Why Everyone Should Believe that the Gospels are Reliable

The idea that the Gospels are unreliable, contradictory, copies of copies of translations of copies, is false. In this article, drawing on Peter J. Williams’ new book, Brett Lunn gives some evidence as to why the Gospels are indeed reliable sources not only of their historical claims, but also the miracle claims.

Why Everyone Should Believe that the Gospels are Reliable

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Published by Haden Clark

Husband / Dog Dad / B.A. Business Administration / M.A. Theological Studies / M.B.A. Finance

36 thoughts on “Why Everyone Should Believe that the Gospels are Reliable

  1. The opening paragraphs betrays the writer’s ignorance and Christian apologies agenda, with little or no regard for evidence and I am tempted to suggest he has no regard for the truth either.
    .

    They tell of his virgin birth,

    If you don’t know why this is nothing but apologetic nonsense then you need to study critical scholarship.
    You can start by looking at Isaiah 7:14 and read the relevant passages in context to see why the writer of Matthew misunderstood the passage in question and why Christians have struggled – and failed – to justify the nonsensical claims of the virgin birth, a myth that even the writers of gMark and gJohn don’t touch with a barge pole.

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    1. Hayden thinks this is true
      “That means we can arrive at 99.95% accuracy as to what the original said”
      I told him he has no idea what he’s saying. Not an insult, it’s a statement of fact. Didn’t call him names, or call him stupid. Just told him he has no idea what he’s saying when he claims a 99.5 percent accuracy to what was orig written… We don’t HAVE what was originally written to compare it to any way.
      He just doesn’t know what he’s saying.

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      1. Here was my response:

        Westcott and Hort say 99.83%. Ezra Abbott says 99.75%. A.T. Robertson says 99.9%. Sir Frederick Kenyon, British Manuscript expert, said this, “The interval between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I find that people on both sides of the debate often seem to have the strange misconception that the gospels must be either 100% historically accurate or else they must be 100% historically inaccurate.

    The truth is that even the best documents which we have from Roman antiquity show probable legend mixed in with reliable history. Tacitus, for example, who was mentioned in the article reported that Cleopatra was snuck out of house arrest rolled inside a carpet and that the Emperor Vespasian performed divine healing miracles before many witnesses.

    The gospels are absolutely wonderful sources for the historian. That doesn’t imply that they report historical events completely reliably.

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  3. Hayden, the problem is even worse than you think.
    Even if we could demonstrate that what we have as the nt docs are exactly what was originally written, and they aren’t, and we had the originals to match them to in order to compare for possible variants and changes, and we don’t… That still leave you with the difficulty of demonstrating that what they Say is actually historically verifiable in total, which will never be the case at all. This is why it’s really just an apologetics smoke screen for unassuming readers.

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    1. I think there’s a misunderstanding here as to how text criticism works. Text criticists look at the thousands of early Greek copies that we have (which far outweigh any other documents from antiquity), analyze the variants, and reach conclusions as to what would’ve been in the original. With the large body of early manuscripts we have, textual criticism accounts for all but 40 lines of the new testament (last I checked). Of the unaccounted for variants, none have to do with essential Christian doctrine. That means we can arrive at 99.95% accuracy as to what the original said. What’s most likely true, or not, is decided by what has multiple, early attestation, or some other corroboration like archaeology. It’s a case-by-case basis. I’ve never claimed that everything the NT reports is historically verifiable. Some things are independent to one author, which therefore cannot be verified, unless some new discovery is made or something. Everything considered, I find it to a large degree reliable. I’ve never tried to “smoke screen” anyone. I always admit when a position I hold is the minority view among scholarship, and try my best to admit my biases, which we all have. Hope that helps. I’m not trying to deceive anyone. Thanks for the comment.

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      1. “That means we can arrive at 99.95% accuracy as to what the original said”

        This one comment tells me you have no idea what you’re saying. Irresponsible and factually inaccurate. Start reading more widely outside of the apologetics books.

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      2. I read straight form the text criticists including non-believers. The math is simple. 40 unaccounted lines verses the rest that are accounted for. Your dismissal is evidence that you weren’t interested in the facts in the first place and is oddly convenient, making it to where you can simply dismiss me instead of contending with what we know. Sorry you decided to take the route of insult as opposed to rational argumentation. Have a great day.

