Is the Bible Historically Accurate?
question of the accuracy of the Bible breaks down into three
1) Is the Bible historically and factually accurate in its original
2) Is the text we have today an accurate transcription
of the original text?
3) Was the original text inspired by God?
next few pages will provide some answers for the first question:
the historical accuracy of the Bible, as it relates to
the New Testament.
is true that there is not historical and/or
archaeological evidence to back up every fact stated in the Bible.
However, it is also true that, despite countless attempts to
prove the Bible false in every age since the beginning of recorded
history, no one has ever been able to prove that there is one
historical or factual mistake in the Bible. This is
in itself a very powerful argument in favor of Biblical truth.
If many events in the Bible can be proved to be accurately recorded,
and none can be proved to be inaccurate, then does it not stand
to reason that we must give credibility to those areas for which
we have no proof?
order to establish that credibility, we must show what proof
we do have. All these issues can be explored in more depth, but
a basic defense for the reliability of the New Testament follows,
including support for the New Testament from writings other than
the Bible (both Christian and non-Christian), support from archaeology,
and a thorough look at how the integrity of the original Scriptures
has been maintained through the centuries.
History and the New
critics argue that the New Testament documents are unreliable
since they were written by Jesus' disciples and supported by
other Christians. They claim that there is no confirmation of
Jesus or New Testament events in non-Christian sources. This
claim is false, and the objection itself is ill-founded. We will
examine eyewitness accounts and also non-Christian confirmation
of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.
in the New Testament
often reject the authority of the Bible because it was written
by people who were close to Jesus. To reject records because
they come from eyewitnesses is a false premise. Those who witness
an event and know the people involved personally are considered
the best sources. This applies to firsthand accounts of battles,
crimes, or anything else. New Testament witnesses should not
be disqualified simply because they were close to the events
"Suppose there were
four eyewitnesses to a murder. There was also one witness who
arrived on the scene after the actual killing and saw only the
victim's body. Another person heard a secondhand report of the
killing. In the trial the defense attorney argues: 'Other than
the four eyewitnesses, this is a weak case, and the charges should
be dismissed for lack of evidence.' ... Since
the New Testament witnesses were the only eyewitness and contemporary
testimonies to Jesus, it is a fallacy to misdirect attention
to the non-Christian secular sources."
Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics
New Testament authors repeatedly claim to have been eyewitnesses,
and also reinforce that their listeners, too, have seen and heard
"We did not follow
cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and
coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of
2 Peter 1:16
"That which was
from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with
our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this
we proclaim concerning the word of life. The life appeared; we
have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal
life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim
to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have
fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and
with his Son, Jesus Christ."
1 John 1:1-3
"Many have undertaken
to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled
among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from
the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore,
since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the
beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account
for you, most excellent Theophilus,
so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been
"In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and
to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving
instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.
After suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many
convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over
a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God."
"After that, he
appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most
of whom are still living, though some
have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the
apostles, and last of all, he appeared to me also, as to one
"Jesus did many
other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which
are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you
may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that
by believing you may have life in his name."
"'We are witnesses
of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree,
but God raised him from the dead on the third day. He was not
seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already
chosen-by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the
dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify
that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living
and the dead.'" (Peter speaking)
"To the elders among
you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings
and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed."
1 Peter 5:1
"After he said this,
he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from
"'Men of Israel,
listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God
to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you
through him, as you yourselves know.'" (Peter speaking)
"At this point Festus
interrupted Paul's defense. 'You are
out of your mind, Paul!' he shouted. 'Your great learning is
driving you insane.'
"'I am not insane,
most excellent Festus,' Paul replied. 'What
I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with
these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that
none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done
in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know
"Then Agrippa said
to Paul, 'Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade
me to be a Christian?'"
would gladly have refuted these claims and exposed these errors,
but they could not. The critics, too, were witnesses to these
things, as the apostles often stated.
The earliest preachers
of the gospel knew the value of ... first-hand testimony, and
appealed to it time and again. "We are witnesses of these
things," was their constant and confident assertion. And
it can have been by no means so easy as some writers seem to
think to invent words and deeds of Jesus in those early years,
when so many of his disciples were about, who could remember
what had and had not happened.
And it was not only friendly
eyewitnesses that the early church had to reckon with. There
were others less well disposed who were also conversant with
the main facts of the ministry and death of Jesus. The disciples
could not afford to risk inaccuracies (not to speak of willful
manipulation of the facts), which would at once be exposed by
those who would be only too glad to do so. On the contrary, one
of the strong points in the original apostolic preaching is the
confident appeal to the knowledge of the hearers; they not only
said, "We are witnesses of these things," but also, "As
you yourselves also know" (Acts 2:22). Had there been any
tendency to depart from the facts in any material respect, the
possible presence of hostile witnesses in the audience would
have served as a further corrective.
