This is the fifth post in a series based on John Maisel’s lecture and book “Is Jesus God?” Click here to receive your free download of this resource.
In The Evidence for Classical Literature, Professor Barnes lists three standard tests used to determine the reliability of historical documents: A bibliographical test, an internal test, and an external test.
- The Bibliographical Test looks at the number of manuscript copies of the original and the length of time between the writing of the original and the writing of the existing copies when none of the originals still exists.
- The Internal Test looks at internal consistencies and inconsistencies within the manuscript.
- The External Test looks at other historical materials to determine if they confirm or deny statements within the manuscript, i.e., archaeological evidence.
Here is how the bibliographical test works:
Caesar wrote his history of the Gallic Wars 20 between 100 and 44 B.C. The earliest copy that we have is one produced 1,000 years after his death, and we have only ten copies of that document.
Plato wrote from about 427 to 347 B.C.; the earliest copies of his writings that we have were produced around A.D. 900, nearly 1,200 years after the originals. And we have only seven copies.
Aristotle lived and wrote between 384 and 322 B.C. We have only five copies of his manuscripts today, the earliest copy being produced around A. D. 1100, over 1,400 years after the originals.
Tacitus, the Roman historian, wrote in the first century. The only copy that we have of his writings is from around A.D. 1100, over 1,000 years after the original.
Thanks to bibliographical testing, experts confirm the authenticity of documents by Caesar, Plato, Aristotle, and Tacitus and the reliability of the authors. So let us apply the same test to biblical writings, to New Testament documents.
The books of the New Testament (Bible) were written from about A.D. 40 to A.D. 90. The earliest manuscript copies date from about A.D. 130 to only 40-50 years after the originals. More than 13,000 copies exist. Applying the bibliographical test of veracity to the New Testament, therefore, should make us think twice before we say that biblical literature cannot be trusted.
When we apply the internal and external tests, one will see even more clearly why the Bible is a reliable document and definitely inspired by God.
The New Testament Greek scholar J. Harold Greenlee adds, “Since scholars accept as generally trustworthy the writings of the ancient classics even though the earliest manuscripts were written so long after the original writings and the number of exact manuscripts is in many instances so small, it is clear that the reliability of the text of the New Testament is likewise assured.”
Remember our question: “Who does the world say that Jesus Christ is?”
I often find that the intelligentsia tend to say that spiritual and religious interests are only to help the less educated people, that only ignorant and unlearned people are interested in how they can know God and are the only ones who need God.
Let me just share what some of the leading intellects of our past and present have said about their pursuit to find God through the person of Christ.
Perhaps the most sophisticated of the German literary figures, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German poet and dramatist, called Jesus “The Divine One…the Holy Man,” and wrote, “If ever the Divine appeared on earth, it was in the person of Christ.”
Leo Tolstoy, the famous Russian writer, lived 23 much of his life as an atheist but made this statement toward the end of his life:
“For 35 years of my life I was, in the proper acceptation of the word, a nihilist—not a revolutionary socialist, but a man who believed in nothing. Five years ago my faith came to me. I believed in the doctrine of Jesus, and my whole life underwent a sudden transformation life and death ceased to be evil. Instead of despair, I tasted joy and happiness that death could not take away.”
Probably the greatest literary genius of all times, William Shakespeare, before his death said, “I commit my soul into the hands of God, my Creator, most assuredly believing in Jesus Christ, my Savior.”
Professor Ambrose Fleming, voted England’s most outstanding scientist and professor emeritus of electrical engineering at the University of London, said as he talked about his faith in Christ, “There’s nothing in all the Bible that would cause a man of science problems with Jesus Christ.”
Karl Barth, one of the leading intellects of this century and known as “The Great Swiss Thinker,” was asked what was the most profound thought he had ever had. His reply was, “Jesus loves me. This I know.”
Professor Charles Malek, former Secretary General of the United Nations, speaking of his faith in Christ said, “We must eliminate the division between Christ and the universe, between the intellect and faith.” He has told me personally of his commitment to Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.
So please do not say that Jesus was just a good moral man, and do not accept a conclusion that He never existed and that He was just a myth. And please do not think that it is only ignorant and unlearned people who are interested in who Christ is. I do not think you will be fair to the pursuit of truth if you do.