Book Review: Can We Trust the Gospels? by Peter J. Williams

Can We Trust the Gospels? by [Williams, Peter J.]

Can We Trust the Gospels?, Peter J. Williams, 2018. 160 pp. Crossway.

Peter J. Williams (PhD, University of Cambridge) is the principal of Tyndale House and the consulting editor and coordinator of this project and author of Early Syriac Translation Technique and the Textual Criticism of the Greek Gospels.

I have read my share of books on the “trustworthiness” or “reliability” of the Gospels. Granted, we have to define what we mean when we say we can “trust” the Gospels. As William’s notes,

“This book’s title, Can We Trust the Gospels?, is therefore carefully chosen. It addresses the question by looking at evidence of the Gospels’ trustworthiness. The great thing about trust is that it is something we all understand to a degree because we all exercise it. Most of us regularly place our personal safety in the hands of others. We trust food suppliers, civil engineers, and car manufacturers literally with our lives. We also depend on friends, social media, and financial services. Of course, our trust is not absolute and unquestioning. If we see flagrant breaches of hygiene in a restaurant, we probably stop eating there. But trust is still something we exercise daily. Trusting the Gospels is both the same as trusting other things and different. It is the same in that we often have to evaluate the credibility of people and things in daily life. It is different in that the Gospels contain accounts of miracles and of a man, Jesus Christ, who is presented as the supernatural Son of God who can rightfully claim ownership of our lives  But before we consider such claims, we need to ask whether the Gospels show the signs of trustworthiness we usually look for in things we believe.”- pgs 15-16.

Williams proceeds to show the Gospels are trustworthy by discussing topics such as non-Christian sources for Jesus (Ch 1), The Genre of the Gospels (Ch 2), Whether the Gospel authors knew their stuff (Ch 3), Undesigned Coincidences (Ch 4), Do We Have the Actual Words of Jesus (Ch 5), Has the Text Changes (Ch 6), What about Contradictions (Ch 7), and Would the Gospel Authors Make Things Up? (Ch 8).

This is fairly short book (160 pages), but I think Williams brings to light some real gems that support the trustworthiness of the Gospels.

Chapter 1 concludes by saying non- Christian sources confirm the basic facts from the New Testament such as:

1.Christ’s death under Pontius Pilate in Judaea between AD 26 and AD 36,

2. that Christ was worshiped as God early on,

3. that Christ’s followers often experienced persecution,

4. that Christians spread far and fast,

5. that some early Christian leaders would have known of Christ’s family origins.

Ch 2 discusses the relationship between all four Gospels and how much one Gospel may have used from another. Williams notes that Q is only a hypothetical document. At least by the time of Irenaeus (writing ca. AD 185), the authors of the four Gospels are identified as the following:

Matthew, a tax collector from Capernaum (Matthew 9:9; 10:3), was one of Jesus’s twelve disciples, also called apostles. • Mark, not one of the Twelve, was the apostle Peter’s interpreter in Rome. Generally identified as John Mark, whose mother, Mary, had a property in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), he was a cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), who originated from Cyprus (Acts 4:36). • Luke, not one of the Twelve, was a medical doctor (Colossians 4:14) who accompanied Paul on some of his travels round the Mediterranean and was the only New Testament writer who may have been a Gentile. • John son of Zebedee, was one of the Twelve, the younger brother of James, and a fisherman from Capernaum.

Williams doesn’t spend time arguing for a specific date for each Gospels but notes the earliest and most compete copies we have for the Four Gospels are dated at the second and third centuries. As Williams notes:

“It is rarely appreciated that for us to have four Gospels about Jesus is remarkable. That is an abundance of material to have about any individual of that period. In fact, even though Jesus was on the periphery of the Roman Empire, we have as many early sources about his life and teaching as we have about activities and conversations of Tiberius, emperor during Jesus’s public activities”-pgs. 39-40.

In Ch 3, Williams lists the numerous towns and geographical regions that the authors of the Gospels are familiar with. As Williams rightly notes, “the lists, of course, do not show that the Gospels are not largely fictional. The information in the lists, however, would be extremely surprising if we were to think of the Gospel writers as having lived in other countries, such as Egypt, Italy, Greece, or Turkey, and having made up stories about Jesus”  (pg 54).  The four Gospels demonstrate familiarity with the geography of the places they write about. In total, they mention twenty-six towns: sixteen each in Matthew and Luke and thirteen each in Mark and John (pg 55). The lists show the following: 1. All writers display knowledge of a range of localities from well known, through lesser known, to obscure; 2. No Gospel writer gains all his knowledge from the other Gospels, since each contains unique information. 3. All writers show a variety of types of geographical Information -pg 56.

