Essay: How I Know the New Testament Documents are Reliable

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 Let us compare the New Testament to other similar historical documents.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 time.

 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.

Eyewitness Record
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 account.

 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!

Works Cited
I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek.