From HAVEN NEWS Summer 2018
How can we be sure that everything that the four Gospels tell us about Jesus is actually true?
What the Bible says about itself
Luke’s Gospel begins with this introduction. 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 eye-witnesses 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. (Luke 1:1-4)
Luke’s Gospel rests on careful investigation of the things Jesus said and did. We have the testimony of eyewitnesses, the accounts just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word. These people were not only the apostles but also all the other Christians who had seen and heard Jesus and were reporting their own experiences. All these people were part of the Early Church and the Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were only accepted by the wider church because all these eyewitnesses confirmed that they were accurate. Very many people remembered these events which Christians everywhere believed and were teaching.
When it comes to John’s Gospel, careful study confirms that traditions dating from the Early Church are true and that the author of the Fourth Gospel and of the three letters carrying his name was indeed the apostle John, one of Jesus’s inner circle of Peter. James and John. There are many tell-tale signs in his Gospel that John was himself an eyewitness of the events he recorded. There is also a little section at the end of John’s Gospel talking about its author which was clearly added by somebody else which acts as a testimonial to him. This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. (John 21:24)
So John himself had seen and heard Jesus. At the beginning of his first letter. John explicitly claims to have met and been with Jesus. 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. (1 John 1:1-3)
The first Christians trusted John’s report of what he had seen and heard and even touched and we can trust John too. The evidence is similarly convincing that the Gospel of Matthew was written by the apostle Matthew who witnessed the life and teaching of Jesus for himself. On the other hand, Mark’s gospel was not written by an apostle, but probably by John Mark who was a companion of Paul and is mentioned in various letters written by Paul. Early church traditions tell us that Mark faithfully wrote down the sermons of the apostle Peter and there are little bits of Mark’s gospel which only Peter would have known about. People think that Mark himself is mentioned as the unnamed young man who was present when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. If so, then Mark himself may well have been an eyewitness to the final days of Jesus’s ministry.
The accounts of the life of Jesus in the four Gospels are remarkably extensive and reliable historical documents. Some details we read about Jesus in the Gospels are confirmed for us by archaeology. Then outside of Christian sources, we can read about Jesus and the first Christians in Jewish and Roman writings. Before the end of the first century, the Jewish historian Josephus wrote this.
“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared”.
Very soon after 100 AD, the Roman historian Tacitus refers in his Annals to the crucifixion of Jesus and the persecution of the Early Church by Emperor Nero. Around the same date the Roman Governor Pliny wrote a letter talking about the persecution of Christians. As evidence for events which happened 2000 years ago, these are all very good historical sources supporting the Gospel accounts.
The New Testament gives us the story of Jesus’s life in the Four Gospels. The book of Acts, sometimes called The Acts of the Apostles, gives us a picture of the first Christians in the life of the Early Church. Then the letters attributed to the apostles Peter, James, John and Paul and other writers reveal a great deal about the things the Early Church believed and was teaching about Jesus. We can depend on everything the New Testament teaches us about Jesus, because the churches in that time all agreed that the Four Gospels and Acts and also all of the letters were correct records and interpretations of the life and teaching of Jesus.
The experiences of Christians
Churches and Christians through the centuries have recognised the books which we have as our Bible as a special kind of book which we call Holy Scripture. They have agreed that God has spoken to them through the Bible. They have agreed that they have met Jesus the Living Word through reading this Written Word. We have very good reasons to believe the Bible because of all the Churches and Christians before us who have believed the Bible and found it trustworthy.
Furthermore, Christians believe the Bible because we ourselves have met with Jesus as we have read and understood and believed it. Every occasion we have claimed a promise from Scripture and every occasion that God has answered our prayers is proof to us that the Bible is true and reliable. Every time God has helped us and comforted us and given us grace and peace and joy and love is proof that the Bible is true and reliable. Christians believe the Bible because again and again we have discovered it to be true for ourselves in our own experience.
The apostle John wrote, “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.” (John 20:30-31) Christians trust the Bible because we ourselves have experienced that “life in all its fullness” which Jesus promises to give to everybody who follows Him. We know in our own lives the difference Jesus makes.
We can indeed trust the New Testament. J.B.Phillips wrote that the words of the New Testament “bear the hall-mark of reality and the ring of truth.” Somebody once said, “Start reading the Bible as if it was like any other book and you will soon discover that it is unlike any other book.” Read the Bible – free gift inside!
If you would like to read the story of Jesus for yourself we would be delighted to give you a copy of the New Testament in a modern translation. Just get in touch or pick up your copy at any of our services and activities. Alternatively many people read the Bible online and you can read the Bible completely free on Windows, Android and Apple devices at www.biblegateway.com or www.e-sword.net.
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