Ch 4 follows the work of John Blunt and most recently Lydia McGrew on evidence for what is called “undesigned coincidences.” As Williams notes.  this argument demonstrates that “writers show agreement of a kind that it is hard to imagine as deliberately contrived by either author to make the story look authentic.”-pg 87. Williams gives a few examples of this in the Gospels. The goal is to show that undersigned coincidences provide evidence the Gospel authors are written by eyewitnesses.

Ch 5 discusses the issue of whether we have the actual words of Jesus. Williams  notes that while Jesus did speak Aramaic this doesn’t rule out that Jesus may have spoken Greek. He says “the prolonged contact in Palestine between speakers of these two languages would have ensured that many people understood some of each and that prolonged and repeated misunderstanding would have been relatively rare. Language contact means that a Jew speaking in Greek to a Jewish audience would plausibly be able to use specifically Aramaic words as recorded in Matthew 5:22 (raka) and 6:24 (mamōna), both of which occur in the Sermon on the Mount. Also, by the time of Jesus many Greek words had been loaned into Aramaic. If Jesus originally told the parable of the prodigal son in Aramaic, there is no reason why he could not have used some of the very vocabulary found in our Greek version, such as the Greek word symphōnia (“music,” Luke 15:25), which by then had been adopted into Aramaic. Jesus presumably would have spoken Greek with the Greeks in John 12:23, with the centurion in Matthew 8:5–13, with the Greek woman in Mark 7:26, and possibly also with the Herodians in Mark 12:13.”-pg 109.

Since Ch 6 is about the integrity of the text and whether it has been changed or not,  we should note that since Williams has been the principal of Tyndale House and the consulting editor and coordinator of this project and author of Early Syriac Translation Technique and the Textual Criticism of the Greek Gospels, he knows quite a bit about textual issues and the process of translation of the Gospels. He notes that “ given the question of the trustworthiness of the Gospel text, it is rational to have a high degree of confidence in the text of the Gospels as it appears in modern editions. These editions themselves indicate where uncertainties lie. Any changes to the text from the earliest composition would have to be limited to (1) changes to an individual Gospel, or (2) changes that were small enough to be adopted as authentic by copyists who would not want to have passed on anything they knew was changed, or (3) changes for which there is ongoing evidence in our manuscripts. One more thing: A lot of copying was done by professional scribes, who were trained and paid simply to replicate faithfully what they had in front of them. The idea that scribes acted as if they were authors or were the source of constant ideological change in texts goes against what we know about scribes from the ancient world.” – pg 122.

The final chapter (Ch 7),  examines the contradictions issues.  Bart Ehrman and online skeptics have been relentless in attempting in pointing out ‘apparent’ contradictions in the Gospels. Williams lists some of the significant ones. He calls them “deliberate formal contradictions” -pg 123.  Williams says that when it comes to John’s Gospel, perhaps “John’s Gospel has recorded contradictions at the superficial level of language to encourage the audience to think more deeply. It is somewhat similar to how Dickens opened his A Tale of Two Cities with a whole list of contradictions to characterize the inconsistencies of an era. He famously began, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” – pg 127.  Williams also asks since Jesus is portrayed as speaking one or both sides of the contradiction,  is it possible Jesus using paradox to illustrate a point?- pg 126.

Obviously there has been larger works dealing with the contradiction topic.

Williams book is not as extensive as a book like Craig Blomberg’s massive The Reliability of the New Testament. It isn’t intended to be. At times, I wanted to see more extensive treatments on certain issues. But I know there are other resources on these topics. For example, when Williams mentions Richard Bauckham’s work on the use of names in the Palestinian region, this alerts this alerts the reader there is a place to turn for a more extensive treatment of the topic.

From my experience, one of the largest challenges to the trustworthiness of the Gospels is the miraculous. Williams mentions this issue towards the very end of the book. Overall, this is a fine contribution to the trustworthiness of the Gospels.

