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Choose Life That You Might Live

Part 7: The Reliability of The New Testament
I
f we applied whatever criteria 'scholars' use to dismiss the Gospels, to the evidence for other ancient historical figures, we would be forced to dismiss as myth every single thing we think we think we know about these people. So what is the excuse for many scholar's policy that what's sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander?

Carol Brooks
Edited by Vicki Narlee

List of Chapters
For a slightly longer description of each chapter, please go to the Main Index

Part 1: ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’. The question is how do you know that the spiritual path you are on will lead somewhere you want to be?
Part 2: Religious Pluralism. Anyone who doesn't have their facts straight cannot be trusted, and certainly not to show you the path to God.
Part 3: Faith and The Bible. Christianity is perhaps the only religion that does not demand 'blind faith' from its followers.
Part 4: God And His Bible. There is far more evidence in favor of the Bible being true, than there is for any of the other 'holy books.
Part 5: Differences and Discrepancies in the Old Testament.
Part 6: Why Jesus Is Without Equal. Anyone can claim to be divine, be divinely inspired, or have mystical visions or experiences, but...
YOU ARE HERE001orange Part 7: The Reliability of The New Testament. Applying the same standards to the Bible as we do to other ancient literary works.
Part 8: Differences and Discrepancies in the New Testament. Most alleged 'mistakes' arise from understanding too little about the Bible.
Part 8 b: Alleged Discrepancies in the Resurrection Accounts
Part 9: The Bible, Then And Now. The New Testament happens to be the best authenticated ancient document... by far.
Part 10: Historical Corroboration. Were any of the Gospel accounts substantiated by non-Christian sources?
Part 11: Does archaeology confirm, or undermine, the New Testament accounts?
Part 12: Is The Evidence Insufficient or Too Obscure? A far more sensible way to look at it is... the more severe the consequences, the fewer risks we should take.
Part 13: The Message of The Bible. The Heaven Jesus was sent to tell us about is no pie in the sky ethereal place 'somewhere out there'
Part 14: The Warning of The Bible. We are all under the death penalty.
Part 15: Who Is and Isn't a Christian. Since the word originated with the Bible, only the Bible has the right to define what a "Christian" is. Part 16: Myths and misconceptions that stem from knowing too little about Biblical Christianity.

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ON THIS PAGE

Introduction
if we applied whatever criteria 'scholars' use to discredit the Gospels, to the evidence for other ancient historical figures, we would be forced to dismiss as myth every single thing we think we think we know about these people. So what is the excuse for many scholar's policy that what's sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander?

Authorship: Were The Gospels Written By The People They Have Been Attributed To?
The evidence is strongly in favor of Matthew, Mark, John and Luke the physician having wrtten the Gospels

Dating: When Was The New Testament Written?
In summary there is overwhelming evidence that the three Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written within 20-30 years of the Cross, and that the letters of Paul were largely complete before that time

Other Gaps Between Ancient Record and The Events They Describe
If we were to discard all accounts of ancient events written more than 20 years after the events they describe, we had better re-evaluate what we think we know about numerous ancient figures.

Why Did The New Testament Authors Wait So Long?

Motive... Did the Gospel Writers Intend To Record History, Or Did They Have A Hidden Agenda?

What Would It Have Taken For a First Century Jew To Believe in Christ?
When even the first line of the Shema (their daily prayer) was, and is, a declaration of belief in the One God.

Did The New Testament Authors Borrow from Pagan Myths?


Introduction

Liberal scholars reject the Gospels on the basis of certain 'standards'. For example, on March 3, shortly after the release of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ, an interviewer with NPR asked Jewish scholar Daniel Matt what he thought of the movie. Note: Daniel Matt is professor of Jewish spirituality at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and a leading scholar of Kabbalah and the Zohar, who actually thinks Moses wrote most of the latter. Matt replied

    I see Jesus as a Jewish mystic, I see him as a profound Jewish teacher... The Gospel's presentation of Jesus and of the tragedy of his death does not necessarily reflect the historical reality of Jesus' own lifetime.  And I think the problem with the movie is that it assumes that the Gospels are totally historically accurate... it's impossible to know what actually went on in the 1st century between Jesus and other Jews of his time.  We certainly know that Jesus had no intention of starting a new religion; that he wanted simply to live Judaism and to find God through the Jewish faith and to bring other Jews to God. [01]

While I am sure many people sagely nodded their heads in agreement (I have to wonder if you are doing so now), you need to think about Matt's reply for just a moment.  And, if you do so with any honestly, you will realize that it is extremely flawed. Of course the story told in the Gospels does not necessarily reflect the historical reality of Jesus' own lifetime". Similarly, not one single historical account necessarily reflects the reality of the person or event they wrote about. We assume it is true, unless proved otherwise.

    Note: As an aside, it is true that that Jesus had no intention of starting a "new religion". However, it is also true that he took the Old Testament laws to an entirely new level. However, that topic is beyond the scope of this article. For some insight, pl. read Jesus and The Law

Similarly, Daniel Matt also tells us that "it is impossible to know what went on in the 1st century between Jesus and the other Jews of the time". The difficulty here is that if we applied whatever standards Matt used to dismiss the Gospels, to the evidence for other ancient historical figures, it would be impossible to know what went on at any other time in history, between any individuals or groups... Cleopatra and her relationship with Caesar, Ptolemy or Mark Anthony for example. We certainly could say nothing about Alexander the Great's megalomania, policies, dress, or conquests. And, much close to Jesus' time, we certainly wouldn't know a thing about Herod the Great and his tyrannical rule.

