Paul tells the evangelist Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved…
Category: The Bible
How did the Bible travel from God’s mind to the book in our hands? The…
In this third installment, we turn to the question of the gospels’ authenticity and accuracy. Even though the texts of the gospels have come down to us in reliable form, their believability is another question altogether. Is there reason to believe that the gospel accounts were ever true to begin with? Or are they just carefully copied frauds? LOTS could be said on this, and we will have to content ourselves with only scratching the surface.
Last week, I cited multiple ancient authors who referred to Jesus in their respective works. These individuals, who lived in the same and/or following century that Jesus lived, spoke of him as a real historical figure. None of them were Christians, and at least two of them were quite hostile to Christianity, yet they spoke of Jesus as someone who had impacted their world in recent times. There is no reasonable reason to doubt their testimony on this point, and so the overwhelming majority of scholars don’t. But what of those who wrote about Jesus in the first century who were Christians? What about their testimony? In other words, what about the so-called “gospels”—the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Can we trust their accounts? Is there evidence one way or the other? These are questions worth answering…for the gospel writers not only affirm that Jesus walked the earth, but that he came from heaven to save us from the consequences of our sins against God. If there’s any chance that might be true, we definitely want to give the gospels a fair hearing.
So let’s see where the evidence leads….
In the last post I brought up the signal vs noise ratio and how it is used metaphorically to differentiate factual/relevant information from false/irrelevant information. Signal is the factual and relevant info; noise is the false and irrelevant info. I then posed the question, where does someone go to find the “signal” about Christianity? With the endless number of sources on Christianity this seems like an impossible question to answer. One could go to the bookstore, library, internet, friends, family, religious leaders…the list could go on and on. So, where can you reliably go to find factual and relevant information about Jesus, God and the church?
Have you heard of the signal vs noise ratio? It is a science and engineering ratio used to measure the desired signal being received in a transmission versus the amount of noise in the background. Even if you are unfamiliar with the ratio itself you are certainly familiar with the concept. Ever listened to the radio, talked on cell phone or played walkie-talkie as a kid? Then you are familiar with the concept.
We find in 2 Corinthians 10 that in Paul’s absence there were those who spoke against his authority, and against him as a person. These attacks seem to have come only in his absence, not in his presence. Verses 8-10 shed light on the nature of the attacks:
“For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame, for I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters. For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.” Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present.“
Acts 13:45 – But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. As the early Christians traveled through the Roman Empire preaching the message of Christ they spoke with people of diverse cultures, ethnicities, education and heritage. The book of Acts provides insight into how many of these people reacted to hearing the gospel. The passage quoted above (Acts 13:45) is the reaction of many of the Jews who lived in Antioch (in Pisidia). Unfortunately, their reaction is not based on an evaluation of truth but on their emotions.
Occasionally I will hear people make comments referencing “the God of the old testament,” or “the God of the new testament.” Statements like these stem from the perception that God behaved differently, with different expectations in the old testament than he did in the new. Often the connotation is that the “old testament God” was an angry and vengeful God, while the “new testament God” is kind, forgiving and loving God. There are many examples to counter such ideas, one has but to look at the repeated cycles of forgiveness and redemption in the old testament or the ultimate punishment outlined in Revelation to see that God is kind, capable of righteous anger, forgiving, able and willing to exact vengeance, and loving.