F.F. Bruce, The New
Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?
other words, they could not have lied about these things, because
they would have been caught.
eyewitness records should be considered the authoritative voice
on Jesus' life and words. However, confirming evidence for Jesus
can be gleaned outside the New Testament.
for New Testament history
from early Christian writers outside the Bible
Josh McDowell's New Evidence that Demands a Verdict):
Eusebius - In his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius
preserves the writings of Papias, bishop
of Heirapolis (AD 130), in which Papius records
sayings of the apostle John.
Irenaeus -Irenaeus was Bishop
of Lyons (AD 180) and student of Polycarp. Polycarp was bishop of Smyrna and was martyred in AD 156 at the age of
86. Polycarp had been a disciple of
the apostle John. Irenaeus wrote,
"So firm is the
ground upon which the gospels rest, that the very heretics themselves
bear witness to them, and, starting from these [documents], each
one of them endeavours to establish
his own particular doctrine."
Irenaeus, Against Heresies III
Clement of Rome - Clement of Rome (circa AD 95) used Scripture as a reliable
and authentic source.
Ignatius - Ignatius (AD 70-110), bishop of Antioch, was martyred for his faith. He knew all
the apostles and was a disciple of Polycarp.
Ignatius based his faith on the accuracy of the Bible and had
ample material and witnesses to support the Scriptures.
Tatian - Tatian (circa
AD 170) organized the Scriptures in order to put them in the
first "harmony of the Gospels," the Diatessaron.
for New Testament history
from early non-Christian writers outside the Bible
Josh McDowell's New Evidence that Demands a Verdict):
Tacitus - Tacitus was a
first-century Roman, and is considered one of the more accurate
historians of the ancient world. He gives an account of the great
fire of Rome, for which some blamed Emperor Nero. According
to Tacitus, in response to this report,
Nero blamed the Christians for the fire and tortured them. Tacitus goes
on to describe the Christians:
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 Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, 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
Tacitus, The Annals and
superstition" refers to the resurrection of Jesus.
Suetonius - Suetonius was
chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian (reigned AD
117-138). He confirms the report in Acts 18:2 that Claudius commanded
all Jews (among them Priscilla and Aquila) to leave Rome in AD 49.
Josephus - Josephus (circa AD 37-100), a Pharisee of
the priestly line and a Jewish historian, worked under Roman
authority. He wrote an autobiography as well as two major works,
Jewish Wars (AD 77-78) and Antiquities of the Jews (AD 94). He
also wrote a minor work, Against Apion. He makes many statements that verify the historical nature of both the Old and New Testaments.
Josephus supports the Old Testament canon without the Apocrypha.
He lists the names of the books, identical with our thirty-nine.
He grouped them into twenty-two books, corresponding with the
"For we have not
an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from
and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have], but only
twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times;
which are justly believed to be divine; and of them, five belong
to Moses, which contain his laws. ... The prophets, who were
after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen
books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts
for the conduct of human life."
Josephus, Against Apion
also refers to Jesus as the brother of James, who was stoned
to death. His reference to Jesus confirms that Jesus was a real
person in the first century, that he was identified by others
as the Christ, and that he had a brother named James who died
a martyr's death at the hands of the high priest Albinus and his Sanhedrin.
also confirmed the existence and martyrdom of John the Baptist.
Thallus - Thallus wrote
around AD 52. Only fragments of his writings survive, preserved
by other writers. Thallus recorded
the darkness following the crucifixion, as well as the earthquake. Thallus explains
the darkness as a solar eclipse, but also reports that the death
of Jesus occurred during a full moon. A solar eclipse can not
take place during a time of full moon.
Pliny the Younger - Pliny was a Roman author and administrator.
In a letter to Emperor Trajan in AD
112, Pliny described the early Christian worship practices -
how they would meet before light; sing hymns to Christ; take
an oath not to do wicked deeds or to commit fraud, theft, or
adultery and never to lie; then they would partake of food. This
provides evidence that early Christians worshiped Christ as God
and followed the practice of breaking bread together, as reported
in Acts 2:42 and 46.
Emperor Trajan - In reply to Pliny's letter, Trajan instructed that Christians who were denounced and
did not deny that they were Christians be punished. One accused
could vindicate himself by adoring the Roman gods and be pardoned.
Talmud - Writings of the Sanhedrin record Jesus'
crucifixion, the time (Passover), and the intent of the Jewish
religious leaders to kill him.
Lucian - Lucian of Samosata was
a second-century Greek writer who wrote sarcastically about Christianity.
He describes, however sarcastically, Christian beliefs and practices,
including their belief in eternal life and in the resurrection
of a man everyone knew to be crucified. His text confirms that
Jesus was worshiped, that he introduced new teachings which his
followers observed, that he was crucified, and that Christians
denied false Gods.
