The New Testament consists of twenty-seven books, four that narrate the last three years of Jesus Christ.
The remaining books are letters and one being apocalyptic. The incarnation, the crucifixion, and resurrection are connected to a place and time. The beliefs of the New Testament cannot be separated from historical events and remain viable. This beckons a few important questions.
1. When They Where Written
The dates of these books follow Christ’s crucifixion which is agreed to be AD 30. The New Testament documents were finished by AD 100. From a historical research point of view the time between the events and the writings was short. This is an important point to the trustworthiness of the historical writings of the New Testament. There is much more evidence for the New Testament than any other ancient writings. There are 5,000 manuscripts dating back to 350 AD for the New Testament. Caesar’s Gallic War has about 9 or 10 and the oldest of the manuscripts are about 900 years after its original writing in 58 to 50 BC.
The canon of the New Testament was seen as the work of the Holy Spirit. The church’s role was only to recognize the books. The earliest list completed in AD 140 by Marcion and next was the Muratorian Fragment. There is evidence of the circulation of the New Testament beginning in AD 115, spoken of by a Bishop of Antioch. The only books to be in dispute during the formation of the canon were James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John but were accepted by the majority. The books of the New Testament were already viewed as inspired scripture and were included in the canon only to organize them.
2. The Source
The Gospels were far from cut and paste compilations, they each had their own viewpoint that characterized their Gospels.Evidence for the Gospels shows that they were written no later than AD 60 and even going back farther with oral sources. Inconsistencies in witnesses would not have been tolerated by those wanting to extinguish faith in Jesus as the Messiah.
3. The Eye-Witness of John
The author declares himself to be an eye-witness and John, the disciple of Jesus is known to be the writer. Irenaeus a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of the apostle John stated specifically that John was the writer.
Some discuss whether Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels is the same Jesus as in John’s Gospel. Chronological differences are seen but can be explained in a southern Palestine ministry that compliments the Synoptic Gospels. The Synoptic Gospels lack some chronological references that John does give. For example, in the feeding of the 5,000 Mark comments on the green grass and then in John it gives this event occurring just before the Passover in April which explains the green grass. All of the Gospels support Jesus as Messiah and there is no material difference in this view of Jesus among the Gospels writings.
Beginning with the resurrection there are 3 facts: the tomb was empty, the Lord appeared to disciples in Judea and Galilee,and the Jewish authorities could not disprove the claim of Jesus’ resurrection.
The resurrection proves Jesus was the Messiah and under this view of Jesus—miracles can be expected. Non-Christians did not deny any of His miracles, either from Josephus or in the rabbinical writings. The water in wine miracles show the connection to miracles being a sign, the delivering from sin and ushering in the Kingdom. Feeding the 5,000 and the coin in the fish’s mouth can be seen as possible when Jesus is viewed as the Messiah. The miracles give us lessons in faith.
5. Writings of Paul and Luke
Paul was the earliest New Testament writer producing letters from AD 48-60. What he wrote is in agreement with the Gospels. Further,his writings show that he was very knowledgeable of Jesus’ life and teachings.
Luke was a historical writer and accuracy is seen in his writings. Luke uses official titles, an example is Luke calls Herod Antipas the Tetrarch and never King which in fact is true – he was never given that status by the Emperor. At every turn there is accuracy in the writings of Luke. The census in Luke 2 has been questioned, but it’s not without parallel Tiberus took a census in Antiochus telling them to return to their home of birth. Luke was truthful in the descriptions of cultures visited by Paul. Luke was an accurate historian and this attests to the trustworthiness of the Gospel of Luke and Acts.
6. Archaeology and Other Writings
When Paul and Barnabas healed a man in Lystra the citizens claim they were Zeus and Hermes. There is evidence from the poet Ovid as well as an inscription near Lystra that give evidence of Zeus and Hermes worship in Lystra. The pool of Bethesda was found by an archaeologist, spoken of in John 5:2. There were Greek writings found in Egypt showing that the Greek in the New Testament was the language of the common people.
The case-law traditions of Rabbis were compiled in the Mishnah and commented on in the Germaras. There are a few references to Jesus that are not favorable, but this does attest to the historical Jesus. They described Jesus as a transgressor in Israel and practiced magic. They also gave names for Jesus that allude to his crucifixion, “the hanged one”.
Josephus settled in Rome after the fall of Jerusalem. He wrote about the history of the Jews from 170 BC to 73 AD. He wrote about the famine in the days of Claudius and the death of Agrippa I. These events are also found in the writings by Luke in Acts 11 and 12. Josephus also gave mention to Jesus, James the brother of Jesus, and John the Baptist.
Thallus who wrote a history of Greece in AD 52 refutes the darkness at the time of Jesus’ death which is evident that the Gospel tradition was known in Rome around this time. The greatest Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus wrote about the Christians being blamed for the fires in Rome in AD 64. And He is the only author outside of Jewish and Christian writers to mention Pilate.
This post was based upon a book by F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are they reliable?.