Are the Gospels reliable?

Our good friend, Nathan Busenitz, has now finished an excellent series on the reliability of the New Testament Gospels. Nathan takes the reader on a tour of historical issues and is careful to answer objections raised along the way. There is much food for thought in this ten-part written series that would serve well not only for apologetics but as an excellent tutorial for those new to the faith or for others just wanting a refresher course (see here).

17 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by hokku on October 18, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    It seems to me that the article completely overlooks the more serious issues, such as discrepancies among the gospels and the presence of a great many textual variants, some with major doctrinal implications. Just the absence of the traditional ending to Mark in the earliest manuscripts raises serious questions not even mentioned in the article.

  2. hokku,

    Did you read all ten articles? If so maybe you would have seen that this was an introductory series covering about fifteen major issues.

    BTW, are you implying that the disputed endings of Mark have serious “doctrinal implications”? I would agree with the North African fourth Century manuscripts which omit Mark 16:9-20. Have I missed something doctrinally by doing this? Clearly not.


  3. Posted by hokku on October 19, 2007 at 6:22 am

    The “serious doctrinal implications” I had in mind were primarily relating to the divinity (or lack thereof) of Jesus, but of course the lack of post-resurrection appearances in Mark also has great implications.

    One of the first things one notices on examining the gospels is that Luke and Matthew appear to be simply revised and expanded versions of Mark. The lack of Markan post-resurrection stories is significant in that Matthew and Luke both tell very different post-resurrection stories — and also have very different birth narratives. Both are precisely what we would expect if Matthew and Luke were working from what was essentially the Markan text, which has no birth narratives nor post-resurrection narratives.

    Not being able to “follow the same script,” both Matthew and Luke tacked on their own individual approaches to birth and post-resurrection stories — varying prologues and epilogues to Mark’s story.

    And of course John has no birth stories at all, and quite a different attitude toward the post-resurrection stories, not to mention a completely different view of the manner and tone of Jesus’ ministry than we find in Mark.

    It is all very revealing, and every variant reading and discrepant account has something significant to tell us, if we are attentive.

  4. hokku,

    If I may cut through the clutter of your comment. Your issue is not with the gospel witnesses. Every point you raised has been answered, re-answered, and answered some more over the last hundred years. Solomon said there’s nothing new under the Sun. Rather, your issue is with the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ which you seem to indicate you reject or at least question.

    Dear friend, please understand that your grievance is not an issue of manuscript evidence for Matthew and Mark could come back and show you their original manuscripts and you still wouldn’t believe. The Triune God has made His power abundantly clear to you, not only in creation and in your mind, but also in the special witness of Jesus the Messiah in the gospels.

    I will be more than glad to converse with you off-line and help with your questions. I’m pretty sure however that my answers to your questions about textual criticism will only frustrate you as I do not bring to the table the same critical biases that you have articulated here. Nevertheless I will be happy to help you any way I can. If you would like to talk further please contact me through email.


  5. Posted by hokku on October 19, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    No, my issue has really nothing to do with such doctrinal matters as the divinity of Jesus. That is still not the root of the problem. The root of the problem is the Bible, full of errors, full of discrepancies, human and fallible.

    Yes, there have been countless attempts to “answer” them — such as today McDowell, Strobel, etc., but the “answers” seem to me only weak attempts to evade the obvious.

    If your belief is not based on the Bible, then you might have a case for taking the discussion in a different direction, but I see no evidence of that.

    In any case, I can see you are not anxious to pursue the matter, so thanks for the space.

  6. hokku,

    Maybe you missed the part where I said, “I will be more than glad to converse with you off-line and help with your questions.”


  7. Posted by hokku on October 21, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    Here is an exercise for you to try in testing the supposed reliability of the New Testament gospels. Let me know how it turns out.

    Look at all of the NT accounts of the burial and resurrection of Jesus — in Matthew, Mark (keep in mind that scholars tell us the ending of Mark was added later), Luke and John; add to them the relevant texts — Acts 1:3-12 and 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.

    Now, using EVERY detail in each of these versions, give a single account, in chronological order, of the burial and resurrection and post-resurrection appearances of Jesus up to and including his ascension. Tell what happened, where it happened, and when, and precisely who was there and who said what. Don’t leave anything out.

