We have already stated in a previous blog post that our knowledge about God and reality rests upon the concurrence of three independent lines of evidence: nature, Scripture and conscience. Skeptics, however, have challenged all three. We have already devoted attention to the first, nature, involving science and evolution. What about the second, Scripture? In a recent comment on this blog Tildeb stated the objection this way: "All we really have is testimonials – often contradictory and out of sequence – in the form 'I know a guy who knew a guy who said he once knew of this guy who performed miracles.'" Making allowance for a certain amount of exaggeration on Tildeb's part, the statement does more or less reflect the thinking of modern critical scholarship on the issue. But is it true?
Almost all of the information we have about the historical Jesus is contained in the four gospels of the New Testament. The "Gnostic gospels" of which we have heard so much about lately have little historical connection with First Century Palestine and are obvious attempts to recast Christianity in the mold of Greek philosophy.
But how historically reliable are the four biblical gospels? Who wrote them, and how much did they know? The traditional view was stated by the Second Century church father Irenaeus, who tells us this: Matthew originally wrote his gospel in the language of the Hebrews (evidently either Hebrew or Aramaic). Mark wrote down what the apostle Peter had preached. Luke did the same with the Apostle Paul, and then finally John, a member of Jesus' inner circle, wrote his gospel. Thus while John gives us a firsthand eyewitness account, and Mark relates for us Peter's firsthand account, Luke is the careful third person historian, diligently gathering information and scrupulously weighing his sources, to give us a comprehensive biography of Jesus. Thus if the traditional accounting is correct, we are hardly dealing with hearsay evidence.
All of this has been called into question in modern times, however. The chief stumbling block appears to be that all of the gospels record Jesus as performing miracles. Again, Tildeb states the objection. In order to believe the gospel accounts we have to suspend what we know about nature. Miracle do not happen; therefore the stories are implausible. The historical Jesus could not possible have done some of the things that He is reported to have done.
How, then, did these stories get into the Bible? The modern critical answer is pretty much "I know a guy who knew a guy . . ." According to the modern critical reconstruction of events, the four gospels were written at a relatively late date by persons who were not eyewitnesses. Stories were handed down by word of mouth, and changed over time to meet the apologetic needs of the church.
However, the methodology of the modern critics is questionable. They begin by subjecting the available evidence to intense scrutiny, and then conclude that it is either ambiguous or unreliable. One might suppose that this would leave us in a position of skepticism about the origins of the gospels, but surprisingly it does not. The critics go on to reconstruct the history of the gospels, relying very heavily on a subjective reading of the texts. But the reconstruction is mostly conjectural. What the critics have done, in effect, is to get rid of the evidence and replace it with speculation. O the marvels of modern scholarship!
Ironically, confirmation of the traditional view comes from an unlikely source. One of the leading liberal theologians, Dr. John A. T. Robinson, published Redating the New Testament in 1976. Dr. Robinson was struck by the fact that not one of the New Testament writers mentions the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 as a past event, which they almost certainly would have otherwise. Dr. Robinson went through and reexamined all of the evidence, and concluded that conservative scholars had largely been right all along. Most, at least, of the books of the New Testament had to have been written prior to A.D. 70.
What the "I know a guy who knew a guy . . ." scenario overlooks is the role of the apostles in the transmission of information about Jesus. Jesus did not leave Himself without witnesses. He worked closely throughout His earthly ministry with a group of handpicked disciples. They saw Him alive after His crucifixion. The books that make up the New Testament are in the New Testament precisely because they were either written by apostles or by people who were closely associated with the apostles. The witnesses are so many, and they are so close in time to Jesus Himself, that they cannot possible all be wrong. Thus when we weight the evidence carefully and objectively, we are face to face with a crucified and risen Savior!