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Do the Canonical Gospels Represent Historical Fact

Do the Canonical Gospels Represent Historical Fact

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Published by sweetswede
A debate on the historical factuality of the Gospels.
A debate on the historical factuality of the Gospels.

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Published by: sweetswede on Mar 30, 2009
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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?
 The traditional authors of the Gospels are believed to be Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. However, the Gospels aren’t “hand signed” so to speak. Regarding Matthew,Mark, and Luke there was no dispute among the early Church who the writers were. There is essentially uniform testimony that Matthew (called Levi, the tax collector)wrote the Gospel bearing his name; John Mark, a companion of Peter, wrote theGospel bearing his name; and Luke, the physician companion of Paul, wrote theGospel bearing his name (Blomberg qtd. In Strobel, 23). The only dispute regardsthe Gospel of John, it is believed John wrote it, but there is one passage byPapiasthat refers to John the Apostle and John the Elder. Whether they are twodifferent John’s or one John in two roles is the disputed topic. However, all otherevidence indicates it is John the son of Zebedee (Blomberg qtd. In Strobel, 23). Thus all the authors of the Gospels were in some way authorities on Christ. JohnMark probably based his account on Peter’s testimony, Matthew and John saw theevents for themselves, and Lukethe companion of Paul who spent a few years in Jerusalem investigating the life of Jesus. Thus, in terms of eyewitness testimonythere is not any significant reason to question the authorship of the Gospels andtheir authority on what they wrote. All the Gospels are believed to have beenwritten between 60-95 A.D., thus placing them 30-65 yearsafter Christ’s death.When one considers Alexander the Great’sfirst biography wasn’t written until some600 years after his death, and is still accepted as historically accurate, we have noreason to question the time of the Gospels writings or to assume there was sometype of distortion caused by time. Therefore the eyewitness testimony and the corroborating evidence speak forthemselves. To say the Gospels aren’t historically factual, in light of the variousevidences (only a few of which I’ve discussed so far) requires valid historicalcontradictions of the Gospels. There must be some evidence, better and morereliable then the Gospels, which disprove them in order for them to fail in regards tohistorical merit.One example that has recently been used for this purpose is the so called lost tombof Jesus. If we found Jesus in a tomb he couldn’t very well have resurrected(physically anyway) and that would be a big dispute of the Gospels claims.However the lost tomb of Jesus has numerous loop holes. Jesus family wasrelatively poor and from Nazareth, how could they have afforded such a tomb andwhy would it be in Jerusalem? If the members of the tomb are from one family, andthus died around the same time why are there three different languages on thevarious tombs? While we are talking about that why is it they translated
Mariamene e Mara
as Aramaic when the lettering was Greek (this phrase wastranslated “Mary the master”)? I could go on and on about the problems with thelost tomb of Jesus, but as my opponent hasn’t proposed it and it’s just an exampleof some of the poor attempts to discredit the Gospels I’ll let that rest. The evidence supporting and verifying the Gospels is overwhelming. Such stringentdemands for the acceptance of a document as historically factual are never appliedto other documents. If one is to deny the historically factuality of the Gospels onemust reasonably deny the majority of what is presently accepted as historical fact.Interms of manuscripts the Gospels are unrivaled. In terms of the time of theirwriting they are all within one generation of Christ, leaving no time for distortion. In
terms of corroborating evidence I’ve proposed some very specific examples thatdemonstrate, in part, the Gospel writers’ great care in detailing events. The onlything the Gospels lack is valid historical evidence that disputes their factuality.It is on these evidences I stake the claim that the Gospels are in fact completelyhistorically reliable. And until valid evidence is made known that disputes this theyshall remain such.
Havok: Opening Statement
 The canonical gospels, as found within the Christian bible contain the only stories of the life of Jesus. They give details of Jesus' conception and his ministry. There aredetails of both the miraculous and mundane. These stories are also claimed by myopponent to be a completely accurate recording of events. I aim to show that theevidence does not support this conclusion. The story of Jesus as told within the canonical gospels of the Christian bible areextraordinary. They contain amazing feats performed by a man, feats which defyunderstanding. Christian tradition maintains that these stories are historicalaccounts of the life and works of a Jesus, and they provide evidence for the manifestdeity of this Jesus. As the late Carl Sagan said "Extraordinary claims requireextraordinary evidence". The gospels, flawed as I will show them to be, do notprovide this extraordinary evidence.So, who wrote the gospels? The names that are born by each gospel is simply the"author" with whom tradition has associated with the work. In fact, all of the worksare anonymous. While one can claim that the traditional authors are the actualauthors, there is no link between them.Each of the gospels claims to be an eyewitness account, or in the case of Luke, athoroughly researched piece of history. Given the anonymous nature of all of theworks, one cannot state that any of them are eyewitness accounts. None of themclaims to be eyewitness accounts. None of them is written in the first person, as youwould expect from an eyewitness. None of them document the sources used togather the information, nor the methods used to sift reality from falsity. How can wetrust anonymous sources whose authorship is a tradition, whose methods areunknown. The gospels were written some time after the supposed death and resurrection of  Jesus, with the earliest being Mark (65-80CE), then Matthew (80-100CE), Luke (80-130CE) and finally the Gospel of John (90-120CE). At the earliest, the first of theseanonymous texts was written ~30 years after the events it purports to describe. Notonly can we not say that these documents are eyewitness accounts, but the earliestdates have the writing of the gospels separated from the events by decades.No original copies of these manuscripts exist. The closest copies we have were

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