|Series Theme: Apologetics|
(Why you can he happy with them)
A series that helps consider the foundations for faith
Contents for Overview:
All about integrity
1. Why are the Gospels Different?
A look at each book in order
2. How are the first 3 Similar yet Different?
similarities and differences
3. Why is John so Different?
Why John is like it is
4. Why can we trust these accounts?
questions to be asked
5. How can we believe the impossible happening?
facing the accounts
6. How do Accounts about Jesus Suggest Integrity in the Writing?
how I would have written about Jesus
Putting it all together
On this page we step into the New Testament and ask questions about it.
We'll start with the Gospels - why are they like they are?
Then we'll consider the crucial questions you need to face up to if you deny these writings.
Next we'll look at how down to earth they are.
Finally we'll consider the integrity of what we find about Jesus
1. Why are the Gospels Different?
If you read Page 27 about Contradictions you will see we speak about seeing the same thing but from different viewpoints.
If you read Page 25 about the Origins of the N.T. you may remember we indicated that they were written about the following times:
Mark About AD 55-65
Luke About AD 60
Matthew About AD 60-65
John About AD 85-90
So the first three were roughly about the same time, drawing on roughly the same information, while John was many years later.
Moreover the character and, in John's case, age came into it as suggested below:
Mark Possibly directed by Peter
Primarily for Roman readers Jesus is the Servant,
Luke A gentile writer
Primarily for Greek readers Jesus is the prophetic Son of Man
Matthew A Jewish tax collector
Primarily for Jewish readers - Jesus is the Messiah King, the Son of David.
John An aged writer
Aimed at the whole world Jesus is the Son of God
2. How are the first 3 Similar yet Different
Although the subject is very much more complex than shown below, the structure of the Synoptic Gospels can be compared roughly as follows:
606 verses same as Matthew
+55 not in Matthew
350 verses in Luke
24 in Luke
(Mark's total = 661 verses)
606 verses from Mark compressed into 500 verses
250 common with Luke
(Matthew's total = 1068 verses)
350 verses same as Mark
250 common with Matthew
(Luke's total = 1149 verses)
The fact that Matthew and Luke use a very large amount of Mark, suggests Mark was first and they both used him as a major source.
The fact that about 250 verses are common to Matthew and Luke suggests another common source, which scholars call Q' (from the German Quelle meaning source).
Where verses are used in common, but have been slightly changed, the probable cause is that the individual writers had their unique readers' group in mind and adjusted them accordingly. This should in no way be seen as changing the truth. We come again to the same thing being seen through different eyes. In this God takes and uses the different backgrounds and personalities of the writers.
3. Why is John so Different?
The most important things to remember are who John is and what has happened to him and the long period of time that has passed.
John is a primary leader of the early church. He has been an elder for many years and would obviously have matured greatly with all those years experience.
Contrary to casual thought the passing of years would actually have been beneficial to the writing of this Gospel. Many people as they grow older find a change in their memory. Things that are recent are easily forgotten but as the years pass, the earlier years of life grow into sharper focus. Hence the tendency of the old to reminisce.
Imagine John in his old age, having learnt so much about the Christian faith in his years of leadership under the prompting and teaching of the Holy Spirit. He sits there reflecting back on those three most incredible years of his life with The Master. He relives it, and sees' it so clearly. He hears again the things Jesus said and suddenly he thinks, Why didn't the others pick up on that?
Suddenly he sees the significance of some of Jesus words that the earlier writers had not picked up, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Suddenly so many things all pointed to this one truth: this is the Son of God who came from heaven. He came to point us to God. All his miracles were really signs pointing to him and pointing to God.
Suddenly he sees how Jesus set up those last days before the last week. He remembered how he had waited until Lazarus had died, Lazarus who had now passed on again, finally. He saw how the raising of Lazarus so close to Jerusalem, so close to Passover had inspired the people to rise up. He remembered how Jesus had gone into Jerusalem at the beginning of that last week and upset the temple authorities, and then had come back day by day, teaching the crowds under their very noses. Their sinful anger had grown and grown and grown until it exploded on that awful night when the took him, tried him and had him crucified. But before that had all happened he heard again the Master's calm voice at that last supper as he shared his heart with them all.
Oh so vividly, as he looked back to those younger years of life, he remembered the confusion of those few days, and the wonder of his return from the dead. He remembered that encounter with the Master up in Galilee when he had recommissioned Peter. So many things the others had not wished to include in their writings while they were still there . but now they were gone . only John was left to share his insights of the wonders of those three years.
THIS is why John's Gospel is so different!
4. Why can we Trust these Accounts?
Skeptics say they made up these things. Think about how likely this was.
We have looked at the similarities and the differences. Why did the first THREE write? Why three? Was it because God wanted to appeal to the three main people groups of that day the Jews, the Romans and the Greek world
a) Think about Questions of Reality
Why would anybody bother to write these long documents in a day when writing was not easy?
Why would Matthew the tax collector and Luke the doctor bother to copy and amalgamate so much of Mark's Gospel when he has already written so clearly?
