Most people don’t apply the same test to the Bible as they do to other ancient literature.

Documents like: Plato and Xenophon. They don’t seem to have any problem with them and feel quiet secure in affirming their historicity.

 Military historian C. Sanders (he is not a Christian) lists three tests in his Introduction to Research in English Literary History (New York: Macmillan, 1952), p. 143f. And seven factors cited by Behan McCullagh as criteria for valid analysis of historical documents. Using these sets of standards, John Warwick Montgomery and William Lane Craig respectively, roundly vindicate the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Renowned Oxford Classical historian Michael Grant, writes, “If we apply the same criteria that we would apply to other ancient literary sources, the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb indeed found empty.” And Paul Meier writes, “If all the evidence are weighed carefully and fairly, it’s indeed justifiable, according to the canons of historical research, to conclude that [Jesus’ tomb] was actually empty… And no shred of evidence has yet been discovered in literary sources, epigraphy, or archaeology that would disprove this statement. So, how does a historian determine if an ancient document is accurate? There are several ways to approach this but I am going to go through 3 tests set up by military historian C. Sanders: the bibliographic test, the internal evidence test and the external test.



Examines the textual transmission of an ancient text. We do not have the original manuscript of any book of the New Testament, so historians must be careful in assessing how close to the original text are our manuscript copies. In other words, when we pick up a New Testament today, are we reading the same words that the original authors wrote down? Textual critics look for several things to do their job. The number of manuscripts (a larger number is always better), and their date; the earlier, the better. The New Testament passes this test better than any other body of ancient literature. We have roughly 5,700 Greek New Testament manuscripts with the earliest fragment dating to about 125 AD and large portions of the gospels found as early as 200 AD. In addition to the Greek manuscripts, if you count other early manuscripts written in Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, etc. we have about 20,000 manuscripts. Even without any of these manuscripts, Dr. Bruce Metzger, the world’s top New Testament manuscript expert from Princeton, states that we could still reproduce the texts of the New Testament from the quotations found in the early church fathers.To compare these numbers to other ancient works is just embarrassing. The next best is the Iliad with about 640 manuscripts, and the earliest fragments come from the 3rd century A.D., that’s a gap of almost 1,000 years! The history of Thucydides written in the 5th century BC is available from only 8 manuscripts and they don’t exist until 900 AD, 1300 years after! Aristotle wrote his poetics in 343 BC but we don’t find a manuscript until 1400 years later and yet the information in these works is rarely doubted. Dr. Craig Blomberg of the Denver Theological Seminary goes as far to say that the Greek New Testament is 97-99% accurate.



So even if the New Testament passes the Bibliographic test, that only proves that we have what was originally recorded. In order to pass the Internal Evidence Test a document must be shown to be credible and truthful. So this centers around a few questions, Were the Gospels written close enough to Jesus’ lifetime to be accurate? Were the first Christians even interested in recording history? The closer an ancient document is to the events it records, the more accurate it is. Conservative scholars date the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke sometime in the 60s and John in the 90s, liberal scholars put Mark in the 70s, Matthew and Luke in the 80s and John in the 90s. Either way, all the gospels were written in the first century and are within two generations of the death of Jesus. Let’s compare this with other the biographies of other religious leaders and once again they pale in comparison to the Gospels. Consider the Chart below.

Manuscript Relability

Manuscript Reliability


EXTERNAL  TEST: extra biblical document confirming the testimony of the Bible.

This test asks whether other historical and archaeological materials confirm or deny the internal testimony provided by the documents themselves. Several authors of antiquity wrote of Jesus as a person of history. Among them was Tacitus, Josephus, Seutonius, and Pliny the Younger. Sir William Ramsey, an eminent archaeologist, once held that Luke’s writings were not historically sound. His own subsequent investigation of near-eastern archaeology forced him to reverse his position and conclude that “Luke is a historian of the first rank. Nelson Glueck, former president of Jewish Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, one of the greatest archaeologists, and a Jew, wrote: “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.


