Thursday, September 06, 2007

Can You Trust the NT Gospels?

By Nathan Busenitz @

An early copy of LukeSeveral weeks ago, we posted a brief overview of reasons we, as Christians, believe the Bible to be the Word of God. Along those lines, we are now beginning a series of articles regarding reasons we can trust the veracity of the New Testament Gospels.

Are the New Testament gospels a reliable witness to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ? The question is a basic one, yet it is absolutely foundational to the Christian faith. If the gospel accounts are reliable, then we have overwhelming reason to embrace Jesus Christ as the Messiah. His ancestry, birth, baptism, ministry, miracles, teaching, death, and resurrection all lead to the same inescapable conclusion.

But if the gospels are not reliable, then we have a massive theological dilemma. If the Jesus of the Bible was not the real Jesus, then our faith in Him is almost surely misplaced.

For centuries, the universal assumption was that the gospels were reliable historical accounts. But since the rise of theological liberalism, many scholars (like those of the Jesus Seminar) have seriously questioned whether or not the New Testament record is historically accurate. The result has been a search for the “historical Jesus,” which is free from the “Christ of faith” presented in the biblical accounts. In the words of one liberal critic, “The narrative Gospels have no claim as historical accounts. The Gospels are imaginative creations.”[1]

So, is the testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John trustworthy (assuming those men actually wrote the books that bear their names)? Or is it interpretative history, which like interpretative dance, is more the product of imagination than reality?

Over the next few days, we will briefly consider ten factors that support the reliability of the New Testament gospel accounts. Much more could, of course, be said about each of these reasons. In fact, whole books have been written on this subject, and rightly so.[2] After all, it is critical that we begin with a trustworthy record of what Jesus said and did. Otherwise, we will never be able to examine His life and ministry with any level of confidence.

First, we can trust the NT gospels because they are consistent with previous revelation given in the Old Testament.

If the New Testament gospels were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15), they must harmonize with that which the Holy Spirit previously revealed in the Old Testament (cf. 1 Pet. 1:10-11). We cannot embrace them if they are inconsistent with that which has come before, since God cannot contradict His Word (Luke 16:17; John 10:35; cf. Num. 23:19; 2 Timothy 2:13; Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18).

If God authored both the Old and New Testaments (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; 3:15-16), then we should expect their doctrine and message to be consistent. And indeed, this is the case. The New Testament is the perfect complement to the Old, and in fact, the unity of Scripture is underscored by Jesus and the apostles, who saw the New Testament as the perfect complement to the Old (cf. Luke 18:31-33, 24:27, 36-48; John 5:39, 46; Acts 10:43; 1 Peter 1:10-12).

In the gospel accounts, this consistency becomes most clear when we consider what the Old Testament predicted about the Messiah. On this point, a host of Old Testament passages might be cited (such as Gen. 3:14-15; Deut. 18:15-19; Ps. 2:12; 22:1,16,18; 110:1-4; Is. 9:1-7; 42:1-4; 49:6; 53:1-12; 59:16-20; 61:1-3; Jer. 23:5-6; Dan. 7:13-14; 9:20-27; Zech. 3:8-9; 6:12-13; 9:9-10; Mal. 3:1-3; 4:5-6). According to some scholars, there are nearly 300 prophecies in the Old Testament related to the Christ’s first coming.[3] In each case, the picture of the Messiah painted in the Old Testament matches perfectly with the description of Jesus in the four gospels. But this is certainly not true of the “historical Jesus” depicted by liberal scholars.

The New Testament writers understood the importance of the Old Testament record, and they repeatedly emphasized the fact that “Moses and all the prophets” (Luke 24:27) pointed to Jesus (cf. Matthew 2:15, 17, 23, 13:14, 35, 26:54, 56, 27:9; Mark 14:49; Luke 1:1, 18:31, 22:37, 24:44; John 17:12, 18:9, 19:24, 28, 36; and many others).

According to the Old Testament, the coming Messiah would:

Bullet Be a descendant of Abraham (compare Gen. 22:18 with Gal. 3:16)
Bullet Be a descendant of Jacob (compare Num. 24:17 with Lk. 3:23, 34)
Bullet Be from the tribe of Judah (compare Gen. 49:10 with Lk. 3:23, 33)
Bullet Be from the family of Jesse (compare Is. 11:1 with Lk. 3:23, 32)
Bullet Be from the house of David (compare Jer. 23:5 with Lk. 3:23, 31)
Bullet Be born at Bethlehem (compare Micah 5:2 with Matt. 2:1)
Bullet Be the pre-existent one (compare Micah 5:2 with Col. 1:17)
Bullet Be the Lord (compare Psalm 110:1 with Matt. 22:43-45)
Bullet Be God with us (compare Isaiah 7:14 with Matt. 1:23)
Bullet Be a prophet (compare Deut. 18:18 with Matt. 21:11)
Bullet Be a priest (compare Psalm 110:4 with Heb. 3:1; 5-6)
Bullet Be a king (compare Psalm 2:6 with Matt. 27:37)
Bullet Be anointed by the Spirit (compare Is. 11:2 with Matt. 3:16, 17)
Bullet Be zealous for God (compare Ps. 69:9 with John 2:15, 16)
Bullet Have a forerunner (compare Is. 40:3; Mal. 3:1 with Matt. 3:1,2)
Bullet Begin His ministry in Galilee (compare Is. 9:1 with Matt. 4:12-17)
Bullet Have a ministry of miracles (compare Is. 35:5,6 with Matt. 9:35)
Bullet Bring healing and spiritual life (compare Is. 61:1-2 with Lk. 4:18).
Bullet Enter Jerusalem on a donkey (compare Zech. 9:9 with Lk. 19:35-37)
Bullet Be rejected by the Jews (compare Psalm 118:22 with 1 Pet. 2:7)
Bullet Be silent before His accusers (compare Is. 53:7 with Matt. 27:12)
Bullet Be wounded and bruised (compare Is. 53:5 with Matt. 27:26)
Bullet Be smitten and spit upon (compare Is. 50:6 with Matt. 26:67)
Bullet Be crucified with thieves (compare Is. 53:12 with Matt. 27:38)
Bullet Have His garments divided (compare Ps. 22:18 with John 19:23,24)
Bullet Have his side pierced (compare Zech. 12:10 with John 19:34)
Bullet Be buried in a rich man’s tomb (compare Is. 53:9 with Matt. 27:57ff)
Bullet Come before Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed (compare Dan. 9:26 with Matt. 24:2) [4]

If we take messianic prophecy at all seriously, believing that it was historically fulfilled, then we are drawn immediately to the Christ of the New Testament gospels. No other record of Jesus’ life–whether from the Gnostics or the skeptics–is consistent with Old Testament revelation. On the other hand, because the New Testament gospels are in perfect harmony with earlier revelation from God, they can be trusted.

The Old Testament, then, is our first witness to the authenticity of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

(To be continued tomorrow)

* * * * *


[1] Burton Mack, Time Magazine, January 10, 1994, online source.

[2] F. F. Bruce’s The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? and Craig Blomberg’s The Historical Reliability of the New Testament Gospels are two such works, and are highly recommended for further study on this topic.

[3] See, for example, Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, 164.

[4] Robert T. Boyd outlines 48 such prophecies in his Boyd’s Handbook of Practical Apologetics, 125-127.

No comments: