Scholar lists reasons for Gospels' reliability
MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)--Between the "newfound" Gospel of Judas, the soaring popularity of "The Da Vinci Code" and the "discovery" of Jesus' family tomb, the public is subject every year or few years to sensational claims that call into question the fundamentals of the Christian faith, Craig Blomberg recounted in a special lecture at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.
"And yet, when the scholars dig in and do their hard work on these issues, these claims quite fall apart," said Blomberg, a distinguished author and New Testament scholar from Denver Seminary.
Blomberg, in a lecture on the "Historical Reliability of the Gospels," listed 12 reasons why the canonical Gospels can be trusted, in order of importance.
He cited the vast textual evidence of the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, pointing out that more than 5,700 Greek manuscripts have been found, which far surpasses the number of copies of any other ancient document.
"However, all this proves is we know that these books were written," Blomberg cautioned. "It doesn't mean a word of it is true. It's just an excellent reason to keep investigating."
For each of his points, Blomberg similarly addressed the assumptions behind his statements. For instance, he stated that the gospel writers would have wanted to preserve accurate history, then acknowledged the explicit challenge that some have lodged against this line of reasoning.
"Many say that these writers had a theological and ideological bias in their approach to writing about the life of Jesus," he said, "and that's quite true. They did. In fact, all ancient writers did. But does this mean they played 'fast and loose' with history? The fact is that revisionist writers are far more dispassionate and distorted in their accounts. Think about histories of the Holocaust. Who writes most passionately and has the most at stake to be accurate? Jewish writers, not those who would revise the facts of this horrendous event. The gospel writers were in a similar predicament: There were still many people around ready to dispute their accounts, and the writers would have taken great pains to be as accurate as possible to counter this."
Blomberg also addressed his arguments from the positive -– reasons why the Gospels are reliable, rather than reasons why they aren't unreliable.
The presence of the "hard sayings" of Jesus, he said, support the Gospels' historicity -– such as Jesus' statement that, "No one who does not hate his father or mother can be My follower."
"Why would the writers include such difficult sayings unless they were some of the fixed points of the tradition?" Blomberg asked.
That there seem to be topics "missing" from the Gospels, such as Jesus' teachings on circumcision or on the practice of speaking in tongues, both of which were highly controversial in the early church, also supports their reliability, Blomberg said.
"Apparently no one felt free to make things up that Jesus didn't say and add them to the accounts," he noted.
Archaeology, the testimony of non-Christian writers of the time and the testimony of other early Christian writers all offer further positive support of the Gospels, Blomberg said.
Community residents and local alumni joined current students, faculty and staff at the Oct. 15 lecture, which was part of the Golden Gate Seminary library's observation of Theological Libraries Month, started last year by the American Theological Library Association. Golden Gate Seminary's libraries house more than 230,000 materials and resources pertinent to Christian theological education. Also, they provide access to 69,860 electronic journal titles.
The library has a cooperative agreement with the Graduate Theological Union Library, which consists of nine theological school libraries, including the Marin County branch of the San Francisco Theological Seminary and the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology at Dominican University.
Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary operates five campuses throughout the West; the library at the Mill Valley, Calif., campus links the holdings from all five campuses and allows resources to be viewed and shared through the intercampus loan service.
Amanda Phifer is a writer at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.