Historical reliability of the Gospels

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The historical reliability of the Gospels refers to the reliability and historic character of the four New Testament gospels as historical documents. While all four canonical gospels contain some sayings and events which may meet one or more of the five criteria for historical reliability used in biblical studies,[Notes 1] the assessment and evaluation of these elements is a matter of ongoing debate.[Notes 2][1][2][3][4] Almost all scholars of antiquity agree that a human Jesus existed,[5][6][7][8] but scholars differ on the historicity of specific episodes described in the Biblical accounts of Jesus,[9] and the only two events subject to "almost universal assent" are that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate.[10][11][12] Elements whose historical authenticity is disputed include the two accounts of the Nativity of Jesus, the miraculous events including the resurrection, and certain details about the crucifixion.[13][14][15][16][17][18]

According to the majority viewpoint, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, collectively referred to as the Synoptic Gospels, are the primary sources of historical information about Jesus and of the religious movement he founded.[19][20][21] The fourth gospel, the Gospel of John, differs greatly from the first three gospels. Historians often study the historical reliability of the Acts of the Apostles when studying the reliability of the gospels, as Acts was seemingly written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke.

Among scholars, a growing majority considers the Gospels to be in the genre of Ancient Greco-Roman biographies,[22][23] the same genre as Plutarch’s Life of Alexander and Life of Caesar. Typically, ancient biographies written shortly after the death of the subject include substantial history.[22] Some biblical scholars view Luke’s Gospel as ancient history rather than ancient biography.[23]

Historians subject the gospels to critical analysis, attempting to differentiate, rather than authenticate, reliable information from possible inventions, exaggerations, and alterations.[19] Since there are more than 15,000 New Testament manuscripts which present hundreds of thousands of textual variants,[24] scholars use textual criticism to determine which gospel variants could theoretically be taken as 'original'. To answer this question, scholars have to ask who wrote the gospels, when they wrote them, what was their objective in writing them,[25] what sources the authors used, how reliable these sources were, and how far removed in time the sources were from the stories they narrate, or if they were altered later. Scholars can also look into the internal evidence of the documents, to see if, for example, the document is misquoting texts from the Hebrew Tanakh, is making claims about geography that were incorrect or if the author appears to be hiding information. Finally, scholars turn to external sources, including the testimony of early church leaders, writers outside the church (mainly Jewish and Greco-Roman historians) who would have been more likely to have criticized the early churches, and to archaeological evidence.

Matthew and Luke depend on three shared written Greek sources: the gospel of Mark; a "sayings of Jesus" collection called Q; and the Jewish scriptures in a Greek translation called the Septuagint.[26] They also contain some material unique to each: this is called the "M" material for Matthew and "L" for Luke.[27]


In evaluating the historical reliability of the Gospels, scholars consider authorship and date of composition,[28] intention and genre,[25] gospel sources and oral tradition,[29][30] textual criticism,[31] and historical authenticity of specific sayings and narrative events.[28]

Scope and genre[edit]

"Gospel" or "gospels" is the standard term for the four New Testament books carrying the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, each telling of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth (including his dealings with John the Baptist, his trial and execution, the discovery of his empty tomb, and, at least for three of them, his appearances to his disciples following his death.)[32]

The genre of the gospels is essential in understanding the intentions of the authors regarding the historical value of the texts. New Testament scholar Graham Stanton states that "the gospels are now widely considered to be a sub-set of the broad ancient literary genre of biographies."[33] Charles H. Talbert agrees that the gospels should be grouped with the Graeco-Roman biographies, but adds that such biographies included an element of mythology, and that the synoptic gospels also included elements of mythology.[2] E.P. Sanders states that "these Gospels were written with the intention of glorifying Jesus and are not strictly biographical in nature."[19] Ingrid Maisch and Anton Vögtle writing for Karl Rahner in his encyclopedia of theological terms indicate that the gospels were written primarily as theological, not historical items.[34] Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis notes that "we must conclude, then, that the genre of the Gospel is not that of pure 'history'; but neither is it that of myth, fairy tale, or legend. In fact, 'gospel' constitutes a genre all its own, a surprising novelty in the literature of the ancient world."[3]

Scholars tend to consider Luke's works (Luke-Acts) to be closer in genre to "pure" history,[4][35] although they also note that "This is not to say that he [Luke] was always reliably informed, or that – any more than modern historians – he always presented a severely factual account of events."[4] New Testament scholar, James D.G. Dunn believes that "the earliest tradents within the Christian churches [were] preservers more than innovators...seeking to transmit, retell, explain, interpret, elaborate, but not create de novo...Through the main body of the Synoptic tradition, I believe, we have in most cases direct access to the teaching and ministry of Jesus as it was remembered from the beginning of the transmission process (which often predates Easter) and so fairly direct access to the ministry and teaching of Jesus through the eyes and ears of those who went about with him."[36] Nevertheless, David Jenkins, a former Anglican Bishop of Durham and university professor, has stated that "Certainly not! There is absolutely no certainty in the New Testament about anything of importance."[37]


Critical scholars have developed a number of criteria to evaluate the probability, or historical authenticity, of an attested event or saying represented in the gospels. These criteria are the criterion of dissimilarity; the criterion of embarrassment; the criterion of multiple attestation; the criterion of cultural and historical congruency; the criterion of "Aramaisms". They are applied to the sayings and events as described in the Gospels, in order to evaluate their historical reliability.

The criterion of dissimilarity argues that if a saying or action is dissimilar to, or contrary to, the views of Judaism in the context of Jesus or the views of the early church, then it can more confidently be regarded as an authentic saying or action of Jesus.[38][39] One commonly cited example of this is Jesus' controversial reinterpretation of the Mosaic law in his Sermon on the Mount, or Peter's decision to allow uncircumcised gentiles into what was, at the time, a sect of Judaism.

The criterion of embarrassment holds that the authors of the gospels had no reason to invent embarrassing incidents such as the denial of Jesus by Peter, or the fleeing of Jesus' followers after his arrest, and therefore such details would likely not have been included unless they were true.[40] Bart Ehrman, using the criterion of dissimilarity to judge the historical reliability of the claim Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, notes that "it is hard to imagine a Christian inventing the story of Jesus' baptism since this could be taken to mean that he was John's subordinate."[41]

The criterion of multiple attestation says that when two or more independent sources present similar or consistent accounts, it is more likely that the accounts are accurate reports of events or that they are reporting a tradition which pre-dates the sources themselves.[42] This is often used to note that the four gospels attest to most of the same events, but that Paul's epistles often attest to these events as well, as do the writings of the early church, and to a limited degree non-Christian ancient writings.

The criterion of cultural and historical congruency says that a source is less credible if the account contradicts known historical facts, or if it conflicts with cultural practices common in the period in question.[43] It is, therefore, more credible if it agrees with those known facts. For example, this is often used when assessing the reliability of claims in Luke-Acts, such as the official title of Pontius Pilate. Through linguistic criteria a number of conclusions can be drawn.

The criterion of "Aramaisms" as it is often referred[44] holds that if a saying of Jesus has Aramaic roots, reflecting Jesus' Palestinian context, the saying is more likely to be authentic.[45]


Evangelist Mattheüs en de engel by Rembrandt, 1661

From oral traditions to written gospels[edit]

In the immediate aftermath of Jesus' death his followers expected him to return at any moment, certainly within their own lifetimes, and in consequence there was little motivation to write anything down for future generations; but as eyewitnesses began to die, and as the missionary needs of the church grew, there was an increasing demand and need for written versions of the founder's life and teachings.[46] The stages of this process can be summarised as follows:[47]

  1. Oral traditions – stories and sayings passed on largely as separate self-contained units, not in any order;
  2. Written collections of miracle stories, parables, sayings, etc., with oral tradition continuing alongside these;
  3. Written proto-gospels preceding and serving as sources for the gospels;
  4. Canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John composed from these sources.

