Gospels as history

Is History Written By Those Who Believe Their Writings Reliable?

Recently, I was surprised by an assertion that I had read about, but had not given much thought to since I’d never heard it before in personal conversation. After some inquiry, I found out that it is becoming a popular objection to the trustworthiness of the Gospel records.

The main premise of the argument is this: The New Testament accounts are unreliable simply because the authors of the books were followers of Jesus, and because of that were prone to exaggeration and fabrication.

Now, the person who presented this to me was quite convinced that this was not only a valid argument, but a powerful one as well. After all, if you can’t trust the authors to be accurate, you can’t reasonably believe what they write to be true. Therefore, the argument goes, Christianity cannot be true.

By the strict rules of logic, this argument is valid, but only if the premise is true. Show that to be false, and the conclusion becomes not only irrelevant but rather silly.

The premise (the text is unreliable because the authors believed the unique claims about the subject) is obviously false once you apply it to other works of nonfiction. If it is true, it is also true that all of the following are unreliable simply because the authors believed the facts presented are true:

* All history texts, both modern and ancient
* Any published scientific texts
* Any owner or service manual for a mechanical device
* All biographies
*Any courtroom testimony

… and the list goes on. My point is that just because the presenter of an implausible fact or historical event believes it to be true, it does not follow as a necessity that what he is relating is untrue. So, with the premise being shown false, the argument falls apart.

But the logical fallacy is not the only problem with this argument. It presupposes that the Gospel writers were purposely making up their writings in order to deceive people into believing that Jesus is the Christ when in fact he was not.

I’ve dealt with that idea before here and here if you want more detail and many resource links. Briefly, it is highly unlikely that the writers could have gotten away with it if that was their goal – there were scores (if not hundreds) of witness to the activities of Jesus alive at the time of publication who could easily refute their claims. The only Gospel account that is disputed by any available contemporary writings is the resurrection of Christ, and those few texts offer no evidence other than speculation to support the allegation. No body was ever found or said to have been found by contemporary writers.

It should also be noted that three of the Gospel writers did not start out as ‘true believers’, and not enough is known about Mark to be able to tell when he became a follower of the Christ. Two of the authors (Matthew and John) were disciples of Jesus, but even they admit that it wasn’t until after the resurrection that they realized that He was God. Luke was an historian (and probably a doctor); according to the introduction to the Gospel he wrote, his intent in writing it was to provide an orderly and factual account of the Christ. That many archaeological finds and ancient text corroborate formerly disputed passages and none have contradicted him is testimony to the truth of Luke’s Gospel.

So, because the Gospel accounts agree with known history on every point in which they can be verified AND there are no contemporary historical accounts that give any verified evidence to contradict them, the argument that the Gospels are untrustworthy because the authors believed that Jesus was the Christ falls apart on historical as well as logical grounds.

Essential #9 – The Death, Burial, and Ressurection of Christ

(Note: for those of you who’ve been lamenting the lack of pictures and embedded media in the last few posts, there’s a video a the very end just for you!)

I’ve been working through the essential beliefs of the Christian faith – those facts that are necessarily true  for Christianity to be a worldview based on transcendent truth rather than man-made fantasy (such as Darwinian evolution, hyper-rationalism, or any of a multitude of religious traditions or ‘roll your own’ brands of paganism.

This installment deals with the central, core tenet of Christianity – the death, burial, and resurrection of the Christ and the implications of those historical events upon the eternal destinies of every single human being who has, does, or ever will live.

As usual, let’s start with a list of just what the essential beliefs are:

1. The infallibility of the Bible in the original manuscripts
2. God’s sovereign rule over all creation
3. Human depravity
4. The necessity of God’s grace
5. The virgin birth
6. Christ’s sinlessness
7. The full humanity and deity of Christ
8. The triunity of God
9. The atoning death, burial, and resurrection of Christ
10. The necessity of faith
11. Christ’s second coming, final judgement and reign.

The first thing we come to with #9 is that weird word ‘atoning’. Just what does that mean, anyway? Continue reading

Evidence for the Resurrection

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when we as a culture celebrate mythical egg-laying rabbits and are bombarded on with ‘earthshaking special reports and documentaries’ that proclaim the latest (or rehash old) ‘discovery’ that supposedly disproves the resurrection of Christ.

There are a LOT of resources (some linked to at the bottom of the page) that explain and refute the popular theories about the resurrection, but I don’t have a lot of time to write this week, so I’ll just give a brief summary of what Gary Habermas calls the ‘Minimal Facts’ approach to showing that the most probable and reasonable explanation for the resurrection story based on the evidence is that it actually happened.

The argument is that the historical, eyewitness evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is even better and more contemporary than the accepted historical accounts of other events of the time – and can be demonstrated using ONLY those minimal facts that are generally accepted by the great majority of even the most skeptical scholars of ancient history. Continue reading

Signpost – Historical Reliability of the New Testament, pt. 2

(Sorry for the long time it took to post this article; I had some family medical AND computer problems this last week)

Previously, I outlined how the most reasonable conclusion about the dating of the Gospels was that they were written within 20 – 60 years after the events chronicled, and possibly even earlier.

In this post, I will tell you why I’ve concluded that the Gospels are not only historically accurate, but show evidence that they were written either by eyewitnesses, or are accurate documentation of events gathered from eyewitnesses.

First, a brief discussion of what seems to be one of most New Testament apologist’s favorite subject – archaeology.

There are many books and websites defending the Bible that adamantly proclaim that “Archaeology has proven the Bible to be 100% historically accurate” and an equal number from the opposing side declaring “there is NOTHING in archaeology that confirms the Bible, so we can discount all of it”.

Both sides are guilty of gross exaggeration. The truth of the matter is that archaeology, which is concerned with historical documents only as one of many kinds of artifacts which may be useful for dating other artifacts found with them can provide confirmation that people, places, or customs existed as depicted in the Bible, but historical confirmation can really only come from textual documentation. Therefore, archaeology can provide incidental support, but cannot be used to disprove or confirm the historical record except for the discovery of documents or text carvings that can do so. Continue reading

Signpost – Historical Reliability of the New Testament pt. 1

When looking at the historical reliability of the Bible, I’ll first concentrate on the Gospels since the accounts of the life of Jesus are the linchpin of the Christian faith. Falsify that, and everything else falls apart as well. Confirm the historicity of the gospels, and you cannot avoid the truth claims of the faith.

There are many attacks against the historicity of the gospels. The most popular today include the assertions that the gospels are a bunch of stories made up to deify a man who may or may not have actually lived in order to advance some nefarious agenda, that the gospels were written in order to solidify the political power of Constantine, or that the gospels are nothing more than a retelling of other savior myths. There are many others, but the vast majority of them depend upon an easily disprovable premise: that the gospels originate hundreds of years after the time that Jesus lived.

If it can be shown that it is reasonable to conclude that the gospel narratives originate early enough that they could have been easily disproven by eyewitnesses to the events, then these ‘late date’ based arguments are falsified, and the gospels must be taken as at least as accurate as other contemporary histories.

Continue reading