Today I read this quite sad post where someone gives 20 reasons for walking away from Christianity. Although I’m not sure how much of the gospel message he really embraced, it’s always depressing to see someone turn aside from the source of eternal life.
I posted up a link to the article on Facebook, and asked friends to tell me which ones they connect most with and promised to try and respond to them.
One friend asked for numbers 9 and 20. So I’ll do number 9 in this post and number 20 in a follow-up.
Reason 9 was:
The authors of much of the Bible are unknown. And of these unknown authors, the men who wrote the gospels likely never even met Jesus considering they were written 40-70 years after his death. A far cry from reliable testimony.
Let’s go to the focus of this question: the authorship and reliability of the gospels, the four accounts of Jesus’ life that we have in the Bible.
Obviously, scholars, both Christian and non-Christian have spent a lot of time studying this crucial question.
I won’t attempt to cover all that scholarship here, but I will run through a few of the top arguments that convince me that the gospels are factually trustworthy. If you want the good stuff, check out these articles.
My top 4 reasons to trust the gospels:
- The date of authorship. The 40-70 years after Jesus’ death dating given to the gospels in the objection isn’t far wrong, if a little late. Jesus is believed to have died around 30 AD. Scholars generally think all the gospels were written before 90 AD. What is strange is that this is actually a very early date! The ancient world was nothing like today with Twitter etc.: to have documents from this recent after the events is pretty good going (especially when the event was the death of a Jewish carpenter killed as a heretic/revolutionary).
- The identity of the authors. Our friend seems to think that the dates mean the gospel writers probably didn’t know Jesus. Let’s do the maths: assuming Matthew and John were the same age as Jesus, and Jesus was born some time around 0 BC, and they wrote their gospels between 60-90 AD, that would put Matthew and John’s ages when writing their gospels at about 60-90 years of age!
- The authors and their ‘characters’ would have been known. The gospel writers don’t shy away from including verifiable details in their accounts. In particular they mention a lot of people’s names. Mark even goes so far as to reverse the convention of identifying a person by their father’s name (James the son of Zebedee), instead identifying people by their children – people who would have been known to the readers!
- The authors’ motives make sense. Sometimes people say that writing something down 30 years after the fact is a long time to wait. Not a bad point, but it’s again important to remember that we’re talking about a very different society to ours. In fact, if you work out the likely ages of the disciples when they wrote their gospels it looks like they were nearing the end of their lives. In a more oral culture this is exactly when you might think about ensuring that what you’ve been teaching gets handed down correctly. More importantly, the authors had a motive for wanting their knowledge of Jesus to be taken seriously as a reliable account. John writes at the end of a classic story about faith and reason:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John’s wants to tell people about the signs, then they’ll be convinced Jesus is the promised King, then they’ll get eternal life. So he expects his readers’ faith to be rooted in the facts of what Jesus did. He has an interest in recording what Jesus did accurately.
The amazing truth at the heart of the Christian faith is that, in Jesus, God stepped into history in a way that no other religion can seriously claim. While still being God it is appropriate to ask historical questions about him. This God is a disprovable God. And yet, the evidence points towards these extra-ordinary accounts being worthy of taking at face-value. So read.