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Why should we trust the Gospels and the Tradition?

Ray1

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It is accepted by the vast majority of Biblical scholars that the Gospels fit the genre of 'Greco-Roman Biographies', which differs from modern biographies. At the time of the writing of the Gospels, biographies included miracles, demons, and angels even among the Romans, as mentioned by Bart Ehrman. They also included weird events taking place before the birth of the main character.

When taking into account the several biographies of the time, the Gospels fit them perfectly. But then how do you know what is fact and what is fiction? If at the time, the writers felt free to include some fictional parts in their story, including the birth and death of the character, what makes Jesus's birth narrative a fact rather than just another fiction? When taking into consideration the contradictions between Matthew's and Luke's birth narrative, and their desperate and contradictory attempts to make Jesus's birth take place in Bethlehem rather than Nazareth, why do you believe that part to be a fact rather than just another Greco-roman writer trying to make a point? And if the Gospels include fictional events and sayings, what makes the parts dealing with death and resurrection of Jesus facts rather than just another supernatural event that meant to make a point?

Please keep in mind that I'm not using the fundamentalist Evangelical point of view which says that either the entire Bible is true or not. I'm saying that considering the genre of the Gospels, which is totally normal for the time and we can't judge them based on our modern understanding, why should we take the birth, death, and supposed resurrection of Jesus as fact rather than just another literally tools used by the writers of the time to make a point just like every other Greco-roman biography?

I'm aware that Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics tend to base their understanding on what is called Tradition, and the Gospels themselves are just that, Tradition but written down. So the answer that "we know this is true because of Tradition given by the apostles" doesn't really answer the question. Oral traditions change, and they get added to through time, so the same applies to the Oral Tradition and to the Gospels. One might say the reason for the contradiction between Luke and Matthew's birth narrative is that both are based on two different oral traditions.
 

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Its a good question. I suppose that in order to do so, I would look at other greco-roman biographies to see how they were structured. Lets look at Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great. Several biographies were written of each in ancient times, and apart from that, we know a decent amount of their lives from other sources as well. Certainly the authors interjected their own opinions and embellishments about the lives of this great Roman and Macedonian, but there is enough truth contained therein that we can have a fairly accurate picture of what their lives were like. Thus, even if the Gorgonian Knot was not a literal truth, it contained a truth about Alexander which accurately depicted who he was as a person. The story of Caesar's death may not have been completely accurate, but it expressed much about who Caesar was and the Roman mind. Likewise, it think it is probably safe to say that there is perspective and embellishment contained with the Gospels; reading St. John's Gospel in comparison to the other three with give you a sense of that. To say, however, that because elements have been fictionalized or sensationalized, we can no longer rely on it to be a source of truth is to go down another fallacious road. If we are to take all the miraculous out of the gospels; not much is left. An author might embellish something, but to make something up whole cloth is something entirely different, that would put it in the realm of Greek and Roman mythology, and the Gospels were clearly not written in the style of mythology. Let us hypothetically state that the people rising from the dead and walking around Jerusalem after Christ's death is an embellishment. That does not mean that the central point that Christ Himself rose from the dead is an embellishment. The point of all 4 gospels is that a divine man literally rose from the dead after being crucified and was physically seen by many. That isn't just an embellishment on the story; that IS the story. At some point, you have to decide, is this just a fairy tale that people decided was good enough that they would die for, or did they actually witness what they claimed they witnessed?
 

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At some point, you have to decide, is this just a fairy tale that people decided was good enough that they would die for, or did they actually witness what they claimed they witnessed?
This is the crux of it. You "should" trust it because it's spiritual truth that your salvation depends on. But nothing in the world will "make" you trust it. That's a free choice and will be so until death or the Second Coming.
 

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The Scriptures themselves have been used and the message bent to form all types of Christian religions and theories. So one cannot trust interpretation without tradition. And while there are some/few contradictions in the four gospels. To me that is an indicator that they weren't overlaid and are genuinely four different accounts.
 

