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8 reasons to trust the Gospels

October 2, 2016

Can we trust the accounts of Jesus that we have in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?

We ask students to explore Christ and decide for themselves if he is worth all of our allegiance, but are the biographies of Jesus reliable?

I have compiled eight reasons I trust the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and challenge students to explore the Jesus revealed in these Gospels.

Much of this list applies to the New Testament, but I chose to specifically focus on the Gospel accounts.

This list is meant to strengthen your confidence in the Gospels and help students trust the authenticity of the Gospels.

1. There is certainty that what we read in the four Gospels is what the original authors wrote

  • We have manuscripts that date within 30-60 years of the original writings which is considered closely compared to other historical writings.¹
  • There are about 6,000 manuscripts of the New Testament.² This is the most manuscripts, by thousands, of any other writing in history so we have a lot to compare.
  • Very few errors in the manuscripts—about 1 percent. Most differences are in letters such as Theatre vs. Theater. Also, the errors are easy to detect because we have so many manuscripts to compare.³
  • We would have to throw out all historical writings if we threw out the Gospel accounts.

2. The Gospels share a unified and non-contradictory message

  • Though they are written by different authors, at different times, and have different content (sayings of Christ, actions of Christ, and what they emphasize), they’re unified in their central teachings of Christ’s divinity/humanity, receiving the kingdom by faith, Christ’s purpose to save the world through his death, the resurrection, etc.
  • The Gospels fulfill and fit into the larger story line of the Bible and provide clarity and unity from Genesis to Revelation.

3. They have embarrassing claims about their leaders and messengers

  • If you are making up a story, why make the leaders look so bad? Some examples:
    • Disciples argue who the greatest is in light of teaching on humility.
    • Jesus says to the future chief leader of the church, “get behind me Satan.”
    • Disciples fall asleep in the garden while Jesus prays.
    • Thomas (a key disciple) doubts that Jesus rose even though his friends tell them he had risen.
    • One of Jesus’ 12 disciples betrayed him after following him for three years and witnessing all that he did.
    • They often don’t understand Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel accounts.
    • Jesus rebukes them for sending little children away.
    • The chief leader of the early church, Peter, denies Jesus three times out of fear.

4. The apostles are writing or directly influencing the Gospel accounts

  • There are no better people on the planet to write and influence it than those who followed Jesus directly. They have the most information about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection claim.
  • There’s no motive or reason for them to deceive others or make up what they saw and heard.
  • There’s no evidence they got rich for their message.
  • No evidence they gained power for spreading Jesus’ name.
  • No evidence they gained worldly pleasure by writing these accounts.
  • There is good evidence according to early church history that ten of the eleven disciples died for the message they believed and spread.
  • It is unlikely that Jesus deceived them or that they collectively hallucinated or dreamed this.

5. The Gospels claim to be eye-witness accounts

  • Their message, preaching, and writing could have been easily refuted by other eyewitnesses such as the people they claimed were healed, those Jesus fed, those Jesus taught, etc. Instead they seem to welcome eyewitness confirmation. For example, Luke’s Gospel is full of names, locations, people related to others, etc.

6. In a culture steeped in heavy traditions of oral history, the apostles felt it important to write and preserve

  • The Gospels were written 25-50 years after Jesus’ life. This is a very short time in an oral culture where these stories would have been memorized and shared.
  • This shows the importance of the message. It could have spread for hundreds of years accurately, but they wanted to write it down and solidify all they witnessed.
  • Examples
    • Luke 1:1-4 “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and minister of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
    • Traditionally it is accepted that Mark wrote down Peter’s account shortly after he died to preserve his teaching faithfully.

7. The Gospels make claims to truth and read like they are true accounts

  • As quoted above, in Luke 1:1-4 his goal was that the readers would have certainty concerning the things he wrote about.
  • John also makes this claim, “These are written that you may believe.” The positive assertion of belief is implied that it is worth believing, meaning it is true.
  • If you are making the story up, why have women be the first witnesses of the resurrected Jesus? In Jewish culture at the time, a woman’s testimony was not admissible in court.
  • This is why many people’s experience in trusting the Gospel accounts is by just reading them because they read like truth and they defend themselves.

8. The resurrection makes the most sense of history

  • This is one of the greatest reasons to believe the Gospel writings. Their central claim is that Jesus rose from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus is a historical event that explains the history around this time better than anything else. Some examples are:
    • When opponents and unbelievers of Christ being the Messiah began to follow Christ (Saul and James).
    • When Christianity spread rapidly and didn’t die out with Christ. All other messianic claims to divinity by people die out when the leader dies, but Christianity spread.
    • Cowardly disciples gained incredible boldness even among oppressive Roman rule and went to their death.
  • Four historical facts most all historians agree on:
    • Jesus was killed on a Roman cross (which was an embarrassment to early Christians).
    • The empty tomb.
    • He appeared to over 500 people after his death.
    • Conversion of skeptics. Paul goes from a persecutor to a disciple. And James thought his brother was insane and then later believes him.
  • Considering the historical facts that most historians agree on, it seems that the most plausible explanation is that Jesus rose from the dead. And if this is true then we have much reason to believe the accounts of those directly connected to Jesus’ life.

1) There are many who date the earliest manuscripts in this period, see Christian Apologetics by Norman Geisler, 1976, p. 307; and Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, 1979, pp. 42, 43.
2) Norman Geisler & Peter Bocchino, Unshakable Foundations, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2001) p. 256.
3) Christopher H.K. Persaud, Contending for the Faith, 2013, p. 123
4) A book that does a good job unpacking the storyline of the bible is Gods Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible by Vaughan Roberts, 2002.
5) An interesting article published by National Geographic shows what is widely to be believed what happened to the disciples with various evidence: “How did the Apostles Die?” by Patrick J. Kiger, 2015.
6) Here is an example of how the gospels could be dated:
7) 321: The Story of God, the World and You, Glen Scrivener, 2014, p. 130, 131