Is the New Testament (NT) reliable? (Part II: The reliability of the New Testament story) 

To judge the reliability of the biblical story, scholars apply the criteria of authenticity to the biblical accounts. The criteria of authenticity represent standards or tools by which the historical plausibility of an event is assessed. So let’s discuss 3 of these criteria and apply them to the biblical story 

1. The criterion of multiple attestation: the criterion states that if an event or a story is recorded by multiple and independent sources, that boosts its likelihood to have occurred. Applying this to the biblical story, we have several non-Christian sources (Roman, Greek and Jewish) that affirm the following facts which are in congruence with the biblical story and therefore attest to the reliability of the story: 

            1. Jesus Christ lived in the first century AD in Judea.  

            2. He was believed to be a miracle worker. 

            3. He was followed by several disciples believing He was the Messiah. 

            4. He was accused of blasphemy by the Jewish leaders. 

            5. He died on the cross under the reign of Pontius Pilate. 

            6. His disciples claimed to have several encounters with Him after rising from death. 

            7. His disciples evangelized and preached about His crucifixion, death and resurrection. 

            8. Christians multiplied in numbers before the great fire of Rome.  

            9. Christians used to meet regularly to worship Him. 

       These facts, which are attested from many sources outside the NT, are in coherence with the NT story and hence, the biblical story as narrated in the NT fulfills this criterion of authenticity.  

2. The criterion of Embarrassment: the criterion states that if an event or a story is embarrassing to its writer, then it is unlikely to be invented and this increases its likelihood of occurring. We have several passages in the NT that seem to be embarrassing to the disciples who are also the early founders of the church. For example, at the time when Jesus was arrested, His disciples ran away and abandoned Him. Also, the very first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb and Jesus’s resurrection were women and given the Jewish middle eastern context belittling women and their testimonies, if the story was made up by the disciples, women would have been the disciples’ very last option to witness the empty tomb and testify to the resurrection. 

       Hence, the biblical story fulfills this criterion. 

3. The criterion of contextual credibility (sociohistorical context): the criterion states that for a story to be authentic, it must contain elements that conform to and do not contradict with the socio historical context of that time. When we have a look at the NT, we find several elements that conform to the socio historical context of the story, for example a study was conducted on the distribution of personal names in the first century AD in Palestine reveals that the names mentioned in the NT manuscripts conform to the names used at that time in that region. Similarly, there are archaeological discoveries that are in alignment with the NT manuscripts. In addition to that, the gospel of Luke presents historical details that further add to the plausibility of the story in terms of its historical context. In chapter 3 verses 1-2, Luke writes “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness”. Such level of detail suggests that Luke was well aware of the Roman and Jewish historical context of his story. 

        Hence, the biblical story fulfills this criterion. 

Based on these three criteria, we can reasonably trust the NT story.  

Is the New Testament (NT) reliable? (Part I: The reliability of the manuscripts)

NT critic Bart Ehrman claims that the manuscripts we have today don’t represent the original writings, but in fact are error-ridden copies that cannot be trusted. The number of variations among these manuscripts even exceed the number of words in the NT in its original Greek language. He suggests that there are about 400,000 variations in the manuscripts we have and about 138,200 words of the Greek NT; that means that for every word that exists there’s around 3 options for it! 

However, is that really an indication of the accuracy of the manuscripts? and what do the numbers really mean? 

To answer this question and determine the reliability of the NT manuscripts, we need to look at how historians assess any work of antiquity coming from the ancient world. Historians generally assess any text by looking at three things: A) the number of manuscript copies that exist for the text; B) the time gap between the original text and its earliest surviving copy; and C) the significance of variations between the copies.  

Historians and textual critics have more confidence in the reconstruction of the original text when there are lots of copies, short time gaps, and insignificant variations. If we are to compare the NT manuscripts with the manuscripts citing the work of well-known philosophers, authors or historians like Plato, Homer or Seutonius, whose works are thought to be reconstructed with high degree of accuracy, we’ll find that the NT manuscripts outnumber any of these works and have much earlier attestations than these works as well. To put things into perspective, we have about 250 copies of Plato with the earliest manuscript found after about 1300 years of the original writing. However, for the NT we have over 5,800 manuscripts in the Greek language alone and around 20,000 manuscripts in other languages (e.g. Coptic, Latin, Syriac). In fact, the textual critic, Dan Wallace states that “in comparison with the average ancient Greek author, the NT copies are well over a thousand times more plentiful”. In addition, these manuscripts with all their translations are found to be cited extensively by the early church fathers during the early centuries of Christianity to the extent that Ehrman himself claims that these citations are so extensive that “if all the other sources of our knowledge of the text of NT were destroyed, they would be sufficient alone for the reconstruction of practically the entire NT.” 

