In the first century things were easier. There were eye witnesses of Jesus available to speak with. I am convinced that virtually all of Israel, around 2 million people in that time, witnessed Jesus with their own eyes. It was easier because most people from that region knew someone who had been healed, or seen one of Jesus' miracles. Testing the authenticity of Jesus was as easy as asking a friend or acquaintance what they saw.
Now things are much more complicated. The testimonies of eye witnesses were written down, and collected into the New Testament, however there is no longer anyone living who saw Jesus. So, we have to rely on the words of strangers from the past. This could make the whole thing feel untrustworthy. However, I hope to persuade you that the bible is trustworthy and authoritative.
I am going to mostly focus on the New Testament in this article. The Old Testament is important as well, but I figured we'd leave that for another time.
The New Testament is a collection of historical records, and letters which were written by eye witnesses of Jesus during the life time of other corroborating eye witnesses. These writings make supernatural claims, which are validated by prophecy and miracles.
The thing we really want to know can be summed up by this question, "is the bible authoritative?"
Authoritative means: able to be trusted as being accurate or true; reliable.
The claims in the bible are so extraordinary that there is no middle ground.
Did you know that God designed the bible to be testable. He included a mountain of texts that predict the future. This was his way of allowing us to test the authority of the bible even after Jesus, and prophets no longer walk the Earth.
Let's take a look at a number of New Testament prophecies which have been fulfilled.
Jesus prophesied that Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies. (Luke 21:20). This was fulfilled in the lead up to its demise in Early 70 A.D. before the wall of Jerusalem were breached.
Jesus prophesied that the city would be the victim of siege, have embankments built around it, and the people who didn't flee would be trapped inside with their children. (Luke 19:43,44) This prophecy came true a few days before Passover of 70 A.D. It took three weeks for the Roman Commander Titus to breach the outer walls.
Jesus prophesied Jerusalem would be destroyed, (Luke 21:23-24) Fulfilled in 70 A.D. After breaching the walls the destruction began.
Jesus predicted the 2nd Jewish temple would be destroyed, (Matthew 24:23-24) Fulfilled in May of 70 A.D. After the rest of the city was conquered the last vestige of resistance held up in the temple. Titus didn't want to destroy the temple, but instead convert it to a temple for the Roman pantheon. However, fire caught and it was utterly destroyed, Just as Jesus predicted.
Jesus predicted that after this event Jews would be scattered throughout the World, (Luke 21:24). Jews fled in every direction and took up residence in all parts of the world.
Jesus prophesied that Jerusalem would be controlled by Gentiles. (Luke 21:24) After the destruction of Jerusalem the city was controlled by Roman, Byzantine, Persian, Arab, Christian Crusaders, Mamluk, Ottoman, and British rulers. Gentiles ruled over Israel for around 1900 years.
Jesus prophesied persecutions of the Jews who were scattered. (Luke 23:28-30, 21:24) Fulfilled every generation for the last 20 centuries as represented by the holocaust, pogroms, and other persecutions against the Jews. This is significant in history, because no people group has ever been pursued by persecution like the Jews. It goes beyond reason. The persecution of the Jews requires a supernatural explanation within itself. It would be the wildest of conspiracy theories... If it wasn't true.
Jesus, and the apostles John & Paul predicted that despite all these impossible circumstances, the Jewish nation would survive (Luke 21:24, Revelation 7 & 14) This is significant in history, because virtually all other ethnicities of any historical era have ceased to exist. Virtually all are eventually assimilated into other groups. The Jews, however, have survived, and stayed distinct despite the fact that many nations have evicted, persecuted and tried to eradicate them. None the less, Jesus said they'd survive and that they did.
Jesus predicted that After being scattered for a time Jews would return to Israel (Luke 21:24). This prophecy was incredibly fulfilled in 1948, when after WWII and the holocaust Israel was established once more as a homeland for the Jewish people. This is utterly unique in all of history.
Jesus predicted that the city of Jerusalem would come back under the control of the Jews. John also implicitly prophesied the same. (Luke 21:24) This prophecy was fulfilled in 1967 after the 6 day war. It's not only incredible that he predicted this, but it's incredible in the history of the world. No other people has ever been driven from their land and returned generations later to gain national sovereignty. The Jews have done it not once but multiple times.
Jesus predicted the survival of the Christian church, and it's growth. This continues to be fulfilled even today. (Matthew 16:16-18) Early on, there were many obstacles that looked as if they would make this prophecy impossible. However, the church continues to grow.
Jesus said his words would never be forgotten, which is still being fulfilled. (Luke 21:33) Considering the billions of people whose words have been lost throughout the ages. The fact that a Jewish carpenter from 20 centuries ago rightly predicted his words would live on is amazing.
Jesus prophesied that the story of Mary of Bethany would be included in the gospels (Matthew 26:13). John tells us that Jesus did so many things that most of the stories could not be recorded. (John 21:25) In other words there was a lot that the gospel writers had to leave out. The fact that Jesus rightly prophecied that this particular story would be told throughout the world is incredible.
Jesus prophesied the way in which Peter was put to death (John 21:18-19). Church history recorded that Peter was crucified upside down.
Jesus prophesied that his disciples would face trouble, be hauled into courts, act as His witnesses, be hated, harmed, and killed for the sake of the gospel. (John 16:33) History shows all of these things to be true.
Jesus foretold that the Apostle John would outlive Peter and the other apostles. (John 21:18-19) John was the only one of the apostles who was not directly martyred. He died as an exile on the island of Patmos, at around 90 years old.
So why do these things matter? They matter because the New Testament is about Jesus. If Jesus has the power to predict the future, then he is trustworthy. If Jesus is trustworthy then the New Testament can be trusted.
Jesus prophecied one of his disciples would betray him. (Matthew 26:21-22, Luke 22:47-48). Jesus prophecied all his disciples would leave him. (Matthew 26:31-32). Jesus prophecied Peter would deny him three times. (Matthew 26:33-34, 74-75). Jesus prophecied he would suffer because of the religious rulers. (Matthew 16:21, Luke 23:63-65). Jesus prophecied that he would die in Jerusalem. (Matthew 16:21). Jesus prophecied that he'd die by crucifixion. (Matthew 26:2, Mark 15:26-27). Jesus prophesied that he would die during the Passover. (Matthew 26:2, John 19:14-16). Jesus prophesied his resurrection. (Matthew 16:21, 28:6). Jesus prophesied he'd raise from the dead on the third day. (John 2:18-22, Matthew 27:62-63). He prophesied the coming of the Holy Spirit. (John 14:26, Acts 2:1-4)
Jesus' eye-witnesses claimed to have witnessed an impossibility. Jesus knew the future. We have no explanation for this, other than that he is Divine.
It was tremendously important that the eye-witnesses not only hear Jesus teaching, but believe that he was from God. He proved his Divinity by miracles. The eye-witnesses who wrote their testimony down told of these events.
Jesus changed water into wine (John 2:1-11). Jesus cured the nobleman's son (John 4:46-47). The great haul of fishes (Luke 5:1-11). Jesus cast out an unclean spirit (Mark 1:23-28). Jesus cured Peter's mother-in-law of a fever (Mark 1:30-31). Jesus healed a leper (Mark 1:40-45). Jesus healed the centurion's servant (Matthew 8:5-13). Jesus raised the widow's son from the dead (Luke 7:11-18). Jesus stilled the storm (Matthew 8:23-27). Jesus cured two demoniacs (Matthew 8:28-34). Jesus cured the paralytic (Matthew 9:1-8). Jesus raised the ruler's daughter from the dead (Matthew 9:18-26). Jesus cured a woman of an issue of blood (Luke 8:43-48). Jesus opened the eyes of two blind men (Matthew 9:27-31). Jesus loosened the tongue of a man who could not speak (Matthew 9:32-33). Jesus healed an invalid man at the pool called Bethesda (John 5:1-9). Jesus restored a withered hand (Matthew 12:10-13). Jesus cured a demon-possessed man (Matthew 12:22). Jesus fed at least five thousand people (Matthew 14:15-21). Jesus healed a woman of Canaan (Matthew 15:22-28). Jesus cured a deaf and mute man (Mark 7:31-37). Jesus fed at least four thousand people (Matthew 15:32-39). Jesus opened the eyes of a blind man (Mark 8:22-26). Jesus cured a boy who was plagued by a demon (Matthew 17:14-21). Jesus opened the eyes of a man born blind (John 9:1-38). Jesus cured a woman who had been afflicted eighteen years (Luke 13:10-17). Jesus cured a man of dropsy (Luke 14:1-4). Jesus cleansed ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19). Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-46). Jesus opened the eyes of two blind men (Matthew 20:30-34). Jesus caused the fig tree to wither (Matthew 21:18-22). Jesus restored the ear of the high priest's servant (Luke 22:50-51). Jesus rose from the dead (Luke 24:5-6). The second great haul of fishes (John 21:1-14).
If there is even a one percent chance that one percent of these events happened, then the Divinity of Jesus is upheld. The eye-witnesses were convinced that all of these things happened, and many more as well.
Emperor Nero was as nutty as a peanut farm. He was responsible for burning a huge section of Rome. Rather than take the fall, he blamed it on the Christians. This sparked a terrible round of persecutions, tortures, and deaths. Most of the disciples (all except John) fell prey to the Neronic persecutions, and were ultimately martyred.
When faced with the option, "stick to the story and be executed, or say you made it up and live." All the apostles, and many other eye witnesses chose death. They died in horrendous ways.
Here's a list of the people who gave their lives to prove the story of Jesus was true. (this list is only the ones we have recorded, there were doubtless, many more.)
According to Acts
James, son of Zebedee (executed by sword), Saint Stephen (stoning)According to Flavius Josephus
James the Just (stoning)
According to Christian History
Saint Peter, first attested by Tertullian about AD 200, Saint Paul, first attested by Ignatius probably about AD 110, Mark the Evangelist, Philip the Apostle - Andrew the Apostle, Jude the Apostle, Bartholomew the Apostle - Thomas the Apostle, Simon the Zealot. Justin Martyr, Scillitan Martyrs, Perpetua and Felicity, Ptolemaeus and Lucius, Pothinus, bishop of Lyon, with Blandina and several others, the "Martyrs of Lyon and Vienne" Pope Fabian, Saint Sebastian, Saint Agnes, Felix and, Adducts, Marcellinus and Peter, Origen, Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, Euphemia, Cyprian, Saint Alban, Ignatius of Antioch, Gelasinus, Saint PancrasSaint Afra, Saint George, Januarius, Vincent of Saragossa, Saint Behram, Saint Lucy, Lawrence of Rome, Saint Cecilia, Catherine of Alexandria, Vitus This list proves how many people were completely convinced that Jesus was from God. Notice that many of the people on the list above were eye-witnesses of Jesus. How in the world could they give up their lives, if they had made the story up? The logical answer is that these people were so deeply convicted that the story of Jesus was true, they were willing to be tortured and killed.
It's clear from their grammatical, historical, and contextual make up that the gospels were intended to be taken as nonfiction, and as history. The gospels were written in the style of Greko-Roman biography. In this style of biography it was customary to complete the work within the lifetime of eye witnesses so that it could be verified by knowledgable parties.
The earliest copies and fragments of manuscripts date back to the eye-witness period. (More on that in a bit.)
Many blog totting atheists will claim that the New Testament is not historically accurate. They claim that archaeology has disproved the bible. Maybe you're asking yourself, "What does archaeology have to do with the New Testament, anyway." Lee Strobel has a great quote on this subject.
In trying to determine if a witness is being truthful, journalists and lawyers will test all the elements of his or her testimony that can be tested. If this investigation reveals that the person was wrong in those details, this casts considerable doubt on the veracity of his or her entire story. However, if the minutiae check out, this is some indication – not conclusive proof but some evidence – that maybe the witness is being reliable in his or her overall account. (Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ pp.127-128.)
This shows that archeology can be important in verifying the authority of the New Testament. Now, how does the New Testament do, when scrutinized by archeologists? I'm no archaeologist, but it's easy enough to pull some quotes from experts. Let's look at what some of them say.
Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history. (William F. Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine, pp.127-128)
Archaeology has confirmed countless passages which have been rejected by critics as unhistorical or contradictory to known facts......Yet archaeological discoveries have shown that these critical charges.....are wrong and that the Bible is trustworthy in the very statements which have been set aside as untrustworthy.....We do not know of any cases where the Bible has been proved wrong." - (Dr. Joseph P. Free, Archaeology and Bible History. Scripture Press, Wheaton, IL, 1969, pg. 1)
"Through the wealth of data uncovered by historical and archaeological research, we are able to measure the Bible's historical accuracy. In every case where its claims can thus be tested, the Bible proves to be accurate and reliable." (Dr. Jack Cottrell, The Authority of the Bible , pp. 48-49.)
For further reading on Archaeology and the bible, here is a previous post we made called Hasn't archaeology disproved the bible?
Here is a great article by bethinking.org which lays out countless archaeological evidences for the accuracy of the New Testament. Archaeology and the Historical Reliability of the New Testament.
It is implausible that the gospels could have been both made up and accepted as factual in the short timespan between Christ's death and the circulation of the gospels. We know from historical events that the gospels were written between 30 - 65 A.D. Young eye witnesses of Jesus could have lived until the year 125 A.D. Most eye witnesses would have probably died out by about 100 A.D. However, some would have lived longer. Think of the children who came to see Jesus (Matthew 19:14) if they were around 8 years old during Jesus' ministry, and then lived to be 100 (which was fairly rare but it happened occasionally) they could have lived until the year 125 A.D.
So this means, following Jesus' life, there was a period between 33-125 A.D. that we could call the "eye-witness period." It was these eye-witness' job to verify or debunk any stories about Jesus.
We know that the gospels had already been in circulation by 125, because we have papyri (ancient scripture fragments) dating back as far as 125 A.D. (check out the list of early papyri here) These include the gospel of John. All these papyri are certainly copies of copies. That means that we have historically verified copies of the Gospel of John, that dates back to the Eye-Witness period.
Considering that the Gospel of John was written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. that means there would have been about 50 years for Jesus' eye witnesses to scrutinize this and the previous three gospels. Not only did the eye witnesses corroborate the Gospel of John by circulating it far and wide, they laid down their lives to prove that the gospels were authentic.
It's significant that the ancient New Testament Texts have survived at all. This is especially true when you, consider their cost to produce.
I recently spoke with a scribal expert. He's a modern artisan and master scribe. He travels the country doing public events. I asked him to calculate the cost of making a hand written manuscript of the Bible.
As you probably know, before the 1500s copies had to be done by hand. By his estimate, in our economy, the cost of a handwritten manuscript on papyrus would be between $700,000 and $1,200,000. Not only that, it would take him between 7 and 10 years to complete.
Archeologists and collectors possess over 6000 fragments and manuscripts of the New Testament. It's an international phenomenon that these texts have survived in such healthy quantities. This is especially true considering that THE VAST MAJORITY of ancient texts HAVE NOT SURVIVED. It shows how incredibly valuable the ancient world considered this set of writings from the early stages of Christianity.
There's much more that could be said, but this is where we will leave it for now. Hopefully this is a good start to discovering the authoritative nature of the New Testament.
It's not only reasonable to trust the authority of the New Testament, it's imperative.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is recorded as saying this. (John 11:25-26)
"I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?"
It's imperative that we trust the bible because it contains the words of Jesus. Those words of Jesus tell us how to have eternal life. Anyone can have eternal life simply by believing in Jesus. Those who believe Jesus is the giver of eternal life will have his gift of everlasting life.