Consider a few examples of archaeological confirmation of the New Testament. In I Corinthians, Paul refers to the meat market in Corinth. An inscription from ancient Corinth has been discovered which refers to the “meat market. Luke refers to the temple of Artemis in Ephesus and speaks of a riot that occurred in a theater in the same city. The temple was excavated in 1803 and measured 100 by 340 feet. Twentieth-century Austrian archaeologists unearthed the theater and found it could hold nearly 25,000 people. Mark writes of Jesus healing a blind man as He left Jericho. Luke, apparently writing of the same event, says it happened while Jesus was approaching Jericho.Excavations in 1907-09 by Ernest Sellin, of the German Oriental Society, showed that there were “twin cities” of Jericho in Jesus’ time–an old Jewish city and a Roman city separated by about a mile. Apparently Mark referred to one and Luke referred to the other, and the incident occurred as Jesus traveled between the two. William F. Albright, one of the world’s leading biblical archaeologists, adds a helpful comment: “We can already say emphatically that there is no longer any solid basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about A.D. 80, two full generations before the date of between A.D. 130 and 150 given by the more radical New Testament critics of today. This statement is crucial because it means that some of Christ’s opponents, who were living when He was on earth, were undoubtedly still around when the New Testament books were penned. Their presence would have prompted the New Testament writers to give careful attention to the veracity of the statements. And we can be certain that if any errors were made in their accounts the opponents of Christ (of which there were many) would have been quick to expose them.

How Can You Tell If A Document Is Truly The Word Of God?

The following text taken from “Practical Christian Theology” by Floyd H. Barackman


Throughout the time when the canonical books of the Bible were written and afterward, other literature was produced which was asserted to be the word of God. This lead godly believers to develop certain tests, based on the canonical books of the Bible, by which to judge the validity of these claims. The application of these tests does not impart canonicity, for the canonicity of any literature is determined by God. However, these tests enable us to recognize whether any literature is

canonical. They follow in question form.

1. The Test of Divine Inspiration: Does the book claim to be divinely inspired? Is it inspired?

2. The Test of Human Authorship: Is the book written, edited, or endorsed by an accredited agent of God, such as a prophet , the Lord Jesus Christ, or one of His apostles? If not, did the writer have the gift of prophecy (David, Daniel) or a relation to a prophet or an apostle (Mark, Luke) that would raise his book to the level of their writings?

3. The Test of Genuineness: Can the book be traced back to the time and/or the writer from whom it professes to have come? This concerns the manuscript evidence of the book. Can the book be shown to have content that agrees with the time of which it speaks or in which it was written? The concerns the book’s historicity. Archaeological

discovery has revealed much about the history and culture of biblical times.

4. The Test of Authenticity: is the book factually true? It is noteworthy that Bible authors did not use the false philosophical and scientific opinions of their times. But they sometimes used popular expressions that are universally understood (cp. Isa. 11:12).

5. The Test of Testimony: Was the book universally recognized by the Jews and/or by the Christian church as being God’s Word? Does the Holy Spirit bear witness to the regenerated reader that the book is His Word?

6. The Test of Authority: Does the book authoritatively demand faith in and obedience to its declarations? “Thus saith the LORD” and the like occur about 3,800 times in the Old Testament.

7. The Test of Agreement: Does the book agree doctrinally with the teachings of known canonical books? While there is progression in the Bible’s revelation of doctrine, there is no contradiction.

8. The Test of Fulfillment: Is there any evidence in History or in the known canonical books of the fulfillment to this book’s promises or predictions?

9. The Test of Endurance: Does the book convey God’s message to each generation of God’s people in a living, fresh way (cp. I Pet. 1:23-25)?

10. The Test of Spirituality: Is the content of the book of such spiritual character that it is in harmony with the dignity and majesty of God?

These tests are based on what is known of the sixty-six canonical books of the Bible. When these tests are applied to ancient or current non-canonical literature that claims to be divine revelation, they readily show the falseness of this claim. They reveal that non-canonical literature does not meet the standard that is set by the Bible. Any literature that does not meet this standard is not God’s Word.

Are The Biblical Documents Reliable?



  1. Thank you for this work. I’m looking forward to reading it, day by day and not in one sitting.

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