On the gospels -- some history countering popular Muslim myths

Many Muslims claim that the four canonical gospels are not from their 
alleged authors, that they are only part of many gospels and have been
selected only at Nicea while the other gospels have been banned and these 
other "gospels" could be the true ones just as well as the canonical ones.

These theories are advanced to support the very important Islamic 
hypothesis of "Bible corruption".

Let me give you an excerpt from: 

William L. Craig, Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection: 
Our Response to the Empty Tomb, Servant Books, 1988., 208p., 
ISBN 0-89283-384-X, pages 26-29, where he summarizes William Paley's
"A view of the evidences of Christianity (1794). Even more is known 
today, but this date is just to show that this is really OLD knowledge 
and no Muslim has any excuse of "I didn't know" and go on to propagate 
all the above ideas. I am supplying some dates for a few of these people 
mentioned below, since they are not mentioned in the book, but they give 
a good insight what we are talking about. This is as backup argument for 
the reliability of the resurrection account [the topic of the book]. 
There is much more to be said in general in the appropriate literature. 
Here the emphasis is on the reliability of the Gospels mainly. After 
examining the general trustworthiness of the Apostles on the basis of 
their message and life, their emphasis on truth, as well as the fact that 
all of them have suffered much for their faith, and all but one died as 
martyrs for their faith, it is clear that they truly believed what they 
preached, since nobody dies happily for what he knows to have made up and
isn't true. Now, how do we know which was their message? Here the 
authenticity of the writings comes up. And that is the argument presented

{Since I was typing all this in by hand [no scanner access currently]
I started abbreviating NT = New Testament, OT = Old Testament.}

1) The Gospels and Acts are quoted as genuine by ancient writers, 
beginning with writers contemporaneous with the apostles themselves 
and continuing thereafter. This sort of proof is the strongest argument 
for the authenticity of a writing and is regularly used by ordinary 
historians to prove that a particular work came from a certain author.
This method when applied to the Gospels and Acts, establishes without 
question their authenticity. For example, the Epistle of Barnabas 
(ca. 120 A.D.) quotes Matthew as Scripture, and Clement of Rome (ca. 
90 A.D.) also quotes words found in Matthew. The Shephard of Hermas
alludes to Matthew, Luke, and John. Ignatius, who was a church leader 
in Antioch about 37 years after Christ's death (i.e. 70 - 110 A.D.), 
alludes to  Matthew and John. His contemporary Polycarp, who knew 
personally the disciple John and other eywitnesses to Jesus' ministry, 
refers to different New Testament works some fourty times. Papias, who 
also knew John, specifically says Matthew and Mark wrote their Gospels; 
the offhand way in which he makes this remark shows that it was a fact 
generally known. Justin Martyr about twenty years later frequently 
quotes the Gospels. Irenaeus, who knew Polycarp, specifically names the 
four Gospel writers. 

2) The books of the New Testament are always quoted as authoritative 
and as one of a kind. The ancient writers did not quote these books as 
they would quote any ordinary piece of literature. These books were 
special and possessed final authority concerning what they said. Paley 
provides quoteations from Theophilus, the writer against Artemon, 
Hippolytus, Origin (230 A.D.), and many others to prove the point.

3) The books of the New Testament were collected together into one 
volume at a very early date. Today we divide the NT into the Gospels 
and the Epistles. The ancient writers made a similar distinction, 
only they called it the Gospels and the Apostels. Ignatius mentions 
collections of NT books into the Gospels and the Apostles. According 
to Eusebius, Quadratus distributed the Gospels to converts during his 
travels. Irenaeus and Melito refer to the collection of writing which 
we today call the NT. Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian (both about 
190-200 A.D.) also refer to the division of Scripture into the Gospels
and the Apostles. This shwos that the Gospels and Epistles were collected 
together as the NT at an early date.

4) These writings were given titles of respect. Polycarp, Justin Martyr, 
Dionysius, Irenaeus, and others refer to them as "scriptures", "divine 
writings", and so forth.