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Its a good question. I suppose that in order to do so, I would look at other greco-roman biographies to see how they were structured. Lets look at Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great. Several biographies were written of each in ancient times, and apart from that, we know a decent amount of their lives from other sources as well. Certainly the authors interjected their own opinions and embellishments about the lives of this great Roman and Macedonian, but there is enough truth contained therein that we can have a fairly accurate picture of what their lives were like. Thus, even if the Gorgonian Knot was not a literal truth, it contained a truth about Alexander which accurately depicted who he was as a person. The story of Caesar's death may not have been completely accurate, but it expressed much about who Caesar was and the Roman mind. Likewise, it think it is probably safe to say that there is perspective and embellishment contained with the Gospels; reading St. John's Gospel in comparison to the other three with give you a sense of that. To say, however, that because elements have been fictionalized or sensationalized, we can no longer rely on it to be a source of truth is to go down another fallacious road. If we are to take all the miraculous out of the gospels; not much is left. An author might embellish something, but to make something up whole cloth is something entirely different, that would put it in the realm of Greek and Roman mythology, and the Gospels were clearly not written in the style of mythology. Let us hypothetically state that the people rising from the dead and walking around Jerusalem after Christ's death is an embellishment. That does not mean that the central point that Christ Himself rose from the dead is an embellishment. The point of all 4 gospels is that a divine man literally rose from the dead after being crucified and was physically seen by many. That isn't just an embellishment on the story; that IS the story. At some point, you have to decide, is this just a fairy tale that people decided was good enough that they would die for, or did they actually witness what they claimed they witnessed?
Thanks for the thorough response. I certainly don't believe everything in the Gospels is fiction. I believe there was a man named Jesus, I believe he was born to Mary and Joseph and had brothers. I believe he was born in Nazareth. I believe he followed John the Baptist. I believe he thought the Kingdom of God is coming soon, and took it upon himself, like many others at the time, to reach out to the people and urge them to follow the Law. I believe he caused a commotion in the Temple, which the Romans would never tolerate especially during the Passover, and ended up getting crucified. Those seem to be what many historians and scholars agree to be historically reliable.

What I doubt about the Gospels is what at times seems clearly a fabrication. Let's take the birth narratives for example. We really have two different narratives of the birth of Jesus. In Luke, Nazareth is the hometown of Jesus and the reason he was born in Bethlehem was because of a census. After his parents did all that is required by the Law, they went back to Nazareth. Then we have Matthew, in his Gospel, Bethlehem is the hometown of Jesus, he was born there, and the reason he went to Nazareth was that an angel told Joseph in a dream to go there. Both can't be true, so which is it? Did Luke and Matthew use different oral traditions? Did both authors fabricate their own story to make Jesus fulfill the "born in Bethlehem" prophecy? If we can't trust the Gospels to tell us where was Jesus born and which city is his hometown, why should we believe that they are telling us the true story regarding his resurrection?

Another point that makes it difficult to trust the Gospels is the way the trial is presented in the Gospels. Was Jesus silent during the entire trial or did he have a full-on conversation with Pilate? Are we expected to honestly believe that Pilate would give in to the demands of the people to put Jesus to death, even though he was known to be a cruel governor? Why does it look like the Gospels evolved from the simple trial of Jesus in Mark to a full-blown dramatic event where the Romans look good and the Jews look so bad?
 

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This is the crux of it. You "should" trust it because it's spiritual truth that your salvation depends on. But nothing in the world will "make" you trust it. That's a free choice and will be so until death or the Second Coming.
But what is the point of the Gospels then? Weren't they written to tell us about Jesus, his birth, life, death, and resurrection? Why do you mean by "spiritual truth"?
 

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The Scriptures themselves have been used and the message bent to form all types of Christian religions and theories. So one cannot trust interpretation without tradition. And while there are some/few contradictions in the four gospels. To me that is an indicator that they weren't overlaid and are genuinely four different accounts.
The four Gospels are indeed different accounts. But why should we trust that they right when it comes to the resurrection?
 

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Let's take the birth narratives for example. We really have two different narratives of the birth of Jesus. In Luke, Nazareth is the hometown of Jesus and the reason he was born in Bethlehem was because of a census. After his parents did all that is required by the Law, they went back to Nazareth. Then we have Matthew, in his Gospel, Bethlehem is the hometown of Jesus, he was born there, and the reason he went to Nazareth was that an angel told Joseph in a dream to go there. Both can't be true, so which is it? Did Luke and Matthew use different oral traditions? Did both authors fabricate their own story to make Jesus fulfill the "born in Bethlehem" prophecy?
I was born in one city, of which I have no memory; I grew up hundreds of miles away from there in a town I have no emotional connection to; and have been in my current town for over 15 years and am pretty attached to it -- which is my hometown?
 