The New Testament preserves signs of these oral traditions and early documents:[48] for example, parallel passages between Matthew, Mark and Luke on one hand and the Pauline epistles and the Epistle to the Hebrews on the other are typically explained by assuming that all were relying on a shared oral tradition,[49] and the dedicatory preface of Luke refers to previous written accounts of the life of Jesus.[50] The early traditions were fluid and subject to alteration, sometimes transmitted by those who had known Jesus personally, but more often by wandering prophets and teachers like the Apostle Paul, who knew him through visionary experiences.[51] The early prophets and leaders of local Christian communities and their followers were more focused on the Kingdom of God than on the life of Jesus: Paul for example, says very little about him beyond that he was "born of a woman" (meaning that he was a man and not a phantom), that he was a Jew, and that he suffered, died, and was resurrected: what mattered for Paul was not Jesus's teachings or the details of his death and resurrection, but the kingdom.[52]

The four canonical gospels were first mentioned between 120 and 150 by Justin Martyr, who lived c.100-185.[53] Justin had no titles for them and simply called them the "memoirs of the Apostles", but around 185 Iraneus, a bishop of Lyon who lived c.130–c.202, attributed them to: 1) Matthew, an apostle who followed Jesus in his earthly career; 2) Mark, who while himself not a disciple was the companion of Peter, who was; 3) Luke, the companion of Paul, the author of the Pauline epistles; and 4) John, who like Matthew was an apostle who had known Jesus.[53] Christian apologists and most lay Christians assume on the basis of 4th century Church teaching that the gospels were written by the Evangelists c.50-65 AD, but the scholarly consensus is that they are the work of unknown Christians and were composed c.68-110 AD.[54][53]

Role of eyewitnesses[edit]

The majority of New Testament scholars agree that the Gospels do not contain eyewitness accounts;[55] instead, the four were written in and for various Christian communities for the purpose of proclamation, and as a result they present the theologies of their communities rather than the testimony of eyewitnesses.[56] This view has been challenged in recent years, Richard Bauckham, for example, arguing that each gospel is the work of a single author writing from personal knowledge of the career of Jesus, with the differences between them arising from the gospel-writers' attempts to interpret Jesus and his mission.[57] This differs markedly from the majority view, in which the traditions behind each gospel were formed by communities (and therefore fluid), and also from that of another scholar, James Dunn, who allowed eyewitnesses an important role in formulating the traditions while still keeping the various Christian communities.[58] At stake was (or is) the scholarly process called form criticism, which looks at the social situation (the sitz im leben, place in life) in which texts and traditions arise and are formed: for Bauckham and others, community is irrelevant, because the tradition is derived from the eyewitnesses and carefully guarded.[58]

Bauckham's thesis has clear implications for the reliability of the gospels: they can be trusted because they are based on eyewitness testimony.[59] Nevertheless, evangelical scholar Craig Blomberg says that the main finding of source criticism, namely an initial period of oral tradition, is well founded.[60] Luke in the prologue to his gospel (Luke 1:1–4) seems to bear out the findings of critical scholarship regarding the formation of the gospels: sources consisting of "things...handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses" (oral tradition), written sources by the "many [who] have undertaken to draw up an account" (for Luke, including at least Mark and possibly Matthew), and those like Luke himself who wished to write his own account, corresponding to the redaction of theologically-motivated gospels.[60]

Writing the gospels[edit]

The synoptics: Matthew, Mark and Luke[edit]

The "triple tradition" is material shared by the three gospels, and the "double tradition" is shared by Matthew and Luke but not by Mark - this is the Q source. The unique material in Matthew and Luke is Special M and Special L. The chart is based on A.K. Honoré, "A statistical study of the synoptic problem", Novum Testamentum, Vol. 10, Fasc. 2/3 (Apr.-Jul., 1968),pp.95-147.

Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the synoptic gospels because they share many stories (the technical term is pericopes), sometimes even identical wording; finding an explanation for their similarities, and also their differences, is known as the synoptic problem,[61] and most scholars believe that the best solution to the problem is that Mark was the first gospel to be written and served as the source for the other two[62] - alternative theories exist, but create more problems than they solve.[27]

Matthew and Luke also share a large amount of material which is not found in Mark; this appears in the same order in each, although not always in the same contexts, leading scholars to the conclusion that in addition to Mark they also shared a lost source called the Q document (from "Quelle", the German word for "source);[27] its existence and use alongside Mark by the authors of Matthew and Luke seems the most convincing solution to the synoptic problem.[63]

