Posts Tagged ‘Gospels’

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Doubt Jesus

There are many stories in the Bible that elicit skepticism. The one that seems to draw the most attention is most definitely the resurrection of Christ, due in part to its significance within the framework of salvation from sin and reconciliation with God. Yet, what I find very intriguing about skepticism of the resurrection is that it didn’t start in the halls of prestigious universities or the courts of Rome. Doubts of the resurrection originated from the people most devout to Christ: His disciples.

Doubt among the Disciples

Throughout Jesus’ ministry we read of numerous times when disciples had doubts in Jesus’ claims. These doubts only escalated when Christ’s crucifixion began. One might immediately think of Peter’s multiple public denials of Christ, or the fact that only a handful of Christ’s followers were present at the time Christ’s death. But no doubts seemed more profound than those that followed Jesus’ death.

What we read of in scripture is a full and complete acceptance of Christ’s death among His followers. There is no inclination what so ever that any of the disciples thought they’d see their Messiah alive and well again. Why would the women go to the tomb with spices to anoint Jesus’ dead body unless they honestly believed He was dead. Why did many of the disciples that saw Jesus resurrected think He was a ghost unless they honestly thought He was dead. We can rest assured that the disciples were certain Jesus was dead.

Thus, we would naturally expect strong skepticism from the disciples when reports began to trickle in that Christ had risen from the dead. And this is exactly what we read of. The disciples continually did not believe the testimony of those that claimed they saw Jesus (Mark  16:11; Luke 24:11, 41; and John 20:25). To me, this is a very important line of evidence in the authenticity of the Gospel accounts because it shows the same logical thought that any rational skeptic today would have upon hearing of a dead man’s resurrection. And what follows is even more profound: That such skeptics would immediately do a 180 and begin boldly preaching of their risen Messiah.

Naturally, skepticism remains today, and a variety of theories have been developed to explain away the disciples’ behavior at this important juncture. There is a theory that Christ rose again spiritually not physically, another that Jesus actually survived the crucifixion and escaped alive without ever dying, and there is a theory that the disciples stole the body. It is not worth discussing such theories in this article because the conclusive doubts of the disciples already disproves them and they are, for lack of better term, ridiculous, as the Gospel accounts in no way support such theories and they would require feats so miraculous it would defeat the whole motive behind these theories, which are to explain away the miraculous. But there are two theories worth exploring that are commonly used to explain the disciples change in behavior after the death of Christ: The Hallucination Theory and the good old fashioned Liar Theory.

Hallucinations

The hallucination theory maintains that the disciples were so distraught at the death of their leader that they hallucinated his return as a coping mechanism. Thus, the disciples went on preaching what they thought to be true, though it really wasn’t. To anyone who doesn’t know the particulars of the gospel narratives that may seem like a plausible scenario, but when the content of story is analyzed its feasibility is remote.

The first thing to consider is the cause(s) of hallucinations. According to the National Institute of Health hallucinations are caused by the following: Drug or alcohol intoxication, dementia, epilepsy, fever, narcolepsy, psychiatric disorders, sensory impairment, and sever illness (1).  Next we need to account for the supposed appearances of Christ after His death. Reappearances of Christ occurred to multiple people at multiple locations, at one point occurring to 500 people. And therein lies the problem with this theory: The causes of hallucination would need to apply to all the witnesses (over 500) at various different times and locations. It is incredibly unlikely for so many people at different times and locations to suffer from these symptoms. It is even more incredible that all these people would, at different times and locations, hallucinate in their own minds, the very same thing. Such a claim seems so preposterous it would necessitate a miracle, which is exactly what the theory looks to dismiss.

Now one might try to escalate the plausibility of this scenario by downplaying the amount of people that hallucinated of the resurrected Jesus. After all, we were told that 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus, but that could very well be an exaggeration. The visions may very well be limited to the disciples alone, and thus, the plausibility of the hallucination theory remains.

This rebuttal, however, overlooks Paul’s declarations regarding these hundreds of witnesses, of which Paul declared that half of the people that had witnessed these events were still alive and could testify of them (1 Corinthians 15:6). Apologist Timothy Keller writes, “Paul indicates [in this text] that the risen Jesus not only appeared to individuals and small groups but he also appeared to five hundred people at once, most of whom were still alive at the time of his writing and could be consulted for corroboration. Paul’s letter was to a church, and therefore it was a public document, written to be read aloud. Paul was inviting anyone who doubted that Jesus had appeared to people after his death to go and talk to the eyewitnesses if they wished. It was a bold challenge and one that could easily be taken up, since during the pax Romana travel around the Mediterranean was safe and easy. Paul could not have made such a challenge if those eyewitnesses didn’t exist,”  (Keller, pp. 204).

So considering Paul’s very public declaration of Christ’s resurrection it is unlikely that he would embellish on the number of witnesses, leaving the original problem of such a wide variety of people suffering the same hallucinations. With that, it would be rational to conclude the hallucination theory holds no weight.  The late apologist and associate professor of evangelism at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield Illinois, Paul E. Little, writes, “To hold the hallucination theory in explaining the appearances of Christ, one must completely ignore the evidence,” (Little, 56).

A Foundation of Lies

With the hallucination theory out of the way the only other scenario skeptics can resort to is the very basic and commonly held notion that the disciples flat out lied about Christ’s resurrection. The theory goes that the return of their Messiah is a concocted tale with motive ranging from saving face to emotional shock. Yet this theory does not hold under pressure either.

A major criticism comes from Anglican bishop and New Testament scholar N. T. Wright, “It will not do… to say that Jesus’ disciples were so stunned and shocked by his death, so unable to come to terms with it, that they projected their shattered hopes onto the screen of fantasy and invented the idea of Jesus’ ‘resurrection’ as a way of coping with a cruelly broken dream. That has an initial apparent psychological plausibility, but it won’t work as serious first century history. We know lots of other messianic and similar movements in the Jewish world roughly contemporary with Jesus. In many cases the leader died a violent death at the hands of the authorities. In not one single case do we hear the slightest mention of the disappointed followers claiming that their hero had been raised from the dead. They know better. ‘Resurrection’ was not a private event. It involved human bodies. There would have to be an empty tomb somewhere. A Jewish revolutionary whose leader had been executed by the authorities, and who managed to escape arrest himself, had two options: give up the revolution, or find another leader. We have evidence of people doing both. Claiming that the original leader was alive again was simply not an option. Unless, of course, he was,” (Wright, pp. 63).

