When I lived and worked among Muslims, they would often tell me that Muhammad received the Quran from the angel Gabriel in a cave and that it corrected all the revelation that had gone before it. Muslims believe in four holy books, the last one being the Quran, which trumps everything in the first three books.
I always pointed out to my Muslim friends that none of the biblical prophets ever talked that way about previous prophets. Instead, they all grounded their claims to authority on how they stood in continuity and agreement with what the previous prophets said.
At the end of the day, I don’t reject the message of Muhammad because of deficiencies in his character or because he was a violent warrior but because what he teaches stands in opposition to all that came before it.
When Paul gave evidence of his faith in his letter to the Galatians, he laid out what may be the primary proof the apostles also pointed to: What we are saying perfectly lines up with what all the previous prophets predicted.
That’s why all through your Bible, you’ll find people saying, “As it was written …” or “These things were done in order to fulfill (some Scripture).”
Even Jesus pointed back to what previous Scriptures said as validation that he was who he said he was (Luke 24:27, John 5:39).
(This, by the way, is one of the reasons you need to learn your Bible. If you don’t, you can’t know when some slick-talking teacher is saying something that contradicts what God has already said. You need to be checking and verifying what you hear from Bible teachers—including me.)
After Paul became a believer, he didn’t speak to any of the apostles for 17 years, and when he did, miraculously, what they were saying and what he was saying were exactly the same!
“I went [to Jerusalem and] … presented to them the gospel I preach among the Gentiles … I wanted to be sure I was not running, and had not been running, in vain.” (Gal. 2:2)
Even after his experience with Jesus on the road, Paul realized that if what he was saying contradicted the teaching of the other apostles, he would be in error.
Jesus had given his apostles the “keys of the kingdom” (Matt. 16:19), which meant they had the authority to get the message right about the way to heaven—the secret to unlocking the doors, so to speak. And he promised them, “But the counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you” (John 14:26).
There’s this idea promoted by guys like Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code and biblical critic Bart Ehrman that there were differing gospel accounts believed by Jesus’ first followers, and in the fourth century, the Roman Emperor Constantine selected his favorite and destroyed all the other differing accounts.
But that is not historically accurate. These Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—which were the only ones that came out of the apostolic community, were spread literally all over the world in a bunch of different languages by the time of Constantine. There is no way he could have collected all the differing ones and destroyed them.
I know what some of you are thinking right now: “Well, I watched a special about Jesus on CNN the other night, and it talked about ‘lost gospels’ (e.g., the gospel of Peter or Thomas or Judas or Casper the friendly ghost), and they have messages that contradict what we see in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”
Yes, I saw that special, too. But those “gospels” all show clear evidence of being written a couple hundred years after the time of the apostles, whereas Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written in the first century by the apostolic community.
What comes out of the apostolic community is one, unified message—believed and affirmed by the apostles and Paul, who all recognized each other’s legitimacy.
The gospel is objectively true. Being able to articulate this clearly will help you communicate the gospel and your faith, just as Paul was able to do, and lead others to the truth.
J.D. Greear is the lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina (an Outreach 100 church—No. 98 fastest-growing and No. 36 largest), and the author of several books, including Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send. This article was originally published on JDGreear.com.