Historical, Evidentiary Proof Of New Testament Reliability

It is a common thought amongst many people that the narratives of the New Testament are not historical, lack eyewitness confirmation, and have no proof that they are genuine or truthful. In large part, this is due to the extraordinary content of these narratives. In all of the world there is no record of the supernatural events that have been written in the four Gospels.

In every endeavor to validate historical events, the first source to examine is the actual texts that have been written about these events. We must consider what the writers state regarding these events with an unbiased mind, and absent a personal agenda, if we are to know the truth. Regarding the historical nature of the New Testament, I have thoroughly examined the text and used the modern techniques utilized for historical literature, in order to determine whether the New Testament fits the qualifications required for historical narratives. You can read these findings at the following essay:

Is The New Testament A Valid Historical Narrative?

As much of the New Testament was originally written in Koine Greek, it is helpful to examine the Greek text in order to determine the true nature of the narratives we read. It is possible to understand the validity of these texts by a concise examination.

Regarding the Gospel of Luke, this is of particular interest since the Koine Greek used in this narrative is singular amongst all other surviving texts of the Gospels. Luke was a Greek medical doctor who was highly educated and obviously proficient in the Greek language used during that time.

In the first sentence of Luke’s Gospel there is a wealth of intelligence regarding the authenticity and reliability of what follows. Luke’s use of Koine Greek is exquisite, “beautifully constructed, and in the manner of the best literary Koine.”[1] Only by those who are proficient in Koine Greek, can a person fully appreciate the perfection of the very first sentence of Luke’s Gospel. There are no modern English or other language translations which fully communicate the purity of the original Greek Texts.

1 Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, 3 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, 4 that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed. ~Luke 1:1-4

Luke is pure and to the point in his goal of writing this narrative. Like others who, by this time, had already written their own narratives of Jesus life, death, and resurrection, Luke does not write to impeach, or correct what has already been written about Jesus. His goal is to merely point out that his own understanding of these events is in keeping with what others have already written. Luke is writing as an intellectual, proficient in Koine Greek, laying down a record that resulted from intense investigation, interview of eyewitnesses, and precise record keeping.

This should be quite important to the intellectual of our day because Luke considered an accurate account of the true facts, paramount in his day. In regards to historical accuracy and reliability, Luke’s goal was to meet these demands in every way possible.

In using ἐπειδήπερ (ἐπεί = since, δή = admittedly true, πέρ, the intensifying particle to emphasize importance, Luke is saying “since many have already done this, I am doing it also.” Only Luke uses this Greek word, ἐπειδήπερ, showing an intelligence and literary touch unequalled by any other New Testament writer. At the same time, the rest of the text that follows demonstrates that Luke is not seeking to do again, what others have already done, but to add a distinct quality to what has already been put forth.

Luke is saying that just as the other writers of the previous Gospels were not completely identical in every specific detail, though telling the same primary and important facts of Jesus life, he is also adding details he learned in studiously examining all the facts. The used of πολλοί, reveals that there were a great number of written Gospels about Jesus that were already circulating. Only Luke describes these numbers in referencing his own narrative.

Luke is not describing the later apocryphal Gospels, which he knew at that time, were non-historical frauds. 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. Scott Kellum writes:

Their individual status as Scripture is usually not debated. …There are about 30 known Gospels that appeared before the year 600.”[2]

The primary reason why many other alleged gospels of Jesus were not added to the canon of the New Testament is due to the diligence of men of the first century, who were chosen by God to preserve the accurate text of the New Testament. It was well known prior to the canonization of the New Testament, the particular documents that contained inaccuracies. This is due largely to the knowledge of the true accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry written before 90 A.D., and very likely before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. In every case, all conflicting documents, which are today put forth as alternatives to the four gospels, were written at a time of great distance from the original four gospels.

