Time to Think. 3. How Reliable is the Biblical Account of Jesus Christ?

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In Defense of the Gospel

If we find Mark’s Gospel account of Jesus’ life reliable it could also point to the reliability of the other Gospel accounts by Matthew and Luke and the rest of the New Testament. So, we will consider the Gospel of Mark in some detail with the concerns that Mark’s account might not be reliable.

The account of Jesus’s life by Mark (the Gospel of Mark) is accepted by most Christian and non-Christian scholars as the earliest account of Jesus’ life. If the account of Mark is found to be reliable even so, then would the other gospel accounts by Matthew and Luke be. (90% of what is written in Mark is written in Matthew and 60% of Mark is written in Luke. Matthew has 44% and Luke 58% material in common that is not found in Mark)

There are however three important objections to the reliability of Mark’s account to consider I. Was he a reliable witness to tell the story, close enough to Christ, and willing to tell the truth? Or was he trying to make a Jewish peasant into the Son of God? II. Is the transmission from what Mark wrote to the Greek manuscripts reliable? Important to know that Mark’s original documents are not available. Was it perhaps changed, even corrupted? III. Is the translation from the original Greek manuscripts to today’s New Testament reliable or in some texts changed to what Christians want it to say?

We will discuss each of these objections and start with the most important.

On the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts see – ‘The Resurrection of Christ’

I. The Objection of Unreliable Testimony.

  1. Mark was not with Jesus, he was a post-resurrection person. Response: From scriptural/Biblical as well as second-century evidence it is evident that Mark was associated with Peter while in Rome as Peter’s interpreter. Bishop Papias of Hierapolis (60-130AD) claimed that Mark wrote the Gospel in Rome as he scribed the preaching of Peter.
  2. Jesus was a legend. Response: Experts date the writing of Mark to be around 60 A.D., within 25 to 30 years after the crucifixion, making it most probably the oldest Gospel written. Thus, written much too early to create a legend. Legends are not created within the lifetime of the acquaintances of the supposed legend – created facts and stories are too easy to be exposed as untrue. Records of the life of Alexander the Great was between written 400 and 450 years after the events yet they are given the benefit of the doubt as factually correct.  
  3. Controversial stories of Jesus Christ vs the Pharisees were invented to dissolve debates and written later into the story of Jesus Christ. Response: The issues in the New Testament church were not solved by the sayings of Jesus. If the story of Jesus in the gospel were made up, Paul and others would have solved it by saying ‘Jesus said’ but Jesus is almost never cited to solve controversy except with The Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11.
  4. Teachings like the Sermon on the Mount were invented to provide instructions to new Christians. Response: The is no Biblical or extra-Biblical evidence for this statement and accepted widely as the word spoken by Jesus.
  5. Miracles were invented as apologetic material. Response: see The Resurrection of Jesus. If the resurrection happened, then miracles can happen.

More evidence for the reliability of Mark

  1. The unflattering portrayal of Jesus. Mark told the truth. He would not have included Mark 1:4-9, the baptism of repentance of Jesus and Mark 6:5, that Jesus could not do any miracles, Mark 10:18, Why do you call Me good or Mark 16: 5-7 the woman as witnesses of the resurrection. Mark gives a feel of integrity, unlike the non-canonical books.
  2. The Presence of Independent Witnesses to what Mark wrote. Matthew and Luke’s account of Jesus’ life that coheres with Mark’s account. And Paul’s account that He saw the risen Jesus who radically changed his life. The high Christology that Jesus is the Son of God, Devine, died for our sins, worked miracles, raised from the dead and sits at the right hand of God in heaven, took years to develop. Response: Paul wrote a high Christology of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15 and written around 51 AD.
  3. The effects of Jesus’ life on people. If he was just a teacher, He would have had minimal effect on the lives of His followers, but His followers were so convinced of His Christology that the church exploded, and His followers were prepared to lay down their lives.

From the above, it can be concluded that the Gospel of Mark is a reliable testimony of the life of Jesus.  

II. Transmission from what Mark wrote to the Greek manuscripts. The objection is that it could be tainted because Mark’s original manuscripts are not available. Response: The question is not whether we have the original documents but how many copies of the original documents do we have, and how early were they written – how close to the original. The time from the earliest copies of Tacitus’ Annals that were written AD 14–68, the central historical source for the first century C.E. Rome, to the original writing is at least a thousand years and 20 copies are available.  With Mark, the time between Mark’s original documents and existing copies is 140 years and thousands of copies are available. The reconstructed text from these manuscripts demonstrates 99% similarity with no major doctrinal (foundational teaching) variance.

III. Translation from the Greek manuscripts to today’s Bible. The objection is that it is a biased translation, that the modern translations from Greek were changed into what they wanted it to say. Response: There are many translations and different translations use different forms to express the same meaning. Some translations emphasize the precise meaning like the New International Version (NIV), and some emphasize the original language, like the New American Standard Version (NAS). Thus, different translations have different emphases but the same meanings and are not biased. The accuracy of the English translations is open to scrutiny by Christian and non-Christian Greek scholars. It is an accurate translation from Greek. This is not really an issue anymore and the least important of the objections to the reliability of Mark’s account of Jesus’s life

Conclusion: each of the main objections to the reliability of Mark’s account has been addressed. It was shown that Mark was a reliable witness, and willing to tell the truth. That the transmission of Mark’s writings to the earliest Greek manuscripts can be trusted and thirdly that the translation from the original Greek to today’s Bible was not corrupted and reliable and open to scrutiny by scholars. Mark’s Gospel is a reliable source about the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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