This is the lesson transcript for video lesson number 9 in our series of video presentations concerning evidences for the existence of God.
It is one thing to look at our material universe, and the physical sciences that study it, and agree that the world, as we know it, is no accident –– that there must be an intelligent designer behind all the intricate and intelligent design, a creator behind this exquisite creation. I mean, after all, the incredible genetic code contained within the DNA of even the simplest life forms, let alone a human being, could not possible have written itself — or simply evolved into the complex and intelligent blueprint for life as we experience in our world every day. The creation of such sophisticated artistry requires the presence of a complex, sophisticated, and intelligent artist. Still, it is one thing to realize that the biological and mathematical evidence requires that we acknowledge the existence of a Creator, and yet another thing to agree that that Creator is, indeed, the only true and living God as presented in the pages of the Bible. After all, since it is true that people of virtually every era, in every location, of every culture on the planet comprehend the existence of a higher spiritual power that is ultimately responsible for the existence of our world, what makes us believe that the God of the Bible is, indeed, the only true and living God?
Formulating an answer to that question requires a willingness to honestly examine the evidence presented to us from history, that is, from within the pages of the Bible itself. This is not circular reasoning; you know, like: believe the Bible because the Bible says to believe the Bible. Rather, it falls into a vast category of study known as Biblical evidences, apologetics, or criticisms. What that research basically entails is looking critically at claims made in the Biblical text and then weighing those claims against history, archaeology, science, and other claims made within the Bible itself, in order to substantiate those claims and validate the consistency, historicity, and reliability of the Biblical text.
As my friend and colleague, Bill Smith (2012) relates:
The Bible was constructed over 1500 years, in 3 languages, on 3 continents, by more than 40 authors; authors from diverse cultures, backgrounds, education, and careers. They wrote in every possible literary form: sermon, poetry, history, biography, exposition, parable, and more. Yet through it all there is a common thread of unity and congruence. The beautiful story of the gospel is woven from Genesis to Revelation. Despite countless efforts to eliminate the Bible and its teaching from civilization, it remains the greatest selling, and most widely read book of all time. No other book is so studied and quoted, and yet so controversial. While it is often ignored and shunned, it is still the central book of our civilization. (para. 1-2)
From the viewpoint of archaeology, it is important to note that, like every other historical document, the Bible is written in the context of a definite “Space-Time Dimension.” What that means is that, unlike a work of fantasy, the Bible records the names of real people and places, and actual historical events that took place in real time. For example, in the New Testament book of Luke we read:
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. (Luke 2:1-5, NASB)
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. . . (Luke 3:1-3, NASB)
As we look at these passages, and there are many more like them throughout the Bible, we see that it is not written like a fairy tale – “once upon a time, far, far away.” Rather we have definite times and the names of real people and places. In just these few verses we can find the names of thirteen real people and nine countries or locations. When we compare such passages with evidence from archaeology, we find the Biblical text absolutely correct. In fact, in every example where archaeology can be compared to, or bears some light upon, the Biblical text, the Bible has always been shown to present an accurate and reliable record of history.
“Contemporary Documentation” refers to the writings, and other archaeological artifacts, that were created during the same era in which the Bible was written; and how these artifacts bear witness to and substantiate the Biblical text.
In his book, The Case for Historic Christianity, Edward C. Wharton (1992) makes the observation that: “…Every political and religious figure mentioned in Luke 3:1-2 [above] has been mentioned in other writings from the same period. No half smart inventor would tie his tale to so many known persons and places with any serious intent to deceive. It would be a futile effort” (p. 23). In drawing a comparison between archaeology and records provided by contemporary documentation, Wharton goes on to note that:
The life and ministry of Christ did not take place in an historical vacuum. It embraced the great masses of the people in Palestine from Galilee to Judaea during the time of the Roman occupation of Palestine when the Herodian rule was replaced by direct Roman administration from 6 AD. Many persons, places, events, weddings, temples, valleys, mountains, rivers, feasts, cities, define the historical setting. Jesus’ ministry is dated during the governorship of Pontius Pilate at Judaea. The accuracy of the geography and intimacy of knowledge of the culture of the land, the language, the religious and political peculiarities of both Jews and Gentiles—all confirmed in other documents from the same period of history—should be sufficient for any inquirer into the historical reliability of the New Testament. (pp. 23-24)
“Manuscript Attestation” is a term that applies to the historical reliability of the Biblical manuscripts themselves. Wharton (1992) notes that: “an evaluation of the reliability of the New Testament can be made by comparing its manuscript value to the manuscript value of classical histories which are generally received as authentic” (p. 26).
When, for example, the New Testament manuscripts are compared with those of Caesar’s Gallic Wars, by Julius Caesar, (c. B.C. 58-50), or The Roman History of Livy (c. B.C. 59 – 17 AD), or the Histories and Annals of Tacitus (c. 100 AD), or The History of Thucydides (c. B.C. 460-400), or the History of Herodotus (c. B.C. 480-425), it is revealed that the manuscript value of the New Testament documents is hundreds of times more reliable. This is due to the number of documents in existence as well as the “time gaps” between the actual writing and the date of the earliest copies available to us.
Dr. F.F. Bruce (1992) notes that, “No classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest MSS of their works which are of any use to us are 1300 years later than the originals” (pp. 16-17).
Yet, the time gaps between the original dates of the New Testament writings and our earliest complete copies of the entire New Testament range from only 250 years for both the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, to 350 years for the Codex Alexandrinus, to 400 years for the Codex Ephraemic, to 450 years for the Codex Bezae. Concerning the total number of ancient manuscripts available to us, Wharton (1992) points out that, “There are presently in existence about 5,000 copies of the Greek New Testament in whole or in part” (p. 27).
Concerning any possible scribal errors or mistakes in copying and recopying the ancient text, Bruce (1992) explains:
When we have documents like our New Testament writings copied and recopied thousands of times, the scope for copyists’ errors is so enormously increased that it is surprising there are no more than there actually are. Fortunately, if the great number of MSS increases the number of scribal errors, it increases proportionately the means of correcting such errors, so that the margin of doubt left in the process of recovering the exact original wording is not so large as might be feared; it is in truth remarkably small. The variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual critics of the New Testament affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice. (pp. 19-20)
Taken together, the number of ancient copies available, the relatively brief time gaps, and the scribal accuracy between manuscript translations provides incredible substantiation as to the authenticity and historical reliability of our Biblical text.
In summing up, Edward C. Wharton (1992) goes on to speak to the importance of one of the most important tests for determining the trustworthiness of the Bible documents, the “acid test” of the Human Response to contemporary history, when he notes that:
They were written in the same generation in which the events took place, and were circulated among the very people about whom the documents spoke, while they were still alive to deny them. But the early disciples believed the New Testament writings, and suffered persecution for their faith, some even paying the supreme sacrifice. The fact that they preserved the New Testament writings for posterity testifies to the confidence those earliest Christians had in the reliability of those documents. (pp. 18-19)
In this lesson we’ve delved just a little bit into the field of archaeology and we’ve seen how that the historical record of the Biblical text is authenticated and substantiated by examining such tests of history as: the “Space-Time Dimension” in which the historical narrative was set; “Contemporary Documentation” and how other writing from history bear upon the text; “Manuscript Attestation” which substantiates the reliability of historical documents; and even, the so-called acid test of “Human Response” –– how the people who lived during those days perceived and responded to the written narrative in light of the facts as they understood them.
I hope that, from all of this, you are getting a clearer picture of how we can determine the accuracy and reliability of the Biblical record. And, as always, my prayer is that we will each give serious consideration to these important matters as you and I draw ever nearer the eternal shores for which we’re bound.
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Resources and References
Bruce, F.F. (1992). The New Testament documents (reprint). Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press; Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Smith, B. (2012). Argument by revelation – The bibliological argument. Retrieved from the knowtruth.com website at: http://www.knowtruth.com/god/existence/revelation_argument_1.php
Wharton, E.C. (1992). The case for historic Christianity: A study in historical Christian evidences. Lubbock, Texas: Sunset Extension School Publications.
Scripture taken from:
NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright (c) 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972, 1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.