Challenge Response: You Can't Trust the Christian Authors of the Gospels

Here's my response to this week's challenge:

 

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This week's challenge comes to us from Raphael Lataster. He is the author of There Was No Jesus, There Is No God. He wrote an article for The Washington Post against the existence of Jesus. He makes a number of claims in this article, too many to deal with in a short response video. I do want to locate the central claims. 

He says, “The first problem we encounter when trying to discover more about the historical Jesus is the lack of early sources. The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of faith. These early sources, compiled decades after the alleged events, all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity, which gives us reason to question them. The authors of the gospel fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism of the foundational sources.” 

I want to key in on two central issues. Number one, this text explicitly states that these writers of the Gospels are here to promote Christianity, and therefore we can't trust them. This is the issue of bias. If the Christian writers actually believe this stuff is true, then they’re biased in such a way that you can't trust them. If that claim is correct, then guess what? We can’t trust Raphael either. Does Raphael believe what he writes? Of course. If that's the case, we shouldn't believe him based on his own criterion.

When people say the gospel writers are biased, and therefore they shouldn’t be trusted, then no one should be trusted because we all have our biases. What does it mean to be biased? Does it mean that you think something is true? That applies to all of us. I think what Raphael writes he thinks is true. If that were a bias that disqualifies the gospel writers, it would disqualify him as well. 

Just because you want to promote something, it doesn't follow that you can't be trusted. Some of the most careful historical work on the Holocaust is done by Jews. Talk about people who would be “biased.” You can argue that it's their bias that helps them to preserve accurate history. They want to be very careful so that the world never loses the lessons learned from that. Bias doesn't mean they can't be trusted. 

The second issue here is the issue of gospel authorship. He wants to call that into question. The traditional view is that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote the Gospels, but [according to Rafael] this this can't be the case. They don't identify themselves within their gospels. When you look at other biographies outside of the gospels, not all biographers name themselves in their work. This wasn’t uncommon. If they don't name themselves, then we have to look for other sources to help us construct a case for why Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the authors. 

We have some good historical sources that give us reason to think that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the authors of the gospels. Irenaeus identifies the gospel writers, and we also have earlier testimonies. For example, Eucebeus referring to Papeus, and material that goes back to the end of the 1st century, beginning of the 2nd century that identifies these guys as the gospel writers. There are no other competing traditions on this. The earliest manuscripts of the New Testament identifies the gospel writers are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Those are good reasons to think that these are the original writers.

There’s the claim that attaching disciples gives these things credibility. Let’s think about it. Matthew and John are part of the 12, but let's set them aside and take a look at Mark and Luke. Why would you attach Mark and Luke to a gospel to give it credibility? Think about who Mark is. Mark is someone who went with Paul on a mission and bailed midway through. Mark is the one who caused a major rift between Paul and Barnabas. Is that the guy you're going to say is an authoritative source? Think about it. We know that Mark relies upon Peter for his I witness material and accounts, so why would you put Mark on the name of the gospel when you can just go right to Peter? If you want some credibility, go to Peter, not Mark. It seems implausible that the early church is going to put Mark on there to try and help bolster credibility.

What about Luke? He’s relatively unknown. There are other guys that would give more credibility. It seems less plausible that the early church would make up the authors in such a fashion. We have good reason to think that these are the authors of the gospel.

There are a lot more claims here that would take more time to deal with, but we dealt with the two foundational things. No, bias doesn't mean these things are unreliable. Yes, we have good reason to think that the authors are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Now we can start looking more carefully, particularly at the historical details, and then construct a case that Jesus did exist and he is who he claimed to be.

Brett Kunkle (@brettkunkle) is the founder and president of MAVEN, a movement to equip the next generation to know truth, pursue goodness, and create beauty. He has more than 25 years of experience working with youth and parents. Brett has a master’s degree in philosophy of religion and ethics from Talbot School of Theology and co-authored the book A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World.

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Brett Kunkle

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