New Testament Evidence

The Gospels & The New Testament – Examining the Evidence

The first thing we must realize when we seriously consider the gospel message is that if it is true, it has huge implications for one’s life. Secondly, we must accept that the gospel account is, in the very least, a set of ancient historical documents. That much is undeniable. With this in mind, we know that there is a profession that qualifies people to prove, or disprove the truthfulness of the Gospel record. Historians have criterion that they can apply to determine whether or not these documents are trustworthy and this essay is a summary of some of their findings.

The New Testament gospels are essentially attempts to write biographies of Jesus, but not in the modern sense because the gospels are not interested in His early years. However, when it comes to His adult life and His activities, these ‘are’ biographies. They are very clearly attempts by eyewitnesses to describe exactly what Jesus said and did.

While the authors do not identify themselves in the text, from very early in the Christian era the Gospels have been attributed to Matthew, a disciple (or follower) of Jesus; Mark, a colleague of Peter, also a disciple; Luke, a historian and confident of the apostle Paul; and John, a disciple of Jesus.

Matthew: Apostle. A tax collector who was called by Jesus into the ministry

Mark: Evangelist. Converted to Christianity by Peter. Travelled with the apostle Paul

Luke: Evangelist. A physician and disciple of the apostle Paul

John: Apostle. Eyewitness to both the Transfiguration and the Crucifixion of Jesus

Both Matthew and John were among the twelve of Jesus’ closest followers and were constant companions throughout His ministry. They would have personally observed most of the events described in their respective gospels.

Mark and Luke were also contemporaries of Jesus, and wrote their biographies based on the information of many eyewitnesses.

Now would be a good time to take a moment to ponder the importance of ‘eyewitness’ testimony, especially in the light of the fact that many contemporary scholars have ascertained that the gospels are rooted in it.

Luke 1:1-4

“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. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (NIV)

Luke’s gospel begins with an introduction in which he points out that he has carefully investigated the material he presents in the gospels, that is to say that he has checked with eyewitness accounts - those who were actually present. From reading the above quoted text, one can see that this is the work of a historian who has done his research.

Let us understand that the people of the New Testament era valued, much more than we do today, eyewitness testimony. This is why it was important to the early church fathers that the people who were alleged to have written the gospels actually wrote them and that they were eyewitnesses of the things they wrote. For example, the early church father Papius, as recorded by the church historian Eusebius, identifies Mark’s gospel as essentially the eyewitness account of Peter. But here’s the thing, Papius was a disciple of the apostle John, so we are only one generation removed from Jesus himself! That’s a pretty close testimony which strongly suggests that the gospels are based on eyewitness accounts.

The Timeline

7 BC – 4 BC – Jesus is born in Bethlehem

AD 27 – AD 30 – Jesus chooses His disciples and begins His public ministry

AD 30 – AD 33 – Jesus dies by Roman Crucifixion

AD 60 – AD 75 – Gospel of Mark was written

AD 60 – AD 85 – Gospels of Matthew and Luke written sometime shortly after Mark.

AD 65 – AD 95 – Gospel of John was written

The New Testament gospels are the earliest and most reliable records of Jesus of Nazareth. All of the New Testament gospels are written in the first century, very close to the time of the events that they record. Of noteworthy importance is the idea that most of the eyewitnesses were still around when these were written. Meaning, if the gospels were untrue, that is, if they were not passing on reliable history, then we would expect eyewitnesses to protest these writings at the time they were written. Instead, however, we see the opposite – eyewitnesses could confirm what they said and all of the gospel writers were eyewitnesses themselves or could interview eyewitnesses.

Preservation

In the ancient world, the only way of preserving information was through oral tradition, most of which was memorized. A Rabbi was actually forbidden from commenting on a verse until it had been memorized. In fact, during the time of Jesus, it was not uncommon for Rabbi’s to commit the entire Torah to memory!

A common argument among sceptics is the idea that oral tradition can not be trusted because in our modern world, stories can become quickly embellished as time goes on. On the surface this appears to be a valid point, but in actuality it is not a fair analogy. In the context of the ancient world, and in being completely honest with ourselves, we must understand that the first century apostles who passed on information about Jesus were genuinely and deeply concerned to get this information correct, because they saw it as sacred, holy tradition. This was not just about what happened at the market last week; this was concerning the Creator of the universe.

