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CAN YOU BELIEVE THE NEW TESTAMENT? Part 3: The Internal Evidence Test

a. Purpose of writing the gospels

i. Luke’s purpose:

Luke 1:1-4 “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. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

Based on the account of eyewitnesses and a careful investigation, Luke’s goal to write his gospel was to provide an accurate account of what happened in Jesus’ time. He had written this gospel to someone named Theophilus, and his writings were shared with others.

ii. John’s purpose:

John 20:31 “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

John’s purpose of writing this gospel was to convince others that Jesus was the Christ and was the Son of God. To convince others to believe, John had to be accurate in reporting historical facts to his contemporary audience, otherwise he would have been dismissed as an outright liar, as many had witnessed for themselves what had happened in the days of Jesus.

iii. Matthew’s and Marc’s purpose:

No purpose is given, although their style of writing is quite close to Luke’s. It seems quite reasonable that their purpose would have been close to Luke’s.

iv. Conclusion:

“Consider the way the gospels are written – in a sober and responsible fashion, with accurate incidental details, with obvious care and exactitude. You don’t find the outlandish flourishes and blatant mythologizing that you see in a lot of other ancient writings.

What does all that up to?…It seems quite apparent that the goal of the gospel writers was to attempt to record what had actually occurred.”

Craig L. Blomberg, PH.D. as quoted by Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998, p. 40.

Question: What was Luke’s purpose of writing his gospel?

Your answer:

Question: What was John’s purpose of writing his gospel?

Your answer:

Question: Why had the authors of the gospels be accurate?

Your answer:

b. Reliability of the New Testament writers.

All the books of the New Testament are based on primary sources. The writers are writing as eyewitnesses or from firsthand information and their audience was aware of the facts as well, even though not all were believers. Here are some claims found in the New Testament books:

Luke 1:1-4 “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. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

2 Peter 1:16-17 “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

1 John 1:3-4 “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”

Acts 2:22 “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.”

John 19:35 “The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.”

Luke 3:1 “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar-when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.”

Acts 26:24-27 “At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.”

The writers of the New Testament constantly refer to first-hand testimonies. They constantly testified that they “were eyewitnesses”. Most of their audience as well knew of the facts as the authors would often say, “as you yourselves know”. But some of their audiences were opposed to their teachings. The disciples had to be accurate in their descriptions, as any discrepancies would have discredited their beliefs. For example their claim of Jesus being resurrected would have been refuted if their critics could have provided the body of Jesus. But none were able to do so, as Jesus’ tomb (although guarded by Roman soldiers) was indeed empty! (see Matthew 28:11-15).

It is quite clear from this that the books of the New Testament were not written centuries after the fact, but were written during the lifetime of those involved in the events themselves. They were eyewitnesses of the events and felt impelled to share their testimony with others. How more reliable can you be?

All apostles, except for John, died a martyr’s death, refusing to renounce Jesus Christ. Who in this world would be willing to die for a lie? No one. Neither would the apostles, who were men of integrity. They were eyewitnesses of the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. No one could make them renounce what they saw with their own eyes. They were willing to die for being an eyewitness. Again, how more reliable can you be?

Question: Why were the authors of the New Testament books reliable?

Your answer:

c. Time frame of when the New Testament books were written

According the standard scholarly dating, the gospel of Mark was written in the 70s, the gospels of Matthew and Luke in the 80s and the gospel of John in the 90s. All of these gospels were written within the lifetime of a multitude of eyewitnesses, who would have corrected any fallacies if false information about Jesus were going around.

However evidence shows that these gospels might have been written even earlier than that. Take the book of Acts for example written by Luke. This book ends abruptly. The apostle Paul is the central character of this book and he’s under house arrest in Rome. That book stops right there. These are the last two verses of Acts: Acts 28:30-31 “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”

What happened to the apostle Paul? The book of Acts doesn’t tell us, probably because this book was written before the apostle Paul was put to death. This means that Acts cannot be dated any later than 62 A.D.

Now the book of Acts was written after the gospel that Luke wrote and since Luke used part of the gospel of Mark, the gospel of Mark dates even earlier! If we allow a year between each book, Mark would have been written no later than 60 A.D., or even earlier. If Jesus was crucified around 30 to 33 A.D., the time span between his resurrection and the writing of the first gospel would be less than 30 years! This is like a news flash in those days; if we compare this with the time frame other ancient literature was written!

Now the letters of the apostle Paul were written even earlier than that!

d. Comparison with the time frame of other ancient biographies.

Now let us compare our find with how long after the fact other ancient documents were written.

i. Alexander the Great’s biographies

The two earliest of Alexander the Great’s biographies were written by Arrian and Plutarch. They were written more than 400 years after Alexander’s death in 323 B.C. Historians consider these biographies reliable.

ii. Zoroaster

Zoroaster lived in the seventh century B.C. (born around 630 B.C.) Most of the Zoroastrian scriptures were not written until after the third century A.D. His most popular Parsi biography was written in 1278 A.D. This is a time span of more than 1800 years!

iii. Buddha

Buddha lived in the 6th century B.C. His first biography was written in the first century A.D., 600 years after the fact!

iv. Mohammed

Mohammed lived from 570 A.D. to 632 A.D. His biography was not written until 767 A.D., more than a century after his death.

