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Theory of Intelligent Design, the best explanation of Origins » Bible / Christian faith / Apolotetics » Are the gospels reliable ?

Are the gospels reliable ?

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1 Are the gospels reliable ? on Sat Feb 08, 2014 7:26 am


Are the Gospels Reliable?

There was a time in my life where I had to step out on my own.

I went to university and found that many of my beliefs had been passed down to me from my parents. I’m very thankful that they had gone out of their way to pour into me and bring me up in an environment of truth, but when I got to college I was up for a bit of a rude awakening. Up until that point I had heard whispers of other worldviews, but had never come face-to-face with anyone that held them until I was out on my own. At this point in my life I had two choices: find the answers or abandon certain fundamental beliefs. I chose the latter, but not in the way you might think. I didn’t outright reject my beliefs on God, I put them on a shelf and walked away for a time.

Now, let’s be honest. I didn’t just walk away due to intellectual reasons, though that played a role in the process and in a way validated my decision. I did it because I wanted to walk away from any moral accountability so that I could sin as much as I wanted without feeling any conviction. Although I thought I wouldn’t feel any conviction, I still did. I did every time I would sin. I suppressed the truth in my unrighteousness in order to believe a lie (Romans 1:18).

It wasn’t until later, after God had saved me, that I began to dig and see if there were sufficient reasons for believing what I believed. I’ll be honest, at the beginning of my search I was afraid. I was afraid that as I dug deeper I would find out that Christianity was a sham and should be rejected outright, but I was pleasantly surprised. As I dug deeper I realized that Christianity was the only worldview that made sense, was intellectually credible, was existentially satisfying, and fully corresponded with reality.

During that search I dug into the reliability of the Scriptures. What I mean by reliability is whether or not there is sufficient documentation that demonstrated their accuracy and their truthfulness. There were four main points to this examination, and here’s what I found:

1. Can the Miracles in the Bible be Believed? One reason that a person may reject the gospels is that their mind is closed to the idea of the miraculous. He might think that supernatural events are contrary to logic. This idea has its roots in the works of the Scottish philosopher David Hume, who wrote, “When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume – of divinity or school of metaphysics, for instance – let us ask, does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.” However, the problem with this position is that it fails its own test. The statement that “only analytic or empirical propositions are meaningful” is not itself analytic (true by definition) or empirical statement. Therefore it is itself meaningless. Therefore, a person ought to be open to at least the possibility of miracles if he is to maintain any intellectual credibility. Many in the gospel stories were down-to-earth people, who were surprised by the supernatural, just as we are. The writers of the gospel didn’t try and polish the fact that it was startling when they saw Jesus walked on water, which if the documents were tampered with one might see.

2. Has the Bible Been Changed in Transmission? Today we have a staggering 24,000 manuscripts (copies of portions) of the New Testament. No other document in antiquity even comes close to this. The nearest is Homer’s Iliad, with 634 manuscripts. Another item of note is that the time span between an event and its recording can cause problems if the time span is too great, which can lead to a puffing up of the facts if you will. To put the New Testament in comparison to other texts: Plato’s Republic has only 7 manuscripts in existence with a timespan of 1,200 years between original and the existing manuscripts, Homer’s Iliad has a timespan of 500 years with only 634 manuscripts, and the New Testament has a timespan of 25 to 50 years with 24,000 manuscripts in existence. As you can see, the gospels have more than enough weight in terms of their reliability in the area of historical attestation with only 1/16th of the variances (which consist of a small handful of single word, spelling, or grammatical issues) even rising above trivialities (Geisler).

3. Is There Any Literature Outside of the Bible That Can Attest to its Truthfulness? There are a number of extrabiblical writings that attest to what we find in the gospels, yet I’ll discuss only two. First, Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian of the Pharisaic party who lived in Rome, makes mention of many characters, such as Judas, “James the brother of the so-called Christ,” The Herods, Pilate, Felix, Festus, Annas, Caiaphas, Ananias, and others. About the crucifixion he writes,

And there arose about this time Jesus, a wise man, if indeed we should call him a man; for he was a doer of marvelous deeds, a teacher of men who receive the truth with pleasure. He led away many Jews, and also many of the Greeks. This man was the Christ. And when Pilate had condemned him to the cross on his impeachment by the chief men among us, those who had loved him at first did not cease; for he appeared to them on the third day alive again, the divine prophets having spoken these and thousands of other wonderful things about him; and even now the tribe of Christians, so named after him, have not yet died out.

Tacitus gives testament to Christ’s sentencing by Pontius Pilate,

Therefore to scotch the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men loathed for their vices whom the crowd styled Christians. Christus, from whom they got their name, had been executed by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate when Tiberius was emperor; and the pernicious superstition was checked for a short time, only to break out afresh, not only in Judea, the home of the plague, but in Rome itself.

4. Is the Content Found Within the Gospels True? Just because the information found within a document is well-attested doesn’t mean that its true. Wouldn’t you agree? Some people may say, and I wondered at the beginning of my own investigation, “The stories were all invented by the writers as a deliberate attempt to inspire followers and exonerate the disciples’ decision to follow Jesus. He didn’t ever want to found a religion, but his followers did. There are three ways you can answer this:

Why would the disciples portray themselves in a bad light (e.g., Peter’s denial or their lack of faith)?
Why is there so much in the New Testament about the cost of Christianity (surely they would’ve given up after all of their suffering if this was a deception)?
Why would they be willing to be killed for their teachings (Peter was crucified upside down and Thomas was torn in half)?

John Stott wrote, “If anything is clear from the Gospels and the Acts it is that the apostles were sincere. They may have been deceived, if you like, but they were not deceivers. Hypocrites and martyrs are not made of the same stuff.”
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2 Re: Are the gospels reliable ? on Sun Aug 03, 2014 12:18 pm


The Reliability of the New Testament

Yes, the Bible is reliable. The original writings of the Bible have been lost. But before they were lost, they were copied. These copies were incredibly accurate, very meticulous, and very precise. The people who copied them were extremely dedicated to God and their copying tasks. They took great care when copying the original manuscripts. This copying method is so exact, and so precise, that the New Testament alone is considered to be 99.5% textually pure. This means that of the 6000 Greek copies (the New Testament was written in Greek), and the additional 21,000 copies in other languages, there is only one half of 1% variation. Of this very slight number, the great majority of the variants are easily corrected by comparing them to other copies that don't have the "typos" or by simply reading the context. You should know that copying mistakes occur in such ways as word repetition, spelling, or a single word omission due to the copyist missing something when moving his eyes from one line to another. The variants are very minor. Nothing affects doctrinal truth and the words and deeds of Christ are superbly reliably transmitted to us.

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