Matthew and Luke contain some material unique to each, called the M source (or Special Matthew) for Matthew and the L source (Special Luke) for Luke.[27] The pericopes from M and L include some of the best-known stories in the gospels, such as the stories of the birth of Christ and the parables of the good Samaritan and the "pearl of great price".[64]

The Hebrew scriptures were also an important source for all three, and for John.[65] Direct quotations number 27 in Mark, 54 in Matthew, 24 in Luke, and 14 in John, and the influence of the scriptures is vastly increased when allusions and echoes are included.[66] Half of Mark's gospel, for example, is made up of allusions to and citations of the scriptures, which he uses to structure his narrative and to present his understanding of the ministry, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus (for example, the final cry from the cross, "My Lord, my Lord, why have you forsaken me?" is a quotation from psalm 22:2: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"[67] Matthew contains all Mark's quotations and introduces around 30 more, sometimes in the mouth of Jesus, sometimes as his own commentary on the narrative,[68] and Luke makes allusions to all but three of the Old Testament books.[69]


Tradition holds that the gospel was written by Mark the Evangelist, St. Peter's interpreter, but its reliance on several underlying sources, varying in form and in theology, makes this unlikely.[70] Most scholars believe it was written shortly before or after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70,[71] and internal evidence suggests that it probably originated in Syria or Palestine among a Christian community consisting at least partly of non-Jews who spoke Greek rather than Aramaic and did not understand Jewish culture.[72]

Scholars since the 19th century have regarded Mark as the first of the gospels (called the theory of Markan priority).[Notes 3] Markan priority led to the belief that Mark must be the most reliable of the gospels, but today there is a large consensus that the author of Mark was not intending to write history.[73] Mark preserves memories of real people (including the disciples), places and circumstances, but it is based on previously existing traditions which have been selected and arranged by the author to express his understanding of the significance of Jesus.[72]

Mark is a counter-narrative to the myth of Imperial rule crafted by Vespasian.[74] In 1901 William Wrede demonstrated that Mark was not a simple historical account of the life of Jesus but a work of theology compiled by an author who was a creative artist.[75] There has been little interest in his sources until recently, but candidates include the Elijah-Elisha narrative in the Book of Kings and the Pauline letters, notably 1 Corinthians, and even Homer.[76]

Maurice Casey believes that Mark's gospel contains traces of literal translations of Aramaic sources, and that this implies, in some cases, a sitz im leben in the lifetime of Jesus and a very early date for the gospel.[77]

Matthew and Luke[edit]

The consensus of scholars dates Matthew and Luke to 80-90 AD.[78][Notes 4] The scholarly consensus is that Matthew originated in a "Matthean community" in Antioch (a city in Syria);[79] Luke was written in a large city west of Palestine,[80] for an educated Greek-speaking audience.[81] Scholars doubt that the authors were the evangelists Matthew and Luke: it seems unlikely, for example, that Matthew would rely so heavily on Mark if its author had been an eyewitness to Jesus's ministry,[82] or that the Acts of Apostles (by the same author as the gospel of Luke) would so frequently contradict the Pauline letters if its author had been Paul's companion.[80][83] Instead, the two took for their sources the gospel of Mark (606 of Matthew's verses are taken from Mark, 320 of Luke's),[84] the Q source, and the "special" material of M and L.

Q (Quelle)[edit]

Mark has 661 verses, 637 of which are reproduced in Matthew and/or Luke.[84] Matthew and Luke share a further 200 verses (roughly) which are not taken from Mark: this is called the Q source.[84][Notes 5] Q is usually dated about a decade earlier than Mark;[85] some scholars argue that it was a single written document, others for multiple documents, and others that there was a core written Q accompanied by an oral tradition.[86] Despite ongoing debate over its exact content - some Q materials in Matthew and Luke are identical word for word, but others are substantially different - there is general consensus about the passages that belong to it.[87] It has no passion story and no resurrection, but the Aramaic form of some sayings suggests that its nucleus reaches back to the earliest Palestinian community and even the lifetime of Jesus.[88]

Identifying the community of Q and the circumstances in which it was created and used is difficult, but it probably originated in Galilee, in a movement in opposition to the leadership in Jerusalem, as a set of short speeches relating to specific occasions such as covenant-renewal, the commissioning of missionaries, prayers for the Kingdom of God, and calling down divine judgement on their enemies the Pharisees.[89] A large majority of scholars consider it to be among the oldest and most reliable material in the gospels.[90]

