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What the 40th Anniversary of the Canada/USSR Summit Series Can Tell Us about the Gospel Books

Updated: Feb 17

Today, September 28, 2012, is the fortieth anniversary of Game 8, the final and deciding game of the 1972 Canada/USSR hockey “Summit Series.” It was an event that captured the attention of Canadians as very few other things ever have. Hockey was our game, the one thing we did better than anyone else in the world, and the one thing that touched the lives of all Canadians from coast to coast.

We were the best, no question. For a long time, other nations were no match even for our lowly amateurs [1]. But then the USSR arrived with a bang in 1954 by beating our amateur East York Lyndhursts, and within a few years they were dominating the Olympic and World Championships. Our amateurs could no longer compete with their best professionals, but we knew that our top professionals were the best, and we champed at the bit to prove it. And so the 1972 Summit Series was born, an eight-game series with the first four in Canada and the last four in Moscow.

The nation was shocked with the Soviets thumped our best 7-3 in the opening game in Montreal, and when Canada blew a 4-1 lead in the third period of Game 5 to fall behind three games to one (with one tie), they faced the daunting task of winning all three remaining games, in Moscow, to win the series. The country was riveted; nothing else was noticed, nothing else mattered.

Paul Henderson scored the winner in a 3-2 squeaker in Game 6, and our hopes were alive. Then Henderson scored a brilliant goal with just over two minutes left in Game 7 for a 4-3 win, and the series was tied. It came down to one game, winner take all. The entire country shut down to watch Game 8. School children everywhere were huddled around TVs that had been brought into their classes just for this. The streets of major cities were all but abandoned, except for those people gathered outside electronics stores to watch the game on TVs through the store windows.

When Canada entered the third and final period trailing 5-3, a gloom had settled over the nation, with the knowledge that we had a scant twenty minutes of playing time left to assert our hockey supremacy, after which we would have to cede that claim to the Soviet Union. But Phil Esposito scored early, at 2:27, fanning the flames of hope, and then when Esposito fought through four Soviet players and set up Yvan Cournoyer’s tying goal at 12:56, the nation erupted.

Seven minutes left to decide hockey supremacy. Then six, five, four, three. The Soviets announced that, with the series ending with three wins each and two ties, they would claim victory on the basis of having scored more total goals. Two minutes. One minute. Fifty seconds. Forty seconds. And then Cournoyer intercepted a Soviet clearing attempt and tried to feed Henderson. Esposito picked up the loose puck and lofted it at the Soviet goal just as Henderson got there, and the greatest goal in hockey history was scored – with 34 seconds left in the game. As Foster Hewitt called it on international TV: “Here’s a shot! Henderson made a wild stab for it and fell. Here’s another shot! Right in front! They score! Henderson has scored for Canada!” The nation went ecstatic, and when the game ended 6-5 and Canada won the series by the narrowest of margins, the jubilation throughout the nation was as if a war had just ended. The memories Canadians had of that series were etched in their minds forever.

Now, what does all this have to do with the Gospel books? Well, do remember that Christianity is a religion based on historical claims, specifically that Jesus Christ lived and walked among us at in a real time period in real places. He could be seen, touched, and listened to. He ate and drank and grew tired and slept, just as we do. Unlike us, however, He claimed to be God the Son, who would die on the cross as the sacrifice for sin, so that whoever “believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” He did such miracles that He convinced many of the truth of His claims, and He foretold that His enemies would crucify Him, but that He would rise from the dead, proving both the truth of all that He said and that He has the power to defeat death. All these were actual historical events.

How do we know that these happened? Well, how do we know about anything that happened in the distant past? Archaeology can help to illuminate matters, but the main, indispensable means is written documentation, which is ancient accounts written by people in the know that have come down to us through the centuries. That’s how we know about anything, from Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar to Charlemagne. The gold standard for such documentation is eyewitness testimony, either written directly by eyewitnesses or by those with direct access to eyewitness testimony.

By these standards, the life, miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus are the best documented events of ancient history. We have four main accounts [2], two of which were written by eyewitnesses (John and Matthew) who were in the thick of things, one (Mark) who was directly passing on the testimony of another major eyewitness (Peter), and one (Luke) who was in a position to interview many eyewitnesses as he travelled with Paul. (Contrast this with, say, Alexander the Great. The earliest record we have of his life and deeds was written more than three hundred years after Alexander died – yet no scholar doubts the facts of his life and deeds.)

Liberal skeptics and Bible scholars who did not want to accept the truth claims of Christianity knew, therefore, that they absolutely had to deny that the Gospel books were eyewitness testimony, in order to maintain their denial of Christ. Ignoring all of the relevant evidence, they proclaimed by fiat that the Gospel books were not, in fact, written by eyewitnesses but were written much later. The German scholar F.C. Baur (1792-1860) proclaimed that Matthew was written in AD 130, Luke in AD 150, Mark in AD 160, and John AD 160-170. He offered no actual proof for these claims; nevertheless, his bald assertions became the party line for liberal scholars for about a century.

