A few times over the years of being a service electrician, I committed the unpardonable sin: I left my tools at home. This usually occurred after I was working on a home project and I failed to remember to put my tool bag back in the truck. It’s a sinking feeling when you’re at a customers house and you open the side body on your truck and it’s empty. I’d have to call my supervisor and inform him that I was going to have to go home to get my tools. Needless to say, he wasn’t pleased.
What about our pursuit for the truth of the Bible? Are there any tools that we fail to bring with us when we discuss this with others? Let’s look at a few tools we need to make sure we carry with us in the tool bag.
1. Manuscript evidence.
A few years ago, before I got into apologetics, a coworker of mine asked me, “How do you know you can trust the Bible? How do you know it wasn’t written 1000 years after Jesus lived?” I honesty had no answer. Thankfully, I’ve placed the manuscript evidence tool in my bag should this question ever arise again.
First, we have an abundance of copies of the New Testament. There are almost 6000 fragments of the New Testament that have been discovered written in Greek, and another 20,000 from other languages. That number of copies dwarfs those of any other ancient document. The next closest is Homer which totals 1800 copies.
Second, they were written early. The earliest fragment is a portion of John that dates to around A. D. 117-138 and it was found in Egypt. It logically follows that many years and copies led to this having traveled from Jerusalem all the way to Egypt. The original manuscripts had to have been written much earlier and closer to the lifetime of the witnesses of the life of Jesus. Also, early in the second century, the church fathers were already quoting much of the New Testament which means it must have been circulating for some time.
Third, the manuscripts are reliable. The early dating, abundance of manuscripts, and quotes from the church fathers give us confidence that we have what was written by the New Testament authors. Comparing the numerous copies allows us to accurately reconstruct the New Testament.
When I was younger, I would read the Bible and notice how matter of fact it was. The Bible is not very descriptive like bestsellers we read today. It’s loaded with historical information. From names to places, the Bible places itself at a standard and dares anyone to disprove it. And yet it still stands. Time and time again, archaeology has verified the historical claims of the Bible.
One fascinating example was the discovery of the anchors of the shipwreck of the apostle Paul told about in Acts. They were located using the descriptions of the events in the Bible. Bob Cornuke writes in his book “Lost Shipwreck of Paul” about how 4 anchors were found by local divers in the 60’s. The area these anchors were found matches the Biblical account.
This is one of many examples of archaeology confirming the reliability of the New Testament.
3. Extrabiblical evidence
The third tool we can use is the evidence that comes from outside the Bible. We would expect there to be writings other than the Bible that discuss the events that took place during the lives of Jesus and his disciples. And that is exactly what we find. Here are a couple of my favorite examples:
In his book “Antiquities of the Jews” the first century Jewish historian Josephus wrote concerning Jesus:
“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”
Much of this quote has been called into question by scholars who claim that Christians added the portions that are in italics. This may be true, but much can be learned about Jesus even if these portions are removed. We can learn that Jesus really lived, he was a wise man, he performed miracles, he had followers, he was condemned by Pilate to die on the cross, and his followers continued on long after he was gone. That’s a pretty good short summary of the Gospels.
Tacitus was a Roman historian who wrote the following in his book Annals:
“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.”
Notice how he said “a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out.” This is an exact description of the events in the Gospels. The “superstition” of Christianity was checked when the disciples fled after Jesus’ death. Then it broke out again after they saw Him risen from the dead. Tacitus was far from a supporter of Christianity yet his writings verify the accounts in the Gospels.
These extrabiblical accounts from historians that were hostile to Christianity are a great tool to use as we argue for the faith.
A few weeks ago, I was trying to install an outlet at my house. I needed to strip the outer sheathing of some wiring and I grabbed the first knife I could find. It was the wrong kind. It had a curved blade instead of one with a hook on the end. The hook would have helped guide the blade as I stripped the wiring. Instead, I used the wrong tool and the knife slipped as I was cutting. Five stitches later, I learned a valuable lesson: possess the right tools.
Make sure you possess the right tools next time someone asks for a reason of the hope that is in you.