By Ruthanne (Candy) N. Arrington
Many of us process our experiences by keeping a journal or talking to someone about what is happening in our lives. For some, the account may be detailed; for others, it’s only simple notations on a calendar or a few sentences to a trusted friend.
Likewise, those who witnessed the life and ministry of Jesus Christ provided written and oral accounts of what occurred. Their accounts, inspired by the Holy Spirit, became the source of authority for spreading the gospel and instructing and encouraging believers.
In my research, I discovered some fascinating facts about the New Testament. I want to credit Josh McDowell for all of his resources on the subject that helped enlighten me.
The New Testament contains 27 books, most written within 50 years following Jesus’ death and resurrection. Eight authors penned the New Testament: four apostles (Matthew, John, Peter, Paul), the half-brothers of Jesus (James and Jude), Luke, the only Gentile, wrote Luke and Acts, and Mark, although not personally an apostle, was a companion to Peter and an assistant to Paul. The author of Hebrews is uncertain.
Eyewitness accounts. Many people had personal encounters with Jesus before and after his death. The New Testament is a compilation of letters and handwritten accounts of those who were eyewitnesses to Jesus, or someone serving as a “secretary” to record the personal testimonies of what eyewitnesses saw and heard. Luke mentions that he examined and compared the eyewitness accounts before deciding “to write a careful account” so readers could be certain of what they were taught (Luke 1:1-4). John wrote to show that Jesus was the Son of God: “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24).
Divine Inspiration. New Testament writers wrote by direct revelation from God. Paul said, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread” (1 Corinthians 11:23). His words to Timothy reinforce this: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”
(2 Timothy 3:16).
Churches needed to know which writings should be read, respected, and adhered to. Thus, it became necessary to gather and define the writings that became the books of the New Testament.
Soon after the conversion of Constantine, the Council of Nicea (AD 325) authorized the making of multiple copies of these manuscripts. Additionally, early church fathers copied portions of Scripture, sometimes whole chapters, in letters they sent to fledgling churches. All but 11 verses of the Bible can be reconstructed based on the verses in these letters.
Athanasius of Alexandria (AD 367) provided the earliest list of New Testament books that is exactly like our current New Testament index.
Stephen Langton, a professor at the University of Paris and later Archbishop of Canterbury, made modern chapter divisions about 1227. Verse markings appeared in the mid-sixteenth century.
Although the New Testament isn’t an exhaustive account of everything that happened, it is a sufficient account. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30, 31, English Standard Version). Again John stated only a portion of Jesus’ miracles are recorded: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25).
The writings which became a part of the New Testament revolved around the question of canonicity.
What Is Canon?
The word canon is derived from the word “reed” or “cane.” The reed was used as a measuring rod and evolved to mean “standard” or “standard measure.” When we talk about Scripture, canon means the books accepted as the inspired Word of God.
In his book The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, McDowell examines “five principles that guided the recognition and collection of the true divinely inspired books.” He looked at the research of professors Norman Geisler and William Nix, who summarized the principles this way:
1. Was the book written by a prophet of God?
2. Was the writer confirmed by acts of God?
3. Did the message tell the truth about God?
4. Does it come with the power of God?
5. Was it accepted by the people of God?
Reasons for Confidence Today
The Word is alive and active. Have you experienced reading the same passage of Scripture you’ve read countless times before, but suddenly you gain a new meaning and perspective? This is because God’s Word isn’t stale or static. It’s active and alive. The Holy Spirit gives us new insight, peace, and comfort to fit the struggles we are currently facing or provide confirmation of the Lord’s leading in a particular situation.
Confirmation of Old Testament prophecy. Jesus’ life, ministry, death, burial, and resurrection fulfill over 100 Old Testament prophecies. No amount of human planning or orchestration could have caused this to happen.
Those who opposed Jesus verified his existence. Even hostile witnesses agreed with Peter’s sermon at Pentecost and did not challenge him (Acts 2). If what is recorded in Scripture regarding Jesus hadn’t been true, Jewish leaders would have refuted it. When Paul mounted his defense before Agrippa, he appealed to Agrippa’s knowledge: “And King Agrippa knows about these things . . . for I am sure these events are familiar to him, for they were not done in a corner!” (Acts 26:26).
Eyewitnesses stuck by their accounts. Eleven of the twelve disciples died martyr’s deaths. During torture, none recanted their eyewitness testimony.
Personal experience. I believe the New Testament is accurate because I’ve experienced the truth of Scripture personally. My desk is covered with sticky notes containing New Testament verses about prayer. After years of praying about a difficult situation, God dramatically answered my prayers. Decisions were made that reversed a person’s course. Relationships were restored, tensions eased, and I knew, without doubt, that God’s Word is accurate and true.
While some may question the books that are included in the New Testament, the overarching factor is the leadership of the Holy Spirit in both the writing and the compilation. The chronicle of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and the spread of the gospel has the power to bring people to salvation and guide them as they live as disciples of Christ. This is as true today as it was in the infancy of Christianity. Ultimately, the truth of the New Testament manifests in each of us as we experience God’s activity in our lives.
Ruthanne (Candy) N. Arrington is a freelance writer in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Archaeology of the Bible
You can explore archaeology from the Bible with Dr. Mark Ziese. Ziese has been active in archaeology in the Middle East since 1984 and is known in the academic communities of Israel, Palestine, and Jordan as well as the United States. He is currently a professor of Old Testament, Hebrew, and archaeology at Cincinnati Christian University and will begin teaching in the fall at Johnson University Florida.
Ziese discusses his finds and his explorations of the Holy Land on his blog.