Can we trust the traditional portrait of Jesus found in the New Testament? The answer to this provocative question, despite ongoing skepticism, is still a solid yes. Allow me to offer three reasons for this affirmative answer.
1. Textual Credibility
As an ancient historical record of Christ’s life, the New Testament carries significant textual credibility. Scholars evaluate credibility in this way: the shorter the time between the original written document (the autograph) and the earliest extant copy, the more reliable it is considered to be because there is less time for corruption to occur. Based on this criterion alone, the New Testament stands above all other ancient books. The gap between the time the apostolic authors wrote the originals and the date when the first copies appeared is uncommonly narrow. Moreover, there is an abundance of manuscripts to examine.
2. Reliable Witnesses
While different from modern biographies, the Gospels still fit in the biographical literary genre, especially as understood in the first century. The Gospel writers either witnessed Jesus’s life directly or relayed direct eyewitness testimony. Thus, all four writers were fully conversant with the facts surrounding Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection and fully capable of communicating trustworthy history, as was their intention. The historical content of their writings has been confirmed both internally and externally.
3. Extrabiblical Confirmation
The statements made about Jesus by ancient (non-Christian) authors comport well with the Gospel record. A careful examination of these historical sources reveals information about the life of Jesus that corroborates what is set forth in the four New Testament Gospels. What do these external sources say about Jesus? In general, they create the following portrait:
• Jesus was a wise and provocative Judean teacher.
• He was said to have performed miracles and made prophetic claims.
• Jewish leaders condemned Him for acts they deemed as “sorcery” and “apostasy.”
• He was crucified by the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate.
• Jesus’s followers reported that He had risen from the dead.
• Christianity spread to Rome, where Christians were persecuted.
• First-century Christians worshiped Jesus Christ as God.
• The followers of Christ were known for their courage and virtue.
These three lines of evidence and logic are just a sampling of the larger body of support for the veracity of the New Testament portrait. Despite repeated attempts to distort it, the ancient Scriptures’ portrayal of Jesus continues to withstand all assaults.