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The four Gospels are indeed different accounts. But why should we trust that they right when it comes to the resurrection?
This is arguably the most challenging question. Its difficult to have a firm belief in a story, so I tend to put my faith in Christ instead. Reading the story gives insight to who Christ is characteristically. Not fully, but its a beginning. So faith is someone you put your trust in. Rather than hinging faith to just a story. Its a promise from an individual who you have grown to trust.
 

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Thanks for the thorough response. I certainly don't believe everything in the Gospels is fiction. I believe there was a man named Jesus, I believe he was born to Mary and Joseph and had brothers. I believe he was born in Nazareth. I believe he followed John the Baptist. I believe he thought the Kingdom of God is coming soon, and took it upon himself, like many others at the time, to reach out to the people and urge them to follow the Law. I believe he caused a commotion in the Temple, which the Romans would never tolerate especially during the Passover, and ended up getting crucified. Those seem to be what many historians and scholars agree to be historically reliable.

What I doubt about the Gospels is what at times seems clearly a fabrication. Let's take the birth narratives for example. We really have two different narratives of the birth of Jesus. In Luke, Nazareth is the hometown of Jesus and the reason he was born in Bethlehem was because of a census. After his parents did all that is required by the Law, they went back to Nazareth. Then we have Matthew, in his Gospel, Bethlehem is the hometown of Jesus, he was born there, and the reason he went to Nazareth was that an angel told Joseph in a dream to go there. Both can't be true, so which is it? Did Luke and Matthew use different oral traditions? Did both authors fabricate their own story to make Jesus fulfill the "born in Bethlehem" prophecy? If we can't trust the Gospels to tell us where was Jesus born and which city is his hometown, why should we believe that they are telling us the true story regarding his resurrection?

Another point that makes it difficult to trust the Gospels is the way the trial is presented in the Gospels. Was Jesus silent during the entire trial or did he have a full-on conversation with Pilate? Are we expected to honestly believe that Pilate would give in to the demands of the people to put Jesus to death, even though he was known to be a cruel governor? Why does it look like the Gospels evolved from the simple trial of Jesus in Mark to a full-blown dramatic event where the Romans look good and the Jews look so bad?
The birth narratives were put there to help explain to the Jews why they should accept Jesus as the Messiah. They weren't written by eyewitness accounts, and as with most biographies in ancient times, births were far less well known than what the people did afterwards. No one at Julius Caesar's birth knew he was going to be one of the most famous people of all time, so we know little about his early life compared to what came after. The Gospel writers likely had sparse information and patched together a narrative based on the facts that they did have. I wouldn't call it a fabrication, but rather a stitching together of events as best they could. The same could be said of the trial. They weren't actually present when Christ was on trial. I would surmise that after Christ's resurrection, He told them what took place. As most biographies were written in narrative form, it would make sense for the authors to create a dialog between Jesus and Pilate that would convey the general sense of what took place behind closed doors. It isn't like Pilate had a court reporter transcribing the dialog like we have in today's court rooms. Mark is giving one perspective of what took place, and John has a different perspective. It is not unusual for the same event to be told through very different eyes. All that very much pales in comparison to the fact that each of these books talk about a man who died and raised from the dead! The authors knew that was going to sound crazy to people. People had explanations for why thunder occurred and what earthquakes and comets were, but they knew enough about how life worked to know that dead people don't come back to life. That isn't really a fact that you just embellish. The authors knew it was a fantastical proclamation and would be met with much skepticism. That is acknowledged throughout the New Testament, but they go on to insist that it was an actual historical event. Beyond that, almost all Christians following the apostles outright proclaim a physical death and a physical resurrection while acknowledging that it is a hard thing to accept since it has never been seen before. There were far more eyewitnesses to His death and resurrection than there was to His birth, which is why we can state that facts surrounding His death and resurrection can be considered more factually accurate than facts surrounding His birth.
 

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The Gospels weren't meant to look magical and not all gospels are perfect examples of Greco-Roman biographies.

