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Discussion 14 to Meditation 38
The New Testament (The Gospels)

by Billy

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There were several articles put out on an Atheist web-site. One article was written by Mr. Frank R. Zindler. He tries to discredit the whole Bible, but put particular emphasis on the New Testament Gospels.

He states the following: "The notion that the four "gospels that made the cut" to be included in the official New Testament were written by men named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John does not go back to early Christian times. The titles "According to Matthew," etc., were not added until late in the second century."

Mr. Ziglar tries to tear apart the Gospels by stating that Matthew and Luke "plagiarize the book of Mark, only to which they add sayings of Jesus and would-be historical details"

While Mr. Ziglar uses the word "plagiarize" most scholars are impressed with the consistency of the Gospels which seem to actually confirm the fact that they are authentic. When in court, if the stories of the witnesses match, then they are usually validated as a testimony.

Matthew:

It was once thought that Matthew was written after the destruction of Jerusalem until the Magdalen Jesus Papyri were found. The Magdalen papyrus, known as 17P64. It is a segment of Greek text of Matthew's Gospel, Matthew 26:23 and 31, which has been dated before A.D 66. In 1994, using a scanning laser microscope, Dr. Carsten Thiede compared this fragment with four other manuscripts from the same time period and concluded that either this is an original of Matthew's Gospel, or an immediate copy written while Matthew and the other disciples and eyewitnesses were still alive. This was a big shock to the skeptics who have always maintained that Matthe was written in the second century. Technology has disproved that opinion. Incidentally, the Matthew segment corresponds to Textus Receptus, the traditional source documents.

Mr. Zindlar does in fact confirm that there was a man named "Saul" or Paul. Even though Mr. Zindler considers Saul to have had a delusion or vision of the Christ, the fact that he confirms the man "Saul" or "Paul" helps to date the gospels because the book of Acts was written after the Gospels. The same scribe that wrote the book of Acts confirmed that he is the same person who wrote an earlier book (which was the book of Luke). Therefore, Luke the Physician who was a scribe for the apostle Paul is the person who wrote both books. Paul wrote other books and confirmed many of the messages written by Luke in the book of Acts.

The Book of Mark:

Mr. Zindlar writes about the Gospel of Mark and states the following: "But what about the gospel of Mark, the oldest surviving gospel? Attaining essentially its final form probably as late as 90 CE but containing core material dating possibly as early as 70 CE, it omits, as we have seen, almost the entire traditional biography of Jesus, beginning the story with John the Baptist giving Jesus a bath, and ending - in the oldest manuscripts - with women running frightened from the empty tomb. (The alleged post resurrection appearances reported in the last twelve verses of Mark are not found in the earliest manuscripts, even though they are still printed in most modern bibles as though they were an "authentic" part of Mark's gospel.) Moreover, "Mark" being a non-Palestinian non-disciple, even the skimpy historical detail he provides is untrustworthy."

At least Mr. Zindlar agrees that the book of Mark was written before the second century. The book of Mark must have been written earlier than 70 A.D. because of the fact that Jerusalem was not yet destroyed. As far as the latter verses in Mark 16, there are early writers that quote the verses that are found in other manuscripts of the book of Mark.

For many centuries, there have been controversies among some Bible scholars about the last twelve verses of the Gospel of Mark. Your Bible probably has a footnote indicating that the last twelve verses of Mark are disputed or were added by some later scribe. This view comes from an excessive reliance on the Alexandrian manuscripts that were promoted by Westscott and Hort (The earliest writings of the Alexandrian manuscripts date from 325-350 A.D).

But this simply is not true. There are several ways to disprove this claim. First, in A.D. 150, Iranaeus quoted the passage in his commentary, so it must have been around in the second century and before 150 A.D. Hippolatus, also in the second century, quoted it.

Furthermore, if the last twelve verses of Mark were omitted, the passage would end with the followers of Christ frightened and confused, which is inconsistent with the tenor of the text.

