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October 18, 2016

Can We Trust The Bible?

Part 2

On Sunday mornings in Building D as we study and discuss whether we can trust the Bible, we’re also looking at those same questions here on the blog. In last week’s post, I summarized the evidence we have for the historical preservation of the New Testament documents. The conclusion was that what we hold in our hands today is almost identical to what was originally written.

 

But, I finished with a question: What if we have a historically preserved collection of mistakes? In today’s post, we’ll see whether we have good reason to believe the New Testament writers told the truth about the things they recorded.

 

What if we have a historically preserved collection of mistakes?

 

While mountains of information on this topic exist, we’ll look at two main lines of evidence demonstrating the truthfulness of the New Testament documents: early testimony and eyewitness testimony.

Early Testimony
Many New Testament scholars believe all the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry were written toward the end of the first century.[1]

 

These scholars believe Mark was written around AD 70, Matthew and Luke around AD 80–85, and John around AD 90–95.[2] These dates create a problem for many people; how could the Gospel writers have accurately recorded the details of Jesus’ life and ministry when the accounts were written so much later? They probably forgot most of what took place and made several mistakes in their attempts to recount the events—right?

 

Not quite. For one thing, even these late dates would still be within the lifetimes of the original Gospel writers. If, for example, Matthew was 20 years old when he walked with Jesus in AD 30–33, then he would have been about 70 when he penned his Gospel. Now, we don’t know for sure how old Matthew was, but the point is that these late dates do not eyewitness verification is impossible. New Testament Scholar, Brant Pitre observes, “Even if the Gospels weren’t written until the late first century AD, they would still have appeared well within the lifetime of Jesus’s apostles and their followers.”[3]

 

So the late dating is not a problem, but we have even more evidence for reliable early testimony. Most scholars generally agree that 1 Corinthians was written around 55AD.[4] In one part of this letter, Paul speaks to the Corinthians about the Lord’s Supper, explaining that Jesus told his disciples to “…do this in remembrance of me” (see 1 Corinthians 11:23–26).

 

When you read all four Gospels, you will notice each one records Jesus telling his followers to take communion together in remembrance of him. However, only one Gospel specifically mentions Jesus saying the words “Do this in remembrance of me.”—The Gospel of Luke.

 

When you compare Luke’s account of Jesus’ words in Luke 22:19–20 with Paul’s quotation in 1 Corinthians 11:24, it appears Paul is quoting almost directly from Luke’s gospel. The implication is simple: Paul must have had access to Luke’s gospel by AD 55 in order to quote from it. Moreover, Luke acknowledges he’s not the first one to write about Jesus (Luke 1:1–4). He says, “Many have undertaken to compile a narrative” of Jesus’ life and ministry.

 

Paul must have had access to Luke’s gospel by AD 55 in order to quote from it.

 

But who are the “many” Luke is referring to? The general consensus among scholars is that Luke is referring to Matthew and Mark’s gospels because he quotes from them extensively. In other words, both Matthew and Mark’s gospels must have been written prior to AD 55 as well, since Luke would have needed prior access to them in order to quote them in his gospel. So we can at least say we have an early dating for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and the letters of Paul.

Eyewitness Testimony
Having looked at the above evidence, it’s clear the gospel records are early, but are they accurate? Turning again to Luke’s writings, one of the things that makes him stand out is the incredible amount of detail he includes in his narrative (see Luke 3:1–2). Scholars are now in general agreement that Luke’s historical accuracy is “particularly striking.”[5] Classical scholar, Colin Hemer has even done an historical study on the book of Acts and noted 84 specific mentions of historical detail that have been proven accurate in every place. [6]

 

…it’s clear the gospel records are early, but are they accurate?

 

While Luke may not have been an eyewitness to Jesus’ life and ministry (he indicates as much in Luke 1:1–4), he was certainly an eyewitnesses to the setting and culture in which Jesus lived, a member of the early church community, and he traveled with the apostle Paul.[7] Furthermore, his precision in recording historical details about Jesus’ life and ministry gives every impression that Luke really did his homework.

 

Finally, because Luke quotes extensively from Matthew’s gospel, not only do you have Luke’s independent research proving true, but you also have the eyewitness testimony of Matthew who was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples.[8] New Testament scholar, William Lane Craig really drives home the point when he says, “The gospel narratives…are about real people who actually lived, real events that actually occurred, and real places that actually existed… Those who had seen and heard Jesus were still on the scene and could be asked about what Jesus had said and done.”[9]

 

…if Luke is telling the truth, so are Matthew and Mark…

 

So, we can safely say that if Luke is telling the truth, so are Matthew and Mark, because they each tell the same story of a man named Jesus who lived as a traveling preacher, performed miracles, died on a cross, and was raised from the dead. Using Luke as a baseline, we can safely establish a high degree of eyewitness testimony for the Gospel writers and the New Testament as a whole (see also 2 Peter 1:16–21).

 

we can trust the message we receive today is the same message preached back then.

 

Conclusion
While much more could still be said, the point we want to make is simple: the New Testament authors wrote early enough to know about the events they recorded and have been proven to give us accurate, eyewitness testimony of those very events. This means we can trust the message we receive today is the same message preached back then. This reality should not only strengthen our faith in the Bible as God’s Word, but should inspire us to boldly “…contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

[1] Brant Pitre, The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ (New York: Image, 2016), 85

[2] Pitre, The Case for Jesus, 85

[3] Pitre, The Case for Jesus, 88

[4] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 223

[5] Mark Strauss, Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007) 386

[6] Colin J, Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1990)

[7] See Acts 16:10; Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; and Philemon 1:24

[8] See Matthew 9:9–13; Mark 2:14–22; Luke 5:27–38

[9] William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010), 186