Regarding the time gap between the earliest surviving manuscripts and the original manuscripts, we have two manuscripts, P52 and P66, which are dated around 35-40 years after the original manuscripts. In the world of ancient literature, this is considered a blink of an eye. In fact, the average time between the writing of most works contemporaneous with the NT like the works of Pliny, Sueotonius or Tacitus and their first copies is not less than a couple hundred years, so again no other work of antiquity comes close to the early attestation of the NT manuscripts.   

With regards to the textual variants among the manuscripts, yes there are about 400,000 variants in the NT manuscripts, yet the significance of them is what really matters. So let’s first define what a variant is. A variant is any difference between manuscripts. If a scribe spells “John” and another spells it “Johnn”, that’s a variant. If two scribes use two different synonyms for the same word, that’s a variant. If two scribes write the same sentence with the same meaning but use a different word order, that counts as a variant. If a verse or a block of text is found in one copy but not in others, that’s also a variant. 

If we take a closer look at these 400,000 variants, we’ll find that 99% of them don’t impact the meaning of the text whatsoever. Most of them come from spelling and word order. The remaining 1% (only 4,000 variants) are meaningful but none of them affects one single doctrine of the Christian faith. And in fact, considering the vast number of manuscripts that we have for the NT, it logically follows to have a big number of variants. So the large number of variants is due to the fact that the NT has more manuscripts than any other work of antiquity 

In conclusion, based on the rich and early attestation of the NT, as well as the insignificant variations among its manuscripts, we can trust that the NT manuscripts are reliable. In fact, if we do not trust the NT manuscripts, we cannot trust any other work of antiquity. 

Were The Gospels Written By Anonymous Authors?

Bart Ehrman, a famous New Testament scholar, claims that the four canonical Gospels were written anonymously, and were later falsely attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, a century after they had been written. In his book, “Forged: Writing in the name of God, Why the Bible’s authors are not who we think they are”, he builds a story for why these names were selectively chosen after they had already been in circulation in the early Church. Instead of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, he says, the real authors were anonymous Christians who relied on hearsay and legend rather than eyewitness testimony. He claims that the canonical Gospels were written in the third person, and were not attested for, in church fathers until Irenaeus, in the late second century. 


Is there evidence for this claim? 

First, there is simply no evidence that the first manuscripts of the Gospels lacked attribution to their traditional authors. There are no manuscripts that simply lack titles that consistently identify Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to their respective Gospels. Academic critics, on the other hand, say the variants in the titles of those early manuscripts prove the author’s names were added at a much later date. However, the usual variant is just the absence of the word “Gospel” which leaves a title that begins with “According to . . .” followed by the author’s name which is never absent from these manuscripts! If this is evidence for anything, then it is evidence for the unbroken and consistent oral tradition that churches worldwide had about the authors of each Gospel. 

In fact, many scholars reject the notion that the Gospels were anonymous at all. They argue that the hypothesis, that the Gospels were anonymous, requires many assumptions to be validated, which violates the principle of Occam’s Razor (that the best explanation is the one that requires the fewest assumptions). They maintain that the Apostolic fathers didn’t mention the Gospels’ authors because this was their custom even when they quoted the Pauline epistles or the Old Testament.  

Second, even if the earliest copies of the Gospels did not contain the names of their authors, that would not disprove the traditional authorship of those texts. For example, the works of the ancient Roman historian Tacitus often do not bear his name, but few historians have ever questioned that Tacitus wrote them. We know Tacitus is the author of these works because other ancient writers, like St. Jerome, identify him as the author. Bart Ehrman himself explains that anonymous literature was the custom of that period of time. 