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      3. Westcott and Hort say 99.83%. Ezra Abbott says 99.75%. A.T. Robertson says 99.9%. Sir Frederick Kenyon, British Manuscript expert, said this, “The interval between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Hayden, if someone trys to say they know calculus for instance, and then says something so indicative of not knowing calculus at all, it’s not a personal insult to tell him so. I’m sorry you think being told you’re incorrect is a personal insult. You have a great day too. I certainly am

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      5. I just proved it to you by citing 4 different professional sources. If you don’t like the fact that the NT was copied accurately, that’s fine, but just admit that you take it on faith.

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      6. No, buddy, but nice dodge. Whatever you do, don’t contend with the fact that professional text criticists have the ability to compare thousands of early copies and arrive at what the original said. You asked for citations. I cited 4 professionals. Keep holding on to that “we don’t have the originals,” I’m sure all the professionals are wrong and you’re right. It’s perfectly fine if you want to take it on faith, we live in a free country.

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      7. The professionals I just cited do, bud. Contend with the facts. By saying “we don’t have the originals,” all you’ve shown is you don’t understand text criticists. Are you saying the claims of the professionals I just cited are wrong, and that you, “kiabooks” from WordPress have a superior knowledge of how text criticism works than they do? If so, this should be good.

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      8. I have these citations in notes on my laptop. If you think the professionals that Geisler cites are wrong, I’d love to know why. If you’d wish to keep dismissing people that you don’t like, that’s fine, but that isn’t rational, and you are just taking it on faith.

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      9. Even speaking as a skeptic, I definitely have to agree with Hayden, here. Whether or not one disputes the “99.X%” ascription of textual accuracy, the fact remains that we can be more reasonably certain about the faithfulness of the critical text of the NT documents to the autographs than we are of any other documents from antiquity.

        Now, the textual reliability is a completely different question than the historical reliability, but Hayden is certainly correct on this particular point.

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      10. I agree with the distinction between textual reliability and historical reliability. The apologist still has all of her work ahead of her, even after establishing the textual reliability. But she must first establish the textual reliability. And I admit to being intentionally pointed in my previous dialogue with “kiabooks”. Perhaps I was too harsh, I apologize.

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      11. Yes, indeed. However, I think the proper response is not the one I gave. I’ll try better to just ignore those who wish to ignore the evidence. This dialogue right here, between you and I, is what I aim for.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. If you don’t like the fact that the NT was copied accurately, that’s fine,

    It makes not one iota of difference if they are copied verbatim. It’s the content that is in question and whether any veracity be established for the theological/supernatural claims made in the text, and the answer to this question is a resounding no!
    The best we can do is historical fiction – a largely fictional pastiche over a semi-historical background.
    As outlined in my initial comment, the virgin birth narrative is a prime example.

    .

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    1. It would be just as wrong to classify the gospels as “historical fiction” as it would be to classify them as “journalistic biography.” These are both rather modern genre concepts which would have been entirely alien in antiquity.

      The best term for the genre of the gospels, in my humblest opinion, is “bios literature.” Ancient biography, this sort of “bios literature,” often did not distinguish what we would now consider to be more legendary accounts from more historically likely ones. It’s a very different genre from modern biography, and the two ought not be conflated.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That historical fiction is for some regarded as a modern genre it still doesn’t take away from the fact that the gospels satisfy the criteria to make them H,F.
        As Ian Fleming wrote his James Bond novels the gospels follow very similar lines in many respects: Many fictional characters moving through a recognised geographical setting using known organisations (MI5 etc) and the mention of some well known historical figures.

        The divine character Jesus of Nazareth as depicted in the gospels is obviously a narrative construct and very little of what he does or says features on the historical timeline and cannot be substantiated.
        In fact, fantasy somewhat akin to a Harry Potter novel might be a more accurate description of the escapades of the Lake Tiberius Pedestrian and his illiterate band of Merry Men.

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      2. This isn’t actually correct, though. The author of a modern historical fiction novel, such as Ian Fleming, writes things which he understands to be fiction, knowing that his audience will understand them to be fiction, and with no intention of convincing his readers that the characters in the novel were actual historical figures who lead meaningful historical lives.