Additional criticism stems from issues in motivation. What motivation did the disciples have for concocting this lie? They surely would not financially or physically prosper from it as they had already left their lives behind to follow Jesus.  Lastly, and most obviously, would the disciples have willingly sacrificed themselves for something they knew to be untrue? A majority of the disciples were killed for their beliefs. It is one thing to die for something you believe to be true, it is quite another to die for something you know to be a lie. The fact that many disciples died painful deaths after a duration of being tortured, without recanting, testifies to the fact that they believed in what they preached, that their leaders was alive. If they had made the whole thing up, they surely would not have willingly died in such ways, or at the very least would have recanted during torture. With that said, the liar theory is not adequate either.

Indirect Evidence

One very interesting source of authentication of this story comes from world famous philosopher, and skeptic, David Hume. Though Hume questioned the claims of scripture in general, he found value in the disciples’ actions after Christ’s death. He writes,

“The direct testimony for this event appears to me to be very feeble… But the indirect evidence is much stronger. We have testimony to the effect that the disciples were exceedingly depressed at the time of the Crucifixion; that they had extremely little faith in the future; and that, after a certain time, this depression disappeared, and they believed that they had evidence that their Master had risen from the dead. Now none of these alleged facts is in the least odd or improbable, and we have therefore little ground for not accepting them on the testimony offered us. But having done this, we are faced with the problem of accounting for the facts which we have accepted. What caused the disciples to believe, contrary to their previous conviction, and in spite of their feeling of depression, that Christ had risen from the dead? Clearly, one explanation is that he actually had arisen. And this explanation accounts for the facts so well that we may at least say that the indirect evidence for the miracle is far and way stronger than the direct evidence,” (Broad , 142-143). To Hume, it is the very change in behavior among the disciples from depressed doubters to highly motivated evangelists is what provides the strongest evidence for Christ’s resurrection.

Little further expands on this, “What was it that changed a band of frightened, cowardly disciples into men of courage and conviction? What was it that changed Peter who, the night before the crucifixion, was so afraid for his own skin that three times he denied publicly that he even knew Jesus. Some fifty days later he became a roaring lion, risking his life by saying he had seen Jesus risen from the dead. It must be remembered that Peter preached his electric Pentecost sermon in Jerusalem, where all the events took place and his life was in danger. He was not in Galilee, miles away where no one could verify the facts and where his ringing statements might go unchallenged. Only the bodily resurrection of Christ could have produced this change,” (Little, 56).

Conclusion

In conclusion, the actions of the disciples after Christ’s death provides compelling evidence to support the claims they made. And with all other conspiracy theories debunked, we’re left with only one explanation that is reasonable, which is that Christ did rise from the dead. Though this will obviously be difficult for skeptics who do not believe in the supernatural to accept. Dr. Jared M. Compton, Assistant Professor of the New Testament at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary explains, “If the facts are patiently considered and one’s worldview is not illegitimately predisposed against the miraculous, then Scripture’s claim that Jesus rose from the dead is at least a possible conclusion. In other words, the Resurrection could be historically reliable. We might even say, for the moment, that since no better alternative explanation of the facts has arisen, Scripture’s explanation is presently the most satisfactory or plausible. The trouble is, Scripture, not least its divine Author, is not content with the Resurrection being deemed ‘possible’ or ‘most satisfactory.’ In fact, Scripture is not even content with ‘definite’ and ‘best,’ because its purpose points beyond belief in historical events. Scripture’s goal is not simply assent to history but, rather, conversion. As such, Scripture not only demands the events it records to be recognized as historical, it wants the explanations it gives those events to be believed (e.g., “Jesus was raised for our justification,” Rom 4:25),” (Compton).

British Bishop, scholar and theologian Brooke Foss Westcott once declared, “Indeed, taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say there is no historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ. Nothing but the antecedent assumption that it must be false could have suggested the idea of deficiency in the proof of it,” (Westcott, pp. 4).

Alas, doubt of Christ’s resurrection may have originated with the disciples, but it is this same doubt, and the actions that followed afterwards, that go great lengths in authenticating the story.

References:

(1) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003258.htm, accessed 6-22-2013.

-Broad, C.D., (1965) “Hume’s Theory of the Credibility of Miracles,” as written in Alexander Sesonske and Noel Fleming’s Human Understanding, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth).

-Compton, J.M., (March 2010) “Is the Resurrection Historically Reliable?” http://www.biblearchaeology.org

-Keller, T., (2008) The Reason for God; Christian Belief in an Age of Skepticism, (New York, NY: Dutton).

-Little, P.E. (2000) Know Why You Believe, 4th Edition, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press).

-Westcott, B.F. (1879) The Gospel of the Resurrection, (London).

-Wright, N.T., (1993 ) Who Was Jesus? (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

The conspiracy theory of the Lost Gospels and the Nag Hammadi Library are ones often used by skeptics to disprove the authenticity of the Bible, but yet so easy to refute. The conspiracy theory is that there are dozens upon dozens of early manuscripts floating around when the Bible was put together and that Christians chose (with bias) only particular ones to put in the Bible. This is actually historically correct, but where the skeptics get it wrong is in the motivation for the bias selection. The skeptics portray the early church fathers selecting scripture that would progress their status or agenda. When in truth, scripture was selected based on its accuracy and proximity to the lifetime of Christ. I recommend seeing my other articles that go into more detail on this subject named “How Can We Know Who Really Wrote the Gospels?” and “The Corrupt Early Church,” which can be found in my “Conspiracy Theory” category.

