Good books on the reliability of the NT?

Hi All! I’m a cradle Catholic who has recently developed, for the first time, intellectual doubts about my faith. And a lot of it stems for the Bible.

Lately I’ve come to doubt the reliability of the New Testament. The more I read about its composition, the more it seems unlikely that we know what Jesus did and said. Oral tradition, even 40 years after Jesus’s death, seems way too unreliable to accurately portray what really happened. It also doesn’t help to know that the four Gospel authors are different than whose names appear on the books. And I don’t see what evidence there is to say that these accounts were based on eyewitness testimony, other than Luke’s statement at the beginning of his book. The authors’ idea of editing stories to attract their individual audience makes me extremely uncomfortable.

Of course, this has impacted my faith in a huge way. If I question whether or not Jesus was the one who said “on this rock I will build my church,” why would I trust the Church in any matters? And why would I believe in papal infallibility if the Church did not have that concept until a few centuries after Jesus?

Needless to say, a lot of these issues are being raised by the books I am reading. Bart Ehrman seems to have especially impressed me. What makes matters worse is that any of the debates I have seen with him have been from evangelical ministers who tend to philosophize rather than give facts. Ehrman will address the original Greek and give specific examples of “problems” in the Gospels, while his debaters discuss ideas. And any of the books I have read from the Christian side, especially Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, have left me underwhelmed.

Long story short, what are some good books that discuss the factual evidence on Christ’s actions and sayings? I’m not looking for books that discuss what the text means to Christians if they are true, I am looking for books that defend the stance that the New Testament is true, is the Word of God. Any suggestions?

Also, please don’t hesitate to debate with me on here. Believe me, I want to believe in Christ. Any help, including prayers, would be appreciated. Right now, any search I have to find evidence to support my faith seems to be taking me down a different path…

Thanks, everyone:)

I got a kick out of your desire for more ‘factual’ evidence concerning the Christ. If you’re as old as I am, you may realize we don’t even know for certain who and how JFK was killed-and that with still and movie cameras!

Boy, am I the doubting Thomas at times. I expect all of us are, if we’re honest about it. Were there REALLY five thousand with the loaves and fishes? Did the Christ REALLY change the water into wine? Did He REALLY walk on water?

As faith is defined in the Bible, so it is required. In my own journey, I find myself believing because the evidence is there from twenty centuries back, but also because it just doesn’t make any sense with the alternative. Good luck to you!

Hmm… there’s 1 I know of, plus a book series:
“Trusting the New Testament” by JP Holding - Holding isn’t a scholar but debunks a lot of the arguments against using the New Testament as a reliable source on Jesus’ life.

Then there’s the “A Marginal Jew” series by John P. Meier. He’s a semi-conservative scholar who analyzes what we can know about Jesus from each source, and also does some defense of the Gospels as sources. Most of that happens in volume 1. I should warn you, this isn’t good if you only want to strengthen your faith, as he does conclude parts of the Gospels are ahistorical - it won’t shatter your faith but it may keep you doubting. He does do defense of some miracles, just not all of them. It’s also pretty steep reading - only read if devoted.

NT Wright is a highly conservative scholar and may have written on the topic as well, but I’ve only one of his books and a few essays.

1). The thing to understand with Bart Ehrman, who I have read (Misquoting Jesus) and don’t really consider very good, is that he is a former fundamentalist who became a skeptic about the Bible when he found it might actually contain scribal errors. Remember that fundamentalists think the Bible is perfect down to the last comma, so when he found that some versions manuscripts differ in a word here or there, he became very traumatized and decided that the Bible couldn’t really be inspired. His books since are essentially designed to cure you of the “disease” of belief. He recounts this in the preface to Misquoting Jesus.

  • The problem is that this argument, “the bible has some scribal errors, so everything in it is in doubt” is incredibly weak. Consider that we have surviving works of Plato, or Aristotle or other ancient authors that one surive in one or two manuscripts from the Middle Ages a thousand plus years after the ms was written. And consider that such manuscripts may have one or two disputed passages in them, yet no one seriously doubts that we can trust the ms to accurately record what Plato thought and wrote. In comparison we have hundreds and mss and thousands of fragments from the gospels and so the text of the New Testament is actually very well established. You’ll noticed Ehrman is quibbling over a passage here and there, and a word here and there, but taken as a whole, this is hardly a reason to doubt the whole New Testament.

