The New Testament Is Intended As Historical Accounts

One of the claims of liberal theologians who do not believe that Jesus is God, or that He was capable of performing the miracles ascribed to Him in the New Testament, is the claim that the New Testament was not penned as a historical accounts.

When we actually examine the text that is written about Jesus we see something far different.

The narratives of Jesus that are presented to us by those who were with Him during the time that He was present on earth, make a point of telling us that they are historical accounts.

John writes that he had “heard, seen, look upon, and handled,” Jesus. His recollections that are written in the New Testament are his own memories of things that he actually witnessed himself.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.  —1 John 1:1-4

In the book of Acts, chapter 4, members of the Sanhedrin; their rulers, elders, and scribes, as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem.  They brought  Peter and John and others of the disciples to question them about why they were declaring the name of Jesus as the Messiah before th people of Jerusalem.

Peter and John spoke boldly and declared that they were compelled to tell people what they had seen and heard concerning Jesus.

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.”

So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”  —Acts 4:13-20

It is understood that anyone who had seen the things that these men had seen, and heard the things that Jesus had spoken, would want to tell everyone this news. God had come to earth in the person of Jesus Christ and this news was for the whole world.

The idea that the narratives of the New Testament were nothing more than contrived stories that were made up for the purpose of creating a new religion or gathering followers does not bear the weight of the text that is written.

The Sanhedrin understood that these men were uneducated yet they spoke with such boldness having been with Jesus that the people were moved by their sincerity and authority. When something is really true, people can sense the reality of what is being told. These men were not actors they were simple fishermen who had seen events so extraordinary they wanted to tell others. The people knew Peter, John, and the other men who had been seen with Jesus. They understood that they were telling the truth and had no reason to question the truthfulness of their accounts.

Liberal theologians today state that these stories are embellished. The accounts of Jesus raising the dead, healing those born blind or paralyzed, commanding the sea to calm, and turning water to wine, are lies. When we examine their reasons for saying these accounts are not true, we find that it is because these men and women do not believe that Jesus is God in the first place that they discount the miracles He performed.

Peter writes himself that the testimonies that the writers of the New Testament wrote for us are not “cunningly devised fables,” but eyewitness testimony. Peter confirms that he also heard and saw these things about Jesus and this is why he is writing.

For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.  —2 Peter 1:16-18

We must ask at this point what any reasonable person would do if they were in the presence of Jesus and heard Him say what is written in the New Testament? If we saw Lazarus come out of his tomb after we had seen him dead and smelt the decay of his flesh in his grave. When suddenly, at Jesus voice, a form appears at the entrance off the tomb who is wrapped in linen cloth and stands before us. Would any of us not set out to write down what we had seen?

I sometimes imagine what would have happened if Jesus had come during the days we now live. Imagine how many people would have recorded His words and miracles on their smartphones and posted these images and videos on social media.

All that people could do at that time was write as best they could, what they saw and heard. Those who read these accounts later thought them of such great importance that they copied their words and sent them to others who did the same. Today, we have nearly 25,000 copies of these accounts in our possession which describe these events. If Jesus did not perform these miracles, then why do we have such great evidence today that people of that time said these events were true?

Those of us who understand the power of God also know that He has the ability to preserve these records from time and decay so that every generation could read about Jesus for themselves and make an informed decisions. You see, the Gospel of Jesus is not hearsay or conjecture. It is preserved history of actual events that took place—so extraordinary that the whole world should know.

What we believe today about Jesus is based upon eye witness testimony from people who were actually present when the events took place, or heard them from eyewitnesses. The accounts written by Luke are described by Him as coming directly from what those who had heard and seen concerning Jesus, said to him.

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.  —Luke 1:1-4

New Testament Scholar, Luke

Luke has been proven as “a historian of the first rank,” by today’s archeological and literary scholars. The details which he wrote for us that described events which took place during the time Jesus was on earth and the church that formed immediately after, are precise, detailed, and accurate. Luke shows by his writing that he is a meticulous recorder of specific events, peoples, place, and occurrences. Scholars today with the training necessary to recognize authenticity and accuracy of the events Luke records, have come away stunned by his accuracy.

Perhaps it is due to the profession of Luke as a medical doctor that has contributed to his incredible diligence in recording detailed facts that are a part of the New Testament. It may be that Luke was so overwhelmed by the perfection of Jesus humanity that he determined to write such a thorough account of all that Jesus had said and did. In any event; historians, archeologists, and literary experts, who have closely examined the statements of Luke in his gospel and the book of Acts, have been positively impressed with His trustworthy accounts.

