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Study Three - Part 2b - The Internal Evidence Test (continued)

What are we to make of all the supernatural events recorded in the New Testament documents?

If we are to accept the New Testament documents as an accurate historical account of the life of Jesus, we face the question “What are we to make of all the supernatural events that are recorded?”

To think about: What does common sense say about a document that contains miraculous supernatural accounts? How could the acknowledgement of the existence of God effect this view?

Many doubt the validity of such miraculous events. What then are we to make of the New Testament which contains numerous stories of the miraculous? There are accounts of blind people who immediately received their sight, lame people walking, and dead people being raised. [11 p. 78]

Due to these accounts, should we automatically dismiss the New Testament documents as containing unreliable information? The answer to this lies with the question “Are miracles possible?”, for if miracles are possible, then the accounts in the New Testament could well be true and should not be simply dismissed. As this question is an important one, a separate section is devoted to answering it. Please see the section on “Are miracles possible?”

Are you open to idea of examining historical data for the actuality of a miracle? Why, or why not?


 

 

 

 

We find in this section that the real problem is not so much with miracles, as with the whole concept of God. Once we accept the existence of God, there is no problem with miracles, as God is by definition all-powerful and fully capable of bringing them about. [22] For those who doubt the existence of God, there is also an additional section dealing with this all-important issue. Please see the section entitled “Does God exist?”

Discussion Group - Additional Note

After this weeks study, the group may wish to devote a week to examining the two issues: Are miracles possible, and does God exist. These sections, along with possible discussion questions, are available in the appendix.

There is in fact more than adequate evidence to conclude that God does exist. It then follows that miracles are indeed possible. Once we have established the possibility of miracles, we should then be open to examining their actuality. Whether or not a given miracle has occurred now becomes a historical matter that calls for investigation. [20]

The fact that the New Testament documents contain accounts of the miraculous is therefore, not a reason to dismiss them. We should rather subject them to honest and careful historical examination. Moreover, if the New Testament is correct in its claim that it contains reliable information about God interacting with humankind, then we would actually expect it to contain accounts of the miraculous.

To think about: If God were to interact with humankind, what would you expect to happen? How does this differ, or agree with the accounts in the New Testament?

The rest of this study sets out to carefully and honestly examine evidence for, potentially, the greatest miracle of all time; the miracle of the Incarnation - God taking on human form.

Note too, that because of the approach taken in this Apologetics study, one does not have to accept the supernatural accounts of the life of Jesus in order to continue. Later, we will be examining additional evidences for the truth of what Jesus claimed (“Who was Jesus”), and the truth of his resurrection (“The Resurrection: Hoax or History?”).

Does the NT contain contradictions?

Another common objection to the historical reliability of the New Testament documents is that it is full of contradictions. It is a popular idea that the New Testament disagrees with itself, casting considerable doubt on its own trustworthiness. However, it is easy to accuse the New Testament documents of inaccuracies, but it is quite another matter to prove it. [6 p. 126]

Which one of the 'fundamental principles of laws of evidence' does the question "Does the New Testament contain contradictions" relate to?


 

 

 

What constitutes a contradiction?

What in fact constitutes a contradiction? The law of non-contradiction, which is the basis of all logical thinking, states that a thing cannot be both A and non-A at the same time, in the same place, and in the same manner. It cannot be both raining and not raining at the same time in the same location. [6 p. 127]

If a person can demonstrate a violation of this principle in the New Testament, then and only then can they prove a contradiction. For example, if the Bible said - which it does not - that Jesus died by crucifixion both at Jerusalem and at Nazareth at the same time, this would be a provable error. [6 p. 127]

To think about: Can you think of any apparent contradictions in the New Testament documents?

The approach to apparent contradictions

When it comes to ‘apparent’ contradictions, we should not minimize or exaggerate the problem, and we must always begin by giving the author the benefit of the doubt. This is the rule in other literature, and it should also be the rule here. [6 p. 127]

Here are three typical examples of supposed self-contradictions (internal contradictions) in the New Testament. [1 p. 215]

  1. The chronological order of events in the life of Jesus is not the same in any two of the four Gospels. [1 p. 215]

  2. One account of Judas’s death says he hanged himself (Matthew 27:5); another says he fell down and his body burst open (Acts 1:18). [1 p. 215]

  3. Matthew relates how two blind men met Jesus at Jericho, while both Mark and Luke mention only one. [6 p. 127]

We need to take recognition of two points with respect to questions like these.

