Unbelievable? Two Reasons Why Some People Reject the Reliability of the Gospels

During an interview on Unbelievable? with Justin Brierley, I responded to the objections of two atheists who rejected the reliability of the Gospel accounts on the basis of apparent contradictions with Josephus’ record and a concern about-corroborative evidence. I’ve learned to employ a four-pronged template when assessing the reliability of a witness, and I took this approach when I first examined the Gospels as a skeptic (I was 35 years old before I became interested in the Gospel accounts). As I evaluated the Biblical text with these principles in mind, I became convinced they were a reliable record of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. I understand, however, when others come to a different conclusion, and I think there are two reasons why someone might disagree about the most reasonable inference from the evidence. Before I address these two reasons, however, I want to ask you to imagine the existence of a historical account related to an ancient teacher. Imagine investigating this ancient record and discovering the following:

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Rapid Response: “I Think the Disciples Lied About the Resurrection”

In our Rapid Response series, we tackle common concerns about (and objections to) the Christian worldview by providing short, conversational responses. These posts are designed to model what our answers might look like in a one-on-one setting, while talking to a friend or family member. Imagine if someone said, “I can’t trust what the New Testament says about Jesus. I think the disciples (or whoever wrote the Gospels) lied about Jesus and the Resurrection.” How would you answer such an objection? Here is a conversational example of how I recently responded:

“When I was an atheist, one of the reasons I rejected the claims of the Gospels was a similar distrust in the testimony of the authors.

Rapid Response: You Can’t Trust the Gospels Because They Were Written by Christians

In our Rapid Response series, we tackle common concerns about (and objections to) the Christian worldview by providing short, conversational responses. These posts are designed to model what our answers might look like in a one-on-one setting, while talking to a friend or family member. Imagine if someone said, “I can’t trust what the New Testament says about Jesus: after all, it was written by biased Christians. I can only believe what’s been written by ancient non-Christians, and they don’t say much about Jesus.” How would you answer such an objection? Here is a conversational example of how I recently responded:

“When I hear someone demand an ancient non-Christian authority, I immediately recognize the objection for what it is: a complaint about the historical reliability of the Gospels. Some skeptics think you can’t trust the New Testament because it was written by people who were friends of Jesus. They assume those who were close to Jesus would lie about (or exaggerate) the details of his life and ministry. But the Gospel accounts have to be assessed based on their own historical merit, and we have to remember the nature of their authors. Let me give you an example from a case I worked many years ago.

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Rapid Response: You Can’t Trust the Gospels Because There Are Variations Between the Ancient Manuscripts

In our Rapid Response series, we tackle common concerns about (and objections to) the Christian worldview by providing short, conversational responses. These posts are designed to model what our answers might look like in a one-on-one setting, while talking to a friend or family member. How would you respond if someone said, “I don’t trust the Gospels because I know we don’t have the originals and there are tons of ‘variants’ between the ancient manuscripts we do have”? Here is a conversational example of how I recently responded to this objection:

“I understand this objection; there are many places in the Gospels where scribes over the centuries made small changes, either intentionally or unintentionally, resulting in a different word or passage. These resulting variations can seem problematic, for sure. Some skeptics claim we can't trust any of the New Testament because of the presence of these differences.

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4 Reasons We Should Accept the Gospels As Eyewitness Accounts

In the movie, God’s Not Dead 2, I was asked to defend the historicity of Jesus and the eyewitness reliability of the Gospels. Many skeptics reject the eyewitness authority of the Gospel accounts, even though the early Church selected and embraced the canonical Gospels based primarily on the eyewitness authority of their authors. Some critics even argue the Gospels were never intended to be seen as eyewitness testimony, in spite of the fact the earliest students of the apostles (and first Church leaders) repeated the content of the Gospels in their own letters, affirming the eyewitness status of their authors. As a cold-case detective who examines eyewitness accounts every day, I investigated the accounts in my book, Cold-Case Christianity; A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. My investigation led me to conclude the New Testament gospels should be considered eyewitness accounts for four reasons:

1. Eyewitness Authority Was Affirmed By the Gospel Authors
The authors of the Gospels proclaimed their authority as eyewitnesses (or as chroniclers of the eyewitnesses), and the earliest believers embraced the traditional authorship of the eyewitnesses. The Gospel authors (and their sources) repeatedly identified themselves as eyewitnesses:

2 Peter 1:16-17
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

John 21:24-25
This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.

Luke 1:1-4
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

2. Eyewitness Authority Was Confirmed By the First Believers
The early believers and Church Fathers accepted the Gospel accounts as eyewitness documents. Papias, when describing the authorship of the Gospel of Mark, for example, said, “Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ.” In addition, Papias, Ireneaus, Origen and Jerome affirmed the authorship of Matthew’s Gospel by the tax collector described in the account, written for the Hebrews in his native dialect.

3. Eyewitness Authority Was Foundational to the Growth of the Church
The eyewitness authority of the Apostles was key to the expansion of the early Church. The apostles were unified in the manner in which they proclaimed Christ. They repeatedly identified themselves, first and foremost, as eyewitnesses:

Acts 2:23-24, 32
“This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him… God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.”

4. Eyewitness Authority Was Used to Validate New Testament Writings
Even Paul understood the importance of eyewitness authority. He continually referred to his own encounter with Jesus to establish the authenticity of his office and writings. Paul also directed his readers to other eyewitnesses who could corroborate his claims:

1 Corinthians 15:3-8
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

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