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Is the Bible Reliable?

Why it Matters?

  • The Bible makes claims including that Jesus who was raised from the dead, saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

  • So either the Scriptures are true and offer eternal life, or they are mistaken and will lead you astray.

Getting Things in Perspective

  • Christianity is about a relationship with the risen Lord Jesus, and a strong historical case can be made even if the Bible has many errors (See William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith. 3rd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008).

  • So if the Bible has errors you should not abandon your faith (as did Bart Ehrman over Mark 2:26 and the issue of Abiathar, see, but it would seriously adjust some of our doctrines.


The Different Positions

  • Inerrancy: the Bible is true in what it affirms, both faith and practice and other areas such as history, geography, etc. (i.e.
    Infallibility: the Bible is true in matters of faith and practice but may be mistaken in other areas (Fuller Theological Seminary, CS Lewis).
    See:  Geisler, Norman L., ed. Inerrancy. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979.

Oral Transmission

  • Eye witness accounts from an oral culture. For instance Greek children were known for memorizing Homer’s Iliad (147, 317 words) and the Odyssey (121,866 words) (The New Testament is about 138,000 words, Mark is about 10,000 words, Matthew and Luke about 19,000 words)

  • Oral transmission by Jewish Rabbis of the Old Testament was literally word for word (about 300,000 words).

  • The general method of oral transmission was “informal controlled oral tradition.” Informal meaning like how we might tell a joke some of the details might change but the punch line is formally fixed. Controlled meaning there were designated elders/teachers to passed on stories regularly and there was the community to check, i.e. how children might sing the song Mary had a little ham.

  • The Bible preserves embarrassing details not likely to have been made up. i.e. Mark 8:33; 10:18; 13:32…

See: Mournet, Terence C. “Jesus Tradition as Oral Tradition.” In Jesus in Memory: Traditions in Oral and Scribal Perspectives. Edited by Werner H. Kelber, and Samuel Byrskog.Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009, 39-62.



  • Matthew not long before AD 70, Mark in the late 50’s or early 60’s, Luke in the mid to late 60’s, John AD 80-85, Acts mid 60’s, Romans AD 57, 1 Corinthians AD 55, 2 Corinthians AD 56, Galatians AD 48, Ephesians early 60’s, Philippians mid 50’s to early 60’s, Colossians late 50’s to early 60’s, 1 Thessalonians late AD 50 or early AD 51, 2 Thessalonians early AD 51, Philemon early AD 60’s, 1 Timothy mid AD 60’s, 2 Timothy ca. AD 65, Hebrews AD 60-100 most likely before AD 70, James early or mid AD 40’s or shortly before AD 62, 1 Peter AD 62-63, 2 Peter just before AD 65, 1 2 3 John early AD 90’s, Jude mid to late AD 60’s, Revelation mid AD 90’s

(D. A. Carson, and Douglas Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.)


Canon - Which Books?

  • A canon is the “standard” or “rule.” In reference to the New Testament, the canon of Scripture refers the collection of books the Church recognizes as inspired by God, namely the 27 books of the New Testament and the 39 books of the Old Testament. Criteria of canon selection: Apostolicity/Antiquity, Orthodoxy, Catholicity (universal used)

  • Protestants understand the Church as recognizing the intrinsic authority of these books ultimately as being God breathed. It is not that the Church made these books authoritative; rather it is the other way around, the Church acknowledged the authority that these books innately possessed.

  • The Roman Catholic answer is that the Church (at the Council of Trent, 1545-1563) used its authority to declare these books as authoritative (including the Apocrypha 1&2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Esther 10:4-16:24, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (also known as Sirach), Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremy, Song of the Three Children, Story of Susanna, The Idol Bel and the Dragon, Manasseh, 1&2 Maccabees).

See: Metzger, Bruce M. The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.


How Scripture Relates to Itself

  • Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. (1 Cor 14:37 NRSV)

  •  And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea. (Col 4:16 NRSV)

  • For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer deserves his wages." (1 Tim 5:18 ESV, quoting Deut 25:4 and Luke 10:7)

  •  15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2 Pet 3:15-16 ESV)


Some Canon Lists

  • Marcion’s canon (ca. AD 140): Included only edited versions of Luke and ten of Paul’s letters.

  • Muratorian Canon (ca. AD 200): the four gospels, the 13 letters of Paul, Revelation, Jude, 1 & 2 John, Wisdom of Solomon, Apocalypse of Peter (disputed). Lists other books as rejected and/or forgeries. Not mentioned: Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter.

  • Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260-340): At this point it seems reasonable to summarize the writings of the New Testament which have been quoted. In the first place should be put the holy tetrad of the Gospels. To them follows the writing of the Acts of the Apostles. After this should be reckoned the Epistles of Paul. Following them the Epistle of John called the first, and in the same way should be recognized the Epistle of Peter. In addition to these should be put, if it seem desirable, the Revelation of John, the arguments concerning which we will expound at the proper time. These belong to the Recognized Books. Of the Disputed Books which are nevertheless known to most are the Epistle called of James, that of Jude, the second Epistle of Peter, and the so-called second and third Epistles of John which may be the work of the evangelist or of some other with the same name. (Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History 3.25, trans. Kirsopp Lake, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1925), 1.257.)

