Validity of the Gospel


#1

So I was speaking to my atheist friend, and we somehow got on the topic of the Book of Mormon. I was saying how Mormons are considered a cult to Catholics, because the Book of Mormon is obviously not the word of God. He chuckled and said, “Well, to someone like me it makes about as much since as your Bible.”. He went on about how the whole Gospel could’ve been made up, and that Jesus may not have even existed.

How can you prove that the Gospel is an accurate historical documentation of the life of Jesus, to a non-believer? To me it seems fairly obvious that the men who wrote the Gospel were first hand witnesses of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection, and they wrote it all down. Later they spent their entire lives devoted to serving this man Jesus, and some even died in terrible ways for him!

But to a non-believer, how can we prove that our Bible is more legitimate than say, the Book of Mormon or some other random religious text? Thanks for the help and God bless.


#2

To be accurate, the Gospels were probably not written as first-hand accounts.


#3

Yes, but written by followers who personally knew the apostles, right? So second hand if we’re getting technical haha.


#4

Bear in mind that you could make two claims here. The first is that the Gospels are more historically credible than the Book of Mormon. This really shouldn’t be hard to do. The book of Mormon is obviously made up. It’s claims are wild, implausible, and directly contradict virtually everything we know about the pre-colonial Americas. There are serious non-Christian historians who think that the Gospels contain at least some reliable information about Jesus (e.g. that he grew up at Nazareth, that he was crucified by Romans under Pontius Pilate), and at the very least reflect basic realities of first-century Palestine (there really was a Roman occupation; the Pharisees were an important religious group; the Temple was the focal point of national and religious life, etc.).

Your other potential claim, which I’ve bolded, is going to be harder for you to argue. It’s not too difficult to show what I’ve outlined above. It’s a lot harder to argue that the Gospels are demonstrably eye-witness testimony, or that they give us the ipsissima verba of specific conversations had on hillsides in Galilee in the 30s AD. You will find a lot of Biblical scholars and historians who would endorse the former argument, but say it’s impossible to prove the latter (by academic, historical standards).


#5

Well the Old Testament makes many apparent claims about the history of the world and of humanity that are obviously false. That the earth was created in a week, that it is a few thousand years old, that the world was flooded a few thousand years ago, that language arose as a curse for building a tower, that striped livestock can be bred using striped sticks, that the first woman was created magically from a man’s rib, etc.

The New Testament does have the advantage of being written about claimed events which were contemporary, so it’s not surprising that they would accurately describe the historical context in which they were written.

I don’t know of many serious Biblical scholars or historians who would say that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry. The consensus seems to be that they were written at least a generation afterwards, by Greek-speaking Christians, not the Aramaic-speaking disciples or early apostles.

Interestingly, the history of Mormonism is very well attested. 11 men swore testimony that they saw the golden tablets from which the Book of Mormon was miraculously translated, and maintained their testimony despite falling out with Joseph Smith.


#6

The Gospels are no different than any other type of historic document. How do we know any of them are true?

Well, one thing you consider is how many authors wrote about something, and how closely their accounts agree (you’d be surprised how many times they don’t). To have as many as four different authors write about the same events is actually pretty uncommon in ancient texts - we’re lucky to get two. The Gospels don’t agree on every detail, but they’re close enough to be considered in very high agreement.

Another thing to consider is authorship. Eyewitnesses are best, and people close to eyewitnesses are acceptable. The Gospels were written by one eyewitness (John). Matthew was probably not the Apostle, but he was a Jew and may have known Jesus personally. Mark and Luke were gentiles and probably did not know Jesus, but they were close to people who did.

There has always been a science called “textual criticism” which analyzes ancient texts by comparing them to other contemporary texts. It analyzes how often certain words are used, and sentence structure, and “slang” and such. We can usually date the text very closely (within a decade) and tell a lot about the author’s background and education. In modern times, thanks to computers, we can feed in thousands of ancient texts to crunch the numbers to get unprecedented insight. We have run such an analysis on the Gospel texts and they check out very well.

These are the same criteria we would apply to any ancient text. When applied to the Gospels, the results are very favorable.

The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, came from “golden tablets” that Joseph Smith found in the woods. Nobody except Joseph Smith ever saw them (or was it dictated by Michael?). They were written in “New Egyptian,” a language otherwise unknown. We have only Smith’s word that the book accurately reflects the source. We have a single source, with no way to corroborate the text. Textual criticism tells us the book is the work of a single author, but we cannot date it because we lack the original text (the English translation, of course, dates to Smith’s day, and shows no syntactical influence from the New Egyptian source).


#7

I wouldn’t contest any of this.

Interestingly, the history of Mormonism is very well attested. 11 men swore testimony that they saw the golden tablets from which the Book of Mormon was miraculously translated, and maintained their testimony despite falling out with Joseph Smith.

Christians have long been happy with allegorical or non-literal interpretations of, e.g., Genesis 1-3. Are there ‘orthodox’ Mormons who believe that the origins of Mormonism are a kind of allegory? Because the outwardly historical claims made about ancient Hebrew civilisations in the Americas are so utterly devoid of any basis in archaeological, historiographical, textual, linguistic, genetic or anthropological evidence or credible research as to be virtually meaningless.


#8

That’s more generic historical criticism. Textual criticism, properly speaking, is a narrower discipline which compares different manuscripts of the same text, noting their variations, etc., seeking to establish the original version.


