Objection Overruled

The Gospel accounts record the period of Jesus life where he allegedly performed miracles, was put to death, buried, and raised from the dead.  One reason skeptics deny the reliability of the accounts is they were not penned by actual eye-witnesses, but instead are hearsay accounts.  A case can be made for Matthew and John being authored by the Apostles themselves.  Mark was a companion of Peter records Peter’s accounting of the events.  And Luke in addition to being a companion of Paul, was a local historian who claimed to investigate first-hand recollections of the events.  What if all four Gospels were not written by eye-witnesses, but are instead hearsay?  Are we justified in discounting the Gospel accounts on the basis that they may be hearsay?

One problem I have with this objection is how selective it is.  Generally speaking, unless the skeptic is defending turf, he will not offer this objection to other ancient histories.  All the ancient Greek and Roman historians recorded events to which they were not contemporaries.  Are we willing to discount as wholly unreliable certain histories of Rome if we do not have a contemporary or direct eye-witness accounts of the events which they record?  Usually the skeptic is not so bold as to reject ancient records of events on the basis they are hearsay. 

So why is this objection so appealing to the skeptic when it comes to the Gospel accounts?  I think the appeal is two-fold.  First, some skeptics may offer that hearsay testimony is inadmissible in court, therefore, we are justified in rejecting the testimony just as a court would.  The second reason is they record supernatural events.  These two facets of the hearsay objection are problematic for the skeptic.

Hearsay testimony as evidence may very well be inadmissible in a 21st century court.  But the Gospel accounts were not written with the intent to pass muster in a modern court of law.  As a genre, they are ancient biographies, not legal statements (by the way, all biographies are hearsay and that doesn’t make them untrue or unreliable sources of information about their subject).  To anachronistically impose modern standards of documentary protocol upon these records is holding them to a standard they were never intended to be examined under by the authors.  If we were to hold every piece of ancient documentation to the standard that it must pass modern legal protocol to be considered a reliable source of information, we would be forced to reject nearly everything we know about history.  On what basis can the skeptic demand that the Gospel accounts be held to a higher standard than other records of history?  They contain a religious message?  So what.  That’s rather arbitrary, and is thick with special pleading.  Maybe it is because the accounts contain supernatural events. 

This is the second problem.  Rejecting the Gospel accounts because they report supernatural events defeats the purpose of examination.  We are looking to see whether we can take the Gospels as reliable records of the events surrounding the preaching, death and resurrection of Jesus.  We cannot simply dismiss accounts which record supernatural events since we are trying investigate whether supernatural events occurred.  The skeptic is essentially saying “Any document which records supernatural events is unreliable.  The Gospels record supernatural events.  Therefore we have no reliable accounts for the miracles and resurrection of Jesus.”  The objection defines away the evidence, then claims there is none.  If the only source for supernatural events is recorded in ancient written testimony, we cannot rightly say the only valid testimony is that which doesn’t contain a record of supernatural events.  It doesn’t get any more intellectually dishonest than that.

What we have is skeptics attempting to reject ancient sources for supernatural events on the basis that they do not conform to modern standards of documentation.  We rely on hearsay testimony all the time and consider it reliable.  Arguing for an exception for the Gospel and New Testament accounts; that they be held to a higher–and arguably impossible standard for reliability defeats the entire purpose of investigation.

Related Articles: Prove It!, It’s To Die For, Experiment In The Reliability Of The Gospels, It’s To Die For, Never Quite Enough, Put Your Hands Up, Independence Anyone?


