Post Author: Bill Pratt
From part 5, we are still examining whether the eyewitnesses who wrote the books of the NT are trustworthy. Previously we noted that the eyewitnesses recorded embarrassing details about Jesus’ disciples. We concluded that embarrassing details would not be included in a fictional work meant to emphasize the greatness of the first followers of Jesus. But there are additional points to consider.
A second point to examine is that the NT writers included hard-to-explain details and sayings of their Lord and Messiah, Jesus Christ. Again, if you were creating a new religion for selfish reasons, you would not include some of the following details about Jesus because they don’t portray a simple, straightforward version of Jesus, but a more complex version.
For example, Jesus’ family thought he was out of his mind (Mark 3:21).
Jesus was deserted by many of his followers (John 6:66).
Jesus was almost stoned to death several times because of what he said.
Jesus was accused of being a drunk in Matt. 11:19.
In John 6:53 Jesus encouraged his followers to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood. This was difficult for many non-Christians to understand during the early years of the church (Jesus was speaking symbolically, not literally); some accused Christians of being cannibals!
To cap it all off, Jesus’ moral teachings were incredibly challenging. He told his disciples to love their enemies (Matt 5:44-45) and he said that if a man just thinks seriously about adultery, then he is guilty of it. Just our thoughts are enough to break the moral law.
Why include these facts about Jesus if you’re making up a new religion to gain power and wealth?
A third point about the NT writers is that they include divergent details about the life of Jesus. Imagine that 5 teenagers attended a church retreat at a camp one weekend. After the weekend was over, I asked each of them to write a one-page essay about what they did over the weekend. All five gave me their essays and they were all virtually word-for-word identical. Each teen wrote about the same events, included the same details about those events, commented on the same people they saw at the events, and even mentioned the color of the shirt worn by one of the counselors.
What should I conclude? Obviously, the five teens all got together and agreed on the story before writing their essays (they colluded). Probably one of them wrote down the events and the rest copied her.
Likewise, when a judge listens to several witnesses talk about one event, he is watching for collusion. Witnesses that do this cannot be trusted, can they? They don’t seem to be interested in telling the truth, but in getting their stories straight, in conspiring.
In fact, one way we know witnesses can be trusted is if their stories don’t match on all the details. If the five teens mentioned the same general events of the weekend camp, but gave differing perspectives of those events and wrote about different details, then it is more likely they can be trusted to be telling the truth, and thus we have more confidence in the events they’re describing.
This is exactly the case we have with the NT writers. They all talk about things like Jesus’ birth, his miracles, his crucifixion, and his resurrection, but they tell about all these events in different ways and they include different details.
For example, Matthew’s account of Jesus’ early years include his parents traveling to Egypt to escape King Herod. Luke, in his gospel, does not mention the trip to Egypt. Why? Is it because Jesus never went to Egypt and Matthew made it up? No, it’s probably because Luke was not so interested in the trip to Egypt while Matthew was. Matthew was writing his gospel to Jews and he realized that the family’s move to Egypt fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy that would convince the Jews of Jesus being the Messiah. Luke was not likely writing to a Jewish audience, but to a Gentile audience, so he left it out because it wouldn’t mean as much to them.
There are many other examples of divergent details in the gospel accounts, but they can be explained along these lines. These different details actually serve to prove the integrity of the writers, not the other way around.
In the next post, we look at even more lines of evidence that bolster the trustworthiness of the NT writers.