 

Here I’d like to list all the gospels accounts not selected to be incorporated into the Bible and the reasons for their rejection; which is more often than not their lack of proximity to the lifetime of Christ and their inconsistency with those gospels that are written much closer to the lifetime of Christ which are found in greater numbers. A few of the Lost Gospels are simply no longer in existence or only exist in a few fragments, so we are limited as to know exactly why there were excluded from the New Testament, though we do know their proximity wasn’t too close to the lifetime of Jesus. See below:

 

v     Acts of John, written in the late 100s AD. Retelling of events from the life of the apostle John. Seems to deny Christ was human.

v     Acts of Peter and the Twelve; written AD 150-250. Jesus is a pearl merchant.

v     Apocalypse of Adam; written AD 160-300. Adam tells Seth how he and Eve became more powerful than God.

v     Allogenes; written AD 300-350. Refers to Gnostics[1] as members of the race of Seth.

v     Apocalypse of James 1, written AD 200-300. Dialogue between Jesus and his brother James.

v     Apocalypse of James 2, written AD 150-180. More dialogue between Jesus and his brother James, though this scripture ends with James becoming a martyr.

v     Apocryphon of James written AD 140-160. Mildly Gnostic, claimed to have been authored by James the brother of Jesus.

v     Apocryphon of John, written AD 160-200. God of the Old Testament is written as an evil demigod.

v     Asclepius, date of original authorship is unknown. Greek philosophies.

v     Authoritative Teachings, written AD 150-200. Gnostic philosophies.

v     Book of Thomas the Contender, written AD 150-225. Supposed “secrets,” that Jesus only gave to Thomas, as recorded by Matthias.

v     Concept of Our Great Power, written AD 300-390. Gnostic version of salvation and end of the world.

v     Coptic Apocalypse of Paul, written AD 160-260. Describes Paul’s ascension through various levels of heaven.

v     Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, written AD 250-300. Jesus has no physical body.

v     Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians, written AD 200-300. Jesus is the reincarnation of Seth, third son of Adam and Eve.

v     Dialogue of the Savior, written AD 150-200. Very negative view towards sex and women (only found in small fragments).

v     Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth, written 150-200. A Gnostic guide on how to experience the mystical realm.

v     Epistle of Peter to Philip, written 180-220. A Gnostic view of the nature of Jesus.

v     Eugnostos the Blessed, date of original authorship unknown. Contains Gnostic cosmology.

v     Exegesis on the Soul, written AD 200-250. Gnostic myth of the soul’s fall from heaven.

v     Fayyum Fragment, written around the mid 100s AD. Fragment writing of Jesus’ prediction that Peter would betray him which parallels the New Testament gospels.

v     Gospel of the Ebonites, written in the mid 100s AD or later. A rewritten version of the Gospel of Matthew made to conform to a Jewish sect known as the Ebonites.

v     Gospel of the Egyptians, written in the mid 100s AD. Speaks of self-denial and parallels many Gnostic teachings.

v     Gospel of Hebrews, written AD 100-150. The gospel itself is no longer in existence and we only know of it because a church leader quoted it briefly.

v     Gospel of Judas, written AD 150-200. Retelling of the actions and fate of Judas Iscariot. Speculated to have originated from the Cainite Gnostics.

v     Gospel of the Lord, written around the mid 100s AD. Rewritten gospel of Luke made to conform to the teachings of a sect lead by Marcion who believed the God of the OT was a different God than the one in the NT. Jesus was also not considered human.

v     Gospel of Mary, written AD 150-200. A Gnostic gospel about Mary (which many assume is Mary Magdalene despite the gospel not stating this at all).

v     Gospel of the Nazoreans, written AD 100-150. Rewritten Gospel of Matthew made to fit the theology of a Jewish sect known as the Nazoreans.

v     Gospel of Peter, written AD 100-150. Only existing in fragments, this gospel depicts another account of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Not enough is known of it to determine whether or not it parallels the other gospel accounts.

v     Gospel of Philip, written AD 160-250. A collection of Gnostic sayings.

v     Gospel of the Savior (AKA Vision of the Savior), written around the late 100s AD. Fragments of a Gnostic account that mixes stories from the new Testament with stories from the Gospel of Peter.

v     Gospel of Thomas, written AD 100-150. A list of sayings from Jesus. Some match up with sayings from the accepted four gospels of today. However, other sayings are determined to have been fabricated.

v     Gospel of Truth, written AD 150-180. Gnostic version of the Creation and the ministry of Jesus.

v     Hypostatis of the Archons, written AD 250-350. Gnostic mythologies and cosmology.

v     Hypsiphrone, date of original authorship is unknown. Talks about the descent of a heavenly figure (only exists in fragments).

v     Infancy Gospel of James, written AD 150-200. A text of Christian fiction imagining the early years of Jesus.

v     Infancy Gospel of Thomas, written AD 150-200. A text of Christian fiction imagining the early years of Jesus.

v     Interpretation of Knowledge, written AD 160-200. Valentinian reinterpretation of the teachings of Jesus and Paul.

v     Marsanes, written AD 200-300. Gnostic rituals.

v     Melchizedek, written AD 200-300. Gnostic reinterpretation of the story of Melchizedek from the OT.

v     Origin of the World, written AD 290-330. Gnostic theology.

v     Papyrus Egerton 2, written AD 100-150. Four stories of Jesus, three of which parallel the stories from the NT. This unfortunately only exists in a few fragments.

v     Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840, written AD 150-200. A fragment of an unknown gospel that has many errors in it suggesting it was written far removed ofJudahandJerusalem.

v     Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1224, written AD 100-150. Some teachings (only exists in a few fragments).

v     Paraphrase of Shem, date of original authorship is unknown. A very negative view of sexuality (only exists in small fragments).

v     Prayer of Thanksgiving, written AD 150-250. A brief prayer of thankfulness for receiving gnosis (knowledge).

v     Prayer of the Apostle Paul, written AD 160-300. Brief prayer very similar to the gospel of Philip and the Stele of Seth.

v     Republic (Plato), date of original authorship unknown. Gnostic version of Plato’s famous work.