St. Mark, who wrote the first gospel, did the exact opposite of making it look magical by omitting the resurrection, that would only be taught by word of mouth after the cliffhanger of the myrrh-bearing women finding an empty tomb... Also, he clearly set Christ's miracles apart from the rest of the text, telling them one by one as witnesses of his power before going into a dryer part of the story, almost devoid of miracles. St. Matthew worked upon St. Mark's text and wished to write something that was less dependent on explanation and should appeal both for gentiles looking into Greco-Roman biographies and Jews looking into sapiential literature. He didn't add any "magic". St. Luke did a more typical Greco-Roman biography, a bit mixed in with the genre of chronicles and extensively based on St. Mark's work, repeatedly insisting that he was passing down first-hand information. St. John's work was more "meta" in the sense that he knew the Gospel as a new literary genre and finally wrote a mystical one, intending to publicise things that were more restricted to the faithful, but also intentionally skipping some more biographic data that could already be learned from the other gospels.

Plus you have the epistles, that don't seem to have been directly connected to the Gospels, thus being a different source for the kerygma. Many textual criticists don't accept the traditional authorship of some epistles, I grant you that, but others have their traditional authorship accepted and it's pretty clear that the intention of their respective writers was not to produce literature, but rather to teach with apostolic authority.

I don't intend to write an apology of the belief in Holy Tradition, it's a matter of faith. However, Bart Ehrman's comparison is stupid. He's a serious scholar, but he's relatively ignorant when presenting the context (both Greco-Roman and Jewish) in which Christianity appeared. He should stick to textual criticism and religious history, but I guess we wouldn't be mentioning his name as nearly as often. My point here is: believe the NT authors or not, they definitely had every intention of telling a very literal story, with the obvious exception of the Revelation of St. John.

On supposed inaccuracies in the Bible, I support attempts of harmonisation, but you'd be surprised with how many Church Fathers, most notably Origen, calmly accepted and dismissed them for the deeper truth.
 
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The Gospels (and the epistles of Paul) are helpfully considered as a form of midrash, a type of rabbinic biblical interpretation that would have made perfectly good sense in the Jewish context in which the life of Jesus and his followers was situated; the Gospels are written to illustrate the life of Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, not present literal history. That does not mean that details are fabricated, just that a particular passage in a particular Gospel has a purpose in the overall argument of the particular author.
 

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I was born in one city, of which I have no memory; I grew up hundreds of miles away from there in a town I have no emotional connection to; and have been in my current town for over 15 years and am pretty attached to it -- which is my hometown?
The one you lived in for 15 years is your hometown. Here is the issue I'm having with the birth narrative point by point.

1. Luke treats Nazareth as Jesus's parents' hometown. In Luke, they already live there and the only reason they went to Bethlehem is to register for the census. A month or so later, they go back to Nazareth. Nice. so there is no need to run away to Egypt since Nazareth is their hometown and Herod had no authority over there.
2. Matthew treats Bethlehem are Jesus's parents' hometown, he is born there, and because Herod has authority over it, they had to run to Egypt. So where is Nazareth in all of this? Didn't they go to Nazareth in Luke? Isn't Nazareth their hometown and they were in Bethlehem only for a visit?
3. So when taking all that into consideration, did or didn't the holy family go to Egypt? If they did, then why? since for Luke, Nazareth is their hometown. If they didn't, then how did the author of Matthew think it appropriate to make up a whole scenario just to make Jesus look like Moses?
4. If the authors of the Gospels felt free to come up with something like Jesus' refuge in Egypt and coming back, what makes us not think they also felt free to make other stuff up?

I know I sound like I'm repeating myself, and I hate to sound like an Evangelical who believes either the entire Gospels are true or nothing, and that is not what I mean. I understand the authors had room for interpretation and arranging parts of the story to fit what they wanted to deliver to their original audience, that is great, there is no problem there. My problem is with creating stories out of nothing.
 

