Are Today’s Gospels Authentic, 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 work 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.

 

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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
[8] Kirby, 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>

Are the Gospels Merely Recycled Material?

Eyebrow-raising Gospel characteristics are the similarities between certain passages of one Gospel found in another, sometimes word for word. It fuels the conspiracy theories saying this is evidence of Christian collaborators making up a Messiah story.

Matthew, Mark and Luke – called the Synoptic Gospels – contain “parallel passages” where content similarities typically appear.[i] On full display is the distinctive Jewish literary practice of grouping content by topic instead of chronologically.[ii]

Most authorities agree the Gospel of John is an authentic eyewitness account written independently of the Synoptic Gospels and as such serves as a calibration source.[iii]Writing he did not intend to cover all the things Jesus had done, still some critics use John’s omission of events found in the other three Gospels to challenge its credibility.[iv]

Are the Synoptic Gospels merely recycled material? An excellent point of comparison are the major Jewish works written during the same era – Josephus, the Talmud Mishnah, and other New Testament books.[v]

In literary circles of Antiquity, written materials were considered communal property available to be freely used by other literati with or without citations.[vi] The Synoptics use of common source or sources is a reflection of legitimate writing protocol of the times.[vii]

Luke’s author openly acknowledged using “handed down” information, a practice common to Jewish and other cultures. Rabbi sages “handed down” oral interpretations of the Law over many generations until committed to writing in the Mishnah.[viii] Josephus wrote that he used expert sources “for the proof of what I say” in support of his writings.[ix]

Jewish literary works used quotations as a means to cite sources in a time before footnotes or endnotes came into existence.[x] Throughout the New Testament quotations of the Jewish Scripture Septuagint translation can be seen preceded by the phrase “it is written.” Quoting was a practice also used in the Talmud and by Josephus.[xi]

Literary authenticity and integrity, Josephus wrote, could be achieved by following the role model of Moses who took unexciting legal topics and made them meaningful and understandable while not adding or taking anything away.[xii]  Moses took the source material of God’s Law handed down to him at Mt. Sinai and committed it to writing while interweaving it with factual, interesting Hebrew stories thereby producing a distinct literary work.[xiii]

Unique qualities found through simple literary analysis are obvious at the beginning of each Gospel.[xiv] Matthew, written for a Jewish audience, starts the genealogy of Jesus with Abraham. Luke, written to a Gentile audience, worked the genealogy of Jesus backward to Adam.[xv]

Mark begins by immediately declaring Jesus to be the Son of God, then ties a prophecy to his introduction of John the Baptist. John’s well-known opening says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”[xvi]

Quantifying the differences through deeper literary analysis, over 35% of the content of Matthew is unique to the Synoptics – not found in Mark or Luke.[xvii] Nearly 50% of the verses in Luke are not common to either Matthew or Mark.[xviii] Slightly less than 40% of the content of Mark is not shared by Matthew and Luke while nearly 8% of Mark is unique content.[xix]

A fascinating characteristic of authenticity is demonstrated through miracles and parables. Contrary to popular perceptions, they have less in common among the Gospels than they have in common.

Of the 35 miracles recorded in the Gospels, only one is common to all four – the feeding of the 5000. One of the most, if not the most, famous miracle is Jesus walking on water and it does not appear in Luke![xx]

Only 10 miracles, less than a third, are common to all three Synoptics. Almost half, 16 in all, are uniquely reported by a given author – 3 by Matthew, 2 by Mark, 5 by Luke and 6 by John.

Parables can be tricky to quantify (was it an illustration or a parable?) so the lists vary somewhere in the range of 30.[xxi] Only 5-7 of the parables are common to all three Synoptics.[xxii] Instead, about 70% of the parables are unique to either Matthew or Luke alone –  Matthew with 10-12 and 15-17 by Luke. One parable is exclusive to Mark while John does not recount any.[xxiii]

Gospel authors produced literary works about Jesus of Nazareth that are distinctive yet corroborating. Are the Gospels no more than recycled information or do they meet the standard of authenticity?

 

