Historicity of the New Testament

By James M. Rochford

The gospels and epistles are a historically reliable record of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. There are three tests in which all historical documents are subjected in order to determine their reliability:

A. The Bibliographical Test

B. The Internal Test

C. The External Test

Let’s begin with the first test:

A. Bibliographical Test

The bibliographical test (also called lower criticism or textual criticism) asks if the manuscripts from the first-century were accurately transmitted to us today. Were the original NT documents distorted over time?

Many modern people believe that the New Testament was passed down to us like a game of Telephone.[1] I’m sure you remember the game of telephone from grade school. You might begin with the phrase, “Games are played in this space” and you end with the phrase, “James has an ugly face…” (at least, that’s how I remember it from grade school). By whispering the phrase from person to person, the message becomes distorted and unintelligible. Critic Bart Ehrman estimates that there are roughly 400,000 variations in the New Testament.[2] He writes, “There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.”[3] However, this claim is misleading for a number of reasons:

First, the reason why we have so many variations in the New Testament documents is because we have so many manuscripts. Textual critic Daniel Wallace observes, “No classical Greek or Latin text has nearly as many variants, because they don’t have nearly as many manuscripts. With virtually every new manuscript discovery, new variants are found. If there was only one copy of the New Testament in existence, it would have zero variants.”[4] This objection is similar to criticizing a muscle car for burning too much fuel. The engineer might retort: “The only reason this car burns so much fuel is that it burns so much rubber!” In the same way, Ehrman’s criticism actually serves to demonstrate one of the greatest strengths of the New Testament documents: the thousands of manuscripts that support it.

Josh McDowell The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict[5]

Author

Book

Date Written

Earliest Copies

Time Gap

No. of Copies

Homer Illiad 800 B.C. 400 B.C. 400 yrs.

643

Herodotus

History 480-425 B.C. 900 A.D. 1,350 yrs. 8

Thucydides

History 460-400 B.C. 900 A.D. 1,300 yrs. 8
Plato 400 B.C. 900 A.D. 1,300 yrs.

7

Demosthenes

300 B.C. 1,100 1,400 yrs.

200

Caesar Gallic Wars 100-44 B.C. 900 A.D. 1,000 yrs.

10

Livy

History of Rome 59 B.C. to A.D. 17 4th century (partial) mostly 10th century 400 to 1,600 19 copies
Tacitus Annals 100 A.D. 1,100 A.D. 1,000 yrs.

20

Pliny Secundus

Natural History A.D. 61-113 A.D. 850 750 yrs. 7
New Testament   A.D. 50-100 A.D. 114 (fragment)A.D. 200 (books)A.D. 250 (most of NT) + 50 yrs.100 yrs.150 yrs.

5366

 

Regarding these manuscripts, textual critic Daniel Wallace writes, “Many of these are fragmentary, of course, especially the older ones, but the average Greek New Testament manuscript is well over 400 pages long. Altogether, there are more than 2.5 million pages of texts.”[6] We have everything from full Bibles (dating to the fourth century) and fragments dating to the early second century:

Fourth century—Full Bibles: Codex Vaticanus was a 4th century full volume of the NT. It was buried in the Vatican library in Rome for centuries before it was discovered.[7] Likewise, Codex Sinaiticus was a 4th century full volume of the NT. When it was discovered, they were slicing up these manuscripts and using them to start fires! These two versions are sometimes called the “Neutral Text” against which the other manuscript families are compared.[8]

Third century—Partial Bibles: The Chester Beatty Papyri date to AD 200, and they contain much of the gospels, Acts, most of Paul’s epistles, Hebrews, and the book of Revelation.[9] In addition, the Bodmer Papyri (P66) dates to AD 200, and it contains a complete copy of John, part of Luke, 1 and 2 Peter, and Jude.[10]

Earliest Manuscript—AD 125: The John Ryland’s fragment is an excerpt from John 18:31-33, which was found in a coffin in Egypt, and it is dates to AD 125! This fragment is only 3 inches in diameter, but it shows that John was written before this time. Moreover, if John was dated before this, then the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) must be dated even earlier. This places all four gospels well within the NT.

First century fragment of Mark? Textual critic Daniel Wallace claims that a first century fragment of Mark has been discovered, and he plans to release more findings in time.

Second, variations are not contradictions. For instance, imagine if your wife said, “I love you.” And then, she said, “You are loved by me.” And, finally, she said, “You know I love you.” You would not tell her that she was contradicting herself; instead, you’d probably tell her that she was repeating herself. Similarly, New Testament scholars Darrell Bock and Daniel Wallace point out that many variations in the New Testament documents are similar to this. For instance, they note that in the Greek language there are 16 different ways to state the simple phrase: “Jesus loves John.”[11] Therefore, most of the variations that Ehrman notes above are simply word order, spelling differences, or other insignificant variants, which do not change the meaning or message of the original author.

In fact, at the end of his book, Ehrman even admits to this! He writes, “To be sure, of all the hundreds of thousands of textual changes found among our manuscripts, most of them are completely insignificant, immaterial, of no real importance for anything other than showing that scribes could not spell or keep focused any better than the rest of us.”[12]

Third, in the one percent of disputed text there is nothing theological at stake. Bock and Wallace write, “We noted the kinds of errors that are to be found in the copies. The vast majority of them are quite inconsequential. And less than 1 percent of all textual variants both affect the meaning of that verse (though none affects core doctrine) and have some plausibility of authenticity.”[13] Apologist Norman Geisler explains this concept in this way.[14] Imagine if you received a letter that said:

“#ou have won the five million dollar Reader’s Digest sweepstakes!”

Perhaps (being the skeptic that you are) you disregard the letter as completely unintelligible. After all, you cannot read the first letter of the message! But imagine that a week later, you receive another letter, which said:

“You #ave won the five million dollar Reader’s Digest sweepstakes!”

This would bring the message of the letter into focus, wouldn’t it? By comparing the two documents, you would be able to reconstruct the original letter with a high degree of reliability. While this is surely an oversimplification, the same is true for the textual criticism of the New Testament. These variations in the text don’t stop us from “cashing in” on the core message of the New Testament.

To conclude, the NT passes the bibliographical test with flying colors. Regarding Ehrman’s skepticism, one scholar observes: “Ehrman’s skepticism is more existential than evidential. It originates in his own autobiography more than the autographs.”[15] We wholeheartedly agree with his sentiment.

B. Internal Test

There are three integral questions for this test of historicity: (1) Are the witnesses close to the events in question, (2) do the accounts contain internal contradictions, and (3) did the bias of the author distort their reporting of events?

1. Are the witnesses close to the events in question?

The NT authors claimed to be either eyewitnesses themselves or using eyewitness testimony. Luke writes that he collected his information from firsthand “eyewitnesses” (Lk. 1:2). Peter writes that he did not follow “cleverly devised tales.” Here he uses the Greek word muthos (or “myths”). Instead, he claims to be an “eyewitness” of Jesus (2 Pet. 1:16). Paul said that he saw Christ “with [his] own eyes” (1 Cor. 9:1). John claimed that he saw Jesus “with [his] eyes” (1 Jn. 1:1), and he finishes his gospel with the fact that he personally saw the events himself (Jn. 19:35; 21:24). This is why historian F.F. Bruce writes, “The earliest preachers of the gospel knew the value of… first-hand testimony, and appealed to it time and again. ‘We are witnesses of these things,’ was their constant and confident assertion.”[16]

The disciples wrote the gospels in the first century. Alexander the Great’s earliest known biography comes 450 years after his death from Arrian in AD 130. Emperor Tiberius’ earliest known biographies come from Tacitus and Suetonius 70 to 80 years after his death in AD 110-120. But the NT documents were all written within a generation of Jesus’ death. Even agnostic critic Bart Ehrman writes that “most scholars”[17] agree on a first century dating of the four gospels. This is far closer to events of Jesus’ life than other ancient biographers.

2. Do the accounts contain internal contradictions?

If four gospels gave the exact same account of Jesus’ life, critics might charge them with collusion, claiming that they worked together to get their story straight. But this isn’t what we find in the Bible. Instead, we get four distinct and separate accounts.

Furthermore, while the NT documents might apparently disagree in regards to the peripheral issues, they firmly agree in regards to the core historical facts. In the same way, legal eye-witnesses may slightly contradict one another in court, but their similar core testimony will be acknowledged as true. For instance, imagine that three witnesses are brought into a court of law to testify against a man accused of robbing a gas station. Here are their three testimonies:

WITNESS #1: “I saw a pale-skinned man with a snake tattoo on his right arm attempt to break into the back door of the gas station, while holding a gun in his right hand. This happened at midnight.”

