Is the New Testament Historically True? (Tough Questions Teenagers Ask)

It’s Saturday night at youth group, and a student comes up to you with a distressed look on her face. She tells you that her history teacher at school has made a convincing argument that the Bible is not God’s Word but came from the writings of men. This teacher claimed that there are many contradictions and discrepancies in the Bible. He also argued that Jesus’ life and teachings could not have been accurately preserved until the first written documentation years later. This history teacher has led your student to wonder if the Bible is true and reliable. She is beginning to question her faith.

This story represents a common scenario for youth ministers, especially when our culture indoctrinates students with postmodern views of truth. Accusations against the trustworthiness of the New Testament are plentiful. The most common arguments (from people like Bart Ehrman and other secular scholars) question the validity of the text based on the supposed “various errors and variants” between copies, the long translation process that allegedly loses the original message like a game of telephone, or the notion that the Bible is just a book of human authorship like any other. These scholars argue the Bible is not a historical account, but merely a list of stories and ethical teachings. Our teenagers want to know, Do these accusations hold any weight? Can we trust the twenty-seven books that we call our New Testament? 

The answer is yes! There are multiple streams of evidence supporting the trustworthiness and reliability of the New Testament. And as youth ministers, we must respond to questions about biblical reliability with kindness and clarity.

The Existence of Truth

Before we delve into the evidence supporting the trustworthiness of the New Testament, let’s address a fundamental question: Does truth even exist? This question forms the basis of our argument, as it sets the stage for our exploration of the New Testament’s claim to truthfulness.

Many teenagers in Gen Z believe that absolute truth is relative, or even fiction. According to our culture, truth is simply what works (pragmatism) or what someone feels (live your truth, be true to yourself). 

By contrast, truth is objective; it corresponds to reality. Believing something is true is only accurate if that belief matches up with what occurs in the real world. I can believe that the sky is pink all day long, but if this does not align with reality, then my belief is false—genuine as it may be. This also means that truth is not relative or subjective but absolute or objective. Truth, by definition, is exclusive. Relative truth is self-defeating because if relative truth exists for all people, that would imply an absolute and objective truth about relativism. 

The New Testament’s Claim to Truth

Some scholars estimate that the Bible itself proclaims to be the very words of God as many as 1,500 times. Numerous passages in the New Testament speak to the truthfulness of Scripture1 as God’s breathed-out Word (1 Tim. 3:16). The historical Christian witness attests that the Holy Spirit guided the human authors in everything they wrote (1 Pet. 1:21). 

For the New Testament’s claims about itself to hold water, those claims must correspond with reality. We will now look at the four pieces of evidence proving the New Testament’s claim to truthfulness. These claims give us and our students confidence to trust the New Testament in particular and the Bible as a whole. 

Manuscript Transmission

One common accusation against the New Testament’s reliability is that we cannot trust its various books because we do not have original copies of the text. However, this does not mean we cannot trust the New Testament. Like all other historical documents, the New Testament was transmitted and handed down through copies called manuscripts. Historians will validate whether the document is reliable based on two criteria relating to manuscripts: quantity and date.

Concerning quantity, we have around 5,500 New Testament manuscripts in Greek (copies of the original document). We currently have over 5,200 Greek manuscripts and up to 25,000 copies in other languages written before the 16th century. Let’s compare this to other prominent works of literature. We only have seven copies of Aristotle’s works, 49 copies of Plato’s, and 643 copies of Homer’s Illiad.2 

The more copies we have of an ancient text, the better we can see where there may be variations in the text, allowing us to disregard some of the transmission errors. Having a large number of copies also gives us a higher degree of confidence in the preservation of the original text somewhere in these manuscript copies. Eldon Epp says, “We have so many manuscripts of the New Testament that surely the original reading in every case is somewhere present in our vast store of material.”3

