Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

MARKS OF AUTHENTICITY IN THE BIBLE

The Bible mentions various people, events, places, eras, etc. Is this all fact or fiction? There are many ancient writings and this question can be raised for all of them. This article looks at general features that the Bible shares with any authentic (factual) ancient book. It is worth noting that although the works of many historians have these features, none of the ancient scriptures of the world's religions do so in the same degree.

Feature # 1: Archaeological validation

Archaeologists have dug up artifacts from Biblical times and places. These artifacts contain information that tallies with or is consistent with the Bible - thus providing evidence of its authenticity. Details

Feature # 2: Mythical corroboration

The term "mythical corroboration" seems like an oxymoron. Myths are supposed to be stories, not truth, so how can they corroborate any book? The answer is that ancient myths have too much in common to be dismissed as merely invented stories. Rather, they consist of embellishments surrounding a kernel of truth, based on events that actually happened. Ancient events narrated calmly in the Bible find similarities in ancient myths of cultures all over the world. This suggests that the events described in the Bible actually happened, and thus the Bible is authentic. Details

Feature # 3: Detail

Biblical authors give details that we expect in any authentic account: dates, amounts of materials used, names of places and people involved, dimensions of important structures, etc. This suggests that it is authentic, because fraudsters or authors who are trying to recollect events that took place long ago are unlikely to include detail, while sincere eye-witnesses are. Compare, for instance, the detailed specifications of the tabernacle that Moses built in the Sinai desert (Exodus 25:1 onwards) with the Koran's empty claim that Allah made Mecca to be the first sanctuary (Sura 3:96, 2:125).
 
The technical nature of the detail is worth noting. Consider the New Testament author Luke:-
  • Thessalonica has politarchs (Acts 17:6)
  • Malta a first man (Acts 28:7)
  • Philippi two strategoi (Acts 16:20)
  • Ephesus a grammateus (Acts 19:35)
All these have been verified by inscriptions. Luke also uses sailing technical terms in his description of Paul's journey through a storm (Acts 27). These details strongly suggest that Luke is authentic. A fraudster would not bother to get into technical detail.

Feature # 4: Historical validation

Certain sections of the Bible contain historical narratives. These agree with the writings of secular historians from the same period. This shows that the Bible is authentic. Details

Feature # 5: Cultural validation

The Old Testament of the Bible and much of the New Testament is focused on Israel. When we look at Jews today (who are their descendants), and the modern state of Israel, we observe the following:-

  • Jews speak Hebrew which is very similar to the ancient Hebrew of the Bible.
  • Jewish names today are similar to the names of Biblical characters.
  • The festivals and rituals which the Jews observe today are the same as those mentioned in the Bible: Passover (Exodus 12:1), Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16), Purim (Esther 9:26), Hanukkah (Daniel 11:30-35), circumcision (Genesis 17:10), Rosh Hashanah (Leviticus 23:24), the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8), Tish B'Av (Jeremiah 52:6), etc.
  • Modern Jews follow Jewish practices mentioned in the Bible such as blowing the shofar (Joshua 6:4), eating kosher food (Leviticus 11:2)

These observations show that the Bible is authentic.

Feature # 6: Geographical validation

The Bible mentions several places in Israel and elsewhere. These places exist today, and their geographical features that we see today are consistent with those given in the Biblical accounts. Some examples:-

Seas: The Bible mentions the Sea of Galilee as teeming with fish and the Dead Sea as "dead". Both these features are visible today.

Jerusalem-Jericho: The Bible mentions Jerusalem as a city at a high altitude, Jericho as a plain, and the road from Jerusalem to Jericho as being downward sloping and deserted (see Luke 10:30). I've gone that road by bus, and it is just like the Bible says it is. More details

Lushness: The Bible mentions the land as being arid when the Jews are scattered out of Israel, and blooming with life when they return. The last hundred years have illustrated this contrast very well.

City Names: Names of small towns and mountains mentioned in the Bible have persisted to this day: Carmel, Gilboa, Tabor, Nazareth, Bethshean, Bethlehem, Hebron, Shechem, Golan, Kidron Valley, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives, the valley of Hinnom, Caesarea, Engedi, Gaza, Ashdod, Jaffa (Joppa), Judea, Samaria, Tiberias, Nain, Bethsaida, Beersheba, Bethphage, Bethany, Eilat (Elath), etc.

Nazareth: The Bible says that when Jesus "told it like it is" at the Nazareth Synagogue (Luke 4:23-29), the citizens were so enraged with him that they tried to throw him off a precipice near their city. There is indeed a precipice just outside Nazareth. The image shows the panoramic view from the precipice, looking eastwards towards Mt Tabor.

