June 18, 2024

In this episode, Kurt talks with Dr. Craig A Evans on the reliability of the Gospels. What features of the Gospels makes them have historicity and how is the Gospel of John different from the others? Many questions from listeners this week!

You can learn more about Dr. Evans and his work at his website.

Listen to “Episode 112: Gospel Reliability” on Spreaker.

Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. Very nice to be with you here, episode 112. We are talking about Gospel reliability. Before we get into today’s discussion, I wanted to make announcement yet again about the Defenders’ Conference coming up Sept. 28-29 at the Christian Church of Clarendon Hills here in the Western suburbs of Chicago. We would love for you to consider joining us here. We’ve got a family from Oklahoma coming. We have a gentleman from Florida. We have a couple from Virginia. Of course, we have plenty of locals, but if you are from Chicagoland or from anywhere in this nation we want to invite you to come to this event and I guess if you’re international as well. We won’t turn you back. Please come and join us. It’ll be a great opportunity for us to hear from a variety of evangelical perspectives on the supposed divine genocide commands in the Old Testament, when YHWH commands the Israelites to kill even the women and the children how should we understand those commands? It’s going to be just a great time and if you want to learn more information and how to register you can go to theDefendersConference.com. Looking forward to the coming weeks here. We’re doing some great preparation for that event. It’s going to be a lot of fun and I hope you’ll join us.

Also, I’m sure, Chris, I have worn this shirt on the show before.

Chris: I don’t think you’ve ever worn the shirt on this show before.

Kurt: Really?

Chris: To the best of my knowledge in a 112 episodes.

Kurt: I’ve worn it before. I’ve had it for many years now. My wife bought it for me I think when we were dating even.

Chris: I’m digging it.

Kurt; I guess I have to stand up here and show people this shirt here. I once was lost, but now I’m found, Luke 19:10, and of course, it’s Waldo as we say here in America. Over in the UK though, they call him Wally.

Chris: That’s right. Where’s Wally. 

Kurt: But here it’s Waldo in America and it’s a great shirt. My wife gets my humor. I used to wear a bunch of cheesy Christian shirts back when I was at BIOLA. That was the sort of place you could wear those cheesy Christian shirts because people understood the humor. Out in the regular world though, people, they’re like, “Oh. That’s a John Deere shirt.” No, it’s not. “Oh. That’s a Back to the Future shirt.” No. It’s not.

Chris: Back when I[NP1]  had a little Jesus[NP2]  that said “He saved me.”

Kurt: I think I actually own that shirt. I kid you not.

Chris: We should twin.

Kurt: I think Michaela’s made me get rid of, I apologize for that. Let’s get into today’s program. We’ve got lots of questions here. We’ve had a number of listener submissions so thank you for those that have submitted their questions ahead of time for our guest. He is none other than the distinguished professor of Christians origins at Houston Theological Seminary at Houston Baptist University. He’s written numerous books, too many to be named, a number of them that stick out to me and that I own, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels, Who Was Jesus? A Jewish-Christian dialogue”, and others. He is Craig A. Evans. Craig. Thank you so much for joining us on our program today.

Craig: You’re very welcome. Good to be with you.

Kurt: Thanks. When I had announced that you were going to be joining us on our program today, one of our followers, Joel, he hasn’t heard of you and one of the questions he asked was, “Who is Craig Evans?” Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

Craig: I grew up in California, went to one of the Claremont colleges. I was originally going to go into law and so I was gearing up for law school, but in my senior year, I felt very strongly called away from law and to go into Christian studies, Christian ministry, I went to seminary instead. I really enjoyed it. I went up to the northwest to do that and the big surprise was I enjoyed the Greek, the Hebrew, all that stuff, the academic stuff, especially the Jesus and the Gospels, keenly fascinated with all that. I returned to Claremont when I finished my MDiv Master of Divinity degree to pursue my PhD at Claremont because there were people there who were well-known in historical Jesus work such as the late James M. Robinson, so I was there in the 70’s and when I was just about finished with my PhD there was an opening in Canada for one year. It was at McMaster where E.P. Sanders was, well-known for his work on Paul, Paul and Palestinian Judaism. It was a one-year contract. I told everybody we’d be in Canada for one year and we were in Canada for 35 years which shows you I’m not a prophet. It was great. My one year at McMaster gave me a chance to get some lectures written up to finish my PhD. I went from there still in Canada out west to Trinity Western University in British Columbia and I was there 21 years, and after that moved east to Nova Scotia on the Atlantic coast and I was in Acadia which is a very elitist school and I taught there for 13 years and it was just a few years ago that we returned to the United States and I’ve been since January 1, 2016, a professor as you mentioned at Houston Baptist University. I continue with my studies in Jesus and the Gospels and things that are related to that like archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls, early Jewish literature, and that sort of thing. It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy it. I’ve published a number of books. I’m the editor of a number of books and various journal articles, reviews, chapters in other books and so on. I’m busy. I go to Israel almost every year. I’ve been to Israel maybe 25 times. I’ve actually worked in dig sites as a volunteer so I find it rewarding and exciting and one of my burdens too is I think it’s important that scholars get out of the ivory tower and speak to people who sit in the pews, people who walk the streets, and not just be scholars who talk to one another. Course that runs the risk, once you’ve popularized something and tried to explain to lay audiences, there will be people who don’t like the explanation because they haven’t heard it before in church. Chances are their pastor knows it, learned it in seminary, but doesn’t want to ruffle any feathers so he doesn’t talk about it and so one of the issues has to do with how do we understand the Gospels as history, and if our people, the churches, don’t understand that, they’re easily victimized by dumb stuff that comes out like Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code or Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, stuff like that that comes out that scholars know is a lot of nonsense. Scholars are too busy up in the ivory tower doing their Greek and their Hebrew and talking to each other and meanwhile, people at the popular level are creating a lot of confusion. Once in a while, we need to parachute down, get down to Earth, find out what’s going on and speak to these issues. It really helps. It’s rewarding. People say thank you for explaining that. I was about to lose my faith. Now I understand what’s going on, but there will be pushback from the hard right because they’re hearing something they haven’t heard before they don’t like. They’ll push back and say you’re on the side of the devil. You’re doing bad stuff. Anyway, that’s the risk you take. I’m a big boy and I’ve had mud thrown at me so I don’t worry about it. It’s okay. There you go. That’s who I am.