WITNESS #2: “I saw a Mexican man with a skull tattoo on his left arm break into the side of the gas station, while holding a knife in his right hand. This happened at 12:30.”

WITNESS #3: “I saw an Asian man with a snake tattoo on his left arm break into the garage door of the gas station, keeping his gun tucked into his belt. This happened around 12:15 at night.”

As you look through these three accounts, you will notice a number of superficial details that appear to contradict one another.

DISAGREEMENT #1: Was the man Asian, Mexican, or Caucasian?

DISAGREEMENT #2: Where and what was his tattoo? Which arm was it on? Was it a skull or snake?

DISAGREEMENT #3: Was it the side door or the back door?

DISAGREEMENT #4: Was he carrying a gun or a knife?

DISAGREEMENT #5: When did the crime occur? Was it midnight, 12:15, or 12:30?

If we were going to get picky, we might think that these three witnesses saw three different crimes altogether. On the other hand, if we drop the details for a moment, we find that their overall description is quite clear. That is, while these witnesses disagree on superficial details, they fully agree on the central details. For example, all three accounts agree that a man broke into the same gas station. They all agree that he was armed with a weapon of some sort, and they all agree that this was done after midnight. They also all agree that he was a man, rather than a woman. Moreover, even though these accounts are difficult to harmonize, it’s still possible to do so. Let’s consider a possible harmony below:

1. Perhaps the man had a light-skinned complexion. Both Asians and Mexicans can have light-skinned complexions; it might have only been an assumption that they had a dark complexion.

2. The man could have been biracial. Perhaps one parent was Mexican and one parent was Asian. Therefore, one witness was correct and so was the other.

3. It’s possible that the crook had multiple tattoos. He could have had two snake tattoos—one on each arm. On the left arm, he could have had a skull tattoo with a snake slithering through the empty eye sockets.

4. The terms “side door” and “back door” could be perspectival language. From the perspective of one witness, the door to the gas station was on the side of the building, but from another’s perspective, the door was on the back of the building. Another possibility is that the man tried breaking into both doors. Note: Witness #1 claimed the man only attempted to break into the side door, but this wasn’t successful.

5. Perhaps the man had two weapons. It isn’t impossible (or unlikely) that a burglar would be carrying two weapons to rob a gas station. Maybe he was carrying a gun and a knife.

6. It’s possible that it took the man 30 minutes to break into the gas station. Maybe the building was locked up tight, and it took him a while to kick the doors in. The three witnesses appear to disagree on the time of the break in, but maybe each one witnessed the criminal at three different times.

While these witnesses might appear to contradict each other, this is only the result of multiple points of view—each witness emphasizing a different perspective. In the same way, the four gospels only appear to contradict each other, while in reality they describe the same events of the life of Christ. This shouldn’t cause us to throw them out as sloppy history; it should cause us to believe that they were authentic separate histories. Here the problem wasn’t too much information regarding the crime, but too little. Similarly, the more we discover about history and archaeology, the more we verify and explain the biblical account.

Apologist Norman Geisler tells a story about one of his colleagues, whose mother had died in a car accident.[18] The man received two phone calls about his mother. The first call told him that his mother was in a car accident, and she was being driven to the hospital in critical condition. The second call told him that his mother was in a car accident, and she was killed on impact. The man was confused, because they were both trustworthy people. He knew that neither person would lie to him, but at the same time, they appeared to completely contradict each other.

As it turned out, the man’s mother had been in two accidents. The first accident left her in critical condition. The ambulance picked her up and drove her to the hospital. As she was being rushed to the hospital, the ambulance got in a second accident, and she was killed on impact. Of course, if a Bible commentator offered a solution like this for a Bible difficulty, he would probably be laughed at. And yet experience demonstrates that these sorts of events are certainly possible.

