Are the Gospels Reliable? An Intro

I’m a Christian.  These days, I’ll admit…even as a Pastor, that I say that statement with a trace of fear and intimidation in my heart, because I know that being a Christian is not highly regarded these days.  Generally, people don’t like Christians very much.  Fair enough, some Christians haven’t been the best examples of what the Bible calls us to be.  To be honest, sometimes I’m not either.  We all fail in many ways, and we have to admit that.  But then what?

Well, let’s go back to the Bible.  The Bible calls us, all of us actually, Christians (and non-Christians) to a standard.  It’s God’s standard.  You see if we presuppose the existence of a God, then we have to take God to be what the Bible says he is.  The Bible is how we know about God.  Specifically, as a Christian I believe the Bible says that God is a “Trinity” – three persons:  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  OK, now…don’t doze off just yet.  I want to focus on just one person of the Trinity for a minute – God the Son, also known as Jesus Christ.   As a Christian, my whole worldview is based on Jesus Christ, and particularly the Jesus Christ of the Bible. That’s how we know what we know about Jesus. 

So, if we know who God is through the Bible, then it would follow that we know about Jesus from the Bible.  Now, everyone seems to know about Jesus, with varying degrees of consistency, but nonetheless most everyone agrees that Jesus actually existed.  He was a historical figure who once walked the Earth.  The Bible, records the events of Jesus and their impact.  Where are these events recorded?  Predominantly in what is known as the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

And there is the rub, and the main thesis of these series of blog posts.  What is common perception these days is that the gospels are corrupt.  We can’t possibly trust the gospels to give an accurate record of who Jesus was and what he said and did, can we?  Are the gospels reliable? I mean, just between the gospels themselves there are significant differences.  They don’t all say the same thing, do they?  We don’t even have the original “autographs.” All we have are thousands of manuscript copies, with tall their differences (or mistakes if you will), written hundreds of years AFTER Jesus walked the earth.  

Some of you may read renowned scholar and best selling author, Bart Ehrman, who claims “there are more differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.” [Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 10.)

Is this true? Are these differences/mistakes signifiant?  Do they change what we know about Jesus?  

And what about the culture itself?  If Jesus walked the earth in the first century Palestine, that wasn’t exactly a culture well known for high rates of literacy.  Meaning, most people simply couldn’t read or write.  How could they possibly accurately record the most important events in history?  I mean, aren’t they just dumb fishermen?  

Besides, as mentioned above, by the time people finally got around to writing down the events decades, if not centuries, had passed.  At best they were recalling distorted memories of a man from Nazareth. At worst case, they were inventing stories to create the Jesus they wanted to.  The Jesus the church needed them to create. To give credibility to what they had to, in order to birth a religion that Jesus actually never intended to create.

Again, Dr. Ehrman weighs in – “The invention of memories of Jesus is not simply a modern phenomenon. It has always been going on. From the very earliest of times.” (Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, 25.)

So where does this leave us?  Well, we really only have two options, and as you may imagine, the implications are quite personal for me – if the gospel accounts are NOT reliable, then the Jesus I have based my life around doesn’t exist and my life is a pathetic sham…a giant waste of time. 

If Jesus didn’t say the things he did, if he didn’t die and raise again back to life – as the Bible itself puts it “I’m the most pitiful person on the planet.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)

BUT, if the gospels ARE reliable, then I’m basing my life on the real and true historical person of Jesus and we all need to come to reckoning about what to do with this Jesus.

Time to lay my cards on the table.  I believe the gospels ARE reliable.  (You are probably not shocked, I can tell.) Through this series of blog posts, I’d like to answer three really big and hopefully relevant questions:

  1. Was the first century Palestine culture predominantly oral to the extent that there is no way they could accurately record the events of Jesus in the gospels?
  2. Were the accounts of Jesus changed in the time between the time the events occurred and the writing of the gospels?
  3. What about all the mistakes in the gospels?  Aren’t there so many differences between them in the Bible? Doesn’t that prove that the gospels are not reliable?

I’d like to then call us to consider all the information presented and see where this brings us in conclusion – and a personal conclusion.  If there is good reason to believe the gospels can be true…where does that leave us?  Where does that leave you?  Thanks for coming along on this little journey.

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