The New Testament Books, Are They Reliable?

By Kristen Johnson

I recently finished F.F. Bruce’s short book titled The New Testament Books,  Are They Reliable? Although I found the book a bit dry (sort of college-textbook-like) I also found it interesting and compelling.

The book is broken down into short, succint chapters and reviews topics like the Gospel writers, Paul’s letters, etc. I most enjoyed the chapters about the writer Luke, the doctor, who authored Acts and the Gospel of Luke. The historicity of the books was very interesting. The author also included some Biblical inconsistencies (historical or between the Gospels, etc.) which proved educational.

Some of the information contained in the section about the Gospels was particularly interesting, because many of us wonder why they sometimes conflict, why the authors chose to include or exclude information, and why they are in the Bible at all. Professor Bruce discusses the parallelism between them – for instance that 606 of the verses in Mark appear in Matthew, and of the 1,068 verses in Matthew 500 contain material also contained in Mark and of Luke’s 1,149 verses about 350 are also in Mark. The author also discusses the use of “Form Criticism,” as well as what various scholars have to say about the key differences in the Gospel of John, as well as the fact that Luke authored both the Gospel of Luke and Acts (though the Bible breaks them up, rather than leave them as one story.) I never knew that.

The author’s chapter on the Gospel of Luke was probably the most historically interesting for me personally. He discusses some of the oral and written sources that Luke may have drawn upon when he wrote to the unknown “Theophilus.” In addition, Professor Bruce goes into quite a bit of detail on Luke’s use of leader’s names (Quirinius, Pilate, Emperor Augustus, Gallio, and many, many others.) When comparing the text of Luke to actual historical events of the time, we are able to view the story “in the context of Imperial history” while enjoying the fact that “he affords his readers so many opportunities for testing his accuracy.” Just this chapter alone makes the book worth reading.

What I most enjoyed about this book was the history included in it – lots of it. I really enjoyed reading about the early Jewish writers, who though not believing that Jesus was who He said He was, still mention His life and works in their writings. In addition, all the history and artifacts found about the various Emperors and other leaders mentioned in the Bible made for fascinating reading.

While reading the book, I found myself wondering if a non-believer would feel compelled to believe the Bible upon reading the book. The truth is that I don’t believe so. Unfortunately, as the author alludes to, faith is a personal decision and no amount of evidence (compelling or otherwise) to the miraculous works and life of Jesus will “prove” to anyone that He is or is not the Messiah, our Savior. That’s a personal decision.

In the end, although I don’t believe it would be convincing to a non-believer, as a believer, I found the information contained in the book to be interesting and compelling. I think it is an important book to read, just for the background and historicity of various events in the Bible.

Proverbs 4:13 (NRSV): Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.

Serve all with love.

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2 thoughts on “The New Testament Books, Are They Reliable?

  1. Yes – Bruce is an recognized authority although some of his work does need to be updated. There is quite a discussion going on in Theological circles today about the use of form criticism for example. Personally I don’t have an issue considering “form” as it relates to genre. What concerns me is using form to arbitrarily assume there are sources (such as the infamous “Q” source document for the Gospels) that can only be detected by analyzing form. That’s truly arbitrary. There is exactly ZERO evidence for a Q document but some form critics insist there must be one because of form criticism. Bruce doesn’t subscribe to this, so far as I know. In fact, recently, even very liberal scholars have admitted that form critical discussions of Q are pointless because there really is no evidence for Q. The same thing happened in the 19th century with the rise of the documentary hypothesis. Some vestiges of this still float around but for the most part it’s been debunked. So – makes for some robust discussion and in the end, as Dr. Bruce points out, the evidence for the accuracy of the New Testament record is unsurpassed in comparison to any other ancient document ever written in any language. I love that…


    1. Yes, he mentioned the “Q” document quite a bit, which I found a bit confusing, mostly because of reasons you list here, The most compelling evidence for me lay in the historical references laid out in Luke…..something I’d not thought of before!


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