What are the odds the circumstances surrounding the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth that correspond with many ancient prophecies was just a coincidence?

Are Today’s Gospels the Same as the Originals?

Gospel manuscript evidence dates back to the lifetimes of the Disciples with a fragment of Matthew whereas the earliest nearly complete Gospel manuscripts date to about 300 years later.[1] How can there be confidence today’sGospels are the sameas the originals?

Patristics is the science of comparing early Christian writings to Gospel manuscripts to help bridge the gap of the “dark period” – from the originals to the first complete manuscripts. Westcott and Hort, expert Bible textual critics, viewed patristics to be of “the highest degree exceptional” in their comparisons.[2]

Writing about the teachings of Jesus in the form of letters, called “Epistles,” was a common means of written communication by the second and third generation disciples, known as the Ante-Nicene Fathers.[3] Four – Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Papias – were taught personally by the Apostles, the original Disciples of Jesus.[4]

Within these Epistles appear quoted phrases and verses that correspond with Gospel manuscripts written after them. The premise of patristics is that quotes from the Epistles had to come from older, pre-existing Gospel sources. As such, these Epistles serve as “witnesses” that “attest” or “testify” to the content of older, now non-existent Gospel manuscripts, in some cases quite possibly the originals.[5]  

One, The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, was written in Rome to the church in Corinth, Greece, around 96 AD. The Epistle is named for Clement of Rome, the reputed author, who studied under the Apostle Paul and knew Luke, the presumed author of the Gospel bearing his name.[6]

Another is The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians written in Smyrna, Turkey, to the church in Philippi, Greece. Named for its author, Polycarp, he was a disciple of the Apostle John, received instruction from additional Apostles, and met others who had witnessed Jesus. Date of authorship is unknown, but it had to be written before Polycarp’s martyrdom in the arena of Smyrna about 155 AD when he professed to have served his King for 86 years.[7]

An example of how patristics works can be seen using the three verses of Luke 6:36-38 quoted in both the Epistles of Clement Corinthians and Polycarp Philippians whose authors were separated by time and hundreds of miles. Their quotes as compared with two modern Bible translations:[8] 

The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians [9]

“forgive, that it may be forgiven to you; as ye do, so shall it be done unto you;

as ye judge, so shall ye be judged; as ye are kind, so shall kindness be shown to you;

with what measure ye mete, with the same it shall be measured to you.”

Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians [10]

“Judge not, that ye be not judged;

forgive, and it shall be forgiven unto you;

be merciful, that ye may obtain mercy;

with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again…”

King James Version, Luke 6:36-38:

Be ye therefore merciful as your Father also is merciful, v36

Judge not and ye shall not be judged…v 37

…forgive and ye shall be forgiven.v37

For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.v38

New American Standard Bible:  Luke 6:36-38:

Be merciful just as your Father is merciful…v36

Do not judge, and you will not be judged…v37

…pardon and you will be pardoned. v37

…For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.v38

Attestations from these Corinthians and Philippians Epistles are not word perfect matches, but neither are the more modern KJV and NASB versions due to translator variations. Both Epistles referenced Luke to support the message of their letters – the quotes were not intended to be a transcription of Luke’s Gospel, yet they match very closely.[11]

Treasure trove of patristic attestation is found in Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies) quoting from over 600 verses from all four Gospels and over 300 verses from other New Testament books.[12] Its author, a disciple of Polycarp, was Irenaeus who in later years moved to Lyons, France.[13]

Patristics has a secondary consequence – producing evidence that challenges the theory alleging the Gospels and Christianity evolved from legend over a long period of time.[14] Intuitively, what are the odds both Epistles quoting Luke were accidentally consistent with each other? Or did these authors quote from the same pre-existing Gospel of Luke?

If the Gospels “evolved,” why is their content consistently the same from the beginning until centuries later? The answers can be revealing.

