This post is not going to go in depth into the issue as we may save that for our information website www.dakotascba.com as there are a lot of different points of view concerning this issue. One of the problems in this issue, that I have come across as I read and hear different people expound on this topic, is that 1). they leave God out of the picture; 2). make the writing of the gospels solely a human endeavor.
This post is going to look at the article The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Patrick Zukeran and found at the following link: https://bible.org/article/historical-reliability-gospels
We will take certain quotes from that article and deal solely with the idea or ideas presented in the quote. We are not attacking Dr. Zukeran but using his article as an example since so many people hold to the same views he expresses in that work.
Skeptics have criticized the Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, as being legendary in nature rather than historical. They point to alleged contradictions between Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They also maintain the Gospels were written centuries after the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses. The late date of the writings allowed legends and exaggerations to proliferate, they say.
To tell you the truth we at this organization do not care what skeptics say or think about the gospels. We know that since they do not believe God, their words and thoughts are not Spirit-led. One of the arguments against the quoted point is going to be the same throughout this issue–there is no real evidence to support those claims. We really do not know when the gospels were written though we can be sure they were not centuries later because we have ancient manuscripts dating to the 2nd century.
Also, because the rules for inclusion in the NT canon included the requirement that the writer of the gospels had to be an apostle or someone who knew one, there is no solid ground to say that these 4 books were written centuries after the eye-witnesses were dead. To be technical, if the gospels were written centuries after all the eye-witnesses were dead then that would put their writing to the time or after the time of the Nicaea counsel when the NT canon was first formed. Their accusation does not make any sense.
You will also notice that the inspiration of God is not even considered by those skeptics which means they think that the Bible is only a human book. s for contradictions, we will get into those in an upcoming issue of feeding the flock magazine and will only say that there are no contradictions in the Bible at this time.
The first challenge to address is how to account for the differences among the four Gospels. They are each different in nature, content, and the facts they include or exclude. The reason for the variations is that each author wrote to a different audience and from his own unique perspective. Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience to prove to them that Jesus is indeed their Messiah. That’s why Matthew includes many of the teachings of Christ and makes numerous references to Old Testament prophecies. Mark wrote to a Greek or Gentile audience to prove that Jesus is the Son of God. Therefore, he makes his case by focusing on the events of Christ’s life. His gospel moves very quickly from one event to another, demonstrating Christ’s lordship over all creation. Luke wrote to give an accurate historical account of Jesus’ life. John wrote after reflecting on his encounter with Christ for many years. With that insight, near the end of his life John sat down and wrote the most theological of all the Gospels.
While this explanation may be true, we need to remember that each gospel writer wrote as the Holy Spirit directed them. The contents of the book are God-breathed not a product of human strategy. We do not know at all who the gospel writer’s audience were since the Bible has transcended specific audiences and cultures. The real truth here is that the audience for the gospel writers was everyone in the world.
We do not buy into this different audience theory because all people need to learn those facts about Jesus not just specific 1st century audiences. We also do not accept the idea that the gospels were restricted in whom read them in the first century.
The reason for the variances in content is simple. The Holy Spirit directed each man to focus on different details. There is a good reason for this because if all the books contained exactly the same information, word for word, then the Bible becomes vulnerable to charges of fraud and a single copyist doing all the writing. Even if God had exactly the same details in each gospel the skeptics would then turn around and complain that there are no variations thus the gospels cannot be true. No matter what God did in this situation he would not win. Skeptics would always find something to criticize and claim that the gospels were not authentic or true.
Jesus’ ministry was from A.D. 27-30. Noted New Testament scholar, F.F. Bruce, gives strong evidence that the New Testament was completed by A.D. 100.3 Most writings of the New Testament works were completed twenty to forty years before this. The Gospels are dated traditionally as follows: Mark is believed to be the first gospel written around A.D. 60. Matthew and Luke follow and are written between A.D. 60-70; John is the final gospel, written between A.D. 90-100.
We do not know when the gospels were written because when is not the key lesson one needs to draw from these books. There is no evidence supporting any date put forth by any bible believer, scholar or whomever. We also do not know which gospel was first, second, third or fourth and again that does not matter. What matters are the content of the 4 books, that people learn about Jesus and come to salvation. Who wrote first is a distraction, immaterial and not pertinent.
The gospels also do not have to talk about the destruction of the temple. That was not their purpose. Again that topic is immaterial to the purpose of the 4 books. In Dr. Zukeran’s article you will see some sound arguments supporting an early writing of each book.
Early dating is important for two reasons. The closer a historical record is to the date of the event, the more likely the record is accurate. Early dating allows for eyewitnesses to still be alive when the Gospels were circulating to attest to their accuracy. The apostles often appeal to the witness of the hostile crowd, pointing to their knowledge of the facts as well (Acts 2:22, 26:26). Also, the time is too short for legends to develop. Historians agree it takes about two generations, or eighty years, for legendary accounts to establish themselves.
The problem with these words is that they ignore the power of God and the working of the holy Spirit. These words make it sound like God is forgetful, incapable of bringing the exact truth to his writers and that he actually needs eye-witnesses to verify the truthfulness of his work. Since we have no eye-witnesses alive today and none of their testimony is extant how would we in the modern age verify the truthfulness of the gospels?