First, a sense of perspective is needed. There is nothing substantial about these apparent contradictions. The New Testament documents could well be historically accurate in all its teachings, its message and in what Jesus said and did, even while being incorrect in incidental details like these. [1 p. 216] Secondly, even these minor contradictions have possible explanations. For example

  1. Only Luke, who was a Greek doctor, claimed anything like exact chronological order. [1 p. 216]

  2. Perhaps Judas’s noose broke. [1 p. 216]

  3. Neither of the accounts actually denies the other (see the next section on Difference versus Contradiction).

It is obviously unwise to get overly creative when resolving seemingly contradictory accounts. When invoking speculative factors - which indeed, ultimately and by nature, are arguments from silence - we should choose only reasonable speculations that fit in with the characters, setting, the known facts of the situation, and human nature. [12]

For example, in point two above, a possible reconstruction would be as follows. Judas hanged himself on a tree on the edge of a precipice that overlooked the valley of Hinnom. After he hung there for a time, the limb of the tree snapped or the rope gave way and Judas fell down the ledge, mangling his body in the process. This fall could have been before or after death, as either would fit this explanation. This possibility is entirely natural when the terrain of the valley of Hinnom is examined. From the bottom of the valley, you can see rocky terraces 25 to 40 feet in height and almost perpendicular. There are still trees that grow around the ledges and a rocky pavement at the bottom. Therefore, it is easy to conclude that Judas struck one of the jagged rocks on his way down, tearing his body open. [6 p. 130]

Do you think that the above explanation is reasonable? Why or why not?


 

 

 

Note that when resolving seemingly contradictory accounts for legal proceedings, speculation of some degree is often invoked. What must be determined, however, is how reasonable that speculation is.[12]

It is worth stressing that when a possible explanation is given to a supposed contradiction, it is unreasonable to state that the passage contains a demonstrable error. [6 p. 128]

Difference versus Contradiction

Concerning point three above (the accounts of the blind man/men at Jericho), suppose that you talk to a headmaster of a local school and the history teacher at that school. Later you see a friend, say John, and tell him that you talked to the headmaster today. An hour after that you see another friend, James, and tell him you talked to both the headmaster and the history teacher. Your friends compare notes, and there seems to be a contradiction - but there is not. Since you had not told John that you talked only to the headmaster, you did not contradict what you told James. The statements made by John and James were different, not contradictory. [6 p. 127]

This was highlighted when we considered the manner of Judas' death. Matthew relates that Judas hanged himself, while Peter tells us he fell and was crushed by the impact. As demonstrated by the possible reconstruction of his death, the two statements are indeed different, but not contradictory. [6 p. 130]

There is a distinction between difference and contradiction. Many biblical statements fall into this category, and people sometimes think they find errors in passages when actually they simply do not read these passages correctly. [6 p. 127]

Translation

Another reason why two passages may appear contradictory is that the translation is not as accurate as it could be. Knowledge of the original languages of the Bible can immediately solve these difficulties. [6 p. 127]

A classic example of this involves the accounts of Paul’s conversion. In the book of Acts it states “And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.” (Acts 9:7 King James Version), and then a bit later it states “And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.” (Acts 22:9 KJV). The statements seem contradictory, with one saying Paul’s companions heard a voice and the other saying no voice was heard. [6 p. 128]

How do these two verses appear to contradict each other?


 

 

 

 

However, if we examine the Greek we find that the construction of the verb ‘to hear’ is not the same in both accounts. In the first case it means that something is being heard, that sounds are reaching the ear; nothing is indicated as to whether a person understands what he hears or not. In the second case, it describes a hearing that involves mental understanding. Acts 22:9 does not deny that the associates of Paul heard certain sounds; it simply declares that they did not understand what was being said. Our English idiom in this case, is simply not as expressive as the Greek. [6 p. 128]

Note too that certain translations, for example the King James Bible, were put together before the availability of some of the linguistic, archaeological and cultural information that we have today, and passages may therefore be more likely to ‘appear’ contradictory.

