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Appologetics: Reliability of the N.T.

By: Seraiah Wolf

Hey guys! If you remember from last week I presented a general outline which I was planning on fleshing out over the next few weeks, well, I finally got an image of it that’ll help you visualize where we’re going.

Today we’re still on “The N.T. is Historically Reliable” and the material is going to be helpful. I know it look like a lot, but it’s important to get the foundation before we build the next two lessons, Prophecy and Resurrection. I looked over that material today and was just put in a state of awe over the events recorded in this book. Each lesson builds on each other and when I saw the puzzle pieces fall in place to form the deity of Christ, it just filled me with this immense bubbly joy. Guys, this is amazing, you just have to get through today. Stick with it. We’re going places.

Last week we used the Bibliographical method to show that what we have today in our N.T. is what was in the original manuscripts. We did not, however, demonstrate that the content in the N.T. was accurate. What if the N.T. writers weren’t honest? Maybe they were creating a myth, maybe it was a conspiracy to gain power or popularity. Sure we know we have what they wrote, but how do we know what they wrote was true? Welcome to the last two tests for the historical reliability of the N.T. Let me introduce you to Internal and External (evidence, that is).

Internal Evidence:
A working definition of internal evidence is basically analyzing what was written by the author to determine weather we can trust him. It didn’t sound sensible to me, but I think it’ll make more sense once you see it.

Before we get started, I want to mention Aristotle’s Dictum, that is “The benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document and not to the critic.” For example, if there is a possible explanation for a contradiction in a document, the document shouldn’t be considered in error on the basis of that supposed contradiction. The Law of Non-Contradiction states, “If one statement absolutely contradicts another statement, without qualification, at least one of those statements cannot be true”. So, a statement MUST violate the Law of Non-Contradiction to be considered a real contradiction. In order for one statement to contradict another, there must be no sense in which the statements can both be true. If there’s a possible logical explanation, it’s not a real contradiction.

Apparent Contradictions:
Are there contradiction in the bible? To illustrate, one Gospel says there was one angel at Jesus’ tomb; another says there were two. I there an absolute contradiction here? No, because the gospel says that there was one angel doesn’t say there was ONLY one angel. If it did, that would be an absolute contradiction to the gospel that says there were two.

What about this one? John 19 says that Jesus was standing before Pilate the 6th hour. Mark 15 says Jesus was crucified the 3rd hour. How could Christ be standing before Pilate after He was crucified? It’s a contradiction!

Or, John was in all likelihood using Roman time (like our time, counting with time beginning at midnight and going through the next day), while Mark was using Jewish time (counting time beginning around 6pm and then again around 6 am). This would mean Jesus was standing before Pilate at 6am (6th hour-Roman time) and was crucified at 9am (3rd hour-Jewish time). That gives Jesus three hours to get from before Pilate to the Cross. That’s a reasonable expiation.

A seminary student said to professor R.C. Sproul, author of Reason to Believe “The bible is full of contradictions” Sproul says that he responded like this, “The bible is a large book. If it is full of contradictions you should have no problem finding 50 clear violations of the law of contradiction in the next 24 hours. Why don’t you go home and write down 50 contradictions and we’ll discuss them at the same time tomorrow.” The student accepted the challenge. He returned bleary-eyed with 30, after having searched long into the night. He presented Sproul a list of the most blatant contradictions he could find (he had made use of crital book that listed such contradictions). Sproul says, “He went through the next, one at a time, aplying the test of formal logic to each alleged contradiction. We used syllogisms, the laws of immediate inference, truth tables, and even Venn diagrams to test for logical inconsistency and contradictions. In every single incident, we proved objectively, not only to my satisfaction but to his, that not a single violation of the law of contradiction was made.”

There are NO proven absolute contradictions in the bible. Plus, any surface contradictions that we do see actually help the case for the reliability of the N.T. Why, you ask? Because they show that the authors were truly writing from their own perspectives rather than scheming together to get their “story” right. (This is especially important for the Resurrection narratives.)

2 Peter 1:16

For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

1 John 1:1

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—

Luke 1:1-4

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.