These words also say that God is incapable of keeping legend out of his work. Just because God used human authors to pen his divine words does it mean that those works are subject to or governed by human frailties. Also we do not care what historians say about when legend enters a work because they are not dealing with divine books inspired by the Holy Ghost. What applies to human works does not apply to the Bible for its author is divine and infallible not human and fallible.
From the evidence, we can conclude the Gospels were indeed written by the authors they are attributed to.
Like when, who is immaterial and we need to take it by faith who penned God’s word because the human author is not important here. The message and content of the bible is. We can only trust that the ancient church knew who wrote which book and put the correct names on their manuscripts when it came time to share them with others. Since the criteria was someone who was an apostle or someone who knew an apostle then we can rest assured accept that the early church actually knew who wrote which book.
Despite this early dating, there is a time gap of several years between the ascension of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels. There is a period during which the gospel accounts were committed to memory by the disciples and transmitted orally. The question we must answer is, Was the oral tradition memorized and passed on accurately? Skeptics assert that memory and oral tradition cannot accurately preserve accounts from person to person for many years.
We disagree with this idea completely as the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and they did not need to resort to human tricks to get God’s message across. They were trained for 3 years by Jesus and experienced his ministry from almost the beginning so those experiences would be cemented in their minds and with the aid of the Holy Spirit they would not need to worry about human error when they talked. We read in John 14:26, the following words
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. (NASB)
We do not place secular human inabilities on the apostles. They were under a different guiding force.
The evidence shows that in oral cultures where memory has been trained for generations, oral memory can accurately preserve and pass on large amounts of information. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 reveals to us how important oral instruction and memory of divine teaching was stressed in Jewish culture.
We are not a fan of oral tradition and its possible use by the ancient Hebrews. Considering all the times God says for Moses and the people to write things down, oral tradition may not have been a factor in any of this. (see https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=write&qs_version=NASB) Again, just because secular nations may have had some sort of oral tradition that does not mean that the Hebrews employed that option. The verse quoted by Dr. Zukeran does not imply that oral tradition was used or was to be used. teaching to one’s children does not always mean one speaks to them or teaches them from memory.
Was oral tradition used by the Hebrews? Probably no more than any other nation at any other time in history but with all the instructions to write things down, it is safe to say that the Hebrews had written records to help them out if they forgot something. The other arguments for oral tradition just do not hold up nor apply to the gospels because we do not know who wrote what back in the 1st century.
As far s we know there may have been hundreds of written accounts available for anyone who wished to learn about Jesus. The fact that only 4 were inspired and included in the Bible does not mean that only those 4 accounts existed at that time. Sometimes people get their minds frozen because only 4 gospels were included in the bible thus no one else talked or wrote about Jesus and his life.
When one studies the teachings of Jesus, one realizes that His teachings and illustrations are easy to memorize…We also know that the church preserved the teachings of Christ in the form of hymns which were likewise easy to memorize
But we are not studying and memorizing from oral tradition. We are studying and memorizing from pre-written documents. As for the hymns, who said that they were not written down first? We sing from a pre-written hymnal and learn those songs and after a while we do not need the hymnal because we know the music and lyrics but that knowledge doe snot mean that our memorization came from oral tradition.
When I am speaking with Muslims or Mormons, we often come to a point in the discussion where it is clear the Bible contradicts their position. It is then they claim, as many skeptics, do that the Bible has not been accurately transmitted and has been corrupted by the church. In regards to the Gospels, do we have an accurate copy of the original texts or have they been corrupted?
We have the Holy Spirit, the Muslim and Mormon (as well as every other false religion) does not. We know that the Bible has been transmitted correctly and with the aid of the Holy Spirit we can spot the errors when false teacher tries to present an edited Bible to us. We also believe that God kept his word intact so that all people would hear the gospel and know the truth.
Dr. Zukeran again presents good evidence to support the accurate transmission of the Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls add a lot of weight to our side of things BUT even still, we do not need that evidence because we believe God and have faith in him that he has kept his word and made sure we have the truth today.
Here is one example. In our Bibles, Mark 16:9-20 is debated as to whether it was part of the original writings. Although I personally do not believe this passage was part of the original text, its inclusion does not affect any major teaching of Christianity. It states that Christ was resurrected, appeared to the disciples, and commissioned them to preach the gospel. This is taught elsewhere.
These words bother us because there is no evidence that those verses were NOT part of the original autograph. The idea that the older and better manuscripts contain the real words of God is erroneous because the oldest and better manuscripts could easily be a product of someone like Marcus who edited the Bible according to his desires. We have no knowledge surrounding the pedigree of any manuscript or who copied them. Making scriptural judgments based upon non-scriptural criteria is not a wise move and we oppose Dr. Zukeran’s stated position on those verses.
The rest of Dr. Zukeran’s article will not be addressed here as those final paragraphs do not pertain to this topic of when the gospels were written. What we can conclude is that if we believe God inspired his authors then the human factors are not involved in any way with the writing or transmission of God’s word. We need to keep the divine in this issue and stop allowing skeptics to make the Bible a human book prone to human ideas and weaknesses.
When they were written is not the issue. Who wrote first is not the issue. What is the issue is that we have the truth, God has preserved his word and that we believe it. if we do not then we need to double-check our salvation status and get back on the right track. One of the problems with Christians and their academic institutions of copying and using secular scholarly rules is that those rules lead them away from God’s instructions on how to learn about his word.
Disobeying God when studying God’s word is not the way to learn the truth about the gospels or any other book of the bible.