The Gospels Vetted by Three Tests

Welcome back! In this blog series, based on Josh’s best-selling apologetics classic More Than a Carpenter, we’re asking, “Who is Jesus? Did He really live, die, and resurrect? Is He really the Son of God?”

As the New Testament provides the primary historical source for information about Jesus, critics have spent the last two centuries attacking its reliability. Most of their charges lack historical foundation. Too, archeological discoveries continue to prove the trustworthiness of the events, people, and places recorded in the Bible. In this post, let’s look at three tests that can, without bias, determine the validity of the Gospels and other biblical manuscripts.

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The Gospels Vetted by Three Tests

Three tests can be employed to verify the historical accuracy of a text: the Bibliographical Test, the Internal Evidence Test, and the External Evidence Test. We’ve covered them in earlier posts, so we’ll highlight them here.

The Bibliographical Test

The Bibliographical Test asks, Are existing copies of biblical manuscripts faithful to the originals? What is the time interval between the original and copy? How consistent are the copies with one another?

Scholar Bart Ehrman asserts that because biblical manuscripts contain numerous human errors, the New Testament can’t be trusted. From his own in-depth research, Josh McDowell points out that the majority of these errors don’t affect the validity of the text. “A key point Ehrman raises,” explains Josh, “is the 300,000 to 400,000 variants among New Testament manuscripts. A textual variant is any time the New Testament manuscripts have alternative wordings.” But, he adds, “this is not the whole picture. When the variants are looked at more closely, a very different story emerges. By far, the most significant category of variants is spelling differences.

Spelling differences actually account for about 75 percent of these variants — between 225,000 and 300,000. A second large category of variants is the use of synonyms. Some manuscripts refer to Jesus by His proper name, while others call Jesus “Lord” or “He.” When all variants are considered, only about ONE PERCENT involve the meaning of the text. So we CAN have full confidence in the Gospels and other New Testament writings.

The Internal Evidence Test

The Internal Evidence Test asks, Is the original text credible? To what extent is it credible?

It’s important to look at the Gospel writers’ proximity to recorded geographical and chronological events. The New Testament accounts of Jesus were written down by men who were personal eyewitnesses, or who had access to eyewitnesses. As they shared the Good News, the Gospel writers often reminded their listeners that they weren’t making stuff up. Just three examples:

John 19:35: This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also can believe.

1 John 1:3: We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us.

2 Peter 1:16: We were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw His majestic splendor with our own eyes.

Did the Gospel writers faithfully record Jesus’ life and words? Scholars who have analyzed the ancient literary forms and oral traditions behind the biblical writings remind us that a rabbi’s words were carefully preserved and passed down via memorization. As Ministry speaker Matthew Tingblad teaches us in his video series on the reliability of the Gospels, much of Jesus’ teachings were in Aramaic poetical form, which aided in their easy memorization. Too, we must remember that God inspired the Gospel authors, aiding them in their recollection and writing.

Eyewitness testimony is the best relevant evidence. Can a modern skeptic assert that he or she is better qualified to judge the validity of the Gospels than the writers themselves? No.

The External Evidence Test

The External Evidence Test focuses on studying other historical materials to see where they confirm or deny this eyewitness testimony. What sources, apart from the Gospel writers, substantiate the Gospels’ accuracy, reliability, and authenticity? Ancient extrabiblical sources present a large amount of detail about Jesus’ life and ministry, as well as the nature of early Christianity. Twentieth-century archeological discoveries continue to confirm the accuracy of Gospels and other New Testament manuscripts.

As New Testament scholar Craig Bloomberg notes, “97-99 percent of the New Testament can be reconstructed beyond any reasonable doubt.” Adds apologist Douglas Groothuis, the New Testament is “better attested by ancient manuscripts than any other piece of ancient literature.” Just one example of how biblical manuscripts stack up against other historical documents: More than 20,000 copies of New Testament manuscripts exist. The Iliad, by comparison, has only 643 manuscripts in existence. Think about that!

The next time a critic tries to tell you that the Bible lacks relevance or authority, share this assertion by the late theologian Clark H. Pinnock: “There exists no document from the ancient world witnessed by so excellent a set of textual and historical testimonies, and offering so superb an array of historical data on which an intelligent decision may be made. An honest [person] cannot dismiss a source of this kind. Skepticism regarding the historical credentials of Christianity is based on an irrational [i.e., antisupernatural] bias.”

> > > BELIEVER, if you don’t know the historical facts validating the Bible and Christian faith, GET UP TO SPEED! Numerous posts in our Evidence and Resurrection series will grow your knowledge, to give you confidence that what the Gospels teach you about Jesus is true. He came. He died. He rose. For YOU.

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