v     Secret Book of James, written around the mid 100s AD. Heavily influenced by Gnosticism.

v     Secret Gospel of Mark, written AD 1958. A hoax b Morton Smith.

v     Sentences of Sextus, date of original authorship is unknown. A list of wise sayings.

v     Sophia of Jesus Christ, date of original authorship is unknown but scholars speculate it could have been written in the late first century or earlier second century. It contains a list of questions asked by the apostles, to which James provides Gnostic answers.

v     Teachings of Silvanus, written AD 160-220. Speaks of spiritual growth through self-denial (not a Gnostic text).

v     Testimony of Truth, written AD 180-220. Polemic against competing Gnostic groups.

v     Thought of Norea, written AD 180-240. Depicts a feminine savior, the counterpart of Seth.

v     Three Steles of Seth, written AD 220-260. Gnostic hymns and prayers.

v     Thunder, Perfect Mind, date of original authorship unknown. Hymns of a divine female figure named Thunder.

v     Treatise of the Great Seth, date of original authorship unknown. Words of Jesus to Gnostic followers, which states that Simon of Cyrene was crucified in place of Jesus.

v     Treatise on the Resurrection, written AD 180-200. Letter denying the physical resurrection of believers.

v     Trimorphic Protennoia, written AD 160-200. Gnostic description of God’s “first thought” which descended to the world.

v     Tripartite Tractate, written AD 200-250. Gnostic version of salvation and cosmology.

v     Valentinian Exposition on Baptism, Anointing, and the Eucharist, written AD 150-180. Gnostic reinterpretation of Christian rituals.

v     Zostrianos, written 260-300. Gnostic cosmology.


[1] You may notice that there are many references to the “Gnostics.” Also known as Gnosticism, it stems from the Greek work ginosko for “I have knowledge.” The Gnostics emerged during the same time that Christianity was growing in the first and second centuries, though many scholars write that they may have been in existence prior to the lifetime of Christ. The Gnostics claimed to have knowledge about God unavailable to others. The OT God and the physical world was considered evil, and Jesus was never human, His intentions being to free people from the bondage of the physical world. The vast majority of scholars consider the Gnostics an illegitimate spin off of the popular expanding growth of Christianity as it spread into the Greek culture.

When you think about the Bible’s history as being passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years, it’s very reasonable to assume that there has been intentional alteration of the text over the years. That is, intentional alteration by kings or other authority figures, who wanted to use religion as their leverage over the people. This was a conspiracy theory I personally believed in the past, and books like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, Richard Dawkin’s God Delusion and Elaine Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels and Beyond Belief  build a case to support this theory of corruption. Christians like to think the massive copying of NT manuscripts was done via a motivation to preserve Christ’s divine message, but what if instead the motivation lie with men wanting to preserve their own power?

In the Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown presents a story that asserts the early Church was power hungry. That they literally stole Jesus from His original followers, and modified the message to expand their own power and solidify their own political agenda. In the Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels writes of the Gnostic Gospels and other lost gospels that she learned in Harvard were “suppressed” by the early church.  Pagels concluded that the early Christians wanted to centralize power to one overseer (a bishop), so they preserved gospels that mentioned only one God, but suppressed all other gospels that spoke of multiple Gods.[1] Pagels also believed that early church leaders wanted power expanded in particular cities so that power would be given to overseers in those cities in which Jesus had once lived, so gospels that spoke of spiritual resurrections of Jesus were suppressed while other gospels that spoke of a bodily resurrection was preserved.[2] She also ascribed to church leaders wanting to exclude female leadership in Church, so manuscripts that referred to God as the Mother were suppressed while those that referred to God as the Father were preserved.[3] And when people tried to speak out against Gospels being suppressed, Pagels refers to text from the church leader Clement that says that they must receive the “death penalty.”[4] Let’s be honest, no conspiracy theory seems legit unless lives are being threatened[5]… This tactic was used in the pseudo-documentary Bloodline as well.

The one thing almost all these critics agree on is that the NT manuscripts were hand picked with bias among a multitude of manuscripts to incorporate into a Bible.[6] Some critics believe that no one in the first and second century considered the NT manuscripts sacred until a late second-century pastor named Irenaeus of Lyons declared Matthew, Mark, Luke and John the authentic author’s of Jesus’ life. Many others, like Dan Brown and the members of the Jesus Seminar, believe that what was considered scripture was in fact determined by Emperor Constantine during the Council of Nicea in the 4th century. Dan Brown goes further to suggest that the concept of Jesus being the Son of God wasn’t established until the Council of Nicea.[7] W.H.C. Frend writes in The Rise of Christianity, that the first time the 27 books of the NT are even mentioned together is in a letter written by a pastor named Athanasius of Alexandria in A.D. 367 years after the council of Nicea.[8] Since there is no prior mention of all 27 being deemed authoritative prior to the Council of Nicea, Rend concludes that it was the council itself that gave the scriptures authority. This would of course mean the Council could have corruptly chosen particular manuscripts out of the long list of available manuscripts, to decide which to give authority to, thus tying into Pagels’ earlier mentioned theories.

In other words, the motivation to create the Bible was not to safeguard and preserve the truths of Jesus, but to safeguard and preserve political agendas and the Church’s power. Anyone who tried to say otherwise was violently suppressed. Any manuscripts that said otherwise were suppressed. Corruption at it’s finest… If this isn’t a conspiracy I don’t know what is.

Conspiracy Theory vs. History

Ok, so you’ve heard all the conspiracies, now let us actually study history to get to the truth of the matter. The first thing we need to establish is what kind of corruption we are talking of. You’ll notice the critics above never suggest the manuscripts were rewritten to suit an agenda, but instead particular manuscripts were accepted and others rejected to suit an agenda. Yet, the average layman conspirer tends to think that the manuscripts were rewritten down the line to fit a personal agenda. This is actually the one case where I can say; that is impossible! The manuscripts weren’t a few copies you could locate and rewrite. Gospel manuscripts were all over Europe, the Middle East andNorth Africa being written and copied in massive numbers. There is a reason we have thousands of copies in existence today. It would be impossible during this time in history for anyone to track down every manuscript and rewrite them. The only possible way to corruptly alter God’s message would be to pick particular manuscripts to give authority too and suppress the rest. And that is the conspiracy the critics above prescribe to and accuse the Church of doing. So is that what happened?

