What evidence is there that the Bible is true?
After having examined the evidence for the reliability of the the New Testament text, the next natural question is: are the contents of the text true? After all, an accurate copy of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream reveals no propositional historic truths, only fanciful fiction.
The first, and perhaps most powerful, evidence of the truthfulness of the New Testament is the testimony given by the lives and deaths of the apostles and other eyewitnesses to the actual events. Consider the following1:
- It seems clear that the New Testament writers were able and willing to tell the truth - a truth based on their own first-hand experiences. They had very little to gain and much to lose for their efforts. These men had good reasons not to affirm the New Testament teachings:
- For one thing, they were mostly Jewish theists. To change the religion of Israel with its observance of the Mosaic law, Sabbath keeping, sacrifices, and clear-cut non-Trinitarian monotheism would be to risk the damnation of their own souls to Hell. A modern atheist may not worry about such a thing, but members of the early church surely did.
- For another thing, the apostles lived lives of great hardship, stress, and affliction and died martyrs' deaths for their convictions. There is no adequate motive for their labours other than a sincere desire to proclaim what they believed to be the truth.
- The presence of adverse eyewitnesses would have hampered the spread of Christianity. Christianity began, and remained for sometime, in the same area where Jesus had ministered. If the early portrait of him was untrue, how could the apostles have succeeded there? Why would they have begun there in the first place?
... the apostles lived lives of great hardship, stress, and affliction and died martyrs' deaths for their convictions. There is no adequate motive for their labours other than a sincere desire to proclaim what they believed to be the truth.
Keeping in mind that the New Testament was written before the close of the first century by those who either knew Christ personally, had encountered him, or were under the direction of those who were His disciples2, this eyewitness evidence testifies strongly to the truthfulness of the Scriptures.
The following subsections look at external evidences, specifically archaeology and historic documents, to support the New Testament writings. The Bible is very much a book of history - places, events and people are recorded throughout many, if not all, of the NT books. While these external evidences cannot prove that the Bible is the inspired word of God, they can be used to show that whether these frequent, historic accounts are factual or not.
To date there have been no archaeological findings to disprove any scriptural event. However there have been many that support them. The following is a brief list3:
- An inscribed stone was found that refers to Pontius Pilate, named as Prefect of Judaea. (The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; 1962.)
- Luke 3:1, "Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea..."
- "A decree of Claudius found at Delphi (Greece) describes Gallio as proconsul of Achaia in ad 51, thus giving a correlation with the ministry of Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:12)." (The New Bible Dictionary)
- Acts 18:12, "But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat."
- Excavations have revealed a text naming a benefactor Erastus which may be a reference relating to the city-treasurer of Romans 16:23. (The New Bible Dictionary)
- Romans 16:23, "Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother."
- At Ephesus parts of the temple of Artemis have been uncovered as is mentioned in Acts 19:28-41. (The New Bible Dictionary)
- Acts 19:28, "And when they heard this and were filled with rage, they began crying out, saying, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.""
- "It is known that Quirinius was made governor of Syria by Augustus in AD 6. Archaeologist Sir William Ramsay discovered several inscriptions that indicated that Quirinius was governor of Syria on two occasions, the first time several years prior to this date...archeology has provided some unexpected and supportive answers. Additionally, while supplying the background behind these events, archeology also assists us in establishing several facts. (1) A taxation-census was a fairly common procedure in the Roman Empire and it did occur in Judea, in particular. (2) Persons were required to return to their home city in order to fulfill the requirements of the process. (3) These procedures were apparently employed during the reign of Augustus (37 BCAD 14), placing it well within the general time frame of Jesus' birth."
- "The historical trustworthiness of Luke has been attested by a number of inscriptions. The 'politarchs' of Thessalonica (Acts 17:6,8) were magistrates and are named in five inscriptions from the city in the 1st century ad. Similarly Publius is correctly designated proµtos ('first man') or Governor of Malta (Acts 28:7). Near Lystra inscriptions record the dedication to Zeus of a statue of Hermes by some Lycaonians, and near by was a stone altar for 'the Hearer of Prayer' (Zeus) and Hermes. This explains the local identification of Barnabas and Paul with Zeus (Jupiter) and Hermes (Mercury) respectively (Acts 14:11). Derbe, Paul's next stopping-place, was identified by Ballance in 1956 with Kaerti Hüyük near Karaman (AS 7, 1957, pp. 147ff.). Luke's earlier references to *Quirinius as governor of Syria before the death of Herod I (Luke 2:2) and to *Lysanias as tetrarch of Abilene (Luke 3:1) have likewise received inscriptional support." (The New Bible Dictionary.)
In addition to these archaeological evidences, we can find evidence to support Scriptures accounts in various extra-biblical historic writings.
The Roman historian Tacitus wrote the following in about 115 AD:
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus [Christ], from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition [Christ's resurrection] thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.4
Flavius Josephus was a Jewish historian who lived from 35 -100 AD5. In his historic work, "Jewish Antiquities", which he completed in 93 AD he mentions several New Testament facts. The following are several quotes from his work, first on Jesus:
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.6
On John the Baptist:
Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness.7
On James being Jesus' brother:
Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.8
Thallus was a chronologer/historian who flourished in the period from the middle of the 1st century to the late 2nd century.9
Circa AD 52, Thallus wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean world from the Trojan War to his own time. This work itself has been lost and only fragments of it exist in the citations of others. One such scholar who knew and spoke of it was Julius Africanus, who wrote about AD 221...In speaking of Jesus' crucifixion and the darkness that covered the land during this event, Africanus found a reference in the writings of Thallus that dealt with this cosmic report. Africanus asserts: 'On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.'10
Based on the evidence presented here, I believe it is very reasonable to conclude that the New Testament is not only reliable, but that it contains the true accounts and teachings of Jesus Christ.
References and notes
1. The points are adapted from: Moreland, J.P., "Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity" online exerpt
2. Slick, Matthew, "Wasn't the New Testament written hundreds of years after Christ" online article
3. Slick, Matthew, "Can we trust the New Testament as a historical document?" online article
4. Bettenson, Henry, "Documents of the Christian Church" quote taken from online source
5. Wikipedia, "Entry for 'Josephus'" online article
6. Flavius Josephus, "Antiquities of the Jews", Book XVIII, Chapter 3 online source Note: there are textual questions about this particular quote, the Testimonium Flavianum. For details please refer to Regarding the quotes from the historian Josephus about Jesus by Matt Slick.
7. Flavius Josephus, "Antiquities of the Jews", Book XVIII, Chapter 5 online source
8. Flavius Josephus, "Antiquities of the Jews", Book XX, Chapter 9 online source
9. Wikipedia, "Entry for 'Thallus'" online article
10. Julius Africanus, "Extant Writings, XVIII in the AnteNicene Fathers", ed. by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson as cited in Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ quote taken from online source