In regard to the date of available copies, the New Testament manuscripts are very early. The smaller the gap in time between the available manuscript and the original, the more accurate and trustworthy the manuscript. We currently have 450 fragments before the ninth century, 200 from the third century, 5-12 from the second century, and even one fragment (Gospel of John—P66) dated 30-60 years after the original. Some scholars argue that these dozen manuscripts comprise 40% of our New Testament. We also have a complete copy of the NT (Codex Sinaiticus) dated to the fourth century.4 

If we consider the oral tradition, Gary Habermas has done extensive research to date some early Christian creeds. One of these is 1 Corinthians 15, which proclaims Jesus’ resurrection, and Habermas shows that we can date it within two to three years of Jesus’ resurrection!5 Compared to other popular works that historians deem reliable, the earliest manuscript from Aristotle’s works is dated 1400 years after the original. For Plato there is a 1300-year gap and for Homer’s Illiad, a 500-year gap. This should be a convincing argument for us and for our students. If we trust these other sources as authentic, why would we not trust the New Testament, which has manuscripts as early as 50-100 years after the originals?

Still, some of your students probably have heard that there are many variants, or transcription errors, in the Bible, and this is true. There are more than 200-400 thousand textual variants in our manuscripts. Each copy that contains a mistake counts as a variant. For example, if a single misspelled word were copied 10,000 times, that would result in 10,000 variants. We can explain to our students that most textual variants are trivial (spelling mistakes, untranslatable errors, obvious omissions of letters or words) and do nothing to change the meaning of the text. 

There are 400 instances in which we do not know the exact wording in the original manuscripts. Of the 400 variants, 350 provide no alteration to the meaning of the verse (e.g. Jesus Christ our Lord vs. Christ Jesus our Lord).6 This means that our we have between 97 to 99% of the original text available to us beyond any reasonable doubt. Therefore, of the 20,000 lines of the Greek New Testament, only 40 lines are in doubt (Mark 16:9-21; John 8:1-11). None of these lines deal with church doctrine, nor do they affect the meaning of a whole book or letter. Needless to say, the manuscript evidence alone gives us great confidence that we can trust the New Testament to be accurate and reliable.7 

Non-Christian Documentary Evidence

The New Testament is not a stand-alone document. There are numerous contemporary authors and historians who validate events and people that the authors of the New Testament mention. Josephus, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger all wrote about events and people the New Testament describes, even though they themselves were not believers.

From these extra-biblical sources alone we would learn the following: There was a Jewish man named Jesus, the brother of James, who was called the Messiah by his followers. Jesus did miraculous deeds, and he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. The Christian movement spread as far as Rome. Jesus’s followers worshiped him as God, they were willing to die for their beliefs, and they pledged to live moral lives. Also, non-Christian scholars confirm the historicity of many people the Gospels mention.8 Myths and legends do not have this validation and corroboration with contemporary historians. This, too, assures us that the New Testament is a historical document that our students (and we ourselves) can trust.

Corroboration of Geographic Places and Archaeology

The books of the New Testament contain numerous geographic places that actually existed in the time of Jesus and his apostles (e.g. the Jordan river, the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of Olives, the hill country of Judea, Bethany, Bethpage, Bethlehem, Emmaus, and more). This fact not only highlights the historical nature of the New Testament, but also proves that its human authors must have had a familiarity with Palestine during the first century. 

Later extra-biblical documents known as “Gospels” (Thomas or Peter) have very few geographical references. The references they do contain are very general compared to the detailed descriptions throughout the New Testament. By contrast, the canonical Gospel of Luke and Acts alone contains over 80 references to geographical locations, distances from cities, and other forms of measurement of the landscape of Palestine that corroborate the evidence we know about Palestine today.9

The descriptions of the landscape of Palestine throughout the New Testament have also been confirmed by significant archaeological evidence. In his book, Rivers in the Desert, Nelson Glueck states, “no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible.”10 Contrary to what skeptics believe, archaeologists who focus on the excavation of Palestine have found their respect for the validity of the New Testament to increase, not decrease, in light of their excavation of the land of Jesus. 

