Questions Surrounding Jesus' Birth/Part 2 | John Ankerberg Show

Questions Surrounding Jesus’ Birth/Part 2

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By: Dr. John Ankerberg with various Scholars; ©{{{copyright}}}
The Gospels—Do They Give Accurate Information about Jesus?

Ed. note: This article is based upon the transcript from programs produced by the John Ankerberg Show. Additional material has been added for this print version.

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The Gospels – Do They Give Accurate Information about Jesus?

Dr. John Ankerberg: Now, if someone wants to discover what Jesus really said and did here in the Holy Land 2,000 years ago, what historical evidence can they turn to? Well, as Peter Jennings pointed out, all scholars turn to the earliest books written about Jesus, and that’s the four Gospels. And right here, the debate about Jesus begins. What kind of books are the Gospels? Can we trust them?

Dr. Craig Evans:[1] Well, where you begin—you begin with your oldest sources, your oldest and most reliable sources. And, we’ve got them. We have four gospels in the New Testament.
Dr. Claire Pfann:[2] If we want to deal with the historicity of Jesus, then we have to immerse ourselves into the tools that are there for examining that. That includes the Gospels, the literary texts; it includes extra-biblical material as well; writings of other Jewish authors like Josephus. It includes archaeology and a study of biblical languages like Hebrew and Greek.

Dr. John Ankerberg: But some scholars claim that the writers of the four Gospels were theologically motivated; therefore, it is doubtful that they accurately reported what happened.

Dr. Craig Blomberg:[3] Yet another charge that many critics make is that the gospels are theological, today we might call them ideological, and therefore, inherently biased. They have an axe to grind, they have propaganda to give out, and therefore they can’t be trusted. There are at least two points we need to make in reply to that. One is that in the ancient world nobody had yet invented the notion of objective, dispassionate chronicling of history simply for history’s sake. They wouldn’t bother to retell the story to somebody if they didn’t feel there was something that could be learned from it. So from that perspective, all history was ideological.

Dr. John Ankerberg: The Four Gospels used to be considered as historical biographies. Now, we look at them as just theology and not a whole lot of history. In fact, some guys would say it’s the creation of the early church. But just because there’s theology in those accounts of Jesus’ life, does that exclude them from being historical?

Dr. Darrell Bock:[4] No, not at all. You can have history and theology together. Just think of the word “perspective” instead of “theology.” What the Gospels give us is the perspective of the disciples and those who believed Jesus in terms of what He did and said. And granted, they have a bias, if you want to use that word. They have a prejudice. They are believers—there’s no doubt about it. But they are trying to convince the reader this is who Jesus was, this is what He did, and, in fact, this is who He is, as well, in the process.
Dr. Craig Blomberg: The other point that needs to be made is that simply because somebody believes passionately in a subject they tell about doesn’t by any means necessarily mean that they’ll distort the facts. Sometimes the reverse is the case. A great modern day example are many Jewish historians of the Nazi holocaust, who have been passionately committed to never seeing such an atrocity reduplicated and for that very reason they have very carefully and accurately chronicled the horrors in a way that the so-called revisionist historians, mostly Gentile, trying to downplay the atrocities, have not done so.
Dr. Craig Evans: Just because the New Testament Gospel writers have a theological interest and that’s what drives them to tell the story of Jesus in the first place, that doesn’t disqualify their writing. It doesn’t make it suddenly unhistorical or of no value.

Dr. John Ankerberg: What would you say to a person who’s really skeptical and says that Matthew didn’t write Matthew; Mark didn’t write Mark; Luke didn’t write Luke; and John didn’t write John?

Dr. Craig Blomberg: The sum total of the evidence that we have from the early Church Fathers is that the four men, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—that the New Testament is typically ascribed to, two of them apostles—Matthew and John—two of them companions of apostles—Mark and Luke—are in fact the people who wrote the stories about Jesus.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Peter Jennings said in the special, “It is pretty much agreed among scholars that the Gospel writers were not eyewitnesses.” What would you say to that?

Dr. Craig Evans: Well, two of the Gospel writers were not eyewitnesses. But, that does not mean that they didn’t know eyewitnesses. Two of the other Gospel writers may very well have been, and that’s Matthew and John. So, again, Jennings’ statement reflects what I think is a hypercritical stand that’s entertained by some scholars, but not by all.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Another statement that he made was, “In fact, the Gospels were probably written 40-100 years after Jesus’ death.” Where would you place them?

Dr. Craig Evans: Forty to one hundred years—that’s way too far. I would put them more like 35-50 years after Jesus’ death.

Dr. John Ankerberg: And if they are 35-50 years after Jesus’ death, if He died in 30 AD and they’re on the newsstands at 60 AD up to, say, 85 AD, what does that tell you about the content of those books?

Dr. Craig Evans: Well, the books are written within the lifetime of eyewitnesses, written in the lifetime of people who knew what Jesus said and did.
Dr. John Ankerberg: We heard this over and over again from the scholars: If almost all of the New Testament books were written before 85 A.D., then they came out when eyewitnesses to those events were still alive. Therefore, if the accounts were not accurate, they would have caught flack from all sides.
Dr. Craig Blomberg: And it wasn’t just Christians who checked up on what was being said, there were plenty of still hostile eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus for the next generation, particularly in Israel, who, if the first apostles had gone around saying anything substantially different from what others knew Jesus did and taught, would have been very happy to intervene and to correct, and to, perhaps, snuff out this movement.

