On Wednesday 27 July, about ten young adults from NightChurch went to Hoyts Melbourne Central to listen to John Dickson speak on the topic “Can we trust the New Testament?” John Dickson is a Christian pastor and historian from Sydney, and is part of the Centre for Public Christianity, “a media and research organisation promoting the public understanding of the Christian faith”.
John Dickson outlined five main reasons that we can trust the New Testament – not just as a document of faith and God’s revelation – but even in a secular university, as a collection of historically verifiable documents that provide the best picture of what the person Jesus of Nazareth was really like.
- Non-Christian texts from ancient history confirm the basic outline of Jesus’ life
11 references (3 of them particularly important) from Jewish and Roman non-Christian texts of Jesus’ day provide references to Jesus’ life, teaching, fame as a miracle worker, death, and the reports of his resurrection. Because of this, Dickson states that no professor of ancient history, classics or Biblical studies believes Jesus did not exist.
- The New Testament texts were widely copied and rapidly codified
The New Testament text is the best preserved text in all history. Dickson also considered the argument that the composition of the New Testament was a political exercise, instead demonstrating the books that made up the New Testament were being used and treated as authoritative well before the Bible’s complete composition.
- The New Testament texts are relatively early witnesses to Jesus
The broad outline of Jesus’ death and resurrection was being spoken of and believed just a few months after Jesus’ death. The first texts about Jesus’ life and the gospel (Paul’s letters) were produced only about 20 years after Jesus’ death.
- The New Testament texts are a collection of independent witnesses to Jesus
While the New Testament appears as one source to us, there are between 3 and 7 completely independent sources in the New Testament. For example, it is clear that Mark and Paul had no knowledge of each other’s work, and were genuinely independent. So the New Testament is not one historical source about Jesus’ life, but several.
- The New Testament texts are supported by archaeological findings
Archaeological evidence from Jesus’ day shows clearly an early belief that Jesus was God, and supports both details in the gospel (e.g. locations of buildings previously assumed to be incorrect), as well as significant theological background (e.g. the Jewish nature of first century Galilee).
As John Dickson reminded as at the end, for Christians the New Testament is a whole lot more than a collection of historical texts. It is God’s revelation to us and our guide to faithful discipleship. But it was encouraging to hear that even without eyes of faith, the New Testament demands to be taken seriously!