SBTS professor defends historicity of Gospel accounts at UNC

Communications Staff — February 28, 2008

Nearly 900 students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill listened to Southern Seminary professor Timothy Paul Jones declare during a lecture series last month that the historical reliability of New Testament accounts meets or exceeds expectations used to prove the historicity of other events.

Co-sponsored by InterVarsity Press and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the events drew a strong crowd at the school where Bart Ehrman, a self-professed agnostic, serves as chair of the department of religious studies.

Jones, professor of Christian education and leadership at Southern, said he addressed such questions in his lecture as “Can the text be trusted?” “Has it been copied accurately?” and “Is it historically reliable?”

“I focused on the resurrection of Jesus and the fact that we trust the historical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus,” he said. “I spotlighted the fact that the criteria we use to prove the historicity of events other than the resurrection are all present in the account of the resurrection of Jesus. For example, independent testimonies of the resurrection of Jesus exist and that would be one criterion put forward to prove the historicity of an event.”

Ehrman is the author of “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why” (HarperCollins), in which he argues that scribes — through both omission and intention — changed the Bible.

Jones authored “Misquoting Truth” (InterVarsity Press) as a response to Ehrman’s manifesto against the historical reliability of the New Testament. Jones said Ehrman was once considered to be an evangelical Christian — he took classes at Moody Bible Institute and earned his bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College — but now refers to himself as a “happy agnostic.”

In his presentation, Jones noted that Ehrman compares the scribal transmission of the New Testament to the game of “telephone” where a phrase is whispered from ear to ear and the end result differs greatly from the original wording. In response, Jones said strong evidence suggests that a stable oral history of the crucial events of Jesus’ life emerged less than three years after His death, and the essential content of the New Testament remained unchanged as it spread across the Roman Empire.

Independent corroborating accounts from witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus and other events recorded in the Gospels provide strong evidence that such events actually took place, Jones said. In addition to agreement among the different human authors of Scripture as to the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus and other Gospel events, Jones said non-canonical sources also attest to these occurrences. He cited the Gnostic gospel of Peter — which attests to the crucifixion of Jesus, His subsequent resurrection and Mary Magdalene as the first witness of the risen Christ — as one such example.

Jones gave the same presentation in subsequent lectures. in North Carolina’s main auditorium. Students filled the room and spilled into overflow venues for the second presentation. He also participated in a question and answer forum for North Carolina students at a coffee shop near the campus.

Jones is also the author of “Conspiracies and the Cross” (Strang Communications), which will be released March 4. The book examines the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life.

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