“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”
–Peter (2 Peter 1:16)
When it comes to Jesus, atheists and skeptics commonly say . . .
• Jesus never existed
• The disciples invented the story about Jesus and stole their ideas from other ancient religions
• If Jesus did exist, His earliest followers certainly never thought He was God
• The accounts of Jesus’ miracles are fabrications
• The Gospels contradict one another
• Christians left other gospels out of the Bible that may have told us the truth about Jesus
In this article, I’d like to concisely respond to these and other related claims. If you’re interested in more in-depth responses to these issues, I’ll refer you to my books and videos here.
The first issue I’d like to respond to has to do with . . .
It has become increasingly popular today for critics of the Bible to suggest that Jesus of Nazareth never existed—that He was just an invention by some deceitful men back in the first century. This claim is all over the place on the Internet. A popular atheistic account on Instagram posted a meme recently that said:
Jesus never existed. No independent historical account can prove His existence. Zero, zip, zilch, nada, nothing.
The post garnered hundreds of likes.
Well, of course, this claim is ridiculous. There is actually very good historical evidence that Jesus was a real person. In addition to the 27 documents in the New Testament that tell us about His life, more than 30 non-biblical sources mention Jesus within 150 years of His life.
I’ll quickly tell you about 3 of these sources.
A. Flavius Josephus
Josephus was a historian for the Roman empire in the first century AD. He mentions more than a dozen individuals talked about in the New Testament, including:
• John the Baptist
• Herod the Great
• Pontius Pilate
Here is a short excerpt from one of his writings:
At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them after his crucifixion and that he was alive . . . ” –Flavius Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3:63–64)
Now, because there are some minor differences in the surviving manuscript copies of Josephus’ writings, there is some debate over the exact wording Josephus used to describe Jesus. But historians have no doubts that he mentioned Jesus as a historical figure.
B. Cornelius Tacitus
Tacitus lived from about AD 55–120. He was a Roman historian who lived through the reigns of over a half dozen Roman emperors. He has been called the “greatest historian” of ancient Rome. Tacitus mentions Christ in his work titled, Annals. He writes that:
Christus [a Latin term that means “Christ”] . . . suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus. –Cornelius Tacitus, Annals, 15.44 (Online source)
So, not only does Tacitus mention Jesus, he confirms (like Josephus did) that Jesus was crucified by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius (the Roman Emperor at the time of Jesus).
C. The Jewish Talmud
The Talmud is a compilation of Jewish teachings that were passed down from generation to generation amongst the Jews and then finally organized and compiled after the destruction of the Jewish temple in AD 70. Here is an excerpt that mentions Jesus:
On the eve of Passover Yeshu [a shortened form of Yeshua, Jesus’ name in the Hebrew language] was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.” But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover! –The Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a (Online source)
So, note that. Not only does the Talmud mention Jesus, it mentions His crucifixion and that the Jewish religious leaders desired to stone Jesus, just as John 10:31 tells us. And notice that it even says Jesus was put to death at the time of the Passover, the very feast John 18:28 tells us was going on at the time of the crucifixion.
Non-biblical sources like these not only verify Jesus existed, they corroborate more than a hundred details recorded about Jesus in the New Testament.
If you would like to investigate these details, I encourage you to read Gary Habermas’s excellent book, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Also helpful are F.F. Bruce’s, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament and Norman Geisler’s Baker Encyclopedia of Apologetics (1999), 381–385.
So, it’s this kind of historical evidence that has led historians to conclude that Jesus really existed. The evidence for His life is so compelling that even Bart Ehrman, one of the most vocal critics of the Bible alive today, acknowledges that Jesus was a real person. In an article in the Huffington Post, he said:
With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life . . . sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue . . . and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life . . . Historical sources like that are pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind . . . The claim that Jesus was simply made up falters on every ground. –Bart Ehrman, “Did Jesus Exist?”, huffingtonpost.com, March 20, 2012 (Online source)
Yes, it does falter. So, if the evidence for Jesus is this compelling, why are many atheists still saying things like “Jesus is a myth!”? I’d have to conclude that many of them have never done any serious investigation into the issue. And those who have done a bit of reading are obviously getting their information from unreliable sources.