Discoveries of ancient manuscripts of the New Testament finally forced even liberal scholars to abandon these lies, and they were forced to admit, reluctantly, that all of the Gospel books were written in the 1st century AD [3]. Nevertheless, they tried to blunt the force of their testimony by placing them late in the first century, insisting that Mark was the earliest and that it dated to AD 70, give or take five years or so [4]. To this day, they insist that [5]:

The Gospels were written 35 to 65 years after Jesus’ death – 35 or 65 years after his death, not by people who were eyewitnesses but by people living later.

As James H. Charlesworth puts it in The Historical Jesus: An Essential Guide,

For more than two hundred years most New Testament experts have concluded that the Evangelists did not know the historical Jesus; moreover, they wrote decades after his death. The Evangelists were not eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life and thought. For example, Luke makes it clear that he had to find eyewitnesses of Jesus (Luke 1:1-4).[6]

By insisting that the Gospel books were written “decades” after Jesus’ death, liberal skeptics hoped that people would naturally assume that “the Evangelists were not eyewitnesses”; after all, who can remember events correctly – or even at all – after thirty years have passed? Most people nod their heads in agreement at this.

Which brings us back to the 40th anniversary of the Summit Series. The newspapers commemorated this event by running articles about it for weeks. Many of these articles were people’s reminiscences about the series: what they saw, how they felt, where they were and what they were doing when Henderson scored his famous goal. Some people told of their experiences travelling to Moscow to watch the four games there and what happened to them. There were memories of participants and fans [7]. The memories are very clear, indeed.

Now, here is the key point. This is the 40th anniversary of the Summit Series because it happened forty years ago! And people are recounting their very clear memories of events that happened forty years ago! In fact, it should become very obvious now that, yes, people can indeed remember in detail after thirty years or forty years or even longer. The attempts to discredit the Gospel books, then, on the basis that they were written “decades” after is an utter failure. It is a red herring; the liberal scholars solemnly intone that the Gospel books were written decades after the facts and hope you will think that they are therefore unreliable. This tactic may even work; some of the same people who can describe their own vivid memories of the Summit Series (or other decades-old events) are actually taken in by this liberal gambit and think the Gospel books are unreliable. How ironic.

The lesson of the 40th anniversary of the Canada/USSR Summit Series for the Gospel books is clear. The claims of liberal scholars that the Gospels books were written decades after the fact are false [8], but even if they were true, it wouldn’t matter: eyewitnesses are in fact quite capable of accurate recall of people and events even decades after the fact. The Gospel books are indeed reliable.


[1] In the first official Olympic hockey competition in 1924, the amateur Toronto Granites beat Czechoslovakia 30-0, Sweden 22-0, Switzerland 33-0, Great Britain 19-2, and the USA 6-1 to win gold.

[2] There are many other corroborative testimonies among the early Christian writers and also in Antiquities of the Jews 18.3.3 by the first-century Jewish historian Josephus.

[3] In 1936, an ancient papyrus fragment (designated P52) of the Gospel According to John was dated to, at latest, AD 125, which was thirty-five years earlier than the earliest possible date Baur had assigned to this Gospel book.

[4] In Matthew 24:1-2/Mark 13:1-2, Jesus predicts the utter destruction of the temple. Since liberal scholars do not believe Jesus could have foretold the future, they insist that this account could only have been written after the destruction of the temple had happened (which was in AD 70), or when events had made it clear that such a destruction was possible. Hence they insist that the earliest Gospel book must have been written in AD 70, give or take five years.

[5] Bart Ehrman, in a debate with William Lane Craig

[6] Actually, most liberal NT scholars concluded this on the basis of presuppositions, not actual evidence. The actual evidence shows something very different. To their shame, the large majority of evangelical scholars have aped the liberal scholars in this matter.

[7] For example, “Aging heroes remember the magic” (Joseph Hall, Toronto Star, September 20, 2012, p. S4); “Henderson always happy to share memories of The Goal” (Dan Ralph, Toronto Star, September 22, 2012, p. S5); “Summit ’72: Globe Readers Remember” (The Globe and Mail, September 11, 2012, p. A9); and especially “Oral History: Game Changers: Canada’s Trial on Ice” (The Globe and Mail, September 15, 2012, pp. F1-F9). The wealth of small details remembered by so many different people in this latter article is truly impressive.

[8] We will post an article on this in the future. In the meantime, refer to John A.T. Robinson’s Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976) and John Wenham’s Redating Matthew, Mark & Luke: A Fresh Assault on the Synoptic Problem (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1992). Wenham was an evangelical scholar, whereas Robinson was a rara avis, a liberal scholar who actually followed where the evidence leads in this matter.

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