The four New Testament Gospels represent perhaps the most significant historical accounts in all of antiquity: the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospels are a primary source of Christian faith and tradition. The truth or falsity of these ancient narratives carries significant and far-reaching implications. If the Gospel records are false, Christianity crumbles (1 Cor. 15:16-17). However, if the Gospel records are true, the authority of Jesus Christ is confirmed. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to show that the Gospels we have today are trustworthy historical accounts, and represent an accurate rendering of the original writings. In short, this paper will make a brief case for the reliability of the Gospels.
Okay so far so good. I agree, if the Gospel records are false then Christianity falls apart. No need to invoke the Bible for evidence of that, especially since that is what you are trying to prove.
What Are the Gospels?
The Gospels are written documents that contain historical, biographical, and theological elements. Many scholars find it difficult to classify the Gospels into any particular literary genre, as they do not fit with any specific modern style.
Well of course. They are not modern works. No person with any training would try to fit a 2000 year old book into a modern category.
However, according to the standards of their day, the Gospels most closely resemble Hellenistic biographies, which were essentially partial biographies that emphasized key parts of the subject’s life.
Hellenistic means the period of greatest influence for the Greeks. This is roughly about 323 BCE to anywhere from 146 BCE to 30 BCE. The only place I am finding any mention of Hellenistic biographies is on Christian apologetic sites. If we look at Ancient Greek Literature on Wikipedia there is no mention of biographies. Not that Wikipedia is the end all be all of information, far from it. I am just not finding anything that talks about Hellenistic biographies or compares the Gospels to any style of writing anywhere, except at apologetic sites.
As a literary category, Hellenistic biographies were considered historical narratives with the intention of teaching, exhorting, and improving their readers.1
The one means this is from Mark D. Roberts' book "Can We Trust the Gospels?" Roberts has a PhD in religious study from Harvard. I have been looking through the program to determine where textual criticism would apply in his degree. Everything about his degree can be found on Harvard's School of Arts and Science page.
New Testament Professor Craig Blomberg points out that “The Gospels may well differ from every other piece of literature in the history of writing but that does not permit one to treat them as unhistorical accounts of the events and people they choose to describe.”2
So now they aren't like Hellenistic biographies and actually not like any other type of story? So how does this help support what the writer was saying earlier or what he will say next? The quote is right, how they wrote says nothing about what they wrote about.
Understanding the literary genre of the Gospels is key if one is to rightly judge their accuracy and reliability. Dr. Mark D. Roberts explains the importance of understanding the nature of the Gospels:The Gospel writers functioned in the mode of the biography and history writers of their day. This means they were permitted greater freedom in certain matters than would be granted to modern biographers and historians. Paraphrasing or rephrasing statements and speeches was acceptable, as was arranging events in thematic rather than chronological order. When we evaluate the New Testament Gospels in their own literary and cultural context, we can understand how reliable they are and the ways in which they are reliable.3
Quoting Mark Roberts again. This time about how the style of the Gospels was like biographies of the time. This is immediately after quoting Blomberg saying that the Gsopels are like no writing style. These two statements contradict each other.
Ignoring the contradiction, Roberts is saying here that the author could and often did fudge what was actually said into something that is more fitting. That is what paraphrasing and rephrasing means. How this helps prove the truth of the Bible is beyond me. This states they rearranged the truth to a more fitting story at times. People today call that lying or a fish story. So at this point Mark Roberts has proven my point, that it is possible that there was a prophet named Jesus but the stories about him are not true.
The Gospels should also be understood as their authors intended them. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each had their own perspective, audience, and purpose in writing their accounts. If today’s reader were to apply modern biographical standards to the writing, he would be committing the error of anachronism: attributing a custom, event, or object to a period to which it does not belong.
Yet we are constantly told they apply today. I think fundamentalists make the mistake of non-context far more often than atheists.
New Testament historian Dr. Paul Barnett explains, “…it would be unreasonable to measure [the Gospels] by modern canons of history writing. They are good products of their age and take their place with the best historical writing of that era, in particular the works of Luke in his Gospel and book of Acts.”4
So what does that mean? Does that mean they are completely accurate? Does that mean you can trust what they say? I can't find much about Paul Barnett. Just that he is the Anglican Bishop of North Sydney. He does have PhD in theology and has written on a historical Jesus.
