How Do We Know the Bible Is True? Part 4

In each of these posts in this series, I’ve danced around the evidence of history. History is a part of the discussion of fulfilled prophecy and of the discussion of archaeological evidence and in the discussion of the unity of Scripture. It’s time, I guess, to deal with history head on.

First, I want to thank Nathaniel for his helpful comment to the Part 3 post. In part he said:

It is certainly true that the verification of one point does not amount to the verification of every point. But when the veracity of a putatively historical document is in doubt, archaeological confirmation is one of the ways that evidence can accumulate on the side of the document’s general reliability. This is done in secular historical research all the time.

I especially like the phrase “evidence can accumulate” because that’s the only way we can know that which we can not dissect. First to morsecOde, then to Andrew, I’ve asked the question, How do you know Abraham Lincoln lived?

The fact is, we accept the historical record. We have no particular need to check into the details first hand, but if we did we would find paintings of him and a few photographs. We’d find correspondence and copies of his speeches. Would we then study the photographs to see if they were authentic? Or consult a handwriting expert to discover if there was any way to determine if Lincoln actually wrote the letters? Would we look into the method the speeches were copied and preserved in order to see if they were, in fact, reliable copies?

My point is, we accept the fact that Lincoln existed because we feel there is a preponderance of evidence, and we have no predisposition to question what we have come to believe is true.

Some years ago, a group of people came up with the idea that the Nazis never killed 6 million Jews in extermination camps. Another group has suggested that astronauts never landed on the moon. Both of these groups argue away the evidence at their disposal.

Clearly, historical proof depends on a measure of trust. Ultimately, a person has to say, In light of this evidence, I believe _ to be true.

Books have been written to give historical proof of the Bible, and certainly it would take books to do so. I don’t have the time or space to examine all the data. But I would like to look at Jesus, since He is the central figure of the Bible. Is there historical evidence that He existed, and especially that He performed miracles, was crucified, and rose again?

In my research, I discovered that most scholars in the fields of biblical studies and history agree that Jesus was a “Jewish teacher from Galilee,” accused of sedition against the Roman Empire, and on the orders of Pontius Pilate, sentenced to crucifixion. One reason for this acceptance of Jesus as a historical person is extra-Biblical evidence, especially writings of Josephus, but also of Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny the Younger.

Of course the greatest amount of information about Jesus comes from the gospels. When scholars consider the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as with all historical sources, they examine such things as the authors’ motivations and the source of their information. They also take into consideration the amount of time between the events and the writing, and if they don’t have the original of a document, how many copies and how closely they compare with one another.

Biblical scholars seem to agree that the book of Mark is the oldest, or first written, so here are some facts about Mark in comparison to other ancient histories:

    Tucydides’ History – written c. 415 BC, earliest copy dated 900 AD, 8 copies in existence.
    Tacitus’ Annals – written c. 100 AD, earliest copy dated 1100 AD, 20 copies in existence.
    Mark’s Gospel – written c. 60 AD, earliest copy dated 200 AD, thousands in existence.

Here’s a timeline comparison from event to author:

    12 Tables (c. 450 BC) – Livy (d. 17 AD) = 450 years
    Alexander (d. 323 BC – Plutarch (c 120 AD) = 400+ years
    Jesus (30/33 AD – Mark (c 60 AD) = 25-30 years

In other words, there is adequate historical evidence to believe that Jesus lived.

Some scholars use a criteria-based approach to authenticating Jesus’s existence. This approach looks at things like how likely a reported event is to contradict an author’s agenda, how many independent sources give consistent accounts, how congruent the record is with the cultural context, and so on.

It’s quite clear why the vast majority of scholars, Christian and non-Christian, believe Jesus lived. The conclusion then is this: by examining the facts about Jesus, we verify that Mark’s account is reliable. Expand on this process, and it becomes clear that The Bible is reliable.

Published in: on April 17, 2009 at 1:16 pm  Comments (3)  
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  1. Becky,

    Thanks for the kind words. In connection with your question about Abraham Lincoln, let me recommend Oliver Price Buel’s hilarious spoof The Abraham Lincoln Myth. Buel applies the skeptical methods of biblical criticism (as adopted in the late 19th century by T. H. Huxley) to the life of Abraham Lincoln, as seen by a higher critic of the 37th century … with predictable results.


  2. Becky (and Nathaniel),

    Serious hypothetical. I happen to have in my library a copy of a 1964 “campaign biography” of Lyndon Johnson. A “campaign biography” is exactly what it sounds like — this is a slim, 60-page volume put out in 1964 by followers of Lyndon Johnson seeking to get him elected President.

    Are you inclined to believe that every single word contained in that biography is authentic?



  3. Nathaniel, thanks for recommending Buel’s spoof. I hadn’t heard of it, but it sure fits into this discussion.

    Andrew, all I can say about the Lyndon Johnson campaign biography is, it better all be true. Of course, I also understand it does not tell all.

    Neither do the gospels claim to tell all about Jesus. Just the opposite, in fact. I would expect, however, that the things Jesus said and did that were not recorded would not be inconsistent with those that are recorded.

    And just like campaign claims, the people living in that day were free to rise up and debunk any errant statements. Instead, no one apparently objected to such things as the claim that thousands came to believe in Jesus after His followers preached Him as the risen Christ, crucified for the sins of Man.

    How can I say that? Because the growth of the church is fact. If it was built on lies and myths that could so easily be debunked, people who knew would have looked at believers as fools, not as dangerous extremists to be eradicated.



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