Analysis & Research

Book Review. Trustworthy: Thirteen Arguments for the Reliability of the New Testament

Trustworthy: Thirteen Arguments for the Reliability of the New Testament. By Benjamin C. F. Shaw. Forward by Gary S. Habermas. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2024, xiii + 142 pp.

Benjamin Shaw’s Trustworthy is a welcome addition to a subgenre which aspires to provide confidence in the biblical text, while targeting a non-academic audience. Recent favorites within this subgenre include treatments on the formation of the canon, such as Michael Kruger’s The Question of Canon (2013) and Benjamin Laird’s Creating the Canon (2023); books which address the text and transmission of the New Testament, such as Neil Lighfoot’s How We Got the Bible (2003) and F. F. Bruce’s reissued The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (2003); and those texts which specifically address Gospel or New Testament reliability, such as Peter Williams’ Can We Trust the Gospels? (2018). Now, Shaw has made his own contribution, touching on issues such as the textual evidence, NT genres and audience expectations, NT dating and authorship, NT creedal traditions, historical criteria, undesigned coincidences, archaeology, non-biblical sources, the canon, the life transformation of those impacted by the NT, and the minimal facts argument.

In the first chapter, I particularly appreciated Shaw’s identification of online resources where students of the Bible can survey manuscripts for themselves (p. 14–15). Shaw then goes on to explain common copyist errors, equipping the layman with sufficient insight to be skeptical of popular level challenges to NT reliability, as voiced by atheists such as Bart Ehrman (p. 17–20). The subsequent chapter on NT genres and audience expectations also addresses an important topic, while introducing the reader to some of the work of Richard Burridge and Craig Keener. The chapter was necessarily brief, yet I did find myself wishing that the author had shifted from merely countering known antagonist Ehrman to instead addressing the genre-based challenges currently being raised from within evangelicalism, such as Mike Licona’s claims concerning events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ.

The chapter on NT dating should be applauded for acknowledging that although many liberal scholars are estimating dates for Mark around AD 65 and Matthew and Luke around AD 80–85 or later, and although many evangelical scholars are dating the earliest Gospel in the late 50s (p. 35), some scholars are arguing for earlier dates. For example, Jonathan Bernier’s Rethinking the Dates of the New Testament: The Evidence for Early Composition (2022) is favorably highlighted as proposing a date range for Mark of AD 42–45 and for Matthew of AD 45–59.1 Shaw concludes by asserting that with any of these dates, “the Gospels were still written within the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses. Either way, the Gospels were written within a reliable time frame” (p. 41). Shaw’s optimism that confidence in the reliability of the Gospels should arise merely because aged witnesses were still alive is not defended, which tactfully avoids having to address the variety of theories which purport to explain how a multi-decade delay in publishing the deeds and sayings of Jesus could have resulted in an accurate and reliable record of the witness testimony concerning such. This is a challenge often raised by critics which students will ultimately need to be equipped to address.

Moving on, the chapter on NT authorship was helpful in debunking the skeptical claim that the Gospels were originally anonymous. Shaw demonstrates that other contemporary biographical works, whose authorship is generally undisputed, likewise did not include authorial self-identification within the body of the works (p. 47). Rather, there were external methods to identify the author on either the outside of the scroll or on an attached label (p. 48). But further, Shaw points out that the consistent identification by subsequent writers of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the Gospel authors makes it evident that the Gospels were never treated as anonymous (p. 49).

The chapter on NT creedal traditions connects formulations within the Pauline writings, such as that found in 1 Corinthians 15:3, to the time frame of the 30s when Paul met with Peter and James in Jerusalem (p. 62). Hence, these received traditions connect back to the eyewitnesses and earliest leaders within the church (p. 62). For the many scholars who accept the middle or latter dates for the Gospels, these creeds are particularly valuable, because they are “considered to be the earliest historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection” (p. 62). Subsequent chapters restate arguments which have become standard fare within the subgenre of this book, and need not be reiterated here, while a final argument applies a minimal facts approach, as developed by Gary Habermas, to highlight “the exceptionally strong reliability of key Gospel events,” such as the resurrection (p. 130).

Overall, this is a useful book for the lay reader, surveying a variety of arguments for why the NT should be deemed trustworthy. Perhaps it will spur deeper interest in investigating one or more of the arguments, and the provided footnotes will aptly support this effort. However, I offer a suggestion to those intent on publishing in this subgenre, as authors sometimes lose focus on their audience or are actually trying to engage their audience at two very different levels, and it would be helpful if they were clearer about such. For example, in most of this book, the material appears to be aimed at helping the non-academic Christian to be personally convinced of the reliability of the NT. This is a noble goal. However, the creedal argument and minimal facts arguments offer little to establish that the NT is accurate in its details. Rather, they are arguments which might help the Christian convey to their non-Christian counterparts some very simple reasons to consider the NT as a historically grounded book. This is also a valuable endeavor, but it would be helpful if authors assisted the reader in following the shifting purpose of the various arguments. In summary though, Shaw has accomplished what he set out to do (1) by providing a breadth of disparate arguments for affirming the reliability of the NT, (2) by exposing readers to more of the NT, and (3) by providing evidential insights and considerations to readers (p. 6–9). Accordingly, this book is itself worthy of being both read and relished.

(Revised 7/11/24)

  1. Unfortunately, I was disappointed that Bernier too quickly deferred to the “strong preference for Markan priority” among “source critics working today,” and his readiness to accept the claim that “Matthew’s Gospel is the Synoptic Gospel most likely to be pseudonymous.” Jonathan Bernier, Rethinking the Dates of the New Testament: The Evidence for Early Composition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2022), 37, 80. ↩︎

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