Can you trust the Bible? Part 2

Word Fire

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

(Part 2 of 4 parts)

This is a 4-part series.  Also see:

3d-red-star Can you trust the Bible? Part 1

3d-red-star Can you trust the Bible? Part 3

3d-red-star Can you trust the Bible? Part 4

A. What are some of the reasons why we need to defend the Bible today?

3d-red-starSee “Can you Trust the Bible?  Part 1.”

B. Where are we going in this 4-part series?

3d-red-starSee “Can you Trust the Bible?  Part 1.”

C. You need to begin with the existence of God

Hebrews 11:6 (NIV): And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

D. I asked you to think on evidence for the existence of God.

I suggested taking a look at two passages of Scripture that give us some pointers for the existence of God:

  1. Psalm 19 (read vv. 1-3)
  2. Romans 1 (read vv. 18-20)

One of the finest defenders of the existence of God is leading apologist, Dr. William Lane Craig.  I recommend you read his articles on the existence of God.

Now, back to our topic.  What tests do historians apply to any piece of literature of history to determine if it is accurate or reliable?

Military historian, C. Sanders says there are 3 basic principles of checking the authenticity of historical writings (historiography). I’ll use the acronym, T.I.E.S., to help us remember them:

  • the Transmission test (sometimes called, the bibliographical test) — NOT biographical, but biblio = books; graphical = writing. The Transmission test. That’s the “T”.
  • the Internal evidence test — that’s the ‘I”, and
  • the External evidence test — that’s the “E”.[1]
  • we’ll get to the S” later, but I want you to think about what it might be to make it T.I.E.S. What ties this all together?

Let’s subject the N.T. to the


The transmission test is an examination of how the documents reached us from when they were written. Since we don’t have the original documents, how reliable are the copies we have in:

  • number of manuscripts (MSS)?
  • time interval between the original and the earliest copy?


Transmission Test for Historical Documents (incl. New Testament)

Author/Book Date Written Earliest Copies Time Gap (years) Number of Copies Percentage Accuracy
Hindu Mahabharata 13th century BC 90


c. 400 BC A.D. c. 900 1300 7 7
Homer, Iliad 900 BC (900-700 BC) 400 BC ? 500 643 95
Demosthenes 300 BC c. AD 1100 1,400 200 ?
Caesar, Gallic Wars 100-144 BC AD 900 1,000 10 ?
Tacitus, Annals AD 100 AD 1100 1,000 20 ?
Pliny Secundus, Natural History AD 61-112 c. AD 850 750 7 ?
New Testament AD 50-100 c. 114 (fragment)
c. 200 (books)
c. 250 (most of NT)
c. 325 (whole NT)
c. +/- 50
c. 100
c. 150
c. 225
5,366 (Greek)
24,000+ (with other translations)

Comparison of Ancient Manuscript totals (Josh McDowell, Christianity: Hoax or History? Tyndale House Publishers, 1989, pp. 50-51; Norman L. Geisler & William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, Moody Press, 1986, p. 408)

My assessment:

I am in total agreement with the late Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, formerly director and principal librarian of the British Museum, who wrote just before his death:

“The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”[2]

Please understand:

  • These people who were used by the Lord to write the NT, were living in a hostile culture. The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracies. They would dare not manipulate the facts because they would be pounced on at once by those who would be glad to discredit them.
  • Also remember that a witness must testify of his/her own knowledge. When we apply this to the NT, we see clearly that we have primary evidence from eyewitnesses. I John 1:1, ” That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life (NIV).”[3]

In determining if the NT is a trustworthy and accurate document, historians use 3 tests. I am suggesting these 3, PLUS one more that is summarised by the acronym: T.I.E.S.

We’ve looked at the “T,” the transmission of the text, now to the “I”.


So far, we’ve determined, beyond reasonable doubt, that the text we have is what was originally recorded. BUT WE STILL HAVE TO DETERMINE THAT THE DOCUMENTS ARE CREDIBLE, AND TO WHAT EXTENT. This is the second test of historicity given by Sanders. Historical and literary scholarship follows Aristotle’s dictum, “The benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself.”

In the words of leading lawyer, apologist and theologian, John Warwick Montgomery, “This means that one must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualifies himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies.”[4]

The historian must examine the ability of the writer or witness to tell the truth. This ABILITY TO TELL THE TRUTH is closely related to HOW CLOSE THE WITNESS WAS TO THE EVENT GEOGRAPHICALLY AND HOW CLOSE IN TIME TO THE EVENTS RECORDED.

The N.T. accounts of the life and teaching of Jesus were recorded by people who had been either eyewitnesses or who related the accounts of eyewitnesses.

Let’s look at the evidence:

1. Biblical Evidence

Luke 1:1-3 (NIV): Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.

Luke 3:1: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar–when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene–

John 19:35: The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.

1 John 1:3: We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:16: We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

The internal evidence test reveals we are dealing with eyewitnesses, those who saw and heard. More than that:

Acts 2:22: demonstrated how they appealed to the people who heard their message. “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.”

Note the emphasis:

a. “God did among you through him.” In other words, you were there; you were eyewitnesses of these things;

b. Also, “as you yourselves know.” You know what we are saying is true.

They could not depart from the truth. There were hostile witnesses there to refute them.[5]

Acts 26:24-26: At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defence. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.”

They not only said, “Look, we saw this . . . We heard that.” But the tables were turned in the full view of hostile witnesses, adverse critics. “You also know about these things, you saw them, they weren’t done in a secret corner.”[6]

2. Fulfilled Prophecy[7]

For some key OT prophecies concerning Christ and their NT fulfillment, see “Can you trust the Bible? Part 3.”

3. Literal Interpretation

Those who accept the Bible as the Word of God are often accused of taking the Bible literally. The question ‘Do you believe the Bible literally?’ is like the question, ‘Have you stopped beating your wife?’ Either a Yes or a No convicts the one who responds. Whenever the question is asked, the term ‘literally‘ must be carefully defined. Taking a literal view of the Bible does not mean that we can’t recognize that figures of speech are used in the Scripture. When Isaiah spoke of “trees clapping their hands” (Isaiah 55:12) and the psalmist of “mountains skipping like rams” (Psalms 114:4, 6), it is not to be thought that one takes the Bible literally views such statements as literal. No, there is poetry as well as prose and other literary forms in the Bible. We believe that the Bible is to be interpreted in the sense in which the authors intended it to be received by readers. This is the same principle one employs when reading the newspaper, [Shakespeare or poet, William Wordsworth]. And it is remarkably easy to distinguish between figures of speech and those statements a writer intends his readers to take literally.”[8]

If you are checking out the reliability of any written manuscript from history, you

need to apply these three tests:

T: Transmission Test

I: Internal Evidence Test

E: External Evidence Test

(continued in Part 3)


[1] C. Sanders, Introduction to Research in English Literary History. New York: MacMillan Company, 1952, pp. 143 ff.

[2] Sir Frederic Kenyon, The Bible and Archaeology. New York: Harper and Row, 1940, pp. 288f, in Norman Geisler and William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Revised and Expanded). Chicago: Moody Press, 1968, 1986, p. 405; also in Josh McDowell, More Than a Carpenter. Eastbourne, Sussex, England: Kingsway Publications, 1977, p. 48.

[3] Suggested by John Warwick Montgomery, The Law Above the Law. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1975, p. 88.

[4] John Warwick Montgomery, History and Christianity. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1965, p. 29.

[5] Suggested by F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1960, p. 46.

[6] Concerning the primary-source value of the N.T. records, the late F.F. Bruce, former Professor [Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis] in the University of Manchester, says:

“The earliest preachers of the gospel knew the value of the first-hand testimony, and appealed to it time and again. ‘We are witnesses of these things,’ was their constant and confident assertion. And it can have been by no means so easy as some writers seem to think to invent words and deeds of Jesus in those early years, when so many of His disciples were about, who could remember what had and had not happened. . .

“And it was not only friendly eyewitnesses that the early preachers had to reckon with; there were others less well disposed who were also conversant with the main facts of the ministry of Jesus. The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracies (not to speak of willful manipulation of the facts), which would at once be exposed by those who would be only too glad to do so. On the contrary, one of the strong points in the original apostolic preaching is the confident appeal to the knowledge of the hearers; they not only said, ‘We are witnesses of these things,’ but also, ‘As you yourselves also know’ (Acts 2:22). Had there been any tendency to depart from the facts in any material respect, the possible presence of hostile witnesses in the audience would have served as a further corrective.” (F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1960, pp. 45-46).

[7] From D. James Kennedy, Evangelism Explosion, third edition, 1983, pp. 86-88 (from Evangelism Explosion Ministries Australia, PO Box 1686, Wollongong, 2500).

[8] Paul Little, Know Why You Believe (rev. ed.). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1967, 1980, 1987, pp. 54-55, emphasis added.


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 July 2016.