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Reliability of the Gospels
The Gospels as Historical Texts
(Part 2)

In the preceding text, constituting the first part of this work on the reliability and the historicity of the texts of the Gospels, we have concentrated our work on the criticisms addressed against any possibility of credibility of the four Gospels as narratives of history with the works by Bart Ehrman. After having exposed the main stages of his argument, we then presented the critical works against Ehrman's theses. From there, we underlined the contradictions in the ideas supported by the latter. On the other hand, it has been demonstrated according to the works of textual criticism that the accounts of the Gospels are reliable documents, in spite of the variants identified in the different manuscripts.

Compared to other manuscripts of ancient texts such as those of Homer (a few hundred manuscripts), Plato (seven manuscripts), Demosthenes (a few hundred manuscripts), Tacitus (about twenty manuscripts), which are distinctly different in terms outnumbered by thousands of manuscripts of the Bible, scholarly scholars like Frederic Kenyon and Bruce Metzer have objectively asserted that the reliability of the texts of Scripture is highly established. So to speak, the Bible is the most reliable text of all the texts of antiquity. On the other hand, it should be pointed out that because the Bible has more manuscripts, the risk of corruption should be the highest. However, research results have proven quite the opposite. If for the 640 manuscripts of Eliad's text written by Homer, the textual analysis reveals a corruption rate of 5%, which makes this text 95% pure, for the 25,000 manuscripts of the New Testament, we have found that the latter has a corruption rate of less than 1%, or 0.01%, which means that the text is 99.9% reliable[1]. It should also be noted that the results of new research on the number of manuscripts have made it possible to discover more manuscripts both on the side of the aforementioned classic texts and those of the Bible, the two Testaments[2]. However, this does not cast doubt on the level of reliability of the biblical text.


It is understandable that researchers can however revisit the results of research carried out and re-evaluate them. There is no doubt about that. However, it so far turns out that criticisms of the reliability of Scripture fail to prove the contrary. The critics only accentuate the 0.1% to attack the Bible, the attitude they do not display with regard to the other texts of antiquity. What we criticized elsewhere in the first part of this work[3]. In the second part of this research, it will above all be a question of analyzing the historical nature of these stories. One of the criticisms formulated against the Gospels has above all to do with their historical dimension. In the lines that follow, it will be a question of discussing two major historiographical paradigms in order to better situate in which vision of history we must situate them. Finally, it will also be a question of considering some fundamental criteria which cannot escape any so-called historical document from the perspective of historiography.


About the Historicity of the Gospels

When we talk about history[4], it would be important to point out that there is no single conception of history. The criteria between the schools of thought differ, even if they can meet on a certain number of points. These criteria, sometimes, vary according to the cosmovision of certain civilizations. This sometimes creates tension and causes conflicts of ideas. For example, according to a certain conception of history, it would be impossible to know the historical truth of ancient facts. According to this perspective, called post-modernist, one cannot discover historical truth; all we can have are representations of it. This perspective, inherited from Kantian philosophy precisely supporting the exclusion of any possibility of objectively knowing the past or the truth about the past. This perspective clashes with the reality that historians continue to dig into the archives and keep uncovering important and revealing data about ancient civilizations. It is a marginal view of history that does not contribute much to historical research. However, it would be important to give a positive note to the latter in the sense that it makes it possible to take into consideration the subjective dimension of the person who seeks, analyzes and writes historical data in the form of a narrative. The subjective dimension does not prevent you from discovering the truth. 

