Is the Bible a reliable historical document on the life of Jesus? Has the Bible been accurately transmitted since the time of Jesus?
Many of the things we know about Jesus are based on the biblical New Testament account. How do we know that they accurately portray the life of Jesus? Is it possible for the Bible to contain myths?
One of the things historians look at is the time gap between the date of the events and the date of the historical document. The shorter the gap the more confident we have that was recorded with actual events.
Why is the time gap important?
If a newspaper reporter publishes an article describing the present-day event, he can’t freely fabricate stories. People reading it will know it is false in the article won’t be accepted by the readers. But someone writing about the same event hundreds of years later may be able to twist the facts because the eye witnesses to the actual events would all be dead and cannot refute it.
I see. But weren’t the New Testament account of written long after the time of Jesus?
No. In fact they were written between 40 and 100 AD, which is very close to the time of Jesus. Therefore it can’t be based on fabricated stories because people would still be alive to refute them. Furthermore the earliest New Testament records we have date back to his early as 130 AD.
Are there other ways to verify that the content of the Bible is accurate?
I am glad you asked. The Bible contains many historical data that have been confirmed by archaeologists to be accurate. Archaeologists have discovered the bone box of Caiaphas, the high priest who oversaw the trial of Jesus. We also have an inscription describing Pontius Pilate the governor and handed Jesus the death sentence.
I see. Many people have assumed that they were just fictionary figures.
Critics have previously doubted whether crucifixion could have actually taken place since it appeared too cruel to be true. Archaeologists have discovered the bones of a man who died of injuries consistent with the crucifixion. His feet with turned outwards and a 7-inch nails driven through them. Nails were also driven through his lower forearms.
From the evidence, the New Testament appears to be a document that is historically accurate. Furthermore the contents of the Bible gives us the confidence that they are not fabricated tales to promote Jesus and his disciples. For example we have the embarrassing account of Jesus disciples arguing who would be greatest in the kingdom of God. When the Bible record the resurrection of Jesus, it was first discovered by the women who went to the Tomb. In the culture of that day the testimony of women were not accepted.
But there are many conflicting stories about the life of Jesus. For example the movie The DaVinci Code refers to the Gospel of Philip as proof that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. I understand that none of the gospels in the Bible mention that Jesus was ever married.
There are many so-called “gospels” that were written by people hundreds of years after the event. Their writings demonstrate that they do not have first-hand access to information. In contrast the gospel writers have intimate knowledge of the geography of the region. Each of the gospel writers mentioned 12 to 14 towns each which include the well-known towns of Jerusalem and Nazareth. The other towns are small towns that were not even in the map of Rome.
What about the Gospel of Philip?
The Gospel of Philip mentions only Jerusalem and Nazareth. Even then the writer got the information wrong and thinks that Nazareth is the middle name of Jesus.
What about the Gospel of Barnabas? Some Muslims believe that this gospel contains the true account of Jesus.
The Gospel of Barnabas was dated to be written in the sixteenth century and contains errors. In some places the author acknowledges that Jesus was the Christ and yet in other places denied that he was the Messiah. Obviously the author did not know that Christ and Messiah mean the same thing and Christ is simply the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah.
You mentioned there were many accounts of the life of Jesus but the Bible contains only four gospels. Who decides which books become part of the Bible?
At first there were no formal list of the books that made up the Bible. Books regarded as authentic and written by prophets, followers of Jesus or based on testimony of eyewitnesses were accepted and others of dubious origins were rejected. Later on more formal lists were in place to spell out exactly what the church regards as part of the Bible.
You mean it was the church that decided which books are part of the Bible and what are not?
No, the church didn’t decide. The community decided which books were authentic and which books were not. Over time consensus developed and the church and some of its Council meetings put these books into a formal list.
Even if one believes the Bible to be historically accurate document that wouldn’t be enough would it? The Bible claims to be the word of God. Are there any evidence is within the Bible that point you God is the one who is behind the revelation?
There are many evidences what in the Bible to prove beyond doubt that only God could have inspired the content. Since there is much to be discussed there, let’s leave this topic for another day.