The Case for the New Testament
The following is a summary of the sermon I preached at the Cornerstone Church on Sunday, April 9, 2017:
THE CASE FOR THE NEW TESTAMENT
Part 1 of The Case for Christ. Luke 1:1-4
April 9, 2017. The Cornerstone Church.
Have you ever bought something on Craig's List? It's a scary process. A lot of scamming goes on. My nephew bought two tickets to Cedar Point from a guy in a parking lot, drove to Cedar Point, only to discover that the tickets were counterfeits.
A while back, we bought Kalie a guitar from a guy in Clinton Township. So, just to feel a bit safer, we did the exchange at the police station there on Gratiot - I think it is. I wanted a lot of security cameras.
Someone might be thinking: Doing a deal on Craigslist is a lot like having faith in Jesus: You're not really certain everything is legit, but you kind of close your eyes and jump. It’s a leap into a chasm of doubt. There's no certainty. There aren't enough facts. But you take a chance. Honestly, that might be Craigslist BUT it isn't faith. That's just crazy.
True faith is built on true facts. The faith we have to be followers of Jesus Christ is built on historically reliable information we have about him. Most of that information comes from the four Gospels in the New Testament - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are ancient records of the life of Christ. They aren't myth or fiction or fabrication. They are biographical and reliable.
Today, I plan to present three proofs for the reliability of the Gospels (and there are so many more). Maybe, taken individually, they aren't totally convincing, but taken together, they are absolutely compelling.
PROOF #1: THE GOSPEL WRITERS INTENDED TO PRESENT AN ACCURATE RECORD.
The prologue to Luke's Gospel tells us that he thought he wrote the truth:
"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.  With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught." - Luke 1:1-4 NIV
I’ve got a question: what qualified Luke to write a biography of Jesus? This:
Although he was not an eyewitness, he did travel for months or years with with the Apostle Paul. So he heard all about Jesus from Paul. (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24; “We” passages in Acts - Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; etc.)
And Luke was educated enough to do the research needed to write a reliable book about Jesus. We know this because those four verses are written in very sophisticated Greek and they are written in a style used by ancient historians.
Luke wrote the Gospel sometime around 70AD - while eyewitnesses to Jesus were still alive and available to interview. So, if his story was full of mistakes or lies, there were plenty of people around to complain and then the Gospel of Luke would have been rejected by the early church - they rejected plenty of other writings.
Now, look at what Luke believed he was writing:
He believed it was historically accurate - verse 3: "carefully investigated." Luke was like a journalist. He went to the sources, to the people, the places. He probed and asked questions seeking to produce a reliable record of Jesus. He was not himself an eye-witness, but he spoke to the eyewitnesses and listened to the Apostles (servants of the word - verse 2) teach and preach about Jesus.
He believed it was a logical account - verse 3: "orderly." That word means placing one fact after another in the correct order. He might be referring to chronology here - and most of the Gospel is set in chronological order. But he also wants us to know that he wrote about real people in real places and he has captured what they said and did - fact upon fact upon fact.
He believed it would bring assurance - verse 4: "certainty." Luke believed that faith was based on facts. And he believed that what he wrote was so accurate, so reliable, so true, that we could confidently place our trust in it as true fact.
My conclusion: Luke intended to write an accurate account of the life of Jesus. The next question is: did he? Here is one example that indicates that he did:
PROOF #2: THE GOSPELS ACCURATELY USE PERSONAL NAMES.
If the Gospels were complete fiction one of the signs would be this: the names of the people would be all wrong. Names are very specific to times and places - even today. For example: we probably wouldn’t call our daughter Ethel. But it was popular back in the day. Same thing in Israel.
This is the story of two scholars: One an Israeli called Tel Ilan. The other a Brit called Richard Bauckham. (http://magazine.biola.edu/article/12-spring/whats-in-a-name/)
In 2002, Ilan sorted through ancient documents, engravings, scraps of papyrus, and ossuaries (bone boxes) from Israel in the time of Jesus. She created a database of 3,000 names.
In his 2006 book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Bauckham used a computer algorithm to show that the names in the Gospels correlated with the names in the database. Here’s what he found:
The most common Jewish names in the database are ALSO the most common Jewish names found in the Gospels. AND they are found in almost exactly the same proportions and frequency. Here’s the chart:
The correlation of names points to the reliability of the Gospels. Later fake biographies of Jesus (such as the Gospel of Mary) do not use the accurate names. The correlation of names doesn’t absolutely prove that the four Gospels are true. But it does give us confidence that the authors knew what they were talking about. They were either eyewitnesses of the life and times of Jesus or they interviewed eyewitnesses.
