Do the Canonical Gospels Represent Historical Fact?
Sweetswede: Opening Statement
Are the events recorded in the Gospels of Jesus Christ (as found in the New Testament) representative of historical fact? It is in intriguing question, the answerto which could have a profound impact on the world. It is my belief that the New Testament Gospels are completelyhistorically factual. To start I must propose some evidence to verify my position. The Gospels recordChrist’s birth during the time of Herod (Matthew 2:1, Luke 3:1). Upon reading Josephus’ “Antiquities of the Jews” we find that Herod was indeed in power at thistime. Not only that, but Josephus says Herod was a man “of great barbarity towardsall men” (
The Complete Works of Josephus
, 366). We would expect this as Herod isrecorded as attempting to eliminate Jesus by murdering all the babies under 2 yearsof age in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16). I think this provides one solid example of theGospels writers recording events accurately. The Gospel writers also record Jesus being delivered to Pontius Pilate for His trial(Matthew 27:2, Mark 15:1, Luke 23:1,John 18:29). This aligns with Josephus’recording of this event:“Now, there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man,if it be lawful to call hima man, for he was a doer of wonderful works,--a teacher of such men asreceive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to Him both many of the Jews,and many of the Gentiles.He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at thesuggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to thecross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him,for he appeared tothem alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these andten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” (
The CompleteWorks of Josephus
, 379).Here I’ve marked the disputed lines in this passage (they are believed to havepossibly been added after Josephus wrote this). But in any case we still have Jesusas a great teacher, condemned to the Cross, fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies(Josephus had been a Pharisee, remember), and His followers proclaiming Him up tothe time of Josephus writing this (A.D. 93). All of this aligns with the eventsrecorded in the Gospels. These are just a few examples of the corroboration wehave for the Gospel accounts.While it would be possible to continue along this line, I think I’ve made the pointthat the people, events, and details recorded in the Gospels are rather wellestablished and verified by other sources.Now I think it will be beneficial to examine the reliability of the Gospels themselvesin comparison to other established and trusted historical texts. As I’m sure we allagree the Gospels are meant to record the life, works, and teachings of Jesus Christ. The question arises then, who wrote the Gospels and when did they write them?