Study Three - Part 2a - The Internal Evidence Test
This test determines whether what is written is credible (accurate/true) and to what extent. We may have what the New Testament writers originally wrote (the Bibliographical test), but were they telling the truth? [6 p.51]
There are some principles that we need to bear in mind when we determine a document's acceptability. Law professor and historian, John Warwick Montgomery, applies the following four 'fundamental principles of laws of evidence' to the New Testament documents: [31 p. 42]
In order to establish the credibility of a document, Aristotle's dictum is
to be followed by the literary critic. This dictum states: "The benefit of the
doubt is to be given to the document itself, and not arrogated by the critic
to himself." In other words, one must listen to the claims of the New Testament
under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the authors disqualify
themselves by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies. [6
External, oral testimony or tradition will not be received in evidence to add to, subtract from, vary, or contradict an executed written instrument such as a will. This rule insists that the New Testament documents should be allowed to 'interpret itself' and not be twisted to external, extra-biblical data. In other words, we should not interpret the documents in the light of our own - or other's - preconceived assumptions. For example, we should not simply dismiss the New Testament as unreliable because we feel that miracles cannot happen. We should not make up our minds before we have examined the evidence. [31 p. 42]
"A witness must testify 'of his own knowledge', not on the basis of what has come to him indirectly from others i.e. hearsay. Were the writers on the New Testament documents eyewitnesses of the events that they recorded? [31 p. 42]
The more a witness is subjected to close and searching cross examination, the more confidence we can place in their testimony. Were the witnesses of Jesus and his life subjected to severe opposition - hostile cross-examiners who would destroy the case of Christianity if the early Christian's testimony been contradicted by the facts? [31 p. 42]
When these four legal principles are considered, with regards to the credibility and accuracy of the New Testament documents, we find that the documents should be unequivocally pronounced valid and reliable as evidence about Jesus Christ. [31 p. 42]
In order to establish this historical credibility of the New Testament documents we will examine the following questions:
a) When was the New Testament of the Bible written?
Which one of the 'fundamental principles of laws of evidence'
does question (a) above relate to? What about question (d)?
When was the NT written?
The witness's nearness both geographically and chronologically to the events recorded, is closely linked to their ability to tell the truth. Did the New Testament writers record their accounts of the life of Jesus hundreds of years after Jesus' actual existence? Did they even come from the same geographical region as Jesus? Were the writers of the New Testament eyewitnesses (or did they relate the accounts of eyewitnesses) to the life and teachings of Jesus?The New Testament writers certainly claimed to be eyewitnesses and to have interviewed eyewitnesses: [5 p.61]
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that
have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who
from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since
I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed
good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,
so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke
The New Testament documents also show an intimate knowledge of Jerusalem prior to its destruction in AD 70. The documents are full of proper names, dates, cultural details, historical events, customs and opinions of that time. [1 p. 193]
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar--when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene (Luke 3:1)
To think about: Can you think of any references in the New Testament that contain proper names, dates, cultural details, historical events, customs and opinions of life in and around Jerusalem.
The New Testament also does not contain any anachronisms i.e. it does not place any person, or event in a time where it does not belong; there are no errors in fixing dates or referring to events, circumstances or customs. The writers of the New Testament certainly appear to have been first century Jews who were witnesses to the events. [1 p.194]
Historians, however, also has to deal with the eyewitness who consciously or unconsciously tells falsehoods, even though they are near to the event and are competent to tell the truth. [6 p. 52]
Before examining the truth of their claims, it is worth examining when the actual New Testament documents were written. The dating of the New Testament documents is greatly debated topic and the dating ranges from 40 - 100 AD (depending on liberal / conservative scholars). However, we do find that there is no good reason to date ANY of the Gospels (the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) later than 70 AD. We also find that Paul's letters, which contain all the main claims that are in the Gospels, were written between 49 and 65 AD!  & [5 p. 62]
We can therefore state that the New Testament was written in the same generation in which the events took place. It was circulated among the very people about whom these documents spoke, while they were still alive to deny them. Both first and second-generation eyewitnesses were alive when the New Testament was written! 
What difference would it make if the New Testament was written
both far away from, and long after the life of Jesus?
What sort of 'errors' could a writer make if they were not
recording events as eyewitnesses themselves, or as interviewers of eyewitnesses?
Are these 'errors' found in the New Testament? What does this imply about when
it was written?
Why is it so significant that eyewitnesses were alive when
the New Testament was written?
Let us now examine the issue of whether the writers of the New Testament recorded falsehoods.
It is commonly assumed that the church and New Testament writers felt free to create stories and sayings for Jesus as they saw fit. They point out that many passages are likely to be products of the Church's faith rather than actual historical events. We will examine some arguments and reasons why we can safely conclude that the New Testament does not contain these created 'Gospel Fictions' or lies.
How could the authors of these supposed "pieces of historical fiction" expect to get them past the eyewitnesses? The eyewitnesses could act as a check against imaginations, exercise control over the developing tradition and examine doubtful statements concerning Jesus' ministry. There were a number of early disciples / eyewitness (hundreds, and even thousands). The early church did not grow up in isolation, in some corner, but in the full glare of publicity in the great cities of the Roman Empire. 
It was also not only friendly eyewitnesses that they had to deal with. They could not afford to risk inaccuracies and especially not any manipulation of the facts. The many hostile witnesses, who were also aware of the main facts surrounding the life of Jesus Christ, would at once expose these. In fact, one of the strong points of the preaching of the early followers of Jesus, was their confident appeal to the knowledge of their audience. They not only said, "We are witnesses of these things", but also, "As you yourselves know". (2 Peter 1:16 and Acts 2:22) [6 p. 53]
Which one of the 'fundamental principles of laws of evidence'
relates to the presence of hostile witnesses? Describe the principle in your
Certainly, they could have made things much easier on themselves by, for example, permitting sacrifices to the Emperor of Rome or perhaps making the difficult passages easier to understand! 
Much of what is in the Gospels is not relevant to the early church. If there are passages that were created and put on Jesus' lips, and were therefore products of the early church, why are there not teachings of Jesus on subjects critical to the early church? Such as circumcision, speaking in tongues, Jewish/Gentile unity, divorce of non-Christian spouses, women in the ministry. If the church felt free to invent Jesus' sayings, why not some sayings on these issues? 
The Fiction theories are necessary complicated as they demand an explanation
The church had a solid oral tradition (and this is even stronger when considering the likely possibility that Jesus' sayings were also written somewhere), how did anyone get away with creating new sayings of Jesus? Anything not agreeing with what Jesus said would have been rejected. 
Examples include accounts such as the competition of the apostles for high places in the kingdom, their flight after Jesus' arrest and Peter's denial of Jesus. [6 p. 53]
Examples include: the failure of Christ to work miracles in Galilee, the references of some auditors to His possible insanity, His confessions of ignorance as to the future, His moments of bitterness, and His despairing cry on the cross. No one reading these scenes can doubt the reality of the figure behind them.
Paul (in 1 Corinthians 7:10, 12) indicates that a difference was recognized between the words of Jesus and his own words. If he could simply add to what God said, why did he feel the need to clarify the difference?
For example, consider the analogy of how easily World War II was remembered twenty to thirty years afterward. If someone suggested some seriously distorted version of the events of those days, no one would be fooled.
Also, consider the example of the release of Nelson Mandela. Suppose that, thirty years after his release from prison, a non-fiction best-seller portrayed a thoroughly consistent picture of Nelson Mandela having never left prison, but rather dying in his cell before he was released. Although most of us did not know him personally, we would certainly know enough to contribute to a rebuttal.
Lies are always told for some selfish advantage. They did not benefit at all by claiming that their Master was God incarnate. They were ostracized, criticized, rejected, persecuted, and in many cases martyred. They were hated, scorned, persecuted, excommunicated, imprisoned, tortured, exiled, crucified, boiled alive, roasted, beheaded, disemboweled and fed to lions. Nor did they make lots of money by making the claims that they did. [1 p.186]
To think about: If you had to lie, how much punishment would you be able to endure before confessing?
The historical fact is that no follower of Jesus ever confessed, freely or under pressure, bribe or even torture, that their accounts of Jesus were a lie, a deliberate deception. [1 p. 185]
They were honest, simple, common peasants, not cunning, conniving liars. Their words and deeds proved their sincerity. They willingly died for their "conspiracy". Nothing proves sincerity like martyrdom. [1 p. 185]
There is great accuracy used in describing events, places, and people (as confirmed by archaeology). 
"Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes', and your 'No', 'No' " - Jesus
What book presents a higher standard of love and morality than the New Testament? For example, Jesus' "Sermon On The Mount" (Matthew 5-7) and Paul's "Discourse On Love" (1 Corinthians 13)
There is only speculation. To state that they writers of the New Testament lied, we must argue from silence - this is an incredibly weak argument. To raise the point that they lied as a mere possibility does not constitute advancing evidence for the speculation. 
