Experiment In The Reliability Of The Gospels

In a recent entry in the Cross Examined Blog, the author decided to make a point about the reliability of the “contradictory” Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus, and why they are not in fact contradictory.  Briefly, the main charge of skeptics of the Gospel accounts is the accounts contradict each other and are therefore unreliable.  For example, were there two angels or one, how many people went to the empty tomb, and who were they, etc.  These objections all have answers, but Neil Mammen used a clever illustration to make his point and hoist the skeptics by their own petard.

There had recently been an airplane accident where it had to make a crash landing, killing a young boy, wrecking a couple cars by sliding off the runway, and  breaking through multiple barriers coming to rest on a street.  Multiple news agencies reported the incident but made different observations.  A couple sources mentioned two cars, one or two others mentioned one car.  A couple reports mentioned breaking through a wall, another a barrier, and another a security fence.  One report only mentioned the boy killed.  So Neil went on a rant citing all the “contradictions” in the reporting and concluding the incident never took place, much like skeptics of the resurrection of Jesus.

Obviously most commenter’s came to the defense of the differing reports actually citing reasons most Christian apologists give for the defense of the differing accounts in the Gospels, which the skeptics themselves reject for the defense of the Gospels.

In the end the point is glaring and obvious.  The accounts vary because of differences of perspective, not contradiction or deception.  The entire blog article is a bit long but well worth the read.


Related Article: Objection Overruled, Independence Anyone?


  1. Don’t you think it’s more troubling that the Gospels, all four, were written decades after the death of Christ by men who were not witnesses to anything Jesus said or did, and who gathered the tales by word of mouth from travelers? There isn’t a single word written by Christ himself, nor is there anything regarding his activities in the historical records of the time.

    So Christians take the entire New Testament, the whole basis for their religion, completely and utterly on faith in these four texts.

    • To have extant writings within 25-30 years after the events is historically outstanding. However, the idea of “word of mouth” transmission is fairly misleading. Its not like the information gathered would have been based off one persons recollection, but rather the communities recollection. Oral transmission is not at all like the telephone game as most skeptics would have you believe. For example, the telephone game starts with one person making up a sentence, telling to to the next individual in in secret, then passed to the next, etc. The start of the transmission of the gospel accounts would have been told to groups of people by people who were witnesses. Every time it would have been repeated errors could have been corrected.

      Secondly, the time frame the NT was written leaves the opportunity for hostile contemporaries to refute the accounts, do date no such refutations exist. People who were witnesses to the events could rebut the ideas the NT presents in the gospels. People would remember Jesus performing (or not performing) miracles and raising from the dead. Taking into consideration the cultural atmosphere of the time, it would have been nearly impossible for a new religion based upon a man who lived in your community who you had seen among you, and was put to death; then your neighbors claimed he had been raised from the dead and continued to preach for another month. Wouldn’t it be a little odd for these people to make these kinds of claims if it didnt happen? If Jesus had not presented himself afterward, would not people reject the new religion?

      From our perspective its a religion and claims about a person who lived thousands of years ago. To them, it was something that happend yesterday, last week, and right now.

      Lets say you and a dozen of your friends were close, hanging out for a few years. then one of you is executed by the state. A few days later you and your friends see and talk to him again. not just you but a bunch of people from around town who also knew him. Had that not happened, and you and your friends made it up, would you be willing to let people kill you for your story?

      More to the point, a couple decades after the events is not a liability, it actually works in favor of their reliability rather than against it, historically speaking. Many ancient histories and biographies are written centuries after the reported events, but they are not as heavily criticized for this and are still considered reliable.

  2. Thanks for the posts John.

  3. Nice post John. I am now a fan. Keep it up man.

  4. Many Christians disagree with your apparent Literalist interpretation of scripture — not just atheists (which is what I guess you mean by “skeptics”. Some Christians I know consider themselves skeptics, btw).

    So perhaps you could consider not try to set up straw men arguments against generic atheists but argue against the specific Christians who disagree with you.

    • Actually I have never heard another Christian claim “discrepancies ” in the Gospel accounts are contradictions, only atheists attempting to discredit their reliability.

      What do you mean by literalist?

  5. dhillcrest says:

    I think the point the analogy missed was that when there were contradictory reports of the aircrash, the actual events that happened could not be established for certain. There would need to be scientific evidence and the authorities would be all over the site to see if it was indeed a wall, a barrier, a security fence etc etc. The truth could be ascertained beyond reasonable doubt. It’d probably be written down the next day by the authorities and reported in all the papers.
    However, when mystical events are alleged to have happened and are not wriiten about for 40 years, the authorities are oblvious – to the extent that the dead of Jerusalem leaving their graves goes unnoticed by them, and the ‘perspective’ is skewed between the reports, then we have to wonder if the reprts are true.
    After all, the story of Christ Could have been made up – it is a possibility. I can’t think of an aircrash where someone later said it was made up – the evidence would be there – so no-one would bother. Oh – hold on……………..

    • What you may have missed is the plane crashed through all three. The reports though emphasizing different details were not contradictory.

