The title of the next chapter of Mark Roberts’ Can We Trust the Gospels? is also a question often asked by skeptics.
“Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not writing simply out of antiquarian interest. They weren’t scholars who found Jesus fascinating and decided to write about his life to further their careers. Rather, they were faithful believers in Jesus who composed narratives of his ministry for theological reasons. In the language of our contentious world, the Gospel writers had an agenda” (p115).But why must this hurt their credibility?
Roberts points out is that they were quite open about their agenda. Mark’s Gospel begins not with “the history of Jesus of Nazareth” but “the good news of Jesus Christ.” The other writers were equally clear about their perspective with John’s being the clearest of all (John 20:30-31).
But does that mean that their histories are unreliable?
Early Christians clearly placed an emphasis on the historical reality of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The scriptures, particularly 1Cor 15, 1John 1, and 2Peter 1, speak of the eye witnesses of the events of the Gospels.
The Gospel writers, “like the vast majority of Jews before them and Christians after them, believed that what actually happened made all the difference in the world. It was in the realm of history that God made his presence known, revealing himself and his salvation. Therefore history … was at the heart of the evangelists’ theology” (p120).
Paul spells out how much we depend on the historicity of the gospel:
…if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead…. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1Cor 15:13-15)The events of Jesus’ life, and especially His death and resurrection, were not regarded as a useful fable, a story of spiritual significance. To them the story was true, or it was meaningless.
This alone doesn’t prove that the events of the Gospels happened, but it does tell us that we can’t discount them simply because they had a theological agenda in writing them.
The book in blog form: Are the NT Gospels Reliable?