“We actually have very early attestation of the authorship of the Gospels [early historians and Church fathers]…only one generation removed from Jesus himself. Now that is a pretty close testimony and strongly suggesting that the Gospels are based on eyewitness accounts. Luke was clearly a literary artist, but in that prologue he points out that he has carefully investigated the material that he presents in the Gospels, that he has checked out with eyewitness accounts, those who were actually present. If you read that prologue, you see that this is the work of a historian. This was someone who has done his research.” (See Luke 1:1-4) –Mark Strauss, New Testament Scholar
When I really got serious about reading the New Testament Gospels one of the big questions I had was how do we know these stories are true? Couldn’t they have just been invented or come from some legend? No way! The first thing that I came across in my quest for truth was these are not just stories, and second, scholars agree that these are historical documents written from eyewitness accounts that record real events, places and people. Even skeptics of the Christian faith do not deny that. But who wrote them, how did they decide what to put into their accounts and do they give an accurate portrayal of Jesus and his life? These were some of the questions I still had and after the four years I spent studying at Biola I could now say with confidence the Gospel accounts are solid. You might be amazed at the fact that the four Gospels with their different perspectives on the life and times of Jesus only serve as proof of their authenticity. What do I mean by that? In a court of law when you have multiple eyewitnesses to an event you will usually find variations in their stories. This, according to Lawyers and Law Enforcement Officers, is an excellent way to put the pieces of a crime together. If the witnesses all have identical testimony then one could say it was collusion, they got together and contrived it. You should have witnesses with the same baseline story and different views depending on their location and focus at the time. Some of the details one witness might leave out another will fill in. The basic information will be complimentary and altogether you get a very accurate picture of the scene and what took place. This is exactly what we find in the four Gospels of the first century and we do not find in the so-called gospels of the Gnostics from the second century and on.
Three categories that give the New Testament Gospels an undeniable standard of excellence in witness documentation:
- The four Gospels are dated in the first century, this makes them a primary source, versus secondary sources like Gnostic gospels of the second century and on.
- The Gospel writers wrote from eyewitness observations or testimonies.
- Many of the eyewitness accounts are in multiple not singular experiences.
- The eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life were people of good reputation, they were not considered to be liars, they had nothing to gain by fabricating their stories, they had testimony that upheld the other witnesses, and they had clarity of the events.
- There were many who accompanied Jesus during His ministry, and bystanders, that were still alive at the time and therefore could have disputed the Gospel claims, but they did not.
- Fabrication of these accounts seem impossible since they had nothing to gain and everything to lose (prison, beatings, torture, execution).
- All of the New Testament writers except John were martyred and none ever recanted their testimonies.
- The Gospel writers were brutally honest, especially about their own shortcomings and mistakes, and this would not happen in false testimony.
- There are many accounts in the Gospels that were considered socially unacceptable at the time and would not have been included in fabrications, for example the story of women finding the empty tomb first, Gentiles and women being equally accepted by Jesus as the Jewish men were, and Gentiles and women playing important roles in the early Church.
- These four Gospels were already in wide circulation by the second century and the early Church leaders accepted only these Gospels as inspired by God.
- There are supporting accounts from hostile witnesses and writings outside the Bible:
- Josephus, a Jewish historian, writes about the death of Jesus, the martyrdom of James, the martyrdom of John the Baptist, and the resurrection three days after the crucifixion.
- Tacitus, a Roman historian, echoes the Gospel account of the death of Jesus including the mention of the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate.
- Thallus, a Greek historian, writes of the crucifixion and mentions the day that suddenly turned dark.
- The enemies of Christianity (the Jewish and Roman authorities) did not try to contradict the claims of the Apostles and early Christianity, especially the resurrection, but instead tried to offer other explanations.
- Suetonius, a Roman historian, mentions the expulsion of Christians from Rome. This corresponds with the account in the book of Acts.
- Pliny the Younger, a Roman authority and administrator, writes of the early Christian community in Asia Minor.
- There is a specific focus to each Gospel account:
|Eyewitness account(Author)||The Apostle Matthew’s view||The Apostle Peter’s view written by John Mark who was also an eyewitness||Luke’s interviews of eyewitnesses, He was a companion of the Apostle Paul||The Apostle John’s view|
|Written to and received by(Audience)||Jews||Romans||Gentiles||Christians, both Jew and Gentile|
|Picture of Christ(Purpose)||King of Israel-Jesus, the promised Messiah||Servant of God-Jesus, slave and servant of all||Son of Man- Jesus’ humanity||Son of God-Jesus’ Deity|
|Highlights of Jesus’ Ministry(Context)||Prophecy fulfillment; long discourses;Mountain Theology||Miracles; a servant’s life||Parables; fulfillment of prophecy; Jesus’ human life||Evidence of Jesus’ claim to Deity with focus on specific miracles; truth and purpose of Jesus’ ministry|
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. –The Apostle Peter (2 Peter 1:16)
This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you… -The Apostle John (1 John 1:5)
For further reading I highly recommend: “Questioning the Bible, 11 Major Challenges to the Bible’s Authority” by Jonathan Murrow
Join us next week as we continue to examine A Case for Christ, Part 5: Why Is Jesus the only way?
Let me know what you think: Do you think it makes a difference who wrote the Gospel accounts and when they were written? How does this impact what you have heard about the other so-called gospels?
Over the next several blogs I am going to continue to present logical reasoning and sound scientific evidence not found in the public school textbooks.
Always be ready to give an answer for the hope that you have in Christ Jesus as Lord.
1 Peter 3:15
This blog is part of a series. You can start the series by going back to the September 1, 2014 Introduction called A Case for Christianity: Why do we need one?