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How Reliable Is the New Testament?

Updated: Jun 21

Divine Inspiration and Authority of the New Testament

The reliability of the New Testament is rooted in its divine inspiration. According to 2 Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness." This passage asserts that the New Testament, along with the Old Testament, is God-breathed, ensuring its authority and trustworthiness. The divine inspiration guarantees that the teachings and events recorded in the New Testament are accurate and reliable.

2 Peter 1:21 reinforces this understanding: "For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." The authors of the New Testament were guided by the Holy Spirit, ensuring that their writings were free from error and conveyed God's intended message. This divine involvement underscores the New Testament's reliability as a faithful record of God's revelation.

Manuscript Evidence and Textual Integrity

The New Testament boasts an unparalleled wealth of manuscript evidence, which attests to its textual reliability. With over 5,800 Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts, and thousands more in other languages, the New Testament has more ancient copies than any other ancient text. This abundance of manuscripts allows scholars to compare and reconstruct the original text with a high degree of confidence.

One notable manuscript is the Codex Sinaiticus, dating to 330-360 C.E. It contains the entire New Testament and demonstrates remarkable consistency with other Alexandrian text-type ancient manuscripts, the most trusted manuscript family. The most valuable New Testament manuscript is Codex Vaticanus (300-330 C.E.) Even earlier are the papyri manuscripts. The second most weighty, trustworthy, and valuable is Papyrus 75 (P75), dating to 175-225 C.E. Another of the 144 papyri manuscripts is Papyrus 66 (P66), dating to 110-150 C.E. The consistency among these manuscripts underscores the careful transmission of the New Testament text over centuries. Textual criticism, the scholarly practice of comparing these manuscripts, has confirmed that the variations among them are minor and do not affect core Christian doctrines.

When we take the 1881 Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament critical text combined with the 2012 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, we can say that our master Greek New Testament is a 99.99% mirror-like reflection of the original texts. To think of it, Westcott and Hort never even had the 144 papyri because they were discovered in the 20th century. Even yet, Westcott and Hort 1881 is 99.5% the same wording as the 2012 Nestle Aland. Bible critics like to talk about the era of copying the Greek New Testament (100-1600 C.E.) and the 400,000 textual variants, a few intentional, most unintentional, creeping into our 5,898 Greek New Testament manuscripts. They fail to tell you about the next 420 years of dozens of world-renowned textual scholars who gave their entire lives, pouring through the manuscripts, to ascertain the original words of the original texts.

Eyewitness Testimony and Early Composition

The New Testament's reliability is further supported by the fact that many of its books were written by eyewitnesses or those who had direct access to eyewitnesses of Jesus' life and ministry. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as well as the letters of Paul, Peter, James, and John, were composed within the first century C.E., within the lifetime of those who had witnessed the events they describe.

Luke, in the introduction to his Gospel, states, "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught" (Luke 1:1-4). This emphasis on careful investigation and reliance on eyewitness testimony enhances the credibility of the New Testament accounts.

Archaeological Corroboration

Archaeological discoveries have consistently supported the historical reliability of the New Testament. One significant find is the Pilate Stone, discovered in Caesarea Maritima, which bears the name of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who sentenced Jesus to crucifixion. This stone, dating to the 1st century C.E., provides independent confirmation of Pilate's existence and his role in the New Testament narrative (Matthew 27:2; John 19:1).

The Pool of Bethesda, mentioned in John 5:2 as the site where Jesus healed a paralytic, has been excavated in Jerusalem. The discovery of this pool, with its five porticoes, matches the description given in the Gospel of John, providing further evidence for the accuracy of the New Testament narratives.

The Reliability of Luke as a Historian

The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, both written by Luke, have been validated through numerous archaeological findings. Sir William Ramsay, a renowned archaeologist, initially doubted the historical accuracy of Luke's writings. However, after extensive research and excavations in Asia Minor, Ramsay concluded that Luke was a highly reliable historian. Luke's precise descriptions of geographical locations, political titles, and cultural practices have been consistently confirmed by archaeological evidence.