Kurt: Yes. You’ve participated in a number of debates, public lectures, and you’ve spoken at churches and you’ve had wonderful opportunities to minister to people and I want to thank you again for coming on our program today to talk to us about Gospel reliability and other issues and then, of course, we’ve got a number of submissions from listeners here. I do want to say Corey Miller, president of Ratio Christi, he’s tuning in, thank you Corey. Also, my wife has commented here, Craig. She says, “Look at all those books.” She tells me not to get any ideas. I guess you’re an avid book collector like myself.

Craig: If you don’t have a library, it’s hard to be productive. I have about 6,500 books so there you go.

Kurt: Wow. Yes. I certainly do appreciate having books close by, quick reference. I’m currently a doctoral student so having just really that I need to look up sort of right now while I’m focusing on this can be important, but 6,500 books. Oh my goodness. You’ve got a library. That’s stellar. That’s awesome. So much better than the man cave. I prefer the men’s study. At any rate, let’s talk about Gospel reliability. We have the Gospels, let me introduce the question here. We’ve got the Gospels here. They’re these four works, four books within a book. They come to us from apparently the first century, some scholars, some in the ivory tower think second, maybe third-century, but when we see these Gospels, what reasons do we have for thinking that they are, in fact, a reliable source for the life, teachings, and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth?

Craig: There’s several different indicators that complement one another that tell us that these Gospels are reliable sources. They’re early. There are connections to eyewitness accounts and so from a historians’ point of view, right away they’re in the arena and should be taken seriously, but for me what really becomes an indicator that the Gospels are reliable, you can compare them to Gospels that clearly are not, that are written later, second and third centuries, which have fantastic stories that just make historical blunders.

Kurt: By fantastic there, you don’t mean like fantastic, great. You mean fantastical, like fantasy. These huge exaggerations and just myth in the classical sense.

Craig: Yeah. Of course, the real key is verisimilitude. A word that means that any document that is claiming to be something exhibits realism and is true to reality where you can test it. The Gospels, of course, can be tested. There’s supposedly all these stories about this person named Jesus and His disciples and friends and acquaintances. He’s in various villages. There are actual places that are named, landmarks, bodies of water, hills, cities, and so on, roads, and so customs, all sorts of traditions and so on in his world. If the writers actually are just making it up or don’t know what they’re talking about, they may be wrote 100 years later. They don’t know anything about early first-century Jewish Palestine, they’re going to make all kinds of blunders and mistakes. These Gospels writers don’t do that. They’re accurate, in fact, so accurate you might say the Gospels exhibit so much verisimilitude that people with a lot of skin in the game, archaeologists, I always like to cite them as an example. If you’ve done any archaeology, you get 50 people, 100 people, more than that to volunteer to work two weeks, four weeks, six weeks, in the summertime at their expense. They fly to Israel. They stay in a hostel or a hotel or whatever. There’s a lot of man hours, a lot of money invested. You want to dig in the right place? You want to make a sensible choice of location? You want to understand what’s being unearthed? Any written source from antiquity you’re going to use. What the archaeologists do and they might be Jewish, they might be Christian, they might be no affiliation of religion of any kind, agnostic or whatever, they all have something in common when they work in Israel and they’re interested in the first century. They make use of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the book of Acts, and Josephus, the Jewish historian. They use those six works all the time. All without exception.

Kurt: You’re saying here that even Jewish archaeologists will use the Gospels because they are so reliable on the geographical details and historical descriptions. Is that fair to say?

Craig: That’s right. I’ve heard one of them say, “Look. Theologically, religiously, I don’t have any dog in the fight” and so you can talk about faith or no faith as far as Jesus is concerned, that’s not of interest to the archaeologist. He makes use of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, book of Acts, because they describe real people, real places, real events. They provide information about where to dig and how to understand what gets dug up. I find it so interesting that it will be liberal Christians who are far more skeptical of the Gospels than secular Jews who are archaeologists. I think that’s really funny, because the first group, the liberal, doesn’t know archaeology, hasn’t been to Israel, and hasn’t seen anything. They just go along with whatever the baloney out there that says you can’t trust the Gospels. Instead, you should use the Gospel of Thomas or some other Gnostic writing. That’s the baloney because the real archaeologists ignore that stuff. Why? Because that stuff doesn’t help them. I have never met an archaeologist that says, “Man. I wouldn’t know where to dig if I didn’t have the Gnostic Gospels as a guide.” That’s silly, because those writings exhibit no verisimilitude, but Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, even though John is in terms of genre a bit different, John is loaded with useful historical data at archaeologically related place names, topography, and so on, and of course, the book of Acts because you have people running around Jerusalem, Caesarea Maritima, and so on, and so the book of Acts is a useful guide. Josephus corroborates it. That’s another point. When you do have historical sources you can compare them. The Gospels exhibit verisimilitude. They are supported by other writings like Josephus, and then there’s an internal logic. We’ve got four of them. They’re not talking about four different Jesuses. It’s obvious they’re talking about the same one. You start putting it together and it makes sense. By the way, there’s a roughness too I sometimes call it. It just doesn’t sound like somebody sat down and said “Let’s really smooth this over. Let’s get rid of all the bumps, all the warts, and make sure this is really pristine and smooth.” Nobody’s done that. That smacks I think of reality, honesty, telling it like it is, sometimes the disciples look like morons. Sometimes they were. You don’t gloss the story and turn them all into saints and that kind of thing. There’s this realism that hits the Gospels too and I think that scores well for them.

