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THE HISTORICITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
AUTHOR: Unknown
PUBLISHED ON: April 25, 2003
DOC SOURCE: CCN
PUBLISHED IN: Misc.

               THE HISTORICITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

     The  purpose of this paper is to present evidence in  defence
of  the  historicity  of the  New  Testament.   Through  this,  it
addresses  the question of the historicity of the  resurrection of
Jesus  Christ.   For  if  the writers of  the  New  Testament  are
reliable witnesses, then the most significant event that they ever
recorded must then be given more than a glance.

     The  paper will defend the credibility of the  New  Testament
writings  first  by running the New Testament  through  the  three
standard tests for literary historiography listed by  C.  Sanders. 
These  are the Bibliographical Test,  the Internal Evidence  Test,
and  the External Evidence test (see endnote 1).   These  are  the
same  tests used on all secular writing of antiquity.   The  paper
will  then present arguments of the credibility of the writers  of
the New Testament.

                     The Bibliographical Test

     When  compared  to the other writings of  antiquity  the  New
Testament  not only passes this test but surpasses  other  ancient
writings by far.   The bibliographical test examines documents  in
light of how their present form came to us.   It examines attempts
to  distinguish  how  loyal our earliest manuscripts  are  to  the
original in light of how many manuscripts we have today,  how well
they agree with one another and the time gap between the  original
manuscripts and our current ones.

     There  are  approximately  5000  greek  manuscripts  in   our
possession  today.   The earliest of these have been dated  within
250 to 300 years of the originals (Mark being dated c. AD 55) (see
endnote 2).   This may seem like a long gap, but when one looks at
the  time  gaps concerning the other  accepted  and  authoritative
writings of antiquity it is actually quite short.   For  instance,
Caesar’s  GALLIC WAR (written between 50 and 58 BC) has only 9  or
10  good manuscripts dated 900 years later.   Of the 142 books  of
LIVY’S  ROMAN HISTORY (written from 59 BC to AD 17) we  have  only
thirty  five.   Those  we have are constructed from only  20  good
manuscripts, one of which is dated in the fourth century.  We have
only  four  and a half of the fourteen books of the  HISTORIES  OF
TACTITUS (written c.  AD 100).   Of the sixteen books of  TACITUS’
ANNALS  we have ten in full and two in part.   Both  of  Tactitus’
works are based on only two manuscripts. One of the manuscripts is
dated in the ninth century and one in the eleventh (that’s an  800
year  gap  for one and 1000 years for the other).   Our  copies of
Tacitus’  other  works  (DIALOGUS  DE  ORATORIBUS,  AGRICOLA,  and
GERMANIA)  all  are  from  the  tenth  century.   THE  HISTORY  OF
THUCYDIDES (written 460 to 400 BC) is based on 8 manuscripts,  the
earliest  sporting  a 1300 year gap.   THE  HISTORY  OF  HERODOTUS
(written from 488 to 428 BC) also is based on 8  manuscripts,  the
earliest  being  1300  years from the original  (see  endnote  3). 
PLINY THE YOUNGER’S HISTORY is known from 7 manuscripts with a 750
year  gap.   The  classic  writings  of Plato  are  known  from  7
manuscripts  with  a 1200 year gap and the writings  of  Aristotle
which  we  derive  from 49 manuscripts has a 1400  year  gap  (see
endnote 4).   The list goes on and on.  F. F. Bruce puts the point
well:

     No classical author would listen to an argument that the
     authenticity  of  Herodotus or Thucydides  is  in  doubt
     because the earliest manuscripts of their works are over
     130 years later than the originals.   But how  different
     is the situation of the New Testament in this respect!
     (see endnote 5)

     With the 5000 greek manuscripts, the over 8000 manuscripts of
the Latin Vulgate, and more recently discovered papyri portions of
the New Testament dating to the end of the first century,  we have
such a huge body of manuscripts for checking the integrity of  the
different copies we have great assurance that we have an  accurate
portrayal of the originals.   As the late Sir Frederic G.  Kenyon,
formerly director and primary librarian of the British Museum  put
it: “The interval, then, between the dates of original composition
and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact
negligible.” (see endnote 6).

