The death of Jesus is undeniably one of the two most important events in Christian history (the resurrection is the other). One imagines that faithful eyewitness accounts would at least agree on the Savior's words at the moment of salvation. Here are the last reported words of Christ according to the evangelists:
- Matthew, Mark: "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)
- Luke: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."
- John: "Now it is finished.
I don't see any problem with Jesus' last words. If you take a tax collector, a Jew, a Greek physician and a fisherman I think it would be very likely for each of them to emphasize different parts of the same event.
As to the inconsistency you find in Jesus' last words here is a reconstruction from all four gospels (I have skipped some parts not directly related to your quotes):
Jesus is on the cross (
read Psalms 22) and there is darkness from the sixth until the ninth hour (
Luke). Jesus cries out "Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani?" (see
Psalms 22:1)and says He is thirsty (
(can't tell the order of the last two) and someone brings Him a sponge filled with wine on a pole (
John). He says "it is finished" (
John). He cries out "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" and dies (
This is just a minor example, but a striking one. I agree that the gospels are important documents, but they are also flawed and contradictory.
Only if given a set of possible explanations you choose the contradictory one.
One must be aware of their limitations and origins in order to read the gospels critically and reach their true value.
Yes, one must be aware of their origin and cultural/historical background. Beware! This is a double edged sword, for it is the source of many of the so called contradictions.
The most conservative estimates place the completion of the New Testament at about 70 AD.
This is simply false. Many Christian scholars date the writing of the gospels to somewhere between 100 and 140 AD. As an example, here are some exerpts from translators' notes in the New American Bible. This translation was produced by Catholic scholars and sponsored by an organization of Catholic bishops - hardly a radical or fringe group.
What is the date on these excerpts?
Supposing you're right, and taking 140 as the completion date, that's only 110 years between the crucifixion and all the gospels being completed. I guess that would mean that at least part of at least one of the gospels wasn't completed by the original author. Even supposing that to be true doesn't take away much of the validity of the accounts. It's not like the disciples locked themselves up in a room after the resurrection and didn't come out till they had finished writing the gospels. They had been preaching the contents of the gospels since day one. Which would make changing any part of the story a VERY BIG CONSPIRACY INDEED, involving just about anybody who had heard the disciples, heard Jesus, or had a father/mother/friend/uncle who had done one of the above. Anyway I believe the evidence points against a later date.
My NIV (Zondervan) bible places the completion of the whole New Testament somewhere between 85-100. This translation is, I believe, the most used modern language translation of the bible.
You also have to deal with things like the John Rylands Papyrus which contains a fragment of the gospel of John (agreed to be the last gospel to be written). It was found in Egypt (quite a ways from Ephesus where the original was most likely written) and dated between 98-150 AD. That's the earliest fragment of the New Testament so far.
Have you ever read the book of Acts? It's a sequel to the gospel of Luke and tells the history of the early church. It doesn't mention the destruction of the Temple and fall of Jerusalem (70 AD). It doesn't mention Paul's death (62 AD), and he's the main character (Luke was his disciple). The Jewish War (66 AD). Or the death of James (60-62 AD). I doubt Luke thought those events too lacking in importance to include. Which leads me to believe that Acts and therefore Luke and probably Mark and Matthew where completed before 60 AD.
And you also have the writings of early church fathers which quote scripture. For example there's Clement of Rome (95 AD), called a disciple of the apostles and appointed by Peter. His writings quote from: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, I Corinthians, I Peter, Hebrews and Titus. Ignatius (70-110 AD) the Bishop of Antioch who knew the disciples quotes from: Matthew, John, Acts, Romans, I Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Galatians, Colossians, James, I&II Thesalonians, I&II Timothy and I Peter.
Of course you could argue that this only proves that the New Testament was being written and evolving during that period. But there is no evidence to back that claim. The thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament currently known all agree 99.5% of the time. And we are talking about manuscripts that span more than one thousand years, discovered in different locations and written in several languages.
The fact is, the Vatican and the Protestant churches have accepted new evidence and analysis regarding the gospels' origins. Only a few fundamentalist churches still insist on apostolic authorship of the canonical gospels, and they do so mainly by ignoring evidence rather than refuting it. The facts all agree that the gospels are valuable retellings of earlier traditions, but they are not the first-hand accounts asked for in this thread.
To be honest I don't mind being called a "fundamentalist minority" :-) I also think people are really scared of the implications of the gospels being first-hand accounts and would much prefer not to have to
deal with it.
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