Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Clearing the Roadblocks: Can We Trust the Bible? (Part 2)

Challenge: Everybody knows the Bible has been translated and re-translated so many times that we have no idea what the original authors actually wrote. And obviously there were urban legends and personal agendas that crept into these translations over the years too. The historical records have been so contaminated, how can you believe anything the Bible says?

In part 1 of this discussion, I laid the foundation for my argument and summarized it this way: 

"If Jesus was who he said he was and if he did what he said he came to do, then we can trust the Bible as God's very words. Jesus becomes the lynch-pin for the reliability, trustworthiness, and inspiration of the whole Bible. "

However, I concluded with three questions that I said we still need to answer in order to have confidence in the Bible, the first of which we will address today:

Did the gospel writers give us historically faithful reportage (Did they get Jesus right)?

In order to make the argument that they did not get Jesus right, one would have to say that the gospel writers either altered the accounts of Jesus unintentionally (they recorded misinformation) or intentionally (they lied). But the problem with either of these two options becomes apparent when you compare the four gospels.

The problem is that there is too much consistency for any of them to have gotten the information mistakenly wrong, yet too much variation in the reports for them to have lied in collusion.

Wait. What?

Yes, you heard me right. I am arguing that the similarities and the differences in the gospel accounts are both arguments for their authenticity. 

Actually, this was an argument made very compellingly by J. Warner Wallace in his book Cold-Case Christianity. As a cold-case detective (and a devout atheist), Wallace began evaluating the four eye-witness testimonies of the gospels from his particular expertise in detective work. What he discovered shocked him and sent him on a journey that eventually led him to reject his atheism and accept Christianity as historically true. Here were his findings:
"If it was God's desire to provide us with an accurate and reliable account of the life of Jesus, an account we could trust and recognize as consistent with other forms of eyewitness testimony, God surely accomplished it with the four gospel accounts. Yes, the accounts are messy. They are filled with idiosyncrasies and personal perspectives along with common retellings of familiar stories.  There are places where critics can argue that there appear to be contradictions, and there are places where each account focuses on something important to the author, while ignoring details of importance to other writers. But would we expect anything less from true, reliable eyewitness accounts? I certainly would not, based on what I've seen over the years.
"Surely these apparent 'contradictions' and curious peculiarities were present in the early texts and obvious to the earliest of Christians. The oldest gospel manuscripts we have display this sort of eyewitness variability, and there is no reason to think the originals were any less unique or idiosyncratic. The early believers could have destroyed all but one of the accounts, changed the conflicting details, or simply harmonized the Gospels. But these diverse accounts were preserved (as they are) because they are true; they display all the earmarks we would expect in true eyewitness testimony."

J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity pp. 82, 83
The Gospel accounts are not so varied as to be contradictory, nor are they so similar as to be a product of collusion (i.e. that the authors got together and "got their stories straight" before they wrote anything down).

Additionallyand not insignificantlythe Gospels are full of embarrassing details that the writers would have loved to omit if they were taking editorial liberties or making the accounts up wholesale. The disciples repeatedly come off as morons or worse (Jesus on one occasion even called Peter "Satan"). Most of Jesus' own family didn't believe his messianic claim (at least not until after the resurrection). And women were the first eye-witnesses of the empty tomb. These and many other inconvenient truths would be better left on the cutting room floor if the Gospel writers weren't aiming for historically faithful reportage.

On top of it all, we have record of only one of Jesus' disciples that did not die a martyr's death for the claims made about Jesus in the Gospels. So while someone might die believing a lie, no one dies for something they know to be a lie. All the available evidence supports the fact that all of the apostles died affirming the testimonies of the Gospels.

But the question still remains, even if the writers of the Gospels got Jesus right, did the copyists and our modern translations get the Gospels right? We'll address that next time...

Other posts in the Clearing the Roadblocks series:
Can We Trust The Bible (Part 1)
The Resurrection
Does God Care About Our Government?

No comments: