Can We Believe The Testimony Written About Jesus In The New Testament?

If we examine the texts of the New Testament we often see different details between these four writers. Critics assert that these differences are contradictory, and this is evidence that we cannot trust the narratives about Jesus.

The Reality of Multiple Witnesses

If you and I are with two other people at the scene of an automobile accident, and later, the police ask us to write an account of what we saw, will our narratives match each other exactly?

What we will find is that I will remember and include details that you didn’t include. You may write specific details that none of us stated in our testimony. Do these differences in what we remember and include in our written statements, mean that we are not telling the truth?

Of course not. These differences in testimony from multiple witnesses are a known artifact of forensics that proves genuine narratives. The FBI has used this exact science of forensic examination for decades in examination of testimony, in order to detect fraud in written statements.

Send Letters To The Churches In Asia

In John chapter 14:25-26, Jesus told His disciples that after He is crucified, risen, and returns to heaven, He will send the Holy Spirit who will remind these men of everything they have seen and heard from Jesus.

“I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. 26 But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” ~John 14:25-26

In the book of Acts, chapter 1, Jesus commands His disciples to take their testimony about Him to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” ~Acts 1:8

How exactly would a first century man tell the whole world about what they had seen Jesus do? There were no forms of transportation at that time where a man could board a plane, take a bus, or travel to distant lands. Every communication had to be made by letters that were distributed to local cites, and then distant cities, who sent them to distant lands.

This is what we find in the New Testament, the method whereby news was distributed:

Jesus tells John:Write in a book everything you see, and send it to the seven churches in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” ~Revelation 1:10-11

When we examine the surviving manuscript evidence for the New Testament, dated from 175-225 AD, we find that there are 24,593 extant manuscript copies found in places from all over the world, written in 14 languages. This is evidence the disciples of Jesus did exactly what He said: they wrote their testimony and sent it out to the whole world.

SIDEBAR: There is no evidence that men who never saw Jesus, wrote the Gospels late in the first century. Although often asserted by critics, there has never been any evidence found that proves this is true. The internal evidence of the New Testament states that these men saw Jesus with their own eyes (134 times), and they immediately began to write their testimony about what they saw.

There are four written narratives that are described as “Gospels,” which include hundreds of details about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. When we stand at a distance and look at the entire scope of what is being stated, we see the exact same story in all four Gospels, about just one person, Jesus.

This morning as I was spending devotional time in the New Testament, I read through Mark chapter 6. In this text, Jesus has just finished teaching a large crowd of over 5,000 men, feeding them all with five loaves and two fish.

After He finished teaching, Jesus instructed His disciples to go to the Sea of Galilee and return to Bethsaida. Jesus went by Himself into the hills nearby to pray. Jesus said He would meet these men later. While studying this narrative, I noticed something interesting about Mark’s Gospel that John does not include. While the disciples are in the boat a storm came up and threatened their lives.

At about three in the morning, Jesus was seen walking towards these men on the surface of the water, and Mark said that Jesus “intended to go past them.”

Late that night, the disciples were in their boat in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land. He saw that they were in serious trouble, rowing hard and struggling against the wind and waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. He intended to go past them, but when they saw him walking on the water, they cried out in terror, thinking he was a ghost. 50 They were all terrified when they saw him. ~Mark 6:47-50

When I compared John’s Gospel where this same event is described, I read the following:

That evening Jesus’ disciples went down to the shore to wait for him. But as darkness fell and Jesus still hadn’t come back, they got into the boat and headed across the lake toward Capernaum. Soon a gale swept down upon them, and the sea grew very rough. They had rowed three or four miles when suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat. They were terrified, but he called out to them, “Don’t be afraid. I am here!” Then they were eager to let him in the boat, and immediately they arrived at their destination!” ~John 6:16-21

John describes the same event as Mark records, but Mark adds the detail, “He intended to go past them.” Does this additional detail cause these two written testimonies to be contradictory?

No. In fact, when we find this artifact of written testimony in all four of the Gospels, it becomes a useful way to learn additional details about the story of Jesus that we would not know if there was only one or two Gospels.

Peter Is Often First In Responding To Jesus

When we examine the texts of the four Gospels we often see Peter impulsive in responding to Jesus. When Jesus says that He is going to Jerusalem where He will be arrested, tried, and crucified, Peter very quickly responds that he is ready to die with Jesus. Immediately after Peter boasts about his bravery, a small girl says that she saw Peter with Jesus when He was arrested, and Peter denies that he even knows Jesus, three times.

When Jesus asks His disciples who they say He is, Peter is first to answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

Peter’s willingness to respond quickly to Jesus, had both good and bad results. Jesus was very patient with Peter, but He chose him because he was often bold and ready to make a fast decision when it came to a critical moment.

After Jesus was arrested, scourged, and placed on the cross, all the men who had proclaimed their steadfast faithfulness to Jesus, were hiding out in fear of their lives. Only John stood with Jesus at the foot of His cross, with Mary Magdalene, Jesus Mother, and other women who would not leave the foot of Jesus’ cross.

Early in the morning on Sunday, Mary Magdalene was the first to go to the tomb where Jesus had been placed after His death on the cross. When she arrived, the large stone had been rolled out of the way, and Jesus was not in the tomb. Mary ran to the place where the disciples were hiding and told them that Jesus had risen from the dead, He was not in the tomb. The disciples didn’t believe Mary, but Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb and saw that Jesus was no longer there.

Evidence That Mark’s Gospel Was From Peter

It is reasonable that Peter would have been the first to write a testimony about Jesus. He remembered that Jesus had told all of the disciples that they were “His witnesses,” and that they should write their testimony about Him and send it to the Christian churches that were being established in Asia Minor: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The early Christian church knew well that Mark had acted as the scribe for Peter to record what Peter remembered about all that Jesus had said and done. Papias wrote that while Mark and Peter were in Rome, Mark acted as the scribe for Peter in composing the Gospel of Mark. In a five-volume work called “Interpretation of the Oracles of the Lord,” Papias describes the Apostle John telling him that Peter dictated the words of Mark’s Gospel:

“And the elder used to say this, Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said and done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord, nor had followed him, but later on, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them.”[1]

In the chapter “Who Wrote The Gospels?,” there is an extensive section documenting the historical evidence that Papias did, in fact, know the Apostle John; subtitled: “Did Papias Know The Apostle John?”

Irenaeus Stated That Mark Obtained His Text From Peter’s Teaching

Irenaeus also reported that Mark had penned Peter’s Gospel, as a scribe, adding the following detail:

“Matthew composed his gospel among the Hebrews in their own language, while Peter and Paul proclaimed the gospel in Rome and founded the community. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, handed on his preaching to us in written form”[2]

Justin Martyr Said That Mark’s Gospel Came From Peter

One of the first Christian apologists, Justin Martyr, wrote:

“It is said that he [Jesus] changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter; and it is written in his memoirs that he changed the names of others, two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means ‘sons of thunder’….”[3]

Justin Martyr said that Mark’s Gospel was really the memoir of Peter, which describes the sons of Zebedee as “Sons of Thunder.” Mark is the only Gospel that uses this term, describing James and John in this manner.

Clement Wrote That Mark Recorded Peter’s Words

In his book “Hypotyposeis,” Clement describes a tradition of the elders regarding the Gospel of Mark:

“And so great a joy of light shone upon the minds of the hearers of Peter that they were not satisfied with merely a single hearing or with the unwritten teaching of the divine gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, who was a follower of Peter and whose gospel is extant, to leave behind with them in writing a record of the teaching passed on to them orally; and they did not cease until they had prevailed upon the man and so became responsible for the Scripture for reading in the churches.”[4]

Eusebius Said That Mark’s Gospel Came From Peter

Eusebius wrote that the actual words for Mark’s Gospel were written down from what Peter had said while he was teaching at Rome. Eusebius was not simply repeating what Papias had already stated, but is writing as an independent source to validate Mark’s Gospel as coming from Peter directly.

“The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it.”[5]

This text is extremely important because it tells us that Peter was well aware of what Mark had written concerning his words, and he did not object to what Mark had written for him.

Tertullian Confirms Peter’s Words As Recorded In The Gospel Of Mark

One of the early Christian Apologists, Tertullian, refuted the assertions of Marcion in his publication “Against Marcion.” In this book, Tertullian describes Peter as the true author of Marks’s Gospel.