2). As to late dates of the Gospels, 40 years is not so late. Consider that Tacitus wrote around 100 AD about events 100 years earlier and that classical historians consider him a reliable source. Why should the Gospels be an exception to this, having been written only 40 years after). Remember too that this was an oral culture, people had to memorize things and be good at memorizing them and 40 years later some of the original apostles and certainly their disciples would still have been around, so this is a reason to consider the gospels as reliable.
2b). The gospels may have been written earlier than often believed by 19th c german scholarship. John AT Robinson has suggested several reasons for this.

  • everyone agrees the Mark and Matthew were written first, followed by Luke and then Acts of the Apostles. Acts of the apostles was probably written before 63/64 AD. THis means Luke by 60 AD, Matthew ca 55 AD, and Mark ca 50 AD.
    Why Acts was written by 63 AD:
  • Peter, James, and Paul were killed by 63/64 AD, but this is not mentioned in Acts, this suggests that Acts was written before they died.
  • The destruction of the Temple (70 AD) was not mentioned in the gospels or acts, this, along with teh death of Peter, james, and Paul, would have been a traumatic and shocking event. If it was not recorded, it is probably because it had not happened yet.
  • consider how the romans typically appear in the gospels. They often appear very friendly and sympathetic. This is very understandable if the Gospels were written before the persecutions of Nero, but not so plausible if they were written after Nero’s persecutions (63/64 AD).
  • He lists several other reasons I don’t remember off the top of my head.

3). The accounts often refer to their testimony being that of eyewitnesses. Luke’s preface, you know. John’s Gospel often says that it is this disciple who testified to these things. 2 Peter says “we were not following cleverly devised myths, we were eyewitnesses to his glory.” And when it comes time to pick a replacement for Judas, the criteria is that the replacement had to be an eyewitness from the beginning of Jesus’ mystery.

4). As for the accounts being modified for audience, consider that Ehrman is only quibbling over a word here and there. Did the original read “this kind of demon can only be driven out through prayer,” or "did it read “prayer and fasting.” a word difference here and there (like i say above) is not reason to cast doubt on the reliability of the gospels. No source is perfect, this is just a simple fact of history, but the gospels are still remarkably good.

A book that may help you is Ignatius of Antioch . Now , Bishop Ignatius was a student of John who was a student of Jesus . Now This is a good step . You might want to get one thing done at a time.If I were you I would read a book on Ignatius . He mentions the word Catholic as the Catholic church in his writings .He mentions the Eucharist as the body and blood of Jesus Christ . His writings date from around 105-110 AD .
Now You can look up Pagan historians that would have been very professional about there work that have documented Christs existence in the flesh on earth. Grant that they were not around when he was on earth however , a historian does not now or did they ever go by here say alone . They would looked at arrest records , registrations and so on . At one point Christs Mother and father had to register them and that would have been documented as well as Christs arrest . I hope I was helpful .There is sop much out there . The devil has a big army and the army he has really does not know they work for him . This is the Atheist army and its not getting any smaller . Dawkins an Hitchins are his unknowing Generals

God Bless you , Frankie

J.M.J.

Hi, I would also recommend that you read Peter Kreeft’s Introduction to Catholic Apologetics. It’s really excellent. He’s not an archaeologist or scholar in literary forms, but he really is one of the best minds out there defending the Christian faith. Along with lots of other things, he goes through many if not all of the objections to the trustworthiness of the scriptures and refutes them by some very sound arguments.

And I would certainly pray for an increase in faith, too. I’ve had plenty of questions myself, and I’ve found that far superior to fallible arguments is prayer and trust in the providence of God. As St. Thomas Aquinas (who was maybe the best ‘thinker’ in history) said, “Every philosophy (and I think it’s safe to say “every historical theory”, too) has it’s fall.” Coming from someone whose entire reputation was built on his philosophy, that’s pretty significant. But, God doesn’t have a fall, and it’s only Him who can give us the certainty of faith we need. So, definitely read and study, and I do recommend that book I mentioned, but also trust that God will bring you to the safe harbor of the truth.

In Christ and Mary,
-Beaumains

Further consideration to what I said above.
Consider that no history source is perfect. If we needed perfect sources to know something about history, then we could never know anything about history, even the 20th century.

And the key point, of course is the Resurrection, if this happened, then I’d say that gives you a decent reason to believe the Bible, and you can know the Resurrection happened even if the Bible isn’t perfect.