Third, again, even if the earliest copies of the Gospels did not contain the names of their authors, it is not accurate to classify them as anonymous writings. An anonymous writing is one where the author deliberately hides his/her identity. This is not the case in the Gospel of Luke for example. Luke clearly addresses his Gospel to Theophilus who seems to have inquired about the story of Jesus and requested Luke to develop an accurate account of Jesus. It is clear that the recipient – Theophilus – would know that Luke is the one who is addressing him given the context of their exchange. It also isn’t the case with the Gospel of John as he refers to himself often within the Gospel as the “disciple Jesus loved” (John 13:23). 

Fourth, there is an unbroken chain of evidence since the beginning of the church that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the authors of the Gospels. As St. Augustine has dealt with the same claim in his reply to the heretic Faustus, he stated: 

“How do we know the authorship of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Varro, and other similar writers but by the unbroken chain of evidence? So also with the numerous commentaries on the ecclesiastical books, which have no canonical authority and yet show a desire of usefulness and a spirit of inquiry. . . . How can we be sure of the authorship of any book, if we doubt the apostolic origin of those books which are attributed to the apostles by the Church which the apostles themselves founded?” 

By the end of the first century, the authorship of each Gospel had been confirmed. Papias of Hierapolis, wrote in the first decades of the second century that the Gospels of Matthew and Mark were in circulation by the end of the first century. Justin Martyr, in 150 AD, referred to the Gospels as written by the Apostles or their companions, and Irenaeus, in 190 AD, affirmed the traditional authorship of the Gospels, mentioning that this was handed down to him. He concluded that the Gospels’ authorship would have been confirmed within a generation from their writing, among all Christian communities, without confusion or any evidence for discussion or disagreement. 

Finally, another argument in favor of the traditional authorship of the Gospels is this: if they had been forged, it is highly likely the forgers would have pretended to be more impressive-sounding authors. This is what heretics in the second, third, and fourth centuries did when they attributed their forged Gospels to people like Peter, Philip, and Mary Magdalene. Why pretend to be a relative unknown such as Mark or Luke? Why would they impersonate a persona non grata such as Matthew, whose popularity as a former tax collector would have been only slightly higher than that of Judas Iscariot? 

Biblical scholar Brant Pitre aptly summarizes the issue: “According to the basic rules of textual criticism, then, if anything is original in the titles, it is the names of the authors. They are at least as original as any other part of the Gospels for which we have unanimous manuscript evidence.” 

Has Evolution Been Observed?

The theory of evolution asserts that all living organisms are related, they descended from common ancestor(s), and the variations are explained by natural processes such as natural selection and genetic mutations. Scientists cite several evidences for evolution such as: 

  1. Comparative anatomy: the study of differences and similarities between living things 
  1. Embryology and development: how creatures develop before being born or hatching from an egg 
  1. Fossil record 
  1. DNA similarities: the molecules that carry the codes with the characteristics of living things 

For example, if we compare hippos with whales, we find the above four pieces of evidence. First, the anatomy of a whale and a hippo shows that both have smooth skin, lungs, internal testicles, etc. Second, the development stages of both embryos look similar. Third, there are fossils indicating transitional animals that are similar to whales, yet with legs as hippos. Fourth, the DNAs of both hippos and whales are closely similar. All this evidence points to a common ancestor between whales and hippos. 

While all of the above is true, the evidence can also support common design and intelligent design as much as common ancestry and evolution. 

Take for instance cars. If we apply the same evidence for a BMW and a Toyota, we would reach the conclusion that both brands descend from a common ancestor car, but they obviously don’t! 

When considering comparative anatomy, both BMWs and Toyotas have 4 wheels, an engine, doors, windshield and a trunk. 

When considering development, the production of both a BMW and a Toyota is similar.  

When considering the scrap metal of both a BMW and a Toyota, they look the same, as we can find scrap wheels, engines, and steering wheels.  

Finally, when considering structural similarities, both cars are built from the same components.  

There are two objections to this analogy by evolution supporters though: 

Objection 1: 

We have seen cars being designed before, so when we see a car on the street, we can draw an inference of design based on prior observation. But that doesn’t apply to living organisms because we haven’t seen anyone create them.  