  • In AD 367 the 39th Festal Letter of Athanasias, bishop of Alexandria, was the first to include our 27 books and only those.


Manuscript Transmission

  • There are 5809 Greek New Testament manuscripts though some are missing some are parts of others, so there is more like 5603 manuscripts.

  • There are 59 complete NT manuscripts. The oldest being from the fourth Century.

  • The earliest fragment is P52 containing John 18:31-33, 37-38 dated about AD 125.


Histories                              Oldest Manuscripts Number           Surviving

Livy, 59 B.C.-A.D. 17           4th Century                                           27

Tacitus, A.D. 56-120           9th Century                                           3

Suetonius, A.D. 69-140      9th Century                                           200+

Thucydides, 460-400 B.C.   1st Century A.D.                                  20

Herodotus, 484-425 B.C.    1st Century A.D.                                   75

NT, c. A.D. 40s-90s              1st Century A.D.                                c., 5,700+ Greek, 10,000+ Latin, 1,000,000 quotations in church fathers


Textual Variants

  • There are about 138,000 words in the NT, there are about 400,000 textual variants, most being spelling errors that make not translational different. The most common variant is “a” and “an.” There about only a few thousand meaningful variants. i.e. Luke 24:53 “and were continually in the temple courts blessing* God.” * could read, “praising.”

  • Meaningful But Not Viable: Variants that would affect the meaning of the verse, but they are not likely original because they are limited to only one manuscript or family of manuscripts. An example is 1 Thess 2:9, where most manuscripts read “the Gospel of God.” One late medieval manuscript instead has “The gospel of Christ.”

  • Meaningful and viable. Only 1% of all variants in the New Testament (These are basically the 3000 or so variants in NA28). These do not affect any core doctrine. i.e. Rom 5:1 “we have peace with God,” or “let us have peace with God.” The difference in Greek is only a single letter.

  • The two longest are Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11. For commentary on these and other variants see the tc notes in

  • No core doctrine is affected by any variant. i.e. Matt 9:29 has a variant concerning whether demons are cast out “by prayer” or “by prayer and fasting.”

See: Komoszewski, J. Ed; M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace. Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2006.



  • “Matthew 10:2-4 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, - Simon (1), called Peter, and Andrew his brother, and – James (11) the son of Zebede, and John (5) his brother; - Philip (61=) and Bartholomew (50=); - Thomas and Matthew (9) the tax collector; - James (11) the son of Alphaeus, - and Thaddaeus (39=); - Simon (1) the Canaanite - and Judas (4) Iscariot, who also betrayed him.” Peter Williams, New Evidences the Gospels were Based on Eyewitness Accounts, 2015

See: Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006.

Internal Evidence for the Truth of the Gospels

  • Matthew 14:1-2 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.”

  • Why is Herod talking about this matter to his servants? And how would Matthew know what Herod had said to his servants?

  • The Explanation: Luke 8:3 … and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.


  • John 6:5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”

  • Why Philip?

  • Luke 9:10-11—On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. When the crowds learned it, they followed him, …

  • John 12:21—So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee …

Internal Evidence for the Truth of the Gospels and Acts Dr. Timothy McGrew St. Michael Lutheran Church February 27, 2012


How Can We Know? An Argument for Scripture

  1. Whatever God teaches is true.

  2. Historical, prophetic and other evidences show that Jesus is God.

  3. Therefore, whatever Jesus teaches is true.

  4. Jesus taught that the scripture are the inerrant and authoritative word of God.

  5. Therefore, the Bible is the inerrant word of God


How Can We Know: The Witness of the Spirit

  • The witness of the Holy Spirit personally and directly to you – for a relationship with God, and it is fine to say that the Spirit testifies that the Bible is his word.

Plantinga – Warranted Christian Belief


How Can We Know: The Bible Tells Me So

  • 2 Tim 3:16 All Scripture is inspired* by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (NASB95) *ESV - breathed out by God

  • 2 Pet 1:21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (ESV).

  • Is this a circular argument?

How Can We Know: Historical Investigation

  • Archeological confirmation but this just increases the probability that the Bible is reliable, does prove it.

  • John 5 the pool of Bethesda.

  • Josephus, “Now there arose about this time a source of further trouble in one Jesus … When Pilate, acting on information supplied by the chief men among us, condemned him to the cross.” Ant. 18.63-64

  • Tacitus, "Their name comes from Christ, who, during the reign of Tiberius, had been executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate" (Annals 15.44)


Erastus Inscription

  • Rom 16:23, says Erastus, who is the city's director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.

An inscription in Corinth that reads, “Erastus, the commissioner of public works, laid this pavement at his own expense.”


