Is the New Testament Historically Accurate?
Tom: Thanks, Gary. You are listening to Search the Scriptures Daily, a program in which we encourage everyone who desires to know God’s truth to look to God’s Word for all that is essential for salvation and living one’s life in a way that is pleasing to Him.
We’re going through Dave’s book In Defense of the Faith as a resource for questions regarding biblical Christianity. And if you have the book and want to follow along with us, we are in chapter six, page 156. And if you don’t have the book, and are interested, Gary will tell you how you can order it at the end of the program. So, we’re going to jump right into the first question, Dave.
Dave: And these questions, I didn’t make up. They’re from critics, skeptics, whatever, out of files that I’ve had or that have been asked of me in various meetings and so forth.
Tom: Okay, the first one: “I have friends who have been convinced by university or seminary professors that the New Testament is not historically accurate but is a fictional story written long after the events supposedly took place. They can’t prove that to me, but neither can I prove them wrong. Is there some simple way, without going into a detailed study of archaeological evidence and historical research, to help them to see that Christianity began as the New Testament says it did?”
Dave: Tom, there would be a lot of ways, and we give some in the book, and we can get to those in a minute, but let me mention some other possibilities. First of all, it claims to have been written by eyewitnesses. John, first epistle, says, “That which we’ve seen, which we’ve heard, which we’ve handled, we’ve looked upon,” you know, “of the Word of life.” Peter says, “We were eyewitnesses of these things.” The Book of Acts purports to be written by an eyewitness and so forth. So if it wasn’t—in other words, if it was written later, a century later, two centuries later, whatever—it’s a fraud! A blatant fraud! Written by someone who wasn’t there, who was not the person that he claims to be, or a committee or whoever, and they’re simply lying! And you take the influence of the New Testament—I don’t think you could suggest that it was based upon lies. So, first of all, it’s absurd.
Tom: Dave, can I throw this in? It’s written by eyewitnesses. They weren’t the only eyewitnesses. There were hundreds and hundreds of others. Even those who didn’t come to know the Lord were there, and they’d be pretty good witnesses as to the fact of what didn’t happen, and they could complain about that.
So, if the New Testament is written at the time when all of these witnesses are alive, they’re not going to get to first base! I mean, not that they had baseball then, but . . .
Dave: Well, now you’re raising another point. I was giving you an argument why it had to have been written at that time, and you are saying, yes, and since it was written at that time, then it would be in circulation, and there would be plenty of people, as you said . . .
Tom: Right, detractors and those to confirm it.
Dave: Well, yeah, but we don’t have any record of that sort of thing. The Pharisees did not dispute what the apostles said. They warned them, “How many times do we have to tell you? Don’t speak of this name! You are raising problems,” and so forth. The Romans couldn’t refute it, and this was creating quite a stir in the empire.
We’ve been referring to a book written by Mark Hopkins, who was a wonderful Christian and who gives many evidences for the Bible. And he cites a man named Leslie, and I think I have Leslie’s book, but I can’t remember his first name. But he came up with a rather obvious and simple proof. If you have an event that was witnessed by people publicly, and it involves a remembrance, some kind of a memorial, and that began immediately after this event, and it has continued to this day, you can be absolutely certain that the event took place.
Let me give an illustration. Tom, let’s suppose there never was an Independence Day, July 4th. And you and I get together, and we say, “Hey, I think this would be a nice idea! Why don’t we, every 4th of July, have a celebration, and we’ll set off firecrackers, and we’ll say it goes back to July 4, 1776, when the United States declared its independence, and we’ve been doing this ever since.”
Well, people would immediately say, “Well, wait a minute! We didn’t do it last year; we didn’t do it the year before!”
You couldn’t start something like this after the fact. For example, the Passover that the Jews have been keeping ever since they were delivered from Egypt—you couldn’t, 100 years later—you couldn’t start that and say, “Well, yes, because our ancestors have been doing this every year.”