In Acts 17:6-8, Luke refers to city officials in Thessalonica as "politarchs," a term not found in classical literature. Archaeological discoveries, including an inscription on an arch in Thessalonica, have since confirmed the use of this title in the first century C.E., affirming Luke's accuracy. This demonstrates that the New Testament's historical details are reliable and corroborated by external evidence.

The Consistency and Coherence of the New Testament Text

The New Testament, written over a span of several decades by multiple authors, exhibits remarkable consistency and coherence. Despite being composed by different authors in various cultural and historical contexts, the New Testament maintains a unified message centered on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This consistency is particularly evident in the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. For instance, the prophecy in Isaiah 53, written around 700 B.C.E., vividly describes the suffering and atoning death of the Messiah, which Christians believe was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Isaiah 53:5 states, "But he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon him, and by his scourging we are healed." The precise fulfillment of this prophecy in the life and crucifixion of Jesus, as recorded in the New Testament, underscores the prophetic accuracy of the Bible.

The Prophetic Accuracy of the New Testament

The New Testament contains numerous prophecies that have been fulfilled, further attesting to its reliability. Jesus' prediction of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, recorded in Matthew 24:1-2, was fulfilled in 70 C.E. when the Roman army, led by Titus, destroyed the temple. This accurate prophecy underscores the divine foreknowledge and reliability of Jesus' words.

Moreover, the prophecies concerning the spread of the Gospel and the growth of the early church, as recorded in Acts, have been historically validated. Jesus' commission to His disciples in Acts 1:8, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth," has been fulfilled as the message of Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond.

Addressing Common Objections

Common objections to the New Testament’s reliability often stem from misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the text. For example, some critics argue that the presence of miracles in the New Testament undermines its credibility. However, miracles, by definition, are extraordinary events that signify divine intervention. The resurrection of Jesus, a central miracle in Christianity, is supported by historical evidence and eyewitness testimonies, as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.

Another objection concerns the perceived contradictions in the New Testament. A careful study using the Historical-Grammatical method of interpretation reveals that these apparent contradictions often result from a lack of understanding of the cultural, historical, and linguistic context. When properly interpreted, the New Testament’s messages are coherent and consistent, reinforcing its reliability.

The Importance of a Literal Interpretation

A literal interpretation of the New Testament, using the Historical-Grammatical method, ensures that the text is understood as intended by its original authors. This approach respects the genre, historical context, and grammatical structure of the biblical writings, avoiding the pitfalls of subjective interpretations. As stated in Nehemiah 8:8, "They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading." This approach seeks to uncover the original meaning and apply it faithfully to contemporary contexts.

Literal Bible chronology, for example, provides a clear framework for understanding the timeline of biblical events. By adhering to the literal dates given in Scripture, such as the death and resurrection of Jesus around 30 C.E. and the writing of the New Testament books within the first century C.E., believers can align historical events with biblical narratives, enhancing the coherence and reliability of the New Testament.

The Role of the Spirit-Inspired Word of God

It is essential to understand that Christians are guided by the Spirit-inspired Word of God rather than an indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As John 16:13 applies only to the apostles, we rely on the New Testament for guidance and understanding. The Scriptures provide the necessary wisdom and instruction for living a life pleasing to God. Psalm 119:105 states, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path," highlighting the New Testament’s role in guiding believers.

The Testimony of Jesus and the Apostles

Jesus Christ and the apostles affirmed the reliability and authority of the New Testament. In Matthew 5:18, Jesus stated, "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished." Jesus' affirmation of the Scriptures underscores their divine authority and reliability. His fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and His teachings further validate the truth of the New Testament.

The apostles consistently referenced the Old Testament to support their teachings and to demonstrate the fulfillment of prophecy in Jesus Christ. For instance, Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 cites the prophet Joel and the Psalms to explain the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2:16-36). This reliance on the Scriptures by Jesus and the apostles reinforces their reliability and centrality to the Christian faith.

About the Author

EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).



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