These make it obvious that the Gospels were based on the memories of people who had a close contact with Jesus and a direct knowledge of what happened. I don’t know about you, but I don’t even remember the details about significant things that happen to me. Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would bring to their remembrance all that He had said to them (John 14:25-16). The agreeing accounts from many different eyewitnesses confirms their recall ability.

These eyewitness died for their doctrine. People will sometimes die for what they believe to be true, but not for something they know to be false. The authors willingly gave their lives for their belief in Christ’s Resurrection. This confirms their honesty.

It looks like the evidence favors the idea that the N.T. writers were honest and close enough to the facts to be able to present them accurately. They were trustworthy and competent. That’s the internal evidence for the reliably of the N.T.

External Reliability:

This is evidence for the reliability of the N.T. from outside sources.

We’re going to cover three external evidences before we leave for the afternoon. Evidence from other Christian writers, from non-christian historical sources, and archaeology.

Supporting Evidence from Other Early Christian Writers:
Papias, acquaintance of John the apostle said

“The Elder [the Apostle John] used to say this also: ‘Mark, having been the interpreter of [Peter] wrote down accurately all that he [Peter] mentioned, whether sayings or doings of Christ, not, however, in order.”

Irenaeus, student of Polycarp (a student of John) said

“So firm is the ground upon which these Gospels rest, that the very heretics themselves bear witness to them, and starting form these documents, each one of them [the heretics] endeavor to establish his own particular doctrine”.

Even those in the early church who didn’t respect the apostolic doctrine till respected the Gospel records. The Gospels must have been considered extremely reliable documents in those days.

Supporting Evidence from Early Non-Christian Historical Sources.
What would we know about Christ and Christianity if we didn’t have the Bible?
If we combine the testimonies of Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Thallus, and the Talmud–all contemporary non-Christian sources– we get the following picture

  • Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate at Passover time. (Tacitus, Thallus, Josephus, Talmud)
  • He was believed by his disciples to have risen from the dead three days later. (Josephus)
  • Jewish leaders charged Christ with sorcery and believed he was born of adultery. (Talmud)
  • The Judean sect of Christianity spread to even Rome. (Tacitus, Suetonius)
  • Nero and other Roman rulers bitterly persecuted and martyred early Christians. (Tacitus, Suetonius)
  • Early Christians denied polytheism, lived dedicated lives according to Christ’s teaching, and worshiped Christ. (Pliny, Lucian)

We’d know all of the above simply by reading secular and Jewish history. As you can see, there is outside confirmation that the N.T. is historically accurate.

Archaeology as External Evidence:

Sir William Ramsay was a well-known, highly-respected archaeologist. He went to study the Bible lands as a liberal; fifteen years later he became a firm believer in a reliable N.T. He was originally a skeptic, and therefore neglected to consult it for help in his research, but eventually he used the writings of Luke to study Asia Minor and was surprised at how reliable Luke was. Ramsay said that Luke was unsurpassed as a historian. For example, when Luke made reference to 32 countries, 54 cities and 9 islands, he made no mistakes.

The pavement near the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem where Jesus was tried before Pilate was once considered a myth because there was no record of it in Jewish or secular history. It was finally found. When Titus destroyed Jerusalem, he built barracks there. When these were abandoned, and had crumbled, other buildings were built on top. Archeologists had dug down to the barracks, but no further until recently. When they did go underneath, the found the pavement.

The pool of Bethseda was mentioned in John 5 as the plae where Jesu healed an invalid. John said the pool had five “porches”, or walkways. Ther was no record in Jewish or secular maps or histories and therefore was considered myth. In 1888 it was found while archaeologists were digging around the church of St. Anne. It lies about forty feet below the ground. Guess how many porches at the pool there is evidence of?

Nelson Glueck, a Jewish and universally esteemed archaeologist said that no archaeological discovery as ever contradicted the bible.

Guys, the New Testament passes the three tests (Bibliograpical, Internal, External) that determine whether a document is historically reliable. The N.T. is a trustworthy historical document. Now we have a solid foundation on which to build our case for Christianity! That’s where we’re going!

I’d like to point out that all images came from Answers in The teachers book is available for purchase and the powerpoint lessons are available for download. We covered lesson 8 today, so you can imagine that we glossed over a lot of material from chapters 1-6. If you’re interested in learning more and don’t quite like my style of teaching, the teachers book is absolutely great.

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