Yesterday’s post asked if resurrection was the most plausible explanation for the historical data we have about Jesus, his death, and the subsequent events that lead to the beginning of the church. Most skeptics of the resurrection point out the so-called unreliability of the gospels of the Bible. No other piece of literature has been criticized more than the Bible, especially the gospels. Like yesterday’s post, oceans of ink have been spilled on this topic, so I’ll just hit the hi-lights. Why can we trust the gospels as historically reliable, and thus reporting a physical resurrection of Jesus?
1. We know what the authors wrote.
We have thousands upon thousands of ancient copies, both full manuscripts and parts of manuscripts, of the gospels. On top of that, we have thousands of quotations of the gospels from other sources, such as the ancient Church Fathers (church leaders who wrote from the late first century onward). The science of textual criticism shows that we can be absolutely certain that the gospels we have translated in our Bibles today are the same gospels written by the authors in the first century. This is important because some have tried to claim that the gospels are heavily edited, which is simply not the case. Although the copies have some variations, we know exactly where they are, and none of them affect the teachings of Scripture.
2. We know when they wrote them.
Several of the copies we have date to the mid-late to late first century. And these are likely copies of copies of copies. The authors of Matthew and Mark likely wrote their accounts no more than twenty to thirty years after the resurrection of Jesus. The author of Luke wrote no more than thirty to forty years after the resurrection of Jesus. The author of John wrote no more than sixty years after the resurrection of Jesus. And all of them may have written sooner. Skeptics point out that decades passed between the events and the writing of the events. In today’s technologically-driven culture, if someone didn’t write about the Kennedy assassination until now may be a problem, because we don’t pass things down orally like ancient cultures did. But in the first century, with things being passed down orally (and, as studies have shown, very accurately), several decades is not a long period of time.
3. We know who wrote them.
The early church universally ascribed the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to exactly those people. Matthew and John followed Jesus for three and a half years and were eyewitnesses. Mark may have been an eyewitness, and it is thought that his gospel is the account of Jesus is that of the apostle Peter, also an eyewitness. Luke interviewed many eyewitnesses for his gospel. Modern attempts to ascribe the gospels to anonymous writers ignore the weight of testimony from the first century and onwards.
4. Archaeology and history support the reliability of the gospel accounts.
As was shown yesterday, there are multiple attestations to Jesus’ death from secular writers. Secular history supports the slaughter of male babies in Bethlehem by Herod the Great, census taking requiring men to return to their hometown, Tiberius Caesar’s reign (during which Jesus was born), Pontius Pilate’s governorship over Judea, etc. Archaeology has confirmed the locations of many of the events of the gospels, the existence of the high priest Caiaphas, and the methods of crucifixion, among other things. Archaeology and secular history as of yet has not contradicted the gospel accounts. Much of what we know about first century culture and customs is also reflected in the gospels.
5. Extrabiblical accounts of Jesus confirm the gospel accounts of Jesus’ death.
As we saw in yesterday’s post, Tacitus and the Babylonian Talmud confirmed that Jesus existed and died. Other sources point out that his followers worshiped him as God. Josephus mentions the resurrection (even though this reference is challenged as being changed by Christians, the textual evidence we have indicates it may be original).
Do all of these things make this a slam dunk case for the reliability of the gospels? Individually, no. But taken together, these and other things provide a compelling case for the reliability of the gospels. Thus, I believe that Jesus Christ existed, died on a Roman cross, and was raised from death three days later.
I leave you with this video from Mike Licona, co-author of The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.
Tomorrow, Franny B tells her side of the story. Then Thursday, it’s your turn.