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Can We Trust the Gospels?

By Peter J. Williams
March 2019 | Review by Paul Smith
  • Publisher: Crossway Books
  • ISBN: 978-1-43355-295-3
  • Pages: 160
  • Price: 10.99
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Book Review

This is almost unique as an apologetic resource. Christians usually must choose between big books which are scholarly or popular books which are simplistic. This book presents robust arguments that ordinary people can follow.

In eight digestible chapters Williams serves up the cream of recent apologetics on the gospels. He does not attack straw men or fight yesterday’s apologetic battles. Being both Bible scholar and personal evangelist, Williams knows the kind of objections currently heard on the streets, or popularised on Youtube. He not only rebuts the scepticism of men like Bart Ehrman but exposes flaws in their reasoning, demonstrating that it is the sceptic who is on the back foot.

Williams makes a simple case: ‘that the Gospels display signs that would normally be taken as indications of reliability’ (p.132). The core of the book (chapters 2-5) demonstrates that the Gospels have the hallmarks of authentic historical writing. One chapter surveys incidental details of geography and the way that the Gospels clarify common names (e.g. Simon the Leper) whilst rare ones (e.g. Bartholomew) don’t need such ‘disambiguators’.

Williams also deals head-on with recent favourites amongst sceptics: that the biblical text has been changed and that we have the words of the disciples, not the words of Jesus. As a leading scholar in biblical languages, the words of the Director of Tyndale House, Cambridge, carry authority.

Crucially, Williams does not set out to prove that the gospels are true. Rather he argues that, with so much evidence in their favour, it is people’s prior convictions (e.g. that miracles can’t happen) that lead them to resort to any argument, however implausible, to dismiss the Gospels. Williams begins to press this home in the final chapter which helps keep his audience reading.

Can we Trust the Gospels? is useful for sceptic and believer alike. Unusually, it is a book I will unreservedly recommend to any sceptic from sixth form upwards. Its tone is measured and respectful, refreshingly free of rhetorical flourishes.

It is also highly recommended for believers. First, it provides encouragement by demonstrating that even by the standards and methods of the secular academy it requires highly speculative hypothesising to explain away the Gospels. Second, it models how to engage the sceptic. Discussing non-christian sources, for example, Williams does not give fine-sounding but easily-rebutted general statistics. He carefully shows what can and cannot be proved, thereby increasing the credibility of his case.

My appetite having been whetted by Williams’ lectures on apologetics, I’ve been awaiting such a book for years. Buy multiple copies. It’s an apologetic goldmine.

Paul Smith

Broadstairs

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