Answer to Objection 1: 

Well, recognizing design doesn’t really necessitate that you have seen the designer in action or have a preceding observation of the production process. Scientists like Newton and Kepler have recognized design in the way planets are orbiting without having seen the designer. When you see writing on the sand along the seashore, it is reasonable to assume that someone has written it, not ocean waves, even if you haven’t any person writing on sand before. 

Objection 2: 

The car analogy is false, because cars don’t have mechanisms to evolve like living organisms do. Living organisms have mechanisms to evolve, which are mutations and natural selection. These mechanisms explain the vast variation in living things that we have today.  

Answer to Objection 2: 

Both natural selection and mutations are not sufficient to explain biodiversity. Natural selection is a process where the fit-enough for the surrounding natural conditions survives. Therefore, the characteristics that nature selects already exist in the gene pool. Natural selection cannot add any new characteristic to the gene pool. It just selects from existing characteristics, i.e., it’s a process of subtraction. Mutations are mostly harmful or neutral. They are also as random as ocean waves. If you find it hard to believe that trillions of ocean waves can eventually produce an essay on the sand of the seashore, then you might as well doubt that mutations can lead to DNA or biodiversity. 

Evolution Vs. Intelligent Design, Which Is More Reasonable?

When Darwin proposed the idea that all living creatures evolved by natural selection, he wasn’t aware of the structure of the DNA as it was discovered later. The DNA carries the genetic information of the living organism and is responsible for the fundamental and distinctive characteristics of the organism. Bill Gates describes the DNA as “a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.” 

Now, given this very complicated, code-like DNA, which is a more reasonable explanation for this system: evolution or intelligent design? 

Evolution aims to explain the biological variations in life through natural processes such as natural selection and genetic mutations. However, applying the same concept to ocean waves, we should expect that the trillions of waves hitting the shores around the world, across the past billions of years of the earth’s existence, have produced a poem on the sand, rather than meaningless shapes. Whenever we see a writing on the shore, we reasonably and correctly infer the existence of someone to have written it, not the waves. 

In fact, every single encounter that we have with an object that resembles a complicated pattern or a piece of recognizable information, we reasonably infer the existence of an intelligent design behind it. We visit Mount Rushmore and see engraved images of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. We never assume that the natural processes of abrasion or corrosion, caused by rain or earthquakes, have formed their images on the mountain. How much more intelligently designed are the real Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt?  

What Do Scholars Think Of The Resurrection Of Jesus?

The New Testament provides multiple evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. It stresses that Jesus predicted His own resurrection (Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:34), that the Roman soldiers were guarding the tomb when Jesus arose from death (Matthew 28:11) and that Jesus appeared to many of His followers for over forty days until His ascension to heaven (Mark 16:9-18; Acts 1:3)… and that too was witnessed by many (Mark 16:19; Acts 1:9). 

But, how do Bible scholars, historians and lawyers consider the reliability of the evidence for the resurrection which is provided in the New Testament?   

Professor Thomas Arnold, author of a famous three-volume History of Rome and once chair of Modern History at Oxford, was well acquainted with the value of evidence in determining historical facts. He says: 

“I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God has given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.” 

Do others agree with this opinion? 

Simon Greenleaf was one of the greatest legal minds America has produced. He was the famous Royall Professor of Law at Harvard University and succeeded Justice Joseph Story as the Dane Professor of Law in the same university. While at Harvard, Greenleaf wrote a volume in which he examines the legal value of the apostles’ testimony to the resurrection of Christ. He observes that it is impossible that the apostles “could have persisted in affirming the truths they had narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead, and had they not known this fact as certainly as they knew any other fact.” Greenleaf concludes that the resurrection of Christ is one of the best-supported events in history according to the laws of legal evidence administered in courts of justice. 

British scholar Brooke Foss Westcott, who was a divinity professor at Cambridge University, says: 

“Taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ. Nothing but the antecedent assumption that it must be false could have suggested the idea of deficiency in the proof of it.” 

Dr. William Lane Craig concludes that “when you . . . [use] the ordinary canons of historical assessment, the best explanation for the facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead.” 

Sir Lionel Luckhoo is considered by many to be the world’s most successful attorney after 245 consecutive murder acquittals. This brilliant lawyer analyzed the historical facts of Christ’s resurrection rigorously and finally declared, “I say unequivocally that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt.” 

Frank Morison, another British lawyer, set out to refute the evidence for the Resurrection. He thought the life of Jesus was one of the most beautiful ever lived, but when it came to the Resurrection, Morison assumed someone had come along and tacked a myth onto the story. He planned to write an account of the last few days of Jesus, disregarding the Resurrection. The lawyer figured that an intelligent, rational approach to the story would completely discount such an event. However, when he applied his legal training to the facts, he had to change his mind. Instead of a refutation of the Resurrection, he eventually wrote the best seller Who Moved the Stone? He titled the first chapter “The Book That Refused to Be Written.” The rest of the book confirms decisively the validity of the evidence for Christ’s resurrection. 

George Eldon Ladd, professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, concludes: “The only rational explanation for these historical facts is that God raised Jesus in bodily form.”  Believers in Jesus Christ today can have complete confidence, as did the first Christians, that their faith is based not on myth or legend but on the solid historical fact of the risen Christ and the empty tomb. 

Gary Habermas, a distinguished professor and chairman of the department of philosophy and theology at Liberty University, debated former atheist and leading scholar Antony Flew on the issue “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” A professional debate judge who was asked to evaluate the debate had the following remarks: 

“The historical evidence, though flawed, is strong enough to lead reasonable minds to conclude that Christ did indeed rise from the dead. . . “ 

Habermas does end up providing “highly probably evidence” for the historicity of the resurrection “with no plausible naturalistic evidence against it.”  

Most important of all, individual believers can experience the power of the risen Christ in their lives today. First of all, they can know that their sins are forgiven (Luke 24:46-47; 1 Corinthians 15:3). Second, they can be assured of eternal life and their own resurrection from the grave (1 Corinthians 15:19-26). Third, they can be released from a meaningless and empty life and be transformed into new creatures in Jesus Christ (John 10:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17).  

What is your evaluation and decision? What do you think about the empty tomb?  

After examining the evidence from a judicial perspective, Lord Darling, former chief justice of England, stated that “there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.” 

Two Logical Fallacies Behind Resurrection Skepticism

In attempts to examine the historical Jesus, many scholars have denied the resurrection account as an historical event. Such attempts always appear as taking a centrist approach to examining the life of Jesus, yet it becomes obvious that they are aligned on the side of the skeptics when it comes to the supernatural events in the story of Jesus. However, rejection of the supernatural is seldom supported by any reasons and often commits two logical fallacies: a priori assertion of the impossibility of miracles to occur, and “genetic” attachment of Christianity to ancient myths. 

In their reaction to the supernatural in general and the orthodox view of Jesus in particular, a group of 74 scholars called the Jesus Seminar claimed that: 

“The Christ of creed and dogma… can no longer command the assent of those who have seen the heavens through Galileo’s telescope. The old deities and demons were swept from the skies by that remarkable glass. Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo have dismantled the mythological abodes of the gods and satan, and bequeathed us secular heavens”. Applying such a conclusion to Jesus’ resurrection, one scholar later asks “But what of the resurrection? Is it not a mythical event pure and simple? Obviously it is not an event of past history…” 

One characteristic of this rejection of the supernatural is the failure to provide any actual reasons for this rejection. These scholars simply assume that such things do not happen rather than take the trouble to examine what evidence could be adduced to show that the resurrection was an objective historical event.  

Please watch this playlist to understand why alternative theories to the resurrection are false.  

Another point of logic concerning the scholarly denial of the resurrection is the commission of the genetic fallacy, which occurs when one challenges the origins of an idea without actually  assessing its facticity. In other words, if it is thought that merely attributing a Gospel report to the author’s style, or to other ancient parallels, to explain it away. This is a logical mistake and doesn’t preclude historicity.  

Please watch this playlist to know why the story of Jesus is different from ancient myths. 

To conclude, it solves nothing to state one’s views to be correct, without providing reasons for such views to be correct. Such approaches are inadequate precisely because they fail to address the data. There is no substitute for a careful investigation of the possibilities. 

How Did Judas Die?

How did Judas die? Who bought the field? Is it Jeremiah or Zechariah, who prophesied about the potter’s field? 

