External Evidence Test
The third and final measure of a document’s reliability is the external evidence test, which asks, “Do historical records outside the New Testament confirm its reliability?” So, what did non-Christian historians say about Jesus Christ?
“Overall, at least seventeen non-Christian writings record more than fifty details concerning the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus, plus details concerning the early church.”22 This is astounding, considering the lack of other history we possess from this time period. Jesus is mentioned by more sources than the conquests of Caesar during this same period. It is even more astounding since these confirmations of New Testament details date from 20 to 150 years after Christ, “quite early by the standards of ancient historiography.”23
The reliability of the New Testament is further substantiated by over 36,000 extrabiblical Christian documents (quotes from church leaders of the first three centuries) dating as early as ten years after the last writing of the New Testament24). If all the copies of the New Testament were lost, you could reproduce it from these other letters and documents with the exception of a few verses.25
Boston University professor emeritus Howard Clark Kee concludes, “The result of the examination of the sources outside the New Testament that bear … on our knowledge of Jesus is to confirm his historical existence, his unusual powers, the devotion of his followers, the continued existence of the movement after his death … and the penetration of Christianity … in Rome itself by the later first century.”26
The external evidence test thus builds on the evidence provided by other tests. In spite of the conjecture of a few radical skeptics, the New Testament portrait of the real Jesus Christ is virtually smudgeproof. Although there are a few dissenters such as the Jesus Seminar, the consensus of experts, regardless of their religious beliefs, confirms that the New Testament we read today faithfully represents both the words and events of Jesus’ life.
Clark Pinnock, professor of interpretations at McMaster Divinity College, summed it up well when he said, “There exists no document from the ancient world witnessed by so excellent a set of textual and historical testimonies. … An honest [person] cannot dismiss a source of this kind. Skepticism regarding the historical credentials of Christianity is based upon an irrational basis.”27
- According to jesusseminar.org, “The Jesus Seminar was organized under the auspices of the Westar Institute to renew the quest of the historical Jesus. At the close of debate on each agenda item, Fellows of the Seminar vote, using colored beads to indicate the degree of authenticity of Jesus’ words or deeds.”
- Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, vol. 3 of The Story of Civilization (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972), 555.
- Josh McDowall, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), 38.
- William F. Albright, Recent Discoveries in Biblical Lands (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1955), 136.
- William F. Albright, “Toward a More Conservative View,” Christianity Today, January 18, 1993, 3.
- John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament, quoted in Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 243.
- McDowell, 33-68.
- McDowell, 34.
Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 34.
- McDowell, 38.
- Metzger, 39.
- Metzger, 36-41.
- John A. T. Robinson, Can We Trust the New Testament? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 36.
- Quoted in McDowell, 36.
- J. P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 134-157.
- Quoted in Geisler and Turek, 256.
- Quoted in McDowell, 61.
- Quoted in McDowell, 64.
- Geisler and Turek, 269.
- J. P. Moreland, 136-137.
- Geisler and Turek, 276.
- Durant, 563.
- Gary R. Habermas, “Why I Believe the New Testament is Historically Reliable,” Why I am a Christian, eds Norman L. Geisler & Paul K. Hoffman (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001), 150.
- Metzger, 86.
- Quoted in McDowell, 135.
- Quoted in Josh McDowell, The Resurrection Factor (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1981), 9.