        We have no reason to think any of this is true of the gospel authors.

        By all appearances, the authors of the gospels believed that they were relating the actions of actual historical figures to their audiences. There actually are some very significant things which Jesus says and does which can be reasonably regarded as historical: living in Nazareth, working as a day-laborer, interacting with the ministry of John the Baptist, beginning his own 3 year ministry in Galilee, traveling to Jerusalem for his final week of life, preaching an apocalyptic message, focusing on the coming of the Son of Man, butting heads with Jewish authorities, being accused of sedition by Rome, and being executed by crucifixion.

        There a numerous other things which I might pick out, as well, as being likely historical, but these are the most solid and most important. Yes, it appears that there may also be quite a bit of legendry mixed in and some places where events are used as narrative devices to convey his sayings. But, again, this was very common in bios literature. “The Life of Alexander,” “The Lives of the Caesars,” “The Life of Pythagoras,” and many, many other examples support this.

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      3. Really? How do you know this?
        Based on critical scholarship certain events are most assuredly regarded as fictional events inserted into the text.
        The raising of the saints at the time of the crucifixion is as good an example as any.
        It is regarded as apocalyptic literature, and whatever the writer of gMatt called it he knew it was fiction.

        I’ll venture the same applies to the virgin birth narrative, one reason the writer of gJohn does not touch this.

        Of the other examples you list there is no historical evidence whatsoever including what Jesus may or may not have said.

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      4. I don’t think you quite understand what “critical scholarship” actually says. The raising of the saints in Matthew is not an example of “fictional events inserted into the text.” Insofar as critical scholarship is concerned, the raising of the saints seems to be original to the text of Matthew.

        An actual example of something text critics believe to have been inserted at a later date would be something like the Woman taken in Adultery from John 7:57-8:11. However, these scholars don’t usually go so far as to call that pericope “fiction.” Rather, it is generally thought to be a legendary account.

        Again, there is a big difference between fiction and legend. Fiction is written with the understanding that the reader will not think it represents actual events. Legend, on the other hand, is usually believed to be historical by an author or that author’s source.

        We have no reason to suspect that the author of Matthew knew that the account of the raising of the saints was not true. On the contrary, the plain reading of the text makes it seemingly clear that he thought he was reporting an actual event.

        And the only way to say that there is no evidence for the facts I mentioned about the historical Jesus is if you dismiss the gospels out of hand. However, that’d be like saying we have no evidence for any facts about the life of Alexander the Great, if you disallow Diodorus Siculus, Rufus, Arrian, Plutarch, and Justin. Yes, if you prejudiciously eliminate the evidence, no evidence remains. However, if you treat the documents of the NT just as you would any other document from antiquity, they make for quite useful evidence.

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      5. Insofar as critical scholarship is concerned, the raising of the saints seems to be original to the text of Matthew.

        I did not for one second suggest it wasn’t original to the text. What I did say: It is regarded as apocalyptic literature, and whatever the writer of gMatt called it he knew it was fiction.

        Perhaps you should have read more closely before shooting off your: I don’t think you quite understand what “critical scholarship” actually says quip?
        Just a thought.

        And this was likely the case for the writers of gLuke and gJohn and why they did not include it in their versions.
        gMatthews virgin birth narrative is probably a better example.

        I made no statement suggesting there was no historical Jesus. You seem to be reading things into my comments that simply aren’t there.
        The only evidence – if we are going to regard it as such – we have is that of Tacitus, which is just as ,likely to be hearsay, and Josephus. And even here there is an element of doubt regarding the TF.

        if you treat the documents of the NT just as you would any other document from antiquity, they make for quite useful evidence.

        No, not really. Some things can be substantiated but much/most cannot.
        On the whole the Gospels can not be regarded as historical but history.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I will add …
        I agree that the gospel writers would not have regarded their writings as historical fiction, although I stand by my belief that the authors would have considered certain parts of their text to be fiction as this was deemed par for the course, bit we can regard the gospels as historical fiction.
        S

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      7. I did not for one second suggest it wasn’t original to the text.

        The line to which I was replying was when you said, “Based on critical scholarship certain events are most assuredly regarded as fictional events inserted into the text.”

