The following is an essay that I wrote for my Apologetics class at Big Sky Bible Institute back in 2007. I received an A on the paper and an A in the class.
The authenticity of Christianity is greatly affected by the reliability
of the New Testament documents. If they are reliable, the Christian
faith is really bolstered. If they are not dependable, then
Christianity does not count for a whole lot.
Textual Criticism and Other Ancient Documents
The first proof of the New Testament documents’ reliability comes from
the accuracy of the copies that we have. Now, when a historian is doing
a textual criticism,
there are two things that he would look at: how many handwritten
copies are in existence and how close are the copies to the original.
Let us compare the New Testament to other similar historical documents.
Tacitus’ Annals has 20 copies currently in existence, the oldest of
which dates back to 1,000 years after the original was written.
Caeser’s Gallic Wars currently has 10 copies, and the oldest copy is
also dated at 1,000 years after the original came into existence. The
Illiad still has 643 handwritten copies around, the oldest of which is
dated within 400 years of the original. Looking at those three, the
Illiad seems to be impressively preserved throughout the passage of
So how does the New Testament compare? There are currently 24,000
handwritten copies of the New Testament in existence, 5,000 of which are
Greek and 19,000 of which are in other languages. In addition to that,
the oldest copy of the New Testament is dated to less than 50 years
after the original! Now, compare the statistics of the New Testament to
those of the other three books that I mentioned. The New Testament
“blows them out of the water!” Since there are so many copies of the New
Testament to look at, it is relatively easy to cross examine them and
find mistakes. If you were to talk to an honest textual critic, he
would tell you that there is only about 1 percent of the entire New
Testament that is disputable at all. And of that 1 percent, there is
not a single doctrine that finds its basis in those texts.
Secondly, the original writers were qualified eyewitnesses that recorded
current events of the time, and not events long past. How do I know
that the writers are eyewitnesses? Well to begin with, the writers
claim that they are either eyewitnesses or that they have had in-depth
interviews with eyewitnesses about the events that took place.
Additionally, the writers include a great many facts that have been
verified historically. Luke includes 80 historical facts in the books
of Acts, all of which have been independently corroborated. Also, the
writers of the New Testament include internal evidence that proves that
these accounts were written rather recently following the death of Jesus
Christ. For instance, the book of Acts ends with a cliff-hanger: Paul
in jail, waiting for his sentence. If it had been written after Paul’s
execution, his death most certainly would have been included in the
In Acts Luke states that his other book was already written, so the
Gospel of Luke predates the book of Acts. The vast majority of the
prominent critics agree that the Gospel of Luke quotes material from
Mark, so Mark must predate Luke. This proves that both Luke and Mark
were written only about 20 or 30 years after Jesus’ death.
In addition to that, the Gospel of John was most likely written before
Jerusalem was destroyed, because John fails to mention this monumental
occurrence despite the fact that Jesus predicted that it would happen.
So these books most definitely were written shortly after the death of
Jesus, and not hundreds of years later. Therefore, it would have been
impossible for legend to mingle with the facts because people reading
the books would have known what had taken place!
Reliability of the Disciples
Finally, some atheists assert that the disciples did not tell the truth
when they wrote the gospel accounts. But if the gospels had been
fabricated, the writers would have to have cast themselves in a good
light to add credibility to their tale. That is not how the writers are
presented however. The writers are shown to have been cowards who
would not stick with Jesus when times got hard.
Also, the writers were very careful to distinguish Jesus’ words from
their own. If the disciples had put words in Christ’s mouth, they would
definitely have included certain items that would have cleared up
controversy in the early church. However, that is not what we find. We
find that the controversial issues in the early church are issues that
Jesus did not discuss. That does not fit with the assertion that the
disciples put words in Jesus’ mouth.
In addition to those two points, the disciples eventually died for
their beliefs. Almost all of them died horrible, torturous deaths.
There is no way that they would have gone through the torture that they
did indeed go through if they had completely made up the tale of Jesus’
divinity. If you think about these things, the disciples most
definitely were telling the truth.
The New Testament Can Be Trusted
In conclusion, the New Testament documents are reliable. The accuracy
of the documents themselves, the fact that original writers were
eyewitnesses, and the truthfulness of the disciples all prove this
beyond a shadow of a doubt. That gives enormous weight to Christianity!
I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek.
Essay: How I Know the New Testament Documents are Reliable
Greg Heil Thursday, June 07, 2012