Historical Validity of The Gospels part 1 (on the 8 levles)


What ever happened to the Bible? Go on any message board where atheists congregate and start a discussion of any kind that invovles using the Bible as an authority and they will immediately say things that sound as though the Bible doesn't even exist. They regard it as such a pile of crap they wont even tolerate the possibility that it might be defended. One time on a message board (CARM) someone said that I have no way of distinguishing which passages are mythology and which are not. This is an atheist who knows me and knows I'm somewhat liberal. This guy was saying I can't distinguish true passages from ad ons but I just choose what I like. I listed a criteria for understanding mythology, it was a criteria based upon historical critical methods. This is what this other atheist responded. We also discussed the validation of the Bible as a historical artifact. I said the Gospels were historical artifacts that testify to the beliefs of the people who wrote them. That seems like a fairly a priori sort of statement--true by definition--but people are so bad at understanding logic they think that a priori must be a violation of logic instead a kind of logic, becuase they have been led to accept the phrase that teaches them to confuse true by definition with circular reasoning. So the second major issue for the day was historical life of Jesus and the inability of the Gospels to furnish any sort of historical documentation for the same. I listed three ways that we can validate the Gospels historically and this was one response:

Originally Posted by Westvleteren View Post
There is no method that allows the Bible to corroborate itself, as soon as you said that it nullified any possible argument you could make. Quite simply it is asinine. And no I could not care less that you are a PhD candidate as it has no bearing on the validity of your assertions.
I had said that by historical critical methods we can corroborate the Gospels as historical evidence of Jesus' existence. I also laid out an extensive criteria for determining what is mythology and what is not. I didn't claim the Bible corroborates itself. There is obviously a method or no book could ever be corroborated. That method is called "historical critical method." This is so basic and these guys act like I made it up. They are practically saying there's no such thing as historical criticism. This more than more than anything else shows the Orwellian nature of atheism. Anything that they can't out argue by reason or historical fact they merely claim doesn't exist and make to go away because they don't like it. They just brain wash their mentions into thinking "there can't be such a thing as historical critical methods."

Doesn't it seem really imbecilic to think that there's this one book that can't be corroborated? I used three different senses in which a book can be corroborated in order to show how foolish it is to make the statement "no method could exist that would do this." Each sense in which the Gospels can be corroborated (use the Gospels since the historical Jesus was the issue) I use another kind of book. Let's look at the three aspects of the historical critical method that verify the Gospels, and then at the criteria for understanding mythology from historically based writing. Three ways of corroborating the Gospels:

I. The authority of the teaching for the tradition

Most scholars point to the fact that the four canonical Gospels were already used by most of the church by the time of the canon[Martin Franzmann (The Word of the Lord Grows, St Louis: Concordia, 1961, 287-295)]. They bear the stamp of approval of those who were in charge of the teaching for the tradition. The problem is modern skeptics refuse to accept the facts, despise the truth, refuse to accept any sort of defense regardless of how good it is and basically refuse to even investigate the facts. If one actually examined the facts there is no way one can conclude other than that the four canonical gospels are the most logical choices of all the writings we have. Of the 34 lost gospels of which we have copies, fragments, theories, or any sort of inking only the four canonical Gospels makes sense as candidates for the canon. The Gospel according to Thomas has a historical core that probably goes back to the time of late first century. Yet it also has obviously late, maybe 3d century, heavily gnostic material. The Gospel of Peter had material that is corroborated as independent of the synoptic or of of John (see Ray Brown, Death of the Messiah) yet it encases this material in a clearly late framework. Only the canonical Gospels can be bore out as early dated, the trend is to even earlier dates, and at the same time has this vast body of attestation including the final inclusion in the canon. Skeptics also overlook the extent to which these 34 lost gospels supplement and corroborate the canonical Gospels. Most of the historical core of Thomas is in agreement with the synoptic.

American Theological Library Association

More than half of the material in the gospel of Thomas (79 sayings) is paralleled in the canonical gospels:


27 sayings are in Mark & the other synoptics;

46 parallel Q material (in Matthew & Luke)*

12 echo material special to Matthew; &

1 is only in Luke.

* [Q parallels include 7 sayings where Mark has a variant version]

Thomas is important for synoptic studies for two reasons:


Form: It proves that collections of Jesus sayings with no narrative were known in the early church. Thus, it gives indirect support to the hypothesis of a synoptic sayings source, Q.

Contents: Its version of some Jesus sayings is simpler than the synoptic parallels.

For the past 40 years scholars have debated whether Thomas is directly dependent on the synoptic gospels or not. Some have maintained the traditional view that Thomas is a 2nd or 3rd c. gnostic composition whose author extracted Jesus sayings from a Coptic translation of the NT & edited them to fit a gnostic worldview. Most recent experts on Thomas, however, regard it as an early sayings collection based on oral tradition rather than any canonical text.

