It is true that almost all of our knowledge about Jesus comes from the gospels. Yet, we don’t have to take the truth out of “God’s Word”. If we look at the gospels solely as a historical document to determine if Jesus really existed or if he did what the Bible claims he did, we discover some interesting evidence.
If we apply the same criteria that historians use to examine ancient documents, we discover that the Bible holds up remarkably well as a reliable, historical document. When the Bible tells us about the person of Jesus Christ, that God was present in Him and working through Him in a most significant way, we can fully trust the words as being historically accurate.
Let’s see how the four Gospels measure up with the criteria historians use:
1) There must be eyewitness accounts. John tells us he is an eyewitness; Mark uses the Apostle Peter’s account, Matthew is written from the perspective of an eyewitness, and Luke uses eyewitness sources.
2) Does it include specific details? The Gospels are full of seemingly irrelevant detail which typically accompanies eyewitness accounts.
3) Does is it contain self-damaging material? Women, who were not allowed to testify in court, are used as eyewitnesses. The disciples are consistently portrayed in a bad light.
4) Is it self-consistent? The Gospels present a consistent portrait of who Jesus is and what He did, as well as the events surrounding His life.
5) Are there “larger than life” features? The Gospels include supernatural acts, but the accounts don’t have any of the features of ancient mythology.
6) Do the authors have motives for lying? What could the disciples gain from telling the story of Jesus? Nobody can doubt their sincerity. In fact, they suffered for it.
7) Any outside sources to confirm material? There are many secular sources written in the second century that back up some things about Jesus and his early disciples.
8) Are there any archeological findings? There are no conclusive archeological findings which refute any biblical account, yet many findings which substantiate the biblical account.
9) Could contemporaries falsify the document? There were many who would have loved to stamp out Christianity. It would have been easy if the “cult” had been based on myths and lies. Yet, Christianity has survived and exploded in growth. Even those opposed to Christianity could not deny the miracles or that the tomb was empty.
Based on the historical criteria, we can treat the Gospels as reliable documents and are good sources for history. This can be claimed without even mentioning that the Bible is “inspired” or “God’s Word.” Due to the evidence, we must decide whether to regard Jesus as a skilled magician who tricked his way into people’s hearts and got crucified for it, a liar, a complete lunatic, or as the Lord which he and his followers claimed him to be. Based on the historical evidence, we can safely conclude that Jesus is the promised Messiah as foretold in the Scriptures. To claim Jesus as our personal Savior, however, takes much more than historical evidence.
** This question and answer was inspired from the book, “Letters from a Skeptic” by Dr. Gregory A Boyd and Edward K. Boyd, Chariot Victor Publishing, 1994.