     So  the  New  Testament documents pass the  first  test  with
flying  colors.   To reject the accuracy of the New  Testament  on
bibliographical grounds would be to, as John W. Montgomery puts it
“let  all of classical antiquity to slip into  obscurity,  for  no
documents   of   the   ancient  period  are   as   well   attested
bibliographically as the New Testament” (see endnote 7).   To  put
this  in  simpler  terms,  the New  Testament  writings  are  more
reliable  than  those  used to compose the  facts  in  our  public
school’s books on Greek and Roman history.

                    The Internal Evidence Test

     This  test simply examines the documents in question to  find
if  there  are any internal contradictions that detract  from  the
documents’ reliability.   In this process scholars begin by giving
the  documents in question the benefit of the doubt.   We  do  not
assume that they are historically incorrect but examine if we  can
catch  them  disagreeing  with themselves.   Do  the  four  Gospel
accounts  draw  conflicting pictures of who Christ was or  of  the
events  they portray?   Are there contradictions in the  teachings
written in Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles?  Also, what is written
in the documents that lends to their credibility?

     In  the New Testament we find an amazingly coherent  body  of
writings   considering   its  books  were  penned   by   different
individuals from different locations and during different decades. 
There are no significant contradictions in historical accounts  or
in doctrine.   Granted, there are tensions, but these ought not to
be  considered out and out contradictions.   Citing  Robert  Horn:
“difficulties do not constitute objections.   Unsolved problems do
not  constitute  errors.   This  is not to minimise  the  area  of
difficulty; it is to see it in perspective.” (see endnote 8).

     In support of the accounts of Christ’s actions and  teachings
are  the claims in the Gospels to be first  hand  accounts.   Both
Matthew and John were witnesses to the events they recorded.   The
importance of this cannot be minimized.  Very few historians today
report events that they were witnesses to.  Also, Mark was a close
companion  and  disciple of Peter who was also a  witness  to  the
events  written in Mark’s Gospel.   And Luke,  though not  an  eye
witness  to the events in Christ’s life is still considered to  be
the  consummate historian of the group.   In the beginning of  his
account  he  states that he had  himself  “carefully  investigated
everything  from  the beginning” (Luke 1:3).   More will  be  said
about Luke’s reputation among scholars in the next section.

     The  New  Testament writings are sources all written  in  the
first  century.   From  the  end(?) of Christ’s  ministry  to  the
writing  of  the  Gospels there is only and  approximate  30  year
interval for Mark,  50 for Luke,  50 for Matthew, and 60 for John. 
Again,   these  are  not  unreasonable  gaps  compared  to   other
historical  works  of even modern times.   And keep in  mind  that
during  the 30 to 60 year gap the disciples spent their  lives  as
experts  teaching  about all that they had seen  and  been  taught
during  their  three year period of spending all their  time  with
Jesus.  This was not foggy material in their minds when they wrote
it  down.   Rather it was material that they had  been  exercising
their expertise over for many years.   Again, to put this argument
in simpler terms,  the writings of the new Testament come from eye
witnesses and writers with first hand accounts available to  them. 
This  is better than many of the authors of our  school’s  history
books can claim.

                    The External Evidence Test

     In  the  external evidence test we look to  other  historical
materials  to judge the reliability of the documents in  question. 
Here  also the New Testament finds a wealth of support.   Much  of
this support comes from extra-biblical writers.

     Papias,  the Bishop of Hierapolis (AD 130) and a man who  had
personal contact with the Apostle John wrote:

     The  Elder (John) used to say this  also:  Mark,  having
     been the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately all
     that (Peter) mentioned, whether the sayings or doings of
     Christ… (see endnote 9)

Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (AD 180) wrote:

     so firm is the ground on which these Gospels rests, that
     the very heretics themselves bear witness to them,  and,
     starting   from  these  [documents]  each  one  of  them
     endeavors  to  establish his  own  particular  doctrine. 
     (see endnote 10)

     But  not  all the ancient writers that give  support  to  the
Christian writings were Christian.   In the rabbinical writings of
the Talmud there is startling support to the claims in the Gospels
about  Jesus.   In the Talmud there are writings about  the  false
teacher Jesus of Nazareth who performed miracles!   They attest to
these  sorcery  on Christ’s part but the important point  is  that
they did not even attempt to discount that Christ was a worker  of
miracles (see endnote 11).

