The Best Reason to Trust the Gospels
OK. So, why should anyone trust what the Gospels have to say? I mean, if you’re a Christian, then you sort of believe in this stuff, so that makes sense. But, what if you’re not a Christian? Why would you think that the Gospels are of any historical value? What reason do we have to think that they accurately communicate reliable information about the past - especially about Jesus?
Well, there are a lot of good reasons, and if you take some time to look at how the NT came together, I think you’ll find that it wasn’t the wild free-for-all that some people try to make it out to be. Often, people think that the authors of the Gospels just put whatever they wanted into them in order to promote this new religion they wanted to start.
OK. So, let’s assume that’s true for a minute. Let’s assume that the writers of the Gospels had no other motivation than to promote this new religion of theirs. Could they have written anything they wanted? The answer to that question had to do with when the Gospels were written.
Most scholars (no matter what they think of the NT) think that the first Gospel to be written was probably Mark. And, his Gospel was probably written around AD 70. Now, the standard date for Jesus’ death is AD 30. That means that it was only about 40 years from the time Jesus died until the first full Gospel was written.
Now, I know that sounds like a long time. But, think about that for a minute. How long do people normally live? The average life expectancy for someone today can be as high as the upper 70s or the low 80s. It is true that the average lifespan of someone back then was lower, because a lot of people died young. But, they could and did live just as long as people today.
What that means is that when Mark was written, there still would have been eyewitness alive who could (and would) have commented on what he wrote. Someone who was 15 when Jesus died would have been 55 when Mark was written. Someone who was 20 when Jesus died would have been 60 when Mark was written. And the people who were actually present for the events that Mark wrote about would have had opinions on whether Mark accurately recorded what really happened.
Keep in mind, too, that not all of those eyewitnesses who were still alive would have been friendly to Christianity. Many of them would not have liked Christianity, and if Mark had just made a bunch of stuff up that wasn’t true, don’t you think the people who didn’t like Christianity would have pointed that out? After all, they could simply say things like, “I was there. It didn’t happen like that.” Or, “Jesus preached in my town many times. That’s not what he said.”
You see, if the Gospels were being written simply to promote this new religion (as many people think), they could not have simply made up whatever they wanted. Eyewitness on both sides who actually knew what happened were still alive. So, even if the authors of the Gospels wanted nothing more than to convince people to believe in Jesus, they still had to record the facts at least somewhat accurately. And that suggests that the authors of the Gospels recorded at least reasonably reliable history.