Could the Gospel Writers Know What Jesus Actually said?


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There was a long period of time between the life of Jesus and the composition of the four Gospels in the Bible. Even when we take conservative estimates for their dating, the earliest we typically see is the book of Mark, written around AD 55-70, about the time the apostle Peter was martyred.

We’re talking several decades. How were the authors able to remember what Jesus said and did after all that time? I can hardly remember what I said and did last week! 


How Do We Know the Gospel Writers Got it Right?

Let’s keep the following points in mind:

1. Unlike our own society, these authors lived in an oral culture that was strong on preserving information through spoken word. They didn’t rely on written material like we do. Their ability to memorize and retell stories accurately was well practiced.

2. Jesus mostly taught in stories and parables. These kinds of teachings are easy to remember, even for us today. And we must recognize that in an oral culture, people learned to be good listeners as their ability to recall information would have served them well.

3. We shouldn’t expect that the writers captured perfect quotations of what Jesus said, as though they had access to tape recorders. Quotations in that time were not intended to be as word-for-word precise as they are today.


The Gospels don’t provide a straight journalistic record. But the Gospel writers did not simply make stuff up. They were held in check by others familiar with Jesus; eyewitnesses who would have known if they did not record details accurately.  


4. Even if the Gospel authors weren’t writing about Jesus immediately after his departure, they were continually teaching about Jesus. This would have kept the information fresh in their minds.

5. It’s possible that Jesus’s disciples did write down details about Jesus, which they referred to in later years as they wrote the Gospels.

6. Christians believe that the Bible’s authors were guided by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). So while each brought their own method, style, and message to the readers of Scripture, each focused on God’s love for mankind, including salvation through Jesus.


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Matthew Tingblad is a communicator at Josh McDowell Ministry, with a seminary education from Talbot School of Theology.

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