Reliability of the New Testament

by Ed Jarrett

Introduction

Most of Christian doctrine (teaching) is based on the Bible, primarily the New Testament.  As a result, the opinion a person has about the Bible, particularly the New Testament, is going to dramatically affect their opinion concerning the validity of Christian doctrine.  Unfortunately, it is not possible to prove that the New Testament is true.

Because the New Testament is primarily historical and philosophical in nature, it cannot really be proved.  The historical aspect can be discredited or confirmed.  If its history were to be discredited, it would amount to a proof against the New Testament.  But confirming some parts of its history does not automatically prove all of it.

It is possible though, to explore the historically reliability of the New Testament.  This is not so much concerned with the message of the New Testament as it is with the reliability of the texts themselves.  The specific issues I want to address are (1) how close where the writers to the events they write about, (2) how faithfully have their writings been transmitted to us over the years and (3) how did we determine which writings should go into the New Testament.  In other words, do we have a faithful reproduction of writings from people who were close to the events themselves, or do we have corrupted texts by later authors, cherry picked by church authorities to suit their own purpose.

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Before discussing these points I would like to briefly talk about the topic of inspiration of the scriptures and formation of the New Testament. Mormons believe that their primary holy book was given to them in a completed form and only required translation into English.  Muslims believe the Koran was spoken to Mohamed by the angel Gabriel and that he passed it on to friends to write down.  In both cases they believe that the very words they have are exactly as God gave them.  I do not believe that to be the case with the New Testament, or the Old for that matter, although there are certainly those who do.  I do not believe that the authors knew that what they were writing would later be a part of the Bible.  I do believe God in some way inspired them in the writing, but the words were their own.  Also, unlike the Book of Mormon and the Koran, the New Testament is a collection of writings that took shape over a period of time.  There were many other writings that were at one time or another, or by differing groups, thought to be equal with what was ultimately included in the New Testament.  This canonization process of the New Testament is actually another topic that will be addressed later.  For now it will be enough to note that it is not really correct to say that the New Testament was written at some point in time.  Rather, that the collection of writings that came to be called the New Testament was produced during some period of time…

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