Many people assume that the Bible simply can’t be trusted and if you can’t trust the Bible then you can’t trust Christianity, because the whole of the Christian message comes from the teaching of the Bible.
And that was my view—I thought the Bible was just full of myths. And then I thought again, and I want to tell you why I changed my mind.
For a start, I discovered that the Bible is absolutely rooted in real history. So you don’t just have to look to the Bible, you can look to other ancient historians for references to Jesus—the Roman historians Pliny and Tacitus, and the Jewish histoiran Josephus, all refer to the life of Jesus—his teaching and his miracles. Josephus even refers to the resurrection of Jesus. The Bible’s rooted in history.
And the Gospels themselves are written by people writing about 35 years after the events they describe, Most experts would say Mark was the first of the New Testament Gospels, probably written in the late 60s or so AD. Given that Jesus died in the early 30s, there would have been plenty of people around who had seen Jesus with their own eyes and heard him with their own ears, who could have said: “No, it wasn’t like that!”
Two of the Gospel writers (Matthew, who wrote the first gospel, and John who wrote the fourth) were eyewitnesses themselves. They actually followed Jesus, and were amongst the first disciples. Then there’s Luke, who’s very interesting: he tells us at the beginning of his Gospel that he went to great efforts to make sure that what he was writing was based on eyewitness testimony. He’s claiming to be a very serious historian.
Now you could say he was just lying to persuade people to follow Jesus; but why lie like that when you know that what you’re saying matters very much. If you’re claiming that Jesus is the truth, why base it all on a lie? Especially given that most of the early Christians suffered greatly for their faith, and a number of them died. Many people in human history have died for things that are not true, but would you die for what you knew wasn’t true, because you’d invented it?
But the main reason why I’m convinced the Bible can be taken seriously and have changed my mind is because of the person of Jesus Christ. I read it, and I was bowled over by this very remarkable man, the most remarkable man who’s ever lived. It was as if he just walked off the pages and into my life.
So if you’ve got questions about Jesus Christ, if you’ve got questions about whether you can trust the Bible, the best thing you can do is read one of the New Testament accounts, the Gospels, for yourself.
And if you do then, like me, you’ll have all sorts of questions—and I’d encourage you to find a Christianity Explored course near you, and go and ask your questions—all questions are welcome.
Thanks for clicking on “Go Deeper” after watching or reading Vaughan’s answer. This section gives you some more points to think about, in a slightly deeper way, and points you to some other online resources you might find helpful if you want to take this issue further.
Jesus outside the Bible.
Vaughan mentioned the Jewish historian Josephus, who mentions Jesus several times in his book, the not-so-catchily titled The Antiquities of the Jews. Josephus was writing in around 80AD, so around 45 years after Jesus was alive—just about within the lifetime of people who would have seen and heard Jesus.
Here’s one part of his book:
“About this time there lived a wise man called Jesus … who performed startling feats. He was a teacher of the people … Those who were devoted to him from the start did not cease their devotion even after Governor Pilate, on the basis of charges laid against him by our leaders, condemned him to a cross. For he appeared to them alive again [this doesn’t mean Josephus believed Jesus rose from the dead, but that Jesus’ earliest followers claimed that he had. And it needs to be pointed out that some people think this sentence was inserted later on by someone else]. And the group of ‘Christians’, named after him, has still not disappeared to this day.”
Vaughan also talked about Tacitus, the Roman historian. He certainly wasn’t a Christian (as you’ll see in the quote below!) He wrote in his Annals of Imperial Rome, in about 115 AD:
“Christians derived their name from a man named Christ, who, during the reign of Emperor Tiberius, had been executed by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate. The deadly superstition, thus checked for the moment, broke out afresh not only in Judaea … but also in the City of Rome.”
In other words, from non-biblical sources, very close to the time when the Bible says Jesus was around, we can know that Jesus lived; that he did amazing things; that he was executed during Pontius Pilate’s time as governor; that he was known as the “Christ”; that there was a claim that he’d risen from the dead.
None of these texts “prove” Christianity! But they do support the picture of Jesus given in the New Testament. And they do seem to show beyond doubt that there was a man called Jesus who really existed in human history.
New Testament = History?
Vaughan also talked about the historical reliability of the New Testament Gospels, the biographies about Jesus in the Bible. It’s worth looking at this crucial question in a bit more detail.
It’s clear that the Gospel writers claimed to be writing history, rather than fairy tales. So Luke begins his Gospel saying that the things he is going to write about: “have been handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses” (Luke chapter 1 verse 2).
Next, he tells us how he’s put his Gospel together: “Since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good to me to write an orderly account” (Luke 1:3).
And he tells us why he’s put his Gospel together: “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4).
The claim is that he, and the other Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark and John), are writing down what actually happened. And as you read through them, there are some little eyewitness details all the way through. Here are just two:
“Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion” (Mark 4:38). The “cushion” is totally unimportant: but it’s the kind of detail that eyewitnesses would remember.
“When they saw [Jesus, after he’d risen from the dead] they worshipped him; but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17). Why mention the fact that some people doubted Jesus had risen even after seeing him, unless it really happened? It makes Jesus’ followers sound bad!
Are we reading what they wrote?
So, the Gospels are based on eyewitness accounts: but are the Gospels we read now the same as what the writers wrote back then, within a generation of Jesus living? Haven’t they been changed through the centuries?
We don’t have the originals of what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote down. But we do have many early manuscripts. That means that we (or at least, experts who are fluent in Ancient Greek!) can compare all these early manuscripts and make sure that, if a couple of them have a slight mistake made in copying, we spot that.
The earliest manuscript portions are from around 125AD (so they might be direct copies of the originals): there are around 24,000 early copies from the next couple of hundred years. It’s worth comparing this with other ancient texts. For instance, Homer’s Iliad, written in about 900 BC, has about 643 surviving copies, the earliest of which is from 500 years after he wrote. And no one doubts that what we read is what he wrote!
Of course, with no computers around back then, the Bible had to be copied out by hand. To us, that sounds like a recipe for disaster in terms of keeping it the same. But the guys who copied it were trained in doing so: and they were Christians, who had a great commitment to keeping the Bible the same because they believed it was God’s word.
If God got involved…
Which brings us to a final point. The Bible claims to be “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16)—that is, the words of God himself, which he inspired humans to write. If that’s true, then it’s fair to think that God is perfectly capable not just of inspiring the New and Old Testaments, but also ensuring that the Bible he wrote has stayed the same over the years.
Give it a go.
Often, people dismiss the Bible without even reading it. And many people are really surprised by what it says when they give it a chance. The best thing to do, as Vaughan said, is to read it, approaching it with an open mind: and a great place to start is with a Gospel. If you’re willing to give it a go, Mark’s Gospel is the shortest!
There’s far, far more that can be said about this issue! And if you’re still curious, or want to think about things more deeply, here are a few suggestions:
CLICK ON “Read Mark” and read Mark’s Gospel on this website.
GO ON a Christianity Explored course, which takes you through Mark’s Gospel and where you can ask any and every question you likeREAD The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, which looks in more depth at whether the New Testament can be trusted (you can get a copy here).