Light for the Last Days

Are the Gospels a made-up story?

SHORT TALK

Acts is a very good example of why you should have confidence in the truth of the word of God. That this Word is not just a sort of made-up story, it’s something which was written by people who were eyewitnesses, who saw it, who recorded what happened, and who have given us a faithful record of the events concerning the ministry of the Lord Jesus, of His death, of His resurrection.

And, in the Book of Acts, we witness the Ministry of the Apostles in spreading the Gospel beginning in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and then going to the ends of the earth.

joshuaproject.net

The devil is continually attacking the Word of God. First question in the Bible was Satan speaking to Eve saying,

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

Genesis 3.1

And today, they’re continually doing this, continually trying to make you undermine your faith in the Bible.

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.

For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)— then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, 11 whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord.

12 But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, 13 and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. 15 They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 16 but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet.

17 These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.

18 For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. 19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. 20 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. 21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

2 Peter 2

I was speaking to one of our neighbours the other day. He’s a bit of a sceptic. And he was telling me how he’d been watching programmes on the Internet, which were telling him that the Gospels were written some 80 to 100 years later, made-up by people who didn’t see the events and lived a lot later, and that they were many gospels written. He also said that, at the Council of Nicea, they just chose four of these gospels but that they could have chosen many more.

That’s the kind of propaganda, which people are given today. That’s not true, and I had a good talk with him saying why it wasn’t true.

GotQuestions.org

But basically, is this story something which was made-up by people much later, or is it the record of faithful people who saw it taking place?

If you look in this passage in the Book of Acts, notice that it speaks about a former account which I made and that the writer is speaking to a man called Theophilus about a ‘former account’ of all that Jesus began to do and teach. And now he’s giving a ‘following account’ of what he’s going to continue to do and teach through the Holy Spirit. So who’s the man?

The man, the writer is Luke. And what is the former account? It’s the Gospel of Luke. If you go back to the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke.

He says,

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.

Luke 1.1-4

So, according to its own credentials, these books, the Book of Luke and the Book of Acts were written by people, by Luke himself, with information from people who were eyewitnesses of the events that took place, they were not a story made-up much later. We are told the story, the account of events which took place at the time.

Commentators confirm that Luke himself was a first rate historian, who got his facts right about the history, about the geography, about the customs of the people round about. Acts has a lot of information about events of the time relating to Jewish, Greek and Roman society, all fit in with history, and you can locate them pretty much by looking at other writers, Roman writers, Jewish writers such as Josephus, and see that Luke got his facts right.

The dates were pretty much 29 to 32. The death and resurrection of Jesus 35 to 36. The conversion of Saul to become.

“And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me. 10 So I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus.

Acts 22:9-11

In the Book of Acts you read how Paul was lowered in a basket out of Damascus.

In Corinthians, he tells us this happened in the days when Aretas was the governor of of Damascus.

22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?

30 If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity. 31 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor, under Aretas the king, was guarding the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desiring to arrest me; 33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.

2 Corinthians 11.22-33

We know from history that Aretas stopped being the governor of Damascus around about 39 AD, so Paul had to be converted sometime before then. He speaks about his missionary journeys, how he went to the Jew first and then to the Greek, how the Jewish religion and ideas had spread to the Greeks. They had synagogues in the Greek areas where they taught the Torah.

The Gentiles were people who feared God and were attracted to Judaism as a higher, ethically rigid religion than that offered by Greek or Roman gods. There was a large number of Greeks who had converted to some form of Judaism.

It was amongst them that Paul gained most of his converts which upset the Jewish majority, and why there was antagonism between the Jewish members of the synagogue and Paul as he was preaching.

For example, in 51 AD, Paul was in Corinth. The Bible doesn’t give you the dates, but we know that was roughly the time. He was charged before a Pro-Consul called Gallio. In Roman history, we can workout the Gallio was the Pro-Consul in Corinth around 51 to 52 AD. That is exactly the right time when Paul would have been in Corinth.