Finally, consider the words of atheist Richard Carrier in his book Sense and Goodness Without God. He writes, “If what I say anywhere in this book appears to contradict, directly or indirectly, something else I say here, the principle of interpretive charity should be applied: assume you are misreading the meaning of what I said in each or either case.”[19] Consider these words for a moment: If modern atheist books can be misunderstood, then can’t the Bible? If we should give a modern author like Carrier “interpretive charity,” how much more should we give an ancient text like the Bible the benefit of the doubt? Ironically (or should I say hypocritically?), Carrier extends no such generosity to the Bible.

3. Did the bias of the author distort their reporting of events?

Imagine that you die tonight in your sleep. Tomorrow morning a reporter tries to reconstruct your life for an obituary. Where do you suppose the reporter would begin their research? Most likely, he would begin by interviewing your friends, family, and coworkers. If he didn’t consult your friends and family, he would probably miss out on some of the best stories and facts about the person that you were. While it would be important to interview your enemies, it would be just as valuable (probably more so) to interview your friends.

When we approach our study of Jesus’ life, we should adopt a similar posture. That is, we shouldn’t reject the New Testament’s picture of Jesus just because it was written by followers of Christ. If we reject these sources, we would end up throwing out some of our best historical testimony.

Consider an illustration: Imagine talking to Michael Jordan’s mother about her son’s basketball abilities. Of course, Michael Jordan’s mother would probably say that her son was the best basketball player in N.B.A. history. A polite listener might smile and tell her, “That’s very nice, Mrs. Jordan, but aren’t you a little biased in your opinion of your son? You are his mother after all.” Of course, Michael Jordan’s mother is biased, but her statement is also true! In the same way, we shouldn’t discredit someone’s views based purely on their bias, but rather, based on their truth and evidence. This being said, we should accept the reliability of the NT authors for several cogent reasons:

First, the disciples told embarrassing details about themselves in their accounts. In the four gospels, the disciples are dim-witted (Mk. 9:32; Lk. 18:34), uncaring (Mk. 14:32), cowardly (Mt. 26:33-25), doubtful (Mt. 28:17), and Peter is called “Satan” by Jesus (Mk. 8:33). They placed women at the empty tomb in a day when the testimony of women was worthless. They claimed that Jesus had risen from the dead in a day when resurrection was an offensive and bizarre concept (1 Cor. 1:23).

Second, the disciples included “difficult sayings” of Jesus. The disciples left difficult teachings in the NT, even when it would have benefited them to leave them out. Jesus was considered insane (Mk. 3:21), deceitful (Jn. 7:12), drunk (Mt. 11:19), and demon-possessed (Mk. 3:22) by his family and his enemies. Jesus had a lot of disputed and difficult teachings that were (and are) confusing (Jn. 14:28; Mt. 24:34, 36; Lk. 18:19; Mk. 6:5; Jn. 6:53), which led to a lot of his followers to desert him (Jn. 6:66).

Third, the disciples did not place words in Jesus’ mouth. The early church had a lot of theological disputes, but we don’t find answers to these in the gospels, including circumcision, obeying the Law, speaking in tongues, women’s role in the church, and Jew-Gentile relations. If the NT authors were inventing the story, it would have been easy to write that Jesus taught on these issues, but the gospels are strangely silent to these controversies. This shows that the NT writers didn’t feel the freedom to add or change Jesus’ teaching.

Fourth, the disciples abandoned century long beliefs. After the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the disciples abandoned animal sacrifice, the commitment to the Law, strict monotheism, the Sabbath, and a belief in conquering Messiah. These beliefs were over a millennium old, and they were incredibly sacred. Yet these beliefs were abandoned overnight.

Fifth, Jesus’ closest disciples died for their beliefs. While other religions have grown rapidly through the threat of violence, torture, and death, the Christian faith grew under the threat of violence, torture, and death. In other words, persecution gave no reason to believe in Jesus and every reason not to believe in Jesus. While this doesn’t prove the veracity of the disciples, it definitely shows their sincerity.

C. External Test

If the internal test questioned the authors themselves, then the external test questions other observers from outside of the NT. That is, what do other sources say about the events that the Bible depicts? An eyewitness account loses credibility if it has inaccuracies in the details of the account. How does the NT stand up to scrutiny of this kind?

Hostile witnesses

Imagine if three of your mortal enemies supported your alibi in a court of law. This would powerfully boost your testimony. In the same way, Roman, Greek, and Jewish sources all support the NT account of Jesus’ life.

