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The Reliability of the Gospels

Postby Pree » Sun Sep 17, 2017 2:59 pm

Can we talk about the reliability of the Gospels? I don't happen to think they are reliable, but you obviously do. Can we talk?
Pree
 

Re: The Reliability of the Gospels

Postby jimwalton » Sun Sep 17, 2017 3:00 pm

We can certainly talk about the reliability of the Gospels. They convey accurate historical, cultural, geographical, and religious information. The theological premises are not confirmable, but neither are they disprovable. Every piece of information we have, where information is available, confirms their reliability.

Maybe that will start the conversation, and we can go from here.
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Re: The Reliability of the Gospels

Postby Pree » Sun Sep 17, 2017 3:04 pm

> They convey accurate historical, cultural, geographical, and religious information.

I agree so far...

> Every piece of information we have, where information is available, confirms their reliability.

This is where we disagree. What specific pieces of information do you believe we have that confirm its reliability?
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Re: The Reliability of the Gospels

Postby jimwalton » Sun Sep 17, 2017 3:06 pm

I'm confused already. First you said you agree that the Gospels convey accurate historical, cultural, geographical, and religious information, and then, in disagreement, you want to know what pieces of information we have confirm its reliability. My immediate answer would be that they convey accurate historical, cultural, geographical, and religious information.

So something's already wrong with this picture. We have specific information from history, culture, geography, and religious practice, and we have concordance between the biblical account and what we find through documentation and archaeological artifacts. Then I said that we haven't found anything that proves anything in the New Testament is incorrect.

(There is certainly a debate raging about Quirinius in Luke 2, but it is yet unresolved.)

So what is it with which you actually disagree? Let's keep talking.
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Re: The Reliability of the Gospels

Postby Pree » Sun Sep 17, 2017 4:53 pm

Conveying accurate historical, cultural, and geographical information is not enough to confirm the reliability of any document. Many works of historical fiction contain accurate information, but none of us are tempted to call them reliable.
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Re: The Reliability of the Gospels

Postby jimwalton » Sun Sep 17, 2017 4:56 pm

The authors of historical fiction don't consider themselves to be writing history. Of course any author can bring real facts into their books at will, but they will tell you they are writing fiction. This is not the case with the biblical writers. They consider themselves to be recording a theological interpretation of history.

So, let's rewind a little bit so I know what you are actually asking. What are YOU talking about when you want to know about the reliability of the Gospels?
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Re: The Reliability of the Gospels

Postby Pree » Mon Sep 18, 2017 2:17 pm

> They consider themselves to be recording a theological interpretation of history.

Yes, I don't necessarily dispute that. I'm sure they thought what they were recording was true, but that doesn't say much about its actual reliability.

> What are YOU talking about when you want to know about the reliability of the Gospels?

Well much of your argument relies on the gospel accounts being true & historical. So that's what I mean by reliability
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Re: The Reliability of the Gospels

Postby jimwalton » Mon Sep 18, 2017 2:23 pm

Well, we can start a historical reliability discussion, but you've already agreed that "they convey accurate historical, cultural, geographical, and religious information." But let's start and we'll see if this is what you mean. Let's start in Luke, just to pick one.

    - 1.1 It's true that we have a plurality of records about Jesus' life.
    - 1.5 It's true that Herod was king of Judea from 40-4 BC, as recorded by Josephus and acknowledge by scholars. "King" was a title decreed to Herod by the Roman Senate in 40 BC on the recommendation of Antony and Octavius. So the title is true also.
    - 1.5 There were priests in Judea at the time, so this notation is true.
    - 1.5, 8 There was a priestly division of Abijah (1 Chr. 24.10). The college of priests was divided into 24 courses. Each of these did duty for 8 days, from one Sabbath to another, once every 6 months. The service of the week was subdivided among the various families, which constituted a course. On Sabbaths the whole course was on duty. On feast days any priest might come up and join in the ministrations of the sanctuary, and at the Feast of Tabernacles all the 24 courses were bound to be present and officiate. The course of Abijah was the 8th of the 24. So this is historical.
    - 1.8 "Once when Zechariah's division was on duty..." Daily service (Neh. 13.30; 1 Chr. 25.8) and then a course of priests who were on duty for a week (1 Chr. 23.6; 28.13). There were 24 such courses and that of Abijah was the 8th (1 Chr. 24.10; 2 Chr. 8.14). Only 4 of these courses (Jedaiah, Immer, Pashur, Harim) returned from Babylon, but these four were divided into 24 with the old names. Each of these courses did duty for 8 days, Sabbath to Sabbath, twice a year. On Sabbaths the whole course did duty. At the feast of Tabernacles all 24 courses were present. So this is historical.
    - 1.9 "he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood..." The regulations for the lot are given in *m. Tamid* 5.2-6.3. So this is historical. Four lots were drawn to determine the order of the ministry of the day: the first, before daybreak, to designate the priests who were to cleanse the altar and prepare its fires; the second for the priest who was to offer the sacrifice and cleanse the candlestick and the altar of incense; the third for the priest who should burn incense; and the fourth appointing those who were to lay the sacrifice and meat offering on the altar and pour out the drink offering. There are said to have been 20,000 priests in Christ's time, so that no priest would ever offer incense more than once.
    - 1.9 Of course the 2nd temple was in existence at this time, so this is historical.
    - 1.9 Incense offerings (Ex. 30.7-8) has been standard in ancient Near Eastern temples, and also in the Herod's temple, so this is historical.
    - 1.10 "And when the time for the burning of incense came..." According to Exodus 30.7-8 and the parallels with Daniel 9.21m it is the time of the evening offering that is understood here. It's about 3 in the afternoon, so this is historical.
    - 1.10 "All the assembled worshippers were praying outside." The hours of morning and evening sacrifices were also the major public hours of prayer in the temple (cf. Acts 3.1). Except during a feast, most of the people praying there would be from Jerusalem; unable to enter the priestly sanctuary, they were presumably men in the Court of Israel, and some women outside that in the Court of the Women.
    - 1.11 The angel stood on the right side of the altar. This makes sense, since the right side is the favorable side. It shows the angel wasn't bringing bad news or judgment. We can't prove this, of course, but it makes sense given their traditions and understandings.
    - 1.15. It's true that not taking wine or other fermented drink was a sign of special dedication to the Lord (Num. 6.3). So this makes sense.

