Thursday, March 20, 2008

Book Review: Is the New Testament Reliable by Paul Barnett

Is the New Testament Reliable? by Paul Barnett is a great read for those looking for a good overview of New Testament reliability. Barnett’s argument throughout is that Jesus and the first Christians are genuine figures of history and that they are faithfully and truthfully written about in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles.

Before looking at the New Testament itself, the author presents non-biblical sources and their references to the life of Christ. Citing Josephus, Pliny, Suetonius, Tacitus, and the Talmud, Barnett demonstrates that without reference to the New Testament documents, a core of facts exists about Jesus that confirms and supports the New Testament accounts.

Next, Barnett covers the dating of the New Testament documents and details their method of transmission. The author shows the dating of Paul’s letters before the Gospels, and then shows that “post-New Testament” writings were notably later than our New Testament documents. The short time lapse between the events and the original writings, in addition to the number of contributing authors is a strong point in their reliability. The writings were copied and used throughout the early church and provide us with a large amount of documents, far surpassing other historical works of the same time frame. These can be cross-examined with one another as well as with quotations from other early church writings and leave us with a very accurate representation of the originals.

The author moves on to a thorough evaluation of each of the gospel authors, describing their dates of authorship, their intended audiences, their styles, and likely sources for their content. Other particulars are examined here, such as the parallel accounts within the Gospels, the historical qualities of each author, and geographical and archeological evidence that confirms that the accounts can be trusted as accurate historical accounts of actual events.
Barnett moves to the topic of miracles in the gospels. He presents four reasons for confidence in the historicity of the miracles of Jesus: 1) Evidence from non-Christian sources such as Josephus and the Talmud affirm Jesus did such works; 2) Peter refers to the miracles of Jesus in his two major speeches in the book of Acts; 3) some scholars find the sayings of Jesus about miracles particularly significant, especially those that are readily translatable back into Aramaic, the language he spoke; and 4) there are many examples of multiple attestation to exorcism, nature miracles, healings and the raising of the dead in the primary Gospel sources Mark, John, Q, L, and M. Finally, Barnett spends a large chapter covering the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and the failed alternative hypotheses to the resurrection. For this reviewer, the resurrection miracle unlocks the door to further support the account of miracles in the Gospels.

Finally, Barnett covers the letters of Paul and the book of Acts. He shows that Luke (the writer of Acts) is an excellent historian and is applauded as extremely accurate in the details. In addition, the author shows that the dating of Paul’s letters between 50-65 is probably before the Gospels were written. However, the content of his letters shows the circulation of early creeds and traditions about Jesus found in the Gospels.

The author concludes with a brief overview of archeological evidence in support of the New Testament, and then ends with a profile of the significance of the historical Jesus. Barnett lays out the facts, draws careful conclusions, and does a good job in making a case for New Testament reliability.


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