Kurt: You talked about how the Gospel of John is a little different and ample scholars are willing to concede that John in comparison to the Synoptics is doing something different. What exactly that is that John is doing is something that scholars have debated. You have an interesting take on it. Maybe tell us a little bit about those variety of interpretation of John. Some dismiss it outright as legendary material, others, like the ultra-conservative view, you might say they’re just like the Synoptics and so sometimes when you try to harmonize them, you get into some difficulties. Tell me more about the different perspectives on the Gospel of John.

Craig: First, I’ll start with something very basic. My challenge would be to anyone who’s interested in this whatever your view happens to be. Sit down and read the three Synoptic Gospels. Just sit down and read them bang, bang, bang, side by side. Read them and then without taking a break, just read John. You’ll immediately notice how different John is. I don’t just mean John as a book, but the Jesus in John sounds very different. You could only find one brief passage, it’s in Matthew 11, where Jesus talks about how the Father has revealed things to the Son, about five verses or six verses in Matthew 11 that come anywhere close to sounding like Jesus in the Gospel of John. Jesus in John has been written up as teaching that has been presented a different way. That’s the first thing you observe. However, if you just compare Matthew, Mark, and Luke, you can see that the teaching of Jesus is assembled a little bit differently in the Gospels. The Sermon on the Mount is a good example of that. What’s a half-chapter in Luke, Luke 6, becomes three full chapters in Matthew. What I’m talking about is the Sermon on the Plain compared to the Sermon on the Mount, so from Luke to Matthew. Matthew has assembled and created a long sermon. In fact, we read Matthew, we see that he does that five or six times. He likes creating discourses. That’s an example of that. Jesus’s teaching which is scattered in different locations in Luke comes together in unified discourses in Matthew, so the disciples clearly have the freedom to construct the Gospels that way. In fact, Jesus tells them to, and that’s where I often will take somebody who wonders “What are you talking about here?” Look at Matthew 13:52. He tells His disciples, He’s just given another series of teachings, parables about the kingdom. “Have you understood all this?” He asks. They say, “Good.” The scribe who has been discipled trained for the kingdom of God is like the household who opens up the treasure box and digs out old stuff, new stuff, and that’s what you guys are. You’re scribes. You’re scholars. That’s what we see Matthew, Mark, and Luke doing. So the Jesus that’s presented is slanted a little bit differently in all three of those Gospels, so the Jesus of Mark is not identical. It’s the same Jesus, but not identical in emphases in Luke or in Matthew. When we get to John, the differences are far more pronounced. Not only have we had materials gathered to create the discourse, which Matthew has already done himself, but even the language and the metaphors that Jesus presents, some scholars say it’s like third person confessional stuff. Jesus is the good shepherd or Jesus is the light of the world. In John, it becomes placed in quotation marks. I am the good shepherd. I am the light of the world. That’s where some people get upset because they see that as a little too much paraphrasing. That is the big challenge in understanding John, because, with the Synoptics we have three of them. We can compare them. Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We don’t have two or three Johannine style Gospels. We only have the one. So Jesus sounds like Wisdom speaking if you compare HIm in Proverbs or in Sirach 24. That’s interesting. Jesus almost sounds like a living parable when you look at some of His parables in the Synoptic Gospels. That’s the challenge. We try to sort it out and say “Okay. In terms of genre, what exactly is John? In terms of presentation what is John doing with Jesus?” That’s a fair question and scholars weigh in and debate it, but no matter what your answer is, it doesn’t mean that, “Oh. This isn’t the historical Jesus.” or John is full of baloney and isn’t telling the truth. That’s leaping way too far unnecessarily. 

Kurt: So when we are talking about the Gospels, we have to recognize, and again, correct me if I’m mistaken, but we have to recognize that the words we have are filtered through the author’s pen and their mind and they heard Jesus’s teachings or they know of people who heard of Jesus’s teachings and so they decided to write this down in their own style, so it’s not per se, straight reportage, like a news reporter today would write. It’s something different. It’s a biography and sometimes there’s more license there, especially back in the day, 2,000 years ago. But now, I recall, you had a debate with Bart Ehrman and there was a cross-examination period, Dr. Evans, and he accused you basically, or tried to get you to say that John was therefore unreliable for the life of Jesus and you took issue, and I think rightly, with that, because it’s about the standard upon which one judges the Gospel of John, so on your perspective, would this mean that the text of John is historically unreliable if John had those certain liberties to use the paraphrasing as you said?

Craig: Not at all. If John is not unreliable or unhistorical, if John happens to use genres that are not used in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Here’s another way of putting it. For a parable to be true, does it have to be a historical event? For the parable of the Good Samaritan to be true and actually teach us what it does mean to love one’s neighbor, which is what it addresses, we actually have to have a story that took place in history where a man was mugged on the road to Jericho, where a Jewish priest walked by him and didn’t help, a Levite walked by him and didn’t help, and then along came a Samaritan who does take care of him and take him to the inn and so forth. I’ve had people argue that. They say, “Where does it say parable? You’re just guessing it’s a parable. It’s a story. It’s an event. Jesus was the guy who got mugged.” It’s just like, “Oh my goodness.” This is the kind of argument. I’ve had people say, “You mean that parable, Jesus just made it up? Then I guess it isn’t true.” That’s the fallacy and I think it’s a very modern one. We today, and this is a big problem in terms of hermeneutics, touching this question but many others. We take our way of understanding the world, the way literature should be read, the way history should be understood, how it should be written, and we then transport that back 2,000 years and assume that’s the norm in the first century, and then somebody like me comes along and says, “That’s actually not how they thought in the first century and that’s not what they did,” then oh, I’m the bad guy. I obviously don’t respect the Scriptures truthfulness or its authority or whatever, but the problem is this imputing modern ideas into ancient texts. That’s the problem. 