So, with Jesus’ existence settled, let’s consider a second challenge critics have raised, and that concerns . . .
Christians have long believed that Jesus was and is God incarnate. Well, of course, atheists, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other critics of the Bible disagree with us on that. Muslims believe He was just a man, a prophet of Allah. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe He was just an angel. But the disagreement doesn’t stop there. These critics regularly claim that the earliest Christians never believed Jesus was God. They say that view wasn’t embraced until sometime in the fourth century.
Well, those who make this claim couldn’t be more mistaken about the matter. The earliest Christians certainly believed Jesus was God. For example, the apostle Peter, all the way back in the first century, called Jesus, “Our God and Savior” (2 Peter 1:1). John called Jesus “God” (John 1:1). Thomas called Jesus “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Paul called Jesus, “Our great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13). This is just a small sampling of New Testament verses that affirm Jesus’ deity (for more, see my article here).
And these kinds of references to Jesus’ deity didn’t stop with the original disciples. The leaders of the Christian church in the second and third centuries continued to affirm this very same teaching. Well-respected leaders like Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Polycarp, Irenaeus, and others, refer to Jesus over and over in their writings as “God.” (Read quotes by them in this article here).
Another evidence that the earliest Christians believed Jesus was God comes from a Roman governor outside the church. He’s known as Pliny the Younger (AD 61/62 – c. 113). He was the governor of Bithynia, a Roman provincein northwestern Turkey from around 110 – 113. Writing around 112, he described early Christian worship practices to Trajan, the Roman Emperor. Here is a short excerpt from Pliny’s letter to the Emperor. Notice who He says the Christians thought Jesus was:
They [the Christians] were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang an anthem to Christ as God, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to commit any wicked deeds, but to abstain from all fraud, theft or adultery, never to break their word, or deny a trust when called upon to honor it . . . ” –Pliny the Younger, Letters, 10:96 (Online here)
So, here we have a statement by a governor of a Roman province written around 112, stating that the Christians worshipped Jesus as God.
But someone might say, “Maybe Pliny was a Christian who was just seeking to influence Trajan to believe Jesus was God.”
Well, in response to that, no, Pliny wasn’t a Christian. He tells us in his own writings that he thought Christianity was a cult and that he had Christians tortured and killed. So, based on these three sources: the writings of the apostles, the early church fathers, and Pliny the Younger, you can be absolutely sure that the earliest Christians believed Jesus was God.
Now, one of the reasons the earliest followers of Jesus concluded that Jesus was God, was His miracles. Jesus didn’t just claim to be God, He backed up His claims by doing miraculous things only God can do. And this brings us to the third issue I’d like to address and that concerns . . .
Of course, atheists and other critics of the Bible have a problem with Jesus’ miracles. They suggest, among other things, that the early Christians embellished the accounts of Jesus’ life with stories of miracles in order to attract more followers. And it comes as no surprise that atheists say this. They are forced by their atheistic worldview to deny Jesus’ miracles—not because there’s evidence miracles can’t occur—but because of their anti-supernatural bias.
Their anti-supernatural bias forces them to deny Jesus’ miracles. Why? Well, because in a universe where no God exists, nothing supernatural or miraculous can occur. So, critics of the Bible (atheists in particular) come across Jesus’ miracles and say, “No way! These things couldn’t have happened. They must be made up!”
But, for those of us who believe in God, we have no difficulty believing Jesus performed miracles because if Jesus was the One who spoke the universe and all of life into existence in Genesis 1—then it would be no problem (for example) for Him to speak life into a dead man like Lazarus (John 11:43). God’s the One who designed the human body and created the first man from dust. Breathing new life back into Lazarus’s body would not be a problem for Him.