Yes, the Church authorities did pick particular manuscripts as divine scripture and denounce the rest. But here is what everyone needs to understand: The manuscripts were not chosen based off of corrupted agendas, but instead based on their authenticity and accuracy, something that had already been established hundreds of years earlier by church leaders. After the NT manuscripts were written and spreading, Christianity was becoming popular in the Roman Empire. Understandably, cults and Christian spin-offs began to emerge and produced their own “gospels.” These other gospels, mostly from the Gnostics[9], strongly contradicted the original gospels. As time went on in the second and third centuries, more and more manuscripts started to appear in circulation. This of course became a great concern for the Christian Church.

So of course the Church eventually was forced to decide which manuscripts were the true testimony of Christ and which were false, to settle the matter once and for all. This would be the Council of Nicea in A.D. 327, the purpose behind which being to arrive at a consensus regarding what scriptures possessed the most accurate portrayal of Jesus.[10] The council was able to determine which manuscripts were accurate based on how closely the manuscripts were written to the lifetime of Jesus. Unlike the Gnostic gospels, the NT manuscripts were found in much larger numbers written much closer to the lifetime of Jesus. If you’re deciding which ones are the most accurate portrayal of Jesus, it’s a no brainer; go with the manuscripts written by eyewitnesses closer to the lifetime of Jesus. As you read on though, you’ll see that the NT manuscripts were actually decided long before the Council of Nicea.

Some other claims critics make about the Council of Nicea are straight up false. Brown claims the council was divided between Christians and Pagans. This is incorrect, the council was divided between two different sects of Christians, one believing Jesus was a creation of God (known as the “Arians”) the other believing Jesus was God incarnate. He also states that the final vote at the Council was a very close vote which decided whether Jesus was the Son of God. This is not true. Out of the more than 300 church leaders at the council, only two did not sign the Creed of Nicea which proclaimed Jesus to be the Son of God.[11]

Based off that though, critics run with it to say that these beliefs were concocted at the council and finalized there. This is just not the case though. Take for example Pagels’ earlier claim that the bodily resurrection was used to expand the church’s power in particular cities. History tells us this is just not the case. In A.D. 155 Bishops Anicetus and Victor of the Roman church demanded that all Christians observe Easter, the holiday celebrating the bodily resurrection of Christ.[12] Ignatius of Antioch wrote of the bodily resurrection of Jesus in a letter to the church in Smyrna in the end of the first century.[13] This is important to know because the contrary text Pagels references that insists the resurrection was spiritual not bodily, she read from the Gospel of Mary (a rejected text), of which the authorship is still questioned to this day. But we do know it was written in the mid to late second century. In other words, she is siding with one gospel with questionable authorship written long after the four original gospels, which themselves testify to a bodily resurrection. Furthermore, other manuscripts from the NT written earlier than the Gospel of Mary also testify to a bodily resurrection. Acts 2:31, Galatians 1:1, and 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, 14 all testify to a bodily resurrection and were written during the lifetime of eyewitnesses to Jesus in the mid to late first century. This breaks down Pagels’ theory because history tells us that the bodily resurrection of Jesus was solidified with Christians long before the false Gospel of Mary and long before any council established the New Testament.

“The flaw in Pagels’ logic is [that] she uses an effect produced by an orthodox belief to explain the origin of the belief itself. She might as well argue that Elvis fans made up his existence because they like his music so much… Pagels declares in her conclusion that ‘it is the winners who write history- their way.’ Ironically she seems to miss the fact completely that orthodoxy ‘won’ because history was on its side.”

-Sophia De Morgan, Theologian.[14]

 

“When arguments over power began to plague the Roman church in the second century, Christians had already recognized the physical resurrection of Jesus as a crucial element to their confession of faith for several decades.”

-Timothy Paul Jones, Theologian[15]

Let us also recall that Pagels’ claim that the Church preserved gospels claiming there to be only one God, suppressing others that testified multiple Gods, in an effort to centralize power. Anyone who knows basic history, or has even read the Old Testament for that matter, can testify that the Jewish faith established their God to be one and only one God, thousands of years prior to Christ. Just flip back to Deut. 4:35-39, 6:4; 1 Kings 8:60; or Isaiah 45:5, 14, 18, 21-22; 46:9 and you’ll see that the Jews were pretty dead set on there being only one God. Obviously as Christianity spread through the Roman Empire, non-Jewish converts that once believed in multiple Greek Gods would begin to later draw up their own manuscripts that were heavily influenced by the polytheism inRomeprior to Christianity. Naturally any manuscripts that declared there to be many Gods would be found contradictory to thousands of years of Jewish religion as well as contradicting the other NT manuscripts dated much closer to the lifetime of Christ, and therefore suppressed for good reason.

Even more damaging to the conspiracy theory of these critics has been the discovery of actual lists of divine manuscripts. Early church leaders, worried about the new Gnostic manuscripts floating around, compiled a list of what they considered divine authoritative texts. The deciding factor was based off authorship. Only texts written by eyewitnesses or apostles that consulted eyewitnesses were considered genuine. By the mid-second century, no more eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life were alive. This was known as the Apostolic Era. So a finalized list of authoritative books could then be recorded by Church leaders to be sent out to churches to prevent the infiltration of other false gospels written after the Apostolic Era. There is the Muratorian Fragment from the mid-second century in Rome; the Eusebius of Caesarea’s Church History from the fourth century Palestine and Asia Minor; and the Athanasius of Alexandria’s Easter letter from fourth century Alexandria, all of which contain a list of manuscripts they considered to be the authoritative texts. Surprisingly, they all contain the same books in the list found in our NT today[16], except for Eusebius of Caesarea’s Church History which questioned the authenticity of James, Jude, 2nd Peter, and  2nd and 3rd John.[17] Yet their overall uniformity testifies to the overall standard of agreement among early church leaders as to which manuscripts were indeed the true portrayals of Jesus.[18]

