Defending the Reliability of the Gospels
There are many skeptical arguments that believers need to be prepared to respond to. One of the primary front-lines of defense is the reliability of the Gospels. A frequent claim that is made is that much of the Gospels were fabricated by the early Christian community. According to those critics, the reason why Christians in the first century wrote the Gospels wasn’t because the events actually happened in history; instead, they wrote the Gospels because they needed a way to deal with what they were struggling with as a community. Over time, the historic Jesus became embellished. As Christians interacted with the Greeks and Romans, who had the pantheon and demigods, they deified Jesus so that their religion could compete with that of the world around them.
These claims by skeptics are serious for they challenge the very core of our faith. Our faith is in Christ alone. This Christ is not some figure of our imagination or the construction of man; the Christ we believe in is the Christ of the Scriptures. If the Scriptures have not spoken truly concerning the Person of Jesus then our faith is not based upon the truth but upon a lie. You see the significance of undermining the Gospels? That is why, in order to give a reason for the hope that is in us, we need to be prepared to show how that hope is not based upon a lie but upon a God who entered into history and secured our redemption.
When defending the truthfulness of Scripture, the most natural place to begin is defending the reliability of the Gospels. The reason why this is a good starting point is because the Gospels are eyewitness accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Once we demonstrate the Gospels to be reliable sources then we can show how Jesus confirmed the authority of the Old Testament & commissioned His Apostles to write the New Testament. By doing so, we have demonstrated the reliability of all the Scriptures!
Now, our approach to defending the reliability of the Gospels involves three steps:
- First, we make the following claim:
The Gospels are products of men who were witnesses of and commissioned by the Resurrected Jesus.
Next, we are going to defend our claim. We can say that our claim should be accepted if we can effectively demonstrate the next two steps.
- Second, we demonstrate that the testimony of eyewitnesses of Jesus has been preserved in the New Testament Gospels.
- Finally, we demonstrate that the eyewitnesses of Jesus testified truthfully.
With our claim stated above, we can move on to the second step by demonstrating that the testimony of the eyewitnesses of Jesus has been preserved in the New Testament Gospels. This step is quite involved and will span over the next few posts.
As we begin step 2, we must ask the question, how did the Gospels come to us? Did they fall from Heaven on a silver platter? Are they forgeries of the 4th century or later? We cannot possibly hope to demonstrate their reliability without answering this question.
As I said above, the Gospels are the product of eyewitness testimony. What I mean by that is this: people who saw the works of Jesus and heard His teaching began to tell others about this Savior from Galilee. Of the many people who witnessed his life and ministry, some of them (Apostles) were commissioned by Jesus to preach in an authoritative way. It is specifically the testimony of these Apostles that has come down to us in the NT Gospels. And on its way to us, the testimony went through three phases:
Phase 1: From the Mind to Mouth
At some point, those who witnessed Jesus’ life & ministry had to recall their experiences in order to tell others about the Savior. In this phase, the testimony is taken from the mind of the eyewitnesses to their mouths. We might refer to this phase as the recall phase.
Phase 2: From Mouth to Pen
Once the eyewitnesses recalled their experiences, they began to share their stories about Jesus. This took place for some time until they were finally written down by the Gospel writers. We can refer to this period of time as the oral period of testimony transmission.
Phase 3: From Pen to Scribe
After the stories of Jesus were written down by the authors of the Gospels, scribes copied those texts by hand. This is the phase of scribal transcription. We can say that this is the end of the testimony transmissions because we have access to many of those copies today.
Demonstrating Accurate Testimony Transmission Through the Three Phases
Over the next few posts, we will be demonstrating how the early Christian community ensured that the eyewitness testimony was transmitted through each of these phases accurately. As we will see, those who witnessed the life and ministry of Jesus Christ accurately recalled and shared their experiences. The eyewitnesses then became the authors or provided their testimonies to the authors of the Gospels. Those Gospel autographs were then copied with considerable accuracy by scribes to produce the manuscripts we have access to today.