A popular myth is spread that the gospels, and the New Testament historical accounts are simply embellished oral traditions and legends about a man named Jesus, who was likely a real, historical figure. As other articles on this site have shown, the entire New Testament was written within the lifetime of the Apostle John, who apparently lived on about 60-70 years after Jesus’ death. This is certainly believable since there are alive today a number of people who were living back during WWII, which ended in 1945.
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.” (Luke 1:1-3 NIV)
New Testament writers, especially in the Gospels and Acts, were careful to record that they were relaying the testimony of eyewitnesses, many of whom were still alive after the most of the Testament was written. Their accounts were not fabrications or hallucinations or legends. They were real!
We don’t measure the existence of the New Testament (NT) canon just by the existence of lists, which came somewhat later than the NT canon’s coming into existence. When we examine the way the NT books were viewed and used, we can determine the de facto existence of a functioning canon by about 100 CE.
This view is admittedly different than the traditional, or orthodox view of how the NT canon in particular, and the Bible as a whole came into acceptance. The view presented here stands in stark contrast to modern-day populist charlatans like the agnostic Bart Ehrman.
The Titles of the Gospels
History says Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the books with those titles. People seem to have a highly variable standard in their assessment of what ancient writings are genuine, especially the Bible. What do we mean? Here is an example:
Most people accept Alexander the Great as a real historical figure. Yet, the two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written by Arrian and Plutarch more than 400 years after the Great One’s death 323 BCE. Legends about him developed centuries after these two writers. Alexander’s true, accurate is preserved for hundreds of years, prior to these legends.
The New Testament canon was established early, by Holy Spirit
The New Testament canon was established in the first century by Holy Spirit. Let’s examine some notes on the scriptures which confirm this fact:
2 Pt 1:16-21 – Peter affirms Old Testament prophets wrote God’s word. He puts himself and other apostles in the same category.
2 Tim 3:16-17 – The rest of the scriptures (the Old Testament) are inspired of God. We can broaden this now, and apply the principle to all 66 canonical books as shown below:
The claim that Jesus rose from the dead is extraordinary. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. What is the strongest proof that Jesus was resurrected? Let’s start at the point of beginning, and work, or build from there.
This beginning point is that the universe, the earth, etc. very strongly witness to God’s existence as Creator. Psalm 19:1 says: “the heavens declare the glory of God.” (NIV)
Building on this is the text of the New Testament. It has been subjected to the most extreme scrutiny imaginable. This has resulted in the number one “Extraordinary Proof” of all time. This is the fact that the text of the New Testament in Koine Greek that we have today is verified as being 99.5% pure. That is 99.5% of the words are the same as originally written by writers Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul etc. What about the other 0.5% in which there is some doubt? These somewhat doubtful words do not affect any of the principles, truths or doctrines in the Bible. They are inconsequential of interest to some scholars, technicians, those who love trivia, etc. No other work from ancient times comes anywhere close to the New Testament textual integrity.
Some have claimed the different accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearances in the four Gospels and 1 Corinthians are “proofs” these Bible books are riddled with errors and contradictions. If true, these would in turn “prove” the Bible not to be inspired of God, or infallible, as many Christians believe that it is.
The Bible itself says that these different resurrection appearances confirm the Bible’s inspiration by God.
“To whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3 NKJV, emphasis added)
Many non-believers do not doubt the existence of the historical Jesus. It is the miracles, and most importantly, his resurrection that they deny. But the Bible contains evidence that must be examined by any honest-hearted skeptic if they are truly open-minded enough to give it a fair chance. Let’s take a look at the witnesses to Jesus’ execution, burial, empty tomb, and resurrected state.
The placement of witnesses is very important in proving things. The Gospels and letters (such as 1 Corinthians) were all written independently. There were no “rules” such as requiring strict chronological listing of all witnesses of Jesus in his resurrected state. The writers of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and 1 Corinthians made true and accurate statements in their books. There are no false statements, even though there are divergences. Divergent accounts are not tantamount to contradictions, as some skeptics assert. In fact, virtually identical accounts would be highly suspect to be collusion.
Critics claim that the temple cleansing in the Gospel of John is either the same temple cleansing reported by the three Synoptics and/or is out of place and out of harmony with them, therefore constituting a contradiction in the Gospels. Below are listed a number of reasons why the temple cleansing in John is accurate and was performed by Jesus around the time of the first Passover after his baptism, which was probably about six months earlier. John clearly states in 20:31 and 21:25 that he was highly selective in his reporting on the events of Jesus’ life. The other three Gospel writers has already reported on the second temple cleansing. It seems fairly obvious that John was very familiar with these other three Gospels and quite possibly had copies of them in his possession as he wrote his fourth Gospel.
Papias – c. 140 quotes an earlier source saying:
- Mark was a close associate of Peter, from whom he received his information. (1 Peter 5:13) Peter regards Mark with such warmth and affection that he calls him his son.
- This information didn’t come to Mark as a finished, sequential account of the life of Jesus, but as the preaching of Peter – preaching directed to the needs of Christian communities.
- Mark accurately preserved this material and arranged and shaped it.
The title “According to Mark” appears in all the ancient canonical lists and many ancient manuscripts and is thought to have been added very early in the history of the text.
Early church fathers all affirm Mark wrote the Gospel:
- Papias (140)
- Justin Martyr (150)
- Iranaeus (185)
- Clement of Alexandria (195)
- Eusebius (326) – quotes Papias saying “elder” (John) attributed to Mark
Second and third century books falsely claimed apostles as authors rather than secondary figures such as Mark.