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Dive into an in-depth exploration of the authenticity of the Holy Scriptures. Drawing on evidence from ancient texts such as the Gospel of Peter and the Tel-el-Amarna Tablets, this article unravels the historical validity of the Bible and its longstanding influence in the Christian faith. Witness the remarkable alignment between the scriptures and archaeological discoveries, illuminating the enduring truth of biblical narratives.
The Bible is a Truly Incredible Book
The Bible is truly unlike any other book. It has an esteemed reputation, ancient origins, and the topics it covers are so significant. Not only does it teach us about God, but it doesn’t just stop at instructions, doctrines, and rituals. The Bible is also filled with the histories of people and nations, and it paints an accurate picture of human emotions and experiences.
It begins by introducing the concept of infinity, then takes us on a journey back through human history, further back to the formation of the earth and the universe, showing us the foundations of religion, morality, and truth. The Bible then guides us forward into the mysterious future, presenting a realm where physical matter doesn’t exist. It’s a place where people have been transformed into spirit forms, a reality that transcends our sensory experience, and where God lives with his joyful children.
Two Parts of the Bible
The Bible consists of the Old and New Testaments, together forming the Holy Scriptures, which are the basis of religious beliefs for both Jews and Christians. Jews value the Old Testament, while Christians regard both testaments as important.
The Importance of the Scriptures
When you consider them this way, the Scriptures become critical, not just for believers, but also for non-believers. If the Bible is a reliable book, its teachings and doctrines cannot be overestimated. Are the Scriptures reliable? In other words, do they accurately recount events as they happened? This question will be the focus of our discussion.
Are the Scriptures Reliable?
The Approach and Scope of this Study
To answer the above question, we must first look into the existence, the age, and the actions of key figures mentioned in the Scriptures. These people played significant roles in delivering this revelation to the world. We also need to examine some of the main events recorded.
The Source of the Scriptures
We cannot attribute any part of the Scriptures to human imagination, misunderstandings, incorrect historical accounts, distorted names, or childish allegories. A serious student who examines the Bible and its followers’ religion will find them entirely different from the sacred texts and religions of other peoples. The concept of “the one true God” was always highlighted through a series of revelations. Any attempts to introduce pagan elements were resisted by miraculous power. Although people, especially those who aren’t well-educated, tend to lose interest in abstract and philosophical concepts about divine attributes, these were always highly regarded by the children of God. God is described as infinite, eternal, invisible, unchanging, all-powerful, all-knowing, and omnipresent, a God who does not resemble any of the pagan gods.
This respected volume, known as the Bible, contains sixty-six separate books. It was written by many different authors over a period of one thousand five hundred to two thousand years. The Old Testament, made up of thirty-nine books, is said to contain God’s first revelation to humanity and served as the foundation for Jewish traditions. The New Testament is believed to contain the final revelation, and together, these Scriptures form the foundation for Christian traditions.
In a short study like this one, we can’t examine in detail all the different authors of the Bible’s books or explore all the key events in biblical history. Therefore, we’ll only focus on the most significant aspects.
What the Scriptures Say
According to the Scriptures, Moses was the leader and lawgiver of the Jews, who lived over sixteen hundred years before the Christian era. He created their religious institutions. The Bible also says that Jesus Christ is God’s son and the savior of the world. He lived during the reign of Augustus Caesar, was born in the time of King Herod, and was executed by Pontius Pilate, who was the governor of Judea during the reign of Tiberius Caesar. People who sincerely seek the truth can find ample evidence to believe these historical facts.
Moses and His Role as Described in the Scriptures
For nearly four thousand years, those who were most qualified to judge agreed that Moses was the leader of the Jews. He created their religious institutions and led them out of Egypt. From the earliest times, the Jewish community has believed that Moses, and no one else, wrote the first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch. The Christian community, since its foundation, has agreed without disagreement that Moses, the Jewish lawgiver, wrote it. The traditional and national history of the Jews is based on this belief. Even today, as Jews live among all nations of the world, they continue to hold this belief. The same principles of historical evidence that prove any undisputed fact of secular history also confirm this belief.
