Challenge: You Can’t Trust the Gospels

Posted: March 1, 2011 by Amy Hall in Jesus Changes Everything, Weekly Challenge

Is the New Testament reliable? Here’s a challenge I’ve heard many times:

I don’t understand how you can think Christianity–you know, Jesus, the crucifixion, the resurrection–is true. The Gospel accounts are so contradictory that it’s obvious people were making them up–and that’s not really a surprise, since they were written a hundred years after Jesus supposedly existed.

If a friend has said this to you before, we’d love to hear how you responded. And if you’ve never responded to something like this before, take a shot now. Brett will tell you how you did on Thursday.

  1. Rob says:

    By the standards of historians the New Testament scriptures are the most historically reliable document we have discovered. These same standards are applied to other works which are taken as literal history, and they have far less reliability as compared to the New Testament scriptures. As far as contradictions go, be specific. The burden of proof is on you to come up with the contradictions, and once you do we can go through them one by one and handle any objections.

    • yakamoz says:

      The standards of historians? Which historians? ALL the scriptures, including Matthew which was copied from Mark?

      My favorite contradiction is when Jesus cursed that Fig tree for the crime of not being in season. One gospel says it withered immediately. Another had it withering the next day. Sometimes Jesus rides into Jerusalem on one donkey, in other gospels he’s on two. You can start with those. 😀

  2. Dawn says:

    I would probably take the Columbo approach and, like Rob said, make them defend their claims. There are at least two direct ones that I can see, plus an implication that Jesus may not have ever existed. I would probably start with their claim that the gospels were written 100 years after Jesus, and ask them how they came to this conclusion. Hopefully as a result of starting here you could eliminate the other objections quite easily. Once you prove the gospels were written within the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses a lot of alleged contradictions can be shown to be nothing more than differences in perspective (like all eyewitness testimonies would have). If the gospels were all exactly a like with no differences we would cry collusion.

    I’m sure someone smarter than me might do something different, but that is the approach I would take 🙂

  3. The Gospels don’t tell the stories in exactly the same way, but the reason for that is because they were written by four different individuals. Different people see things in slightly different perspectives. When four different people witness a crime their accounts aren’t going to sound exactly the same, but it’s the similarities in their accounts you’re looking for. If their accounts of the crime turn out to be exactly the same, then you’d suspect them of conspiring it or trying to manipulate you to believe what they want. As it turns out, the Gospels are more similar than they are different, and their differences mean they weren’t copying each other or conspiring with each other on what they should say.

    Some of the supposed “contradictions” aren’t really contradictions at all. Elaine Pagels pointed out that one Gospel says Judas betrayed Jesus because he was paid, another said he betrayed Jesus because the Devil went into him, another says he betrayed Jesus because Jesus told him to. Which one is it? These are complimentary though, not contradictory. They don’t negate each other, but work together. Some point out that Luke mentioned two “angels” while Matthew only mentions one, but where there’s two angels there’s necessarily one! Just because Matthew only bothered to mention the one doesn’t mean Luke was wrong when he said there’s two. Luke is just a more meticulous writer than Matthew.

  4. Rob says:

    hey rob im rob not you!

  5. Bobby says:

    the gospels weren’t written 100’s of years after jesus’s death, they were written about 30-60 years after his death – of course theres going to be contradictions if its written years apart from different points of view but no historian throws away something because theres contradictions. Im Going To end this with a Quote

    “But above all, if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned. Certainly, there are all those discrepancies between one Gospel and another. But we do not deny that an event ever took place just because some pagan historians such as, for example, Livy and Polybius, happen to have described it in differing terms.”

    – Atheist Historian Micheal Grant

  6. Brandon says:

    First, I would ask how he/she is so sure that the Gospels are contradictory. I would then attempt to clarify him on his findings to the best of my knowledge, and then proceed to refer to books and resources on Biblical reference that specialize in assumed “contradictions” and “mistakes” in the Bible. In addition, I would point out to him/her that the Gospels were, in fact, written only a matter of decades after their events, by way of primary sources, i.e. The accounts of the actual Apostles, and then proceed to give more references in support of my assertion, such as “More than a Carpenter” in order to show the plethora of actual historical evidence that supports the veracity of the Gospels.

  7. yakamoz says:

    @Kyle, ok, let’s talk about Judas.
    18(With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

    Matthew 27:5
    5So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

    That’s some difference in perspective! How did one author see Judas literally hang himself, but another saw him fall headlong into a field and disembowel himself? I guess it’s not so historically reliable after all.

    Also I want to point out: There’s a difference between “The gospels” and “The New Testament Scriptures,” but you guys are using them interchangeably. To me, that suggests a lack of familiarity with the bible. Maybe you should read it before you defend it.

    As for the donkey, the reason Luke mentions it as two is because he was misreading an old testament prophecy that said the messiah will go into Jerusalem “riding on an ass, the foal of an ass.” He thought that meant two, when in fact it was a poetic device.

    That strongly, STRONGLY implies he was not describing an event he actually witnessed. Your attempt to reverse engineer the discrepancy by invoking Luke’s supposed “meticulousness” just reveals your unfamiliarity with the subject, and therefore fails.

  8. yakamoz says:

    Basically, if you start out saying ‘the bibles don’t contradict,’ and we come along and say, ‘but look, here’s a contradiction,’ your ability to rationalize that contradiction to yourself by making things up like “luke was more meticulous,” doesn’t actually make the contradiction go away.

    All it does is make your cognitive dissonance go away….for now.

  9. Daniel Gruhn says:

    I’ll try not to restate too much, but regarding the contradictions, I would be curious to see them point any out. Since I’ve read the Bible multiple times and have never come across a situation that only the term “contradiction” could describe; therefore, they must be more astute than I and their insight would prove helpful. However, they would also have to show the situation to be a real contradiction: they would have to properly use translative and hermeneutic principles yet still arrive at the contradiction. Every case I’ve seen made of contradictions being in the Bible, I’ve also seen clarified by looking towards the context of the supposed contradictory statement or other seemingly common sense hermeneutic practice.

    And regarding Biblical reliability, frankly, if you can’t trust the Bible to be true to the original forms then you can’t trust any historical book. No one but historical revisionists professionally think otherwise. The key question is whether or not the authors of Bible were telling the truth when they first wrote, not if what we have now is how they wrote it.

  10. Daniel Gruhn says:

    @ yakamoz

    Just as I said, using translative and hermeneutic principles a reasonable view arises without involving any contradictions:

    The above link provides a decent explanation of how to understand the seeming contradiction found between the Matthew and Acts passages.