Book traversal links for Preface to the Fifth Edition of The New Testament Documents
'Reliable as what?' asked a discerning reviewer of the first edition of this little work, by way of a comment on the title. His point, I think, was that we should be concerned with the reliability of the New Testament as a witness to God's selfrevelation in Christ rather than with its reliability as a record of historical fact. True; but the two questions are closely related. For, since Christianity claims to be a historical revelation, it is not irrelevant to look at its foundation documents from the standpoint of historical criticism.
When the first edition of this book (my literary firstborn) appeared in 1943, I was a lecturer in classical studies, and had for long been accustomed to view he New Testament in its classical context. When I was invited from time to time to address audiences of sixth formers and university students on the trustworthiness of the New Testament in general and of the Gospel records in particular, my usual line was to show that the grounds for accepting the New Testament as trustworthy compared very favourably with the grounds on which classical students accepted the authenticity and credibility of many ancient documents. It was out of such talks that this book originally grew. It has (I am told) proved its usefulness to the readers for whom it was intended, not only in English speaking lands but in German and Spanish translations as well.
The historical and philological lines of approach have, of course, their limitations. They cannot establish the Christian claim that the New Testament completes the inspired record of divine revelation. But non-theological students (for whom the book was written) are, in my experience, more ready to countenance such a claim for a work which is historically reliable than for one which is not. And I think they are right. It is, indeed, difficult to restrict a discussion of the New Testament writings to the purely historical plane; theology insists on breaking in. But that is as it should be; history and theology are inextricably intertwined in the gospel of our salvation, which owes its eternal and universal validity to certain events which happened in Palestine when Tiberius ruled the Roman Empire.
I welcome the opportunity to give the book a thorough revision (not thorough enough, some of my friends may think); and in sending it forth afresh I continue to dedicate it to those university and college students throughout the world who, singly or in groups, maintain among their colleagues the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ our Lord.
F. F. B. April 1959.