The earliest Gospel was written c. 70 AD. We have only purported
reports of what Jesus said – see for example Geza Vermes ” The Authentic
Gospel of Jesus” or further ” The Jesus Mysteries” by Freke & Gandy. Even
evangelical writers such as Mark Stibbe talk of “redactors” and
“interpretations.” The claims you refer to were made by someone else on
behalf of Jesus. It’s what’s known as “spin”.
I have read a number of books by such people who support the Jesus Seminar
and other liberal theologians. My problem with such scholars is that they
begin their study of the Bible from the presupposition that the
supernatural is not possible. If one studies the Bible under the
assumption that it is not inspired by the almighty God, then one?s
conclusions are absolutely sure to be false on the whole. I teach about
deduction and induction in my philosophy of science class. There we talk
about the power of pure reason and of deductive reasoning. The problem
with deduction is that when one starts with a false premise, then one?s
deductions are sure to be false. The author of “The Authentic Gospel” is
a non-believer. The author of “The Jesus Mysteries (I am assuming, since
I have not read that one, so I might have to back track on this statement)
is also an unbeliever. They assume that any sign of supernatural in the
Bible needs to be explained away. Having begun from a wrong assumption,
their conclusions are questionable and their arguments become circular.
No wonder, for example, that they assume all the gospels were written
after AD 70. The gospels have Jesus making clear and unmistakeable
statements about the events of AD 70 (the destruction of Jerusalemby Titus
and so forth). If one assumes that the Bible is a human document, without
divine authorship, then obviously, Mark, Luke and Matthew were written
after AD 70. There are two problems with this.
The Bible is inspired by God. Jesus was a prophet, and Jesus successfully
predicted the destruction of Jerusalem.
The evidence supports the belief that Mark and Matthew, and likely Luke
also, were written before AD 70.
Those who approach biblical study assuming that the writings are not
inspired are bound to reach false conclusions. I believe that is what is
going on in these cases.
The Jesus Seminar?s arguments on the date of the authorship of the gospels
goes something like this:
The gospels are the product of human influence.
The gospels cannot show signs of divine influence.
Therefore, obviously, the gospels were written after AD 70.
Therefore, the fact that the prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalemare
not support for the inspiration of the Bible.
Therefore the gospels are the product of human influence.
This is circular reasoning.
As for your example of an evangelical such as Mark Stibbe talking of
“redactors and interpretations,” I cannot speak for or against what he has
done. However, being labeled as an evangelical is of little value to me.
The question is whether one is right. The question is whether ones
arguments are valid?whether they are based on a reasonable interpretation
of the data. I do not deny out of hand that Mr. Stibbe may have some
valuable analysis of the gospels. I do not reject all the conclusions of
the skeptics of Christianity. I can learn a lot from these people.
However, those who begin by assuming that the Gospel is a myth begin from
an incorrect place, so they end in an incorrect place.
The claim that the Bible is “spin” is quite outrageous in my opinion. The
Bible is inspired by God. God does not produce “spin.” If you are going
to claim that what the gospel says about Jesus is spin, I hope you can
produce evidence for this claim. Which statement about Jesus is spin, and
what is your evidence that it is spin?
You can argue that my statement above is also circular reasoning. I say
the Bible is inspired, therefore it cannot have “spin.” I will
acknowledge that there is a hint of circular reasoning in this argument.
However, I begin with the assumption, proved by an almost unlimited amount
of evidence that the Bible is inspired by God. Can I prove by evidence
that every single word in the Bible is inspired by God? No. However, the
evidence is so overwhelming, that I believe I am well justified in
studying the Bible to give it the benefit of the doubt. I need to always
be careful against circular reasoning. I need to always seek careful
reasoning and tight logic based on evidence. Nevertheless, when one
begins with a correct assumption, one is far more likely to reach a good
conclusion than when one begins with an incorrect assumption. The Bible
is inspired by God.