        I took “inserted into the text” to mean something which was not original to the text of the document but which was added, whether intentionally or accidentally, by a later scribe– especially since you mentioned “critical scholarship,” which is the field of study which deals with attempting to establish the most probable original text of documents. You then said that the raising of the saints was “as good an example as any” of a pericope which critical scholars note as being a fictional event inserted into the text.

        You clearly did suggest that the raising of the saints was not original to the text.

        Perhaps you should have read more closely before shooting off your: I don’t think you quite understand what “critical scholarship” actually says quip?
        Just a thought.

        I don’t believe I misread you at all, and this post just exacerbates my previous comment.

        Critical scholars analyze the myriad copies of the text as it was transmitted through the centuries in order to attempt to establish which readings are the earliest and most reliably authentic to the autographs. Critical scholars do not make pronouncements upon the genre of the text or the intentions and beliefs of the text’s authors, as that is outside of their field. Rather, those judgments are made by experts in the field of historical literature. While there is quite a bit of crossover between experts in these fields, often with someone showing expertise in both fields, that doesn’t justify conflating the two.

        And this was likely the case for the writers of gLuke and gJohn and why they did not include it in their versions.

        It is more likely that the authors of the other gospels did not include the raising of the saints because they were unaware of that particular legend, entirely. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that these other authors were aware of the legend but believed it to be false.

        gMatthews virgin birth narrative is probably a better example.

        Matthew’s narrative of the virgin birth illustrates that Matthew was familiar with the Greek translation of the Old Testament, as opposed to being familiar with the Hebrew directly. Once again, we have no good reason to think that the author did not believe the things which he was writing; indeed, it seems clear that he did believe them and wanted other people to believe them, as well.

        I made no statement suggesting there was no historical Jesus.

        I never said otherwise. I said that you claimed that there is no evidence for the facts which I listed about the historical Jesus of Nazareth, but that you can only justify that claim by prejudiciously dismissing all of the evidence out of hand.

        The only evidence – if we are going to regard it as such – we have is that of Tacitus, which is just as ,likely to be hearsay, and Josephus. And even here there is an element of doubt regarding the TF.

        Tacitus and Suetonius are the only extrabiblical sources which I believe to be at all significant as evidence for facts about the historical Jesus, but they don’t give us very much. Josephus is, in my humblest opinion, less useful as the extant text seems to have been rather obviously emended by later Christian scribes. Whether the TF was wholly or partially emended, it is incredibly suspect; and I actually tend to agree with the minority of scholarship that believes the Minor Testimony to be a later emendation, as well.

        No, not really. Some things can be substantiated but much/most cannot.
        On the whole the Gospels can not be regarded as historical but history.

        Once again, this is like trying to substantiate facts about the life of Alexander the Great, but disallowing the use of Diodorus Siculus, Rufus, Arrian, Plutarch, and Justin.

        You seem to have the same misconception which I mentioned in my first comment to this article: that either the gospels are 100% historically reliable or else they are 100% historically unreliable. Neither of these is the case, just as with any other documents from antiquity. Even documents reporting history which were written firsthand by people who experienced that history are not regarded by scholars as 100% historically reliable– see, for example, Julius Caesar’s Gallic War.

        One does not need to believe the gospels are wholly accurate, let alone the Word of God, in order to accept them as evidence of history.

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  5. Let’s clear up the issue of (fiction) knowingly inserted into the text.
    The long ending of gMark is an example of inserted into the text after the fact. It is an obvious forgery.
    The raising of the saints in gMatthew is a fictional event that the writer in all likelihood knowingly included in his original text.

    One does not need to believe the gospels are wholly accurate, let alone the Word of God, in order to accept them as evidence of history.

    Quite true. Certain aspects are undoubtedly within the realms of actual historical probability. However, as nothing of the biblical tale – aside from the .mention of the crucifixion by Tacitus – can be supported by a single contemporary account we are left with a take it or leave it scenario.
    Thus, assertions of a tomb for example are in all probability spurious and a later tradition.

    but that you can only justify that claim by prejudiciously dismissing all of the evidence out of hand.

    What evidence? While there a lot of assertions and claims I am unaware of any evidence.
    Certainly, the gospels cannot be regarded as historical accounts, so I am interested as to what evidence exactly you are referring to.

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