- Did Jesus really say the words attributed to Him in the Gospels?
- Did He actually do the things the Gospels say He did?
- Is there a way to defend the reliability of the accounts in the Gospels?
- What do you tell college students who say the Gospel writers are unknown?
- How would you answer a skeptic who thinks the Gospels are not reliable?
In 2016 I contemplated writing a book on the reliability of the Bible. It seems that many people have misconceptions about the Bible, including who the writers were, what it says, and whether today’s Bible accurately reflects what was originally written.
The more I thought about the idea of writing about the reliability of the Bible, the more daunting the task seemed. Then I decided to pare the book down to just the reliability of the New Testament. Even the narrower focus seemed unwieldy, if not unnecessary, since few people quibble about the authenticity of most of Paul’s letters. What struck me as most important was whether the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—contain the actual words and deeds of Jesus. Thus, I set out to write about the case for the Gospels’ reliability.
I consulted many sources to get idea on how to approach the subject. Some were written as textbooks that addressed the issue of the Gospels’ reliability in a scholarly manner, while others made claims and assertions about reliability without adducing clear evidence to support the claims. As I thought about how many Christian apologists have used legal themes for their book titles (e.g., “Evidence That Demands A Verdict,” “The Case for Christ,” etc.), linking their approach to what lawyers do in court, it dawned on me—since I’m a trial lawyer, why not write a book about the reliability of the Gospels that is arranged like how a lawyer would argue a case in court?
The idea of taking a trial lawyer’s approach seemed to have merit, so I next had to determine what issues within the broader topic of Gospel reliability needed to be addressed to make the case. This is where my interest in the subject of the reliability of the Bible came in handy, because I’ve tracked the arguments skeptics tend to make when they argue against the reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I knew from my research that many non-Christian polemicists question the authorship of the Gospels, doubt whether they were written when eyewitnesses were still alive, and contend that the original wording has been changed over the centuries of copying and recopying the text. From this background came my decision to address the six main questions people raise about the Gospels’ reliability:
- When were the Gospels written? (were they written close enough in time to the events that the details could be accurately remembered and recorded?)
- Who wrote the Gospels? (are they “anonymous” as some skeptics claim, or is there solid evidence as to who is substantially behind each book?)
- Were the Gospel writers biased? (since the Gospel writers were likely followers of Jesus, is there a way of knowing whether the accounts are sanitized or embellished as opposed to being honest and straightforward?)
- Are there “lost gospels?” (were some early records of Jesus kept out of the Bible, meaning that our knowledge of Jesus from the four traditional Gospels might be incomplete?)
- Has the wording of the Gospels been changed over the years? (have some accounts been altered or deleted and others added to what was originally written?)
- What is the verdict from history and archeology regarding the reliability of Gospel accounts? (are the people, places, titles and customs mentioned in the Gospels confirmed by history as being accurate?)
The book addresses these “big six” questions, starting each chapter with a list of facts that support the conclusion that the Gospels are reliable. One publisher who looked at my original (unedited) manuscript of the book was quite impressed with the way I listed the arguments and facts at the beginning of each chapter in support of Gospel reliability, followed by a detailed presentation of the evidence. This approach is very close to how lawyers present a case in court, including the “opening statement” (a list of arguments and facts that will be presented) the actual presentation of evidence (testimony from witnesses, experts, documents and artifacts) and a “closing argument” (a summation at the end of a trial that weaves the facts into an argument in favor of the issue before the court). In my case, the main issue was “are the Gospels are reliable?”
When I was well under way addressing the issues it became evident that my focus was defending the reliability of the Gospels as accurate historical records of the life and teachings of Jesus. Thus, a simple title for book emerged: In Defense of the Gospels.
After several months of writing I had a rough manuscript. I was blessed to have Christian apologist James Agresti review the manuscript and provide helpful suggestions. Then, after professional editing, formatting, and finding what I think is a real cool cover (paintings of the four traditional Gospel writers) the book was ready for print. It became available on Amazon on January 5, 2018.
My hope is that In Defense of the Gospels—the Case for Reliability will be a tool that Christians can use to understand the compelling reasons for trusting the Gospels as reliable history of Jesus’ life and teachings. I also hope that non-Christians and skeptics will carefully consider the arguments and evidence set forth in the book and recognize that Christianity is an “intelligent faith” as opposed to a “blind faith,” seeing that our faith in Jesus is founded on facts and reason.