Another category of historians, following the modern perspective of history, recognizes that historical truth can be discovered objectively. However, they are divided on the subject of the story. For some, one cannot do historical science taking into account God or the supernatural, while others think that one can do science without excluding the possibility of God. And this dichotomy is not new. However, it should be understood that when approaching a historical work, it would be prudent to consider it epistemologically, in the sense that it would be necessary to situate the text in its historical context and to understand the school of thought from which it comes. Because, as we already know, any production of knowledge responds to a set of rules defined by the school of thought from which it emanates. The criteria which define the fundamental principles and methods of approach, the process by which one determines the choice of the object without which no discipline can exist must not be thought of as an element external to the human being, in the sense that it is transmitted to it independently of its historical reality. What has just been said constitutes in reality a sort of guide which will make it possible to understand to what extent the Gospels could be evaluated as historical works. However, this does not mean that the human being cannot objectively determine an object of study. It is simply necessary to keep in mind that in the process of constructing this object of study, there will be choices, which will obviously lead to taking certain aspects into consideration and excluding others. Items excluded by such a move do not in any way imply that they are invalid in other considerations. It is the same for the science of history. The criteria of historicity are not always identical from one civilization to another. Interest in the choice of subject varies depending on the perspective in question. However, it would be important to study to what extent the choice is valid or not. This question of validity is a fundamental element in determining the objectivity of the object of research. Before going further, it would be useful to define the notion of historicity. Briefly, by historicity we mean the character of what makes it possible to consider a document as a historical work.


Questioning the Historicity of the Gospels: Questioning God's Intervention

One of the criticisms leveled against the gospels, including the book of the acts of the apostles, the second volume written by Luke, concerns their historical character. When he reads these documents, the modern historian finds himself confronted with narratives which recount events in which miracles are related.

Miracle, according to a certain conception of history, is not part of the field of investigation of the historian-researcher. So to speak, any explanation that involves supernatural intervention is excluded from the hypothesis of historical research. This is, moreover, a concern expressed by Bart Ehrman in the conclusion of his book on the historical existence of Jesus[5]. According to him, the historical evidence concerning the real existence of Jesus is indisputably convincing. He even claimed that serious historians cannot deny that Jesus of Nazareth existed. However, Ehrman has a major difficulty believing in the miraculous birth of Christ, his deity, the miracles he performed and his resurrection. From his point of view, miracles are highly improbable, which is a way of saying that the latter do not exist. Here is what he said in a debate with William Lan Craig about miracles:

I will tell you that miracles are highly unlikely that they are the least possible to happen in any given circumstance. They violate nature's natural way of working. They are highly improbable as their probability is infinitesimally negligible. No one on this earth can walk on lukewarm water. What's the chance that one of us can do it? None of us, or shall we say, one in ten million. But in fact, none of us can do that[6].


One should see in Ehrman's remarks a scientific naturalist thought according to which the miracle is not possible in the field of objective knowledge. This aims to investigate the natural world which is governed by laws. The miracle is not possible because it would be a violation of the laws of nature. All this to say that the hypothesis of God and his intervention in human realities is not possible according to this conception of so-called objective history.

The Greco-Roman vision of history: exclusion of theological fact

It should be emphasized that, moreover, this vision of historical science, which requires the exclusion of all supernatural intervention, did not fall from the sky like a deus ex machina. It finds its origin in the ancient Greco-Roman conception of history. Greek and Roman thinkers already recognized the importance of historical writing and the need to formulate its criteria. Daniel Marguerat, on this question, underlined that the problem of historiography was at the heart of the debates in Greco-Roman antiquity. A number of thinkers like Polliblus, Cicero, Dyonisus of Halicarnassus, and Lucian produced thoughts on how a historian should write history. In fact, the objective of the story is to seek to explain the causality of what happened[7]. What happened, being the object of the historian's study, should not be in the order of the ridiculous from Lucian's perspective. Marguerat reports the following about the latter:

For Lucien, the number one rule for the historian is the choice of subject. What is a good topic for Greco-Roman historians? Just read through their works to find the answer to this question. The classical historian treats political and military histories, unless he undertakes an ethnographic study. It speaks of the lives and vicissitudes of greats, generals and emperors. He shows their intelligence by describing their maneuvers of conquest. He recounts the battles. Lucien himself does not give up ridiculing historians who do not know how to tell a battle[8].

