The Oral Legend of Jesus

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, December 1, 2016 2 comments

by Steve Risner

In my last post, we touched on some comments made by an atheist friend of mine concerning Christianity. He gave me a 5 point statement on what he believes Christianity is. The first point he made was this: “Some philosopher 2000 years ago softened the image of the vengeful Old Testament God and became a legend when he was martyred by the Romans.” I feel we examined this point fairly well in that post. This week's statement is this:

“A couple of centuries later, the oral legend of said philosopher was finally transcribed.”

This is a rather interesting statement. Atheists have a tendency to boast about being rational and fact-based. I believe I can accurately say that not a single time in my discussions with this atheist has he used a single source or reference for any statement he makes. He's merely shoving his opinion at me and likely believing he's the intellectually superior participant in our conversation. Most atheists do, I have found. Facts are those little things that atheists just can't get away from, so while they'll act like they're “science minded” or they “prefer logic and reason,” they will rarely use facts when they discuss atheism or Christianity. If they do use facts, they're frequently half the story.

In this case, there are “facts” given that are absolutely false. We discussed last time why the term “philosopher” is completely inappropriate in describing Jesus. The term “legend” can be very appropriate, but I don't think he means it that way. A legend can mean a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated. This, of course, is not correct since the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are quite thoroughly authenticated. I've gone to great lengths to note the evidence for Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection. One of those blog posts is called “The Real Jesus.” It may be helpful to read “The Birth of the Way” as well. There are Christian, Jewish, and secular writers that all authenticate His existence. The fact that Christianity, birthed out of something amazing, is here today and the largest faith on the planet as a result of the message of love and grace rather than force, further supports this. A legend can also mean an extremely famous person or someone who is well known. That is certainly the case. Jesus Christ has impacted the world far more than anyone in the history of the planet. So, by this definition, I completely agree that Jesus Christ is a legend.

But this atheist makes the claim that the “oral legend” of Jesus was only written down a couple of centuries later. Let's be clear here: a “couple of centuries” is no less than 200 years. Let's take a look and see if this is true.

Most scholars agree that the first Gospel written was Mark. It's believed it was written about 70 AD. Mark was a close associate of Jesus. He wasn't one of the Twelve, but was undoubtedly present for a great deal of Christ's ministry. If Mark, most likely a first-hand observer, wrote down his experiences with Christ within 40 years of Jesus death, doesn't it seem that what this atheist is saying about the writing of the Gospels is in error? Of course it does! Even if he's exaggerating to make his point, he's a far cry from the actual numbers.

Most scholars also hold that Matthew and Luke were written about 10-20 years after Mark. Matthew was one of the twelve disciples. Luke was a physician and is very well known for his attention to detail. He interviewed many people who were eye witnesses before writing his Gospel.

There is a line of reasoning that suggests all 3 of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) were written before 70 AD, because no mention of the fulfillment of Christ's prophecy concerning the destruction of the temple is mentioned in them. This was a major event in Jewish history and, again, was a fulfillment of prophecy spoken by Jesus Himself. It certainly would have added credibility to His authority if they would have included that information. They note several other fulfilled prophecies in their writings. It also seems likely that the Book of Acts was penned before the destruction of the Temple or it most likely would have been included in the book. Also of importance concerning the Book of Acts is how it, being a history book of Christians and Jews immediately after Christ's ascension, does not mention the intense persecution brought on by Nero nor does it mention the martyrdom of James, Paul, or Peter—all of which occurred in the early to mid 60s AD. This would place its writing even closer to the days that Jesus walked the earth.

It's important to note as well that these writings were done while those who witnessed the events contained in them were still around. If they contained false information, certainly someone—especially those who hated the Christians and were responsible for His death—would have spoken up had there been false testimony given. We find no record of this at all. In fact, Paul even tells his readers to test his account of things by asking those who were there. If Acts was written in the early 60s AD, then most certainly the Gospel of Luke was written prior to that since it was written first. There is debate as to when exactly these books were written, but it seems very clear they were penned before the close of the first century and were done so by eye witnesses of Jesus Christ's life and ministry, or under the direction of those who witnessed the events recorded. This is a far cry from the “couple of centuries later” that we see being proposed by this atheist. In fact, the Book of Matthew was quoted by early Christian writers within 80 years of Christ's death and resurrection. So it had to have been written much earlier than “a couple of centuries later.”

These things are very important, in my opinion. If the Gospels were written by people who walked and talked with Jesus or by someone who interviewed many witnesses of His life, this adds to their credibility. If they were written very close to the time in which the events reported occurred, this also lends to their credibility. Since there are no contradictory books available that I am aware of, we have no reason to doubt their authenticity.

I had wondered if this unbeliever was referencing the Council of Nicea in 325 AD when he made his “couple of centuries later” statement. If this is so, he'll be glad to find that this is not when the Biblical canon (the books accepted as part of the Bible) was decided on. In fact, the test for including a book in the Bible was never done at a single time but was done over a very long period—each book being added as it was found to meet the criteria for being included. The Council of Nicea did make a statement on the canon of Scripture and essentially declared that the accepted canon was accepted. The canon was actually accepted long before. Worldview Warriors blogger Charlie Wolcott did a nice series on this subject, and you can find the first post in this series here.

This further shows us that, like most atheists I've encountered who want to engage in these discussions, this atheist is not interested in the truth. He's not interested in facts. He's not interested in understanding Christianity. He has a very skewed concept of Christianity that is far from what following Jesus Christ is about. But that's the key: he has no interest in understanding. He wants to deny his Creator. He can't accept the truth of Jesus Christ or the Gospel because that would destroy his worldview. I don't believe there are many true atheists, meaning a person who actually does not believe in the God Who made the universe. There are God deniers, for sure. This is very different from not believing He exists. One key piece of evidence for this is that most God-deniers (aka atheists) don't care about the facts at all—not hardly. They act like they do, but they reject facts and believe fairly tales that defy logic and reason. This atheist is no different.

Be encouraged, believers. Atheists don't have a logic, scientific, or factual position to stand on at all. They adhere to a religion that has no rational basis at all. Praise God! Our faith is a faith based on facts and based on Truth found in God's Word. Our faith is defensible. The faith of the atheist is nonsensical and irrational. We'll get into this more next time.

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Marida said...

Great job. I think the Gispels were written contemporaneously. The letters of Paul were letters

Steve said...

Thanke you for reading and for your comment/compliment, Marida.