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[i]  Smith, Ben C. “Gospel manuscripts.” <http://www.textexcavation.com/gospelmanuscripts.html> Gloag, Paton J.  Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. Page 5. <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595 “Synoptic Gospels.” Theopedia.com. <http://www.theopedia.com/Synoptic_Gospels “The Book of Matthew.” Quartz Hill School of Theology. http://www.theology.edu/biblesurvey/matthew.htm Mareghni, Pamela. “Different Approaches to Literary Criticism.” <http://web.archive.org/web/20140628042039/http://www.ehow.com/about_5385205_different-approaches-literary-criticism.html >
[ii] Reed, Annette Yoshiko.  Pseudepigraphy, Authorship, and ‘The Bible’ in Late Antiquity. Pages 478 – 489. <http://www.academia.edu/1610659/_Pseudepigraphy_Authorship_and_the_Reception_of_the_Bible_in_Late_Antiquity>  Last accessed 9 May 2014.  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels.  Pages 9, 23-38. <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595>
[iii]  “Gospel of John.”  Theopedia.com.  <http://www.theopedia.com/Gospel_of_John>  “The Book of John.”  Quartz Hill School of Theology. http://www.theology.edu/biblesurvey/john.htm> Smith, Barry D. “The Gospel of John.”  <http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/NTIntro/John.htm
[iv] John 20:30.
[v] “Josephus, Flavius.” JewishEncylopedia.com.  <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8905-josephus-flavius>  Maimonides, Moses.  Mishneh Torah. “Introduction to Mishneh Torah.”  <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/682956/jewish/Mishneh-Torah.htm>   A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud.  Glossary:  “Mishnah.:  Ed. A. W. Streane.  <http://www.archive.org/stream/translationoftre00streuoft/translationoftre00streuoft_djvu.txt>  Segal, Eliezer.  A Page from the Babylonian Talmud.  “The Mishnah” and “The Gemara (Talmud).” <http://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/TalmudPage.html#Page>  Spiro, Ken.  “History Crash Course #39: The Talmud.” Aish.com. 4 Aug. 2001.  <http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48948646.html>   Valentine, Carol A. “The Structure of the Talmud Files.” <http://come-and-hear.com/structure.html>  Chase, Jeffrey S. “The Gutenberg Printing Press.” <http://www.cs.duke.edu/~chase/cps49s/press-summary.html>
 [vi] Josephus, Flavius.  Against Apion.  Book I. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>   “Custom Cheating and Plagiarism essay paper writing service.” <http://exclusivepapers.com/essays/Informative/cheating-and-plagiarism.php>  Cummings, Michael J. “Did Shakespeare Plagiarize?” <http://cummingsstudyguides.net/xPlagiarism.html>
[vii]  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. Pages 50-51. 
[viii] Maimonides, Moses.  Mishneh Torah.  <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/682956/jewish/Mishneh-Torah.htm>   Chase. “The Gutenberg Printing Press.”  Josephus.  Against Apion. Book I, #6-7.
[ix]  Josephus. Against Apion. Book I.
[x] Pearse, Roger, ed.  “Tacitus and his manuscripts.”  <http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/tacitus>  “Septuagint.”  Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. <http://books.google.com/books?id=goq0VWw9rGIC&lpg=PA185&ots=D1F_d2-T6T&dq=stipes%2C%20crucifixion&pg=PA185#v=onepage&q=septuagint&f=false>
[xi] Josephus.  Against Apion. Book I.  Reed.  Pseudepigraphy, Authorship, and ‘The Bible’ in Late Antiquity.  Chase. “The Gutenberg Printing Press.” Fausset, Andrew R.  “New Testament.”  Fausset Bible Dictionary. <http://classic.studylight.org/dic/fbd>  Irenaeus of Lyons.  Against Heresies. Book III. Chapter XXI.3, also XXI.2.  <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.iv.html>  “Septuagint.”  Septuagint.net. 2014.  <http://septuagint.net>  Josephus, Flavius.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book XII, Chapter II.1-6, 13-1.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=falseThe Babylonian Talmud.   Rodkinson translation. Book 4, Tracts Megilla Chapter I.  <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htm>  Benner, Jeff A. “Isaiah Scroll and the Masoretic Text.” <http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/31_masorite.html>  Lundberg, Marilyn J. “The Leningrad Codex. <http://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/wsrp/educational_site/biblical_manuscripts/LeningradCodex.shtml>   “Septuagint.”  Encyclopædia Britannica. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Septuagint>
[xii] Josephus.  Antiquities of the Jew. “Preface” #3
[xiii] Carr, A.  The Gospel According to Matthew, Volume I.  Page XIX.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=ZQAXAAAAYAAJ&dq=Swete%2C%20The%20Gospel%20According%20to%20St.%20Matthew&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=Swete,%20The%20Gospel%20According%20to%20St.%20Matthew&f=false>
[xiv]  “The Four Gospels.” <http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/texts/gospels.htm
[xv]  Irenaeus. Against Heresies. Book III.  Chapters I, IX, XXI.   “New Testament.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6821-gospels-the-four>  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. Pages ix, 39.
[xvi]  NIV, NASB, NRSV, NKJV
 [xvii] “Matthew.”  Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary.  <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002400.html#T0002442>  “Gospel of Matthew.”  <http://www.religionfacts.com/gospel-matthew>  Carr. The Gospel Accouding to Matthew, Volume I.  Pages XVIII – XIX.  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels.  Pages 32-33.
[xviii] “Luke, Gospel according to.”  Easton’s Bible Dictionary.  <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002300.html#T0002332>
[xix] “Mark, Gospel according to.”  Easton’s Bible Dictionary.  <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002400.html#T0002421>  Swete, Henry Barclay.  The Gospel According to St. Mark, The Greek Text with Notes and Indices.  Pages XIX, LXXIV.<https://books.google.com/books?id=WcYUAAAAQAAJ&lpg=PA127&ots=f_TER300kY&dq=Seneca%20centurio%20supplicio%20pr%C3%A6positus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>  
[xx]  “Luke.”  Easton’s Bible Dictionary.   Ryrie. Charles C., ed.  Ryrie Study Bible.  “The Miracles of Jesus.” 1978. Aune, Eilif Osten. “Synoptic Gospels.” < https://web.archive.org/web/20171214110423/www.bible-basics-layers-of-understanding.com/Synoptic-Gospels.html
[xxi] Sween, Don and Nancy.  “Parable.” BibleReferenceGuide.com.  n.d. <http://www.biblereferenceguide.com/keywords/parable.html
[xxii] “Parables” Easton’s Bible Dictionary.  <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002800.html#T0002842> “Luke, Gospel according to.”  Easton’s Bible Dictionary.  “Parables.”  International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. <http://www.internationalstandardbible.com/P/parable.html> Ryrie. “The Miracles of Jesus.”  Aune.  “Synoptic Gospels.” 
[xxiii]  Smith, B. D. “The Gospel of John”, F. 5.3.3.  Sween.  “Parable.” Swete. The Gospel According to St. Mark, The Greek Text with Notes and Indices.  Pages LXXIV, 83.  “Luke, Gospel according to.”  Easton’s Bible Dictionary. “Parable.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.  Ryrie. “The Parables of Jesus.”