Can the Gospel Writers Be Trusted and What Outside Proof is There for Christianity?


by Rob Lundberg

You may have a conversation with a co-worker who finds out you are a Christian. As you go deeper into the conversation, they tell you that they do not believe that Jesus existed.  When you ask them how they came to that conclusion, they tell you that the life of Jesus was not recorded by secular historians of the First Century.[1] They go further in their explanation by telling you that they cannot trust the gospel writers because they were biased, because they were Christians.

Of course it is okay for the one making the objection to be biased in their accusation of Christians being biased. Anyone who is in favor of a position automatically positions themselves with a bias toward the position. And because they were Christians, it stands to reason that  they are come from a biased position to make them sound credible.   It also works on the other side with skeptics being biased toward their position. So what I would like to do in this post is touch on a few things about the writers of the New Testament, and answer the objection given by the skeptic is that they were biased in their assertions about Jesus.

Let’s take a look at the writers’ positions and motivations, and see if we can understand the credibility of the this objection and see if we can come up with a better understanding of the objections facing them.  What kind of eyewitness testimonies are we to expect from the writers and are they credible?  Let’s weigh out the evidence.

Objection #1. All we have are the New Testament writers and nothing outside the New Testament.  

The answer to this charge actually lies in not just the testimonies of disciples (internal evidence) who wrote the gospel. However the answer to this objection has staying power with testimony from those who are external eyewitness sources as well.

The gospel facts are pregnant with not just the writers. There are also secular writers that are considered credible. To make things rather worse for this objection, these  secular writers are also non Christian sources.  Some of those non-Christian sources come from the likes of Flavius Josephus, Thallus, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, Tacitus, Mara Bar-Serapion, and Phlegon, to name a few.  Each of them describe the existence of Jesus and the life of those who came to follow him.  But despite the fact that we have those secular non-Christian writers, we still must admit that the best and most thorough eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus are the New Testament Gospel accounts of Matthew, Luke, John and Peter (written through his scribe, Mark).

But remember my opening thoughts here. The overarching objection is that the testimonies of these eyewitnesses should be disregarded on the basis that they were written by “biased” Christians. But based upon this first thought that  if you look at the gospels as historical narratives, we can see that the authors of those gospels are reliable according to the that they are not the only ones to consider. So maybe there were other motivations.  Let’s now move to some of those.

The Gospel writers were lying.  In all actuality, the gospel eyewitnesses had little to gain by lying.  Let’s consider that all the eyewitnesses went to their graves without recanting their testimony about Jesus.  Some of them were martyred in some of the most horrific ways.[2]  But no matter the mode of death, not a single one of them recanted.  Unlike corrupt individuals today, none of the witnesses gained anything in the way of money, sex or power from their testimony.[3] At the same time there is no ancient record in existence that records anything other than hardship and martyrdom for the early eyewitnesses. They were given a choice, Christ or Caesar, and they clearly stood by their observations in spite of the consequences.

When we really look at the big picture, the Gospel eyewitnesses are reliable in spite of the fact that they followed the facts and eventually became followers of Christ. They were not biased.  They were convinced that Jesus was risen and was who He claimed to be.

But this issue does not stop here . .

The eyewitnesses were reliable in other areas. The gospel writers record more than the life of Jesus. Their writings are also pregnant with accounts of First Century life in Palestine.  What they record is geographically and historically accurate in areas that have nothing to do with Jesus.

The Gospel of Luke (and Book of Acts), for example, have been tested by many skeptics, only to survive as remarkably accurate historical records.[4}

So did the eyewitnesses start off with a bias?  The answer this is, No!
None of the three authors started off as disciples of Jesus. While John and Peter were disciples of John the Baptist, if you read the gospels they clearly show that they had expressed doubt about the identity of Jesus and they record this doubt is recorded in the Gospels.[5] In addition, Matthew was a tax collector and knew nothing about John the Baptist’s teaching. Therefore I believe it is safe to say that the eyewitnesses didn’t start off with a bias.

When it is all said and done, the eyewitnesses became followers of Christ in response to what they saw.  While it is true that the Gospel writers eventually became believers, it is illogical and irresponsible to throw out their testimony.  Having police officers in my family, allow me to wrap this post up with an illustration.

Imagine that two witnesses observe a video game store robbery. They recognize the robber (from their neighborhood) and later tell police that it was “Joe Johnson.” Both of these two eyewitnesses started off without a bias.  There were no biases present when they entered the gaming store. But as a result of what they saw, they now hold the position that “Joe Johnson” is a robber. One could say that they are now biased; after all, they now hold to a distinct view. But it would be illogical to disregard their testimony and demand a new set of witnesses who don’t hold a belief that “Joe Johnson” is the thief.
So the conclusion that we can make here is that the belief of the witnesses was shaped by what they saw, NOT by what they believed BEFORE the robbery occurred.

This makes sense doesn’t it?  In a similar manner, the eyewitness Gospel writers formed a conclusion based on what they observed.  They followed the evidence, like many, based on what they had seen and heard and touched (1 John 1:1-4).

While we do not have the same privilege, we do have the internal and external evidences that I have mentioned here in this post, and they are available to anyone looking to find the truth of Jesus Christ and become a follower of Him.

I hope that this post has given you a resource to help you defend the reliability of the Gospels when skeptics ask you to “give an account for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15).

——————————
Notes

[1] Bart Erhman is an agnostic one day and an atheist on another day. Here is Bart’s whole talk video clip telling a group of Jesus mythers at a Freedom From Religion conference (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAhw2cVRVsA).

[2] There are plenty websites out there that will give good information about how the early Christians, to include the gospel writers and early apostles, died horrible deaths.  Here is a pretty good website that will whet your appetite to on this subject: How Did the Apostles Die? What We Actually Know

[3] If you look in the local paper or the court page of your local news line, and see why some people were arrested, you will notice three common variables or mo tivators for committing a crime, money, power or sex, or a combination of the three.

[4] Sir William Ramsay (1851-1939) was an archaeologist and biblical skeptic. He taught at the University of Edinburgh and believed that Bible writers made facts and stories up. The book of Acts, he declared, was full of errors, and to prove this contention, he traveled to Asia Minor to demonstrate Luke’s unreliability.  Today, if you read his book St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen and get to his account of Paul’s ministry in these cities, you will find him pointing out that once again Luke is remarkably accurate. This is because Ramsay discovered Lystra and Derbe were in the same province, the province of Lycaonia, between the years A.D. 37 and 72, but not before those dates and not afterward. That is, they were in the same province in the very years Paul was there, as Luke accurately reports. Read more of Sir William Ramsay’s works and you will find that he says more on this subject.

[5] One of the features for authenticity is that of embarrassing testimony.  Embarrassing testimony demonstrates the truth of someone’s writing or testimony, because if it was fictional, the author would not have recorded the event. Since the gospels do contain embarrassing testimony, there is plenty of warrant to believe what is written has veracity.


LIKE WHAT YOU HAVE READ?   LET US KNOW. . . 

Version 3Rob is a blogger, writer and public speaker on a mission to equip the believer to think and articulate what they believe and to communicate the message of the gospel to a confused culture in a chaotic, “postmodern world.”

He is available to come and speak to your church, college club, or group. If you would like to check out his speaker profile click here.  Looking for a specific topic to equip your church, here are some ideas click here.   If you would like to know the places that I have spoken click here.   Check out what people who have engaged this ministry have to say click here. To book Rob to speak to your group or your church, contact him by sending an email.


 

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