#9

Check your facts. Matthew and John were both apostles, so first-hand witnesses. It’s thought that Mark was a disciple of Peter and Luke was a disciple of Paul, so second-hand but still very reliable.


#10

“Matthew” and “John” were not written by the apostles Matthew and John, at least according to most historians and Biblical scholars…

Matthew was written anonymously by a Jewish author in the late 1st century (70-100 AD).

John was written in its final form in 90-100 AD, and I’m finding very few serious scholars who argue that it was written as traditionally ascribed.

It’s important to keep in mind that modern Biblical scholarship and historical study does not agree very much with tradition regarding Biblical authorship.


#11

There is so much about Biblical scholarship that most of us are completely unaware. What is preached is the theological content. The other technical stuff, the forms of critical analysis, is like another world. If one is going to deal with atheist, a lot of homework is needed in this kind of scholarship. Perhaps we even need to hear more of it in the homily then. I don’t know. What do y’all think?


#12

So what I’ve gathered from this that can be used…

  1. The BOM is completely false for obvious reasons.

  2. The Gospels are not first hand accounts, but are rather written by followers of the Apostles (so second hand accounts).

  3. The Gospel of John IS a first hand account?.

I don’t know about my atheist friend, but that’s all the proof I need. It seems so simple to me… We know for certain there was a Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified by the Romans. We know for certain he had followers who died in the name of spreading his teachings.


#13

I think the fact that almost all of the Apostles were killed for their beliefs is good evidence for the validity of the Gospels. Jesus’s closest friends would definitely have known if He really was the Son of God and could perform miracles or if it was a lie. I highly doubt any of them would have willingly died for the sake of something they knew wasn’t true.


#14

Which apostles were killed for their beliefs? And how does that make the Gospels valid, if the Gospels were not written until after the deaths of most of the apostles?

And many of the early Mormons faced persecution and death for their beliefs. This included an executive order by then-governor of Missouri Lilburn Boggs, which declared “the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State”, after which 18 Mormons were massacred at Haun’s Mill. These were followers of Joseph Smith himself, who knew him and by your logic would doubtfully have willingly died for something they knew wasn’t true.


#15

Yes, I agree. The obvious retort to any criticism of this. is to ask for evidence showing they didn’t write the books, none of which is convincing.

The other point is about the idea of ‘proof’. There are mathematical proofs that can be shared because of an agreed definition of mathematical structure.

No such structure exists for ancient history and so the proof is never objective, but subject to the one who is ‘to be convinced’.

Even if we look at recent history, I can’t prove to you for example that I had boiled eggs for breakfast last Tuesday. The more evidence I produce the more the ‘person to be convinced’ can raise objections. If they really want to believe I didn’t have boiled eggs, there is little I can do. If I produce a video and independent witnesses the ‘person to be convinced’ can just claim that it has been contrived or doctored.

There can be no objective proof following from discussion without reference to each persons reasonableness, maturity, honesty, experience and cognitive abilities.


#16

That the accounts agree could be due to authors copying from one another.


#17

Peter was crucified upside down. Paul was beheaded by Nero. James was killed by the sword. Andrew was crucified. Thomas was burned alive. Phillip was crucified. Matthew was beheaded. Matthias was stoned. Simon was crucified. The apostle John was actually the only one to die a natural death, although he lived in exile due to his faith…

I think it makes the Gospels valid because these men held true to their beliefs that Jesus (whom they knew personally) was Christ, even when faced with death. If someone who KNEW Jesus died to prove that he was the Messiah, I’d be inclined to believe them…


#18

The “Gospels” we have are some copy generations away from what might have been an original. The Bible is a collection agreed on by rather unscholarly individuals to meet a need for standardization; so many candidates that might have as much use as what was included were not. There are stories and speculations, no proper proofs. Even Eusebius, who wrote a history of the Church, admitted that he downplayed information harmful to the reputation of the Church, and magnified things that made it an its leaders look good. The dangers of piety.

But to a non-believer, how can we prove that our Bible is more legitimate than say, the Book of Mormon or some other random religious text? Thanks for the help and God bless.

You can’t, because there is no grounds much past belief on which to do that. That is why it is called “faith.”

There are many factors that go into the scholarly considerations of Biblical texts. Everything from epistemology, grammar, semantics, colloquial usages, the nature of witnessing, reportage, collections, and the standards applying to those then and now. The nature of translation, meaning, and interpretation, and the qualifications ans assumptions of all those who do those comes into play. The average cradle believer of any religion usually has little if any clue as to the monumental structure of academics and speculations that constitute what comprises any religion even under the best of intentions–which were often missing.

If you can find it, there is a very useful book about the nature of religious thinking–thinking itself, actually–by Gina Cerminara. It’s used in many comparative religion classes, including Catholic. It might both inform you and give you a bit more confidence in what you then will know than what you seem to have now.


#19

John died of old age and Judas committed suicide. All the others were martyred. They were tortured and pressured to denounce their beliefs that Jesus was the Son of God and upon refusing to do so, were killed. This would help validate the Gospels, in my opinion, because people who knew Jesus truly believed that he was the Son of God, to the point where they would die rather than deny it.
I would definitely say that this is different than a unexpected militia charging in and killing people, including, according to reports, a non-Morman.


#20

The apostles were martyred according to tradition. Do we have good historical evidence for these things?


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