Claimed manuscript evidence for superior New Testament reliability

Quoted from "...if the critics want to disregard the New Testament, then they must also disregard other ancient writings by Plato, Aristotle, and Homer. This is because the New Testament documents are better preserved and more numerous than any other ancient writing. Because the copies are so numerous, they can be cross checked for accuracy. This process has determined that the biblical documents are extremely consistent and accurate...If we were to compare the number of New Testament manuscripts to other ancient writings, we find that the New Testament manuscripts far outweigh the others in quantity...there are thousands more New Testament Greek manuscripts than any other ancient writing. The internal consistency of the New Testament documents is about 99.5% textually pure...If the critics of the Bible dismiss the New Testament as reliable information, then they must also dismiss the reliability of the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, Homer...On the other hand, if the critics acknowledge the historicity and writings of those other individuals, then they must also retain the historicity and writings of the New Testament authors..."
Atheist Answer: 

A falsehood doesn't become truth no matter how carefully it's preserved and distributed.

There are good reasons to place the reliability of the other writings above that of the New Testament. Among them is the fact that we generally know who the authors were (and in the case of Julius Caesar for instance, there are surviving contemporary likenesses of him on coins and statues). Another reason in some cases is the existence of other independent accounts of the same events written within thirty years of the events themselves. An obvious reason is the occurrence of physical events in the New Testament which cannot possibly be duplicated or tested today, such as the virgin birth and the resurrection. (Most Christians, however, seem devoid of incredulity regarding these events, so this last reason isn't a great one to give believers.)

Setting all this aside, however, and assuming that accounts in the New Testament today are faithful to what its authors originally wrote, nothing prevents the accounts from having been false in the first place.

Sure enough, there are real places like Jerusalem and real people like Pontius Pilate. Forrest Gump met JFK in the White House, but that doesn't make Forrest Gump real.

The huge amount of surviving manuscripts is hardly surprising either. More than any secular historical document, the New Testament was made to be spread around. Even before the Gideons (and before hotel room drawers), there were groups and individuals who made the stories available to as many people as possible. The wording was critically important, as demonstrated by current theological debates over the meaning of single phrases or even words. Therefore accuracy was largely maintained, except when people intentionally skewed the meanings to suit them (for instance, in the New World Translation by the Jehovah's Witnesses).

In short, we have a book which huge numbers of people have seen as vitally important since before it was written. A book where every word is essential, a book everyone is meant to read. Its popularity flourished, its integrity was (mostly) safeguarded and it's still around today. Does that mean it contains the truth? No. It means we probably do know what some people really said happened 2000 years ago, and we still have to make up our own minds whether they were right.

- SmartLX


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99.5% internally consistent?

99.5% internally consistent? Hardly. There are more documented differences among the known new testament manuscripts than there are words in the new testament itself. Do you dare to have your eyes opened on this subject? If so, I recommend the book "Misquoting Jesus".

new testament reliability

The fact that you compared the historicity of Pontius Pilate to that of Forest Gump speaks volumes. I realize you dont think Gump was real but using that doesnt make a very good point. One is fiction, one is obviously not. So what are you saying? You didnt really refute anything. You just affirmed what many of us already know. The historical reliability of the New Testament is better than almost any other historical document as far its accuracy. If it was any other subject matter other than Jesus Christ or supernatural events there wouldnt really be any debate on this amongst scholars and non christian scholars alike. Its more of "I wont believe" attitude verses a "I cant". If you use the same methods that scholars and historians use for determing what happened when, then the New testament is arguably your best document when it comes to reliability. Youre only refutation of that is that "well that doesnt prove the events happened". Youre right it doesnt, but it certainly doesnt disprove them either.

You said

"A falsehood doesn't become truth no matter how carefully it's preserved and distributed."

then said

"There are good reasons to place the reliability of the other writings above that of the New Testament. Among them is the fact that we generally know who the authors were (and in the case of Julius Caesar for instance, there are surviving contemporary likenesses of him on coins and statues"

First off, what makes you think we dont know who most of the authors are? Second, when you have thousands of copies of a document written by multiple people and there is very little if any descrepancies between any of them it only helps support the inital authors account regardless of whether you know his name or believe the account. Most of the time the only reason people wont believe is because its supernatural. And thats it. Regardless of eyewitness accounts and evidence.

You ended with

"In short, we have a book which huge numbers of people have seen as vitally important since before it was written. A book where every word is essential, a book everyone is meant to read. Its popularity flourished, its integrity was (mostly) safeguarded and it's still around today. Does that mean it contains the truth? No. It means we probably do know what some people really said happened 2000 years ago, and we still have to make up our own minds whether they were right."

