I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.
Fisher here argues that the way we find the Gospels to be genuine/authentic is the same way we find other documents authentic, namely the “early reception of writings as genuine by those who had the means of knowing, early traditions… which are not justly liable to suspicion, references to them, quotations from them, at a time when, if they were spurious, this fact could not have been concealed, internal marks in the works themselves indicative of their authorship or date of composition…” (47). In typical fashion, Fisher does not here draw out these arguments in much detail. He provides an overview, then a few details on selected points.
Next, Fisher provides one of his lengthier discussions of anything, tracing various early Christians lives and their connections to the authenticity of the Gospels. He notes that many of these early Christians referenced the Gospels offhandedly just as they do the Old Testament. Their treatment of the set of works about Christ and those accepted as Hebrew Scriptures is, in other words, similar enough that we may conclude they thought of them as equally authoritative.
The work Fisher mentions called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” is more commonly referred to as the Didache. One thing to be careful of reading historical apologetics is that sometimes information in them is out of date (i.e. a reference to an allegedly ancient document that we later discover was a forgery or something else). This is not one of those cases, as the Didache is indeed quite ancient (and typically dated to within the 1st Century AD). Thus, we have perhaps a little more surety over its dating than Fisher did when he wrote the Manual, and its confirmation of the probable existence of the Gospels is quite valuable. It is possible the references to the Gospel were, in fact, references to the oral tradition that was written down as the Gospels, and many modern scholars have argued that’s what happened. But in either case, the Didache provides a confirmation of very early knowledge of Christ as well as some early Christian teachings.
The Gospels each have references to real places and events that, as Fisher notes, are introduced without design and certainly allow us to date them quite early. The place names, names of people, and events all serve as earmarks for the authenticity of the Gospels, and though some very specific details are still debated, overall the impression of authenticity is overwhelming. Finally, Fisher argues that the Johannine Epistles and Gospel share enough important details and linguistic factors to agree that they’ve the same author.
Chapter 8 is thus one of the most robust chapters in the book, and certainly one of the most intriguing so far. Though it doesn’t have any astonishing “new” or rediscovered arguments, it does provide a solid outline for a defense of the authenticity of the Gospels.
What did you think of this chapter? Do offhanded remarks about places and people give more authenticity to an ancient work?
Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).
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