. It's amazing how people who claim for themselves a superiority of analytical thought and bias-proof intelligence can claim themselves experts on a subject area that they simply do not grasp.
The people that I’m talking about are atheists and the matter in question are the historical documents that have been compiled and included in the New Testament. Claiming nothing more than an inability to trust anything to do with religion, this group of people toss out solid evidence like someone emptying a stinky ashtray.
When it comes to the New Testament, especially as it attests to the reality of Jesus the Christ, His life, His death and especially His resurrection, there is more witness testimony than for any other document in ancient literature. With respect to the accuracy and continuity of the documents:
. There are more than 5,700 Greek copies of the New Testament.
. There are 10,000 copies of the New Testament in Latin.
. Take into consideration copies that are available in other languages and we have available to us 30,000 handwritten copies of the New Testament.
. Take into consideration all the quotations of the early Church Fathers and you will find over one million more verses that have been preserved from the first century onward.
It is these early manuscripts and quotations that allow us to know that the copies that we have of the New Testament and the eyewitness testimony are very reliable and accurate.
There isn’t any other literature from the Greco-Roman world that comes even close to this quantity or quality of evidence. If we were to take all the copies available from prominent authors of that time, we couldn’t find any one of them that have more than 20 copies of their work still in existence. Put them in a stack and you might get a pile of books a little over a metre high. Do the same with copies of the New Testament and you will have a stack of books 1.5 kilometres or 1,500 metres tall. Of course quantity is meaningless if the documents were originally written centuries after the event. For example, the gospels of Thomas or Judas or Mary, were written so long after the event, and by people so foreign to the context that their authors cannot even accurately describe Palestine and the Jewish culture as they truly were. In a case like that it wouldn’t help to have a billion copies.
This is not a concern for those looking to the New Testament documents for authenticity. At the latest, there is only a 75 year gap between available copies and the time that the New Testament was completed. For the early Church’s creed that Paul passes on to the Christians in Corinth and which he most certainly got from the apostle’s oral, eye witness reports, we are looking at within 5 years of Jesus death and resurrection at most.
For copies of materials from other ancient historical writers, a gap of 1,000 years is not unusual and what we have in those cases are mere fragments of their works. Here is the amazing part in all this. Atheists, those self proclaimed bastions of intelligence, integrity, and rational thought will eagerly accept secular ancient literature that has very little confirmation. Yet, they will disregard any document from the same time period if it has been gathered and placed into the New Testament. They will eagerly accept secular ancient literature that has very little external verification. Yet, they will disregard any and all of the abundant extra Biblical testimony regarding Jesus of Nazareth simply because those documents record information about a person who challenges their world-view. Outlandish, outrageous and beyond the pale hardly describes their behaviour. How they can live with themselves is puzzling. How they can view themselves as logical and reasonable is puzzling.
When I’ve asked those who challenge any information about Jesus, “What criteria do you use to judge the credibility of ancient literature like the New Testament” I get a “Huh?” One atheist said that all he looks for is a single confirming account of the event in question. Of course he means unless that event is recorded in the Bible. Then any number of confirming documents are insufficient. It seems that YouTube or similar source material is the atheist’s most frequent generator of information regarding Biblical criticism.
Many people are unaware that the reliability of ancient documents is based on standard measures. Those who possess genuine skills as Historical Scholars have attested to the validity and the dependability of the New Testament documents for the following reasons:
Bibliographical test - Are the copies that we have reliable? In comparing the New Testament documents to other ancient sources, how does the New Testament stack up? Well, let’s do a comparison.
. The history of Thucydides has just eight copies dated 1,300 years after he wrote.
. Copies of Aristotle’s poetics are dated 1,400 years after the originals and only five copies exist.
. Copies of Caesar’s “Gallic Wars” are from 1,000 years after the originals and only ten copies exist.
Even though the time between the original and copies seems very long indeed, no classical scholar, or atheist for that matter, would ever conclude that the copies are not dependable because they were written over a thousand years after the original. They do however complain if a document that’s been included into the New Testament is dated 30 years later than the original. (You may roll your eyes now)
Now, remember the 30,000 manuscript copies of the New Testament that I mentioned earlier with at least one million quotations that are also in existence? Do you know what kind of time frame between copies and originals that we’re talking about? One of the world’s foremost archeologists William F. Albright has stated, “We can say emphatically that there is a solid basis for saying that EVERY book of the New Testament was completed before A.D. 50 and 75.” The majority of the New Testament documents were completed by Paul who was executed by Nero in 64AD.
- The amazingly short time frame means that the burden of proof shifts to the person who is saying that these documents can’t be trusted.
