Category Archives: Gospel Accounts

CAN WE TRUST THE NEW TESTAMENT: LESSON 3: DELAY IN WRITING

Jesus died around 30 A.D.- 33 A.D. The first gospel account/epistle wasn’t written until the late 40s/50s. Therefore, you have around 20 years from the time Jesus died until the time these men even began to write about Him. Why was there such a delay? Can we trust what they wrote? Why did they not write down anything until some 20 years later?

First, it is an assumption to claim that these men didn’t write down what happened to them prior to the gospel accounts they recorded. There is no reason to believe they couldn’t have taken notes and documented the events as they happened and then later written their official gospel accounts.

From a practical standpoint, this is very possible. Many authors of biographies will spend years taking notes before they write the official biography. Therefore, to claim that these men didn’t write anything down until they wrote their gospel account is a presupposition that cannot be sustained.

Second, the mission of the early church and the disciples was spoken proclamation (not written). The apostles and leaders of the church were preoccupied with spreading the gospel through the spoken word. They established their authority through miracles as they were speaking so that when they would eventually begin writing, the readers would take it seriously.

The disciples/apostles of Jesus had been commissioned by Jesus to take the gospel to the world through the spoken word first and foremost (Mt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:47; 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 13:49; 16:5; 17:6; 19:20; 28:31).

Third, the books and letters that make up the New Testament were originally written for specific audiences and for specific purposes. For example, Mark was written for the Gentiles. Yet, the Gentiles were not being accepted into Christianity until several years after the establishment of the church (Acts 10). The epistles that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth could not have been written until there was a church at Corinth. If the church at Corinth was not established until the apostle Paul’s second missionary journey (AD. 49-52), then Paul obviously wrote to the Christians in Corinth after this time.

Fourth, a written record of the eyewitnesses’ testimony would have not been deemed important until some of those eyewitnesses began to die through both natural means and martyrdom.  Only after some of the apostles and other eyewitnesses were no longer alive to be consulted did a practical need arise for a written source of their testimony.

In other words, if I am speaking about an event that everyone would have been familiar with, then there would be no need to document it. However, once eye witness testimony began to get older and/or die off, then there becomes a natural need for written documentation.

Can We Trust Their Memory?

First, in order to be able to understand how trustworthy these writings really are, we must understand the importance of the memory in 1st century culture.

We live in a society where one can “tweet,” “text” or e-mail words in a mere matter of seconds. We cannot look at the 1st century through 21st century glasses. It is hard for us to understand spoken proclamation and memorization today since it no longer serves the same kind of importance that it once did.

“In the tradition of western culture it is only in our own day that the memory has been effectively unloaded into books. Not until our own day have we learned to accept a form of education which to a great extent consists of being able to find the material which is required in the right books, without needing to carry it all in the memory. Not until our day has the revolution taken place which has been called “the dethronement of memory” (Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript, p. 123).

Below is an example that demonstrates memorization during those days:

“The man who repeats his chapter…one hundred times is not to be compared with the man who repeats it one hundred and one times. And when the question of the Rabbis’ repetition for their pupils is taken up, it is the tireless Rabbi who is praised…he used to repeat every passage “four hundred times” for a dull pupil, and once when the pupil in question had still not absorbed the passage….{he} proceeded to repeat it “four hundred times” more. (Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript, pp. 134-135).

The apostles and other eyewitnesses were verbally proclaiming the good news wherever they went (Acts 8:3-4). It was proclaimed in both public and private settings (Acts 20:20). The stories about Jesus and His teaching would have been repeated multiple times to multiple people in multiple locations with multiple eyewitnesses before the first gospel account was ever penned.

There would have been hundreds, if not thousands, of eye witnesses still living to debunk what these men were writing about had it not been true. You have group or community memory and not just individual memory.

Let’s put this in perspective. Imagine if in another 4 years or so people began writing books denying the events of 911. There would be so many eye witnesses to the event of 911 itself or at least witnesses to the evidence of 911 that nobody would dare take any writing(s) seriously that denied the events of 911 taking place.

In the same way, these eye witnesses would have served as checks and balances to ensure what the disciples were writing was indeed accurate. If the apostles and disciples were making up stories or fabricating them, one would expect at least two things: (1) Nobody would take their writings seriously. (2) There would be other writings debunking the apostles’ writings. However, neither of these exists.

Instead, you have the opposite: (1) The rapid spread of Christianity throughout the time of heavy persecution and (2) eye witness testimony affirming the things these men wrote about (1 Cor. 15:1-6).