 

 

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5 People to Look Out For at Bible Study: A Response

This clip is quite funny. The sad thing is that I have run into many of these types of responses in my own life. What about you? Let’s look at a few of them:

  1. “New Testament Nate” and “Feel Good Frank” would benefit from our post called Are Christians Naively Marcionite in Their Theology and Practice?
  2. “Moralistic Megan” would benefit from some historical apologetics and a much deeper understanding of who Jesus really is. He is not just a moral teacher. See our post: Handling an Objection: “I love the moral teachings of Jesus but I don’t think He is divine.”
  3. “Oblivious Olivia” needs to read  Clay Jones on the Canaanites topic here. As far as Jesus not being nice, she needs to remember Jesus isn’t Barney. 
  4. “Scientific Sam” needs to read the 100 or more responses to David Hume’s arguments.
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Teaching on Decision Making and the Will of God

Here is a teaching we did on a very pertinent topic. There have been countless books written on this topic. But why? Obviously, Christians are concerned they are making the right choices. Is it because they want perfect control over their lives? They want perfect security? They are terrified they might make a mistake (fear, fear, fear!)? Or, they think it is demonstration of true spirituality by telling others they can see God directing every detail of their lives? Does God have a perfectly detailed plan for out lives? The list goes on. We will discuss some of the common pitfalls that Christians fall into when making decisions.

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Responding to the objection by Christians who say “I don’t need any evidence for my faith!”

Any of us who have been involved in the apologetic endeavor are probably familiar with the comments by some Christians who say “I don’t need any evidence or reasons for what I believe.” In other words, this individual thinks it is more spiritual to trust God  because He can only be pleased by faith (Heb. 11:6). Thus, for these people, the object of faith is sometimes described as resting in God Himself (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:24). Even in the New Testament, Jesus confirms this issue (Mark 11:22). And even as God is the object of faith, the author of the Gospel of John directs his audience to Jesus as being the object of faith as well (John 20:31).

Granted, these types of individuals may be ignorant to the fact that the apostles approach to spreading the message of the Gospel is characterized by such terms as “apologeomai/apologia” which means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15); “dialegomai” which means “to reason, speak boldly” (Acts 17:2; 17; 18:4; 19:8), “peíthō” which means to persuade, argue persuasively” (Acts 18:4; 19:8), and “bebaioō ”which means “to confirm, establish,” (Phil 1:7; Heb. 2:3). [1]

The reality is that it is impossible to even profess the name of Christ or claim to be of His followers without relying on some evidence. Granted, it is true when someone comes to faith in the Lord  they are not required to give a dozen arguments for why they have decided to make such a commitment. However, as time goes on, they will find out very quickly that many will ask them ‘why’ they have chosen to make this decision.

Naturally, many Christians will say they have supernatural certainty for their faith and will commonly say “I experience the Holy Spirit in my life.” Obviously, they can be oblivious to the fact that they sound no different than a Mormon.            What can be forgotten is that every experience a Christian has is based on what is already found in the Bible. And the Bible is a form of evidence. Thus, Christians are already relying on a form of testimonial evidence and they are also relying on the memories of those that wrote and recorded the events in the Bible. They think the writers of the Bible are telling the truth. The Gospel of John uses words that are usually translated as witness, testimony, to bear witness, or to testify. The total usage of these words in John’s Gospel is larger than any of the Synoptic Gospels. The book of Acts is the next book with the most references to the terms related to eyewitness testimony. We see in the following New Testament passages where testimony and witness is used as a means to verify events:

• Luke 1:4: “Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received”

•Acts 2:32: “This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it”

• Acts 3:14-15:But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.”

• Acts 5:30-32: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. “And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

•1 John 1:1: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life”

•Acts 10:39 : “We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and (in) Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.”

•Acts 4:19-20: “Peter and John, however, said to them in reply, “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”

•1 Peter 5:1: “So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed.

•2 Peter 1:19: ” We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

•John 21:24: “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”

•1 Corinthians 15: 3-8: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

Christians also rely on their perception to know there is a Creator.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known of God is revealed in them, for God revealed it to them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse. Because, knowing God, they didn’t glorify him as God, neither gave thanks, but became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless heart was darkened.” (Rom.1:18-21)

In this passage, God’s knowledge is described as “eternal power and divine nature.” Paul lays out the basic principle of cause and effect. Paul says since God is the Designer (God is the cause), His “everlasting power and divinity” are obvious, “through the things that are made” (this is the effect).For Christians, they  perceive truth about God, because the basic truths about God are “clearly seen” (Rom. 1:20). Thus, they rely on their perception.

What’s the point? 

Christians that claim to be demonstrating a ‘higher’ form of spirituality and trust in God because they say they don’t need any evidence or reasons for their beliefs can be ignorant to what we just discussed. Keep in mind that I am well aware of the limitations of apologetics and the use of reasons and evidence. But let’s admit we are already relying on some evidence for our beliefs!

  1. Garrett J. Deweese, Doing Philosophy as a Christian (Downers Grove, ILL: IVP Publishers, 2012), 78-79.
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Reviewing the Resurrection Creed in 1 Cor 15:3-8

As historians evaluate the sources available for the resurrection of Jesus, a critical question is the dating of the sources. In relation to early testimony, historian David Hacket Fisher says, “An historian must not merely provide good relevant evidence but the best relevant evidence. And the best relevant evidence, all things being equal, is evidence which is most nearly immediate to the event itself.” (1) One key in examining the early sources for the life of Christ is to take into account the Jewish culture in which they were birthed. As Paul Barnett notes, “The milieu of early Christianity in which Paul’s letters and the Gospels were written was ‘rabbinic.’” (2)

Given the emphasis on education in the synagogue, the home, and the elementary school, it is not surprising that it was possible for the Jewish people to recount large quantities of material that was even far greater than the Gospels themselves.

Jesus was a called a “Rabbi” (Matt. 8:19; 9:11; 12:38; Mk. 4:38; 5:35; 9:17; 10:17, 20; 12:14, 19, 32; Lk. 19:39; Jn. 1:38; 3:2), which means “master” or “teacher.” There are several terms that can be seen that as part of the rabbinic terminology of that day. His disciples had “come” to him, “followed after” him, “learned from” him, “taken his yoke upon” them (Mt. 11:28-30; Mk 1). (3)

Therefore, it appears that the Gospel was first spread in the form of oral creeds and hymns (Luke 24:34; Acts 2:22-24, 30-32; 3:13-15; 4:10-12; 5:29-32; 10:39-41; 13:37-39; Rom. 1:3-4; 4:25; 10:9; 1 Cor. 11:23ff.;15:3-8; Phil. 26-11; 1 Tim.2:6; 3:16; 6:13; 2 Tim. 2:8;1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 4:2).

There was tremendous care in ‘delivering’ the traditions that had been received. Jesus’ use of parallelism, rhythm and rhyme, alliterations, and assonance enabled Jesus’ words not only ‘memorizable’ but easy to preserve. (4) Even Paul, a very competent rabbi was trained at the rabbinic academy called the House of Hillel by ‘Gamaliel,’ a key rabbinic leader and member of the Sanhedrin. It can be observed that the New Testament authors employ oral tradition terminology such as “delivering,” “receiving,” “passing on” “learning,” “guarding,” the traditional teaching. Just look at the following passages:

Romans 16: 17: “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.”

1 Corinthians 11:23: “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread.”

Philippians 4:9: “The things you have learned and received and heardand seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

2 Thessalonians 2:15: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.”

1 Corinthians 15: 3-7: The Earliest Account

Paul applies this terminology in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-7 which is one of the earliest records for the historical content of the Gospel – the death and resurrection of Jesus. The late Orthodox Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide was so impressed by the creed of 1 Cor. 15, that he concluded that this “formula of faith may be considered as a statement of eyewitnesses.” (5)

Paul’s usage of the rabbinic terminology “passed on” and “received” is seen in the creed of 1 Cor. 15:3-8:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

Rainer Riesner says the following about the creed:

To the troubled church of Corinth, Paul, around 54 CE, wrote: I would remind you, brothers [including sisters], of the gospel [euangelion] that I proclaimed to you, which you received [parelabete], in which you also stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold to the wording [tini logō] in which I proclaimed it to you. . . . For I handed down [paredōka] to you under the first things what also I have received [parelabon]. (1 Cor. 15:1–3) Then the apostle cites a series of statements, a technique he knew from his rabbinical training, indicating certain traditions about Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection appearances (1 Cor. 15:3–7). There are some important things to be noted. Paul could call a summary of the last part of Jesus’s life euangelion. The apostle reminds the Corinthians that at the foundation of the community (around 50 CE), he taught them some Jesus traditions as part of “the first things.” This is confirmed by 1 Corinthians 11:23–24: “I received [parelabon] from the Lord what I also handed down [paredōka] to you”; then Paul cites the eucharistic words of Jesus in a form independent from, but very near to, the Lukan version (Luke 22:19–20). The formulation “from the Lord” (apo tou kyriou) points back to Jesus as the originator of the tradition (1 Cor. 11:23). Paul is silent concerning those functioning as intermediaries from whom he received the eucharistic words; but 1 Corinthians 15:5–7 shows that the Jesus tradition was connected with known persons such as Peter, James, and the Twelve. Obviously it was not an anonymous tradition. The nearest philological parallel to the Greek words paralambanō (to receive) and paradidōmi (to hand down) are the Hebrew technical terms qibbel and masar, denoting a cultivated oral tradition (m. Abot 1:1). This is in agreement with Paul’s insistence on the “wording” (1 Cor. 15:2) of the catechetical formula in 1 Corinthians 15:3–5. In addition, the strong verbal agreements between the Pauline and the Lukan forms of the eucharistic words point to a cultivated tradition. (6)

