So Why Should I trust the Bible historically?

7 Feb

Last week I explained that I rarely drop the “Because the Bible says so!” bomb, but prefer to ask my friends to simply accept the New Testament (NT) as a collection of historical documents. If you want to take this approach but aren’t sure how to convince your friend of even that much – this post is for you!

A comprehensive case for the reliability of the NT can be made, and if you’re interested I suggest doing some research attempting to do just that. In conversation however, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to remember every single detail and even less likely that our friends will be interested in sitting around while we spout them off. I’m going to list a few major bullet points, each responding to a specific objection, that you should be able to remember without much difficulty.

"...and so after Jesus shot all the Roman soldiers with his laser pistol, he escaped the tomb - and everyone thought it was a resurrection!"

“…and so after Jesus shot all the Roman soldiers with his laser pistol, he escaped the tomb – and everyone thought it was a resurrection!”

1)      Lost in translation

This objection occurs less frequently, perhaps because it is the easiest to deal with. Some folks think that because of the enormous amount of time that has passed the Bible has been run through Google translate one too many times. Their objection says well, when things are translated from one language to another something of the original is lost and the Bible has been translated and re-translated so much that we can’t really know what the original was all about.

Response: The Bibles that we have access to today have all been translated directly to our language from the original text in Hebrew and Greek. While some elements of translation are difficult, expert level study and peer review mean that our translations are reliable versions of the original text.

2)      “Original” Really?

Our friends probably find it unbelievable that we have access to the original documents which were penned by the NT authors. What we have are versions from hundreds of years later, which must have missed the point.

Response: Sadly, we don’t have the original manuscripts penned by Mark, Luke, Paul etc. Instead we have partial fragments and full copies from years later. While this could be disconcerting, the study of textual criticism has been helpful in piecing together the original text. Because there are so many manuscripts available for study (think tens of thousands) we can compare and contrast and parse out what was original and what snuck in along the way. Changes did happen but they are mostly easy to detect. For example, if 9 of the earliest manuscripts of Luke says one thing and 1 manuscript from a later date in a community that was far removed geographically says something different we can safely assume that the outlier was not original. Timothy Paul Jones estimates in his book “Misquoting Truth” that we can recreate the original manuscripts with 98% accuracy and that the remaining discrepancies are almost all inconsequential (the difference between “we” and “you” for example). [Misquoting Truth is an EXCELLENT resource and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s an easy read and not very expensive.]

3)      But so much time passed!

Some folks will insist that there were hundreds of years between the events of Jesus’ life and the writing of the Gospels. This allows for not only errors in transmission but errors of exaggeration to creep in, contaminating the original ideas.

The Gospels were written later than Paul’s letters, but internal evidence and manuscript dating suggests that all of the books of the NT were completed by 90 C.E (with most being completed before 72 C.E.). This may seem like a substantial time gap – but it is not enough time for legend to creep in, as many who were alive during Jesus’ ministry would have been around to refute the stories in the Gospel narratives. Paul’s letters are even earlier (50’s and 60’s) and have to be admitted as evidence of what one of the most influential Apostles was teaching as the Church was forming.

 

There are more nuanced objections out there which require more sophisticated and well researched responses; these three bullet points should help you to at least invite your friends to the table to investigate what the Bible has to say as a historical record.

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