So, basically you agree that the documents are reliable but you dont believe them. I understand that conclusion but you have to answer the "why" as you havent given any. We dont have any problem with Alexander the Great's history or Homer's Illiad, etc... but the most questioned event(jesus) in history by atheists and secular scholars is arguably the most documented and most reliable according the methods used by those very same people. That baffles my mind.

Why would anyone would believe this and die for it as many did during the early church. Especially when they are close enough to the events or even experienced/didnt experience the events. I have heard of people dying for a lie they believe to be true but never for a lie they know to be a lie. So unless all the apostles went crazy and didnt care for their lives at all, why die for it if it didnt happen? And if it didnt happen, how would they have escaped that fact being as they were around all the events that supposedly happened?

heres some quotes from my Pastor regarding the whole subject

"Some critics would say, “You know, the Gospels don’t seem to be in agreement on the details; therefore, that proves they probably didn’t have the story right.” Well, actually I’m very glad you brought that up because that discussion actually works in our favor. Any historian will tell
you that if you go back through the records of history and you find multiple witnesses who agree one very single detail of the account, it’s pretty strong evidence that they gathered in a back room, made up the story, and everybody got the details straight—because we know right up until today it just doesn’t work that way.As a matter of fact, the idea that the writers had different perspectives and different details gives overwhelming evidence that they were four independent witnesses of the event"

"in the first century there was such a low view of women that women were not considered to be credible—to the extent that they were not even allowed to testify in a court of law because they could not be believed. Now of course, we don’t agree with that assessment, but that was clearly the understanding in the first century. So if you're going to gather in a back room and make up a story, and you're going to try and promote this story, the last thing you would ever do is make your primary witnesses to the event women. Yet, our text clearly indicates that the first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus were all women. There’s only one reason the Gospel writers would record it that way, and that is because that’s the way it actually historically happened"

The creed that Jesus was crucified, buried, rose from the dead and appeared to witnesses was out and being proclaimed two years after the event itself. We know that Jerusalem was filledwith antagonists, with skeptics, with people who wanted nothing more than to stop the movement of Jesus. If these facts were indeed untrue, there would have been an overwhelming response from the people who actually witnessed the events. But actually that’s not what happened at all. It was the exact opposite of that. In Jerusalem itself, the place where these events took place, 40 days after the fact, Peter declared that Jesus was crucified, buried, rose again, and then he says, “And you are eyewitnesses to the fact.” And the response of the people was that that day over 3,000 of these people converted to Christianity. How do you explain that other than they were eyewitnesses to the empty tomb and knew it had to be true? In the next 30-60 days there were over ten thousand people who chose to believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem alone. How could you possibly explain that other than having investigated the claims, they believed it was true?"

"The fifth challenge to that idea that this is just a story somebody made up would be the radical change in the Jewish people themselves. For 1500 years their culture had defined them. That’s what held them together as a people. But suddenly you have them meeting every day of the week. Suddenly you have them partaking of communion rather than the yearly Passover. Every historian would tell you there was a dramatic change coming out of Jerusalem. The only debate was what was the event that brought about the change. And the only plausible answer to that question has
been Jesus really did rise from the dead."


Pastor Bryan Clark

You dont have to believe it obviously. But couple the hisorical reliability of the documents themselves with many of the reasons listed above and I think most christians can be more than confident in their faith.

With Respect

Mark H.

Hi Mark, thanks for chiming

Hi Mark, thanks for chiming in.

I was comparing the historicity of Gump at the White House to that of Jesus on trial, not Pilate himself. My point was simply that real settings and real people as characters in a story which is even possibly fictional do not by themselves make the whole thing true. I didn't suggest that it disproves anything. Roughly as I've said elsewhere, even if every event in the New Testament is completely false the son of God might still have existed on Earth in some form. The issue is the amount of positive, substantive evidence for this.

Disputes over the authorship of the New Testament are ongoing and wide-ranging. The epistles of Paul are most widely accepted to be by the traditionally held author, but by comparison the traditional view of the rest is increasingly shaky.

Authorship is important because whether people are going to believe the accounts is the only important thing. It's the reason I brought this up, and the reason you want to defend them. More specifically, who wrote the accounts determines two things: whether the accounts are first-hand, second-hand or worse, and also to some extent what the authors' motivations might have been.

Iens and I have been discussing whether the apostles would have lied in the Gospels, which is the basis for a major line of Lee Strobel's apologetics. (Both that question and the original one it links to address much of what you've written about the apostles' predicament.) His version of the argument depends among other things on whether the apostles, those who supposedly had first-hand knowledge of the Resurrection, wrote or dictated those gospels themselves. I don't accept this, but I had to temporarily presume it to even reply to the argument on its own terms.

