Seven Sets of Evidence for the Reliability of the Bible
Whereas last week's presentation focused on internal evidences for the inspiration and reliability of Scripture which Christians would find compelling, the following evidences should be compelling even for skeptics:
1.) Early Authorship
Particularly in the case of the New Testament, the texts of Scripture are all written extraordinarily early--within decades (or less) of the events they describe. They thus would be open to negation by eyewitnesses if false, yet no such contrary record exists. According to very early traditions and internal textual evidence, the Gospels and Acts are all written either by eyewitnesses or by authors with direct access to eyewitness testimony. By contrast, the so-called Gnostic gospels, some of which present alternative views of the gospel events, are all written 200-400 later and must be judged less trustworthy based on chronology alone.
2.) Multiple Witnesses
Rather than depending on a single account, for which historians would have very little textual context for judging reliability, the gospel events are attested to in multiple sources, all of which present a very similar picture of those events. The New Testament events are also referenced in a few outside (non-Christian sources) from the period. This sets them apart from many ancient historical texts, for which far less support exists.
3.) Rigorous Criteria for Canonization
The process by which texts became incorporated in the Bible, in both Jewish and Christian circles, was rigorous. For the New Testament, a given book had to fulfill three stringent criteria for inclusion: (1) It had to come from the apostolic generation; (2) It had to agree with the shared inheritance of the apostolic preaching handed down in church traditions; and (3) It had to be widely accepted and in use by all the churches. Since early Christianity was a widespread movement characterized by intense care concerning the passing along of apostolic teachings (see Jude 3), these three criteria would rule out almost any possibility of false traditions or historically unreliable narratives making it into the New Testament.
4.) Manuscript Tradition
The New Testament has an unrivalled excellence in the quantity and quality of its ancient manuscript tradition (this is also true now of the Old Testament too, thanks to the Dead Sea Scrolls). Far more New Testament documents exist--many thousands of copies--than any other ancient document (many of those other ancient documents have just a handful of copies, most of them coming very late in their manuscript traditions, yet are regarded as reliable). This allows scholars to compare the process of copying documents through the centuries. The manuscript tradition for the New Testament shows that its scribes were uniquely concerned with preserving its exact form, and by comparison across so many copies, we can be 99.9% sure that we have the precise words the apostles wrote. For all of the exceptions (that remaining 0.1%), we possess every possible alternative phrasing, and no single case of an alternative reading threatens any core Christian doctrine.
5.) Archeological Confirmation
(Specific evidence for this will be addressed in upcoming sessions of this apologetics series.)
6.) Effects on Individual Lives & Society
The Bible has exercised a transformational effect on many millions of lives throughout the ages and has shown a demonstrable pattern of revolutionizing human society for the better, both at the level of underlying cultural values and of social institutions (schools, hospitals, orphanages, the abolition of slavery, etc.).
7.) Traditions of Interpretation
Generation upon generation of Christians have given intense attention to making sure that we are getting the Bible right. We devote hard work to understanding issues of literary genre, cultural context, and the meaning of the text in its original languages.