Fifteen questions about the reliability of the gospels.
1. If Jesus’s mission was to the lost sheep of Israel, why did he fail in his mission? And why did Jesus prohibit the gfrom being preached to the Gentiles during his ministry but after his ‘resurrection’ tell them to preach the Gospel to the whole world? If Jesus really had made the latter statement, why was there such a fierce debate within the early Church (and particularly between Peter and Paul) as to whether the Gospel should be preached to the Gentiles?
2. If Jesus knew that one of his disciples would betray him, why did he say that all twelve disciples would sit upon twelve thrones?
3. If Jesus knew that he was to die on the cross, why did he spend all night praying in the Garden of Gethsemane seeking deliverance? And If Jesus believed that his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane would not be heard, why did he tell his disciples earlier that prayers are answered?
4. If the very mission of Jesus was to suffer death, why should God Almighty show a dream to Pilate’s wife which would cause her to try and persuade her husband to release Jesus?
5. It is reported that dead saints came out of their graves and made themselves known to many (Matt. 27:52). When the Jews saw this, why did they not immediately profess faith in Jesus? Where did these saints go? Who did they see?
6. If Jesus could conquer death and rise from the dead, why did he fear seeing the Jews after the crucifixion and appear only to the disciples?
7. Why is it that there is not a single direct account of Jesus’s life by any of the twelve disciples or anyone who knew him personally? Those writing the Gospels did not hear the words directly from Jesus and they would have been passed on by word of mouth and therefore risked personal comment being added. There is no written record of Jesus’s words in Aramaic (his spoken language). In the light of this, what weight can be placed on the reliability of some of the reported speeches?
8. If the Gospels are the word of God and the authors of the Gospels were divinely inspired, why are there so many contradictions in them?
9. If Jesus’s central message was that of trinity (a concept alien to the OT), why did he not elaborate on the subject to explain the interrelationships clearly? Why did he leave it to Paul to explain?
10. The OT prophesied the coming of a ‘Messiah’. This Messiah was never conceived as a divine figure. How did a prophetic figure become converted into a divine being?
11. If Jesus was God, why did he not know who had touched him?
12. If Jesus believed in the Doctrine of Atonement, why would he tell his disciples that if they forgave others, God would forgive them (Matt. 6:14, 15)? If Atonement forgives all sins, what further need is there to seek the forgiveness of others?
13. Paul was to feature as a major teacher and expounder of Jesus’s message. Why is there no reference, directly or indirectly, by Jesus to his work? Jesus refers to true and false prophets coming after him as well as the Spirit of Truth but why no reference to Paul?
14. Jesus was raised as a Jew. Accordingly, he was circumcised, fasted, abstained from the flesh of swine and prayed. It was also repeatedly said that he had not come to change the Law of Moses (Matt. 5:17). By what authority, therefore, did Paul abolish all these practices? What indication did Jesus give that after his death these practices would no longer be necessary?
15. If salvation is only through belief in the Doctrine of Atonement – and that matters more than anything else – why was it necessary for Jesus to demonstrate all the numerous acts of kindness, compassion, forgiveness, healing, mercy, love of his enemies, the condemnation of empty ritual, etc.? If all these actions were not the central message of Jesus, is it not true that the majority of his works which comprise the main parts of the Gospels are rendered utterly irrelevant?
1. Jesus’ mission to Israel did not fail. I am not sure why you say that it did. Jesus’ mission was to fulfill the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:17), which he certainly did. His mission was to bring salvation to the Jews, which he certainly did do. Obviously, not all the Jews accepted Jesus. But then, not all the people in any nation culture or other group has even accepted discipleship to Jesus. We know from the New Testament that at least several tens of thousands of Jews were converted to Christ in the first century. Whether it was 10% of all Jews or 25% of all Jews we do not know. But, his ministry to bring salvation to the Jews was very successful.
