“Can we trust the gospels?” This is the title of a book that I can wholeheartedly recommend, whether we are just investigating the Christian faith or have been a Christian for many years but are finding some of the secular arguments against the historicity of the gospels persuasive. Maybe you have heard some claim that the gospels are a work of fiction (Dawkins) or they are simply what survived from the gospels that the church happened to select (Erhman) or that common phrase, “that’s just your belief”. Is there anything objectively true about the gospels? Are they historical? This book by Peter Williams is very helpful in showing the truth about the gospels so that we can trust them for truth, not just opinion and blows the idea that they are fiction out of the water. (As CS Lewis has commented, fiction as a genre was yet to be invented some 1000 years later). So, why read this book?
When we read the gospels, or hear them preached, if there is a nagging doubt at the back of our mind “Is this all just made up?” it will of course affect how we listen. Yet, as we approach the days when we celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, if we know that the accounts of his life are historical, eyewitness accounts, it makes a big difference. It avoids the nagging doubt of “well, it would be nice if this were true, in fact better than nice – brilliantly good news, but sadly, I fear it is not”. This kind of reaction, this kind of “I wish I had your faith (but am too intelligent to believe)”, is simply wrong. For the person who is willing to investigate the historical veracity and truth of the gospels, they are a deep challenge to us personally. This is the reason why they are dismissed, NOT because they are suspect historically or in terms of their literature. So, as we approach Easter and remain in Johns gospel, what sign posts are there in the text that help us grow in our confidence and certainty of their truth? Lets just take chapters 18 and 19 of Johns gospel that we will be considering over Easter.
- John was there. He is keen to claim to have been there at the cross and to have
seen Jesus die. So, in John 19:35 he writes “The man who saw it has given testimony and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you may believe.” There is no other John than the apostle there at the Cross, which for me is convincing evidence that Johns gospel was indeed written by the Apostle John.
- John makes observations that are clearly contemporary to the life and ministry of
Jesus. John knew the high priest of the day John 18:16. He even knew the name of the servant of the high priest who had his ear cut off by Peter’s sword in gethsemane John 18:10 “Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servants name was Malchus)”. This is clearly a firsthand account with historical detail that would not have been invented, because fiction as a genre, had not yet been invented!
- There is something which stares us in the face. When many people were called by a
common name, as with the name Jesus, the name needed modifiers. So, Jesus is called, in the John 18 “Jesus of Nazareth” (vv5,7). We may find this familiar, but this is evidence that John is writing, when the way Jesus was addressed before his name was well known, is used. This is consistent with very early dating.
So, can we trust the gospels? Read this book to grow in confidence that what we celebrate at Easter is not fiction, but eyewitness testimony with inspired explanation.
Happy Easter! Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed!
With love in Him, John Parker