To think about: Can you think of any evidence supporting the claim that the New Testament contains created fictions and/or lies?
What do you think is the best argument against the claim
that the writers of the New Testament lied? Why?
If the church and New Testament writers did not deliberately lie or create Gospel fictions, perhaps their accounts of Jesus are myth. They are neither literally true nor literally false, but rather spiritually or symbolically true.
To think about: Why do you think that the 'myth' theory is such a widely held belief?
We now examine arguments and reasons why we can conclude that the New Testament does not contain myths.
Any literary scholar who knows and appreciates myths can verify this. Unlike myths, the NT contains no overblown, spectacular, childishly exaggerated events. [1 p. 189]
Unlike myths, the NT has psychological depth. Myths involve spectacular external events and do not add much internal depth of character. The character depth and development of everyone in the Gospels - especially Jesus, is remarkable. [1 p. 189]
Unlike Myths, the NT is not verbose. Myths are verbose; the Gospels have an incredible economy of words. [1 p. 189]
In the New Testament documents, there are also indications of eyewitness description. For example the detail of Jesus writing in the sand when asked whether to stone the adulteress or not (John 8:6). Why is the detail there? It accomplishes nothing. The only explanation is that the writer saw it. The Gospels are full of these little details, both of external observation and internal feelings that are found only in eyewitness descriptions or modern realistic fiction. [1 p. 189]
It may be worthwhile to take a quick look, for purposes of comparison, at the closest thing we have around the time of the Gospels to an attempt at a realistic fantasy. This is the story of Apollonius of Tyana, written around A.D. 220 by Flavius Philostratus. There is some evidence that a sage named Apollonius may really have lived, and thus Philostratus's work is a real example of what some have thought the Gospel's to be: a fictionalized account of the life of a real sage and teacher, introducing miraculous elements to build up the prestige of the central figure. It therefore gives us a good look at what a real example of a fictionalized biography would look like; written at a time and place not too far removed from those in which the Gospels were written. [1 p. 190]
When examining this writing, the first thing we notice is the fairy-tale atmosphere. There is a rather nice little vampire story. There are animal stories about, for instance, snakes in India big enough to drag off and eat an elephant. The sage wanders from country to country and wherever he goes he is likely to be entertained by the king or emperor, who holds long conversations with him and sends him on his way with camels and precious stones. [1 p. 190]
Here is a typical passage about healing miracles: "A woman who had had seven miscarriages was cured through the prayers of her husband, as follows. The Wise Man told the husband, when his wife was in labor, to bring a live rabbit under his cloak to the place where she was, walk around her and immediately release the rabbit; for she would lose her womb as well as her baby if the rabbit was not immediately driven away." [1 p. 190]
The point is that this is what you get when the imagination goes to work. Once the boundaries of fact are crossed, we wander into 'fairyland'. But the New Testament documents are set firmly in the real Palestine of the first century, and the little details are not picturesque inventions but the real details that only an eyewitness or a skilled realistic novelist can give. [1 p. 190]
If the details found in the Gospels were invented, then a first-century tax collector (Matthew), a "young man" (Mark), a doctor (Luke), and a fisherman (John) all independently invented a new genre of realistic fantasy! [1 p. 189]
Classical historians suggest that one or more generations need to pass before a myth can prevail.  In fact, the early proponents of this theory claimed that the New Testament had to have been written after AD 150 for the myth to have taken hold. [1 p. 163] Several generations have to pass before the added mythological elements can be mistakenly believed as facts. [1 p. 190]
However, there is only a twenty-year interval before we find documented information about Jesus. Paul's letters, which affirm all the main claims of the Gospels such as Christ's divinity and resurrection from the dead, were written in the 50's AD!  This is a far cry from the one or more generations required by historians for myth to develop, be accepted and replace the true historical account.
In fact, a challenge was made in the 1800's to produce a single example anywhere in history of a great myth or legend arising around a historical figure and being generally believed within thirty years after that figure's death. No one has ever answered that challenge. [1 p. 191]
Apologists do not simply say that any legends should have "waited" a certain amount of time before forming. What they say is that it takes time for legends to be able to "stick", to earn the status truth and thus replace or supplement what was really true. 
Legends could arise, but they would then be countered by the hard facts and they would then die within a short period unless they were put together so late that it was impossible to check their validity by normal means. 
The so-called "legends" of Christianity (divinity claims, resurrection, etc.) were "invented" (as the sceptics say) so early that they therefore would still be in the squashable stage at their most critical period. But the fact that they were not squashed is testimony that they are not legends. 
