Tag Archives: Gospels

William Lane Craig answers: how can the four gospels be independent sources?

Investigation in progress
Investigation in progress

Previously, I blogged about the historical criteria that historians use to evaluate documents. One of the criteria is “multiple independent sources”. If a story is reported in multiple indendent sources, then historians are more likely to evaluate it as historically accurate. But how about the four gospels? Are they independent sources? The answer might not be what you expect.

Here’s how the question was put to Dr. Craig:

The latest video, “Did Jesus Rise From the Dead,” is especially compelling, but I had a question about it. In the part one video, you cite as evidence, the Gospels plus Acts and First Corinthians and you refer to them as “independent” and “unconnected” sources. But this isn’t exactly true, is it? After all, two of these books were written by the same author, Luke, and so Luke and Acts are connected by authorship. Furthermore, isn’t it true that much information relayed in Matthew and Luke were taken from Mark? This two facts would make it untrue to call the Gospels “independent” and “unconnected” would they not?

Here’s the video he’s talking about:

Dr. Craig answers the question in his latest question of the week. I think this answer is important for those who aren’t aware of how the gospels are organized.

He writes:

The objection is based on a simple misunderstanding. It assumes that the sources I’m referring to are the books of the New Testament.  But that’s not what I’m talking about.

New Testament critics have identified a number of sources behind the New Testament, sources on which the New Testament authors drew. For example, Matthew and Luke drew not only upon Mark as a source but also upon a source which scholars designate “Q,” which appears to have been a source containing Jesus’ sayings or teachings. Thus, if you could show that a saying in Matthew or Luke appears in both Mark and Q, that would count as multiple, independent attestation.

What does this mean? It means that although there is overlap between Matthew and Luke, called “Q”, there are actually three independent sources there: Matthew’s source, called M. Luke’s source, called L. And the material common to Matthew and Luke, which therefore PRE-DATES Matthew and Luke, called Q.

Dr. Craig lists out several independent sources in his full reply:

  1. the pre-Markan Passion story used by Mark
  2. the rest of the gospel of Mark has a source
  3. Matthew’s source (M)
  4. Luke’s source (L)
  5. John’s gospel which is very different from Mark, Luke and Matthew
  6. the sermons in Acts have a source
  7. the early creed found in Paul’s 1 Corinthians 15

So if you are trying to lay out something from the New Testament, and you can find it in two of these sources, and at least one of them is very early, you’re in pretty good shape.

Although the questioner and the other critics might question the “minimal facts” that pass the historical tests, many of these facts are not questioned by even atheistic scholars.

Here’s a useful tip for non-professionals who want to disagree with Dr. Craig. Dr. Craig publishes his arguments in academic presses like Oxford University Press, not to mention scholarly peer-reviewed journals. He’s also debated his ideas against famous atheist historians like Gerd Ludemann, Marcus Borg, James Crossley, Bart Ehrman, etc. So it’s probably a good idea for people who want to disagree with him to first read some academic literature, or at least ask a professional. Before you post your YouTube video. You could even just ask a professional atheist historian. They will tell you what’s wrong with an argument like your “the sources are not independent” argument. Just check yourself before you post something in public. A lot of people who are still puzzling out these questions will look at a mistake like this, and immediately dismiss atheism as a sloppy, anti-intellectual worldview.

You can watch more of Dr. Craig’s videos in his playlist, here. These are especially useful for people who want to get the overall scope of the battlefield before deciding where to focus in study. Everybody should know about all of these arguments regardless of where you choose to specialize.

Peter J. Williams lectures on the historical reliability of the gospel narratives

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the evidence

Here’s the main lecture: (54 minutes)

And here’s the Q&A: (9 minutes)

About Peter Williams:

Peter J. Williams is the Warden (CEO) of Tyndale House and a member of the Faculty of Divinity in the University of Cambridge. He received his MA, MPhil and PhD, in the study of ancient languages related to the Bible from Cambridge University. After his PhD, he was on staff in the Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge University (1997–1998), and thereafter taught Hebrew and Old Testament there as Affiliated Lecturer in Hebrew and Aramaic and as Research Fellow in Old Testament at Tyndale House, Cambridge (1998–2003). From 2003 to 2007 he was on the faculty of the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, where he became a Senior Lecturer in New Testament and Deputy Head of the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy. In July 2007 he became the youngest Warden in the history of Tyndale House. He also retains his position as an honorary Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at the University of Aberdeen.

