Investigating Jesus: Attention to Detail

The Gospel of Mark was not written by an apostle, by someone who was actually there for the events described. Why wouldn’t God have directed someone like Peter, who was there, to write a Gospel instead? Can we trust that Mark is preserving eyewitness testimony about Jesus when he was not an eyewitness himself?

Early Christian writers tell us that Mark’s Gospel basically was Peter’s eyewitness testimony. We have been investigating the evidence for Jesus following the lead of cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace, and his book “Cold-Case Christianity”. To summarize Wallace’s findings on what was said about the Gospel of Mark:

  • Papias (70-163), the bishop of Hierapolis said “Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ.”
  • Irenaeus (115-202) said “Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.”
  • Justin Martyr (103-165) referred to the Gospel of Mark as an early “memoir” of Peter.
  • And finally, Clement of Alexandria (150-215) said that those who heard Peter preach “were not satisfied with merely a single hearing or with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, who was a follower of Peter and whose Gospel is extant, to leave behind with them in writing a record of the teaching passed on to them orally.”

But why should we trust these early Christian writers? Is there any way to verify that what they say about Mark and Peter is true? J. Warner Wallace encourages us to pay attention to detail, or as the title of chapter 5 has it, “Hang on Every Word.” Wallace gives an example of a case where an ex-boyfriend said of a victim, “I was sorry to see her dead.” Though this may have been his normal way of expressing himself, it led the investigators to put some focus on him as a suspect. Eventually enough evidence was found to convict him of the murder. The words we use are important. To quote Wallace:

. . . all of us choose the words we use, and we’ve got lots of words to choose from. Our words eventually give us away. (J Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity)

As an atheist Wallace began paying attention to detail in the Gospels:

I had been interviewing and studying suspect and eyewitness statements for many years before I opened my first Bible. I approached the Gospels like I would any other forensic statement. Every little idiosyncrasy stood out for me. Every word was important. The small details interested me and forced me to dig deeper. (J Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity)

So what did Wallace find? We are only scratching the surface here and you may prefer to get the greater detail found in  “Cold-Case Christianity”. But by way of summary, Wallace points out the following:

  1. Peter is a major character in Mark’s gospel: Mark refers to him 26 times in a much shorter account than Matthew who only mentions him 3 extra times. He is the first and last to be mentioned.
  2. Mark writes about Peter as a friend, as someone with whom he was familiar. For example, only Mark never refers to Peter with the more formal “Simon Peter”.
  3. Mark treats Peter kindly, gives him respect. Mark does not include Peter’s failure when Jesus walked on water. Where other Gospels speak of Peter saying something foolish, in Mark, it is always just “one of the disciples”. Mark gives the least embarrassing account of Peter.
  4. Mark shares little things only Peter would know. Mark alone shares many additional and “seemingly unimportant details”, like when Peter was the one who said or did something whereas the other Gospels just refer to some of the disciples in general.
  5. Mark seems to know a lot about Peter’s preaching. It is interesting to compare Mark to Peter’s preaching in Acts 2 and 10 which feel like outlines for the book of Mark.

When paying attention to detail Wallace discovered that the Gospel of Mark points to the validity of what ancient Christian leaders said; Mark preserves for us the eyewitness testimony of Peter.

We can note also that later “gospels” written in the second century to promote gnostic thinking were always clearly attributed directly to apostles. The writers knew their fabrications would carry no weight if the name of an apostle was not attached. Contrast this to the Gospel of Mark where the early church preserved the knowledge of Mark’s authorship even though he himself was not an apostle. This speaks to the genuine nature of Mark’s Gospel which was written during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses.

Now that we are into our sixth week of investigating the evidence, you may be asking at this point; “Why do we need to provide evidence for such things? Why this whole sermon series?” Here are four reasons:

  1. Commandment. In 1st Peter 3:15 we are instructed to “always be ready to give the reason for the hope that you have.” We are learning from Wallace that we have good evidential reasons to continue growing in our hope even when objections are raised.
  2. Confidence. When people insinuate or state that “Christians are naive and stupid” we can have confidence that to trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour is neither naive, nor stupid, but reasonable. We may not count ourselves among them, but there are brilliant thinkers, experts in many different fields of study, who are followers of Jesus.
  3. Correction. If we as Canadians travel to another nation and someone asks how we like living in igloos, we would naturally correct them. How much more should we be correcting false ideas about Jesus!
  4. Call to Repentance. There are many methods of evangelism, and God uses many different means of drawing people to Himself including wonder, tragedy, testimony, Scripture, preaching, and even dreams. God also uses the investigation of the evidence!
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One thought on “Investigating Jesus: Attention to Detail

  1. Investigating Jesus. A Lie? | Christianity 201

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