Authenticity of The Bible: Internal Support

Author When Written Earliest Copy Time Span Number of Copies
Caesar 100-44 900 A.D. 1,000 yrs. 10
Livy 59 B.C.-A.D. 20
Plato (Tetralogies) 427-347 B.C. 900 A.D. 1,200 yrs. 7
Tacitus (Annals) 100 A.D. 1,100 A.D. 1,000 yrs. 20
 also minor works 100 A.D. 1,000 A.D. 900 yrs. 1
Pliny the Younger (History) 61-113 A.D. 850 A.D.. 750 yrs. 7
460-400 B.C. 900 A.D. 1,300 yrs. 8
(De Vita Caesarum)
75-160 A.D. 950 A.D. 800 yrs. 8
480-425 B.C. 900 A.D. 1,300 yrs. 8
Horace 900 yrs.
Sophocles 430-406 B.C. 1,000 A.D. 1,400 yrs. 100
Lucretius Died 55 or 53 B.C . 1,100 yrs. 2
Catullus 54 B.C. 1,550 A.D. 1,600 yrs. 3
Euripedes 480-406 B.C. 1,100 A.D. 1,500 yrs. 9
Demosthenes 383-322 B.C. 1,100 A.D. 1,300 yrs. 200*
Aristotle 384-322 B.C. 1,100 A.D. 1,400 yrs. 5**
Aristophanes 450-385 B .C. 900 A. D. 1,200 yrs. 10
*All from one copy. **Of any one work.
From Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, rev ed. (San Bernardino, Calif.: Here’s Life,1979), p. 42.

The boring chart above shows the bibliographical test in which historians seek to determine how many and how far apart the copies of ancient literature are. As you can see, on average, there are only 20 copies of each book and the average year apart is about 1,000 years. In contrast to this, the New Testament documents have both a staggering quantity of manuscripts and a very short time span apart (this increases it’s internal veracity). There are approximately 5,000 Greek manuscripts, 8,000 manuscript copies of the Vulgate (a Latin translation done by Jerome from 382-405 A.D), and more than 350 copies of Syriac (Christian Aramaic) versions of the New Testament (c. 150-250 AD). On top of this, the entire new Testament could be reproduced from various citations in other works (mostly early church fathers). So you can see, there’s a bunch out there. What about the span of time between known copies?  Well, many of the manuscripts are very early. The John Rylands manuscript (c. 120) found in Egypt, contains a couple of verses from John. The Chester Beatty Papyri (c.200) contains major portions of the New Testament. The Codex Sinaiticus (c. 350) contains virtually all of the new Testament. The Codex Vaticanus contains virtually the whole Bible (c. 325-350). All of these are well under the average time of 1000 years. However this, of course, does not prove the authenticity of the Bible alone. What it does show is that we can comfortably believe in an accurate representation of the New Testament. And by comfortably, I mean very comfortably because the New Testament sits very high above the other manuscripts of antiquity.

Another A+…

Another form of internal criticism lies on these conditions: the document is a private letter or intended for small audiences. The absence of these qualities do not, however, diminish the documents historical standing. All they do is increase the documents prima facie acceptance. Much of the New Testament, especially the apostolic letters and some of the sources behind the Gospels, is made up of personal letters originally intended for individuals and small group and thus the NT is much easier to accept historically.

Some Eyewitness Help…

Acts 1:21-22 (NIV): 21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

Passages like this qualify the statement that being in an apostolic position requires eyewitness status (another one is found in Hebrews 2:3). This, compounded with the fact that the NT authors claimed to be eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-4; Gal. 1; 2 Peter 1:16), makes a very good case that the NT was written to record actual events by actual witnesses. C. H. Dodd has argued that the chronological order of Jesus’ ministry as it is given in the sermons parallels nicely to the order given in Mark’s Gospel. This shows the NT authors were interested in fine historical detail. Furthermore, Paul himself showed great interest in biographical details of Jesus’ life (Rom. 15:3, 8; 2 Cor. 8:9; Phil. 2:6-11).

