If the four Gospels were written years after Jesus, then what about the hadiths?
I mentioned elsewhere (“Do Muslims Believe in the Bible Jesus Believed?”), Muslims say they believe in Jesus; however, they do not believe in the Jesus of history. There are two essential things Muslims do not believe about Jesus teaching and example:
- Muslims do not believe what Jesus taught about His death on the cross.
- Muslims do not believe what Jesus taught about the Bible.
This raises a problem for Muslims. Muslims say they believe in Jesus, but Muslims do not believe in the historical Jesus Who is found in the New Testament.
The rejection of history is irrational, and Islam claims to be a rational religion. Muslims are unable to establish the historicity of their beliefs about Jesus and the crucifixion; therefore, they try and undermine the reliability of the Bible. However, the more Muslims try and undermine the credibility of the Bible’s testimony to Jesus’ death on the cross the more they undermine their own credibility.
Are the four Gospels unreliable?
Some Muslims do not accept the historical testimony of the Gospels1 under the pretense of the Gospels’ “late dates”, and the lack of scholarly consensus about the names of the Gospel writers.
For example, a Muslim wrote challenging me to name a disciple who testified to Jesus’ death on the cross with this stipulation, “PLEASE DO NOT QUOTE FROM GOSPELS BECAUSE THEIR AUTHORSHIP IS UNKNOWN IN HISTORY”.
Such a question not only evidences a rejection of the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts, but it betrays an ignorance of the rest of New Testament because Peter testified to Jesus’ death (1 Peter 1:1-4, 18-19; 2:21-25; 3:18; 4:1; 5:1.). It also betrays an unwarranted prejudice against the Apostle Paul (2 Peter 3:14-17). Paul testified that the Old Testament Scriptures bore witnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Paul also gave a list of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:5-9).
After providing the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross, the follow-up question I ask my Muslim friends is, Can you provide superior evidence from the 1st century that denies Jesus’ death on the cross?
So far, my Muslim friends have been unable to give an answer that is in accord with modern scholarship and history. This is significant because Muslims believe in a concept called Itmam al-hujjah (Arabic for “completion of proof”). Itmam al-hujah is the belief that religious truth has been completely clarified by a Messenger of Allah.
When it comes to the death of Jesus on the cross – Jesus, the Scriptures, and history are clear. If Muhammad was a Messenger of Allah, then he most certainly did not bring clarity or “completion of proof” by denying the historic event of Jesus’ death on the cross. Muhammad’s lack of clarity and Muslim confusion about what really took place during the crucifixion is proof that Muhammad was not a Messenger of Allah.
Muslims use a double standard when it comes to comparing Christian revelation with Islamic revelation
There is another problem that is often overlooked, and this has to do with the hadiths.
On the one hand, Muslims try undermining the reliability of the Gospels so they can deny it as revelation. Yet, Muslims believe the traditions of Muhammad recorded in the hadiths.2
This evidences a double standard because Bukhari and Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj’s compilations were more than 200 years after Muhammad died. Bukhari and Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj were not eyewitnesses; in fact, there were no living eyewitnesses for them to interview.3
Contrast this with the Gospels – some of the Gospel writers were certainly eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, teaching, and miracles. The Gospel writers wrote at a time when eyewitnesses to Jesus were still alive.
Summary of when the Gospels were written and who wrote the Gospels
- Matthew was written most likely by the Apostle Matthew within 40-70 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
- Mark was likely written by a disciple of the Apostle Peter within 30-40 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection and within Peter’s lifetime.
- Luke was written within 40-70 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Luke was not an eyewitness, but travelled all over the Roman world interviewing eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-4).
- John was written by an eyewitness (John 21:24), probably the Apostle John. Scholarly dating generally ranges from 40-80 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Muslims are good at denying history, but they need to explain it.
Where does this leave us in our dialogue with Muslims?
As I stated above, Muslims say they believe in Jesus, but they do not believe in the Jesus of history. Muslims are good at denying history, but they also need to explain history.
Muslims claim that Islam is a superior religion, and so we should expect superior historical evidence. If Jesus did not die on the cross, then they need to explain what happened with superior evidence. Muslims need to give historical explanation for how Christians, including Jesus’ disciples, mistakenly came to believe Jesus died on the cross.
Muslims are unable to provide superior evidence; in fact, the scholars they appeal to when trying to undermine the reliability of the Gospels believe Jesus died on the cross.
To summarize, Islam requires Muslims to believe in a history that never happened. The Muslim rejection of the Gospels is inconsistent with their acceptance of the hadiths as revelation.
I often wonder whether the Muslims who write to me about the alleged unreliability of the four Gospels have ever read the Gospels? Or are they just cutting and pasting arguments they found on the Internet? If you are interested in studying the question of modern scholarship as it relates to the Four Gospels: their dating and authorship, then I commend the following resources:
Paul Barnett, Is the New Testament Reliable?
Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels As Eyewitness Testimony
Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels
______________, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel: Issues & Commentary
F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?
Martin Hengel, The Gospels as History
Edwin Judge, History and Testimony
__________, How Christianity Changed the Writing of History
- “Of the twelve times the Gospel (al-injil) is mentioned in the Qur’an, in nine of them it occurs in conjunction with the mention of the Torah (al-tawrat), as a scripture sent down by God. Together with wisdom (al-hikma), the Torah and the Gospel appear to comprise the ‘scripture’ (al-kitab) that the Qur’an says God taught to Jesus (Qur’an 3:48; 5:110). Twice the Qur’an says explicitly that God brought Jesus the Gospel (Qur’an 5:46; 57:27). And once the Qurʾān instructs the ‘People of the Gospel’ to judge in accordance with that which God sent down to them (Qur’an 5:47)” (Sidney H. Griffith, “Gospel”; Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an). [↩]
- The hadith is a source of “revelation” for Muslims second to the Qur’an (Qur’an 33:21; 2:151). Highlighting the importance of the hadiths is the saying, ”Whoever embarks upon it achieves salvation and whoever rejects it is drowned.” [↩]
- See Eric F.F. Bishop, “Form-Criticism and the Forty-two Traditions of al-Nawawi,” Muslim World, Vol. 30, No. 3, 1940, pp. 253-61; and “Academic scholarship in the Western tradition” in Wikipedia. [↩]