Most people know that the Bible is indispensable to Christianity. They tend to see the Bible as a whole unit instead of 66 separate books written by 40 different people in a variety of circumstances over a span of millennia.
Very few people have read it much at all. I don’t find many atheists out there in the world. Instead, I meet a lot of people who believe in God but need proof that the Bible is a divinely inspired volume.
The question of the reliability of the Old Testament is a good place to begin. While we do not currently have any external evidence to corroborate the accounts in the book of Genesis, all the customs described in it ring true to what we know about ancient cultures. Until the recent discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, the oldest complete extant Hebrew manuscript was around A.D. 900. This made a time gap of 1,300 years (the Hebrew Old Testament was completed around 400 B.C.). …With the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, however, a number of Old Testament manuscripts have been found which scholars date before the time of Christ.(1)
Egyptian records from the time of the Exodus refer to a large group of foreigners who are slaves of Pharaoh and involved in construction projects, who suddenly leave when a new leader emerges. Archaeology from the 1300 to 1000 B.C. era in Palestine confirms rapid settlements as depicted in the book of Joshua, in addition to the slow steady growth of villages in Israel as depicted in the book of Judges. In 1993, the oldest known inscription into a Bible character — King David — was found in northern Israel. Additionally, the writings of the Assyrians and the Babylonians boast about their conquests of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel circa 700 to 586 B.C., verifying those Old Testament accounts. Ancient Persian documents confirm the names of their rulers as also found in the Bible. Even minor figures from the rebuilding of Jerusalem are confirmed, like Nehemiah’s opponent Sanballat.(2)
The veracity of the New Testament is even more stunning when studied. The extremely short span of time from when the events of the New Testament happened to when they were recorded is astounding. External documentary evidence for the Gospels and several of the apostle Paul’s letters comes from the writings of the early church fathers. Polycarp, Ignatius, and Clement (writing from 110 to 96 A. D.) refer to the Philippian epistle, all four Gospels, the book of Acts, and many other New Testament books. By virtue of these three ancient documents, we can conclude that at least 25 of the 27 books of the New Testament were in circulation by about the year 100. But they could very likely be dated considerably earlier … the Gospels depict Jesus as repeatedly predicting the fall of Jerusalem because of its rejection of the Messiah (Luke 13:22-35, etc.). Would the author of the Gospel of Luke, if writing after 70 A.D., not mention this fulfillment of prophesy, especially when the Gospel of Luke itself records Jesus’ life as a fulfillment of various prophecies?(3)
As for the accounts of the life of Jesus, the earliest written was by Mark, traditionally as related to him by the apostle Peter. The short period of time between the actual events described (circa A.D. 27-30) and the time in which Mark wrote (circa A.D. 70-75 at the latest, and probably pre-70) distinguishes the Gospels from most other allegedly parallel processes of oral transmission in antiquity, which generally span several centuries. Eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry, including hostile ones, could easily have refuted and discredited the Christian claims during this period if they were in any way mistaken. … Additionally, as with all the disciples of the ancient Jewish rabbis, Jesus’ followers may well have privately kept written notes while passing along the tradition orally in public. There’s no reason why Jesus’ disciples could not have begun such note taking even while he was still alive, since Jesus sent them out on their own on at least two missions to preach the gospel. After Jesus’ ascension into heaven this practice would have become even more likely.(4)
In defense of the faith,
(1) Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense (San Bernardino, California: Here’s Life Publishers, 1992), p.48
(2) Craig Blomberg, sermon: “Can I Believe the Bible?” (Denver, Colorado: Scum of the Earth Church, December 9, 2001)
(3) Douglas Groothuis, Jesus in an Age of Controversy, (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1996), pp. 42-43
(4) Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1987), p. 24-25