'The Bible is highly explosive. It works in strange ways and no living man can tell or know how that book, in its journey through the world, has startled the individual soul in ten thousand different places into a new life.'
Stanley Baldwin, Former Prime Minister
Another part of the theory here is called textual criticism. This is a historical science that essentially means, 'the shorter the time span between the date the manuscript was written and the earliest available copy, the more texts we have, and the higher the quality of existing texts, the less doubt there is about the original' (Nicky Gumbel, Questions of Meaning). In the field of textual criticism, there is nothing else anywhere near the New Testament. F.F. Bruce in his research shows that there are 5,000+ Greek, 10,000 Latin and 9,300 copies of the first gospel manuscripts (written in 40-100 AD), produced over a timespan of 300 years, the earliest coming from 130 AD. Put this next to a text that historians respect, like Caesar’s Gallic Wars, of which there are only 9-10 copies over 950 years, the earliest copy of the original manuscripts (from 58-50 BC) being 900 AD. It’s this sort of study which leads to authority, and gives scholars like Sir Frederic Kenyon to say confidently:
‘The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may now be regarded as finally established.’
Knowing this is great, but the only real way to know whether Christians are right that God can speak to us through the scriptures is to pick it up and read it.
''the Christian gospel
is not primarily a code of ethics
or a metaphysical system;
it is first and foremost
and this good news is
intimately bound up
with the historical order.
God entered into history.’
You often hear Christians speak of the Bible as the word of God, the place in which he speaks. There’s a lot of theology, but why do we trust these sources? Are they just legends? C.S. Lewis, as a literary historian, had a lot to say about this in his book 'God in the Dock', written after his conversion.
‘Now, as a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legend and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing. … Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us, as is the life of anyone else who lived at that time, and no people building up a legend would allow that to be so. … there is no conversation that I know of in ancient literature like the Fourth Gospel. There is nothing, even in modern literature, until about a hundred years ago when the realistic novel came into existence.’
Biblical scholar F.F. Bruce wrote extensively on the question of scriptural reliability. In his book, 'The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable?' he writes that the New Testament was, ‘complete, or substantially complete, about AD 100, the majority of the writings being in existence twenty to forty years before this.’ This, he says, ‘is encouraging from the historian’s point of view, for the first three Gospels were written at a time when many were alive who could remember the things that Jesus said or did’. This is really important in a discussion of validity, making these documents primary sources.
But does it matter whether they are reliable or not? If Christianity is just a moral system it doesn’t, but Christianity is in fact inherently linked to history. Bruce writes this:
'To read sacred scripture means to turn to Christ for advice.' St. Francis of Assisi