Arguments For The Eyewitnesses…

1) Under the burden of proof, one must show that a historical document is false. They can’t just assume. Immanuel Kant supports this by stating that a general presumption of lying is self-refuting, since if such a presumption is universalized (one always assumes someone is lying) lying becomes pointless (lying is impossible without a general presumption of truth telling). Thus we have good reason to believe in the historicity of the NT, unless proven otherwise.

2) Did the witnesses have anything to gain from it? Nope. In fact they all suffered a life of hardship, rejection from their own community, and died martyr’s deaths (2 Cor. 11:23-29). People will die for what they believe to be true, but no one will die for what they know to be a lie. Look at human nature throughout history. No conspiracy can be maintained when life or liberty is at stake. Dying for a belief is one thing, but numerous eye-witnesses dying for a known lie is quite another. And for what? Nothing at all.

3) The presence of fake eyewitnesses would have killed the spread of Christianity. Why? Because Christianity originated, and remained for sometime, in the various areas Jesus had ministered. If the early portrait of Him was untrue, how could the apostles have succeeded there? They would have been run out of town and the birth of the “cult” would have been choked. If Jesus did not exist, there should not have been such a rapid growth of the early Church in Jerusalem. It would like me knocking on your door and telling you that you had a new neighbor and went even further by saying he was the president, you would easily find out that this was wrong (yes, that was a terrible analogy, but you get the point). This is exactly like the early Christians in Jerusalem, they could easily find out that this man never existed on the basis that he supposedly ate, slept, and taught in the very place they lived in (not to mention the resurrection). Secondly, why would they have begun there in the first place? It would have been much easier to start in a place where nobody had an opinion on Christ or the apostles, for that matter. One of the last places a fake religion flourishes is in the place where it claims that the residence saw miraculous signs.

4) The time between Jesus’s death and the writing of the gospels is just too short for legend interpolations to happen. This point has been well-explained by A. N. Sherwin-White in his books on Roman society and law in the New Testament.  According to Sherwin-White, the sources for Roman and Greek history are usually biased and removed one or two generations or even a couple centuries from the events they purport to record. In the face of this, he says, historians (like himself) reconstruct with confidence the course of Roman and Greek history. As an example used by many, the two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written by Arrian and Plutarch  400+ years after Alexander’s death, and yet classical historians still consider them to be trustworthy documents. In fact the legend filled accounts of Alexander occur almost exactly two generations after the earliest biographies. According to Sherwin-White, the writings of Herodotus enable us to determine the rate at which legend accumulates, and the tests show that even two generations is too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core historical facts. When Professor Sherwin-White turns to the gospel accounts, he states that for the gospels to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be “unbelievable.” More generations would have to be necessary for legend to creep in. This point is corroborated by the fact that the fanciful apocryphal writings of Jesus appeared in the 2nd century AD – almost exactly around the time biasness was predicted to creep in by Sherwin-White.

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  1. #1 by Kelly on July 3, 2011 - 8:35 am

    So how do you account for the fact that Jesus was barely even mentioned in history and that the Josephus records have been proven to been forged?

  2. #2 by studentsforchristianity on July 3, 2011 - 11:56 pm

    Later references to Jesus by the Roman historian Tacitus, the Jewish historian Josephus, the Syrian writer Mara bar Serapion, rabbinical writings, and extra-biblical Christian authors confirm what the New Testament tells us about Jesus but they don’t really give us anything new to talk about. What is key for the historian, however, will not be these later sources, but the New Testament documents themselves and their sources.

    I guess this leads to my question: why be interested in extra-canonical sources rather than the primary source documents themselves?

    We need to keep in mind that originally there wasn’t any such book called “The New Testament” or “The Bible”. There were just these separate documents handed down from the first century, individual documents like the Gospel of Luke, the Gospel of John, the Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, Greece, and so on. It wasn’t until a couple centuries later that the church officially collected all these documents under one cover, which came to be known as the New Testament. The church only included the earliest sources which were closest to Jesus and the original disciples and left out the later, secondary accounts like the forged apocryphal gospels, which everyone knew were fakes. So from the very nature of the case, the best historical sources were included in the New Testament. People who insist on evidence taken only from writings outside the New Testament don’t understand what they’re asking for. As Willaim Lane Craig puts it, “They’re demanding that we ignore the earliest, primary sources about Jesus in favor of sources which are later, secondary, and less reliable, which is just nuts as historical methodology.”

