Is the New Testament (NT) reliable? (Part II: The reliability of the New Testament story) 4 min read

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To judge the reliability of the biblical story, scholars apply the criteria of authenticity to the biblical accounts. The criteria of authenticity represent standards or tools by which the historical plausibility of an event is assessed. So let’s discuss 3 of these criteria and apply them to the biblical story 

1. The criterion of multiple attestation: the criterion states that if an event or a story is recorded by multiple and independent sources, that boosts its likelihood to have occurred. Applying this to the biblical story, we have several non-Christian sources (Roman, Greek and Jewish) that affirm the following facts which are in congruence with the biblical story and therefore attest to the reliability of the story: 

            1. Jesus Christ lived in the first century AD in Judea.  

            2. He was believed to be a miracle worker. 

            3. He was followed by several disciples believing He was the Messiah. 

            4. He was accused of blasphemy by the Jewish leaders. 

            5. He died on the cross under the reign of Pontius Pilate. 

            6. His disciples claimed to have several encounters with Him after rising from death. 

            7. His disciples evangelized and preached about His crucifixion, death and resurrection. 

            8. Christians multiplied in numbers before the great fire of Rome.  

            9. Christians used to meet regularly to worship Him. 

       These facts, which are attested from many sources outside the NT, are in coherence with the NT story and hence, the biblical story as narrated in the NT fulfills this criterion of authenticity.  

2. The criterion of Embarrassment: the criterion states that if an event or a story is embarrassing to its writer, then it is unlikely to be invented and this increases its likelihood of occurring. We have several passages in the NT that seem to be embarrassing to the disciples who are also the early founders of the church. For example, at the time when Jesus was arrested, His disciples ran away and abandoned Him. Also, the very first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb and Jesus’s resurrection were women and given the Jewish middle eastern context belittling women and their testimonies, if the story was made up by the disciples, women would have been the disciples’ very last option to witness the empty tomb and testify to the resurrection. 

       Hence, the biblical story fulfills this criterion. 

3. The criterion of contextual credibility (sociohistorical context): the criterion states that for a story to be authentic, it must contain elements that conform to and do not contradict with the socio historical context of that time. When we have a look at the NT, we find several elements that conform to the socio historical context of the story, for example a study was conducted on the distribution of personal names in the first century AD in Palestine reveals that the names mentioned in the NT manuscripts conform to the names used at that time in that region. Similarly, there are archaeological discoveries that are in alignment with the NT manuscripts. In addition to that, the gospel of Luke presents historical details that further add to the plausibility of the story in terms of its historical context. In chapter 3 verses 1-2, Luke writes “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness”. Such level of detail suggests that Luke was well aware of the Roman and Jewish historical context of his story. 

        Hence, the biblical story fulfills this criterion. 

Based on these three criteria, we can reasonably trust the NT story.  

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