Finally, this doesn’t even take into account the “God” factor. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would lead these men and bring to remembrance the things they would write (2 Pet. 1:19-21; Jn. 14:26). God was able to inspire the writers of the New Testament to be able to recall the events properly. Furthermore, God could certainly put various individuals in the writers’ paths who would have information that could then be verified and recorded…and guess what? That is exactly (historically) what we have!

– Kevin Pendergrass

 

CAN WE TRUST THE NEW TESTAMENT? LESSON 4: ALLEGED CONTRADICTIONS

In this study, we will continue examining alleged argumentation against the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). We will be looking more into alleged arguments that are internal within the text of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

THE AUTHORS IN THIRD PERSON?

SKEPTIC’S ARGUMENT:

If Matthew was the author of Matthew, then why did he refer to himself in the third person (Mt. 9:9; 10:3)? If Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are truly the authors of these gospel accounts, then isn’t it strange that they would write in third person? This is clearly evidence against the alleged fact that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

RESPONSE:

It was a fairly standard practice in ancient writings to refer to oneself in the third person. Ancient historians often referred to themselves in the third person.

Caesar’s Commentaries (100-44 BC.) never identify the author at all, and they refer to Caesar in the third person. Yet, no one doubts or questions if Caesar was the author of the writings attributed to him.

The same type of evidence to determine the authorship of Caesar for his writings is the same type of evidence used to determine the authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Xenophon (431-351 BC.) refers to himself in the third person in his writings:

“There was in the army a certain Xenophon, an Athenian, who accompanied the army neither as a general nor as a captain nor as a private soldier; but Proxenos, an old acquaintance, had sent for him.” (Anabasis Book 3, ch 1; See also Anabasis 1.8.15; 2.5.40; 3.1.10, 47, etc.).

Josephus was a Jewish Historian (AD. 37-100) and he refers to himself in third person (The Jewish War 2.20.4, 3.9.5, etc.).

For one to argue that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John cannot be the authors of the gospel accounts because they sometimes allude to themselves in third person is a fallacious argument per the aforementioned information.

DO THE GOSPEL ACCOUNTS CONTRADICT?

SKEPTIC’S ARGUMENT:

The writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John cannot be trusted because they contradict each other in many places. We do not know which gospel account, if any, to trust. Therefore, we cannot trust any of them.

RESPONSE:

First, we have to properly define when a contradiction actually exists. The Law of Contradiction is stated as follows: “Nothing can both be and not be” (Jevons, 1928; Elementary Lessons in Logic; p. 117). A contradiction can only exist when every possible means of harmonization and explanation has been fully exhausted and negated.

 4 IMPORTANT QUESTIONS

(1) Is the same thing, same event or same person under consideration?

(2) Is the same time period under consideration?

(3) Is the same type of language employed?

(4) Is the same sense or perspective being used?

These four questions must be properly answered in order to determine if the situation under consideration is indeed an actual contradiction. Let’s consider a few practical examples.

(1) Is the same thing, same event or same person under consideration?

 Jason is rich.

Jason is poor.

In this scenario, a different person named Jason could be under consideration.

(2) Is the same time period under consideration?

 Jason is rich.

Jason is poor.

In this scenario, a different time period could be under consideration for the same Jason.

(3) Is the same type of language employed?

 Jason is rich.

Jason is poor.

In this scenario, a different type of language could be employed for the same Jason during the same period. Jason is rich in love, but poor in wealth.

(4) Is the same sense or perspective being used?

Jason is rich.

Jason is poor.

In this scenario, a different type of perspective could be employed. Depending upon the author— the level of understanding for rich and poor could vary greatly.

AN EXAMPLE OF A CONTRADICTION

It must be conclusively proven that the same person, event, place or thing is under consideration during the same time utilizing the same language and perspective.

A contradiction would exist if one person claimed that Jason had $100 in his bank account while another person claimed that the same Jason did not have any money in the exact same bank account during the same time.

DO THE GOSPEL ACCOUNTS CONTRADICT?

When someone claims that the gospel accounts are full of contradictions, typically they cannot even begin to cite one specific example. They have just heard what others have said and flippantly repeat it.

With that being said, there are certainly differences between the gospel accounts. So, when someone uses the word “contradiction” to describe the gospel accounts, they should be using the word “difference.”

There are certainly many differences between the gospel accounts. However, as stated before, a difference does not equate to a contradiction. Let’s consider several of these differences that are often misunderstood as contradictions by skeptics.

DID THE WOMEN REPORT THE RESURRECTION OR NOT?

Matthew’s Account: The women reported the resurrection to the disciples (Matt. 28:8).