So, our worldview doesn’t prevent us from believing in miracles before we’ve even considered the evidence. Unlike atheists, when it comes to miracles, theists are free to follow the evidence wherever it points. And we believe there is good evidence Jesus performed miracles. Take for example, the rise of Christianity in Jerusalem.
It is an accepted historical fact that the Christian faith (a religion built upon the preaching of the resurrection of its leader) originated in approximately AD 32 right in the very city of Jerusalem where Jesus had been publicly crucified and buried. Now, this in itself is a good piece of evidence that Jesus’ miracles actually occurred. Why? Because a message calling people to repent and put their faith in a resurrected miracle-working Messiah could never have gained any substantial following in Jerusalem if the people had not actually seen Jesus work miracles.
The best explanation for the immediate rise of Christianity (followed by its phenomenal growth), right in the very city where Jesus was crucified, is that Jesus really did rise from the grave and work miracles. Is it reasonable to suppose that thousands of people within those early days following Jesus’ death were actually deceived into believing a man rose from the dead? I don’t think so. Think through this with me.
Most of us have seen John F. Kennedy’s assassination on TV or the Internet. How hard would it have been in the weeks following that event, to convince hundreds of people in the city of Dallas who were there and saw J.F.K. die, that he came back to life after he was buried? Pretty much impossible, right? You might convince a few people, but you’d have an incredibly hard time convincing hundreds of people. Why? People didn’t rise from the grave in America in the twentieth century. And the same was true in ancient Israel. People didn’t rise from the grave then either. And yet, in the days immediately following Jesus’ public crucifixion (a crucifixion verified by Roman and Jewish historians outside the New Testament), thousands of Jews who lived in and around Jerusalem and who knew Jesus had died, suddenly converted to Christianity, convinced Jesus rose from the grave. How does one explain this? Luke tells us. People had seen Jesus!
Luke says Jesus:
“ . . . presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days . . . ”
Jesus’ miracles, before and after His resurrection, catapulted New Testament Christianity into existence.
Another line of evidence that Jesus performed miracles is the fact that the early Christians were willing to endure great hostility telling people about Jesus’ miracles. Why would they do that if they were lying? Liars lie to get out of trouble or gain some type of advantage or benefit. But what the early Christians said about Jesus, didn’t get them out of trouble or result in any kind of benefit.
What these men said and wrote about Jesus got them in trouble. What they received was:
Luke reports in the Book of Acts that the early Christians were threatened (4:18), imprisoned (12:4, 16:23, 24:27), beaten (16:22), stoned to death (7:58, 14:19), and killed with the sword (12:2). Hardly a list of perks! That, to me, is compelling evidence these men were telling the truth about Jesus . . . and His miracles!
* Flavius Josephus, Eusebius, Tertullian, Hegesippus, Polycarp, Ignatius, Cornelius Tacitus, Dionysius, Clement of Alexandria, Clement of Rome, Origen, and other independent extra-biblical sources record for us that many of Jesus’ earliest followers, including the apostles, suffered intense persecution and even death for their on-going belief and preaching that Jesus was Lord and was risen from the dead. For a good overview of these sources and what they said regarding this matter, see Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (2004), 56–62.
All right, I’ve briefly responded to challenges regarding Jesus’ existence, His deity, and His miracles. Next, I’d like to respond to a fourth challenge critics have raised and that has to do with whether or not . . .
There’s a popular video on the Internet called Zeitgeist. This low-budget video produced by a man named Peter Joseph has been viewed by millions of people. Many viewers, unaware of the video’s numerous errors, have had their confidence in the Gospels undermined by watching it.
The video alleges that the New Testament authors plagiarized major details for Jesus’ life from earlier sources (other religions) that were around before the rise of Christianity. For example, the video says that the Gospel writers stole the whole idea of a virgin giving birth to a child from ancient religions like Mithraism.
Well, I know a bit about ancient religions, having spent hundreds of hours studying them. And I’ve researched the ancient Persian religion of Mithraism. And Mithras (its mythological deity) was not thought of as having been born of a virgin in any of the most ancient myths. The myths say Mithras arose spontaneously from a rock in a cave.* Does that sound like a virgin birth to you? To suggest that the Gospel writers stole the idea for Jesus’ virgin birth from this ancient religion is preposterous!
