As Tent Making Christians, we are often put in situations where we are forced to defend Scripture against critics. We are seen as backwards thinking because we hold the Bible up as the Word of God. How can you believe this is true? Don’t you know that the Bible is just a bunch of made up stories? Christians are often challenged with such statements. It’s difficult to know where to begin against such attacks. I have a unique way for you to help show that the New Testament authors were in fact present in Palestine during the events they recorded. How can we know this? One reason is the New Testament authors were correct in the names they used when recording their accounts.
Lets Write A Story
Let’s do a thought experiment here. Suppose I am going to write a fictional story about one of my relatives that was born in the 1920’s. I’m going to try and write the story so that it sounds as if it were true. So, for the main characters in my story, I’ll use the men’s names of Jacob, Jordan and Ethan. For the girls in my story, I’ll use Tiffany, Brittany and Jayden. Sounds good, right? But wait, there’s a problem.
From my perspective, there would be nothing wrong with the names I picked. They would be familiar to me. I use them every day. In fact, a large percentage of the population I encounter would have these names. But are the names accurate to the time period I’m writing about?
Did I Get The Names Right?
The problem is, the most popular boys’ names in 1920 were Robert, John and James. And the most popular girls’ names during the same period were Mary, Dorthey and Helen. As a matter of fact, I’d bet you would’ve had a hard time finding a “Tiffany” anywhere in 1920. It simply wasn’t a popular name at the time. If anyone who actually was born at this time read my story, it wouldn’t ring true simply because the names would be so out of place.
So how does this apply to the Gospels? The charge is often made that the Gospel writers wrote their accounts of Jesus’ life much later and in areas outside of Jerusalem. If this is the case, then they would be in much the same situation I am in writing my story. They may choose names for the characters, but how do they know they have chosen the correct names? Is there any way we could test the Gospels to see if they are accurate in the names that are used?
Were The Gospel Writers Accurate Using Names?
Actually, we can. In his book, Jesus And The Eyewitnesses, Richard Bauckham researched the most common names in Palestine at the time of Jesus. He then studied the most common names in the New Testament. His findings are illuminating.
15.6% of the men in Palestine at the time of Jesus were named Simon or Joseph. In the New Testament, 18.2% of the men had the name Simon or Joseph.
41.5% of the men in Palestine had one of the 9 most common names. In the New Testament, 40.3% of the men have one of the 9 most popular names.
28.6% of the women in Palestine had the name Mary or Salome. In the New Testament, 38.9% of the women were named Mary or Salome.
49.7% of the women in Palestine had one of the 9 most common names. In the New Testament, 61.1% of the women had one of the most common names.
As you can see, if the authors of the New Testament were guessing at which names to use, they guessed incredibly accurately. It’s hard to believe that the writers could be this precise without first-hand knowledge of the area and the people they were writing about.
Making A Case
As we look at evidence for the reliability of the New Testament and its authors, we need to understand something. No one piece of evidence is enough by itself to prove the reliability of the Scripture or the accuracy of the authors. But as we begin to look at multiple lines of evidence, we can build a cumulative case for the accuracy of the Bible. The fact that the New Testament authors were correct in the names they used in their accounts is just one piece of evidence that they were accurately recording what they witnessed.
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