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Can we know what Jesus really said? Myths, legends and truths in the Bible
Jesus in the Coffee House
The Bible is a big book, and justifying its reliability is a massive task. You’d have to have three PhDs to defend it really thoroughly. But, its reliability is central to Christian faith. So what’s to be done, if you’re asking whether Christianity is relevant for you, or if you’re trying to persuade someone that it is?
I’d suggest starting with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – which are the record of Jesus’ sayings and actions while he was on this Earth, and of his resurrection. If they can be shown to be historical – recording faithfully the behaviour and words of a real person called Jesus – much of the Christian religion can be justified.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who have received their knowledge of the gospels from a cobbled together account of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code together with the ramblings of some extreme, and usually ill-informed, well-known atheists.
So, here’s a very short introduction into the important topic, of whether we can trust the gospels as historically accurate – whether we can know Jesus said and did what the Bible says he said and did. I’ll be writing more on the topic in future, after I’ve read some interesting modern scholarship such as ‘Jesus and the Eyewitnesses’ by Richard Bauckham. But here’s a taster.
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1. The gospels contain embarrassing details about disciples and even Jesus, which would have been taken out if they were not faithful historical accounts. For example, they record the doubts of the disciples after the crucifixion (Luke 24:21) and Jesus’ mercy towards an adulterous woman (John 8), which would have been scandalous at the time.
2. Much of the reasoning that attacks the authenticity of the gospels is driven by a modernist, naturalist bias. For example, the gospels include accounts of miracles and healing; but naturalists argue that miracles are impossible and must have been invented. In the gospels, Jesus predicts the fall of Jerusalem; it’s argued by some that he couldn’t have known about the event beforehand, and so the gospels must be written after AD70 when it happened, and made to look as if Jesus had predicted it. But if this was so, why wouldn’t they have included more details of the fall of Jerusalem into the story? In fact, this issue is used by some to suggest that the gospels must have been written before AD70. But more generally, why assume that anything supernatural is impossible and must be invented? Isn’t this performing analyses after drawing the conclusion? If there is a God and he came to Earth, wouldn’t he be able to manipulate the natural world at will?
3. You can argue that the Gospel of Luke (and Acts, which were written together) was written before AD65. This is because Acts, which clearly intends to be historical, does not mention the fall of Jerusalem in AD70, nor the brutal persecutions of the Emperor Nero from AD65.
So, if Luke was written in the 30 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, there would be plenty of disciples around who knew Jesus well and had lived through the events recorded. If the gospel accounts had been inaccurate, the disciples would have dismissed them as frauds at that time…