By Dix Winston
In part 1, we saw that the Bible accurately records the words and events in the life of Christ. This is important since the Gospels are the primary source document on the words and works of Christ. If they did not accurately record what He said and did, we lose our message. How can we know if He said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)? We know He said this because the Bible is good history, accurately recording the words and works of Jesus.
But the second question is whether what was said and done is true. If Jesus actually said the words known as John 3:16, but He was lying, then John 3:16 is good history, but it is not true.
There are four reasons we can be confident in the veracity of John 3:16, as well as everything else Jesus spoke and did: the early dates of the manuscripts, the eyewitness accounts, the exceptional nature of information, and the extra-Biblical corroboration. Let’s look at each one of these.
THE EARLY DATES OF THE MANUSCRIPTS
Three early church fathers (Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp) quote 25 of the 27 books of the NT. Now it goes without saying that for something to be quoted, it has to have already been written. “Since Clement was in Rome, and Ignatius and Polycarp were hundreds of miles away in Smyrna, the original New Testament documents had to have been written significantly earlier, otherwise they could not have circulated across the ancient world by that time. Therefore, it’s safe to say that all of the New Testament was written by AD 100…”1 This, of course, is the latest they could have been written.
Many scholars believe them to have been written much earlier. Colin Hemer convincingly argues that the book of Acts was written between AD 60 and 62.2 The most convincing argument for this date is that the destruction of the Jewish temple, which occurred in AD 70, is never mentioned in the New Testament. (Luke does mention 84 historically confirmed details.)
The significance of this can be illustrated this way. Say you picked up a Complete History of the United States, and it did not mention 9/11. You would rightly conclude that it must have been published before the collapse of the Twin Towers. So, if Luke did not mention “Jerusalem’s 9/11,” you would rightly conclude that the book was written before AD 70. Indeed, since no NT book mentions Jerusalem’s 9/11, the entire NT was likely written before AD 70.
These early dates for the NT documents give weight to the next truth test, the eyewitness accounts.
THE EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS
The NT writers claimed to be eyewitnesses of the events about which they wrote. Peter claimed to be an eyewitness before a hostile crowd of Jews, “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32).
Paul claimed to be an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve…and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also” (1 Cor 15:3-8).
John told us that Thomas was also an eyewitness (John 20:24-30).
John claimed to be an eyewitness to all that Jesus did (1 John 1:1-2).
Luke, although not an eyewitness, interviewed eyewitnesses for his writing (Luke 1:1-2).
Truly this is not hearsay testimony or secondhand rumors. These men had personal and firsthand knowledge of the NT events.
As mentioned earlier, Colin Hemer documents 84 confirmed historical facts from the Book of Acts:3 the proper location of Lycaonia (14:6), the presence of a synagogue in Thessalonica (17:1), the proper title of honor, neōkoros, authorized by the Romans (19:35), the common way to obtain Roman citizenship at this time (22:28), the correct legal formulae (25:18), the principle port to find a ship sailing to Italy (27:5-6), the local people and the superstitions of the day (28:4-6).
And in a similar vein Craig Blomberg documents 54 similar historically accurate details from the Gospel of John.4
These details give credence to the Gospel writers.
Suppose someone in 1980 wrote a book describing your hometown as it was that year. In the book, the author correctly described your town’s politicians, its unique laws and penal codes, the local industry, the local weather patterns, local slang, the town’s roads and geography, its unusual topography, local houses of worship, area hotels, town statues and sculptures, the depth of the water in the town harbor, and numerous other unique details about your town that year. If the author claimed he had visited your town that year, or said he had gotten good information from people who had been there, would you think he was telling the truth? Of course you would, because he provided details that only an eyewitness could provide.5
THE EXCEPTIONAL NATURE OF INFORMATION
The third truth test has to do with what those eyewitnesses wrote. Most people would gladly exclude demeaning personal details from their own experiences, if given the opportunity to do so. But the writers of the Gospels did not leave out personally demeaning incidents. They are dumb (Mark 9:32; Luke 18:34; John 16:18), disloyal (Matt 26:33-35, 69-72), and doubting (Matt 28:17).
Difficult Sayings of Jesus
It would have been easy to exclude the difficult-to-understand sayings of Jesus, to employ the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid) method of reporting. But the writers, wanting to be truthful, were compelled to write such things as Jesus’ declaring the Father is greater than Him (John 14:28), Jesus’ seemingly denying His deity (Luke 18:19), and His seeming inability to do miracles in His hometown (Mark 6:5).
Demanding Sayings of Jesus
The disciples could have appealed to a wider audience if they would have watered down the demanding sayings of Jesus. But again, if your mission is to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, you must include them as well. Jesus said that looking at a woman lustfully is sin (Matt 5:28). He told his followers to not resist evil but to turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39-42). He said to love your enemies (Matt 5:44-45). These go against human nature and certainly raise the moral standards of anyone.
Death, Not Denial, Verified Their Words as True
All the apostles, with the exception of John (he was boiled in oil and exiled to Patmos), died a martyr’s death. They sealed their writings with their blood. They could have easily recanted their testimony and gone on with their lives. But, no, they would rather have died for the truth than to have lived with a lie.
Now you might be saying that people die for a lie all the time. That may be the case, but they die for a lie, believing it is the truth. No one in his right mind would die for a lie, knowing it is a lie. These men were well aware of what they were saying and were still willing to die for it.
THE EXTRA-BIBLICAL EVIDENCE
The final truth test asks if any of this is confirmed by extra-Biblical documents. And although the Bible is the primary historical document detailing the life of Christ, there is in the Jewish, Greek, and Roman literature abundant testimony to His life and ministry outside the Bible. Dr. Norman L. Geisler succinctly sums up this evidence. He says,
The primary sources for the life of Christ are the four Gospels… However there are considerable reports from non-Christian sources that supplement and confirm the Gospel accounts. These come largely from Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Samaritan writings of the first century. In brief, they inform us that: (1) Jesus was from Nazareth; (2) he lived a wise and virtuous life; (3) he was crucified in Palestine under Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius Caesar at Passover time, being considered the Jewish King; (4) he was believed by his disciples to have been raised from the dead three days later; (5) his enemies acknowledged he performed unusual feats they called “sorcery”; (6) his small band of disciples multiplied rapidly, spreading even as far as Rome; (7) his disciples denied polytheism, lived moral lives, and worshiped Christ as Divine. This picture confirms the view of Christ presented in the NT Gospels.6
Based upon these four lines of evidence, you can be assured that Jesus said that God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but has everlasting life (John 3:16). And you can be sure that He was telling the truth. The Message of Life is true!
Dix is the senior pastor of Crosspoint Community Church in Centennial, CO. This past September, he and Cynthia had their first grandson, Gunnar Titus. Dix is unashamedly Dispensational and Free Grace!
1 Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 236.
2 See Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 408-410.
3 Ibid., 101-158.
4 Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2001), 69-281.
5 Geisler and Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be An Atheist, 255-56.
6 Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 384-85.