In this sense oral tradition is, by nature, ‘self-correcting’. You see, oral tradition is a ‘community’ event. That is to say, a story is passed down by individuals within that community, and if they get it wrong they have the whole community to correct them, thereby being self-correcting. These stories were passed on reliably because they were passed on by the community. In fact, scholarly studies show that ancient cultures could preserve and pass along oral tradition, through several generations, reliably and without changing or losing a thing over time!

The earliest known copies of the gospels were written on sheets of papyrus and scrolls made of animal skins. They are among the oldest known manuscripts of antiquity. In a previous Hub I touched lightly on the ‘streams-of-information’ that were used to develop various versions of the Bible. One of sources of the streams is the Codex Sinaiticus, written around AD 330 and AD 350, it contains almost all of the New Testament and a good portion of the Old. Another is the Codex Vaticanus, from the same era, is a nearly complete Greek copy of the entire Bible. There is a papyrus fragment from the 18th chapter of John that dates back to AD 125, less than a single generation after the gospel was originally written!

Copies of Copies?

How do we know that what we have today, bares any resemblance of what the original said? The truth is we have better manuscript authentication for the New Testament than we have for any other ancient document. For example the Bible of the Greeks, Homer’s “Illead” is preserved in maybe 600 manuscripts, the oldest of them 1,000 years after the document was originally written. For the New Testament, we have approximately 5,000 Greek manuscripts, as well as virtually the entire New Testament preserved in the quotations of the church fathers to the first four centuries. That means that we could reconstruct the New Testament from these quotations alone! It is commonly agreed upon by both conservative and liberal that we have an incredibly reliable New Testament

Contradictions

As one takes a closer look at the parallel stories of the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, there may appear to be contradictions.  For example, Matthew 8:28 tells us that there were two demoniacs in Garasene.  Mark 5:2, however, speaks only of one.  In light of what we now know about oral tradition, how can we get this apparent contradiction?  Obviously, Mark describes only one of the two demoniacs.  Perhaps the one who is most prominent, or the one who has more to add to the context of the story. 

Conversely, please consider, if every single account had given us exactly the same detail, we would have more reason to suspect some form of collusion or conspiracy than we do ‘with’ the apparent contradictions.  To say that they got together and discussed every single detail and what they would write would rule out independent testimony as well.  

Here’s another interesting thought and maybe I’m being a little naïve, but humour me for a moment.  I can understand the idea of a single person, or a group of people with the same agenda, intentionally deceiving the masses for, well, any number of reasons.  However, just the vast amount of religious denominations today alone, which claim to be based on the Bible, opposes that idea.  What I mean is this, if any one specific person or denomination had ‘control’, per-sae, of the Bible, then there could be a warranted suspicion of an agenda or ulterior motives.  As it is today, there is no one person, group or system that stands to gain from anything we believe about this book.  What gain, motive or agenda could the original Bible writers possibly have had?  What profit could they gain whether or not anyone of that time (or presently) believed them?  On the contrary, the things they were recording and writing were some of the most controversial topics and most would end up being martyrs for what they wrote.  We could take that concept a little further by asking, if the Bible has been changed or corrupted then who stands to gain from ‘that’?  Please take a moment to think about this.

Finally, concerning the apparent contradictions in the Bible - it would seem obvious that when you have multiple eyewitnesses to the same event, you are going to get different perspectives.  What is more important is for the ‘core’ of the testimony to be the same and consistent, even if you get variations in the details.  

I hope to touch a little on the subject of the Gnostic gospels in another Hub.

Jesus – The Man Himself

Jesus of course was not an emperor or a conqueror, yet He left an impact in His environment and created a movement that grew from there that would affect time itself. It is no wonder then, that there is a remarkable amount of non-canonical documents and corroboration. Josephus refers to Him, the roman historian Tacitus refers to Him, Suetonius the political writer refers to Him. Critics refer to Him, and it just goes out further and further from there. There is actually now more evidence, or at least as much, to support the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, than there is to support Napoleon ()

Now we may begin to understand that the reason that they were telling these things -everything from Jesus’ parables, to His healings, to His controversies, to His warnings- is not just because it was good advice for them in their own day, but that it actually mattered. It actually happened.