There is an interesting parallel to Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 15:3-8 in the works of Josephus. Josephus says the following about the Pharisees.

“I want to explain here that the Pharisees passed on to the people certain ordinances from a succession of fathers, which are not written down in the law of Moses. For this reason the party of the Sadducees dismisses these ordinances, averaging that one need only recognize the written ordinances, whereas those from the tradition of the fathers need not be observed.” (7)

As Richard Bauckham notes, “the important point for our purposes is that Josephus uses the language of “passing on” tradition for the transmission from one teacher to another and also for the transmission from the Pharisees to the people.”(8)

Bauckham notes in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony that the Greek word for “eyewitness” (autoptai), does not have forensic meaning, and in that sense the English word “eyewitnesses” with its suggestion of a metaphor from the law courts, is a little misleading. The autoptai are simply firsthand observers of those events. Bauckham has followed the work of Samuel Byrskog in arguing that while the Gospels though in some ways are a very distinctive form of historiography, they share broadly in the attitude to eyewitness testimony that was common among historians in the Greco-Roman period. These historians valued above all reports of firsthand experience of the events they recounted.

Best of all was for the historian to have been himself a participant in the events (direct autopsy). Failing that (and no historian was present at all the events he need to recount, not least because some would be simultaneous), they sought informants who could speak from firsthand knowledge and whom they could interview (indirect autopsy).” In other words, Byrskog defines “autopsy,” as a visual means of gathering data about a certain object and can include means that are either direct (being an eyewitness) or indirect (access to eyewitnesses).

Byrskog also claims that such autopsy is arguably used by Paul (1 Cor.9:1; 15:5–8; Gal. 1:16), Luke (Acts 1:21–22; 10:39–41) and John (19:35; 21:24; 1 John 1:1–4).

As just mentioned, the word “received” παραλαμβάνω (a rabbinical term) means to receive something transmitted from someone else, which could be by an oral transmission or from others from whom the tradition proceeds. This entails that Paul received this information from someone else at an even an earlier date.

As Gary Habermas notes, “Even critical scholars usually agree that it has an exceptionally early origin.” Ulrich Wilckens declares that this creed “indubitably goes back to the oldest phase of all in the history of primitive Christianity.” (9) Joachim Jeremias calls it “the earliest tradition of all.” (10) Even the non-Christian scholar Gerd Ludemann says that “I do insist that the discovery of pre-Pauline confessional foundations is one of the great achievements in the New Testament scholarship.” (11)

The majority of scholars who comment think that Paul probably received this information about three years after his conversion, which probably occurred from one to four years after the crucifixion.  While we can’t be dogmatic about this, we do know at that time, Paul visited Jerusalem to speak with Peter and James, each of whom are included in the list of Jesus’ appearances (1 Cor. 15:5, 7; Gal. 1:18–19). This places it at roughly A.D. 32–38. Even the co-founder Jesus Seminar member John Dominic Crossan, writes:

“Paul wrote to the Corinthians from Ephesus in the early 50s C.E. But he says in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that “I handed on to you as of first importance which I in turn received.” The most likely source and time for his reception of that tradition would have been Jerusalem in the early 30s when, according to Galatians 1:18, he “went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him fifteen days” (12).

