Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Historical Reliability of the Four Canonical Gospels

Some skeptical scholars date the Gospels late (70-100AD) and claim that they are largely the invention of the early Greek-speaking church, presenting an idolized, “politically-correct” Jesus. However, against this position, there are many powerful, objective reasons to suppose that the Gospels are historically authentic and paint an accurate picture of Jesus’ ministry (27-30AD). Here are several:

  1. Multiple Attestations
  1. Extra-Biblical Confirmation (Archeological and Explicit Affirmations)
  1. Embarrassing Revelations (“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” “Let this cup pass from Me!” Apostles are consistently presented in a negative light.) It seems that accuracy and not fabrication had been the goal of the Gospel writers.
  1. Apostolic Credibility (They had nothing to gain by starting a new religion, but the martyrdom that eventually befell them. Besides, there is no evidence that any of them had ever reneged on their testimony, even when they would have been granted their lives by doing so.)
  1. Even if we take the late dating suggested by the critics (70-100AD), there still would have been eyewitnesses present to contradict any fabrications. This would have made it very difficult to promote a fabricated Jesus.
  1. Jesus’ teachings are difficult to understand and to live - “If your eye cause you to sin, pluck it out,” “sell all you have”- and therefore not likely to have been fabricated.
  1. Jesus’ teachings were far more cryptic than what the early church would have invented to justify their own positions.
  1. Jesus’ associations with society’s rejects.
  1. Jesus’ words (Aramaic usage – “abba”) and figures of speech reflect early 1st century Israelite culture.
  1. Jesus demonstrated a thorough knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures and even their poetic structures, something that would have been very difficult for the early church to pull off.
However, New Testament scholar, Craig Evans, has presented another line of reasoning to argue against the notion of a fabricated Jesus:

  • The oft-heard assertion that many of the sayings [of Jesus] were generated by questions and issues that the early church faced is called into doubt by the observation that many of these questions and issues (as seen in the New Testament letters) are nowhere addressed by the sayings of Jesus. There was disagreement over the question of circumcision, eating meat sacrificed to idols, spiritual gifts, Jew-Gentile relations, and the qualifications for church office, but not a saying of Jesus speaks to any of these questions. This shows that the Gospel writers were not in the habit of making things up. There is every reason then, to conclude…that the Gospels have fairly and accurately reported the essential elements of Jesus’ teachings, life death and resurrection. (Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels, 234)
Evans argues that if the early church had invented the words of Jesus to settle one of their many controversies, they would have invented different words and subjects that would have been a greater concern for them. In conclusion, there is absolutely no evidence that the Jesus of the four Canonical Gospels represents the fabrication of the early church.

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