In fact, according to the epistemological posture suggested by Lucien, not only must a good historian possess the art of narrating historical facts, but above all, the choice of his subject should be limited to the framework of human realities and, among other things, meets the criteria of what gives an event a historical position, among which the theological fact must be excluded. This is not in the order of the field of historical research. This is where the so-called positive view of modern historians comes from. It must be said that what we practice, as scientific activities, and this in different fields of knowledge, inherits from classical Greek thought which means that, sometimes, when we want to do the history of current disciplines, we begin the more often to ancient Greece, as if everything had only been born in this space, without taking into account the contributions of other contemporary regions of ancient Greece. However, it turns out that when one investigates research traditions other than those of Greece, one realizes that there were other historiographical perspectives that were as interesting and important as that of Jewish historiography.


The Jewish vision of history: centrality of the theological fact

If certain modern historians, heirs to the Greco-Roman tradition, are hardly interested in the theological dimension of history, excluding any divine intervention in historical research, it is important to point out that, in the Jewish conception of the story, there is a recognition of the importance of God in the process. There is no history without him who is the author of time, of space, and the creator of men. In this sense, from the point of view of the choice of the object, which seems unimportant for the Greek historian, due to the fact that “the critical detachment is important for the Greek authors who, systematically, distinguish themselves of the supernatural phenomenon which they relate to their readers[9]”, is of capital importance for the Jewish historian, although they meet on certain rules of the writing of history and plead in favor of relating objectively the truth. God is not a passive actor in the history and destiny of his people in particular. Marguerat elegantly opposed this reality by writing: “what the Greek historian might find ridiculous corresponds, however, directly to another type of historiography, that of the Jew. The historical writings of the Hebrew Bible are devoted exclusively to recounting how God intervenes in the enjoyment and sorrow of his small nation[10].

Besides the difference taking into account the choice of the object, there is also another element which differentiates the Greek historian from the Jewish historian. According to a principle of Jewish historiography, the historian normally hides behind the historical narrative he tells. We don't see it in the text. One has the impression that it is a text without an author. This is explained by the fact of the confessional nature of Jewish historiography, which is not the case for the Greek historian. The latter intervenes by offering his comments on what he reports because, according to Marguerat, Greek historiography is critical[11].


The Gospels in the Jewish Paradigm of History

We have just seen that Jewish historiography does not apprehend the historical fact in the same way as the Greco-Romans. Two elements, at least, make it possible to trace the line of demarcation, as we have just underlined. First, the fact is theological in the sense that God is the center of the history of his people. He took part. You can see his plan there. Secondly, the historian, being in a denominational dimension, disappears behind the facts he recounts. He does not comment on the facts as does the historian who makes himself noticed by his comments. It is in this paradigm that we must apprehend the Gospels. This is the reason why we see that God is omnipresent in the history of a particular people, with the objective of a plan for humanity. Jesus of Nazareth, to properly understand the first chapter of the Gospel of John, is the most convincing proof of the dwelling of God among us. The miraculous birth of Christ, the miracles he performed during his earthly ministry, his death and his resurrection are irrefutable proofs that God cannot stand aside from human history.

We would like to emphasize that the incarnation of Christ, the second person of the trinity, is the culmination of the concrete and direct involvement of God in the affairs of the human species. The very objective of these documents is to relate how God integrated himself, at a certain moment in history, into human life and to identify the reasons for this. John gave the purpose of his writing: “what is in it has been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). In fact, John's gospel, like the other gospels, has a moral purpose that leads directly to God. Someone could say, in this sense, that it is a story of God. On the other hand, it seems to be a story of the relationship between God and man, of which he is the conductor. The human being is not passive in this relationship. God uses him as an important agent in the accomplishment of his will. This is why he presented himself by miraculously manifesting himself precisely to make it understood that he is the one who controls.

Furthermore, it would be important to remember that the majority of the authors of the Gospels were Jews, with the exception of Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Some of them, in this case Matthew and John, were eyewitnesses and above all were part of the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, the central figure in historical events. That said, it would be unthinkable to have a history of the people of Israel, in this time, excluding divine intervention. In this sense, the historian, heir to Greco-Roman thought, could well laugh at this story. However, its reading would be biased, by the fact that it would be made in a paradigm foreign to these documents. We are not saying that the historian does not have the right to have a questioning look or a mind that doubts the reliability and the nature of the texts of the Gospels. However, it is believed that it is necessary to know how to recognize and use appropriate analytical methods and grids. 

