The reliability of the gospels

You may remember quite a while ago a rant I posted here about a couple of Canadian evangelicals who were trying to convert me but actually ended up getting swayed more by me than I did by them. They left me with a book called The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel for my own perusal. I’ve been reading revision books and more recently Catch 22, so I haven’t got around to reading it yet, but I’m about halfway through, and when I finish I’ll be sure to post a more in-depth review. The first 2 chapters, however, are specifically about how reliable the gospels are in regards to being passed down faithfully and having been written by eyewitnesses or disciples of eyewitnesses, and I have a couple of points. You’ll have to excuse me, I’ve rather stupidly left my copy somewhere so I don’t have it in front of me.

Strobel constantly reaffirms and asserts that when he was making this ‘2-year spiritual journey’ from effective atheism to committed Christianity, he approached the subject with an open mind and like lawyers in a court case would, but it’s clear from the text that this simply isn’t true. He seems very up to date on polemics in modern Christian theology and he often just takes the experts’ words at face value without questioning it at all (typical of a religionist to use arguments from authority rather than reason), even though his language would make you think he’s probing deeper all the time. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was never an atheist; he never takes the skeptic’s point of view and I could do a better job of grilling these experts.

I’d also like to mention that, unlike most journalists and certainly unlike a court case, Strobel only addresses one side of the story. Not a single time so far has he spoken to anyone who doubts the literal interpretation of the gospels and the orthodox doctrine of the evangelical church, even though he’s devoted a whole chapter to interviewing Greg Boyd, who does little more than dismiss the evidence and research of the Jesus Seminar (a liberal Christian group who separate the historical Jesus from the Jesus of faith). He never speaks to anyone from the Jesus Seminar.

Strobel and Metzger (some expert he’s interviewing at the beginning) constantly compare the evidence in favour of the New Testament to evidence in favour of other documents such as biographies of Caesar or someone else. But in this they are totally missing the point! If Mother Theresa or George “I cannot tell a lie” Washington — Totally off topic but does anyone else think that phrase of his is ironic? He was physically capable of telling a lie, so “I cannot tell a lie” in itself is a lie… duh — anyway if Mother Theresa or George Washington or anyone else that doesn’t normally lie told you that they woke up at 7am that morning, you’d believe it just like that, but if they told you that a pink elephant crash landed in a field from the sky, then disappeared, you wouldn’t!

It doesn’t matter at all how well the gospel story is preserved, or how trustworthy historians believe these ancient writers to be. The important question to ask is which possibility is more likely: that Jesus really did perform all these miracles and really did rise from the dead, or that early Christians and the writers of the gospels were either lying, lunatics or mistaken? I think the latter is much more plausible. A magician’s show might seem wonderful and supernatural, but nobody but naive children genuinely believe it to be magic. We should apply this same level of skepticism to the gospel stories, particularly since the deity of Jesus is not supported in any contemporary document outside the gospels. Think about it, if all this genuinely did happen, any historian or journalist worth his salt would be all over it! And yet there’s very little to support it, even within the Jewish community.


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