Can I trust the Gospels in the New Testament?

Glenn Addington By Glenn Addington, 11th Aug 2017 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Religion

Various considerations in regard to the credibility of the New Testament gospels.

The liberal perspective

Rudolph Bultman proposed the idea that what the gospel writers wrote was largely myth, and that by stripping off the layers of supernatural events, we could find the “historical Jesus”. Professor Avrum Stroll, of the University of British Columbia, said, “a Jesus probably did exist, but so many legends have grown up about him that it is impossible for scholars to find out anything about the real man”. He also said,” it is almost impossible to derive historical facts from the legends and descriptions of miracles performed by Jesus”.


Webster’s 7th New Collegiate Dictionary, dated 1969, defines legend as “as a story coming down from the past, especially one of the ruling regarding as historical although not verifiable”.
The question must now be asked: “how long does it take for legend or myth to replace actual, historical facts? Consider the following scriptures.
Peter makes 2 statements during his sermon in the temple on the Day of Pentecost.
Acts 2:22 ¶ "Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—
Acts 2:32 "This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.” Peter is speaking of mighty works, signs and miracles done by Jesus in this first passage, and of His resurrection in the second. Peter addresses the reality that those in his audience were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry, having seen the many miracles of healing He did, the raising of the dead, and possibly having seen the resurrected Jesus. If there was any falsehood or exaggeration in Peter’s statements, any one of those in his audience could have spoken up instantly, and brought Peter’s sermon to a screeching halt. The day of Pentecost, when Peter was preaching, would have been a day when many would have been there at the temple, including hostile witnesses, such as the scribes, the Pharisees, the Herodians, the Sadducees, and lawyers, who would gladly have spoken out to bring all this to an end. These events that Peter spoke of were recent, some within 60 days of Peter’s message here on the day of Pentecost.
We’re forced to draw two conclusions here: first, not enough time has passed for the events of Jesus’ ministry to become exaggerated to the status of legend.
Secondly, Jesus’ miracles were and are historically verifiable, because of the innumerable audience of witnesses here listening to Peter’s message. So these challenges to the credibility of the accounts of Jesus’ miracles and healing are meaningless.

Eyewitnesses were interviewed by Luke, referred to by Paul

Luke opens his gospel account telling of his own personal investigation of the events of the life of Christ. He would have questioned as many eyewitnesses as possible. His own statement is “having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus.” In I Corinthians 15:3-8, the apostle Paul tells of all the eyewitnesses of the resurrected Lord Jesus. As he writes 25 years later, he says that most of the 500 to whom Jesus appeared at one time were still alive. This is all the more reason for accuracy in reporting the events concerning Jesus. What other events could they remember about Jesus’ life and ministry? How many of these individuals might have been interviewed by Luke as he did his research on the life of Jesus?

Can I trust the gospel writers?

Back to the question: “can I trust the gospels?” One answer might be, “only if I can trust the gospel writers.” What do we know about them, historically? Their character, their own religious background, and religious circumstances of their day are all things that need to be looked at.

Did they want to believe in the resurrection so desperately, that it became true only in their minds?

The naysayers who refuse to believe in the resurrection say that the disciples wanted so desperately to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead that it became so in their minds. These critics have never read the gospel accounts.
One aspect concerning their character: while there was quite a bit of diversity among them in regard to their occupations, they were otherwise ordinary men. One thing they all have in common was their greater tendency toward skepticism rather than belief. Consider the following scripture passages.
Mark 16:9-11 “[Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping.
When they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it.” These last 5 words declare the rest of those gathered together as equally guilty of unbelief.
Mark 16:12-13 ¶ After that, He appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking along on their way to the country. They went away and reported it to the others, but they did not believe them either.” The two mentioned here were the two men on the road to Emmaeus, as recorded for us in Luke 24. In that passage, Jesus questions them regarding their conversation. They relate to Him the hopes they had had regarding Jesus, but His crucifixion has destroyed those hopes. They also relate to Him that they had heard testimony from the women who had been to the tomb, and had been told by angels that He was alive. Others went to the tomb and saw it just as the women had reported, but had not seen Him. THESE TWO WERE CERTAINLY NOT BELIEVING THAT JESUS HAD RISEN FROM THE DEAD! Jesus scolds them, calling them foolish and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets had spoken.
The third statement regarding their unbelief is in Mark 16:14.
“Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen.”
In John’s gospel, chapter 20, we have the account of Thomas’ response when told by the rest of the disciples that they had seen Jesus alive. It is no mystery why he became known as ‘doubting Thomas’.
John 20:24-25 ¶ But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."

Their honesty in self-portrayal.

Another character trait was their honesty in self-portrayal. They didn’t paint rosy pictures of themselves, but stated plainly their short-comings. Consider these passages of scripture.
Matthew 26:56 tells of their cowardice in deserting Jesus when He was arrested. “Then all the disciples left Him and fled.”
Matthew 26:69-75 records Peter’s denying knowing Jesus three times.
Matthew 20:20-28 tells us of the selfish ambition of James and John, wanting to be given positions of highest authority – one on Jesus’ left and the other on Jesus’ right, placing them in positions above the other disciples.
In Mark 9:33-34, we hear of their recurring discussion concerning which of them was the greatest. At the Passover feast, after Jesus has announced that one of them was going to betray Him, we hear of their dismay over this announcement. But in the next breath, their focus has changed to which of them was the greatest. Luke 22:22-24 "For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing. And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.”
They relate their disbelief in Jesus’ miracles in several places. After Jesus stills the tempest on the Sea of Galilee, in Mark 4:41 we read, “They became very much afraid and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?" This statement was made after Jesus had turned the water into wine at Cana of Galilee, healed the nobleman’s son at Capernaum, healed the man with an unclean demon in Capernaum, healed the man with the withered hand in the synagogue, had healed Peter’s mother-in-law who was sick with a fever, cleansed a leper as He was coming down from preaching the Sermon on the Mount, healed the blind and mute demoniac, healed Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the issue of blood, and healed two blind men and another mute demoniac. He had also raised the son of the widow of Nain. During all that time, in Luke 4:40 and Luke 6:17-19 there are references to many other miracles. And after all that, they question His ability to calm the wind and sea?
James and John reveal their nature and character, after the Samaritans refuse to welcome Jesus because He and His disciples were on their way to Jerusalem. The two brothers ask Jesus, “Do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” For this, they received a rebuke from Jesus.
In Matthew 16, immediately after Peter’s great confession, Jesus plainly predicts His mistreatment at the hands of the Jewish authorities and His crucifixion. Peter’s rebuke of Jesus for that statement is rewarded by being called Satan, with the proclamation that Peter is not setting his mind on the things of God, but the things of men.

Another characteristic is their objective reporting of the facts.

They related the facts of Jesus’ enemies being there to try to trap him in His words, and His statements to the apostles concerning the dangers and persecutions they would later experience. As they told of these events, and of His suffering and death, not a word is expressed showing contempt, hatred, the normal desire for revenge, or words of condemnation or judgment on Jesus’ enemies.
They allow the reader to form his or her own opinions. When describing their own actions or activities, there’s never any sensationalism or self-exultation. They report what happened in the simplest of terms.

Their learning from Jesus and His influence and example is evident in their reporting of events.

This is seen in our last item, that of not showing hatred or contempt for Jesus’ enemies. Also, the moral excellence taught and required by Jesus would never allow them to corrupt the truth or concoct a lie. The power of the Holy Spirit was theirs from the Day of Pentecost and beyond, which would certainly not permit falsehood in their statements regarding Jesus’ ministry and their time spent with Him during His ministry.

Their religious heritage and background was paramount. Part I

Knowing the 10 Commandments, they surely knew Exodus 20:3. “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Jesus had probably related to them His temptation experience and His means of victory - responding with quotes from the Old Testament scriptures. Jesus had said to Satan, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.” They could never falsely elevate Jesus to equality with God without risking the wrath of God. Only their experiences with Jesus could have convinced them that He was equal with God, and that worship of Him would be acceptable to God. When Peter made his great confession in Matthew 16, Jesus replied, “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in Heaven.”
Jesus was willing to accept worship, which would have been a violation of the Old Testament law if He had not been the Son of God. After Thomas made the statement that he would not believe Jesus was raised from the dead unless he saw in Jesus’ hands the imprint of the nails and put his finger into the place of the nails and put his hand into His side, Jesus appeared to the 11 apostles 8 days later. Upon seeing Jesus with His wounds, Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” If it would have been wrong for Thomas to use these words of worship, Jesus would have been justified in correcting him. Jesus accepted Thomas’ worship of Him, since it was appropriate.

Their religious heritage and background was paramount. Part II

But they also suffered from the wrong belief that most of the Jews of their day were guilty of – expecting a Messiah who was a political figure who would throw out the Romans and restore the kingdom to the splendor that Israel had experienced when Solomon was king. He would then rule the nation, they believed. This was why James and John asked for the places of rule at His right and His left. It was probably also the reason for Peter’s rebuke of Jesus when He told of His upcoming abuse at the hand of the Jewish leaders and His crucifixion. And we see the common people with their belief in a Messiah king after the feeding of the 5,000. After seeing Jesus heal those who were sick and His feeding of the 5,000, John tells us, “Realizing that the people were about to take Him by force and make Him king, He withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.”

Their accuracy – historically and geographically – demands that it be acknowledged that they were eyewitnesses.

In Luke 10:30, as Jesus is telling the story of the Good Samaritan, he tells of the man who had been beaten and robbed, as “he was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.” Only someone familiar with the geography of that region would know that the road between these two cities descends 3,000 feet, explaining the phrase ‘going down’. In John 2:20, the enemies of Jesus tell us that the rebuilding of the temple had already been going on for 46 years, which helps us date Jesus’ first cleansing of the temple. John notes 5 references to Jewish festivals, allowing us to determine that Jesus’ ministry was roughly 3 ½ years. John’s gospel deserves special study because roughly 82 percent of the material in his gospel does not show up in the other accounts. But his gospel account cries out boldly that it is indeed the experience of an eyewitness. John 21:24 ¶ This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

Conclusion: There is every reason to accept with confidence the gospel accounts .

There is every reason to accept with confidence the gospel accounts as we have them, with no need to fear that myth or legend have crept in and corrupted the portrayal of Jesus. Furthermore, we need not suspect that the gospel writers were used by God if they were not trustworthy servants, godly men with integrity. God, having done all He has to bring about the salvation of mankind, would not permit deception to compromise His revelation concerning His Son’s mission and subsequent glorification, and our salvation.


Belief, Christianity, Faith, Gospels

Meet the author

author avatar Glenn Addington
I am an American, former Viet Nam veteran, and a Christian, living in East Tennessee. I am now retired and am pursuing a writing career. I would welcome writing assignments.

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