The arguments used by unbelieving scholars to discredit the Christian Gospels and downplay their significance have changed through the decades as they were shaped by contemporary thinking. Because they conform to the perspective of people who already assume that the story of Jesus can’t be true and welcome any “evidence” that undermines it, they typically get a considerable amount of publicity and attention. (See the ATQ article, Why Do Many Western People Doubt the Accuracy of the Gospels?) In time, evidence accumulates that makes their arguments ineffective and untenable, so that old, discredited arguments are abandoned and new arguments formulated. The following is a list of some of the most common arguments against the trustworthiness of the Gospels that are being used today:
- The fact that the Gospels contain accounts of supernatural miracles and healings by Jesus imply they aren’t trustworthy.
- The Gospels contain only fictional stories about a legendary “god-man” who sprang up out of the group imagination of a Hellenized population of Palestinian Jews who were deeply influenced by paganism and polytheism.
- The “Jesus legend” is just one of many “dying god” legends contemporary to the rise of the apostolic church.
- The fact that few ancient non-Christian sources refer to Jesus shows that He either never lived or was mostly legendary.
- The fact that Paul didn’t directly quote Jesus implies he didn’t consider him a real person. Paul only used the Jesus “myth” to promote his new faith in a (metaphorically) “risen Christ.”
- The earliest Christians were illiterates who couldn’t have been the source of the Gospels.
- Since the Gospels were mostly based on oral recollections of witnesses, they can’t be expected to accord with the genuine facts of Jesus’ life.
- The accounts of Jesus’ teaching and ministry in the Gospels aren’t based on actual historical events as much as they are on the cultural and theological needs of the first generations of Christians.
It is good for Christians to be aware of the kinds of attacks that are being made against the New Testament and the Gospels.
“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16 RSV).
If Christians are unprepared to give an account for their hope, they will be ineffective and hesitant witnesses. They might even find that their own confidence in the records left by the witnesses of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is undermined.