Pontius Pilate Inscription

  • “Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judaea, built and dedicated the Tiberieum.”


Gallio Inscription

  • Acts 18:12 “While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews of Corinth made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment.”

  • An inscription at Delphi, Greece, identifies Junius Gallio as proconsul of Achaia between the summer of 51 and the summer of 52.

Criteria of Authenticity

  • Unintentional signs of history

  • Aramaic linguistic features

  • Criterion of the impact of an event

  • Coherence with existing data

See: Bock, Darrell L. Studying the Historical Jesus: a Guide to Sources and Methods. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002. 220 pages.


Multiple Independent Attestation

  • Having more than one source lends credibility to the account. And not two copies of the same story but two separate accounts that cohere. For instance we have multiple accounts that Jesus performed miracles or feed the 5000…

Mark 6:31, 39 Feeding 5000 (also Matt; 14:13-21; Luke 9:10-17; John 6)

  • And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass.

  • The Explanation: John 6:4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. The weeks just before and after Passover are the growing season in Palestine. At Passover season the roads would be thronged with great crowds of pilgrims.


Criterion of Embarrassment (or divergent patterns)

  • Embarrassing details for the disciples are unlikely to have been created by the church.

  • Mark 10:18, “Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good-except God alone.”

  • Mark 13:32, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

  • Mark 8:33, “But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”


Double Similarity and Dissimilarity

  • Similar to Judaism thereby suggesting Jewish roots and yet distinct, suggesting growth; and similar to the early church, showing it appropriately fits and yet distinct, suggesting it was not merely created by them.


Apparent Conflicts

  • It is like visiting the JFK assassination site and concluding that since there are competing theories, the whole event is not historical and so one does not have to deal with it.

  • The question is whether these can be harmonized.


i.e. How did Judas die?

  • Matt 27:5 So Judas threw the silver coins into the temple and left. Then he went out and hanged himself.

  • Acts 1:18 Now this man Judas acquired a field with the reward of his unjust deed, and falling headfirst he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out. (NET)


The Census

  • Luke 2:1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus to register all the empire for taxes. 2 This was the first registration, taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

See: I.e. Bock Luke, BECNT


Some Guidelines

  1. Differences are not necessarily contradictions.

  2. The Gospels are often unconcerned about precise chronology.

  3. The Gospels often use paraphrase restatement, or summary.

  4. The Gospels are interpreted history, not video recordings.


See: Norman L. Geisler and Thomas A. Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992.


The Bible and Science?

  • Young Earth position: (macroevolution –no, big bang and cosmic evolution – no)

  • Progressive Creationist: (macroevolution –no, big bang and cosmic evolution – yes)

  • Theistic evolution position: (macroevolution –yes, big bang and cosmic evolution – yes)


History of the English Bible and Modern Translations


  • Basically any of them are good. NASB95 or ESV is more word for word / literal, NIV2011 or HCSB is very readable; NET is a good study Bible. A warning on the NKJV is it based on the Greek received text ignoring all the findings for the last several hundred years.


Understanding the Footnotes in our Bibles

  • 1 Cor 6:17 (NIV) But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.1 Note 1: Or in the Spirit

  • In this case it is a translation issue: “What did the original really mean?”

  • 1 Cor 2:1 (NIV) When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 1 Note 1: Some manuscripts as I proclaimed to you God’s mystery

  • In this example it is a textual issue: “What did the original really say?”

(Example from: L20_Conclusions, Text, & Canon.pptx BLS 552 NT 2 Epistles & Revelation. East Asia School of Theology. Rev. Dr. Robert K. MacEwen, PhD 2nd Quarter, 2012–2013. Slide 11.)



  • Read and study your Bible. Job 23:12 NIV, “I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.”


Recommended Resources

  • Bruce, F. F. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 1981.

  • Kitchen, K.A. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.

What about other Gospels?

  • i.e. The Gospel of Peter

  • Dated originally composed AD 150-190, manuscript copied from late 6th century to the beginning of the 9th century.

  • 9.34. Now when the morning of the Sabbath dawned a crowd came from Jerusalem and the surrounding region that they might see the tomb which had been sealed. 35. But during the night in which the Lord's day dawned, while the soldiers were guarding two by two according to post, there was a great voice in the sky. 36. And they saw the heavens were being opened, and two men descended from there, having much brightness, and they drew near

  • to the tomb. 37. But that stone which had been placed at the entrance rolled away by itself and made way in part and the tomb was opened and both the young men went in.

  • 10.38. Then those soldiers seeing it awoke the centurion and the elders, for they were present also keeping guard. 39. While they were reporting what they had seen, again they saw coming out from the tomb three men, and the two were supporting the one, and a cross following them. 40. And the head of the two reached as far as heaven, but that of the one being led by them surpassed the heavens. 41. And they were hearing a voice from the heavens saying, 'Have you preached to those who sleep?' 42. And a response was heard from the cross, 'Yes.‘

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