Kurt: So you would say then that the Gospel of John itself is, I know you wouldn’t use this terminology, but it’s kind of like a parable insofar as John had the freedom to present Jesus’s teachings or even the teachings of, you might say, the early Christian community, in a way that was nevertheless truthful about who Jesus was. Is that fair?

Craig: Yeah. I wouldn’t say John’s taken liberties. I’m just saying John has presented Jesus. I don’t know if he knew of the Synoptic Gospels. That’s a debate in itself. He probably knew of them, but whether or not he’d ever read one of them, I don’t know. But in any case, he has chosen to present the Jesus story in a somewhat different genre and he makes it very clear at the beginning with his eighteen verse prologue which is nothing like what you find in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Jesus comes across almost like a talking head, these long discourses that are very full of metaphors, some of them reflecting the Old Testament. By the way, most of them reflecting what Jesus in the Synoptics does teach and so you can see how okay, this is the historical Jesus, this is the content of His teaching and it’s being presented in terms of genre in a different way so that it almost sounds like He’s Wisdom talking in Sirach 24, I came out of the mouth of the Most High. The Most High said pitch your tent in dwell in Israel. I’m the fruitful vine. Jesus now talks that way, yet you can trace the parallels and Craig Blomberg and others have done that and you realize, wait a minute. That’s Jesus’s teaching. You can see it in the Synoptics. It’s just being presented in a very different way in John. My critics, there aren’t too many, but there’s a few out there. They say, “Oh, well if it’s not tape-recorded word for word what Jesus said, then John is being false. You’re saying John isn’t true. John is misrepresenting Jesus, and that’s the kind of, I don’t know if you want to call it fundamentalism or rigidity or whatever it is, that’s the part that I find problematic.

Kurt: So we’ve had a couple questions here about this, Jonathan’s got a question about discourses, you mentioned discourses, and I’ve got a question for you about some background to a debate you did this last Spring, but we’ve got to take a short break here, just a two-minute break from our sponsors. When we come back, we’re going to talk about discourses and some other questions from those that submitted this week so be sure to stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.

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Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. If you want to learn how you can become a sponsor or a patron who helps our program run, you can go to our website, Veracityhill.com and click on that patron tab to learn more. Alright, on today’s program we’re talking about Gospel reliability and I am joined by Dr. Craig A. Evans at Houston Baptist University. He is the distinguished professor of Christian origins and he’s written numerous books, prolific writer, and obviously prolific reader if you’ve been tuning in to our program you can see his bookshelves behind him. Dr. Evans. This is something I did not mention to you. We do a short segment on the program called Rapid Questions where we can ask you just some short questions to get to know a little bit more about you and we only do this for about sixty seconds so I hope that’s okay with you and we’ll learn a little bit more about you. I’m going to start the game clock here for our own sake and I’ll ask the first question.

Taco Bell or KFC?

Craig: Taco Bell.

Kurt: What school did you go to?

Craig: Claremont McKenna College.

Kurt: What’s your favorite sport?

Craig: Football.

Kurt: What’s your spouse’s favorite holiday?

Craig: Christmas.

Kurt: What’s your favorite movie?

Craig: I don’t know.

Kurt: That’s a hard one. That’s alright. Do you drink Dr. Pepper?

Craig: I used to.

Kurt: Have you ever driven on the other side of the road?

Craig: No.

Kurt: Pick a fictional character that you would like to meet.

Craig: Indiana Jones.

Kurt: What’s the one thing you’d be sure to keep with you if you were stranded on an island?

Craig: I don’t know.

Kurt: The Hokey Pokey, The Electric Slide, or the Macarena?

Craig: Macarena?

Kurt: If you were a baseball pitch, which one would you be?

Craig: Sandy Koufax.

Kurt: Nice. A pitcher. Very good. He was a great pitcher back in the day. You said your favorite sport was football. What’s the team that you root for?

Craig: I tend to root for the Patriots.

Kurt: Awwww. That breaks my heart.

Craig: I was rooting for them even in California before moving to Nova Scotia.

Kurt: Is that right?

Craig: Nova Scotia’s in Eastern Canada so the Patriots…

Kurt: They were the team for you.

Craig: I’ve rooted for them for forty years.

Kurt: Wow. So you’ve had a great couple decades then with Tom Brady at the helm. We’re talking about Gospel reliability. Shortly before we had to cut to a break we started to get into, we were talking about the Gospel of John and we got into a little bit of mentioning the discourses here. Now, you mentioned here that Matthew certainly writes his own discourses, but in John, you have discourses of a different style, and in your debate against Lydia McGrew this past Spring on the Unbelievable? program, hosted by my friend Justin Brierley you said this about the I am statements. I’ve got it cued up here so the audience can listen to this for about thirty seconds.

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Kurt: Alright. There you say that the I AM discourse, they’re very thematic. They’re very theological. Specifically here that Jesus goes on and on and on for many verses. Now, Lydia, your interlocutor in that debate, and her followers have taken you to mean that Jesus is speaking monologues and this is a point that she criticizes you for in multiple blog posts including one which she has called the title of which is “The Myth of the Monologuing Jesus” or something like that so would you say that’s a fair assessment of your interpretation of the I AM discourses? Is Jesus speaking in monlogues?

