Bible should be judged on scientific
grounds - grounds which are helpful in defining the authenticity of any
other old document. A document is first examined internally and then externally.
Internal evidence is the study of the text itself while the external evidence
is the study of the historical process through which the text was transmitted
Internal evidence deals with the content
while the external evidence deals with the process of its transmission.
If the text suffers from errors and inconsistencies, we do not need to
go for the external evidence. For example if a fragment purporting to be
Shakespearean in origin talks of King James, we cannot reject the fragment
on this basis alone and need to look for external evidence. But if such
a fragment talks of King James travelling in the Space Shuttle Columbia
and using Pentium Computers, we would be obliged to reject it right there
as a Shakespearean writing and would not waste time in examining external
evidence. This shows that internal evidence overrides external evidence.
However internal evidence alone is not sufficient to prove that a document
External evidence studies the modes
of transmission and in case of Bible, asks the following relevant questions:
To which prophet or messenger was
Was it written down during the prophet’s
Was it written verbatim or only the
sense was conveyed in the words of the scribes?
Was it written down in the prophet’s
language? For if it was written down in another language, it underwent
translation even before it could be preserved, which reduces the authenticity.
If it was written down after the prophet’s
death, how long did it take -- one or two years or one or two centuries?
Did the prophet approve the document?
Was it preserved through oral tradition
After being written down, how many
people received it and handed down the document to the next generation?
Was there only one person, or were there two, three or four? Or were there
thousands who received it from the Prophet and conveyed it to the next
If there were thousands in each generation,
it means that it becomes indubitable. But if there were five or six transmitters,
who were they? What was their character, memory and understanding?
If there were few people transmitting
it in each generation, we have to see whether they received it personally
from another person of their preceding generation. If Mr A received it
from Mr B, we have to see whether Mr A met Mr B or not, for if he could
not meet him (because A was born after the death of B, or A lived in London
and B lived in Damascus and they never travelled out of their places),
then the continuity of chain is broken.
Following are a few examples of inconsistencies
and errors in the Bible:
Pentateuch: It is believed
that the Laws or the first five books were written by Moses (sws). But
it contains the details of Moses’ death and burial. In the last book of
the Pentateuch, we find the following passage: ‘And Moses the servant of
the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab,
in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his
grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died.’ (Deuteronomy
34:5-7). Obviously, if the Pentateuch had been authored by Moses (sws),
these verses could not find way into the text. It appears that they were
added later. Moreover, the phrase ‘to this day no one knows where his grave
is’ shows that these additions were made quite some time after the death
of Moses (sws).
The Gospel of John, it is believed,
was written by John the son of Zebedee. Whereas in John we find the words:
‘This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them
down. We know that his testimony is true. (John 21:24) This shows that
John was edited by others.
It says in 2-Samuel: 24:9: ‘And Joab
gave up the number of the people unto the king; and there were in Israel
eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword and the men of Judah
were five hundred thousand men.’ While in 1-Chronicles 21:5 we read: ‘And
Joab gave the sum of the number of the people unto David. And all they
of Israel were a thousand thousand and a hundred thousand men that drew
sword; and Judah was four hundred and threescore and ten thousand that
drew the sword.’ The difference is apparent and only one of the above statements
can be correct.
In 2-Kings 8:26 we find that Ahaziah
was twenty two years old when he began to reign, while in 2-Chronicles
22:2 we find that ‘Ahaziah was forty two years old when he began to reign’.
These two statements are irreconcilable.
2-Kings 24:8 reads that Jehoiachin
was eighteen years old when he began to reign while 2-Chronicles 36:9 reads
that he was eight years old when he began to reign. The inconsistency can
only be explained by admitting that one of the texts must have been corrupted.
Genesis 6:19-20 says that God commanded
Noah to carry a pair of each animal in the Ark whereas Genesis 7:2-3 shows
that he was commanded to carry seven pairs of each. Again, a contradiction
between two consecutive chapters of Genesis shows that even a single book
was compiled by more than one hand, and also permitted later revisions
Matthew records: Jesus sent two disciples
saying to them: ‘Go to the village ahead of you and at once you will find
a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to
me’ (21:2). On the other hand Mark (11:2), John (12:14) and Luke (19:29)
all mention only the colt.
King Abijah’s mother was Michaiah,
daughter of Uriel of Gibeah (2-Chr 13:2). In 11:20 of the same book we
are told that she was daughter of Absalom. Then in 2-Samuel 14:27 we learn
that Absalom had only one daughter named Tamar.
The Genealogy of Jesus Christ given
in Luke 3 and Matthew differs in a number of respects. Matthew reports:
‘When Jesus came to live in a town called Nazareth, in fulfillment of what
was said by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene’ (2:23). It is
widely accepted that the book in which this prophecy was proclaimed was
lost, because no such prophecy has survived to us in the OT.
Saint Paul cites from Isaiah: ‘No
eye has seen, no ear has heard no mind has conceived, what God has prepared
for those who love him’ (2-Cor 2:9). Whereas in Isaiah the correct words
are: ‘Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye
has seen any God besides you who acts on behalf of those who wait for him’
(64:4). These two extracts are clearly divergent and it is difficult to
decide whether Isaiah was corrupted or Paul carelessly copied from it.