M and L (Special Matthew and Special Luke)[edit]

The premise that Matthew and Luke used sources in addition to Mark and Q is fairly widely accepted, although many details are disputed, including whether they were written or oral, or the invention of the gospel authors, or Q material that happened to be used by only one gospel, or a combination of these.[91]


The Gospel of John is a relatively late theological document containing hardly any accurate historical information that is not found in the three synoptic gospels, which is why most historical studies have been based on the earliest sources Mark and Q.[92] It speaks of an unnamed "disciple whom Jesus loved" as the source of its traditions, but does not say specifically that he is its author;[93] Christian tradition identifies him as John the Apostle, but the majority of modern scholars have abandoned this or hold it only tenuously.[94][Notes 6] Most scholars believe it was written c. 90–110 AD,[95] at Ephesus in Anatolia (although other possibilities are Antioch, Northern Syria, Palestine and Alexandria)[96] and went through two or three "editions" before reaching its final form, although a minority continue to support unitary composition.[97][95]

The fact that the format of John follows that set by Mark need not imply that the author knew Mark, for there are no identical or almost-identical passages; rather, this was most probably the accepted shape for a gospel by the time John was written.[98] Nevertheless, John's discourses are full of synoptic-like material: some scholars think this indicates that the author knew the synoptics, although others believe it points instead to a shared base in the oral tradition.[99] John nevertheless differs radically from them:[100][101]

Synoptics John
Begin with the virgin conception (virgin birth - Matthew and Luke only) Begin with incarnation of the preexistent Logos/Word
Jesus visits Jerusalem only in the last week of his life; only one Passover Jesus active in Judea for much of his mission; three Passovers
Jesus speaks little of himself Jesus speaks much of himself, notably in the "I am" statements
Jesus calls for faith in God Jesus calls for faith in himself
Jesus's central theme is the Kingdom of God Jesus rarely mentions the Kingdom of God
Jesus preaches repentance and forgiveness Jesus never mentions repentance and forgiveness only once (John 20:23)
Jesus speaks in aphorisms and parables Jesus speaks in lengthy dialogues
Jesus rarely mentions eternal life Jesus regularly mentions eternal life
Jesus shows strong concern for the poor and sinners Jesus shows little concern for the poor and sinners
Jesus frequently exorcises demons Jesus never exorcises demons


An 11th-century Byzantine manuscript containing the opening of the Gospel of Luke.

Textual criticism deals with the identification and removal of transcription errors in the texts of manuscripts. Ancient scribes made errors or alterations (such as including non-authentic additions).[102] In attempting to determine the original text of the New Testament books, some modern textual critics have identified sections as additions of material, centuries after the gospel was written. These are called interpolations. In modern translations of the Bible, the results of textual criticism have led to certain verses, words and phrases being left out or marked as not original.

For example, there are a number of Bible verses in the New Testament that are present in the King James Version (KJV) but are absent from most modern Bible translations. Most modern textual scholars consider these verses interpolations (exceptions include advocates of the Byzantine or Majority text). The verse numbers have been reserved, but without any text, so as to preserve the traditional numbering of the remaining verses. The Biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman notes that many current verses were not part of the original text of the New Testament. "These scribal additions are often found in late medieval manuscripts of the New Testament, but not in the manuscripts of the earlier centuries," he adds. "And because the King James Bible is based on later manuscripts, such verses "became part of the Bible tradition in English-speaking lands."[103] He notes, however, that modern English translations, such as the New International Version, were written by using a more appropriate textual method.[104]

Most modern Bibles have footnotes to indicate passages that have disputed source documents. Bible Commentaries also discuss these, sometimes in great detail. While many variations have been discovered between early copies of biblical texts, most of these are variations in spelling, punctuation, or grammar. Also, many of these variants are so particular to the Greek language that they would not appear in translations into other languages.[105]

Three of the most important interpolations are the last verses of the Gospel of Mark[106][107][108] the story of the adulterous woman in the Gospel of John,[109][110][111] and the explicit reference to the Trinity in 1 John to have been a later addition.[112][113]