Craig: No. I’m not sure where that came from. I don’t even remember that she brought that up in our debate. Maybe she did and I forgot, but that’s not my point anymore than when I talk about discourses in Matthew, the five major, six discourses, however they may be counted, and so it’s assembling Jesus’s teaching and a discourse is created, but the historical Jesus talking who says these things, there would be questions, there would be a dialogue. He’s teaching and there would be questions. He asks questions of His disciples. What do you think? What about this? What would you do? Do you understand this? So Jesus is very likely a dialoguing teacher. I’ve never even thought about monologue as some kind of a genre or something so I don’t know where that’s coming from. I get the sense that Lydia wants to create as much difference as she can between the two of us. I don’t know why. I think that’s too bad. It could be she doesn’t actually have training in the field. Sometimes when I debate a layperson, you get that there’s this, you notice the lack of nuance because there is not the expertise that you’re forced to deal with and rise to the level of so there’s a nuance that you learn when you’re doing doctoral level research in a field. She’s a smart lady and so she knows math and things like that so I’m not trying to say she’s not too bright, not at all. She has some interesting ideas. I even endorsed one of her books. It’s not like I’m saying she’s wrong about everything. I just don’t understand why she wants to drive such a deep wedge between our respected positions, but I think I need to be really clear. This simplistic approach where you try to harmonize everything, piece it altogether where you end up with a verbatim question. There’s a book came out in 1969 called Life of Christ in Stereo by Johnston Cheney. Very naive book. It doesn’t understand what the Gospels are. It doesn’t understand historiography, that is how history was written 2,000 years ago. It’s not the same as it is now. It does not understand Pedagogy and so things that we stumble over, get upset about, that was a non-issue 2,000 years ago. We reinforce it, I do in my world. I tell my students if you’re quoting somebody it’s word for word, put in quotation marks, provide footnotes. That could be done 2,000 years ago but that typically wasn’t done. Jesus instructs His disciples to learn what He’s saying, but not just repeat it word for word, but to internalize it so that they can paraphrase it accurately and adapt it in situations, different languages, different cultures, Gentiles who don’t understand the Jewish world, and I think the disciples did a good job of it and we see that in the four Gospels that they produced.

Kurt: So just to clarify, when you said that Jesus will go on and on and on for many verses, what you mean there is something like it’s the same scene. He’s still talking with these people for an extended period of time as opposed to maybe the Synoptics where things are different, but you don’t mean that He’s monologuing. Is that right?

Craig: No. I don’t mean the historical Jesus is monologuing. I’m talking about how Jesus is presented or how His teaching is assembled by the respect of the evangelists. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, you have three chapters. Chapters 5-7. Jesus is never interrupted. He doesn’t say “Let’s take a break for a moment.” He just talks on three chapters. That’s Matthew. If you and I could get in a time machine and go back to Galilee and find that sloping hill where Jesus is sitting down, #1 we’d find out He did it many times so there wouldn’t be just one day at the Church of the Beatitudes today, where it is overlooking the Sea of Galilee. One day He rattled off three chapters and that was the end of it. It doesn’t take very long to read it. 15-17 minutes. Do you think Jesus ever preached or taught for 15 minutes or less? I doubt it. My point is how the evangelist has taken and assembled the teaching and created a discourse from it and that’s what some people stumble over because I think, and even Bart Ehrman, there’s still a default position that harks back to his fundamentalist view that it’s got to be a tape recording, it’s word for word, the manuscripts have to be copied word for word and if somebody has slipped up or wrote the wrong word or somebody has paraphrased something, that’s a red flag, that’s a mistake, that’s a problem. I know Bart has moved on and he’s more sophisticated than that obviously, but I still think there’s a fundamentalist default setting that still lingers even with him and clearly in the case of Lydia and others like her.

Kurt: That’s a great point about Bart Ehrman and I’ve made that point online as well, that at least maybe in his more popular books he still presents himself as a fundamentalist. He has those fundamentalist assumptions and standards that he employs on the text, but the scholarly Ehrman knows better. There are two different Barts out there. Maybe it’s a good way of selling books I guess.

Craig: I think so.

Kurt: So we’ve had a number of submissions from questioners, even folks tuning in right now who are asking questions of you and we won’t have time to get to all of them so I’ve taken a few here with the remaining time here. We’ve got maybe 20 minutes. We’ll just go through a number of these questions with you. Caleb who’s watching right now, he asks this question about the pericope adulterae which for those tuning in, that would be a reference to the passage of the woman caught in adultery. “Can Dr. Evans explain why the woman caught in adultery story is still included in our text today even though it’s not in the earliest manuscripts?

Craig: I think I can explain that. When the Greek New Testament was handed down and became very common in the Byzantine period and beyond, that passage, John 7:53-John 8:11 was in the text. In some manuscripts it was in a different locations. In a family of manuscripts it’s even in the Gospel of Luke by the way, but by the time you might say an official Greek text was put together and printed by Erasmus in 1516, every manuscript that Erasmus looked at had that passage so it never occurred to him that it might not be original. He printed what becomes known as the Textus Receptus, several editions. It was in all the English translations, German translations, French translations and so on. It wasn’t until we get into the 19th century, so we’re only talking about maybe 150 years ago when we have these much older manuscripts that come to light and we notice, “Hey. That passage isn’t there.” Then the papyri begin to be discovered in the 20th century especially, and P66 which is a very, very old copy, it’s most of John, a little bit missing, a few pages, and it goes from John 7:52-8:12 without any interruption. Just flows right straight through, but the passage is gone. And so we begin cataloguing all these manuscripts, find a whole bunch of them and we find out wow, it’s either missing or in a different location or in Luke, and then scholars looked at it and read it carefully and said, “You know what? The language, the grammar, the vocabulary is a bit different from the way John is everywhere else”, so that’s why scholars have concluded it wasn’t original, but everybody’s familiar with it. It’s been in the Bible for 18, 19 centuries, and so some Bibles will just go ahead and leave it in with brackets and a footnote. Others will leave it out, but they’ll put it in the footnote and say, “Some manuscripts have this” and I think that explains it. People would be bothered if it’s gone, but people need to be told it probably wasn’t in the original John.

Kurt: Caleb. I hope that answers your question. There’s also another segment of the Gospels in Mark’s Gospel at the end where you get a similar bracket reference to the ending of Mark and so James’s question is actually on that so what’s your position regarding the last twelve verses of Mark?

