This is Part II of “The Jesus Documents,” a series presented to inform and remind believers that our faith in Jesus and the Gospel records is justified and well founded. Our intent in this series is not to give an exhaustive or overly in-depth presentation of all the evidence in support of our confidence, but an overview to build confidence and encourage more study by those willing. (You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want a list of great resources.)
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (I Peter 3:15) Many, perhaps most, believers are unable to articulate good reasons for their faith.
Below I have reproduced a short form of Part II – The Sources outline. If you want to skip the outline and just listen to the audio of the sermon, you can go directly to the page I have created for The Jesus Documents here.
2. The “Jesus Documents” – The Sources
- Twenty-seven documents make up the New Testament. For the sake of this study, we are referring to them as the “Jesus Documents.”
- In our first lesson we noted the widespread opposition and attacks on the Bible and Christian faith. And that believers are often ill equipped “to give an answer” for their faith and hope.
- The crux of the issue depends on the historical accuracy and truthfulness of the New Testament records, and particularly the four Gospel accounts.
SOME CLAIMS OF THE CRITICS:
- At first these charges seem reasonable, but actually assume what actually needs to be proven. This false logic is a common method for criticizing without actually having evidence to support the statement(s) made.
- Common examples heard (Note that these statements may even contradict each other!):
- “The eyewitnesses are not objective, so can’t be trusted.”
- “Not eyewitness testimony, but only hearsay, myth or ‘wishful thinking.'”
- “We can’t know anything with certainty about things that happened 2,000 years ago.”
- “The ancients were uneducated, unscientific and superstititious people who cannot meet modern criteria and standards for truth and accuracy.”
- “The original documents are missing so we cannot trust the copies to be accurate.”
- “Copies were edited, changed, and had new material added over the generations.”
- “Gospels were not written until 2nd or 3rd Centuries, so not eyewitness records.”
- We really cannot know if there even was a real Jesus; and if he did exist he was just an itinerant Jewish preacher, and could not possibly have done miracles, or risen from the dead.”
SUCH STATEMENTS DO NOT REFLECT HOW DOCUMENTS AND HISTORY ACTUALLY WORK
- But the above (and other) statements don’t actually constitute either evidence or common sense! Based on such statements, essentially NO RECORDS OF HISTORY older than our own generation could be trusted!
- John W. Montgomery – a noted lawyer, professor, theologian and prolific author (50+ books) – said: “To be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament.” – from History and Christianity, by John W. Montgomery
- F. F. Bruce (1910-1990), a Greek and Biblical History professor and scholar, and author of many scholarly texts, is perhaps best known for his small book, New Testament Documents – Are They Reliable? In it he also makes the strong case for the reliability and accuracy of the New Testament even though they were handwritten, the originals no longer exist, and some changes were introduced in the multiplicity of copies made over the centuries. We can read multiple statements from his book explaining how history and its documentation really work.
- REAL EXAMPLES from history:
- Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) – Of his Gallic Wars the two oldest copies are from about AD 850-900. Interestingly, there seems to be no serious scholars who question their authenticity or historical accuracy!
- Historian Suetonius (AD 69-122) – The Twelve Caesars covers the Roman Caesars from Julius Caesar to Hadrian. The earliest known copy is dated about AD 950 and is missing the first few chapters which covered Julius Caesar. Yet, this work is considered an important and reliable source of history concerning the early Roman Caesars.
- Plutarch (AD 46-120) – Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans (often called Parallel Lives) is described this way on Wikipedia: “It is a work of considerable importance, not only as a source of information about the individuals described, but also about the times in which they lived.” Yet the same Wikipedia article later says the most important copies we have are from the 10th to 11th century! That is up to 1,000 years after the original, yet considered a reliable source of information! No mention of copying errors or editorial changes. No mention of lack of eyewitnesses!
OUR MANUSCRIPT SOURCES ABOUT JESUS:
- Four different yet complementary sources: attributed by the 2nd century church to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
- Acts: a documenting of the spread of the Christian movement out from Jerusalem after the end of the Gospels until reaching Rome.
- 13 Letters by Paul: often dated as written even earlier than the Gospels and giving a picture of early Christianity’s central beliefs about Jesus and significance.
- Very few scholars any longer doubt that the original manuscripts (or autographs) were written in the 1st century, which is either in the same generation with eye-witnesses or in the next generation.
- Earliest copies we have of most of the “Jesus Documents” (New Testament) date to less than 100 years after their 1st century originals. And the number of copies as well as quotations and references to them in other 2nd century writings confirm that the earliest Christians and churches considered them accurate and reliable.
- Many copies have so far been discovered of these various New Testament documents, all dated within a few hundred years of the originals.
- If one or two copies of a manuscript made 1,000 years after the original can be considered a trustworthy source for information about Julius Caesar… then surely a much larger number of copies of documents made within a few hundred years of the life of Jesus should be considered as trustworthy sources of information about Him!
The image we are using for “The Jesus Documents” series is of the Bodmer Papyrus 66 of the Gospel of John. Scholars variously date it from about AD 150 to the 4th Century. Read more about it on Wikipedia, which also supplied this photo.