Mara Bar-Serapion -
Mara Bar-Serapion was a Syrian, wrote to his son sometime between
the late first and early third centuries. His letter contains
reference to Jesus and his execution by the Jews. He also showed
that the Jews gained nothing by it, as their kingdom was abolished
of Truth" -
There were many non-Christian (heretical) groups flourishing
after the time of Christ, among them the Gnostics. "The
Gospel of Truth," written circa AD 135-160, also confirms
that Jesus was a historical person.
The Acts of Pontius
Pilate - Though the document itself does not survive,
it is referred to by Justin Martyr in about AD 150 and by Tertullian about AD 200. Both claim the Acts of Pontious Pilate mentions Jesus' hands and feet being pierced
by the nails of the cross. It also mentions lots being cast
over his garments. Justin Martyr also claims that the miracles
of Jesus can be confirmed in this document.
Norman Geisler summarizes:
The primary sources for
the life of Christ are the four Gospels. However there are considerable
reports from non-Christian sources that supplement and confirm
the Gospel accounts. These come largely from Greek, Roman, Jewish,
and Samaritan sources of the first century. In brief they inform
1) Jesus was from Nazareth;
2) he lived a wise
and virtuous life;
3) he was crucified
in Palestine under Pontius Pilate during the reign of
Tiberius Caesar at Passover time, being considered the Jewish
4) he was believed by his disciples to have been raised from the dead
three days later;
5) his enemies acknowledged
that he performed unusual feats they called 'sorcery';
6) his small band of
disciples multiplied rapidly, spreading even as far as Rome;
7) his disciples denied
polytheism, lived moral lives, and worshiped Christ as Divine.
This picture confirms
the view of Christ presented in the New Testament Gospels.
Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics
The New Testament
first Christians gathered together for meetings and read the
Old Testament, as Jesus had done. Those who knew Jesus would
talk about him and share his teachings. Paul's letters were copied
and circulated and read during gatherings. As the eyewitnesses
began to die, Christians realized they must write down the facts
about Jesus' life and work so they would not be lost or altered.
The gospels were set down. By the second century, four were agreed
upon as genuinely inspired.
church did not decide what would be called Scripture, it merely
"A book is not the
Word of God because it is accepted by the people of God. Rather,
it was accepted by the people of God because it is the Word of
Norman Geisler, A General
Introduction to the Bible
principles guided the recognition and collection of divinely
1) Was the book written by a prophet of God?
2) Was the writer confirmed by acts of God?
(Miracles, fulfilled prophesy, etc.)
3) Did the message tell the truth about God?
If there was any doubt, they threw it out.
4) Did the message of the book come with the
power of God/transforming power?
5) Was the book accepted by the people of God?
6) For the New Testament Canon, the primary
test was apostolicity. Was it written by an apostle or was it
approved by an apostle?
rise of heretical groups and persecution combined to require
Christians to establish which books were divinely inspired once
and for all.
Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, who wrote in the mid to late second
century (AD 160-180) referred to the
four gospels as a clearly established and accepted fact.
"For as there are
four quarters of the world in which we live, and four universal
winds, and as the Church is dispersed over all the earth, and
the gospel is the pillar and base of the Church and the breath
of life, so it is natural that it should have four pillars, breathing
immortality from every quarter and kindling the life of men anew. Whence
it is manifest that the Word, the architect of all things, who
sits upon the cherubim and holds all things together, having
been manifested to men, has given us the gospel in fourfold form,
but held together by one Spirit.
Matthew published his
Gospel among the Hebrews (i.e. Jews) in their own tongue, when
Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel in Rome and founding the church there. After their
departure (i.e., their death, which strong tradition places at
the time of the Neronian persecution in 64), Mark, the disciple and interpreter
of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the substance
of Peter's preaching. Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in
a book the gospel preached by his teacher. Then John, the disciple
of the Lord ..., himself produced his Gospel, while he was living
at Ephesus in Asia."
Irenaeus, Against Heresies III
list of New Testament books we have now was agreed upon and in
use long before the councils of Laodicea (AD 363) and Carthage (AD 397) formally accepted them.
word "canon" came from word meaning "standard." Origen in the third century called the scriptures "the
rule of faith, the standard by which we are to measure and evaluate." Thus
the collected Scriptures came to be called the "canon."
AD 367, Athanasius gave the earliest
list of New Testament. books that is
exactly what we have today. Jerome and Augustine followed suit,
and the New Testament was defined. There has been no serious
questioning of the New Testament since.
New Testament Documentation
original New Testament documents were written in AD 50 -AD 90.
The earliest surviving fragments date to AD 120, and there are
some 50 other fragments dating within 100 years of that time.