      There is good reason to believe there were written accounts within 15 years of the events, which by ancient standards is incredibly good. But I somehow suspect that even if it could be shown there were written reports within days of the resurrection, you would still reject the accounts, so length of time between the event and the oldest copy is probably not your issue.

  6. I for one really love this analogy John Barron jr posted: “Lets say you and a dozen of your friends were close, hanging out for a few years. then one of you is executed by the state. A few days later you and your friends see and talk to him again. not just you but a bunch of people from around town who also knew him. Had that not happened, and you and your friends made it up, would you be willing to let people kill you for your story?”

    Would your assesment of the situation really be that your friend died and was resurrected? I mean really? Or would it not be more prudent to assume he was not executed after all, or that he did not die in the process? Resurrection was the obvious explanation for the jew fishermen and shepherds of antiquity, especially as they had thought their friend as a messiah, but would a modern person not assume something completely else? Possibly something more plausible perhaps, since the execution did not go as planned? The fact that someone is ready to give his life for an idea does not prove the idea, it only proves that person to be a fanatic.

    • As a matter of fact, yes. If I saw my friend executed by the state, went to his funeral, witnessed his burial, and a few days later, his grave was empty and I and many others encountered and interacted with him again alive, yes I would conclude my friend was resurrected somehow.

      You do not have an accurate understanding of Jewish thinking on this issue, maybe that is one reason you so easily dismiss the claims of the Gospel accounts, but I gather you would anyway. First, the disciples did not think Jesus was the Messiah until after His resurrection. The Jews have the idea that the Messiah when He came the first time would be a conquering Messiah, relieving their oppression of the Roman government. This is not how Jesus came. And they certainly did not expect His resurrection. Resurrection was an idea that the Jews believed only happened at the end of the world, in the end days, not just for one person. So it was wholly unexpected to see Jesus again.

      “The fact that someone is ready to give his life for an idea does not prove the idea”

      What it does prove is they believed the idea to be true. Which is what I have always argued all along, here and other articles. So perhaps you could stop offering this as a dismissal, since I don’t claim the disciples deaths prove the idea is true.

      • You must have a great faith in government, if you would have no doubt, what so ever, that your friend might not have been killed in the execution, since you saw him alive afterwards. Are you by any chance a doctor? Could you recognize a man in a coma from a dead body? The deciples were no doctors, nor is there any mentioned in the gospels. Jesus was not examined by a doctor, not even by the standards of those days, so the fact that the deciples thought him dead was based on their skill to asses the situation and the medical state of Jesus.

        The diciples lived in a world and time where everything was explained by macig and religion. They would see religious or magical explanatoin natural to any extraordinary event. That would for most part explain all the other miracles Jesus performed in those days, just as it explains most wondrous and magical things that have ever happened in any religion or otherwise. The fact that a person believes David Copperfield could conjur macigal powers, does not mean that the assesment of that person is the most valid when the tricks Mr. Copperfield performed are examined. Or would you be content in the evaluation of Copperfields tricks by someone who actually thought they were magical? If that person would be so fanatical, that he/she would be ready to die for the fact he/she believes Copperfields magic is true, would that make him/her in any way more reliable on the matter? Do you believe Mr. Copperfield commands magical powers?

        Would you still believe your friend was resurrected if you afterwards heard that the electric chair your friend was executed used no more power than a police taser shock? He was beaten and even stabbed along the process, but is resurrection to you the most obvious explanation his survival of the execution? Jesus was taken down from the cross after a short while – well, short in comparison to the time the execution was meant last. Long before anyone was even soposed to die on a cross. That was why he was stabbed. When he was stabbed he did bleed. Dead men do not bleed. Stabbed men do not automatically die, not even if they are beaten first. Or is your faith built on the fame of efficiency of the roman army?

        I am sorry if you see it is not somehow important for the question at hand, but if you would argue, the credibility of the gospels is somehow more plausible, because diciples believed in them, then that is the claim I will refute. In the process I will inevitably end up refuting the credibility of the resurrection. Would it not be dishonest of me, not to clarify my point of wiev? If you are not trying to prove the gospels are a reliable source to the resurrection, what are you trying to prove?

        Do you think the deciples were fanatics? Do you think fanatics are people who would die for the most foolhardy ideas? Do you think a person commits himself to torture and painfull death for an idea if he/she is not a fanatic? Especially if he/she could at any time escape that torture and death by refuting his/her ideals?

  7. Frank A. G. says:

    rautakyy I recommend you read this. It’s written by the same author who wrote the blog above.
    Start around page 15. It answers every one of your objections in great detail. You can go back and catch up on the background later if you are interested.

    Now at this point many resort to ignoring the evidence or ad hominems. In your case you sound interested in a factual rebuttal of your very good questions.

    Click to access HIST_EVID_Talk_text.pdf

    • Frank A. G. says:

      Page 18 would be a better one to start actually it takes you right into the issues. On page 24 he discusses exactly what you are talking about titled “Swooned”. But you should read as much of the earlier part so you understand the foundation of the entire argument.

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