Published December 13, 2012
This column is part three of a six-part series on trusting the New Testament.
QUESTION: Who were the writers of the New Testament, and can we ascribe to them incredible Christianity?
ANSWER: The New Testament begins with a book named for a notorious thief and traitor: Matthew. What a “politically incorrect” opening. Here in Matthew, a disciple of Jesus, we see the Good News of unparalleled grace manifested. We read a Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus challenges us to climb out of our selfishness beyond anything that we’ve ever imagined. We are challenged as Christians with a “mission impossible” to go and make disciples of all nations.
Mark wrote the Second Gospel based on what he had learned as a protégé of Peter the disciple. Peter himself wrote in II Peter 1:16: “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” Peter held nothing back from Mark, even his own denial of Jesus reported in Mark 4:66-72. There are no coverups in the New Testament.
Luke, who wrote both his gospel and Acts, was with the Apostle Paul when facing execution (II Tim. 4:11). Luke tells his readers right up front that he got his information from “eyewitnesses” and that he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning … so that you might know the certainty of things you have been taught.”
Early twentieth century critics tried to discredit his work with accusations of inaccuracy that were later refuted by archeological discoveries. Otto Piper explains: “Wherever modern scholarship has been able to check up on the accuracy of Luke’s work the judgment has been unanimous: He is one of the finest and ablest historians in the ancient world.”
The disciple John’s eyewitness account was recorded by a secretary, who wrote in John 21:24: “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.” In John’s gospel we find a verse that is incomparable to anything written anywhere at any time: John 3:16. In First John 3:14 the disciple describes the irrefutable testimony of a true Christian: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers.” Being able to love each other as God loves us (unconditionally, sacrificially, and mercifully) is the evidence that we have been changed by a love that is out of this world.
The early Christians were willing to lay down their lives so that others might know Christ and His love for them. They did, beginning with Stephen. The Book of Revelation authored by John inspires us to live truthfully and lovingly amidst trials and tribulations. We can trust such truth and love.
The Apostle Paul obviously met the Resurrected Christ. He didn’t just write these words in his last letter (“… I know who I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.” II Tim. 1:8-12); Paul lived them in a life of utter self-sacrifice and atrocious abuse.
He lived his faith right up to and through the end, writing these immortal words in the same letter (4:6-7): “… I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Next Time: Part Four: How do we know that what the New Testament authors wrote is what we have and read?
Paul Baxter is senior pastor of First Baptist Church on the Square in LaGrange.
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