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The birth narratives were put there to help explain to the Jews why they should accept Jesus as the Messiah. They weren't written by eyewitness accounts, and as with most biographies in ancient times, births were far less well known than what the people did afterwards. No one at Julius Caesar's birth knew he was going to be one of the most famous people of all time, so we know little about his early life compared to what came after. The Gospel writers likely had sparse information and patched together a narrative based on the facts that they did have. I wouldn't call it a fabrication, but rather a stitching together of events as best they could. The same could be said of the trial. They weren't actually present when Christ was on trial. I would surmise that after Christ's resurrection, He told them what took place. As most biographies were written in narrative form, it would make sense for the authors to create a dialog between Jesus and Pilate that would convey the general sense of what took place behind closed doors. It isn't like Pilate had a court reporter transcribing the dialog like we have in today's court rooms. Mark is giving one perspective of what took place, and John has a different perspective. It is not unusual for the same event to be told through very different eyes. All that very much pales in comparison to the fact that each of these books talk about a man who died and raised from the dead! The authors knew that was going to sound crazy to people. People had explanations for why thunder occurred and what earthquakes and comets were, but they knew enough about how life worked to know that dead people don't come back to life. That isn't really a fact that you just embellish. The authors knew it was a fantastical proclamation and would be met with much skepticism. That is acknowledged throughout the New Testament, but they go on to insist that it was an actual historical event. Beyond that, almost all Christians following the apostles outright proclaim a physical death and a physical resurrection while acknowledging that it is a hard thing to accept since it has never been seen before. There were far more eyewitnesses to His death and resurrection than there was to His birth, which is why we can state that facts surrounding His death and resurrection can be considered more factually accurate than facts surrounding His birth.
I will give you that when it comes to the resurrection. Even though I still find it difficult to believe it, I can't deny that it is something that is constantly causing me to think. I may tolerate filling the gaps with different stories when it comes to the birth of Jesus (minus the whole going to Egypt thing), but I think what I will need to make the jump of faith is to believe that I can trust the Gospels when it comes to the resurrection. Once I'm able to trust the Gospels on that part, everything else will follow.
 

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The Gospels weren't meant to look magical and not all gospels are perfect examples of Greco-Roman biographies.

St. Mark, who wrote the first gospel, did the exact opposite of making it look magical by omitting the resurrection, that would only be taught by word of mouth after the cliffhanger of the myrrh-bearing women finding an empty tomb... Also, he clearly set Christ's miracles apart from the rest of the text, telling them one by one as witnesses of his power before going into a dryer part of the story, almost devoid of miracles. St. Matthew worked upon St. Mark's text and wished to write something that was less dependent on explanation and should appeal both for gentiles looking into Greco-Roman biographies and Jews looking into sapiential literature. He didn't add any "magic". St. Luke did a more typical Greco-Roman biography, a bit mixed in with the genre of chronicles and extensively based on St. Mark's work, repeatedly insisting that he was passing down first-hand information. St. John's work was more "meta" in the sense that he knew the Gospel as a new literary genre and finally wrote a mystical one, intending to publicise things that were more restricted to the faithful, but also intentionally skipping some more biographic data that could already be learned from the other gospels.

Plus you have the epistles, that don't seem to have been directly connected to the Gospels, thus being a different source for the kerygma. Many textual criticists don't accept the traditional authorship of some epistles, I grant you that, but others have their traditional authorship accepted and it's pretty clear that the intention of their respective writers was not to produce literature, but rather to teach with apostolic authority.

I don't intend to write an apology of the belief in Holy Tradition, it's a matter of faith. However, Bart Ehrman's comparison is stupid. He's a serious scholar, but he's relatively ignorant when presenting the context (both Greco-Roman and Jewish) in which Christianity appeared. He should stick to textual criticism and religious history, but I guess we wouldn't be mentioning his name as nearly as often. My point here is: believe the NT authors or not, they definitely had every intention of telling a very literal story, with the obvious exception of the Revelation of St. John.

On supposed inaccuracies in the Bible, I support attempts of harmonisation, but you'd be surprised with how many Church Fathers, most notably Origen, calmly accepted and dismissed them for the deeper truth.
One of St. Paul's letters I believe is the first and earliest written document we have where the resurrection of Jesus is mentioned. However, even that part is debated among some scholars due to the absence of any mention of an empty tomb. It makes some people wonder if the empty tomb part is a later invention.

I remember when I first was introduced to Christianity, I learned that Mathew's Gospel is where Jesus is the Messiah; Mark's Gospels is where Jesus is a human; Luke's Gospel is where Jesus is human and divine, and John's Gospel is where Jesus is divine. I'm sure this is not the perfect way of looking at the Gospels but it helped me back then.

As for Tradition, I completely believe in its importance. I'm not the Ray who back when thought the Bible is the only thing needed. I know without Tradition, there is no Gospels, and no Church, and frankly, no Christianity. But here is the question, which Tradition? The more I learn about early Christianity and the fights that took place between different groups within the movement, the more complicated the whole thing becomes.

I'm under no illusion that in the end, it would take much more than argument and evidence to believe in Jesus, in the end, it would require me to make that leap, but on my way there, I'm going to ask questions, not in hope of finding that perfect answer, but in hope that all the answers I get eventually make enough room for me to believe.
 

