(courtesy Clipart Library)
By Spencer D Gear
This is a 4-part series. See also:
Can you trust the Bible? Part 2
Hebrews 4:12 (ESV) says: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
I was reminded of the truth of this text when I read of
“a short-term missionary [who] gave a report on her experience overseas. She and several others were entering a communist country. At the border the guards asked them, ‘Do you have any guns, drugs, or Bibles?’
“What an interesting combination! Guns are weapons of destruction that kill the body. Drugs can alter and distort the mind. The Bible can expose and destroy all that is false. But it is much more than a threat to atheism. It can enrich life, instill hope, and free the human spirit even when a person is confined [in a prison camp for spreading the Gospel]. No wonder an atheistic government would fear its power and put it in a class with guns and drugs.”
I read the story of “a young boy who was in the habit of going to church. [But he] was unable to attend one Sunday because he was ill. So he went upstairs to his bedroom and read his Bible. He was unusually quiet, and his mother began wondering if he was up to some mischief.
“Finally she called out, ‘What are you doing, Andy?’He replied, ‘I’m watching Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead!”
Someone has said that there are three stages of Bible study:
First, the “cod-liver oil” stage, where you take it like medicine because it’s good for you.
The second is the “shredded-wheat biscuit” stage — dry but nourishing;
And third, is the “mango and ice-cream” stage — really enjoyable.
In spite of the fact that it is a VERY OLD book, the Bible is still “the most popular and widely read book in the world with more than one hundred million new copies, in whole or in part, produced every year.”
But at what a price?
On October 6, 1536, William Tyndale was burned at the stake because he dared to translate the Bible into English so that the common person could read it. In Foxe’s Book of Martyrs it records this:
At last after much reasoning, when no reason would serve, although he deserved no death, he was condemned by virtue of the emperor’s decree, made in the Assembly at Augsburg. Brought forth to the place of execution, he was tied to the stake, strangled by the hangman, and afterwards consumed with fire, at the town of Filford, A.D. 1536; crying at the stake with a fervent zeal, and a loud voice, “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.”
Why would people like Tyndale and others risk their very lives to translate the Scriptures into the native language of people? We have the Bible in English today, thanks to the work of Christian martyr, William Tyndale, and earlier by John Wycliffe who made his “first version of the New Testament in Middle English” in 1380, “and a second edition appeared in 1388 after his death. . . The first edition was a word-for-word translation of the New Testament from the Latin Vulgate, in places following the Latin so closely that the meaning was obscure.” Wycliffe lived from about 1329-1384.
“There are several major differences between Wycliffe’s translation and Tyndale’s:
“1. Wycliffe’s Bible was a translation of Jerome’s Latin Vulgate [Jerome lived ca. 340-420], but Tyndale’s went back to the original Greek and Hebrew.
“2.Wycliffe’s Bible was a hand-copied manuscript, whereas Tyndale’s Bible was printed.
“Why would generations of Hebrew scribes meticulously copy the Old Testament Scriptures, repeatedly checking their work letter by letter, even counting the letters to ensure their accuracy?
Why is the Bible considered to be the Word of God and how can we know its accuracy and trustworthiness? We’re travelling on a journey of attempting to validate the Bible. Can you trust your Bible? Today this is such a critical issue because of the anti-God, anti-Bible culture here in Australia and around the world.
It is especially important because Islam is on the march. The Quran, Sura 2:2, says: “This scripture [the Quran] is infallible; a beacon for the righteous.”
Second Tim.3:16 (ESV)”All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
Jesus said according to John 17:17 (ESV)”Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
Which ones are you to believe? I am not making a blasphemous statement. We must provide answers for this generation:
The Quran says it is the infallible Scripture;
The NT says that all of the Bile is “breathed out by God” (inspired by God). Jesus said, “Your word is truth?”
How do we validate one over the other?
So far, I have suggested two historical tests that historians use for ANY historical document, including the Quran and the Bible, Captain Cook’s writings, the works of Shakespeare or my local newspaper from the 1960s.
If we want to test the trustworthiness of any historical document, historians put it through 3 tests (PLUS something that TIES them together) suggested by the acronym: T.I.E.S.