* For more on this, see: Ronald Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought? (2003), 134; Edwin Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (1990), 498; Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus (2007), 170–171.)
The virgin birth of the Messiah, spoken about in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels, was not hijacked from Mithraism. It was the fulfillment of a prophecy given in the Old Testament book of Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14) six or seven hundred years before Jesus’ birth. And many Bible commentators believe the virgin birth of the Messiah was prophesied as far back as Genesis 3, where God seems to indicate that the coming Messiah would be born solely of the woman’s seed.
Well, what about Jesus’ resurrection? Did the New Testament authors steal the idea for Jesus’ resurrection, as the Zeitgeist video claims? No. Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t borrowed from some other religion; it was the fulfillment of prophecies made by Jewish prophets as far back as 1000 years before Christ.
David, writing around 1000 BC, and the prophet Isaiah, prophesying around 700 BC, both foretold the Messiah’s resurrection. They prophesied it would happen long before Jesus was even born (Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 53:10).
Dr. Norman Geisler, the late beloved scholar, points out that . . .
The first real parallel of a dying and rising god does not appear until AD 150, more than a hundred years after the origin of Christianity. So if there was any influence of one on the other, it was the influence of the historical event of the New Testament on mythology, not the reverse. The only known account of a god surviving death that predates Christianity is the Egyptian cult god Osiris. In this myth, Osiris is cut into fourteen pieces, scattered around Egypt, then reassembled and brought back to life by the goddess Isis. However, Osiris does not actually come back to physical life but becomes a member of a shadowy underworld . . . This is far different than Jesus’ resurrection account where He was the gloriously risen Prince of life who was seen by others on earth before His ascension into heaven . . . ” (Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (2004), 312)
Well said! Friend, you can be confident that Jesus’ disciples did not steal any of the details for Jesus’ life from sources outside the Bible. For additional help responding to Zeitgeist, click here.
5. ALLEGED CONTRADICTIONS IN THE GOSPELS
Many critics of the Bible have pointed to what they believe are contradictions in the Gospels as proof that these accounts of Jesus’ life are not trustworthy. In response to that, I will acknowledge (as any good Bible commentary does) that there are a few verses in the Gospels that can seem to be at odds with one another. But with a little investigation into the context of the various passages, the cultural and geographical settings in which the Gospels were written, and occasionally the original language, these apparent contradictions are easily explained. For example, critics have said there’s a contradiction in the Gospels concerning . . .
A. Jesus’ Occupation
An ABC television documentary on the life of Jesus brought up this supposed contradiction some time back. Let’s walk through it. Notice the question the people were asking about Jesus in Mark 6 . . .
Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” And they were offended at Him.
According to this passage, we learn that Jesus was a carpenter. Now notice what Matthew 13 says . . .
And when He [Jesus] had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son?”
On the lookout for ways to discredit Christianity, critics say that the Gospels contradict one another here. Why? “One says Jesus was the carpenter (Mark 6:3) and another says Joseph was the carpenter (Matt. 13:55).” So, which was it? Was Jesus the carpenter as Mark tells us or was Joseph the carpenter as Matthew tells us?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to think this through. They were both carpenters. It was very common at the time for men to follow in the footsteps of their father. And it appears that Jesus did that with Joseph. The crowd of people knew that, and they were asking both questions, “Is this not the carpenter?” (Mark 6:3) and “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13:55). So, there’s no contradiction here at all.
Another alleged contradiction that critics have pointed out in the Gospels out has to do with . . .
B. Jesus’ location when He healed a blind man.
Luke 18:35 says Jesus healed a blind man “as He was approaching Jericho.” But Mark 10:46 says He healed the man “as He went out of Jericho.”
