If Jesus was just one of the many good teachers of the world, and just one of the many ways to life, the question of the reliability of the scriptures and what they say about Jesus would carry very little importance, and it's a question that we could just examine at our leisure. But the scripture does not speak of him so lightly. The scripture says that Jesus is the anointed one of God Isaiah 42:1, Matthew 12:18, John 3:16, John 6:38, of the same substance John 14:9, John 10:30, eternal (always existed) John 8:48-59, and that eternal life is only attained through him John 3:17-19, John 14:6, 1 Timothy 2:5.
So then since so much rests on the claims of the scriptures, disregarding them without careful examination would be unwise. After all, if these claims are true, the cost of disregarding them will be eternal life.
Before discussing more on what the scriptures say about Jesus, let’s talk a little about the reliability of the scriptures, and common objections brought against the scriptures.
There are at least three common objections I hear from people who don't believe in the authenticity of the scriptures:
It’s just a book written by men
Maybe one of the most common objections is that the bible is written by men, and as a result should not be considered seriously. While we don’t disagree that the bible is written by men, what the scriptures are saying about these men, is that as they wrote, they wrote the revelations, prophecies and words of God 1 Corinthians 2:12–13, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21. So then how can we be sure of this claim? Here are 5 things we can look at that defend the authenticity of the scriptures:
First, the nature of the message: The bible sets itself apart from other works of literature, as it has the ultimate end of exalting God and humbling man. Even the best men in the bible (prophets, kings, priests or the Jewish nation as a whole) are presented with their faults and are shown as men who are in desperate dependence on God. For example, the many times the Jewish nation turned away from God and to idol worship, and immorality Exodus 32:1-18, 1 Samuel 8:7-8, 2 Kings 17:7-8, Psalms 78:56-57, Isaiah 1:10-11, Matthew 21:33-44, Hebrews 3:8-11. Many of the authors or key people in the scriptures themselves are shown with their faults, like Moses who was disciplined by God because he had not been totally faithful and had not represented God's mercy to the Israelites during a particular event Deuteronomy 32:51–52. David who was a renown Jewish king had committed adultery and murder. Paul who is one of the main authors of the new testament, before turning to Christianity murdered and persecuted Christians heavily Acts 9:1–22. Even after his conversion to Christianity some of his faults are recorded in the bible 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, Acts 15:36-41. On the other hand, God is exalted in the bible, in that it shows his many works, such as acts of judgments, acts of mercy, declarations of his moral laws, promises of redemption through the person of Christ, and fulfillment of such promises in the new Testament through Christ Jesus. All this exalts God, as it reveals his power, justice, mercy, etc. Generally, when men write stories that include themselves, their faults are not presented in such a candid way. The bible is primarily focused on revealing the person of God, as should be expected if it were inspired by God.
Second, consistency: The bible is a compilation of many books (66), from many authors with diverse backgrounds and professions (over 40 authors), who lived through different time periods (over 1,500-year span) in different geographic locations. The bible is so diverse in the context of its various authors yet it is consistent in what it reveals about God, about man, God's plan for salvation, the person of Jesus Christ (as prophesied in the old testament and as presented in the new testament), the coming judgment, and eternal life, etc. Such unity, despite diversity of authors, time periods and locations defends the position that the Bible is inspired by a single author.
Third is motive: If these men did write these things falsely, for their own reasons, what were their motives? Most authors of the scripture (perhaps all), suffered for their ministry. Moses, for example, rejected his identity as the son of Pharaoh's daughter and chose to be mistreated as a Jew instead Hebrews 11:24-25. Many of the prophets suffered greatly and were killed for their ministry Hebrews 11:37. The Apostles were promised severe persecution, and they performed their work of spreading the teachings of Jesus Christ expecting that this would bring persecution Matt 10:16-22. Generally, people lie when they stand to gain from it, and not if that lie means they will suffer material loss, shame or death. This shows that they had to at least believe in what they were proclaiming, seeing that they were willing to lose everything in this world for this purpose Philippians 3:8-10.
Fourth sign of authenticity is miracles: The authors are almost always accompanied by miracles from God. For example, Moses with plagues against Egypt, parting of the seas, manna to feed the Jews, water from the rock, etc. The various prophets (Joshua, Samuel, Elijah, Daniel, etc) also came with miracles. Jesus gave sight to the blind, caused the lame to walk, cleansed lepers, raised some from the dead, etc. The Apostles also performed similar miracles as Jesus.
The first thing to consider about these miracles is that they were almost always beyond what could be fabricated by man. Moses parting the red sea was not something he could have done with mirror tricks, since all of Israel walked through it, and it swallowed up the Egyptian army afterward. Jesus’ healings, for the most part, included things that had visible symptoms (healed withered hands, raised a guy dead for 4 days, gave sight to some who were blind from birth). The other thing to consider is that these miracles were almost always witnessed by many, in some cases tens of thousands. Consider for example Moses, where virtually all the Jews witnessed the many miracles brought by him. The writings of Moses were accepted by the same Jews and passed down, and these same writings included all the immoralities committed by the Jews. Or even Jesus, many of his miracles were witnessed by many thousands. Furthermore, his resurrection is said to have been witnessed by over 500 people. If fabricated, how is it that the Apostles letters were accepted by the early church? Since the Apostles’ writings include so many witnesses, verifying their claims would not have been hard.
