Why is the Reliability of the New Testament Important?
When I was in high school I took a class in ancient history. I was about sixteen years old at the time,and became enthralled (with as much enthusiasm as a sixteen year old high school student can muster) aswe began to study various civilizations and important figures in the distant past, starting several thousandyears BC and slowly working our way chronologically forward. As we neared what I erroneously assumed
would be “year zero”
, the thought occurred to me that we were coming to the time when Jesus lived.I had never been to church and had little interest in religion. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by theprospect of learning what we could know about Jesus by means of historical inquiry. I was rather surprised,then, when our class quickly sped past Jesus' time without so much as mentioning Jesus' name.What did I, as a young student, conclude from this omission? My thinking at the time went like this:If Jesus was a real historical person, we would have studied such an influential figure like him in a classabout ancient history. Since we hadn't studied him, he mustn't have been a real person, and therefore theChristian faith was merely a bunch of fanciful stories with no historical basis.Was my reasoning correct? I had never studied the evidence, nor considered reasons why weneglected to study Jesus in our class.
However, I did get one thing right: I recognized that Christianity is ahistorically based religion. Its impetus was not merely a person's sudden enlightenment (as in Buddhism,for example). It is instead based on events that occurred in history:
, and not merely aphilosophy of life.This is the reason that the apostle Paul (who wrote a large portion of the New Testament) writes to
his fellow Christians that “
if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
” (1 Cor
15:17) If Jesus was not
raised, the Christian
is actually a Christian
; or, as historian Hugo
Staudinger put it, if the New Testament writings “are really only tales which have been made up,” then“they can quite legitimately be replaced by other tales.”
The idea that a person could retain their Christian
Unbeknown to me at the time, there is no year zero, at least in the most widely used (Gregorian) calendar.
At the time I didn't consider or wasn't aware of factors such as the complications arising from teaching things aboutreligious figures in secular high schools, due to the separation of church & state.
The Trustworthiness of the Gospels
. Translated by Robin T Hammond (Edinburgh: HandselPress, 1983), 104.