12th March, 2000

The First Gospel Records
Mark 1:1-11

Modern scholars frequently doubt the authorship and dating of our New Testament. These scholars examine early documents and give reasons why an ordinary believer should not treat New Testament documents as reliable. Without the same background in scholarship, who are we to dissent? When the Sunday papers quote the modern scholars who put out press releases on their opinions, a whole generation of readers come to doubt the reliability of our New Testament. But as Peter Ballard has demonstrated, it is interesting to apply the same principles to events in our time and see what results. Some scholars call the Bible "mythical". Peter used the same methods and questions on the America's Cup for yachting and found it was mythical!

1. The myth of the America's Cup

Speaking as if he were a liberal scholar, Peter says the story of the America's Cup, in which an Australian yacht (Australia II) comes from behind to defeat its American rival, using the secret Australian invention of a winged keel, is a myth. Like some Bible scholars, he claims the America's Cup documents are historically unreliable. For instance, books on the America's Cup contain at least two distinct styles. The first style is the vivid and picturesque language describing the events. The second style is a record of dates, measurements, margins and tables. That indicates sources from two different authors or an unknown editor. We also note that the books refer to the "next challenge" in Fremantle in 1987. As you cannot predict the future, this indicates that the books were written in 1987 or later.

This gives at least 4 years for the America's Cup story to be told and retold, with accumulated embellishments, before it was written down. This has led to numerous contradictions and errors. One obvious contradiction is the size of the yachts. The yachts are called "12 metre yachts", yet measurements indicate the yachts were 19 metres long. Another contradiction is the date of the final race. One book says the race occurred in Newport USA on September 26, yet another says Australians watched the race September 27.

Other events raise historical doubts. For instance, the legend states that Australia II had a winged keel. This reveals that the author was confused, as it was aeroplanes, not boats, which have wings. Much research has been done into whether the heroes of the story ever existed. Australia II was supposedly designed by Ben Lexcen, who never went to high school. This is highly improbable. There is no mention anywhere of a Ben Lexcen until the mid 1970s. The legend that he changed his name from Bob Johnson is unlikely. More likely he never existed. The author simply borrowed his name from a type of Toyota van was popular at the time. The identity of the supposed owner of the yacht is a mystery. The books give his name variously as "Alan Bond" or "Bondy". The only person of either name was an inmate of Perth Gaols in the 1990's. It is not possible that this criminal could have once been a yacht-owning multi-millionaire popular with all the nation. Another error of the myth is the behaviour of the then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke. The myth says he appeared on national television, in a green coat covered in Australian flags, drenched in champagne, and declared a public holiday.

Contemporary records confirm that a Mr. Hawke was Prime Minister at this time, although the myth gets his first name wrong, for his name was actually Robert. But Prime Ministers always wore suits in the 1980's, and they had no power to declare a public holiday. It is also absurd to suggest that a politician would try to make political capital out of a sporting victory.

What of the legend that Australia II came from 3-1 down to win the best-of-7 series 4-3? No team in America has ever won the finals of the NBA Basketball Championship or World Series Baseball from 3-1 down. So for Australia II to do so, in America, in a sport where Americans had been champions for more than a century, would have been a miracle and miracles do not occur. It is reasonable to believe Australia II had no winged keel, and did not physically win. But she did her best and so had a spiritual victory. Rather than believing in a literal victory where we beat the Americans by clever inventions that did not work, we should simply follow the path of the historical Australia II, and try hard at whatever we do. Modern people need to experience spiritual victory, rather than believing we can physically win anything. Today we need to turn our back on primitive legends, and demythologise the America's Cup. While the historical Australia II is an inspiration, no thinking person can accept she actually won the Cup. That would be as naive as to believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead. A similar America's Cup myth developed in New Zealand during the mid 1990's. It is obvious the New Zealand culture adopted the Australian myth with the same myth being retold in a different setting. Both beliefs are regarded by most scholars as myths.

That treatment of the America's Cup win, is true to the approach used by some Biblical scholars working on New Testament documents. What does research tell us about those documents that support our belief in the historical Jesus?

2. The New Testament documents

The first thing that astounds the researcher is the vast amount of copies and fragments of the New Testament available. There are more than 24,000 partial and complete manuscript copies of the New Testament from the early centuries and 75,000 letters mentioning Christian faith. These manuscript copies are available for inspection now. There are also some 86,000 quotations from the early Church Fathers including 8000 verses of the New Testament. Only 11 verses of the New testament are not quoted. There are several thousand Lectionaries from the early centuries of Christianity containing Scripture quotations. No other ancient literature can compare in manuscript support as the Bible. There are more New Testament manuscripts copied with greater accuracy and earlier dating than for any secular classic from antiquity. Dr. Benjamin Warfield said, "If we compare the present state of the text of the New Testament with that of no matter what other ancient work, we must declare it marvellously exact." New Testament fragments from within one or two decades from its original composition exist. Whole books within 100 years from the time of the original manuscripts exist. The degree of accuracy of the copies is greater for the New Testament than for any other ancient book. They are superior to comparable ancient writings.

