This article focuses on how the bibliographical and external evidence tests have been applied to both the Old and New Testament according to Josh McDowell’s God-Breathed. First, we will cover the bibliographical evidence test.
The Bibliographical Test for Both the Old and New Testament
Homer’s Iliad is known as one of the most recognized and textually reliable works, for it has over 1,800 manuscript copies found in existence, which is a large difference when compared to the approximate count of 250 manuscript copies for Caesar’s Gallic Wars. The Old Testament, however, contains a number of manuscript copies that makes the total amount for the Iliad seem tame.
A couple of the experts including the late and world-renowned Dr. Peter Flint, who was a professor of Religious Studies and Co-Director of the Dead Sea Scrolls institute at Trinity Western University, and Dr. Scott Carroll, who has held academic positions at several universities and has made large contributions to the overall vision of the museum of the Bible, in Washington, D.C., asserts that there are approximately 17,000 manuscript copies of the Old Testament that have been found, with the earliest copies being dated from around 250 BC.
Now, all of that is fine and dandy, but if the copies themselves are not found to be consistent with each other, which is done by comparing later copies to earlier copies, then it really doesn’t matter how many copies have been found nor how early-dated the copies are.
Well, when modern versions of the Hebrew Bible (The Old Testament) copied from manuscript copies dated around 1000 AD were compared with excerpts belonging to the Dead Sea Scrolls, with some of them being as old as 250 BC, the texts proved to be identical in more than 95%-99% of the cases. The 1%-5% deviation is due to differences in spelling or stylistic differences that do not change the overall core message of the texts.
To illustrate what the typical deviations look like between manuscript copies, an example was provided in God-Breathed where a comparison was made between Psalm 22 of the King James version of the Bible and of the earliest copy of Psalm 22 from the Dead Sea Scrolls:
“For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.”
“Dogs have surrounded me, a band of evil ones have encircled me; they have pierced my hands and feet.”
Note: The manuscript copies and the Dead Sea Scrolls were not written in English but were later translated into English to form modern versions of the Bible today.
As you can see, the only differences between the two passages are stylistic differences, but the original intended message of the text remains the same. This is why the Old Testament passes the bibliographical evidence test even when modern versions of the Hebrew Bible are compared with manuscripts that are over one or two thousand years old.
Scholars today nearly all recognize that the 27 books that make up the New Testament were written between 50-100 AD. And, according to God-Breathed, which was published in 2015, over 24,000 New Testament manuscript copies have been uncovered.
There is even a fragment of the Gospel of John (one of the 27 books) that was shown to only have a time gap of approximately fifty years from when apostle John wrote the original. This is remarkable considering that there are time gaps of 400 and 950 years between the earliest manuscript copies of ancient texts like The Odyssey and Gallic Wars and the date of the original text.
It is important to note, however, that for many ancient texts, the data that is required to run these texts through the bibliographical evidence test continues to change as the years progress. The change in data includes the discovery of more copies and the possibility of a narrower time gap between the earliest copies and the original version of the texts.
External Evidence Test for Both the Old and New Testament
In movies, songs, books, public speeches and much, much more, the Bible is the most widely referenced and quoted book of all time. Nonetheless, no matter how many times Scripture is passed on through various streams of media or how many times a figure of authority uses Scripture to make a point, the Bible does not pass the external evidence test on the basis of how much it is used in culture.
As mentioned before in the second installment of this series, for an ancient text to pass the external evidence test, there needs to be outside sources such as a written document or a physical artifact that dates from the period of its writing that confirms or supports the core message of the text in question.
Both the Old and New Testament have passed the external evidence test through the examination of a long list of archaeological evidence and writings that still continues to grow as more discoveries are being made to this day.
Because there is an abundance of outside evidence supporting biblical facts, I will only share a few examples from God-breathed for both the Old and New Testament.
The Old Testament
As reported in the Old Testament’s book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar was the king of the ancient city of Babylon (present-day Iraq) between 605 BC and 565 BC. He was the king who launched a successful military campaign against Jerusalem, which he captured in 597 BC.
Critics, however, believed for many years (and some still do today) that both the ancient city and the king are nothing more than just works of fiction, and, therefore, never truly existed. Well, archaeologists say otherwise, for they have discovered concrete evidence that confirms the existence of both the ancient city of Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzar.