Alexander the Great wasn't just famous enough to be written about, he ruled most of the Greeks' known world. Historical writings of his life and actions come from all of these countries, accompanied by busts and paintings, and intersecting neatly with the military and political history of each. Unlike Jesus, who simply disappeared into the "East" for a spell, we know well where The Great Defender went when he travelled abroad. He didn't just have a place in history, he shaped it directly in his own lifetime.

Homer's Iliad is a singularly poor choice of document for comparison for your purposes, but an excellent choice for mine. For all we know Homer might have been two people, or twenty. The setting is the Trojan War, which might possibly be based on a real conflict but might also be pure mythology. Not only are the main human characters likely to be fictional, but Greek deities like Athena and Aphrodite are directly involved.

That last point is the main basis on which we all assume that the story is not literally true, including those of us who believe in other gods and the possibility of supernatural events in general. Understand the implication? The only way anyone might find a particular unproven supernatural event plausible is if it can be linked to the supernatural things they already believe in. Because you are a Christian and have already accepted God as one supernatural force, it's a small step for you to accept stories of miracles attributed ultimately to Him. Those miracles are to the rest of us as the story of Mohammed's ascension is to you. Your god didn't officially do it, so you'd need it proven beyond reasonable doubt before you accepted it. Even then you might not. Some take the perceived Holy Spirit in themselves to be all the evidence they will ever need, even top apologists like William Lane Craig.

Pastor Clark's arguments are along the same lines as Strobel's, attempting to make the scenario of a hoax Resurrection implausible. They take the general form of an argument from ignorance: because we can't think of another good way it could have happened, it happened this way. It's also called an argument from lack of imagination. Well, what if you can imagine another way?

- Biblical literalists, those who think God signed off on every word, make a point of being able to reconcile any differences between gospels. If the writers agreed on the important points but then wrote separately (it was a dangerous time for Christians as you mentioned, so maybe they couldn't meet as often as they liked, or at all), such slight, negligible disparities would naturally emerge but they would largely sustain solidarity.

- The women were only the first witnesses to the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus. The apostles supposedly saw him that same day. The writers therefore do not expect readers to trust the women; there were plenty of male witnesses before the general announcement. The women's privilege merely drove home that Jesus favours the meek and humble.

- Everybody in Jerusalem could have witnessed the Crucifixion and burial, sure. (That only makes the dearth of extra-Biblical contemporary references to it more significant.) Nobody witnessed the Resurrection itself, only the empty tomb. Not everybody saw the resurrected Jesus either, but there was suddenly no dead Jesus, and that's what Paul was talking about. That would be enough to rekindle hope in the throngs of people from the Palm Sunday parade, disappointed and desperate for vindication. Jerusalem didn't go from zero to Christian in two months; it had an army of latent believers just waiting for their chance to campaign. Imagine the effect of Paul's call to action: hundreds or thousands of street preachers and Mormon-style doorknockers on task simultaneously.

- At the risk of stating the obvious, the early Christians were no longer Jews, any more than Muslims are Christians. They were eager to distance themselves from resolute Jews however they could. It was the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, after all, who had worked against Jesus. The Christians had their own rituals to make into traditions, and by Christ's own teachings they were instructed to separate themselves as a group.

As I always say, you have to accept contested premises to even argue about this stuff, so it's all hypothetical. Nevertheless, even these premises do not point inexorably to the truth of Christianity. That's why, in the majority of theological and apologetic thinking, the truth of Christianity is a premise.

Respect back atcha.

Biblical inconsistencies

There are many inconsistencies in The New Testament, according to the most recent Biblical Scholars. The simple fact that The Gospels were written by different men, at different times almost ensures that there must be inconsistencies. Add to that, the fact that each of the Apostles, besides writing at different times, were writing in different parts of the world, for different audiences, each writer (and there's no real proof that any of them existed as far as I'm aware), took the story of Jesus and turned it on its tails to suit his own needs. According to these same Biblical scholars (on a recent History Channel program concerning The Real Jesus), the fact that there are different accounts by different writers, all at different times, and writing for different audiences leads them all to believe that The story of Jesus was in fact an allegorical tale that represented the historic events of the times. Each Gospel is written in a tone and with language, some of which is even considered pure poetry not to be taken literally, that reflects the general tone of the society in which the author lived, and (each Gospel) was meant as a cheerful sermon to help the people of the cities where the author lived endure the tragedies and adversity of the times. There is little or no proof that ANY of what is written in The New Testament, at least in The Gospels is even historically accurate, and if that is inaccurate then it leads Atheists to question the accuracy of the entire New Testament

Capital A

Save the capital A, my man.