History and The New Testament

Can we use the New Testament in the study of history and the Resurrection?

Most of the information we have surrounding Jesus’ life, death and the events that happened after are based on the claims reported in the New Testament.

This can be a particularly difficult obstacle when a skeptic might be inclined to disregard the Bible in its entirety as a reliable historical document because they do not believe all its teachings to be true. Some would say that the New Testament cannot be used in the discussion of the resurrection of Jesus.

Is that true?

For transparency, it is important to note here that I do believe that the Bible is inerrant and true, allowing for the literary devices of the genre and context. I believe in the power of the Word of God and that the Holy Spirit speaks to us through the words contained in the Bible. My life has been so permanently changed because of the Bible, and the truth there.

But that is not what I am trying to demonstrate to you.

With this series of posts, I hope to show you the New Testament is a reliable historical document. I want to show you that we can pull out information from it, examine that information in light of history, bias, motives and other criteria, and use this as a launching pad for our investigation into the claims of the resurrection.

This doesn’t mean believing the resurrection happened simply because the Bible says it did, but to at the least be able to consider the claims made there. So with this in mind…

When discussing history, is it necessary for every part of an ancient document to be true, or even for it to be unbiased?  

We have learned much of what we know about ancient history from political propaganda pieces and works that are steeped in mythology. One example would be Herodotus, who is called the father of history. He serves as our primary source of events from the Greek and Persian empire, but his works are littered with miracles, and legends. Does this mean we throw out his entire body of work?

We can learn a lot from biased documents if we are able to test if the bias has affected the truthfulness of the account.

But first, we need to establish if a source is reliable.

Most scholars would argue that these three things contribute to our assessment of the historical reliability of an ancient document:

  1. Do we have multiple, independent attestation? Do multiple sources corroborate events described in the text?
  2. Do we have what was originally written? Has the text been changed or added to over time?
  3. Do we have early eyewitness testimony or are the authors too far removed from the time and place to be able to speak to the events?

These same questions can be applied to the New Testament. In order to discuss the historical events following the death of Jesus, we must first assess whether or not we can use the information found in the New Testament and test them against other aspects of history.

We will do this over the next few posts. First, we’ll discuss multiple attestation. Do many sources talk about Jesus and other events described in the different books of the New Testament?