the time of Jesus.  Jesus and the N.T. writers quoted extensively from the O.T. and clearly believed it to be the word of God.

I.   Eyewitnesses wrote their testimony in the New Testament
The accounts of the life of Jesus Christ were written either by men who saw and heard Jesus (Matthew, John, Peter, James) or by writers who met with eyewitnesses (Luke and Mark).  Peter stated, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).  John wrote, The Word became flesh and lived among us.  We have seen His glory” (John 1:14).  Peter and John were with Jesus throughout His entire earthly ministry, which was approximately three years.  Luke was, in essence, an investigative reporter as he indicated, ““I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you,… so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:3-4).  Luke traveled with Paul (Col. 4:14, Philemon 24, 2 Tim. 4:11) and wrote his account prior to A.D. 62, so many eyewitnesses of Jesus were alive to interview.  Mark wrote this account and was an associate of Peter (1 Peter 5:13 and likely in Acts 12:11-12), a fact mentioned by early church father Papias.

Several points must be kept in mind regarding eyewitness testimony in the Bible.  Skeptics claim that believers wrote the Bible, so their accounts may be biased.  However, these writers were not always believers.  Paul was not only an unbeliever initially; he hunted Christians, had them imprisoned (Acts 9), and had some murdered (Stephen, Acts 7).  Even the disciples did not believe Jesus had been resurrected from the dead until Jesus stood before them and showed the nail prints (John 20).  James, the half-brother of Jesus, was not a believer throughout some or all of Jesus’ ministry:  John 7:5 records that “not even His brothers were believing in Him”.

Skeptics question the reliability of the eyewitness testimony, much as defense attorneys attempt to discredit prosecution witnesses in court.  It is important to keep in mind that, even in a court of law today, with eyewitnesses and evidence presented regarding very recent events, verdicts are never based on one hundred percent, absolute, beyond any doubt certainty.  The burden of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt”, with “reasonable” a key word.  Some skeptics hold the verifiability of the Bible to a burden of proof that is “beyond all doubt”.  Almost nothing in life can be proven beyond any doubt.  Even with the most open and shut case in criminal court today, there may still exist the possibility of a small doubt.  Let’s not hold the Bible, with events that occurred 2,000 years ago, to a higher standard than a court of law examining events that occurred only a few months or years ago.

I.   Archaeological evidence for the reliability of the New Testament
Many archaeological discoveries confirm historical accounts recorded in the Old and New Testaments.  Though many others exist, for the sake of space, two of the more prominent recent N.T. finds are mentioned here.  

The Pontius Pilate inscription
The Bible records that Jesus began His ministry, “when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea” (Luke 3:1).  Matthew also states that Pilate was the governor when Jesus was taken to him prior to the crucifixion (Matthew 27:2).  In 1961, during an excavation at Caesarea’s Roman theater, a two-foot by three-foot stone slab was uncovered by Italian archaeologists, led by Antonio Frova, in the Caesarea Maritima.  The inscription literally read:
Line Two: (PON) TIUS
The limestone block contains an inscription which is part of a larger dedication to Tiberius Caesar stating that it was from "Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea."  The title “Prefect” has the same meaning as procurator or governor.  The block was dated to the time period of A.D. 26-37, which corresponds to the Biblical accounts.

The Caiaphas ossuary
Matthew 26:57 states, “Those who had seized Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas, the high priest” and, in John 18:13, it is recorded that those who arrested Jesus, “led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.”  First century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus provided some additional information relating to the name of “Joseph who was called Caiaphas.”[1]  Historical information indicates that Caiaphas served as a leader of the Sanhedrin from A.D. 18-36, which places him within the same time period as recorded in the Bible.  In November, 1990, when workers were constructing a water park in Jerusalem’s Peace Forest, the roof of a burial chamber collapsed and inside were 12 limestone ossuaries.  One of these ossuaries was very ornate, obviously for a wealthy or prominent person.  On the box was an inscription which read in two places Qafa and Yehoseph bar Qayafa, which is translated in English as “Caiaphas” and “Joseph, son of Caiaphas”.[2]  Inside were the bones of six people, including those of a man who died around the age of 60.  This archaeological find in 1990 appears to confirm the account in the Bible.