“While that [gospel] which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s whose interpreter Mark was.”[6]

Forensic Evidence Of Truthful Narratives

The fact that the early Christian church knew who the real source was for Mark’s Gospel was, Peter, yet they still placed Mark’s name at the top of this Gospel, is a tremendous piece of evidence that proves the honesty of the New Testament. It would have been right to place Peter’s name on this Gospel instead of Mark, but since Mark was the scribe who took dictation from Peter, He is the author, or writer, and this compelled the early Christian church to be honest and give Mark credit for writing this narrative.

This give us great confidence that not only were the four Gospels not written anonymously, the early Church knew who the real writers were, and they took enormous steps to ensure an honest account for future readers.

Why John Doesn’t Name Himself

There is testimony that the early Christian church also knew that the Elder, John, was the author of the Gospel that bears His name.[7] There is also forensic evidence in the text that tells us why John didn’t place his name at the top of the document.

In chapter 7 of John’s Gospel, there is texts written that describes Jesus saying something very interesting: “Those who speak for themselves want glory only for themselves, but a person who seeks to honor the one who sent him speaks truth, not lies” (John 7:18).

Apparently these words by Jesus made an impression upon John, He not only includes what Jesus said in chapter 7 of his Gospel, he also decided that because of what Jesus had said about genuine humility in giving truthful testimony about someone else, John decided to not name himself in this Gospel. John refers to himself, only, as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The early church knew that John was the author, just like they knew that Peter was the true author of Mark’s Gospel. They respected John for his humility, but they placed John’s name on this document because it would give great credibility to its narrative.

Matthew is easy to identity as the writer of the Gospel that bears his name because he uses terms that only a tax collector who worked for the Romans would use. The entire Gospel is extreme in its Hebrew content, intended for Jewish readers, More than any other Gospel writer, Matthew’s Gospel includes the largest number of Hebrew prophecies about the Messiah, and the record that Jesus fulfilled these many prophecies in Matthew’s Gospel. This was due to Matthew’s intense desire to reach his fellow Jews with the Good News that the True Messiah had come.

The identity of Luke as the true author of the Gospel that. bears his name, is the simplest of all because this narrative is letter one of two letters that Luke wrote to his friend, Theophilus, the second letter being the Acts of the Apostles. There are multiple forensic proofs for the reliability of Luke that I include in my book: “You Are My Witnesses: The Men Who Saw Jesus.”

Even if we didn’t have the record of the early church who knew who these writers were, it would not matter. Throughout antiquity there are more than 100 reliable works of literature in which the writer is unknown. Even the majority of the Psalms, when they were first assembled, the author was not known. No one has ever disputed the reliability of any secular or religious documents from antiquity because they were written anonymously, except critics of the New Testament. This is done in an effort to try and discredit the testimony about Jesus and prevent people from trusting in Him and obtaining eternal life.

How Forensics In Examination Of The New Testament Narratives, Proves Their Truthfulness

If critics of the New Testament would spend half as much time actually studying the texts of these narratives, as they do in criticizing them, they would have gained sufficient knowledge to remove all doubts about their reliability. I have invested 47 years in New Testament scholarship, and never have I found any reason to doubt the truthfulness of these narratives, or evidence that would impeach their reliability.

See The HIstorical Evidence That Proves The New Testament Was Written By Eyewitnesses

Scholars who assert the New Testament is not a truthful account, do not provide us with any evidence to prove their claims. We find numerous books and essays written where the opinions of the scholar is presented, but upon careful examination, there is no actual proof that what they say is true. Unsuspecting readers don’t notice this, nor do they realize that these scholars are atheists, agnostics, and Progressive Christians, who do not believe the Bible is all true in the first place.

When we see these additional details placed in the four Gospels, not one of them can correctly be defined as a “contradiction,” due to the reality that their inclusion does not cause the testimony to be corrupted, diminished, or be rendered untrue. In fact, these additional details add tremendous knowledge to the reader who notes these additional details and adds these facts to their comprehension of the narratives about Jesus.

As with the example I included in this essay, the detail from Mark’s Gospel that Jesus planned to keep walking past the boat, a detail that John does not mention, points us to Peter as the true author of Mark’s Gospel.

