Reliability of the New Testament
Why Does It Matter?
F F Bruce
Reliable as what?
• As God’s self-revelation
in Christ?
• As a record of
historical fact?
New Testament reliability based on…
• The assumption that history can be known
• That the documents are reliable
• That the writers were reliable
In which case, we may have a problem…
Objective History cannot be known
Past events are no longer verifiable
Original facts are lost – only fragments speak
Historians only have records, not actual events
Documents only cover a small fraction of what
5. Historians select which fragments they will
study, so they cannot present the full story
6. Historians must recreate accounts of history,
adding their own subjective interpretation to it
7. Historians present not just facts, but look to
reveal meaning behind the facts
8. Imagination fills in the ‘gaps’
9. History is thus interpreted through different
10. Thus, objective truth cannot be known
No one way to interpret history
So if there is more than one view on how to
an historical event, or document,
many believe objective truth is lost to us
The Truth may be out there,
but we can’t know it
If ‘Objective’ means absolute knowledge,
then no human historian can be objective...
If ‘objective’ means “a fair but revisable
presentation that reasonable men and women
should accept”
then we have the possibility of being objective.
- Geisler
Ancient Manuscripts
Caesar’s Gallic War has
survived with 9 or 10
good copies.
These copies have been
dated around 900
hundred years after the
Livy’s Roman History
has survived in
20 copies
from the 4th century.
Tactitus’ Annals of Roman History
2 copies have
survived –
dating from the ninth
and eleventh
Josephus – The Jewish War
• Nine Greek
manuscripts survived,
copies written in
tenth, eleventh and
twelfth centuries
• Latin translation from
fourth century
The Iliad
643 manuscripts –
500 years after original
What about the New Testament?
How many
New Testament
have survived?
Over fourteen thousand full or partial
NT manuscripts have survived
• 5,686 complete or partial Greek manuscripts
• 9,000 copies in Syriac, Coptic, Arabic, Latin and
other languages
• NT has come down to us with more manuscripts
than any other ancient text
All but eleven verses
• 36,289 NT quotations in writings by the Early
Church Fathers from 2nd to 4th century
• These quotes alone capture the entire NT
but for eleven verses
both shortest
in time
and longest
Geisler and Turek,
2004: page 226
Earliest New Testament Books?
• Complete NT books were
found from 200 AD
• All the Gospels survive
from 250 AD
• No other ancient
literature has such a
short time span
Earliest Manuscripts
P 52
John Rylands
discovered in
Found in Egypt
P 52 predates
P 45 by 100
to 150 years
P 45
Dated from
early 3rd
Fragments of
John, Acts
John Rylands papyri - P 52
• Fragment of John 18: 31-33
• John thought to be written 75- 100
• Papyri dated 117- 138
• Fragment can be dated within a
generation of John’s original
Filled with Errors?
Errors do exist, but no doctrine is damaged
Variants – different spelling or grammar
NT documents regarded as 99.5% pure
No doubt we have the Scriptures substantially as
they were written – Frederick Kenyon
More manuscripts lead to greater accuracy
Correcting the Variants
• You h#ve w*n a million d&llars
• [email protected] have won a m#llion doll&rs
• You have won a million dollars
Time between NT copies
• Radical scholars place earliest gospel
manuscripts at 70 to 100 AD (Jesus Seminar)
• Later dates risk being too far removed from
original events to have historical credibility
• Allows time for legends to develop
Survey of New Testament Scholarship
Matthew 65-85 AD
Mark 60-75 AD
Luke 65-95 AD
John 75-100 AD
Gospels written around 30-70 years after
– Mark Roberts Can We Trust the Gospels?
Trustworthiness of Witnesses
• 1 Corinthians written 55 or 56 AD
• Paul speaks of over 500 witnesses – 1 Cor 15:6
• Witnesses could remember what really
• Too soon for legends about Jesus Christ to
New Testament Witnesses
Legal-historical method
Can’t verify through scientific method
New Testament pattern – Eyewitnesses
Still used by courts in discerning facts
Peter – We did not follow cleverly devised tales
“but were eyewitnesses of his majesty”
– 2 Peter 1:16
Were NT writers reliable witnesses?
• We are all witnesses of the fact – Acts 2:32
• We have seen it and testify to it – 1 John 1: 1-2
• We can’t help but speak of what we have seen
and heard – Acts 3:15
• Paul’s 500 witnesses – 1 Corinthians 15:6
Historical Reliability?
• John’s gospel - 59 details confirmed historically
or as historically probable –
Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel
• Luke’s gospel – 84 accounts of historical details
Classical scholar and historian, Colin Hemer
Non Christian sources within 150 years of
• 30 NT figures have been confirmed as historical
by archaeological findings or non Christian
• Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus, Thallus, Pliny the
Younger, Emperor Trajan, Emperor Hadrian
• All affirm the existence of Jesus in sources
outside the Bible
Theology and History?
“The evangelists wrote reliable history because
they cared about what happened in the past…
their theology was anchored in past events …
theology leads one to care about history…believe
that Jesus was really God in the flesh and you
will pay close attention to what he actually did
and said”
- Mark Roberts
To conclude:
• The good news of the New Testament is bound
up in both revelation and history.
• “God entered in history, the eternal came into
time, the kingdom of heaven invaded the realm
of earth” – F F Bruce
• “To reject the historicity of the New Testament is
to reject all history” – Norman Geisler

Reliability of the New Testament