Can I trust the New Testament?
It always strikes me as fascinating, and at the same time disturbing, that people seem to have no problem affirming the authenticity of ancient history characters such as Julius Caesar , Thucydides (a Greek general and historian) and Aristotle, for example, and yet are quick to cast doubts over the reliability of the Bible.
We have 10 copies of Caesar’s “Gallic Wars”, the oldest of which was compiled 900 years later than the original. For Thucydides we have 8 manuscripts, dated almost 1300 years after he wrote. And for Aristotle we have 5 manuscripts, the earliest of which has a 1400-year gap from the original. Applying the same tests, the New Testament is almost embarrassing in comparison. We have more than 24 000 early manuscript copies or portions, the oldest of which comes from only 120 years after it was first written.
The New Testament accounts were recorded by men who had either been eyewitnesses of the events and teachings of Jesus themselves, or who related the accounts of eyewitnesses. Their accounts were circulated within the lifetimes of those who were alive at the time of Jesus’ life. These people could certainly have confirmed or denied the accuracy of their accounts.
From non-Christian writings of the period (both Jewish and Roman) we have various aspects of the New Testament account corroborated, including: when Jesus lived; where he lived; that his mother was named Mary and that his conception was irregular; that he was a renowned teacher; that he did things that both his friends and foes thought to be supernatural; that he was given the title ‘Messiah’; that he was executed, how, and by whom; that he had a brother who was also executed; that people claimed he was raised from the dead; and that his followers continued to worship him after he was gone.
Why not have a read of the New Testament for yourself? You may well discover that, as one translator famously described it, it has a ‘ring of truth’.
Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
When he was younger, my brother-in-law once got a hole in one at the local golf course in the country town where he lived. His family believe him. And I believe him. Problem being no-one actually saw it happen!
Thankfully, when it comes to Jesus’ resurrection we have far more solid grounds for belief than my poor brother-in-law and his hole in one.
In 1 Corinthians 15:6 Paul, a man who had violently opposed Jesus but later came to trust in him, writes that Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at one time – the majority of whom were still alive when Paul wrote and therefore available to confirm that what he claimed was indeed true.
Another compelling proof is the empty tomb. Despite their desire otherwise, the Jewish leadership at the time conceded that Jesus’ tomb was indeed empty. Their questions revolved around how it had happened rather than whether it had happened. Jesus’ opponents could easily have produced the body when his followers began to proclaim the resurrection – but they never did.
One of the most compelling proofs is the transformation that occurred in Jesus’ followers. Who would be willing to die for a lie? Of his twelve disciples, eleven died a martyr’s death on the basis of his resurrection.
Why does God allow suffering?
This is one of the hardest questions to answer. This is partly because it is often asked by someone who is going through deep emotional pain. It is also hard to answer because we don’t fully know the answer. There are some things that are not revealed to us. However, the Bible does provide us with some things that we can say in response.
Sometimes suffering is caused directly through our sinful actions. For example, a drunk driver might cause an accident and the suffering that results is because of his or her irresponsibility. However, the Bible also makes it clear that other suffering is not the result of a particular person’s sin (see, for example, John 9:1-3 and Luke 13:1-5). The general suffering that we experience can be traced back to the fact that our world is not in the same condition as it was originally. We live in a creation that is fallen due to humanity’s rebellion against God and all of us suffer the results in one way or other.
A uniquely Christian response to this question is the fact that the Bible tells us that in Jesus God has himself suffered. He has lived life this side of heaven just as we do. The Christian God does not exist in some ivory tower, removed and immune from the experiences we go through. Rather, he has suffered – and most particularly in his death on the cross in order to deal with the root problem of sin that has borne the fruit of suffering in the first place.
The Bible also holds out to us the promise of a place where there will be no more suffering. This is called the new creation and the Bible assures us that it is a place where there “will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4). By trusting Jesus as our Lord and Saviour we can be sure of just such a future.
If you are struggling personally with the question of suffering at this time, you may find reading the book of Psalms in the Bible helpful. Many of the Psalms were written by people during a time of personal suffering. You may like to have a listen to a talk on one of these Psalms and think through the perspective on suffering provided there (link to Bible Talk on Psalm 6).
See also “The Problem of Pain”
What about other religions?
