Are the Gospels Reliable?

Well it directly contradicts your claims to the contrary about scholars here. Moreover these conclusions are moderated and echoed by most secular scholars.

For example an atheist wouldn’t hold that Jesus actually rose from the dead. But he would agree that Jesus wasn’t a myth and it seems the Church was convinced he rose from the dead very early on, within at least years of his death.


Same is true about early belief in Jesus’ divinity. These were definitively not late additions, but very early beliefs.

One of the great historical puzzles of 1rst century Palestine is Paul. He wasn’t with Jesus, but a well known and devote Jew who opposed Christians. Yet he comes to take beliefs that (as you have rightly noted) are a large departure from most of Judaism after Jesus. Why is that? How did that happen?

It isn’t like the tautological claim that “Jews of today don’t believe Isaiah 53 refers to Jesus.” Well duh. If that wasn’t the case they wouldn’t be Jewish (or they would be Messianic Jews). That is a purely tautological claim.

The situation with Paul is different. It would be as if the Pope or a Cardinal suddenly converted to Islam. It is nearly inconceivable that this would happen. Of course, we can imagine a Catholic on the fringes of Catholicism converting to Islam. It is nearly inconceivable that the Pope or a devote Cardinal were to convert to Islam. Now imaging that this new convert quickly becomes the most important theologian in Islam. It would be entirely stunning. That means he wasn’t coerced, and all these non-Catholic Muslims come to trust him very quickly, and he even forms core parts of Islamic doctrine taking it into new directions that people didn’t expect.

Of course it could happen. It isn’t impossible. If it did happen, it would be a gigantic puzzle that would have many people trying to figure out. Simplistic explanations would fail. Clearly he didn’t convert because his family was being held hostage; that wouldn’t explain how he became the foremost theologian in Islam, nor did he even have a family any ways. Clearly it wasn’t because he was a useful figurehead for publicity, because he ends up substantially changing their beliefs.

Something bizarre is going on, and it would be come one of the most important mysteries in history if no coherent explanation could be given. Something out of the ordinary.

This is close to what is going on with Paul. It just doesn’t make much sense what happened, unless of course there was something to the early beliefs of the Church, and that Jesus really did appear to him.

I note also that there is nothing like this in the origin of any other religion. Islam doesn’t have anything odd like this in its origin. There is something different going on with the early Church. You can despise what the Church did later in history (and I’m certainly no defender of its errors). Something different was going on in 1st century Palestine.


Which I did not do. I compared Scientology to the belief in Jesus’s resurrection, which is perfectly apt.

I think you are misunderstanding my position.

The consensus of scholars is that the early Christians believed Jesus was the Son of God and was resurrected. The Gospels are part of the evidence on which this conclusion rests.

Scholars do not agree that the Gospels are reliable first person accounts of things that actually happened.

Clear now?

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This looks like a good place for resources to remedy your poor understanding of the history and nature of the texts of the New Testament.

I hasten to add I have not read any of these. I am not that much into this subject. I just am aware enough of the scholarship to know what it says, much as I am aware that most historians believe Napolean lost the Battle of Waterloo, even though I have not read a single scholarly work on the subject.

I don’t really see what you find so unique about this. People convert to new religions all the time. It is commonplace. It is also commonplace for converts to become among the most extreme and fervent adherents of the religion, as happened with Paul.

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Exactly my point. I have no expertise in the subject whatsoever, so I defer to those who do.

Retired cops are not among these.


Ah - but I have. I’ve studied the “synoptic problem” intermittently since I was a teenager, have read a good bit of scholarly literature on it, and am also aware (as perhaps you are not) that any consensus there was has pretty well dissipated over the last 20 years or more, as the shortcomings of the old source-critical approach and its offshoots have become undeniable. One effect of that collapse has been to make even earlier dates for the gospel more plausible (as in John Wenham, to name just one source).

That is why detailed studies of the historical background have become far more common (for example, Hurtado, N T Wright, Craig Keener), together with better studies of narrative transmission (as, for example, in Richard Bauckham, specialising in eye-witness testimony and how it operates). Bauckham also initiated work on using the frequency of personal names to date the gospels as history-biographies firmly in the early to mid 1st century, work that is also picked up in the work of Peter Williams cited somewhere in the thread - incidentally, Josh and I had a good conversation with the latter when we were in Cambridge recently, at one of the world centres of New Testament historical study.

Other recent work has explored the genre of all four gospels, and how they follow (to varying degrees) the accepted methods of 1st century historiography and biography.

When it comes down to it, the “synoptic problem” was an artifact of trying to analyse the gospels too precisely with inadequate information and limited “modern” tools. There is neither sufficient historical information, nor are the gospels long enough, ever to reconstruct exactly how they relate to each other. But increasingly, mainstream scholarship has come to recognise them as important, and often independent, historical sources, with many characteristics of being collated from various eye-witness testimony.

This is very different from the Quran’s account of Mohammad’s flight to heaven. Quite apart from the problems revealed by subjecting it to the same historical tools used on the NT, it was only ever represented as the prophet’s visionary account of his own journey, relayed to his followers. There is no history to be done on such an account, except on the matter of how and when the Quran came to be written.

In contrast, if (as we seem all to agree now) belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus appears in the earliest levels of Christianity, then the eye-witness claims of the gospel were subject, equally early, to refutation by the many enemies of the new movement, and it is unclear how it ever spread beyond Jerusalem, let alone to the ends of the Roman Empire within 3 decades, if the resurrection was false.


I agree with this. JJ Warner is a retired cop with out much authority here. At the same time a lot of what is written by atheists here approaches the uninformed nonsense as we see so often from anti-evolutionists.

See what @jongarvey wrote and the many academic resources we point too.

@Faizal_Ali you are an atheist from a Muslim background. I respect this. I understand it as a step towards truth. Something different is going on with Jesus. Look into it.


What is the “something different”? All I’ve seen so far is a lot of people believed it, and these people had a large effect on world history. History is full of this sort of thing.


Why did they believe it? Where did that belief come from? When you get into the details, that is the difference.

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Why do Scientologists believe in the story of Xenu? I have no idea. I also have no reason to believe it is true.

What is so different about Christianity? How deeply have you delved into the reasons that Scientologists believe in Xenu? As deeply as you are expecting me to delve into Christianity?


There is no good parallel to the Gospel accounts in other religions, nor is there a good parallel to Jesus.

In the last several decades, there have been biographies (not autobiographies) written by different people of figures such as Abraham Lincoln. These people are not eye witnesses to him, but they often compile together and narrate eye witness accounts into a trustworthy account of the historical figure. Perhaps errors were made in these biographies, but usually these are honest errors, made in good faith. We would say that these biographies are “reliable” and written in “good faith” even if they have errors, even though they are not compiled in the end by firsthand eye witness.

@Faizal_Ali consider reading the Gospels as reliable and good faith accounts of what real people thought at that time about Jesus. You can even hold that they may well be misguided and wrong about important facts, such as miracles and so on. Consider reading their account and hearing their story out. Maybe you might see more of what I mean when I say that Jesus is different.

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Quite a bit.

I’ve delved into Scientology more than I’m inviting you to delve into Jesus. I’m not expecting or commanding you to do so. You can do as you like. I’m just making a friendly invitation. =)

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That’s what I have done.

I don’t see anything different about Jesus compared to the hundreds of other prophets and spiritual leaders who have had incredible feats and miracles attributed to them. The only thing that sets him apart is that, thru random historical contingencies, the faith founded in his name has been the most common in the world for the past few centuries. It may not be for much longer:

Why don’t you just tell me what you find so unique and different about the stories told about Jesus? I grew up hearing stories about Muhammad, and they seem no different except in their particulars.


45 posts were split to a new topic: The Resurrection of Jesus and Historical Evidence

Well, that is the thing about the historical evidence for the resurrection - it is a complex issue, removed as we are from the event, and you can’t assess it well without wading into the details (a point which the McGrews make). But the among the issues that the article focuses on are:

  • the report from the women of the discovery of the empty tomb
  • the witness of the disciples concerning the appearances of Jesus (including a discussion about the impact of the interdependence of their testimony on its evidential strength)
  • the conversion of Paul
    And the article looks at naturalistic explanations for these events (concluding that they are improbable, given the details of the case).

Again, the purpose of the article is to show that if the Gospels are generally historically reliable (staying neutral, initially, about what they say regarding the supernatural) then the Resurrection is strongly supported by the evidence. It does not itself argue for that reliability; leaving that task for elsewhere.

The first hurdle is determining if these testimonies are truthful. How does one go about this?

I also don’t see how people making up stories is less likely than a person rising from the dead.


What are the sources for these claims other than the Gospels? And why does Gary Habermas not consider the empty tomb nor the post mortem appearance of Jesus to be facts?

And religious zealots believing things with absolute conviction in the absence of any good evidence is so commonplace it is practically a cliché.


That’s where it gets into the details.

I get it if you don’t want to read a whole book (or even a 75 page article) to hear my case. But I feel there’s little point in me repeating it (in an incomplete and inferior way) when it’s already been done and when the little details matter for the probability assessments here. Try reading the article. If you think it’s useless because you don’t buy that the Gospels are sufficiently reliable, try looking at the sources I suggested earlier in this thread (this book, or this series of presentations.)

And if you think there’s a good case to be made for the other side that requires a book-length amount of attention, feel free to suggest it, and I’ll try to check it out.