Should We Trust the Bible?
Even if it is true, what’s the point?
by Jonathan Sarfati
…why should the Bible be trusted? How should we answer those who claim that it’s been re-written so many times that we no longer have the original? And even if we do, was it written long after the events it claimed to report? Also, does archaeology disprove the Bible? Finally, even if it is true, what’s the point?
Is our New Testament Text Reliable?
Some critics doubt that we even have the original New Testament. This issue can only be settled by using bibliographical tests for reliability, similar to what would be used to judge the Iliad or Caesar’s writings.
The NT was completely written by baptized Jews1 in the 1st century AD. We have at least 24,000 manuscripts of the NT [Ed. note: 5,824 in the original Greek, according to the latest count by NT scholar Dan Wallace], the earliest of which are dated within 100 years or so of its actual composition. The earliest known manuscript is the John Rylands papyrus fragment of John’s Gospel known as P52, containing John 18:31–33, 37–38, dated to c. AD 125. Compare this to other great works (MSS = manuscripts):
So, by applying the tightest standards scholars can muster (without eliminating all the other classical works), we can conclude that the NT we have is a trustworthy copy of the original.2 NT scholar F.F. Bruce (1919–1990) wrote:
“The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no-one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.”3
Reliability of the New Testament content
Given that we have a trustworthy copy of the original, is the original itself trustworthy? Liberal scholars usually argue that the gospels were written long after the events they claim to record. They typically date Mark between AD 65–75, Matthew at mid 80s, Luke and Acts between 83–90 and John about the turn of the first century. So with a time gap of 35–75 years, there is allegedly no chance that the gospels are reliable records.
However, there are cogent arguments by J.A.T. Robinson (1919–1983), who was a liberal and Bishop of Woolwich, for redating the gospels to between AD 40 and 65.4 If Robinson is right, the gospels were written in the lifetimes of people who knew Jesus personally (~6 BC – AD ~30 for His earthly lifetime). Matthew and Luke record Jesus’ prophecy of Jerusalem’s demise and the destruction of the Temple (Matthew 24:2, Luke 21:20–24) but do not record its fulfilment in AD 70.5 Matthew, especially, would not have failed to record yet another fulfilled prophecy if he had written after the event. Acts, written by Luke after he wrote his gospel, mentions neither the fall of Jerusalem, the horrific persecutions under Nero Caesar (mid 60s)—although other persecutions are mentioned—nor the martyrdoms of James (61), Paul (64) and Peter (65), so was probably written before then.6 …
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