Numerous fragments of bricks that contain inscribed cuneiform characters (wedge-shaped impressions that made up an ancient writing system), have been uncovered fifty miles south of Baghdad near a Babylonian province that is now present-day Hillah. After the bricks went through a restoration process that includes comparing the bricks’ partially intact inscriptions with a complete inscription that was found on a limestone block within the same area of excavation, archaeologists are 100% certain that the bricks they found were used to construct the gates of Babylon, for they matched up with the complete inscription that McDowell paraphrased as: “I, Nebuchadnezzar, laid the foundation of the gates… I magnificently adorned them with luxurious splendor for all mankind to behold in awe.” ¹
Since the bricks that have been found are considered physical artifacts that verify the existence of King Nebuchadnezzar and the ancient city of Babylon mentioned in the book of Daniel, they contribute to the reliability of this book of the Old Testament.
Much of what we know about ancient Israel, which was established as a nation in the 10th century BC, comes from The Old Testament.
Critics, however, don’t believe that ancient Israel could have existed, as it is described during that time, since they believe that advanced civilizations didn’t have access to cultural technologies such as commerce, forms of writing, and advanced social stratification until the 8th century BC.
Well, in 1976, an Italian archaeologist named Paolo Mathiae discovered a vast collection of tablets in Tell Mardikh (known as Ebla in ancient times, hence their name) in Aleppo, Syria. The tablets are dated as far back as 2400 BC and are all inscribed with cuneiform symbols. These tablets have been classified as historical records for they contain information on the lifestyle, commerce, vocabulary, geography, and religions of the people who lived near Canaan (a region that later became part of ancient Israel) immediately before the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The tablets also make mention of the names of biblical cities such as Sodom, Gomorrah, Zoar, Admah, etc. ²
Therefore, since the tablets, which today make up a rich archive of 20,000 tablets, ³ serve as historical writings that confirm the use of cultural technologies way before 8th century BC and appear to support the existence of biblical cities, they further contribute to the reliability of the Old Testament.
The New Testament
Josephus, a Jewish historian and pharisee who was part of the priestly order, lived between AD 37-100 and was known to produce many writings that verified the historical accounts of the New Testament. For instance, in his work, The Antiquities of the Jews, he clearly stated that James, the brother of a man named Jesus who was also called Christ, was brought before an assembly of elders for preaching about Jesus where he was then judged and sentenced to death.
The information in the aforementioned work corroborates the New Testament accounts that Jesus was a real person and that he was referred to as Christ, a Hebrew word meaning Messiah.
Pliny the Younger
As an author and an administrator to Roman law, Pliny had special access to official information that the general public were unable to access.
In around 112 AD, Pliny wrote a letter to the Roman Emperor Trajan, describing the early worship practices of Christians:
“They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to do any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, or deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food -- but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.” ⁴
This passage confirms the worship practices mentioned in the New Testament that involve joining together to sing praises for Christ and to partake in the breaking of bread.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of biblical passages that speak of the above-mentioned worship practices: Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, and Acts 2:42.
Please keep in mind that the above examples of how the bibliographical and external evidence tests have been applied to both the Old and New Testaments are but a few among many examples that support the reliability of the books of the Bible. Please read on Putting the Bible Through the Internal Evidence Test
“Ishtar Gate.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, last edited: 23 Apr. 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishtar_Gate
Rensberger, Boyce. “Ebla Ruins Shed Light on Early Urban Man.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 Jan. 1979, www.nytimes.com/1979/01/16/archives/ebla-ruins-shed-light-on-early-urban-man-resemblance-to-cities-of.html#:~:text=The%20Ebla%20tablets%20also%20list,of%20Abraham%20given%20in%20Genesis.&text=Yet%20another%20strange%20parallel%20with,Bela%2C%20also%20called%20Zoar.).
Bradsher, Greg. “The Royal Archives of Ebla: References and Processing Archivists 4,000 Years Ago.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, text-message.blogs.archives.gov/2020/07/07/the-royal-archives-of-ebla-reference-and-processing-archivists-4000-years-ago/.
Pliny the Younger, Letters, trans. W. Melmoth, as quoted in Geisler, Baker Encyclopaedia of Christian Apologetics, 10:96.
Josephus, Flavius. The Antiquities of the Jews. First Rate Publishers, 2015.
McDowell, Josh. God Breathed: the Undeniable Power and Reliability of Scripture. Shiloh Run Press, 2015.