Maas, Korey D., and Adam S. Francisco, eds. Making the Case for Christianity: Responding to Modern Objections. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2014. Kindle Electronic Edition.
Chapter 2, The New Testament Gospels as Reliable History.” by Mark A. Pierson, Loc. 671-1285.
The reliability of the accounts of Jesus as found in the canonical Gospels is of great importance. It does not matter how good the teachings are philosophically if they are not genuine. “If it can be shown that the New Testament is not historically reliable, Christianity will have been dealt a fatal blow” (Maas 2014, Loc. 681). “That Christians do believe in a mythical or legendary Jesus is precisely what skeptics have claimed for centuries, with ever-increasing intensity” (Ibid., Loc. 691). Pierson considers the starting point of critics, particularly Bart Ehrman. Ehrman’s presuppositions show through clearly in his commentary. He assumes that miracles do not occur, thus rejects biblical accounts of the supernatural (Ibid., Loc. 717). Pierson counters that a historian must accept the most plausible explanation of events, which is sometimes that a miracle may have happened (Ibid., Loc. 734). Ehrman also assumes that a writer with a theological concern cannot write reliable history (Ibid., Loc. 739). Yet historians regularly provide accurate reports of events they feel strongly about (Ibid., Loc. 755).
Pierson next turns his attention to the scholarly methods of form criticism and redaction criticism (Ibid., Loc. 765). In their purest form, these methods help determine the best interpretive methods and the most accurate text of a narrative. When used by scholars such as Ehrman they assume significant alterations to a narrative in the period prior to the text which reaches us (Ibid., Loc. 776). Pierson observes that there is simply no evidence to support such a view.
“One of the standard positions held in the academy is that the New Testament authors transformed the Jesus of history (the real Jesus) into the exalted Christ of faith (the Jesus worshiped by later Christians)” (Ibid., Loc. 835). Therefore, Ehrman seeks to get behind the Gospels to find the real Jesus. Pierson counters that the real Jesus was apparently the Jesus of faith or people would never have believed or remembered him. Pierson goes on to consider Ehrman’s self-contradictory criteria for accepting accounts as reliable (Ibid., Loc. 862). Effectively the criteria become arbitrary at best.
Another method of interpretation is viewed as “the historical argument.” What happens if we consider the New Testament accounts in the same light we use for other texts? Pierson evaluates this approach “according to three categories: the integrity of texts themselves; the reliability of their content; and extra-biblical support” (Ibid., Loc. 883). Pierson discusses the high reliability of the text based on the manuscript evidence (Ibid., Loc. 900). The content of the New Testament, rather than being eroded by variants, is affirmed by consistent content (Ibid., Loc. 930). It is also clear that there were very early accounts of eyewitnesses to the production of the Gospels and the work of their authors (Ibid., Loc. 956). The texts were also developed in a culture with very strong oral traditions. It is unlikely that the content would be corrupted easily (Ibid., Loc. 1018). Furthermore, the fact that Jesus is even mentioned in secular accounts at all is surprising (Ibid., Loc. 1045). Yet he is mentioned by other sources, as are other disputed events, such as the Roman census of Luke 2 (Ibid., Loc. 1060), Pilate’s governorship, and the crucifixion.