    You see there isn’t a point in asking for the later and less reliable secular documents (Josephus, Tacitus, etc.). The only reason people ask for those is due to the fact that they associate the individual historical documents pertaining to Jesus (like Luke, Matthew, Mark, etc.) with the connotation-ridden name of the New Testament.

    But if you want the minor leagers here is a site all about them:

  3. #3 by Kelly on July 4, 2011 - 12:27 am

    So when people say you can’t prove the Bible by the Bible we would be able to argue that, at least for the NT, they are individual eyewitness accounts with a chain-of-custody that are authenticated historical documents and therefor stand on their own as the proof someone needs for Who Jesus is.

    And did William Lane Craig really say “nuts”? 😉

  4. #4 by studentsforchristianity on July 4, 2011 - 12:43 am

    Exactly. When people claim that you can’t prove the Bible through the Bible, they’re actually saying that one can’t prove the Bible’s claims (in this case, the existence of Jesus)through the examination of the individual documents of the Bible. Which most biblical scholars or historians, for that matter, in response to this objection would answer with a passionate, “You’re wrong!”.

    And, yeah, I was pretty suprised that he said “nuts” too.

  5. #5 by Geoffrey Charles on July 9, 2011 - 12:54 am

    The earliest NT manuscript is from the early second century, almost 100 years after the death of Jesus. 100 years is a long time for changes in the story to occur.

    historically reliable letters? Mainstream scholarship has concluded that some of the NT letters are forgeries, e.g. 2 Peter.

    Those claims of eye-witness testimony came from whom modern scholarship has concluded to be anonymous authors. This severely lessens their credibility.

    1) The biblical documents are not given the benefit of the doubt regarding the miracle claims. And regarding the hexateuch (torah and joshua) specifically, mainstream scholars have shown that traditional, historical interpretation is unfounded.

    2) Jews, believers and non-believers, were being killed all over the place. There’s little evidence that the early believers were being killed for their belief in the resurrection specifically.

    4) It’s not the mundane historical claims that skeptic’s object to, but rather the miraculous claims. Citing Greek and Roman history does not address this point, unless you believe their myths are historical, as well.

    • #6 by Molon Labe on July 12, 2011 - 5:17 am

      I would agree that a century is plenty of time for the “story” to change…if it was oral tradition, not written. For example, prior to the Dead Sea Scrolls the oldest OT document was around 1000AD. That one thousand year gap produced no significant variations in the text. Also, if the copies of NT texts from the 2nd century on up maintained their fidelity, why would our beloved modern scholars assume that the first hundred years were problematic? An agenda, perhaps? It should come as no surprise that liberal scholars (such as those at the Brite Divinity School) are able to reach a consensus to support their worldview and call themselves “mainstream” and all dissenters “rogues.”

      1) The biblical documents aren’t given the benefit of the doubt about anything by liberals, especially the miracle claims. The documents are considered forgeries or fakes or “stories.”

      2) Early believers were killed for refusing to recant their belief that Jesus was the Messiah and God. The resurrection was the reason they didn’t recant. Like the blogger said, people don’t die for something they know is a lie. The resurrection sealed the deal.

      4) The skeptics, yourself included, may have an anti-miracle bias, but there is no reason to equate the miracles of the Bible with Greek and Roman mythology (compare them without a jaundiced eye and your intuition will lead you out of that fallacy – a favorite of “scholarly consensus.”) There is one class of miracle, for example, that separates the Bible from ancient mythology and every other religion on earth – fulfilled prophecy. I encourage you to study the Bible without the distortion of the liberal lens. We laymen are quite capable of critical thinking, logic, and independent conclusions (at least we were before we went to college!). Start with the Gospel of John – you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


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