There are four main reasons why scholars who have studied Thomas conclude that it is independent of synoptic tradition:


No narrative frame: If the compiler of Thomas drew these sayings from the canonical narrative gospels, he removed every trace of the stories in which the synoptic writers embed them.

Non-synoptic order: If the compiler of Thomas drew these sayings from the synoptic gospels, he totally scrambled them, separating adjoining sayings & scattering them at random. No one has yet proven that the sayings in Thomas are arranged according to any logical pattern.

Random parallels: Sayings in Thomas sometimes echo Mark, sometimes Matthew, sometimes Luke. There is no clear pattern of dependence on any one text.

More primitive form: Sayings in Thomas are often logically simpler than their synoptic counterparts. If the compiler drew these sayings from the synoptic gospels, he edited out the traits characteristic of each writer. While some synoptic parallels in Thomas have gnostic embellishments, these are easily removed.

Together these traits of Thomas make it highly unlikely that any synoptic gospel was used as its source. In fact, the random, eclectic character of the contents of Thomas makes it a more primitive composition than the synoptic sayings source that scholars call "Q." While many individual sayings in Thomas may be of late gnostic origin, the core of the collection (sayings with synoptic parallels) is probably as old or older than the composition of the canonical gospel narratives (50-90 CE). To date this gospel any later makes it hard to explain the general lack of features dependent on the synoptics.(Copyright © 1997- 2008 by Mahlon H. Smith
All rights reserved.)

[For more details see Crossan, J.D. Four Other Gospels (Sonoma CA: Polebridge Press, 1992) pp. 3-38 or Patterson, S. J. in Q-Thomas Reader (Sonoma CA: Polebridge Press, 1990) pp. 77-127.]

The old independent core of Peter supports the idea of guards on the tomb, meaning it also supports the crucifixion, the tomb, and the resurrection, empty tomb.

What this means for us so far is that the stamp of approval given by inclusion in the canon means several things:

(1) it means the church as a whole already recognized those books as valid based upon the teaching handed down from the Apostles through the Bishops.

(2) That is corroborated historically and can be verified by the extra canonical materials that agree with the readings, such as Thomas and Peter.

(3) The very fact inclusion in the canon is a priori testament to this fact, since apostolic affirmation was part of the criteria.

An examination of how the canon came to be will bear this out. This is written by me based upon the Franzman source above. It's found on my website Doxa> Bible> The Canon: how do they know the got the right books?

Martin Franzmann (The Word of the Lord Grows, St Louis: Concordia, 1961, 287-295) traces the development of the canon in three stages:

*First Stage: 100-170:

In this stage there is no discussion of a canon. There is informal use of the NT writings but their usage indicates authoritative status. "What we do find in the Writings of the So called Apostolic Fathers (Clement of Rome, Epistle of Barnabas, Ignatius, Polycarp, Hermas, the Teaching of the Twelve) is first a witness to the fact that the books destined to become the New Testament canon are there, at work in the church from the first...the influence of all types of New Testament writings (Epistles, Gospels,Johannine works, Pauline letters, catholic letters) is clearly decreeable. To judge by the evidence of this period the four Gospels and the letters of Paul were everywhere the basic units in the emerging canon of the New Testament." (Franzmann, 288)

Franzmann doesn't mention it directly but by implication (see quotation above) other books were also read in this period, but their use was unevenly speared through different churches. Each local church had it's own canon. They shared most of the New Testament writings but also preferred their own "local books," for example The Shaped of Hermas was popular in Rome (it's place of origin) and The Didache in Syria (Streeter, the Primitive Church).
At the end of this period the church is forced to deal with the question of a canon directly for the first time. The Heretic Marcion rejected the OT and revised the book of Luke. He presented a canon consisting only of his revised Luke and the letter of Paul minus the Pastoral Epistles.

*Second Stage, 170-220

The elements already present are firmed up. "Fourth fifths of the Chruche's eventual canon is already established beyond debate (Franzmann). The major documents which attest to the canon in this period are a report form the church's in Vienne and Lyon of a persecution they had undergone, sent to Asia Minor, and a work by Theophilus Bishop of Antioch in Syria. Neither list includes all 27 books, but they are substantially identical to the list we have today, and since the subject of neither work was specifically canonicity we cannot be sure why certain books aren't mentioned. The major church "Fathers" of this period are Irenaeus of Lyon, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian of Carthage. Their writings include all the 27 books except 2nd Peter. They show that there was unanimous agreement on all the books accept those that latter were disputed at the council of Niecia: Hebrews, Revelation, James, second Peter, second and third John, Judea and Revelation (which is why all of these are at the Back of the NT).

The other major document of this period is the Moratoria Fragment: The document was discovered by a Librarian in Milan in 1740, the librarian's name was Moratoria. It gives us a complete picture of the church at Rome in AD 170. The Muratorian includes 22 books, those omitted are Hebrews, 1 and 2 Peter, James, and one of the shorter letters of John. The document also includes a Revelation of Peter, Although it notes "some of us don't want it read in church." The Wisdom of Solemn is included but the Shaped of Hermas is rejected for it's early origin. But it is noted as not used in church.

*Third Stage: 220-400:

Origen, an Alexandrian theologian of the 3d century knew all 27 books of the Canon and was the first to take note of 2 Peter. Dionysius of Alexandrian, Origen's student, doubts the Johonnine authorship of Revelation but accepts its authority. When Euesbius, the first great historian of the Chruch discusses the canon in his Ecclesiastic Histories (325) he still has no official body of decision to appeal to. He doubts the works that were contested, Hebrews, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Hebrews. But what he does not doubt is the tradition that establishes the truth of Christ. He documents all ancient sources he can find, mainly Papias and Ireaeus, and others, the Bishop's lists, and expresses faith in the handing on the knowledge of truth. Cyril of Jerusalem in 350 recommends a 26 books canon (excluding Revelation) as "books recommended by all" (Franzmann 293).

"The 27 book canon...established itself in the early centuries of the church and maintained itself in the continued life of the church...they [the books of the canon] are what Athenasius called them, 'the wellsprings of salvation.' (Franzmann, 295).

The canon was the product of a process that developed over time. It was not something adopted in a weekend. The stories about putting out the lights and stealing the copies not favored by the power structure are just BS. I've tried find historical proof such going's on and there are none.

II. Eye witness testimony backing the material

There are two aspects to this issue:

(A) Community as Author.

Sketpics make a big thing out of the fact that no Gospel can be corroborated as the product of its namesake, Matthew can't be proved to have written by Matthew, and John cannot be proved to have written by John. Therefore, skeptics conclude, there's no authority of eye witness testimony. yet the skeptics are ignorant. These books don't have to have been written by members of the twelve Apostles to contain eye witness testimony. Moreover, these works are not the product of a single individual. Scholars have for some time now recognized that the true authors are whole communities (see Luke Timothy Johnson, Writings of the New Testament). This means the community was the witness. We know that these early communities lived together communally. People are aware of the old saying that the early Christians sold their goods and moved in together but no one stops to think what it means. It means they developed the story together as a community. The force of truth, the power of the eye witnesse would have prevails in dominating the discussion. Eye witnesses would have been authorities and new comers would have been students.

The Jews of the first century had an oral culture, meaning it was their tradition to pass on knowledge by word of mouth. There are various works such as Cullman's The Johanine circle. and the Student Ph.D. dissertation the Matthew School (University of Dallas) that show historical basis for the communal theory, but its' rooted in the book of Acts. Skeptics think of the spread of the Gospel through oral tradition as wild rumors in which there was fomentation time for things to speak out of control This is just a fancy out of touch with the facts. The communal setting would have offered a controlled setting in which the information could have been kept straight, the oral culture would have provided the framework; these people knew how to keep oral tradition intact.

Stephen Neil (scholar)

"No one is likely to deny that a tradition that is being handed on by word of mouth is likely to undergo modification. This is bound to happen, unless the tradition has been rigidly formulated and has been learned with careful safeguard against the intrusion of error" (The Interpretation of the New Testament: 1861-1961, London: University of Oxford Press, 1964, p.250)

Neil adds in a fn: "This is exactly the way in which the tradition was handed on among the Jews. IT is precisely on this ground that Scandinavian scholar H. Risenfeld in an essay entitled "The Gospel Tradition and its Beginnings" (1957) has passed some rather severe strictures on the form cuticle method.

See also M. Dibelius... Neil goes on to say that there is some "flexibility" in the transmission, but nothing that would change the basic facts or the thrust of the teaching otherwise, "But there is a vast difference between recognition of this kind of flexibility, of this kind of creative working of the community on existing traditions, and the idea that the community simply invented and read back into the life of Jesus things that he had never done, and words that he had never said. When carried to its extreme this method suggests that the community had far greater creative power than the Jesus of Nazareth, faith in whom had called the community into being." (Ibid.).

