Finding Out About Jesus—Can We Trust the Gospel Accounts?

By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©2001
Can we trust what the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—tell us about Jesus, or are they merely the product of the writers’ imagination? Dr. Ankerberg looks particularly about what the writers themselves said about how and why they wrote their books.

Finding Out About Jesus: Can We Trust the Gospel Accounts?

There are two things I want you to see here. Luke burst the bubble of skepticism today by saying, “Look, this was not the oral tradition that came down through the Church hun­dreds of years, but, eyewitnesses who were preaching were also writing down what they saw, and I was on the scene. I gathered that up and I checked it with other eyewitnesses and that’s the basis upon which I am writing my account, so you might have certainty in knowing these events.”

Let’s see what else some of the fellows said. Take a look at 2 Peter 1:16. Now, here’s one of those from the first, from the very beginning eyewitnesses—one of the fellows that was there the whole time.

Do you remember when Martin Scorsese came out with his film The Last Temptation of Christ? It was a blasphemous film. In part of that film, Scorsese has the disciples sitting around the fire. He took the same skeptical view of Jesus that you can see in magazines like Time and Newsweek.

You see, Jesus has already passed off the scene. He’s dead. In the movie Peter looks over to John and says, “You know, we’ve got to preach to the people tomorrow. What could we have Jesus do?” John says, “Well, you know, they’d sure like to have Jesus do a miracle. What do you say we have him feed 5,000 people? That would kind of go over, wouldn’t it?” See, the disciples were inventing what Jesus did. It’s the faith of the Church, not what Jesus actually did.

They apparently never read what Peter actually said in his book. Take a look at 2 Peter 1:16: “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables.” We didn’t make up the stories. “We have not followed cunningly devised fables when we made known unto you the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” By the way, Peter was an apostle, was an eyewitness, he wrote a book. How do you say this comes down a couple hundred years after him?

Now turn over to 1 John 1:1-3. Here’s another apostle who was with Him the whole time. Six times—you can count them and mark them in your Bible—he’s going to say, “We have seen” or he’s going to claim, “We have heard.” Now watch. Here it is. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard.” That’s number one. “Which we have seen with our eyes.” “Which we have looked upon.” The Greek word means scrutinize carefully. “And our hands have handled.” Why did he say “hands have handled”? Because there was this theory going around called Gnosticism that said that Jesus was a ghost. You don’t touch ghosts. John says, “We handled him ourselves.” “The word of life, for the life was manifest, it was shown.” “We”—number four—”have seen it and bear witness and show unto you that eternal life which was with the Father and was shown or manifested unto us.” “That which”—here we go, number five—”which we have seen and heard declare we unto you that you also may have fellowship with us and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” Go down to verse 5: “This then is the message which we have heard of Him and declare unto you.” Do you get the idea this guy saw something and heard something and that’s what he’s reporting? If that’s not what he meant, then what do you do with these words?

Don’t stop there. Take a look at Acts 1:1. Here’s that word, “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which he was taken up after that he, through the Holy Ghost, had given commandments unto the apostles” now underline the words, “whom he had chosen.” This is Jesus. “To whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them

forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Go down to verse 8: “But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost has come upon you and ye shall be witnesses.” Now he sends them out and commands them “to be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria, unto the uttermost parts of the earth.”

Did the guys do what they were supposed to do? Take a look at Acts 2:22. Peter says, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words, Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs which God did by him”—now look what the next words say—”in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know.” Now, I’m throwing this in because they were preaching to other eyewitnesses. You have pro and con right in the same audience. People that loved Jesus; people that hated Jesus. That’s very important in understanding whether or not we’ve got a truthful account.

As F. F. Bruce at Manchester University said before he died, you couldn’t have had these guys spreading fables if they’re preaching to other people that were at the events that could say, “Hey, that’s not right. We were there!” They had to be very careful about what they were saying. And here you see Peter is challenging and saying, “What I’m talking about, you were there.” Okay?

Now go to Acts 2:32: “This Jesus hath God raised up whereof we all are witnesses.”

Go over the Acts 3:14, 15: “But ye denied the holy one and the just and desired a murderer to be granted unto you and killed the prince of life whom God hath raised from the dead, whereof we are witnesses.” There’s that word again.

Acts 4:19, 20: “But Peter and John answered and said unto them, ‘Whether it be right in the sight of God to harken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.’” That’s why John was there, because those are the same words John just used over in his chapter.

Take a look at Acts 4:33: “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resur­rection of the Lord Jesus.”

Go down to Acts 10. This will be the last one we will look at, although the book is loaded with this kind of testimony. Acts 10, Peter says, “How God appointed Jesus of Nazareth,” that’s who we’re talking about, “with the Holy Ghost and with power who went about doing good and healing all that were opposed of the devil, for God was with him and we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they slew and hanged on a tree, him God raised up the third day and showed him openly, not to all the people but unto witnesses chosen before of God.” Acts 1 said Jesus picked them out; here it says God picked them out—same thing—”even to us who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead and he commanded us to preach unto the people and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the judge of the quick and the dead.” All I want you to see is the guys claimed that they were eyewitnesses.

Now, the skeptics today say, “No, no, no, no. This thing came down hundreds of years later. But actually those theories are out of date. One of the reasons is because in Egypt they found a little portion of John 5 called the Ryland’s Papyri and there you’ve got about eight verses from the Gospel of John and it’s dated at 110 A.D. And that’s a copy. So the fact is, the book’s already in circulation. Those theories have been out the window now for a long time but they’re being spread around by teachers that are past the archaeological discoveries. In other words, they’re not even up on the latest things that are coming out anymore. Or, they bypass them.

For example, When were the New Testament documents written?, and what difference does it make to know that we have accurate, historical information which is all I’m trying to get to right now? How do we know these guys didn’t pull a fast one on us in the stuff that they put into these books? That’s what I want to get to. Well, listen to these dates.

William F. Albright was probably the world’s foremost biblical archaeologist before he died. He taught at Johns Hopkins University. William F. Albright looked at the New Testa­ment documents and when he put a date on them he said this: In his opinion, every one of the books that you’ve got in your New Testament were written by baptized Jews, now listen, between the time of 45 to 75 A.D.—from Matthew to Revelation. He says it could be as much as 50 to 80. What does that do if Albright’s correct?

The fellow that wrote the book Honest to God, John A. T. Robinson, the bishop in England, who actually was part of the “death of God” movement, didn’t believe in God, was challenged by his friends to look at the dating of when these books were written. And he looked at it and wrote a book called Redating the New Testament. In that he made the astonishing claim that Mark was written about 40 A.D., and that all of the New Testament books were written before 70 A.D. And more and more scholarship is going that way.

But here’s the point: If Jesus died about 33 to 35 A.D., right in that area, on the news­stands you had Mark out at 40 A.D. and Matthew, Luke and John between there and 60 to 70 A.D., that means within the lifetime of the people that had seen Jesus do the miracles and teach the things, when they were still alive—when Jesus passed off the scene, they didn’t all pass off the scene—they were still alive and those books came out when they were still alive. That’s why F. F. Bruce says, “Look, they couldn’t have sold you a bill of goods because they were talking to eyewitnesses that were there.”

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