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The New Testament seems to show 'legend building' of Jesus, with writers adding more over time. Paul doesn't mention the virgin birth and by John we see an explosion of miracles. What's your take on this?
Thank you for your question. I am pleased to hear that you are interested in the Bible and its authenticity. I trust you will discover the wonder of the Bible and to whom it testifies: Jesus Christ.
History shows us that Mark was the first of the gospels to be completed. We know that Acts, written by Luke, must have been completed before 65AD, as this is when Paul was martyred and Acts does not mention Paul’s death or the fall of Jerusalem (70AD). Acts 1:1 states that he wrote his gospel account first.
It’s well known that the gospel according to Luke borrows much from Mark and then expands upon it with other stories and teachings. Luke mentions in the introduction to the gospel that he has been following things closely and wanted to write an orderly account. Rather than reporting speculation and rumour, Luke has researched and only written what he can verify from eyewitnesses (see Luke 1:1-4).
Rather than Luke and Mark undermining each other (‘legend building’), this shows that they are in agreement with one another, but Luke is including other information that he wants people to know to write an orderly account (Luke 1:3). This therefore shows that Mark was written first sometime in the late 50s or early 60s AD.
We can see evidence that the teachings of Jesus were available to Paul, not just because they were written, but that Paul had access to them. In 1 Timothy 5:18, we see a very interesting verse. Paul writes For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain," and, "The labourer deserves his wages". The phrase "you shall not muzzle an ox" is taken from Deuteronomy 25:4, but "the labourer deserves his wages" is only found in Luke 10:7, a direct teaching of Jesus. As Paul is quoting from Luke’s work, it’s clear that he already has this work as a reference, even going as far as calling it ‘scripture’.
We know that Paul and Luke spent time together. The evidence for this can be seen in Acts 16:6-10, where we see the narrative change from ‘they’ and ‘them’, to ‘we’ and ‘us’, showing that Luke had joined the journey with Paul. At some point on these journeys, Luke has shared what he is writing with Paul. At no point does Paul condemn Luke’s writings (for example, by saying ‘some are writing things about Jesus, do not listen to them’), but rather he quotes a portion of it and calls it scripture.
You mention that John is an ‘explosion of miracles’. Interestingly, there are only seven ‘signs’ specifically mentioned in the gospel of John. By contrast, Mark, contains miracle after miracle. John chooses these seven signs deliberately. In the Bible, seven is a symbol of perfection, so John uses seven signs, seven ‘I am’ statements and other seven themes in the gospel to point toward Jesus and that, as God’s Son, He is perfect. John knows that he could have written many things, but he specifically restricted himself to just seven, to show the truth of who Jesus is.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written (John 21:25)
Again, both Mark and John, as with the other gospels, are in agreement with one another. More than this, it seems that both Mark and John were followers of Jesus. John refers to himself as 'the disciple whom Jesus loved' (John 21:7 etc) for reasons of modesty. We also find that Mark seemingly writes about himself in Mark 14:51-52, where a nameless young man, a follower of Jesus, escapes being arrested by running away naked. Logically, how would Mark know about this quiet event unless he was there?
You are correct in noting that Paul does not mention some central claims of Christianity, including the virgin birth. This is not to say that they are unimportant, but the whole point of Jesus coming to earth was to make a way for us through his death and resurrection. Yes, Paul mentions the resurrection as a ‘first importance’ work of Christ:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Again, we see Paul making the claim that these things have happened in accordance with the scriptures, which he must have had access to in order to to make this claim.
Paul is also saying something else to us: if you don’t believe me, investigate it! There are many people who are alive who testify about Jesus, ask them!
The same is true today: many people personally testify to the work of Jesus in their life – investigate it! Ask them about the personal miracles they proclaim, or the change in their life and circumstances. As Jesus says, "seek, and you will find" (Luke 11:9). I am confident that when you do this, you will find Jesus for yourself.
Finally, throughout history and especially during the early days of Christianity, Christians were heavily persecuted. Many were beaten, imprisoned and even killed for their beliefs. It wouldn't make sense to legend build as this would put them in more danger. The reality is that the writers would 'legend soften' to give them more power, status and keep their lives!
Rather, we notice that Christians have always held the scriptural claims about Jesus, even if it costs them their lives. No one would die for a lie, and once again this shows that Jesus and his actions were not legend, but are actual, verifiable events of history.
In summary, Paul's writings testify to the scriptures that were written and available during his life. He quotes from Luke and mentions the central themes of Christianity: the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul encourages us to investigate the claims that people make and I hope that you will do the same; talk to other Christians and ask them why they believe in Jesus.
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*All Scripture references are taken From The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible unless stated otherwise
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