Apologetics: Can We Trust the Memory of the Gospel Writers?
by John Rasmussen
In the opening pages of his recent book Jesus Before the Gospels, Bart Ehrman asserts:
When it comes to Jesus, all we have are memories. There are no lifelike portraits from his day, no stenographic notes recorded on the spot, no accounts of his activities written at that time. Only memories of his life, of what he said and did. Memories written after the fact. Long after the fact. Memories written by people who were not actually there to observe him.
From a historical perspective, I agree with just about everything Ehrman claims here. It’s only his last claim that’s problematic. To say that none of the Gospel writers were eyewitnesses of Jesus is Ehrman’s opinion rather than a fact based on scholarly consensus. But other than that, he’s right. We don’t have any personal writings of Jesus, and the Gospels were written in the form we have them decades after Jesus’ life. So, the question of real importance is whether the memories of Jesus we have in the Gospels are reliable or not.
Why Do We Even Know About Jesus?
Obviously Ehrman believes the Gospels are only partially reliable. Given his own agnosticism, what else would we expect him to say about the Gospels? To admit that they give a reliable testimony of Jesus is to admit much more than a secular worldview allows. But, presuppositions aside, is there good evidence that the Gospels have preserved a faithful memory of Jesus’ life and teachings?
This question alone could occupy months of blog posts, but one question that deserves attention is…
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