Can We Trust the Gospels? by Peter Williams, Free for CAPC Members
Can We Trust the Gospels? by Peter Williams is graciously available free to Christ and Pop Culture members until March 5, 2019, through our partnership with Crossway.
I have a book on one of the shelves in my office titled The Historical Reliability of the New Testament by Craig Blomberg. It seems to cover all the questions one might have, but also clocks in at over 800 pages. I like having it as a reference, but it’s hardly something I could hand to an interested student who might be asking fairly basic but still important questions.
The root question one might have is also the title of a recent book by Peter Williams: Can We Trust the Gospels? Exploring the general reliability of the New Testament is a worthy endeavor. But, it all hinges on whether the Gospels, which present the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, are trustworthy sources. Williams hopes that his book can address that question in a concise and accessible way. As he frames it, Can We Trust the Gospels? is “a short book explaining to a general audience some of the vast amount of evidence for the trustworthiness of the four Gospels.”This book is a great short read on the trustworthiness of the Gospels, and perhaps a good read to share as Advent turns our culture’s attention to these same documents.
To begin, Williams gives a brief overview of the available evidence outside the Gospels for their trustworthiness. He hits the high points on the available historical sources before examining in detail what kind of writing the Gospels themselves are. From there, he addresses questions about the reliability of the Gospel authors, the coincidences that show up in their writings that would be hard to conspire to create, and whether the Gospels have Jesus’ actual words.
Perhaps more pressing in today’s culture, Williams gives readers the rundown on manuscript transmission. In other words, he explains how we can know that the Gospels written 2,000 years ago are the ones we are still reading today. There are good reasons we can trust we have copies of the originals faithfully transmitted and not something corrupted by a medieval monk in some monastery in what we now call France.
The most compelling chapter, on my reading, is chapter 3. There, Williams asks whether or not the Gospel authors knew their stuff. In answering the question, he amasses several categories of evidence one might not initially think is that important. A big piece of this is his presentation of the Gospel writers’ use of geographic material. In short, it would be hard for individuals writing long after the fact and fabricating a story about Jesus to know the ins and outs of ancient Israelite geography as well as the Gospel writers do. The way they talk about the mundane details of terrain demonstrate their familiarity with the Israel of Jesus’ time—something extrabiblical gospels (those we know were written much after the fact) do not do.
On the whole, this is an excellent introductory volume that should allay any questions one might have about the reliability of the Gospels in the New Testament. Across multiple lines of evidence, Peter Williams shows that the Gospels we have in Scripture were most likely written very close to the time of Jesus and done so by people who knew him and the lay of the land at that time. The same cannot be said of so-called “lost Gospels.” Some may still be left with questions after reading Williams’s volume, but there are other works to read if so (e.g., the book I mentioned in the first paragraph). For most of us though, this book is a great short read on the trustworthiness of the Gospels, and perhaps a good read to share as Advent turns our culture’s attention to these same documents.
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