Feature # 7: The eye-witness nature of Biblical accounts

In Genesis, the first book of the Bible we read:-
  • "This is the book of the generations [records] of Adam..." (Genesis 5:1)
  • "These are the generations [records] of Noah..." (Genesis 6:9)
  • "These are the generations [records] of Terah..." (Genesis 11:27)
  • "These are the generations [records] of Isaac..." (Genesis 25:19)
  • "These are the generations [records] of Jacob..." (Genesis 37:2)
Thus, these historical portions of the Bible were written by the people going through the events themselves.

Similarly, the communist authors of The Atheist's Handbook admit that Revelation was written about AD 68. Ignatius (died before 116) quoted from the gospel of John as did Justin (died 140). This shows that the Gospel of John was written in the first century.
 
Luke, writing about the Acts of the Apostles, ends his account with the imprisonment of Paul (about 60 AD). He stops short of mentioning prominent events that would soon take place, such as the destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70), the horrific persecutions that Nero unleashed on Christians (mid 60s),  and the martyrdom of James (61), Paul (64) and Peter (65). This indicates that Luke was an eye-witness who wrote the book of Acts shortly after he witnessed the events.
"Luke is a historian of the first  rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy...this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians" [Skeptic-turned-Christian Sir William Ramsay (1851-1939), archaeologist and professor from Oxford and Cambridge universities, Bearing of Recent Discoveries on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, Baker, Michigan, USA, p.222, 1953]
If you read the Gospel of Matthew, you can make out that he lays an emphasis on prophecy being fulfilled. In AD 32, Jesus predicted that the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed (see Matthew 24:1-2); this was fulfilled in AD 70. Thus, Matthew would have surely recorded the destruction of the temple if he was writing after AD 70. This event finds no record in Matthew's gospel, and hence we conclude that Matthew wrote before AD 70 - a few years after the events of Jesus' life took place. Note that Matthew was a disciple of the Lord Jesus who accompanied him wherever he went. Fragments of Mark's gospel have been found dating to 50 AD (Glendale News Press, Saturday, April 15, 1972, United Press International, Louis Cassels). This shows that if there was anything inaccurate in the gospel of Mark, it would have easily been discredited, since it was written when eye-witnesses were still alive. The same argument applies to Paul's lengthy description of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:1-9, which he wrote in 54 AD. Luke stops the account of Paul's activity at his first imprisonment in Rome (60 AD) although Paul went on to do and travel much more. This suggests that Luke wrote shortly after 60 AD. Some more evidence to the eye-witness nature of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts is as follows:-
  • No late forger would invent a Jewish Jesus because Jews were a hated race, and such a person would not hold any appeal for Greeks and Romans [After AD 100, most Christians were Greeks and Romans].
  • Since Christianity was an urban phenomenon in the Roman Empire, forgers would not put so many examples from rural life into Jesus' mouth.
  • The gospels and epistles retain some Aramaic words, contain long debates between Jesus and the Jewish leaders about his observance of Jewish rules, and mentions of phylacteries, tithe, the Pharisees, Sadducees, etc. with no explanation. This suggests that the gospels were 1st century writings for a predominantly Jewish audience, not late forgery [Before AD 100, most Christians were Jews].
Skeptics believe that the early books of the Old Testament (Genesis to 1 Kings) are myths that were invented long after the reported time of writing. This is refuted by internal considerations:-
  1. If the Pentateuch was written after 1000 BC (as skeptics claim), why devote so much space (Exodus 25:1 to Exodus 40:38) to the description of a structure (the tabernacle) that was rendered obsolete by another one (the temple)?
  2. If 1 Samuel was written during the later monarchic times, why does it criticize monarchy (1 Samuel 8:6-19)? If it was written by a dissident who did not like monarchy, why did it enjoy patronage from kings like Josiah, and why does it praise kings like David?
  3. If 1 Kings was written to create a larger than life image of King Solomon, why does it mention Solomon doing all the things that Moses had earlier said kings should not do? (Compare Deuteronomy 17:16-17 with 1 Kings 10:28-29 and 1 Kings 11:1)
Some Biblical records were evidently written long after the events transpired. For example, the author of 1 Samuel, while narrating the story of David's sojourn with the Philistines in about 1050 BC mentions "the kings of Judah unto this day" (see 1 Samuel 27:6). Since Judah did not exist as a separate kingdom till about 975 BC, we conclude that this author was writing at least several decades after the events took place. However, he records the events of David's life in great detail - just as an eye-witness would. He does not paint a brief sketch about David's life. Thus, he had access to eye-witness accounts of David, although he himself was not one.
 