“No,” they’d say, “we didn’t do it last year!”
Okay, now we have observances. We have, for example, the Lord’s Supper. Jesus, at the Last Supper, took bread. He said, “This is My body that is given for you.” Not that the bread was literally His body. No one sitting around the table would have imagined that. He was sitting there in His body, passing out bread to them. But He said, “This is my body”—in other words, it symbolizes “My body, that’s going to be broken for you, and the cup is My blood. This do in remembrance of Me.”
Now, they’ve been doing it ever since. You couldn’t have started doing that . . . well, we have the record in Acts chapter 2, for example, that the disciples broke bread.
Tom: Dave, how does this differ from traditions that have sort of developed, sort of added one piece to the next piece, and so on, and you end up with a tradition that’s full blown? Certainly Christmas, December 25th. That’s a . . . how does that relate to what you’re talking about? Or, how is it different?
Dave: Well, there are a number of differences. Number one, we don’t know when the tradition started. I don’t think . . . for example, the Catholic Church has a lot of traditions. Most of what they do is tradition. Now, you look it up in a Catholic encyclopedia or dictionary, and they will frankly tell you—the tradition of prayers to Mary, or the tradition of indulgences for purgatory, or for whatever—they will tell you it began on a certain date, and they will frankly admit that this is a tradition. Traditions are not tied in with events. It’s just some practice.
Tom: So it evolved based on what a lot of people started to do and then more people started to do it here and there, and it caught on.
Dave: Right. It proves nothing. But the fact that we have these memorials—baptism—Christ said, “Go into all the world and baptize, make disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Now, you couldn’t have started that 200 years later and claimed, “Oh, well, the disciples have always been doing this.” No, they didn’t do it last year, someone would notice.
And, of course, what you were saying is the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John . . . . I remember Bishop Robinson—how many years ago was that?—forty years ago, or at least thirty, who wrote Honest to God. Do you remember that? No, you’re too young to remember that!
Tom: Well, too young in the Lord.
Dave: Right. And at that time he claimed that these books had been written many centuries later. Well, he was an honest enough man to do some more investigating, and now he acknowledges they were written within a very few years after. Okay, so as you said, there would be people living at the times these books came out who were there! This is a small country, Israel. Everyone knows everyone else. They’re all related to one another.
And you couldn’t say . . . the Gospel of John comes out, and it says that Lazarus was raised from the dead. It tells where it happened, how long he’d been in the grave, and so forth, and somebody says, “Wait a minute! That’s my uncle! He hasn’t even died yet!” Or somebody says, “Well, that’s my cousin. I mean, the guy’s still in the grave; nobody ever raised him from the dead!” You couldn’t get away with that sort of thing.
The fact that 3,000 Jews in Jerusalem, where all of this happened, were converted on the day of Pentecost, and the basic event that is involved is the resurrection, and it’s just a short walk to the grave. If that body’s still in that grave, you can’t tell me that Jesus rose from the dead! There was a Roman seal, the governor’s seal was on there; and there were Roman guards to keep that body in there.
Well, now, the stone is rolled away, the grave is empty, and there is no other explanation, because no one can produce the body. If the Romans could produce the body, they surely would. Now this was creating all kinds of problems—a revolution in their empire. The rabbis certainly would have produced the body if they could, and the disciples certainly didn’t have the courage to tiptoe past Roman guards and roll that stone away and hide the body of Jesus in Peter’s basement or something.
Tom: They didn’t demonstrate it by their first reaction to them taking Jesus.
Dave: They did not have the courage . . . at the time Jesus was taken in the garden, they did not have the courage to stand with Him when they believed He was the Messiah! After He’s crucified, and they’re convinced He couldn’t have been the Messiah—now, suddenly, they get the courage to die for what they know is a lie? It does not make any sense!