I am not entirely sure why God wanted his Son Jesus only to reach out to the Jews during his ministry, although I can speculate. The Jews were the ones prepared to receive the Messiah. Jesus had to fulfill many specific historical prophecies which were specific to the Jews. Jesus did reach out to a number of Gentiles, as I am sure you are aware, but let me be honest. I am not completely sure why God had him only minister to the Jews.
The next question is much easier. There is an unlimited number of passages in the Old Testament which predict that the ministry of the Messiah will be for all nations. God want all people to be saved, not just the Jews (1 Tim 2:4). As for salvation being for all nations, there is Genesis 12:3, Isaiah 2:1-2. I could give dozens of other Old Testament passages which show this. Of course, the Jews were rather thick-headed about this. They had been convinced for so long that salvation was for and through them that it took a lot of convincing to get them to reach out to the Gentiles. Why? Because of national prejudice, because of selfishness, because of a presupposition that was hard to break.
And by the way, Peter and Paul definitely agreed on the mission to preach to the Gentiles. This fact is recorded in Acts and Galatians. They may have had some minor differences on what to require of the Gentiles, but one thing for sure is that they both believed the gospel should be preached to the Gentiles. Peter agreed that his ministry was to the Jews and Paul’s to the gentiles. By the way, later in his life Peter went to Rome and preached to gentiles.
2. There is a great symbolic meaning for the Jews to the number 12. Twelve is the number of Israel. There were twelve sons of Jacob, and there were twelve tribes. It was no accident that Jesus chose twelve apostles. When Judas killed himself, the apostles chose Matthias, so that there would still be twelve apostles. Acts 1:23-26. So, as far as I know, this statement of Jesus will be fulfilled. By the way, you added the word “all” to the passage in Matthew 19:28, which may show a little bit of bias on your part.
3. Jesus knew what would happen to him, yet, as a human, he did not want to die. Not only did he not want to be tortured to death, I assume the greatest anguish was not about his death by torture, but about the fact that the sins of the whole world were to be put on his shoulders. On the cross Jesus cried, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was a human being with human emotions. Although he knew what was to happen, out of his human emotions he begged that his Father could find another way. But there was no other way, so Jesus submitted to the cross. Jesus’ prayers were definitely heard by God. Our prayers are always heard. Just because God hears us does not mean that he always answers our prayers by doing what we want. Jesus asked, and God said no. This is not an unusual thing in the life of a Christian.
4. We do not know exactly what Pilate’s wife saw or heard in her dream. Your question requires assumptions and speculation. Pilate’s wife was human. Like I said, we do not know the exact content of her dream, but what we do know is that her response to the dream was to try to persuade Pilate to save Jesus from death. Why is this surprising?
5. These are the same Jews who saw Lazarus raised from the dead, and who were well aware of Jesus raising from the dead. They also knew that Jesus worked many fantastic miracles, and that he fulfilled multiple messianic prophecies. Yet, out of the stubbornness of their hearts, they chose not to believe in Jesus. This is pretty much the same as the situation today. There is plenty of evidence for the miracles of Jesus, for his resurrection and for his having fulfilled many messianic prophecies, yet the vast majority of people still choose not to believe in Jesus. You tell me why! Maybe it is because they are sinners and do not want to change their lives.
6. I see no evidence of Jesus “fearing” being seen by the Jews. This question does not make sense, to be honest. Where do you see evidence of him “fearing” being seen by the Jews. Jesus chose those he appeared to carefully. He only appeared to believers. This does not reflect fear, however.
7. You are quite wrong on this one. Matthew was one of the apostles, and he recorded the life and sayings of Jesus. John certainly knew Jesus very well. He reported what he saw. Even Mark, though not an apostle, was clearly a part of the events, as he plays a very minor role in his own gospel (Mark 14:51). Luke was not an eye-witness, but the other three gospels were written by eye-witnesses. By the way, I am well aware that these gospels were not signed, and that there are some who question that Matthew did not write the gospel accredited to him, but you asked me a question which is based on an assumption which I believe is simply false. Clearly the early church believed that Matthew wrote Matthew and John wrote John. And there is no solid evidence to refute this belief.