Oral tradition in first-century Judaism was not uncontrolled as was/is often assumed, based on comparisons with non-Jewish models. B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans* (eds.), Authenticating the Activities of Jesus(NTTS, 28.2; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1998):

"...[T]he early form criticism tied the theory of oral transmission to the conjecture that Gospel traditions were mediated like folk traditions, being freely altered and even created ad hoc by various and sundry wandering charismatic jackleg preachers. This view, however, was rooted more in the eighteenth century romanticism of J. G. Herder than in an understanding of the handling of religious tradition in first-century Judaism. As O. Cullmann, B. Gerhardsson, H. Riesenfeld and R. Riesner have demonstrated, [22] the Judaism of the period treated such traditions very carefully, and the New Testament writers in numerous passages applied to apostolic traditions the same technical terminology found elsewhere in Judaism for 'delivering', 'receiving', 'learning', 'holding', 'keeping', and 'guarding', the traditioned 'teaching'. [23] (for fn see below) In this way they both identified their traditions as 'holy word' and showed their concern for a careful and ordered transmission of it. The word and work of Jesus were an important albeit distinct part of these apostolic traditions.*

"Luke used one of the same technical terms, speaking of eyewitnesses who 'delivered to us' the things contained in his Gospel and about which his patron Theophilus had been instructed. Similarly, the amanuenses or co-worker-secretaries who composed the Gospel of John speak of the Evangelist, the beloved disciple, 'who is witnessing concerning these things and who wrote these things', as an eyewitness and a member of the inner circle of Jesus' disciples.[24] In the same connection it is not insignificant that those to whom Jesus entrusted his teachings are not called 'preachers' but 'pupils' and 'apostles', semi-technical terms for those who represent and mediate the teachings and instructions of their mentor or principal.(53-55)(corrosponding fn for Childton and evans")

for fn on Chilton and Evens

Also, there wasn't an necessarily a long period of solely oral transmission as has been assumed:

"Under the influence of R. Bultmann and M. Dibelius the classical form criticism raised many doubts about the historicity of the Synoptic Gospels, but it was shaped by a number of literary and historical assumptions which themselves are increasingly seen to have a doubtful historical basis. It assumed, first of all, that the Gospel traditions were transmitted for decades exclusively in oral form and began to be fixed in writing only when the early Christian anticipation of a soon end of the world faded. This theory foundered with the discovery in 1947 of the library of the Qumran sect, a group contemporaneous with the ministry of Jesus and the early church which combined intense expectation of the End with prolific writing. Qumran shows that such expectations did not inhibit writing but actually were a spur to it. Also, the widespread literacy in first-century Palestinian Judaism [18], together with the different language backgrounds of Jesus' followers--some Greek, some Aramaic, some bilingual--would have facilitated the rapid written formulations and transmission of at least some of Jesus' teaching.[19]" (p. 53-54)

N. T. Wright, critiquing the Jesus Seminar's view of oral tradition as uncontrolled and informal based on some irrelevant research done in modern Western non-oral societies writes:

"Against this whole line of thought we must set the serious study of genuinely oral traditions that has gone on in various quarters recently. [65] (p. 112-113)**

"Communities that live in an oral culture tend to be story-telling communities. They sit around in long evenings telling and listening to stories--the same stories, over and over again. Such stories, especially when they are involved with memorable happenings that have determined in some way the existence and life of the particular group in question, acquire a fairly fixed form, down to precise phraseology (in narrative as well as in recorded speech), extremely early in their life--often within a day or so of the original incident taking place. They retain that form, and phraseology, as long as they are told. Each village and community has its recognized storytellers, the accredited bearers of its traditions; but the whole community knows the stories by heart, and if the teller varies them even slightly they will let him know in no uncertain terms. This matters quite a lot in cultures where, to this day, the desire to avoid 'shame' is a powerful motivation.

"Such cultures do also repeat, and hence transmit, proverbs, and pithy sayings. Indeed, they tend to know far more proverbs than the orally starved modern Western world. But the circulation of such individual sayings is only the tip of the iceberg; the rest is narrative, narrative with embedded dialogue, heard, repeated again and again within minutes, hours and days of the original incident, and fixed in memories the like of which few in the modern Western world can imagine. The storyteller in such a culture has no license to invent or adapt at will. The less important the story, the more the entire community, in a process that is informal but very effective, will keep a close watch on the precise form and wording with which the story is told.

In the Handbook of Biblical Social Values (2000), Jerome Neyrey says,

The people in the bilbical world are dyadic. This means that individuals basically depend on others for thier sense of identity, for their understanding of their role and status in society, for clues to the duties and rights they have, and for indications of what is honorable and shameful behavior. Such people live in a world which is clearly and extensively ordered, a system which is well known to members of the group. Individuals quickly internalize this system and depend on it for needed clues to the way their world works. . . The tradition handed down by former members of the group is presumed valid and normative. . . Group orientation is clearly expressed in the importance given to authority. (p.94-7)

see also
- Bruce Malina & Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptics, and Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel on John.
- See also John Pilch, Jerome Neyrey, and David deSilva. The Context Group publications are listed here.

Part 2