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Can we trust the Gospels?

bibleI've been asked to write brief answers to six thorny questions:

Hasn't science disproved God?

Is God homophobic?

Why does God appear so violent in the Old Testament?

Are the gospel accounts trustworthy?

Why isn't God more obvious?

Why has the Church caused so much pain?

I've got to keep these under 600 words. I'd love if you could help. What have I missed? What have I got wrong?

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Can we trust the Gospels?

The Bible Proves the Bible

The Gospels are not free-floating. They fit into the symphonic story of Scripture. Therefore the way they fit is a wonderful testimony to the truth of the whole Bible. A book like Walter Kaiser’s Messiah in the Old Testament highlights over 60 detailed Old Testament predictions which Jesus concretely fulfils in the Gospels – these just scratch the surface. Josh McDowell cites 29 Old Testament prophecies that are fulfilled on Good Friday alone. Perhaps take your friend to Genesis 22, Psalm 22 or Isaiah 53 then read Matthew 27 for the fulfilment.

The Gospels Present Themselves as History

Show the enquirer Luke 1:1-4 and see that the authors of the Gospels are not attempting to write fables but history. Look through the early chapters (e.g. 2:1-4; 3:1-2, 23-38) and see how Luke mentions scores of historical figures and places. This is not “once upon a time in a land far away.” Luke is doing everything in his power to convey to us that these events happened in real world history. At that point he’s either telling the truth or concocting an elaborate and wicked hoax. What do we think?

Lost in Transmission?

Bart Ehrman wrote a best-seller called “Misquoting Jesus”, alleging that today’s copies of the Gospels aren’t necessarily what the authors first wrote. We have nearly 25 000 ancient manuscript copies of the New Testament – a number that dwarfs anything else in ancient literature. Unsurprisingly, given they were all hand copied, there are discrepancies. Yet if we were worried that these differences were of any great importance, Ehrman’s attempt to make a sensational case should reassure us. The best he can do is point to Mark 16:9-20; John 8:1-11 and 1 John 5:8 which any decent Bible translation will itself highlight without any embarrassment. Then he points out that we have alternative readings for verses like Mark 1:41 and Hebrews 2:9. Your Bible’s footnotes will probably tell you the options and you can see for yourself how little hangs on the difference. This is the best case offered by biblical studies’ most prominent sceptic. Therefore any fears that Jesus' real message is lost in transmission are unfounded.

Lost Gospels?

But aren’t there many lost gospels that were suppressed by the church? No, and you should really stop reading Dan Brown! Gospels like The Gospel of Thomas were written at least a century after the original four, in a language Jesus didn’t speak, in a completely different style (collections of sayings, not narrative) and proposing concepts of God, salvation, the body and women that are utterly alien to the Bible (and to sanity). If you want to see why the church always rejected them, just read them.

Defend the Bible?

Charles Spurgeon’s famous line is still the best on this subject: “Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it and it will defend itself.” Our first priority is to get Scripture into people’s hands. I always challenge enquirers to pick up a Gospel (perhaps John) and shoot up a prayer: “Dear God, if you’re there, show me the real Jesus.” I tell them “You’ve got nothing to lose. If He’s not there, He won’t answer. But if He is, then you need to meet His Son. This book is the way to do it.”

Of course we can assure enquirers that the Bible is internally consistent, historically accurate, well attested, faithfully passed down, etc. But none of that makes it the word of God. God’s word vindicates itself when God Himself speaks through it.

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