First: T: The Transmission Test,
a. The number of MSS; (5,366 Gk MSS; 24,000+ with other languages). Only one that comes close is Homer’s Iliad, 643 MSS (earliest copy, 500 years after the original writing);
b. Time interval between the writing of MSS and the earliest copy.
c. ca. 114 (fragment), John 18:31-33, 37-38 (written on both sides) — in the John Rylands Library, Manchester, England;
d. ca. 200 (books)
e. ca. 250 (most of NT)
f. ca. 325 (whole NT)
g. These NT books were written between 50-100 A.D.
Second: “I” = the Internal evidence test,
A. Listen to the claims made in the document. Do NOT assume error;
B. Those who wrote the N.T. were eyewitnesses who saw and heard OR they got their information from eyewitnesses;
C. There were hostile people around at the time who would refute the information if it were false.
Let’s take a look at test for historical authenticity, No. 3. This is the ‘E’ of TIES.
C. THIRD, THE EXTERNAL EVIDENCE TEST
In the External Evidence Test, we look for evidence outside of the Bible that confirms people, places and events in the Bible.
1. Secular Evidence for Jesus
a. Jewish Historian, Josephus, (A.D. 37-100)
Eminent NT scholar, the late F.F. Bruce says:
“Here in the pages of Josephus, we meet many figures who are well-known to us from the New Testament: the colourful family of the Herods; the Roman emperors Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, and the procurators of Judea; the high priestly families–Annas, Caiaphas, Ananias, and the rest; the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and so on”
There is also a disputed passage (that I do NOT recommend that you use) in Antiquities of the Jews that reads like this:
“Now there was about this time [he means Pilate’s time, AD 26-36] Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works — a teacher of such men who receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men against us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and many other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”
Michael Green says “no attempts to impugn its authenticity can be said to have succeeded. It has as good attestation as anything in Josephus, it is included in all the manuscripts.We know that the fourth century Christian historian Eusebius had this quote in his copy of Jospehus. He quoted it twice”
- There’s sarcasm here by Josephus when he writes: “if it be lawful to call him a man.”This might be a back-handed hint at Jesus’ claims to be God;
- It may have been a Christian insertion by a copyist when he wrote, ” He was [the] Christ,” but it could just as easily refer to the sign that was on the cross when Jesus died, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” or “the King of the Jews” (Mt. 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38 NIV).
- Even if the statement about Christ’s resurrection reflects a Christian insertion (and there is no evidence that it has been fiddled with, based on manuscript evidence), here we have a passage in a leading Jewish historian at the time of Christ who gives “powerful, independent testimony to the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth.”
- It does seem too extensive and specific to have come from a Jew who was not a follower of Christ, but the manuscript evidence does not support such a claim.
What can we conclude from Josephus?
- The stories about Jesus were no myth.
- There was so much circumstantial evidence that they even found their way into the apologetic work of the Jewish historian Josephus.
- If there was anybody who should have kept his lips shut and his ink pen dry about the person of Jesus, it would have had to be Josephus. But that was not the case.
b. Roman Historian, Cornelius Tacitus (AD 55?–after 117)
A contemporary of Pliny (whom we will meet soon), he is considered the greatest historian of Imperial Rome.
Michael Green explains:
“He tells us how the Christians, hated by the populace for their `crimes’ (alluding no doubt to the Christian emphasis on `love’ which was given a sinister twist by the pagans and construed as incest) were made scapegoats for the Great Fire of AD 64 by the Emperor Nero.`The name Christian,’ he writes, `comes to them from Christ, who was executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate; and the pernicious cult, suppressed for a while, broke out afresh and spread not only through Judea, the source of the disease, but in Rome itself, where all the horrible and shameful things in the world collect and find a home.'”
He wrote of Nero’s attempt to relieve himself of the guilt of burning Rome:
“Hence to suppress the rumor [i.e. that Nero had set fire to the city of Rome], he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also.”
c. Greek satirist, Lucian (second century)
He alludes to Christ as:
a man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world. . . Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they were all brothers one of another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws.
d. Roman historian, Suetonius (about AD 120)
He was a court official under Emperor Hadrian. He made two specific references to Jesus in writing: “As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chestus [another spelling of Christus or Christ], he expelled them from Rome”.
e. Pliny the Younger (about AD 112)
He was governor of the province of Bithynia (now in northern Turkey) and was writing to the emperor, Trajan, about his achievements. He gave information on how he had killed multitudes of Christians–men, women and children. He said that he had attempted to “make them curse Christ, which a genuine Christian cannot be induced to do. “In the same letter he wrote of Christians:
They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to do any wicked deeds, and never to deny a truth when they should be called upon to deliver it up.
f. Samaritan-born historian, Thallus (about AD 52)
His work is lost, but a fragment of it is preserved in the second-century writer, Julius Africanus (ca. A.D. 221), who tells us:
It is “unreasonable” because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time as the full moon.It was the time of the Passover (paschal) full moon when Christ died.
g. Mara Bar-Serapion (after AD 73)
In a Syriac manuscript in the British Museum, there is a remarkable letter which this man wrote to his son in prison (although some say it was Mara who was in prison). He compares the deaths of Socrates, Pythagoras, and Jesus:
“What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and the plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. . . But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.”
h.The Jewish Talmud (completed by AD 500)
The Talmud consists of “two books known as the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud. . . They contain the oral teaching of earlier rabbis (Mishnah), which was an explanation of the law of Moses together with discussions of this teaching (Gemara). Christian scholars find these helpful for knowledge of Jewish interpretations of the Hebrew Bible.”
“On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu (of Nazareth) and the herald went before him for forty days saying (Yeshu of Nazareth) is going to be stoned in that he hath practiced sorcery and beguiled and led astray Israel. Let everyone knowing aught in his defense come and plead for him. But they found naught in his defense and hanged him on the eve of Passover.”
In another Talmud section, it was written concerning Jesus: “I found a genealogical roll in Jerusalem wherein was recorded, Such-an-one is a bastard of an adulteress.” Jewish belief was that Jesus was an illegitimate son and demon-possessed, similar to accusations against him in the N.T.
If we combine this secular testimony to Christ, what picture do we get?
(1)”Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate at Passover time.
- He was believed by his disciples to have risen from the dead three days later.
- Jewish leaders charged Christ with sorcery and believed he was born of adultery.
- The Judean sect of Christianity could not be contained but spread even to Rome.
- Nero and other Roman rulers bitterly persecuted and martyred early Christians.
- These early Christians denied polytheism, lived dedicated lives according to Christ’s teachings, and worshipped Christ.This picture is perfectly congruent with that of the New Testament.”
2. Archaeological Confirmation of the New Testament
While there has been confirmation of the general outline of New Testament history, I will focus on Luke’s writings. There are hundreds of archaeological finds that support specific persons, events and facts presented in Luke-Acts, including some that were once thought to be incorrect.
a. Official titles
We need to especially note Luke’s correct usage of official titles.He calls the rulers of Thessalonica “politarchs” in Acts 17:6, 8. In the NIV it is translated as “city officials.” It means “magistrates” and
was once dismissed as a mistake of the writer of Acts. . . because the term did not appear in any other context. Seventeen examples from [inscriptions] now are listed. . . The examples cover a century and a half from the beginning of the first century to the middle of the second. One is housed in the British Museum and came from an archway in Salonika. The same inscription, curiously enough, contains names that occur among those listed as members of the Thessalonian church. It is obviously a Macedonian term, and its use conforms to Luke’s consistent practice of employing the correct official terminology commonly accepted. In similar fashion he called the petty officials of the Roman colony of Philippi ‘praetors.’
The governor of Cyprus was a “proconsul.”
In Philippi (Acts 16:30), the “magistrates” (NIV) were known as strategoi (in the Greek.). “All of these have been confirmed by inscriptions [outside of the Bible]. The scenes [Luke] paints of Athens, Corinth, Ephesus and the journey to Rome ring absolutely true in the ears of those best able to judge.”