Mark’s Account: The women did not report the resurrection to the disciples (Mark 16:8).

 EXPLANATION:

First, a different time frame might be under consideration. If such is the case, then Mark would be reporting what the women initially did and Matthew included what they eventually did. They could have left the tomb quickly and said nothing to anyone. Then, after gathering their thoughts, they could have run to tell the disciples.

Second, a different sense/perspective is possible. In other words, Mark might be writing from the implication that the women told no one (other than the disciples). While Matthew supplements us with the exception (except the disciples).  Therefore, putting the two gospel accounts together, the conclusion could be that the women told no one other than the disciples.

It was not at all out of the ordinary for one gospel writer to include information, qualifiers or exceptions when another gospel writer didn’t. In these cases, we are dealing with supplemental information and not contradictory information.

Several other examples of this would include:

 A sign would not be given for Jesus’ divinity (Mk. 8:12).

Exception – A sign would be given for Jesus’ divinity (Mt. 16:4; Lk. 11:29)

Forgive – no condition mentioned (Mt. 6:14-15; Mk. 11:25-26)

Forgive – condition mentioned (Lk. 17:3-4).

 EXAMPLE:

A mother told her children, “Do not leave the house under any circumstance while your babysitter is here.” Later, once the mother left, the children asked the babysitter if they could leave the house if it caught on fire. The babysitter obviously told them that they would leave the house if it caught on fire. Did the babysitter contradict or supplement the Mother’s instruction?

This is a very simple example illustrating the difference between contradictory information and supplementary information.

HOW MANY BLIND MEN WERE HEALED?

Mark & Luke’s Account: Jesus healed one blind man (Mark 10:46; Luke 18:35).

Matthew’s Account: Jesus healed two blind men (Matt. 20:30).

EXPLANATION:

These types of differences regarding numbers are very common in the gospel accounts. For example, the one/two demoniacs who were helped (Mark 5:2; Matt. 8:28; Luke 8:27). The one/two angels appearing at the empty tomb (Mark 16:5; Matt. 28:2-3; Luke 24:4).

These differences are easily resolved in that one gospel account provides more detail than the other. If one account said “only one” or “just one” while another said “only two,” then you would have a contradiction. However, such is never the case in the gospel accounts.

Instead, one gospel account is simply supplying more information than the other—and focusing on a certain aspect. Specially, the main character of this story is Bartimeaus. Perhaps Mark and Luke focus on Bartimeaus because he was the loudest or most determined, a point worth focusing on for spiritual reasons. Perhaps he was the “leader” or “spokesman” for them. We don’t know the details, but since many possibilities exist, this cannot be considered a contradiction.

EXAMPLE:

A husband and wife are driving down the road and see a man and his family needing help. The husband and wife stop to help the family. The next day, the husband and wife are relaying the event to their friends. The husband said, “Yesterday, we were able to help a very nice homeless man.” The wife said, “Yesterday, we were able to help 4 homeless victims.” The husband and wife are speaking of the same incident—yet the sense is which the story is relayed is different, but not contradictory.

TAKE A STAFF OR DON’T TAKE A STAFF?

Mark’s Account: The disciples are told to take a staff and sandals for their journey (Mark 6:8-9).

Luke’s Account: The disciples are told to not take a staff (Lk. 9:3).

Matthew’s Account: – The disciples are told to not take sandals (Mt. 10:9-10).

EXPLANATION:

This is an instance where both language and perception give us all the answers we need. This is where understanding the contextual narrative is important-  from both a historical and linguistics standpoint.

 “The two concessions of a staff and sandals are unique to Mark. Both are forbidden in Matthew 10:9-10, and the staff is forbidden in Luke 9:3. Matthew used ktaomai (“to procure, acquire”), instead of airō (“to take”); so the disciples were not to acquire additional staffs or sandals – but to use the ones they already had. Mark and Luke both use airō, “to take or carry along.” But Luke says, “Take nothing for the journey – no staff (rhabdon),” presumably no additional staff; while Mark says, “Take nothing for the journey except (Mark 6:8-9) a staff (rhabdon),” presumably the one already in use. Each writer stressed a different aspect of Jesus’ instructions” (John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Vol. 2. Victor Books, 1983-1985 p. 128).

The sense of the Greek word Matthew uses for “provide” (ktaomai) is “to get or acquire.” In this passage, Jesus seems to urge His disciples to go now, don’t take the time to find another staff, just take what you have and go (http://biblehub.com/greek/2932.htm).

