Back to Basics: Can You Trust the Gospel Message?

Last week we covered the basics of the resurrection of Jesus, and how it is the single most important event in history. That event is the central message of the gospels. While we can make a strong case for the resurrection without even quoting the Bible, that really shouldn’t be necessary if the gospels are reliable. Today, most thoughtful skeptics center their claims around one central issue. Was Jesus the man the Bible claims he was, or is what we read in the gospels a legend written much later? Can you trust the gospel message and what it says about Jesus? There are a few key objections we need to answer to show that the gospel message is reliable and trustworthy.

Was the Gospel Changed in Translation?

This is the easiest of the questions to answer. We need to get one thing straight right from the beginning. The Bible has not been corrupted by translation between languages. Many people, and even entire religions, make this claim. In reality, nearly every modern Bible we have is a 1 to 1 translation from the original Greek (Or Hebrew for the Old Testament) into English or whatever language you are using. Don’t get tripped up when people start talking about translation errors. It’s basically a non-issue at this point.

Was the Gospel Written Late?

The Christian claim is that the gospels were written by the eyewitnesses that they are named after. Or in the cases of Mark and Luke, the men who spoke with eyewitnesses and compiled their testimonies. This has been the claim made by church leaders since very very early. No other reputable source for them has appeared. However, skeptics will still argue that they were written later in the 2nd or 3rd centuries. If that is true, there is no way they are reliable testimonies, since all the eyewitnesses would have been dead for centuries.

Missing Pieces?

Some of the most important evidence for the gospels being written early comes not from what is in the gospels, but what is missing. Luke in particular, makes it clear in Luke 1:3 that he is writing this as an “orderly” account. Essentially saying that he is trying to write accurate history. He continues this practice in his second book, Acts. Acts stands out as a top notch historical document regardless of religion. What pieces are missing from these two books?

First, the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem happened in 70 AD. The siege of Jerusalem was going on from 67-70 AD and ultimately led to the destruction of the temple. Peter, James, and Paul, the key figures in the early church and some of the central names in Luke and Acts, were all martyred between the years 61-65 AD.

Now consider, if you are writing a historical account of this era, why would you leave these events out? Jesus even predicted the destruction of the temple in Luke 21. If you’re writing this centuries later, of course you would include evidence that supports your story. The most reasonable explanation is that these were written sometime before 61 AD. Factor in that Luke quotes Mark, and you’re looking at the first gospels being written less than 20-30 years after the death of Jesus. For ancient historical sources, that is nothing. Original eyewitnesses would have still been alive to verify the message.  

Was the Gospel Altered Over Time?

It is still possible that the gospels were written early but changed later. The first complete Bibles we have are from later in the 4th century. A lot can change in 300 years. But that possibility is not evidence. The burden is also on the skeptic to show that it changed, not just that it could have. Thankfully we have very good reason to believe that it was not significantly changed.  

Ignatius and Polycarp

Perhaps the strongest evidence we have that it has not changed is by looking at who passed the message on after the original apostles. Though not scripture, we have writings from numerous students of the apostles, such as John’s disciples Ignatius and Polycarp. We also have writings from their students like Irenaeus and Hippolytus. In fact, we can follow these writings all the way from the death of Jesus to the first Bibles we have and see if their teachings match. Whether we follow John’s students, Peter’s, or Paul’s, the message remains consistent.

Put All the Pieces Together

We have gospels written early. Even before the gospels were written we have creeds being passed on orally such as the one in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. Thousands of ancient manuscripts exist with remarkable similarity. Then we have the numerous students and followers of the apostles and can follow this message through the centuries to see that their central claims never changed. Much like the resurrection, we are not left with a lot of wiggle room. The gospels are reliable. If the gospels are reliable, the resurrection happened, and everyone needs to decide if they will believe it or deny the evidence.

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