Article for St Catharines Standard newspaper by Peter Youngren.
Can you believe the Bible literally? Books and movies today convey the idea that the Bible developed from oral traditions that were written down only centuries after the events had occurred. The time span involved would make it next to impossible to know if any stories of the Bible represent actual historical events. Take the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as an example. Can we know the real historical Jesus? After Jesus’ crucifixion and death, it is suggested, that many viewpoints emerged, one that Jesus was a mere human teacher who “lived on” spiritually in the hearts of his disciples, while others claimed that he was divine and had physically risen from the dead. The power struggle of ideas lasted for several centuries, and finally with the help of the Roman Emperor Constantine, those who advocated “a divine Jesus” won, and the four Gospels we have in our Bible today were approved, while the “lost Gospels” of Thomas, Judas and others were disallowed. Consequently, no one can really know what Jesus said and did; his deity, atonement and resurrection become legends.
Here is an amazing fact. The theory I just stated has virtually no supporting evidence. It is fiction.
Paul’s letters authored fifteen to twenty-five years after Jesus’ death, reference his miracles, crucifixion and resurrection. The four Gospels could have been written right after the death of Jesus, and virtually all scholars agree that they were recorded within 40 years after Jesus’ death. Simply put, the biblical accounts of Jesus were circulating within the lifetime of many of those who had been present in his ministry.
Luke claims that he got his account of Jesus from eyewitnesses who were still alive. Mark recounts that the man who helped Jesus carry his cross was “the father of Alexander and Rufus”. The only reason for such references is that the early readers of the Gospels would have known eyewitness, or who Alexander and Rufus were.
Paul recommends his readers to check with living eyewitnesses about the events of Jesus’ life, particularly his resurrection. He references 500 eyewitnesses. It would be counterproductive to make such statements unless there were eyewitnesses alive who could confirm the author’s words.
When Luke wrote the Book of Acts, he references the public awareness of the events he’s describing, stating, “these things were not done in a corner”. Contrast this with the Gospels of Thomas or Judas, who all scholars agree, were written much later. In 160 AD, church father Irenaeus references the four Gospels, the same four we have today.
Some claim that early church leaders added to the Gospels to promote their own policies, and consolidate their power in order to build a religious movement. This is simply without evidence. One of the great controversies of the early church was whether Christians should be circumcised or not. If the Gospels were modified, why didn’t somebody add a few verses where Jesus made comments about circumcision? The evidence is that the early church did not dare fabricate or put words into Jesus’ mouth.
If the Gospels were self-serving documents for power-hungry religious leaders, why would anyone make up an account of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, asking to be released from his mission? Why suggest that Jesus, on the cross, was so desperate that he felt like God had abandoned him? Wouldn’t that weaken the case for the divinity of Jesus? Why invent a story that the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection were women, especially since under Roman law a woman’s testimony was not admissible in court? Wouldn’t it have made better sense to invent a story that authoritative political and religious figures were witnesses to Christ’s resurrection? Why would the Scriptures include the terrible failure of the most prominent leaders, like Simon Peter who denied Jesus?
The witness of Jesus’ contemporaries is clear. Jesus was God in human flesh, removed the world’s sin by the sacrifice of himself, and he is alive today. Check him out!