A. Introduction: As Christians, we are supposed to live by faith or trust in Almighty God, the Lord Jesus
Christ. However, it difficult to maintain trust in Him if you don’t have full confidence in the primary way
that He reveals Himself to us—through His written Word, the Bible.
1. We’re living in a time when there are increasing challenges to the reliability of the Bible. So, we’re
taking time to examine what the Bible is, its purpose, who wrote it, and why we can trust what it says, so
that our confidence in the Lord is not undermined. We have more to say in this lesson.
a. The Bible is a collection of 66 books (ancient documents) that altogether reveal God’s plan to have
a family of holy, righteous sons and daughters, and the lengths to which He has gone to obtain this
family through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
1. Every book in the Bible adds to or advances this story in some way. The Bible is 50% history,
25% prophecy, and 25% instruction for living. Much of the history is verifiable through
secular records and archeological evidence.
2. The Bible is progressive revelation. God has gradually revealed His plan for a family until we
have the full revelation given in and through Jesus.
b. We are focusing on the New Testament portion of the Bible because its 27 documents were written
by eyewitnesses of Jesus (or close associates of eyewitnesses)—men who saw Jesus die and then
saw Him alive again. What they witnessed transformed their lives.
1. Before Jesus returned to Heaven, He commissioned these men to go out and tell the world what
they witnessed, and what His death and resurrection means to the world. Luke 24:44-48
2. Because of Jesus’ death on the Cross, salvation from the penalty and power of sin is available to
humanity. Through faith in Jesus, men and women can be restored to their created purpose.
2. For the last two weeks we’ve considered why these men wrote the New Testament documents. We
pointed out that they did not set out to write a religious book. They wrote to facilitate the spread of the
message that Jesus gave them and to tell what they saw and heard from Jesus.
a. The apostles proclaimed the message orally at first, because they lived in an oral culture. However,
written documents greatly expanded their reach. Through written documents, they could be in
more than one place at a time.
1. The earliest New Testament documents were epistles, written sermons that were read out loud
to groups of believers. The epistles explained what Christians believe, gave instruction on
how Christians are to live, and addressed problems and questions that arose within the groups.
2. The gospels were biographies, written to provide a record of what Jesus said and did and insure
that the accurate message would continue to spread after the apostles (the eyewitnesses) died.
A. The earliest New Testament documents were written less than twenty years after Jesus’
ministry, death, and resurrection. Twenty years may seem like a long time, but in ancient
writings, it’s a miniscule amount of time.
B. For example, the two earliest biographies we have of Alexander the Great (the founder of
the Greek Empire) were written more than 400 years after his death in 323 BC—and no one
questions their reliability due to the time gap.
3. A quick side note. Although we call these documents books, book as we know them did not
exist yet. The ancients wrote on scrolls of stitched or pasted together pieces of papyri or
animal skins. Papyri or papyrus was made from reeds that grow along the Nile River in Egypt.
b. The New Testament writers made several statements as to why they wrote. Consider two of them.
1. Peter the apostle wrote this shortly before he was crucified for his faith in Jesus: I work hard to
make these things clear to you. I want you to remember them long after I am gone. For we
were not making up clever stories when we told you about the power of our Lord Jesus Christ
and his coming again, We have seen his majesty with our own eyes (II Pet 1:15-16, NLT).
2. John the apostle wrote: Jesus’ disciples saw him do many other miraculous signs besides the
ones written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the
Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life (John 20:30-31, NLT).
3. When we consider the writers’ motivation for writing the New Testament documents, it is a powerful
argument for the accuracy of what they wrote—which strengthens our confidence in the Bible itself.
a. These men were convinced that Jesus was and is God, and that salvation from sin is available only
through faith in Him. Not only that, Jesus Himself commissioned them to proclaim this message.
1. Jesus preached and preformed miracles in numerous places in Israel for over three years, and
thousands of people saw and heard Him. If the apostles made something up or got something
wrong, there were plenty of people around who could and would correction them.
2. These men grew up in a culture that had tremendous respect for the Scriptures (what we call the
Old Testament), and recognized that they were writing Scripture—words inspired by God
Himself as He by His Spirit guided them. They had to get it right. II Tim 3:16; II Pet 3:16
b. The message they preached and wrote did not make them wealthy or famous, and they were rejected
by much of society. They were beaten, and some were jailed and ultimately executed. No one
suffers and dies for something that they know is a lie.
B. We can see that the New Testament writers had strong motivation to accurately report what they saw and
heard, but how can we be certain that their words have been accurately handed down to us? When we
understand how those who received these documents treated them, it increases our trust in their reliability.
