Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The reliability of the New Testament. (1)


In a discussion with Mr. Ali H.A. Altawati Alqurashi (one of my Arabic speaking tweeps, @Alitawati) we debated about some differences between the Koran and the New Testament. A major point was the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ. The Koran denies these facts. Contradicting statements cannot both be true. Either the Koran speaks the truth or the New Testament does. My approach is not to attack the Koran but to faithfully defend the New Testament.

For this article I referred to "Evidences of Christianity" by William Paley (1743 - 1805), it is an excellent work which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the history of the establishment of Christianity. Another source is "The history of the Church" by Eusebius (260-340 AD).

When was the New Testament written?

An opinion one often encounters is that the New Testament was written hundreds of years after the life of Christ. For a number of reasons that is highly improbable:

  1. According to the evangelists Matthew (24:1), Mark (13:2) and Luke (21:6) Christ predicted that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed. The destruction of the Temple by the Romans occurred in the year 70 AD. This event has never been mentioned by the authors of the New Testament. This strongly suggests that the apostles wrote the Gospels, Acts, Epistels and Revelations (which form the New Testament) before the year 70 AD. Would they have been aware of the destruction of the Temple, would they not had it almost triumphantly reported this as a proof of the fulfilment of the prophecy of Christ?
  2. The apostle Paul was executed in Rome sometime between 64 AD and 67 AD. The book "The Acts of the Apostles" (part of the New Testament) describes in great detail the events in which the apostles were involved. The adventurous travels of the apostle Paul are a real treat to read. Yet his death hasn't been reported, which suggests that the Acts were written before 64 AD.
    The travels of the apostle Paul as described in The Acts of the Apostles.
  3.  The apostle Peter (2 Peter 3:15) refers to the letters of the apostle Paul. This indicates that the epistles of Paul must have been known by the readers of the letters of Peter.
  4. Many early Church Fathers mentioned parts of the New Testament explicitly and/or quoted from them in words we now clearly recognize as words used by the Apostles. Some examples are:
    1. Clement, a companion of the apostle Paul, was the first bishop of Rome. He held office from 88 AD to 99 AD, when he died at the age of 101. He wrote an epistle in which he quoted words of Christ as we find them in the Gospels. He also evidently quoted from the Epistle to the Romans (by the apostle Paul), the Epistle to the Hebrews and the apostle Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians. Of the latter Clement wrote: "Take into your hands the epistle of the blessed apostle Paul."
    2. At the end of the Epistle to the Romans the apostle Paul salutes a number of people, among them a certain Hermas who wrote a book called: The Shepherd. This book contains quotations from the Gospels of the apostles Matthew, Luke and John and a probable allusion the Acts.
    3. Ignatius became bishop of Antioch about 70 AD. The apostle Paul started his travels from Antioch. Probably Ignatius would have known Paul and the other Apostles. Polycarp, a contemporary of Ignatius, referred to epistles of the latter. These epistles contain quotes from the Gospels of the apostles Matthew and John. Ignatius mentions the apostle Paul with great respect and refers to the apostle's Epistle to the Ephesians by name and quotes parts of it.
    4. Polycarp (69-155 AD) was a pupil of the apostle John. There is one known epistle of Polycarp which includes almost 40 references to the books of the New Testament. He also confirms the use of the Lord's Prayer by the early Christians.
    5.  Papias (60-130 AD), also a disciple of the apostle John. Eusebius, the famous early Church historian, quotes from a work of Papias. This particular work has since been lost but thanks to Eusebius we know the contents. Papias writes specifically about the Gospels of the apostles Matthew and Mark.
The men mentioned above were, with the exception of Eusebius, all contemporaries of the apostles. They cited from the Gospels, the Acts and the Epistles. That proves that these books were in existence at that time.

During the first years of early Christianity a lot of churches were established by the apostles in many parts of the Roman Empire. The first Christians were instructed by the apostles by word of mouth and by letters and copies of the Gospels. There are indications that these documents circulated among the early churches. As the early Christians knew the apostles in person they had no difficulty in recognizing the letters and other documents sent to them or handed over to them personally. There was no need for a canon or catalogue of the books of the New Testament at that time.


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