Are the Gospels Reliable?


I recently read a blog post by Brett Lunn, on his blog, Capturing Christianity, titled Why Everyone Should Believe that the Gospels are Reliable. If it were that easy, everyone would believe the Gospels are reliable. But, he makes some good points, and one in particular that sparked my interest.

The Gospels, of course, refer to the books we know as the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The earliest copies of those writings don’t actually contain a reference to authorship, which has occasioned a great deal of modern conjecture about who really wrote them. I say “modern conjecture” because the authorship wasn’t questioned for centuries.

In fact, the earliest charge from anyone raising a question about the authorship of the Gospels was advanced in the 4th Century by Faustus. Augustine, the great writer, thinker and theologian took on the skeptic, Faustus, with the response, “How do we know the authorship of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Varro, and other similar writers but by the unbroken chain of evidence?”[1] With the Gospels, we have a history of acceptance that they are authentic writings of the men to whom they are ascribed all the way up to the 4th Century. That’s a pretty good chain of title.

Further, it’s not as if the writings didn’t actually identify the authors, as people suppose. They did identify the authors, but the identification was in the titles (not in the text), and they didn’t uniformly identify the authors in exactly the same format. Some said, “Gospel according to….”, and some simply said, “According to….” Much ado about nothing?

Another criticism is that the Gospels weren’t written by the most officious people. John, of course, was a close disciple of Jesus, and so was Matthew, but Matthew was kind of suspect. He was a tax collector, and tax collectors for the Roman government were persona non gratis in the Jewish outskirts of the Roman Empire. Couldn’t a disciple with better credentials have authored a Gospel?

Mark and Luke aren’t even disciples! Luke was a companion of Paul. He wasn’t even Jewish; he was a gentile! He wrote in the Greek style of the highly educated, using Greek expressions, instead of Hebrew ones. We know him chiefly through Paul’s letters: Luke the doctor (Col. 4:14) who was the last companion to remain with Paul before his death (2 Tim. 4:10-11) among other references.

And Mark? He was a companion of Peter. He was also a companion of Paul, being described as a missionary with Barnabas and Paul (John Mark) in whose house many gathered to pray. Paul also asks for Mark to come to him in the same letter in which he laments that Luke is the only person still with him. (2 Timothy 4:11) Peter referred to Mark as his son, which most scholars take to mean a term of honor and endearment. (1 Peter 5:13)

Mark also had a falling out with Paul at some point, however. (Acts 15:36-39) Luke was a Gentile. Matthew was a despised tax collector. Couldn’t even a fledgling religion come up with credible scribes of the central story?

Sure, if Christianity was nothing but a religion concocted by the imaginations of men. Frankly, why would anyone choose this cast of characters?

I think the answer is that no one would have chosen these guys, and the story wasn’t made up. These are the men who reported what they saw, what they heard and what they knew to be true from firsthand accounts. The truth is kind of like that. It isn’t neat and clean like a story someone made up. It is what it is.

And this is the point that intrigues me by the article that inspires this piece. Continue reading “Are the Gospels Reliable?”

How the New Testament Canon Arose

How the Gospels and other documents that have come to comprise the New Testament became recognized as scripture and other documents did did not, is the subject of this piece.

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / janaka
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / janaka

In this piece, I largely follow a presentation given by Dr. Danial Wallace*, but I add in some additional information about the early church to round out the information. Dr. Wallace underscores the fact that the early church was particularly concerned about the authorship of the writings they relied upon. They only trusted the writings of the apostles and associates of the apostles. We see this concern reflected in the writings of the earliest church fathers.

The original gospels, however, were anonymous, notes Wallce; that is they did not have internal references to who wrote them. They were only given names to distinguish them from each other externally, and this tradition went all the way back as far as we can trace them. The fact that the early church was so concerned with authorship, but universally accepted and used the four canonical gospels, suggests that the authorship of the Gospels was never in doubt.

This point will become more important below. How the Gospels and other documents that have come to comprise the New Testament became recognized as scripture and other documents did not, is the subject of this piece.

Continue reading “How the New Testament Canon Arose”

Dating the Gospels and the Resurrection Story

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / CWMGary
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / CWMGary

When were the Gospels written? This is an important question.

Most scholars date the Gospels between 40 and 65 years from the death of Christ as follows: Mark 70 AD, Matthew 80 AD, Luke 85 AD and John 95 AD. The scholarly position is stated concisely in the narrative on Dating the Gospels linked here.  Other scholars date them much earlier than that, but Gary Habermas, adopts the majority scholarly view in making his argument for the historical resurrection. (Gary Habermas Explains The Earliest Source Of Resurrection Facts.)

Virtually no one disagrees that Paul’s letters (the ones scholars concede) were written in the 50’s AD. James, Peter and Paul all died in the 60’s AD during the persecution of Christians by Rome. Another key date is the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. The scholarly consensus is that “the deaths of these important figures likely encouraged the writing down of the narratives about Jesus” (though, some scholars maintain the narratives were written down well before that time).

(Incidentally, scholars in the 19th Century began to posit the idea that the Gospels were written much later, as in the 2nd Century, and that the Gospels were not written by the people attributed to them. That view of the Gospels grew into the 20th Century, but modern scholars have backed off that view and concede that the Gospels were written within a generation of the death of Jesus.)

Most scholars agree that Mark was the first Gospel to be written, and that Mark was written around the year 70 AD. Most scholars believe the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were composed in the 80’s, using Mark as source material and a “collection of Jesus’s sayings” (oral tradition). The Gospel of John was believed to derive from different sources (like the Apostle John, himself).

While there is some disagreement on how early the Gospels were written, the scholarly work of Gary Habermas has convinced most scholars, even skeptical ones, that the message of the Gospel – that Jesus, lived, died and rose from the dead, appearing to his followers – goes back many years before the Gospels are believed to have been written.  In fact, it goes back to the very beginning. Continue reading “Dating the Gospels and the Resurrection Story”

Exploring the Gospels from Different Angles: Location, Names and Nuance

Dr. Peter J. Williams looks at the Gospels from the angle of location, names and nuances that confirm the authenticity of the Gospels.

Kinnereth (Sea of Galilee), Israel - panorama of the southern end, February 5th, 2014I am continually interested in the latest evidence for God and the authenticity of the Bible. Not that I am doubting and looking for evidence to bolster my faith. It’s more like opening presents on Christmas.

I searched, and I found the path that I am on long ago. Not that I was a great discoverer; far from it. God saw me coming. Not that I have arrived, but there is no other path for me. I was meant to be on this one. When Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through me”, I believed.

I still believe. Not that this belief is unsubstantiated faith. Far from it! God made Himself known to me years ago. He met me where I was then, and He continues to be true, trustworthy, faithful and present today. The older I get and more I learn, the more true it rings.  Continue reading “Exploring the Gospels from Different Angles: Location, Names and Nuance”