It also says that somebody called Aquila and Priscilla had come recently from Italy because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome, you know from history that that happened around this time. So, it all fits in.

You go forward to 59 AD and Paul was arrested in Jerusalem in Acts 24 to 25. He had trials before a man called Felix and a man called Festus.

According to Josephus, the Jewish historian, Festus succeeded Felix in 59 AD. Now the Bible doesn’t give you those dates but you can fit the names with the dates given in history.

So Festus was there and, according to Acts 25, Festus granted Paul’s request to be tried in Rome, and Paul then went to Rome.

Now when Festus had come to the province, after three days he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem. Then the high priest and the chief men of the Jews informed him against Paul; and they petitioned him, asking a favor against him, that he would summon him to Jerusalem—while they lay in ambush along the road to kill him. But Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was going there shortly. “Therefore,” he said, “let those who have authority among you go down with me and accuse this man, to see if there is any fault in him.”

And when he had remained among them more than ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day, sitting on the judgment seat, he commanded Paul to be brought. When he had come, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood about and laid many serious complaints against Paul, which they could not prove, while he answered for himself, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all.”

But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged before me concerning these things?”

10 So Paul said, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know. 11 For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.”

12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, “You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!”

Acts 25.1-12

You read then about it in his his boat trip in Acts 27, which ended in a shipwreck off the coast of Malta. And when he got to Rome, Paul stayed in Rome for around two years, it says, and the Book of Acts ends in a bit of an anti climax. It just says Paul was living in Rome for in his own rented house for two years.

30 Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.

Acts 28.30-31

Now Luke has been giving in the previous chapters a whole lot of information about the fact that Paul was going to go up to Rome to be tried before the emperor.

But he doesn’t give any information about what happened at the trial. He doesn’t tell you that Paul was actually acquitted and that he went onto carry on his ministry or that he was probably executed around about 64 to 65 AD.

How did the apostle Paul die? | GotQuestions.org

Now, if this had been written 80 years after the event, surely they’d put that information in. So, what’s my point? What am I saying here?

Luke had to have completed the Book of Acts before Paul went to his trial. Does that make sense? He didn’t record anything about it, in which case the Book of Acts was written around 62 AD.

Now the Book of Acts tells you that Luke had written a former document which was the Gospel of Luke. And Luke tells us that other people had written Gospels before him: Matthew and Mark. So Luke’s gospel must have been written before 62 AD, which is 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

According to John Wenham, who is the kind of theologian who I would follow, in redating the books of the New Testament, Acts was written about 62 AD. Luke’s Gospel around 54 AD, that’s 20 years after Jesus. Mark’s Gospel in 45 AD, about 12 years after, and Matthew’s, in about 40 AD, that’s about seven or eight years after Jesus.

Therefore, these were written by people who were eye witnesses who saw these things happen. And probably they had sayings already which were written down.

Full Sermon

One commentary I read said that Matthew, in his job as a tax collector, would have had some skill in speed writing. So, he could have been writing down what Jesus was saying pretty much as he was saying it, and recording these things so that they were kept and passed on to the church before they were formally converted into the documents of the New Testament which we now have.

So, you have early very early records of the life of Jesus. Now, why do I tell you that’s important? If you have early records of something, it means it is datable and it is also authoritative. It means it was written by people who saw what happened. They weren’t making up funny stories.

If you compare that with another famous book, the Quran, there is nothing you can date the Quran to, when it was supposed to be written. It wasn’t even written down by Muhammad. There’s no record of when it was written. There’s no record of even Muhammad existing. There’s no record of Mecca existing. It’s all a made-up story, probably 200 years after the alleged events took place, and definitely not authoritative.

Compare that with the Bible. You have a very authoritative document. Why do I tell you this? Because it’s important that you believe it. You’re going to be under attack and you have to believe that this is a Book which has substance. It is not just a made-up story. It’s a book which is recorded for our benefit so that we can believe the words which are written in it.

10 But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. 12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 13 But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3.10-17

Tony Pearce

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