Roman historians support the NT. Cornelius Tacitus was a Roman historian who lived from 55-117 C.E. This passage is from his book Annals, where he recounted Rome in the 60s C.E. It describes how the Roman Emperor Nero savagely persecuted Christians in Rome. Tacitus writes,

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, [1] called Christians by the populace. [2] Christus, from whom the name had its origin, [3] suffered the extreme penalty [4] during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, [5] Pontius Pilatus, and a [9] most mischievous superstition, [6] thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but [7] even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an [8] immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city [9] as of hatred against mankind. [10] Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good but rather to glut the cruelty of one man that they were being destroyed.”[20]

Greek sources support the NT. Lucian of Samosata was a second century Greek satirist (125-180 C.E.), who scorned the early Christian movement. Lucian writes,

“The Christians, you know, [1] worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was [2] crucified on that account… You see, [3] these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that [4] they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and [5] voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that [6] they are all brothers, [7] from the moment that they are converted, and [8] deny the gods of Greece, and [1] worship the [2] crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they [9] take quite on faith, with the result that [10] they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.”[21]

Jewish sources support the NT. The Talmud was a collection of teachings from rabbis up until 400 C.E. The Babylonian Talmud was different from the Palestinian Talmud, because it was codified in Babylon. Here is one passage that is related to Jesus:

[1] On the eve of the Passover [2] Yeshu was [3] hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, “He is going forth to be [4] stoned because he has [5] practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.” [6] But since nothing was brought forward in his favour [1] he was hanged on the eve of the Passover![22]

Even critic Bart Ehrman agrees, “There is absolutely nothing to suggest that the pagan Tacitus or the Jewish Josephus acquired their information about Jesus by reading the Gospels.”[23]

Archaeological support

Historians marvel at the reliability and accuracy of the book of Acts. In his book The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, historian Colin J. Hemer documents roughly 180 specific details about Paul’s missionary journeys, which Luke accurately recorded (Acts 13-28). These events occurred over a span of hundreds of miles from Jerusalem to Rome, and yet Luke identified all of the historical details with remarkable accuracy. Hemer calls these details “undesigned coincidences.”[24]

Luke’s accuracy is so impressive that one of the greatest archaeologists of all time, Sir William Ramsay, came to believe in Christianity because of it. Originally, Ramsay was a hostile critic of the Bible. Early in his career, he set out on an archaeological quest to research much of Asia Minor in an effort to disprove Luke’s history, entering his archaeological research with the assumption that “Luke” had never existed. Instead, he believed that a group of Christian monks probably wrote the book of Acts in the second century.

Remarkably, after 30 years of research, Ramsay ended up becoming a Christian! He uncovered one detail after another that confirmed Luke’s account. Toward the end of his life, he concluded, “Luke’s historicity is unsurpassed in respect to its trustworthiness… Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy… this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”[25]

How do the other “holy books” hold up to this sort of scrutiny?

When we look at other “holy books” from the other world religions, we find they do not interface with history at all, or they interface inaccurately:

Eastern scriptures really have no interest in history, because this is the world of illusion from which we are to be delivered (see “Hinduism” and “Buddhism”). Ancient polytheistic religions likewise had no interest in history. Their gods acted only in myths, removed as far as possible from real history.

The Quran is almost entirely assertions of Allah with very little historical interface.

1. The Qur’an places the practice of crucifixion back in the time of the ancient Egyptians (7:124; 12:41; 20:71; 26:49). Historically, crucifixion wasn’t invented until the time of Darius of Persia in 519 BC.[26]

2. The Qur’an affirms that Mary and Miriam are the same person. The Qur’an confuses Miriam with Mary (19:28). Miriam was Moses and Aaron’s sister, while Mary is the mother of Jesus. It’s clear that the author was conflating the two people—even though there were centuries between these two figures (c.f. 3:35; 66:12). This shows Muhammad’s lack of knowledge of the Bible.

