As we begin to look at the historical accounts of Jesus’ triumph over death, there are five factors that increase the reliability of the information we’ll be investigating. I present these factors now because starting with my next post we are going to dive right into our study and I want you to be on the lookout for examples of these different factors. Although none of these factors in and of themselves prove the truth of the information, taken as a whole I think they present a pretty powerful argument.
The first factor is called “Multiple Independent Attestation” or MIA. MIA essentially asserts that if a particular statement or event about Jesus is written by multiple sources and those sources are early, then those events are much more likely that they are to be historically true. Many of the recorded events we have of the ancient world are single source, or only have one record of them. However the Bible presents multiple accounts of the same event. Look at it this way, if you were on a jury determining the fate of the defendant, would you rather have testimony from one witness or many?
The second factor that increases reliability is called “Double Dissimilarity” or in plain english “embarrassment.” In other words, if an event was embarrassing or awkward for the early church, than these are more likely to be historically true. For example, the early church would probably not make up a story about Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist. John the Baptist baptized sinners for repentance. Jesus was sinless and wouldn’t therefore need to be baptized. To imply that the Son of God needed to repent was blasphemous. The early church would not make this up.
The third factor that increases reliability is that of eyewitness testimony. The New Testament writers Paul, John and Matthew were all eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus. Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:16 “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” On top of that, Mark was a scribe for Peter and Luke was a scribe for Paul. Having eyewitness testimony as opposed to hearsay (third hand information) creates for a much stronger case. Many a criminals have been sentenced based solely on eyewitness testimony.
The fourth factor that increases reliability is the accuracy of the manuscripts. Now I’m not going to go into detail about it here because it is a topic worthy of its own post. However, I will say that we have over 24,000 manuscripts and manuscript fragments of the Bible which is far more than that of any other ancient document. We have so many that the next closest is Homer’s Iliad with 643 copies. A close examination of those manuscripts with the Bible we have today puts the accuracy at about 99.7%.
The fifth and final factor increasing reliability is that of non-biblical sources. Although powerful, the New Testament is not the only record we have of the resurrection. As you will see, there are many records of the resurrection outside of the Bible.