John Beversluis Gospels Why

The Gospel According to Whom? (2009)

An Ex-Believer Looks at the Synoptic Gospels and Their Evangelical Christian Whitewashers

John Beversluis


Why I Wrote This Book

This is a book about the synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They are called “synoptic” because they cover roughly the same ground from three different perspectives and thus provide a collective overview (or synopsis) of the events reported. The Gospel of John, known as the Fourth Gospel, is like them in some respects, but very unlike them in others.

Like most people, I grew up thinking these books were written by disciples who followed Jesus around and wrote down what he said and did. It was not until I was in seminary that I discovered to my dismay that that is not true. Actually, we have no idea who wrote them. (Mark and Luke were not even disciples.) Unlike Paul, Peter, James, and Jude, who started their letters by identifying (or pretending to identify) themselves, the authors of the synoptic Gospels wrote anonymously. The names “Matthew,” “Mark,” and “Luke,” are nothing more than attributions. It came as further shock to discover that none of the synoptic Gospels was written during the lifetime of Jesus or shortly after his death. They were all written later in the first century—anywhere from forty (and possibly even ninety) years later. The Fourth Gospel was written even later. So obviously none of them could have been written by eyewitnesses—disciples or otherwise. Since my seminary days I have met many intelligent people who did not know any of this and I finally concluded that it must be one of the best-kept secrets in all Christendom.

Another very well-kept secret is that the synoptic Gospels contain many errors—factual, historical, scientific, chronological, mathematical, geographical, and prophetic—as well as many inconsistencies, contradictions, and other discrepancies. In this book, I bring many of them to light and show that they are indeed errors and inconsistencies, thereby rebutting the claims of that vast army of evangelical Christian theologians who insist that these alleged errors and inconsistencies are only apparent and can easily be “corrected’ or “harmonized.” Such theologians typically dismiss these allegations as mere satanic chatter from atheists, who have hardened their hearts against God, or “liberal” theologians, who read the Bible selectively, accepting what they like and discarding the rest.

Evangelical Christian laypersons who swallow this nonsense, like I used to, do not understand that mainstream New Testament theologians—whose books their spiritual mentors misunderstand, trivialize, and often have not even read—do not advance these allegations because they are atheists or “liberal” Christians; in fact, the opposite is true, they are atheists or “liberal” Christians precisely because of these allegations. It never seems to occur to these trusting souls—or to the agenda-driven mentors who mislead them—that many of the New Testament scholars who lodge these objections started out exactly like the typical evangelical Christian with a deep faith in God and an unquestioning faith in the Bible as His word, but eventually left the fold—often reluctantly and with heavy hearts—because they could no longer, as honest men and women, continue to cling to their previous beliefs in the teeth of so much contrary textual evidence, thus accounting for the ironic phenomenon of backslidden believers who, in obedience to the command to search the Scriptures (John 5:39), searched them too diligently!

Anybody who doubts that this sort of thing can and does happen needs to read the Introduction to Bart Ehrman’s absorbing book, Misquoting Jesus, in which he recounts his own intellectual journey from naive credulity to informed skepticism. A “born-again” Christian, a zealous student at ultra-conservative Wheaton College, an active participant in a Campus Life Youth-for-Christ organization, and an industrious seminary student at Moody Bible Institute and (later) Princeton University, Ehrman learned Hebrew and Greek, so he could read the Bible in the original languages; learned German and French, so he could read what modern non-English speaking theologians have said about it; and finally immersed himself in textual criticism of the New Testament—only to discover that his superb education had undermined his whole concept of what the Bible is and brought about a “seismic change” in his thinking about it.

Allegations of errors, contradictions, inconsistencies, and other discrepancies typically upset (and often anger) evangelical Christians who dismiss them out of hand and vigorously defend the Bible as the inspired and inerrant Word of God. I understand their reaction. When I was a Christian, I used to react in the same way. This book is intended for Christians like that. I wrote it to convince them that the synoptic Gospels are not the divinely inspired, factually accurate, historically reliable, and logically consistent documents that they have been made out to be. On the contrary, they are all-too-human documents that cannot survive sustained critical scrutiny. In the chapters that follow I will show that the cumulative case against their being divinely inspired and inerrant is overwhelming.

Since I will undoubtedly be accused of attacking the synoptic Gospels, it is important to dispose of that allegation at the very outset. Far from attacking the Gospels, I am trying to promote the objective and serious study of them by rescuing them from evangelical Christians who refuse to see (and do everything in their power to prevent others from seeing) what is really in them. If anybody is guilty of misrepresenting the synoptic Gospels (and the Bible as a whole), it is evangelical Christian theologians, not people like me who try to expose their carefully constructed myth of an inspired and inerrant Scripture.