All of the Gnostic gospels of Jesus, the most prominent of which—the Gospel of Thomas—was found with many other Gnostic texts, written in the third or fourth century.[3] The body of these texts are described as the “Nag Hammadi” from the location of their discovery, along the west bank of the Nile river, 60 miles north of Luxor[4] Containing some 49 documents in three papyrus codices, none of the texts from these later writings, which describe Jesus’ work and ministry, add to our understanding of the four gospels that were written before the end of the first century. In fact, they are in conflict with the writings of the four gospels, which were complete by 90 A.D.[5]

The “Many” other Gospels that Luke is referencing, did not include the known and reliable texts of Matthew and Mark, except the Hebrew Logia that Papias references in his writings. Luke’s Gospel became the companion of Mark and Matthew, of which, I have documented as likely written by 44 A.D., in my publications, “You Are My Witnesses: The Men Who Saw Jesus.”

It is not possible that Luke’s writing of ἐπεχείρησαν, defines his narrative as finding errors in the other Gospels we know today. The usage of “taken in hand,” is clearly a reference to writing by hand, these earlier narratives. This Greek word is common in other papyri (ἐπί plus χείρ, to lay hand on), and never implies a failure, or insinuation of error.

Luke is not saying that the other Gospels failed in their attempts at recording an accurate record, in fact, the opposite is true. Luke is confirming the reliability and historical accuracy of these other Gospels, Matthew, and Mark. Luke is not insinuating that he could better communicate the facts of Jesus than these previous writers. In fact, by using κἀμοί in verse 3, Luke is inserting himself into the same order as these other writers. He is stating that he is sufficient for the task, and qualified to do so because he has thoroughly investigated all the facts known at that time concerning Jesus. The manner in which Luke states this, defines his goal as no easy task, but required a great amount of work and diligence.

It is for this reason that we can understand today when we read Luke’s introduction, that he endeavored to preserve for us, an exquisite historical narrative that is accurate and reliable. This become quite clear to any serious student of Koine Greek, or for that matter, even the English speaking student who seriously considers all that Luke wrote.

Luke chose a particular Greek expression in describing the narratives of these other Gospels by ἀνατάξασθαι διήγπσιν, “to recount a detailed narrative.” The usage of this Greek verb is quite rare, found only two other times in the middle voice of literature three hundred years after Jesus existed on earth. The definition of this term is not ambiguous. This term was used by Irenæus when he wrote that the books written by Moses the prophets, and Ezra, through the Holy Spirit, reproduced the words of God perfectly. Luke is saying that Matthew and Mark reproduced the actual events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, perfectly, as were the scriptures of the Old Testament prophets.

In conclusion, Luke’s introduction tells us everything we need to know regarding New Testament reliability. Luke was certain at that time that all that had been written in Matthew and Mark about Jesus, was absolutely the truth in every regard. By His inclusion of his own Gospel he was confirming these facts for his friend Theophilus, because he wanted him to know the certainty of those things in which ge was instructed.

  1. The Gospels were written early in the first century.
  2. They were already widely distributed by the time Luke wrote his narrative.
  3. Matthew and Mark were accurate narratives of true facts.
  4. Luke’s narrative was intended as a confirmation of these texts.
  5. By Luke’s intellect and diligence, we have confidence that the Synoptic Gospels we have today are reliable, accurate, historical narratives of true events.

New Testament Criticism

The facts of evidence that is included in the following essays, proves that it is possible to know for certain whether we can trust what is written about Jesus. The following are the resources available at this site which contain evidence to prove each of these important issues:

  1. When Were The Gospels Written?
  2. Were The Gospels Written By Eyewitnesses?
  3. Did The Gospel Writers Borrow From Each Other?
  4. Has The Text Of The New Testament Been Changed?
  5. Is The New Testament Filled With Errors?
  6. Were The Four Gospels Written Anonymously?
  7. The Body Of New Testament Evidence
  8. Are There Sources For Jesus Outside The New Testament?
  9. Is The New Testament A Valid Historical Narrative?
  10. Did Jesus Really Claim To Be God?

Other Articles For New Testament Criticism


NOTES:

[1] A quote from Greek scholar, Richard Charles Henry Lenski, a German-born American-naturalized scholar, who published a series of New Testament commentaries.
[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.
[3] F. F. Bruce. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Kindle Locations 1104-1108). Kindle Edition.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.



Categories: Exegesis and Hermeneutics, Historical Validity of the New Testament, Literary authenticity of the New Testament, New Testament Criticism, Principles of Biblical Interpretation, Reliability of the New Testament, Robert Clifton Robinson, The Four Gospels, The Historical Jesus, The Historical Jesus

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