Of course we can't verify Zechariah, Elizabeth, or the angel of the Lord from corroborating records. Nor can we discredit these accounts from corroborating records.

Is this what you want to do? There are REAMS of evidences about the reliability of the Gospel accounts from history, geography, archaeology, and extra-biblical documents. So that's what I mean by reliability. And, as I said before, "we haven't found anything that proves anything in the New Testament is incorrect." Soooo, what would you like to talk about?
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Re: The Reliability of the Gospels

Postby Turnkey » Mon Sep 18, 2017 3:09 pm

From what I understand, here are the facts:

1. there are four gospels in the bible specially recognized by Christians as being representative of Jesus' life and teachings.

2. Matt, Mark, Luke and John are these gospels and they were not written by the apostles they are named after.

3. We do not know the names of the people who wrote these gospels, but people give monikers to different sources and authors they feel contributed different parts to the gospels.

4. These gospels were not written during Jesus lifetime, they were written after Jesus had already died; estimates range from years to decades.

5. The gospels that are in bibles today contain later additions which were not in earlier versions of the same gospels (see bracketed sections).

6. The gospels agree with each other in most cases, but sometimes contradict one another.

7. They are written differently, stylistically speaking, with each author having their intentions behind the writings.

8. There are only four of many gospels, most of which have been outright rejected by Christians as being valid or reliable.

Based on what I know, and I am sure that you will be willing to correct me where I err above, there is no evidence at all to support that these unknown authors are reliable. The strongest argument I can see is that the four gospels largely agree with one another, as if four gospels being "close enough" in agreement is a justification. I reject this as having any real merit. It is not impossible that one person created all of the major stories consistent across all four bibles and then other authors, or even themselves, constructed the rest of it with additional people adding in information over time.

If someone is a believer and think that the bible is holy because by definition it is, and there is an inerrancy or whatever, then there is nothing else to discuss. People can declare that these gospels are totally valid regardless of not knowing who wrote them. But this is "having faith", which is the default answer whenever hard questions are posed with no logical answer. It seems intellectually lazy to be this way, but since I sincerely doubt anyone commenting will bother throw that out I don't think it should be much of a hurdle.

Comment?
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Re: The Reliability of the Gospels

Postby jimwalton » Mon Sep 18, 2017 3:19 pm

The Gospels have been shown to be historically and geographically reliable. They have also been shown to corroborate with known documentary and archaeological data and artifacts. Their general reliability comes from those associations and facts.

Commenting on your facts:

1. This is generally true, but I would state it even stronger, that most Christians regard them as historically true.

2. You have no evidence of this position. As a matter of fact, all the hard evidence we have points in exactly the opposite direction: They were all written by the names attributed to them.

3. The evidence we have points to the likelihood that the 4 authors were Mt, Mk, Lk, & Jn. The theory you have postulated ("people give monikers to different sources and authors they feel contributed different parts to the gospels") to my knowledge is not characteristic of most scholarship.

4. This is true, but of no particular consequence. It's decades after Bill Clinton's debacle with Monica Lewinsky, but the story is still easy to get at.

5. True, but only 2 pieces: Mark 16.9-20 and John 8.1-11.

6. Sometimes they approach a story from different perspectives and vantage points, but I would contend they don't contradict.

7. Yes. True.

8. The other "Gospels" were largely written CENTURIES later, and were never contenders for truth.

In conclusion, there are many reasons to support that the authors of the Gospels were reliable writers. A trip through each Gospel gives evidence. Obviously you're only speaking in generalities, so we'd have to get more specific to analyze deeper. I believe the Gospels are reliable based on the evidence, not on any flimsy, "Well, that's just what I believe." Let's talk.
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