Here is something many people also aren’t aware of either. Church leaders of the 2nd and 3rd century quoted the New Testament extensively in their own personal writings. Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) quoted the NT 330 times, Irenaeus (AD 120-202) quoted the NT 1,819 times. Clement (AD 150-216) did the same 2,406 times. Origen (AD 185-253) 17,922 times. Tertullian (AD 155-220) 7,258 times. Lastly, Hippolytus (AD 170-236) quoted the NT 1,378 times. In fact, you could destroy ever New Testament manuscript in the world, and re-create it from the quotes of these men alone! That’s how many times they quoted the NT.[19] This provides great evidence that what is in the NT today was already determined as authoritative long before the council of Nicea in that all these early church fathers quoted the scripture so often!

All and all, to believe that the power struggles in the past corrupted the true story of Christ today is to deny the historical facts that are out there. The NT manuscripts were always deemed authoritative divine texts long before the council of Nicea. As Timothy Paul Jones concludes, “The New Testament Documents were inspired, written, and recognized as authoritative over several centuries, yet a definite standard governed the entire process, and this standard wasn’t the word of a powerful emperor or bishop. It was a dogged determination to make certain that every authoritative text had its source in someone who witnessed the actual events.”[20]


[1] Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, (New York, NY: Random House, 1979) Pg. 47

[2] Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, (New York, NY: Random House, 1979) Pg. 27

[3] Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, (New York, NY: Random House, 1979) Pg. 66

[4] Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, (New York, NY: Random House, 1979) Pg. 34

[5] Pagels is guilty of misquoting Clement by taking his text out of context. Clement wasn’t stating that heretics need to receive the “death penalty,” he was describing what happened in the ancient Jewish temple when sacrifices were made improperly and not properly offered to God. From 1 Clement 41:1-3, The Apostolic Fathers I, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985).

[6] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, (Orlando,FL: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006) Pg 95

[7] Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code (New York,NY: Doubleday Publishing 2003) Pg. 231

[8] Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (HarperOne, 2005) Pg. 36

[9] Before the time of Christ there was a movement known as the “Gnosis” which is Greek for “knowledge.” The Gnosis, which would be later named the Gnostics, lay claim to the story of Christ to be their own shortly after its initial expansion into the Roman world. They began to spread their own view about who Jesus was and what the bible really meant. Eventually they began to write their own doctrine and propagate it to people claiming it to be the true word of God.

[10] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross (Lake Mary,Florida: FrontLine, 2008) Pg. 52

[11] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross (Lake Mary,Florida: FrontLine, 2008) Pg. 52

[12] R. Cantalamessa, Easter in the Early Church: An Anthology of Jewish and Early Christian Texts (Collegeville, MN: Liturigal Press, 1993) Pg 34-37.

[13] Ignatius, Pros Smynaious, Pg. 186-187

[14] Sophia De Morgan, “Gnostic Gnonsense: A Critical Review of The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels,” Answering Infidels, www.answeringinfidels.com  Nov 2007.

[15] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross (Lake Mary,Florida: FrontLine, 2008) Pg. 55

[16] These lists contained over 20 of the 27 NT books we have today. Clearly the texts had recognized authority long before any councils gave them authority.

[17] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross (Lake Mary,Florida: FrontLine, 2008) Pg. 61

[18] It should also be noted that there were also lists written by early church leaders from the mid-second century with a list of manuscripts that were rejected. This all long before the council of Nicea.

[19] Alex McFarland, The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity (Ventura,CA: Regal Books, 2007)

[20] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross (Lake Mary,Florida: FrontLine, 2008) Pg. 67

The four Gospels of the New Testament go by the name Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which tradition holds are the authors of these stories. But how do we know who really wrote them? Couldn’t anyone have written them and claimed to be Matthew, or John? How do we really know the Gospels are actual accounts of Jesus and not accounts far removed of the people and events described? The conspiracy theories on this subject are vast. There is a group called the Jesus Seminar, and books like Bart Ehrman’s, Misquoting Jesus and Timothy Freke’s, The Laughing Jesus: Religious Lies and Gnostic Wisdom, all of which testify to the NT Gospels not being authentic firsthand accounts from the people from which the names are ascribed. So how can we know for sure just who wrote the Gospels?

Today when you want to know who wrote a book you might flip to the copyright and publishing info in the first couple pages, or maybe even flip to the referenced sources to see how old they are to give you and idea of when the book was written. At the very least the author’s name will be printed largely under the title about 20 times in the pages preceding the actual text. But in Biblical times this was not the case. The earliest Gospel manuscripts didn’t have the author’s names printed up top like we find in our Bibles today. In fact, the first manuscripts to actually list the author’s names were from the 2nd century. And this is one of the many reasons conspiracies have evolved as to who wrote the gospels.

Skeptics claim early Christians didn’t know who wrote the Gospels and that even if they did, the information was long lost.[1] For example, Ehrman references the fact that the gospels are not written in first person narrative, but in third person narrative, which is evidence they are not firsthand accounts. He also points out that neither author claimed to be a direct eye witness.[2] Freke claims that the gospel’s authors weren’t even determined until AD 180 by Irenaeus who attributed them to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.[3]

But these claims aside there is something that should be addressed. Even if the four Gospels weren’t written by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, would that make them any less true? It is entirely possible for the story of Jesus as written in these accounts to be word for word true to history despite not being written by any of the now recognized authors.

Regardless, in response to Freke’s claim, the book of John does in fact make a claim it is an eye witness account; John 19:35. The book of Luke does as well at Luke 1:2. But skeptics say they just as easily could have been lying. How do we know they’re telling the truth? The Gospel of Thomas claims to be telling the truth as well, yet Christian scholars discount it as a genuine source.

It is possible to determine the appropriate authors by understanding three issues; when the Gospels were written, witness accounts outside the Bible, and internal components of the Gospels.

