One of the most frequently mentioned myths about the Gospels (the first four books of the New Testament, written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) is the claim they cannot be historically accurate because they were written decades after the events they purport to report.
Several of the commenters to yesterday’s post here — “Are Christians The Biggest Fools Of All Time?” — repeated variations of the claim the Gospels are unreliable because so much time elapsed between the events and the writing of the individual books. The actual facts, the critics argue, were lost to the myths and legends that grew up around the events related in the Gospels.
The German higher critics of the 19th Century made this claim a standard argument in the conventional wisdom scholarship of the 20th century among those who reject the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ and His claim to be the incarnate creator of the universe and everything in it. And the argument continues in popular culture and debate to this day, as seen in the comments to yesterday’s post.
There has been a tremendous amount of scholarship on the accuracy and reliability of the Gospels in recent decades. Below is a link to a recent podcast of Frank Turek’s interview with Dr. Craig Blomberg, who is one of the most respected scholars in the world on this issue. I highly commend it to anybody on any side of the debate.
But more immediately, let’s address the question posed in the headline above. Nobody today doubts when they read Plato’s “Republic” or Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics” that they are reading what the Greek philosophers actually wrote, even though what they hold in their hands are copies of copies of copies … stretching back centuries.
Even so, when was the last time you heard anybody say Plato’s discussion of the shadows on the wall of the cave cannot be trusted as what Plato actually wrote or believed because so much time elapsed between his original manuscript and the earliest copies used by copyists in the millennia before Mr. Gutenberg invented the printing press? Or that Aristotle’s Golden Mean as the key to human virtue was a creation of a later copyist and thus was not the philosopher’s original view?
Nevertheless, that’s a commonly expressed argument whenever the Gospels are under discussion.
But guess what? There are far more copies of the Gospels, written much closer to the original authors, than there are for any other of the ancient classics, including Plato and Aristotle.
Aristotle’s works were written between 386 B.C. and 322 B.C. The first copies came along in about 1,100 A.D., or roughly 1,400 years after Aristotle did his thing. As for Plato, he wrote between 427 B.C. and 347 B.C, and the first copies date to 900 A.D., for an interval of roughly 1,200 years.
Compare that to the New Testament, which, regarding the Gospels, the critics claim were written, at the earliest, around 70 A.D., with copies first appearing around 130 A.D.
In other words, if the same standards of reliability and accuracy are applied to the New Testament that have long been accepted without question for other ancient authors, then the Gospels must be viewed as among the most reliable of the ancient classics. You can check out this post by Matt Slick of Christian Apologetics and Research for more specifics on this angle.
And as I always say, a great place to start in assessing these issues is “More Than A Carpenter” by Josh and Sean McDowell. Just tell me your address and I’ll get a copy of MTAC for free.
Now, here’s Frank Turek’s extended audio conversation with Dr. Craig Blomberg: