On the Reliability of the Gospels, Especially Mark

(Extracted from Dave Black Online, March 17, 2015. Used by permission.)

11:44 PM Just wanted to say hello before going to bed tonight. I spent a few days in the Dallas area over the weekend, primarily to attend a conference sponsored by Brite Divinity School and featuring Adela Yarbro Collins of Yale. Her topic was the Gospel of Mark, which happens to be the current subject of investigation for my book on the kingdom. The lecture was less stimulating that I had expected. Perhaps my expectations were misplaced. I was hoping for a rigorous reassessment of the faith claims of the Gospel of Mark in a way that laypeople unfamiliar with New Testament scholarship could understand. To be sure, Collins touched on this subject tangentially, but the majority of her lecture repeated well-known assertions about Mark — Mark is our earliest Gospel, the words “Son of God” (1:1) were added later, the last twelve verses of Mark are inauthentic, the Messianic Secret is the interpretive key to understanding this Gospel, etc. Given that the final verses of Mark have now been given a definitive defense I was surprised at how unpersuasive Collins was in trying to refute it. Moreover, I didn’t find any of her objections to the historicity of Mark’s account plausible. Jesus Christ is the most remarkable individual who ever lived. Nobody else can even remotely match His record in terms of literature, health, education, music, and so forth. Those of us who are not put off by the testimonies of the evangelists know that in Him we have found the way of salvation and true life. When there is reason to think that an evangelist has placed words in Jesus’ mouth, it can be interesting to decide whether our suspicions are based on facts or suppositions. Readers of this blog will realize that I write from a less skeptical viewpoint than that. Indeed, the more difficult a saying of Jesus seems to be (e.g., the famous “I am” sayings of John), the more likely they are to be original in my view. I applaud much of Collins’ exegesis of various passages in Mark that explain why Mark’s Gospel reads like Mark’s Gospel. But none of these conclusions satisfies the main question of interpretation, so her exegesis misses the mark. Most importantly, when she says “You can’t point to anything in the Gospel of Mark and say, ‘This is what Jesus said or did,'” her conclusion is, in my opinion, completely without merit. Given the fact that many New Testament scholars have affirmed the historical reliability of the eyewitness testimony of the evangelists, I feel justified in relying on the Gospel records as the most complete and authenticate records in all of human history. This means that the New Testament does indeed provide us with an answer to our most important question — who is Jesus Christ? Ultimately, He is who He said He was — the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. It strikes me as more humble and more reasonable to assume that if the early church didn’t see contradictions between the Gospels, we shouldn’t either. Let me add that I do not for one minute suggest that the Gospels are above rigorous academic investigation. I realize that it is often asserted that the Gospels are unreliable. My point is that no arguments to date have, in my view, been cogent enough to make them stick. If this makes me an inerrantist, so be it. Former ICBI president (and fellow Basler) James Montgomery Boice once wrote:

Members of the Council believe that they are simply calling a mountain a mountain and think it is reasonable to expect that the ICBI will be a unifying force within evangelicalism, as it encourages Christian brothers and sisters to stand for the only objective basis of a sure foundation from God there is — inerrancy.

Bless God for the light He has given us in the Scriptures for our journey through this dark world!