  1. What parts of history do we accept as plausible and on what grounds? Publius Cornelius Tacitus wrote about germanic nations in the same time as the gospels were created and most of his knowledge was based on hearsay from roman merchants and officers acting along the border of Germania. His accounts about the germanic nations and even his description of the life in the northern part of Scandinavia was accuret, if somewhat biased in the assesment of morality. (He wrote that the ancestors of finns, the Sithoni were on the lowest possible level of morals as they had women chieftains.) Yet, as we are ready to accept his description of how the people beyond the germanic border lived, as it is comparable to archeological and ethnological evidence, we still do not take his stories of headless men living near the edge of the world as true. Not until someone has any evidence of the headless men or the edge of the world. The problem with these two is, that they are at the moment counted as what is called “wery unlikely” in scientific terms. Same applies to resurrection.

  2. Your argument is weak.
    Simply put, what evidence do you have that any of the gospels are true and factual?

    There are many claims throughout history that you are probably skeptical about. Mohammad ascending into heaven on the back of a winged horse, for example.
    Just because many people may believe something doesn’t mean it’s true. History has shown us that entire civilizations were wrong about the spherical nature of the planet, our role as the third planet in the solar system or how we have no influence on making it rain tomorrow.
    The fact is that people don’t like to be told that what they have always believed may be wrong.
    Hindsight is usually 20-20, except for those who don’t wish to consider what they believe is just folklore.

  3. I find this common among skeptics, and in fact quite telling. You seem to think that everyone dismisses all opposing religious claims out-of-hand in the same way you dismiss every religious claim. Sure many religious people do this, but it’s certainly everyone. Perhaps instead of telling people what they dismiss and why, you ask some questions.

    • Yes, it is quite telling, unlike your answer. You didn’t address my question and your reply makes no sense.

      • Oh, well, I didn’t address your question because it isnt really related to the original article. This article is dealing with a skeptic’s objection that the Gospel accounts can be dismissed because they believe they would not qualify as credible testimony in a modern court of law. Staying on topic gets your questions answered.

  4. “Staying on topic”… yet another weak rebuttal in this dialog. Anytime you get pushed outside your comfort zone that seems to be a common tactic for you.
    The fact that eyewitness accounts are often unreliable reinforces the fact that the gospels are just as subject to skepticism as any other unsubstantiated claim. Any rational thinking human being must examine the entire claim and be critical of extraordinary statements.
    So again, what makes you believe that the gospels are true?

    • It has nothing to do with a comfort zone, I am fully capable to defend why I believe the Gospel accounts are reliable.

      Stay on topic. Find a past post of mine where I defend the reliability of the Gospel accounts and pick it up there.

  5. What topic would you like to stay on? The gospels are subject to the same scrutiny as any other eyewitness claim. End of story.
    I ask you a simple question relating to the topic and you try to send me on an Easter egg hunt.
    The arrogance of your tone is telling.

    • Ok, why do you feel justified in imposing modern standards on ancient texts? This actually pertains to the topic at hand. The nature of the article should lead those who hold dissenting opinions to offer reasons why we should anachronistically judge the accounts. So offer a substantive objection rather than asking me questions that are not related to the topic.

      You asking me why I believe the Gospel accounts are reliable does not pertain to the article here. The topic is: skeptics declaring the accounts hearsay is not a valid reason to discount the Gospels. Here are your options: you can agree, which means we are done. You can disagree, which means you have to offer reasons why you disagree and why my points above are false. Or you can with-hold an opinion, which means we are done. Pick one.

  6. We hold ancient texts to the modern standards because our knowledge today is far superior to that of ancient times. We can critically analyze previous statements regarding all facets of civilizations and cultures in order to understand why these people believed what they did.
    I don’t dismiss all religious claims, as you put it, but rather examine its plausibility and look for evidence to support the claims. Most of the time this ends up relying on faith and not fact. That leads to the question back to you-
    Why should we NOT hold these ancient texts to modern standards?

    • The problem I think is that the writers of ancient texts were not intending to fulfill standards of societies oceans away, thousands of years in the future. They had their own standards and fulfilled them. The Gospels are ancient biographies by genre. That is how they were written back then. The focused on particular points of interest in the subject’s life and recorded them. There was not necessarily a concern for chronology, but rather significance of events. However, today we tend to write biographies chronologically–from birth to death and everything in between. But just because that is how we do it now doesn’t mean the Gospels are not biographies because they don’t “meet our standard”. Likewise because the Gospels may not qualify as admissable testimony in modern courts is not a liability, they were never intended to.

