August 31, 2016

Does the Bible have eyewitness accounts? Or legends?

An essay by Mark Moser

This is a follow up to last Sunday’s sermon with some information on the two resources I mentioned concerning the Bible’s historical accuracy.

First, the lecture by New Testament scholar Peter Williams can be found here.  It is entitled “New Evidences the Gospels were Based on Eyewitness Accounts.”  Let me describe its content again briefly.  We now have a good idea what the most popular names were during the time of Jesus, and specifically in the Israel/Palestine area.  For men, Simon was most popular, and for women, it was Mary.  In fact, the frequencies of many names are now known.

But how was this determined?  Scholars recorded carefully all the names and their frequencies through several sources, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, the writings of Josephus, and ossuaries (bone boxes).  This data were compared with the historical books of the New Testament, which also list many names.  What were the results?  Watch the video and find out!

Perhaps more interestingly, the popular names like Simon and Mary are clarified (= disambiguated) in the New Testament Scriptures, just as would be expected.  Which Simon?  Simon Peter, or Simon of Cyrene, or Simon the tanner, etcWhich Mary?  Mary Magdalene or Mary the mother of Jesus, etc.  This would not be needed for less common names, however, and that is exactly what we see in the direct speech recorded in the New Testament.

The video also takes a look at the usage of geographical locations, too.  The New Testament is full of geographical names, yet the apocryphal gospels – books like the Gospel of Judas – contain very, very few names.  Dr. Williams says only Jerusalem and Nazareth are referenced in these gospels, and Nazareth is incorrectly understood as Jesus’ middle name!

What becomes clear in the video is the eyewitness quality of the New Testament writings, which the 2nd century apocryphal and Gnostic gospels do not exhibit.

The second resource was Dr. Gary Habermas’ lecture entitled, “The Resurrection Argument that Changed a Generation of Scholars.”  You can find it here.  Like the first video, it addresses suggestions that the Gospels were written well after Jesus’ life, and perhaps not in Israel/Palestine by eyewitnesses, thereby giving plenty of time for inaccuracies and even legendary development.  This video deals with the Resurrection, and the title claims that an important movement has occurred during the last generation of scholars.

Dr. Habermas walks the listener carefully through the evidence that shows that the Resurrection was believed and preached very soon after Jesus’ death, and not decades later as some have claimed.   The evidence is largely taken from the Bible itself—which might cause one to wonder how this might convince a skeptic who doesn’t believe the Bible is inspired.  Habermas was told by his dissertation advisor that he could not assume the Bible was inspired and inerrant, but that he could treat the Bible as an ordinary historical source.  This Habermas does, and the results may be surprising.  I know of one New Testament scholar who is a strident opponent of the biblical faith, yet this argument has convinced him that the Resurrection was believed and preached at most one or two years after Jesus died.  So much for being a legend!

Are these videos for you?  Perhaps not.  I think many people read the Bible and know intuitively that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts.  They are simple and unembellished accounts, for instance, and they often are quite honest in showing the flaws of main characters (e.g. Peter).  There’s plenty in the Bible that might cause us to think, “Who would make up this?  Of course it happened!”  Furthermore, you might not like scholarship setting the rules that the Bible’s inspiration and inerrancy are inadmissible.  I can understand this, and I certainly don’t recommend doubting or denying these things as a way to live life!  But some of you might have lingering doubts, and these perhaps were planted by articles in major news magazines or cable documentaries.  Or perhaps you want to converse more helpfully with a co-worker who has mentioned these things to you.  For you, these videos might be very helpful.  Enjoy!

For His Kingdom,

Pastor Mark

Mark Moser

Mark is the Pastor at New Life. Before coming on staff he spent many years teaching computer programming in the IT sector, while he also pursued theological studies. Mark and his wife Lise live in Glenside with their four children.

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