E.P. Sanders also says:

Paul’s letters were written earlier than the gospels, and so his reference to the Twelve is the earliest evidence. It comes in a passage that he repeats as ‘tradition’, and is thus to be traced back to the earliest days of the movement. In 1 Corinthians 15 he gives the list of resurrection appearances that had been handed down to him. (13)

And Crossan’s partner Robert Funk says:

The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.” — Robert Funk co-founder of the Jesus Seminar.(14)

This means that Paul received this information from someone else at an even earlier date. How can we know where he received it?  There are three possibilities:

  1. In Damascus from Ananias about AD 34 
  2. In Jerusalem about AD 36/37 
  3. In Antioch about AD 47

One of the clues as to where Paul got his information, is that, within the creed, he calls Peter by his Aramaic name, Cephas.  Hence, it seems likely that he received this information in either Galilee or Judea, one of the two places where people spoke Aramaic. Therefore, Paul possibly received the oral history of 1 Cor. 15:3-7 during his visit to Jerusalem.

 In Galatians 1:18 Paul says, Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. Here, “acquainted” happens to derive from a Greek word (historesai) that means “inquire into” or “become acquainted.” (15) Interestingly enough, the word “history” also derives from the Greek word “historesai.” So, the work of the historian is to find sources of information, to evaluate their reliability, to make disciplined “inquiry” into their meaning and with imagination to reconstruct what happened. (16) Paul’s first trip to Jerusalem is usually dated about AD 35 or 36.

Why does this matter?

I was once talking to a Muslim about the dating of the Qur’an and the New Testament. Islam states Jesus was never crucified, and therefore, never risen. The Qur’an was written some six hundred years after the life of Jesus which makes it a much later source of information than the New Testament. It seems the evidence that has just been discussed tells us that the historical content of the Gospel (Jesus’ death and resurrection) was circulating very early among the Christian community. As I just said, historians look for the records that are closest to the date of event. Given the early date of 1 Cor. 15: 3-8, it is quite evident that this document is a more reliable resource than the Qur’an. Furthermore, to say the story of Jesus was something that was “made up” much later contradicts the evidence just presented.

Note: Here is a resource that responds to some Jesus Mythers (e.g., the usual list that includes Robert Price), who attempt to say 1 Cor 15: 3-11 is an interpolation.

Sources:

1. Hacket Fisher, D.H., Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought (New York: Harper Torchbooks. 1970),  62.

2. Barnett, P.W., Jesus and the Logic of History (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1997),  138.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Lapide, P.E., The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Minneapolis: Ausburg 1983), 98-99.

6. Porter, S.E., and Dyer, B.R., The Synoptic Problem, Four Views (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016), Kindle Locations, 2052-2062

7. Bauckham, R. Jesus and the Gospels: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company) 2006.

8. Ibid.

9. Wilckens, U., Resurrection, trans. A. M. Stewart (Edinburgh: St. Andrew. 1977), 2

10. Jeremias, J. New Testament Theology: The Proclamation of Jesus, trans. John Bowden (New York: Scribner’s. 1971), 306.

11. Ludemann, G, The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: A Historical Inquiry (Amherst, NY: Promethus, 2004), 37.

12. Crossan, J.D. & Jonathan L. Reed. Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts (New York: Harper. 2001), 254.

13.  Sanders,  E.P.,The Historical Figure of Jesus (New York: Penguin Books), 1993

14.  Hoover,  R.W., and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus,What Did Jesus Really Do? ( Farmington, Minnesota: Polebridge Press, 1996),

466.

15. Jones, T.P., Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2007), 89-94.

16. Ibid.

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Why do Christians struggle with Jesus being the embodiment of truth and love?

Introduction

When I read the Gospels, I see Jesus as the embodiment of truth and love. In other words, to attempt to divorce the two is to make Jesus into what we want him to be. Obviously, when we read John’s Gospel, Jesus, as the Word become flesh, is full of grace and truth (1:14), and is the source of grace and truth (1:17). In contrast to the woman at the well, who felt geographic location of worship was important, Jesus states that the issue is not whether one should worship God in Moriah or Gerizim, but rather one should worship in spirit and in truth. For John, truth is ultimately identified with, and is personified in the person of, Jesus. The ministry of John the Baptist is to bear witness to the truth (5:33).

Did Jesus try to show people thy’re wrong? 

