Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels
by Gary R. Habermas
The usual attempts to defend the historical reliability of the New Testament are often fairly general in nature. These arguments are typically based on the quantity, quality, and early date of the available New Testament manuscripts; the traditional authorship of the books; extra-biblical confirmation; and a few archaeological discoveries. This evidence for the trustworthiness of the New Testament is often contrasted with ancient classical Greek and Roman writings, which do not exhibit the same wealth of data.
Lesser known among conservative scholars, however, are several, more recent and specific approaches that critical scholars apply to the Gospel texts. One of these approaches involves applying certain critical criteria of authenticity to particular texts, namely, to events and sayings that are reported in the four gospels. These contemporary techniques have mined many gems that indicate the historical richness of the Gospel accounts, while illuminating many aspects of Jesus’ life.
The historical reliability of the New Testament has long been a mainstay in Christian apologetics. For decades, believers have used avenues such as manuscript evidence, authorship, extrabiblical sources, and archaeology to show that the thousands of existing copies of the New Testament accurately preserve the original texts, as well as correctly report what actually occurred. The purpose of these approaches is primarily to argue that we have essentially what the biblical authors wrote and that these works are trustworthy historical accounts.1 This has been especially important in demonstrating that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ teachings and actions are accurate.
In recent years, however, critical scholars2 have developed other tools that have uncovered additional grounds for recognizing certain Gospel accounts as historical reports. Most of the scholars who utilize these methods are not theologically conservative; nevertheless, often they have provided means by which to ascertain the historicity of separate sayings or incidents in the life of Jesus.
In this article, I will initially provide some brief comments regarding the older, more familiar paths taken by scholars who have sought to show that the Gospel accounts are reliable. I will then explain just one of the more recent avenues that uncovers some exciting new developments, namely, certain criteria that indicate when a specific text most likely includes a historical report…
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