In fact, we would be forced to dismiss as myth every single thing we think we know about these people, simply because everything we assume to be factual history is based (just as the Gospels are) on historians. Someone wrote down things Herod said and did, and someone else, in fact quite a few people, wrote down what Jesus and the Jews of His day said and did. Yet, scholars pick and choose what they think was written at the time and what was added later. For example, a 2004 article in Newsweek magazine said

    "The writers of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John shaped their narratives several decades after Jesus' death to attract converts and make their young religion, understood by many Christians to be a faction of Judaism, attractive to as broad an audience as possible... And many scholars believe that the author of Matthew, which is the only Gospel to include the "His blood be on us" line, was writing after the destruction of the Temple in 70 and inserted the words to help explain why such misery had come upon the people of Jerusalem. According to this argument, blood had already fallen on them and on their children." [02]

The question that has to be asked is how said 'scholars' presume to know that this line was inserted at a later date? Since one can safely assume that none of them were peering over the author's shoulder, there would have to be some solid tangible reason for them to come to this conclusion. But there is not. This statement is not based on anything that even resembles evidence, but is simply their opinion, intended to discredit the Bible.

So what is the excuse for many scholar's policy that what's sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander? As said by Grant Jeffrey (Emphasis Added)

    The underlying assumption of the liberal scholars who reject the historicity of the Gospels is their belief that these documents were composed over one hundred years after the events of Jesus' life and death. The scholars call the period between the death of Christ and the writing of the Gospels the formative period. The popular German Tubingen school of thought or theory is that the Gospels were edited by unknown Christian redactors to create new theological statements that Jesus never uttered. They suggest that these Gospel accounts were mainly myths or religious legends that developed during the lengthy interval between the lifetime of Jesus and the time these accounts were set down in writing. While this attitude is extremely widespread in liberal universities and seminaries, the evidence produced in the last fifty years provides powerful proof that the Gospel writers were eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus of Nazareth.  [03]

By implication, if the Gospels were composed as mythical accounts over one hundred years after Jesus' death, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were mere pen names for other anonymous, but very imaginative, authors.

In view of the fact that different standard are applied to the Bible vs. other ancient documents, we need to ask the million dollar question ... bias aside, do the New Testament records fulfill the historian's requirements of ...

     Internal reliability (they claim to be primary-source documents and ring true as such).

     External reliability (their authorship and dates are backed up by such solid extrinsic testimony.

     Transmissional reliability (their texts have been transmitted accurately from the time of writing to our own day and show no internal evidence of tampering. (See Chapter The Bible Then and Now) [04]


    ON THIS PAGE
    Authorship
    : Were the Gospels written by the people they have been attributed to?
    Dating: When were the Gospels written? Did legend turn Jesus from a 'wise man' into the Son of God?
    Motive: Did the Gospel authors intend to preserve history, did they have a hidden agenda, or 'borrow' from pagan sources?

NEXT FOUR CHAPTERS
Transmission
: Is the Bible today what was originally written?
Discrepancies: Why are there are numerous details on which the Gospels seem to disagree?
Historical Corroboration: Were any of the Gospel accounts substantiated by non-christian sources? Why isn't there more evidence?
Archaeological Corroboration: Can any of the New Testament be confirmed by archaeology?

 


Authorship: Who Wrote The Four Gospels?
There are those who believe that the four Gospels were not written by the people they have been attributed to, but that the authors used pen names, or even that the names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were randomly assigned to the gospels, in order to distinguish them one from another.

Neither of these theories holds water simply because, for example, Matthew was a hated tax collector, which makes it unlikely that another author would have used his name as a pseudonym. Similarly, Luke was a Greek physician who lived in Antioch, in ancient Syria. No Jew would choose to write in the name of a Gentile whom they considered... well... dogs.

However, the authors of the apocryphal gospels, which were written much later on, did precisely the opposite. For example, The Letter of Peter to Philip found at Nag Hammadi, a city in Upper Egypt, was probably originally written in Greek and dates back to the late 2nd century or the beginning of the 3rd. It, therefore, could not possibly have been written by the apostle Peter. The name "Peter" was probably chosen because it was a distinguished and well known one that carried a lot more weight than Matthew, Mark and Luke. Similarly, The Gospel of Mary which, incidentally, didn't specify which Mary, was found in Cairo in 1896 and dates to the second century. Note: The Gospel of Judas was only given that title because it claims that Jesus wanted Judas to betray Him because it was necessary to fulfill Jesus' plan. [05]

I strongly suggest you read The Canon of Scripture and The Apocrypha

The early church was unanimous in their belief that Matthew, Mark, John and Luke the physician wrote the Gospels.

In his writings dated back to about A.D. 125, Papais, bishop of Hierapolis, wrote a five volume treatise called An Exposition of the Lord's Oracles. All that remains of this works are a few quotations and references by other people of the time. Irenaeus (c. 185) and Eusebius (c. 300), for example. The following is what Papias said about the authorship of the gospels: (Emphasis Added)

    Mark, who had indeed been Peter's interpreter, accurately wrote as much as he remembered, yet not in order, about that which was either said or did by the Lord. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but later, as I said, Peter, who would make the teachings anecdotally but not exactly an arrangement of the Lord's reports, so that Mark did not fail by writing certain things as he recalled. For he had one purpose, not to omit what he heard or falsify them.

    Matthew compiled the reports in a Hebrew manner of speech, but each interpreted them as he could. [06]

Which makes it reasonably clear that although the name Mark occurs several times in the New Testament, and it is not known for certain how many men are being referred to, the Mark mentioned in 1 Peter 5:13 was probably the author of the second Gospel, since Peter was obviously very close to him, calling him "my son Mark".

Papais also referred to John the elder and John the apostle, and it is not clear whether he is talking about one person or two. However, the rest of the fragment seems to make it clear that John, the son of Zebedee, authored the Gospel.

And, if you are concerned that the only evidence we have as to what Papais wrote is from others that quoted him, please remember that Tacitus, a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire lived from about AD 56 – 120. His Histories and his Annals, both rely on two manuscripts... one from the ninth century and the other from the eleventh. Yet, Tacitus is considered a very reliable historian.


