Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Ten Reasons to Believe the Gospels Were Telling the Truth

   I take a lot of smack-talk from my various atheist friends over why I would place so much importance in a two thousand year old book, so much so that I stake my immortal soul on its truth.  While I do recognize that belief in Christianity is ultimately a step of faith, I also believe that faith doesn't have to be blind.  I think that history and archeology make a strong case that the Gospels are telling the truth about who Jesus was and what He did.  I first wrote this a couple of years ago, but I have recently updated and expanded it - so here you are:


(with a couple of new bonus reasons added free of charge!)


1.  First of all, they were written well within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life.  The Rylands Papyrus fragment (about 6 verses from John 18) is reliably dated to 125 AD.  Considering that it was found in the Egyptian hinterland, hundreds of miles from Ephesus, where it was written, this would certainly seem to indicate that John's Gospel was composed a decade or two earlier - which would put it in the 90's AD, which is exactly when tradition has always claimed it was written - by a very aged Apostle John.

2.  The Diatesseron - the first ever harmony of the four Gospels - was composed around 178 AD, which shows that not only did all four Gospels exist at that point, but that all four of them were already regarded as authentic and authoritative by that time.  Neither the “Gospel of Thomas,” nor any of the other Gnostic Gospels, were included in this work, only the four New Testament Gospels.

3. The earliest Christian writings outside the NT - I Clement, the Didache, The Shepherd of Hermas, and the writings of Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and Ignatius - all contain recognizable quotes from the canonical Gospels. They quote these Gospels as authoritatively as they quote history.  All four of those works date from the period of 90 AD to 160 AD.  The Gospels must have existed for a considerable period of time and been widely recognized as Apostolic in origin for the Church fathers to regard them as the go-to source to settle doctrinal disputes.

4.  The Magdalene papyri (several verses from the Gospel of Matthew) are now generally dated to the end of the Second Century, however, one paleographer has made a very convincing case that the handwriting on them is much closer to First Century than late Second/early Third Century writings.  This could place these three papyrus fragments as early as 70 AD.  If so, they would now be the earliest known pieces of the New Testament.

5.  Papias, who died in 130 AD, left an account of the origins of all four canonical Gospels.  Although his full works are no longer extant, he is widely quoted by later Christian sources, most notably Eusebius.  He linked every one of the Gospels to an apostolic source.

6.  Josephus' testimony about Jesus, although almost certainly interpolated by later Christian copyists, is still considered authentic by a strong majority of scholars, as are his references to the death of John the Baptist and James the Just - and while details vary, all three citations generally corroborate the NT narrative.

7.  The recent discovery of a fair-sized fragment of Mark is reported to date to approximately 70 AD, although the scholarship on it is, as yet, unpublished.  If authentic, this would be the strongest piece of evidence yet that the Gospels were based on eyewitness testimony. (Two years later, there has still been nothing published about this find, so it may prove to be either a hoax or else wrongly dated – or else the analysis is simply taking longer than was originally thought.)

8.  Paul's account of the Last Supper in II Corinthians, a book universally recognized as authored by Paul around 54 AD, follows Matthew's account of the event very closely.  No serious scholar disputes that Paul wrote this; therefore, Matthew’s version of the first Communion was already in circulation by the mid-50’s AD.

9.  Paul's list of the Resurrection appearances in I Corinthians 15 also follows the order and general outline of the Gospel accounts. 

10.  Finally, the Anti-Marcionite prologue, written around 150 AD, defends the authenticity of the four Canonical gospels while condemning Marcion's rejection of Christianity's Jewish roots and his dismissal of Matthew's Gospel. 


BONUS:  The fact that the mainstream church rejected about two dozen pseudepigraphical Gospels written in the Second and Third Century but universally accepted the four Canonical Gospels as authentic shows that they were of considerable antiquity and long-established credibility, long before the later councils of Nicaea and Hippo formalized that recognition.

BONUS THE SECOND:  None of the four canonical Gospels have ever been attributed to another writer.  But three of the four Gospels were linked to very minor figures in the New Testament narrative (Mark, Luke, and Matthew). This is a strong argument for their authenticity.  After all, if you were writing a forged account of Jesus’ life, why not attribute it to one of the heavy hitters among the disciples, like Peter or James?  Why attribute them to men who are barely even mentioned in the rest of the NT – unless those men were the actual authors?

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