Speaking of historical writings of the era, Tacitus comments on some spooky sounds coming from an island and makes no mention of Jesus or his miracles. The lack of any corroborating sources is the most damaging thing to the Gospels. So damaging that phrases were added by scribes in later years to contemporaries of the Gospels, such as Tacitus and Josephus.
The first-century audience reading the Gospels had no difficulty understanding their literal nature, their historical claims, and the fact that they had a theological message to convey. They did not regard the narratives as myth or legend, as the events that were being reported were recent, with eyewitnesses of the events still alive to vouch for the truth of the accounts. The reader of the Gospels took them as direct historical accounts of real people, places, and events. Because of this, the Gospels were accepted at face value and were highly regarded by their audiences, becoming authoritative documents for the early church.
This is all just assertion. He is not backing any of this up with evidence. Why is there not more eye witness recordings of the events then? There was no Bible during the early church. People relied on stories being told to them and in some cases letters of these stories. These letters were what were to become the Bible. In other words the gospels were tracts to be read to convert people. If there were really a bunch of eye witnesses to the claims of the Bible then we would expect there to be a bunch of testimonies not just a handful.
Distinguished Biblical scholar F.F. Bruce explains, “The Gospel collection was authoritative because it preserved the words of Jesus, than whom the church knew no higher authority.”5
The church of course still claims Jesus is the highest authority but that does not stand to reason that they remembered exactly what he said some 30+ years after he said it. Nothing was written down until 65 CE at best. I went to TAM7 a month ago and I can maybe paraphrase some things, but there is no way I would even come close to remembering all the details of the weekend or of even all things discussed between ORAC and I at the Penn & Teller show (we sat next to each other). Yet the idea is that these supposed eye witnesses remembered whole sermons 30 to 70 years after. We are not talking some weekend either but of a couple of years of travel to be remembered. I am barely over 30 now, so there are no memories I can really go back far enough to try and remember. I remember bits and pieces out of grade school but nothing anyone said specifically. I remember the names of a few kids I hung around with, but I doubt I could make an accurate retelling of my grade school experiences. I don't even remember all my teachers' names. If somebody told me something specific that happened in grade school, I couldn't argue with it because I wouldn't actually know if it happened or not even being an eyewitness.
Who Wrote the Gospels?
There is only one correct answer to this and that is "we don't know".
The authors of the Gospels originally wrote their accounts anonymously; the authors did not title their works with, “The Gospel according to…”
Off to a good start here.
However, church tradition strongly affirms an early unanimity on the authorship of the Gospels. Around A.D. 130 the Church father Papias refers to Mark as the author of a Gospel.
Yes, because a church leader says it is Mark, 60 years after it was written, then it must be Mark. So now how did Papias know this? Well he gave an unnamed source only referring to it as the Presbyters. To quote Papias:
I will not hesitate to add also for you to my interpretations what I formerly learned with care from the Presbyters and have carefully stored in memory, giving assurance of its truth. For I did not take pleasure as the many do in those who speak much, but in those who teach what is true, nor in those who relate foreign precepts, but in those who relate the precepts which were given by the Lord to the faith and came down from the Truth itself. And also if any follower of the Presbyters happened to come, I would inquire for the sayings of the Presbyters, what Andrew said, or what Peter said, or what Philip or what Thomas or James or what John or Matthew or any other of the Lord's disciples, and for the things which other of the Lord's disciples, and for the things which Aristion and the Presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, were saying. For I considered that I should not get so much advantage from matter in books as from the voice which yet lives and remains.
It seems he didn't even trust what was being written down at the time...
Marcion mentions Luke’s authorship as early as A.D. 130. Around A.D. 180 the Church father Irenaeus refers to Matthew as the author of the Gospel that now bears his name.
Again, someone comes along 60 years later and says they were written by these men. That makes it trustworthy. Marcion was kicked out of the church and labeled a heretic. He was one of the first gnostics. Irenaeus made his claim in opposition to Marcion. Marcion used a version of Luke that is nothing like what we have today and claimed it was the only true Gospel. Irenaeus was countering this claim by saying the 4 books of the Gospel were canonical. It seems to me it would be unreasonable to quote these men out of the context of their time (this sounds like something that was said earlier...).
If Matthew wrote Matthew, he wrote it entirely in third person. Never once does he say I when talking about himself. Nor does he say anything like "Jesus and I".
Internal evidence from the Gospel of John makes a strong case for his authorship.