Nobody can deny that the Jews have been a nation for a very long time. Their writings clearly show that they organized a government early in their history. Reasonable people won’t doubt that such organization, leading them out of Egypt, and establishing them as a nation with laws and a religion, must have been the work of a great and influential leader. According to their historical records, Jews believe that Moses was this influential leader. He not only led them out of Egypt and through a desert of sand for forty years but also organized them as a nation. He established laws and a religion that have kept them as a unique people for more than forty turbulent centuries.
Testimonies from Non-Jewish Writers about Moses
Besides Jewish records and Christian testimonies, many respectable non-Jewish writers also agree with these facts. For example, Josephus, in his first book against Apion, quotes an Egyptian named Manetho. Manetho talks about the time and many of the key events during the Jews’ stay in Egypt. Josephus also quotes Cheremon, Apolonius, and Lysimachus, who confirm the same facts. Justin, a Roman historian, in his summary of Trogus Pompeius (Book 36, chapter 2), talks about the origin of the Jews from the ten tribes of Israel. He mentions Moses’s “beauty” and calls him the “commander of the Jews who went out of Egypt”. He also talks about the establishment of the Sabbath and the priesthood of Aaron.
“The Orphic Verses”, thought to be a thousand years older than our era, promote the worship of one God. This worship is commanded by the law “given by him who was drawn out of the water and received two stone tablets from God’s hand.” According to Justin, Trogus Pompeius, a Roman author of a universal history who lived during the reign of Augustus, says, “But the Egyptians … expelled Moses and the diseased from Egypt.”
In his first book, Diodorus Siculus talks about nations that believed they received their laws from God. He includes the Jews and says that Moses was their leader who called God by the name of Iao. Tacitus says that “Moses gave a new form of worship to the Jews and a system of religious ceremonies that was unlike anything known in any age or country.” Strabo, a prominent Greek historian and geographer who lived during the century before Christ and traveled through Greece, Italy, Egypt, and Asia to learn about their geography and history, “gives an account of Moses’s laws that prohibit images and limit divine worship to one invisible and universal Being.”
In his criticisms of Apion, or rather Manetho, Josephus quotes Manetho and adds that “Two things are evident from Manetho’s account; first, that the Jews came from another country to Egypt; second, that they left Egypt again, and that, nearly a thousand years before the Trojan war.” He again quotes Manetho as saying, “That priest who settled their society and their laws [the Jews], he was from Heliopolis, and his name was Osarsiph, from Osiris, the god of Heliopolis, but he changed his name and called himself Moses.”
Many more ancient sources could be used to confirm the existence, the age, and the actions of the Jewish lawgiver. However, the evidence already mentioned makes it clear that ancient nations, as well as the Jews, widely regarded Moses as such.
Jesus Christ’s Life
The evidence regarding the life of Jesus Christ is even more abundant and persuasive than that related to Moses. This is natural, considering that the era of Christ’s life is relatively recent and well-recorded. Greek literature and civilization had peaked more than three hundred years before Christ’s birth. During his lifetime, the Roman Empire was in a peaceful phase, known as the Augustinian age. This period was conducive to critical thinking and thorough investigation, resulting in numerous witness accounts. The four Gospels in the Bible provide a detailed account of Christ’s life, teachings, death, and resurrection. They clearly mention the rulers of Rome and Judea at the time, Caesar Augustus and Herod at his birth, and Tiberius and Pilate at his death.
Testimonies of Early Church Leaders
The church, since its establishment by Christ and his apostles, has consistently attested to the events recorded in the Gospels. The writings of early church leaders like Barnabas, Clement, Hermas, Polycarp, and Ignatius, who lived during the apostolic times, have survived to our time. These men interacted directly with the apostles, and their writings often quote or refer to the New Testament. Over 220 quotations and references to the Scriptures can be found in their works.
In the second century, a scholar named Tertullian lived in Carthage. He was a robust defender of Christianity. His writings contain more extensive quotations from the New Testament than all works of Cicero quoted by various authors for several ages. Other writers from this period, like Irenæus and Clement of Alexandria, also defended Christianity. Irenæus quotes from Ephesians, saying, “For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.” Clement refers to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, saying, “Be not children in understanding.”
Justin Martyr, a convert to Christianity who was born to pagan parents and studied philosophy, also defended Christianity in his writings during this century. He confirmed the “genuine and authentic accounts of Jesus Christ and his doctrine” in the four Gospels. He also acknowledged that the Book of Revelation was written by John, one of Christ’s apostles.
In the third century, Origen, a highly respected church scholar, had memorized the Scriptures and worked tirelessly to study and explain them. He is known for his writings against Celsus, an Epicurean philosopher and a critic of Christianity. Other writers of this century, like Dionysius of Alexandria, Victorinus, a bishop from Germany, and Cyprian, a bishop from Carthage, also defended Christianity. They quoted passages from nearly all books of the New Testament. The writings of these second and third-century authors contain so many New Testament quotes that if the New Testament were lost, it could almost be entirely reconstructed from their works.
Testimony of Non-Christian Writers About Christ
The historical facts about Jesus Christ are also acknowledged by his opponents. Tacitus, a renowned historian, wrote in his “Annals” about the horrific persecution of Christians under Emperor Nero. He clearly identified Christ as the figurehead of Christianity and mentioned his execution during Tiberius’s reign under Pontius Pilate.
Suetonius, another important figure in Roman literature and the author of “The Lives of the Twelve Caesars,” described a disturbance caused by Jews in Rome during the reign of Claudius, led by a figure named Christ. Other dissenting voices, like Cerinthus, Porphyry, and Julian, despite their opposition to Christianity, recognized Jesus Christ and his teachings.
Julian, who became emperor in 361, penned a work against Christians that nonetheless offers valuable insight into the history of Christianity and the authenticity of the New Testament. He accepted that Christ performed miracles and attracted numerous followers, even before the Gospel of John was written.
The influential Pliny the Younger noted that Christians worshipped Christ as a deity and were so devout that they’d rather die than blaspheme him. Celsus, a learned philosopher and opponent of Christianity, also recognized the existence and authorship of New Testament writings.
Testimony of these authors is crucial because it reveals that these critics of Christianity did not dispute the authenticity of the New Testament books or question their attributed authors. Their recognition of Jesus Christ and his teachings implicitly confirms the historical existence and influence of Christ.
Old Testament’s Significance Before Christ
Looking at the works of Josephus and Philo, along with the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint version, we can find evidence that the books of the Old Testament were held sacred by the Jews long before and at the time of Jesus’ birth.
Josephus, a renowned Jewish historian, noted that Jewish sacred literature consisted of twenty-two books, including five by Moses and several by prophets after him. His categorization is similar to ours today if we consider Ruth as part of Judges and Lamentations as part of Jeremiah.
The Samaritan Pentateuch, another version of the Torah, is so similar to the Jewish version that it’s clear one is a copy of the other. Despite the longstanding animosity between Jews and Samaritans, both groups hold the Pentateuch as sacred and attribute its authorship to Moses. This consistency across different religious groups suggests that this sacred text has remained unchanged since the Samaritans received their copy.
How the Septuagint Version Supports the Old Testament
The Septuagint, the oldest complete translation of the Scriptures in any language, is a critical piece of evidence supporting the authenticity of the Old Testament. This Greek translation, including the first five books written by Moses, can be traced back to at least 280 years before Christ. The rest of the Hebrew books were translated later, and the entire version was completed by the middle of the second century B.C. This translation, used at least by the Jews in Alexandria, shows that the Jewish Scriptures as we know them were complete at least 150 years before the birth of Christ.
Ezra, after the exile, is believed to have collected the sacred Hebrew books that we now recognize, except for Malachi and Ezra. Not long after the Maccabean persecution, the Old Testament appeared as a whole.
Dr. Philip Schaff notes in his book, “Companion to the Greek Testament,” that most of the 280 references to the Old Testament in the New Testament are taken from the Septuagint. This fact suggests that the authors of the New Testament considered the Old Testament authentic.
The Christian church has always accepted the Old Testament as the first revelation of God to humanity. Over 200 quotes from the Old Testament appear in the New Testament, suggesting the writers of the New Testament believed in the authenticity of these scriptures.
How the Canon of the New Testament was Established
As for the New Testament, the books currently included are the same as those listed by early Christian leaders. Many quotations by early Christian leaders and their successors, as well as eleven formal lists of books, all include the current books of the New Testament.
The Assyrian Bible, dating back to the beginning of the third century, includes the four Gospels, the Acts, fourteen letters by Paul, the letters of James, 1 Peter, and 1 John. A document known as “The Muratorian Fragment,” dating back to the last quarter of the second century, lists the same books.
By the end of the second century, the New Testament was complete, and the church had endorsed it, despite some disagreement about the authority of some books.
Around the year 315, Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea created a list of New Testament Scriptures that included all of our present books. Similarly, the Council of Laodicea published a list in the year 360 that matched ours, except it didn’t include the Book of Revelation.
Other leaders, such as Athanasius and Cyril, also published lists that matched ours, except that Cyril’s list did not include the Book of Revelation. In the year 397, the Council at Carthage confirmed a list identical to our New Testament books.
Additional lists, like those of Epiphanius, Gregory Nazianzen, and Jerome, also confirm that by the year 397, the canon of the New Testament was established. These lists show that our Scriptures are those selected by the early church leaders.
Polycarp, a disciple of St. John and the teacher of Irenæus, knew the apostles personally. Irenæus confirmed that the four Gospels were written by the apostles. His quote, referencing each Gospel and its author, underlines the direct connection between the apostles, their writings, and the canon we have today.
Historical Documents Supporting the Bible
Along with the evidence we’ve discussed, recent discoveries from the last 25 years add significantly to our understanding, especially concerning the fourth Gospel, which has seen some debate among scholars. There are four documents that are particularly interesting:
The Apology of Aristides
Presented to Emperor Hadrian at Athens in 125 AD, The Apology of Aristides outlines the central beliefs of early Christians. An excerpt reads, “The Christians see the beginning of their religion in Jesus Christ, who they call the Son of the Highest God. They believe that God descended from heaven and took on human form, born of a Hebrew virgin. They teach from the gospel that was recently preached among them. Jesus, they say, was born into a Hebrew tribe and had twelve disciples. He was killed by the Jews, buried, and then rose three days later and ascended to heaven. The disciples then spread his teachings across the world. Those who believe in this teaching are known as Christians today.” This apology concisely outlines the New Testament Scriptures as they are now and were understood at the time.
The Diatessaron of Tatian
Tatian’s Diatessaron is a valuable document because it aims to harmonize the four Gospels. The book was lost for a long time. Eusebius referred to it as a “collection of the Gospels,” and Theodoret mentioned it was held in high regard in the churches of his region. The Diatessaron was composed in the early part of the second century and strengthens the authenticity of the four Gospels.
Tatian was a student of Justin Martyr, who referred to and quoted from the “Memoirs of the Apostles.” It’s believed that Tatian used these memoirs to compile his “Harmony of the Gospels.” The Diatessaron confirms the accuracy of these memoirs and verifies the description given by later commentators. A careful comparison of this document with our four Gospels suggests that Tatian’s version must have been virtually identical to what we have today.
The Syriac Version of the Scriptures
Discovered in 1892 in the St. Catharine Convent on Mt. Sinai by Mrs. Lewis and her sister, Mrs. Gibson, the Syriac Version contains the textual variations found in the Curetonian Syriac version, which originated from Lower Egypt’s monasteries in the Nitrian Desert in 1833.
Most scholars agree that the Curetonian version is older than the Peshito version, widely used in the Syrian church in the second and third centuries. The textual variations in the Curetonian correspond, for the most part, with those in Tatian’s Diatessaron. While this translation aligns with the texts of the best and oldest manuscripts, it’s clear that it was purposely altered in places to suit specific heresies.