     The Jewish historian Josephus of the first century writes  of
Jesus:

     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 received the truth
     with pleasure.   He lead away many Jews,  and also  many
     Greeks.   This man was said to be the Christ.   And when
     Pilate had condemned him to the cross on his impeachment
     by the chief men among us,  those who 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 wonderful things about him:  and even  now
     the tribe of Christians, so named after him, has not yet
     died out. (see endnote 12)

     Archeology also has yielded much evidence supporting the  New
Testament  accounts.   One discovery of special importance is  the
“Nazareth Inscription”.   This is a slab of white marble found  in
Nazareth  and dated to the first century.   No  other  inscription
like it is found in any other Roman province.   The content of the
inscription says it all:

     Ordinance of Caesar.   It is my pleasure that graves and
     tombs  remain  undisturbed in perpetuity for  those  who
     have  made them for the cult of their  ancestors…  If,
     however any man lay information that another has  either
     demolished them,  or has in any other way extracted  the
     buried,  or  has maliciously transferred them  to  other
     places…  against  such a one I order that a  trial  be
     instituted… In the case of contravention I desire that
     the  offender  be  sentenced to  capital  punishment  on
     charge of violation or sepulture.  (see endnote 13)

It  would  appear  that  there  was  some  unique  difficulty   of
disappearing  bodies  (at  least one) in  Nazareth  in  the  first
century.   It was significant enough for the Romans to issue  this
edict  to prevent it from happening again.   This does  not  prove
that  Jesus rose from the dead but it may well be an indicator  of
the mayhem produced by the unaccountability of his body three days
after burial.

     Other  strong  testimony  to  the  historicity  of  the   New
Testament comes from Sir William Ramsay, regarded to be one of the
greatest  archaeologists to ever have  lived.   Ramsay  originally
sought to discount the writings of Luke in the Gospel and Acts  as
products of the second century.   He was attacking the  authorship
and  first century credibility of  these writings.   But the  more
Ramsay searched the more he found inescapable evidence that Luke’s
writings  were  indeed accurate and  authentic.   Luke  writes  of
places  that had been lost to history and re-found.   He time  and
time  again  refers to Roman magistrates by  their  correct  name,
title  and  time.   As a direct result of what  he  found,  Ramsay
became a Christian.  He enthusiastically states:

     Luke is an historian of the first rank;  not merely  are
     his statements of fact and trustworthy;  he is possessed
     of  the true historic sense…  In  short,  this  author
     should   be   placed  along  with  the   very   greatest
     historians.  (see endnote 14)

It is important not to underestimate the weight of a the testimony
of a critic of such high standing in his field who not only failed
to  refute  the credibility of the New  Testament,  but  became  a
Christian  as  a  result  of what  he  found  when  he  critically
searched.

     And  so  the New Testament passes the third and  final  test. 
There is plentiful evidence from outside sources that supports the
historical reliability of the New Testament.

             Credibility of the New Testament Writers

     In spite of the above evidence for the historicity of the New
Testament,   there  are   those  who  would  attack  the   writers
themselves to undermine the New Testament’s credibility.  They are
accused of delivering an unhistorical portrait of Jesus.  They are
accused of making up their accounts and putting their own words in
Jesus’ mouth.   This section will list several reasons why this is
incredibly unlikely not to mention totally unfounded. 

     As eye witnesses,  the Apostles must be given the benefit  of
the  doubt.   No  man can come along with no evidence at  all  and
accuse  them  of fraud.   Their authority is higher than  any  man
living today that would question them.   They were there.  We were
not.

     The  testimonies  of  the  Apostles  are  written  in  blood. 
Charlatans would never suffer the cruel and dreadful deaths of the
Apostles for a lie.  Their testimony must be regarded as testimony
that literally stood up under torture.   They were stoned, run out
of cities,  imprisoned, and eventually killed for the message they
proclaimed.   They could have ended their persecution at any  time
by  fessing  up  to  their lie.   They had  nothing  to  lose  and
everything to gain.

     If  the Apostles were going to falsely construct  a  messiah,
surely  they  would  not have constructed one  like  the  biblical
Jesus.  He fit none of the Jewish expectations of what the Messiah
would  be.   Surely they would have tried to give the people  what
they expected and hence a more believable deception.  Also, if the
writers  were putting words into Jesus’ mouth,  then why did  they
not have him make definitive statements that would have cleared up
some  of the internal struggles that the Church was going  through
at  the time of writing (ie,  circumcision for  Gentile  converts,
works verses faith, etc.)?

     The  disciples  could  not have gotten away  with  making  up
miracles  and  teachings of Christ since all that he  did  he  did
publicly.  Surely there were many who could have refuted any false
claims about Jesus.  But the accounts of the Gospels are of things
that occurred among large gatherings.   How would they have gotten
away with it?

