Thursday, March 09, 2006

Historicity of the New Testament

Everything I believe about Jesus I have read in the Bible. This for many begs the question, “Why is the Bible a reliable source of information about this person?” My answer is that the Bible is not only a good source of information about Christ and world history at that time, but it is the best documentation we possess regarding the events of Jesus and his contemporaries.

This is quite a claim. Please continue reading and find out why I am convinced of this.

As the New Testament contains the genealogy, birth, life, subsequent death and resurrection of Christ I will focus on the NT and not the Old Testament when dealing with historicity. It should also be said that I intend to use sources of information that use historiography to establish a documents historicity. A scientific method would be inappropriate as none of the events depicted in any historical document can be proven empirically, as those events can not be recreated in a controlled environment. In my readings, I have seen those who claim that the existence of Christ is "un-scientific" which is why I made this stipulation. If you are looking for scientific proof of history, you will find none.

There are 3 basic tests for historicity:

  • Bibliographical: seeks to determine how many manuscript copies we have of the document and how far removed they are in time from the originals (see table here). This I believe to be the most compelling evidence proving the Bible to be accurate and reliable. A comparison to Homer's Iliad shows that the manuscript reliability of the Bible is unmatched:

    Homer's Iliad

  • Date Written: 900 B.C.
  • Earliest Copy: 400 B.C.
  • Approximate Time Between Original and Copy: 500 years
  • Number of Copies: 643
  • Accuracy of Copies: 95% (very good)


  • The Bible (Specifically the New Testament)

  • Date Written: 50-100 A.D. Initially the time between the oral and written records was thought to be 3 times this long, but later findings proved the actual amount of time to be within the 1st century A.D.
  • Earliest Copy: c. 130 A.D.
  • Approximate Time Between Original and Copy: Less than 100 years
  • Number of Copies: 5,600 (19,000 copies in the Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic languages, for a total of > 24,000 copies.)
  • Accuracy: 99.5% (unheard of)


  • Let me take a moment to explain the statistics I have covered above:

    The reason we compare the date written with the earliest copy of the manuscript is that oral record, although fairly reliable during this time as there were no printing presses so it was the only method available, has been deemed by critics to be susceptible to exaggeration and rumor over the course of a few hundred years. The fact that the time span between oral and written record of the NT is less than 100 years (some believe ~80 years) is significant in that most historians believe this to be more than adequate to dismiss claims of exaggeration by the writer. This is also significant because had the writer taken liberties with the facts, he would have more than likely been met with opposition and corrected by his contemporaries.

    As stated above, the manuscript evidence (MSS) of the Bible far outweighs any other document we consider to be reliable. For comparison, your average history book used in public schools has about 2 dozen manuscripts.

  • Internal: asks whether the document itself claims to be actual history written by eyewitnesses. The Bible makes this claim in many places; just to name a few: Luke 1:2, Acts 4:20, Acts 10:39, 2 Peter 1:16, Heb 2:3, 1John 1:1

  • External: asks whether material external to the document confirms the reliability of the document. The Bible makes dozens of references that can be used as "checkpoints" to validate it's historicity. References to significant events of the day and externally documented events such as the Roman census are examples of checkpoints. More examples of these found in the Bible can be found here

    What has been your overall impression of the Bible as a historical document?

    How did you come to this conclusion? I ask this because a majority of people I have come across make claims of Bible inerrancy and contradiction but have never actually picked up a Bible and read it, but are simply repeating what they have heard.

    If the Bible must be accepted as historically accurate, what implications are there for world religions that differ in their treatment of the person of Jesus Christ?

    What implications would this hold for you personally?
  • 8 comments:

    Mr. Grey Ghost said...

    To me, the Bible is capable of answering every question known to mankind. Thats kind of the way I've always looked at it, like the answers are just right there & you can just choose to follow them or not. While I do believe that there are missing books, I do feel that for the most it is very accurate.

    Bullfrog said...

    Cyn: So your response to all the evidence both historical and archeological is, "So what!".

    The notion that the Bible is written in come code that must have some special "interpretive technique" applied to it is based on the notion that the Bible is not first a historical account so I really don't feel that you have done much to disprove anything I have said.

    "Many people know that the Bible is not accurate..." these statements don't do much to pursuade me that what I have presented is invalid.