9-11 are an appearance to Mary in the Garden and the disciple's unbelief;

11-18: describes the appearance by Jesus Christ;

19-20: are the conclusion.

Zindlar continues: "I have claimed that the unknown author of Mark was a non-Palestinian non-disciple, which would make his story mere hearsay. What evidence do we have for this assertion? First of all, Mark shows no first-hand understanding of the social situation in Palestine. He is clearly a foreigner, removed both in space and time from the events he alleges. For example, in Mark 10:12, he has Jesus say that if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery. As G. A. Wells, the author of The Historical Evidence for Jesus 10 puts it,

Such an utterance would have been meaningless in Palestine, where only men could obtain divorce. It is a ruling for the Gentile Christian readers... which the evangelist put into Jesus' mouth in order to give it authority. This tendency to anchor later customs and institutions to Jesus' supposed lifetime played a considerable role in the building up of his biography.

Response: It is likely that Mark wrote his Gospel letter shortly after his journeys with Paul and before 70 A.D. Mark traveled to other parts of Asia as well as the Palestine area. In the Roman Provinces, Divorce was accepted by the Roman law as simply two people choosing not to live together anymore, be it the woman or the man. Mark showed that Jesus established this law as a universal law for not only the Palestinian people, but to people all over the world.

Mr. Zindler also tries to discredit the Gospels by pointing out a particular segment of the Gospels concerning the Demon possessed man of Gadarene / Gergesene.

He points out that the writer of Mark must not have known his geography because in the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, there are different names for the "city" that this evidence was to have taken place. Let's read the following verses:

Mark 5: 1-20

"1: And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. 2 And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, 3. Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains...." Matthew 8: 28-34

28: And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with deviles, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way...."

Luke 8:26-39

26: And they arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee. 27. And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils a long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house but in tombs.

Notice there are at least two different cities mentioned in the above verses. Let's look at some information on the cities:

Um Qais or Gadara

Historically known as Gadara, Um Qais is one of Jordan's most unique Greco Roman Decapolis sites. Tucked away in the hillside, at a height of 378 meters above sea level, Um Qais offers an incomparable panoramic view. An exciting walk through the ages is in store for the visitor.

Remnants of civilizations past solidly stand side by side; as stone, placed by ancient hands, tells of many travelers who entered its ancient gates. The Greeks were the first to marvel at the breathtaking view and established their acropolis. Later, Romans, Byzantine and Ottomans would follow, leaving their own marks on this site. The most northerly of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan's touristic sites, Um qais, throughout time, has continuously offered its visitors an unforgettable experience.

A PICTURESQUE DRIVE through the northern countryside of Jordan will take you to your ultimate destination of Um Qais. Ascending through the northern hills, allows for an exciting view of the Jordanian landscape and terrain particular to this region.

Um Qais is famous for its legacy of ancient civilizations. Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman architecture and artifacts produced in this ancient city can be found throughout the site. Um Qais is a testament of a chronological settlement of ancient cultures in this strategic location.

Nestled in the hillside, Um Qais offers unparalleled breath taking panoramic view. Standing on the terrace, the blue green Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias) and the majestic Syrian mountains of the Golan can be seen. On a clear day the snow capped Mount Hermon appears in the distance. This ancient acropolis also offers a serene view of the fertile northern Jordan valley. Breathing in the fresh air, one is impressed with the magnificent landscape surrounding the remnants and ruins.

It was the scene of the miracle of the Gadarene swine, and the Sea of Galilee into which they flung themselves is today's Lake Tiberius.

Gadara was rich and renowned as an intellectual center; its university's scholars, poets and playwrights were famous in the reign of Augustus.

Strabo wrote: "...the pleasure-living Romans, after the restorative effects of the hot springs of Amatha, retired to the cooler heights of the city, solacing their leisure with plays performed in the theaters". Note the plural: there were two theatres, many temples and palaces. Its colonnaded streets can be traced today running through the olive groves.

In the eight chapter of Matthew's gospel, he writes about the story of Jesus Christ crossing the Galilee and entering the land of the Gergesenes. In this land, Jesus cast demons out of two demoniacs and into some pigs. The pigs subsequently ran off a cliff and died.

Where did the Gergesenes live? Where is this cliff? Are we sure the Gergesenes lived there and not the Gadarenes? This essay is to clarify the authenticity of this disputed passage of scripture.

In order to understand what was meant by Matthew, we should analyze the original, Greek manuscripts. Since most English speaking readers don't know Greek, here is the passage in English, first. The King James Version (KJV) is disputably the closest text to the original, so we will quote from it.

Matthew 8:28-34 "And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time? And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding. So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters. And they that kept them fled, and went their ways into the city, and told every thing, and what was befallen to the possessed of the devils. And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw him, they besought him that he would depart out of their coasts."

This passage seems very straightforward. The words are clear and easy to understand. However, there are a few questions that should be answered (especially, the ones above).

Where were the Gergesenes living? "The Atlas of the Bible Lands" shows that Gergesa was a small town on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was at the foot of some hills, too. It's not far from the present-day Golan Heights.

The Easton's Bible Dictionary associates Gergesa with modern day Khersa. Here is a large mountain, 2,000 feet high, that slopes steeply downward and into the Sea of Galilee. At this location, there is only 40 feet of land from the base of the mountains to the water. In English, this place is called Kursi. There is a shrine here that dedicates this miracle of Jesus Christ.

In the Greek text, "Gergesenes" is translated from "Gergesenos". According to the Strong's Concordance Dictionary, the Gergesenes were also called the Girgashites (or Girgasites). Seeing these people called the Girgashites and then the Gergesenes isn't unheard of. It is fairly common for place names and people names to "evolve" over time. For instance, Jebus was renamed Jerusalem, Abram was renamed Abraham, the Israelities were renamed the Jews, etc.

It should be noted that the KJV Bible uses the word "Gergasenes" to designate this place and people. The NIV Bible uses the word "Gedarenes". This is because there are apparently some different, Greek manuscripts that use the following three words to describe these people. They translate into Gergasenes, Gedarenes and Gerasenes.

Assuming all these texts are correct, the Gadarenes were from a town called Gadara. This town is situated about 5 miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee. The actual city of Kursi is about 10 miles from the city of Gadara. They are both in the same region.

So, what's the big deal? Well, here's the most controversial point.

Matthew's gospel uses the word Gergasenes and Luke's gospel uses the word Gadarenes. The words in the KJV represent the same words that are in the Greek texts. However, the passage in Luke is less disputed because there aren't any Greek manuscripts that use a word besides "Gadarenes". Here are the exact verses.

Matthew 8:28 "And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way."

Luke 8:25 "And they arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee."

These passages can easily be complementary passages. The word "country" is the Greek word "chora" which can also mean region or territory. The region of the Gergesenes and the region of the Gadarenes can occupy this 10 mile stretch of land without stretching the context of the words.

Lastly, Mark's gospel uses the word "Gadarenes" (KJV) to describe this place and people. However, in the NIV, the word "Gerasenes" is used!

The city of Gerasa, where the Gerasenes lived, is about 25 miles southeast of Gadara. If the NIV was correct, the pigs had to run about 30 miles before they could enter the water! Obviously, this is another translation error.

When we use the KJV and take the word "Gadarenes" to the Greek manuscripts, we see the word "Gadarenos". This makes perfect sense because Gadara and Gergasa are in the same region, near the water and near the Sea of Galilee.

In conclusion, is the KJV has the closest translation to the original scriptures and the best text to use when doing research. The only better text is the actual Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. The NIV has allowed many errors and changes. Unfortunately, the changes in the NIV (only a couple of the many changes and omissions were mentioned here) have corrupted the text.