So, critics say, “Surely Luke or Mark made a mistake. They can’t both be right.” And that appears to be the case, until you do a little homework and you find out that Ernst Sellin, a German archaeologist working on an excavation in Israel between 1907 and 1909, discovered “The Twin-Cities of Jericho.” (See Joseph Free, Archaeology and Bible History, p. 251)
In the first century AD, there was . . .
• The old city of Jericho (destroyed in Book of Joshua but rebuilt in 1 Kings 16:34)
• The new Roman city of Jericho
There were actually two cities called “Jericho,” separated from one another by about a mile. Knowing this solves the dilemma. It’s likely that Luke referred to one of the cities and Mark referred to the other. A plausible explanation is that the miracle took place between the two cities—Mark mentioning the city Jesus had just left, Luke mentioning the city Jesus was approaching.
The authors of the Bible did not err. The critic who assumes there is a contradiction errs because he or she is unfamiliar with ancient Roman and Jewish geography. Critics of the Bible would be wise to consult a good Bible commentary or two before passing judgment on the Bible. Solutions to all of the alleged contradictions in the Bible are readily available today for the person willing to do a little homework. We address more of them here.
All right, let’s consider another challenge that critics bring up when talking about Jesus . . .
Critics of the Gospels have pointed to what they believe are scientific errors in Jesus’ teachings. “And if those errors really exist,” critics say, “Jesus could not have been God, for God would not have made those kinds of mistakes!” Well, they would be right if those errors really existed, but they don’t.
Let’s briefly consider two examples of alleged scientific errors in Jesus’ teachings. In John 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus:
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes . . . ”
Well, some critics of the Bible have pointed to this verse and said things like the following:
Jesus says that no one knows which way the wind is blowing. But, of course, he was wrong about that. The direction and speed of the wind are easily measured. (Source: skepticsannotated bible.com/science/long.html)
Is that what Jesus said, “No one knows which way the wind is blowing”? No. Did Jesus say no one could measure the speed of wind? No. Let’s read the verse again.
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes . . . ”
So, notice that. Jesus doesn’t say no one can know which way the wind blows (as the atheist’s website said). He says, ‘YOU (Nicodemus!) . . . cannot tell where [the wind] comes from and where it goes.’
Jesus wasn’t addressing a group of meteorologists living in the twenty-first century with all their computers, barometers, and satellites. No. He was speaking to Nicodemus, a man living two thousand years ago.
• 1600 years before the barometer was invented
• 1700 years before the first thermometer was invented
• 1900 years before the first weather satellite was launched!
Without any of the modern technologies we have today for tracking storms, Nicodemus didn’t know where the wind came from or where it was going. There’s no scientific blunder here in John 3.
Another alleged scientific error in the Gospels is found in . . .
“ . . . The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”
Well, many a Bible critic has read this passage and then taken to his blog to say:
Jesus made a mistake when he referred to the mustard seed as the smallest seed. The smallest seed is actually the orchid seed. Surely, if Jesus was God and the creator of the seeds, he would have known the truth about this!
Well, in response to this, critics of the Bible need to keep in mind that Jesus was addressing a local audience, in Israel, in the first century, not an international conference of botanists in the twenty first century. He wasn’t saying a mustard seed is smaller than all the seeds we know to exist in the world today, but that a mustard seed was smaller than all the seeds a farmer sowed in his field in that part of the world, in the first century. And scholars have determined that the mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds first century Jewish farmers sowed in their fields. Orchid seeds were unknown in that part of the world in the first century. (Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask (1992), 345; Louis Barbieri, “Matthew,” in Walvoord and Zuck (eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary (1983), 51).
So, there’s no need to conclude Jesus made an error here (or anywhere else) when it comes to matters that can be checked out scientifically.
A while back, I was on a flight from San Diego to Philadelphia. I had a great conversation with a lady named Monica, seated next to me. She had abandoned her confidence in the Bible some twenty years ago, and now at the age of 40, she was full of doubts about its reliability. One of her problems with the reliability of the Bible was related to the supposed late authorship of the Gospels. Monica assured me, “The Gospels were written down three hundred years after Jesus lived!”
