Are the New Testament Accounts
About Jesus Reliable?
Letís assume you are a school teacher. What if we
did this exercise with your students. Take Abraham Lincolnís
Gettysburg Address and pass that out in printed form; spelling and
punctuation are absolutely perfect. Then you tell your kids,
"Copy this thing down, word for word." So all the eager
students do their thing, and they all turn it in. Then letís say
that you took the original printed copy and throw it away. Now you
want to reconstruct the original, getting as close to it as you can.
First question: What would help you most in
reconstructing the original: to have one student, five students, or a
hundred students turning in a report? What do you think? Would you
want less or more? The answer is more. Why? Because, what if the one
student who copies it doesnít know how to spell, doesnít know
where to put the punctuation, or leaves out whole sentences?
Sometimes, if he doesnít know what some of the words mean he skips
over them. Youíre in sad shape if youíve only got the one copy
from that "D" student. So you hope that youíve got at
least two students. You want an "A" student with a
"D" student. Then you can compare the two and hopefully they
both didnít make mistakes in the same spot.
But truthfully, the more manuscripts you have, the
better chance you will have to see where the mistakes are made and how
to correct them. For example, not all 100 students are going to make
the same spelling mistake on the same word. They are not all going to
make the same punctuation mistake. Maybe ten kids will; 90 wonít. So
you say, "Iíll go with the 90." The point is that the more
kids you have that turn in the assignment, the better opportunity you
will have to reconstruct the original Gettysburg Address. Okay? Now,
hold on to that and keep that in mind.
Letís talk about the classics. How many copies do
we have to work with to try and reconstruct the original text of
Aristotle? Weíve got 49 copies in existence today. Only 49 kids in
the class. How about Plato? Weíve only got seven manuscripts that
have survived to compare back and forth to check out the words. But
thereís no classical scholar living today that would say that we donít
have what Plato actually said. Yet weíve only got seven copies. For
Sophocles, 193 copies. For Thucydidesí History, thereís
only eight copies. Writers such as Catullus who wrote poetry, we only
have three copies. Lucretius, two copies.
Do you know what the second best attested book in
ancient history is? Itís Homerís The Iliad. How many copies
do we have of the second best attested book in history? Six hundred
and forty three surviving copies that we can compare to find out what
Homer actually said. That is the kind of manuscript evidence that the
So, how many manuscripts do we have for the New
Testament documents? Remember, the critics say our stuff is poorly
attested. They say we canít really tell what the writers of the New
Testament are saying. But for the New Testament, the manuscript count
is now 24,633 manuscripts that have come down to us, portions
or entire manuscripts of the New Testament, that allow us to go back
and reconstruct the original. So, if we have more than 24,000,
compared to just a few over here for the classics, how can we have bad
Listen to Dr. Bruce Metzger at Princeton. In his
book The Text of the New Testament he says, "The works of
several ancient authors are preserved to us by the thinnest possible
thread of transmission. In contrast with these figures of the
classics, the textual critic of the New Testament is embarrassed by
the wealth of his material."
William F. Albright at Johns Hopkins before he died
said this: "Only modern scholars who lack both historical method
and perspective can spin such a web of speculation as that with which
the critics have surrounded the gospel tradition."
F. F. Bruce at Manchester University, Rylands
Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis, said, "There is no
body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of
good textual attestation as the New Testament."
Frederick Kenyon was the librarian at the British
Museum. Kenyon says, "Both the authenticity and the general
integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally
In light of all this evidence, I would suggest to
you that we have accurate information from eyewitnesses that came out
early. It was tested by people on both sides, and it tells us that
what they said is true.
What Does the New Testament Tell us About Jesus?
Now, what does the information in the books of the
New Testament tell us about Jesus Christ? If itís accurate
information, what does the information say about Jesus Christ?
Some people on campus today say, "Jesus never
claimed to be God." Have you ever heard that one? Jesus never
made any noise that He was God. Well, letís see if He did or not. I
donít think anyone needs to know Greek or Hebrew to figure this one
For example, Mom and Dad, suppose that one morning
as youíre sitting at the breakfast table, your son walks in and
says, "Listen up, gang, I want you to know something. I am the
light of the world! He that follows me, heíll never walk in
darkness." Now, if your son said that, would that sound just a
little egotistical to you? Dad would probably say, "Sit down,
Jack. Eat your cereal."
People donít go around saying, "Iím the
light of the world." Why? Because we realize that when they say
that, itís such a fantastic claim that we ought to lock them up and
put them away. Nobody would truly say that, for real, would they?
Listen to these statements that Jesus Christ made:
"I am the light of the world. He that follows Me will never walk
in darkness" (John 8:12); "I am the resurrection and the
life. He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he
live." In other words, he says, "I am the one thatís got
the power for the resurrection. You believe in me, though you die, yet
youíre going to live. I will see to it."
Listen to the times that Jesus put the emphasis on
the personal pronoun and pointed people to Himself. Buddha, Ghandi,
all the religious leaders of the world never pointed people to
themselves. Do you understand that? They always pointed people to
somebody else. Mohammed said, "Go to Allah. Iím not the
one." Buddha didnít tell anyone to come to him. Ghandi didnít
instruct anyone to come to him.
Only Jesus said, "Come unto Me all ye
who labor and are heavy laden, I will give you rest." Who
do you think He was claiming to be when He was saying that? At another
time He said, "I am the bread of life. He that cometh to Me
shall never hunger. He that believeth on Me shall never thirst"
(John 6:35). "I am the way, I am the truth, I am life. No man
will come to the Father but through Me." Do you think you need to
know Greek or Hebrew to understand what Heís talking about? Philip,
one day said, "Listen, Jesus show us the Father." Jesus
said, "Look, Philip, havenít you been with me such a long time,
he that has seen me has seen the Father." And Philipís mouth
dropped open because he was an orthodox Jew who believed that God was
One. And if you believe that God is One and this guy is saying,
"If youíve seen me, youíve seen the Father," what
conclusion can you come to? Jesus said to know Him was to know God. To
see Him was to see God. To believe in Him was to believe in God. To
hate Him was to hate God. To honor Him was to honor God.
In Mark Chapter 2, Jesus looked at the man that
never walked and instead of saying, "Be healed," He said,
"Your sins be forgiven." And the Pharisees and the Saduccees
that were there said, "Thatís blasphemy! Only One can forgive
sins and thatís God alone." And they were right. But Jesus
showed them that He had that power and that He was God. And itís
interesting this event was written up in the earliest document that
came out, Mark. When Jesus said to the man, "Take up your bed and
walk" and the man walked out of there, Jesus was saying,
"Look, this miracle I have just done is something that you can
see and understand. That is, in the physical, material world, I healed
this man that didnít walk. You can see that. On the other hand, you
could not see when I forgave the man his sins. But because I did this
[healed him], you know that I did this [forgave his sins]. In brief,
He claimed to be God.
In John, Chapter 11, He claimed that He could give
all men this thing called "eternal life." What if a guy
walked down the street and said, "I can give you eternal
life." You would probably say, Who are you? In Matthew 24 Jesus
claimed His words would never pass away. Weíre going to forget Byron
and Shakespeare and everybody else but weíre never going to forget
your words, Jesus? Right. Thatís what He was saying.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "You
have heard that it has been said, ĎThou shalt not commit adultery.í"
Where did that come from? Thatís one of the Ten Commandments. In the
Hebrew, when you go back into Deuteronomy youíll find out you have a
divine negative in the Hebrew, showing God said, "Donít do
this." "You have heard that it has been said, ĎThou shalt
not commit adultery.í" So they said, "Those are the very
words of God." But then Jesus said, "P.S., but I say unto
you, if you look on a man or a woman and you lust after them in your
heart, you have broken that law." And everybody went,
"Ooh!" Why? Because of the fact that He had added His words
to Godís words and when you add something to what God said, all of a
sudden youíre making your teaching as authoritative as what God
Now, according to the modern critics, Jesus should
have recognized that they were thinking He was God and said, "Oh,
wash my mouth out; cancel that last statement." But what did He
do? He went on to say, "Youíve heard that it has been said, ĎThou
shalt not kill,í but I say unto you, ĎWhosoever is angry
with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the
judgment." He did it again. Thatís why when you come to the end
of the Sermon on the Mount you find these words. It was said about the
people, "They were amazed at Jesusí teachings because He taught
as one who had authority and not as the scribes." What kind of
authority? God said this; mine is right up here next to His. Itís
equal in authority.