Dating: When Was The New Testament Written?
Critics claim that, if the New Testament was written decades after the actual events occurred, the authors could not have accurately recorded the details. Yet, Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, yet the most reliable account of his reign is generally held to be that of Arrian, who lived from the first to second century AD.

However, if one actually reads what they wrote, the authors were very clear that either they were themselves eyewitnesses to Jesus' ministry, or what they were recording was the testimony of eyewitnesses. For example...

    Peter stated that they "did not follow cleverly devised tales", but were eyewitnesses of Christ's majesty. And that they themselves heard God's voice from heaven when they were with Jesus on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16, 18)

    John said they were testifying to what they had seen with their eyes, what they had looked at and touched with their hands. (1 John 1:1), and referring to the crucifixion, said "he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true... "(John 19:35)

The one exception was the Gentile Luke who was not a firsthand eyewitness to Jesus' ministry. However, as he said, after carefully investigating everything, he compiled an account of things handed down by those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning. And that it seemed fitting to him to write these accounts out in consecutive order (Luke 1:1-4).

Additionally the sources were often, although not always, named. While the Gospels speak of anonymous people (a 'man with a withered hand', or 'a leper'), they also sometimes name people involved, even those who played very minor roles. Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell the story of an official of the synagogue whose daughter was dying, but only Mark and Luke give us his name... Jairus. Luke names Cleopas as one of the two disciples who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus (24:13-32), and Mark says that the blind beggar that Jesus healed near Jericho was called Bartimaeus (10:46) [Also see chapter Alleged NT Contradictions]. In chapter 15, Mark says that a "passer-by coming from the country" was pressed into carrying Christ's cross. The way Mark identifies the man by his sons points to the fact that his readers knew who Alexander and Rufus were.

    They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross. (Mark 15:21)

Luke, traveling with Paul on some of his journeys, was an eyewitness to many of the events related in Acts as seen by his use of the pronoun "we" in certain passages.

    When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. So putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis; and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days. (Acts 16:10-12 NASB)

    When they had been brought safely through, then we found out that the island was called Malta. The natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all. (Acts 28:1-2 NASB)

    At the end of three months we set sail on an Alexandrian ship which had wintered at the island, and which had the Twin Brothers for its figurehead. After we put in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. (Acts 28:11-12 NASB)

For evidence that these journeys really happened see chapter Archaeology Accuracy of the New Testament

All of which means these accounts were being circulated in the lifetime of people who could deny their accuracy. In other words, it would have been relatively easy to bring into disrepute a religion that had not yet spread its wings. It is an indisputable fact that both the Jews and the Romans would have leapt at the opportunity to discredit the claims concerning Jesus' life, death and resurrection. The fact that Christianity grew and prospered is a indication that the authorities did not have enough proof that the claims were false. The following is a good example of this.

When Peter and John healed a lame man who used to daily beg alms at one gate of the Temple, people who had often seen him sitting there, were "filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him." (Acts 3-4) This greatly disturbed the priests who wanted to know by what power they had done this. After listening to Peter's very spirited reply, about how the man they had crucified had healed the beggar after being raised from the dead, the officials began to confer with one another, wondering what to do with these men since, as they said, it was apparent to all who lived in Jerusalem that "a noteworthy miracle" had taken place through them, and they couldn't deny it. (Acts 4:16).

Their solution? Command the disciples not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.

And we all know how well that worked.

By the way... There is also a very interesting, yet often overlooked factor in Luke's gospel, which is the only one of the four to focus on the events surrounding Jesus' birth from Mary's perspective. In chapter 2, Luke twice tells us that Mary "treasured" some things in her heart (The shepherd's account of the angelic visitation in verses 8-19, and Jesus sitting in the temple as a young boy talking to the teachers in verses 41-51). Since no one else could have known what Mary was thinking and feeling, either Luke spoke to Mary who recalled her thoughts to him, or he had to have spoken to someone very close to her whom she had confided in.

Similarly, the account of the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness had to have come from the lips of the Savior Himself, since no one was with Him during this ordeal. In fact Jesus only called His disciples together after this incident. (Mark 1)
 

Possible Problems With Eyewitness Testimony
Even in a modern court of law, great reliance is usually placed on eyewitness testimony. However, there is always the danger that a witnesses' memory has been compromised in some way.  For example, since the human memory is very vulnerable to bias or suggestion, a third party can, by introducing misleading cues, cause false memories, even of details that did not occur. This is why attorneys place great importance on witnesses for the opposing side, whose testimony actually favors their case.

However, one can hardly believe that any advocate's power of persuasion would be sufficient to sway the story of the disciple Thomas who, along with the other 11, spent three years with Christ then, after the resurrection, actually put his hand in the gash in Jesus' side.

In any case, we are not talking about one witness, but several... Matthew, Mark. Luke, John, Paul, James, Jude, etc., all of whom tell the same story. In fact, in the first of his two letters to the church in Corinth, Paul wrote that the resurrected Jesus appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve (one assumes he is speaking of the apostles), then He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom were still alive at the time of writing. Then He appeared to James, and finally to Paul himself. (1 Corinthians 15:5-8)

In other words, he named people, including the one time skeptic, James (see John 7:3-5), who could corroborate what he was saying. If there had been no resurrection, Paul would have been a fool to be so explicit.

While it is true that the disciples were never put on a literal witness stand, we have to remember that the bulk of their preaching was done in the synagogues in the presence of hostile Jewish religious leaders. It is inconceivable that these men who not only had detailed knowledge of Jesus' ministry, but were instrumental in ending His life, would have sat idly by while the disciples willfully manipulated the facts, or told a bunch of trumped up lies.

