“The Bible is a book, it does not have supernatural powers, it is not alive, it is a compilation of ancient myths and only has the authority that you give it.” Jaqueline Hadley, Atheist Blogger
Why does the Christian believe that this book of books is more than mere print on paper but the inspired, holy word of God? Well, precisely because he has good reason to. It stands apart from other holy texts, it is not analogous to other books such as the Qu’ran, many of the claims of the Bible are testable, they are historically falsifiable or verifiable. The companion and counsellor of countless thousands throughout the ages, the Bible has stood the test of time and has weathered the scrutiny of the keenest of skeptics. This is a text that is at least deserving of a respectful and thoughtful approach. The outright dismissal of the Bible as a libellous book of myth and legend is not based upon reason or evidence but upon prejudice and misinformation.
The Bible, as we know, is divided into two testaments distinct from one another yet inextricably linked. The Old Testament was written by over 25 individual authors over a time span of at least 1000 years and contains 39 books. The 39 books that make up the Torah are written in 6 different literary styles; history/narrative, law, wisdom, poetry, prophecy and apocalyptic. The New Testament contains the canonical gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which are biographies covering the key moments of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. These books are based on eyewitness accounts or were actually written by eyewitnesses themselves. The vast majority of New Testament scholars agree that these four books were written and in circulation within the 1st century AD. The rest of the New Testament is compiled of an historical account of the early church (Acts), letters written by the apostle Paul, Peter, James and John among others and the book of Revelation, an apocalyptic revelation written by John during his exile on the island of Patmos.
Let’s begin by looking at the New Testament. Why is it important to state that the gospels are eyewitness accounts? Well, in a court of law the testimony of eyewitnesses is extremely valuable in establishing the truth of a matter. What we have in the gospels is precisely this; eyewitness accounts of the life of the man in question, Jesus of Nazareth. All written within 60 years of 33AD the writers were at pains to accurately record what they had witnessed.
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”
Luke 1:1-4 NIV
Luke, a doctor, wrote his gospel account and also the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Colin Hemer, an historian, has provided overwhelming proof for the historicity of the book of Acts in his book “The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenic History”, showing that Dr. Luke was minutely accurate in recording nearly 100 details corroborated by other historians of antiquity. Scholars date the book of Acts to around 60AD, Luke’s gospel therefore likely dates to between 55-60AD. The books of John, Matthew and Mark are generally dated to around 90AD, 60AD and 50AD respectively. Leaving a remarkably small gap in comparison with other ancient historical writings between Jesus’s death and reported resurrection and the first Gospel account being written. These writings are best viewed in light of their original purpose and context; as Greek documents coming down to us from the first century, containing eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus.
“Multiple eyewitness testimony, such as we find in the New Testament, cannot be found for any other person or event in the ancient world.” Norman Geisler
We have over 5,000 Greek manuscripts (and a further 19,000 in other languages) of the New Testament documents dating back to as early as 130AD. Around a 100 year gap from when they were originally written. This is remarkably close when you consider the gap between the writing date and earliest manuscripts for other famous texts of antiquity; Livy’s Roman History – 900 year gap, Tacitus – 1000 year gap, Herodotus & Thucydides – 1300 year gap. Even then, there are only a handful of copies of these manuscripts. The accounts of the life of Jesus come early after the events and in great multitude. If one wants to deny the reliability of the New Testament due to the gap of around 75-100 years between the composition dates of the books and the earliest manuscripts he must also deny the reliability of Plato (1200 year gap), Aristotle (1400 year gap), Caesar (1000 year gap) and Homer (500 year gap).
Crucially, the gospels were in circulation within the lifetime of those who witnessed the events they describe. Had their claims been fallacious they could and would have been strongly refuted, however this is not what we find in contemporary secular sources. In fact, writings by 1st and 2nd century historians Josephus, Tacitus and Suetonius lend support to the Gospel accounts rather than undermining them. Though the references to Jesus in these texts aren’t especially long or detailed they don’t contradict in any way what we already know of Jesus from the Gospel narratives. This is persuasive evidence that the gospels give an accurate account of actual events in 1st century Judea.
Skeptics often claim that the new testament has been doctored and messed with over the years. Scholars who have examined these early manuscripts have determined that they are 99.9% free from variations. The variations that do occur are most often differences in spelling, slips of the pen or slight grammatical changes. Non of these variations affect any doctrine or teaching of Christianity. We can be sure that the New Testament we read today is an accurate representation of what was originally written in the 1st Century.
Then there is the archaeological evidence which is continually stacking up in favour of the historical accounts found in the Old Testament. New archaeological sites are being excavated in Israel all the time, many of these sites are yielding new and remarkable information pertaining to the Israelites and the veracity of the Bible. A few such discoveries are Joshua’s altar on Mount Ebal and recently discovered bullae (seals) bearing the names of King Hezekiah and Isaiah the Prophet found in the ancient City of David.
The site of Joshua’s altar (Deuteronomy 27) was excavated by Dr. Adam Zertal and his team. Zertal, working in the territory of Manasseh for some considerable time has uncovered such a wealth of evidence supporting Old Testament account that it has turned him from atheism to Christianity. He found its remains around two-thirds of the way up the mountain, made from unworked stone and facing mount Gerazim.
“And when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster. And there you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. You shall wield no iron tool on them; you shall build an altar to the Lord your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God,”
When researchers excavated the centre of the altar they found it full of bones and ashes. The team sent these remains off the the University of Haifa for examination. The sample was found to contain 942 bones which indicated some 50-100 animals, the remains found belonged exclusively to sheep, goats and cattle. Researchers were also able to determine the age and sex of some of these animals using the more complete bone fragments; all male and one year old. Had it been a Canaanite altar we could expect to find non-kosher animal remains, but the evidence strongly points to this being an Israelite altar. Pottery was also found at the altar dating from the time of the exodus.
On a dig near the Temple Mount on the outskirts of the City of David in 2009, archaeologist Eilat Mazar discovered several bullae in what is believed to be ancient bakery dating to the time of Solomon. In 2015 after several years of investigation she revealed to the public that one of the seals belonged to none other than King Hezekiah.
In recent weeks she has made another even more startling announcement. In an adjacent room to the one where the Hezekiah bulla was found a seal bearing the inscription of a certain Isaiah, Prophet. Though the Isaiah bulla has been damaged (it bears the fingerprint of the individual who marked it roughly 2,700 years ago) the inscription can still be read clearly.
With ever increasing frequency discoveries are being made in the Holy land which put to the sword the hyper-skeptical position commonly put forth by mainstream media. As ever when it pertains to questions of Christianity, Jesus and the veracity of the Bible one must do a little digging of their own to ascertain the facts of the matter.
The Bible does indeed contain narratives, stories and accounts which make the modern mind scoff. This great, modern mind that only accepts that which is supported by evidence, that builds it’s understanding upon cold, hard facts alone. Whether the modern mind likes the inference of the facts and evidence presented is besides the point. So why is it that in the face of such a strong set of supporting facts and evidence the Bible is still rejected as mythological nonsense? The Bible is primarily about God, a supernatural being. Yet we seem to expect that this all-powerful, supernatural being ought to have restricted his actions within a prescribed set of natural laws, that this supernatural being’s supernaturalness somehow makes His being implausible. This kind of reasoning sounds like nonsense to me, not the supposed supreme logic and reasoning of modern man. If the modern mind truly does value facts and evidence over sentiment then it will follow the evidence wherever it leads in regards to the Bible, even if it means accepting uncomfortable conclusions.