Why has more archaeological evidence not been found to confirm the Bible?  Dr. J. Randall Price provides five main points addressing this issue. 
1.    Only a fraction of what is made or what is written survives.
2.    Only a fraction of the available archaeological sites have been surveyed.
3.    Only a fraction of the surveyed sites have been excavated.
4.    Only a fraction of an excavation site is actually examined.
5.    Only a fraction of what is excavated is eventually reported and published.[3]

It is important to keep in mind that archaeological discoveries will not “prove” the Bible is true; however they can confirm and corroborate Biblical records.  A second point to note is that, of the many discoveries made that relate to the people, places and events written in the Bible, no discovery has conclusively disproved the truthfulness of the Bible.  In a court of law, there are different types of evidence:  testimonial, documentary, physical, etc.  In a murder investigation, physical evidence may consist of the weapon, shell casings, blood, fingerprints, and so on.  Above, we looked at a few examples of eyewitness testimony and, in this section we examined two instances of physical evidence.  Price informs that, “Archaeology provides a new assurance of the Bible from the stones to accompany the assurance we already have from the Spirit.”[4]   What is the significance of these examples?  Some other religious books, such as the Book of Mormon, do not have outside corroborating evidence for the accounts recorded.  Through these and many other archaeological discoveries, the Bible is shown to be historically reliable.  If the historical details recorded in the Bible that can be verified are indeed found to be accurate, then the writers of the books in the Bible are demonstrated to be trustworthy and reliable.   

II.    Non-Christian historians confirm Biblical accounts of the life of Jesus
Skeptics may claim the written records extant today of the life of Jesus Christ are only from Christian sources and, therefore, may not be objective.  However, written accounts exist from a number of secular historians which confirm records recorded in the Bible.  Cornelius Tacitus, a Roman historian, writing in the Annals about A.D. 115, of the great fire in Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero.  Tacitus recounted that Nero blamed the fire on those “called Christians by the populace.  Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.”[5]  

Jewish historian Josephus, who died in A.D. 97, wrote that during the time of Pilate, Procurator of Judea, “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”[6]

Around A.D. 52, Thallus, indicated to be a Samaritan, wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean region from the Trojan War to his own time.[7]  The writings of Thallus are not extant today; however, they were apparently known at the time of Julius Africanus.  Writing around A.D. 221, Africanus recounts Thallus’ record: 
On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down.  This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.[8]    
This account corroborates Luke’s writing of the crucifixion, “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured” (Luke 23:44-45).  Some have noted that there was a full moon at the Passover, making an eclipse impossible.  Furthermore, because an eclipse would certainly not last three hours, this account may seem to be invalidated.  However, Thallus was simply recording his observations or the observations of others who would have looked for some reason for the “most fearful darkness”, with an eclipse emerging as a likely explanation.  This is reminiscent of John 12:29, when God spoke in a voice that came from heaven and “the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it had thundered”.

Why are there not more?
A critic may call attention to the apparent paucity of extra-Biblical historical accounts of Jesus.  However, one must first keep in mind that oral tradition was the primary method for people living in the first century to obtain information.  There were very few historical books, many common people read little, and many also wrote little.  Religious scribes and government historians were the main writers at that time.  A second point, made by Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson, is that “The journalists of the first century, at least those whose works have been preserved to the present day, indicate that they were concerned about such things as the major political events of the day.”  They go on to say, “When it comes to religious events, only those events which had bearing on the ‘more important’ national and international affairs are mentioned.”[9]  Third, it is unknown how many Jewish records were destroyed during the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  We know that the Essenes, who saw the imminent destruction, secreted many of their sacred writings in the Dead Sea caves.  The non-Christian historical records available today reliably corroborate many of the Biblical accounts.  

III.   Extra-Biblical Christian sources confirm accounts in the New Testament.
Prior to the fourth century church councils which conclusively confirmed the canon of the New Testament, a number of prominent church leaders corroborated in their writings the reliability of the N.T.  Much could be written in this regard, so a few of the earliest church fathers will be mentioned here. 

Clement of Rome (A.D. 30 – 100)
Tradition indicates that Paul mentioned this same Clement in his letter to the Philippians, “my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers” (Phil. 4:3).  Clement wrote a letter to the Corinthians around A.D. 95, translated copies of which exist to this day.  Clearly Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was in circulation because Clement plainly mentions it when he admonishes his readers, “Take up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul. What did he write to you at the time when the Gospel first began to be preached?  Truly, under the inspiration of the Spirit, he wrote to you concerning himself, and Cephas, and Apollos, because even then parties had been formed among you”.[10]  This is a reference to the Biblical book of 1 Corinthians 1:12 and 11:18. 