Moreover, on the day of Pentecost, when all Israel was in Jerusalem for the Feast, Peter actually appealed to what the Jews already knew... [Emphasis Added]

     "Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know (Acts 2:22 NASB)

How easy would it have been for someone to stand up and throw a handy tomato or two at Peter? Well... at least dispute everything Peter said.

So just when were the Gospels written? Certainly not the couple of hundred years after the events, as some critics claim. In fact we can date the gospels to within 20-30 years after Jesus died and was resurrected.

Yes, I said 20-30 years.


Narrowing the Gap
Most of the following information is from chapter nine (Pages 235 - 248) of the Book I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek. Additional details from this chapter are on THIS page.

Before A.D. 100
Three of the early Christian authors, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement of Rome, writing before A.D. 110, quoted passages from most of the New Testament books, with the exception of Jude’s one epistle and John's second letter (not to be confused with John's Gospel). Which means that the New Testament documents from which they quoted were written around, or earlier than, the turn of the century.

Before A.D. 70
When the Jews of Judea rebelled against Rome in 66 AD, the Roman army, led by the future Emperor Titus, besieged the city and, just four years later, killed thousands of the residents of Jerusalem and burned and destroyed the temple. This temple was not just a small building, but a huge complex that was an integral part of Jewish religious life from the time of Solomon. In fact, the importance of the Temple cannot be overestimated. The Jews considered the Temple the earthly dwelling place of the Almighty, whose name is so holy they dared not even speak it. It was to this place they brought the sacrifices, without which there was no atonement for sins. The Temple complex was also the seat of the Great Sanhedrin, which was the supreme court of the day.

The New Testament documents speak of the temple and the activities associated with it, yet none of them even mentioned this terrible tragedy. This in spite of the fact that two of the Gospel authors were disciples of Jesus who personally heard Him predict the destruction of the Temple before their generation passed away.

If we were to read a book about the history of the World Trade Center, which says nothing about the towers being destroyed, but ends with them still standing, one would conclude that the book was written before September 11th 2001.

We can similarly conclude that most of the New Testament was written before A.D. 70.

Before A.D. 62
The physician Luke, author of both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, traveled with Paul and recorded prominent events in the unfolding of the early church. He was so precise and his narrative so detailed, that he correctly identified "local politicians, local slang, local weather patterns, local topography, local business practices". He even recorded the right depth of water about a quarter mile off Malta as his ship was about to run aground in a storm!  [See Chapter Archaeological Corroboration]

In his narrative, Luke also recorded many, many details of Paul's ministry, including his sermons, his theological summit with Peter and James (Jesus' brother and the leader of the church in Jerusalem), and the trials Paul underwent... shipwreck, beatings and imprisonment. He even mentions the martyrdom of Stephen and the other James... John's brother. Yet, conspicuous by it's absence is the fact that Luke did not say a word about Paul's execution by the Roman emperor Nero, or James' death at the hands of the Sanhedrin, that had earlier sentenced Jesus to death. In other words, we can safely surmise that Paul and James were both very much alive up to the time Luke finished writing the book of Acts.

Since Paul was executed during Nero's reign, which ended in A.D. 68, and the Jewish historian Josephus tells us that James was killed in 62, we can conclude, beyond reasonable doubt, that the book of Acts was written before 62.

Before A.D. 60
If Acts was written by AD 62, then the Gospel of Luke was written even earlier. We know this because the first verse of Acts says, "in my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach.." The "former book" was the Gospel of Luke which was addressed to Theophilus as well.

Therefore, considering that at least a short period of time passed between the writing of the two accounts, the Gospel of Luke had to be written before A.D. 60.

Additionally, in the first four verses of his Gospel, Luke says he consulted other sources... his words indicating that he was speaking of written sources. "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us..." (Luke 1:1). Although we do not know for sure, it is entirely possible that he was referring to Matthew and Mark's Gospels and/or other written records which have been lost.

Before A.D. 55-56
There is little doubt that the apostle Paul's letter to the Corinthians was written between AD 55 and 56. It was largely written to resolve controversies about various subjects, including prophecy, speaking in tongues, and the Lord's Supper, which means that the church was celebrating the Lord's Supper and experiencing supernatural activity within 25 years of Jesus' ascension. However, this letter also contains the earliest testimony to the resurrection, which Paul 'received', as he said, through direct revelation. (See Galatians 1:11-12)

    For I delivered to you what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), then the twelve. After that He appeared to more that five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all of the apostles; and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NASB).

And when did Paul become a Christian?

In his letter to the Galatians (1:17) Paul told his readers that he did not go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before him but, instead, went to Arabia, then returned once more to Damascus. We do not know what part of Arabia Paul went to, nor why he went there, but what we do know is that he was preaching the Gospel in Damascus, and had a narrow escape while he was there. (Luke mentions this escape in Acts 9:24-25, without naming the king). As Paul told the Corinthian church...

    In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands. (2 Corinthians 11:32-33 NASB). 

In other words, Paul's escape from Damascus occurred before 40 A.D., the year King Aretas died. In the very next verse Paul said, it was but three years later that he went up to Jerusalem "to become acquainted with Cephas (Peter), and stayed with him fifteen days". He adds that he did not see any of the other of the apostles, except James, the Lord's brother. (Galatians 1:18-19 NASB). 

The point of all this is that Paul was already preaching in Damascus a mere seven (or less) years after Jesus' death and resurrection, and he visited James and Peter in Jerusalem around the same time.

A very early date for Mark?
There is a possibility that the papyrus fragment 7Q5 (fragment 5 from Qumran cave 7) found in the caves in Qumran is a copy of Mark's Gospel. The fragments were dated between 50 B.C. and A.D. 50. If we have copies from A.D. 50, then the original must have been written earlier.

