Today I got a question from a college student about how we can know that what the Bible claims Jesus said is what Jesus actually said. Here’s a copy of the answer I gave…
I’m glad that you’re doing well up north. I’m sure it’s going to snow here any day now.
Your question could inspire a book-length answer, but I’ll refrain from such length. I don’t remember what I said in the situation you’re referring to, but I’ll give it a shot. Basically, here are some of the reasons why I’m convinced that the gospels are an accurate representation of Jesus’ words:
1. Both Luke and John contain explicit assertions that what they are saying is true (Luke 1 and John 21). This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re right (they could be lying), but it means that one must prove they’re lying. Let’s not have any foolishness about the gospel authors having good intentions about misleading people.
2. The early church had a vested interest in knowing the truth about Jesus. They wanted an accurate representation of what the apostles had been teaching in written format. The gospels come out of an active Christian church who wanted the truth. They had no interest in made up stories or myths.
3. The gospels were written at a time when there were still tons of living witnesses to the events. If the gospels made stuff up, there would have been Christians (and non-Christians) there who could contradict them. There is no evidence of anyone inside or outside the church who presented any such objection.
(Side note: You may have heard about “Lost Gospels,” such as the Gospel of Thomas. Based on the verbiage, themes, and content, almost all scholars are convinced that these come from over a hundred years later. They’re fakes.)
4. Okay, so say that the original gospels are an accurate representation of the life of Christ. Do we have an accurate copy of those original documents? I’m convinced we do. There are more manuscripts of the New Testament than any other ancient document and they are all reasonably close to each other. The scribes who were copying them believed they were copying God’s Word, so they cross-checked them with each other to check that they had the same textual reading. Plus, since they copied the text day after day, they knew what it was supposed to say.
So, this is brief (or not so brief), but hopefully it helps. I’ve also included a link to a talk from Craig Blomberg, a New Testament prof from Denver Seminary.
Look for the talks:
# Can We Know Anything Accurately About Jesus
# Can We Know Anything Accurately About Jesus II
Hope you’re doing well.