The reliability and modern significance of the New Testament, when examined on historical grounds, is found to be pretty much a toss up. Evidence is sparse and opinions among scholars vary as much among scholars today as they do among scholars throughout history. Proving that the New Testament is reliable or should be read with any sort of personal significance merely cannot be done on historical grounds. This may give pause to some people, but upon further examination it makes perfect sense.
Supernatural truths are in large part impossible to prove by natural evidence. The claims of creation, incarnation, propitiation, justification, and resurrection that are found in the gospels and throughout the New Testament are, and always have been, impossible to substantiate historically, scientifically, and logically. These methods may prove helpful, and indeed have throughout the centuries, however they will be insufficient to create worshipers. No one worships the evolutionary process put forth by their science textbook. No one dances in praise to homeostasis or mitosis or the Punic Wars the way that David dances in praise to God in 2 Samuel chapter 6. If this book is to be significant on a personal level for the twenty first century individual, one must look to supernatural evidence. Otherwise, it’s like trying to draw the third dimension on a napkin.
I can’t prove to you that a third dimension exists if all you accept is two dimensional evidence. Perhaps I can draw you a cube, but you’ll just point out that it’s merely composed of diagonal lines, and no real third dimension is present.
For the person who will only accept natural evidence, and not supernatural, the New Testament will always be a faint remembrance in the annals of history. It takes a personal miracle, or a supernatural revelation, for anyone to make sense of these texts. This may take the form of an inner voice urging you toward new life in Jesus, or it may simply be a tugging at your heart, an inability to sleep, a recognition of your heart that there is more to this world than cold, bleak nothingness. The historian throws out this idea, claiming it can’t be proved. And he or she would be right. But if there is a supernatural element to this whole world, the historian may never see it, because he or she does not have the lenses with which to view it.
Now please don’t read this as saying that there is no case for historically reliability for the New Testament. That’s quite the opposite of my view. But for the skeptic or for the nervous christian, my encouragement is for you not to look for assurance in historical methods. We are only human (even those of us with PhD’s). We can’t know everything. So we try to figure it out with the very little evidence we have, and that’s not very comforting on one side of this issue or the other. Rather, we should run to the very real, supernatural God who not only knows everything, but gives peace and assurance to those that run to him.
The New Testament is a 1900 year old collection of old books written by God knows who for God knows what reason. They have been preserved and copied more than any other ancient text and they are more studied than anything else that has ever been written. In many ways they have shaped the direction of the world. They have started wars, saved lives, given peace to those in need, answered prayers. They have caused frustration, confusion, joy, elation, impulsivity, and fear. They have kept criminals from harming again. They have transformed the lives of people living in darkness. They have brought literacy and prosperity to many suffering nations. They have led people to take their lives seriously, without fear of failure. They have given more joy, more confidence, more compassion than anything else that has ever been written.
If one day, we were to find out that there really is a God, I would expect him to work in much the same way. Giving peace, instilling joy and compassion, steering nations, correcting mistakes. These are all accomplishments of these texts throughout history. Historically we can say very little about them. We just don’t have enough evidence. But look at the way they work in the hearts of sufferers and strugglers. If God spoke to his creation, I would expect His words to work the same way.