Basics of the Christian Faith
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

LEAF TWO: THE WRITTEN RECORD

As noted in leaf one, credible evidence requires credible eyewitnesses. In leaf two, we deal with the fact credible evidence also requires a credible record of one’s testimony. Who does the talking is important. The accurate conveyance of what is said also counts. The original followers of Jesus were credible witnesses. Do we possess a credible record of what they said? In other words, can the Bible be trusted?

This question is vital, because true Christianity is Bible Christianity. Many aberrations spin away from Holy Writ, yet claim to be Christian. Beware! The moment people deviate from Scripture, they step outside God-given parameters for faith and move into man-made speculation. Christianity stands solely on the foundation of Scripture.

We know for sure we have a reliable text of the Old Testament. Jesus believed the Old Testament. He considered it the Word of God.

Until the middle of the twentieth century, pundits could say Jesus’ claim was nullified by the fact we possessed no ancient manuscripts of the Old Testament, since the oldest texts dated only as far back as 1000 A.D. Knowing Jesus believed the Old Testament meant little because we could not be sure what the Old Testament texts in His day said, due to no ancient texts.

This problem was solved once and for all time by the most important archaeological discovery of all time, the Dead Sea Scrolls, in 1947. God waited till cynicism and skepticism were reaching their ugliest and shrillest peak to deliver His knock-out punch against them. Overnight, manuscript evidence for the Old Testament text was moved back 1000 years.

With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we know precisely how the Old Testament read in Jesus’ day. Thus, we know the writings His witness confirmed.

A remarkable by-product of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is its confirmation of how wonderful a job the Masoretes did in preserving the Old Testament as it originally was. Due to the meticulous work of these Jewish scholars, the Church has always had a reliable Old Testament text.

In our day, the battle over Scripture rages most fiercely around the New Testament text. Skeptics call it legend and myth, but hard, solid evidence points to a different conclusion.

All we believers ask is for the same burden of proof to be placed on the New Testament as is set on other writings of antiquity. A few examples will suffice.

The history of Thucydides (460-400 B.C.), our source of information about the war between Athens and Sparta, boasts eight manuscripts, none earlier than 900 A.D. As scarcely supported are the writings of Herodotus (484-424 B.C.), sometimes called the Father of History. He wrote about the longstanding struggles between Persia and Greece.

Our earliest texts of Aristotle’s writings are five manuscripts dating from 1100 A.D. This represents a 1400 year gap from his lifetime. We derive Caesar’s history of the Gallic Wars (58-50 B.C.) from ten manuscripts, none earlier than 1000 A.D.

No one rejects these four authors and the authenticity of their writings.

To cast aside any of these men’s writings would severely impoverish our understanding of the ancient world.

The Iliad, ancient secular history’s best attested work, weighing in with an impressive 643 manuscripts, is universally acknowledged as a credible text. But the Iliad is a distant second in credibility to the New Testament, which rests on 24,970 manuscripts.

Archaeology has become the Bible’s best ally. An amazing claim was made by one of America’s most respected archaeologists, John McRay, “Archaeology has not produced anything that is unequivocally a contradiction to the Bible.”

Dr. W. F. Albright, late professor emeritus of Johns Hopkins University, agreed, stating there is no doubt archaeology has confirmed the historicity of the Bible.

The more we learn about the ancient world, the better the Bible looks. It is more and more deemed a reliable source. The text we have today is the real deal.

Sir William Ramsay, celebrated as one of the greatest archaeologists ever, began his career as an unbeliever. As time passed, he came to realize the Bible writers were historians of the first order. Deciding they could be trusted, Ramsay finally became a Christian.

We have reliable knowledge of what the New Testament writers originally penned. As manuscript evidence multiplies, we have fewer and fewer questions as to what the Bible authors first wrote. Almost every verse, as far as the author’s intent is concerned, has been settled, with maybe about twenty exceptions. This is remarkable, yea miraculous, when we consider the fact that in each of all thirty-seven of Shakespeare’s plays, over one hundred readings are still disputed.

Reliability of the manuscripts, having been stated, does not convince those who say the New Testament texts we have may be authentic, but were not written soon enough after the life of Christ to be genuine. Many critics of Christianity believe the New Testament record, though accurately preserved, was written long after Christ lived, and was thus legend and myth to begin with.

This idea was popularized by German critic F. C. Baur, who claimed the New Testament was written at the end of the second century A.D. This would date the writings a full century and a half after Christ, allowing ample time for legend and myth to spring up.

Again, archaeology becomes here the ally of belief. Those still espousing Baur’s position are about twenty years behind in their research. Pieces of New Testament manuscripts are being found that date as early as 130 A.D.

Archaeologist William Albright concluded there is no solid evidence for any New Testament book having been written after the first century A.D. This would be too close to Jesus’ life for myth to develop. Folklore and legend require generations to concoct, because all contemporaries to the original event and their successors must die before widespread fabrication can begin.

For instance, New Testament writers claim Jesus made at least a dozen post-resurrection appearances, and was seen by more than five hundred people at one time (I Corinthians 15:6). Paul said most of these five hundred were living at the time he wrote. This means people were still alive who could have refuted Paul’s claim. He wrote too soon for legend to have already developed.

With the passing of time, the evidence for true, Bible Christianity is increasing, not declining. The archaeologist’s spade has become a significant weapon turning this tide of battle in the direction of belief, as opposed to unbelief.

The time lapse between events described in the New Testament and their being recorded was negligible. The interval between the original writings and the oldest extant copies of manuscripts is also small, and growing smaller daily.

Time is on the side of faith. Research is our ally. Credible evidence is mounting. Dr. John Montgomery, former dean of the Greenleaf Law School, claimed if the Federal Rule of Evidence were applied to the gospel records, “This rule would establish competency in any court of law.”