Historical Reliability of the Bible

The Bible is the most historically reliable book that exists. Many people will take issue with this statement, but I challenge them: how does one test a historical document for reliability?

There are three ways historical documents should be tested:


Is the version of the book we have identical to the original?

It would be ridiculous to maintain that a book is reliable if it is not the same book that was originally written. If I mail you a letter, and you get a letter with half of my words missing and several lines added, then you can not rely on the letter you got.

No one would maintain that ancient classics such as Homer's The Iliad or the history of Herodotus are in doubt as to being the original books penned by their authors.

The earliest handwritten copies of the history of Herodotus are over 1,300 years later than the time Herodotus lived. The earliest written copies of the books of the New Testament are from the year 130, just 100 years after Jesus lived, and less than that for the apostles.

There are 643 individual handwritten copies of The Iliad. We can examine these for differences, and then decide what the original wording was. The Iliad has substantially more copies in existence than almost any other book of antiquity. Most others have less than ten, yet historians do not regard these as later forgeries. The New Testament has over 22,000 handwritten manuscripts in existence. We can be sure that the wording of these books is substantially the same as the original authors' wording.


Were the books really written by people who knew what they were talking about?

How could a book be reliable if its author did not know the material he was writing about? If I write you a letter telling you what happened to me yesterday, you have no reason to doubt the letter on the basis of my knowledge; I know what happened to me yesterday better than anyone else. If, however, I write you a letter about what happened to some farmer in South America, you would immediately ask yourself: "How would he know?"

Many of the books of the New Testament do not give an author. The New Testament has four "Gospels," accounts of the life of Jesus, yet not a single one of them states who wrote it. Nevertheless, almost immediately after the books were completed, we have references in extra-Biblical sources that associate each book with a definite author. Think about this. If I give you an essay and tell you I wrote it, if you then give it to someone else you might tell them I wrote it, even if I did not sign my essay. If, on the other hand, I try to give you a check signed by myself from someone else that you know, you will know it is a forgery. Those who are closest to a document and its author are best able to evaluate its reliablity in this respect.

However, it is still unnecessary to tie each book to a specific author. The books have been shown to have been released in the time period immediately after Jesus lived, and while eye-witnesses to him were still living. In fact, many enemy eye-witnesses were alive. Any of these people could have squelched these books immediately if they contained inaccuracy.

Note the way New Testament authors refer to their writings:

II Peter 1:16

For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

I John 1:1,3

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the word of life --
what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us.

Those who wrote the books of the New Testament claimed that they were eyewitnesses, and no one living, including hostile witnesses, could contradict them!


Do the authors of these books tell the truth?

This is the final question. Once again, using the letter analogy, if I write you a letter and tell you some things you don't know about, and tell you some things you know to be false, you will doubt that I am telling you the truth in the matters you do not know about.

Challenges to the Bible's veracity, both Old and New Testaments, have been frequent in the last couple of centuries. All of these attempts to discredit the Bible have failed. Critics once charged that the Hittite race mentioned in the Old Testament never existed. They have now been shown to have been a prominent culture in those days. The works of Luke, Acts and the Gospel of Luke have often come under attack. Luke has been charged with using incorrect names for political leaders. A quick glance through his books will show that he often ties the events he narrates to specific times by telling who was in political authority in that place and time.

How can we trust Luke if he can't even figure out the titles of governors and rulers? We don't have to. Every time Luke has come under fire, archeologists have discovered inscriptions and documents that also use these same titles. Though Luke has sometimes been doubted, his writings have proven to be trustworthy.

Similar arguments hold true for the other books of the New Testament. In addition, those who proclaimed this message also proclaimed that it was wrong to lie. If they told the truth in simple things, why is it so hard to believe that they told the truth in complex things?


Thus, we have seen that the New Testament books are reliable on the basis of their integrity, authenticity, and accuracy. No other books of old, share this incredible witness to reliability, yet historians will readily trust them.

David Blackstone

Published in The Old Paths Archive (http://www.oldpaths.com)