Why We Can Trust the Truth of the Bible Part 1

We Have What Was Written

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi.  And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah, and others, one of the prophets.” Luke 9:27-28

When Jesus asked the disciples what people were saying about Him, the basic response was that He was perceived as a prophet.  That means that the crowds of Jesus’ day were experiencing Him as someone who spoke and taught with an authority that comes from God.  

What if that question was asked today?

I think that we would hear different answers.  One way that crowds today see Jesus is as
a myth made up by the Church.  The Bible is a well-intentioned, but mythical account.  In fact, many people object, we can’t really even know if what we now have is what was written back then.

But is that true?  

Many who object to the truth of the Bible are unaware that we have evidence from outside the Bible for Jesus’ existence.  The ancient Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius, both writing around 100AD, include references to the existence of a man named Jesus who lived in first century Palestine.  The Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us that Jesus was known for mighty works and miracles, that Pilate had Him crucified, and that His followers continued after His crucifixion.

So even without the Bible, we can know the basics of Jesus’ life, which are completely in line with the accounts that we have in the New Testament gospels themselves.

But, some would ask, how do we know we have what was actually originally written?  Didn’t the Church add things to the account over time?

This brings us into the realm of what is known as textual criticism.  A basic premise of textual criticism is that the more copies you have of a document, and the shorter the span of time between our earliest copies and when it was written, the more trustworthy they are.  

No serious scholar would dispute the authenticity of works by authors like Tacitus.  Tacitus wrote around 100AD, and the earliest copy we have is from about 1100AD, a span of 1000 years when things could have been changed.  Further, we have only twenty copies of his work.  But, again, no serious scholar would dispute the authenticity of his work.

But when it comes to the New Testament, people get nervous about its authenticity.  The books of the New Testament were written between 40-100AD, and we have partial manuscripts from as early as 130AD and full manuscripts from around 350AD, leaving at most about 300 years for changes to appear.  Not only is the time span between writing and copies short, but the number of copies we have is overwhelming.  We have over five thousand Greek manuscripts, ten thousand Latin manuscripts, and over fifteen thousand citations from extrabiblical writers in the first 300 years of the Church’s existence.  No other ancient document comes close to the short time span and overwhelming documentation!

In other words, we have every reason to believe that what we have is what was written!  

So why is it that no serious scholar would dispute the authenticity of Tacitus, but call the New Testament gospels into question?  

Maybe it is because the Jesus we meet in the Bible isn’t always comfortable to deal with!  He makes claims for Himself that make claims over us.  He doesn’t just point people to a nice way to live, but has the boldness to claim to be the unique giver of eternal life to those who follow Him!  

But just because it isn’t comfortable, we can’t then just dismiss the Bible as a made up document.  Like it or not, we have every reason to believe that the Bible we read is just what the authors wrote.

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