NT Reliability and Josh McDowell's Tests for Historical Documents
From: email@example.com (Jeff Lowder)
Most of the Christians I have known have been fundamentalist
Christians. They believe in a literal Resurrection of Jesus Christ and
consider New Testament Reliability central to that belief. Therefore,
I would like to examine the question of New Testament reliability. In
particular, I would like to look at Josh McDowell's three tests for
Historical Documents, apply these tests to a statement we know is
false, and then apply these tests to the Resurrection.
JOSH'S THREE TESTS
Josh McDowell has put forth three tests for historical documents.
First, the Bibliographical Test: Do the texts we have today match the
original? Second, the Internal Evidence Test: Are there any known
contradictions or inaccuracies? And finally, The External Evidence
Test: Do other historical documents confirm or deny the alleged events?
AN EXAMPLE: APPLYING THESE TESTS TO "RUSH LIMBAUGH IS GOD"
In order to see how these tests work, I thought it would be interesting
to apply these tests to a statement less controversial than "Jesus is
So I would like to apply these tests to "Rush Limbaugh is God." Here
goes. My friend Jason writes a book which argues that Rush Limbaugh is
God. Prometheus Books publishes 20,000 copies, of which 15,000 manage
to survive into the year 2093. Jeff also writes a book on talk show
hosts and also says that Rush is God. Let's pretend the year is 2093
and apply Josh McDowell's tests to Jason's book.
The Bibliographical Test
Computerized publishing has greatly increased the accuracy of printed
books. All copies of Jason's books consistently say, "Rush Limbaugh is
God." Therefore, Jason's book passes the bibliographical test.
The Internal Evidence Test
Jason took courses in philosophy and wrote a logically coherent book.
His book did not contain any contradictions. Therefore, his book
passes the Internal Evidence Test.
The External Evidence Test
Jeff's book corroborates Jason's because it also says that Rush is God.
Conclusion: RUSH IS GOD!!!
Since Jason's book has passed all three of Josh McDowell's tests, we
may safely conclude that his book is historically reliable and,
therefore, Rush Limbaugh is God.
The real conclusion: McDowell's three tests are not enough.
I agree that a book which fails any of McDowell's three tests cannot be
considered historically reliable. However, as the preceding example
showed, his three tests are not enough. Any story which is logically
consistent will pass all three of his tests.
APPLYING MCDOWELL'S TESTS TO "JESUS CHRIST IS GOD"
1. The Bibliographical Test
a) Mark's conclusion is known as the Spurious Addendum. If
there is one thing all sides can agree on, it is that Mark 16:9-20 was
added to the original manuscript by someone other than the original
author. Remember that Mark 16:9-20 contains the only post-Resurrection
appearances in the Gospel according to Mark. This is important because
Mark's gospel is the oldest of the four gospels, meaning that the
oldest manuscripts contain no stories of a Resurrected Christ.
b) John's Epilogue was added on by another author.
Chapter 21 of John is known to New Testament scholars as the
"Epilogue" of John, added later on by someone eager to prove that Jesus
was widely seen after the Resurrection.
2. The Internal Evidence Test
a) None of the gospel writers were eyewitnesses.
Luke and Mark do not ever claim the authority of being apostles.
Matthew could not have been an eyewitness because he relies too much on
Mark and contains "none of the independent witnessing or memoirs which
a close disciple could have contributed".
b) Luke's Gospel incorrectly describes Quirinius and
KingHerod as contemporaries.
Luke's Gospel incorrectly assumes they were contemporaries. However,
as historian Robin Lane Fox points out, "It is not just that Herod the
Great never coincided with Quirinius the governor: he never coincided
with a Roman taxing of Judea."
c) Augustus never issued a decree to census and tax the
Fox again: "It is even doubtful if the Emperor Augustus ever issued a
decree to Rome's provinces that `all the world should be taxed.'"
Augustus certainly never ordered the entire world to return to their
home cities for a census.
d) Luke's and Matthew's genealogies of Jesus do not match.
3. The External Evidence Test
a) The Gnostic Gospels argue that Jesus never existed in
b) All Jewish documents are perfectly consistent in saying
that Jesus was stoned to death and hanged on a tree.
c) The Massacre of the Innocents is not a historical
This "historical event" in Matthew is not mentioned by any of the other
gospel writers, nor by Jospehus, who was a sworn enemy of Herod and
recorded every evil act he ever committed.
4. Conclusion: Available evidence does not prove the Resurrection
What do you say the next time a fundamentalist Christian tells
you that Josh McDowell has written a book proving Jesus was
resurrected? You tell them that Josh's tests are not sufficient to
prove the reliability of historical documents. And you tell them that
the New Testament fails even the three tests which McDowell gave.