ARE THE GOSPELS RELIABLE?
By John Oakes
A number of questions have come to the web site from people who question the
validity of the gospel accounts. 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 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. The 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 this question.
I have read a number of books by supporters of 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 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 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) in Luke 21 and Matthew 24. Luke 21:20 has
Jesus prophesying, ?When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you will know
that its desolation is near.? If one assumes that the Bible is a human document,
without divine authorship, then obviously, Mark, Luke and Matthew were written afte
r AD 70. There are two problems with this.
1. The Bible is inspired by God. Jesus was a prophet, and Jesus successfully
predicted the destruction of Jerusalem.
2. 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 these cases.
The Jesus Seminar?s arguments on the date of the authorship of the gospels goes
something like this:
1. The gospels are the product of human influence.
2. The gospels cannot show signs of divine influence.
3. Therefore, obviously, the gospels were written after AD 70.
4. Therefore, the fact that the prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem are
not support for the inspiration of the Bible.
5. Therefore the gospels are the product of human influence.
This is circular reasoning.
As for 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 one?s 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. We 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 irresponsible. The Bible is inspired
by God. God does not produce ?spin.? If one is going to claim that what the
gospel says about Jesus is spin, I hope that person can produce evidence for
this claim. Which statement about Jesus is spin, and what is the evidence that
it is spin?
You can argue that the 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 belief, 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
we are well justified in studying the Bible to give it the benefit of the doubt. We
need to always be careful against circular reasoning. We 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