    This little exercise should quickly remove any notion that the gospels of the New Testament are factual and historical.

  8. hokku,

    My friend, remeber what I said about you raising nothing new. Your idea was answered in the early 70’s by a Cambridge dissertation written by Dr. Harold Hoehner. It was later published by Cambridge University Press as the book “Herod Antipas.” Thiswas further developed in Hoehner’s work “Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ” which has been continuously published since 1977. Were you not aware of this or were you just ignoring it altogether? If the former then I pray you enjoy your reading, you have a lot to do.


  9. Posted by hokku on October 21, 2007 at 9:59 pm

    All “harmonies” like the one you mentioned have failed to adequately account for the numerous discrepancies. Don’t take their word for it, or my word. Give it a try yourself, and you will find that to be the case. Let me know how it turns out. There is nothing like first-hand experience.

  10. hokku,

    First, Hoehner’s work is not a “harmony.” For that I would recommend Thomas/Gundry. I recommended his work because his scholarship is still considered the best in its field. You obviously have not read Hoehner or you would know this and then be inclined to actually answer his points rather than invent your own.

    For a third time I will say, “I will be more than glad to converse with you off-line and help with your questions.” At this point you are starting to embarrass yourself because you want to keep moving the goalposts.

    Please refrain from making anymore comments here and if you want to truly raise questions I have told you, three times now, how you may do so. By the way, if you contact me, please use your real first and last name as I do not speak to anonymous people. Any further comments you make here will be removed. For integrity sake please honor this request.


  11. Posted by Laurie Graham on October 25, 2007 at 8:09 am

    You know … I’m suprised at your (‘your’ referring to Paul Lamey) reluctance to try a simple proposed excersize (suggested by hokku) to see for yourself, I find it odd that you’d rather rely on someone else’s words rather than using the tools that you have at your own finger tips.

    I find you (Paul Lamey) incredibly defensive – to the point of refusing to post anything else by hokku as if it were he or she that had the chip on their shoulder when its actually – you.

    If you don’t want to read the Bible yourself and take the experiment for what it is – an excersize that will open your eyes to what is at your finger tips (the Bible) then its actually you I feel sorry for and its you I see as incredibly defensive and probably hiding a little anger at what you probably believe is the oddasity that someone might disagree.

    So here’s the thing – you can pick apart what I just wrote – there might be spelling errors or whatever – or you can just do the excersize instead of blindly believing someone else’s words. I believe hokku was right on the mark when he/she said “There is nothing like firt-hand experience.” – nothing.

    What is it you are afraid of?

  12. Thank you for your comment Laurie.

  13. Posted by Bo Parker on November 29, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    Are you aware of material that deals with the apparent discrepancy between Luke and Matthew’s birth narratives? I am particularly concerned with how Matthew’s story of the Magi, flight to Egypt, and the Massacre can be reconciled historically with Luke’s story of the birth, presentation in Jerusalem and return to Nazareth.

  14. Thanks for the question Bo. If I understand your question right I would deny that there is any “discrepancy” in any of the gospel accounts. Webster’s defines discrepancy as “disagreement or inconsistency.” In my study of the gospels I find neither. What I do find is that each gospel account had a particular audience and unique purpose. So sometimes Matthew will emphasize things that Luke does not and visa versa. So maybe a better word to use is “differences” which does not carry the a priori assumption that there is disagreement.

    The issue is whether these gospel accounts can be rightly harmonized. One of the better works on this is Robert Thomas and Stanley Gundry’s “A Harmony of the Gospels.” You will also find the particulars of these differences discussed in better commentaries like D. A. Carson (Matthew) and Darrell Bock (Luke).

    I would argue that Matthew and Luke both wrote independently of one another yet were most likely aware of each others account. Their writings do not contradict one another but give different aspects of the same story. One way to see this is the following:

    Luke 2:1-7 Jesus is born (between 6 and 4 B.C. based on the Roman census taken)

    Luke 2:8-20 The Shepherds witness the birth

    Luke 2:21 Jesus is circumcised

    Luke 2:22-38 Jesus is presented in the Temple in Jerusalem

    Luke 2:39 The family returns to Nazareth in the Galilee region

    Matt. 2:1-12 The Magi Visit

    Matt. 2:13-18 The family escapes to Egypt

    Matt. 2:19-23 The family returns to Nazareth after the death of Herod (4 B.C.)