Let’s imagine a hypothetical situation where someone asks you to get a piece of paper from their desk, and you actually went and found that there was no paper on the desk, but you found a piece of paper on the floor and the window was open, would you think that this person lied to you? Or would you conclude that the paper may have fallen from the desk to the floor due to the air current from the open window? 

This is exactly the answer to those who say that there is a contradiction in the Bible regarding the death of Judas. The Gospel of Matthew says that he “went away and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:5), while Luke the evangelist in the book of Acts says that “he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out” (Acts 1:18). Which of them is telling the truth? If we examine the text closely, we will understand that he hanged himself, then fell on the ground, which led to his body bursting open, and his intestines spilling out. So it is an arrangement of events and not a contradiction, as the skeptics claim. 

As for the purchase of the field, we find the Gospel of Matthew saying that the chief priests consulted and bought the potter’s field with the silver that Judas threw in the temple, and being the price of blood, the priests decided that it cannot enter the treasury. On the other hand, the book of Acts says that Judas acquired the field. Who among them says the truth? 

To respond to this suspicion of contradiction, we must return to two points: 

The first point is the original language in which the text was written, because going back to the original language tells us what the writer intended from the text. In the book of Acts, Luke the Evangelist says that Judas (acquired) a field… The word to acquire here in the original language is written ἐκτήσατο (aktisato) which is a verb in the ancient Greek language meaning that a person gained or acquired something through another person, i.e. a third party. Judas here was a third party in the acquisition process,  as it was acquired through the chief priests.Luke did not go into the details, but directly mentioned the end result, and he said that Judas fell on his face (as a result of the decomposition of the hanged body or the breaking of the rope with which he hanged himself) and he mentioned that he acquired the field (as a result of the high priests buying the field with the money of Judas himself, as Matthew said in his gospel). 

The second point is the way Matthew wrote his gospel. We find that Matthew always links events with the prophecies of the old Testament, so he mentions the details that can be linked in the minds of the Jews with their scriptures to prove to them that these events were foretold by the prophets, so we find him mentioning the name of the field (the potter’s field, while Luke did not mention the name of the field in the book of Acts) and connects it directly to a prophecy from the Old Testament and says that the chief priests took the silver and bought the field. 

We come to the last issue, which is who is the prophet who prophesied the potter’s field? This prophecy is partially mentioned in the book of Zechariah, and partially in the book of Jeremiah. Did he make a mistake when he cited the prophet Jeremiah instead of the prophet Zechariah? 

Simply and without going into details, the Jews used to divide scriptures of the Old Testament into three parts: the law – the psalms – the prophets. The Jews called the part of the prophets Jeremiah (because at that time it was the first book in the group). Therefore, as we are accustomed to with Matthew when he talks to the Jews, he mentions what they know (what was said by Jeremiah as the overall title of the book of the prophets including the book of Zechariah) and he did not mention the division that we know of today (Zechariah). 

Likewise, the prophecy mentioned by Matthew is a prophecy consisting of two parts, one of which was mentioned in the book of Zechariah, and the other was already mentioned in the book of Jeremiah, but because this part of the book was called Jeremiah, Matthew did not make the division. A skeptic should go back to history to find out how the Jews arranged the Tanakh (the Hebrew name for the Old Testament). 


Judas hanged himself (as mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew) and then fell on his face (as mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles) and the chief priests bought the field by proxy with Judas’ money (as the Gospel of Matthew mentioned), and thus Judas acquired the field as a third party as the verb “acquire” means in the original language (as mentioned in the book of Acts). The prophecy mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew is a prophecy that consists of two parts, one of which is mentioned in the Book of Zechariah and the other in the Book of Jeremiah, but the Jews used to call all the writings of the prophets Jeremiah.  

Was Jesus Crucified Before The Passover Meal Or After?

According to all four of the Gospels, Jesus ate the Passover meal before he was crucified. (Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-22; John 13:1-30) This, after all was the Last Supper; not just a minor detail, but a critical event, as it was at this time that Our Lord instituted the Eucharist. A problem arises though in an apparent contradiction that can be found in the Gospel of John during his account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate: “Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’” – John 19:14. If this was the Preparation Day, and the Passover Meal is about to be eaten; how could the meal have taken place the night before?  