3. The Qur’an has an aberrant understanding of the Trinity. The Qur’an reflects Muhammad’s gross misunderstanding of the Trinity—that it is composed of the Father, Jesus and Mary (5:119)! In 5:15, we read that Muhammad “expounds” on Christian doctrine. White writes, “How did Muhammad’s preaching, which shows no understanding of the content of the very Book under consideration, expound on it?”[27]

4. Many Muslims do not believe that Jesus died on the Cross based on Surah 4:157-158. Geisler and Saleeb write, “The great majority of Muslims believe that Jesus did not die on the cross but that he was taken up bodily into heaven.”[28] They believe this even though non-Christian sources affirm that he did. This is why even hostile critics of the Christian faith believe that Jesus died. For instance, Gerd Lüdemann—an atheistic NT critic—explains, “Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.”[29] John-Dominic Crossan—a radical NT critic—concludes, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus… agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.”[30] Moreover, biblical critic Bart Ehrman writes, “One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate.”[31]

The Book of Mormon is fraught with historical inaccuracies. No evidence has ever been found for the historical claims of the Book of Mormon. There are a number of anachronisms and historical blunders in the Book of Mormon. A few will be considered here:

1. Horses and Elephants: Horses (Alma 18:9, Alma 18:12, Alma 20:6, 3 Nephi 3:22) and elephants (Ether 9:19) are mentioned throughout the several thousand year history in the book of Mormon, but horses did not make it over to the Americas until the Spaniards brought them. Both of these species went extinct thousands of years before the history recorded in the book of Mormon.[32]

2. River Laman does not empty into the Red Sea: 1 Nephi 2:5-8 states that the river Laman emptied into the Red Sea. But there has never been any such river that emptied into the Red Sea –either in historic or prehistoric times.

3. Christians BEFORE the time of Christ: Alma 46:15 states that believers were called “Christians” back in 73 BC—fully seven decades before Jesus was even born!

4. Compasses existing in 73 BC: Alma 37:38 speaks of compasses, but these wouldn’t be invented for over a thousand years.

5. The use of the word “Bible”: 2 Nephi 29:3 uses the term “Bible” and this portion of the Book of Mormon dates to the sixth century B.C. The word “Bible” comes from the Greek word biblos, which wouldn’t exist for another 1,500 years.

6. There is no genetic similarity between the Native Americans and ancient Jews: The Book of Mormon states that Lamanites (a lost tribe of Israel) settled in America during this time, which developed into the Native Americans. However, even Mormon researchers have demonstrated that there is no genetic influence from any group from the ancient Middle East.[33]

Mormon Thomas Stuart Ferguson spent his entire adult life trying to prove the Book of Mormon was true (Ferguson founded the New World Archaeology Foundation at BYU). At the end of his life (1975) he wrote,

With all of these great efforts, it cannot be established factually that anyone, from Joseph Smith to the present day, has put his finger on a single point of terrain that was a Book-of-Mormon geographical place. And the hemisphere has been pretty well checked out by competent people… I must agree with Dee Green, who has told us that to date there is no Book-of-Mormon geography. I, for one, would be happy if Dee were wrong.[34]

Conclusion

The NT is remarkable in regards to its historical reliability. It not only stands head and shoulders above other supposed “holy books,” but it is also more reliable than any other historical document handed down to us from antiquity.

Further Reading

 

Historicity

Barnett, Paul. Is the New Testament Reliable?: a Look at the Historical Evidence. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992.

This is the best general introduction on historicity in our opinion.

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ: a Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.

Strobel’s book is still an excellent evangelistic book, where he interviews several scholars in the field of the historicity of Jesus.

McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1999.

Bruce, F. F. The New Testament Documents. 6th ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981.

Bruce, F. F. Jesus and Christian Origins outside the New Testament: (Second Print.). Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans, 1974.

In this book, Bruce looks at the extrabiblical sources that mention Jesus, and he gives a careful commentary on these sources.

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Pub., 1996.

White, Adrian Nicholas Sherwin. Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. The Sarum Lectures, 1960-61. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1963.

Sherwin-White was a Roman historian, who became a NT scholar.

Wilkins, Michael J., and James Porter Moreland. Jesus under Fire. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995.

Textual Criticism

Ehrman, Bart D., Daniel B. Wallace, and Robert B. Stewart. The Reliability of the New Testament. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011.

Ehrman is a critical scholar, and Wallace is a Bible believer. This book contains an exchange between the two of them on the subject of textual criticism.

Bock, Darrell L., and Daniel B. Wallace. Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007.

Archaeology

Hemer, Colin J. The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2001.

Hoffmeier, James Karl. The Archaeology of the Bible. Oxford: Lion, 2008.