The dating of New Testament documents has changed remarkably over the decades. Liberal scholars once gave them late dates, but today the majority of New Testament scholars date Mark's Gospel about AD 70, and Matthew and Luke roughly 80AD, and John AT 90ad. The great scholar J. A. T. Robinson says all the gospels were completed before AD 70. In 1994, a papyrus fragment of The Gospel of Matthew chapter 26 was found with a very specific writing style. It was among a box full of papyrus from Egypt that had been in the Magdalen College, Oxford for almost a hundred years. This is called the Jesus Papyrus and is dated at 66AD. The discovery of pieces of The Gospel of Mark among the Dead Sea Scrolls hidden in caves from the Romans sometime before 73AD shows the written records are older and more accurate than the guesses of many revisionists. Thiede, p144-6 The famous papyrus of The Gospel of John, now in the John Rylands Library in Manchester has been redated by some scholars back to 90AD. This copy must be within a year or so of John actually writing the Gospel.

The famous scholar Prof. F.F.Bruce, declares "The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be as beyond all doubt." As Josh McDowell says: "I believe one can hold the Scriptures and say, 'The Bible is trustworthy, and historically reliable.'" ine, The spread of early copies indicates that the entire New Testament was written in the first century A.D..

In addition, there is internal evidence for a first century date for the writing of the New Testament. The book of Acts ends abruptly with Paul in prison, awaiting trial. Acts 28:30-31 It is likely that Luke wrote Acts during this time, before Paul finally appeared before Nero. This would be in 62-63 AD, meaning that Acts and Luke were written within thirty years of ministry and death of Jesus. Another internal evidence is that there is no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Although Matthew, Mark and Luke record Jesus' prophecy that the temple and city would be destroyed within that generation (Matthew 24:1-2,Mark 13:1-2, Luke 21:5-9,20-24,32) no New Testament book refers to this event as having happened. If they had been written after 70 AD, they would have mentioned the fulfilment of Jesus' prophecy. Nelson Glueck, former president of the Jewish Theological Seminary and renowned Jewish archaeologist: "In my opinion, every book of the New Testament was written between the forties and eighties of the first century A.D."

With all of the massive manuscript evidence you would think we would have massive discrepancies - just the opposite is true. New Testament manuscripts agree in 99.5% of the text, and most of the discrepancies are in spelling and word order. There is no discrepancy of any doctrinal significance. The old argument concerning changes in the documents does not stand up to examination. It has been observed that if all of the New Testament manuscripts and Versions mentioned above were to disappear overnight, it would still be possible to reconstruct the entire New Testament with quotes from the Church Fathers, with the exception of eleven verses!

In his book, The Bible and Archaeology, Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, former director and principal librarian of the British Museum, stated about the New Testament, "The interval, then, between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established." For you this means simply, you can trust the New Testament in your hands as the reliable and accurate record in which you can find the Word of God and the salvation that is in Jesus Christ. All that is required is that you accept and believe and commit your life to Jesus as Saviour and Lord!

You cannot avoid the claims of Jesus Christ on your life by claiming that you do not know if the New Testament documents are accurate, or if they were written a long time after the life of Jesus and the disciples. Some scholars once made these claims, but they hold as much water as the claim that the America's Cup is mythical. As Mark's Gospel begins: "The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Mark 1:1 What word in that sentence cannot you understand? Because that is all you need to believe: that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. That is the good news - the Gospel! If you believe just that, you are a Christian and are entitled to receive the forgiveness of your sins and the free gift of eternal life. It is not a matter of scholarly learning. It is simply a matter of understanding and believing. The basis of your belief is the reliable evidence of the Bible.

  The Reliability of the Gospels. Blomberg, Craig. Downers Grove, IL: IVPress, 1987.
Are the New Testament Documents Reliable? Bruce, F. F. 5th ed.
Scripture and Truth. Carson, D. A., and John D. Woodbridge, eds. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983.
Evidence That Demands A Verdict. McDowell, Josh. 2 vols, CA: Here's Life, (1972) 1979, (1975) 1981.
The Jesus Papyrus C P Thiede Weidenfield 1996
Jesus: Life or Legend? C P Thiede Lion 1997
The Myth of The America's Cup. Peter Ballard, 1996,
The Bible and Archaeology Sir Fredric Kenyon, The Bible and Archaeology Harper, 1940), 288ff.

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes

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