In his classic 1943 book The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, F.F. Bruce makes the following observation:
“Somehow or other, there are people who regard a ‘sacred book’ as ipso facto under suspicion, and demand much more corroborative evidence for such a work than they would for an ordinary secular or pagan writing.”
This is a phenomenon I’ve seen borne out time and again among village skeptics who dismiss the historical value of the documents included in the New Testament whilst elevating the work of non-Christian historians like Tacitus and Suetonius. Bruce’s observation seems right to me. The objection to the historical value of writings by New Testament authors like Luke and Paul seems to be rooted in the fact that those writings were later included in a collection deemed inspired by early Christians.
But this later declaration by the Christian community that these texts are inspired is irrelevant to their value as historical documents.
Consider an analogy. In 1946 John Hersey published a book titled simply Hiroshima. The book chronicled the impact of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima by recounting the harrowing tales of six survivors. Hiroshima remains an important document witnessing to the impact of the bomb.
Now imagine that in the future a religious community forms which gradually compiles a canon of putatively inspired scriptures, and included in that collection we find Hersey’s Hiroshima. Does it follow that the value of the book as a historical document is now diminished because it is included within a collection of putatively inspired works?
Of course not. Any later recognition of the book as inspired is wholly irrelevant to its veracity as a historical document. Similarly, the fact that Christians included a collection of 27 writings into a putatively inspired New Testament is wholly irrelevant to the historical value of those documents.