    It appears that you have started your journey on the premise the Bible is false and found evidence to support that; that isn't a very reliable way to discover the historicity of a document.

    Bullfrog said...

    Since Ms.Thiering's conspiracy theory is focused on the resurrection of Christ being a hoax, I thought you might like to read this treatment of the event.

    Outside the Box said...

    What has been your overall impression of the Bible as a historical document?

    Well, the Bible is no easy read, so I haven't read it (yet). With that said, I find it rather difficult to take the Bible as "fact" or truth.

    How did you come to this conclusion? I ask this because a majority of people I have come across make claims of Bible inerrancy and contradiction but have never actually picked up a Bible and read it, but are simply repeating what they have heard.

    But if the passages are given, then is it not ok to at least bring up or ask about those possible errors? Do I really have to read the whole thing?

    As for my not trusting the Bible, and maybe you can help me with this, it comes from the Catholic church. Am I correct in believing that Christianity has come through the Catholic church? If so, I can only imagine how much has been manipulated over the centuries.

    As a history buff, I'm fully aware that history is written by the winners and "facts" are quite often interpretations. I have no reason to treat the Bible any different.

    If the Bible must be accepted as historically accurate, what implications are there for world religions that differ in their treatment of the person of Jesus Christ?

    Well, the Bible doesn't have to be accepted as historically accurate (thankfully), but that still won't keep people from hurting and killing each other. IF it were to actually be accepted, I only see more suffering. (Ironically)

    What implications would this hold for you personally?

    None whatsoever. I would still go about with my life as I already do. I would try to better myself every single day. I would try to better the lives of my students and friends in the way that I know how. If that's not good enough for some god out there, then that's too bad. If I actually go to some sort of eternal damnation, I'm willing to accept that. (Admittedly, the idea of such a place is quite juvenile to me, so it doesn't keep me up at night.)

    Bullfrog said...

    Cyn: the truth is, it would take the cooperation of alot of people bent on propogating a lie to accomplish what Ms. Thiering is suggesting. AKA, a conspiracy. The main problem with her (and most) conspiracies is, it is impossible to really prove, so it takes a dose of faith to believe. So you and I are in the same boat, depending on the reliability of the documentation to show the way. Very convenient that all of the historical and manuscript proof is "a lie". It proves that people will basically believe what they choose to believe, facts or no facts.

    robert: you make alot of claims about the Bible without, by your own admission, having actually read it. I am not suggesting you have to read the WHOLE thing, as it takes a lifetime to read and digest what is there (one thing that makes it so great, in my opinion). I would suggest that you become familiar with it's content and context on your own before making judgements about it's validity or relevancy.

    Bullfrog said...

    I find it ironic that if I had posted my belief in the Bible as based purely in faith, I would have been asked to show proof of it's historicity. As it stands, I have shown more than adequately (most historians would agree) that the Bible is a reliable historical document, and the response is one of, "I CHOOSE not to believe that."

    Bullfrog said...

    Cyn: Again, your assertion that I can not pick and choose my history is ironic, as that is exactly what you are doing by dismissing any proof that I have presented because it doesn't suit your premise.
    As far as cross-referencing, I have linked several websites that reinforce what I have said while you have linked to one Wikipedia page about a woman who claims to be the sole discoverer of some method of interpretation that not only changes the context of the Bible, but the CONTENT as well (if you have her Pesher goggles on, that is). Step outside this discussion for a second and ask yourself who is more believable? I have also studied the opposing viewpoint, and the preponderance of evidence proves the Bible to be reliable. Even secular historians and archeologists share this view and they have zero personal vested interest. I did not choose to show the opposing view because that is not my position.

    "Common sense should dictate that anybody that performed the miracles that were attributed to Jesus would have instantly made the world follow him." - I guess the huge Christian movement that followed the death of Christ conveniently never happened either, so I should not bother mentioning it.

    "As a result, this man would have been mentioned in everybody’s belief system." - As I think I mentioned before, most world religions at the very least acknowledge Christ existed, they just have differing opinions about the significance of His existence.

    Cynthia said...

    I misjudged you and for that I'm sorry. Just so that you know, I was visiting these sites because I liked the difference of opinion. It won't happen again...