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This is arguably the most challenging question. Its difficult to have a firm belief in a story, so I tend to put my faith in Christ instead. Reading the story gives insight to who Christ is characteristically. Not fully, but its a beginning. So faith is someone you put your trust in. Rather than hinging faith to just a story. Its a promise from an individual who you have grown to trust.
I hear you. I really did love Jesus and I still do. Even when I think of him as a rabbi/teacher and a good man, he is still worthy of love and respect from me. It is just that part when he becomes God on earth, who died and rose from the dead, that I still need time to figure out.
 

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The Gospels (and the epistles of Paul) are helpfully considered as a form of midrash, a type of rabbinic biblical interpretation that would have made perfectly good sense in the Jewish context in which the life of Jesus and his followers was situated; the Gospels are written to illustrate the life of Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, not present literal history. That does not mean that details are fabricated, just that a particular passage in a particular Gospel has a purpose in the overall argument of the particular author.
I have heard of Midrash before, and I can see how the Gospels, especially Matthew may have used that method in writing about Jesus. But what does that mean for us today? For me who is trying to find out if the Gospels can be trusted to tell us about who Jesus is, and most importantly, if he died and rose from the dead?
 

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The one you lived in for 15 years is your hometown. Here is the issue I'm having with the birth narrative point by point.
According to you. I think all three could be argued to be my hometown; that's my point -- it depends on how you define it, how the evangelists defined it. It might also matter what original words the evangelists used and in what context. As it is, I count none of them as my hometown, and simply don't have one. ;)

I have heard of Midrash before, and I can see how the Gospels, especially Matthew may have used that method in writing about Jesus. But what does that mean for us today? For me who is trying to find out if the Gospels can be trusted to tell us about who Jesus is, and most importantly, if he died and rose from the dead?
What would it mean? How would it change things for you if it were undeniably proven to you to be true?
 

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One of St. Paul's letters I believe is the first and earliest written document we have where the resurrection of Jesus is mentioned. However, even that part is debated among some scholars due to the absence of any mention of an empty tomb. It makes some people wonder if the empty tomb part is a later invention.
That's a tryhard argument that exemplifies very well what's wrong with "high criticism".

I remember when I first was introduced to Christianity, I learned that Mathew's Gospel is where Jesus is the Messiah; Mark's Gospels is where Jesus is a human; Luke's Gospel is where Jesus is human and divine, and John's Gospel is where Jesus is divine. I'm sure this is not the perfect way of looking at the Gospels but it helped me back then.
Yeah, there are a lot of ways to sum up the differences in perspective across the evangelists.
 

Stinky

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Matt 11:25
. .You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent....

Ask God for His interpretation. He will reveal His truth to all who ask sincerely. I do not judge your motives. Faith is a gift from God. Contrition is also a gift. He has been gracious to this sinner though I did not deserve it. The Most Holy Theotokos will answer those prayers of anyone seeking to know God.

Hebrews 11: 6
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
 

MalpanaGiwargis

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I have heard of Midrash before, and I can see how the Gospels, especially Matthew may have used that method in writing about Jesus. But what does that mean for us today? For me who is trying to find out if the Gospels can be trusted to tell us about who Jesus is, and most importantly, if he died and rose from the dead?
Yes, they can tell us about who Jesus is, but I think that has to be qualified somewhat: they primarily tell the believer who Jesus is. They are primarily meaningful to someone who has already accepted the public preaching of the Christian Church, a believer in Christ crucified and risen. Midrash and other Jewish methods of interpretation, like the NT reading of the OT, patristic commentary, liturgical texts, and the stories of the lives of saints, require faith as a given to make much sense.

This is because the rabbis and the NT authors and the Church Fathers all shared something that modern Westerners do not: the sense that the Bible is a canonical whole, is divinely inspired, and refers to itself. This last point is important. A modern, post-Enlightenment person reads a passage in the Bible or any text and immediately, and usually subconsciously, asks himself things like, "Does X in the Bible refer to an X in the real world?" We judge the truth of a text on the degree to which it corresponds with our experience of the world outside the text. The rabbis, NT authors, and Fathers did not; they accepted the Scriptures as a given and a type of oracle, the true Word of God to be read, understood, and interpreted in the light of itself. In this context, the Bible is a given, and events are described in terms of the Bible, and passages in the Bible understood in light of other parts of the Bible, etc. Their relation to things outside the Bible is irrelevant, as the Bible is the divine standard of the only truth that matters.

