Modern archaeological research has confirmed again and again the reliability of New Testament geography, chronology, and general history....To take but a single striking example: after the rise of liberal biblical criticism, doubt was expressed as to the historicity of Pontius Pilate, since he is mentioned even by pagan historians only in connection with Jesus' death. Then in 1961 came the discovery at Caesarea of the now famous "Pilate inscription," definitely showing that, as usual, the New Testament writers were engaged in accurate historiography.
In light of the character and testimony of the biblical writers and their successors, a well-established principle of historical and literary research is relevant to our discussion of the authenticity and trustworthiness of the biblical text.
John W. Montgomery states: "...historical and literary scholarship continues to follow Aristotle's eminently just dictum that the benefit of doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself." In other words, a document and its claims are to be accepted at face value unless sufficient objective evidence is presented to discredit it. Montgomery continues: "This means that one must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualifies himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies."
There is a similar legal principle to the historical and literary dictum just discussed that pertains to the issue of the biblical text's trustworthiness. Attorney Montgomery brings this principle to bear on our concern:
In a court of law, admissible testimony is considered truthful unless impeached or otherwise rendered doubtful. This is in accord with ordinary life, where only the paranoic goes about with the bias that everyone is lying. ... The burden, then, is on those who would show that the New Testament testimony to Jesus is not worthy of belief. Let us place the Gospel testimony to Jesus under the legal microscope to see if its reliability can be impeached.
Montgomery's point is that the New Testament writer's credibility is impeccable and would stand in any just Court of law.
The legal principle known as the "ancient documents" rule.
Simon Greenleaf (1783-1853) who among his many achievements and credentials served as Royall and Dane Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and became recognized as the foremost North American authority on common law evidence, and which The Dictionary of American Biography says produced "the greatest single authority on evidence in the entire literature of legal procedure," applied this principle to the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) in the New Testament. (For an in-depth treatment of the authenticity and trustworthiness of the four gospels from the legal perspective see his classic, The Testimony of the Evangelists: The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice.
Simon Greenleaf notes in The Testimony of the Evangelists the accepted rule of evidence relative to ancient documents, the "ancient documents" rule: "Every document, apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody, and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine, and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise."
21 Greenleaf also states:
The burden of showing them to be false and unworthy of credit, is devolved on the party who makes that objection. The presumption of the law is the judgment of charity. It presumes that every man is innocent until he is proved guilty; that everything has been done fairly and legally, until it is proved to have been otherwise; and that every document, found in its proper repository, and not bearing marks of forgery, is genuine. Now this is precisely the case with the Sacred Writings.22
Thus, based on legal reasoning and evidence Greenleaf (and Montgomery) conclude that the New Testament documents are authentic and trustworthy.(23)