One of the world’s greatest archeologists and historians is Sir William Ramsey. Notice how Dr. Ramsey describes the accuracy and detail of Luke’s historical references, without a single error.

“I began with a mind unfavorable to (the accuracy of the New Testament) but more recently I found myself brought into contact with the Book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth.”[1]

Dr. Ramsey believed, at the onset, that the accounts which are described in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were inaccurate. Over 100 years ago he undertook an expedition to Asia to try and refute the New Testament, only to become so overwhelmed by the evidence that he became a follower of Jesus Christ.

“Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy…this author should be placed along with the very greatest historians.”[2]

Archeological Accuracy Points To Literary Accuracy

Since Luke’s description of cities, names, places, and customs are perfect in their historical accuracy, it is certain that the accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are also accurate and reliable.

The fact that Luke has been confirmed as a scholarly historian of specific details regarding the history of the first century, it is certain that he also recorded the specific events of Jesus ministry with the same precision. Luke’s integrity as a historical scholar demands that we accept, with confidence, his testimony of Jesus’ resurrection, which is the foundation of the entire Christian church.

When evaluation is given to any text of ancient literature it is the internal contents of these works that reveals the authenticity of their words. We can tell from simply reading the text what the thoughts and intents of the writers were at that time. Because there is such a great deal of the New Testament that still exists today, we can understand that these were documents that were considered extremely important to the people who received them at that time. If we think them not reliable or false stories about fictitious events, we must ask why so many copies of these documents were made and distributed all over the known world at that time.

Any work of literature which is later found to by untrue is quickly revealed as such and not copied or preserved in any great number.

Only when an event of such magnitude or importance as is warranted preservation and distribution, is repeatedly copied and sent to other locations. The reasons are obvious. People understand that what they are reading came from reliable sources and that the writers who recorded the events understood them as truthful. This is precisely what we see in reading the New Testament. These men were clearly not seeking fame or fortune but only to be faithful stewards of events that the whole world should know.

Critics of the New Testament as reliable accounts of actual events assert that the writers did not tell us the truth and therefore we cannot trust the integrity of these accounts.

When we actually read the New Testament we come away with an entirely different impression. There are many places in the twenty-seven books of the New Testament where the writers make a special point of emphasizing their honest and sincere effort to write about the true events of that time.

One of these places is in Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica. Beginning at chapter 2, he emphasizes his behavior before the people as an example of his truthful words.

…our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness nor was it in deceit. v.3

…neither at any time did we use flattering words… v.5

…nor did we seek glory from men… v.6

As a result of Paul’s sincerity in telling the truth, the people of Thessalonica received his testimony about Jesus and the events that the four Gospels contain, not as the words of men but as the “word of God,” v. 13

For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. —1 Thessalonians 2:13

The early church considered the testimony about Jesus that was written after these events took place, as scripture, equal to those of the Old Testament scriptures.

The New Testament Carefully Evaluated

Consider that these four gospels were not written recently; they were penned nearly two-thousand years ago. The men who were leaders in the early Christian church, knew who Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were. One of the early leaders of the Christian church was Polycarp, who was a direct disciple of John. He had first-hand knowledge of what was written in the four gospels, having heard these things directly from John.

These early church leaders were responsible for the evaluation, authentication, and accuracy of any account for Jesus Christ that was presented. Testimony which was not consistent with the known facts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, was eliminated from the cannon of scripture. These four gospels were chosen because of their factual integrity and authoritative authorship.

Before the canonization of the New Testament, there were some 30 gospels of Jesus Christ that were under careful consideration. All but Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which are a part of our New Testament today, were excluded—after having been examined thoroughly for accuracy and authenticity.[3]

These early church leaders knew whether or not these accounts were true or false. They were aware that this account of Jesus’ healing of Bartimaeus and the slight variances in their testimonies was consistent with a truthful recollection. They did not alter or remove any of the text, because these men understood that what was written was genuine. These three narratives were preserved throughout all of church history because they were accurate, authentic, and truthful.

 


NOTES:
[1] William M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen, 1982, page 8
[2] William M. Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, 1915, page 222
[3] 2 Kellum, L. Scott; Köstenberger, Andreas J.; Quarles, Charles L (2009-08-01). The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown (Kindle Locations .739-742 B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

 



Categories: Historical Validity of the New Testament, Literary authenticity of the New Testament, Reliability of the New Testament, Robert Clifton Robinson, The Historical Jesus

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