So, Tom, I guess we could go into more depth, but no matter how you analyze it the New Testament was written by eyewitnesses who were there—who claimed to be eyewitnesses. Let me just read the first few verses in the Book of Luke for example. We know that Luke was Paul’s traveling companion, and he wrote the Book of Acts, because Acts begins, “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, . . . ” So he is writing to Theophilus [in] the Book of Acts, and he says, “Yeah, I already wrote to you, Theophilus.” And the Book of Luke begins, “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.”
If this was written by someone a century later, or even 50 years later, or 200 years later, as the skeptics say—these so-called biblical scholars of the Jesus Seminar—Tom, it is the most fraudulent document! Somebody 100 years later is claiming to be the guy named Luke and saying he is writing to someone named Theophilus, and he doesn’t even know that these people ever existed? This is pure fiction, and it ought to be condemned!
But it stands the test of time! And all the investigation that the atheists and the skeptics have been able to lay on it—you remember in chapter 3, “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene. . . ,” and so forth—we have technical terms: “tetrarch,” “Caesar,” “governor,” and it goes on and talks about the high priest. We have the names of these people. We have the date: the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar.
I just would challenge anyone out there who’s listening to us, can you remember who was the pastor of the church down the street ten years ago, twenty years ago? Who was the mayor of your town thirty years ago? You couldn’t do it, but you’ve got records. You could go back and check it out. They didn’t have records like that in these days, and it has taken the archaeologists and historians a lot of effort, and they have verified [that] this is exactly—these are the names of the people who held those offices at this time in these places. You couldn’t have written this after the fact.
Tom: Dave, let me just kind of back off this a little bit and take a wider view. Here we have a person writing talking about university seminary professors, and you’ve had kids who have gone through college. I have two, one’s about to graduate, and I’ve got two more kind of looking that way. They’re confronted by the very situations in which the professors are just convincing them—not on the basis of any documentation—but they are saying, “It’s this,” and “it’s that,” just on the basis of their position, as it were.
What does a young believer do in a situation like that—where a class is supposed to be an interchange, a give-and-take of information—shouldn’t our young people be armed with at least questions?
Dave: Well, I can tell you what I did, Tom, when I was in university as a lowly freshman or sophomore, or whatever. I wouldn’t let the professor get away with it. I don’t think that professors should be allowed to tell lies, and I would challenge them: “Where do you get your information? What do you base this on? Do you have full documentation for this?” I’d challenge them when they would try to teach evolution. I mean, “You’re telling me . . .” (I remember being at UCLA): “You mean to tell me that the human eye began as an irritation on the skin? And over millions of years, through a process of evolution—survival of the fittest—it developed the rods and cones, the nerves, the connections to the brain; I mean a lens beyond anything that we can even produce with all our scientific know-how, and it wouldn’t help you survive until it worked. But without working, it goes through all this process . . . ? Come on! Show me the evidence. I mean, logically, it’s ridiculous and you can’t show me one fossil of any intermediate form, and there should be millions of them!
Tom: But even in history classes, sociology classes, I think the same applies. For a student, even if he doesn’t have the answers himself but recognizes, wait a minute! There’s a problem here in the way this guy is putting it together, I would raise my hand and find out. Ask questions!
Dave: You can at least ask questions, Tom.
Tom: Yeah, you know, the reason I like that, Dave, is because it can be done in a very meek way. It doesn’t have to be trying to bowl the guy over or kind of raise his ire. But a simple question can also, if the man is either ignorant or really misinformed, it can maybe get him to question something that he sort of bought into because his professor, or going through his own education, he just bought into it and never really questioned it! I mean, how often does that situation present itself? Many people are just shooting from the hip, or just . . . they’ve learned something by osmosis, and they’ve never really checked it out.
Dave: Tom, let’s apply it to a situation today—not in university but on radio and television. We have this great cry for a Palestinian state, and we’ve got to move this back to the 1967 borders. Do you ever hear any of the commentators remind people that . . . what did Israel take in 1967? They took the West Bank, which is the Jericho area, and they took Gaza. Wait a minute! From 1948 to 1967, for 19 years Jordan held the West Bank; Egypt held Gaza. Was there ever talk of a Palestinian state then? Never! Well, why is there talk of it now? And why did Israel have to take that?
