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A Review of "Is the New Testament Reliable" by Paul Barnett
As a believer of almost twelve years, the reliability of the New Testament is something I have almost taken for granted, however, Paul Barnett’s work “Is the New Testament Reliable” opened my eyes to the arguments for and against the accuracy of the New Testament canon. Naturally, the validity of the entire New Testament hinges on one singular question – did Jesus really live, die and raise from the dead on the third day? Barnett makes a powerful case for the truth of Scripture and the accuracy of their assertions based on factual evidence and a great deal of research.
In his opening thesis, Barnett states that “The New Testament writers themselves are the best reason for believing the existence of Jesus.” He expounds on this statement in chapters three through nine. He also includes an artistic contrast at the beginning, comparing Jesus Christ with ben Kosiba, a general of the Jewish armies who called himself the “President of Israel.” Though this general issued coins and executed feats of grotesque warfare, rather than rising to infamy, General ben Kosiba has sunk into the mire of obscurity. This fame of Jesus must somehow be explained, for, as Barnett points out, peoples from all over the world know His name, even if it is only used as an expletive.
Barnett asserts in chapter ten, that our understanding of the life of Christ which comes from the gospels lines up with the extra-biblical historical accounts of the day. Numerous astronomical occurrences took place that can explain the Star of Bethlehem, details from the story mesh comfortably with the background of the times and there is thus, no reason to doubt the historicity of Christ’s birth. After all, don’t we take the birth of other historical figures on faith that the history books we are reading are accurate? No such faith is applied to the Scriptures, and yet they remain undeniably true regardless of the skeptic’s attempts to demolish them.
Content with the more academic confirmations of the Gospels’ accuracy, Barnett moves on in chapters twelve through fifteen to more tangible proof. I found it interesting that the New Testament almost offhandedly presents archaeological evidence for its own existence as fact. Examples of these cases that Barnett chooses to highlight are inscriptions found in the early twentieth century that date back to the age of the early church and are referenced by Paul the Apostle. In Acts 18:12-17, Paul mentions Gallio the proconsul of Achaia. Conveniently, in 1915 an inscription was found that also references Gallio as the proconsul of Achaia. Again, in 1935 a block was found in Jerusalem that had a warning to Gentiles that they should not enter the temple on pain of death. In Acts 21:28, the defilement of the temple by Greeks is mentioned. These are only two examples of Barnett’s illustrations.
In his conclusion, found in chapters sixteen through eighteen, Barnett continues to cite examples of the New Testament’s accuracy. Finally, in almost a post script Barnett compares the New Testament canon with Muhammad’s Quran. He begins by comparing Muhammad with Christ and finishes with a comparison of the texts accounting their earthly lives. The accuracy of the New Testament in comparison with the Quran is undeniably more feasible, for many reasons which Barnett outlines in chapter eighteen, such as the number of hands the New Testament made its way through is significantly fewer than those of the Quran.
My one critique of this book is that it was simply too difficult a read to be of any use to a less than scholarly agnostic. It is not a resource that I would dare pass on without strong explanation and participation on my part. It in no way could help someone who was not willing to labor through it the way one labors through wet mud in old tennis shoes. Though Barnett’s style is accurate and well backed it lacks a certain readable quality that if coupled with such research could be a powerful force for good. I found “Is the New Testament Reliable?” a helpful guide to my own understanding of the accuracy of the books that I trust and seek daily guidance from. Though I did not approach the reading of this book with skepticism or negative bias regarding the Scriptures, I still found it helpful and plan to keep it as a resource for the future, should I ever need to provide evidence of the New Testament’s accuracy to an unbeliever. Barnett’s explanations were well organized and deeply researched. I greatly appreciated the effort that must have gone into this literary work.
I enjoyed the time Barnett spent on archaeological evidences as well. Being one who enjoys the tangible, I found chapter fifteen to be very helpful in my own understanding of the “three-dimensionality” of Scripture. These were not simply stories when they occurred. Christ’s life took place in real time, in a real world. This truth is easily neglected since today our gospels have been flattened to two dimensions and fit between the leather covers of the Bibles we carry. Having a better understanding of the reliability of those two dimensions and that they really did occur in a three dimensional world was of great comfort and help to me though on the surface it may seem obvious.