The procedure commonly followed (by people Like NT Wright and William Lane Craig among others) is to point out that there is good evidence for 3 historical facts 1). the empty tomb, 2). the appearances of the risen Christ, 3). the origin of Christian belief, and that all things considered, the resurrection is the best explanation of this evidence.

  • The bible doesn’t actually need to be a perfect source to establish this evidence. I’ll give just one example. One point that supports the empty tomb is that “the apostles could never have preached the resurrection had the tomb not been really empty.” This is valid whether or not Jesus said “demon driven out by prayer” or “by prayer and fasting.”

So now I will bombard you with links and books and let you just ask about further points of interest.

I). I like the work of William Lane Craige, he has a doctorate in Philosophy and Theology and has written alot on the Resurrection (and apologetics in general) from a popular and scholarly perspective. His website reasonablefaith.org/site/PageServer is quite useful.

II). NT Wright is also very good. You have alot to pick through with him. Here’s an article on the Resurrection just to give you a taste of him ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Jesus_Resurrection.htm
Then there are his books:

  • Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven adn the Resurrection deals with life after death, but has 2 chapters on Jesus’s resurrection.
    -the resurrection of the Son of God very long, but a very sophisticated scholarly study of the Resurrection and defense that Jesus really rose.

III). Others:

I think I’ve bombarded you with enough, you can always sample them, or ask if some specific part of this interests you more than others. I do like the work of William Lane Craig, his stuff is worth a look and Wright is very good as well.

One last thought, I remember thinking when I first read Ehrman and was troubled by it before I came to read other stuff, was a remark by CS Lewis that Christianity was not founded by the Bible. It was founded on the historical fact of the Resurrection and the theological doctrine of the redemption. “The Bible was written later and was not written to make Christians, but to edify Christians already made.”

What you are looking for is not available in a book. There is no one book out there that is going to cause you to suddenly say, “Now I believe.” When I first became Catholic, I was exposed to historical-critical teaching right away at a three year course on the Bible and setting up a Bible Study. One of the ‘big’ things that skeptics (such as Bart Ehrman) like to bring up is the debate of who authored the individual books of the N.T. As you know, many scholars believe that many of the books of the N.T. were written by someone other than who the name of the book says wrote it and there are other scholars who disagree. This was never a problem for me as a new Catholic Christian. The fact that these books were vetted by Christian communities for nearly 400 years before before the majority of the Church decided that they belonged in a canon of scripture (the same 27 books that we have in our canon today). Whether the Gospel of Matthew was actually written by the Apostle, or by members of his church community who were inspired by him after his death doesn’t matter to me. A gospel written in a Christian community only 30-50 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus is very recent for historical standards, and Paul’s letters are written only 20 years after Jesus death. Ancient peoples did not write biographies and histories as we do today, so we can not judge them to be false or misleading based upon the fact that they don’t compare to what we write today. John’s Gospel was not written to give an exact blow by blow description of what Jesus did day by day. John himself writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. **But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” **
The books of the Bible were written by believers (not deceivers as sceptics would have you believe), their main purpose to pass on the Good News of Jesus Christ.

For me as a new Catholic Christian, it was not only the Bible and its development that gave me faith to believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it was a calling from the Holy Spirit that initiated my inquiring about Christ’s Church. After the Spirit lit the fire in me, the witness of Christians for two thousand years,who gave their life to preach the Gospel. Why would Peter, Paul, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr and all the others go to their death confessing the Jesus is Lord if it were not true. No its not just the Bible that gives me faith in the Gospel, its the whole Catholic Church and its two thousand years mission that makes me believe.

If you want to read the Gospels again, I would suggest reading and praying with the, "Gospels and Acts’ volume of the Navarre Bible series. It has very good introductions and commentaries on all four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.:thumbsup:

I know the perfect book for you! “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel. He was an atheist reporter out to disprove christianity, and in the end, he ended up proving it true! The entire first half of the book focuses on the Bible and its reliability. Read it!

churchinhistory.org/pages/booklets/authors-gospels-1.htm

Thank you for your responses, suggestions, and prayers, everyone. I will follow up on all that you’ve recommended. God bless you.:slight_smile:

I’m currently reading The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg; not sure how I received the recommendation to do so. He’s apparently a Protestant scholar at Denver Seminary, so it is alarming that he’s a Biblical scholar yet not Catholic, but so far (I’m 208/336*100% = 61.9% finished with the book) it’s been a nice read: He puts on his historian hat, takes one jab at the Catholic Church in the opening of the book (if I recall, he condemns an argument as being “apparently false” because it would prompt one to become Catholic), constantly says “he or she” instead of simply using the gender-neutral “he”, and talks about how it’s reasonable to view the Gospel accounts as historically reliable.

