Some critical New Testament scholars have made outlandish claims that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John really did not write the Gospels. In this article, Dr. Habermas explains that, number one, the traditional authors like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John can be defended; number two, the critical scholars today have conceded that parts of the Gospels are historically true; and number three, if you take that evidence that they concede, you can easily defend traditional Christian beliefs about Jesus.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Let me make three comments about the authorship of the Gospels. The first is, I think the traditional authors, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, can be defended with a good deal of force. But in contemporary apologetics, R.T. France says, for example, that even if we don’t take the time to sit down and work through each of the traditional authors, you can still support the authenticity of the Gospels on this ground—the same one we do for Roman history—these are still the earliest stories, extended stories, about Jesus. And as such, they are due the respect of being the earliest historical pieces of data we have.
But let me go after it a third way: you’ve got traditional authors; you’ve got, if people don’t like that, you’ve got the earliest books that depict the whole life of Christ; but third, I favor a type of apologetic that builds from the ground up; that doesn’t say all these books are historical and therefore anything in them is true. I would take snippets of information. Now, today, as I tell my students over and over again: with critics, Paul is in, the Gospels are out. Well, for the Christian, Paul and the Gospels are Scripture. But if they’re going to give us Paul, why don’t we take Paul and build a case? And I would favor taking a few facts and building up the data around them and show that we can make our case based on these few facts alone.
There is a body of Pauline literature that can be accepted as historical by virtually everyone. Let me give you an example or two. G.A. Wells, the British Professor of German who has written a number of books arguing that Jesus probably never lived, G.A. Wells will still grant eight authentic Pauline letters. But that doesn’t satisfy the Christian who would like thirteen. But let’s, instead of being upset with him for what he doesn’t give us, let’s take what he does give us. Those eight include our most important doctrinal works, namely, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians. He gives you all those. And so since Paul is a given, even for somebody like G.A. Wells who argues Jesus probably never existed, let’s use Paul. And when we’re talking about the resurrection of Jesus for an example, or the nature of the gospel, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15, let’s look at Galatians 1, passages that are unanimously given. And that is precisely why the New Testament still gives us our best data. Because even looking at it as an irreducible minimum, or the lowest common denominator, we have plenty of data here to talk about Jesus of history.