Monday, July 23, 2007

Can we Trust the Gospels?

I just finished reading Can we Trust the Gospels, by Mark D. Roberts.

I've read several books on biblical criticism as well as books that provide apologetic arguments for the reliability of scripture. So, although I'm familiar with many of the points Roberts made in this book, it is one of the best I've read in regard to pulling all relevant information together in one source.

Roberts is a Harvard alumni who was surrounded throughout his education by very liberal, skeptical instructors. This was clearly not a bad scenario in Mark's case as he became extremely adept to critical thinking in regard to the questions of whether one can trust the words we find in the New Testament. In fact, he went on to critically examine the liberal criticisms which, in turn, led him to more confidently trust the history that the Gospel writers relay to the reader.

He writes:
...these days it's often the skeptical scholars who seem to have cornered the market on certainty. And as long as they write mainly for each other, talk mainly to each other, and make sure their scholarly publications and meetings are dominated by each other's work, these skeptical scholars can pretend as if their "assured results of scholarship" are rock solid. In fact, however, they're often more like a house of cards built on the sand, if you'll pardon an intentionally mixed metaphor.

But, by that statement, don't think that Roberts is not critical of scripture. He was critical throughout, and is certainly not a biblical literalist by any means of the imagination. He writes the following:

...I don't believe I've proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the New Testament Gospels are historically reliable. I do believe, however, that I've shown it is reasonable to trust the Gospels as historically accurate. Though certain elements of the Gospels are problematic in this regard, I find that the evidence, when taken as a whole, strongly supports the view that the biblical Gospels paint a reliable picture of Jesus (or to be more precise, several accurate, complementary pictures of Jesus).

Some of the relevant points he covers are as follows: Can we trust what the original Gospel manuscripts really said?, did the evangelists know Jesus personally?, when were the Gospels written and what were the sources?, was oral tradition reliable?, are there contradictions in the Gospels?, do miracles undermine the reliability of the Gospels?, do historical and archaeological sources support the reliability of the Gospels?, where do the gnostic gospels fit in?

I love reading this stuff. A family member once said to me that they didn't want to dig too deeply into the criticisms of the Bible because they were afraid it would waver their faith in God. This type of attitude is shocking to me because what is the point of putting your faith in something that cannot reasonably stand up against criticism? I've found that the doubts I've had about my faith have led me back around to the most wonderful discoveries about the truth we find in scripture.