Sometimes I don’t care for how he presents material, but his message appears to me reasonable and helps place greater context around the Gospel accounts.

Sorry that this email is so … awkwardly-written. My brain’s tired today. Basically, it’s a book written by a Protestant Bible scholar responding to common arguments made against the Gospel accounts. I don’t feel obligated to believe all the same theories he apparently believes to be true, but I think he makes a case very hard for the skeptic to readily dismiss, and he cites about three sources on every page for further reading.

I found this thread because I’m searching to have the same question answered; I’m interested in creating a thread asking how Biblical scholars like Blomberg remain Protestant: I suppose it’s because, like any other person (how can a physicist be an atheist?) everyone brings prior experience and prejudice to the table, and evidence can be interpreted in multiple ways insofar as one limits one’s investigation to avoid clarification.

I read that book and recall it being pretty weak. In particular, I think he spends a lot of time debunking stupid theories like “the swoon theory” that can readily be disproven by logic alone, and doesn’t go into detail concerning important claims, like how many prophecies Jesus fulfilled (he just says “it’s true” and moves on). I think it’s a nice comfort book, e.g. he interviews experts to agree with the reader, but I don’t recall he makes much headway along the lines of convincing a skeptic (who can call upon other ‘experts’ who’d disagree with Strobel’s experts, as far as fencing with degrees is concerned).

Craig Bloomberg is one of the experts that appears in ‘A Case for Christ’ (which helped me to come into the faith). Bloomberg also appears in an Ignatius Press DVD called ‘Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?’ which has a combination of Protestant and Catholic scholars and theologians in it giving a defense to the resurrection.

I’m also reading Ehrman’s books at the moment and listening to his lectures (and just posted on Etherealilty’s thread!) and I find his work compelling and meticulous.

Danser misses the fact that Ehrman’s loss in faith was a gradual process…he fought against it for years and years…but the more he researched (he has been studying the NT for approx 35 years) the more he found facts and discrepancies he could not ignore, he says.

Ehrman “quibbles” over more than just a word here and there.
One of many examples is the question of the whole “*He with no sin, cast the first stone” *scene…which he researched was not in any original Greek manuscripts of the NT canon and was added hundred of years later to “John” or, depending on the version, to “Luke” or in other areas…by scribes, in the margin.
The scribes often added in their notes next it that the story was “in question”.
He’s not the only scholar who has found or believes this–many do. It’s just a fact that it’s not originally there.

So did it happen or not?
Why was it added hundreds of years later?

This question/discrepancy doesn’t have to affect someone’s faith if you don’t want it to.
But at the same time, we can’t blindly ignore these findings, either, when we are considering the “reliability” of what we are reading.

I miss no such point, I read Misquoting Jesus where Ehrman recounts his dramatic loss of faith because he realized the Bible (shocking!) might actually contain scribal errors. Not being a fundamentalist, however, I see no reason why I should be traumatized by this. There is no rational inference, from “the Bible contains some scribal errors” to “the Bible is untrustworthy and I should believe nothing it says.” As some people have pointed out, by Ehrman’s skeptical standards, we should believe not even a singe source from ancient antiquity. His radical skepticism would even force us to doubt the veracity and text of some sources from the modern period!

But at the same time, we can’t blindly ignore these findings, either, when we are considering the “reliability” of what we are reading.

I ignore no such finding. Scholars knew over a hundred years before Ehrman published his book that the woman caught in adultery scene was not in the original text. So what? This is nothing new, though he tries to present it as new and shocking in an attempt to mislead a otherwise unlearned popular audience.

The attraction of Ehrman is he comes across like he is letting you in on this new and secret stuff the Church doesn’t want you to know and that no one knew before. None of this is a surprise though. Furthermore, a case for the general reliability of the gospels hardly depends on them being perfect down to the last word. As I have said, by such logic we could no accept as useful even a single source from antiquity. Quibbling over a word or phrase or minor detail is a weak reason to doubt the reliability of the gospels. The gospels are based on eyewitness testimony and eyewitnesses never agree completely. As NT Wright says, even a photograph is taken from a particular angle. It does not follow that the source or photo is misleading

Mike Licona, who has written on the Resurrection and debated Ehrman says:
“Ehrman presents no original thoughts, but his positions are largely embraced by mainstream skeptical scholarship and he, too, has a talent for taking select academic positions and sharing them in sound-bites that shock readers.”