Dr. John Ankerberg: We also spoke with Dr. Gabriel Barkay, who was recently awarded the prestigious prize for archaeology in Israel. I asked him, “As an archeologist do you think that the writers of the New Testament anchored their stories in real historical events, real historical things that you’ve discovered in the past?”

Dr. Gabriel Barkay:[5] Yes, I do. I think that much of the evidence of the gospels mirrors a reality of 1st century of the common era.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Dr. Magen Broshi is former curator of the Shrine of the Book, Israel’s museum containing the Dead Sea Scrolls. He is a recognized archaeologist and scholar, having excavated the most recent discoveries of caves at Qumran.

Dr. Magen Broshi:[6] I mean, the setting is absolutely accurate. Absolutely accurate. The geography is accurate. The mode of living, I mean they couldn’t have invented it, and they didn’t have any need to invent anything.
Dr. Craig Evans: There are historical elements, and once we start talking history, then potentially we can start talking “source” and “evidence.” We can actually go to the place. It’s a real place. It isn’t some fairy-tale land somewhere. It isn’t King Arthur and his round table. We can actually go some place and say, “This is where it all happened. In fact, look. We’ve actually dug up the very pavement where He walked.” Things like that can be found; potentially all kinds of things. We could still find other documents. You don’t find corroborating evidence for fairy-tales and myths and so on. Well, for the historical Jesus you can find plenty of corroborating stuff.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Dr. Hillel Geva is an archaeologist who has worked on some of the most important archaeological excavations in Jerusalem since 1967 and is editor of the leading Hebrew journal on biblical archaeology.

Dr. Hillel Geva:[7] And of course, Roman coins with the name Pontius Pilate, with even the date. So no doubt they were figures. Roman governors–no doubt, are figures. I mean, nobody questions about that. So, the New Testament is a very authentic, historical book. I mean, no doubt there is history in it: real history and authentic history in the book.
Dr. Magen Broshi: So this is, as I say, is a time where there was still quite a number of eyewitnesses, of people that knew about the events first hand, and there is absolutely no fiction there, they are not historical novellas, they are as far as accurate as they could have done.

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Notes

  1. Dr. Craig Evans: Ph.D. in New Testament from Claremont Graduate School and is the Director of the Graduate Program in Biblical Studies at Trinity Western University, where he has taught since 1981. He has lectured at Cambridge, Durham, and Oxford. Co-editor of Dictionary of New Testament Backgrounds, Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research and Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Author of Jesus and His Contemporaries.
  2. Mrs. Claire Pfann: Faculty member, Center for the Study of Early Christianity, 1988-present. Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs, University of the Holy Land, 1998-present. Contributor, The Comprehensive Concordance to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Production Editor, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert XXVII . Contributor, The Illustrated Dictionary and Concordance of the Bible. Contributor, Hebrew University Bible Project: “The Alignment of the Aramaic and Greek Texts of Ezra and Daniel.” An expert on Jewish birth practices and culture of Bethlehem during the time of Jesus.
  3. Dr. Craig Blomberg: Ph.D., Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary; specialized in the parables and the writings of Luke and Acts at Aberdeen University in Scotland. Previously he was senior research fellow at Tyndale House, Cambridge, England. Author of The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, Interpreting the Parables, Matthew (in the New American Commentary series), and Jesus and the Gospels.
  4. Dr. Darrell L. Bock: Research Professor of New Testament Studies and Professor of Spiritual Development and Culture, Center for Christian Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas. Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland. He is author of a two-volume commentary on Luke in the Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series and of the Luke volume in the NIV Application Commentary series.
  5. Dr. Gabriel Barkay: Archaeologist and former professor of archaeology at Tel-Aviv University. He is a lecturer at the Jerusalem University College. He was awarded the Israel Prize for archaeology last year and is regarded as the foremost authority on the necropoli of Jerusalem (e.g. he excavated the Ketef Hinnom tombs where the silver amulet—oldest biblical inscription–was found.) He is an expert on tombs and burial practices during the time of Jesus.
  6. Dr. Magen Broshi: Former curator of the Shrine of the Book–Museum of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jerusalem. He is a recognized archaeologist and scholar on the Second Temple period, having excavated the most recent discovery of caves at Qumran. He has authored numerous articles in journals on the Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian connections. Excavated first-century level at the Church of the Holy Selpulchre and defends it as most reasonable place for crucifixion of Jesus.
  7. Dr. Hillel Geva: Archaeologist on staff with the Israel Exploration Society and editor of leading Hebrew journal on Biblical Archaeology–Qadmoniot. Has worked with some of the most important archaeological excavations in Jerusalem since 1967 and was editor of scholarly book Ancient Jerusalem as well as author of many articles in leading journals. Works also as a guide for the State of Israel with Christian groups and is well-versed in archaeological backgrounds and connections with Christian sites.

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