Since thousands of these New Testament manuscripts exist, scholars are able to compare their words, applying the science of textual criticism to determine what the original documents said. New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce acknowledged, “There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament.” This enormous wealth of early manuscript evidence strongly supports the reliability of the New Testament today. Although a few minor words are in question, the essential message of Jesus’ life and words is clear and reliable.
Some critics have argued that the New Testament was written at least a hundred years later than the events they describe. If true, there would have been no eyewitness reports.
However, more recent evidence reveals a much earlier dating, well within the lifetime of the apostles who wrote them. One compelling discovery that stunned critics of the New Testament’s reliability is a tiny fragment of a copy of John’s Gospel dated AD 114-125.9 The words on that copy of the original Gospel, as well as those on later manuscript copies, are virtually identical to the New Testament today. Regardless of the ongoing attacks on the New Testament from skeptics, the evidence for its reliability is well documented [See “Are the Gospels Reliable?].
Nevertheless, some remain skeptical about the miraculous nature of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection spoken of in the New Testament. Leading atheist Richard Dawkins wrote to his ten-year-old daughter, Juliet, about beliefs and evidence. In his counsel, Dawkins admonished Juliet to be skeptical of anything that can’t be supported by evidence:
Belief that there is a god or gods, belief in Heaven,… belief that Jesus never had a human father, belief that prayers are answered…not one of these beliefs is backed up by any good evidence.
Dawkins adamantly states in his letter to Juliet that there is no evidence to substantiate belief in Jesus Christ as divine. Yet he also counsels her to seek evidence before drawing her own conclusions.
And, next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: “What kind of evidence is there for that?” And if they can’t give you a good answer, I hope you’ll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.
Your loving Daddy
Dawkins’s advice to his daughter raises a good question: Why should we believe any of Jesus’ miraculous deeds, particularly his resurrection from the dead? Tales of mythical gods such as Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, and Horus dying and rising from the dead lead us to ask what’s different about the account of Jesus’ resurrection. That’s a great question that needs to be answered by the evidence.
Continue reading page 4 of 4 of “The Jesus of History: Man or Myth?”