Can The Gospels Be Trusted - page 2

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From the Summer 2012 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

Can The Gospels Be Trusted?

by Arthur W. Lindsley, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow, C.S. Lewis Institute


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     1. Inventing the character of Jesus would involve a miracle. Several quotations from nonbelieving authors make the point that it would take a Jesus to invent a Jesus.
• Theodore Parker: “It takes a Newton to forge a Newton. What man could have fabricated a Jesus? No one but a Jesus.”
• Rousseau: “The Gospel has marks of truth so great, so striking, so perfectly inimitable that the inventor would be more astonishing than the hero.”
• John Stuart Mill: “It is of no use to say that Christ as exhibited in the Gospels is not historical, and that we know not how much of what is admirable has been superadded by the tradition of His followers. Who among His disciples or among their proselytes was capable of inventing the life and character revealed in the Gospels?
   2. The importance of eyewitnesses. When the Gospels were written, there were eyewitnesses still alive who could have corrected any mistakes by saying, “That didn’t happen,” or, “It didn’t happen that way.” The apostles were key eyewitnesses who had intimate acquaintance with what Jesus said and did. As the first generation passed away, the criteria of whether a story could be verified as coming from an eyewitness was crucial. (See Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Eerdmans, 2006.) A radical criticism about the lack of eyewitnesses holds no ground; for it to have been correct, the disciples (and other eyewitnesses) must have been translated to heaven after the resurrection. (They were not.)
   3. According to tradition, all of the apostles, except for John, were killed as martyrs. There are many cases of people willingly dying for that which they believe to be true (even though it is a lie). But it is inconceivable that so many men would violently die (becomes martyrs) for a story they knew to be a lie. Not only did most of the apostles die as martyrs; some were repeatedly imprisoned and tortured. Peter is said to have asked to be crucified upside down because he didn’t feel worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord. James was stoned. Paul is said to have been beheaded in Rome. They all went to their deaths without reneging on their strong confession of the truth of the gospel.
   Chuck Colson’s book Loving God includes a chapter titled “Watergate and the Resurrection.” At the time of the Nixon-administration Watergate scandal, a number of White House staff members, including Colson, were accused of obstruction of justice because they withheld knowledge of a crime (the Watergate burglary). John Dean (one of the staff) got immunity from prosecution for testifying before Congress. Colson says that other staff members were crawling over each other to get similar immunity. Such a “conspiracy” of silence fell apart easily at the threat of a short prison term. (Colson got nine months.) These staffers were not threatened with torture or death. Colson points out how much more quickly a “conspiracy” to make up the stories about Jesus would fall apart under that more serious threat (torture and death).
   4. The time for the creation of “mythical” material was too short. Jesus died about AD 30. The Gospel of Mark was written in the sixties if not in the fifties. Paul received his tradition (1 Cor. 15:3–5) in the midthirties and wrote some of his epistles in the early fifties. This timetable doesn’t allow for the creation of sagas, legends, and myths. The development of German folklore required centuries. Yet the message of the gospel exploded into life, fully grown at birth.
   5. Failure to take into account the Jewish perspective on memory. Some critics imagine a free-flowing situation in the first century that allowed and even encouraged the easy invention of stories about Jesus. However, such a picture is totally contrary to the Middle Eastern and Jewish environment out of which these stories came. In his book Memory and Manuscript, Birger Gerhardsson thoroughly documents the importance of memorization for the Jewish mentality, especially the passing on of formal teaching.

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