I’m going to work backwards, starting with your last point.
But Jesus was a Jew– Then why Christianity?
Jesus came to fulfill Jewish prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. Hence, Christianity is the fulfillment of Judaism. Christianity is not opposed to Judaism. It is an extension of it. See this website for some of the many Old Testament (Jewish) prophecies that Jesus fulfilled: http://christianity.about.com/od/biblefactsandlists/a/Prophecies-Jesus.htm.
But the Bible was written by people– How can we trust it?
I highly recommend the book The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. Strobel, a former atheist, grills experts in their fields about the validity of the Bible, among other things. The below citations of his book come from: Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Books, 1998. Here are some of the major questions that the books addresses. Note: I’m not going to rewrite Strobel’s book here, so if you want more details, GET THIS BOOK. It’s excellent, and it simply presents the facts without being preachy.
Who wrote the Gospels?
Matthew is believed to have been written by Jesus’s apostle of the same name. Mark was written by a disciple of Jesus’s apostle Peter, who was in Jesus’s inner circle along with John and James. Luke was written by a disciple of Paul, who experienced the risen Lord and came to believe on his journey to persecute Christians. John is believed to have been written by the apostle himself, one of Jesus’s inner circle. There is good evidence for these authorships (read the book for more information). So, as you can see, the Gospels were written by people with direct ties either to Jesus or to the early Church leadership.
When were the Gospels written?
Jesus died around 33 AD.
” ‘ The standard scholarly dating, even in very liberal circles, is Mark in the 70s, Matthew and Luke in the 80s, and John in the 90s. But listen: that’s still within the lifetimes of various eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus, including hostile eyewitnesses who would have served as a corrective if false teaching about Jesus were going around ‘ ” (40-41).
Maybe that sounds like a long time, but consider the following:
- Our normal standards for history: Alexander the Great died in 323 B.C., but the earliest biographies written about him are from over 400 years after his death…but we use the information contained therein in history textbooks (41). Certainly none of his contemporaries were living at that time.
- The Gospels may have been written even earlier: The Bible book Acts of the Apostles (written by the same man who wrote Luke) fails to mention the martyrdom of St. Paul. Since Paul is a key figure in Acts, it would make sense his death would have been included. Paul died in 62 AD; Acts does not mention his death, so it is reasonable to conclude that Acts was written before 62 AD. Because Acts was a sequel to the Gospel of Luke, it makes sense that Luke was written several years before 62 AD. Furthermore, historians agree that Luke uses parts of Mark as a reference, so it would make sense that Mark, the earliest Gospel, was written ” ‘ no later than about A.D. 60, maybe even the late 50s. If Jesus was put to death in A.D. 30 or 33, we’re talking about a maximum gap of thirty years or so ‘ ” (41-42).
- The Epistles in the Bible were written even earlier than the Gospels: these epistles still mention the key teachings of Christianity as taught through the Gospels.
How do we know that the Gospel writers weren’t lying?
People were being brutally murdered for believing in Jesus. Somehow the Gospel writers were willing to risk their lives–for a lie? I think not. The same goes for the insistence of the Apostles that Christ was God and was raised from the dead. Almost all of the Apostles died as martyrs. They wouldn’t die for what they believed to be a lie.
Were the Gospels, which tell the story of Jesus’s life, altered throughout history?
I think we can agree that the more ancient (the older, the better) manuscripts there are in existence today that back up the words we read in modern Bibles, the more trustworthy the Bible is.
Tacitus wrote Annals of Imperial Rome around A.D. 116. Today, we only have one manuscript from 850 A.D. and one manuscript from the eleventh century. Yet we accept Annals of Imperial Rome as historic fact (77).
The first century historian Josephus wrote The Jewish War, yet only 9 manuscripts remain, the oldest from the fourth century (77).
Today, we have the following manuscripts of the New Testament (or individual books of it) that back up what we read in modern Bibles:
- 5000+ Greek manuscripts (compare that to the 650 Greek manuscripts of Homer’s Iliad existing today) (78)
- Beatty Biblical Papyrus I (from the third century) (79)
- Beatty Biblical Papyrus II (from 200 AD) (79)
- part of the Gospel of John, dating from 100 AD – 150 AD (79-80)
- 306 uncial manuscripts from as early as the third century (81)
- The Codex Sinaiticus, a complete New Testament from 350 AD (81)
- 8000-10000 Latin Vulgate manuscripts (81)
- 8000 Ethiopic, Slavic, and Armenian manuscripts (81)
The many early manuscripts in existence show us how accurate our modern versions are to the original versions of the New Testament.
How do we explain discrepancies in the Gospel accounts?
The minor discrepancies actually give the Gospels credibility. They show that three of the writers weren’t just plagiarizing from the fourth. Instead, they each had an account, and 4 separate voices are a lot stronger than just one.
Why Christianity among all the other religions out there?
Given the credibility of the Bible that I have made clear above, if what the Bible says is true, then how we react to its message is extremely important. I believe that Jesus died for our sins, that He rose from the dead, and that salvation comes through Him.
Catholicism is the original. Just as we trust older manuscripts that were written closer to the time when Jesus existed, so too should we believe that the Church established in the time of Christ is more trustworthy than the churches established 1500 years after the fact. Additionally, the Catholic Church recognizes Tradition as just as much of an authority as Scripture. So, while Protestant churches can interpret Scripture independently of what has been taught through the years, Catholics interpret Scripture based on traditional beliefs that date back to the beginning.