These descriptions were once thought to be part of the fertile imagination of Luke the fantasiser. Now, they have solid historical backing, thanks to the meticulous work of archaeologists.
b. Chronological references
Luke is known to be correct in these references. He refers to “Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene” at the time John the Baptist began his ministry (AD 27), once thought to be incorrect, but now confirmed to be correct by Greek inscriptions. Lysanias was tetrarch between AD 14 and 29. Other chronological references are known to be correct, including those referring to Caesar, Herod, and even Gallio (Acts 18:12-17).
Numerous places in the Gospels, including the Pool of Siloam (John 9:7-11) and the “judgment seat” near Corinth (2 Cor. 5:10) have been verified by archaeology.
Other names of persons mentioned in the N.T. that were thought to be false, have been confirmed through archaeology. Another example is:
A first-century marble slab was found at Corinth in 1929 with this inscription, “Erastus, in consideration of his appointment as curator of buildings, laid this pavement at his own expense.”  It is possible that this person is Erastus, one of Paul’s co-workers from whom Paul sent greetings according to Rom. 16:23. He was the city treasurer in Corinth.
[For other examples, see Michael Green, World on the Run, pp. 40-42]
These kinds of archaeological finds cause eminent people to reach some startling conclusions.
A.N. Sherwin-White, distinguished Roman historian, says this about Luke’s writings: “For [the Book of] Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming…. Any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.”
Luke is commended by classical historian, G.A. Williamson, for demonstrating “complete familiarity with the thought, expression, and habitual terminology of the speakers, and . . what memories the people of that time possessed!–if not on written notes, which we have reason to believe were commonly made.”
Thanks to the archaeological efforts of the late Sir William Ramsay, many of the critical views of the N.T. have been overthrown. Ramsay himself was converted from the critical view of liberal theology. He wrote:
I began with a mind unfavorable to it [Book of Acts], for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tubingen theory had at one time quite convinced me. It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought into contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth.
Renowned archaeologist and paleographer, William F. Albright, notes: “All radical schools in New Testament criticism which have existed in the past or which exist today are pre-archaeological, and are, therefore, since they were built in der Luft [in the air], quite antiquated today.”
Let’s recap. If we want to test the trustworthiness of any historical document, historians put it through 3 tests:
First: T: The Transmission Test,
a. The number of MSS;
b. Time interval between the writing of MSS and the earliest copy.
Second: I: the Internal evidence test,
a. Listen to the claims made in the document. Do NOT assume error;
b. Those who wrote the N.T. were eyewitnesses who saw and heard OR they got their information from eyewitnesses;
c. There were hostile people around at the time who would refute the information if it were false.
We heard from historians of the NT period and after the NT times:
- Pliny the Younger;
- Mara Bar-Serapion;
- Jewish Talmud.
The N.T. documents can be relied upon to give an accurate picture of Jesus Christ. Let’s go to those documents and investigate who Jesus Christ is and why He died on the cross.
The Psalmist loved the Word of God. Listen to some of his words about the Word in Psalm 119:
Psalm 119:11 (ESV I have stored up [OR, hid] your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
Psalm 119:16 (ESV) I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.
Psalm 119:97 (ESV) Oh how I love your law!It is my meditation all the day.
Psalm 119:103 (ESV) How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Psalm 119:105 (ESV) Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
 Our Daily Bread, April 1, 1987, “Guns, Drugs, and the Bible.”
Nero, in order to stifle the rumour [as if he himself had set Rome on fire] ascribed it to those people who were hated for their wicked practices, and called by the vulgar, Christians: these he punished exquisitely. The author of this name was Christ, who, in the reign of Tiberius, was brought to punishment by Pontius Pilate the procurator (Appendix, Dissertation I, p. 639, emphasis in original).
 A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament.Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963,p. 189, in Josh McDowell, More Than a Carpenter.Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications, 1979, p. 55..
 A paleographer is one who studies and gives scholarly interpretation to ancient written documents [based on the definition of “paleography” in William Morris (ed.), The Heritage Illustrated Dictionary of the English Language.Boston: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc. and Houghton Mifflin Company, 1975, p. 944.]
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 27 February 2020.