  15. Posted by Bo Parker on November 29, 2007 at 10:49 pm


    Thanks for the response. Just so you know, I am not a sceptic but am seeking a faithful way to understand how these stories fit together and can be presented as historical.

    In the time line you present, the stumbling block for me is that the Magi visit takes place in Bethlehem according to Matthew. If Luke has the family returning to Nazareth after the trip to Jerusalem, how do the Magi visit in Bethlehem?


  16. Bo,

    That is an excellent question and I see how there could appear to be a discrepancy in the narrative and the timeline I gave. So does Matthew chapter 2 teach that the Magi went to Bethlehem and not Nazareth? I believe that Matthew 2 does not contradict my previous conclusion that the family returned to Nazareth and received the Magi there (not Bethlehem) but actually supports the given timeline. Allow me to explain:

    1. Matt. 2:1 simply makes mention that the Magi’s visit comes after Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

    2. Matt. 2:2-4 The Magi stop in Jerusalem to find out where the Messiah was to be born.

    3. Matt. 2:5-6 Herod using the Jewish teachers informs the Magi that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem.

    4. Matt. 2:7-8 Herod maliciously tries to use the Magi to locate the Messiah. He acts on the only information he has so he orders the Magi to search in Bethlehem.

    5. Matt. 2:9-10 This section does not say that the Magi followed the orders of Herod but they “went their own way” and followed the miraculous star which led them to the true location of Jesus and his family (Nazareth, cf. Luke 2:39).

    6. Matt. 2:11-12 The Magi come into “the house” in Nazareth, not the stable in Bethlehem (cf. Lk. 2:7) to present their gifts and worship.

    7. Matt. 2:13-15 Herod does not get what he was looking for from the Magi who escaped (2:12) for their home land so Herod orders a slaughter which sends the family into exile in Egypt. It is only after the death of Herod that the family returns to Nazareth (Matt. 2:19-23).

    I hope this helps.

  17. Posted by Bo Parker on November 30, 2007 at 3:05 am

    I have looked at the Thomas and Gundry book and Bock’s commentary on Luke. Along with your explanation, I see three possible scenarios so far. I am not really satisfied with any of them, but I will keep wrestling.

    I have a hard time with the scenario in which the Magi visit takes place in Nazareth. In general, from reading his account, I find it hard to believe that Matthew is aware of any residence in Nazareth prior to the return from Egypt. I have three specific problems with the idea that Matthew is actually presenting a visit that takes place in Nazareth and not Bethlehem. One, there is no presentation of a Nazareth residence in Matthew prior to the birth in Bethlehem, so it is hard to imagine that we are supposed to understand from the gospel that the Magi visit takes place in Nazareth. Two, if the Magi visit takes place in Nazareth then there is no real threat from Herod’s massacre in Bethlehem and no need to flee. Three, Joseph intends to live in Judea when he returns from Egypt and only ends up in Nazareth after he is warned in a dream. If Nazareth was indeed the home the Magi visited, why does Joseph initially plan to return to Judea?

    Gundry has another scenario. The family goes back to Nazareth after the Jerusalem visit, but only to collect their belongings to move to Bethlehem. They are back in Bethlehem when the Magi visit and then flee to Egypt. They intend to return to Bethlehem but are redirected back to Nazareth by the warning dream.

    The third explanation is that the family visits Jeresulam and is back in Bethlehem when the Magi visit. But it is hard to reconcile this with Luke’s accout in 2:39 where he says that they returned to Galilee after they left Jersualem.

    Scenario two seems the most plausible to me, but I am still troubled as to why Luke does not include anything about the Magi, Massacre, and time in Egypt. What is the explanation for that? Did he not know about those events? (What about Luke 1:3 and his careful investigation?) Did he know of them but choose not to include them for his own narrative purposes?

    Any thoughts or insight?


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