Thursday, February 16, 2012

Just in time for Sunday!

Josh McDowell is coming to First Pres. Evanston this Sunday and will be speaking on the subject, Bible: Fact, Fiction or Fallacy. 

Here's a summary of a post I found on Ed Stetzer's site that is worth reading. Click here for the entire article, which by the way was written by New Testament scholar, Craig Blomberg.

The New Testament (NT) contains four biographies of Jesus (the Gospels), one history book of the early church (Acts), twenty-one letters (Romans to Jude), and an apocalypse (Revelation). While the letters and the apocalypse contain references to historical events, the Gospels and Acts are written as straightforward historical narratives. These are the NT books about which it makes particularly good sense to ask the question, "Are they historically reliable?" Twelve lines of evidence converge to suggest strongly that the answer is "yes."

First, we have over 5,700 Greek manuscripts representing all, or part, of the NT. By examining these manuscripts, over 99 percent of the original text can be reconstructed beyond reasonable doubt.

Second, the authors of the Gospels and Acts were in an excellent position to report reliable information. Matthew and John were among the twelve disciples Jesus Himself chose; Mark was a close companion of Peter and Luke (who also wrote Acts) and traveled extensively with Paul.

Third, these five books were almost certainly written in the first century, within sixty to seventy years of Jesus' death (most likely in a.d. 30). Even if one accepts the later dates, the amount of time separating the historical events and the composition of the five books is very short as compared to most ancient historical and biographical accounts, where many centuries could intervene between events and the books that narrated them.

Fourth, ancient Jews and Greeks meticulously cultivated the art of memorization, committing complex oral traditions to memory. Even before the Gospels or any other written sources about Jesus were compiled, Jesus' followers were carefully passing on accounts of His teachings and mighty works by word of mouth. This kept the historical events alive until the time they were written down.

Fifth, the ancient memorization and transference of sacred tradition allowed for some freedoms in retelling the stories. Guardians of the tradition could abbreviate, paraphrase, prioritize, and provide commentary on the subject matter as long as they were true to the gist or meaning of the accounts they passed on.

Sixth, the fact that these writers had distinct ideological or theological emphases does not mean they distorted history, as is often alleged. Oftentimes the very cause that a historian or biographer supports requires them to write their accounts accurately, for they know that their cause will be undermined if they are charged with bias or distortion.

Seventh, Luke's prologue (Lk 1:1-4) closely parallels the form and content of other works of generally reliable historians and biographers of antiquity, most notably Josephus, Herodotus, and Thucydides. The Gospel writers clearly believed that they were writing historically accurate works, not fiction or embellished history.

Eighth, the so-called hard sayings of Jesus support their authenticity. If the Gospel writers felt free to distort what Jesus originally said in order to increase the attractiveness of Christianity, why would they preserve unmodified His difficult and easily misunderstood teachings about hating family members (Lk 14:26) or not knowing when He would return (Mk 13:32)? The fact that they let these teachings stand indicates their faithfulness to recount true history.

Ninth, the fact that the NT does not record Jesus speaking about many of the topics that arose after His earthly life, during the time of the early church, supports its historical accuracy. For instance, early Christians were divided over how or whether the laws of Moses applied to Gentile converts (Ac 15). The easiest way to settle the controversy would be to cite Jesus' teachings on the matter, but the Gospels record no such teachings. This silence suggests that the Gospel writers did not feel free to play fast and loose with history by putting on the lips of Jesus teachings that could solve early church controversies.

Tenth, the testimony of non-Christian writers supports the details of the Gospels and Acts. About a dozen ancient Jewish, Greek, and Roman writers mention Jesus. Taken together, their writings attest to the basic contours of Jesus' life. Many names of people and places, as well as the exploits of first-century political and religious leaders, are attested in other writings of the day.

Eleventh, archaeology regularly confirms details about geography, topography, customs, artifacts, buildings, tombs, inscriptions, and graffiti that are mentioned in NT--the Gospels and Acts in particular.

Twelfth, the portions of the NT that were written before the completion of the Gospels and Acts confirm the historicity of these five books. For instance, Paul, James, and Peter show multiple signs of quoting or alluding to teachings and actions of Jesus in letters they wrote before the Gospels were written.

Craig L. Blomberg
Ph.D. University of Aberdeen