There are occasions when we learn
that NT authors were not aware of the OT, or the OT was then different
from what we have now. For example, Paul in 1-Cor 10:8 says that
let us not commit fornication as some of them committed and fell in one
day 23000. Whereas in Numbers 25:9 the correct number is 24,000. Similarly,
in Acts 7:14 we find that the family of Joseph when brought to Egypt consisted
of 75 people. Whereas in Genesis 46:27, we find that they are only 70.
The NT authors probably had a different version of OT with them.
How did Judas Iscariot die? Mathew
(37:5) states that he hanged himself whereas in Acts 1:18 we learn that
he fell and his abdomen burst open.
In 1-John 5:7 the statement comes
quite close to the pronounced creed of Christians on Trinity: ‘For there
are three that testify: the spirit the water and the blood, and the three
are in agreement.’ However even the New International Version notes in
a footnote: ‘These words are not found in any Greek manuscript before the
sixteenth century.’ That is why they are not included in a number of other
versions. Obviously they were added later to provide scriptural support
to the doctrine of Holy Trinity.
Matthew records: ‘While he (Jesus
Christ) was saying this, a ruler came and knelt before him and said: "My
daughter has just died"’ (9:18). On the other hand Mark relates: ‘Then
one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he
fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him: "My little daughter is
The Bible is replete with such discrepancies.
Those quoted above only give an idea of the nature of irreconcilable inconsistencies
in the biblical text.
For the purpose of demonstrating the
authenticity of scriptures through external evidence, we take the Gospel
of John as an example.
The Gospel of John is the fourth gospel
and is so different from the other three Synoptic Gospels that it is categorized
distinctly from the other three. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and
Luke) stand together and are in several respects different from the Fourth
Gospel (according to John). They are termed Synoptic for if their contents
are arranged in several columns we will get the same synopsis or conspectus.
This similarity among the Synoptic Gospels is a moot question but the most
widely held theory is that Matthew and Luke depend on Mark and they have
also utilized another source for the sayings of Jesus Christ (sws) known
as ‘Q’ (German Quelle - source). This explanation is known as the ‘Two
Source Hypothesis’, and needless to say, has its problems. This also raises
a further question - whether the True and Original Gospel, that consisted
of sayings of the Jesus Christ (sws) and could not survive to us, could
be identified with this Q? In any case, the Gospel According to John is
so different in structure and contents from the Synoptic Gospels that it
is said: ‘It is unique in every respect’.1
Authorship: As regards the
attribution of John’s Gospel to an Apostle of Jesus Christ (sws), we are
in total darkness. It is commonly attributed to John son of Zebedee the
Apostle of Christ, which makes it an eyewitness account of Christ’s life
and works but there were also dissident voices. K. Luke notes:
Irenaeus mentions groups who rejected the Gospel of John.
The Roman presbyter Gaius, appealing to the differences between Synoptics
and Johannine Gospel, concluded that the later was the work of heresiarch
Cenrinthus. Another group that repudiated the Gospel was the Alogoi. The
negative position, it should be remembered never won acceptance in the
early church, and any number of testimonies can be cited in support of
the apostolic origin of the Gospel according to John.2
The critical position is that the existing
Gospel cannot be the work of Apostle John who was an uneducated and common
man (Acts 4:13); besides there are traditions that he died a martyr’s death
at an early date. The testimony of Papias of Hieropolis too has been cited
in support of the negative view.
I was accustomed to inquire about the sayings of the
presbyters, what Andrew or what Peter had said, or Philip or Thomas or
Jacob, or John or Matthew, or any other of Lord’s disciples; and what Aristion
and the Presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. (Documents of the
Church, ed. Henry Bettenson, [New York: Oxford University Press, 1967],
The point here is the double occurrence
of the name John, and whereas the conservatives think that there is question
of the same person, critics see here as two different individuals. Some
scholars in order to safeguard the traditional position have suggested
that John the Apostle employed a Secretary who was given the full freedom
to write the Gospel as John wanted. To corroborate this thesis they point
out that in antiquity there was a very broad and loose conception of authorship.
This proposal invalidates the argument that a simple fisherman could not
have written such a subtle theological work as the fourth Gospel - even
if we ignore the fact that the subtle Hellenic references and the philosophy
of Logos otherwise suggests a much later date. The style of Synoptic Gospels
when compared with this highly refined philosophical inclination of Gospel
of John clearly suggests a much later date of compilation. Willian M. Ramsay
The fourth gospel is given to us as an anonymous work.