Craig: Well, the last twelve verses of Mark, and that would be Mark 16:9-20, that’s a bit more complicated, unlike the passage about the woman caught in adultery. In this case, we actually have second-century church fathers quoting pieces of the last twelve verses and so there’s a possibility that something like that did exist in the original Mark which means how did it get lost? How did we just end up with 16:8 where the women don’t tell anybody or don’t say anything because they’re afraid? That’s kind of an odd anti-climatic way to stop. Then when we have our two oldest complete manuscripts that have all of Mark and they’re fourth-century and when you come to that point, Mark 16:8, there’s a big blank column and one wonders if these two scribes writing at about the same time, 330, 340 AD, something like that, if they sensed there is more to Mark, I just don’t have a manuscript that has it, because Mark is very underrepresented among the manuscripts. Matthew and John are the big boys. Well-known, very influential. I really don’t know. I suspect Mark did not originally end at 16:8. I suspect that verses 9-20 do represent a later construction, but those verses may contain parts of an original conclusion and how that original conclusion got lost, I don’t know. I don’t have a real simple straightforward answer for this one.

Kurt: I think it’s telling that some of us just don’t have a clear-cut answer. There’s no rigid, the truth is more complex in some cases and sometimes these concerns that we might have aren’t so simple to answer. That can help lend to the authenticity of our faith here, that we’re being realistic. I know in Islamic apologetics. Things are very rigid. They always have an answer. That’s something to consider here. While we’re talking about the Gospel of Mark we had Ryan and Elijah, they were wondering if you could talk about the famous or perhaps now infamous Mark fragment that we recently heard a bunch of news about a couple months ago.

Craig: Okay. Glad to talk about that. I’ve been quoted and misquoted in the media in the last couple of years, insulted and misrepresented in some blogs so it’s nice to have the chance to set the record straight. What happened was this fragment, it got mislaid, it got mixed up amongst the boxes of papyri taking back from Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, so we’re not certain which time, Grenfell and Hunt dug it up in the early 20th-century, but in any case this fragment was identified or at least looked at in the early 1980’s by an Oxford papyrologist and he didn’t recognize what it was. He just saw this one leaf of Greek and he scribbled a note saying it’s probably 1st or 2nd century. Okay? I want to make that clear. By the way, that’s Revel Coles, R.A. Coles, so I didn’t date it as some people falsely claimed. A well-known Oxford papyrologist dated it more than thirty years ago. He said this is probably first or maybe second-century. Now fast forward a bunch of years to 2011 and another one of the Oxford papyrologists, Dirk Obbink, he decided I’ll try to publish it. He looked at it and said I think it is 1st or 2nd century. Hey wait a minute. It’s the Gospel of Mark. Huh! And so for several months, he toyed with the idea that it’s a first-century, late first-century, maybe early second-century fragment of Mark. That wasn’t me. That was Dirk Obbink. About a year later or so, that Oxford papyrologist began having second doubts. Maybe it is late second-century, not late first. It’s been published as everybody now knows, just a few months ago. I have it in my library. Okay?

Kurt: Which books don’t you have in your library?

Craig: It’s dated as late second or maybe early third-century.

Kurt: Which is still good.

Craig: That makes it the earliest fragment of Mark so where is the downside here? All the whole story is simply at first they didn’t know it was Mark. At first, they thought it was late first-century, then they discovered it’s Mark. They still consider it late first-century, but eventually changed their minds and argued that, no, it’s probably late second-century. Okay. Fine. That’s the end of the story. I don’t know what the big hubbub is. It’s a few verses from Mark 1 published in a book I’m working on called Jesus and the Manuscripts. It’s a good story. I hope we find another one like it. 

Kurt: That’s great. We’ve got some more questions here. Why don’t we go to Nathan here while we’re talking about manuscripts? Nathan asks, “What are your responses to the criticisms you’ve received on your theory of how long New Testament manuscripts were in use?” and maybe you could provide a little background context for us. That’s a very academic well-informed question.

Craig: Yeah. Not in the real world, but in the blogosphere, I’ve had two or three smart-alecks and say things and whatever, that’s the way it goes.

Kurt: Give us some background. What’s going on here?

Craig: Tertullian, the church father, in Latin, writing at the end of the second-century about the year 190, he’s complaining about people who distort Paul’s letters and he says “I know what I’m talking about because the autographs, the originals, still exist” and he actually names the letters and the cities where they are. He references about seven letters in five different locations. He clearly implies that the originals are there. Some people find that hard to believe. What I’ve done is look at the archaeological evidence like Oxyrhynchus where we have stratigraphy and we know how long, in fact, manuscripts were, in fact, in use, literary manuscripts, and I’ve looked at some ancient statements that ancient writers who aren’t Christians, Greeks and Romans, what they say, and the evidence is clear that manuscripts in antiquity if cared for at all could last two or three hundred years so what I suggest is Tertullian is not blowing smoke. He actually knows what he’s talking about. There’s another patristic tradition that says the autograph of John’s Gospel in Ephesus was still around after 200 years. I cite that evidence for it and I marshall everything I could find from antiquity where people talk about autographs of Aristotle, autographs of other writers in existence for anywhere from 100-200 or 300 years. Some of the pushback is Evans could right through Egypt, but through nowhere else, and that’s a gross misunderstanding because the evidence I cite isn’t from Egypt. That’s the archaeology, but the literary evidence is from Italy and from Greece and from Asia Minor where it occasionally rains. It isn’t bone dry year-round like Egypt. That’s where they’re wrong and unless you want to say all of these ancient writers, Galen and Pliny and etc. they’re all just a bunch of stupid liars, you have to take seriously what they say. What Egypt gives us because it’s dry is we have manuscripts that are two or three thousand years old, so that’s why the stratigraphy works. We can find first and second-century AD manuscripts in a fifth-century AD level in the excavation. That’s wonderful. So we have hard evidence of longevity in that case and we would never find that in Europe because it’s too damp, but the ancient sources should be taken seriously. When they talk about 200 and 300 year-old manuscripts, I don’t think they’re stupid. They’re not lying, and oh, by the way, now that we’re doing MRIs and X-rays of the carbonized scrolls as Herculaneum in the house of the Papyri as it’s called, the villa of papyri, we can see the letters clear enough to date the handwriting and we all know when they got turned into carbon, that was the year 79 when Vesuvius went off and guess what? We have dozens of book rolls in that library that were 200 and even 300 years old when Vesuvius blew its stack and that’s Italy. That’s not Egypt. I think it makes my point.