Now, I’ve heard this before, as you probably have. Critics often raise this objection to suggest that the Gospels could not possibly be trustworthy if they were written that long after Jesus lived. When someone asserts something about Jesus or the Bible that I disagree with, I like to lovingly ask, “What evidence are you aware of that supports that viewpoint?” or “How did you come to that conclusion?” These kinds of questions often lead to more fruitful conversations, than just immediately disagreeing with the person. So, I did that with Monica. I asked her how she came to that conclusion. Her response? “Weren’t they?”
She went from sounding like an authority on the matter, to someone completely unsure of what she just boldly proclaimed, all in response to a friendly question. She didn’t know why she even believed what she had just stated. And this is very common. Critics make all kinds of claims about Jesus and the Bible that they are often unprepared to back up with any kind of evidence.
Well, this gave me the opportunity to explain to Monica that there’s no evidence any of the New Testament books were written down three hundred years after Jesus. And there is good evidence most of the New Testament was written down before AD 70.
For example, the New Testament Scriptures are absolutely silent regarding the destruction of the Jewish temple by the Romans in AD 70. The destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in AD 70 was one of the most significant events in all of Jewish history. Flavius Josephus, an eyewitness to the event, says the Roman soldiers destroyed the Jewish temple as well as the entire city of Jerusalem. In the process, Josephus says 1.1 million people died, and that the Romans carried away 97,000 people as prisoners. (War of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 9:3). Wow! Well, the silence of the New Testament authors regarding this event strongly suggests their writings were largely completed prior to this event.
Let’s imagine you go to a friend’s house tonight to watch a football game with some friends. Upon arrival, you plop down on their comfy living room couch, waiting for the others to show up. While you’re snacking on chips and guacamole, you notice a book on the coffee table addressing the history of New York City. You flip through the whole book and you realize by the end that there was not a single mention of the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Question for you. Could you confidently assume the book was written prior to that infamous date? Yes!
Another indicator most of the New Testament was completed before AD 70 centers around the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul. We know from extra-biblical historical sources that Paul was put to death around AD 64 and Peter around AD 65. And though the deaths of other prominent Christians are mentioned in the New Testament—Stephen (Acts 7:55–60) and James (Acts 12:1–2)—the deaths of Peter and Paul are not mentioned anywhere. That suggests the New Testament was largely completed before these two leaders in the church were put to death.
So, these are a couple of the reasons Bible scholars have concluded that the New Testament was written down early—within the lifetimes of those who were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life (for more on this, see my article “When Was the New Testament Completed?”).
All right, let’s consider one final challenge critics bring up about Jesus.
Critics of Christianity commonly say that we really can’t know the truth about Jesus because the early Christians purposely left other writings, other “gospels” about Jesus, out of the Bible. What are we to think of that challenge?
There were writings floating around in the centuries following Jesus’ life that mention Jesus, and that were left out of the New Testament. So that raises the question, “Why did Christians leave those writings out of the Bible?” Well, the short answer is, they never belonged in the Bible.
When the so-called “Gospel of Thomas” and other “gospels” purportedly written by Judas, Philip, and Mary Magdalene started appearing on the scene long after these persons died, Christians recognized them for what they were—pseudo gospels that were uninspired, spurious writings. They realized these writings were not written by Thomas and the others but by false teachers who attached the disciples’ names to their writings seeking to influence Christians with their unbiblical, heretical ideas.
Scholars have determined that every one of these so-called gospels that were left out of the New Testament originated in the second or third century A.D.—long after Jesus, Thomas, Mary Magdalene, Philip, and Judas walked the earth. So, their late arrival was strike one against their acceptance.
Strike two was the internal evidence—evidence within the writings—that gave them away as fakes. Consider these outlandish words The Gospel of Thomas puts in the mouths of the apostle Peter and Jesus . . .