5,686 Greek manuscripts of all or part of the New Testament still
addition to the Greek manuscripts, more than 19,000 manuscripts
exist in other languages. No other document of antiquity even
begins to approach such numbers and attestation. Homer's Iliad
is second, with 643 manuscripts surviving.
believe we have accurate text for Sophocles' plays, but the earliest
substantial manuscript upon which that assumption is based was
written more than 1,400 years after the poet's death. Though
no original manuscripts written by Paul or the other apostles
have survived, the earliest complete manuscripts date to 250
to 300 years after their writing. Partial manuscripts date even
closer to the composition date. Though there are minor differences
in many of the manuscripts, "not one fundamental doctrine
of the Christian faith rests on a disputed reading."
(David Dockery, Foundations
for Biblical Interpretation)
"The evidence for
our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence
for many writings of classical authors the authenticity of which
no one dreams of questioning ... And if the New Testament were
a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally
be regarded as beyond all doubt."
"To be skeptical
of the resultant text of the New Testament books is to allow
all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient
period are as well attested bibliographically as the New
Warwick Montgomery, History and Christianity.
"[The New Testament]
is the most remarkably preserved book in the ancient world. Not
only do we have a great number of manuscripts but they are very
close in time to the originals they represent."
if there were no manuscripts available, the New Testament could
be reconstructed almost in its entirety from the writings of
the early church fathers. They quoted from it so prolifically
that nearly every verse is accounted for. This also helps establish
which New Testament books were considered scripture by the earliest
New Testament documents, in their original text, are historically accurate. But how do we know the Bible
we have today is what was written thousands of years ago? In
order to prove that this is true, we must first establish the
accuracy of our earliest documents, then the accuracy of translations.
himself claims that the Law will not be lost or changed:
"I tell you the
truth, until heaven and earth shall pass away, not one jot, not
one tittle, will pass from the Law
until all is accomplished."
(Jot (Hebrew "y" or "yodh")
is the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet.
A tittle is
the tiny mark which makes the Hebrew letters "r" and "d" different.)
how can we know that the New Testament we read is essentially
the same one penned by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter,
and others, and inspired by God?
one thing, both Old and New Testament documents were copied with
excruciating attention to detail. When an entire scroll had been
copied by hand, one letter at a time, if one mistake was made,
the scroll was destroyed. In addition, the Jewish copyists of
the Hebrew Scriptures adhered to detailed requirements in copying (taken
from Don't Check Your Brains at the Door, Josh McDowell
and Bob Hostetler):
1) Each copy had to be made on a brand new writing
surface and had to be prepared in a specific way;
2) Each copy had to be written in a certain number
of columns of thirty-letters width, with a certain number of
lines to each column;
3) Each copy had to be written in a certain
color and quality of ink;
4) Not even the tiniest letter could be written
from memory, as one would glance at the word "to" and
write the letters "t" and "o" before glancing
back at the original, but every letter was copied singly from
5) No letter could connect with or overlap another
letter. The distance between each letter was measured by a single
hair or thread;
6) Every letter of every page and book was counted
and compared against the original. The number of times each letter
of the alphabet occurred in a book was counted and compared against
the original. The middle letter of the Pentateuch (the first
five books of the Old Testament) and the middle letter of the
entire Hebrew Bible were computed and indicated in the text.
If one of these calculations was incorrect, the copy was discarded.
dismiss the writings of the Greek historian Thucydides of the
philosopher Aristotle or the tragedians Sophocles and Euripides
as being unworthy of serious consideration because of textual
problems and variant readings?
many people think the Bible is a faulty document, when in fact
none of those other works can approach the reliability of the
New Testament text."
McDowell and Bob Hostetler,
Don't Check Your Brains at the Door
factors are most important in determining the reliability of
a historical document: the number of manuscript copies
in existence, and the time between when it was first written
and the oldest existing copy. Consider the New Testament in comparison
with other ancient writer's works:
Author Written Earliest
Copies Time Span # of Copies
(Gallic Wars) 100-44
BC c. AD 900 c.
1,000 years 10
Plato (Tetralogies) 427-347
BC c. AD 900 c.
1,300 years 7
BC c. AD 900 c.
1,300 years 8
BC c. AD 1,000 c.
1,400 years 100
AD 1,550 c.
1,600 years 3
BC c. AD 1,100 c.
1,500 years 9
BC c. AD 1,100 c.
1,400 years 5
400 BC c.
400 years 643
BC c. AD 900 c.
1,350 years 8
BC c. AD 1100 c.
1,400 years 200
Livy (History of Rome) 59 BC c.
350 (partial) c.
400 years 1
to AD 17 c. 10th century c.
1,000 years 19
61-113 c. AD 850 c.
750 years 7
New Testament AD
40-100 AD 125 25
McDowell and Bob Hostetler, Don't Check Your Brains at the Door, and Josh McDowell, New Evidence that Demands