I was blessed with two awesome grandmothers. Both knew the Lord and I am thankful that, while they are no longer here, they are with God in heaven. One of my grandmothers had Bibles open all over the house; her bedroom, the living room, and even in the bathroom. Open Bibles in her house were the right size print for one to see both the 23rd Psalm and the 27th Psalm. Just for good measure, all open Bibles were wrapped in plastic saran wrap… to protect against dust. That behavior is what I affectionately call, “old Black.”
From her lips to my ears was my formal introduction to the phrase, “the word of God.” At the time, I had no idea what that even meant. Was the Bible really God’s words? It couldn’t be I supposed; but men wrote the Bible, clearly. Grandmom responded by saying that the Bible was written by men who were inspired by God to write it. She had my attention. I was fascinated to know how could and what did God communicate with these folks that he “inspired” them to write stuff down. The best answer I got (from Grandmom) was that God talked to them and we know he did because we have faith that’s what happened.
That answer wasn’t good enough for me at the time — it still isn’t. It’s true, but I was left wondering if there was any hard proof to back it up. Maybe that rational was told to her. Over time, I came to see the Bible as truth; the word of God. However, I don’t believe that is the same conclusion all people reach upon hearing the rational that was given to me. There are some who believe, as adults, that the Bible is simply a bunch of stories; or even worse… that the Bible was written by men to oppress the poor, people of color and women. Some would argue that the Bible is a non-spiritual and non-factual document; guilty of plagiarizing ancient near east polytheist religions.
Even celebrities espouse such views. Charlamagne tha god said “a lot of the Bible is a lie we love… written by people to keep people oppressed.” David Banner said the men who wrote the Bible didn’t follow the rules (meant to control the people) that they wrote down. Bill Maher said that the Bible was filled with “nonsense.” I myself had to answer questions on the Bible’s authenticity concerning who wrote it, when it was written, the lack of original text(s), the historicity of the text, the accuracy of the accounts and the legitimacy of the writers. For a while, all I had was what Grandmom gave me for an answer; faith. But over time, I was introduced to scholars in the faith and resources for the faith that helped me answer those tough questions. Before offering those for your edification, let me first provide some perspective.
Some are so fast to push back on the historical and spiritual authenticity of the Bible. Yet they do not dismiss other ancient texts which aren’t historical or spiritual. Some will even doubt the authenticity of the wording in scripture; saying that translations are inaccurate and people made up passages. Yet they’ll believe on face value the translations of books just as old or older than the Bible; deliberately failing to question the authenticity of translations or wordings. I wonder why that is?
The Iliad is considered classic literature. Whether or not Greek mythology is your twist, no one questions the authenticity of the copies of the Iliad they read in a textbook or online. However, the Iliad was written in the 8th century B.C.E. There is no known manuscript from the time period and no one knows how much the poem evolved through scribal errors in the transmission from manuscript to manuscript over centuries. The earliest manuscript of the text is in the 3rd century B.C.E. Yet, no one questions the document. People simply have faith… that the Iliad is Homer’s Iliad.
Herodotus was called as the “Father of History” by his own in Greece. He wrote a series of books on the history of the his travels, as well as the Greco-Persian Wars called the Histories. These texts were produced in the 5th century B.C.E. Yet there is cause for debating the reliability of Herodotus’ account, and the earliest manuscripts of any of his works we have remaining were prepared during the 2nd century C.E., roughly six-hundred years after the Histories were originally written. But even students at the esteemed Johns Hopkins University will go along with what we have, in faith, for no better reason than because it’s all we’ve got.
My point is that people assume texts to be legitimate with the same “issues” they claim call the Bible’s legitimacy into question. Works written in antiquity have had copies of them made, undergone translations into various languages and are without original manuscripts. However, only the Bible is called out for these indiscretions? If you’re going to call out the Bible, then you must be consistent and call out other ancient texts, not limited to these examples, for their lack of surety. But, if you can believe in ancient texts as legit, you can believe the Bible also.
The Bible is a historical document. There are no fables or myths within it. It’s history. To borrow from Christian author Greg Gilbert, when inspecting the Bible, we’re not looking for mathematical certainty. Many refuters of the scriptures are looking for pinpoint coordinates as evidence and there are none. History is not math. When it comes to historical events, we’re looking to gather historical confidence. Here is a quick illustration.
How can I confirm that my parents are my parents? I didn’t see my own birth and we didn’t take a DNA test. There is, however, a whole host of evidence i.e. birth certificate, baby pictures, shared physical features, that is available to confirm that my parents are in fact my parents. Thus, I have historical confidence. The same is true with the Bible. Although we don’t have the DNA so to speak, there is a whole host of evidence to confirm the authenticity of the Bible and that it is indeed the Word of God.
In order to prove that, we have to gather the evidence. In our fact finding mission, we have to ask four critical questions — the answers to these questions will help us reach our destination: (1) Can we trust the translating and transmitting of the scriptures from one language to another and from one copy to another, (2) Are the books the right collection of books, (3) Are the author’s trustworthy and, (4) Are the author’s accounts of what happened true?
[Disclaimer: We’ll focus heavily on the New Testament for our discussion. The reason being has to do with the fact that the New Testament is the text which is the basis of the Christian faith — this is the text constantly ridiculed for being tampered with, thus inauthentic. The Old Testament is criticized more for being a text of myths and fables. I’ll discuss the Old Testament’s authenticity in a future post.]
Question # 1 — Can we trust the translating and transmitting of the scriptures from one language to another and from one copy to another? Scholars over centuries have studied English, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Because scholars have had over two-thousand years of time to study, it is safe to say that translations between these languages are accurate.
The reason for the many different translations of the scriptures i.e. KJV, NIV or NLT, has to do with providing readers with strict accuracy versus readability. Depending on your need, one might choose a particular translation that’s easier to read or valuable for study.
While we may not have the original scriptural text of the New Testament, we do have over 5,000 Greek papyrus papers that serve as copies of the original text. These copies showed up on the scene just 45 to 75 years after the originals were made. To put that into context, as said earlier, the Iliad was written in the 8th century B.C.E. and the first copies weren’t available until the 3rd century B.C.E. That’s a 500 year gap compared to no longer than a 75 year gap from the New Testament original to when the first copy was transmitted.
Another point of note… it took weeks to copy by hand a book during ancient times — the writers were meticulously thorough. The copies were so good in fact that they lasted anywhere from 100 to 150 years before another copy was made. So we can conclude that the original text lasted 100 to 150 years as well. The first copies of the New Testament was produced 45 to 75 years after the original… leading us to believe that the original was still around when the first copies were made. So then, we can trust that the Bible was translated and transmitted with precision and accuracy.
Question # 2 — Are the books the right collection of books? A lot of folks speak about the missing books of the Bible i.e. the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Judas and so forth. Also, there is discrepancies between the major divisions of Christianity i.e. Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy, on the canon or the standard of Biblical books. Roman Catholicism has 73 books as its canon. Depending on which Orthodox church you reference, it could be 78 books or higher. The Protestant canon is 66 books.
So which is the right number? Are there other books that should be included? The way to test the canonicity of the biblical books is by judging according to 4 criteria: apostolicity (was it written by an apostle), antiquity (was it written in the 1st century), orthodoxy (does it line up with the doctrine of Christ as handed down by tradition), and universality (was the book commonly used and valued in the known world).
It is easy (and possible intellectually dismissive) to say that the 66 books are divinely inspired. But what does that mean? It means that Jesus himself legitimized the 39 Old Testament books as he referred to them and quoted them throughout his life. It also means that the 27 New Testament books were written shortly after his departure from Earth by the actual apostles themselves (or those who were told the accounts by the apostles), properly capturing who Christ was and what he stood for; handing down the books as tradition.
Books and additions as part of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canons were written after the 1st century. No apostles wrote them because they were dead. These books say something contrary to the teaching of Christ or their teachings cannot be verified. Lastly, these books weren’t circulated throughout the known world at the time. As for books not including in any Christian Bibles, it’s safe to say there’s a reason why they’re not included in any Bible. We can easily dismiss those.
Question # 3 — Are the author’s trustworthy? To answer this question, we need only look to the text themselves for the answers. When reading history, we want to make sure that we can trust the author and his or her scholarship. For this question, we’ll focus on the author and leave the question of scholarship to the next question. We start here because even if the words written down are the truth, the lack of credibility in the “truth teller” may make it harder for us to believe what we’re reading.
The authors of the NT texts were Matthew (Book of Matthew), John Mark (Book of Mark), Luke (Book of Luke and Acts of the Apostles), John (Book of John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John and the Revelation of Jesus Christ), Paul of Tarsus (Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Hebrews), James (Book of James), Peter (1 Peter and 2 Peter), and Jude (Book of Jude).
Matthew was an original disciple… so was John, James, Peter and Jude. Paul was an apostle who was also called the 13th disciple because of his conversion at Damascus and his calling by Christ. John Mark traveled with Peter — original disciple and apostle. Luke, a historian, traveled with the apostle Paul. While all are connected to Christ spiritually, each of these men are either directly connected to the physical Christ or connected to one who was connected to the physical Christ. They can be trusted.
Question # 4 — Are the author’s accounts of what happened true? In order to answer this question, we can look to the text as well. Matthew started his gospel with the genealogy of Christ; traced back to the Old Testament starting with Abraham. John Mark starts his gospel connecting Old Testament prophecy to John the Baptist.
Luke started his gospel announcing to a friend that this, his book, was an honest account of the events of Jesus life and ministry. Luke also started his sequel as a bridge from his account of Christ to the account of the church after Christ’s departure. Paul wrote his letters to people familiar with him; offering salutations and specific information that can be verified about the people he was writing to.
Those are just examples that show that the New Testament authors intentions were genuine. However, some have argued that these men are telling lies about what they’ve witnessed. The likelihood of that is very slim. Only 8 men wrote the New Testament books. It is safe to say that these weren’t the only Christians living during the 1st century.
Had their testimonies been inaccurate or fabricated, it would have been called out — as were other texts were called out for being in error; written in the name of an apostle or someone in authority. The New Testament books were written within decades of the life of Christ. As early as 110 C.E. and as late as 180 C.E., the Gospels received widespread accepted as the Gospels and the remainder of the New Testament soon after. If there was any non-truths to them, it could have easily been refuted.
What motivation would the New Testament authors had to write a hoax? The writers weren’t rich by any means. They never obtained any financial reward, any political power or any social prestige. If this was their purpose, they failed. Most of them died miserable deaths. Luke was crucified, Peter was crucified upside down, Jude was killed by arrows, Matthew was martyred in Ethiopia, James (brother of Jesus) was sawed into pieces, the Apostle Paul was decapitated, and John Mark was tied to a rope and dragged through the streets of Alexandria in Egypt. Why die for a lie? These men died for that which they believed. If it wasn’t true, there would be no need risk one’s life preaching it only to be killed for it believing it.
Maybe the writers were misled. Certainly the account of the life of Christ could have been corrupted between the time of Christ death (33 C.E.) and when the first gospel account hit the scene (60 C.E.). I like to think that truth can survive in the oral tradition for 27 years. If first-hand accounts about Dr. King’s involvement in the civil rights movement can survive 30 years after his death to be written in a book, the truth on the life of Christ and events of the church can survive 27 years.
There are numerous arguments against the Bible’s authenticity as a historical and spiritual document. Most of these offer little evidence to back up their claims against the word of God. Some offer evidence that has already been explained away. Others manufacture new evidence that confuses folks. I refuted some of those arguments here.
Normally, I like to embed multiple links to verify what I say. I didn’t do much of that here. Rather, I expounded on truth gathered from my own reading and research. However, for the sake of offering readers an opportunity to gather their own research, here are the three books I did the bulk of my studying from.
- Why Trust the Bible by Greg Gilbert
- Can We Still Believe the Bible: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions by Craig Blomberg
- The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable by F.F. Bruce
I encourage you to get your hands on these books and do your own studying as well. Remember that Paul shared with Timothy:
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15).
 Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Baruch, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees and additions made to Esther and Daniel.
 There is also scholarship that points to the reliability of the Old Testament. For the sake of space, I will not get into that here. However, here is a resource to do more investigation.
 Only the beloved disciple John died of natural causes.