REFERENCES:
[1]  “The Magdalen Papyrus P64: possibly the earliest known fragments of the New Testament (or of a book!)” University of Oxford | Magdalen College.  30 October 2013. <http://www.magd.ox.ac.uk/libraries-and-archives/treasure-of-the-month/news/magdalen-papyrus>  “The Magdalen P64 Papyrus Fragments of the Gospel of Matthew (Year ~ 50 A.D.).”  Archaeology. <http://www.lavia.org/english/archivo/magdalenen.htm>  Smith, Ben C. “Gospel manuscripts – The manuscripts extant for the four canonical gospels.” TextExcavation.com.  13 Jan. 2014. <http://www.textexcavation.com/gospelmanuscripts.html
[2] Westcott, Brooke F. & Hort, John A. The New Testament in the Original Greek. “Introduction.”  CR page 112. https://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&f=false>
[3] Richardson, Cyril C.  “Early Christian Fathers.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. <http://eaglemissions.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/fathers.pdf>
[4] Foster, Lewis. “Quotations in the Apostolic Fathers.” The Cincinnati Bible College & Seminary. 1969. Volume XV —  Number  4.  <http://www.dabar.org/SemReview/v15n4-Fathers.htm#N_23_
 [5] “Patristics.”  Merriam-Webster. 2017 <http://www.merriam-webster.com>   Gloag, Paton J.  Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels.  <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595>  Foster. “Quotations in the Apostolic Fathers.”
[6] Richardson. “Early Christian Fathers.”  Schaff, Philip. “Introductory Note to the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 13 July 2005.  <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ii.i.html>   Schaff.  “Introductory Note to the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library.  2005.  <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ii.i.html>
[7] Schaff, Philip. “Introduction Note to the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians.”  Kirby, Peter. “The Martyrdom of Polycarp.” Early Christian Writings. 2017. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/martyrdompolycarp.html
[8Kirby, Peter.  “Gospel of Luke.”  EarlyChristianWritings.com. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/luke.html>  Kirby, Peter. “Gospel of Mark.”  EarlyChristianWritings.com. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/mark.html
[9] Clement of Rome (aka Clement I). “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.” Classics Ethereal Library. 2005.  <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ii.ii.html
[10] Polycarp. “The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippian.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.iv.ii.html>   Davis, Glen. “Polycarp of Smyrna.”  NTCanon.org. 2008.  <http://www.ntcanon.org/Polycarp.shtml>  Lake, Kirsopp. “Polycarp to the Philippians.” EarlyChristianWritings.com.  <http://earlychristianwritings.com/polycarp.html
[11] Polycarp. “The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippian.”
[12] Davis, Glen. “Irenaeus of Lyons.”  NTCanon.org.  25 July 2008.  <http://www.ntcanon.org/Irenaeus.shtml>
[13] Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies.   Schaff, Philip. “Introductory Note to Irenæus Against Heresies.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library.   <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.i.html> Schaff, Philip. “Introduction Note to the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians.” Goodspeed, Edgar J., “Irenaeus.  Proof of The Apostolic Preaching.” Ante Nice Fathers.  2014. <http://antenicenefathers.org/irenaeus>  Davis, Glen. “Irenaeus of Lyons.”  Westcott & Hort.  The New Testament in the Original GreekIntroduction; pages 113, 194-195.  Gloag. Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels.  “General Introduction.” 
  [14] Rochford, James M. “Legend Theory.’ Evidence Unseen. 2017. <http://www.evidenceunseen.com/christ/defending-the-resurrection/1-legend-theory>  Billingsley, Greg. “Alternate Theories To The Resurrection – The Legend Theory.”  2012.  <http://etheology.com/blogs/greg-billingsley/alternate-theories-to-the-resurrection-the-legend-theory>

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A Simple Way to Check the Integrity of the Gospels

Integrity of the Gospels, for many, is the first step in accepting their believability. Checking the integrity of the Gospels and their story about Jesus can be as simple as comparing one Gospel account to another, a process known as “literary analysis.”[1]

The term sounds intimidating, complicated and boring – not! Almost anyone can do it at a basic level…and it can be very interesting. Chances are, literary analysis in its simplest form is part of a routine personal activity. It happens naturally when reading a text and mentally breaking it down to understand it better such as with books, magazine articles, Internet blogs, instructions, maps, etc.[2]

In the case of the Gospels, literary analysis can be as simple as comparing two or more Gospels for such things as word usage, consistency, theme, and meaning or factual accuracy.[3] Performing any type of comparisons or cross references…that’s basic literary analysis. It does not require the considerable time and effort invested by many experts using scientific methods to evaluate the integrity soundness of the Gospels.

One step is defining the genre of the Gospels, fiction vs. non-fiction. Is their content about real people, places and events (non-fiction) or are the Gospels an invented story (fiction) written for some other entertainment purpose, in this case, requiring collusion between four authors? To help figure it out, a reader can rely on certain commonly recognized literary characteristic guidelines.

In fictions, the characters are not real although they could believably be real people with resemblances to real persons. A fiction can include real places, periods and events as a setting, but the story is always imaginary, artificial, not real. A big clue is the purpose of the author – was the intent to be entertaining, amusing, or enjoyable reading?[4]

Non-fictions, on the other hand, are written with the intent to be informative about real people, places or events based on historical, geographical or biographical facts. Aside from research or reference documents, other non-fictions can reflect the author’s recollection of events or facts quite possibly influenced by their personal experiences.[5] Quotes of real people are inherent non-fiction characteristics where their words can be very revealing in multiple ways.

