The Inspiration of the New Testament

The authenticity and divine inspiration of the New Testament is a crucial area that is often attacked by those who intend to discredit or displace the Bible. This ranges from Muslim apologists to liberal Bible critics. The common thread that runs through these folks is the claim that nowhere in the entire New Testament does it state that it’s the inspired Word of God or that they were written centuries after the apostles of Christ had died. Some claim that the Catholic church “infallibly declared” the NT as inspired in the 4th century. The logical deduction is that the New Testament was merely a collection of human traditions which until the 4th century were not regarded as God’s Word. These claims are without substance.

The word “inspiration” means God-breathed (Greek: theopneustos). It is that special influence in the lives of holy men, which qualified and enabled them to make an infallible record of divine truth concerning the will of God to man. This is the nature of both the Old and New Testaments. To what degree were the writers inspired? A Bible commentary explains that:
(a) Some parts of Scripture give the exact words of God (e.g Mt. 3:17)
(b) Some words were put into the mouths of the speakers who spoke as the Spirit inspired them (e.g Acts 3:21)
(c) Some words were written as the Spirit moved men (Ex. 34:27)
(d) In some parts of the Scripture, the writers chose their own words to relate truth by the guidance of the Spirit (e.g Jn. 20:30-31).

The purpose of inspiration is to secure truth and unity in record and not sameness of words or statements. This fact is crucial, because some critics, due to prejudice or ignorance, claim the NT couldn’t have been inspired because the Gospels have 4 different accounts. These differences are supplementary, not contradictory. The differences are because: each writer was emphasizing different things; the accounts are from two different viewpoints; the intent and the audience of the author differed

Internal Evidence

I. An inspired record

2 Timothy 3:15-16 “[A]nd how from childhood you have been aquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…”

Here, Paul was emphasizing that Holy Scripture originates from God and is therefore able to accomplish God’s purpose of equipping the saints. In essence, this applies to all the books inspired by God which of course, includes the books of the NT penned by the Apostles of Christ. A common objection to this is the argument that Paul was referring only to the Scriptures Timothy knew from childhood which were the Old Testament. This is false.

First of all, Timothy had more than the OT. This was Paul’s second epistle to him, so he has at least 2 epistles from Paul in addition to the OT. Paul also goes on to say he is about to be martyred (2Tim. 4:6-8), which shows that this was the last epistle Paul wrote. So Timothy, obviously has all of Paul’s 13 epistles. The date is probably around 66 A.D., and that implies that he also had the first three Gospels as well.

Evidences indicate that the NT was regarded as inspired even then: “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The labourer deserves his wages” (1Tim. 5:18).

Here, Paul groups two texts together as Scripture. The first part was taken from Deut. 25:4 “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.” while the second passage was taken from Luke 10:7 “And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the labourer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.” So you can see here that Paul placed Luke’s Gospel account on the same level as Moses’ writings and termed them as inspired Scriptures. He didn’t limit inspiration to the OT only.

When Paul says “all Scripture” its clear that he means the entire Bible, and not merely that which has been written up to that time. He was speaking of the origin and function of Scripture, not the canon. Similar expressions are used in the Bible. Solomon writes “every word of God is pure” (Pro. 30:5), the Psalmist wrote “the word of the Lord is right” (Ps. 33:.4) and Jesus said “blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk. 11:28) etc No one would conclude that these references are made only to the Scriptures which had been written up to that time.

II. A record of Eye-witnesses

Another evidence of the inspiration and reliability of the NT is that its writers testified to recording what they and their contemporaries saw and heard.

Luke testified to have carefully investigated everything handed down to him from the eyewitnesses “therefore it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you” (Lk 1:3)Luke also knew Mark (Acts 12:12) and indicated his travels with Paul:
“After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Cos…When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present” (Acts 21:1, 17-18).

Peter could appeal to the knowledge of his audience “as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22) and declare: “We did not follow cleverly invented stories” about Jesus Christ “but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2Peter 1:16). Apostle John too wrote: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked at our hands have touched …We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard…” (1John 1:1-3). From these internal evidence, the idea that some men made up the NT centuries the apostles died is shown to be a myth.

III. A record of men guided by the Holy Spirit

“Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2Pet. 1:20-21)

This text is establishing the nature of prophecy in general, as not originating from the holy men who wrote it, but from God through his Spirit. This applies to all the books of Scripture, both the OT and the NT. The apostles ministered by the same Holy Spirit by which the prophets of old spoke:

“And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit…” (1Corinthians 2:13).

“When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:4-5)

By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2Timothy 1:14)

“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating…” (1Peter 1:10-12).

