Are the Gospels Reliable? 10 Quick Points

Saints and Sceptics


1) The first Christians had the motivation to keep their memories of Jesus intact, they had the means for accessing good information about Jesus, and the evidence is that they were trying to faithfully preserve a reliable history of his life and teachings.

2) Sociology teaches us that groups like the first churches generally do everything that they can to preserve information about their founder. Historian and New Testament scholar Craig Keener points out that ancient Mediterranean world highly prized oral memory. Learning lengthy speeches by heart  was one of an orators basic tasks; storytellers would be expected to recite large sections of Homer from memory.

Memorization was the most widespread feature of ancient Mediterranean education. Memorizing sayings of famous teachers was a regular school exercise at the basic level; 60 students at various levels also memorized examples.  Similarly, higher education (after about age sixteen) included memorizing many speeches and passages useful for speeches.” Keener, ‘Assumptions in Historical-Jesus Research’

He also notes that first century Palestinian culture prized memorization and oral tradition. We learn from Josephus and other sources that Jewish education emphasized memorization of Torah. We also know that Jewish rabbis expected their disciples to memorise and pass on their teachings:

No written rabbinic source dates to the first century, but it is hardly likely that this evidence would be discontinuous with all the other Jewish and Greco-Roman evidence that we do have. Rabbinic evidence is consistent with this expectation: rabbis lectured to their pupils and expected them to memorize their teachings by laborious repetition. This practice of memorizing teachings would have been particularly intense for those preparing to be teachers themselves…Because this traditioning in practice tended toward ‘net transmission’ rather than ‘chain transmission’ (i.e., the sayings became the property of the rabbinic community, and not only of a single disciple of a teacher), transmission could be guarded more carefully in the first generation or two.

3) We know that memorisation was an important part of Jewish education, and especially the education of a Rabbi’s disciples. If Jesus’ students followed the customs of their day, they would have memorised many of their master’s teachings. Writing supplemented and aided this process of memorisation…


Are the Gospels Reliable? 10 Quick Points – Saints and Sceptics