  7. First off, trying to establish motive and intent is futile and your opinion of what standards they had is irrelevant. For you to impose your interpretation of their reasoning is flawed and all you are trying to do is justify any inconsistencies within the text.
    Perhaps you are missing the point. We are more knowledgeable today. Take for example the topic of alchemy. Only going back 500 years you will find followers of that misguided belief, yet we apply the standards of today’s science to prove it to be wrong.
    We apply our knowledge today to expose the flawed beliefs of the past.
    Your willingness to make excuses for ancient texts from oral traditions in order to reinforce your belief system is understandable, but it doesn’t mean there is any truth to them.
    Besides, if these texts were not intended to be scrutinized by our society thousands of years later then maybe they just aren’t relevant today at all.

    • I know you said you don’t just dismiss all religious claims, but I don’t buy it. Perhaps you could tell me of a supernatural event you believe happened.

      Second, part of the reason you believe you are justified in dismissing the claims made in the Gospels is you are only considering probabilities based on naturalism. ‘We do not observe phenomena P occuring today, we can therefore dismiss the claim that accounts of Jesus performing P are fabricated and false’. And in a purely naturalistic world I would agree.

      However this begs the question. You claim to be looking for evidence for supernatural events even though your worldview tells you they are impossible. So no any bit of evidence for supernatural events you dismiss as fabrications because you already know supernatural events don’t happen. Its circular.

      What that fails to take into account is the Gospels do not claim Jesus was an ordinary man like you or I. The claim is Jesus was God incarnate. That claim also has to be taken into account for the probability of P aslo. Now I’m sure you will dismiss that claim as well, but it is a circular dismissal just like above. ‘P is possible if Jesus was God, but Jesus was not God therefore P is fabricated’.

      So the supernatural events were not random events, but rather were tied to someone who claimed to be God. P was offered in order to confirm Jesus was God and cannot simply be dismissed because we do not see P occur naturally. We have to consider the probability of P if God exists, not probability based solely on a naturalistic worldview.

  8. Wow, talk about going off topic, but I will follow and try to clear up the confusion in your head.

    Naturalism is the real world, not your fantasy land where claims need not be proven and just believed.
    Your circular logic statement is flawed. The evidence of supernatural events you present is not dismissed because of preconceived notions. It is more than likely disproven by the rigors of scientific method, which again deals with reality, not conjecture.

    What you fail to take into account is that your belief in the claim made by the gospels about Jesus being god incarnate doesn’t change the requirement for proof or evidence. It’s still an extraordinary claim. If your going to make that claim you need to (1) define and prove the existence of god and (2) prove the claim that Jesus was not an ordinary man.

    We have to consider the probability that all of what you believe is wrong.

    We have to consider the possibility, not the probability, that your ancient belief system is just a remnant of an uneducated society who wants to project something beyond what this world presents them.

    The fact is that you believe what you believe because of the writings in an ancient text and when someone asks you to validate that text you cannot. You claim that it is not to be held to any modern standard and refuse to accept any scrutiny of it. You fail to understand that you cannot use the text itself to try to make it immune from examination.

    • But you’re proving my point, that you presume naturalism. You just said it, “Naturalism is the real world, not your fantacy” then say “The evidence of supernatural events you present is not dismissed because of preconceived notions”, you talk out of both sides of your mouth. Your first statement betrays your second.

      And no, no scientific process or method has proven any claim in the Bible false, history is irrepeatable, it has never been tested by science. Maybe what you are talking about is approximated circumstances being attempted in a re-enactment. But that is not a true test. The Bible does not claim any “miracles” happening apart from God’s intervention. Your scientific experiments are not true replications.

