There have always been those who are skeptical of the Bible and its claims. Even Jesus encountered skeptical and unbelieving people in his ministry. Lately, however, it seems that it has become more common or even popular to question or openly attack the Bible and Christian beliefs.
One of the most recent of these was the television program on The Lost Tomb of Jesus and accompanying book entitled The Jesus Family Tomb. Based on some questionable archaeological findings, the claim is that the burial remains of Jesus and his family, including a wife and children, have been discovered and identified. Others include books and Web sites by atheists and secular humanists that question or ridicule Bible teachings, investigative reporting by the media that emphasizes the skeptical fringe of Bible scholarship, and fictional books, such as The Da Vinci Code, that contain fabricated scenarios, that lead to questions concerning Christian beliefs. In addition to these are others such as the Jesus Seminar, which denied the validity of all of the miracles and much of the teaching of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament, yet was covered extensively in publications such as Time and Newsweek, and the more recent coverage of the "Gospel of Thomas" by National Geographic and other publications.
Although it would seem that there is almost a constant stream of threats to the Christian faith from sources such as these, Christians should not feel intimidated or fearful. The Bible has been examined more extensively than almost any other document in history and yet the majority of these studies have confirmed the reliability and validity of the Bible and its teachings. Most Christians, however, do not have the training or the time to do extensive research on these topics. Fortunately, there are a number of resources available that were written by competent, conservative Bible scholars who hold the Bible in high regard and accept the integrity and validity of its claims.
Several of these resources will be briefly reviewed here. Anyone wanting to intelligently discuss these topics with others, or simply strengthen his or her own faith is encouraged to spend some time with books such as these.
One place to begin is The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by F. F. Bruce. Before his death in 1990, Bruce was one of the most well-known and respected conservative Bible scholars in the world. This small book by Bruce was first published in 1943 and has gone through several revisions and updatings with the sixth edition being published since 1981. Even though it is now more than 25 years since the last revision, this is still an excellent resource. It is clear, readable, and understandable. Bruce covered a variety of topics and his confidence in the reliability and trustworthiness of the New Testament is apparent throughout the book. Some of the topics include a discussion of various manuscripts, the canon of the New Testament, the Gospel accounts, miracles, writings of Paul and Luke, archaeology, and non-Christian sources.
Even though it does not deal directly with the reliability of the Bible, another excellent resource is How We Got the Bible by Neil R. Lightfoot, who has taught Bible at Abilene Christian University for many years. First published in 1963, the current third edition was revised and expanded in 2003. The earlier editions were well-done, but this latest edition is excellent. Lightfoot discusses how ancient books were made, various important manuscripts, versions, and translations, and other topics related to how the Bible came into existence. This information is especially helpful in understanding the discussion in some of the other books reviewed here.
There are also several other excellent resources for those who want to dig deeper into this area. Is the New Testament Reliable? by Paul Barnett is one example. Barnett covers some of the same material as Bruce, but also includes more recent information and scholarship that was not available at the time that Bruce was writing. Although the book contains a large amount of information, Barnett has written in a style that is easy to understand and interesting to read. The information is often presented in a manner similar to evidence in a court, and is summarized, or placed in tables for easy access. Barnett also anticipates and answers many questions that are raised by our contemporary, postmodern culture.
Somewhat of a companion volume to Bruce and Barnett is The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable and Relevant? by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. Kaiser is an Old Testament scholar who obviously writes from a wealth of knowledge on the subject. It is also apparent from the book that his views are conservative and that he has a great trust and respect for this portion of the Bible. The contents of this book include chapters devoted to a discussion of the reliability of the canon, text, historical information, and message of the Old Testament. Kaiser also included a discussion of the relevancy of the Old Testament for us today.
Much of the book is very readable and easy to understand. There are some technical terms and detailed sections in the book that some readers may find difficult, but there is a glossary at the end to help the reader follow the discussion. On the whole it is a valuable resource and provides information on the Old Testament which is not easily found elsewhere.
In addition to these books, two others are worth mentioning. The first of these is The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg. This book covers material that is found in Bruce and Barnett but does so in a more lengthy and detailed manner. Blomberg has done extensive research and writing on the Gospels and has put a large amount of useful information into this book. Some of it is technical but most of the book is very readable and would be useful for anyone wanting more details on the reliability of the Gospel accounts.
Finally, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ by Gary R. Habermas is another book that I would recommend. A number of books have been written in recent years in response to the assertions of the Jesus Seminar and others who question the historical information contained in the Gospel accounts. Many of these, however, are very technical and written more for other scholars than for the average reader. The Historical Jesus by Habermas, however, is very readable and easy to understand. It is well-written, and Habermas has demonstrated from many sources the validity and reliability of the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus.
None of the books reviewed here are perfect. Each one contains portions that not everyone may agree upon, but all of them contain valuable information concerning the reliability of the Bible. Our acceptance of the Bible as God's inspired Word is certainly a matter of faith. It need not, however, be a "blind faith" because there is ample evidence that the Bible is in fact from God. Books like those reviewed here contain evidence such as this that can strengthen our faith in the Bible and give us confidence in knowing that the Bible is from God and that its claims can be taken seriously.
1. Barnett, Paul. Is the New Testament Reliable? Downers Grove, IL InterVarsityPress, 2003.
2. Blomberg, Craig. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987.
3. Bruce, F. F. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1981.
4. Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.
5. Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable and Relevant? Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001.
6. Lightfoot, Neil. How We Got the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003.
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