I hear the same canard all the time: “You know, the New Testament was actually put together by a group of men intent on perpetuating a conspiracy about Jesus. Jesus was actually such-and-such a traveling prophet, but the early church started spreading incredible stories about him to justify their power claims. The Gospels are a hoax.”
Here’s the problem with that theory (one of many problems, actually): if you were creating a conspiracy about Jesus, WOULDN’T YOU GET YOUR STORY STRAIGHT BEFOREHAND? Hasn’t it ever struck you how strange it is that there are four Gospels in the New Testament, and not just one? Why include four similar but separate accounts of the life of your religion’s founder?
Today we began reading the Gospel of Mark in our Bible reading plan. Mark is the shortest Gospel, and though it generally tells the same story as Matthew, you’ll see differences in detail and emphasis. In fact, each of the four Gospels is different from the others in detail and emphasis. The basic story is the same, but some of the details are hard to reconcile. To cite one important example, although each of the Gospels tells the story of the Resurrection and the empty tomb, they each place a difference number of women actually there that first Easter Sunday morning as eyewitnesses . Either there were one woman there, or there were two women there, or there were three or more women there, but the differences are irreconcilable. Why would the early church permit those sorts of discrepancies to be included in the Bible?
The early church was okay with including those sorts of discrepancies in the Bible for the same reason that there are four Gospels in the Bible, and not just one: because that’s what had been passed down by the eyewitnesses. It was so important that the early church preserve and not tamper with the testimony of the various eyewitnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that it decided to stamp all four Gospels as “official” and include them in the New Testament, even though that meant there would be slight discrepancies between accounts. If you were creating a conspiracy, you would never do that–you’d get your story straight and clean.
But real life isn’t straight and clean–it’s messy. And if you actually witnessed God-made-flesh walking among you as a man named Jesus, and if he did the amazing things that Jesus did, and if the tomb really were empty and you subsequently met and touched and ate with the Risen Jesus, you’d expect there to be some discrepancies between eyewitnesses.
The Gospels are not a sign of some ancient conspiracy; the Gospels are signs of an ancient certainty:
this stuff actually happened.