Can we trust the gospels? That is a very important question. If they do tell the truth, then there is no denying that they must be heard, read and followed. If they’re false, then we can discard them and not bother at all with them.
Peter Williams, Principal of Tyndale House in Cambridge, has been working on this area for a number of years. I first heard him debating Bart Ehrmann on the Unbelievable podcast, on this very topic. And now he is here with 160 pages of academically rigorous research, written at a popular level. Williams states “This [book] seeks to present a case for the reliability of the Gospels to those who are thinking about the subject for the first time.”
He tackles the question in eight chapters. The first chapter surveys the non-Christian sources of the life of Jesus. Williams points out that the gospels and epistles are valid historical sources in their own right, but explains that the non-Christian sources also back them up.
From there, he turns to critiques of the four gospels. Those critiques from famous critics such as Bart Ehrmann and the Jesus Seminar, and in popular works such as the Da Vinci Code. Throughout his arguments, there are footnotes for further research. Williams does a great job at writing a well rounded defence, but if you want more information, those sources are available.
One of the highlights of the book were the explanations of undesigned coincidences, and the work done on whether the text we have has been changed. Williams uses the work of Lydia McGrew (another really interesting book I read this year) on undesigned coincidences. Basically, these are bits of information that you need all four gospels to fully understand (e.g. why is Philip asked about getting the food in Bethsaida?). He also explains some of the work he did on the ‘Fragments of Truth’ documentary, explaining why the text could not be changed due to the way transmission works. Those two things may sound geeky (and they are), but they provide some of the best defences of the historical reliability of the gospel around. These arguments do not prove the gospels reliability by themselves (as Williams rightly points out), but put together become a very powerful argument.
Williams was able to draw and point to his own research throughout this book. The work Tyndale House has done on the gospel texts allows for a much more personal, and detailed, explanation of how the evidence he’s seen works.
This book was so well written, that I found myself reading the whole thing in a couple of days (making it one of the most interesting and compelling books I’ve read in the whole of 2018!) I was particularly impressed with the amount of information that Williams has squeezed into this book. The different sources quoted, and the explanations given are very comprehensive. Yet, this does not make the book feel long and tedious. I reckon 160 pages is a perfect length to give someone who is interested in the topic at a lay level.
If you’re after a defence of the trustworthiness of the four gospels, you will not find a better popular level treatment than this book. Highly recommended.
Once again, a big thanks to Crossway for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book through their Blog Review Program.