We know that the books in the Old Testament are important because they not only foreshadow the Lord Jesus, but He also taught those who followed Him from them. Though the 27 books of the New Testament were written after Jesus was crucified and resurrected, they were recognized as authentic because they were written by people who had direct contact with Christ and were divinely inspired. Just like a book was considered canonical when Moses or David wrote it, a book was recognized as authoritative when an apostle such as John or Paul wrote it.
The New Testament was written more quickly than the Old Testament—it was completed within half a century. This means that all the books were completed, copied, and distributed before AD 100. In fact by AD 95, a letter written by Clement of Rome (an early church father who may have been a student of Paul) shows the influence of Matthew, Luke, Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, Timothy, Titus, and Peter—a sign that the books were well known and circulated within the early church.
In The Origin of the Bible, Milton Fisher writes, “The first three outstanding church fathers, Clement, Polycarp, and Ignatius, used the bulk of the material of the New Testament in a revealingly casual manner—authenticated Scriptures were being accepted as authoritative without argument.” If any group voiced uncertainty about a book, it was generally because the group was from a different location or region, and had not had the exposure to it that would allow them to affirm its authenticity.
It wasn’t until around AD 140 that a heretic named Marcion challenged the canon (he threw out the entire Old Testament and a lot of the New Testament), which forced church leaders to affirm the authority of both the Old and New Testaments. This confirmation was useful because by AD 170, other “gospels” were appearing (fictional, to be sure). Yet the church had already established that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the only Gospels with authority.
By approximately AD 170, the canon was being translated into other languages, and by AD 190, church leaders were beginning to call it the “New Testament.” Though there were other documents that affirmed the canon of the New Testament, the most important confirmation came at the Council of Carthage (AD 397), which listed the 27 books and proclaimed, “Aside from the canonical Scriptures nothing is to be read in church under the Name of Divine Scriptures.”
Manuscript-wise, we are very fortunate to have fragments dating as close as 20 to 30 years from the original work of the apostles, which is utterly astounding. In fact, there is a manuscript containing the majority of Paul’s epistles that dates to just a few decades after Paul would have written them. Though they have earlier manuscripts containing different parts of the New Testament, the earliest complete Bible manuscript (which actually included both the Old and New Testaments) was found in AD 350, and is known as the Codex Sinaiticus. In the archaeological world, this kind of excellent record is virtually unheard of.
Frederick Kenyon, a British archaeologist respected for his work concerning ancient texts and languages, concluded, “The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries.”
(Please understand that this description of the canonization of the New Testament is a very brief, general summary. However, it represents the inherent truth that our Bible is absolutely reliable and trustworthy.)
Evidence & Confirmation
Even if you accept that the manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments are authentic and reliable, you may be wondering: How can I be sure that Jesus really is the Messiah? Other people died on crosses—how do I know it wasn’t some other guy?
Science Speaks professor Peter Stoner looked at the eight prophesies in the Old Testament regarding the place of birth, time of birth, manner of birth, betrayal, manner of death, place of death, public reaction, piercing, and burial of the Messiah. According to Josh McDowell in Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Stoner found that the chance that a man could fit those eight prophecies was 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000 (1 x 1017).
These prophecies were either given by inspiration of God or the prophets just wrote them as they thought they should be. In such a case the prophets had just one chance in 1017 of having them come true in any man, but they all came true in Christ. This means that the fulfillment of those eight prophesies alone proves that God inspired the writings of those prophecies to definiteness which lacks only one chance in 1017 of being absolute.
The most astounding thing is that Jesus doesn’t only fulfill these eight prophecies, but over 100 prophecies found in the Old Testament! (By the way, this is a very conservative estimate. One website listed 324 fulfilled prophecies!) Imagine the odds of that? It is utterly beyond our comprehension!
We know from the document evidence that these prophecies were written even before Jesus was born, and that no amount of human engineering could possibly achieve them. Yet Jesus did—and no one else ever will. So then, how sure can you be that Jesus is the real Messiah? 100 x 10 infinite percent.