      Well, I have written on what it means when someone like you demands proof. Proof is subjective. I can provide evidences but unless you are convinced, it hasn’t been proven. And no evidence will “prove” to you God exists, so why do you even ask? Same with Jesus, if your worldview does not allow for God to exist, or for Jesus to be God, then no amount of evidence or argumentation will convince you of something you believe is impossible.

      Let’s try this, I am free to dismiss every argument you have ever posted, and I am fully justified. You know why? Because none of it would pass the standards for a doctoral dissertation. Therefore everyting you have said can be out-of-hand dismissed. You see, even though you were not writing to meet my subjective standard and only trying to convey a message, I don’t have to accept any of it now. You haven’t met my standard.

  9. I’m seeing your argument unravel before my eyes. Instead of trying to explain WHY your ancient text shouldn’t have to hold up to scrutiny, you make personal attacks against me.

    I guess you live in an UN-natural world where science and critical thought don’t exist. Your definition of evidence more than likely include personal and emotional experiences that don’t meet the burdens of scientific method. The fact is you CANNOT prove your god exists and your excuses to try to evade that responsibility by crying about those who don’t accept your proof is intellectually dishonest. Your proof simply isn’t proof.

    Feel free to dismiss all of my arguments. It just shows your childish attitude to someone challenging your cherished belief system.

    • “Feel free to dismiss all of my arguments. It just shows your childish attitude to someone challenging your cherished belief system”

      I’m actually applying your standards to your own arguments. You seem justified in believing we can dismiss testimony if it doesn’t live up to your personal standard.

      Finally, I have never had an emotional experience regarding God or Chritianity; I have never had a feeling in my heart this is true; I have never had a persona revelation, vision, dream, or anything else. I question feelings and never give any credence to them. I don’t evaluate feelings as anything more than subjective expressions. Feelings don’t prove or falsify anything. I find philosophical arguments quite persuasive, not emotional experiences.

      I also don’t think you are intellectually dishinest because you reject an argument. I think you are Intellectually dishonest because no matter how many arguments are offered, you want more. There is never enough to satisfy you. Nothing qualifies as evidence to you. The fact that you define anything which could stand in favor of God’s existence as disqualified and doesn’t count intellectually dishinest.

  10. What testimony have you presented that validates the gospels?

  11. Ok, let’s examine your statement of “vacuous claims” by skeptics. Your objection in your essay regards the selective nature of defending ancient history. There is not much objection to the ancient stories of Greek and Roman history because this history doesn’t promote supernatural occurrences. Unless you accept as a part of the history the stories of Roman gods and Greek mythology as true, which I doubt you do.
    You accept the stories in the gospel to be true and accurate, but then criticize anyone who questions it. People wrote those gospels generations after the event and you accept it. People wrote about supernatural events and you accept it.
    What I find interesting is that although we have a better understanding of the world we live in, your god remains elusive and every opportunity for him to clear up any misunderstanding goes silent. It’s a shame he chose such a time in human history to make an appearance.
    Now I know you’ll come back with some excuse for your god, but let’s face it, there’s a lot of ambiguity in almost every religious message, Christian or otherwise.

    • This is why I claim you are intellectually dishonest. You dismiss testimony of supernatural events because they contain claims of supernatural events, and then wonder why there is no evidence for supernatural events. You ask why God remains silent, well, He wasn’t silent, people recorded events of God acting in the world, but you reject them because they are claims of supernatural events. Pathetic. You talk out of both sides of your mouth.

      I don’t criticize people who don’t accept the Gospel accounts, I criticize people who reject them for nonsense reasons. Reasons they would never use to reject anything else. I criticize people who hold religious claims to impossible standards for “accuracy” but don’t hold other texts to the same standard. I criticize people who are so smug that they hide behind pseudonyms because they don’t have the integrity to stand behind their ideas.

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