In the clip below, Dr Peter Williams, a Senior Lecturer in New Testament at the University of Aberdeen, compares the four Biblical gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, written in the first century, with some of the apocryphal gospels written in later centuries. Watch the first five minutes and see if you find it as fascinating and helpful as I did:
Some Key Points:
1. The test of names: The Biblical Gospels have the pattern of names we would expect them to have if they are reporting what real people said and did. The pattern would be too complex for an ancient forger to reproduce (35:25). The later apocryphal gospels do not have this pattern.
2. The test of geography: The Biblical Gospels correctly name and place a variety of well-known and more obscure towns, indicating local knowledge. In contrast the later apocryphal gospels lack of geographical names demonstrate what takes place when people make up stories they purport to be authentic.
3. The test of botany: eg. sycamore-fig tree in Jericho (Luke 19:4). The Biblical gospels consistently get names, places, botany, shape of houses, shape of the temple, coinage, social stratification, religious setting etc. right. There are so many opportunities for them to get it wrong if they are making it up, yet they do not (44:10).
4. Bringing tests together in one passage: feeding of the 5000 (see chart at 47:00). The incidental details given across the four Gospels of this event, point to it being authentic.
Conclusion: If the gospels resulted from conspiracy, or incompetence, or stories several steps removed from the eyewitnesses, you would not expect the above results. There are many hurdles at which the Biblical Gospels could fall down, but consistently they do not.Other Resources: ehrmanproject.com (a list of books and resources discussing the historical reliability of the New Testament and responding to the claims of Dr. Bart Ehrman) Unravelling_manuscript_truth (Peter Bolt concludes: Because of the careful preservation of its message through the manuscript tradition across centuries, today’s New Testament readers can be confident that they are now reading what was first written) The Christ files (John Dickson writes on the gospel coalition blog as to “Why Historical Questions Aren’t Going Anywhere and Shouldn’t Trouble Us Anyway”.