It was on this basis that Peter could classify Paul’s writings as part of “the other Scriptures” (2Pet 3:16). New Testament scholar, Douglas J. Moo points out that:

“The word ‘other’ (loipos) shows that Peter considers the letter of Paul to belong to the category of ‘Scripture.’ Some scholars think that this means no more than Peter considered Paul’s writings to be authoritative. But the word ‘Scriptures’ (graphai) always refers in the New Testament to those writings considered not only authoritative but canonical…” (The NIV Application Commentary, Zondervan, 1996, 212)

Even a Catholic work states: “2 Pet. 3:15 indicates that a group of Pauline letters were being read on the same level as ‘the other Scriptures’; but 2 Pet. is notoriously hard to date” (Brown, Fitzmyer and Murphy, The New Jerome Commentary, 1990, 1046)

IV. A record by the authority of Christ

Specific NT writers claimed to speak with the Divine Authority of Jesus Christ. The argument that the Lord Jesus didn’t write a single book of the New Testament has been dealt with in another post.

“For this reason I write these things while I am away from you…in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not tearing down.” (2Cor. 13:10)

“Now we command you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (2Thess. 3:6)

“This is the second letter that I am writing to you … stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandments of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles.” (2Pet. 3:2)

“For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus…For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord…” (1Thess. 4: 2,16).

Since these expressions are also used by Old Testament prophets through whom God spoke, there is no reason to discard the New Testament and cleave to the OT alone as inspired.

External Evidence

I. History

Luke wrote that the time of the baptism of Christ (29 A.D), Tiberius Caesar reigned, as well as Pilate over Judea and Herod over Galilee. He also mentioned 4 important Roman officials (Lk 3:1-3, 21). All these names have been corroborated by secular historians.

The reference to the decree of Caesar Augustus for the census at the time of Christ’s birth (Luke 2:1-3) was recorded by Josephus and the edict is preserved in the British Library. The “great famine” in Acts 11:28 was also recorded by historian Josephus. He also recorded the death of Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:21-33) and noted that he gave his speech in “a garment made wholly of silver” and died of a severe pain in his belly.

II. Archaeology

The city treasurer, Erastus, whom Paul spoke about has been confirmed by a 1929 excarvation in Corinth with the name “Erastvs” (Romans 16:23). The theatre in Ephesus where Luke wrote that a riot broke out (Acts 19:23-41) has been excarvated. The incident of the Jews banning a Gentile from the temple when Paul was accused of defiling the temple (Acts 21) has been confirmed by a 1871 discovery of a Greek inscription found on the wall banning foreigners.

III. Manuscript evidence

There are 5,300 known Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin Vulgates and 9,300 other early versions (MSS) making a total of 24,000 manuscript copies of the NT in existence today. There are even those like Magdalene Ms (dated 50-60AD), John Rylands (90-10AD), Bodmer Papyrus II (150-200 AD), Chester Beatty Papyri (200 AD) dating very early, showing that the Bible had been accepted as inspired and had spread over distances. Sir Frederic Kenyon, former curator of the British Museum admits:

“The net result of this discovery [of the Chester Beatty Papyri]…is, in fact, to reduce the gap between the earlier manuscripts and the traditional dates of the New Testament books so far that it becomes negligible in any discussion of their authenticity. No other ancient book has anything like such an early and plentiful testimony to its text.” (The Bible and Modern Scholarship, cited in Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 49)

IV. Early Christian writings

Contrary to the myth that the canon of the NT books was not settled until the Roman Catholic church stepped in, there are many references to the NT books being quoted by many early church fathers as God’s Word.

Christian scholar, Norman Geisler declares: “Of the four gospels alone there are 19,368 citations by the church fathers from the late first century on. This includes 268 by Justin Martyr (100-165), 1038 by Ireneaus (active in the late second century), 1017 by Clement of Alexandria … 9231 by Origen (185-254), 3822 by Tertullian … Earlier, Clement of Rome cited Matthew, John, 1 Corinthians in 95 to 97 … This argues powerfully that the Gospels were in existence before the end of the first century, while some eyewitnesses (including John) were still alive” (Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 1999, pp 529-530).

Let me quote only two out of these church fathers.
Clement of Rome (95 AD): “Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the apostle. What did he first write you in the ‘beginning of the gospel’? Truly he wrote to you in the Spirit about himself and Cephas and Apollos, because even then you had split into factions.” (The Letter of the Romans to the Corinthians, 47)

Ignatius of Antioch (107-112):”…I do not give you orders like Peter and Paul: they were apostles, I am a convict; they were free, but I am even now still a slave…” (The Letters of Ignatius to the Romans, 4:1)

Bible scholar, Roger Beckwith states that “probably all these books were accepted as Scripture from an early period in some quarter of the church, even those whose acceptance was not recorded. Otherwise we would have to suppose that, at the end of the 4C, some of them sprang up suddenly from being canonical nowhere to being canonical everywhere, an implausible supposition” (New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 2000, 31).

I therefore conclude that the New Testament we have today are God-breathed revelations of Jesus Christ penned by holy men under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

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