Most recently, we had a well known Christian apologist speak at our campus. As small group of students thought the speaker spent a lot of time simply trying to show people they are wrong. In other words, perhaps he came across as having  an “us vs them: attitude. I don’t think he came across this way. So obviously this can be a matter of opinion.  Anyway, did Jesus spend any time trying to show his audience they are wrong? The answer is yes! Was Jesus harsh? Yes! Did Jesus judge? Absolutely! Matt Slick’s article at Carm summarizes some of these things here. He notes the following texts: 

  • Matt. 7:4, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
  • Matt. 15:7, “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, 8 ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me.” 9 ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”
  • Matt. 23:13, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”
  • Matt. 23:15, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites…”
  • Matt. 23:16-17, “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.’ 17 “You fools and blind men; which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold?”
  • Matt. 23:23-24, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”
  • Matt. 23:25, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”
  • Matt. 23:27-28, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 “Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
  • Matt. 23:29, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”
  • Matt. 23:33, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?”
  • Mark 12:38-40, “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, 39 and chief seats in the synagogues, and places of honor at banquets, 40 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation.”
  • Luke 11:39, “You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also?”
  • Luke 11:43, “Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the front seats in the synagogues, and the respectful greetings in the market places. 44 “Woe to you! For you are like concealed tombs, and the people who walk over them are unaware of it.”
  • Luke 11:52, “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.”
  • Luke 12:1, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”
  • John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father…”
  • John 8:49, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.”
  • John 8:55, “and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I shall be a liar like you, but I do know Him, and keep His word.”

Now keep in mind, all these passages must be seen in context and there has been more than enough written on the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees.

What Does the Bible Say About Truth?

True and False Doctrine: The core of our doctrine is what Jesus taught to and through his apostles. Remember that the truth that sets us free (John 8:31-32; Acts 2:42). We can love someone to death, and they may never be set free. Although God does not expect us to attain perfect understanding of this truth, he does expect us to understand sound doctrine—so we live as fruitful and discerning disciples of Jesus (1 Tim. 4:6; 6:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1).

True and False Spirits: We need to remember the following verse: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus the Messiah has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus  is not from God” (1 John 4:1-2). Jesus said the Holy Spirit  would be another “Parakletos” or “Advocate” (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), who testifies to the truth about Jesus (John 16:13-14). The Bible gives us two ways to test spirits to see whether they are from God. The first is to ask whether the spirits teach the truth about Jesus (1 John 4:1-6). Also, any message about the Good News that presents a different message than the message that the Messiah himself gave through Paul and the other apostles is a false message or a false gospel (Gal. 1:6; see 2 Cor. 11:4).

Remember: God does expect his children to grow in the exercise of discernment—recognizing the difference between truth and error (1 Thess. 5:21-22). Also, one aspect of spiritual maturity is that we are more skilled in our discernment (Heb. 5:14).

Love

As far as love, the New Testament concept closely parallels that of the Old Testament. John writes: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” Believers need to share with those in need, whether that need is for food, water, lodging, clothing, healing, or friendship (Matt 25:34-40 ; Rom 12:13 ). The love demonstrated in the parable of the good Samaritan shows that agape  love is not emotional love, but a response to someone who is in need.

The command to love others is based on how God has loved us. Since believers have been the recipients of love, they must love. Since Christ has laid down his life for us, we must be willing to lay down our lives for our brothers (1 John 3:16 ).

Many people in Jesus’ day believed that a neighbor was a fellow Israelite. When asked to define “neighbor, ” however, Jesus cited the parable of the good Samaritana person who knowingly crossed traditional boundaries to help a wounded Jew (Luke 10:29-37). A neighbor is anyone who is in need. Jesus also told his disciples that a “neighbor” might even be someone who hates them, curses them, or mistreats them. Yet they must love even enemies (Luke 6:27-36) as a witness and a testimony.

The Old Testament charge was to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18 ). But Jesus gave his disciples a new command with a radically different motive: “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). (1)

What’s the point?

We live in day when we are pressured to be politically correct. Sadly, it seems like many Christians view Jesus as no different than Barney the dinosaur. It’s as if Christians  have never even read the Gospels.   Now why is this?

 First, there is no doubt that many Christians haven’t been loving and have been overplayed the truth card. In other words, “This is the truth and that’s the way it is.” However, this doesn’t give a Christian full license to just love the person and not discuss the truth issue. I run into this all the time. When the emotions run strong on a particular topic, the truth issue gets put on the back burner. So the bottom line is the following: If you’re going to attempt to emulate Jesus, please read the Gospels and be willing to see him in all His attributes.  We do nobody any favors when we only emphasize love at the exclusion of truth. And by the way, while I think we should show great love and compassion,  the “love only” approach  may end up allowing someone to destroy themselves and others. Sin seems to have  a habit of doing that.

Sources:

1.  Glenn E. Schaefer, “Love” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996).

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