Jesus: Can We Believe What the Gospels Say About Him?

But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” G K Chesterton The more childlike we become —…

We know that the Old Testament contained 60 major messianic prophecies and 270 minor prophecies or conditions that were fulfilled by one person. That person was Jesus Christ.

Professor Peter Stoner and his mathematical class, overseen by the American Scientific Affrication, determined that the chance that any man might have lived to the present time and fulfilled eight of these prophecies is 1 in 10 to the seventeenth power. Or to put it in perspective that would be like covering the state of Texas 2 ft. deep in quarters, mark one quarter, bury it somewhere in Texas, blindfold a person and tell him to go find it on the 1st try. They determined that the odds for someone to fulfill these 8 of the prophecies were 1 to 13 trillion.

But what about the New Testament Gospels, can we believe the gospels about His life, crucifixion,  and resurrection?

Some critics say the gospels were written so far after the events that legend developed and distorted what was finally written down. The standard dating even in very liberal circles is the gospel of Mark in the AD 70’s, Matthew and Luke in the 80’s, and John in the AD 90’s. Other critics claim the Bible has been copied over and over so many times that it is full of errors. This simply is not true. The Dead Sea Scrolls and even older manuscripts prove the Scriptures have remained virtually unchanged. God has protected His Word.

Jesus was crucified when he was 35, so Mark’s writings were only 30 some years later. Well within the lifetimes of various eyewitnesses including hostile eyewitnesses who would have served as a corrective measure if false teachings about Jesus were going around.

In comparison, the 2 earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written more than 400 years after Alexander’s death.

 Caesar composed his history of the Gallic Wars between 58 and 50 BC. The earliest manuscript that exists today dates 1000 years after his death. The earliest manuscript of Plato is 1200 years removed from the original. With Aristotle, it is 1400 years and with Homer 500 years. Yet no one questions whether the manuscripts that exist today are authentic or not.  

With the New Testament, there are Greek manuscripts that are within a couple generations of the original writings. In addition, we also have very early translations of the gospels into Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Gothic, Georgian, Ethiopic and others.

Even if we didn’t have the Greek manuscripts and early translations, we could still reproduce the contents of the New Testament from the multitude of quotations in Commentaries, sermons, letters, and so forth. There are over 86,000 quotations from the early church fathers of the New Testament. The quantity of the New Testament material is almost embarrassing in comparison with the other ancient texts that have far greater elapsed times between the original and the earliest surviving copy.

We actually have fragments of the Gospel of John that dates to around 29 years from the original writing.

There are 5686 Greek manuscripts, over 10,000 Latin Vulgate manuscripts, over 9300 in Ethiopic, Slavic, Armenian and others. In all, there are over 25,000 ancient manuscripts in existence today.

Edward Glenny in “The Preservation of Scriptures” states: Not only do we have a great number of manuscripts, but they are very close in time to the originals they represent.”

J.Harold Greenlee in “Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism” writes that the number of New Testament manuscripts are overwhelming greater and much closer to the date of the originals than any other piece of ancient literature.

F.F. Bruce, a professor at the University of Manchester, England, and author of “The New Testament Documents are they Reliable” states there is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as for the New Testament.” “The evidence for our New Testament writings is even so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.”

 If you look at the Book of Acts, which was written by Luke, Paul is the central figure of the book and it ends with him being under house arrest in Rome. Secondly, he doesn’t mention Paul or Peters death (AD 60), or James death (AD 62). Third, there is no mention of the Jewish war with the Romans (beginning in AD 66) or the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Fourth, The Sadducees are still a prominent authority in Rome. Acts record no historical event occurring after AD 62. Noted Roman historian Colin Hemer concluded that Acts cannot be dated no later than AD 62. Since Acts is the second of a two-part work, the first part being the gospel of Luke and since Luke incorporates parts of the Gospel of Mark, that means that Mark is even earlier. So Mark was written no later than around AD 60, maybe even the late 50’s. If Jesus was put to death in AD 30 or 33, Then we’re talking a maximum gap of about 30 years.

To narrow the gap, even more, the gospels were written after almost all the letters of Paul, whose writing ministry probably began in the AD 40’s. Most of his major letters appeared during the 50’s.

In 1st Cor. 15, Paul uses language to indicate he is passing along this oral Creed that the early church was already using.

It reads:  “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep, Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles”.   

If the Crucifixion was as early as AD 30, Paul’s conversion was about AD 32. Immediately Paul was ushered into Damascus, where he met a Christian, Ananias and some other disciples. He later meets the other Apostles in Jerusalem which would have been no later than AD 35. At some point during this time, Paul was given this Creed, which had already been formulated and was being used in the early church.

In this Creed, you have the key facts about Jesus’s crucifixion and dying for our sins. Included are His burial and resurrection. You also have a detailed list of those to whom he appeared in resurrected form, including that He was seen alive by more than 500 people. This written Creed dates back to sometime immediately after, to a maximum of 5 years of the events themselves.

Dr. John Robinson in his book “Re-dating the New Testament” states his research led him to the conviction that the whole of the New Testament was written before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.

This means that the whole of the New Testament was written from a period starting almost immediately after the crucifixion to a maximum of 35 years after Jesus was crucified. This was much too soon for facts to have become distorted. In fact, it is well within the time when most people would still be living that was alive at the time the events took place and would have disputed anything that wasn’t factual.

Yes, we can believe the New Testament’s every word. We can especially believe the central theme, which is that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin and lived on earth as a man. He was crucified, dying for our sins. He rose again and was seen on earth by well over 500 people before He ascended to heaven. He is alive today and dwells in heaven. He has prepared a home there for those that believe and follow Him. He is returning soon to take His followers to heaven (the rapture).

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)

 

From my book “Things You Probably Didn’t Learn in Church”

 

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One thought on “Jesus: Can We Believe What the Gospels Say About Him?

  1. The original New Testament writers wrote under the Inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They were the “Holy Spirit Inspired Writers.” Their written works are called “The Inspired Word of God.” Copies were made of these originals, and then copies were made of those copies and then translated into the numerous languages of the earth. I’ve learned that the originals have either been destroyed or lost. Which of the “5686 Greek manuscripts, over 10,000 Latin Vulgate manuscripts, over 9300 in Ethiopic, Slavic, Armenian and others. In all, there are over 25,000 ancient manuscripts in existence today” is the Inspired Word of God? Or does it matter?

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