I hope to write more about ‘Who Jesus Really Was’ and “The Resurrection”, in another Hub.

As always, I sincerely encourage anyone who has never done it to not only investigate the evidence yourself, but to do it as a priority, and do it with an open mind, that is, to go wherever the evidence takes you, even if it makes you uncomfortable. And finally, ‘resolve’ that you will reach a verdict.

Thank-you for your interest in this subject matter. Good-luck and God bless!

This essay is a summary of the research that was done by greater men than I:

J.P Moreland, Prof. of Philosophy, Biola University

Mark Strauss, Prof. of New Testament, Bethel Seminary

Craig Blomberg, Prof. of New Testament, Denver Seminary

Craig Evans, Prof. of New Testament, Acadia Divinity College

N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, United Kingdom

Special thanks to Lee Strobel, writer and Christian apologist, former pastor and journalist, for making this information easily accessible.

Comments 6 comments

issues veritas 7 years ago

great images but the text is self serving and not convincing.

There was no mention of Jesus or the Holy Ghost in the Old Testament.

What does it mean to be the only Son of a God?

How is the word Son applicable or even meaningful?

Why weren't the Apostles the ones to have written, edited and published the New Testament?

If dying for our sins was the purpose of the visit in the flesh of the Son of God, then that check has been cashed and spent. Now two thousand years later we are knee deep in new sin, time for another visit and I don't mean Tribulation.

 


Andy Ramjohn profile image

Andy Ramjohn 7 years ago from Canada Author

Hello again IV.  Thank-you for dropping by and commenting.  It's always appreciated.

Unfortunately, I am saddened by your choice of words, "self-serving and not convincing."  "Self-serving" implies an agenda.  I do apologize if I come-off sounding like I have an agenda to try to convince people to believe as "I" believe.  My only intentions are to present what I believe the Bible says about a specific topic.  It is then up to the reader to interpret the meanings and/or come to their own conclusions.  Again, I certainly apologize if I sounded like I 'myself' was trying to convince people to believe the things I believe.

Holy Ghost in the Old Testament - Gen 1:2 

"And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."

Gen 6:3 "And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be a hundred and twenty years."

(See also Gen. 41:38; Ex. 31:3; Ex. 35:21; Ex. 35:31; etc, etc - too many to list here)

The mention of Jesus in the Old Testament is a little more tricky, as I'm sure you know, because Jesus was not even born until New Testament times.  However, Bible study indicates that it was actually "Jesus" who was communicating with man, from the time they left Eden.  It was Jesus speaking through the burning bush, and it was Jesus who descended upon Mount Sinai.

Ex. 3:13-14"And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you"

Compare John 8:58

"Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am."

Also, consider John 5:37 in which Jesus is telling the people that no one has seen the Father, nor heard His voice.  Yet, there are many occasions recorded in the Old Testament where people "did" hear God's voice and see His form.  So then, was Jesus lying when He said that no one has seen the Father, or could it be that it was not the Father, but rather the Son that they were seeing?

"What does it mean to be the only Son of a God?"

Just 'off-the-cuff', I would say that the "only begotten Son of God" refers to a 'birthing' process, without going into the details.  Simply meaning the "unique" child, born of a woman. 

"How is the word Son applicable or even meaningful?"

I believe it is applicable in the sense of the relationship value between man and God.  That of a Father to a son.  This takes on an even deeper meaning when we consider the principle of "adoption" into the "family" as children of God.

Please elaborate on your question about the Apostles writing the New Testament.  As far as I know, they 'did' write their own books, in regards to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Also we know that Paul wrote a few as well.  If you are specifically referring to the 8 other apostles, then this may be something to look into.  What was their purpose, then?  Were they more focused on evangelizing, rather than actual writing?  Could it be because they were all martyred during their lifetime?  All we have from the Bible is that men wrote as the Holy Spirit inspired them.  You may find the information provided in my Hub "Can the Bible Be Trusted" somewhat helpful in this matter, as it tells us that the Bible was compiled over 1500 years by 40 different people living on three different continents.  This may provide some insight.  Also consider that even with all of today's technologies, most modern writers do not do their own editing or publishing.