In other words, they were not legends, and they were not invented - they actually happened! 
Additional Note 1
As many sceptics often use other myth examples and compare them to the account of Jesus, here is a rough observation of the three basic stages in the progress of similar movements.
The key difference between other examples and Christianity is that Christianity survived Stage 2 above. Especially, when considering that its most basic claim, the Resurrection, could have been easily countermanded if it were false. 
All that had to be done was wheel the body of Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem, or take some other assertive action against the Apostles. As it is, the best that could apparently be done was say that the disciples stole the body, and that did not work. 
Additional Note 2
Myths indeed developed, but at least two or three generations had to pass
before such myths surfaced and were believed. This is in stark contrast to the
"myths" of Jesus which go back to the very earliest time and documents. [1
p. 191] & 
In your own words, describe why is it so important that a
number of generations need to pass before true history can be replaced by myth?
If a mythic "layer" had been added later, we should find some evidence, at least indirectly and second-hand, of this earlier layer. An earlier layer where Jesus was not divine, did not claim divinity, performed no miracles, and did not rise from the dead. We find instead an absolute and total absence of any such evidence anywhere, either internal (in the New Testament texts themselves) or external, anywhere else, in Christian, anti-Christian, or non-Christian sources. [1 p. 191]
Here are some examples including specific details
Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume;
she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house
was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:3)
Whether it was his first disciples or some later generation, no possible motive can account for this invention. For until the Edict of Milan in A.D. 313, Christians were subject to persecution, often tortured and martyred, and hated and oppressed for their beliefs. No one invents an elaborate practical joke in order to be crucified, stoned or beheaded. [1 p. 164]
And if they didn't know they would be persecuted for their "myth" they would certainly give it up as soon as they were. Yet no one ever confessed that they made it all up - even when martyred. Some refused martyrdom, rejecting Christ and worshipping the emperor, to save their lives; but not one of these ever said Christ was a myth they had fabricated. They simply did what the emperor commanded them to do to save their lives. [1 p. 164]
They were already more "demythologized" than any other people. The orthodox Jews were adamantly, even intolerantly, opposed to the polytheistic myths of paganism and to any attempts to reconcile their religion with others. Nor would anyone be less likely to confuse myth and fact than a Jew. [1 p. 164]
Imagine this: The transcendent God who for millennia had strictly forbidden his chosen people to confuse him with a creature as the pagans did - this Creator-God became a creature, a man-a crucified criminal. Hardly a myth that arises naturally in the Jewish mind. [1 p. 157]
If it was not the Jews but the Gentiles who started the myth, where did the myth come from in the New Testament? Of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, twenty-five were written by Jews. [1 p. 157]
The myth could never have been believed as fact because it would have been refuted by eyewitness of the real Jesus. Eyewitnesses would not permit such creation and the gospel events were too well know for people to 'get away' with alteration. [1 p. 157] & 
For example, Paul of Tarsus, John the Evangelist, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, John Damascene, Origen, Augustine, John Chrysostom, Boethius, Erigena, Anselm, Abelard, Aquinas, Bonaventura, Scotus, Ockham, Nicholas of Cusa, Cajetan, Luther, Calvin, Kepler, Ignatius Loyola, Dante, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Descartes, Pascal, Leibniz, Berkeley, Copernicus, Newton, Kierkegaard, Newmand, Pasteur, Jaspers, Marcel, Galileo, Tolstoy, Chesterton, Dostoyevsky, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis and the list goes on. [1 p. 157]
Peter explicitly makes the point that the Gospel story is historical fact, not cleverly devised myths. (see 2 Peter 1:16)
Since it explicitly says it is not myth then if it is myth then it is a deliberate lie - not a myth i.e. once the New Testament distinguishes myth from fact, it becomes a lie if it is not a fact. [1 p. 192] This leads us to the previous section (Does the NT contain "Gospel Fictions" or lies?) where we adequately showed that the New Testament documents do not contain 'Gospel Fictions' or lies.
What do you think is the best argument against the claim that
the New Testament contains myths? Why?
If the New Testament document do not contain myths, or fabricated accounts, then the only option left to us is that the New Testaments writers recorded accurate historical accounts of the life of Jesus. They were indeed telling the truth.
To think about: Is this really the only option? Are there other possible explanations or objections as to why we should not accept the accounts of Jesus as accurate? How plausible are these explanations?
To think about: What are some possible 'problems' or difficulties with the conclusion that the New Testament is an accurate account of the life of Jesus?
Discussion questions and exercises
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