As a comparison, the Koran has one-line claims that Abraham visited the first sanctuary at Mecca (Sura 3:96, 2:125). The Koran does not tell us when this happened. From the Bible, we know Abraham lived in about 2000 BC. Thus, the Koran gives one-line narrations of events that supposedly took place 2700 years before it was written. Similarly, the Hindu Epics Mahabharata and Ramayana narrate undated events in the distant past.
 
In summary, the entire historical section of the Bible was written either by the people experiencing the events, others who were present, or still others who had access to eye-witness accounts of the events. This constitutes evidence for the authenticity of the Bible.

Feature # 7: Acceptance by the earliest audience

One test of authenticity is the acceptance of the book by the earliest audience. This is because, compared to us, the earliest audience was in a much better position to judge the historical and geographic accuracy of a book. 

The Jews accepted the Old Testament of the Bible. Thus, given that the Jews who lived shortly after Daniel accepted the book of Daniel, the onus lies on the skeptic to prove why Daniel is false. What does he know about Daniel that the people of Daniel's day did not know?

The writers of the New Testament stated that they are not preaching "cunningly devised fables" (2 Peter 1:16). They also stated that the events that they write were witnessed by many people who were still alive then (1 Corinthians 15: 6, Luke 1:1-4). If the New Testament contained factual errors, its immediate audience would have discredited it and Christianity wouldn't have spread.

At this point it is worth noting that the Christians in the first century AD were mostly Jews, who, due to their heritage, were well read. Even the Greco-Roman culture was well read, and therefore, any book (especially one which claims to be authoritative) would be read and evaluated, at least by people who would consider joining the movement it represents.

Thus, the early spread of the New Testament and the faith it advocates proves that the central events of the New Testament, namely, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the characters and places involved, etc. were verified by those interested. 

To summarize: early acceptance is evidence for the authenticity of both the testaments of the Bible.

Feature # 8: Anthropological Validation

Some features of the human race and human society are just what to expect in the light of the Bible. This provides evidence for the authenticity of the Bible. Details.

Feature # 9: Consistency among contributors

If several people write about the same events honestly, they should agree with each other. This is indeed the case in the Bible. A few examples:

The four biographies of Jesus given in the Bible are consistent with each other.

The historical narratives of Kings and Chronicles agree with each other. 

Without being in contact with Jesus during his earthly ministry or his disciples, Paul was able to describe his death, resurrection and the last supper. This proves that the apostles were being honest in their reporting (and that Paul was indeed being guided by the risen, ascended Christ).

Another example of consistency is found in Luke's reporting of the trial of Stephen (Acts 6:8 onwards, about AD 35). In his defense, Stephen quoted Moses (who lived in the 15th century BC and wrote the first five books of the Bible). So here we have three Bible characters:-

  1. Moses the Jewish law-giver; the Bible says he lived around 1500 BC
  2. Stephen the Jewish Christian; he stood on trial in front of the Jewish Sanhedrin about 40 AD
  3. Luke: the church historian; he narrates Stephen's trial, writing perhaps between 60 and 70 AD

Here are various scenarios and the questions they raise:-

  • Moses existed, but Luke is making up the trial of Stephen: Why should Luke make up a story about a Jewish man who criticizes Israel as he is tried before the Jewish council when his audience is primarily Greek and Roman? [Most Christians were Greek and Roman in the latter half of the first century. See Luke 1:1-4]
  • Luke faithfully reports the trial, but Moses is spurious (or Moses existed but Stephen is misrepresenting him): Why would a man in danger of being condemned to die make up a story about national history to his national court?
When you consider all the possible scenarios, you find that the most probable is that Moses, Stephen and Luke were all genuine!

Conclusion

"In my college days, I foolishly listened to ungodly professors who sought to undermine my faith. They told me that the Bible was filled with contradictions…that educated people no longer believed the Bible, that only ignorant country preachers believed in it. My faith was badly shaken, but instead of taking the word of infidel professors on these matters, I began to study and investigate for myself, and the more I found out about the Bible, the stronger my faith became…Nearly forty years of Bible study have given me a faith that cannot be shaken…I plead with you not to discard the Bible as being unworthy of your faith until you make an honest investigation of it." – Homer Duncan, Doors of Hope, p20 

Various internal and external evidence establishes the authenticity of the Bible beyond all reasonable doubt. If you cannot trust the Bible because you find the evidence insufficient, you should also reject everything you've been taught about Alexander the Great, Nebuchadnezzar, Emperor Ashoka, Julius Caesar, etc. Also see:-