     There are those who accuse the Gospel writers of collusion in
their writings.  That way they could have gotten together and laid
a solid and cohesive foundation of lies about who Jesus was.   But
examination of the four different accounts shows that this is  not
at all supported.  On the contrary there is strong support against
this.   For the four Gospels are not identical enough to be  works
of  intentional collusion.   For there are accounts that are  told
from  different  perspectives  that  lay  out  slightly  different
emphasis and detail.   There is enough agreement among the  Gospel
accounts to determine that they are accurately portraying the same
events.   But there is enough minute and subtle difference in  the
way  things are recorded that they are clearly not the product  of
four  writers  getting together to  make sure they tell  the  same
story.   An illustration of this principal:  When police take down
the  accounts from different witnesses of a crime,  they look  for
enough  similarity  to prove accuracy.   But they  also  look  for
enough similarity in how the accounts are told to tell if they are
operating in collusion.   The Gospel  accounts are similar  enough
by  far  to testify to their accuracy and have enough  variety  of
focus and detail to testify to being free of collusion.

     The bottom line is that the New Testament writers were  moral
men who went to great lengths to insure the accuracy of what  they
wrote.   They  had only one reason to endure the persecution  that
they  endured.   They had only one reason to write the words  that
they wrote:  the words were true.

                         Conclusion    

     But what is one to do with such evidence as the New Testament
documents?   Clearly, to accept their historicity can well raise a
crisis in one’s life.   The implications are unnerving.   Just  as
C.S.  Lewis  was rattled by a conversation he overheard between  a
couple of fellow atheist Cambridge professors when one said to the
other:  “Funny  thing about this resurrection thing:  it  actually
appears  to  have really happened!”  The one who  discovers  these
facts is confronted with a Jesus that he can not ignore.   He must
make up his mind as how to respond to this Jesus of Nazareth.   He
can no longer regard him as just another great moral  teacher.   I
can offer no better conclusion to this paper than a quote of  C.S.
Lewis  from his book MERE CHRISTIANITY where the response that  he
made to these facts is made clear:

     I  am  trying  here to prevent anyone  from  saying  the
     really  foolish thing that people often say  about  Him:
     ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but
     I don’t accept his claim to be God.’  This is one  thing
     that  we must not say.   A man who was merely a man  and
     said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a  great
     moral  teacher.   He  would either be a lunatic –  on  a
     level  with the man who says he is a poached egg  –   or
     else he would be the devil of hell.   You must make your
     choice.   Either this man was, and is the Son of God; or
     else a madman or something worse.   You can shut him  up
     for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon;
     or  you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and  God. 
     But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense  about
     his being a great human teacher.   He has not left  that
     open to us.  He did not intend to.
    

                            ENDNOTES:

     1.  C.  Sanders, INTRODUCTION TO RESEARCH IN ENGLISH LITERARY
HISTORY (New York:  Macmillan,  1952),  pp. 143ff (cited from Josh
McDowell’s EVIDENCE THAT DEMANDS A VERDICT, p. 43).

     2.   John  Warwick  Montgomery,   HISTORY  AND   CHRISTIANITY
(Minnesota: Bethany House, 1965), p. 27.

     3.  F.  F.  Bruce,  THE  NEW TESTAMENT  DOCUMENTS:  ARE  THEY
RELIABLE? (Illinois: Inter Varsity, 1983), pp 16,17.

     4.  Josh  McDowell,  EVIDENCE THAT DEMANDS A VERDICT  (Campus
Crusade for Christ, 1972), pp. 47,48.

     5. Bruce, p. 17.

     6. Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, THE BIBLE AND ARCHEOLOGY (New York
and London: Harper, 1940), pp. 288,289.

     7. Montgomery, p. 29.

     8. McDowell, p. 64.

     9. Ibid., p.66.

     10. Ibid.

     11. Bruce, pp. 100,101.

     12. Ibid., p. 108.

     13.  E.  M.  Blaiklock,  THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
(Michigan: Zondervan, 1970), p. 76.

     14.   Clifford  A.   Wilson,   ROCKS,  RELICS,  AND  BIBLICAL
RELIABILITY (Michigan: Zondervan, 1977), p.114.

     15.  C.  S.  Lewis,  MERE CHRISTIANITY (New York:  Macmillan,

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