Hoffmeier’s book contains archaeological findings from both the OT and NT. It is an excellent book because of the color pictures of findings in this field.

Critical scholars on historicity

Robinson, John A. T. Redating the New Testament. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976.

Robinson was a critical scholar who came to date the entire NT before AD 70. His thesis is still worth reading.

Ehrman, Bart D. Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York: HarperOne, 2012.

Ehrman is an atheistic critic of the Bible, but he argues vehemently in favor of the existence of Jesus.

 

[1] Bart Ehrman uses this telephone illustration to describe the oral traditions before the New Testament was written down. See Ehrman’s lecture series: “The History of the Bible” from The Teaching Company. Lecture 5: “The Beginnings of the Gospel Traditions.” Track 4.

[2] Ibid., 89.

[3] Ibid., 90.

[4] Ehrman, Bart D., Daniel B. Wallace, and Robert B. Stewart. The Reliability of the New Testament. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011. 33.

[5] McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1999. 38.

[6] Ehrman, Bart D., Daniel B. Wallace, and Robert B. Stewart. The Reliability of the New Testament. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011. 33.

[7] Harris, R. Laird. Inspiration and Canonicity of the Scriptures. Greenville, SC, 1995. 65.

[8] Harris, R. Laird. Inspiration and Canonicity of the Scriptures. Greenville, SC, 1995. 70.

[9] Harris, R. Laird. Inspiration and Canonicity of the Scriptures. Greenville, SC, 1995. 72.

[10] Harris, R. Laird. Inspiration and Canonicity of the Scriptures. Greenville, SC, 1995. 72.

[11] Bock, Darrell L., and Daniel B. Wallace. Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007. 56.

[12] Emphasis mine. Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus: the Story behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005. 207.

[13] Emphasis mine. Bock, Darrell L., and Daniel B. Wallace. Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007. 71.

[14] Geisler, Norman L., and Thomas A. Howe. When Critics Ask: a Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties. Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1992. Introduction.

[15] Kresta, Al. Dangers to the Faith: Recognizing Catholicism’s 21st-Century Opponents. Huntington, Indiana: Sunday Visitor, 2013. 152.

[16] Bruce, F. F. The New Testament Documents. 6th ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981. 45-46.

[17] Ehrman dates Mark around 70, Matthew and Luke around 85, and John around 95 C.E. Ehrman, Bart D. Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know about Them). New York: HarperOne, 2009. 145.

[18] I am indebted to one of Dr. Norman Geisler’s excellent teaching tapes on the subject of inerrancy for this helpful illustration.

[19] Emphasis mine. Carrier, Richard. Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2005. 5-6.

[20] Cornelius Tacitus Annals 15:44.

[21] Lucian The Death of Peregrine, 11-13.

[22] Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 43a.

[23] Ehrman, Bart D. Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York: HarperOne, 2012. 97.

[24] Hemer, Colin J. The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2001. 101.

[25] Ramsay, William Mitchell. The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953. 222. For a more modern treatment of this, see A.W. Mosley’s article titled, “Historical Reporting in the Ancient World.”

[26] Hoffmeier writes, “Herodotus, the fifth-century Greek historian, describes a case in which Darius the Great (522-486 BC) crucified 3,000 Babylonians.” Hoffmeier, James Karl. The Archaeology of the Bible. Oxford: Lion, 2008. 158.

[27] White, James R. What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2013. 170.

[28] Geisler, Norman L., and Abdul Saleeb. Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1993. 68.

[29] Emphasis mine. Lüdemann, Gerd. The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994. 50.

[30] Emphasis mine. Crossan, John-Dominic. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. Harper One. 1995. 145.

[31] Emphasis mine. Ehrman, Bart. The Historical Jesus: Lecture Transcript and Course Guidebook, Part 2 of 2. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company. 2000. 162.

[32] To be accurate, horses were thought to have gone extinct in the Americas at the end of the Pleistocene Era. They do not reappear until the Spanish colonized the Americas.

[33] Southerton, Simon. Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church. Salt Lake City: Signature, 2004.

[34] Ferguson, Written Symposium on Book-of-Mormon Geography: Response of Thomas S. Ferguson to the Norman & Sorenson Papers,” 4, 7, 29. Cited in Abanes, Richard. One Nation under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002. 77.