How Would You Respond to Those Who Say, “You Cannot Trust the Gospel Accounts?"

Did you know that many advocates of theological liberalism do not believe that the Gospels are reliable and dependable sources of Jesus?  So then, how would you respond to one of them who said:

“According to what I understand, most biblical scholars agree that the Gospels, having been written near the end of the 1st century (thus, several decades after Jesus' supposed crucifixion) were unlikely to have been written by eyewitnesses. Neither are there known contemporaneous writings during the time Jesus was alive. One of the earliest is mentioned in Antiquities of Josephus' writings; however, there is some debate as to whether the paragraph mentioning Jesus is entirely authentic.  Also, Josephus was born after Jesus' career was presumed to have ended. The other Roman historians that I know of (Tacitus and Suetonius) were all written later than Josephus and were unlikely to have been eyewitnesses.”

My response:

No doubt, to anyone who says, “Jesus’ supposed crucifixion,” the resurrection must be a pious legend fabricated by later Christians. He would certainly agree with British royal historian Teabing in "The Da Vinci Code" who declared: “Until that moment in History [i.e., council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.], Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet . . . a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless . . . [The early Christians] embellished those gospels that made him godlike.”

That being said, the assertation that since biblical writers are not eyewitnesses, therefore, their writings are not credible is not a sustainable point. If that were so, we would need to get rid history as an academic discipline. For instance, in 2005 David McCullough, a renowned historian, published a book—entitled, "On the Man Behind the Miracles of 1776"—about the first President of the United States. Many hailed it as a book revealing the real George Washington. However, should McCullough’s work be rejected because, after all, it was written more than 200 years after Washington died?  Of course not, since the credibility of historical works does not depend on when they were composed, but the soundness of the research method used to obtain reliable and relevant data.    

Now, consider Cornelius Tacitus (55-120), called the “greatest historian” of ancient Rome, who wrote several volumes for a series called "Annals" that covers the history of Roman Empire from Tiberius to Nero. Since there are a number of events in this work that the author didn’t witness personally, should his work be discredited on that account alone?  Certainly not!  One of those is an event that two other Roman writers, both contemporaries of Tacitus, alluded in their writings.  

Of this event, Tacitus wrote: “Christus, from whom their name is derived, was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate . . . Checked for the moment, this pernicious superstition again broke out, not only in Judaea, the source of the evil, but even in Rome, . . .”  Historian Suetonius (75-160) said, “. . . Christians, a set of men adhering to a novel and mischievous superstition.” Pliny (62-113), governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor, in his letter to the emperor regarding Christians said, “I found nothing but a depraved and extravagant superstition.”        “Pernicious,” “mischievous,” and “extravagant superstition” all refer to Christ’s resurrection, which obviously wasn’t a later embellishment since no less than three first century writers alluded to it.  

Then there is Flavius Josephus (37-100) who was a Jewish historian.  His "Antiquities of the Jews" contains, according to TIME magazine, “the most-cited piece of non-Christian testimony to the life and works of Jesus.” A paragraph in Josephus’ book under scrutiny is this: “He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross.” But there is a discrepancy in what follows. One version says that “those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold.” Impressed? Well, wait because another version of Josephus’ work says that “his disciples did not abandon their discipleship.  They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive.”  

Which is correct? To me the first version doesn’t seem authentic because, accordingly, Josephus personally believed that the resurrected Jesus appeared to his men. No historian who wants to be taken seriously would do that. The second version seems more authentic since Josephus             merely reported what the disciples personally believed.  Regardless, both versions indicate that the resurrection of Christ (the strongest proof for his divinity) was upheld by his followers from the first century—another proof that resurrection was not a later embellishment.  

Finally, know that the gospels were written a lot earlier than many believe. Furthermore, we shouldn’t assume that there was nothing written before the actual gospels were produced. For instance, it is very plausible that the Gospel of Luke was written in late 50s or early 60s. How so?  Luke produced two volumes: the gospel bearing his name and Acts, as a compendium.  Throughout these books, he mentions or implies historical figures who lived in the first half of the first century, such as Caesar August (Lk. 2:1), Tiberius Caesar, Herod Antipas (Lk. 3:1),
Nero (Acts 26:25), and Claudius (Acts 18:2). Acts ends with Paul in Rome waiting for his trial before Nero, who would commit suicide in 68.

In addition, Luke says at the beginning of his gospel, “Many have undertaken to draw up an
account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us
by those who from the first were eyewitnesses.” So what are these “many” works that were
previously produced?  One certainly is the Gospel of Mark, which, according to many scholars, was the first gospel written. Another may be Q, standing for the German word quelle which means source.  Many scholars, both liberal and conservatives, agree that one or more written sources based on eyewitness accounts, such as Q, existed before the penning of those books that were later recognized as authoritative. Don’t squirm over this because the Old Testament also used uninspired sources, such as the Book of Wars (Num. 21:14) and the Book of Jashar (Jos. 10:13).


I don’t believe the teachings of the NT in spite of their implausibility and improbability; I believe because they are reasonable. I believe that Jesus historically died and resurrected to forgive my sins and to gift me with eternal life.  That fuels my motivation to live for his glory by loving Him as well as my neighbors (Matt. 22:37-8).