Finally, in your last comment you mention that the "check has been cashed and spent" and that we are still "knee deep in sin."  Forgive me if I am wrong, but this seems to imply that you are thinking that the death of Jesus was the "cure" for sin, which it was not.  His death provided the atonement and reconciliation of God and man.  It provided the means of forgiveness for our sins, today, through faith in the shed blood of Christ.  The "cure" for sin is still coming and I agree with you that it is way past "time for another visit," and although I believe there will be a Tribulation, I do not believe that it is the cure, either.  I have done a Hub about the "Tribulation, but have not transfered it here yet.  You can find it under "Forever Rogue" hubs.

Thank-you for your thought-provoking comments, IV. You have asked some very good questions. It's always good to see people thinking about what they read.  I hope to hear more from you.


Patrick 6 years ago

It should be noted that Jesus was a student of the Old Testament in His time here on Earth. So comparing Exodus 3:13-14 to John 8:58 really only serves to show us that Jesus was a student of the scriptures and suggests the trinity, but does not work for the point you are trying to make.

Also, your reference to John 5:37, is wrong. Jesus said that "None of you has seen the Father" not that no one has even seen the Father. So this validates your logic that they did not see the Father in the OT, and thus validates your arguement on this point.

But I like your article, I only wish you would have broken it up into smaller articles to focus on each of the different areas of evidence.

I would also love to see supporting evidence of your mention of Papius and Eusebius as I have never seen this reference before for the vaidation of the NT texts.

If you wish to respond, you may email me at patrick.hocker@yahoo.com

God bless


Andy Ramjohn profile image

Andy Ramjohn 6 years ago from Canada Author

Patrick - Thank-you for your thoughtful and studied comments. I apologize for my delay in getting back to you and I will respond to your email as well, as soon as possible.

That it was obvious that Jesus was a student of the OT is a given, but would He be quoting from the OT 'only' to prove that He was familiar with the scriptures? On the contrary, many to whom He spoke were also very familiar with the scriptures as well and He would sometimes use what they already knew (but also misunderstood, in most cases) to point to Himself. Another example of this is found in His words on the cross, "My God my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mat. 27:45-46). Surely He wasn't quoting scripture here just to prove that He knew it. We know that Jesus did not believe the Father had foresaken Him because afterwards He had said, "Father, into thine hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46). Rather, He was pointing them to Psalm 22, and the fact that He was fulfilling it there on the cross. Consider verses 11-18. If they would have considered this Psalm which was written some 600 years before, they may have realized what they were doing.

I understand now that the references I noted did not sufficiently prove the point I was trying to make and I will try to provide more insight into the presence of Jesus throughout the OT in the near future. Thank you for pointing this out to me.

You mentioned that John 8:58 suggests the Trinity, but that IS part of the point I was trying to make, in that, if Jesus is God, then it is quite possible that it was He that was concealed in the OT.

My reference to John 5:37 may have been wrong, as you have noted, but please consider John Gill's commentary...

" for the voices that were heard, and the forms that were seen under the Old Testament dispensation, from the first of this kind in Eden's garden, to the incarnation of Christ, which are ascribed to God, or to a divine person, were either by the ministry of angels, or they were voices uttered by the Son of God, or forms assumed by him, who often appeared in an human form, as a prelude of his incarnation;"

I understand that this is only one commentator of many, however I believe I have further evidence of Jesus throughout the OT. I will present these evidences at a furture time.

Thank-you again for taking the time to read and for your intelligent comments. They will lead me into further study, which is always appreciated! God-bless


christ4ever profile image

christ4ever 5 years ago from a life in sin saved by the Lord's grace - we are blessed with the ministry in Florida & Georgia

Hi Andy,

I very much like what you have documented here so far. It is well done and has good information. Even though you may not have yet covered everything, what you have written already is well founded. You have a "gem in the rough" and this topic can become quite lengthy in debate, so keep on it.

Your thorough answers to commentary go above and beyond the basic responses as well. Follow up with more information because this topic needs to be out in front of the masses.

Keep up the diligent efforts in service to our Lord.

Rev.Ted


Andy Ramjohn profile image

Andy Ramjohn 5 years ago from Canada Author

Thank-you very much for the encouragement Rev. Ted! It is greatly appreciated and timely. I will be posting another Hub soon.

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. God-bless you and yours.

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