Another part of literary analysis involves studying the characters in the story. Who are they – their gender, background, age, personalities, strengths and weaknesses, etc.? What did these characters say or how did they behave in various situations such as adversity, conflict, competition, challenges, interaction with others, etc.? Does it ring true – are their behaviors under the various circumstances what is to be expected by a normal person?

Understanding the theme is a key component – what is the central idea of the writing?[6] For the Gospels, is the theme about the chronicles of the birth, life, trial and execution of Jesus in the Judean Roman province – historical? Is the theme to teach Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness – philosophical? Or is the central theme to convey the message of salvation through the resurrection of Jesus – religious?

A very close cousin to literary analysis is known as “textual criticism,” another term that seems intimidating and boring to be reserved only for experts so inclined for such torture – not necessarily true. This is where natural investigative curiosity kicks in…that urge to verify historical, geographical and biographical information to see if it is accurate.[7] For the Gospels, this is multiplied by a factor of 4 setting the highest bar of direct answerability for all the works of antiquity.

Fact checking is very simple today using topical searches on the Internet to find reliable secondary sources such as encyclopedias, historical websites, university library websites – even the original texts of antiquity such as Josephus, Augustus, Suetonius and Tacitus. The more knowledgeable about the subject matter, the better the analysis.

Performing literary analysis and literary criticism of the Gospels are a form of the scientific methodology. First, reading what has been written (observation); then gathering information (evidence, research, intuitive analysis) to identify the premise, the theme (hypothesis); and finally validation to see if it stands up to scrutiny (testing, retesting).[8]

Using a scientific methodology approach allows for repeating the process to gain confidence in the outcome or conclusion. For some, a conclusion one way or the other about the integrity of the Gospels may come quickly; for others it may take longer.

Do the Gospels meet the standard of integrity? In the end, the conclusion will be one reached on a personal level perhaps influenced by opinions, even biases weighed against observations, evaluation and factual accuracy.[9]

Ultimately, if the Gospels are found to be credible non-fictions, then the bigger question becomes – is their central message theme believable?

REFERENCES:

[1] Ramlawi, Aisha. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.”  Prezi.com. 16 October 2016 <https://prezi.com/ararehyeyma0/literary-analysis-genretonemoodtheme>  Mareghni, Pamela.  “Different Approaches to Literary Criticism.” Ehow.com. 2014.  <http://www.ehow.com/about_5385205_different-approaches-literary-criticism.html  Preble, Laura. “Traditional Literary Criticism.” Ehow.com. 2014.  <http://www.ehow.com/info_8079187_approaches-literary-criticism.html>
[2] Godin, Katherine. “How to Analyze a Literary Passage: A Step-by-Step Guide.” Study.com. 2017. <http://study.com/academy/lesson/how-to-analyze-a-literary-passage-a-step-by-step-guide.html>   Ramlawi, Aisha. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.” 
[3]  Cherran.  “What is Literary Analysis?” Infomory.com.  August 21, 2011 <http://infomory.com/what-is/what-is-literary-analysis>   Ramlawi, Aisha. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.” 
[4]  Ramlawi. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.”  Prabhat S. “Difference Between Fiction and Non fiction.” 2011. DifferenceBetween.net. <http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/difference-between-fiction-and-non-fiction>   Cherran.  “What is Literary Analysis?”
[5] “Introduction to Literary Criticism and Analysis.” National Endowment for the Humanities | EDSITEment. <http://edsitement.neh.gov/sites/edsitement.neh.gov/files/worksheets/Critical%20Ways%20of%20Seeing%20The%20Adventures%20of%20Huckleberry%20Finn%20in%20Context%20-%20Introduction%20to%20Literary%20Criticism%20and%20Analysis.pdf>   Cherran.  “What is Literary Analysis?”
[6] Reade, Dan.  “Selecting topics for literary analysis.” Sophia.org. 2017. <https://www.sophia.org/tutorials/selecting-topics-for-literary-analysis>   Ramlawi,. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.” 
[7] “Introduction to Literary Criticism and Analysis.” National Endowment for the Humanities | EDSITEment
[8]  Reade.  “Selecting topics for literary analysis.”   Jenkins, Rob. “Literary Analysis as Scientific Method.”  The Chronicles of Higher Education. March 6, 2012.  <http://www.chronicle.com/blogs/onhiring/literary-analysis-as-scientific-method/30565>   “Introduction to Literary Criticism and Analysis.” National Endowment for the Humanities | EDSITEment.
[9]  Cherran.  “What is Literary Analysis

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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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