Mark uses a word with a broader meaning (airo), which indicates “lift or take up.” In this passage, Mark seems to convey the idea that Jesus wanted the disciples to take what they already have and go. Those who already had a staff were to take it but were not to acquire another staff (http://biblehub.com/greek/142.htm).

Although using the same word for take as Mark, Luke’s passage conveys the same sense as Matthew’s. Luke also conveys the idea that the disciples were to depart quickly and without taking lots of “things” with them. They needed to focus on preaching the kingdom of heaven and were to trust the Lord to provide for their needs (http://biblehub.com/greek/142.htm).

NO GENUINE CONTRADICTIONS

While there are many differences between the gospel accounts, there have been no proven contradictions. Even among more seemingly difficult passages, there are still possible explanations. As long as an explanation exists, it cannot be considered a contradiction.

Remember, the 4 questions to always ask yourself when studying an alleged contradiction:

(1) Is the same thing, same event or same person under consideration?

(2) Is the same time period under consideration?

(3) Is the same type of language employed?

(4) Is the same sense or perspective being used?

WHY THE DIFFERENCES BECOME FURTHER EVIDENCE

Ironically enough, the fact that the gospel accounts are different is only further proof of their validity.

Picture1

J. Warner Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective, popular national speaker and best-selling author. He continues to consult on cold-case investigations while serving as a Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He is also an adjunct professor of apologetics at Biola University and a faculty member at Summit Ministries. J. Warner was a conscientious and vocal atheist until the age of thirty-five, when he took a serious and expansive look at the evidence for the Christian Worldview and determined that Christianity was demonstrably true.

J. Warner Wallace, a former cold case detective and expert on eyewitness testimony, tells us in his book, Cold-Case Christianity, what we should expect to see if the New Testament accounts are provided by multiple eyewitnesses (www.coldcasechristianity.com).

1. THEIR STATEMENTS WILL BE PERSPECTIVAL.

Each eyewitness will describe the event from his or her spatial and emotional perspective. Not everyone will be in the same position to see the same series of events or the same details. I will have to puzzle together statements that might at first appear contradictory; each statement will be colored by the personal experiences and worldviews of the witnesses.

 2. THEIR STATEMENTS WILL BE PERSONAL.

Each eyewitness will describe the event in his or her own language, using his or her own expressions and terms. As a result, the same event may be described with varying degrees of passion or with divergent details that are simply the result of individual tastes and interests.

3. THEIR STATEMENTS MAY CONTAIN AREAS OF COMPLETE AGREEMENT.

Some aspects of each eyewitness statement may be completely identical. This is particularly true when witnesses describe aspects of the crime that were dramatic or important to the sequence of events. It’s also true when later witnesses are aware of what others have offered and simply affirm the prior description by telling me, “The rest occurred just the way he said.”

4. LATER STATEMENTS MAY FILL IN THE GAPS.

Finally, as described earlier, I expect late witnesses who are aware of prior statements to simply fill in what has not been said previously.

With respect to the four gospel accounts, Wallace writes:

All four accounts are written from a different perspective and contain unique details that are specific to the eyewitnesses…All four accounts are highly personal, utilizing the distinctive language of each witness.

Mark is far more passionate and active in his choice of adjectives, for example. Several of the accounts (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) contain blocks of identical (or nearly identical) descriptions. This may be the result of common agreement at particularly important points in the narrative, or (more likely) the result of later eyewitnesses saying, “The rest occurred just the way he said.”

Finally, the last account (John’s gospel) clearly attempts to fill in the details that were not offered by the prior eyewitnesses. John, aware of what the earlier eyewitnesses had already written, appears to make little effort to cover the same ground. Even before examining the Gospels with the rigor we are going to apply in section 2, I recognized that they were consistent with what I would expect to see, given my experience as a detective.

CONCLUSION

We should be confident in the fact that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John actually wrote Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Matthew’s account was an eye witness testimonial account. John’s account was an eye witness testimonial account. Mark’s account would have been based upon Peter, who was an eye witness. Luke’s account was based upon unidentified eye witness accounts.

The fact that they sometimes mentioned themselves in third person would not be out of the ordinary nor disqualify them as being the authors. The gospel accounts, while containing many differences, do not contain legitimate contradictions.