On the other hand, you are right that we do not have any gospels in Aramaic, as Greek was the common language of the first century. Therefore, Matthew translates what Jesus said in Aramaic into Greek, as did John and Mark. Why would this make the gospels unreliable? I do not speak Greek. I read the gospels in translation, but this does not hinder my understanding of Jesus in any significant way. What is the big deal that the gospels were written in Greek? How does that affect their reliability?
8. There are no contradictions!!! I have answered literally hundreds on questions on this topic, and I have concluded all these claims of contradictions are simply not supported by fact. If you think differently, please give me evidence. Please give me even just one example of a bona fide contradiction in the gospels. I tell you that there are none, and I have investigated many dozens of such unfounded claims. Honestly, I get frustrated with people who keep saying this, as if saying it enough times will make it true.
9. Trinity was not the central message of Jesus. The central message of Jesus is the love of God and the opportunity for salvation. However, I will agree with your premise that the Old Testament has very few references to anything even remotely like trinity. Trinity is not a central message of Christianity, but according to the New Testament, Jesus is God and Jesus is a person. The Holy Spirit is God and he is a person. This is NOT central to Christianity, but it is an important part of it. Jesus did not leave it to Paul to explain. He did tell the apostles to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He told the apostles in both John 14 and John 16 that he would be sending the Holy Spirit, calling the Spirit “he.” I will agree with your premise, however, that Jesus did not make this a crystal clear as we may have liked. I am not sure I can explain precisely why Jesus did not fully make this completely clear.
10. For example, anyone who told you that there is no indication in the Old Testament that the Messiah is God is giving you bad information. In Isaiah 9:1-6 the Messiah is called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. In Zechariah 11:10-13, in a messianic prophecy which is clearly about Jesus (30 pieces of silver, sold to buy the potter’s field), God says, “the handsome price at which they priced ME…” In this case, the word me is a reference to Jesus, who is called God in the prophecy.
11. Jesus accepted human limitations when he was incarnated. Jesus gave up his omniscience and his omnipotence for a brief period of about 35 years for the sake of the gospel. You are assuming that he did not know who touched him. You have no evidence that he did not know who touched him. What is your evidence that he did not know who touched him. Maybe he did and maybe he did not. We have no way to know, but whether he did or he did not really proves nothing, as Jesus accepted limitations on his power as God while in the body.
12. This is a good question. There is literally only one sin listed in the New Testament for which God specifically says that those who commit this sin are in danger of losing their salvation. That one sin is failing to forgive those who sin against us. This is taught in Matthew 18:32-35 and Matthew 6:16-17. I can see how someone might construe this as inconsistent with other passages about salvation, for example 1 John 1:8-9. I can see how some might find this a contradiction, but I do not. God will forgive all sin, both before and after baptism, but he does require that we must be willing to forgive those who sin against us.
13. As far as we know, Jesus never met Paul. Paul lived in Tarsus, which was not even particularly close to Palestine. Why would Jesus mention Paul? For all we know, maybe he did. We probably have less than 0.1% of all that Jesus said, so he might have mentioned Paul in a prophecy to his apostles, but we have no record of this. Why is this a problem? I do not get it.
14. Paul did not abolish these practices. Jesus did. Mark 7:19 implies this. Peter taught this (although he was very reluctant to do so). The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) affirmed this. You are incorrect in saying that Paul abolished these practices. Paul taught, as did the other apostles, that Gentiles are not required to obey the Law of Moses, but he did not invent this practice.
15. Salvation is not through belief in any particular doctrine. It is certainly not through belief in the doctrine of atonement. It is though faith in Christ and in his blood. Jesus had a ministry of preaching, teaching and healing. Luke 4:14-21 tells us what Jesus’ ministry was all about. He brings good news to the poor, the outcast, the foreigner, women and even Samaritans. I completely agree with your premise here that Jesus’ ministry was about these things, and they are a central aspect of the ministry of Jesus and of Christianity. Like Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” You have a very good point here.