Timeline: When the Gospels were written.

History has taught us that different eras in time present differences in style of writing, type of ink and type of paper used by writers and scribes. Historians have particular ancient texts that give exact dates as to when they were written, so by matching up ink, paper, and writing style to those dated texts we begin to see just how old the manuscripts in question are. Papyrus 52 is a manuscript fragment containing John 18:31-33, with the reverse side containing John 18:37-38. And based on its composition it is known to have originated sometime in the late first century or early second century. Furthermore the fragment was determined to have originated in Egypt[4], meaning that by the end of the first century (or early second century), the gospel accounts were already circulating inEgypt. This would necessitate Jesus’ life story being compiled prior during the latter half of the first century while the witnesses to Jesus would have still been alive.

Papyrus 52

There are also other manuscripts such as Papyrus 66 and Papyrus 90, both copied in the late second century. Papyrus 64, 103 and 104 contains fragments of the Book of Matthew, copied in the second century. Papyrus 4 and 75[5] contain fragments of the book of Luke copied in second century.[6] Again, if these Gospels were circulating around theRoman Empire by the second century, then they had to have been written originally in the early 100s. Now, you may be thinking, what about the Gospel of Mark? Well, the book of Mark is the shortest of the gospels, and Matthew and Luke have many similarities to Mark. It is suggested that Matthew and Luke referred to Mark, which suggests Mark was in existence before Matthew and Luke. You might be shocked by the fact that a gospel author would refer or borrow information from another gospel, but there really is no issue considering Luke opens up in the first chapter in his book by claiming that his account is a collection of accounts from eye witnesses and others who have already taken it upon themselves to write an account of Jesus: “Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you…” Luke 1:1-3 (NLT).

Another interesting theme found among the Gospel authors is that none of them spoke of the temple being destroyed. The temple was destroyed in AD 70, yet none of the authors wrote of its destruction, but instead of Jesus visiting the temple multiple times and going inside to teach. If the gospels were written much later, surely the temple being destroyed would have been mentioned, but it is not, testifying to the gospel authors recording eye witness testimony prior to AD 70.

Also, Luke wrote the book of Acts after he wrote his gospel account. Acts was written to document the history of the early church. Yet the book of Acts also doesn’t reference the destruction of the temple. It also doesn’t mention Nero’s persecution of the Christians in AD 64, the death of James in AD 62, the death of Paul in AD 64 and the death of Peter in AD 65.[7] This would lead one to conclude Acts was written prior to these events, so possibly prior to AD 62. And since the book of Luke was written prior to Acts, it was surely written even earlier.

When we historically study the manuscripts that weren’t titled with the ones that were titled with an author, there is no name variance. In other words, as soon as we’ve found one Gospel titled Matthew, all subsequent Gospels (of the same Gospel of Matthew) were named Matthew.[8] We’ve never found a Gospel of Matthew named Philip or Andrew. This goes the same for Mark, Luke, and John. Thus further confirming the authorship of the Gospels was well known.

So by studying the oldest manuscripts we have, we can conclude that all four Gospels were well in circulation throughout theRoman Empireby the second century. Which would mean the Gospels were written originally prior in the first century while the witnesses to Jesus’ life were still well alive, just as Luke claims. Such close proximity to the events recorded would prevent any legends from developing. Considering how long it normally took historical accounts during this time to be constructed, the fact that the Gospels were written so soon after the events occurred is incredible. Relatively speaking they were like a news flash.

Witness accounts outside the Bible.

There is testimony from men in the second century that confirm the origin of the Gospels. Papias of Hierapolis was a pastor of Hierapolisin the area now known as Turkeyduring the late first to early second century. As recorded by Papias, “The elder said this: Mark, who became Peter’s interpreter, wrote accurately as much as he remembered- though not in ordered form- of the Lord’s sayings and doings. For [Mark] neither heard the Lord not followed after him, but later he followed after Peter, who was giving his teachings in short anecdotes and thus did not bring forth an ordered arrangement of the Lord’s sayings; so, Mark did not miss the point when he wrote in this way, as he remembered. For he had one purpose: To omit nothing of what he had heard and present no false testimony in these matters… And Matthew, in Hebrew dialect, placed the saying in orderly arrangement.”[9] Thus confirming Mark and Matthew each as an author of a Gospel account. Papias may have even written about Luke and John, but unfortunately what we have of Papias’ writings is only small fragments. We do know that he wrote the text quoted here around AD 110.[10]

Another pastor named Polycarp of Smyrna, was born around AD 70, and was a student of John, one of Jesus’ disciples and a direct eye witness. He wrote, “Matthew composed his gospel among the Hebrews in their language, while Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel in Romeand building up the church there. After their deaths, Mark- Peter’s follower and interpreter- handed down to us Peter’s proclamation in written form. Luke, the companion of Paul, wrote in a book the Gospel proclaimed by Paul. Finally, John- the Lord’s own follower, the one who leaned against His very chest- composed the Gospel while living in Ephesus, in Asia.”[11] As you can see, both Polycarp and Papias both wrote of the authorship of the four Gospels in extremely close proximity to the time when the gospels were first circulating around the Roman Empire, thus concluding that the authorship was not falsely determined hundreds of years later, or was lost over time.

Eusebius, a bishop from Casesarea from the 3rd century, wrote that Matthew first wrote his Gospel account while in Palestine, and left Palestine 12 years after Christ died.[12] If Eusebius is correct, that means Matthew wrote his gospel as early as AD 40 to AD 45. And if Matthew was indeed based off of Mark[13], then that pushes the origin of Mark back even further.

Those skeptics who maintain the conspiracy that the authorship wasn’t determined until hundreds of years later (believing Polycarp and Papias to be liars or their writings falsified) fail to acknowledge the number of manuscripts widely circulating in the Roman Empire. There wasn’t a central authoritative church until the 4th century. So the first, second and third centuries were ones of widely dispersed small churches. How could it be possible to assign authorship so long after the mass circulation of the gospels? It would be impossible to track down every manuscript at every church and assign authorship. Yet we can see from testimony above it was already well understood who authored each Gospel, right from the beginning.