In modern forensic literary science, these additional details are a tool that experts use in determining truthful written testimony. In this regard, the New Testament is exemplary in its evidence that proves the writer are telling the truth about Jesus.


NOTES:

[1] Bishop Papias of Hierapolis (60-130AD, Ecclesiastical History Book 2 Chapter 15, Book 3 Chapter 30 and Book 6 Chapter 14.
[2] Irenaeus, “Against Heresies” Book 3 Chapter 1, Irenaeus (130-200AD).
[3] Justin Martyr, “Dialogue with Trypho,” 150 A.D.
[4] Clement of Alexandria, 150-215 A.D., “Hypotyposeis,” Ecclesiastical History Book 2 Chapter 15.
[5] Eusebius, “Ecclesiastical History,” Book 6 Chapter 14.
[6] Tertullian, 160-225AD,  “Against Marcion,” Book 4 Chapter 5.
[7] Irenaeus himself confirms that Papias knew the Apostle John. The testimony of Irenaeus is extremely important to us today because he writes earlier than Eusebius, who said that Papias was a “hearer of John.” (Haer. 5.33.4). 

Eusebius stated that Papias did not know John the Apostle, (Hist. eccl. 3.39) but later contradicts this statement where he affirms that Papias did know the Apostle John (Shanks, 111-113).

It appears that the opinion of Eusebius had changed between the time when he published his narrative and the publishing of the Ecclesiastical History. This change of view was a common attribute of Eusebius as his knowledge of events also increased.

In his writings, Papias clearly stated that he “learned from the elders” (Hist eccl. 3.39.3).

In this same text, Papias writes in quoting these elders: “What Andrew or Peter said, or Philip, or Thomas, or James, or John, or Matthew, or any of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John, the disciples of the Lord, were saying” (Hist. eccl. 3.39.4).

There is no ambiguity that Papias is using the term “Elders” to describe the Apostles of Jesus. Later, when Eusebius read what Papias had written in this statement, he admits that Papias had learned his information directly from “the elder John.” This impeaches his former declaration that Papias was not a witness of the Apostle John. This is made clear when we realize that Eusebius made an additional error in his conjecture that this was a different John before he read what Papias had said previously: “What Andrew or Peter said…” We have evidence of this error when we read the words of Papias, as he describes John a second time and clearly delineates him as the Apostle John. Both are called elders in the anaphoric use of the article, that directs us back to the previous John (Shanks, 19-21).

One of the often overlooked impeachments for the “different Apostle” hypothesis is the error of conclusions arrived at by employing Dionysius of Alexandria, maintaining a clear bias in his false assertion against the Papias chiliastic eschatology.

Finally, it is important to remember that Papias was an associate of Polycarp, who also knew the Apostle John, making it certain that Papias also knew John through this friendship.

When we combine the preceding points of evidence together, we find that there is sufficient evidence in the record to accurately conclude that Papias received his knowledge about the Gospels and their true authors from John the Apostle, who remained faithful to Jesus even at His cross. John knew who the true Gospel writers were and their names. He conveyed these names to Papias and Polycarp, who ensured that they were included in the record as the eyewitnesses and scribes for the eyewitnesses of these texts.

Eusebius was certain that the Elder John was also the Apostle John who wrote the Book of Revelation (Körtner  3.39.6, 1993, 198–202).



Categories: Agnostics and Skeptics, Anonymity of the Four Gospels, Bart Ehrman, Contradictions in the Bible, Exegesis and Hermeneutics, Historical Validity of the New Testament, How The NT Writers Remembered, Marcan Priority, New Testament Criticism, Origin of the four Gospels, Reliability of the New Testament, Religion vs. Relationship, Robert Clifton Robinson, The Four Gospels, The Historical Jesus, The Historical Jesus

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1 reply

  1. We should all know that the message of the Lord Jesus was Faith and belief (trust) in Him and the Father. There is nothing else. As Peter once said ‘where else can we go?’’ Salvation has already been sorted. The Kingdom of God is sorted. The end of Satan has been sorted. Lord Jesus thanks to You and the Father raising from the dead all things have been restored. Amen

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