Why would they bother to use the resource we call Q' if it wasn't true? Why bother to try and convince people if it wasn't true? Why bother to write things that would surely cause opposition from Rome and from the Jewish authorities, opposition that would only cause deep trouble
When we consider the person of Jesus we will consider some of these questions more fully, but why write about him if there even the smallest sense that he was a fraud?
Why take Mark's writings and the Q' collection and seamlessly add your own knowledge if there wasn't some incredible motivating force behind it all?
How could they possibly write so uniformly if they hadn't been there, and hadn't seen it all.
b) Watch the Detail!
Listen to their personal testimonies:
1 Jn 1:1-3 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard , which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard .
Jn 20:30 ,31 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name
Jn 21:24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down.
Jn 21:25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
Lk 1:1-4 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
Lk 3:1,2 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar--when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene-- during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.
Note the incredible wealth of geographical and historical data in those last two verses.
Catch the sense of integrity in these writers.
It is only the person who has never read these Gospels with an open mind who dares say, Oh they just made them up! or Oh, they probably aren't accurate!
On a later page we will note some of the spurious writings that were around in the early centuries ad we'll be able to see how the New Testament canon is so different from those myths that are so full of mistakes and contradictions.
The Gospel writers never intended to write comprehensive accounts of the life of Jesus, just sufficient to help us believe. May you be able to do that as you read - but don't criticize until you have read!
5. How can we believe the impossible happening?
Sense the reality of the accounts
People rarely write off the New Testament because of it's lack of historical integrity, more because of their presuppositions that say, "That couldn't have happened!"
But that is prejudging the issue!
Consider the following incredible account from chapter 12 of the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament:
Acts 12:1-5 "It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him."
Now that is a plain narrative account about specific people and a specific historical moment. So far no problem!
Peter is in prison and the church is praying for him.
Acts 12:6 "The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance."
Again, straight historical narrative, so no problem.
Acts 12:7 "Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. "Quick, get up!" he said, and the chains fell off Peter's wrists ."
Ah! Now we have a problem if we are an atheist. Angels don't exist so this can't have happened!
But hold on! It isn't being spoken about in any mystical way, there is no sense of Eastern mysticism here; this is still straight historical narrative. The figure speaks to Peter ion language that communicates. "Quick, get up!" is easy to understand. it is the language of every day.
the angel said to him, "Put on your clothes and sandals."
And Peter did so. "Wrap your cloak around you and follow
me," the angel told him .
Now this gets embarrassingly ordinary. The Bible does this. That's what distinguishes it from any other world religion writing. It blends the divinely supernatural with the incredibly ordinary.
There is no weird, mystical stuff here. It is simply the instructions you might give to a child: "Put your clothes on, we're going out."
Acts 12:9 "Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision."
Now isn't that amazing. The blend of the ordinary with the supernatural (humanly impossible) makes Peter think he must be dreaming! We struggle with the blessing of the divinely supernatural and the ordinary. Mystics through the centuries have objected to this, but this is God's world. He made the material world so He can act into it.
Acts 12:10,11 "They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. Then Peter came to himself and said, "Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches."
If you forgot what went before, this would appear a totally normal piece of historical narrative. It is incredible because it involves and angel and it involves the angel making things happen that would not happen otherwise.
The ONLY reason you cannot accept this entirely reasonable and rational account is if you start off with the presupposition that there is no God and no angels - but that is an entirely prejudicial and irrational starting place, founded on previous prejudices and not the evidence.
WHY should someone called Luke BOTHER to write this as an historical account. Why not present it as a fictional story - unless it was true.
Seriously, stop and think about your thinking processes. Anywhere else in history if you heard about something unusual, you might be skeptical, but at least you would give it some thought and not just write it off.
When it comes to things to do with God, people write them off, not because they are incredible, but because of the consequences that follow: if I accept there is a God who is all-powerful, all-wise and all-knowing then it follows that I would need to submit to His call on my life.
That's what this is really all about!
6. How do the Accounts about Jesus Suggest Integrity in the Writing?
Some unthinking people say the Gospel writers made up the accounts. Really? Think about what we have in the Gospels. If I were writing then to convince you to follow the Jesus I knew, the following are some of the things I would seek to do:
1. I would present him as a wise leader
Wise leaders chose their teams well. However, the people Jesus chooses are a dubious bunch
NOT a good choice at first sight!
2. I would present him as accepted by the important people
Successes in society are normally approved by the top people in society, but we find something quite different!
Jesus was rejected by
Not an acceptable character.
3. I would present him as morally unquestionable
Great religious leaders should be 'squeaky clean'. Not so Jesus!
4. I would present him as a great success
On a human scale Jesus completely blew it!
5. I would present him as a great teacher
In fact Jesus used a teaching style that:
6. I would present him as a survivor
7. I would present him as a balanced family man
In fact, he is portrayed as:
NB. Silly talk in the media about him having a wife, has absolutely no grounds for belief. If he had been then there would have been no way that that could be kept quiet from his followers, the early church, and those who wrote the Gospels.
No, what we find in the Gospels is NOT a great success story on human terms.
It is NOT how we would have written if we wanted to win over the masses.
But it IS how it is written and these things, almost more than anything else, are the things that convey a ring of truth about what happened.