In a previous blog, we noticed that the traditional case for the resurrection of Jesus consisted of a three-step argument:
- The gospel accounts are authentic.
- The text of the gospel accounts is pure.
- Therefore, the gospel accounts are reliable.
In this blog, we will consider the evidence for the first premise.
Internal EvidenceThe argument from internal evidence is made based on features of the gospel accounts themselves. William Lane Craig relates the following case made by Jacob Vernet, Gottfried Less, and William Paley:
- Luke was written before Acts, and since Acts was written prior to the death of Paul, Luke must have an early date.
- The Gospels also show an intimate knowledge of Jerusalem prior to its destruction in a.d. 70.
- The Gospels are full of proper names, dates, cultural details, historical events, and customs and opinions of that time.
- The stories of Jesus’ human weaknesses and of the disciples’ faults also bespeak the Gospels’ accuracy.
- It would have been impossible for forgers to put together so consistent a narrative as that which we find in the Gospels.
- The Gospels do not try to suppress apparent discrepancies, which indicates their originality.
- There is no attempt at harmonization between the Gospels, such as we might expect from forgers.
- The style of each particular gospel is appropriate to what we know of the personalities of the traditional authors.
- The gospels do not contain anachronisms.
- The authors appear to have been first-century Jews who were witnesses of the events described.
- The Hebraic and Syriac idioms that mark the Gospels are appropriate to the traditional authors.
- Jesus’ prophecies of that event must have been written prior to Jerusalem’s fall, for otherwise the church would have separated out the apocalyptic element in the prophecies, which makes them appear to concern the end of the world. Since the end of the world did not come about when Jerusalem was destroyed, so-called prophecies of its destruction that were really written after the city was destroyed would not have made that event appear so closely connected with the end of the world. Hence, the Gospels must have been written prior to a.d. 70.
William Paley concluded, “there is no more reason to doubt that the Gospels come from the traditional authors than there is to doubt that the works of Philo or Josephus are authentic, except that the Gospels contain supernatural events.”
External EvidenceThis support comes from extra-biblical testimony concerning the authorship of the gospels. In Reasonable Faith, William Lane Craig gives the following argument made by Paley:
- The Gospels and Acts are cited by a series of authors, beginning with those contemporary with the apostles and continuing in regular and close succession from the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle of Clement, and the Shepherd of Hermas all the way up to Eusebius in a.d. 315.
- The Scriptures were cited as authentic and authoritative by Theophilus, Hippolitus, Origen, and many others.
- The Scriptures were collected very early into a distinct volume. Ignatius refers to collections known as the Gospel and the Apostles, what we today call the Gospels and the Epistles. According to Eusebius, about sixty years after the appearance of the Gospels Quadratus distributed them to converts during his travels. Irenaeus and Melito refer to the collection of writings we call the New Testament.
- Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Dionysius, Irenaeus, and others refer to them as Scriptures, divine writings, and so forth.
- These writings were publicly read and expounded.
- Copies, commentaries, and harmonies were written on these books.
- The Scriptures were accepted by all heretical groups as well as by orthodox Christians.
- The Gospels, Acts, thirteen letters of Paul, 1 John, and 1 Peter were received without doubt as authentic even by those who doubted the authenticity of other books now in the canon.
- The early opponents of Christianity regarded the Gospels as containing the accounts upon which the religion was founded. Celsus admitted that the Gospels were written by the disciples. Porphyry attacked Christianity as found in the Gospels. The Emperor Julian followed the same procedure.
- Catalogs of authentic Scriptures were published, which always contained the Gospels and Acts. Paley supports the point with quotations from Origen, Athanasius, Cyril, and others.
- The so-called apocryphal books of the New Testament were never so treated. Paley notes that with a single exception no apocryphal gospel is ever even quoted by any known author during the first three hundred years after Christ.
In our next blog, we will look at evidence for the second premise.
Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith (3rd edition): Christian Truth and Apologetics (p. 334). Crossway. Kindle Edition.