Category: How did we get the New Testament?

Here are  some reasons why God gave four Gospels instead of just one:

1) To  give a more complete picture of Christ. While the entire Bible is  inspired by God (2 Timothy  3:16), He used human authors with different backgrounds and personalities to  accomplish His purposes through their writing. Each of the gospel authors had a  distinct purpose behind his gospel and in carrying out those purposes, each  emphasized different aspects of the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Matthew was writing to a Hebrew audience, and one of his purposes was to show  from Jesus’ genealogy and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies that He was  the long-expected Messiah, and thus should be believed in. Matthew’s emphasis is  that Jesus is the promised King, the “Son of David,” who would forever sit upon  the throne of Israel (Matthew  9:27; 21:9).

Mark, a cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), was an  eyewitness to the events in the life of Christ as well as being a friend of the  apostle Peter. Mark wrote for a Gentile audience, as is brought out by his not  including things important to Jewish readers (genealogies, Christ’s  controversies with Jewish leaders of His day, frequent references to the Old  Testament, etc.). Mark emphasizes Christ as the suffering Servant, the One who  came not to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Luke,  the “beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14 KJV), evangelist, and companion of  the apostle Paul, wrote both the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the apostles.  Luke is the only Gentile author of the New Testament. He has long been accepted  as a diligent master historian by those who have used his writings in  genealogical and historical studies. As a historian, he states that it is his  intent to write down an orderly account of the life of Christ based on the  reports of those who were eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-4).  Because he specifically wrote for the benefit of Theophilus, apparently a  Gentile of some stature, his gospel was composed with a Gentile audience in  mind, and his intent is to show that a Christian’s faith is based upon  historically reliable and verifiable events. Luke often refers to Christ as the  “Son of Man,” emphasizing His humanity, and he shares many details that are not  found in the other gospel accounts.

The gospel of John, written by John  the apostle, is distinct from the other three Gospels and contains much  theological content in regard to the person of Christ and the meaning of faith.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the “Synoptic Gospels” because of  their similar styles and content and because they give a synopsis of the life of  Christ. The gospel of John begins not with Jesus’ birth or earthly ministry but  with the activity and characteristics of the Son of God before He became man (John 1:14). The gospel of John  emphasizes the deity of Christ, as is seen in his use of such phrases as “the  Word was God” (John 1:1), “the  Savior of the World” (John 4:42),  the “Son of God” (used repeatedly), and “Lord and…God” (John 20:28). In John’s gospel, Jesus also affirms His  deity with several “I Am” statements; most notable among them is John 8:58, in which He states that “…before Abraham  was, I Am” (compare to Exodus  3:13-14). But John also emphasizes the fact of Jesus’ humanity, desiring to  show the error of a religious sect of his day, the Gnostics, who did not believe  in Christ’s humanity. John’s gospel spells out his overall purpose for writing:  “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which  are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that  Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in  his name” (John  20:30-31).

Thus, in having four distinct and yet equally accurate  accounts of Christ, different aspects of His person and ministry are revealed.  Each account becomes like a different-colored thread in a tapestry woven  together to form a more complete picture of this One who is beyond description.  And while we will never fully understand everything about Jesus Christ (John 20:30), through the four  Gospels we can know enough of Him to appreciate who He is and what He has done  for us so that we may have life through faith in Him.

2) To  enable us to objectively verify the truthfulness of their accounts. The  Bible, from earliest times, states that judgment in a court of law was not to be  made against a person based on the testimony of a single eyewitness but that two  or three as a minimum number were required (Deuteronomy 19:15). Even so, having different accounts of  the person and earthly ministry of Jesus Christ enables us to assess the  accuracy of the information we have concerning Him.

Simon Greenleaf, a  well-known and accepted authority on what constitutes reliable evidence in a  court of law, examined the four Gospels from a legal perspective. He noted that  the type of eyewitness accounts given in the four Gospels—accounts which agree,  but with each writer choosing to omit or add details different from the  others—is typical of reliable, independent sources that would be accepted in a  court of law as strong evidence. Had the Gospels contained exactly the same  information with the same details written from the same perspective, it would  indicate collusion, i.e., of there having been a time when the writers got  together beforehand to “get their stories straight” in order to make their  writings seem credible. The differences between the Gospels, even the apparent  contradictions of details upon first examination, speak to the independent  nature of the writings. Thus, the independent nature of the four Gospel  accounts, agreeing in their information but differing in perspective, amount of  detail, and which events were recorded, indicate that the record that we have of  Christ’s life and ministry as presented in the Gospels is factual and  reliable.