Getting to the heart of this question can be problematic because of various other aspects that become attached to it. For example, discussion can quickly become quite emotional with claims of prejudice and bigotry levelled at Christians for claiming that Jesus is the only way to God. The question can also unhelpfully become confused with sincerity. However, we must remember that it is possible to be sincerely wrong. I have been on a number of occasions!
People can, of course, choose to believe what they wish but we have no right to redefine Christianity in our own terms. When Jesus himself claims that he is the only way (see John 14:6), Christians have no other option but to believe and state the same if they follow him. If Christians sound exclusive it is because their leader was exclusive in the first place.
It is not logically possible for all religions to be right because they contradict each other on several key points. For example, for the Buddhist the way to enlightenment is to follow Buddha’s ‘eight-fold path’. For Muslims, only strict obedience to Muhammad’s teaching as found in the Koran will bring Allah’s favour. Hinduism teaches that there are millions of different gods in the universe. They could, of course, all be wrong but they cannot all be right.
One helpful way to remember the differences between Christianity and other religions is that all other religions are about ‘doing’ while Christianity is about what has already been ‘done’ for us. It is about a relationship between people and God that is made possible through Jesus and his death and resurrection. You might like to read the Bible for yourself and think through some of these key differences between Christianity and other religions.
Hasn’t science disproved Christianity?
It is interesting that some people want to pit science against Christianity, as though the two are mortal enemies in a duel to the death! Actually nothing could be further from the truth.
In seeking to prove anything about a person or an event from history we run into problems when trying to do so scientifically. In the same way that we don’t use the skills of mathematics to assess a poem, we don’t make use of science to prove historical accounts. It is not that science is inadequate but rather that, in this instance, it is simply inappropriate.
Scientific proof is based on showing that something is a fact by repeating it in the presence of the person questioning the fact (for example, through conducting an experiment). Under a controlled environment, observations can be made, data drawn and theories verified. This is an excellent method, as far as it goes, but you couldn’t make use of it to prove that you went to school or work last Tuesday or that you ate lunch yesterday.
When it comes to proving the claims of Christianity we need to make use of a different method: legal-historical proof. This helps us to answer questions like, ‘Did Julius Caesar live?’ or ‘Was Martin Luther King a civil rights leader?’ It is based on showing that something is a fact beyond a reasonable doubt. A verdict is reached on the basis of the weight of evidence. For example, to prove that you were indeed at school or work last Tuesday we might interview your school teacher or your work colleagues, or examine what ‘traces’ of your presence you left behind. In the same way, when it comes to proving or disproving Christianity, you might consider the material presented under ‘Can I trust the New Testament?’
Perhaps science and Christianity might be more friends than enemies after all!
Can’t we just be good enough to please God?
I enjoy going to the movies but, at the risk of sounding like an old person, I can’t believe how much it costs these days! At our local cinema it will set me back $17 to see a movie at the moment. Let’s say that, despite the cost, you and I still want to go and see a movie. If you have $10 and I have $4, neither of us can make it. You miss the mark by $7 but I am much further away than that. It looks like neither of us is going to the movies any time soon!
When it comes to being good enough the Bible’s perspective is that “Everyone has sinned. No one measures up to God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). Just like us trying to go to the movies, you might have lived a better life than I have but both of us have missed the mark. We have fallen short.
In the end, however, the message that none of us can be good enough is only half the story. Pleasing God is not about trying to be good enough for God but rather responding to his un-earned mercy and love towards us in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And that’s good news for bad people like you and me!
How do you know God exists?
There are a number of different ways that we might answer this question but one of the more helpful is by saying that the reasons that I know God exists are the same as the reasons I know that Napoleon existed. You might ask me, ‘Did you ever see Napoleon?’ To which I might reply, ‘No, but I could have if I hadn’t been born too late. We can’t live in every moment and in every place of history’.
It’s similar when it comes to the question of how we can know God exists. The man Jesus claimed to be God. His actions bear out that claim. He healed the sick, exorcised demons, stilled the storm at sea, brought the dead back to life, and died and rose from the dead himself.
One famous Christian, C. S. Lewis, once said that Jesus is either Lord, lunatic, or liar. These are the only three options we have available to us when making up our minds about him. He may have been a lunatic – that is, he thought he was God but wasn’t. He may have been a liar – that is, he knew that he wasn’t God but said that he was. But from the evidence we have available to us, neither of those options seem to fit. What do you make of Jesus? Perhaps you might like to read through one of the biographies of Jesus in the Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke or John – and ask yourself: Is he lunatic, liar, or Lord?