Papias (ca. A.D. 60-130)
Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, in Phrygia (modern day Turkey), was one of the earliest church fathers and, according to Irenaeus, wrote five books around A.D. 130.[11]  These books have unfortunately been lost, but Greek historian Eusebius writing around A.D. 325, mentions Papias several times.  Concerning the book of Mark, Eusebius stated, “Peter’s hearers that, not satisfied with a single hearing or with the oral teaching of the divine message, they resorted to appeals of every kind to induce Mark (whose gospel we have), as he was a follower of Peter,…the writing of what is known as the Gospel according to Mark.”  Eusebius continues by pointing out that, “Clement quotes the story in Outlines Book VI, and his statement is confirmed by Bishop Papias of Hierapolis, who also points out that Mark is mentioned by Peter in his first epistle”.[12]  This indicates that the books of Mark and 1 Peter were already written and in circulation by the early part of the second century.

Polycarp (ca. A.D. 69-155)
A disciple of John, Polycarp was the chief presbyter or bishop of Smyrna and teacher of Irenaeus of Lyons, indicating the apostolic succession and handing down of the word of God.  One surviving letter written by Polycarp to the Philippians around A.D. 110 quotes New Testament writings approximately 60 times.[13]  In one of these instances, he reminds his readers who were “well versed in the sacred letters, it is said in these scriptures, ‘Be angry and sin not’ and ‘Do not let the sun go down on your anger’”.[14]  The first quote is taken by Polycarp from Psalm 4:4 and the second from Ephesians 4:26, indicating that, even by this early date, the New Testament writings were considered as scripture on par with the Old Testament. 

Many more examples of Christian extra-Biblical references to the New Testament are available, though these three are mentioned because they are some of the earliest.  By the sampling of evidence presented above – eyewitness accounts, archaeological evidence, non-Christian extra-Biblical historical documents, and Christian extra-Biblical records – the New Testament is demonstrated to be a very reliable document.  Because the N.T. stands upon the foundation of the O.T. and contains hundreds of references to the O.T., it is also demonstrated that the O.T. is reliable.  Nonetheless, the authenticity of the O.T. is also verifiable on its own merits.  Because the Bible is shown to be trustworthy and the Christian faith is based on the Bible, the Christian religion is demonstrated to be true and factually based. 

[All Biblical quotations are from the NASB version.]

Some excellent resources for more in-depth study
Bruce, F. F.  The Canon of Scripture.  Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1988.
Habermas, Gary. The Historical Jesus.  Joplin, MO:  College Press, 1996.
McDowell, Josh. New Evidence that Demands a Verdict.  Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson, 1999.
McDowell, Josh, and Bill Wilson.  He Walked Among Us.  Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson, 1993.
Price, Randall.  The Stones Cry Out.  Eugene, OR:  Harvest House, 1997.

[1] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 4, paragraph 3.
[2] Zvi Greenhus, “Caiaphas’ Final Resting Place”, Israel Hilton Magazine (Spring 1993), p. 16, as cited in J. Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out, (Eugene, OR:  Harvest House Publishers, 1997), 305.
[3] J. Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out (Eugene, OR:  Harvest House Publishers, 1997), 46-47.
[4] Ibid., 36.
[5] Tacitus, Annals, 15.44, quoted in Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus (Joplin, MO:  College Press, 1996), 188.
[6] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3.
[7] F.F. Bruce, Christian Origins, pp. 29-30, cited by Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus (Joplin, MO:  College Press, 1996), 196.
[8] Julius Africanus, Extant Writings, XVIII in the Ante–Nicene Fathers, ed. by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), vol. VI, p. 130., cited by Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus, (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996), 197.
[9] Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson, He Walked Among Us (Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993), 30-31.
[10] 1 Clement 47, posted by Christian Classics Ethereal Library:
[11]Ted Cabal, General Editor, The Apologetics Study Bible (Nashville, TN:  Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 1463.
[12] Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, translated by G. A. Williamson (New York:  Dorset Press, 1965), 88.
[13] McDowell and Wilson, 81-82.
[14] Polycarp, To the Philippians, 12:1, cited by Bruce, 122.

No comments: