Is the Bible’s reliability and historicity supported by evidence external to the Bible? This is a huge question, which calls upon every area of human inquiry to pass judgment. Do the fields of history, archeology, geology, psychology, linguistics, astronomy, sociology, and physics validate or invalidate the biblical accounts? For example, New Testament scholars, historians, and archeologists give high grades to the New Testament Greek text. Based upon the textual evidence, even the agnostic and New Testament Critic, Bart Ehrman confessed:
· The oldest and best sources we have for knowing about the life of Jesus…are the four Gospels of the NT…This is not simply the view of Christian historians who have a high opinion of the NT and in its historical worth; it is the view of all serious historians of antiquity…it is the conclusion that has been reached by every one of the hundreds (thousands, even) of scholars. (Truth and Fiction in the DaVinci Code, 102)
Ehrman, who likes to impugn the many NT texts, had been asked:
· Bruce Metzger [the leading textual credit of his day] your mentor in textual criticism to whom this book [“Misquoting Jesus”] is dedicated, has said that there is nothing in these variants of Scripture that challenges any essential Christian beliefs…Why do you believe these core tenants of Christian orthodoxy to be in jeopardy based on the scribal errors you discovered in the biblical manuscripts? (Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus)
· Even though we may disagree on important religious questions – he is a formly committed Christian and I am not – we are in complete agreement on a number of very important historical and textual questions. If he and I were put in a room and asked to hammer out a consensus statement on what we think the original text of the New Testament probably looked like, there would be very few points of disagreement…The position I argue for in Misquoting Jesus does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by the textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament. (252)
Metzger had claimed the text of the NT to be “99.5 free from textual discrepancies.” Ehrman, ordinarily the strongest dissenting voice, also admitted:
· The more manuscripts one discovers, the more the variant readings; but also the more the likelihood that somewhere among those variants readings one will be able to uncover the original text. Therefore, the thirty thousand variants uncovered by [critic John] Mill do not detract from the integrity of the New Testament; they simply provide the data scholars need to work on to establish the text, a text that is more amply documented than any other in the ancient world. (87)
There is a strong consensus among NT textual critics that from the almost 6,000 ancient Greek manuscripts and fragments, the original text can be very closely approximated. In Misquoting Truth, Timothy Paul Jones adds:
· Sir Frederic Kenyon, former director of the British Museum, once commented concerning the Gospels, “The interval between the dates of the original compositions and the earliest extant [existenting manuscripts] evidence [is] so small as to be negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed.” (50)
NT scholar William Warren concurs:
- I would say that our [present composite NT] text almost certainly represents a form that is almost identical to the original documents. (Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace in Dialogue: The Reliability of the NT, 122)
Another NT scholar, Craig Evans, affirms the same thing:
- Given the evidence, we have every reason to have confidence in the text of Scripture. This does not mean that we possess 100% certainty that we have the exact wording in every case, but we have good reason to believe that what we have preserved in the several hundred manuscripts of the first millennium is the text that the writers of Scripture penned.
Similarly, NT textual critic Silvie Raquel writes:
- I also have studied New Testament textual criticism and, by contrast with Ehrman, have found confirmation about the validity of the text…by defective reasoning, misuse of the evidence, and a misconception of inerrancy, Ehrman fails to build a case for the unreliability of the New Testament text as a sacred and inspired text. (173, 185)
Daniel Wallace concluded:
· “On the contrary, it [scholarship] has built it [my faith]. I’ve asked questions all my life, I’ve dug into the text, I’ve studied this thoroughly, and today I know with confidence that my trust in Jesus has been well placed…very well placed.”
The leading NT textual critic of his day, the late Bruce Metzger, concluded:
· “The modern NT is 99.5% free from textual discrepancies, with no major Christian doctrines in doubt.”
Greek scholar D.A. Carson sums up the evidence this way:
· "The purity of text is of such a substantial nature that nothing we believe to be true, and nothing we are commanded to do, is in any way jeopardized by the variants."
And what about the historical accuracy of the Gospels? About Luke, New Testament scholar, F.F.Bruce, has written:
· “A man whose accuracy can be demonstrated in matters where we are able to test it is likely to be accurate even where means of testing aren’t available. Accuracy is a habit of mind…Luke’s record entitles him to be regarded as a writer of habitual accuracy.”
Archeologist John McRay adds:
· “One prominent archeologist carefully examined Luke’s references to 32 countries, 54 cities, and 9 Islands w/o finding a single mistake.” (Lee Strobel, Case For Christ)
About the Gospel of John, McRay claims:
· “It [the Pool of Bethesda] lies maybe 40 feet below ground – and sure enough, there are five porticoes…exactly as John had described. And you have other discoveries – the Pool of Siloam from John 9:7, Jacob’s Well from John 4:12, the probable location of the Stone Pavement near the Jaffa gate where Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate in John 19:13, even Pilate’s own identity – all of which have lent credibility to John’s Gospel.” (Strobel)
· “Archeology has not produced anything that is unequivocally a contradiction to the Bible. On the contrary, as we’ve seen, there have been many opinions of skeptical scholars that have become codified into ‘fact’ over the years, but that archeology has shown to be wrong.”
In fact, the textual evidence along with other forms of historical evidence are so compelling that even skeptics acknowledge that the Apostles had been convinced that they had encountered the resurrected Jesus.
Even the atheist Ludemann had conceded:
· “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.” (Strobel)
Jewish NT scholor Paula Fredriksen also conceded:
· “The Disciples’ conviction that they had seen the risen Christ…is historical bedrock, facts known past doubting.” (Strobel)
NT scholar James Dunn went a step further:
· “It is an undoubted fact that the conviction that God had raised Jesus from the dead and had exalted Jesus to his right hand transformed Jesus’ first disciples and their beliefs about Jesus.” (Christian Research Journal, Vol.39, No.2, 14)
Christian Apologist Michael Licona adds:
· “After Jesus’ death, the disciples endured persecution, and a number of them experienced martyrdom. The strength of their conviction indicates that they were not just claiming Jesus had appeared to them after rising from the dead. They really believed it. They willingly endangered themselves by publicly proclaiming the risen Christ.” (16)
So too Christian Apologist Sean McDowell:
· “From the Apostles forward, there is no evidence for an early Christian community that did not have belief in the Resurrection at its core. The centrality of the Resurrection can be seen by considering the earliest Christian creeds, the preaching in Acts, and the writings of the apostolic fathers.” (14)
All the above represent affirmations of the Christian faith based historical and textual evidences. However, there are many other forms of external confirmations.
Theistic evolutionists (TEs) discount the role of science and physical evidences in supporting the Christian faith. Why? For one thing, they claim that the Bible is not about the physical world and science is not about the spiritual world. Therefore, there is no basis for any conflict between these two world as they occupy very different worlds. Therefore, if this artificial and unsupportable distinction is held, the TE claims that the Christian can also be an evolutionist.
· “The science of the Bible is obviously the ‘science’ of the ancient near east, and is antiquated and therefore wrong. Instead, the Bible is about salvation [the spiritual world] and a relationship with Christ.”
This dogmatic statement dismisses whatever the Bible teaches about the physical world, including history, geography, psychology and biology. Why then not also dismiss what the Bible has to say about our feelings, thought life and spiritual growth? These, of course, are connected to our biology (our physical life) – eating, sleeping, and drinking. Clearly, these two worlds are inseparable.
Besides, I don’t see how we can trust in the Bible’s spiritual message once we deny its physical message.
The TEs distinction between the Bible’s teachings about the physical world and the spiritual cannot hold up under scrutiny. The Bible states that Lazarus rose from the dead, but all miracles impinge upon the physical world. Is the Bible then wrong in its account of miracles?
Instead, the biblical worldview will not allow us to separate its historical teachings from its spiritual teachings. Its spiritual teaching of forgiveness and new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus is inseparable from its physical teaching that Jesus historically died on the cross for us.
Nevertheless, TEs try to separate the two aspects of scriptural teaching – the physical, which the TE claims is errant from the spiritual, which the TE grants as inerrant. How do they accomplish this? By demonstrating that the Bible is wrong in its physical teachings! For example, they cite Psalm 93:1 as an example of the Bible errantly influenced by the ancient Near Eastern cosmology of its day:
· The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
From this verse, the TEs erroneously claim that the Bible teaches that the earth cannot be moved because it sits on a pedestal as the ancient cosmologists had believed. However, they conveniently fail to consider the fact that the righteous also “shall never be moved.” Clearly, this is not because they too are glued to a pedestal (Psalm 125:1; 16:8). Instead, God will not allow His righteous ones to be destroyed. Similarly, He will not allow His creation to be destroyed or “moved.”
The Bible does not ignorantly teach ancient cosmology. Instead, I’d like to cite evidence that the Bible wasn’t corrupted by ancient “science” but instead anticipated the findings of modern science:
1. TIME IS NOT ETERNAL AS BIG BANG COSMOLOGY ASSERTS: 2 Tim. 1:9 [God] who has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the BEGINNING OF TIME.
2. THE UNIVERSE HAD A BEGINNING: Genesis 1:1 “In the BEGINNING God created the heavens and the earth.” (Contra the steady-state theory that had ruled science).
3. THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF THE PHYSICAL WORD AREN’T VISIBLE: Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was NOT made out of what was visible.
4. THERE ARE LAWS OF SCIENCE: Jeremiah 33:25 This is what the LORD says: 'If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the FIXED LAWS of heaven and earth, (Also Job 38:33)
5. WATER CYCLE: Job 36:27 "He DRAWS UP the drops of water, which distill as rain to the streams.” (Also Amos 9:6)
6. DINOSAURS?? Psalm 74:14 It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave him as food to the creatures of the desert. (Isa 27:1; 51:9; Jer. 51:34; Eze 29:3)
7. COSMIC EXPANSION, ROUND EARTH: Isaiah 40:22 He sits enthroned above the CIRCLE of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and SPREADS THEM OUT like a tent to live in. (Scripture claims that the universe was created, rather than having existed eternally, as the atheist had supposed.) (42:5)
8. STARS AS GUIDES TO SEASONS AND GEOGRAPHIC POSITIONS: Genesis 1:14 lights in the expanse of the sky… [would] serve as SIGNS to mark seasons and days and years.”
9. COUNTLESS STARS: Jeremiah 33:22 “I will make the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister before me as COUNTLESS AS THE STARS of the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore." (Also Job 11:7-8; 22:12)
10. THE EARTH DOES NOT SIT ON A PEDESTAL AS ANCIENT COSMOLOGY HAS IT: Job 26:7 He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over NOTHING.
11. STRESS NEGATIVELY IMPACTS HEALTH: Proverbs 17:22 A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
12. UNHEALTHY QUALITY OF EXCREMENT: Deut. 23:12-13 Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement.
13. FOSSIL FINDS IN THE MOUNTAINS PROVIDING EVIDENCE OF A WORLDWIDE FLOOD: Psalm 104:6 …the waters stood ABOVE the mountains.
Don’t be too impressed with this kind of evidence. Why not? This evidence is only as persuasive as are the findings of modern-day scholarship, to which I do not want to give undue weight. However, this evidence is powerful in the face of Bible detractors who argue that the Bible fails to accord with our present-day scientific consensus.
In fact, all forms of external evidence – whether deemed as positive of negative, supportive or detractive - relies on the present status of the scholarly consensus. Therefore, if the “evidence” against the Bible is acceptable, then evidence for the Bible must be equally acceptable.
I have just touched upon a small sample of the various ways that the Bible receives external verification from the surrounding physical world. Consequently, we can spend more than an entire lifetime exploring this almost limitless subject.