It is true that all editors now print as its heading The Gospel according
to John, but this is the editor’s title, not part of the text itself. As
to the identity of the writer, the Bible itself simply leaves us to guess.3
Then giving the arguments of those who
think it was written by John the son of Zebedee, Ramsay repeats:
It must be repeated however that the Gospel comes to
us as an anonymous book. Only very conservative scholars today are likely
to ascribe it actually to the pen of the Apostle.4
The last sentences of the Gospel that
introduce some anonymous editors through insertion of ‘we’ further elaborates
this point. We find in the end of this Gospel the following words:
This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and
wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. (John 21:24)
These words clearly show that the Gospel
was later edited by others. Some hold that it was a secretary who recorded
what John dictated. Others say that it gradually evolved with contributions
from a number of unknown people. The Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism
John, written in final form around A.D. 100, seems to
have drawn on independent traditions.5
The words ‘final form’ show clearly that
it underwent a number of stages. The editor’s note referred above leaves
anybody guessing what other insertions could have occurred after the final
The internal evidence that this Gospel differs substantially
from other means that the authors of this Gospel were unconnected with
the authors and tradition of the Synoptic Gospels. Mckenzie remarks:
Many modern scholars believe that John certainly knew
Mark, probably knew Luke and probably did not know Matthew.6
He adds that the differences between John
and the Synoptics are great enough to permit the question whether John
is to be classified in the same literary form [genre] of gospel.7
Since the proposition that this Gospel
was written by John the Apostle is difficult to establish, some modern
scholars believe that the tradition of the name and the composition at
Ephesus around 100 are best preserved by attributing the gospel not to
the apostle but to John the Elder, mentioned by Papias. All sources agree
that the Gospel of John was compiled towards the close of the first century8.
An extremely hypothetical reconstruction of this person identifies him
with the beloved disciple, scarcely more than a boy at the time , the son
of a priestly family of Jerusalem, the eyewitness of some of the events,
all at Jerusalem who lived to old age at Ephesus.9
Encyclopaedia Britannica holds:
John is the last Gospel and in many ways different from
the Synoptic Gospels. . . . . Irenaues calls John the beloved disciple
who wrote the gospel in Ephesus. Papias mentions John the son of Zebedee
the disciple as well as another John the presbyter, who might have been
at Ephesus. From internal evidence the Gospel was written by a beloved
disciple whose name is unknown. Because both external and internal evidence
are doubtful, a working hypothesis is that John and the Johannine letters
were written and edited somewhere in the East perhaps Ephesus as the product
of a school of Johannine circle at the end of the 1st century.10
Language of John: John’s Gospel
was written in Greek and not in Aramaic the dialect of Jesus Christ.
Summary of the External Evidence
on John: Going back to our criteria let us see as to where does the
Gospel According to John stand:
1. The contents of Gospel of John
were not revealed to a Prophet of God. It does not contain revealed material.
It was authored by a group of people.
2. It was not written down during
the life time of Jesus (sws).
3. It does not contain the words of
Jesus (sws) except the red lettered verses. It does not convey the words
of Jesus Christ (sws) verbatim because its statements differ from the synoptic
4. It was not even written in the
language Jesus (sws) spoke.
5. It was written down around 70 years
after Jesus (sws).
6. Its contents were never presented
before Christ (sws) for approval. Its contents are not even consistent
with the other three gospels.
7. It must have existed in the form
of an oral tradition for good seventy years before it was finally written
down. We are however in no position to judge the reliability of the oral
tradition since we do not know the names of narrators.
8. It does not come to us through
the reports of the entire generation after it was documented. Obviously,
the editing, insertions and possibly deletions, that it underwent, could
not have been possible if it was popularly known. It appears that even
after being written down, it remained in oblivion for quite some time to
allow the editors make their contributions.
9. It is not an eyewitness account
because even if we accept that it was written by John the Elder in 90-100
AD, as is held by modern scholars, the author could at best have witnessed
the last part of the life of Jesus (sws) and even then he would merely
be a boy.
10. It was conveyed to us through
people in limited numbers - we don’t even know the names and lives of the
transmitters what to talk of judging their reliability.
11. There is no evidence that before
being written the message was preserved orally in a reliable manner. There
are only three parallel versions available which are different.
12. It was not transmitted by the
entire generation. It was communicated through one or two anonymous people
whom we do not know. What changes it might have undergone during this secretive
transfer can be imagined.
Other Books of the Bible
This discussion does not preclude
that other books of the Bible are any more strongly supported by external
evidence. In fact, in many cases the evidence is even more dubious.
The reliance on the Bible as a source
of religious guidance is seriously shattered when the internal and external
evidence of the biblical literature is examined. This leaves us wondering
whether such a scripture is authentic enough to entrust one’s worldly life
and eternal destiny to it!
1. Luke, K: Companion to the Bible vol. 2 p.
9, Theological Publications in India, Bangalore, 1988.
2. Ibid. vol. 2, p. 42
3. Ramsay, William M.: The Westminster Guide
to the Books of the Bible, p. 527, Kentucky 1994
4. Ibid. p. 528
5. Ibid. p. 575
6. Mckenzie: Dictionary of the Bible p..448
7. Ibid p. 448
8. Douglas and Tenney: NIV Compact Dictionary
of the Bible, page 310; ‘The date and place of authorship was sometime toward
the close of the first century AD, Asia Minor.’
9. Ibid. p. 449
10. Encyclopaedia Britannica Macropaedia