The last couple of posts we have looked at the accuracy of the Old Testament manuscripts and the New Testament manuscripts so now it’s time to move on to the chain of evidence that takes us from the writing of the New Testament to the Council of Laodicea when the manuscripts were codified into what we call the New Testament.
All the New Testament books of the Bible were written before 100 AD. Clement writing in 95 AD, Ignatius writing in 107 AD and Polycarp writing in 110 AD, all quote from the books that make up our New Testament. Therefore, if they quoted from the books it only makes sense that the books were already written and known by these disciples of the disciples. Together they quoted from portions of 25 of the 27 books of our NT. Clement was writing from Rome and Ignatius was living in Smyrna in modern day Turkey. To travel these distances the books must have been circulating much earlier than when the men quoted from them.
Let’s look at the writings of Luke for a moment. If the Book of Acts were written after 70 AD then it would have mentioned the destruction of the Temple by Titus. Jesus had spoken of the Temple being destroyed in numerous places throughout the NT. As it is, Acts ends with Paul in prison in Rome. If Paul had already been killed then Acts would have made a big deal out of it. Nero killed Paul in 68 AD, therefore we can place Acts before that event since Paul was still alive when the book was finished and distributed. In the introduction of Acts it mentions that Luke had written a previous book, which we now call the Gospel of Luke. Since Acts had to be written before 64 AD Luke was even earlier. Now what is amazing about all this is the fact that Luke borrowed much of its material from the Gospel of Mark, which was written even earlier than Luke.
Paul wrote the Letters to Timothy around 62-65 AD and in 1 Timothy 5:18 he quotes from Luke and calls it Scripture showing that as early as 62 AD Luke was accepted as being authentic and authoritative regarding the life and death of Jesus. Luke 1:1-4 claims that he got much of his material from eyewitnesses, and Mark would have been one of those eyewitnesses.
Now here is even a more interesting aspect regarding the early dating of the Gospels. Paul writing in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-8 records an early Christian creed that goes back to the time of the crucifixion. It was probably circulated around 18 months to 8 years after the death of Christ and became pivotal to the belief of the early church. 1 Corinthians was written around 55 to 56 AD and that makes its writing only around 20 years or so after the crucifixion. That is extremely early and close to the events. When you think about it, it would be like us writing about the destruction of the twin towers in NY. There are many witnesses still alive who experienced the falling of the towers and in Paul’s day there were many witnesses still alive who testified to the events surrounding Jesus. In a latter post we will look at the secular sources that wrote about Jesus and His ministry.
Second and third Century Christians quoted scripture to such a degree that with the exception of 11 verses, every verse in the New Testament is quoted by them. Amongst the writers were Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Tertullian. These faithful writers starting with the disciples and Paul along with their closest associates wrote the accounts of the ministry of Jesus, His death and resurrection from their eyewitness experiences. These stories of Jesus were not stories they heard through the grapevine, but instead were the stories they had lived in their association with Jesus. In the case of Mark he was a close associate of Paul’s but wrote his gospel reflecting Peter’s experiences with Jesus. As the original disciples died, their disciples wrote and quoted as honest portraits the works of the disciples. These books of our now Bible were copied accurately by the churches that they were sent to, and then those copies were copied. In a trial, if the chain of evidence is broken the case is weakened, but in the case of the manuscripts that make up our New Testament the chain of evidence is accurate and never broken.
J. Warner Wallace, an atheists and a former leading cold-case detective in Los Angeles County, spent years attacking the authenticity of the Scriptures. One day he decided to use his skills as a crack cold-case detective to determine whether the New Testament manuscripts would have enough evidence to be considered true. His study led him to the conclusion that any fair assessment from the accumulated evidence would have to say that the case for the manuscripts being authentic was overwhelming.
Next blog we will look at a number of secular writers, who during the time of Jesus, mention him as a real person and refer to the Christian mission.