While I was growing up, I remember being fascinated whenever I heard pastors and theologians talk of ancient historians such as Josephus and Tacitus who spoke of Jesus. To me, these accounts were the sole accounts that gave the existence of Jesus any credibility while the truth of the accounts in the New Testament had to be taken on faith. To my younger mind, and to the minds of many skeptics, it would be just as silly to take the Gospels and the Epistles as historical testimonies that can act as evidence for Christianity as it would be to let a defendant in a court of law confirm his own story.
It can seem circular to trust the accounts of Jesus to objectively present the truth about Jesus and his followers. It also seems silly to proceed to use the accounts to tell people what actually happened, especially if you are like me and you have a tendency to look at the Bible as if it is a modern story of things that happened a long time ago. I trusted the Gospels because I was told to trust it by faith. So I basically treated the New Testament like a leather-bound preacher, a secondary source that gives a (possibly true) account that the original authors were propagating because they were Christians who wanted to spread the story of Jesus. In short, I thought the Gospels and the authors thereof were biased since it only makes sense that Christian books would be biased to Christianity, and would propagate Christianity even if it was at the expense of the truth.
Unfortunately, I was approaching the issue with a completely faulty mindset. In my mind, and in the mind of far too many people, the accounts of the New Testament had just kind of always been around. I had never given much thought to the origins of the Gospels, and I failed to realize the importance of it. Obviously, as a Christian, I assumed that the authors of the Gospels were who Church tradition told me they were, but I, like many skeptics, thought the perfectly plausible alternative was that the books of the New Testament had magically appeared somehow when some monk or religious leader of some sort decided to make up the New Testament. As I am sure you can imagine, this wreaked havoc on the credence I gave the Gospels and the other books of the New Testament. As the good Christian I was, I believed what I was told and trusted the authenticity of the Gospels, but nevertheless there were always nagging doubts about their veracity.
I did not know why I believed that the authors of the Gospels were legitimate eyewitnesses, and I did not know why I trusted that the Gospels were written relatively soon after the events about which they were written, and I really had no clue why I trusted the content of these accounts when I could not confirm the first two things. It did not take me long to learn that I am not the only one to begin to question the origins of the New Testament. There are plenty of theories that have been made to explain away the origins of the Gospels. They usually say something like that for whatever reason there was one account written by someone who was not an eyewitness and all of their story tales and fables surrounding Jesus were just the results of myths surrounding a man who may or may not have lived; eventually the rest of the books of the New Testament were fabricated around the original myths. Overtime these myths evolved into the Christianity we have today. The truth is that such stories are completely discredited by historical evidence. That is why for the next few months I will be giving reasons for why the Gospels can be trusted as valid historical sources. It will be far from exhaustive. Volumes upon volumes have been written on this subject, but in the end you will hopefully know when the Gospels were written, who wrote them, and why the accounts can be trusted.
Most of my inspiration will come from Paley’s Evidences of Christianity. It is an absolute masterpiece in how thoroughly he makes his arguments. He takes nothing for granted, and he closes any loopholes that a skeptic may wish to bring up.To get an idea of how well written and argued this book is, it was required reading throughout the 1800s at several prestigious universities. If you would like to read it for yourself, which I strongly encourage, then you can find a free digital version of it here.
Together we will see that the Gospels had authors who were near the events of Jesus in both proximity and time, that these authors did not have corrupt motives, and that their accounts corroborate. Stay tuned for next week’s article where I will give the first of many arguments for the authenticity of the Gospels.
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