Among other things, because the writings of the Gospels are denominational, it is obvious that the authors erase themselves as if these writings were without the help of any hand. Now, one of Ehrman's criticisms is that it cannot be said that the authors of these writings were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John because the latter were not associated with them, in the sense that they were not did not appear in these texts. They are absent. Nothing in the text indicates this. In fact, as already indicated, in the Jewish historiography of the time, the authors were absent because they spoke of God, wrote about God. However, without a doubt, the addressees knew the addressees well. Moreover, the weakness of this criticism lies in the fact that Ehrman relies on Greco-Roman theory, preventing him from fully understanding the logic of Jewish historiography. If for the Greek historian, his critical opinion is important in the narration of his story, which moreover implies the identification of the narrator, for the Jew, we are in the opposite pole. It would be important to emphasize in relation to this criticism that it is not because there is no personal intrusion by the author into the historical accounts that makes the identification of the narrator difficult to spot. The fact is that the identification of the latter is linked to external evidence. So to speak, it has nothing to do with the author himself. The personal intervention and non-intervention in the narration is due to a preference in the style of writing linked to a conception of the story quite simply.


Eyewitness testimonies as a criterion of historicity

The question of eyewitnesses in the process of a historical investigation is a fundamental element for the credibility of a document. The historian who has access to the words of living and contemporary witnesses of the event on which he is investigating has at his disposal an invaluable source. This does not mean, however, that the historian should not evaluate what he collects as data. Indeed, he will do his critical work and confront the different words in order to extract the truth. However, the latter has an enormous advantage over the historian who will come to investigate this same phenomenon a century later. It is obvious that in connection with the discovery of the truth, the first has more possibilities than the second.

Moreover, the writing of history based on eyewitnesses is an important criterion in the field of historiography. However, when we analyze the Gospels, we realize that they were not only written by eyewitnesses (Matthew and John) themselves, but also on the basis of what eyewitnesses testified (Mark and Luke). In this same line of reflection, it would be useful to refer to Richard Bauckman who could write on this subject: “reading the Gospels as the testimony of eyewitnesses… honors the historiographical form that they are. From its historical perspective, the suspicion of witnesses is a form of epistemological suicide”[12]. who agreed to testify about the events they were witnessing. The historian Luke, unlike Mark, illustrates this point clearly in the introduction to the first volume of his writing:


Several people have undertaken to compose an account of the events which have passed among us, according to what has been transmitted to us by those who have been eyewitnesses to them from the beginning and who have become servants of the Word of God. I have therefore decided in my turn to inform myself carefully about everything that has happened since the beginning, and to explain it to you in writing in a continuous manner, most honorable Théophile; thus, you will be able to recognize the entire veracity of the teachings you have received (Luke 1: 1-4, BDS).


Now the question that must be asked is: why such a mention? To answer this question, it must be said that Luke, knowing the rules of the historiography of his time, whether from the Jewish perspective or the Greco-Roman one, and probably writing to a Greco-Roman colleague, undertakes to explain its methodological approach. He does this because he wanted to prove the truth of his story. This does not depend on the manner of writing, although the style is important, but on the source and the quality of the data collected. One of this author's sources of information is eyewitnesses. It should be noted that Luke knew the apostles who were with Christ. It suffices to read the second volume of his story, in this case the book of acts, to understand this assertion.

The structure of the Gospel of Luke, like that of the book of Acts, is part of the Greco-Roman tradition of history, with a particularity in the choice of the object which is different. In a study devoted to the work of Luc, being Luc-Actes, Daniel Marguerat points out that this author combines both paradigms to produce high-level historical writings. According to him, the introduction to his first volume inscribes Luke in the Hellenistic literary tradition[13]. And he adds, of the ten principles required by Greco-Roman thinkers to recognize the nature of a true historical work, Luke respected eight of them[14]. So to speak, from the point of view of the genre, the texts of the Gospels are part of the Jewish historical tradition from the outset, in terms of choice of subject. If it is true that from the point of view of the form, the particularity of the writings of Luke differs from the other writings of the Gospels, it is important to emphasize that from the point of view of the object of research, the choice is identical, and to write his text, he proceeded like Mark, basing himself on the testimonies of eyewitnesses[15].

