Is the New Testament Historically Reliable?

How we can know that the New Testament is historically reliable and not just some made up document? We are not invited to ignorant faith, but to a faith that can stand against scrutiny. It should be noted that Christianity, unlike other world religions, throws itself under the bus of reliability by boldly proclaiming that if one part of it - the resurrection - is found to be false, then the whole thing is a sham. Not too many religious documents would willing invite such scrutiny.

Why would the New Testament invite that kind of investigation? Simply stated: it believes that its claims can be validated. While books have been written investigating some of these things, here are six bullet points as to why the New Testament can be viewed as a historically reliable document.

First, the testimony of the New Testament dates early on in the development of Christianity. In other words, the New Testament that you can buy in the dollar store is remarkably old, with the vast majority of the original documents being written prior to 70 AD, and our earliest manuscripts are remarkably accurate when compared to copies from much later in history.

Beyond these documents, some of the material within the New Testament dates even earlier. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, for example, we find a creed - a formal statement of belief - about the resurrection. Referenced in 1 Corinthians (which was written around 53 AD), even atheist scholars date the creed to pre-40 AD. This means that the material represented by the New Testament is old and validated by extra-biblical sources.

Secondly, the New Testament accounts are validated with scores of people claiming to have witnessed the events of Christ and his resurrection firsthand. The details described by these people are eyewitness type details - not vague, but specific - which would be more than adequate in a court of law. In the gospel of John and the book of Acts alone, there are close to 200 details that could only be known by eyewitnesses or by immediate transfer of information form eyewitnesses.

Thirdly, and my personal favorite, is the existence of testimony that is self-deprecating to the authors. In other words, the stories that they share are embarrassing. If you were inventing a new religion out of thin air, you would make yourself look great so that everyone would want to follow what you had to teach. The New Testament authors seem to do the opposite! They record stories of Peter (who becomes the leader of this new movement) being publicly rebuked by Jesus and called Satan. They record Mark running away naked in garden upon Jesus’ arrest.

The gospels list that the men were cowering in fear while the women were brave enough to go to Jesus’ tomb and were the first to see Jesus alive! Now, if you were concocting a story in a patriarchal society built upon the common oppression of women, you would never choose to have a woman’s testimony be your first line of defense. The fact that the New Testament willingly shares this and so much more gives it a unique sense of reliability. It doesn’t have any reason to hide - it boldly shares the truth as it happened.

Fourth, almost all of the early church apostles died horrible deaths because they were convinced that the resurrection was true. If you and your buddies came up with a tall tale to spin, you probably would not be willing to be boiled alive in pot of oil, crucified upside down, beheaded, or flogged, but many of these early church leaders were willing to go through all of those excruciating experiences rather than recant on their belief in the resurrection. That seems quite intense to cover up a farce.

Fifth, the New Testament is supported by myriads of Old Testament prophecies that fall in line with Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. Isaiah 53 is an incredible example of this. If you are familiar with the crucifixion of Jesus, then you will recognize Isaiah 53 as a remarkably accurate, poetic description of what happened.

Sixth, there is strong extra-biblical (documents written that are outside of the Bible) evidence that confirms the New Testament historical accounts. There are 10 ancient, non-Christian sources, all dated within 150 years of the cross, which paint a picture consistent with the one that is seen in the New Testament.

If you want to go deeper into any of these points, there are lots of good resources out there. To name a few, I would consider: I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler, Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, or any of the books by Ravi Zacharias.

Answers exist, the Bible can hold up to scrutiny, don’t be afraid to dig in and see for yourself.