Is it True? Is it Reliable?

“Do you know what’s in the Bible? Is it true? Is it reliable? Absolutely verifiable? Let’s all take a look … in the Bible.”

The above words form the chorus of the theme song for the children’s series, “What’s in the Bible?” produced by VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer. And those are the questions that many people wrestle with as they consider the stories found in the Gospels. Are they true? Are they reliable? Can they be verified?  That is entirely understandable if you have ever asked such questions or any like them. Some may feel they are committing sacrilege or being blasphemous by questioning, but others—like myself—think that an unexamined faith is not worth believing. 

In 1985, a group of critical Biblical scholars and laymen formed a group to examine just such questions. Their quest was to find the “Historical Jesus.” They called themselves The Jesus Seminar. Together the group would examine the texts of Biblical passages in the gospels, and using colored beads, they would vote on what they believed the historicity of the acts and sayings of Jesus was. In the 1990s, they published a series of reports detailing their consensus view. Though the group is no longer active, their impact continues, primarily through the work of one of their acolytes, critical New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman. 

Bart Ehrman began his scholarly pursuits as an avowed Evangelical Christian. He attended Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College and received a Ph.D. at Princeton Theological Seminary under Bruce Metzger. Since then, Ehrman has moved from professed Christian to agnostic critic, taking his skeptical assertions mainstream to the New York Times bestseller list. Dr. Ehrman has published more than thirty books. Many of these are listed as required or recommended readings for courses on Christianity and religion every semester on college campuses nationwide. His name frequently appears in the credits of History Channel documentaries dealing with Jesus and the Christian faith. His debates draw thousands of views on YouTube. 

It is not uncommon to read or hear Bart Ehrman make confident declarations about what did or did not happen during the time of Christ or the early church. Ehrman is notorious for bold and emphatic claims like, “The Gospels were written decades after Jesus’s death by people who were not eyewitnesses and had probably never laid eyes on an eyewitness.”[1] Ehrman assures his readers the stories about Jesus were told “by people who [had] never been to Palestine, [didn’t] speak the language of Palestine, [had] never known anyone from Palestine—let alone anyone from Palestine who happened to have met Jesus.”[2] He has no reservations in expressing his views and opinions and often does so as though they are uncontested facts. 

Reading and listening to Dr. Ehrman, one might think he finds no value in the New Testament Gospels or discounts them completely. Regarding much of the Gospel accounts, Ehrman is an expert sower of seeds of doubt. But in 2012, Dr. Ehrman published a nearly 400-page book defending Jesus, writing against mythicists who claim Jesus of Nazareth did not exist. His book Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth presents dozens of facts about Jesus Bart believes from the Gospels and other first-century sources (both Christian and non). 

In a debate in 2022, Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin pointed to more than sixty claims about Jesus that Bart Ehrman accepts as probable based on the Gospel accounts. Ehrman agrees that Jesus likely lived in first-century Palestine and was a Jewish teacher who gathered disciples and taught on moral and prophetic topics. He concurs that Jesus preached about the Kingdom of God, predicted the temple’s destruction, and believed himself to be the Messiah. Furthermore, Ehrman affirms that Pontius Pilate ordered Jesus’ crucifixion around 30 AD during the Jewish feast of Passover, after his betrayal by an inner-circle follower named Judas. He accepts many other claims about Jesus’ life and ministry as probable. Given Ehrman’s skepticism about the Gospels’ reliability and authorship, one could ask how he considers them reliable sources to argue for these aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry. 

If Ehrman is correct that many of the Gospel claims about Jesus are true, why are not the other claims that he discounts true as well? What is and is not reliable in the Gospel accounts? Today, it appears that the answer is found in the subjective opinions and colored beads of critical New Testament scholars like Bart Ehrman or those of the Jesus Seminar. However, their critical objections should not be accepted uncritically. 

I am thoroughly convinced that the unexamined faith is not worth believing. The apologetic pursuit of rationally defending the faith is a necessary and worthwhile endeavor. Loving God with all of our minds requires that we think deeply and critically about what we believe and why we believe it. In doing so, we often find more evidence than we expected and discover that the examined faith is a faith worth believing. 


Photo by Hulki Okan Tabak on Unsplash

1 Ehrman, Bart D.. Jesus Before the Gospels (p. 289). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
2 Ehrman, Bart D.. Jesus Before the Gospels (p. 85). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 



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