The Historicity of The Resurrection of Jesus

All of the teachings of the New Testament come either directly from Jesus’ mouth or from what he taught the disciples to pass on to others. Jesus affirmed the authority of the Old Testament to be God’s Word as well. Therefore, if Jesus rose from the dead (as he said he would), then all of the Bible is true and trustworthy; if he did not rise from the dead, then the New Testament is just a bunch of mythical stories and moral principles to consider. Space will not allow me to detail the extensive evidence pointing to Jesus’s resurrection, but Gary Habermas offers six historical facts11 that are accepted by more than 90% of non-Christian historians to be true: 

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate.
  2. The disciples’ experiences (eyewitness testimony).
  3. The earliest proclamation of the gospel (through the early creeds).
  4. The disciples’ transformations.
  5. The conversion of James, the brother of Jesus.
  6. The conversion of Paul. 

We cannot rationally explain these six facts apart from Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Since there is such strong historical evidence to validate Jesus’s resurrection, we can be confident that all of the New Testament is trustworthy, authoritative, and reliable. 

The New Testament’s trustworthiness has been attacked since its inscription, but its scrutiny has increased over the last hundred years. Yet, as youth ministers, we can teach and encourage our students to trust the New Testament’s teaching based on the manuscript transmission, extra-biblical historical sources, geographical and archaeological evidence, and the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. 

If you feel overwhelmed as a youth minister struggling to convey these truths, take encouragement from 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Since we know that God himself has breathed out Scripture, you can trust that he will use his Word to make you perfect and complete. He will equip you for every good work to help your students see the trustworthiness of the New Testament. 

When our students ask us if we can trust the New Testament, we can boldly proclaim to them that these twenty-seven books are the very words of God.

If you’re looking for help to teach the Bible to teenagers, Rooted offers Bible-based curriculum on Rooted Reservoir.

  1. 1 Tim. 3:16-17; Matt. 15:6; Rom. 3:2; 1 Pt. 1:23; Matt. 22:43; 5:17, etc. ↩︎
  2. Michael J. Kruger, Surviving Religion 101: Letters to a Christian Student on Keeping the Faith in College, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021), 177-180; Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 224-249. ↩︎
  3. Eldon Jay Epp, “Textual Criticism,” in The New Testament and Its Modern Interpreters, ed. Eldon Jay Epp and George W. MacRae, The Bible and Its Modern Interpreters 3 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989), 91. ↩︎
  4. Craig A. Evans, NT308 The Reliability of New Testament Manuscripts, Logos Mobile Education (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014). ↩︎
  5. Gary Habermas, Philosophy of History, Miracles, and the Resurrection of Jesus, Third Edition, (Sagamore Beach, MA: Academx Publishing Services, 2012), 67-68. ↩︎
  6. Norman L. Geisler, “New Testament Manuscripts,” Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 533. ↩︎
  7. Peter J. Williams, Can We Trust the Gospels?, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 116-120; Giesler and Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, 229-230. ↩︎
  8. Neil Shenvi. Why Believe? A Reasoned Approach to Christianity, (Wheaton, IL, Crossway, 2022); Williams, Can We Trust the Gospels?, 35.  ↩︎
  9. F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, (United Kingdom: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), 58-66; Norman L. Geisler, “Acts, Historicity Of,” Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 5-10. ↩︎
  10. Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert, (New York, 1968), 31. ↩︎
  11. Gary Habermas, On the Resurrection, Volume 1: Evidences, (United States: B&H Publishing Group, 2024). ↩︎
Andrew Slay

Andrew serves as the Pastor of Students and Families at Westwood Baptist Church in Cleveland, TN. He is a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, with a Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Apologetics and Culture from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Andrew earned his bachelor’s degree in RTVF and a master’s degree in Exercise Science from Auburn University. Andrew is passionate about discipleship, biblical fellowship, evangelism, and world missions. He seeks to spur the body of Christ on to walk in obedience to Jesus by fulfilling Great Commission. He and his wife, Ashley, have two daughters, Graysen Elyse and Emersyn Leigh.

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