Dr. G. F. Wright states, “The most noticeable example relates to the miraculous conception of Christ, which was denied by Cerinthus at the end of the first century.” According to Irenæus, Cerinthus claimed that Jesus was not born of a virgin but was the son of Joseph and Mary, born through regular human conception. He was, however, more righteous, wise, and prudent than other men. After his baptism, the Christ spirit descended upon him like a dove, and he then proclaimed the unknown Father and performed miracles. The Ebionites sect is said to have shared these views about Jesus.
Gospel of Peter
The Gospel of Peter, unearthed from a Christian grave in Upper Egypt’s Akhmim and published in 1892, is significant. It’s only a fragment, containing about 1600 words. This piece does not affirm that it’s a complete Gospel penned by Peter, but it is a compilation from the four Gospels, bearing his name. This fragment validates the authenticity of the Scriptures by showing that the four Gospels were recognized by the church when it was compiled. A quote from Serapion, a bishop in the late 2nd century, suggests the “Gospel of Peter” was used to promote heretical ideas, hence he wrote a tract to refute it. While some sections conform to the true teachings of Christ, there are objectionable parts. This piece indicates that “Peter’s Gospel” employed John’s Gospel in its assembly, showing that the fourth Gospel was known and acknowledged by the churches. The “Gospel of Peter” seems to have been present in the first half of the 2nd century, suggesting a short interval between the deaths of Jesus and his apostles and the formalization of the four Gospels as the church’s official authority.
The Tel-el-Amarna Tablets, found in 1887, are over two hundred tablets written in cuneiform characters. These letters between Egyptian and Asiatic kings from the 15th or 14th century B.C. provide valuable insights into the political and cultural situations of Palestine and Egypt at the time when Israel was still in Egypt. Interestingly, these were written in Babylonian, originating from places like Byblos, Tyre, Gezer, and Ashkelon, which are known from biblical history. They align with the Bible’s depiction of the conditions of these societies, countering previous misconceptions about the era.
The Hittites were an influential group with whom Israel interacted early on. Their history is still mysterious, but recent discoveries have confirmed their existence and influence, matching the descriptions in the Bible. The Hittites had their own unique language and were originally based in the Taurus Mountains, possibly extending to Cappadocia. The extent of their influence reached as far west as Lydia in Asia Minor and southward to Hamath. Their unique and varied inscriptions still pose challenges in translation, but one day, like the hieroglyphics of Egypt, the Hittite records will reveal their story to the modern world.
The above accounts and numerous others from historical monuments have enriched our understanding of various characters and events from biblical times, validating the authenticity of the biblical record. In summary, from Egypt, the wilderness, Moab, Jerusalem, Nineveh, and Babylon, each source provides consistent testimony to the authenticity of the sacred record.
Bishop Butler rightly reminds us to keep an open mind to the evidence that brings us to the edge of understanding, even if it doesn’t offer complete clarity. Dismissing these findings because they don’t perfectly align with our expectations or prejudices would be a great disservice to the pursuit of truth. Butler writes, “These observations are, I think, just, and the evidence referred to in them are real, though there may be people who will not accept of such imperfect information from Scripture. Some, too, do not have integrity and regard enough for the truth to attend to evidence, which keeps the mind in doubt, perhaps perplexity, and is much different from what they expected. And it plainly requires a degree of modesty and fairness beyond what everyone has for a man to say, not to the world, but to himself, that there is a real appearance of somewhat of great weight in this matter, though he is not able to thoroughly satisfy himself about it. Still, it shall have its influence upon him in proportion to its appearing reality and weight. It is much easier and more readily falls in with the generality’s negligence, presumption, and willfulness to determine at once, with a decisive air, that there is nothing in it. The prejudices arising from that absolute contempt and scorn with which their evidence is treated in the world, I do not mention. What, indeed, can be said to persons who are weak enough in their understandings to think this any presumption against it; or, if they do not, are they weak enough in their temper to be influenced by such prejudices upon such a subject?”
About the Author
Ezekiel Boring Kephart was a writer, preacher, and educator in the church of the United Brethren in Christ. He is the author of Apologetics: A Treatise on Christian Evidences.