Four Reasons the Gospels Could Not Be Legends
by J.D. Greear
The most popular theory today against the Bible is that the gospels are a bunch of myths and legends. As the theory goes, Jesus was a great guy with some commendable teachings, but the stories we have about him in the four gospels are made-up legends intended to beef up Christianity’s claims.
Entire books have been written on this (and much of the below grows out of Tim Keller’s Reason for God , but here are 4 brief reasons the gospels simply could not be fabricated legends:
1. The timing of the writing is too early for gospels to be a legend
The books of the Bible were written around 30 years after the death of Jesus, with some of the main ones being as early as 20 years after. The latest book in the New Testament—Revelation—was still written only 50–60 years after Jesus’ death. That is just too quick for a full-blown myth to spring up and displace the true story.
People often respond by saying, “Well, maybe parts of the New Testament were written in the first century, but it was different than it is now. The divinity of Jesus and the resurrection were later additions.” The problem here is that the earliest records of Christianity all contain the resurrection teaching. So in 1 Corinthians (written around 54 A.D.), Paul quotes a hymn about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Less than one generation from Jesus’ death, and there are songs circulating popular enough for Paul to reference in one of his letters—songs about the resurrection.
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Or think about the fact that the earliest Christians celebrated communion—not as a way of mourning their leader’s death, but as a celebration of victory. You don’t do that if you know that your leader was cut down in his prime. No, these Christians all firmly believed, from Day One, that Jesus really had raised from the dead.
2. The content is far too counterproductive to be a legend
The gospels especially are full of things that you would not make up if you wanted a legend to beef up your authority. The apostles are constantly portrayed as buffoons. They get theology wrong. They’re mean to little kids. If puppies had been walking by, they’d have kicked them. If you were writing yourself into a legend, would you make yourself look that foolish?
Think of Peter, the leader of the Church. Matthew records a story in which Jesus calls Peter Satan. Yes, the supreme enemy of mankind—Satan. You can be sure that if Jesus called me Satan to my face, I wouldn’t be tweeting about it. But it’s in there because it actually happened.
The gospels record that women were the first ones to see Jesus after his resurrection. A woman’s testimony was not accepted in court during those days, so if you were making up stuff to establish the truthfulness of a claim, you would not have made women your primary witnesses. The gospel writers put women as the first ones to see Jesus because, well, that’s what happened…