Which doesn't really answer your question. The purpose of the Gospels is to present evidence that Jesus fulfills the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible concerning the Messiah, dramatically re-interpreting these passages in ways that were new for the time. They were not written with the historical-critical method of reading in mind, nor are they some sort of 1st century newspaper report. Did Christ die and rise? The Gospels say He did, but there's not really any amount of reading that will convince you of the veracity of the Gospels in a historical sense. The fact that all four Gospels quite plainly contradict each other in certain obvious respects, yet were all four always and everywhere accepted by the Orthodox Church reveals that the plain-reading, historical sense of the Gospels (or Genesis or any other part of the Bible) is not what is of primary importance.
 

Tzimis

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The one you lived in for 15 years is your hometown. Here is the issue I'm having with the birth narrative point by point.

1. Luke treats Nazareth as Jesus's parents' hometown. In Luke, they already live there and the only reason they went to Bethlehem is to register for the census. A month or so later, they go back to Nazareth. Nice. so there is no need to run away to Egypt since Nazareth is their hometown and Herod had no authority over there.
2. Matthew treats Bethlehem are Jesus's parents' hometown, he is born there, and because Herod has authority over it, they had to run to Egypt. So where is Nazareth in all of this? Didn't they go to Nazareth in Luke? Isn't Nazareth their hometown and they were in Bethlehem only for a visit?
3. So when taking all that into consideration, did or didn't the holy family go to Egypt? If they did, then why? since for Luke, Nazareth is their hometown. If they didn't, then how did the author of Matthew think it appropriate to make up a whole scenario just to make Jesus look like Moses?
4. If the authors of the Gospels felt free to come up with something like Jesus' refuge in Egypt and coming back, what makes us not think they also felt free to make other stuff up?

I know I sound like I'm repeating myself, and I hate to sound like an Evangelical who believes either the entire Gospels are true or nothing, and that is not what I mean. I understand the authors had room for interpretation and arranging parts of the story to fit what they wanted to deliver to their original audience, that is great, there is no problem there. My problem is with creating stories out of nothing.
I believe you are mixing something up. Or putting your own spin on the narrative. Record keeping pre-computer age was done by the municipality one is registered to. So Christ's birth was registered to Bethlehem since Joeseph had to record him there regardless of where he currently lived.
Once registered, king Herod would know about his birth and would have searched him out.

Secondly I don't think it unusual for people in that era to travel to Egypt. It was a trade route and people used it on an annual basis and not only as means of escape.

Believe it or not, I had to make some changes to my registry status recently and had to send papers to the municipality in Greece that my parents had me registered too, in order to accomplish that. So the practice still exists, just as it did in those days.
 

TheTrisagion

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I will give you that when it comes to the resurrection. Even though I still find it difficult to believe it, I can't deny that it is something that is constantly causing me to think. I may tolerate filling the gaps with different stories when it comes to the birth of Jesus (minus the whole going to Egypt thing), but I think what I will need to make the jump of faith is to believe that I can trust the Gospels when it comes to the resurrection. Once I'm able to trust the Gospels on that part, everything else will follow.
I think that really is the crux of the matter. It all revolves around the resurrection. It is certainly something that is not easy to accept because we has humans are trained throughout millennia to be skeptical of things that we don't experience. People found it very hard to believe that the earth goes around the sun because that isn't how we experience it. People found it very hard to believe that time is a dimension and it can be changed by speed and gravity. They aren't intuitive things. At least with those, we have the ability to do math and accept them. There is no math when it comes to a divine being that comes to earth in the form of a man and conquers death. You can't come up with a formula for that. It really is dependent on faith, and modern humanity revolts against that. We demand proof, but what sort of proof would satisfy us? It could be written in the stars, and we would still say that its a lucky coincidence just like it is said that it is a lucky coincidence that the universe has the appearance of fine tuning. We are told that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but what sort of evidence could be demonstrated? Even if the entire thing was videoed by the apostles and preserved in a crypt, the argument would be made that videos can be faked. At the end of the day, the resurrection of Christ is something that must be taken on faith. I struggle with that quite often, but it also is deeply fulfilling to know that there are mysteries that humans simply cannot fathom. :)
 

Ainnir

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I don’t want a god I can wrap my mind around; that’s a terrifying concept.
 
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