 SOURCES FOR FURTHER STUDY

  • Gleason Archer. New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Zondervan, 2001.
  • William Arndt. Does the Bible Contradict Itself? A Discussion of Alleged Contradictions of the Bible. 5th rev. ed. Concordia, 1976.
  • —. Bible Difficulties and Seeming Contradictions. Rev. ed. Concordia, 1987.
  • Craig Blomberg. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. 2nd ed. Intervarsity, 2007. See Chapter Four.
  • R. T. France. “Inerrancy and New Testament Exegesis.” Themelios (1975) 12-18. He is a world-class scholar who respects Scripture. Incidentally, in that article, he explains the differences in the pericopae about the centurion (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). Did the centurion approach Jesus, or did the Jewish elders?
  • Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties. Baker, 1992.
  • John W. Haley. An Examination of the Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible. Scholarly Publishing House, U Michigan P, 2005.
  • Gleason Archer. New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Zondervan, 2001.
  • William Arndt. Does the Bible Contradict Itself? A Discussion of Alleged Contradictions of the Bible. 5th rev. ed. Concordia, 1976.
  • —. Bible Difficulties and Seeming Contradictions. Rev. ed. Concordia, 1987.
  • Craig Blomberg. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. 2nd ed. Intervarsity, 2007. See Chapter Four.
  • R. T. France. “Inerrancy and New Testament Exegesis.” Themelios (1975) 12-18. He is a world-class scholar who respects Scripture. Incidentally, in that article, he explains the differences in the pericopae about the centurion (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). Did the centurion approach Jesus, or did the Jewish elders?
  • Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties. Baker, 1992.
  • John W. Haley. An Examination of the Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible. Scholarly Publishing House, U Michigan P, 2005.

– Kevin Pendergrass

LUKE-AN ACCOUNT BASED UPON EYE WITNESSES

Image result for The gospel of Luke

The gospel account of Luke begins with his purpose of writing. Notice the words of Luke:

“Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (Lk. 1:1-4).

Several important and interesting points are brought up in this statement. First, it should be noted that this prologue is a typical prologue of Greco-Roman literary works. Second, Luke grounds the story of Jesus in the testimonies of eyewitnesses and not just random hearsay. Third, his account was the result of careful consideration and investigation. Fourth, he expected the beneficiary of his letter, Theophilus, to be reassured of the story of Jesus based upon logic and reason.

Luke-The Author.

Some make the accusation that Luke didn’t actually write this gospel account since it is never explicitly stated that he is the author within this gospel account. However, there is an abundance of evidence as to why we should accept that Luke is the author.

First, it was not out of the ordinary for an author’s name to be absent within the actual writing itself. If the author’s name was not directly in the text, it was attached and included in the scroll. The earliest manuscript we have includes “The Gospel According to Luke” as a postscript (The Apologetics Study Bible, p. 1507).

Second, other early writings and the early church accepted Luke as being the author. This can be recorded as far back to around A.D. 135 (ibid, p. 1507).

Third, there is no competing tradition or authorship ever assigned to this gospel. Therefore, not only does all of the evidence point towards the fact that Luke was indeed the author, but there is not even an alternative objective.

Luke-Who Was He?

There is no reason to doubt that Luke was Paul’s traveling companion (Acts 16:10-16; 20:6-28:22; Col. 4:14; Philemon 24; 2 Tim. 4:11). Luke is considered by many today to have been a Gentile, although some argue that he was a Hellenistic Jew.

Luke wrote as an historian. He was a doctor and wrote like one. His account specifically emphasizes Jesus as Savior and Jesus’ work on the cross. We see many more parables in Luke’s account than we do in any other account. Luke’s account also emphasizes that Jesus brought salvation to the Jew and the Gentile.

Luke- His Gospel Account.

Since Luke was never said to be a disciple of Jesus, then why did he write about Jesus and how do we know that what he wrote is accurate? The answer is quite simple. Just like today, many scholars write biographies. Luke did the same thing. In fact, he stated how he received his information. He received his information from eyewitnesses and ministers of the word. He gathered the evidence, carefully considered it and historically documented the life of Jesus.

Luke- His Timeline.

One point often cited among scholars is the timeline of Luke. They point to where Luke said that he wrote an orderly account of Jesus’ life (Lk. 1:3), and then they show chronological discrepancies in the timeline of Luke’s account when comparing it to the other accounts. However, this point can be easily answered and dismissed.

The word used for orderly (kathexas) in Luke 1:3 doesn’t necessitate a precise chronological order. While the word means, “orderly,” it doesn’t tell us what kind of order. Similar to any other biography,  Luke’s biography begins with detailed circumstances of Jesus’ birth and frequently ties notable events to secular history and personages.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the first four verses of Luke tell us a lot about the method used in telling the story of Jesus. This wasn’t some fantasized, made-up story. The story of Jesus is real. It is rooted in facts, logic and reason. The story is grounded in eye witnesses. Most importantly, this story will change your life if it hasn’t already.

– Kevin Pendergrass