Is the Bible a reliable document?
OK, in the same letter as below, the question was raised "Is the Bible a reliable document?" This is a great question for which there are outstanding answers.
Let me point you to some good sources for extensive answers, then give an abbreviated answer.
- Clear Evidence study guide - By Mark Ashton J Zondervan
- Is the New Testament Reliable? By Paul Barnett, IVP
- More than a Carpenter By Josh McDowell
- The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel (BTW, Lee will be at CCC this December! Watch for details to come!)
The Bottom line answer to your question is this: the New Testament is THE most reliable historical document of its day. Apply the typical tests that you would apply to any historical literature of it's day.
Just on the life of Jesus, here is the evidence.
How many eyewitnesses wrote about his life? 4 - Matthew, Mark, John and (probably) Paul. Add in Luke, who was a first-century gentile historian and you get five outstanding sources on the life of Jesus.
Did these authors agree or contradict? They agree to an amazing depth of detail
How close were they to the events? Eyewitnesses or interviewers of eyewitnesses - the best proximity to the events.
Are there first-century non-Christian sources who can verify some of these teachings? Amazingly, the answer is yes!
- Josephus - a Jewish Historian
- Cornelius Tacitus - a roman historian
- Pliny the Younger - Roman, just outside of first century
- Suetonius - Roman Historian
The above four authors, confirm amazing facts about the historical Jesus including: birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, he was called the "Christ", he claimed to be God, it was reported that he did miracles, he claimed he would ‘depart and come again, he was executed by Pontius Pilate via crucifixion in Judea, and that his followers taught he rose from the dead. Not bad for non-Christian sources!
Further, the preservation of the original manuscripts far exceeds that of any other ancient source. There are more ancient manuscript copies of the New Testament (5,000+ compared to the second-place document the Illiad with 643 copies) than any other historical document. Further, the copies that we have closer to the original than any other ancient document. What does this mean? It means that it is highly unlikely that ancient monks and scribes messed with the New Testament, mistranslated, or snuck in misinformation in any significant ways.
That is the short account. Fundamentally, you can trust the New Testament to give you accurate information about Jesus. It is more reliable - by a very wide margin - than any other historical document before 1000 A.D.