We live in a culture that loves a good conspiracy theory. Whether it’s in the realms of news, entertainment, or even history, many people are convinced the real truth of a particular matter is always hidden. When it comes to understanding who Jesus really was, some people are convinced that we cannot trust the four gospel accounts in the Bible. In recent years the discovery of various “gospels” not found in the Bible have led some to believe that we must look outside of the Bible to know the real Jesus. So how do we know that the four Gospel accounts found in the Bible show us the real Jesus?
If we want to know the real Jesus, the place to start is with those who knew him best. Each of the four biblical gospels was either written by an apostle or in close conjunction with one. Both Matthew and John were members of the original twelve apostles, firsthand eyewitnesses of what Jesus did and said. As a tax-collector Matthew was accustomed to keeping detailed records, so it is even conceivable that during Jesus’ earthly ministry he began recording various sayings and events from Jesus’ life. John was the “beloved disciple” who faithfully wrote down his testimony so that people would believe that Jesus truly is the Christ (John 20:31).
According to our earliest evidence, Mark wrote his gospel under the authority of the Apostle Peter to capture the basic content of Peter’s preaching about Jesus. Luke, who was a traveling companion of the Apostle Paul, begins his Gospel account by stressing the research behind his account (Luke 1:1–4). Each of the Gospel writers gives clear evidence of drawing on eyewitness testimony to construct their accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus.
From the earliest days of the church these four Gospel accounts were recognized by Jesus’ followers as expressing the truth of who Jesus was, what he did, and its significance. Writing early in the second century, Papias detailed the origins of the four canonical gospel, emphasizing their value as eyewitness accounts. About 30–40 years later, Justin Martyr consistently referred to the four biblical gospels as the “memoirs of the apostles.” Towards the end of the second century, Irenaeus argued forcefully for the authority of the fourfold Gospel in such a way that indicates this was the position long held by the church.
So, even though other so-called gospel accounts were known by some in the early church, the fact that they were not rooted in eyewitness testimony meant that they could not be trusted to give reliable information about the real Jesus. Those who knew Jesus best ensured that their eyewitness testimony was recorded in the four gospel accounts that were passed down by the earliest followers of Jesus. If you want to know the real Jesus, the place to look is Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.