By Tim McGrew
The Four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – provide us with a wealth of information regarding Jesus of Nazareth. But skeptics have long charged them with both internal contradictions and external historical blunders. How can we tell whether they can be trusted?
Merely answering criticisms, though that task is important, will not give us a reason to take these documents as reliable historical works. To build a positive case we need to look closely both at the documents and at our other sources of information about Palestine in the first century. And when we take that close look, several patterns emerge. First, the four evangelists get hard things right. They display an intimate knowledge of the physical geography and of the shifting political landscape. And we can tell how difficult that is by seeing how badly early forgeries fail that same test.
Second, we can test our four Gospels for consistency by looking at the way the character of Jesus comes out in the narratives. Each Evangelists has special interests and emphases. If they were merely relaying legends or making up myths, we would not expect any more similarity in their portraits than we could find between two fictional characters – between Legolas and Robin Hood, for example. But in fact, Jesus as the four Evangelists reveal him is the same character, with the same manner of teaching, the same habit of drawing examples from the physical surroundings, the same likes and dislikes, and the same way of driving home his key points. Where myth and legend would tell us to expect many different characters wearing the same name, the Gospels present us with only one.
Third, we can check our methodology by looking at how other religious books fare when we bring them to the test. The Book of Mormon affords a good point of comparison. It purports to give us accounts of historical events, and we can check to see whether our other historical evidence confirms or disconfirms those accounts. How will it fare when we evaluate it by the same standards we use for assessing the four Gospels?
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by Jennings Riley
What is it then that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself. – Blaise Pascal, Pensee 435
Natural desires testify to “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20). Unlike most other theistic proofs, however, the argument from desire does not have the clear conclusion, “therefore God exists.” The argument from desire attempts to show that reality is not limited to the physical world we experience. In other words, desire provides evidence for the immaterial, which is the transcendent. Although transcendence attests to God’s existence, God’s existence is not proved directly by the argument from desire.
The argument from desire begins with the observation that for every natural desire an object exists to satisfy the desire. A natural desire cannot make us hopelessly discontent. Accordingly, if we can identify a natural desire that is fulfilled only by the existence of a particular object, we can prove the existence of that object. As Christians, we believe that every human desires God and can provide evidence to support the belief. Non-theists, however, will probably not accept that they have a natural desire for God. Pascal wrote, “there is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition” (Pensee 430). For the sake of persuasion, therefore, we ought to use a less controversial desire. C.S. Lewis maintained that human beings experience a natural desire, which cannot be fulfilled by earthly experience. He called the objective of this desire joy. Our pursuits of happiness, purpose, and the good life are attempts to find joy. We always want more of these things and are not content with the amount we currently possess. Great experiences always fall short and are less than hope makes them. We have moments of almost indescribable joy, which we cannot recapture at will. If we accept that every natural desire is satisfiable, however, we must suppose something exists that fulfills the natural desire for joy. Since nothing in this world can satisfy our desire for joy, something must transcend this world.
Although Lewis was undoubtedly a brilliant man, his reasoning is not immune from critique. The notion that human beings naturally have a desire that cannot be fulfilled by the natural world seems far from obvious and needs justification. Similarly, the contention that every natural desire is fulfillable might be criticized, since we plainly possess desires that cannot be fulfilled. For example, I desire to meet Gandalf from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. This does not imply, however, that Gandalf is a real person. Both objections center around the notion of natural desire. Accordingly, we should consider the question, “what is a natural desire?”
Two sorts of desire can be identified, natural and artificial. Artificial desires are based on our environment and society, for example, craving Chick-Fil-A or the newest smartphone. Because people live in different environments, they have different artificial desires. By contrast, natural desires are not produced by any specific culture, class, or experience but from the human condition. Accordingly, natural desires do not change from person to person. They are common to all humanity and arise because of our identity as human beings. We desire food and water because we have bodies. We desire pleasure because we have senses. We desire love because we are relational. We desire knowledge because we are rational. Although the strength of the desire for water might vary from person to person, the desire itself does not. For this reason, we can still appreciate the psalmist’s words “as the deer pants for water, so my soul pants for thee, O God” (Psalm 42:1). The suppression of a desire does not make it less natural. An individual in a desert might suck on a pebble to suppress the desire for water, but the desire for water is indisputably natural. By analogy, although a jaded person might suppress desires for love or joy, those desires remain natural. The suppression of desires because of circumstances does not prove they are artificial.
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Did you know… that the New Testament was written in the first century and not hundreds of years later, as some might argue?
The writings range from some letters of Paul written just a few years after Jesus’ crucifixion (3 to 7 years) to the Gospel of John written 60 some years after such event.
The New Testament was written by those who either knew Jesus personally and were direct eyewitnesses of His life, claims, and deeds, or were close companions to disciples of Jesus, testifying of what they had seen and experienced with their own eyes and writing to an audience who had also experienced the life, deeds, and claims of Jesus.
Although we do not have in our possession the original copies, what we have is an incredible abundance of early manuscripts that make the the New Testament incredibly pure and amazingly accurate, 99.6% accuracy that is according to scholars!
The 0.4% variances are insignificant in nature and have absolutely no bearing on the Christian doctrine.
The other amazing part that makes the New Testament so credible is that we have absolutely no manuscripts nor writings of the first century from opponents of Christianity that deny nor contest the claims the disciples of Jesus were making.
On the contrary, the writings we have attest of the events and claims of the New Testament (even if they denied the claims themselves–so for instance, no one would deny Jesus’ claims to deity or that he was viewed as deity by His followers and that His disciples believed they had seen Him risen from the dead. What they would reject are the claims themselves), making it the more credible.
Although the Gospel of John is the last writing, it is the earliest manuscript we have in our possession, dated from only 30 years after it was written.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke are believed to have been written within 40 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
We have over 24,000 manuscripts (5,600 in Greek alone) circulating around the world (and by the way, it is only in the late 2nd and 3rd century that we start seeing some pseudo-gospels such as the Gnostics which start giving a different view to Jesus, His claims, and the events around His life).
How does that compare to other events of antiquity?
The New Testament puts to shame any other writings and is second to none in its accuracy and purity.
Take for instance the work of Plato. What we have are only 7 manuscripts and the span between the actual writings and the earliest manuscripts is 1,200 years.
As far as Aristotle, number of manuscripts 49 and span 1,400 years.
Caesar, manuscripts 10 and span 1,000 years.
Finally, the second most abundant and accurate writing is Homer’s Iliad with 643 manuscripts and a span of 500 years.
And yet, no one denies such figures of antiquity and such writings.
Why do we then so stubbornly reject the accuracy of the New Testament?
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