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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Which Written Records about Jesus Are Trustworthy?

Don Stewart :: What Should We Conclude about the Various Written Accounts of Jesus Christ?

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What Should We Conclude about the Various Written Accounts of Jesus Christ?

Which Written Records about Jesus Are Trustworthy? – Question 22

There is no doubt that Jesus Christ existed. Both friend and foe testify to this. Having looked at the evidence that we have about the life and ministry of Jesus from ancient written sources we can make the following observations about them.

To begin with, the writings we have about Jesus can be placed into two categories. The authentic information can be found in the New Testament, particularly the four gospels. All other written sources, whether ancient or modern, are of no help whatsoever, in determining what Jesus said and did. The evidence is as follows.

1. The Four Gospels Are the Only Trustworthy Source about Jesus

The four gospels are our only firsthand information that we presently have about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. We know this to be a fact for at least the following five reasons. They are as follows.

1. The Text Has Been Reliably Transmitted to Us

First, the text has been reliably transmitted to us. That is, it says the same thing today as when originally written. Consequently we have the confidence that we are reading the exact same words which the writers originally penned. Nothing has been added or subtracted.

2. The Writers Intended To Give Us An Accurate Account Of Jesus

Second, the gospel writers intended to give us an accurate portrait of the life and ministry of Jesus. Their desire was to tell the truth about Him. It was their stated goal to give us the “exact truth” about what Jesus said and did.

3. They Were in a Position to Give Us an Accurate Account of Jesus

Third, these writers were in a position to give humanity a correct understanding of what Jesus said and did. They were there when the events took place. These disciples heard what Jesus taught as well as seeing the things which He did.

4. Their Picture of Jesus and His Times Is Historically Accurate

Fourth, the evidence shows they did exactly that. From all known sources, we can conclude that their picture of Jesus matches with known reality. Indeed, what these people wrote matches up with the known laws, customs, people and events of the first century A.D.

5. All Other Writings about Jesus Christ Come Later in Time

Finally, all other writings that claim to contain trustworthy information about Jesus are not firsthand sources of Jesus’ life and ministry. They can add nothing whatsoever to our knowledge of what He said and did. This brings us to our next point.

Other Writings about Jesus Are Not Outlaw Scriptures

There are a number of conclusions that we can make about certain writings contain information about the life of Jesus that have not made it into the New Testament.

Some ill-informed people have called these books “outlaw” Scriptures. But this is certainly not the case. Indeed none of these works were ever thought of as part of the New Testament. Anyone who insists that the early church suppressed these particular works to keep the people from knowing the truth about Jesus is speaking out of ignorance, or a desire to deceive. Several points need to be made.

A. They Were Written at a Later Date than the Books of Scripture

It is obvious from the date of the composition of these works that they cannot be considered on the same level as Holy Scripture. The four gospels were written by eyewitnesses, or people who recorded eyewitness testimony of the life and ministry of Jesus. They were composed by people who were in a position to make authoritative statements of what Jesus said and did.

These other works were written by individuals who were in no such position to make authoritative statements about Jesus. They can add nothing to our knowledge of Him or His times because they were not there! Thus, we have the clear contrast between the eyewitness account, the New Testament, and these other written works which were penned by people who were not living at Jesus’ time.

B. They Are Not Secret Works

There is something else which needs to be emphasizes. These other writings cannot be called “secret works.” Scholars have always been aware of these works. Indeed, they are not secret and have never been secret. One of the reasons why the general public has not heard of them is because no one takes them seriously. And for good reason!

C. They Are Rejected by All Branches of Christendom

Furthermore, all branches of Christianity reject these writings as giving us some type of authoritative understanding of the life and times of Jesus Christ. Indeed, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants alike are in agreement that these writings have no place in Holy Scripture and do not add to our historical knowledge of Jesus.

D. They Were Never Considered to Be Scripture

In addition, these books have never received the slightest consideration as being part of the New Testament canon of Scripture. They are not in the category of some writings which were accepted by some but disputed by others. All believers rejected these books.

E. The Differences Become Clear if One Merely Reads Them

A reading of these written works will immediately demonstrate their inferior nature. There is simply no comparison between them and the writings that are found in Scripture. The fanciful nature becomes evident when the New Testament is read alongside these other writings.

F. The Superiority of the New Testament Is Confirmed

Every other source that gives us a different understanding of Jesus, than the picture found in the New Testament, is discovered to be wanting. By examining these writings, and the claims made for them, we discover the superiority and the accuracy of the New Testament.

Thus, rather than taking away from our confidence in the four gospels, it actually adds to our confidence. The vast difference between the four canonical gospels and all the other attempts to write about the life and times of Jesus Christ becomes clearer and clearer. There really is no comparison between them.

G. We Should Let the New Testament Speak for Itself

This brings us to our final point. Since the New Testament is the only reliable source for the life and ministry of Jesus, we should let it speak to us about who Jesus is and what He did. It should be our sole guide to determine who Jesus is, what He said and did, and what our responsibility is toward Him. We need to read it, study, it, and let it tell us the truth about Jesus. This is how we can discover the “real” Jesus.

Summary – Question 22
What Should We Conclude about the Various Written Accounts of Jesus Christ?

It is essential that have the correct idea of who Jesus Christ is as well as what He demands of us. Consequently, it is of the utmost importance that we have the proper sources to determine these things. After looking at the evidence, there are a number of conclusions we can make about various accounts of the life and times of Jesus Christ which have come down to us.

To begin with, the only reliable firsthand information that we have about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ comes from the New Testament. No other source is trustworthy.

For one thing, the text has been accurately transmitted to us. It says the same thing as originally written. Moreover, these writers tell us that they are attempting to provide us with a genuine portrait of Jesus. Add to this they were certainly in a position to do this seeing that they were eyewitnesses of the events or recorded the testimony of eyewitnesses.

Furthermore, all the evidence shows they did give us a trustworthy account of what Jesus said and did. Indeed, what they wrote matches up with what we know about the people, places, events, and customs of Jesus’ time.

Finally, there is no other written source which has any claim to give us a more accurate picture of who Jesus was or what He did. None whatsoever.

These other writings can lay no claim to being Holy Scripture. Nobody in church ever considered these works to have any authoritative status. They are not “outlaw Scriptures.” Indeed all branches of Christendom reject the idea that these writings have any authoritative status.

Furthermore, they are not “secret” writings. The believers have always known about them. They just considered them to be historically worthless because they are historically worthless.

In sum, every other writing, apart from the New Testament, that attempts to fill in the gaps of the life of Jesus Christ, or to tell as different story, only reveals the superiority of the four Gospels. To this day, there is no convincing evidence whatsoever that any of these or other writings give us first-hand material about Jesus.

This being the case, if we want to know what Jesus truly said and did, we should listen to what the New Testament says about His identity as well as the purpose of His coming to the earth. It alone gives us the genuine story.

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