The Gospels are the main sources that contain the main facts of Jesus’ life and ministry. The question of their reliability is extremely important, especially when Christ is one of the most influential people to have walked this planet. The Gospels contain the main claims made by Christ, so it’s important to check their validity and reliable. Jesus did claim to be divine and equal to God the Father. If the Gospels are not reliable, then neither are the claims made about Christ.
Mark is dated to be the first one written and to be influenced by Peter. Matthew and Luke are synoptic, but are different eyewitness accounts. John’s account is almost completely different from the synoptic gospels because it is more theologically based on the deity of Christ. This Gospel is considered to be the latest written account of Christ’s life. Luke is considered one of the greatest historians in the ancient world, mainly due to the 84 historical facts that he records the book of Acts. His Gospel is considered to be written before the book of Acts because in Acts 1:1-2, Luke talks about his first account he wrote before he started Acts. Also, he did not mention the death of Peter, Paul, or James in the book of Acts, which places Acts even earlier. With this in mind, Luke’s Gospel is dated even earlier since Acts is written prior to AD 64 when Paul was martyred under Nero in Rome. Luke also quotes Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels as well, which would date their Gospels earlier. Luke admits to not being an eyewitness himself, but rather compiles accounts from the earliest eyewitness accounts. These witnesses would have been Matthew and Mark, since we find synoptic features from Luke’s Gospel which are from Matthew and Mark’s Gospels. We also have to remember the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Romans. Since Luke was writing as a historian, so if he wrote his Gospel after the destruction of Jerusalem, then he would have mentioned it. The destruction of Jerusalem was like the 9-11 terrorist attacks, except on a more devastating level. This would date the synoptic Gospels earlier than 70 AD based on what we fined in the Gospel of Luke.
Are they contradictory?
Some will attack these accounts as being contradictory, but when we examine the text with concise thinking and context of the perspective of each witness, then they will be shown to be written accounts from different eyewitnesses. These slight differences actually show more reliability to these eyewitness accounts because if they were made up, you would expect to find virtually the same exact details. If this were the case, then we would find the gospels to be exact copies with just different names. It’s actually a necessity to have different perspectives because that shows how each eyewitness perceived the events. Also, these differences are not contradictory as well. Every eyewitness will not agree completely say the same thing on the small details, but rather will agree the same way upon the major facts. Every Gospel writes about the crucifixion and the resurrection which shows them to be accurate accounts on the more important details. Slight difference of details about the genealogy of Christ do not undermine his existence or the reliability of these four unique eyewitness accounts. Many of these discrepancies is what is found in any historical and eyewitness accounts, so it does not undermine the minimal facts recorded in the gospels.
The Gospels also contain embarrassing details that add on to their historical reliability. The first, is when the gospel accounts records the woman as the first eyewitnesses of the risen Christ. This would have been embarrassing to the men (who were also the writers) because women’s testimony didn’t count in first century Israel. If your number one witnesses were women in this time period, then your account would not be a taken seriously and would be ridiculed. Today, we have better standards of witnesses then the sexism in the first century. Another embarrassing detail recorded in the gospels would be when the disciples deny Christ when he is taken in. Peter denies him along with the rest of the disciples. If you were making up this story, then you would not have abandoned the man that you were making out to be divine. This detail shows that the Gospel accounts most likely didn’t make up the messiah story, which will be discussed in opposing theories to the resurrection hypothesis. A final embarrassing detail, would be the fact that their messiah was crucified, which is something a first century Jew would not make up, not to mention many first century Jews. The messiah that most were expected, was to be one that over throws the Roman Empire. Of course, the gospels record that Christ died by the Roman Empire. First Century Jews would not make a crucified Messiah story because it would contradict their beliefs. The Gospels prove to be reliable with these embarrassing details that you would not make up in first century Israel.
The Archaeological claims in the gospels have been shown to be accurate as well. To demonstrate this, here are some examples of these claims. First, Pontius Pilate has been established as the governor who controlled Jerusalem under the reign of Tiberius Caesar. The evidence for this is discovery of his name on a piece of limestone discovered in 1961. This piece of limestone discovered had Pontius Pilates name and years of reign. The gospel accounts share this archaeological detail that was affirmed by this discovery. Another archaeological fact, was the punishment under the Roman Empire, which is death by Crucifixion. All the Gospels record this as to how their Lord died, and described the details of this punishment as well. Josephus writes about this as well, along with the Roman historians who write about this punishment. This is another archeological detail that the gospel accounts get right. A final archaeological fact that the Gospel of John records is the pool of Bethesda. After the destruction of Jerusalem, this pool of Bethesda did not exist to the visible eye. This seemed to indicate for a while that the Gospel of John was inaccurate about this detail. In 1888, archeologists found the remains of this pool that John had talked about in John 5:1-9. This also could be used to show that the Gospel of John could easily have been written before the Destruction of Jerusalem. It’s very likely that the Gospel of John is written before AD 70 because of this accurate description of the pool of Bethesda.
These are the shortest arguments that can be made to show the reliability of the Gospel’s as eyewitness account, which will add on to the evidence for the resurrection. The Gospels are early, accurate, and meet historical criteria that are used to investigate historical claims. Cold Case Christianity is a great book that goes into detail on these arguments for the reliability of the Gospels. Two other great books would be The Historical Jesus by Gary Habermas, and the updated version of Evidence that Demands a Verdict by both Josh and Sean McDowell. Overall, The Gospels are reliable historical sources concerning the life of Jesus based on the evidence.
Geisler , Norman L. and Frank Turek. I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004. Book.
McDowell, Josh and Sean McDowell. Evidence That Demands A Verdict: Life-Changing Truth For A Skeptical World. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, 2017. Book.
Wallace, James Warner. Cold Case Christianity. Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2013. Book.