The two demoniacs were in the territory of the Gergasenes and the Gadarenes. The cliff is located at present-day Kursi. This is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The only question that remains is why the NIV translators chose the word "Gerasenes".

Mr. Zindler believes that because there are at least two different cities mentioned that this has to be a discrepancy. What mister Zindler may have done was actually read some of the more modern translations which change the word "country" or "region" into the word "city." When one reads the original Greek text, the word is defined as "country" or "region." The two cities were not that far from each other and so there is actually no discrepancy of the geography of the land.

Zindlar:

One further evidence of the inauthenticity of Mark is the fact that in chapter 7, where Jesus is arguing with the Pharisees, Jesus is made to quote the Greek Septuagint version of Isaiah in order to score his debate point. Unfortunately, the Hebrew version says something different from the Greek. Isaiah 29:13, in the Hebrew reads "their fear of me is a commandment of men learned by rote," whereas the Greek version - and the gospel of Mark - reads "in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men" [Revised Standard Version). Wells observes dryly [p. 13], "That a Palestinian Jesus should floor Orthodox Jews with an argument based on a mistranslation of their scriptures is very unlikely." Indeed!"

Septuagint

And the Lord has said, This people draw nigh to me with their mouth, and they honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me: but in vain do they worship me, teaching the commandments and doctrines of men

New Testament

Matthew 15.8-9: This people honoreth me with their lips; But their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men

Mark 7.6-7: And he said unto them, Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoreth me with their lips, But their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men Masoretic Text

And the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw nigh unto me, and with their mouth and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men which hath been taught them

Comments: The Septuagint was the then known "Old Testament" used. The re-translated Hebrew version or "Masoretic Text" did not come around until close to 500 A.D. The Septuagint was also quoted by the Jewish leaders of the time as well as the apostles.

John

Recent archaeological discoveries include both the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1f) and "The Pavement" (John 19:13). Their existence was doubted just a few decades ago. Confirmation of the accuracy of the setting of Jacob's well has also been found (John 4).[4] Such findings have caused many scholars to reverse earlier skeptical opinions on the historicity of the Fourth Gospel. Its author has demonstrated an obvious intimate knowledge of the Jerusalem of Jesus' time, just as we would expect from the Apostle John. Such detail would not have been accessible to a writer of a later generation, since Jerusalem was demolished under Titus' Roman army in 70 A.D.

Luke:

Many scholars are amazed at the archeological and historical accuracy of Luke. The book of Luke is also supported by research and discovery. The Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts (both written by Luke) have gained the respect of scholars who have investigated their numerous references to people and places in the Jewish and Roman worlds. Concerning Luke, F. F. Bruce has written, "A man whose accuracy can be demonstrated in matters where we are able to test it is likely to be accurate even when mears of testing him are not available" (The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? p.90).

Conclusion: Notice that the actual destruction of Jerusalem occurred in 70 A.D. but the book of Mark was written in 55-65 A.D. Luke was written in the early 60s A.D. John was written at around 66 to 68 B.C. and even ancient manuscripts of Matthew have been dated before 66 A.D. One only has to read the four Gospels and the book of Acts to realize that the destruction of Jerusalem had not occurred yet. This is important because in the Gospels, Jesus lived before the destruction and recorded when and how Jerusalem would be destroyed. This was also a Specific fulfillment of Daniel chapter 9. Remember that the book of Daniel had been written centuries earlier and was not only written centuries earlier but was translated from Aramaic to Greek and was recognized by not only the Jews but by the largest and most powerful kingdoms at the time. Also remember that secular historians mentioned Daniel and the fact that after Daniel, Alexander the Great even recognized Daniel's prophecy as specific when he was shown the writings by a Priest.

While some of Mr. Zindler's points at first seem interesting and sometimes even confusing, it is obvious that if one will actually study history a little more, that the authenticity of the Gospels comes to life and the skeptics are the ones who are discredited.