Foundations: No.76 Spring 2019

Book Reviews

Can we trust the Gospels?

Peter J Williams, Crossway, 2018, 160pp, £6.35 (Amazon) / £6.03 (Kindle)

Dr Peter Williams is the Principal of Tyndale House, Cambridge, which describes itself as a research institute “housing one of the world’s most advanced libraries for biblical scholarship”. As a leading centre for biblical scholarship, its in-house academic programmes facilitate the research of the history, language and context of the Bible.

This new publication seeks to look at evidence for the trustworthiness of the biblical Gospels. It is deceptively brief and punches well above its weight. In short compass Dr Williams tackles some eight questions of an apologetic nature. He is brief but wide-ranging.

The opening chapter looks at three writers outside the Bible, namely Tacitus, Pliny and Josephus. This chapter not only serves to show that these sources do not necessarily contradict anything in Scripture but sets the tone for the rest of the book – a serious, historical approach that is neverthless accessible to the layman who truly wants to get at the truth about these much-discussed matters.

We then move on to a brief introduction to the four biblical Gospels, followed by a chapter headed “Did the Gospel writers know their stuff?” This fascinating chapter pursues lines of argument that were previously unfamiliar to me and maybe to you. It helpfully highlights the way the geographical references and the nomenclature that we find in the Gospels strongly suggest that these people are reporting real events, events that they knew plenty about rather than some invented world of their own devising, as is sometimes suggested. Similar points are made more briefly with regard to finance, language and customs.

Chapter 4 is on the subject of “undesigned coincidences”, a rather forgotten line of argument pioneered by John James Blunt in the 19th Century and that has been revived in more recent years by Lydia McGrew in her 2018 book Hidden in plain view. Williams takes up the cudgels here, giving just four examples of coincidences in the Gospels that must surely be there because the authors are writing of what is true rather than because of some sort of conspiracy they have devised.

Next comes a useful discussion of why we can be sure that the Gospel writers give accurate – if not verbatim – reports of what Jesus said, and then a brief survey of textual criticism and a reassurance that the text we have in our Bibles is a text that can be trusted.

Chapter 7 is another fascinating chapter that deals with the question of whether there are contradictions in the Gospels. Counter-intuitively, this is approached by pointing out six places where John’s Gospel deliberately contains apparent contradictions. Yes, there are apparent contradictions but none that cannot be reasonably explained.

The final chapter, “Who would make all this up?”, touching on miracles and the resurrection, boldly argues for the reasonable supposition that all of history hangs on Jesus.

This attractively produced paperback from Crossway is enhanced by a general and a scriptural index at the end of the book. Can we trust the Gospels? Yes, we can. We recommend this little stick of dynamite to pastors and church members alike. As the blurb suggests, “Everyone from the sceptic to the scholar will find powerful arguments in favour of trusting the Gospels as trustworthy accounts of Jesus’ earthly life.”

Gary Brady
Pastor, Childs Hill Baptist Church, London

 

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