How do we know the Bible is reliable?
Why should I trust a book that's thousands of years old?
Ever heard someone say "how can you trust the Bible - it was written so long ago"?
I’m confident this and other similar questions have answers and I will attempt to give you some of them in this article.
(Note: in an article as short as this I need to limit my answers to the biographies of Jesus’ life - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).
Q. When and by whom were they written?
A. We don’t know the exact dates and times that the New Testament Gospels were written, but we do know that they were written between AD 60 and AD 90, about 30 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
* Matthew: written by one of Jesus’ disciples (also known as Levi). He was a tax collector before he became a disciple.
* Mark: written by a travelling companion of the apostle Peter. It’s safe to assume that the majority of information in his biography came from Peter.
* Luke: a travelling companion of the apostle Paul. At the beginning of his biography he explains that he had carefully investigated everything he wrote.
* John: written by Jesus’ best friend and disciple. He was the only one of the twelve disciple not to be executed.
Q. 30 years! Why did they wait so long before they wrote anything down?
A. Asking why the first Christians didn’t write their biographies earlier is like asking why most businesses didn’thave websites until the late 90’s. It wasn’t the best way to share information back then! Only 10-15% of people living in the first century could read and write and so the best way to pass on information was through word of mouth. In actual fact, the reason the story was eventually written down was because the eyewitnesses were starting to die out and they wanted to preserve the truth of their testimony.
Q. Are our copies anything like the originals?
A. It may come as a bit of a shock to people when they find out that we don’t actually possess any of the original copies of the gospels. What we have are copies, and copies of copies. The diagram below is an illustration of the kind of situation that has arisen. The yellow copies are the ones that we have today, and the white ones are the ones we’ve lost.
This isn’t actually as much of a problem as you might think. When we line up all the yellow copies next to each other –aside from a few minor variations- they’re basically identical. And I say basically identical because truth be told there are some variations, but almost all of them are very minor. Matthew 6:33 may serve as a good example. At the moment this verse reads, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”, but our earliest copies of this verse are missing the words “of God”. Needless to say, it’s not something to lose any sleep over.
Q. Is there any way of checking what they say?
A. Yes! And I can’t recommend John Dixon’s DVD The Christ Files too highly for more information in this area. But here’s what we know about Jesus from non-Christian historical sources, that is, historical sources outside of the Bible:
1. Was a historical figure
2. Had a questionable birth
3. Was a teacher
4. Performed baffling deeds
5. Lived in Palestine in the first century AD
6. Was thought by some to be a King
7. Was Executed under Pontius Pilate
8. Was reported to have risen from the dead
9. Was worshipped by his followers as divine
When we combine these details they give us a relatively detailed picture of the Jesus of history, which surprisingly enough for some is identical to the Jesus we meet in the Gospels.
Not only does God reveal himself to us in Jesus, but he also reveals himself to us in the Bible. You can trust it! Here’s what this means for you:
1. Read it and ask an older Christian to explain anything you don’t understand.
2. Go to a church where they teach clearly from the Bible.