PROOF #3: THE GOSPELS HAVE BEEN ACCURATELY PRESERVED.
Did you know that there are no original manuscripts of the Gospels still available? That sounds scary, right? But don't let it rock your faith. There are three reasons we believe that the copies we have are essentially identical to the originals:
Evidence from multiplicity: There are over 5,000 ancient copies of the Greek New Testament - either portions or whole. 2,000 of these are Gospels. This is multiple times more than any other ancient writing. For example: There are 250 ancient copies of Julius Caesar's On the Gallic War.
Evidence from proximity: The oldest copies of the NT are much closer in time to the originals than any other ancient book. For example: the oldest available copy of Caesar's On the Gallic War was made 800 years after the original and most other copies were made 1300 years after. But the oldest NT copy is a scrap of the Gospel of John (Rylands papyri, p52) and it dates from 115-150 AD - just 30 or so years after the original was written.
Evidence from purity: The original Gospel manuscripts were copied by hand onto papyrus or parchment. And they were copied carefully and accurately. Scholars estimate that the New Testament we have today is 99.5% the same as the original. Variations tend to be minor, such as spelling errors or word order. No Christian doctrine or belief has been lost or distorted.
F.F. Bruce, the late British scholar, wrote, "There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament." (The Book and the Parchments, page 42)
Benjamin Warfield, the late professor of Princeton Seminary wrote: "The New Testament is unrivaled among ancient writings in the purity of its text as actually transmitted and kept in use." (Introduction to Textual Criticism of the New Testament, pages 12-13)
Aren't you glad that our faith isn't built on myth? We didn't turn off our brains before trusting in Jesus. It is safe to say the four Gospels are reliable, accurate, history. But that really is a minor issue. The major issue is this: what will we do with the Jesus we find in the Gospels? His story is so gripping that we cannot feasibly ignore him. We have to deal with him.
The Jesus portrayed in the Gospels will rock your world. He is God. He is the eternal ruler of the whole world. He has irresistible power over diseases and demons. His teaching has unique authority. What are we going to do with a man like that?
But that's not all. The Gospels record parts of Jesus' life, but they mostly focus on his last week: his final teachings; his arrest, crucifixion, and burial; and his resurrection - he rose from the dead. The whole point of the Gospels is to bring us face to face with the crucified, risen Jesus. We're being invited to ask: who is Jesus? And what does he have to do with me?
“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” - John 20:31
I'd be happy to help you answer those questions. Also, we have books on the table in the Atrium that will help with that. I encourage you to take a free copy of the New Testament and begin reading it. Start with the Gospel of Mark. I believe you will be drawn to Jesus. You will find ample reasons to trust in him and to follow him. Let me know how that goes for you.
Please consider returning for Easter Sunday. I'll teach on the case for the resurrection and answer the question, is there enough evidence to stake your life on the risen Jesus?
APPENDIX: Eight Reasons to Trust the Four Gospels
The four authors convey the same basic message about Jesus. Why is that such a big deal? Think of it, if you had four people tell you the same basic story wouldn’t you tend to believe it? While each Gospel gives different details of the life of Jesus, they all essentially tell the same story.
Many of the details in the Gospels sound true to life. The genre of realistic fiction is a modern invention, so to claim the Gospels belong in that genre is a stretch. For example, the Gospels record embarrassing details about the disciples and even about Jesus. Why include those if they aren’t true? Also, the Gospels are full of minor details that seem to come from eyewitnesses.
The Gospel writers claim to be conveying accurate information.
The New Testament documents (of which the Gospels are a major part) have the strongest manuscript evidence of any documents in ancient literature. There are more than 5,700 Greek copies of the NT or parts thereof and specifically more than 2,000 copies of the Gospels. These copies are both more numerous and closer in time to the original writings than any other work of ancient literature. These two characteristics of the Gospel manuscripts enable us to be confident of the original wording in most places.
Archaeological discoveries support the historical accuracy of details in the Gospels.
Ancient authors support the basic account of Jesus’ life as found in the Gospels. First, we know key details about Jesus and his followers from sources outside the New Testament. Second, none of the information we learn from writers outside the New Testament contradicts anything in the four Gospels.
A strong case can be made for Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Why did a group of staunchly monotheistic Jewish people in first-century Israel, start worshiping a man?
Many people have claimed to have an encounter with Jesus that has transformed them for the better.