Episode 6 - Early And Eyewitness Evidence For The New Testament

This week, we look stronger evidence for the Bible. The Bible was written using eyewitness testimony, and that testimony was recorded close to the events it describes.    

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Hello, and welcome to Unapologetic; a podcast about defending, not apologizing for, our Christian convictions. 

This week we're going to continue on in our series about the Bible. And we're going to look at eye-witness and early evidence for the New Testament. When it comes to early evidence, we're talking about manuscripts that were written shortly after the events that they describe took place. We actually have 5,800 handwritten Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and this doesn't include the thousands of Latin and Coptic manuscripts we also have. Some of the earliest manuscripts we have were discovered between 1946 and 1956, with the discovery of the Dead See Scrolls. This was a discovery of manuscripts in the MIddle East that were remarkably preserved in caves and in jars, that contained some very early copies of some of the New Testament documents. For instance, parts of Mark, Acts, Romans, 1 Timothy, 2 Peter, and James date within 50-70 AD. That's within 20-40 years of Jesus' death. And these are copies. So the originals would have to be older than that. Closer to the original events. We also have the earliest parts of John that date between 117 and 138. 

(1:25) So what does this show? This shows that the things that were written about the New Testament and the copies we have of the New Testament were written very close to when the actual events happened. 

(1:36) Something historians use is something called a copy time gap, and that's the length of time that elapsed between when an event happened and the earliest copy we have. For the New Testament, in some places this is 25 years. Let's compare this to other ancient documents. Like Homer, which has a copy time gap of 500 years. Or Plato, which has a copy time gap of 1200 years. Now, Homer and Plato are both taught in universities today, and there isn't a lot of question that what these copies describe match the originals. But, for some reason when it comes to the New Testament, people want to say that 25 years is way to long for things to have been written down and written down accurately. But as we'll come to see, that's not a justified critique. 

(2:24) So, the number of copies we have is also remarkable. For the New Testament, like I said, 5,800 Greek manuscripts. For Homer, 1757. For Caesar, 210. For Plato, also 210. So we have so many more copies for the New Testament than Homer, Caesar, Plato, Pliny the Younger, many other ancient documents. And yet, people want to say that we can't know what the original said with any certainty. But they don't make this claim about Homer, Caesar, or Plato, or others. 

(2:57) So, the evidence we have is early for the New Testament. The things that were written down, like we said, Mark, 1 and 2 Peter, John, all of these copies we have are just a short time after the oringials were penned. This should give us great confidence that what they describe is accurate. 

(3:15) So that's the first E. We're going to be looking at 5 or 6 E's over the next few weeks. And the first one is early testimony. Frank Turek, who's an apologist, has come up with these E's. All of the lines of evidence that we'll look at for the New Testament are going to start with E. An easy way to remember them. 

(3:35) So the first one is early. The second one is eye-witness testimony. Peter says in Acts, "God has raised this Jesus to life, and we were all witnesses of this fact." Eye-witnesses, they saw it. In fact, what we saw two weeks ago when we looked at the Resurrection was that the majority of scholars believe that Peter had a post-Resurrection encounter with Jesus. Now, obviously, there's debate about the nature of that encounter, but I actually think the evidence is good that it was a physical encounter. However, Peter's claiming to be an eye-witness to these events. And in 2 Peter, it says, "we did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ. But we were eye-witnesses of His majesty." Luke, in Luke 1:1-2 says, "many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who, from the first, were eye-witnesses and servants of the Word." Luke says elsewhere that he set out to create a detailed account for Theophilus, the person to who he was writing. And Luke, like we all do, understood the importance of talking to eye-witnesses to get the details of what actually happened. 

(4:47) Now, maybe there's a question that's formed in your mind. Last week, I said that we shouldn't trust what the Bible said just because the Bible said it. Especially if we're trying to prove it to someone and demonstrate its trustworthiness to someone else. So why should we believe these people were eye-witnesses just because they claim to be eye-witnesses? Well, we shouldn't believe it just because they claim it. We should believe it because there's great evidence for the fact that they were eye-witnesses. 

(5:11) Here's one small example. Colin Hermer is an historian, and he's confirmed 84 facts just in the last 16 chapters of the book of Acts. Luke correctly sites the languages spoken in remote regions; the correct locations of rivers and cities; the best routes to sail, depending on weather conditions; the legal procedures in small provinces; the governing officials in many places; cultural perspectives, and much more. Basically, what he's done is included a wealth of details that puts what he wrote into its historical and geographical context. 

(5:45) F. F. Bruce, who is a noted Biblical scholar, says, "a writer who thus relates his story to the wider context of world history is courting trouble if he isn't careful. He affords his critical readers so many opportunities for testing his accuracy. Luke takes this risk and stands the test admirably." What's Bruce saying there? Well, Luke includes so many details that he would not have been able to get right if he weren't actually in the places he claimed to be, or if the eye-witnesses he talked to weren't actually in the places they claimed to be. 

(6:20) Let's say you're a parent, and your child is supposed to be going to a movie with a friend. And, unbeknownst to them, you actually go to the movie too. But you realize they're not there. Well, you know, you watch the movie, you wait to the end, you go home, and when your son comes home, you say, "how was the movie?" "Oh, it was great." "Well, what was your favorite part?" "Well, I really liked the end." "Oh, ok, nice. Well, what about the end?" Well, your son hasn't actually watched the movie, so he's kind of stuck. Because any more specific details that he includes have a high likelihood of being wrong. Right? And you could ask him, "well did you get anything at the concession stand?" "Yeah, I got popcorn." But, if he says he got popcorn, he might be wrong, maybe the popcorn machine was broken and you know this, but he doesn't. All of this goes to show that when you make up a lie, you don't include specific details. You're not going to include things that are easily verifiable, and yet Luke and the other Gospel writers and other NT writers include so many specific details that leave no doubt in our minds when we actually examine them, that they were indeed at the places they claimed to be. They saw the events they claimed to see. 

(7:34) So this is our second e, eye-witness testimony. We've got early testimony, eye-witness testimony. Next week, we're going to look at embarrassing testimony and excruciating testimony. And I hope you'll join me then, because when you put all of these E's together, the case for the reliability of the New Testament becomes very strong. 

(7:53) Thanks for watching Unapologetic this week. If I could just ask you for a small favor, I would really appreciate it. If you listen on iTunes, leave a review or a like or rate us, hopefully 5 stars, but you know, whatever your conscience dictates. That would really help other people get the news about the show. If an episode has been helpful to you, share it on Facebook, share it with your friends. I have no agenda in making these, I just simply want to put information out there that is helpful to people because I have been greatly helped by this same information in my faith and my walk with Christ. So if it benefits you, share it with other people, leave a review, and I would really appreciate it. I'll see you next week on Unapologetic!