The Trial of Jesus Christ and The Last Supper
Now, one comes to the first mystery: How reliable are the Gospels as historical documents? They are virtually the only historical records that we have for the trial of Jesus.
Some very interesting sources about the trial of Jesus have ingenious explanations for their acceptance as an historical record. For instance, an exhaustive two-volume account of the trial of Jesus (by that title) by
A.N. Wilsons biography of Jesus pursues a quite different and creative approach to the validity of the Gospels. The mistake, he says, is to read them as history. While they undoubtedly contain historical information, they are a unique form of narrative that attempts to communicate a complicated mixture of legend, prophecy, fact, and faith. We do not read them properly, he says, particularly the most important of the Gospels, the non-synoptic Gospel According to John.
The controversy of when the Gospels were written, by whom, and where, is an intense one. If the majority of authorities are correct, Jesus died in 30 AD, Pauls first letters were written about 51 AD, and Mark, considered the earliest of the Gospels, was written about 69 AD. Luke and Matthew were written some ten to fifteen years after Mark, and the Gospel of John was written towards the end of the first century, about 95 AD. One can find a great deal of variation in these dates. It is important to note that while Paul wrote within twenty years of the crucifixion, the Gospels themselves were written some thirty-five to sixty years after the event. Given the relatively short life spans of people in that era, it is difficult to imagine that any of the Gospel writers actually knew Jesus, although, if the dates are correct, it is possible that Mark was an eyewitness. He would have been older than the life span of the time, but not impossibly old.
Clearly then the Gospels must be based in large part on oral tradition from the time of Jesus, written and amplified some considerable time after Jesus death. Some find the Gospels difficult to accept as valid, but there is nothing inherently invalid in oral history.
Some personal connections have been suggested. Tradition has it that Luke was the companion of Paul, and that Matthew was the companion of Peter, but there is no evidence to support these apprenticeships. If this were true, then at least two of the Gospels would be based on eyewitness testimony. While there are those that propose that John was the John who was one of the Disciples, most historians place the writing of that Gospel much later than the time that John the Disciple could have lived. The Gospel of Matthew is sometimes represented as the writings of the disciple named Matthew, but here again one is faced with the fact that Matthew would have been very, very old at the time his Gospel was written. If the Disciples Matthew and John are the authors of their respective Gospels, the appearance (or publication) of them must have happened well after they were written. One would have to find a reason for their being withheld from distribution for many years after their composition.
Mark appears to have been the source for the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, although some have suggested that the latter two Gospelers used a second source, known as Q, which is now lost.
However, the Gospels often contain small details that seem unlikely to have been inventions, or remnants of an oral tradition. John, for instance, mentions the name of the man who had his ear cut off at the time of the arrest of Jesus in the
Whatever the problems of authorship, accuracy, and interpretation of the Gospels, it is clear that there was a first century teacher named Jesus who was tried, convicted, and executed. Despite the assertions of a very few that Jesus never existed, there is more than sufficient evidence to support the existence of such a man at such a time.
In order to seek the solution to the first mystery, the accuracy of the Gospels, it is worthwhile to examine them and see how they contribute to the overall story presented earlier.