Are The Gospels Accounts Reliable?
It is a very common phenomenon for scholars and theologians to question
the reliability of the gospel accounts as history. Groups such as the Jesus Seminar have
sought to find the ?genuine? sayings and acts of Jesus among what they consider
to be the chaff added by believers in the second century which added ?spin?
to the genuine gospel accounts. A recent question at this web site mentioned a book
by Geza Vermes; ?The Authentic Gospel of Jesus,? as well as ?The Jesus Mysteries,?
by Freke and Gandy, as well as ?evangelical? writers such as Mark Stibbe. T
he works cited claim that all the gospels were written after AD 70, since they
mention (prophetically) the destruction of Jerusalem. Below is a response to
I have read a number of books by such people who support the Jesus Seminar and
other liberal theologians. My problem with such scholars is that they begin
their study of the Bible from the presupposition that the supernatural is not
possible. If one studies the Bible under the assumption that it is not inspired
by God, then one?s conclusions are absolutely sure to be false on the whole. If one
?considers the accounts of Jesus? miracles under the assumption that miracles
definitely do not occur, then it is not surprising that one will conclude that
the miracle accounts are later additions to the ?genuine? gospels.
I teach about deduction and induction in my philosophy of science class. There
we talk about the power of deductive reasoning. The problem with deduction
is that when one starts with a false premise, then one?s deductions are sure
to be false. The author of ?The Authentic Gospel? is a non-believer. The author
of ?The Jesus Mysteries (I am assuming, since I have not read that one, so I
might have to back track on this statement) is also an unbeliever. They assume
that any sign of supernatural in the Bible needs to be explained away?it cannot
possibly be accurate history. Having begun from a wrong assumption, their conclusions
are questionable and their arguments become circular.
No wonder, for example, that they assume all the gospels were written after
AD 70. The gospels have Jesus making clear and unmistakable statements about
the events of AD 70 (the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus and so forth). If
one assumes that the Bible is a human document, without divine authorship, then
obviously, Mark, Luke and Matthew were written after AD 70. There are two problems
The Bible is inspired by God. Jesus was a prophet, and Jesus successfully predicted
the destruction of Jerusalem.
The evidence supports the belief that Mark and Matthew, and likely Luke also,
were written before AD 70.
Those who approach biblical study assuming that the writings are not inspired
are bound to reach false conclusions. I believe that is what is going on in
The Jesus Seminar?s arguments on the date of the authorship of the gospels goes
something like this:
The gospels are the product of human influence.
The gospels cannot show signs of divine influence.
Therefore, obviously, the gospels were written after AD 70.
Therefore, the fact that the prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem are
?not support for the inspiration of the Bible.
Therefore the gospels are the product of human influence.
This is circular reasoning.
As for your example of an evangelical such as Mark Stibbe talking of ?redactors
and interpretations,? I cannot speak for or against what he has done. However,
being labeled as an evangelical is of little value to me. The question is whether
one is right. The question is whether ones arguments are valid?whether they are
based on a reasonable interpretation of the data. I do not deny out of hand
that Mr. Stibbe may have some valuable analysis of the gospels. I do not reject
all the conclusions of the skeptics of Christianity. I can learn a lot from these
people. However, those who begin by assuming that the Gospel is a myth begin
from an incorrect place, so they end in an incorrect place.
The claim that the Bible is ?spin? is outrageous. The Bible is inspired by
God. God does not produce ?spin.? If you are going to claim that what the
gospel says about Jesus is spin, I hope you can produce evidence for this claim.
Which statement about Jesus is spin, and what is your evidence that it is spin?
You can argue that my statement above is also circular reasoning. I say the
Bible is inspired, therefore it cannot have ?spin.? I will acknowledge that
there is a hint of circular reasoning in this argument. However, I begin with
the assumption, proved by an almost unlimited amount of evidence that the Bible
is inspired by God. Can I prove by evidence that every single word in the Bible
is inspired by God? No. However, the evidence is so overwhelming, that I believe
I am well justified in studying the Bible to give it the benefit of the doubt. I need
to always be careful against circular reasoning. I need to always seek careful
reasoning and tight logic based on evidence. Nevertheless, when one begins
with a correct assumption, one is far more likely to reach a good conclusion
than when one begins with an incorrect assumption. The Bible is inspired by