by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.
Is there credible evidence that the Bible is a reliable source of divine revelation? Does the Bible speak accurately on all subject matters or is it only authoritative in regard to spiritual issues? How can you trust the Bible when it was written two thousand years ago? How do you know that the Bible is not full of myths and fabrications? Are the canonical Gospels historically reliable documents on the life of Jesus?
It seems anytime I talk to others about the Christian faith I end up hearing one of these questions. For example, I was able to speak with an airline pilot about the evidence for the Christian faith. Although he claimed to be a Christian, he was uncertain about the accuracy of events recorded in the Gospels since they were written years after they actually occurred. He felt the Gospels were probably the result of men and women bringing together different legends and myths about Jesus of Nazareth.
There are numerous reasons we can appeal to in establishing the historical trustworthiness of the canonical (sacred books officially accepted as genuine) Gospels, including:
• The canonical Gospels are grounded in eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:1-4; John 19:35). The authors claim
to have had actual contact with the events themselves (Matthew and John) or they had firsthand knowledge of the events through the testimonies of those who did (Mark and Luke).
• The Gospels were written too close to actual events surrounding the life of Jesus to be legend. The fact that they were in existence during the lifetime of both hostile and non-hostile eyewitnesses would have prevented fabrications or falsifications on the part of the Gospel writers.
• External evidence, such as archeology, has verified the accuracy of the New Testament Gospels in regard to what they say about historical people, places, and events.
Consider just the following two examples: First, all of
the canonical Gospels record that Jesus was put on trial before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate (Matthew
27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 18-19). Since there was no mention of Pontius Pilate outside the Gospel accounts, many scholars questioned whether Pilate was a historical person. Two Italian archeologists answered this question when they unearthed an inscription in Latin at the port city of Caesarea which stated, “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea, has presented the Tiberium to the Caesareans.”
Second, three of the canonical Gospels mention Nazareth as the city where Jesus was raised (Matthew 2:23; Luke 4:16;
John 1:45). Since the Old Testament, Josephus, and the Talmud do not list Nazareth among the villages and cities of Galilee, Nazareth was considered by many scholars to be a fictitious city. However, in an excavation at Caesarea in 1962, a Hebrew inscription was found, “which mentions it (Nazareth) as one of the places in Galilee to which members of the twenty-four priestly courses emigrated after the foundation of Aelia Capitolina in A.D. 135.”
Adding to this discovery, first-century tombs were uncovered around the vicinity of Nazareth, which has led archeologists to conclude that, “… Nazareth was a strongly Jewish settlement in the Roman period.” So archeology continues to demonstrate the canonical Gospels are consistent with what we know about first-century Israel.
A true examination of the evidence has proven that the canonical Gospels on the life of Jesus are historically reliable and allegations to the contrary are false. The canonical Gospels provide us with four different accounts on the life of Jesus. In these accounts, while the authors may stress different aspects of Jesus’ life and have different purposes for writing, they each present harmonious historical information about Jesus of Nazareth.