Kurt: Right. I can’t remember if this was about the Markan fragment or some other fragment, but it was analyzed off an Egyptian burial mask using the technology. You could shoot through the layers to undo a couple layers to see more and I remember seeing a Facebook post from Bart Ehrman who had complained that we were disturbing the dead and we should let these people rest in peace and I thought, “How unbelievable for a New Testament scholar to say that because for all we know we could have discovered the earliest fragment of some Gospel and he as a New Testament scholar should really want to know about it.” He shouldn’t have this respect for this burial mask from almost 2,000 years ago. I thought that was really quite telling of maybe his assumptions and his motives. 

Craig: Let me add a little bit to that. Some people might not know that some papyri are recovered from paper-mache that was made in ancient times. Paper-mache used papyrus because papyrus was expensive. You wouldn’t buy sheets of brand new papyrus and then add flour and water, just like kids do today and make that sticky paste. They would use used papyrus to make this mummy mask[NP3] , ,and other things like that and so if you carefully pull them apart and we figured out how to do that without ruining the ink on the paper, you can recover old texts and so yes, it’s controversial because the mummy mask, it’s being destroyed. Beautiful masks, museum pieces they don’t touch, but stuff that’s damaged or poor, they will, and we have recovered actually two or three Greek New Testament fragments from that paper-mache, it’s called cartonnage, but regarding Mark, we don’t know where Mark came from. There was confusion about that Mark fragment. We don’t think it came from a mask. We don’t know if it came from paper-mache. It’s a bit unknown.

Kurt: Alright. We’ve got a question here from Seth. He’s wondering if you could talk about Jewish burial practices and their implications for the burial of Jesus. Some have objected that Jesus would have been dishonorably buried amongst the criminals.

Craig: Very good question. Yes. The Jewish tradition was if you were executed as a criminal, you would be denied honorable burial in your family or some other honorable place. Your body would be placed in a dishonorable tomb. That is the tradition. That was the Jewish practice. The Romans said to bury them if you want. They didn’t object to that, but here was the issue. This is why Joseph of Arimathea puts Jesus in a brand-new tomb. That’s an interesting loophole because a brand-new tomb as Rachel Hachlilitold me who’s an expert in Jewish archaeologist, an expert on Jewish burial traditions, until a body is placed in the tomb, it isn’t a tomb. It’s just a hole in the ground. It’s just a hole in a side of the hill, but when a body is placed in it, it becomes a tomb. It’s neutral. When Jesus’s body was placed in that tomb that had never been used, then it became a place for the burial of the dishonorable, the executed. It’s an interesting catch. That’s what’s happened. Of course, Jesus’s followers expect to recover His bones in one year and rebury them as the law allows in an honorable place like His family tomb so they show up Sunday morning to anoint His body and weep and they find the tomb open and empty and there you have it. The Easter story is underway. 

Kurt: Amen. Let me ask this. We’ve got a few more questions. Are you keen to stick with us for another ten minutes or so?

Craig: Okay.

Kurt: Thank you. We’ve got a question here from Andy. Why as Christians do we find Paul so trustworthy? Why do we believe Paul and not Joseph Smith? Both of these men have similar claims to have been visited by the Lord and given Enlightenment.

Craig: Well, unlike Joseph Smith, Paul has a lot of corroboration. Paul isn’t acting alone, nor is the first. Jesus appears to me, Paul says, last of all. There is a humility, even a depreciation, a deprecation, on the part of Paul I don’t think you see in Joe Smith. Paul was not a liar and a deceiver and he didn’t die in an attempted jailbreak. There’s a huge difference. Paul wasn’t an advocate of polygamy. He didn’t seize anyone else’s wife. There’s a huge difference in morals. I would rather compare Joe Smith with Muhammad. I think that’s a better comparison. Paul has corroboration. Paul is submissive to the church. It’s so clear in the book of Acts. There is a humility that runs throughout Paul. He deliberately avoids boasting. That comes up in the Corinthian letters. He about goes nuts with the Corinthians and finally says, “Okay. If boasting is the only way to communicate with you I’ll tell you about my story about ascending into the third heaven and seeing things that humans simply cannot repeat.” There’s a lot about Paul I really like and respect, but he’s not a one-man show. He’s not a maverick. There’s a lot of corroboration, so I don’t see any comparison between him and Joseph Smith.

Kurt: Great. Bran asks if Christ and possibly His disciples spoke Aramaic why was the New Testament written in Greek? Would it not have been better to write it in the language Christ spoke?

Craig: That’s very good. We don’t know that some Gospels were not written in Aramaic. Papias actually refers to one written in the Hebrew dialect which could mean Aramaic. There is a Hebrew version of the Gospel floating around in some ancient Jewish circles so it is possible that some stuff was written in Aramaic and Hebrew that doesn’t survive today, but the other thing is it’s a bilingual world. Greek was very infuential in Galilee, in Israel in general. For all we know, Paul’s first language was Greek. He was probably capable to speak cause he did study in Jerusalem and so on. He probably could read Hebrew Scripture. He probably could speak Aramaic, but his first language likely was Greek. Even the disciples from Bethsaida, Peter, Andrew, and Phillip. Did you hear what I just said? Those are three Greek names. Petros. Rock. Andrew, Andreas. Manly. Phillip. Horse-lover. Three disciples from Bethsaida which is east of Galilee. It’s actually[NP4]  . It isn’t in Galilee. It’s a Greco-Roman oriented town. Isn’t that interesting, so the idea that all of the disciples spoke Aramaic and didn’t know anything else, I think that needs to be reexamined. Jesus likely chose disciples who were bilingual knowing that their mission would go way beyond native speaking Jewish people and include Gentiles who spoke Greek.

