In Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet, Bart D. Ehrman explains:
[A]ll four Gospels are written in Greek, by authors who were reasonably well educated and literate. In comparison with most other persons in the Roman world, all four authors, in fact, evince a high level of education. Something like 90% percent of the general population was completely illiterate — that is, unable to read and write at all.
To be sure, the Gospels are not among the literary masterpieces of antiquity. Their style, for example, is fairly rough overall (Mark is probably the worst, Luke the best). But it’s not easy to write a book, even for well-educated people today, in our highly literate and markedly literary world...
For someone to pull it off in antiquity required a good deal more than the average amount of literary training. And training of that kind required leisure time and money, since the vast majority of people had to work very long days. [...] In the end, it seems unlikely that the uneducated, lower-class, illiterate disciples of Jesus played the decisive role in the literary compositions that have come down through history under their names.
We can add to this the fact that any disciples would have been quite elderly by the time the gospels were actually written, assuming that they even lived that long — not statistically likely, though not entirely impossible, either. The gospels were written a long, long time after the events they describe were supposed to have happened by people who weren’t there and who only heard the stories second-hand, third-hand, or worse.
The reliability of this material is poor at best, yet so many Christians treat the texts as if what’s written in them should be accepted without hesitation. I’ve actually had a woman write to me saying basically “if it’s written in the text, then of course we should simply accept it as true.” This woman claimed to teach logic, but I shudder at what sorts of things a person like this would teach — not that I can take her claim about herself very seriously. Such an attitude is, I hope, pretty unusual among people who really do teach logic; such an attitude is not unusual among average Christians in America.
This, I think, helps point to just how unfortunate it is that Americans don’t learn about logic, philosophy, skepticism, and critical thinking. Such training doesn’t necessarily prevent one from being a Christian, but it will tend to inoculate one against adopting attitudes like “the Bible is the most reliable book in all of history” and “if it’s in the Bible, we should just automatically accept it is historically true.”
Quick Poll: Who wrote the gospels?
- Jesus' apostles, who were eyewitnesses to what they describe.
- Friends or disciples of Jesus' apostles, who wrote stories they heard told many times.
- Christians who collected oral traditions but who had no direct connections to the events described.
- I don't know.
- I don't care.