1. Not only was accuracy important to the eyewitnesses, it was important to the people who heard the
sermons that the eyewitnesses preached and received documents written by them.
a. As these documents began to circulate among the churches (assemblies of believers), these groups
collected and preserved the various written records that came from the eyewitnesses.
b. As they gathered scrolls for their collections (libraries) the criteria for accepting a particular writing
was: Can this document be traced to an apostolic witness (an eyewitness)? If not, it was rejected.
1. It has become more and more common to hear people say that the New Testament books were
chosen by church councils, centuries after Jesus lived, to advance political agendas and mislead
and control people. But that is contrary to what we know about the spread of these writings.
2. No one “picked” the books that became the New Testament. From the beginning, Christians
recognized certain documents as authoritative or directly traceable to an original apostle.
A. Recognition of these books as authoritative was not determined by a few individuals at
church councils. These documents were copied and widely known by the first Christian
communities. The church as a whole recognized these books as being inspired by God.
B. The core of the New Testament was fixed well before the end of the first century—the four
Gospels, the Book of Acts, Paul’s letters, I Peter, I John, and the Book of Revelation.
2. We know this from the early church fathers, or church leaders who followed the apostles. These men
were taught by the original apostles and became the next generation of leaders after the apostles died.
a. To name a few: Polycarp (AD 69-155, martyred) knew John and other apostles. Ignatius (AD
35-117) wrote seven letters while traveling to Rome to face martyrdom, which Polycarp preserved.
Irenaeus (AD 130-200) was taught by Polycarp. Papias (AD 60-130) wrote about the origins of the
gospels. He was a friend of Philip the evangelist’s daughters, who prophesied to Paul (Acts 21:9),
b. These men and many others wrote extensively about the early church—its practice and doctrines
(what they believed). All of their works down to AD 325 have survived. They’ve been translated
into English and give us much information about the early church—including which books were
universally recognized as authoritative or connected to an apostolic eyewitness (an apostle).
3. In recent years so-called “lost gospels” have been used to challenge the reliability and trustworthiness of
the New Testament. When you know that the New Testament documents were accepted early, because
they could be directly connected to an original apostle, you know that later documents don’t qualify.
a. For example, the Gospel of Thomas was found in 1945 in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. It is collection of
sayings supposed spoken by Jesus. It dates to AD 175 to 180 (or possibly as early as AD 140).
b. Not only was Thomas the apostle long dead by the time his supposed gospel was written, the writing
is filled with Gnostic statements that contradict the apostles’ doctrine (or core Christian beliefs).
1. The word Gnostic is from a Greek word that means knowledge. Gnostics were a group of
people that developed within Christianity, and then separated from it in the 2nd century. They
claimed to possess secret knowledge available only to a few and believed that salvation comes
through knowledge of our spiritual nature, not repentance from sin and faith toward God.
2. They saw the physical world and its Creator as evil, leading them to deny Jesus’ incarnation and
resurrection. Many believed that Jesus was a divine spirit who only seemed to possess a body.
4. People often bring up the Council of Nicaea to say that church councils picked the books in the Bible.
That is factually incorrect. This council had nothing to do with choosing books for the Bible. The
Council of Nicaea (AD 325) was called to settle a doctrinal dispute over Arianism.
a. Arius was a leader in the in the church in North Africa who began to teach that, although Jesus was
the Creator of the world, He himself was a created being and therefore not truly Divine. Arius
gathered many followers and, as this heretical teaching spread, conflict arose.
1. Constantine became the Emperor of Rome during this period (AD 324). He professed faith in
Christ when he prayed to the Christian God and was victorious in battle. The genuineness of
his faith is a topic for another day, but he did put a stop to imperial persecution of Christians.
2. As the Roman Emperor, he was the head of the state religion (pagan) and responsible for
maintaining good relations between his people and their gods. Constantine saw himself in a
similar role as a Christian emperor.
3. When Constantine became aware of the raging disputes over Arianism in the eastern part of his
empire, he ordered a church council to meet and settle the issue. Church leaders met at Nicaea,
a village in northern Asia Minor (now part of the city of Iznik in Turkey).
b. The Council of Nicaea declared Jesus to be of one essence or substance with God the Father, and a
creed (or statement of doctrine) was composed that is still in use today, the Nicene Creed. The
council had nothing to do with picking and choosing which books should be in the Bible.