In Summary there is overwhelming evidence that the three Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written within 20-30 years of the Cross, and that the letters of Paul were largely complete before that time. Myths and legends do not begin to proliferate in the same city as the event took place, while eyewitnesses are still alive. All the authorities had to do to squash this fledgling religion was to haul Jesus’ remains out of the tomb and parade it around Jerusalem.


Other Gaps Between Ancient Record and The Events They Describe

It stands to reason that the closer a document is to the event it describes, the more credible it is, which is why many skeptics will maintain that even a 20-40 year gap between the events and the written accounts is too long to be reliable. However, if we were to discard all accounts of ancient events written more than 20 years after the events they describe, we had better reevaluate what we think we know about numerous ancient figures. For example...

The two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great, written by Arrian and Plutarch, date back to more than 400 years after the death of Alexander in 323 B.C. Yet, historians generally consider them to be accurate.

Most people assume that Roman general and statesman Julius Caesar (100 B.C.-44 B.C.) who turned the Roman Republic into the powerful Roman Empire, was a real live person who said and did everything recorded in ancient sources. Yet the earliest manuscript we have about Caesar's life was written by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus. His Lives of the Twelve Caesars was written in AD 121, during the reign of the emperor Hadrian. However, the first pages about Julius Caesar's youth are missing.

    At the beginning of the third century, an official named Marius Maximus wrote another collection of twelve biographies, imitating Suetonius. This work is now lost but was used as a source by the anonymous author of the Historia Augusta, a fourth-century collection of imperial biographies. [07]

And what makes it worse is that, when it comes to ancient secular writings, in most cases the manuscripts in our possession can be centuries removed from the original writings. For example, Caesar's Gallic Wars was composed between 58 and 50 B.C. But the oldest of the surviving nine or ten good manuscripts dates back to some 900 years after Caesar's day.

And what about the biographies and teachings of some of the other religious leaders?

    Although the Gathas of Zoroaster, about 1000 B.C. are believed to be authentic, most of the Zoroastrian scriptures were not put into writing until after the 3rd century A.D.

    Siddhartha Gautama, or the Buddha lived in the 6th century B.C., but his biography "appears to have evolved over time and was largely completed by the Buddhacarita, an epic poem written by Asvaghoa in the 2nd century CE." [08]

Yet, we have a papyrus fragment of John's Gospel dating to about 130 A.D., a near complete codex (manuscript in book form) of the Gospel of John dated to around 200 A.D., which makes it not only one of the oldest New Testament manuscripts known to exist, but a mere one century removed from the original writing. We also have a great part of the New Testament dated between 175-225 A.D. [More about manuscript evidence in the chapter The Bible Then and Now]


The Supernatural Element?
Crossing The Rubicon
So is it perhaps the supernatural element in the Gospels that cause men to nit pick every detail? Not entirely. For example, the expression "to cross the Rubicon" means to take an irrevocable step that commits one to a specific course of action. But, where does the expression come from?

Suetonius, who was archivist under the emperor Trajan, emperor of Rome from 98 AD until his death in 117, and secretary and historian to Hadrian, emperor of Rome from 117 to 138 AD. In his Lives of the Twelve Caesars, which provides valuable information on the lives and political careers of the first Roman Emperors, and includes their personal habits and physical appearance etc., Suetonius tells us the following story...

In 49 B.C. Caesar, having risen in both power and popularity, became a threat to the power of the Senate who called upon him to resign his command and disband his army. Caesar had a decision to make... either do as the Senate ordered or cross the river Rubicon, which marked the boundary between Gaul and Italy, and take on Pompey, military and political leader of the Roman Republic.

In other words, this small river marked the point of no return. As Caesar told those with him... We may still draw back: but, once across that little bridge, we shall have to fight it out.’ As the story goes, although he hesitated, Caesar did cross the small river, thus setting in motion the events that would turn the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.

Although, in Julius Caesar's own writing.... The Civil Wars, he does say he was at Ravenna (Ch. 5) and, after his demands were refused, set off with a legion to Ariminum (Ch. 8), [09]  which meant he had to cross the Rubicon. However, it is Suetonius who gives us details, mentioning what made Caesar cross the river. In his words ...

    A person remarkable for his noble mien and graceful aspect, appeared close at hand, sitting and playing upon a pipe. When, not only the shepherds, but a number of soldiers also flocked from their posts to listen to him, and some trumpeters among them, he snatched a trumpet from one of them, ran to the river with it, and sounding the advance with a piercing blast, crossed to the other side. Upon this, Caesar exclaimed, "Let us go whither the omens of the Gods and the iniquity of our enemies call us. The die is now cast."  [10]

Since The Civil Wars, makes no mention of any hesitation on Caesar's part, our commonly used phrase "Crossing the Rubicon" is derived from Suetonius' version which includes a supernatural element we seem to have taken in our stride. Additionally, no one seems to doubt Suetonius wrote Lives of the Twelve Caesars, although the earliest copy of the book dates to around AD 950, a full 800 years later.

Why then are different standards applied to the Gospel narratives?


Why Did The New Testament Authors Wait So Long?
Why did the Gospel authors wait so many years before committing these events to paper?

In those days, the vast majority of people were illiterate, and even those that weren't, were unlikely to put quill to parchment. Writing was held in high regard and largely confined to court/tax records, religious documents and some important transactions. There was no such think as a newspaper and, with the exception of artistic writing such as poetry, fictional material such as novels were was an unknown luxury. Besides which, if you think about it, even in this day of modern literary conveniences, what percentage of people write an article or book about a historical event?

Additionally, many early Christians expected Jesus to return in their lifetime. However, as time went by and there was no sign of the return of our Lord, they could very well have decided to record what had happened. Added to this is the fact that, as the church began to grow and expand, the most efficient method to communicate the story of Jesus was by the written word.