I agree with you that there is nothing here that should shake someone’s belief in Christianity.

Greetings in the LORD, Boss!

A PDF of James White vs. Bart Ehrman: Did the Bible Misquote Jesus Debate.

Links to Ben Witherington’s chapter by chapter review of Forged: Forged (I have not read this book or its critique).

Brian Wright on a particular point: Jesus as Θεός (God): A Textual Examination.

Craig Evans vs. Bart Ehrman: Does the Bible Misquote Jesus?

Concerning the authorship of the gospels, consider the point made by Catholic Biblical scholar, Michael Barber, concerning John’s gospel: “there is no manuscript evidence to indicate that either the title of the Gospel or last chapter were ever added later to the document. Such conclusions are not based on what is found in ancient manuscripts but rather on certain hypothetical conclusions” (Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom). “[W]e should note that there is absolutely no manuscript of the Gospel which attributes authorship to anyone else. I think this is too often overlooked” (Authorship of the Fourth Gospel). Also concerning John’s Gospel, in Benedict XVI’s book, Jesus of Nazareth, he says that, “[s]ince the time of Irenaeus of Lyon (d. ca. 202), Church tradition has unanimously regarded John, the son of Zebedee, as the beloved disciple and author of the Gospel” (pg. 224). Benedict goes on to say that he “entirely concur[s] with the conclusion that Peter Stuhlmacher has drawn …]. He holds ‘that the contents of the Gospel go back to the disciple whom Jesus (especially) loved. The presbyter understood himself as his transmitter and mouthpiece’ (Biblische Theologie, II, p. 206)” (pg. 226). Pope Benedict believes that the Gospel of John is rooted in the eyewitness testimony of John, and that the redaction process was, for the most part, carried out by the Presbyter John (see , Book 3, Chapter 39Church History for information about this figure). Also, did you know that the Manichaeans tried to deny Matthaean authorship of the Gospel of Matthew in Augustine’s day? See Augustine’s response in , Bk. 17Against Faustus. There’s nothing new under the sun! :slight_smile:

Dan Wallace has a helpful review of Misquoting Jesus: The Gospel According to Bart. Dan, Executive Director of The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, has debated Bart twice now, most recently back in October. I didn’t see the first debate, but the more recent debate really seemed to boil down to arguing over whether the cup was half empty or half full. If you want a book, I would get Dan Wallace’s new one, Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence (Text and Canon of the New Testament). It was published on the same day as their more recent debate. Although I have not read this book, Dan Wallace is a text critic: he does what Bart Ehrman does, and the two scholars have a mutual respect for each other. In reading this, you’ll want to keep the following point in mind:

“Determining which texts belong to the Church’s canon and which texts are prescribed for the Sacred Liturgy, however, lie outside the area of competence of biblical scholars in general, or of textual critics in particular. It is the Church herself, on the basis of her tradition, that has established the canon, and it is the competent ecclesiastical authority that prescribes the use of specific texts for liturgical use” ( of the Latin ChurchNova Vulgata).

I hope this helps. Have a blessed day!

With love in Christ,
Pete

Ooops!

Because the OP said she’s looking for “factual evidence” by scholars on “the reliability of the NT”, I thought she was looking for a good, varied sample of scholarly opinions and research.

I didn’t realize she wanted only suggestions that have the one, Catholic-faith-based point of view?

Sorry OP!

But just because Ehrman tries to give facts from an academic and historian point of view and finds many discrepancies, it doesn’t mean the NT isn’t “true”, as you were wondering in your post.
Ehrman’s agnostic, not atheist.

It just means there are errors.
Nuthin’ wrong with that. People make mistakes. They hear things wrong, they remember things wrong, they write things down wrong, they copy things wrong, etc.
They did 1600 years ago and they do now, unfortunately.

If there are errors or “problems”, as the OP put it, in the official canon of the NT…that doesn’t have to mean that it’s not the “word of God”, does it??

Read things actually published by the church, like the Instruction on the Historical Truth of the Gospels (available online) or the magnificent three volumes on the historical Jesus by John Meier, or anything by Raymond Brown. But the bottom line is that it’s all mostly a matter of faith, not proof.

You probably won’t feel any better but at least you’ll have good reasons not to.

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