Internal Content of the Gospels

In addition, the internal components of the Gospels should not be over looked as well. Take the book of Matthew for example, which described Matthew as a “tax collector.” First, tax collectors were despised in the Roman Empire, and any new religion looking to make up divine story to convert people wouldn’t dare used a despised tax collector as a disciple. But more importantly, what needs to be understood is that during the first century, those who could read and write were not common. However, tax collectors did in fact know how to read and write. In fact, tax collectors usually carried pinakes (sheets of wood covered in wax) and styli (metal or bone used to write in the wax) which they used to make notes, which they could later transfer onto papyrus to give back receipts to the tax payers.[14] So Matthew being a tax collector could read and write well thereby making it likely that we would in fact be one of the disciples to write an account of Jesus’ life. Just as Luke being a physician would make him a likely person to be able to write a Gospel account himself. Peter being a humble fisherman on the other hand would have Mark record his account.

Some other great examples that the Gospels were indeed direct accounts or collected accounts from eyewitnesses: The description of home construction in the book of Mark is consistent and accurate with historical first-century housing is that area. The Gospels record highly accurate knowledge of how the Jewish communities were organized during this time: Pharisees, Sedducess, etc. The torture and punishment of Jesus by the Roman authority concurs with methods of documented by the Romans. The book of Luke refers to many locations and geographical features that are accurate to the point that only someone who physically traveled to these locations could have written of them.

Based on the available evidence we can see that the Gospel of Mark was testimony of Simon Peter recorded by John Mark. The Gospel of Luke is a collection of accounts as recorded by Paul’s physician Luke. The Gospel of Matthew came from Matthew’s own testimony of Jesus, as did the Gospel of John come from John, or perhaps one of John’s students that recorded his teaching.

Other conspiracies

There is the conspiracy of “the Gospel.” Prior to the 2nd century, no one referred to multiple gospels, but just one gospel. This bred the conspiracy that there was only one true gospel (usually believed to be Mark) and the other three are fraudulent copies. That’s a lot of speculation… Skeptics are missing the obvious. The authors of the gospels were not hanging out together, they were spread out all over the Roman Empire, their writings being copied and spread around. Of course early church fathers would only refer to “the Gospel” because they only had or knew of one. By the 2nd century, they would of course have received other Gospel accounts and from that point on did of course refer to them as “the Gospels.”

The Jesus Seminar is another major adversary to the Gospel accounts being genuine accounts of Jesus. Started in the 1970’s by Robert Funk, their goal was to “rediscover” the Jesus of 2000 years ago that they believed has been misrepresented by 2000 years of myths, legends and traditions. The scholars of the seminar go through the four Gospels and determine whether or not Jesus actually said the phrases recorded in the Gospels. There are two problems with this: First, despite the insurmountable proof that the Gospel accounts have been copied accurately since their origin, these scholars feel they’re educated enough to determine what Jesus actually said 2,000 years later… over the four eye witness accounts written down less than 100 years from the lifetime of Jesus. Second, all these scholars up front admit they do not believe Jesus was the Son of God and savior of mankind nor did He have supernatural powers, etc. So what conclusions do you think such biased scholars are going to come to? I consider their findings to be that of conspiracy because their claims are based not on hard evidence but instead based purely on speculation which is driven by their presuppositions against Jesus to begin with. In the end, their Jesus was one striped of any divinity, left as nothing more than a wise man.

There is a gap conspiracy theory also. How come the gospels were written years after Jesus and not immediately after his death? Some suggest foul play. That the gap between when Jesus died and the gospels were written is suspicious, and there is often speculation that the truth has been skewed in that time gap. However, the reason for the time gap is because of the usage of oral tradition. In between this time the apostles were spreading the message of Christ via oral tradition.[15] Towards the end of their lives they decided to record the events they had witnessed as they would no longer be able to verbally compel it to any one once they had died. This is also confirmed by Polycarp’s quote earlier.

In conclusion, when we study the timeline of when the gospel accounts were written, the recorded testimony of men outside the Bible, and the internal components of the gospel narratives, it becomes evident that the gospel accounts were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They were not written hundreds of years later by a Church authority to substantiate the claims of their mythical Jesus. To claim such, is to ignore the available and rational evidence.


[1] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross (Lake Mary,Florida: FrontLine, 2008) Pg. 14

[2] Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) Pg. 44 and 46

[3] Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, The Laughing Jesus: Religious Lies and Gnostic Wisdom (New York: Three Rivers, 2006) Pg. 69.

[4] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross (Lake Mary,Florida: FrontLine, 2008) Pg. 19

[5] Papyrus 75 contains both fragments of the book of Luke and John.

[6] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross (Lake Mary,Florida: FrontLine, 2008) Pg. 19

[7] Matt Slick, “When were the gospels written and by whom?” http://www.carm.org

[8] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross (Lake Mary,Florida: FrontLine, 2008) Pg. 25

[9] Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History Vol. I, Loeb Classical Library, ed. K.Lake (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980) 3:39.

[10] Eusebius writes of Papias during Trajan’s reign prior to AD 107.

[11] Irenaeus, Contra haereses, 3:1:1

[12] “When were the gospels written?” http://www.gotquestions.org

[13] Matthew and Luke being based off Mark is a speculation.

[14] A. R. Millard, Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus. (New York:New York, University Press, 2000) Pg. 31, 170.

[15] In ancient times, the only way to communicate history most of the time was through oral tradition. They did not have laptops, typewriters or a pen and paper available (those who could read and write were few), so a speaker would announce his story to a community of people publicly. In turn, the community would correct the speaker or speak up if they disagreed or knew that what the speaker was saying was indeed false. Through this method, communities and civilizations would carry on historical events accurately through generations. In fact, archeology scholars know through their discoveries that oral tradition contained very little to no errors through hundreds of years of transcendence. Through this method ancient civilizations did pass down to their later generations, accurate safe guarded information.