Fifth sign of authentic is fulfilled prophecies: there are many prophecies in the old testament, but perhaps the most fascinating, are the ones that relate to the person of Jesus. The old testament contains prophecies describing details of his birth Gen 3:15, Mica 5:2, Daniel 9:25, Isaiah 7:14, lineage Gen 12:3, Gen 17:19, Gen 49:10, character Isaiah 53:3, Psalm 109:4, his rejection by many Isaiah 53:3, his betrayal Psalm 41:9, details of his crucifixion Psalm 27:12, Isaiah 53:3-4,7,12 Isaiah 50:6, Psalm 22:6-8,16,18 Psalm 69:21, Zechariah 12:10, Psalm 34:20 resurrection Psalm 16:10 and ascension Psalm 68:18. 1
Perhaps the more descriptive prophecies, are the ones that detail his crucifixion. Psalms 22, which was written before there was a Roman empire, and likely before there was such thing as crucifixion, speaks of his hands and feet being pierced. It also speaks of his garments being parted and lots cast for them as was recorded in the gospels. Isaiah 53 speaks of the sufferings of his ministry and gives additional details of his crucifixion.
To sum it up, the scriptures are primarly focused on exalting God while being candid about the evils and errors of the authors and other witnesses. They are consistent despite the fact of diverse authors, locations and time periods. The authors did not benefit from any type of worldly wealth from their work or anything that would indicate dishonest motives. The prophets and apostles often came with many miracles, that were beyond what man can fabricate and were witnessed by many, yet their writings were accepted early on. Many of the old testament books include detailed prophecies that were fulfilled a thousand or more years later. All these things support the authenticity of the bible.
So many translations or lost in translation
Another common objection is that even if the Apostles were truthful in their writings, the translations and copies that we have today have probably lost their original meaning. Often, the people who say this, compare the bible to the classic experiment of a message shared through word of mouth in a single chain and that message getting lost at the end of the chain. But that's not an accurate representation of how we have our bible today.
All of the New Testament authors, with perhaps exception to Luke, were first-hand witnesses to Christ and his teachings and miracles (Luke 1:1-4 seems to indicate that Luke had gathered first-hand witness accounts and put them together). Most of the letters were written by Apostles who were commissioned by Christ himself (Matthew, John, Paul, Peter, Jude). So the writings were not of handed-down oral tradition but first eyewitnesses penned down. Letters were copied and shared multiple times and not in a single chain (Colossians 4:16). For example, many remaining manuscripts that we have today come from different chains of copies such as P75 (175-200AD) compared to Codex Vaticanus (325AD). Manuscripts were often copied by experienced scribes who left marginal notes and were very conservative in their work. 2 Today we have at least 10 ancient manuscripts (or parts of) remaining which date from the second century, over 60 from the third century,3 and overall over 5,000 ancient Greek manuscripts of the bible renaming, over 10,000 in Latin, and over 9,300 in various other languages 4. Many of these are available online via CSNTM: http://www.csntm.org/Manuscript.
No other documents of antiquity have nearly as many remaining ancient copies or copies which date so near to original writings (including Pliny, Suetonius, Tacitus which have the earliest copy anywhere around 500-900 AD). 5
The scriptures were corrupted by various governing bodies
Another common objection is that the scriptures were corrupted by various governing bodies early on. Or perhaps that such governing bodies had a hand in deciding which letter was "authentic" and to be included in the bible to serve their agenda.
However, one thing that is often overlooked is that the various letters of the scriptures were copied and spread throughout the known world (Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Colossae, etc) early on. 6 During the time of the apostles, up to the time of the Roman Emperor's conversion (Constantine 312 AD), the church was heavily persecuted both by the Jews and Romans and there was not a single governing body at that time which had control over copying and distribution of the New Testament texts, and yet various copies of the scriptures were spread everywhere. By 312 AD there were already many copies of the New Testament existing throughout the eastern world, some of which still existing today (for example Papyrus 52, 115, 72, 75, 66, 45, 46, 9, etc).
Many will suggest that the councils which followed Constantine's conversion, must have had an agenda, and their selection of which books were authentic was influenced by that agenda. But most of the books of the bible that we have today were accepted by the early church before these councils 7. For example, the four gospels, Paul's letters and acts were recognized and accepted by the church from early on, and only a few books, such as Peter, James and John were disputed by some for a time. Also, we have documents from early church fathers quoting various parts of the New Testament scriptures or affirming them as scripture:
The bible speaks of weighty matters such as eternal life and eternal judgment. And the Bible never presents Jesus as a mere good teacher, or as one of many ways to God, but rather show him to be the one chosen by God Isaiah 42:1, Matthew 12:18, John 3:16, John 6:38, of the same substance John 14:9, John 10:30, eternal John 8:48-59, and that eternal life is only attained through him John 3:17-19, John 14:6, 1 Timothy 2:5. Since the Bible gives Jesus such prominence in all things, and make him the key to receiving forgiveness from God, the question of the reliability of the scriptures is not one that should be taken lightly.
If you have doubts about the bible’s reliability, don’t leave those doubts to chance, or give in to unfair criticism of the bible. Since the claims of the bible are of such importance and that eternal life is at stake, consider looking into the matter with great care and humility.
1 Frank Charles Thompson, The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible Fifth Improved Edition, (B.B. Kirkbridge Bible Co., Inc)
2 Dr. James White - New Testament Reliability, YouTube video, posted by South Dakota Apologetics, accessed August 20th 2019 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pL0P6sH0cJM
3 Manuscript Search, The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, accessed August 20th 2019, http://www.csntm.org/Manuscript
4 Despite Disappointing Some, New Mark Manuscript Is Earliest Yet, Elijah Hixson, Christianity Today, posted May 30th 2018, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/may-web-only/mark-manuscript-earliest-not-first-century-fcm.html
5 Dr. White - New Testament Reliability, YouTube video, South Dakota Apologetics
7 Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins And Authority of the New Testament Books, (Crossway), 203 - 210
8 Ibid., 212
9 Ibid., 214
10 Ibid., 216
11 Ibid., 219
12 Ibid., 220
13 Ibid., 228
14 Ibid., 230