5) They were publically read and preached upon. Paley quotes Justin Martyr, 
Tertullian, Origen, and Cyprian to prove the point.

6) Copies, commentaries, harmonies of the Gospels were written. Thousands 
upon thousands of copies of the NT books are laboriously made by hand. 
Many commentaries and other works on them were written by men such as 
Panaenus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and so on. It is especially 
noteworthy that during the first three centuries no commentary was written 
on any book outside the NT, with the sole exception of Clement's commentary 
on the so-called Revelation of Peter. Harmonies, or combinations of the 
four Gospels into one, were also composed; for example, Tatian's 
Diatessaron (A.D. 170).

7) Moreover, the NT books were accepted by all heretical groups as well 
as by orthodox Christians. Examples of such heretics include Basilides, 
the Valentinians, the Carpocratians, and many others. Though they all 
denied some aspect of the NT teaching, they nevertheless acknowledged 
the authenticity of the NT books themselves.

8) The Gospels, Acts, thirteen letters of Paul, 1 John and 1 Peter 
were recognized as authentic writings even by those who doubted the 
authenticity of certain other NT Epistles. E.g., Origen cites the book 
of Hebrews to support a particular point he is making. He notes that 
some persons might doubt the authority of Hebrews, but he says that the 
same point could be proved from the undisputed books of Scripture. He 
then quotes Matthew and Acts. According to Origen, the four Gospels were 
received without doubt by the whole church of God under heaven. In the 
same way Eusebius reports that while some doubted certain Epistles, the 
four Gospels were unniversally recognized as authentic.

9) The early enemies of Christianity recognized that the Gospels contained 
the story on which the faith was founded. Celsus, for example, admits that 
the Gospels were written by the apostles. Porphyry attacked the Christian 
faith as it is found in the Gospels. The heretic Julian pursued the same 

10) Lists of authentic Scriptures were published, which always included 
the Gospels and Acts. Citations from Origen, Athanasius, Cyril, and others 
go to prove the point.

11) The Apocryphal books were never treated in the above manner. The 
apocryphal books were forgeries which were written in the second century 
after Christ. They purported to be writings of the apostles and carried 
titles like the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, and so forth. It 
is a simple historical fact that during the first three hundred years, 
with one exception, no apocryphal Gospel was ever even quoted by any 
known writer. In fact, there is no evidence that any forged Gospel 
whatever existed in the first century, when the four Gospels and Acts 
were written. The apocryphal Gospels were never quoted, never read or 
preached upon in Christian assemblies, not collected into a volume, not 
included in the lists of authentic Scriptures, not appealed to by the 
heretics, not noticed by Christianities enemies, not the subject of 
commentaries or harmonies. They were almost universally rejected by 
Christian writers of that age.

Therefore, Paley concludes, the Gospels must be the authentic writings 
of the Apostles. Even if it were the case that the names of the Gospel 
authors are wrong, it still cannot be denied in the light of the above 
arguments that the Gospels do contain the story which the original 
apostles told and for which they labored and suffered. 

Therefore, unless the story is true, the apostles were all liars. But 
this has already been shown to be impossible in the light of their 
sufferings and changed lives.

Therefore, the Gospel accounts must be true. 

Let me summarize. The final binding decision on the list of books in the 
NT has been made at a 4th century council, that is true, but apart from 
a few quarrels on Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, the letters by Jude and 
James, and the Revelation, all the other books were unanimously accepted 
by the Church from early on. And the canon was not "disputed" and 
decided on Nicea, but only confirmed officially, what had been clear 
for at least 150 years more or less, and the Gospels have always been 
accepted and none of the "apocryphal gospels" has ever been accepted by 
the Church. Nicea did not make any "new" decisions in this regard. It 
was not that they had a long list of possible gospels and then selected
the current four. No other gospel has ever had any acceptance in the 

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