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November 8, 2007

7

How can I trust the Bible stories about Jesus to be true?

by Dave Malnes

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 If we look at the gospels solely as a historical document to determine if Jesus really existed or if he did what the Bible claims he did, we discover some interesting evidence.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that historians use to examine ancient documents, we discover that the Bible holds up remarkably well as a reliable, historical document.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. 

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nov 8 2007

    Yes, all the points you mention are true. But one also must remember, the Bible as we know it is a product of books and documents selected by a group of Bishops under the rule of Constantine. The The creed of Nicea spoken as the basis of faith by so many churches is a product of interpretation and selection by the early church. However, if one looks outside the bible, not only will you find teachings and histories paralleling those of the Christ but also more evidence for the validity of Jesus.
    David
    David
    David

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  2. Nov 8 2007

    David,
    While the final form of the New Testament is achieved only after Constantine the process began before his involvement. The need for clarity on what is Scripture for Christians comes into focus not with Constantine, but with Marcion who claimed that the only Scriptures were the Gospel of Luke and a few letters of Paul, and perhaps one or two other, and it also excluded the Old Testament. This was the reason for the process of Canonization, not Constantine.
    While there could be agrapones found in the Gospel of Thomas and a few other non-canonical sources, they are do not bring a watershed of information that changes the value of the canonical works.
    Clearly the best quality material is included in the New Testament. Works like the Gospel of Thomas, which is not a Gospel collection of the sayings attributed Jesus, does not offer the same quality of work that we see in the Synoptic Gospels. All this stated, really it comes down to a very simple reason why these things were not included, they didn’t have apostolic support. In the fourth century, there was no reasonable argument to be made for the inclusion of these documents. Consider if you will works like the Didache or the Shepherd, they are not included and they are quality works, they didn’t have apostolic support, so they were not included.

    Peace,
    Kevin

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  3. Reynvaan
    Nov 9 2007

    Not intending to attack Christianity or the Bible, but basically what this entire post boils down to is simply “the Bible says that everything in it is true, so what the Bible says about Jesus is true, because the Bible is true.” This is a base assertion fallacy, and a prime example of circular reasoning.

    Hinduism’s Mahabharata and Bhagavad-Gita also fulfill the criteria listed above. By the logic employed here, they must also be true.

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  4. merganzerman
    Nov 9 2007

    I appreciate the comments given so far regarding this post. Thank you.

    I think that Reynvaan makes a good point. This particular post is part of a foundation that is being built in all posts associated with “Answers to a Skeptic”. I felt it was important to address a certain area before moving on. That area was the historicaly reliability of the Bible. Was there a historical figure named Jesus? Did he actually do what he did or say what he said? The bottom line is that yes, there was a Jesus who proclaimed to be the Messiah, God’s own son. And, when we apply all of the criteria to believe a historical document to be true, the Bible passes all of them. With that said, each of us are now personally confronted with the question Jesus asks, “Do you believe?”

    I hope you have the opportunity to read Friday’s post where I delve into this a little bit more.

    Dave “merganzer man”

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  5. Nov 9 2007

    In response to the above. As a Baha’i, I believe God is larger than any single creed or doctrine. God can be found in the Bhagavad-Gita as well as the Bible, the Quran, The Zend-Avesta and others. The Word of God is as a counterpoint within a great symphony. We need to appreciate and accept the whole tapestry and diverse beauty of God that surrounds us. To hear only one voice in the cosmic fugue is to deny the richness of the whole.

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  6. merganzerman
    Nov 10 2007

    Thank you, David, for your response.

    What you wrote sounds very nice, but the fact remains that what you wrote is simply not true.

    The Bible states very clearly that its words are the only source of truth. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life, and no one can come to the Father except through me.” I just can’t get around that statement.

    I think there are some nice teachings in the texts you quotes. I’m sure there are many words of wisdom on how to live good lives. However, they are self-driven and self-focused. They rely on our own efforts and dwell on human potential. It is a prideful attempt to be like God without realizing that we cannot on our own, be either acceptable to God or live a perfect, peaceful life. That is the cold, hard reality of our spiritual state. We are spiritually dead and only Jesus can bring us back to life.

    Again, thanks for your comments.

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  7. Dave Fleming
    Nov 5 2008

    I think that these ‘other’ writings are just a product of another person or culture wanting to start their own religion, that is why there are so many similarities to the Bible.

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