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The Reliability of the Bible – Part 2

posted Mar 15, 2016, 12:15 PM by First Baptist


Series Overview


By definition, a Christian is somebody who believes the testimony about Jesus Christ that appears in the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. That’s fine, but how we know what they wrote about Jesus is really true?


Last week, I gave 5 reasons to doubt the historical accuracy of the Gospels. The reasons are:

1)      The events took place hundreds of years ago.

2)      Many of the events appear to be the stuff of legends.

3)      The Gospels weren’t written as straight-forward biographies.

4)      There are inconsistencies in the Gospel accounts.

5)      There are few other sources to corroborate the Gospels.


What I intend to do in this series is convince you, that notwithstanding these five things, there are compelling reasons to believe – beyond a reasonable doubt – that the Gospels are historically accurate.


One of the keys is to judge the Gospels by the same standards as other writings that purport to describe historical events. I’ll again use the example of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. You weren’t there, so how do you know it really happened? The answer is that the “claim” that Lincoln was assassinated in 1865 meets the criteria for judging the reliability of such claims.


Well, guess what? So do the Gospels!!!!


The Rule of Immediacy


One of the criteria for judging reliability is the “rule of immediacy,” which has two parts to it.


The first part is that the time period between an event and its recording should be relatively short – the shorter the better. The second part is that it’s better if the “recorder” was an eyewitness.


In the case of the Gospels, both conditions are met.


The Dating of the Gospels


Jesus’ public ministry took place from either 27-30 AD or 30-33 AD. (Historians disagree over which one, but agree it’s one or the other.) Thus, except for the birth accounts in Matthew & Luke, the events recorded in the Gospels took place during one of these time periods.


So, when were the Gospels written? How soon after the actual events?


We don’t know the actual dates, but the Gospels were clearly in wide circulation prior to 100 AD. The reason we know this is because they are referred to (and quoted) by other writers – specifically, in the writings of Polycarp (110 AD), Ignatius (108 AD) and Clement (96 AD).


In addition, there is circumstantial evidence that the Gospels were written prior to 70 AD. The circumstantial evidence is that none of Gospels (nor any NT book for that matter) mentions the beginning of Nero’s persecution (64 AD), the Roman-Jewish War (66-70 AD) or the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD). The thinking is that these events were so cataclysmic that the Gospels (and entire NT) had to have been written prior to their occurrence for none of the writers to have mentioned them.


The bottom line is that the Gospels were written within at least 70 years of the actual events, with the likelihood being more like 40 (in which case, people who knew Jesus would still have been alive to attest to or refute the accounts).


Now, a 40-70 year gap seems like a long time, but it really isn’t when dealing with ancient history. Having documents that close to the events is pretty unusual. For example, in the case of Alexander the Great, we don’t doubt the “facts” of his life and career, even though the major historical account of his life (the one historians rely on) wasn’t written until 400 years after his death.


Two Eyewitnesses


It’s also significant that two of the Gospels writers were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and ministry: namely, Matthew and John.  John, especially, highlights this in I John 1, where he says: “We proclaim to you have we have seen and heard,…”


Their claim to be eyewitnesses is confirmed in other writings of that era. This bolsters the case for at least 2 of the 4 Gospels being historically reliable; they weren’t dependent on somebody else’s testimony.


Taken together, the Gospels pass “the rule of immediacy” for ancient works. Next week, we’ll see if the Gospel accounts have been verified by other (non-biblical) sources.



Pastor Dan