• Was the New Testament written long after Jesus’ death, like 60-140 years afterwards?
  • Where the Gospels and New Testament tampered with?
  • Don’t the lost Gnostic Gospels, as mentioned in the Da Vinci Code, reveal the real Jesus?

Do these questions have any merit?

Date of Gospels

Modern discoveries are actually revealing that the Gospels were written very early.

Case in Point

A fragment of John’s Gospel (considered to be the last Gospel written) was dated as having been copied in A.D. 130. Since this copy of John was located in Egypt, which is quite far away from where John’s Gospel was written (Asia Minor), the original Gospel of John must be even older if this early copy made it all the way to Egypt (McDowell p. 66).

Modern scholarship is concluding that the Gospels were written much earlier than previously thought. William Albright, one of the greatest Biblical archaeologists, says the Gospels can’t be dated any later than A.D. 80, which would mean that the gap between Jesus’ death (A.D. 30s) and the last Gospel written would be 50 years, not 60-140 years.

Actually, the late 60-140-year range would have been more credible during the 19th century, because recent manuscript discoveries after that time are closing the gap between older manuscripts and the time when the gospels were written.

Even liberal scholars are revising their dates of the New Testament to be much earlier than they claimed before. One formerly-skeptical scholar, Dr. John A. T. Robinson, concluded from his research (documented in Redating the New Testament) that all the New Testament, including the Gospels, was written before Jerusalem’s fall in A.D. 70. Since Jesus died around the A.D. 30s, then if all the New Testament was written at the latest before A.D. 70., then there is at most 40 years between the latest New Testament book and the events of Jesus’ life. Forty years is well within the generation that was living in Jesus’ time – and this 40-year gap would only be for the last books. Many were written much earlier.

Myth Formation?

This 40-year gap makes myth-making quite inconceivable, as William Lane Craig states in a comparison of Roman historians and the New Testament:

According to Professor Sherwin-White, the sources for Roman history are usually biased and removed at least one or two generations or even centuries from the events they record. Yet, he says, historians reconstruct with confidence what really happened. He chastises NT critics for not realizing what invaluable sources they have in the gospels. The writings of Herodotus furnish a test case for the rate of legendary accumulation, and the tests show that even two generations is too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts. – “Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Truth 1 (1985): 89-95.

New Testament Vs. Ancient Writings

Manuscripts like the fragment of John’s Gospel mentioned earlier reveal that the New Testament is profoundly reliable, especially in comparison to all other ancient writings. Our earliest discovered copies of the Gospels are 50+ to 225 years removed from the dates of the original writings (McDowell p. 65).

  • Just compare that to Caesar’s Gallic Wars, written in 100-44 B.C., whose earliest copy is dated A.D. 900. That is basically a 1000-year gap between copy and original!

And nearly every other ancient writing is like this: the time between the original writing and the copies we have discovered hovers around 1000 years, with some (Homer) having a “small” gap of 400 years between original and copy while others (Herodotus) having a huge gap of 1,350 years. Yet historians see these ancient works as reliable, despite the hundreds of years between the original writing and the copies we have.

  • Surely the New Testament, with only a gap of 50-225 years, outshines every secular writing as a trustworthy source.

Not only are all other ancient writings besides the New Testament have huge time gaps between the original writing and our remaining copies, but the copies we do have are very few. The fewer the existing copies, the more likely that they had been tampered with and do not reflect the originals.

We have only

  • 10 copies of Caesar’s Gallic Wars
  • 7 copies of Pliny’s Natural History
  • 8 copies of Herodotus’s History
  • 643 copies of Homer’s Iliad

But the New Testament has

  • 24,970 copies

How could have the New Testament be changed, when so many copies exist? John Warwick Montgomery notes that, “to be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament (quoted in McDowell p. 61). Note: above list of manuscript copies from Evidence for Christianity, by McDowell, p. 65.

Tampered Gospels?

With so many manuscripts in existence, it is extremely hard to conceive that people had the ability to change the Gospels or other books in the New Testament to suit their own beliefs. At the very beginning, Christianity was a missionary faith, and so the New Testament was translated into many languages, such as Syriac and Arabic. With the New Testament being translated and copied far and wide to distant lands, how could a potential forger gather each manuscript and make the changes?

That would be equivalent to a modern forger gathering all the letters, articles, and writings about Abraham Lincoln and changing significant portions for his own beliefs – without letting any American or other person suspect his actions. The writings on Abraham Lincoln are mostly in one language, so the analogy does not even pose the greater problem of the different languages the New Testament was translated into soon after Christianity begun.

One fact reveals that the New Testament hasn’t been changed significantly since first written:

  • 95% of the material in our current copies of the New Testament agree with each other
  • 5% are differences mostly grammatical in nature; no major Christian doctrine is harmed by these differences

Thus, if copies of the New Testament we have today agree with each other 95%, then any potential forger would have had to change practically all the manuscripts. Since the New Testament far exceeds all other ancient works in numbers of manuscript copies, this mass forgery would have to be the greatest forgery in history – a conspiracy so amazing that, if true, we would never be able to trust any other ancient writing. If the New Testament today is not essentially what it was when written down, then we cannot trust any ancient record or what they say – how could we know that Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great existed at all?

Other Gospels

Many claim that the “lost Gospels” or Gnostic Gospels give a more accurate view of Jesus Christ than the New Testament Gospels, which are claimed to have been mythologized. Yet contrary to this view, it is the Gnostic Gospels that so often portray Jesus as more than a human, more of a guised spirit, while the gospels make Jesus much more down-to-earth, so to speak (eating, crying, getting tired, hungry, and angry). It’s odd because many modern scholars so often try to make Jesus just a man, yet they often reject the traditional gospels that show his more human tendencies much more often than the apocrypha or Gnostic Gospels.

Actually, the earliest that the Gnostic Gospels, like the Gospel of Thomas, could have been written was A.D. 150 (second century A.D.), and many more were written in the third and even fourth centuries (Rhodes http://www.ronrhodes.org/DaVinci.html) – so how can the Gnostic Gospels be more reliable than the New Testament Gospels, which even modern liberal scholars are admitting was written in the first century A.D.?

Furthermore, the Gnostic Gospels lack concrete historical and geographical markers within them, which contrasts sharply with the New Testament Gospels (Ron Rhodes). Historical and geographical data are one of the key factors that help scholars date ancient works, and since the Gnostic Gospels lack them, they are much more likely to be fabrications or products of legends.

But even liberal scholars that have set out to disprove the Gospels have come away amazed at how the Gospels’ historical and geographical data match uncannily with the first-century world. Sir William Ramsay, one of the most eminent geographers, changed his conclusions of when Luke wrote his books, Luke and Acts, after studying the geography mentioned there (McDowell). The Gospels give way too many physical details for them to have been fabricated – these details speak to their truthfulness.

Many people of knowledge have tried to refute the New Testament and Christianity but came away believers in their reliability. These are only a handful: Harvard law professor Dr. Simon Greenleaf (responsible for the rise of Harvard Law School), lawyer/journalist Dr. Frank Morrison, former atheist journalist Lee Strobel, and former atheist Josh McDowell. Each of these people were biased against Christianity and set out to look at the evidence to disprove it, but when they saw the evidence, they had to change their minds in favor of the Gospels and the truthfulness of what they contained. It was facts, not blind faith, that gave them proof.