Use of Language

The Bible - which is, after all, a composition of literature - makes use of various literary techniques such as metaphor. [12]

One particular type of verse that is often highlighted as containing contradictions are those that use the word "all" or some form of it. We would recognize that a statement like, "Everybody in the world likes ice cream," or, "I'm putting all I have into it" as an idiomatic statement indicating strong feeling or considerable weight. However, people apply this incorrectly to the Bible. If the Bible says "All the kings of the world came to Solomon for his wisdom," then they unfairly say that this is a contradiction, as not every king in the world actually came to visit Solomon. It is, however, obvious that such a phrase simply means that Solomon was famous for his wisdom and that a considerable number of rulers (not all) admired his wisdom and came to him to partake of it.

When examining a passage for a supposed contradiction, we need to be aware of any language devices that are used.[12]

To think about: Can you think of any passages in the New Testament that makes use of a literary technique? Do you think John 21:25 falls into this category?

Context

Context is an important issue when considering any quoted phrase, whether in the Bible or elsewhere. Most sceptics would probably agree with the statement, and say out loud, "I believe Christians are wrong when they say that the Bible contains no contradictions." If we were to quote them thereafter as saying, "I believe...the Bible contains no contradictions," they would definitely disagree. Obviously, context is important. [12]

To think about: Can you think of any passages in the New Testament that when taken out of context would result in a contradiction?

Which standards to use?

We need to be careful of making a judgement based on 20th century standards of what constitutes a mistake - when in fact, we ought to judge by the standards of the day in which the Bible was written. For example, many of the passages that make use of Proverbial literature (parts of the New Testament and much of the Old Testament) can be seen as containing contradictions if they treated as incorrectly.[14]

Wisdom literature was (and still is) characterized by language of exclusivity. This is partially attributable to the fact that it was intended to be short, compact, and easily memorized. Because of these characteristics, the genre cannot be read as though it were absolute. [13]

Here are two modern examples: [13]

  1. "He who hesitates is lost."

    This frequently used proverb alludes to the fact that quick action leads to success, whereas self-doubt means disaster. Obviously this is not always true: Self-doubt may lead to preservation in some instances!

  2. "Practice makes perfect." Does it always? Obviously not, for internal skills are a factor as well - and even then perfection is a difficult goal.

Material in the Bible that belongs in the proverbial/wisdom genre cannot be read absolutely and used to claim error and/or contradiction. [13]

To think about: Can you think of any passages in the New Testament that fall into the proverbial/wisdom genre?

Another example is that of exact numbers. Ancient histories rarely claimed exact numbers. Inexact estimates were common and expected. So was the use of symbolic numbers instead of literal numbers to describe real events. In the Old Testament, we sometimes find examples of this, for example the populations of peoples and armies are often estimated differently in different accounts of the same events. Once we understand the use of number in ancient histories, such passages, can not be taken as evidence for a contradictions. [1 p. 216]

We must be careful of incorrectly imposing our modern standards of accuracy on certain material in the Bible that was never intended to have it. [1 p. 216]

Descriptions of God

Certain supposed contradictions need to be addressed on a philosophical and theological level. The following are some apparent contradictions that fall into this category: [1 p. 216]

  1. On the one hand, God is just and punishes the wicked. On the other hand, he is merciful and revokes the eternal punishment of those who repent of their wickedness.

  2. On the one hand, God is absolutely one. On the other hand, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit are also called “God”, so he is three.

  3. On the one hand, God is awesome and terrifying. On the other hand, he is compassionate and comforting.

There are many such examples and a proper discussion of these issues is beyond the scope of this study. To address these issues, both philosophy and theology is involved. The main point worth noting here is that despite the large number of issues raised, these ‘contradictions’ have all been competently refuted. For completeness sake here are some possible high-level answers to the above mentioned ‘contradictions’: [1 p. 216]

  1. God does not compromise either his justice or his mercy. The two are reconciled through Jesus’ death. Jesus gets the justice and we get the mercy.

  2. He is one in being and essence, three in person.

  3. He is both awesome and loving. What is more awesome than love? The ‘fear’ of awe and respect is quite compatible with mature love’ and the other kind of fear, craven fear, is the response love can evoke in the soul of the immature. The same God of holy love can be comforting to a saint and threatening to a sinner.

These are only a few samples of the large amount of similar issues that have risen in the last two thousand years. Despite the large number, the intellectual credentials of biblical theology remain impressive and unrefuted.

External Contradictions

What about external sources for contradictions? Has archeology found anything to invalidate the claims of the Bible? The answer is an emphatic ‘No’. The results have been that the Biblical claims have been proved, or considered probable. None of the Biblical accounts have been disproved by archeology. Many claims have been made (e.g. that Luke recorded incorrect details about the location of certain cities, and that Jericho fell long before the Jews came), and then later withdrawn in the light of new evidence. [1 p. 217]

To think about: If the New Testament documents were written long after the events that the authors claimed to be eyewitnesses to, what sort of errors could we expect to find? How does the absence of such errors support the reliability of the New Testament?

There may still be some unanswered questions (e.g. Why didn’t the Jews leave any physical remains as evidence of the exodus?) but these are simply unanswered questions and not disproofs. [1 p. 217]

Support for the New Testament by external sources will be discussed again when examining the External Evidence Test.

Conclusion

Over the years, people have argued over hundreds of ‘apparent’ contradiction examples. We have only mentioned a few here. However, in all the cases, not a single supposed contradiction has ever been proved! [1 p. 220]

Internal Evidence Test Conclusion

In examining whether the New Testament is credible (accurate/true) in its accounts of Jesus, we investigated whether the authors of the documents disqualify themselves by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies. We did this by examining when the New Testament was written (as the witness’s nearness geographically and chronologically is closely linked to their ability to tell the truth), if it contains contradictions, and then exploring possible alternatives to it accuracy and credibility, namely does it contain fabrications, lies or myths.

We discovered that the New Testament was written in the same generation in which the events took place and that it was circulated among the very people about whom these documents spoke - while they were still alive to deny them. We discovered a number of reasons why we can safely conclude that the authors of the New Testament did not event stories (“Gospel Fictions”) or tell lies. We also concluded that the accounts of Jesus are not myth and that the New Testament does not contain contradictions.

In terms of the Internal Evidence Test, the New Testament documents pass with flying colours. When examining the internal testimony of the New Testament documents we can conclude that they are highly credible and accurate in their historical accounts.

Study Three - Part 3 - The External Evidence Test

The third test of historicity is that of external evidence - whether other historical material confirms or denies the internal testimony of the documents themselves. In other words, what sources (and other external factors) are there, apart from the literature under analysis, which substantiates its accuracy, reliability, and authenticity? [6 p. 54]

The evidence from extra-Biblical authors

Two friends of the apostle John confirm the internal evidence from John’s accounts. The historian Eusebius preserves writings of Papias, bishop of Hierapolis (AD 130). [6 p. 54]

The Elder [apostle John] used to say this also: “Mark, having been the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately all that he [Peter] mentioned, whether sayings or doings of Christ, not however, in order. For he was neither a hearer nor a companion of the Lord; but afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter … So then Mark made no mistake … for he paid attention to this one thing, not to omit anything that he had heard, nor to include any false statements among them.

Iraneus, Bishop of Lyons in AD 180, who was a student of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (who had been a Christian for eighty-six years and was a disciple of John the Apostle), wrote [6 p. 54]

Matthew published his gospel among the Hebrews [i.e. Jews] in their own tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel in Rome and founding the church there. After their departure [i.e. death, which strong tradition places at the time of the Neronian persecution in 64], Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching. Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the gospel preached by his teacher. Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on His breast [this is a reference to John 13:15 and 21:20], himself produced his gospel, while he was living at Ephesus in Asia.

The evidence from martyrs

There are numerous examples of people who were prepared to die because of their faith - a faith based on the reliability and trustworthiness of the New Testament accounts. Here are two examples:

Ignatius (AD 70-110). He was Bishop of Antioch and was martyred for his faith in Christ. He knew all the apostles and was a disciple of Polycarp. Ignatius is said to have been thrown to the lions in the colosseum at Rome. He had ample material and witnesses to discover scriptural trustworthiness, and the fact that he was prepared to die for his faith, supports the reliability of the Scripture (the New Testament documents) on which his faith rested. [6 p. 437] [5 p. 51]

Polycarp (AD 70-156) was a disciple of John and was martyred at 86 years of age because of his relentless devotion to Jesus Christ and the Scriptures. He was burned at the stake. His death demonstrated his trust in the accuracy of the Scripture as he certainly had ample contacts to know the truth. [6 p. 437] [5 p. 51]

To think about: Would you die for something you knew to be a lie?

Archeological Evidence

Archeology often provides some extremely powerful external evidence. It provides evidence of accuracy about the events that are recorded. Does archeology support or contradict the testimony of the New Testament documents? Not too long ago, some discounted the Biblical record because it frequently referred to things not mentioned by any source outside the Bible. However, discoveries by archaeologists in recent years have vindicated the New Testament. [2] For example,

  • A census, and Quirinius governor at the time of Jesus' birth? - Luke 2:1-3

It was once argued that Luke was in error and that there was no such census; that Quirinius was not governor of Syria at that time and that people did not have to return to their ancestral home. [2]

But archaeological discoveries have proven otherwise. We now know that the Romans had a regular enrolment of taxpayers and held censuses every 14 years (begun by Augustus Caesar). An inscription found in Antioch tells of Quirinius being governor of Syria around 7 B.C. (evidently he was governor twice). [2]

A papyrus found in Egypt says concerning the conducting of a census:

"Because of the approaching census it is necessary that all those residing for any cause away from their home should at once prepare to return to their own governments in order that they may complete the family registration of the enrolment..." [2]

  • Who is this Lysanias? - Luke 3:1

The only Lysanias known to ancient historians was one who was killed in 36 B.C. This caused some to question Luke's reliability. [2]

However, an inscription was found near Damascus. It speaks of "Freedman of Lysanias the tetrarch" and is dated between 14 and 29 AD. [2]

  • Whoever heard of "The Pavement" (Gabbatha)? - John 19:13

For centuries there was no record of the court called "The Pavement" or "Gabbatha". This caused many to say "It's a myth" and, "See, it (the Bible) is not historical" [2]

But William F. Albright in "The Archaeology of Palestine" shows otherwise. This court was the court of the Tower of Antonia. The court was destroyed in 66-70 A.D. during the siege of Jerusalem. It was left buried when the city was rebuilt in the time of Hadrian and was not discovered until recently. [2]

  • Iconium a city of Phyrigia? - Acts 14:6

Archaeologists at first believed Luke's implication to be wrong. That Lystra and Derbe were in Lycaonia and Iconium was not. They based their belief on the writings of Romans such as Cicero who indicated that Iconium was in Lycaonia. Thus, archaeologists said the book of Acts was unreliable. [2]

But in 1910, Sir William Ramsay found a monument, which showed that Iconium was indeed a Phrygian city. Later discoveries continued to confirm this. [2]

  • Whoever heard of "Politarchs"? - Acts 17:6

Since the term, "Rulers Of The City" (Greek "Politarchs"), is not found in the classical literature of the Greeks, it was assumed that Luke was wrong to refer to such an office. [2]

However, some 19 inscriptions have now been found that make use of this title. Five of these are in reference to Thessalonica. [2]

To think about: Which one of the above example do you find the most interesting?

If the New Testament was filled with archeological inaccuracies, what impact would this have on its reliability?


 

 

 

 

This is just a sampling of the evidence, for entire books have been written providing further examples. Just how accurate is the New Testament in its historical description? [2]

"It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference." - Nelson Glueck (noted Jewish archaeologist). [2]

“Archeology has confirmed countless passages which have been rejected by critics as unhistorical or contradictory to known facts.” - Archeologist Joseph Free. [5 p. 65]

Of special interest is the testimony of Sir William Ramsay. He was trained in the German historical school of the mid- nineteenth century. He was taught that the book of Acts was a product of the mid-second century AD. He was firmly convinced of this and started out his career in archaeology to prove it. However, he was compelled to a complete reversal of his beliefs due to the overwhelming evidence uncovered in his research. His conclusion: [2]

"Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy, he is possessed of the true historic sense...in short, this author should be placed along with the greatest of historians."

Historical-Geographical Evidence

Historical geography seeks to relate events in history to geographic locations. Knowing what has happened in a certain location in the past, reveals why Jesus would do and say something at that location when He was there. [6 p. 81]

To think about: How would the historical setting influence one’s ability to remember what was said there?

The Gospel writers often casually refer to geographical features that indicate how familiar they are with the land. Jesus also seems to have done and said certain things in relationship to His surroundings. [6 p. 81] Here are some examples:

At the base of the 9,000-foot high “rock” of Mt Hermon at Caesarea-Philippi, Jesus says to Peter,

“You are Peter [Greek, Petros, a stone], and upon this rock [Greek petra, large rock, bedrock] I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18). [6 p. 82]

From Capernaum on the northwest shore of the sea, one could see several cities on top of hills all around the sea. Directly opposite, on the southeast shore lay Hoppus, the largest city visible to those in Capenaum. Its primary location was not down by the water but high on a hill overlooking the sea. Several other cities and villages perched on hilltops around the Sea of Galilee. This location adds additional insight into Jesus’ statement,

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14) [6 p. 83]

Galilee is a volcanic area. Volcanic rock is everywhere, and thorns grow there rapidly in the summer months. When Jesus told His parable of the four soils, His listeners would have related well to what He said. (Matthew 13:1) [6 p. 83]

Mustard trees still grow in Israel, and one can readily see that their minute seeds (hundreds can fit on the tip of a finger) and 15-foot height fit precisely with Jesus’ parable: [6 p. 84]

"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches." (Matthew 13:31,32)

In Jerusalem, from the steps on the southern side of the Temple where rabbis often addressed their pupils, the chalk-white tombstones that cover the Mount of Olives are clearly visible. Jesus may well have looked in that direction as He proclaimed: [6 p. 83]

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27)

Since it would be practically impossible for a later Gentile writer to have knowledge of the historical-geographical context surrounding an event in Jesus’ life, these incidents provide good evidence that what the New Testament writers describe actually happened. [6 p. 81]

Jewish Cultural Evidence

The setting of all four Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) is unmistakably first-century Hebrew. Some events may seem strange to us but are perfectly natural in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day. [6 p. 86]

Luke 2:24 speaks of one of many cultural practices mentioned in the Gospel narratives. In obedience to Leviticus 12:2,6,8, Joseph and Mary brought the sacrifice required after the birth of a child. Their offering of two turtledoves or pigeons indicates that they were among the poor of the land. [6 p. 86]

Luke 7:38, speaks of a woman weeping and wetting Jesus’ feet with her tears. Weeping was an important part of Jewish culture. Professional mourners were hired for funerals, and many Jews had ‘tear vases’ where they collected the tears of their grief. [6 p. 86]

Hebrew marriage customs help to explain what otherwise appears to be a contradiction in Matthew 1:18,19. In verse 18, Mary is only betrothed to Joseph, whereas in verse 19, Joseph is called her ‘husband’. This makes sense when we realise that engagement among the Hebrews was considered the beginning of marriage, it was as legally binding as marriage itself, and could not be broken off except by a bill of divorce. It therefore makes sense when Joseph is called the “husband” of Mary. [6 p. 86]

To think about: Can you think of any other examples?

There are many other such examples, and the author’s inclusion of accurate details of first-century Jewish culture provides additional evidence for the accuracy and reliability of the New Testament accounts.

External Evidence Test Conclusion

The New Testament more than satisfactorily passes the External Evidence Test. Not only is there external material that confirms the internal testimony of the documents, but factors such as archeology, historical-geography and Jewish customs all lend support to the accuracy of the New Testament. We can again conclude that historical material strongly confirms the accuracy and reliability of the New Testament documents.

Study Three - Conclusion

In order to determine whether we can make use of the New Testament as a reliable historical record - an accurate account of the life of Jesus Christ - we have tested the New Testament documents with the same criteria that all historical documents are tested.

The Bibliographical test enabled us to establish that due to

  1. the large number of document copies,
  2. the short time period between the original documents and the existing copies, and
  3. the negligent number of textual variances between copies, we can safely conclude that we have very accurate copies of the New Testament documents. In fact, the New Testament passes this test better than any other ancient historical document.

The Internal Evidence test enabled us to establish that as,

  1. the New Testament authors were either eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus or had first hand information (e.g. interviewed eyewitnesses),
  2. the New Testament does not contain 'gospel fictions' or lies,
  3. the New Testament does not contain myths, and that
  4. the New Testment does not contain contradictions, we can conclude that the New Testament documents are highly credible (accurate/true) in their historical accounts about the life of Jesus.

The External Evidence test enabled us to establish that due to

  1. evidence from extra-Biblical authors,
  2. evidence from martyrs,
  3. archeological evidence,
  4. historical-geographical evidence, and
  5. Jewish cultural evidence, the content of the New Testament documents is strongly confirmed by additional historical material.

The New Testament documents satisfactorily pass each of the tests of historicity. If we are to discard the New Testament as unreliable in its accounts about Jesus, then we must discard almost all ancient literature as being unreliable! [5 p.73]

To think about: Many people accept the reliability of ancient literature that is less reliable than the New Testament documents - but still refuse to accept the reliability of the New Testament documents. What are some possible reasons for this?

We cannot apply one standard or test to secular literature and another to the New Testament. We need to apply the same test, whether the literature under investigation is secular or religious. Having done this, we can say that the New Testament is trustworthy and historically reliable in its witness about Jesus. [6 p. 55]

"There exists no document from the ancient world witnessed by so excellent a set of textual and historical testimonies and offering so superb an array of historical data on which an intelligent decision may be made. An honest [person] cannot dismiss a source of this kind" - Dr. Clark H. Pinnock [6 p. 55]

Discussion questions and exercises

  • Explain in your own words how the 'existence of God' could influence a person's view of miracles?



 

 

 

 

 

  • Describe in your own words what constitutes a contradiction. How does this differ to a ‘Difference’?



 

 

 

 

  • Briefly describe four mistakes that can be made when trying to determine if a contradiction exists. Use examples where possible.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • If we decide to dismiss the New Testament as unreliable, what do we then have to conclude about nearly all other ancient literature?



 

 

 

 

 

  • Describe the three tests for establishing the reliability of an ancient document. Apply these tests to the New Testament documents: Using the conclusion of Section 3 as a guideline, create a point form outline. Include a brief description / few reasons under each point. This is to serve as a high level summary that you could memorize and use when talking to a friend about the reliability of the New Testament.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discussion Group - Additional Note

Before continuing with the next study, the group may wish to devote a week to examining the two issues: Are miracles possible, and does God exist. These sections, along with possible discussion questions, are available in the appendix.

Discussion Groups

Preparation required for the following week

Please read the following:

- Study Four - Did Jesus Claim to be God?

Possible discussion questions for when the group meets next week

- Describe why it is important to establish whether or not Jesus claimed to be God.
- Why does the New Testament have to be established as reliable before we can determine whether or not Jesus claimed to be God?
- What do you think is the most important consequence, or inference, that follows from Jesus claiming to be God?
- What are some of the difficulties you have with someone claiming to be God?
- How do you think non-Christians would react to someone saying that Jesus claimed to be God?
- If you were an early opponent of Christianity, would you have declared that Jesus did not claim to be God? Under what circumstances could you (or would you) not do this?
- Could Jesus have been misunderstood? Why or why not?
- What do you think are the five strongest claims to deity made by Jesus? How would you go about explaining these points to someone else?
- How would you describe to a friend the significance of the fact that within twenty years of Jesus' crucifixion, the belief that he was God was well established?
- Briefly, explain how Jesus used divine titles to claim that he was God?
- Which one of these claims about Jesus' nature and power do you think is the strongest claim to deity? Why?
- When might the discussion of Jesus’ claims be side-tracked by the differences between God the Father, and God the Son? Is it sufficient to simply say that Jesus claimed to be God, without a detailed examination of the different ‘persons’ of the trinity? Why or why not?

 


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