Can We Trust The Gospels Historically?

As Christians, we naturally want to explain issues by direction people to the Bible. For many people, however, the Bible is the issue.

Historicity is a big issue. Here are four answers to some of the most common questions people ask about the reliability of the Gospels:

1. When and by whom were they written? We don’t know the exact dates and times that the New Testament Gospels were written, but we do know that they were written between AD 60 and AD 90, about 30 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

  • Matthew- written by one of Jesus’ disciples (also known as Levi). He was a tax collector before he became a disciple.
  • Mark- written by a travelling companion of the apostle Peter. It’s safe to assume that the majority of information in his biography came from Peter.
  • Luke- a travelling companion of the apostle Paul. At the beginning of his biography he explains that he had carefully investigated everything he wrote.
  • John- written by Jesus’ best friend and disciple. He was the only one of the twelve disciple not to be executed.

2. Why did they wait 30 years before they wrote anything down? The same reason most businesses didn’t have websites until the late 90’s. It wasn’t the best way to share information back then! In actual fact, in the ancient world oral testimony was deemed more reliable than the written word. The reason the gospels were eventually written down was because the eyewitnesses were dying out and they wanted to preserve the truth of their testimony.

3. Are our copies anything like the originals? The truth is we don’t actually have any of the originals. What we have are copies and copies of copies. The diagram below is an illustration of the kind of situation that has arisen. The yellow copies are the ones that we have today, and the white ones are the ones we’ve lost.

But don’t freak out! This isn’t actually as much of a problem as you might think. When we line up all the yellow copies next to each other –aside from a few minor variations- they’re basically identical. In other words, we can be confident that our copies are just like the originals.

I say “basically identical” because truth be told there are some variations, but almost all of them are minor. Matthew 6:33 may serve as a good example. At the moment this verse reads, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”, but our earliest copies of this verse are missing the words “of God”. Needless to say, it’s not something to lose any sleep over.

4. Is there any way of checking what they say? Yes! And I can’t recommend John Dixon’s DVD The Christ Files too highly for more information in this area. But here’s what we know about Jesus from non-Christian historical sources, that is, historical sources outside of the Bible.

1. Was a historical figure
2. Had a questionable birth
3. Was a teacher
4. Performed baffling deeds
5. Lived in Palestine in the first century AD
6. Was thought by some to be a King
7. Was Executed under Pontius Pilate
8. Was reported to have risen from the dead
9. Was worshipped by his followers as divine

When we combine these details they give us a relatively detailed picture of the Jesus of history. Encouragingly, these details are identical to what we learn about Jesus in the Gospels.

Question: What are some other questions people ask about the reliability of the Bible, and how might you answer them? Leave a comment by clicking here

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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5 thoughts on “Can We Trust The Gospels Historically?

    • Thanks for your thoughts Tom,
      I guess i have to say yes (in part) to your question. The first disciples weren’t goat herders, they were mostly fishermen, but your point still stands. A lot of what i believe is as a result of what they’ve written for us in the Gospels.

      We may not like it, but at the end of the day, that’s who the eyewitnesses were! We’d probably prefer it if the Gospels were written by scientists with PHDs, but the reality is, they weren’t! The real question is, “is their testimony credible?”

      I’m sure there’s a lot of fishermen around today (or goat herders for that matter) who are entirely capable of reporting what they see. Just cause they don’t have PHDs doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to them. Once again, the important question is, “is their testimony credible?”

      Personally, i believe it is. I think there’s a strong case to made from history to back it up too. e.g. The empty tomb, the testimony of the witnesses, and the spread of Christianity. Quite frankly, I agree with your skepticism re: Horus. There’s no evidence to back it up! I think the case with Jesus, however, is very different.

      Everyone’s entitled to their opinion mate, but i’d be keen to hear yours!