Why should we trust the Gospel writers and apostles? Good question. Most would argue that, with the sole exception of the Apostle John, they all were martyred for their faith, and that men won’t die for something they know to be a lie. Fair enough. There are lots of other reasons—extrabiblical historical documentation, bibliographical tests, consistency among the canonical accounts, archaeology, internal evidence, C.S. Lewis’ famous ‘trilemma’ argument, and so on—however the purpose of this particular post is not to defend the reliability of the Gospels. (If you are interested in exploring the reliability of the Gospels, there are sources listed at the end of this post.)
Where did the Gospel writers get their information? After all, two of them (Mark and Luke) weren’t eyewitnesses to the events described in their texts.
Meet Michael Card, a gifted Bible teacher and frequent contributor to Day of Discovery television, who encourages us to “read at the level of our imagination.” In other words, put the Biblical text in its rightful context and think very carefully about what was going on.
By way of background, Ephesus became home to Luke, the Apostle John (whose tomb is there), and Mary (the mother of Jesus) in the second half of the first century. Luke was a thorough archivist and did his homework. His accuracy as a historian is thoroughly documented. When he recorded Mary’s thoughts, feelings, and song in his Gospel, the obvious source of that information is his neighbor in Ephesus—Mary herself. Likewise the Apostle John. (By the way, if I’m reading at the level of my imagination, I’m imagining Mary singing her song for Luke.)
Luke is big on details. Only Luke mentions Joanna by name, that she supported Jesus’ ministry out of her own means, and that she was the wife of Herod’s household manager. What a source for information about what was said when Jesus was hauled before Herod! Likewise, only Luke records that Joanna was one of the women who discovered the empty tomb of Jesus on Easter morning. These two clips (from this DVD) can give you a taste of reading at the level of your imagination. (By the way, the background in the Joanna clip will be discussed in a future post in detail—it’s the likely site of Jesus’ trial before Pilate.)
References to explore the reliability of the Gospels:
Is the Bible Reliable as a Historical Document? (Lee Strobel)
Can we trust the New Testament? (CARM)
Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts
Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts
Reasons to Believe