However, when even we can write about events that took place that many years ago, especially those that made a great impact on our lives, how much more does this apply to a culture that had an outstanding oral tradition, very similar to the one we read about in the book Roots? Anyone who has read Alex Hailey's novel is aware that in many ancient cultures stores were memorized in great detail and passed down, with amazing accuracy, through the generations.


Motive... Did the Gospel Writers Intend To Record History, Or Did They Have A Hidden Agenda?

The Conspiracy Theory.
While there is little argument that Jesus lived and died, and few will disagree with Him being a "good and wise' man, the debate begins to heat up when the topic of the supernatural events surrounding His life and death is broached, starting with the miracles Jesus is said to have performed. However, the controversy reaches fever pitch when it comes to the Resurrection. And please don't ask where the death certificate or medical reports are... this was the 1st century for goodness sake.

Skeptics advance numerous theories, including a) the disciples stole Jesus' body b) Jesus didn't really die, but merely passed out then. Then, after being placed severely wounded and bleeding in a damp tomb for three days without food or water, somehow recovered. Unfortunately neither theory makes a whit of sense, considering there were guards at the tomb which was sealed with a stone so heavy, it would have taken several men to move it.

Jews for Jesus points out what seems to be the second most common response to these questions.. "who knows?" (The first is probably a less polite version of "nonsense")

    One response to all these "theories" is to say, "Who's to say what is true? It's all a matter of speculation." After all, one can reason, even in this century we are presented with mysteries to which we probably won't get answers -- What ever happened to Amelia Earhardt? Who killed Kennedy? Was there a conspiracy in the death of Martin Luther King? [11]

But it is important. In regard to your life, it is the most important decision you will ever make.

That Jesus was resurrected from the dead is the whole point and hope of the Gospel message. He was the first to be permanently raised, and will be followed in due course by believers. (Even the few people who were miraculously resurrected by ancient prophets, Jesus Himself, and the apostles after Him, did not live forever. They were all destined to die again at some point). See Chapter The Message of The Bible

Of course the resurrection story could have been one gigantic hoax.. a conspiracy. However, as Matt Slick of carm.org says,

    "... in order for this conspiracy to work several people would have needed to get together and write documents that were not only inspirational but reflected accurate historical accounts, could stand up to cross examination, and agreed with each other sufficiently to avoid being exposed as a fraud. After all, if their stories and writings were contradictory, their conspiracy would fall apart. This means that there had to be large and sophisticated collusion and careful, deliberate fabrication over a long period of time since the New Testament documents were written over approximately a 50 year span. The writers would have to be very careful about who was named and what places were mentioned. Why? Because the accounts dealt with actual places and people and they would have to make sure it was all correct.

    If these people wanted to gain power and influence by concocting a plan as grandiose as this, is it logical to say that they agreed to make up a story about this person Jesus, who was known to many people, and say things about Him that were not true, and then get people to believe that He had risen from the dead? Does it make sense that they would go against not only the Jewish system but also that of the Roman Empire, all so that they could try and gain power and influence in an area already dominated by two powerful cultures, the Jewish and Roman? Or is it more logical to say that they didn't conspire to deceive, but simply wrote and testified to what they saw? Doesn't it make more sense to say that they wrote what they knew, recorded the facts, the places, and the events and that it was all true and that explains the New Testament documents better than anything else?" [12]

If the disciples had made up the entire story, they had to be the most creative and cunning con artists in the history of mankind. To say nothing of the most convincing liars.

But they weren't any of these things... All the disciples were simple, common peasants. Even if they were smart, conniving men, successful conspiracies are never based on easily verifiable facts. No one could possibly have fabricated the story of the resurrection in the same place as the crucifixion took place. Additionally, the fact that the fledgling church started in Jerusalem just a few days after Jesus was crucified, would have made it impossible for the apostles to exaggerate the things He said, or did. Had there been a conspiracy, it would certainly have been unearthed by the disciples' adversaries, who had the power to expose any fraud, and a vested interest in doing so.

Additionally, the disciple's changed lives and attitudes showed that something momentous had happened. As previously mentioned, these men just days earlier, had lost their leader and were cowering in the background, probably very fearful for their own lives. They were, in all likelihood, tempted to forget the last three years had ever happened. Yet, they suddenly became the bold, confident, driving force behind the global spread of Christianity, even in the face of persecution and death. A made up story can't possibly account for this extreme change in their personalities.

In any case, even if they dreamed up this crazy story, they would had to have been extremely stupid, or mad as march hares, to have stuck to it.

Lies are always told for some, usually selfish, reason. What exactly did the disciples gain by inventing the story of the resurrection? No more than temporary notoriety. However, they paid a terrible price for their five minutes of fame. Tradition tells us that virtually all the disciples died horrible deaths. For example, Peter was hanged upside down, Mark was dragged through the streets to his death, James was beheaded and Thomas was pierced through with a lance. Yet not one of them once recanted their story.

While many will die for what they believe to be the truth, who in the world would be willing to be martyred for what they know to be a lie. Martyrdom, one has to confess, is rather convincing proof that the disciples believed what they preached... Christ had risen from the dead. And this belief was based on what they had seen, spoken and eaten with, not something that they had no proof for.


Hallucinations you say? The problem with that theory is that hallucinations...

    Do not occur to several people at one time. * See below.

    Do not last some forty days,

    Do not eat. On at least two occasions Christ ate with His disciples (Luke 24:42-43; John 21:1-14). Once, in fact, to prove he was not a ghost (Luke 24:36-43).

    Do not hold extended conversations with you. Jesus conversed for forty days with at least eleven people, speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3).

    Cannot be touched. The disciples touched Jesus (Matthew 28:9; Luke 24:39; John 20:27).

* Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9; John 20:15, John 20:16). To the two disciples who were walking to Emmaus (Luke 24:13). To ten of the disciples (Thomas  was missing) (John 20:19). Eight days later He appeared to all eleven, including Thomas, who were indoors somewhere (John 20:26), and after that to seven of His disciples who were fishing together (John 21:1-13). Jesus also appeared to all eleven of the disciples on a mountain in Galilee, which He had Himself designated (Matthew 28:16 . Over 500 brethren at once (Corinthians 15:6). Finally, to all the apostles, when, at Bethany, He ascended to heaven in their presence (Mark 16:19 Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:3-12).

And one very significant, but often overlooked, factor is....

    In first-century Judaism, women had low social status and no legal right to serve as witnesses. If the empty tomb were an invented legend, its inventors surely would not have had it discovered by women, whose testimony was considered worthless. If, on the other hand, the writers were simply reporting what they saw, they would have to tell the truth, however socially and legally inconvenient. [13]

I think, perhaps, it is time to ask ourselves a couple of very important questions...


What Would It Have Taken For a First Century Jew To Believe in Christ?

In a talk given at a Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union on the subject of whether or not Christianity was a fourth century fabrication, Peter Williams, Warden of Tyndale House, Cambridge, brings up a very pertinent point. He asked what it would take for some of the modern leaders of Hamas, to convert to Judaism? The answer is, obviously, a whole heck of a lot. [14]

One God
We have to remember that, literally obeying the commandment (Deuteronomy 6:7) to say these words when they lay down and when they rose up, the Jews from that day to this, recite morning and evening prayers that commence with the Shema Yisrael. The first line of the Shema is "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!" (Deuteronomy 6:4 NASB), which is a declaration of belief in the one God

Therefore, one has to ask, what would it have taken to persuade a first century Jew, who knew his Old Testament like the back of his hand, and believed with his heart and soul that there is only one God, to accept that a human who walked with them, talked with them, and ate with them, was God? But yet, they viewed this man as the creator (John 1:3) and judge of the world (2 Timothy 4:1).

It is just as difficult to explain how any Jew could believe that a man who had died by crucifixion was the Messiah, when anyone who was hung on a tree was regarded by them as 'cursed of God' (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). And, if you add to this the fact that the common perception of the Messiah was a victorious one, who would get rid of the Roman occupiers and restore the kingdom to Israel, Jesus' chance of convincing the Jews that He was the Savior was about the same as the proverbial snowball's chance in hell, except for one detail...

He rose from the dead.

This event was so momentous that it caused these first century Jews to completely change the Sabbath, a centuries old religious ritual that God Himself had instituted. The Sabbath, mandated in the fourth Commandment, and strictly observed by all Jews for thousands of years, was a reminder of two very important events: the creation of the world (Exodus 20:11) and the deliverance from slavery in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15). Yet, in no time at all, these first Jewish Christians began celebrating the Lord's day, or the day Christ rose from the dead. ie. Sunday. In fact, as Matthew Slick also points out...

    In the Jewish culture the religion was intimately interwoven into the social and economic fabric. Anyone who would go against that system would knowingly risk starvation, mockery, beatings, ridicule, loss of family and friends, etc. This is not something to be considered lightly. Perhaps a single demented individual might consider doing such a thing, but how is it possible to get Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, Jude, Timothy, Apollos, etc. to all join in the charade, risk loss of family, reputation, economic stability, be persecuted and maybe even face death? Is this something that is rational to consider? Should we believe that they were all working together to deceive people so they could gain power, fame, and influence? It is simply extremely unlikely and full of problems as a theory. [15]

Lets take the case of one particular first century Jew...

Paul
We need to remember that Paul (originally called Saul) was a devout Jew, who described himself not only as an Israelite, but a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, circumcised the eighth day (Romans 11:1, Philippians 3:5), a Pharisee of Pharisees (Acts 22:3), and educated in Jerusalem at the school of Gamaliel. (Acts 22:3).

Saul was so violently against what he probably considered a bastardization of Judaism, that he was "in hearty agreement" with putting Stephen, one of the earliest New Testament apostles, to death (Acts 8:1). After which, he "began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison" (Acts 8:3). Apparently not satisfied with that, Saul then "... breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem”. (Acts 9:1-2 NASB)

What would it have taken to persuade this terrible persecutor of Christians to become a Christian, not only completely reversing his previous position, but giving up everything he stood for?  Obviously, only something of outstanding consequence would have persuaded Paul to abandon everything he had believed his entire life. Not only was he converted, but he became one of the foremost figures of the early church, proclaiming Jesus Lord and Savior without stop or hesitation, planting innumerable small churches and authoring two thirds of the New Testament. In fact, he continued doing this until he was martyred for his faith.

Does anyone believe that the smooth talking disciples actually managed to so radically convert this man or, in the face of no other plausible explanation, is it more reasonable to believe that Jesus actually appeared to him on the road to Damascus in Acts 9.

Finally as Glenn Miller points out

    You have to explain how a conspiracy wide enough to cover all the books of the NT (multiple authors) and all the decades represented there could have been conceived, orchestrated, and controlled within first-century Jerusalem(!)--without even a formal church authority at the time  

    You have to explain how a 'new testament' that was only collected into a unity as such a century after the main apostles had died, COULD have somehow have perpetuated this conspiracy; [16]

Saul to Paul
The fact that, halfway through the book of Acts, Luke stops referring to Saul by that name and starts calling him Paul, has given rise to the misconception that it was the Lord who changed Saul's name to Paul after his conversion. It seems that it was fairly common for first-century Jews to have more than one name (See Acts 1:23, 9:36, 12:12), and Acts 13:9 tells us that Saul "was also called Paul". Saul would have been his Jewish name, but he may have been given the Roman name, Paul, because his father was a Roman citizen from whom Paul inherited his citizenship. It is possible that Paul started using his Roman name in his mission to the Gentiles, or that he shed the name Saul, when he stopped trying to kill "wayward" Jews. Remember His namesake king Saul persecuted and tried to kill David.