Validation of the Gospel accounts by archeology

The contribution of archeology in the investigation of historical research is of significant importance, in the sense that it can contribute to the verification of the facts available in historical accounts. It makes it possible to verify whether the characters, places and dates that make up the story are true. In this case, archeology makes it possible to differentiate to a certain extent the mythical fact from the historical fact. Since history is always part of a space-time, whoever is conducting his investigation can have recourse to archeology to verify from the material evidence that it provides. For example, for the Gospel of John, Holden and Geisler wrote the following:

Today nearly 100 biblical figures, dozens of biblical cities, over 60 historical details in the Gospel of John, and 80 historical details in the book of Acts, among other things, have been confirmed as historical throughout the archaeological and historical research. Furthermore, the Israel Antiquities Authority has more than 100,000 objects (discovered in Israel since 1948) now available in their database for consultation[16].


It is not about rhetoric in the context of archaeological research. What predominates are the remains excavated, analyzed and compared to what is said in the historical accounts of the New Testament. Moreover, on the central character of these stories, namely Jesus of Nazareth, the proofs of his historical existence are significant. Skeptics may reject the Bible because it is a religious document, as do the minimalists who refuse to consider the Bible as a document that can be the object of archaeological study. If we want to be objective, observing the rigorous application of scientific methods, we cannot ignore the results provided, not by the theologian whom we can rightly or wrongly accuse of being a believer, but by the archaeologist. Of course, we can always have a critical look at the results provided by archeology, but we should not allow ourselves to say that this research is biased because it was made from a religious document. The validity of a research depends first of all on the rigor of the method, the theoretical model adopted and the consistency in the investigation of the field.

So to speak, the element tackled by the minimalists poses even more of a problem when we know that they are starting from a distorted a priori. Any text with historical pretensions or which claims to be historical can be the object of archaeological investigation and the results which will emerge should be taken into consideration, analyzed and criticized in order to judge its validation. However, it so happens that the characters evoked in the stories of the Gospels (Jesus, Herod, Pontius Pilate…), the practices described, the places evoked had been corroborated by the results of archaeological research. Not only do these prove the authenticity of these stories, but external historical sources also confirm them[17]. That said, from this point of view, it is clear that one can affirm, starting from the elements put in examination, that the accounts of the gospels are authentically historical.

Mauley Colas 

Vice President of Standing 4 Christ Ministry

Writer, researcher

*Quotes are in English. Translations from English to French are by the author.

[1] See details in Mauley Colas, Note on the reliability of the Bible. Available online at:


[2]  In a reprinted, revised and expanded work, "Evidence that demands a verdict", written by Josh Mcdowell and Sean McDowell, recent research on the manuscripts of the Bible and the classic texts. The following aptly reads: Combining both the Old and New Testaments, there are more than 66,000 manuscripts and scrolls (2017:53). Concerning the classic texts, these same authors also presented the results on the number of old and recent manuscripts. For example, for the Eliad text of Homer, we have 1800+ ancient manuscripts and for the newly discovered manuscripts we have 1900+; for the speech of Demosthenes, for the old manuscripts, there are 340 while for the new one discovered 444 new manuscripts; for Plato's Tetralogy, we have 210 for the old manuscripts and 238 new manuscripts. For more details, see the table presented in the book (Op.cit., 56). 

