Reasons for Our Hope
Why We Can Trust the Bible
July 1, 2006 - Thanks to Dan Brown, author of “The Da Vinci Code,” many Christians have been awakened to Peter’s command to “give a reason for the hope that is in them” (Cf. 1 Peter 3:15).
by Norman L. Geisler
The following statements are taken from Chapter 55 of Brown’s best-seller:
The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion. … The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great. … Constantine upgraded Jesus’ status almost four centuries after Jesus’ death. … [He] commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made him godlike.
All of this is presented in a powerful, dramatic medium that keeps people on the edge of their seats.
The film, though fictional, is driving Christians to carefully research their Church history to know for themselves how the Bible as we know it really came to be. When they do, they find that Constantine did not formulate the canon of Scripture. The Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) was the only major Church Council in Constantine’s day, and it did not even discuss the matter.
It was not man but God who determined which books would be in the New Testament by only inspiring 27 of them (2 Timothy 3:16). And the people of God discovered them immediately as they were written because these inspired books had the “fingerprints of God” on them. How so? They were written by an apostle or prophet of God (Ephesians 2:20); they were confirmed by acts of God (Hebrews 2:4); they told the truth about God (1 John 4:6); they came with the power of God (Hebrews 4:12); and they were immediately collected by the people of God (2 Peter 3:15-16). Indeed, within 100 years from the death of most of the apostles, all 27 books of the New Testament were recognized by Fathers in the early Church.
The Da Vinci Challenge in a Nutshell
“The Da Vinci Code” presents the New Testament as unreliable and Jesus as a man, not as God in human flesh. Thus, Christianity is presented as a false religion.
If the New Testament is not historically reliable, then Christianity is not credible. If the New Testament is historically reliable, then Christianity is true.
The reliability of the New Testament is based on two pillars: 1) The New Testament documents have been accurately copied, and 2) The New Testament events were accurately recorded.
It is well known that no original manuscripts of the Bible have survived. It is less well known that the number, date and quality of the copies that have survived is better than that of any other book from the ancient world.
The New Testament Documents Have Been Accurately Copied
Compared to any other book from that period, the New Testament has more manuscripts, earlier manuscripts, and more-accurately copied manuscripts.
More manuscripts: While most books from the ancient world survive on about 10 to 20 copies, some 5,700 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament have been found. The most for any book other than the Bible is 643 manuscripts from Homer’s “Iliad.”
Earlier manuscripts: The earliest manuscripts for most ancient books are copies from about a thousand years after the time of the original composition. Only a few have manuscripts copied within 500 years of the original. The earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament are from between 25 and 150 years after the original composition.
More-accurately copied manuscripts: The surviving copies of the New Testament can be restored with about 99.5 percent accuracy. This is so accurate that not a single doctrine of the Bible is affected. Noted Princeton scholar Bruce Metzger calculated that the “Mahabharata” of Hinduism is only about 90 percent accurately copied and Homer’s “Iliad” about 95 percent.
What if you received this e-mail message? “Y#u have won ten million dollars.” Even with the spelling error, 100 percent of the truth comes through. The Bible has less significant copy errors than this message. If you cannot trust the copies of the New Testament, then nothing can be known from any written sources from the ancient world. But we do trust the records of other events, so we should have an even greater trust in the New Testament.
The New Testament Events Were Accurately Recorded
The other pillar of reliability—the accuracy of the original record of the events—rests on the fact that there were more writers, earlier writers and more reliable writers than for any other book from the ancient world.
More writers: Most events in history are based on one or, at most, two writers. The New Testament has nine: the Apostle Matthew; the Apostle Peter and his associate Mark; the Apostle Paul and his associate Luke; the Apostle John; James, the brother of Jesus; Jude, the brother of James; and the writer of Hebrews, who was an associate of the apostle who worked with Timothy.
Earlier writers: These New Testament writers were eyewitnesses and contemporaries of the events they recorded. Jesus died in A.D. 33, and even Bible critics agree that books like 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians and Romans were written by the Apostle Paul between A.D. 55 and 60. Even the most liberal critics in the “Jesus Seminar” movement say that the New Testament was written between A.D. 70 and 100, when many of the eyewitnesses were still alive.
More-reliable writers: Having many confirming eyewitness testimonies is a strong sign of credibility in any court of law. Further, the records show no signs of collusion—the writers tell their reports differently, yet without contradiction. Matthew says there was one angel at Jesus’ tomb, and John says there were two. This is different but not contrary, for wherever there are two, there is one. Matthew did not say there was only one. The diversity of the accounts speak for their authenticity, particularly since even in their diversity they confirm the central events of Jesus’ life.
The Testimony of Archaeology
The dean of 20th century archaeology, Dr. William F. Albright, concluded that “every book of the New Testament was written by a baptized Jew between the forties and the eighties of the first century A.D.”
US News & World Report summarized the archaeological affirmation of the Bible well: “In extraordinary ways, modern archaeology has affirmed the historical core of the Old and New Testaments—corroborating key portions of the stories of Israel’s patriarchs, the Exodus, the Davidic monarchy, and the life and times of Jesus” (Jeffery Sheler, “Is the Bible True?” October 25, 1999).
This corroborating evidence includes Jesus’ home town of Nazareth; an inscription of Pontius Pilate’s name in stone; an inscription of Caiaphas, high priest during Jesus’ time; and a crucifixion victim from about A.D. 70, found in 1968, verifying the method of Jesus’ death.
Da Vinci Was A Novel Approach
People love good stories, especially those with conspiracy theories. Dan Brown capitalized on this in his blockbuster book and movie. His approach was novel, but we must not forget that it was a novel.
“The Da Vinci Code” is mythology. The New Testament is history.