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.
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.
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.
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.
Why would Matthew, a tax collector, rely so much on Mark’s account? The answer? He didn’t. He was an eyewitness.
Matthew the Tax Collector
Matthew was presented as a tax collector – “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?'” (Matthew 9:9-11)