Summary of the lecture:

  • What if the stories about Jesus are legendary?
  • were the gospels transmitted accurately?
  • were the gospels written in the same place as where the events happened?
  • do the gospel authors know the customs and locations where the events happened?
  • do the gospels use the right names for the time and place where the events took place?
  • do the gospels disambiguate people’s names depending on how common those names were?
  • how do the New Testament gospels compare to the later gnostic gospels?
  • how do the gospels refer to the main character? How non-Biblical sources refer to Jesus?
  • how does Jesus refer to himself in the gospels? do the later Christians refer to him that way?
  • how does Jesus teach? do later Christians teach the same way?
  • why didn’t Jesus say anything about early conflicts in the church (the Gentiles, church services)?
  • did the writers of the gospels know the places where the events took place?
  • how many places are named in the gospels? how about in the later gnostic gospels?
  • are the botanical details mentioned in the gospels accurate? how about the later gnostic gospels?

And here are the questions from the audience:

  • how what about the discrepancies in the resurrection narratives that Bart Ehrman is obsessed with?
  • what do you think of the new 2011 NIV translation (Peter is on the ESV translation committee)?
  • how did untrained, ordinary men produce complex, sophisticated documents like the gospels?
  • is oral tradition a strong enough bridge between the events and the writers who interviewed the eyewitnesses?
  • what does the name John mean?
  • why did the gospel writers wait so long before writing their gospels?
  • do you think that Matthew and Luke used a hypothetical source which historians call “Q”?
  • which gospel do critical historians trust the least and why?

I really enjoyed watching this lecture. He’s getting some of this material from Richard Bauckham’s awesome book “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, so if you aren’t familiar with it, you can get an idea of what’s in it. Peter Williams is a lot of fun to listen to – an excellent speaker.

What about all those other books that the Church left out the Bible?

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data

You may sometimes hear the objection that there were lots of other gospels and books floating around at the time when the 27 books of the New Testament were standardized. The right way to answer this problem is to ask for a particular book that the challenger would like included and then to take a look at factors like the date it was written, who wrote it, and where it was written. When you look at these factors, it becomes obvious why the other books were left out.

Consider an article by Dr. Charles Quarles, who has written against an early dating of a “left out” book called the “Gospel of Peter”. Why was it left out? Because Christian are mean? Maybe there’s a historical reason why these books are not included.

Excerpt:

An impressive number of clues suggest that this gospel [Peter] postdates even the latest New Testament book and belongs to the mid-second century. First, a close analysis of verbal parallels shared by the Gospel of Peter and the Gospel of Matthew suggests that the Gospel of Peter postdates Matthew and utilized that Gospel as a source… an examination of the vocabulary, grammar, and style of the two documents strongly favors the dependence of the Gospel of Peter on Matthew. Robert Gundry, one of the most respected experts on issues related to Matthew’s style, called the phrase a “series of Mattheanisms” (Gundry, Matthew [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994], 584). Similarly, John Meier noted “when it comes to who is dependent on whom, all the signs point to Matthews priority. . . . The clause is a tissue of Matthean vocabulary and style, a vocabulary and style almost totally absent from the rest of the Gospel of Peter” (Meier, Marginal Jews, 1:117). This is consistent with a number of other Matthean features appear in the Gospel of Peter that all point to the dependence of the Gospel of Peter on Matthew.

Second, other features of the Gospel of Peter suggest that the gospel not only postdates Matthew, but even postdates the latest book of the NT canon, the Book of Revelation. For example, although Matthew indicates that the Roman guard sealed the tomb of Jesus, Gospel of Peter 8:33 adds that it was sealed with seven seals. The reference to the seven seals conflicts with the immediate context. Gospel of Peter 8:32-33 states that all the witnesses present sealed the tomb. However, a minimum of nine witnesses were present leading readers to expect at least nine seals. The best explanation for the awkward reference to the seven seals is that the detail was drawn from Revelation 5:1. This allusion to Revelation fits well with the Gospel of Peter 9:35 and 12:50 reference to the day of Jesus’ resurrection as the “Lord’s Day” since this terminology only appears in Revelation in the NT and first in Revelation out of all ancient Christian literature. The reference to the “Lord’s Day” in the Gospel of Peter is a shortened form that appears to be a later development from the original form appearing in Revelation.

Still other features of the Gospel of Peter fit best with the historical data if the Gospel of Peter was produced in the mid-second century. The Gospel of Peter assumes the doctrine of Jesus’ descent into Hades to preach to the dead. However, this doctrine first appears in the words of Justin Martyr around AD 150. The talking cross is a feature of other second-century literature. The Epistula Apostolorum 16 states that during the second coming Jesus will be carried on the wings of the clouds with his cross going on before him. Similarly, the Ethiopic Apocalypse of Peter 1 describes the returning Christ as coming in a glory seven times as bright as the sun and with his cross going before his face. In a similar fashion, beginning in the late first century, Christian texts describe Christ as possessing gigantic stature. In an allegorical depiction of Jesus’ supremacy and authority over the church, Shepherd of Hermas 83:1 described Christ as of such lofty stature that he stood taller than a tower. 4 Ezra 2:43, a portion of 4 Ezra dating to the middle or late third century, referred to the unusual height of the Son of God. These shared compositional strategies and features make the most sense if these documents and the Gospel of Peter were composed in the same milieu.

It turns out that Quarles has actually debated the views he presents in this article against John Dominic Crossan, the main proponent of the view that the Gospel of Peter is early. You can buy the audio on CDs here, or you can get the book. The CDs are highly recommended, but the book leaves out all the dialog, so I don’t recommend it.

And you can read about two more rejected books, the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas, as well. The authors of those two articles are Craig Blomberg and Craig A. Evans, respectively. Craig Evans is also involved in the debate I mentioned with Crossan. He was able to debunk another “lost book of the Bible” called “Secret Mark”, which turned out to be a hoax.

Mike Licona explains the As, Bs, Cs, Ds and Es of New Testament reliability

Mike Licona is one of my favorite Christian apologists, and here is an excellent lecture to show you why.

In the lecture, he explains why the four biographies in the New Testament should be accepted as historically accurate: (55 minutes)

Summary:

  • What a Baltimore Ravens helmet teaches us about the importance of truth
  • What happens to Christians when they go off to university?
  • The 2007 study on attitudes of American professors to evangelical Christians
  • Authors: Who wrote the gospels?
  • Bias: Did the bias of the authors cause them to distort history?
  • Contradictions: What about the different descriptions of events in the gospels?
  • Dating: When were the gospels written?
  • Eyewitnesses: Do the gospel accounts go back to eyewitness testimony?

This is basic training for Christians. It would be nice if every Christian was equipped in church to be able to make a case like this.

Peter J. Williams lectures on the historical reliability of the gospel narratives

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the evidence

Greg West of The Poached Egg tweeted this lecture featuring Peter D. Williams yesterday, and I’m posting it today with a summary below.

Here’s the main lecture: (54 minutes)

And here’s the Q&A: (9 minutes)

About Peter Williams:

Peter J. Williams is the Warden (CEO) of Tyndale House and a member of the Faculty of Divinity in the University of Cambridge. He received his MA, MPhil and PhD, in the study of ancient languages related to the Bible from Cambridge University. After his PhD, he was on staff in the Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge University (1997–1998), and thereafter taught Hebrew and Old Testament there as Affiliated Lecturer in Hebrew and Aramaic and as Research Fellow in Old Testament at Tyndale House, Cambridge (1998–2003). From 2003 to 2007 he was on the faculty of the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, where he became a Senior Lecturer in New Testament and Deputy Head of the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy. In July 2007 he became the youngest Warden in the history of Tyndale House. He also retains his position as an honorary Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at the University of Aberdeen.

Summary of the lecture:

  • What if the stories about Jesus are legendary?
  • were the gospels transmitted accurately?
  • were the gospels written in the same place as where the events happened?
  • do the gospel authors know the customs and locations where the events happened?
  • do the gospels use the right names for the time and place where the events took place?
  • do the gospels disambiguate people’s names depending on how common those names were?
  • how do the New Testament gospels compare to the later gnostic gospels?
  • how do the gospels refer to the main character? How non-Biblical sources refer to Jesus?
  • how does Jesus refer to himself in the gospels? do the later Christians refer to him that way?
  • how does Jesus teach? do later Christians teach the same way?
  • why didn’t Jesus say anything about early conflicts in the church (the Gentiles, church services)?
  • did the writers of the gospels know the places where the events took place?
  • how many places are named in the gospels? how about in the later gnostic gospels?
  • are the botanical details mentioned in the gospels accurate? how about the later gnostic gospels?

And here are the questions from the audience:

  • how what about the discrepancies in the resurrection narratives that Bart Ehrman is obsessed with?
  • what do you think of the new 2011 NIV translation (Peter is on the ESV translation committee)?
  • how did untrained, ordinary men produce complex, sophisticated documents like the gospels?
  • is oral tradition a strong enough bridge between the events and the writers who interviewed the eyewitnesses?
  • what does the name John mean?
  • why did the gospel writers wait so long before writing their gospels?
  • do you think that Matthew and Luke used a hypothetical source which historians call “Q”?
  • which gospel do critical historians trust the least and why?

I really enjoyed watching this lecture. He’s getting some of this material from Richard Bauckham’s awesome book “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, so if you aren’t familiar with it, you can get an idea of what’s in it. Peter Williams is a lot of fun to listen to – an excellent speaker.

And you can listen to the Peter Williams vs Bart Ehrman debate. That link contains a link to the audio of the debate as well as my snarky summary. It’s very snarky.