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Are The Gospels Authentic, the Real Deal?

Without the Gospels, there is virtually no other foundation to weigh whether or not Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Were the many prophecies pointing to the Messiah in the Old Testament, the Jewish Tanakh, fulfilled by Jesus as described in the Gospels? First, the Gospels must be accepted as credible.

Credibility and integrity of the Gospels relies heavily on their authenticity – are the Gospels authentic, the real deal? Some opponents claim the Gospels are the result of Christian conspirators creating a Messiah story. Other critics claim the Gospels are merely recycled copies of each other.

A common charge against Christians is the use of “circular logic” to prove the validity of one Gospel based on corroboration by another Gospel or other New Testament book – this is considered a false premise.[1] Think of it this way…

It is like the guy who makes a bold claim of a fact to his friend who in turn asks, “where did you come up with that?”  The guy answers, “On the Internet.”  The skeptical friend then asks, “How do you know it’s true?  The guy says, “Because the Internet said it was.”

Circular logic charges can be averted when standalone authenticity of the Gospels can be established. If the Gospels can be deemed authentic, it forms the basis for gaining confidence in their credibility and believability opening the door for acceptance of their truthfulness.

Something that is “authentic,” as defined by the Dictionary.com definition, has three components establishing the highest criteria to meet that  standard.[2] The first two components set-up the conclusion of the third:

– “not false or copied; genuine; real”

– “having the origin supported by unquestionable evidence; authenticated; verified”

– “entitled to acceptance or belief because of agreement with known facts or experience; reliable; trustworthy”

Are the Gospels we have today a real and genuine representation of the original handwritten manuscripts? The sciences of textual criticism, textual purity, patristics, literary criticism and literary analysis were all used in the highly acclaimed work of Brooke Westcott and Fenton Hort. The duo spent 28 years of their lives conducting scientific research on ancient Greek, Latin, Syrian, Egyptian and other Gospel manuscripts.[3]

Westcott & Hort concluded the Gospels we have today are an accurate reproduction of the original authorships to within 1.7% – that’s 98.3% accuracy in spite of the multiple handwritten copies and translations over many centuries.[4]

Next in the criteria for being “authentic” is “having the origin supported by unquestionable evidence; authenticated; verified.” In a circumstantial case, one without direct proof, such as is virtually every written work from the age of antiquity including the Gospels, corroborating evidence is crucial to verifying facts necessary in assessing authenticity.

Validation through historical and scientific evidence are a common means to do this. For the Gospels, it has involved the confirmation of historical major events; regional geography; rulers and religious figures including births, deaths and reigns; government structures, taxation and their criminal justice system; cultural and religious practices and their literature; and the literary sciences as well as astronomy and archeology. Every one of these areas corroborate the information in the Gospels.

Once something has been verified to be genuine, not false or copied, and verified through corroborating evidence, by the third definition it is “entitled to acceptance or belief” as factually authentic. Few will take the time to perform sufficient due diligence to reach their own conclusion of authenticity about the Gospels, but many people will consider the conclusion of credible sources.

Westcott and Hort’s conclusion based on almost three decades of research might still be considered by some to be pro-Christian, biased. What about the detractors?  Perhaps the strongest opponent to Christianity for the past 2000 years originated at ground zero, the archenemies of Jesus and his message of the Gospels – Judaism.  

Religious teachers of Judaism to this day adamantly oppose the Gospel claim that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.  The secular side of Judaism, on the other hand, arrives at a very different conclusion about the authenticity of the Gospels through historical and scientific analysis methods.

Encyclopaedia Judaica, The Jewish Encyclopedia, and Jewish Virtual Library all affirm the historical accuracy and credibility of the Gospels.[5] That said, their theological disagreement is with the Gospel claim that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Messiah prophecies. Therein lies the ultimate dilemma…

If the Gospels have met the threshold for being historically and scientifically authentic and credible… then what are the odds the claim of the Gospels that Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophesied Messiah is also credible, one that is believable – true?

REFERENCES

[1] “circular reasoning.” Dictionary.com 2017  <http://www.dictionary.com/browse/circular-reasoning?s=t>

[2] “authentic.”  Dictionary.com.  2017.  <http://www.dictionary.com/browse/authentic?s=t>

[3] “Brooke Foss Westcott.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library.  n.d. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wescott “Fenton John Anthony Hort.”  Christian Classics Ethereal Library. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/hort “Westcott.”  Westcott and Hort Research Centre.http://www.westcotthort.com/biographies.html “Hort.”  Westcott and Hort Research Centre.http://www.westcotthort.com/biographies.html Westcott, Brooke F. & Hort, John A.  The New Testament in the Original Greek – Introduction | Appendix. Google Books.  Pages 15, 40, 98-106, 107-122.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=0xtVAAAAMAAJ&pg=ACfU3U33CMW3331Vv20NgGvjyOs52I1mlA&vq=%22will+not+be+out+of+place+to+add+here+a+distinct+expression+of+our+belief+that+even+among+the+numerous%22&source=gbs_quotes_r&cad=2_0#v=onepage&q=criticism%20is%20still%20necessary%20&f=false>   

[4]  Westcott & Hort.  The New Testament in the Original Greek. Pages 2, 310-11.

[5] “Jesus of Nazareth.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.  <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com >” Encyclopaedia JudaicaPages 246-247. “Crucifixion.”  Jewish Virtual Library. 2014.https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org

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