Myth Growth Rates

Kris Komarnitsky

One major topic that impacts on the reliability of the Gospels is the rate at which myth or legend can grow and overcome the recollection of historical events, whether in the oral tradition or in the subsequent written record of that oral tra dition. Some argue that the Gospels cannot be mostly legend, as many scholars propose, because that would demand a myth growth rate that is implausibly high given their relatively early composition in relation to the events they claim to recount. For example, New Testament scholar William Lane Craig writes, “One of the major problems with the legend hypothesis … is that the time gap between Jesus’s death and the writing of the gospels is just too short for this to have happened.”

I think this topic is key for many people who try to assess the historical reliability of the Gospels. It was for me. And it was for another layman: Lee Strobel, an atheist whose investigations into the New Testament led him to become a Christian, author of the runaway bestseller The Case for Christ. Strobel and I both began with the same intuitive conclusion, that the Gospels must be some kind of legendized record of Jesus. But as we each went on to look at the various factors related to Gospel reliability, we reacted differently to the myth-growth-rate argument. For me, it was the biggest challenge to my position until I looked at it more closely. For Strobel, it was the “clincher” that led him to change his position:

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