Can We Trust the Story?

The four Gospels of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, form the foundation of the Christian faith. These biblical texts contain accounts of Jesus’s life, ministry, death by crucifixion, and, most notably, His resurrection. Many Christians accept these Gospel narratives without questioning their reliability or historical accuracy. They trust that the Gospels are faithful testimonies authored by the men whose names appear in the titles. However, some scholars have raised doubts about the historical reliability of the Gospels. Critical scholars, like those of the Jesus Seminar of the late 20th century, have questioned the Gospels’ accuracy and authorship. While the average churchgoer may never encounter the skeptical questions of the scholars, their questions are important. Especially today as the faith of countless college students is shaken and sometimes spoiled by skeptics like New Testament scholar and textual critic Bart Ehrman. Over the next several posts, I will respond to some of Ehrman’s criticisms by presenting counter-arguments and evidence to challenge his assertions. 

Can I trust the New Testament Gospels? Are they reliable? As a local church pastor, I’ve encountered these questions many times and others like them. Most frequently, they are brought by students in their late teens or early twenties. Typically the questions arise from conversations with their peers, classes on a local college campus, or content on YouTube or TikTok. Frankly, I appreciate such questions. Primarily, colleges ought to teach students the essential skills of critical thinking. Whether or not they do so is a question for another post. But as students learn to think critically, they will inevitably begin to critically assess their firmly held beliefs or those under which they were raised. This is not a bad thing. Though it certainly creates concern in their parents. It is not uncommon for my conversations with a college student to begin first in a conversation with their concerned mom. 

The students I’ve interacted with are sometimes surprised to realize that their thoughts, ideas, and questions about the Gospels’ veracity and reliability are not new. Doubts surrounding the claims of the Gospels are as old as the Gospels themselves. The testimony of Christ’s resurrection was challenged and had to be defended from the start. And in the post-enlightenment era in which we live—following the rise of reason, empiricism, scientific rationalism, and the skepticism of the 17th century—the defense continues. Apologists throughout Christian history have been defending the faith and challenging doubters, and we will continue to do so as long as the questions arise and the doubters remain. 

I find it fascinating that early Christian apologists, like Irenaeus, fought to defend Christ’s humanity, whereas modern apologists often work to argue that He was indeed divine. These are important issues—essential, really—with which the church has wrestled for centuries. In the last half-century, the primary pursuit of many critical scholars has been to identify what they deem the “historical Jesus.” They assert that the “historical Jesus” is the Jesus as He truly was before His followers promoted myths and legends surrounding His nature and deeds. But the evidence shows that the earliest Christians believed that Jesus was truly God and truly man. A hypostatic union of deity and humanity.  This belief is a belief that some Christians hold. It is the belief that sets an individual apart as a Christian. 

This was perfectly illustrated in a 2018 interview with actress Jane Fonda on the Norm Macdonald show. Macdonald asked Fonda, “Are you a religious person?” To which she responded, “I have faith.” Macdonald pressed, “In Jesus Christ?” The exchange that followed was fascinating. Worth watching if you haven’t seen it. 

Fonda: “Uhh. I’m still a work in progress. And I believe in the historical Jesus. And I’ve studied it.” 

Macdonald: “But do you believe in the hypostatic Jesus?”

Fonda: “No… no.” 

Macdonald: “So you’re not a Christian.”

Macdonald’s statement visibly struck Fonda, “So you’re not a Christian.” But that is the reality. Christians believe that Jesus is the God-Man. He is fully God and fully Man. And to validate His divinity, He performed miracles. The greatest of which was His resurrection from the dead. If you do not believe in the miracle-working Messiah, who died by crucifixion and rose boldly from the dead, then you are not a Christian. This is precisely why these apologetic issues are so vitally important. 

Believing Jesus was a good man or a wise moral teacher is not enough. The apostles of Christ believed and taught that Jesus was the only begotten Son of God. They held that He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died for humanity’s sins, was buried, and on the third day, He rose again. They testified that Christ ascended into heaven, will one day return to judge the living and the dead, and to rule and reign over His kingdom forever. These are the foundational beliefs of the Christian faith. They are either true or they are not. And in my upcoming posts, I will consider some criticisms against these claims to present counter-arguments and evidence to challenge the skeptics. 

Photo by Laura Heimann on Unsplash

1 thought on “Can We Trust the Story?”

  1. Thanks for a continued dialog regarding our shared Faith and Hope in Messiah Jesus with a critical examination of Faith in our culture and the deceitful wiles of the attacks against our shared Faith, especially in the midst of so-called accepted academia. Keep the Faith..continue this blogging- it’s appreciated.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *