What if the gospels are not actually a true account of what happened in the Middle-East around 2000 years ago? What if Jesus didn't really do the things the Bible says he did? What if Jesus didn't actually even exist? Would it still be worth believing?
At our recent 'RML word of God' weekend, we discussed what the apostle Paul thought. In his view: 'If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. ...And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. ...If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.' (1 Corinthians 15:14,17,19).
In other words, if what the Bible says didn't really happen then the whole thing is rubbish and we shouldn't build our lives on it. So can we be confident that what we read in the Bible is a reliable record of what actually happened?
Here are just a few of the points that help to make the case for the gospels—clues that you can observe simply from taking a historian's eye-view of something like Mark's Gospel:
- The gospel writers are honest about the disciples' mistakes. For example, Mark records many of Peter's failures, including the time when he tried to rebuke Jesus, only for Jesus to turn the rebuke back on him with the words, 'Get behind me Satan!' (Mark 8:32–33). It's hardly the kind of rosy detail you'd put in to boost the credibility of one of the key leaders of the early church! More likely, it demonstrates Mark's commitment to recording the truth no matter how embarrassing for his seniors.
- The gospel writers had a near-obsessive dedication not only to recording exactly where and when events took place but even the names of incidental characters in the story. For example in Mark 15:21, Mark is so keen for his readers to be confident about the facts of what happened that he even names the sons of one of the random characters, people who would have been alive when he was writing and able to back up his account.
- The gospels claim to be eye-witness documents recorded with a clear intent to be reliable historical records. Luke, in particular, could not be clearer on this point in Luke 1:1–4.