Mark D. Roberts

Today’s post, as well as several posts to come, are excerpts from my new book, Can We Trust the Gospels? Investigating the Reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Beginning with my days at Harvard and continuing throughout the last three decades, I have worked away on the question of the trustworthiness of the Gospels. I have come to believe that there are solid reasons for accepting them as reliable both for history and for faith.
You may be surprised to learn that I agree with about threequarters of what I learned from Professor MacRae in Religion 140. We affirm the same basic facts: the raw data of ancient documents and archeological discoveries. The differences between our views have to do with how we evaluate the data, and here the gap between what Professor MacRae taught and what I believe today is often wide and deep.
You may also be surprised to discover that my arguments in this book are often friendlier to critical scholarship than you might expect. For example, many defenses of the historical reliability of the Gospel of John depend on an early date of composition (pre–A.D. 70). I will not base my own conclusions upon this early date, though I think there are persuasive arguments in its favor.
While reading this book, an evangelical who is well acquainted with New Testament scholarship might periodically object, “But there are even stronger arguments than the ones you’re making.” So be it! I’m open to these positions and glad for those who articulate them. But I have chosen to base my case, for the most part, on that which most even-handed critical scholars, including non-evangelicals, would affirm. I’ve done this for two reasons.
First, I want to encourage the person who is troubled by negative views of the Gospels, perhaps in a college New Testament course or in a popular “Gospels-debunking” book. In a sense, I’m writing for the Mark Roberts who once felt perplexed in Religion 140. To the “old me” and others like him I want to say, “Look, even if you believe most of ‘assured results of scholarship’ concerning the Gospels, you can still trust them.”
Second, I believe this book will have broader impact if I don’t fill it with theories that, however plausible, are popular only among conservative scholars. For example, it may well be that the disciples of Jesus had been trained to memorize sayings of their religious mentors, much like later rabbinic students.10 If this is true, it would greatly increase the likelihood that the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels closely reflect what Jesus himself had once said. But since the jury is still out on the question of whether or not the disciples were trained in technical memorization, I won’t base my conclusions upon this possibility.
My basic point in this book is that if you look squarely at the facts as they are widely understood, and if you do not color them with pejorative bias or atheistic presuppositions, then you’ll find that it’s reasonable to trust the Gospels.

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