Historical Reliability of the New Testament Documents - Lesson 6

Questions & Answers (Part 2)

This lesson engages you in the exploration of several subjects related to the Christian faith, its scriptures, and the historical context surrounding them. By delving into the relevance of genealogies in Genesis to the New Testament, it enlightens you about the connections between Old and New Testament narratives and highlights the historical contexts that influenced these narratives. The course also piques your curiosity about the amount of evidence supporting ancient documents and the skepticism often faced by the New Testament, comparing it with documents of notable historical figures like Alexander the Great and Roman Emperors. It invites you to consider the sequencing of the Gospels, shedding light on their diverse contexts, contents, and linguistic origins. The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew's Gospel is discussed, offering insights into the numerological patterns and their significance. A further exploration into the Old and New Testaments’ scriptures, the process of their canonization, and the scribe culture that facilitated their preservation, arms you with knowledge about the meticulous methods employed to maintain the integrity of these scriptures. You'll also delve into the concept of a "transformed life" in various religious contexts, questioning the universality of spiritual transformation as a criterion of authenticity. Lastly, the lesson leads you into the world of digital preservation of ancient manuscripts, equipping you with resources to explore these manuscripts yourself.

Craig Blomberg
Historical Reliability of the New Testament Documents
Lesson 6
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Questions & Answers (Part 2)

1. Relevance of genealogies to Genesis, and martyrdom of the saints.

2. Is there any other ancient document for which there is so much evidence and yet scholars are skeptical?

3. Reason for the order of the gospels

4. Matthew’s genealogy

5. “Scriptures” in 1 Cor 15 is the Old Testament

6. How credible were the scribes?

7. Evidence of the transformed life?

8. Process of canonization

9. Scanned libraries of original sources

  • This lesson deepens your understanding of the impact of popular culture on Biblical interpretation, the role of textual criticism in reconstructing the New Testament, and the importance of critical thinking when engaging with religious texts.
  • In this lesson, you explore the motivations and principles that drove the Gospel writers to preserve Jesus's teachings, how Jewish tradition and the art of memorization influenced the Gospels, and how social memory shaped the oral storytelling techniques they used.
  • From this lesson, you'll grasp the profound impact of translation types, especially paraphrase Bibles, on interpreting and understanding Scripture, while acknowledging the importance of context, curiosity, and knowledge in navigating biblical complexities.
  • Explore Luke's meticulous compilation of the Gospel, revealing his investigative approach to present a reliable account of Jesus' life. Discover the disparities between ancient and modern historical writing methods and gain insight into Jesus' challenging teachings. Witness the responsible handling of topics Jesus didn't discuss, validating the writers' credibility. Uncover external sources validating Jesus' historical existence.
  • In this lesson, you'll gain knowledge about how archaeological findings and early Christian writings support biblical narratives, providing valuable insight into the historical authenticity of the Bible.
  • In this lesson, you gain an understanding of the intricate connections between the Old and New Testament, the historical contexts influencing these scriptures, and the process and challenges of their canonization. You also explore the role of scribes in preserving these scriptures, and the notion of "transformed life" in diverse religious contexts.

This course covers the accuracy of Biblical texts, the impact of popular media on interpretations, and the importance of critical thinking. You'll explore Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" and its effect on religious history perception. Controversial findings like the gospel of Judas and Jesus' family tomb are discussed. The lesson focuses on textual criticism, the motivations of Gospel writers, oral traditions, and the nuances of biblical translations. It examines the compilation of the Gospels, difficult sayings of Jesus, and what is missing from the texts. The lesson highlights archaeology, early Christian writings, and their role in verifying biblical narratives. It explores genealogies, martyrdom of apostles, sequencing of the Gospels, and digital preservation of ancient manuscripts.

Recommended Books

The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs (B&h Studies in Christian Apologetics)

The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs (B&h Studies in Christian Apologetics)

Questions about the reliability of the New Testament are commonly raised today both by biblical scholars and popular media. Drawing on decades of research, Craig Blomberg...

The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs (B&h Studies in Christian Apologetics)

Dr. Craig Blomberg

Historical Reliability of the New Testament Documents


Questions & Answers (Part 2)

Lesson Transcript


1. Relevance of genealogies to Genesis, and martyrdom of the saints.

There is relevance of the genealogies in the New Testament to Genesis itself. In regards to the martyrdom of the saints, except for the apostle John, the other ten apostles were martyrs for their faith. It is one thing to be a martyr for a cause you believe in, but would you be a martyr for something you knew wasn’t true or deceptive in some way. The reason I don’t put much stock in that as many Christian speakers do, is because for at least some of the apostles, the works those traditions appear in are the same apocryphal documents that we are very reluctant to believe in than most of the other things they tell. I don’t want to be accused of being so bias that I would use maybe spurious documents when it helps my case.

2. Is there any other ancient document for which there is so much evidence and yet scholars are skeptical?

Not to my knowledge, but on the flip side there are documents of Arrian and Plutarch in regards to the life of Alexander and there are lives of various Roman Emperors that could be added in the mix and the lives of the imminent philosophers. There was a writer around the beginning of the 2nd century by the name of Diogenes, who wrote a dozen small biographies of Aristotle, Plato and other ancient Greek philosophers and occasionally, we have one or more texts that such works are based on, oftentimes, centuries later of people they narrate. Usually, the historical core is viewed as trustworthy.

3. Is there any reason for the order of the Gospels?

Well, Matthew was probably put first because he was the most Jewish and by far, he has the largest number of quotations from the Old Testament that ties back in with Hebrews Scriptures and there is a recurring ancient church tradition that he was the first Gospel writer but in Hebrew, not in Greek. Some of those traditions say that what he wrote were the sayings of Jesus, which doesn’t sound like a full-fledged Gospel. So, he may have written something first in Hebrew and later in light of an awareness of what Mark wrote in Greek, created a revised and expanded edition. So there are several possibilities.

4. Matthew’s Genealogy

When you talk about the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew, the three segments of fourteen generations, isn’t it true that one of them is only thirteen. You have to count the beginning of one and the ending of the other. It is obvious that Matthew is making sure that it fits his numerology. So there must be something behind it.

5. Scriptures in 1st Corinthians 15 is the Old Testament

The last thing you just put up was Corinthians. You were talking about the Scriptures and I am curious whether you were referring to the Old Testament Scriptures? Anytime a New Testament writer referred to the Scriptures, he is referring to the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament.

6. How credible were the scribes?

If you go back to the time of the Hebrew Scriptures, there are some remarkable stories. There was great care taken in copying manuscripts. And then when a manuscript was completed, it would be checked and there are rabbinic traditions of it sometimes being given to the most venerable rabbi in the community so that he could check it against his memories. Now Bart Ehrman likes to point out that there are two kinds of ancient documents: there are those written in a careless scrawl like writing a handwritten note and then there are more formal carefully written documents by people that do calligraphy producing beautiful documents by hand. And you can find both of these in the ancient world. So Ehrman says, well, it was only after the New Testament was formally canonized in the 4th century that people would have taken the kind of care in copying those documents that they did with Hebrew Scriptures. Except, Greg Evans, an evangelical who speaks a lot on the same topics that Bill Mounce and I do; he has gone out of his way to travel to see the actually originals of the 102 oldest fragments of various parts of the New Testament and there is absolutely no difference in the care which every one of those were copied, not a one of them has the casual or informal scrawl that Ehrman claims the original manuscripts might have had. The evidence isn’t in Bart Ehrman’s favor. They copied those manuscripts very carefully.

7. Evidence of the Transformed Life?

The transformed life is fabulous, but I live about six-tenths of a mile from the Mormon Temple in the Denver area and some of the most transformed people in all of Denver are in the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints. Does that make their religion the truth religion? If you claim to be a Christian and don’t have a transformed life, I would say that there is something wrong, but there are people around the world such as Gandhi, lead of the Indian revolution against Britain in the forties and fifties; the Dali Lama; incredible transformed lives. Are they Christians? Not to my knowledge. So, I give glory to God when I see a transformed life in an explicitly Christian context; would that we all had the greatest transformation possible, but transformation by itself needs to be supplemented with something else because it might come in a variety of religious circles.

8. The Process of Canonization

There are already hints in the New Testament that some writers were treating other books in an unusual way. The most dramatic being at the end of 2nd Peter when Peter writes that there are those who find parts of Paul hard to understand and twist his words as they do the other Scriptures. Interesting! In the early 2nd century, you start to find Christian writers saying things like, ‘I give you the following instructions,’ but not with the authority that the Apostles had. By the middle of the 2nd century, you get heretical threats from several different fronts to apostolic Christianity so that people start to make lists. There are approximately forty documents that we know of from the 2nd to the 6th century that give lists of books that were treated as uniquely authoritative or canonical. From the earliest list that we have, there is never any evidence to suggest that any Gospel other than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and all four of those were treated as canonical. There were never any dispute of about Acts or the Letters of Paul and they are always there. Where there are questions; these are in the case of seven books: Hebrews, James, 2nd Peter, Jude, 2nd John, 3th John, and Revelation. Hebrews because no one was ever sure who wrote it and James, Martin Luther wasn’t the first person to notice that faith without works is dead and how does that fit the Apostle Paul? 2nd Peter was questioned because of the style as it was so different than 1st Peter. For Jude, he quotes non-canonical texts, but seemingly authoritative. Then there were 2nd and 3rd John because they were so short. And finally, Revelation as no one has still figured it out. And you can look at these lists and people like Tritolian and Arenas and Orient and others and you can watch as twenty-one accepted books become twenty-two becomes twenty-three and by the time you come to AD 367, you have Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandrea sending an encyclical like Catholic Bishops do today at Easter saying, here are the twenty-seven universally acknowledged. The Council that formally ratified them came around AD 390 in the North African town of Hippo and Carthage. From that point on, it was fairly much settled.

9. Scanned Libraries of Original Sources

Yes, you can see facsimiles of countless manuscripts. In fact, if you go to Dan Wallace’s center for the study of Christian manuscripts; they have an extensive website and it is his goal to eventually get photographic material for all of the documents, but some are extremely fragmentary and so it takes a while to do this. But you can go see the most common and most complete of the early manuscripts. It is the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.