Did the New Testament Writers Record Fact or Fiction? Part 7

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Continuing from part 6, we will examine more evidence for the trustworthiness of the NT writers.

A fourth question about the NT writers’  integrity: are any of the historical facts they mention corroborated by other sources?  Here the NT writers really shine.  During the first and second centuries, there were many historians who were writing books and letters.

We still have many manuscript copies of these writings.  Not only do we have copies of ancient documents, we also have archaeological finds from this time period.  Since some of the NT writers described people, cities, languages, landmarks, and topography, we could check these things out to see if the NT writers were accurate.

First, the book of Acts contains numerous historical facts that can be checked out.  One researcher, Colin Hemer, found that at least 84 historical facts found in Acts can be confirmed by independent evidence.  84 facts!

According to modern-day Roman historian A. N. Sherwin-White: “For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. . . . Any attempt to reject its basic historicity must now appear absurd.  Roman historians have long taken it for granted.”  In other words, the book of Acts is used by professional historians to study Roman history.

In that same book of Acts that contains rock-solid history, Luke also records 35 miracles.  We need to give Luke the benefit of the doubt, don’t we?  Using other sources to check his facts, Luke has been proven a first-rate historian, so it is eminently reasonable to believe the miraculous accounts he recorded in the days of the early church.

Luke’s reputation as an historian carries over in the Gospel of Luke.  Just read Luke 3:1-2  and tell me Luke didn’t care about getting the facts right.  He practically begs his readers to check his facts.  World-famous historian William Ramsay studied Luke’s historical accuracy for 20 years and concluded: “Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.  Luke is an historian of first rank.  [He] should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”

Now pay close attention.  Luke’s account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection contain all the same general facts as Mark, Matthew, and John.  Therefore, they should also be trusted.  In fact, the Gospel of John has also been dissected for historical accuracy and was found to have at least 60 independently corroborated historical facts correct.

There’s more.  We have copies of manuscripts from 17 ancient non-Christian writers who corroborate many of the basic historical facts mentioned in the NT.  These include people who were hostile to Christianity.

Additionally, archaeologists have discovered the ruins of virtually every major biblical city and we actually have the ossuary (bone box) that contained Joseph Caiaphas’ bones!  He was the high priest who sentenced Jesus to death.  Volumes have been written which chronicle the archaeological evidence matching the names of people and places recorded in the Bible, but we don’t have space to discuss it all.

The bottom line: wherever we can check the historical facts written into the books of the NT, they show themselves trustworthy.  Does this prove everything the NT authors’ claim?  Of course not.  But it is still strong evidence that they were reliable recorders of what they saw.

In this series of posts, we have shown that the NT writers claimed to be eyewitnesses or associates of eyewitnesses; we have shown that we have multiple witnesses, and we have shown that the eyewitnesses were trustworthy.  How?  They included embarrassing details about themselves  and difficult details about their subject of worship, Jesus; their accounts contain divergent details, just as we would expect from independent witnesses; and they wrote about historical facts that have been thoroughly corroborated by ancient non-Christian writers and modern archaeology.

There is one final line of evidence that will conclude this series of posts.  You won’t want to miss it.

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  • I don’t get it. In earlier posts, you’ve argued that the bible is the inerrant word of God, yet now you’re trying to argue that the writers of the gospels were trustworthy men and on THAT account we should believe what they wrote. If the words are God’s, then the reputations of the human authors are immaterial. If the words are the authors, then they aren’t the words of God and are probably anything but inerrant.

  • For those who might be curious about the ellipses in that quote from A.N. Sherwin-White: “For Acts, the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. Yet Acts is, in simple terms and judged externally, no less of a propaganda narrative than the Gospels, liable to similar distortions. But any attempt to reject its basic historicity, even in matters of detail, must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.” Roman Law and Roman Society in the New Testament p. 189. I find it interesting that Christians never quote the part about “propaganda” and “distortions.”

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Trey,
    In this series of posts, I have not assumed inerrancy. I have only been arguing from historical data.

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Vinny,
    I don’t have access to this book, so I don’t know if what you say is true, but I’ll assume it is. The point that I made about the historicity of Acts still stands, even if your quote is correct. I really don’t know what Sherwin-White’s views on the gospels are. When you quote a person, it is often the case that they do not agree with everything you believe, and that may be the case here. Since you have the book, I would be curious to hear what his views of the gospels are, in addition to what you’ve quoted.

  • I do not actually own the book. I borrowed it from a library to read it.

    The book discussed the accounts of Jesus’ trial in the gospels and the extent to which they were consistent with what historians know about legal practices in ancient Rome. It also addressed Paul’s citizenship and the extent to which Acts lines up with what historians know. As I recall, he found the gospels reasonably good in this regard. The book did not deal with the resurrection or any miracles.

    Sherwin-White’s view of the New Testament writings generally was that they did not seem any worse than other ancient documents that historians were called upon to deal with, although he acknowledged that they were outside his field of study. He did not doubt that they contained considerable legendary material, but he thought that critical historical methods could still be applied to them.

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