Kurt: Great. This will be our last question from our listeners here. David. This will get us back to Gospel reliability. David who’s not a Christian. He asks this question. When you talk about the reliability of various books of the Bible or authors of those books, do you differentiate between mundane claims about say geography or more fantastic claims such as miracles, empty tombs, etc. In other words if a Biblical author is reliable as to the mundane claims, does that create a good reason to accept his supernatural claims?

Craig: That’s a very good question. That’s a proper question and it’s been articulated in a good way. You do begin with what can be verified and so if a Gospel writer talks about mundane things and it turns out he’s correct, that does make you a lot more confident. There are writers in antiquity who are not correct in mundane things and that makes you wonder are they correct in anything? The Gospel writers score very high in the mundane so what about the miraculous? There’s miraculous and then there’s miraculous. There’s miraculous stories in some of the non-Christian literature and in later Christian literature too. It’s spectacular, crazy, like Jesus the little boy makes clay pigeons, claps His hands, and they fly away. We hear that and we think, “Golly. That’s kind of weird.” Jesus does nothing showy. He doesn’t try to bedazzle people. We have stories like that that are weird and bedazzled, but not Jesus. He heals somebody. He raises somebody up. Here’s the other thing. They’re public, so it isn’t some story where somebody says “I remember my grandmother telling me that Jesus one time all by Himself did something incredible.” There’s nothing like that. These are public where people see them and here’s the interesting thing. They react differently. Some people say, “Praise God. Jesus is clearly God’s Son. Look what He’s doing.” Others say, “No. He’s in league with the devil. This is black magic. I find that very impressive. Here’s another thing too though. Jesus launches Christianity, Easter, He’s raised up. The church starts and pretty soon even pagans and Jews who are not Christians evoke the name of Jesus for healing. We have archaeological evidence to that effect, actual texts from antiquity. I tell you, if nothing happened, why are people doing that? It’s interesting that the type of evidence, it’s public, it’s multiple, and we actually have hard evidence that people in antiquity clearly believed that there was something powerful about Jesus. In Jesus’s own lifetime so to speak according to Mark 9 there’s a professional exorcist who sees what Jesus is doing and is evoking Jesus’s name to help his own ministry of healing and exorcism. Why would he do that if Jesus didn’t do those things? I find that pretty compelling evidence.

Kurt: Awesome. Thank you for answering all our listeners’ questions there. Some we, unfortunately, couldn’t get to, but maybe we’ll have to bring you on another time. Before we let you go here, earlier this year you had a documentary that played in theaters across the nation called Fragments of Truth. Tell us a little bit about that.

Craig: Fragments of Truth released in April this year. 741 theaters and cinemas across the United States. Tens of thousands of people watched the film. We’ve got pretty good reviews. You can obtain it if you go to the faithlife web page. Faithlife and Logos Bible Software, they are the ones that made the documentary. I’m very happy with it. Now they’ve asked me to write a couple of books that will relate to it. Next year is Companions. It’s an ongoing story. We do talk about the longevity of manuscripts by the way in the documentary. We interview after all not crackpots on the internet. We interview real scholars, papyrologists, and textual critics and they affirmed some of these things too that I have talked about. It’s a great documentary. I strongly recommend it.

Kurt: We’ve got a review of it up at our website apologetics315.com and we’ll be sure to ut that link at Veracity Hill too so people can check that out. One last question. What’s next on your radar? What’s your research? Where is it taking you? Either geographically or intellectually?

Craig: I’m doing a couple of things. I already mentioned Jesus: The Manuscripts and I’ll have a lengthy chapter or two to continue the discussion of longevity, but what are our oldest manuscripts? How good are they? What do we do with the manuscripts that are outside of the Bible? Some of these other Gospels, what about the forgeries like Secret Mark and the Gospel of Jesus’s wife? That book deals with that but I’m working on a novel with Jerry Jenkins.

Kurt: A novel.

Craig: Jerry Jenkins of Left Behind. He’s left behind Left Behind and now he’s doing a series of archaeology thrillers and I’m working with him. I’m the consultant. The first one is finished, Dead Sea Rising. It will release in November. Fun bedtime reading.

Kurt: Are you creating your own Indiana Jones then?

Craig: Yes, but this Indiana Jones is a woman and she does real archaeology. She doesn’t do smash and grab. She’s not a looter.

Kurt: That’s something you could talk to Indiana Jones about if you ever had the chance to meet.

Craig: If I ever see Harrison Ford, we’ll sit down. I’ll say, “Listen Mr. Ford. You need to understand. Indiana Jones is not an archaeologist. He is a looter.”

Kurt: That’s great. Dr. Evans. Thank you so much for giving us the honor of your time this afternoon. Thank you and I’m sure that when that novel comes out we’ll have to bring you on again so we can talk about it.

Craig: Okay. We can do that.

Kurt: Awesome. Thank you. God bless you in all that you’re doing.

Craig: Thank you. Bye-bye.

Kurt: That does it for our show today. Before we sign off, let me mention this. Next week we’ve got Cameron Bertuzzi of Capturing Christianity. We will be talking about street epistemology so if you don’t know what street epistemology is and how it’s gaining traction in atheist communities. Tune into next week’s episode. Some great guests following up after that too. J.P. Moreland. J. Warner Wallace, and then the Defenders Conference, so we’ve got some great episodes coming up for you here on Veracity Hill. Hope that you’ll be sure to like us on Facebook and give us a review on iTunes and the Google Play store if you haven’t yet as well.

I’m grateful for the continued support that we have with our patrons and the partnerships with our sponsors, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. I want to thank our technical producer Chris today and to our guest Dr. Craig A. Evans. Last but not least, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. 

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Kurt Jaros

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