[3] Mauley Colas, Reliability of the Gospels: the Gospels as credible texts (1st part). Available online at:

[4] History is a literary genre, or to be more precise is part of the narrative genre, which includes texts that tell fictional or non-fictional events. In the case of the Gospels, we have stories that tell the life, the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. This story is of the biographical type. This says that we are not in fiction as a fable or a parable would have presented, but in a true story. For more detail on the literary genres found in the Bible see: Campus protestant, Literary genres of the Bible. Interview with Michael Langlois [video file]. Posted on January 30, 2018.  Retrieved:

[5] Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus exist? The historical argument for Jesus of Nazareth, New York: Harper Collins publisher, 2012

[6]  William Lane Craig and Bart D. Ehrman Debate the Question "Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?",  Held at College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts on March 28, 2006 (The full transcript of this debate is available online at: ).  For audiovisual (found on youtub:

[7] Daniel Marguérat, The first Christian Historian (translated by Ken Mckinney, Grogory J. Laughery and Richard Bauckham), 2nd ed, Cambridge: Cambridge university press, 2004, pp.13-19.

[8] Daniel Marguerat, Op.Cit., pp.19-20

[9] Daniel Marguerat, Op.Cit., p21

[10] Daniel Marguerat, Op.Cit., p.20

[11] Daniel Marguerat, Op, Cit., p.22

[12] Quoted by Holden and Geisler, Holden and Geisler, The popular Handbook of the Archeology and the Bible, Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2013. p.134

[13] Daniel Marguerat, Op.cit., p.14

[14] “The ten rules are: (1) the choice of a noble subject; (2) the usefulness of the topic to its audience; (3) independence of mind and freedom from bias…; (4) good construction of the narrative, especially the beginning and the end; (5) proper collection of preparatory materials; (6) selection and variety in information processing; (7) correct and orderly arrangement of the narrative; (8) liveliness in storytelling; (9) moderation in details; (10) the adaptation of the speech adopted to the speaker and to the rhetorical situation”. in Daniel Marguerat, Ibid

[15] Someone who does not understand can minimize this criterion. But it is a serious argument from the point of view of the credibility of what is written as a historical document. When we have the testimony of an actor in a story that we are investigating, we have first-hand information in their hands. In this case, the risk of the possibility of distorted speech is considerably reduced compared to an oral tradition that has had time to be transmitted for several generations. In this case, the work of the historian from the point of view of verification becomes a more difficult task. event, from the semantic point of view, the fact remains the same. However, it happens that one of the criticisms formulated against the texts of the Gospels to discredit this fundamental criterion, is that there is a gap between the time of the events told and their writing. These same people who construct these reviews point bluntly to the story of Alexander the Great; while when we compare the time of the writing of the Gospels and certain other historical documents like the life of Alexander the Great, we realize that the time between the events of the life of this character and the first writings available on him date 300 to 500 years later (Holden and Geisler, Op.cit., p.133). As for the writings of the Gospels, the dates vary between 30 and 70 years. Thus one should understand, not only, that these documents are written on the basis of the testimonies of eyewitnesses in certain cases and by witnesses themselves in others. So to speak, from the point of view of the distance between the events and the time of their writing, the Gospels present less risk on the reliability of historicity than the historical writings of Alexander the Great.

[16] Holden and Geisler, Op.Cit., p181

[17] For example, Gary Habermas, in his book “The Historical Jesus”, published by College press publishing company in 1996, devoted chapter nine to non-Christian sources on the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth.

Bibliographic references

Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus exist? The historical argument for Jesus of Nazareth, NY: HarperOne, 2012.

Bart Ehrman, Forged, New York: HarperOne, 2011.

Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: the story behind who changed the Bible and Why, New York: HarperOne, 2005.

Protestant Campus, The Literary Genres of the Bible. Interview with Michael Langlois [video file]. Uploaded January 30, 2018.  Retrieved:

Gary Habermas, The historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the life of Christ, Missouri: College press publishing company, 2011 (1996).

Joseph M. Holden and Norman Geisler, The popular Handbook of the Archeology and the Bible, Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2013.

Josh McDowell, Sean McDowell, Evidence that demands a verdict: life-changing truth for a skeptical world, completely update and expended classic, Nasheville: Thomas Nelson, 2017

Mauley Colas, Note on the reliability of the Bible. Available online at:


William Lane Craig and Bart D. Ehrman Debate the Question "Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?",  Held at College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts on March 28, 2006 ( The full transcript of this debate is available online at:  For audiovisual (found on youtub: https:/ /



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