Thursday, April 29, 2010

Do You Believe in Caesar?

I am often asked how I can believe in the Bible. I find it to be a very odd question. Usually I respond by asking if the questioner believes in Julius Caesar. When discussing the reliability of an ancient document there are two important factors that historians consider. First, the number of manuscript copies still around and, second the time between when it was first written and the oldest copy still in existence.
For comparison, let me show you some well known ancient documents and how they rate on these key areas. The Gallic Wars, the work detailing Caesar’s major conquests, was written over a 56 year period. We have 10 copies, the closest to the original is 1,000 years removed. In other words, the oldest copy we have of The Gallic Wars was written nearly 1,000 after the events happened.
Most kids read The Iliad  by Homer in either Jr. High or High School. We have 643 copies of Homer's Iliad and there is a 500 year span between the original and oldest existing copy.
I have never heard anyone seriously question the reliability/accuracy/validity/believability of either work. We should note that The Iliad is a work of fiction, so believability really doesn’t apply to it. So these seem to be decent standards by which to judge another ancient work. We will now apply these standards to  the writings describing the life, death, and purported resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, also called Jesus Christ. These writings are collectively known as The New Testament.
The New Testament was written over a time period of 60 years. We have over 24,000 copies and some of the copies we have are only 25 years removed from the originals!
These are the facts, and they are not in dispute.
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