Can the Gospels Be Trusted?
When I was a youth pastor, I played a game with the teens we called “Gossip”. Maybe you’ve played it before; it has different names. The game starts with a “secret”, which is whispered to the first person in the circle, who then whispers it to the second person and so on down the line. The secret is shared once per person until it reaches the last person, who then shares what they “heard,” always with a distorted and usually hilarious version of the original secret. It was a fun, teaching tool.
Richard Dawkins, a renowned atheist, claims that “everything in the gospels suffered from word of mouth retelling”, much like what happens in the game “Gossip.” The Gospels weren’t written down until 35-45 years or more following Jesus death. Dawkins’ premise is that the stories of the Gospels were distorted, embellished and exaggerated over those many years, before they were written down.
Is that possible? Could the Gospels really be just a bunch of exaggerated, embellished stories about a would-be Savior? Are the four biographies about the life Jesus really just a lot of hot-air and hyperbole? How would you answer those questions? Let me be clear: The Gospels can absolutely be trusted and believed for exactly what they say and the claims they make. But how can we be so sure? As we unpack this question and others, I used some insights I picked up from Rebecca McLaughlin’s book: Is Christmas Unbelievable?
The Gospels aren’t like the game “Gossip” for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the Gospel stories weren’t whispered along a single line, interpreted, then repeated by each hearer. They were boldly proclaimed over and over by those who had been with Jesus… His witnesses! (Luke 24:46-8; Acts 1:8). Also, John’s Gospel was written by John himself; so that is not like the last person in the Gossip Game repeating what they heard; it is like when the original message is shared! (John 21:24).
Is it really possible to accurately remember what was seen and heard nearly a half century before? What do you remember for 20-30-40 or more years ago? The truth is, you can remember a lot. I have some vivid memories from 40-45 years ago, some from when I was only 8-9 years old! (I had a lot of fun sharing those memories in this message). If you and I can recall experiences from 30-40-50 years ago, think about it; if you had experienced Jesus, would you ever forget what you saw Him do and heard Him say? No way! Experiencing Jesus was (and is) literally life-changing and you would never forget it!
But also remember, Jesus had thoroughly trained and schooled His disciples, in the same way any Rabbi would his students in that time. Jesus’ disciples went through three years of intense discipleship training with Him. No doubt they would have committed to memory vast amounts of information, like any student. Then, they spent their lives sharing what they had heard and seen from Jesus!
There are some other important questions to consider… Is it possible that the stories about Jesus were exaggerated over time? If the Gospels were fabricated and embellished, wouldn’t the major players have cleaned up their stories? Don’t the differences between the Gospels create some reliability problems? For answers to these questions, click here to watch the worship service and message… True Story: Unwrapping the True Christmas Story - Part 2: The Gospels Can Be Trusted.