Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Reliability of the New Testament

On a blog comment some time back, an individual alleged that the canon of the New Testament was not agreed upon until very late in church history and that the Bible was little more than a collection of human documents written by men. His allegation further suggested that there was little agreement as to what books were in the Old and New Testaments and some people left books such as the Apocrypha out of the canon in some cases but not in all and therefore the canon could not be relied upon as authoritative. It was as much chance as anything else that led us to getting the books in the Bible that we have now. In the case of the Old Testament, we have a statement from the Jewish historian Josephus. He lived at the time of Christ and said

“We have not a countless number of books, discordant and arrayed against each other; but only 22 books, containing the history of every age, which are justly accredited as divine. Of these, FIVE BELONG TO MOSES, which contain both the laws and the history of the generations of men until his death. This period lacks but little of 3000 years. From the death of Moses, moreover, until the time of Artaxerxes, king of the Persians after Xerxes [to the time of Ezra and Nehemiah], THE PROPHETS, who followed Moses, wrote down what was done during the age of each one respectively, in thirteen books. The remaining four contain HYMNS TO GOD, and RULES OF LIFE for men. From the time of Artaxerxes, moreover, until our present period, all occurrences have been written down but they are not regarded as entitled to the like credit with those which precede them, because there was no certain succession of prophets. Fact has shown what confidence we place in our own writings. For although so many ages have passed away, no one has dared to add to them, nor to take anything from, nor to make alterations. In all Jews it is implanted, even from their birth, to regard them as being the instructions of God, and to abide steadfastly by them, and if it be necessary, to die gladly for them.”

Now, these days we have 39 books in our Old Testament. Josephus mentions 22 because, at that time, some of them were combined together. For instance, Joshua and Judges were one book and the twelve minor prophets were collected in one book called the Twelve. Therefore, on the witness of a recognized historian from the time that Jesus lived on this earth, I’ll go on record as saying the OT canon was fixed as of the time of Jesus’ birth.

Now, as to the New Testament cannon, I did a little analysis. Examining a list of 16 early sources on the development of the New Testament Canon spanning from about 110 AD to the compilation of the Latin Vulgate Bible in 400 AD revealed some pretty interesting facts.

1) The average percentage of acceptance for the 27 books of the New Testament used today between these 16 sources was 73.84%. Oh, what did you expect from me, a ROUND number? Hello. I am an accountant. To have agreement on an average of almost 12 of the 16 people surveyed is pretty decisive.

2) Of the 27 books, 19 of them (70.3%) were accepted as inspired scripture by 11 of the 16 sources. Again, pretty convincing numbers.

3) Of the 27 books of the NT, only 4 of them (14.8%) were accepted by fewer than 8 of the 16 sources. So, 23 of the books of the NT (85%) were accepted by 8 of the 16 sources over a span of nearly 300 hundred years.

Needless to say, it is pretty obvious that most of the NT books were overwhelmingly recognized as inspired by God. Now, the other gospels and books written that some tried to add to the word of God (see here for a list of NT books and pseudographical books that were not part of the New Testament) there was little support at all among the sources.

1) The average acceptance of the 19 false gospels and epistles among the sources was 6.58%.

2) The highest level of acceptance among any of the 19 was 25% (Shepherd of Hermas).

3) 9 of them were not accepted by any of the sources. A big fat goose egg is a pretty poor score.

Now, bear in mind that these were men who were independent of each other and came to these conclusions. The weight of their evidence seems pretty convincing. The New Testament as we know it was overwhelming affirmed as authentic. The pseudographical books were soundly rejected as not inspired.

Now, you have the evidence. You make the call.

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