3) To reward those who are diligent seekers. Much can be gained by an individual study of each of the Gospels. But still more  can be gained by comparing and contrasting the different accounts of specific  events of Jesus’ ministry. For instance, in Matthew 14 we are given the account  of the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on the water. In Matthew 14:22 we are told  that “Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the  other side, while he dismissed the crowd.” One may ask, why did He do this?  There is no apparent reason given in Matthew’s account. But when we combine it  with the account in Mark 6, we see that the disciples had come back from casting  out demons and healing people through the authority He had given them when He  sent them out two-by-two. But they returned with “big heads,” forgetting their  place and ready now to instruct Him (Matthew  14:15). So, in sending them off in the evening to go to the other side of  the Sea of Galilee, Jesus reveals two things to them. As they struggle against  the wind and waves in their own self-reliance until the early hours of the  morning (Mark  6:48-50), they begin to see that 1) they can achieve nothing for God in  their own ability and 2) nothing is impossible if they call upon Him and live in  dependence upon His power. There are many passages containing similar “jewels”  to be found by the diligent student of the Word of God who takes the time to  compare Scripture with Scripture.

We know that the books in the Old Testament are important because they not only foreshadow the Lord Jesus, but He also taught those who followed Him from them. Though the 27 books of the New Testament were written after Jesus was crucified and resurrected, they were recognized as authentic because they were written by people who had direct contact with Christ and were divinely inspired. Just like a book was considered canonical when Moses or David wrote it, a book was recognized as authoritative when an apostle such as John or Paul wrote it.

The New Testament was written more quickly than the Old Testament—it was completed within half a century. This means that all the books were completed, copied, and distributed before AD 100. In fact by AD 95, a letter written by Clement of Rome (an early church father who may have been a student of Paul) shows the influence of Matthew, Luke, Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, Timothy, Titus, and Peter—a sign that the books were well known and circulated within the early church.

In The Origin of the Bible, Milton Fisher writes, “The first three outstanding church fathers, Clement, Polycarp, and Ignatius, used the bulk of the material of the New Testament in a revealingly casual manner—authenticated Scriptures were being accepted as authoritative without argument.” If any group voiced uncertainty about a book, it was generally because the group was from a different location or region, and had not had the exposure to it that would allow them to affirm its authenticity.

It wasn’t until around AD 140 that a heretic named Marcion challenged the canon (he threw out the entire Old Testament and a lot of the New Testament), which forced church leaders to affirm the authority of both the Old and New Testaments. This confirmation was useful because by AD 170, other “gospels” were appearing (fictional, to be sure). Yet the church had already established that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the only Gospels with authority.

By approximately AD 170, the canon was being translated into other languages, and by AD 190, church leaders were beginning to call it the “New Testament.” Though there were other documents that affirmed the canon of the New Testament, the most important confirmation came at the Council of Carthage (AD 397), which listed the 27 books and proclaimed, “Aside from the canonical Scriptures nothing is to be read in church under the Name of Divine Scriptures.”

Manuscript-wise, we are very fortunate to have fragments dating as close as 20 to 30 years from the original work of the apostles, which is utterly astounding. In fact, there is a manuscript containing the majority of Paul’s epistles that dates to just a few decades after Paul would have written them. Though they have earlier manuscripts containing different parts of the New Testament, the earliest complete Bible manuscript (which actually included both the Old and New Testaments) was found in AD 350, and is known as the Codex Sinaiticus. In the archaeological world, this kind of excellent record is virtually unheard of.

Frederick Kenyon, a British archaeologist respected for his work concerning ancient texts and languages, concluded, “The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries.”

(Please understand that this description of the canonization of the New Testament is a very brief, general summary. However, it represents the inherent truth that our Bible is absolutely reliable and trustworthy.)

Evidence & Confirmation

Even if you accept that the manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments are authentic and reliable, you may be wondering: How can I be sure that Jesus really is the Messiah? Other people died on crosses—how do I know it wasn’t some other guy?

Science Speaks professor Peter Stoner looked at the eight prophesies in the Old Testament regarding the place of birth, time of birth, manner of birth, betrayal, manner of death, place of death, public reaction, piercing, and burial of the Messiah. According to Josh McDowell in Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Stoner found that the chance that a man could fit those eight prophecies was 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000 (1 x 1017).

Stoner writes,

These prophecies were either given by inspiration of God or the prophets just wrote them as they thought they should be. In such a case the prophets had just one chance in 1017 of having them come true in any man, but they all came true in Christ. This means that the fulfillment of those eight prophesies alone proves that God inspired the writings of those prophecies to definiteness which lacks only one chance in 1017 of being absolute.

The most astounding thing is that Jesus doesn’t only fulfill these eight prophecies, but over 100 prophecies found in the Old Testament! (By the way, this is a very conservative estimate. One website listed 324 fulfilled prophecies!) Imagine the odds of that? It is utterly beyond our comprehension!

We know from the document evidence that these prophecies were written even before Jesus was born, and that no amount of human engineering could possibly achieve them. Yet Jesus did—and no one else ever will. So then, how sure can you be that Jesus is the real Messiah? 100 x 10 infinite percent.