Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Can We Trust the Gospels? Book review

I just finished a book by Peter J. Williams, Can We Trust the Gospels?

Here's what I think of it...

Topflight scholarship at a layman's level.

I loved this book. Williams has opened up a mine of information that anyone can access. He has taken the scholarly tomes of (for example) N.T. Wright (The Resurrection of the Son of God), Richard Bauckham (Jesusand the Eyewitnesses) and others and made them available to the non-scholar in this very enjoyable book.

Williams commences in chapter 1 by showing that the non-Christian, extra-biblical accounts about Jesus tell the same story and paint the same picture as the Gospels and Acts, yet they clearly weren't dependent on them.

He then gives us in chapter 2 information on the composition of the four Gospels – what sources were used and when they are reckoned to have been written (he presents the majority view on the dating but states that he believes they were written earlier, however, he wants to show that the later dates don't affect his argument for their reliability).

Chapter 3 was really good. Williams demonstrates that the Gospel writers were familiar with the time when and the place where the alleged events took place. This is evident in the geography recorded, the names employed, the debates recounted, the customs narrated, and the botanical, financial and theological terms used. Williams contrasts the four Gospels’ attention to and accuracy with details with the later apocryphal Gospels. These later “Gospels” show no knowledge of the land, customs or names of first century Israel.

Chapter 4 deals with the subject of undesigned coincidences. This is a great argument that Lydia McGrew has recently written about (Hidden in Plain View). The previous chapter showed that the Gospel writers knew the scene in which their story was set, but this chapter shows that their story took place, because the four accounts interlock in a way that couldn’t have been manipulated by the authors.

Chapter 5 gives evidence that the speech attributed to Jesus really came from Him. This is done by pointing out embarrassing details that Gospel writers wouldn’t have invented, the genius of His words that Gospel writers couldn’t have invented, and then features of His teaching that were dissimilar to what came before and after Jesus (thus, the Gospel writers didn’t get it from the Old Testament, nor did they get it from what Paul wrote). He shows that while there are differences between the Synoptic Gospels and John, there are similarities that can only reasonably be explained if they all recorded accurately what Jesus actually taught.

Chapter 6 defends the integrity of the manuscripts we have, showing that there is no reason to think that the text has been changed in any significant way, and in fact there are good reasons to believe it hasn’t and couldn’t have been changed in any significant way.

Chapter 7 deals with the subject of contradictions, and shows that the alleged contradictions in the Gospels are based on misunderstandings of the author’s / authors’ intent. Often there is a deliberate superficial “contradiction” that is intended to make us stop and think. It is uncharitable and shallow to immediately conclude the author made a mistake.

Chapter 8 is entitled “Who Would Make All This Up?” It shows that the writers had no good reason to invent what they wrote. Williams sets out the historical evidence for the Gospel story and shows that it fits beautifully with the foreshadowings of Old Testament history, demonstrating that the Bible unfolds God’s great plan of redemption. Williams points out that the notion that the Gospel writers cobbled together independent, interlocking accounts of the same made-up events (complete with embarrassing details and corroborated by non-Christian sources) to match with Old Testament narratives, when it would bring those writers no temporal or eternal profit, is a much poorer explanation than the one which says that the Jesus recorded in the Gospels is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament.

I encourage everyone to get this book – you’ll not be sorry.