. External evidence - Do other historical documents confirm what was written in the documents in question? This is one of the most critical steps in confirming New Testament documents. Not because they are more in doubt than other ancient literature but because the sceptic’s presuppositional bias causes him to doubt, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. In the case of the New Testament, confirmation by Eusebius, Papias, Irenaeus, Polycarp, Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian of Samosata, Mara Bar-Serapion, The Babylonion Talmud, Hegesippus and Clement of Alexandria, Clement of Rome, Tertullian, and many others, as well as archeological finds provide powerful external evidence for the reliability of the New Testament documents.
- This means that the burden of proof shifts to the person who is saying that these documents can’t be trusted.
. Coherence - Is the information accurate, based on what we know from other historical documents regarding culture, events, customs etc.? The New Testament writers were so obviously authors from the time and culture about which they were writing that even secular historians and archaeologists turn to the New Testament documents for confirming information regarding their own discoveries.
- This means that the burden of proof shifts to the person who is saying that these documents can’t be trusted.
. Dating - Was the description of the event in question written within a short time after the event took place? Was the document written when eyewitnesses were still alive? Was the document written early enough that legend did not have a chance to develop? The answer to these questions is an overwhelming “Yes” for the New Testament documents.
- Because of this, the burden of proof shifts to the person who is saying that these documents can’t be trusted.
Internal Evidence - Are the writers obviously telling the truth? Aristotle himself said, regarding literary criticism, “The benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document itself, and not arrogated by the critic to himself.” John Warwick Montgomery states, “One must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error . . .”
Of course sceptics look at miracles that are documented and say > Fraud or Error.
The New Testament in general and Jesus in particular actually takes the time to specifically address both the ancient and the modern sceptic’s concerns. First of all, in advocating their case for Jesus’ resurrection, the apostles appealed to common knowledge of those who were alive at the time. “Not only have we seen these things, but you also have seen and heard what happened in the life of Jesus.” Eyewitnesses were still alive when the New Testament documents were written and circulated.
Jesus is quoted as saying, “You don’t have to believe Me when I say that I Am God just because that’s what I tell you. But your should believe that I Am God because of what I do.”
Why would He say that? Jesus made that statement because He was doing things that were clearly outside of or contrary to the laws of physics as they/we understand them. Those people knew that a disease doesn’t respond to someone talking to it. Those people knew that water doesn’t just turn into wine at someone’s command. Those people knew beyond a shadow of doubt that normal people don’t calm a storm or forgive those who are unjustly killing them. And those people for sure knew that dead people don’t come to life again by natural means. Neither could Jesus’ detractors just toss these events aside. People were healed. The wine was real. Storms were calmed, people were forgiven, the blind were made to see, the lame were walking, people's lives were renewed and changed and Jesus was seen to be alive in ways that disallowed the idea of hallucinations or outright lies. Those are things that only God can do. Jesus was saying that He was doing these things in real space and real time and He was doing it for their benefit. And as it turns out He was doing it for our benefit as well. He did those things so that we could know that He was and is the real deal.
A man named John, who was an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus describes Jesus’ manipulations of matter and energy as “signs.” They were signs that Jesus has mastery over the natural elements of our universe. That kind of manipulation and that kind of power is only possible in the Being who brought into existence the very elements and laws that govern those elements in the first place. Those demonstrations by Jesus were signs that He used to show that something from another dimension had physically and visibly entered into our dimension. Something totally “other” happened when Jesus walked the earth. In fact, the Christian faith, and the body of believers - the Church, even with all it's faults, is an ongoing evidentiary miracle in it’s own right. There would be no reason for the Christian faith to exist let alone be the driving force for virtually all we know as good for the human race if Jesus was and is not God incarnate. Because there is no evidence to suggest that the writers of the New Testament were lying,
- The burden of proof shifts to the person who is saying that these documents can’t be trusted.
These are the criteria that sceptics need to address when denying the reliability of the New Testament. In every case that I have encountered, they have failed to do so. The accounts of Jesus fulfill these criteria for historical reliability in spades. Failure to heed this evidence makes atheist sceptics appear impossibly ignorant.
Finally, it needs to be asked. If the Bible in general and the New Testament specifically is a work of fiction, who wrote this piece of fiction that changed the course of history, and then mysteriously slipped into obscurity? Who was this writer who invented the character of Jesus, a character so noble that presently 2 billion people love, cherish and worship Him?
As a former evangelist-turned-atheist Charles Templeton recently described Jesus - “He [Jesus] was the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my readings. His commitment was total and led to His own death, much to the detriment of the world. What could one say about Him except that this was a form of greatness? Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. He cared for the oppressed and exploited. There’s no question that He had the highest moral standard, the least duplicity, the greatest compassion, of any human being in history.”
If this character Jesus is fictional, who is the writer who created a fictional character so powerful that at this very moment, millions would lay down their lives for Him? And how would such a gifted writer slip into obscurity with absolutely nothing being known about her / him? It doesn’t make any sense, but neither does most of what atheists say when they dip into the subject of historical theological literature.