First Fruits
Occam's Razor is the principle that the simplest answer that fits all the evidence, is usually the best answer which, in this case happens to be that Jesus did actually rise from the dead. However, many critics and skeptics cannot accept this since there is absolutely no evidence that a dead person has ever come to life... not once in all history, in any place on this earth.

So?

As I said in the previous chapter... It is a never ending source of amazement that we, in our infinite wisdom, think that something cannot possibly be true simply because we haven't found any tangible evidence for it.

There are two points to be made...

    1) Anyone who believes a Supreme Deity should not have any difficulty in believing that such a Being could not only create, but also resurrect. For God, this is not a 'miracle', but all in a day's work, so to speak.

    2) The whole point of Christianity is that people have eternal life, which means those disciples of Christ who are already dead will be resurrected. However, it was always intended that He be the first one permanently raised.

In the Old Testament God introduced the Seven Feasts of Israel which not only celebrated a historical event in Israel's past but were, at the same time, a prophecy of future events. The first four feasts have already been fulfilled, the first two by Jesus Christ on the actual feast days according to the Hebrew calendar. Jesus was sacrificed on Passover, and resurrected on the Feast of First Fruits when a sheaf representing the very first of the harvest was waved before the Lord. This was a symbolic gesture that dedicated the coming harvest to Him. Jesus' resurrection was like a wave offering presented to the Father as the first-fruits of the harvest to come at the end of the age. [For details see The Seven Feasts of Israel]

The Apostle Paul said...

    But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.  (1 Corinthians 15:20 NASB)

    For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming (1 Corinthians 15:22-23 NASB)


Did The New Testament Authors Borrow from Pagan Myths?
The monotheism of the Jews also puts paid to the fact that the New Testament authors would borrow from pagan myths and mystery religions. The Hebrew Bible forbade worshiping any god, other than the God of Israel

    Then God spoke all these words, saying, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. "You shall have no other gods before Me. "You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. (Exodus 20:1-4 NASB)

Devotion to this one God was the mainstay of Judaism as shown by the twice daily recitation of the Shema (above), and Paul's conversion to Christianity did not change this. In his view...

    Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, (1 Corinthians 8:4-5 NASB)

In fact he considered the Gentiles both ignorant and idolatrous.

    So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'to an unknown god.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22-23 NASB)

    and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. (Romans 1:23 NASB)

Also See Was the New Testament Influenced By Pagan Religions or by Pagan Philosophy?

So, if the Gospels were written by the people they have been attributed to and were accurate historical accounts recorded within a few years of the events, why do they seem to disagree in certain details?
 

Continue on to Part 8: Differences and Discrepancies in the New Testament
Most of the 'mistakes' discovered in the Scriptures actually arise from understanding too little about the Bible .. among which are not giving the passage, or passages, enough thought, ignoring the immediate textual context, or the original language, assuming a 'contradiction' even if different persons or things are being referred to, or when the recorded events took place at different times. Also forgetting that copyist mistakes can and do occur. This is not to say that every difficulty in the Bible can be resolved, but enough of them have been (some extremely easily) to realize that there are probable answers to the remaining few. CLICK HEREl

 

Endnotes (Chapter 7)
[01] Broadcast during Fresh Air, National Public Radio (WHYY), March 3, 2004. [As reported in an article Wanted: Dead (But Preferably) Alive... Can We Trust the Gospels? on the web site of St. Mark's Lutheran Church Ridley Park, PA.
http://stmarksdelco.org/writings/April%2028%20Resurrection.pdf

[02] Jon Meacham. Who Killed Jesus? http://www.newsweek.com/who-killed-jesus-131113

[03] Grant R. Jeffrey. The Handwriting of God. http://www.grantjeffrey.com/article/hisevid.htm

[04] Adapted from The Jury Returns: A Juridical Defense of Christianity by Dr. John Warwick Montgomery. An excerpt from Evidence for Faith Chapter 6, Part 2

[05] What is the gospel of Judas? Got Questions Ministries. http://www.gotquestions.org/gospel-of-Judas.html#ixzz38mds8bo2

[06] External Evidence: Papias. Stephen C. Carlson, http://www.hypotyposeis.org/synoptic-problem/2004/10/external-evidence-papias.html

[07] Jona Lendering. C. Suetonius Tranquillus. http://www.livius.org/su-sz/suetonius/suetonius.html

[08] Barbara O'Brien. The Life of the Buddha. About.com Buddhism. http://buddhism.about.com/od/lifeofthebuddha/a/buddhalife.htm

[09] The Civil Wars By Julius Caesar. Translated by W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn http://classics.mit.edu/Caesar/civil.1.1.html

[10] Lives of the Twelve Caesars. XXXII. Caius Julius Casar. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/6400/6400-h/6400-h.htm

[11] David M. Did He Or Didn't He? Jewish Views of the Resurrection of Jesus.
http://www.jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/v11-n06/didhe

[12] Matt Slick The New Testament writers conspired together to gain power and influence

http://carm.org/new-testament-writers-conspired-together-gain-power-and-influence

[13] Peter Kreeft/Fr. Ronald Tacelli. Evidence For The Resurrection Of Christ. A Challenge for Skeptics.

http://www.inplainsite.org/html/evidence_for_the_resurrection.html

[14] Peter Williams - Christianity A Fourth Century Fabrication.
http://www.theologynetwork.org/biblical-studies/starting-out/christianity--a-fourth-century-fabrication.htm

[15] Matt Slick. The New Testament writers conspired together to gain power and influence.
http://carm.org/new-testament-writers-conspired-together-gain-power-and-influence

[16] Glenn Miller. Was Jesus really fraudulent, dishonest, sacrilegious, and conspiratorial? http://christianthinktank.com/hnoblood2.html

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