I was over there. Our family was in Egypt, as you know, in 1967. We left Egypt just a few days before the war broke out. We saw Nasser on television. We heard his threats. We talked to people. I remember when we drove through Egypt in our car—people kept talking about the nineteen-year war. We didn’t know what they meant! Nineteen-year war? I never heard of a nineteen-year war. I have a degree in mathematics, but it took me a while to figure it out. Oh, from 1948 to 1967 was 19 years! There had never been peace. As far as they were concerned they were still at war, and they had been planning this! And it was very clear. They said, “We are going to annihilate Israel.” They were massing troops on the border, and so forth.
Now, let’s go a little bit further. We’re going to roll the borders back to 1967. “You’ve got to give us back what you took in 1967.” Wait a minute! The PLO was formed in 1964—not by Palestinians but by Nasser in Cairo! In fact, Arafat is not a Palestinian. He was born in Cairo, ok?
Now, what was the PLO going to liberate in 1964? Well, let’s go back a little farther. Let’s go back to 1948. When Israel declares its independence, they are immediately attacked by six Arab nations with their regular armies because they do not want Israel to exist at all!
So you talk about, “Oh, we’re going to move it back to ’67,” and “We want a Palestinian state,” that you never wanted before when you had that territory, and you didn’t even want them to exist in 1948. Tom, it is a lie! It is a fraud!
Tom: Well, who’s being appeased in this? There would be no peace! It would be almost regrouping to continue the . . .
Dave: Of course, of course. They have said it publicly over and over and over: “We will annihilate Israel! Israel cannot exist!” But who stands up? Why don’t we hear it from our president? From our State Department? In fact, Tom, what really bothers me is why don’t we hear it from the Israelis? I’ve seen, in the last few days—witnessed some Israeli spokespersons from the government answering some of these—you know, the problem over there—I’ve never heard one of them mention the facts! It seems to me this would be the best thing they could do! Anyway, Tom, we don’t get facts in a lot of places.
Tom: You know, that’s really the sad thing. We’ve had so many years of a president here in this country—facts were a joke. [He was] just not interested in them, and only interested in his agenda and bending everything every which way to promote whatever his scheme was.
But now, that seems to be the way everything is going! Who can sit down with somebody else and lay facts on the table? You know, you want to say it is hopeless, but there ought to be somebody to stand up.
Dave: Tom, I remember being in Hungary during the Iron Curtain days. We had a book in our hands called The Bridge at Andau—I don’t know if you ever read it. It was a Michener book. It took its name from a little bridge over which the Hungarian freedom fighters fled from Hungary as the Russian tanks were coming in, and he sat there in this village and he interviewed these people. They said to him (these were not Christians) they said, “Our children were being taught lies in school. They were rewriting the history of Hungary! And we would stay up all night if necessary to undo the lies that were being taught to our children.”
Now we have Christian parents who have children in public school who aren’t even concerned enough to find out what their children are being taught as far as evolution, immorality, promiscuity, and so forth. They ought to stay up all night to find out what is being taught and to undo those lies. And, in fact, history is being rewritten before our eyes, and who complains? We should complain. But, anyway, Tom, I’m sorry I got off on a little tangent here.
Tom: No, Dave, this is a tremendous illustration of the question we started with. Here’s a person who wants to have an answer for professors, for teachers, that he knows are teaching him something that just doesn’t make any sense. Well, the child’s got to stand up. The child—I’m talking about a college student. I’m talking about a high school student—stand up and at least ask questions! Don’t let something just slide by without at least a question that seems to highlight that there’s something wrong here.
Dave: Do not be intimidated! “Dare to be a Daniel.” We sang that when I was in Sunday school.
Tom: And again, it’s not a matter of pride. It’s a matter of truth, and really just common sense.