Historical apologetics in the eighteenth century flourished. Amongst the finest of philosophers and theologians of that era was William Paley (1743–1805), most famous for his design arguments. Before the introduction of biblical critcal-scholarship which initiated a decline in historical arguments, Paley articulated one of the finest arguments for the authenticity of the Gospel narratives as genuine. His eleven point argument is said to be the ‘high-water mark’ of historical apologetics. The following is a summary.
(1) The Gospels and Acts are cited by a series of other early authors, beginning with contemporary sources and continuing in regular and close succession from the Epistle of Barnabus in c. 90-120 A.D to Eusebius in 315 A.D.
(2) The Gospels are cited as authoritative and as one-of-a-kind.
(3) The scriptures were collected very early into a distinct volume. This is refered to by Ignatius, Eusebius, Iranaeus and Melito.
(4) The were given titles of respect, such as Scriptures, and divine writings. See Iranaeus, Dionysius, Justin Martyr, Polycarp and many others.
(5) They were publicly read and expounded. See Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen and Cyprian.
(6) Copies, commentaries and harmonies were written on these books, with only one exception for three hundred years after Christ. Notably Tatian’s Diatessaron .
(7) They were accepted by all heretical groups as well as orthodox.
(8) The Gospels, Acts, thirteen letters of Paul, 1 John, and 1 Peter were received without doubt as authentic even by those who doubted the authenticity of other books now in the canon.
(9) The opponents of Christianity cite the Gospels as those that contain the accounts upon which the religion was founded. Celsus, Porphyry and Emperor Julian.
(10) Catalogues of authentic scriptures were published, which always contained the Gospels and Acts. Orignen, Athanasius and Cyril are quoted to support the point.
(11) With only a single exception, the so-called apocryphal books of the New Testament were never so treated on all of the above accounts.
Paley concludes that all the external evidence strongly confirms the authenticity of the Gospels, and it should not be denied that they do not contain the story that the original apostles proclaimed and for which they laboured and suffered.