Thursday, January 24, 2008

Book Review: The New Testament Documents - Are They Reliable?

The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by F. F. Bruce is a book which answers the very question presented in its title. And the answer is yes. In this short book, Bruce gives a brief account of the dates of New Testament (NT) documents, the Canon of the NT, and a number of other sources of evidence that confirms the NT reliability.

First, Bruce informs the reader of the great importance of the reliability of the NT documents. If they are not reliable, the very identity and claims of Jesus Christ come into serious question. If these documents are shown to be less than reliable, the foundation of Christian faith crumbles. However, the author shows that there is more evidence for the NT documents than for any other ancient writing. This fact is virtually undisputed by scholars today. Reasons for this certainty include the abundance of manuscripts, their early dating, and multiple external sources.

In dealing with the issue of the NT Canon, Bruce states that the books of the NT were included in the Canon because the early Church recognized their inherent authority and inspiration. They were not “chosen” as authoritative; rather, their authority was simply affirmed.

The dating of the Gospels is addressed. Bruce focuses primarily with the dates of the four Gospels, but key to this dating was the book of Acts. Because of the early dating of the Book of Acts, it can be shown that the other Gospels most likely had an even earlier date. This early dating of the manuscripts adds to the reliability of the NT documents.

Bruce addresses what could be argued to be the chief reason people dispute the NT documents. This is the question of miracles. If there were no accounts of the miraculous in the NT, there would be no dispute over their reliability and historicity. Yet the supernatural nature of the character of Jesus cannot be explained away from the text, even if there were no miracle accounts. This is the greatest stumbling block to the acceptance of the NT: a naturalistic presupposition that disallows the very thought of supernatural claims.

Bruce closes his book by showing more evidence of reliability from archeology, early Jewish writings, and early Gentile writers. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? shows that the NT we have today can be trusted and relied upon, even in the face of its doubting opponents.


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