While all four Gospels agree that Jesus was crucified on the day of preparation; the Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke, called the Synoptic Gospels because of how similar they are, make reference to the day being a Preparation Day for the Sabbath. The Gospel of John stands alone in using the term “Preparation Day of the Passover”. Is there a reasonable explanation for this? Did Saint John make a mistake? 

Some skeptics who desperately desire to discredit the Bible have gone as far as to accuse Saint John of simply falsely stating that it was the Preparation Day of Passover so that he could draw a parallel to Jesus being crucified on that day, and the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb. This accusation of course falls apart when we see that Saint John was not falsifying anything, and his Gospel does not contradict the Synoptic Gospels at all.  

It is worth noting before we go further that the chronology laid out in the Gospel of John is what the Church follows most closely, so if we are to ask “Did Saint John make a mistake?” we might as well ask the same question of the other three Evangelists. Thankfully, all four Gospels are correct, we just need to make sure that 1) We are approaching this correctly, and 2) We are not looking at this purely from a materialistic viewpoint.    

Saint John’s use of the phrase “Preparation Day of the Passover” is correct. Jesus was crucified on Friday Morning, before Passover. There are other verses to support this: 

“Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat Passover.” John 18:28 

“Therefore, because it was Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day). The Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken, and that they might be taken away.” John 19:31.  

Now let’s look at a verse from the Gospel of Matthew: 

“Now on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, ‘Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover’” Matthew 26:17. 

But wait, doesn’t Matthew clearly say “eat the Passover”? Yes, and it refers to the meal as Passover in the other Gospels as well. It was clear that at least in part, the Last Supper was a commemoration if the Passover. This was made clear in the Gospels, but it wasn’t eaten on the Passover. The meal itself wasn’t even the right food for a Passover meal.  

First, a key component of the traditional Passover meal (Seder) would have been unleavened bread. The Greek word used for the bread eaten at the last supper is Artos, which is the word used for common leavened bread. Traditionally, no Leaven can be consumed at all at Passover. If Our Lord was eating Passover, as he did many times before, he would have used unleavened bread. There also would have been Lamb.  There is no mention of a Lamb being eaten in any of the Gospels. It would not have been possible in the first place for there to have been a Lamb, because a Lamb could not have been slaughtered on the day before Passover.  

The First Day of The Feast, is the Thursday before the Feast of unleavened bread, which would have taken place Friday Evening – the beginning of the Sabbath, which would have been Passover. The Last Supper was not the Passover meal, it was a meal eaten in anticipation of the Passover. Why is this important? Why not just call it an anticipatory meal and avoid all the confusion and debate? This is where we get into the heart of the issue, and we need to try to look at it from a spiritual perspective.  

God gave the Passover to his people before he brought them out of Egypt, and for hundreds of years Passover was strictly observed every year in commemoration.  Everything though changed that night, the day before Passover, when our Lord gathered with his disciples to break leavened bread. On the night before his crucifixion, when by his power, death would be conquered once and for all; he gave us a new Passover, with new meaning. There was no Lamb at the last Supper, because he was now the spotless, unblemished Lamb. It was on that night he gave us the gift of his own body, and blood; gifts that we receive at every Divine Liturgy. Within a few short days of this event, the world both seen and unseen would be changed forever.  

Was Jesus crucified before the Passover meal? The answer is “Yes”. 

Was Jesus Shocked That He Was Crucified?

In a recent debate between Bart Ehrman and Jimmy Akin, Bart claimed (in second 58:28 in this link ) that if we take the gospel narratives separately, we see that Jesus is shocked that He was crucified. He makes a point that this narrative in Mark is contradictory to the narratives in other gospels where Jesus is less silent and more deliberate about His crucifixion. 

However, is it true that Jesus was shocked with His predicament in the gospel of Mark? It is simply not true and a misrepresentation by Bart of the gospel of Mark.  

If we take references from the gospel of Mark alone, we find that Jesus clearly prophesied three times that He was going to be executed and resurrected from death. In Mark 8, right after Peter confessed Jesus as Christ, Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly” (Mark 8:31-32). On a later occasion, in Mark 9, Jesus repeated His prophecy of His death and resurrection as “He taught His disciples and said to them, “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.” (Mark 9:31). For the third time, in Mark 10, Jesus predicts His death and resurrection even in more detail saying “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; 34 and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again” (Mark 10:33-34).