Book Review: Can We Trust the Gospels?

Thanks to Angie Cheatham of Crossway Books for this review copy of Mark D. Roberts’ “blook,” Can We Trust the Gospels? Investigating the Reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (Crossway, 2007).   You might wonder what is a “blook”?  A blook is a book that was birthed out of a series of blog posts to make a “blook.”  Savvy?  😉

Pastor Mark Roberts (PhD, Harvard), has a heart and a passion for the Gospels that tell the story of Jesus.  He is also a blogger.  On his blog he did a series of posts on the historical reliability of the Gospels in which he was able to get much feedback from his readers – one of the readers was the publishers at Crossway – they then contacted Roberts and asked if he would be interested in publishing his blog posts into a book – thus creating a “blook.”   My guess is there will be significantly more “blooks” in the future (and I don’t see anything wrong with that!).

So what of the blook?  I think it is pretty good!  One endorsement is from Scot McKnight in which he avers that what F.F. Bruce did for his generation in arguing for historical reliability of the gospels, Pastor Mark has done for this generation.  I tend to agree (though I haven’t read the work by F.F. Bruce).  The best thing is that it is short (202 pgs), it is simple, it is to the point, and in a day and age when “less is more” when it comes to books, Mark has a captive audience!

In this blook he tackles all the basic issues that are often used to confront the reliability of the gospels such as can we know the original story?  Did the Evangelists know Jesus?  When were the gospels written?  What are the gospels? Are there contradictions?  Can they be both theology and history?  What about miracles, archeology, why only four and so on.

In terms of order he takes the standard approach of Markan priority (two (four) source theory).  On the issue of authorship of the Gospels – most of the authorship, apart from John is quite speculative it is best to go with the tradition – he also suggests that two of the gospels being written by men who did not know Jesus personally works more in their favor than the many gnostic gospels (which he does a lot of comparing and contrasting with throughout the blook), which tend to use the names of known disciples or characters in the biblical story.   Additionally, “The reliability of the New Testament Gospels does not depend on who wrote them so much as on the nature and purpose of the writings themselves” (49).  As to the time of their writings he goes the common dating: Matthew (65-85); Mark 60-75); Luke (65-95); John (75-100).

One point I liked was in talking about if we can know the contents of the original manuscripts – he attacked the common argument of the telephone game.  It doesn’t work.  People who use the telephone game as an argument fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the oral culture in which the Gospels were written.   People trained to transmit things orally would have the same problems modern people do who are not trained to transmit things orally – additionally oral cultures did not transmit the story of Jesus secretly as the Gnostics tended to so.  When the story was being told, all could hear, if mistakes were made, they could be pointed out right there and then.  the same went with writing and copying the Gospel accounts – people were trained to do it – so the mistakes were few and insignificant.  So, the whole, we can’t possibly have the contents of the original manuscripts argument is a farce.

I am sure there could be more to talk about but a review isn’t to give all the details just a few of the pertinent ones then comment on it and evaluate.  I like that it is a smooth easy read and the flow is logical and helps to make sense of the gospels.  Can we trust the gospels?  This is really a two part question.  Can we trust them to give us historically reliable information about Jesus and do they offer a trustworthy basis for faith in Jesus? (193).  The answer to both questions is yes and more so – can can know that we are getting reliable information regarding the life and times of the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth and therefore have a trustworthy basis for placing faith in Jesus for salvation. 

This is a useful book and I think Christians in general would do well to have a copy or two on hand for personal reference and for that friend who is needing help understanding the Gospels and how they work.

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