Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Book Review: Can We Trust the Gospels? by Mark D. Roberts

Can We Trust the Gospels? by Mark D. Roberts is a brief and excellent overview of the subject of Gospel reliability. Roberts makes the case that the Gospels can be trusted and hold up very well to the scrutiny of critical scholarship. The author covers a wide scope of topics concerning the gospels and makes the subject matter easy to understand for the layman.

Roberts presents the standards for evaluating the reliability of the gospel manuscripts: 1) antiquity; 2) multiplicity; 3) trustworthy scholarly methodology; and 4) quality and quantity of textually ambiguous passages. He breaks down each of these standards and shows that the gospels pass the test very well. His point here is that we can know what the original manuscripts actually said.

Next the author covers the authorship of the gospels. Roberts affirms that the gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, while detailing the level of each author’s personal knowledge of Jesus. Matthew and John probably knew Jesus personally, but Mark and Luke did not. However, according to Roberts, the reliability of the gospels does not hinge on who wrote them so much as on the nature and purpose of the writings themselves.

Roberts goes on to discuss the dating of the gospels. Here he presents the overall date ranges for contemporary scholarship to be between 30 and 70 years after the death of Jesus. He compares the dates of the canonical gospels with those of the noncanonical gospels, showing that our four New Testament gospels are much earlier and closer to Christ than the noncanonical gospels. This shows that much more confidence can be given to the New Testament gospels because of their early dating.

Roberts also discusses the sources for the gospels, including oral traditions and written sources. He shows that the authors relied upon first-hand accounts, oral traditions, and some probably borrowed from earlier gospel material that was available to them. Roberts explains how the genre of the gospels closely resembles Hellenistic biographies. This style was somewhere between biography and history. According to the standards of scholarship prevalent in that day, they hold up very well. The author points out the importance of judging the documents according to their genre and not making the error of anachronism by judging them according to modern standards.

After making a strong case in the first half of the book for the overall reliability of the gospels, Roberts shifts to cover a number of opposing thoughts regarding the gospels. These would include apparent contradictions, theology and history, the “problem” of miracles, and personal agendas that may have influenced the writings. Roberts does a masterful job in answering these obstacles with thorough reasoning and good evidence. He also spends a few chapters dealing with archeological and historical support for the gospels.

Mark D. Roberts shows that the gospels we have in the New Testament today can be trusted as accurate and reliable. Can We Trust the Gospels can be highly recommended as an excellent and very approachable overview of the subject of gospel reliability. Not only does the author cover a wide subject in a short and readable way, he makes his case very well.


Anonymous said...

this sentence:

Matthew and Luke probably knew Jesus personally, but Mark and Luke did not.

makes no sense whatsoever

otherwise fine review.

Brian said...

Thanks for catching that typo! I just went back and fixed it.

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