No, it makes a strong case that the same person wrote John, 1st John, 2nd John and 3rd John. It makes zero case that the person was John the disciple. If it was John the disciple he would have been around 90 years old at best when he wrote it. My grandfather is a sharp man at 90 years old, but if he started to tell me specifics about what people said during WWII I would want some corroborating evidence.
Friendly reminder, the education level of educated people was far lower than what we consider educated today. Most of the disciples were not educated.
Next he quotes Irenaeus, which I have already covered.
According to Roberts, “ancient tradition is almost unanimous in attributing the Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”7 The early Church fathers had direct contact with the apostles, and this strongly supports the reliably of their testimony. The early Church father Origen affirmed that “…the Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John ‘are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven.’”8
What Roberts is doing is a logical fallacy. Specifically Ad Populum or Appeal to Popularity. He is also somewhat combining it with Appeal to Tradition. Just because they are traditionally believed by the majority does not make them right. Special creation was traditionally believed by almost every scientist to be how life on earth was started, that means special creation is right. No it does not.
The next claim is that early christian fathers had direct contact with the apostles so they must be right. Considering that Paul never physically met Jesus and pretty much took over Christianity, to the point of telling Peter that Peter was wrong about what Jesus was teaching. It seems that someone could easily add whatever they wanted to Christianity. There was no governing body over the early church. The best example is Marcion, mentioned earlier. He created the Gnostic church and claimed that only the Book of Luke and the letters of Paul were right. Marcion had many followers, these same people that are being claimed to have known the apostles and known the truth. Marcion is one of only many sects of Christianity during the years of the early church. Bart Ehrman goes over these sects in his book Lost Christianities. This was the whole point of the First Council of Niceae, to vote on a uniform doctrine of Christianity. It is naive to think that there was only one form of Christianity in the early church, yet that is what this article is claiming.
As for Origen, he was born in 185 CE well after anyone living during the time of Jesus had passed away.
It is highly unlikely that the authorship of the Gospels would be falsified.
Why? Authorship gives it authority, especially if it is a supposed eyewitness or someone writing for an eyewitness. Which is the claim of the two non-eyewitness testimonies.
Some would suggest that the authorship was attributed later simply in an attempt to add authority to the writings.
Yes it would. Do you believe someone posting anonymously or someone posting with a recognizable name. Even if they aren't an eyewitness but just know the eyewitnesses. Isn't this what the author is trying to prove, that the gospels have the authority of eyewitnesses?
However, Roberts shows that this theory falls short:Two of the biblical Gospels were named after relatively inconsequential characters who did not actually know Jesus in the flesh. If you were some second-century Christian wanting to make up an author for a Gospel, you would never choose Mark, even if he was believed to have been a companion of Peter. And you would never choose Luke because he had no direct connection to Jesus at all… If second-century Christians were fabricating traditional authorship for the canonical Gospels, surely they could have done a better job.9
Although Mark and Luke did not directly know Jesus, they had access to those who did.
Well except for the fact that Luke claims to not be an eyewitness, that kind of would throw a monkey wrench in claiming it to be written by an eyewitness. There is also the fact that most of the disciples were illiterate. This is all conjecture and proves nothing in the end.
This still makes me laugh. The blogger is trying to refute the idea that the names were given to the gospels to give them authority and at the same time trying to claim the authority of gospels through the authors. You can't have it both ways.
In addition, it is likely that Matthew and John were actual eyewitnesses of the events they record and knew Jesus personally. Yet, Roberts rightly concludes: “…the reliability of the Gospels does not depend upon who wrote them so much as on the nature and purpose of the writings themselves.”10
Just a bald assertion, no evidence to back up this claim that Matthew and John were eyewitnesses. I will ask again why did Matthew write completely in third person. The problems with John the disciple as an author are similar to Matthew. You can read about them on the Wikipedia page on the Gospel of John.
If the authorship does not matter then why write so much about it? The truth is the authorship does matter as it lends authority. If the manuscripts are just anonymous then there is no way to know anything about Jesus or his life. The manuscripts are anonymous.
I am going to stop here for this post and cover the rest later, probably tomorrow.
Here is the references numbered from above:
1 Mark D. Roberts, Can We Trust the Gospels (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007), pp. 84-86.
2 Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), p. 240.
3 Ibid., pp. 91-92.
4 Paul W. Barnett, Is The New Testament Reliable? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), p. 15.
5 F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), p. 132.
6 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978-1980).
7 Roberts, p. 43.
8 Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), p. 136.
9 Roberts, pp. 48-49.
10 Ibid., p. 49.