5. Possibly you are thinking, even if we have the right books, how can we be certain that we have the right
words in those books, because a lot could have been changed over the past two thousand years.
a. There are no original manuscripts of the New Testament (or any other ancient books) because they
were written on perishable materials that disintegrated long ago (papyrus, animal skins). What we
have today are copies. Even if the originals were accurate, can we trust the copies?
1. Critical to determining the reliability of the copies is: How many copies exist (so they can be
compared to make sure they say the same thing), and how close to the originals were the copies
made (less passage of time means less chance that the information was altered)?
2. More than 24,000 New Testament manuscripts (full or partial) have been discovered. The
earliest is a fragment of the John’s gospel, dating to within 50 years of the original writing.
A. The New Testament was written AD 50-100. We have 5,838 manuscripts that are earlier
than AD 130, a 50 plus year time gap. How does this stack up to other ancient books?
B. Homer’s Iliad was written in 800 BC. We have 1,800 plus manuscript copies, the earliest
dates to 400 BC (400 year gap). Herodotus’ Histories was written between 480-425 BC.
We have 109 copies. The earliest dates to AD 900, a 1,350 year gap. Plato’s works were
written in 400 BC. We have 210 copies. The earliest dates to AD 895, a 1,300 year gap.
b. Copyists (scribes) did make mistakes. There are textual variants in copies, about 8% in the New
Testament. The overwhelming majority are spelling or grammar errors and words that are left out,
reversed, or copied twice, errors that are easy to recognize and don’t affect the meaning of the text.
1. Occasionally a scribe tried to harmonize two passages about the same event in different gospels
or added a detail known to him but not found in the original. Sometimes a scribe tried to make
the meaning clearer by explaining what he thought a passage meant (and weren’t always right).
2. These changes are insignificant. They don’t alter the narrative, and they don’t affect the major
doctrines (teachings) of Christianity. And, we have hundreds of early manuscripts that show
us what the text looked like before the additions were added.
C. Conclusion: We’ll consider so called contradictions in the New Testament next week, but as we close this
lesson, remember why I started this series. I’m trying to convince as many people as possible to read the
Bible, especially the New Testament, because that is how we get to know Jesus as He truly is.
1. The Bible is our only fully reliable, unchanging source of information about Jesus—who He is, why He
came to, what He accomplished through His death and resurrection, and how He wants us to live.
a. This is especially important now because we are living in a time of unprecedented religious
deception (specifically false Christs and false gospels), just as Jesus predicted. Matt 24:4-5; 11; 24
1. Jesus is God Incarnate, the visible expression of the Invisible God, God’s fullest revelation of
Himself. John 1:1; John 1:14; Col 1:15
2. Jesus promised to make Himself know to His followers through His written Word (John 14:21).
We get to know Jesus through the Bible, because the Scriptures testify of Him (John 5:39).
b. Regular, systematic reading of the New Testament (reading each document from start to finish over
and over) will give you a perspective and a framework from which to assess the world around you.
1. God’s Word is the standard by which we must judge everything. We must think in these
terms: If my only source of information was the New Testament, would I ever conclude that
what this person says is right?
2. Every dream, vision, and supernatural occurrence, every feeling, circumstance, teaching,
preaching, or prophecy must be assessed according to what God says about it in His Book.
2. Jesus made this statement about Himself: If you abide (continue) in my word, you are truly my
disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set (make) you free (John 8:31-32, ESV).
a. The Greek word that is translated abide means to remain in something. It is equivalent to
remaining steadfast and persevering. The Greek word translated truth means reality. Truth is the
reality lying at the basis of appearance—or the way things really are.
b. Remember, Jesus said of Himself: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). In that same
teaching He said this about the Word of God: Thy Word is truth (John 17:17). The Living Word,
Jesus, is revealed through the written Word, the Bible.
1. Jesus said that if you hold fast to what God says in His written, Word you will know the truth,
the way things really are—according to the One who knows everything. And the Truth (the
Living Word and the written Word) will make you free.
2. The Greek word translated make you free means to liberate. Jesus, through His Word will
liberate us from the power and punishment of sin, as we continue in His Word. This is good
news because every problem in this world is ultimately traceable to back sin—beginning with
the first man Adam’s sin (lessons for another day).
3. We’re living at a time when objective truth (two plus two is four) has been abandoned in favor of
feelings (I just feel that two plus two is five—that’s my truth). If ever there was a time to know and be
steadfast in the truth (the way things really are), it’s now. Become a regular, systematic New Testament
reader. Get to know the Truth—the Person and the Book that reveals Him. Much more next week!!