Compared to all of these ancient writings, the New Testament was written like a news flash and is the only series of books that were written while eyewitnesses were still alive!

Question: Which documents would you trust more? Ones that were written 100 to 1800 years after the fact, or the ones that were penned while eyewitnesses were still alive?

Your answer:

e. The character of the writers

Some may ask themselves if the writers of the New Testament were reliable in character and in honesty. Could it be possible that they may have tainted the transmission of history accurately?

i. Description of personal flaws

One thing that you notice right away when reading the New Testament is the reality of the description of its characters. Let me explain. When I write about myself or even about my close friends, I always try to avoid putting myself or my friends in any disfavorable light. Why embarrass myself or my friends? I would hate loosing them for trying to make a point. However the New Testament books point out the flaws of its characters over and over again.

* The great apostle Peter is a great promise giver, but his word does not stand for much. He tends to protect himself more than defending what is right.

Matt 26:35 “But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.””

Matt 26:69-74 “Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”

Gal 2:11-12 “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.”

What an embarrassment to Peter to have this in writing available to all prosperity!

* The apostle Paul was a persecutor who fervently went after Christians. He wasn’t always easy to be with and his writing was sometimes hard to understand.

Acts 8:3 “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.”

Acts 15:37-40 “Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left…”

2 Peter 3:15-16 “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand.”

* The apostle Thomas was a doubter and always wanted concrete proof. He didn’t believe the words of even his closest friends.

John 20:24-25 “Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

* James and John, both brothers, tried to exalt themselves above anyone else.

Mark 10:35-37 “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

* In fact all of Jesus’ disciples were coveting to be at Jesus’ right hand. One of their biggest fights was hours before Jesus was arrested and led to His crucifixion.

Luke 22:24 “Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.”

However, none of them were courageous enough to stand by Jesus when He was arrested.

Mark 14:50 “Then everyone deserted him and fled.”

How could the New Testament be unreliable, if the writers dare to describe themselves with all of their flaws? Nowhere in Ancient literature do writers describe themselves this way. This is unheard of. However, the integrity and honesty of the New Testament writers are undeniable by the mere fact that they do not describe themselves always in a favorable light.

ii. Dying for a lie?

Another important fact about the apostles comes from history itself. 10 of the 11 remaining apostles died a horrific martyr’s death.

Remember that when Jesus was arrested they were terribly scared and were hiding themselves from the crowds. John 20:19 “The disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews…”

However, boldness overcame them when they evidenced Jesus resurrection.

Acts 1:3 “After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”

Acts 8:4 “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”

Who in their right mind would be willing to die for a lie? Even less 10 people who used to be scared to loose their lives while their Master was being mistreated and nailed to a cross. But they did, and even in their death they were a living testimony that what they wrote was true and worth dying for.

iii. Silence from critics

Any of the ardent critics among the Pharisees and Sadducees would have quickly point out any inaccuracies that the apostles may have written. None were given as we later will discover in this study and none could be found in writing. The apostles were treated as lunatics, but never as liars.

iv. Description of Jesus’ limitations

If the writers of the New Testament wanted to promote a new manmade religion, they would have tried to avoid associating weakness in their Leader. However, the facts are plainly given, without intention of hiding anything.

Mark 6:4-6 “Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.”

This text seems to indicate that Jesus is not all-powerful. Why not have it deleted all together. It would avoid any embarrassing questions.

Mark 13:32 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” NIV

Here it seems that Jesus is limited in His omniscience. Why not avoid any statements like these?

Matt 27:46 “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”-which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” NIV

It would have been to the self-interest of these authors to avoid proclamations like this. However, they revealed the plain truth, just like it is, without hiding anything, not even embarrassing statements.

All of these statements are explained by Paul’s statement in Phil 2:5-8 “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!”

Jesus willingly took off His divine nature to become as limited as man with the only purpose to bring salvation to humankind. That is love, divine love!

Question: Why or why not are the New Testament writers reliable?

Your answer:

Question: Would you be willing to die for a lie? Why or why not?

Your answer:

f. Conclusion

We can conclude with Craig L. Blomberg, PH.D.

“The two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written by Arrian and Plutarch more than four hundred years after Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., yet historians consider them to be generally trustworthy. Yes, legendary material about Alexander did develop over time, but it was only in the centuries after these two writers.

In other words, the first five hundred years kept Alexander’s story pretty much intact; legendary material began to emerge over the next five hundred years. So whether the gospels were written sixty years or thirty years after the life of Jesus, the amount of time is negligible by comparison. It’s almost a nonissue.”

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998, p. 33.

Part 4