Simon Peter said to them, “Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.” Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the domain of Heaven.” (The Gospel of Thomas, v. 114, online source)
Does that sound like anything Jesus or Peter ever would have said? No. In another place, v. 14, the Gospel of Thomas claims Jesus said:
If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves, and if you pray, you will be condemned, and if you give to charity, you will harm your spirits. (The Gospel of Thomas, v. 14, online source)
What! In the New Testament Gospels, Jesus encouraged fasting (Matthew 6:16). He taught us to pray (Luke 11:2). And He told us to be generous to those in need (Matthew 5:42).
Elsewhere, the Gospel of Thomas quotes Jesus as saying:
Lucky [lucky?!] is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human. And foul is the human that the lion will eat, and the lion still will become human. (The Gospel of Thomas, v. 7, online source)
What in the world?! Lions can become humans? It was these kinds of bizarre, outrageous sayings in The Gospel of Thomas and the other writings that gave them away as fakes. The Christians (who were widely familiar in the second and third centuries with the genuine teachings of Jesus and the apostles) knew that these were not the kinds of things Jesus or the disciples ever taught. So, this so-called gospel and some others were purposely left out of the Bible. And we can be thankful for that.
Friends, if you have placed your faith in the Jesus revealed to us in the four authentic Gospels, you have not followed “cleverly devised myths” (2 Peter 1:16). There’s good evidence that Jesus was a real person and that the Gospels are trustworthy records of His life. And this is wonderful news because the four authentic Gospels contain the greatest news humanity could ever hear—the news that two thousand years ago, your maker, God in the flesh, out of His great love for you, suffered and died on a cruel wooden Roman cross to take the punishment for your sins, so that you could be forgiven, saved from eternity in Hell, and be brought back into a relationship with Him.
He rose from the grave three days later, and today He offers all humanity:
• “the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 26:18)
• “peace with God” (Romans 5:1)
• the “free gift” of “everlasting life” (Romans 6:23; John 3:16)
That’s great news friend! Everlasting life? Forgiveness of all your sins? Peace with God? What an incredible offer God has made you. You deserve judgment and condemnation for your sins, but God offers you forgiveness and everlasting life!
But you must receive it. How? Jesus said, “Whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). That’s it! Jesus did all the work. All you need to do is believe (i.e., place your faith in Jesus and what He did to save You). And you can do that right now. God is a prayer away. You can pray something like this:
God, I am a sinner. I have broken Your commandments, and I am in need of Your forgiveness. I believe Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose from the grave. I am placing my faith, my trust in Jesus Christ to save me! Forgive me for my sins. Come into my life and be my Lord and Savior. Make me into the person You want me to be. And it’s in Jesus’ name I pray. Amen!
If you’ve placed your faith in Jesus for the salvation of your soul, the Bible says, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Click here for steps to grow as a Christian.
If you are already a Christian, I encourage you to continue in the Faith. Pick up and meditate on God’s Word often, more assured than ever that the Bible truly is trustworthy in all that it records.
CHARLIE H. CAMPBELL
is an itinerant Christian apologist, the founder of ABR, and the author of several books and videos, some of which include:
• Archaeological Evidence for the Bible
• One-Minute Answers to Skeptics
• Dakota Knox & the Archaeology Thief + Dakota Knox: London, Love, & Terror + Dakota Knox: Nightmare at the Museum
• Scrolls & Stones: Compelling Evidence the Bible Can Be Trusted
• Evidence for God
• The Case for Christianity
• The Bible’s Scientific Accuracy and Foresight
• Answering Atheists
• Treachery on Celestia: A Futuristic Young Adults Thriller
• The Case for the Resurrection
• If God is Loving, Why is there Evil and Suffering?
• Apologetics Quotes
• The End Times and Beyond: A Concise, Chronological Overview of End-Time Bible Prophecies
• Dad, Does God Exist? + Dad, Why Do We Believe the Bible?
WOULD YOU LIKE CHARLIE CAMPBELL TO SPEAK AT YOUR CHURCH?
Charlie Campbell speaks at churches throughout the year. If you're a pastor and would like him to speak at your church, conference, men's retreat, etc., please contact ABR here and let us know.