The New Testament has been preserved in more than 5,800 fragmentary Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages including Syriac, Slavic, Ethiopic and Armenian. Not all biblical manuscripts come from orthodox Christian writers. For example, the Gnostic writings of Valentinus come from the 2nd century AD, and these Christians were regarded as heretics by the mainstream church.[114] The sheer number of witnesses presents unique difficulties, although it gives scholars a better idea of how close modern bibles are to the original versions.[114] Bruce Metzger says "The more often you have copies that agree with each other, especially if they emerge from different geographical areas, the more you can cross-check them to figure out what the original document was like. The only way they'd agree would be where they went back genealogically in a family tree that represents the descent of the manuscripts.[105]

In "The Text Of The New Testament", Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland compare the total number of variant-free verses, and the number of variants per page (excluding orthographic errors), among the seven major editions of the Greek NT (Tischendorf, Westcott-Hort, von Soden, Vogels, Merk, Bover and Nestle-Aland), concluding that 62.9%, or 4,999/7,947, are in agreement.[115] They concluded, "Thus in nearly two-thirds of the New Testament text, the seven editions of the Greek New Testament which we have reviewed are in complete accord, with no differences other than in orthographical details (e.g., the spelling of names). Verses in which any one of the seven editions differs by a single word are not counted. ... In the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation the agreement is less, while in the letters it is much greater"[115] Per Aland and Aland, the total consistency achieved in the Gospel of Matthew was 60% (642 verses out of 1,071), the total consistency achieved in the Gospel of Mark was 45% (306 verses out of 678), the total consistency achieved in the Gospel of Luke was 57% (658 verses out of 1,151), and the total consistency achieved in the Gospel of John was 52% (450 verses out of 869).[115] Almost all of these variants are minor, and most of them are spelling or grammatical errors. Almost all can be explained by some type of unintentional scribal mistake, such as poor eyesight. Very few variants are contested among scholars, and few or none of the contested variants carry any theological significance. Modern biblical translations reflect this scholarly consensus where the variants exist, while the disputed variants are typically noted as such in the translations.[116]

A quantitative study on the stability of the New Testament compared early manuscripts to later manuscripts, up to the Middle Ages, with the Byzantine manuscripts, and concluded that the text had more than 90% stability over this time period.[117] It has been estimated that only 0.1% to 0.2% of the New Testament variants impact the meaning of the texts in any significant fashion.[117]

The parable of the Good Samaritan appears to be an invention by the author of Luke.[118]

Individual units[edit]

Authors such as Raymond Brown point out that the Gospels contradict each other in various important respects and on various important details.[119] W. D. Davies and E. P. Sanders state that: "on many points, especially about Jesus' early life, the evangelists were ignorant … they simply did not know and, guided by rumour, hope or supposition, did the best they could".[120]

Preexistence of Jesus[edit]

The gospel of John begins with a statement that the Logos existed from the beginning, and was God.

Genealogy, nativity and childhood of Jesus[edit]

The genealogy, birth and childhood of Jesus appear only in Matthew and Luke, and are ascribed to Special Matthew and Special Luke. Only Luke and Matthew have nativity narratives. Modern critical scholars consider both to be non-historical.[121][122][123] Many biblical scholars view the discussion of historicity as secondary, given that gospels were primarily written as theological documents rather than historical accounts.[124][125][126][127] The nativity narratives found in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 1:1–17) and the Gospel of Luke (Luke 3:23–38) give a genealogy of Jesus, but the names, and even the number of generations, differ between the two. Some authors have suggested that the differences are the result of two different lineages, Matthew's from King David's son, Solomon, to Jacob, father of Joseph, and Luke's from King David's other son, Nathan, to Heli, father of Mary and father-in-law of Joseph.[128] However, Geza Vermes argues that Luke makes no mention of Mary, and questions what purpose a maternal genealogy would serve in a Jewish setting.[129]

Dating the birth of Jesus[edit]

Both Luke and Matthew date Jesus' birth to within the rule of King Herod the Great, who died in 4BC.[130][131] However the Gospel of Luke also dates the birth ten years after Herod's death, during the census of Quirinius in 6 AD described by the historian Josephus.[130] Raymond E. Brown notes that "most critical scholars acknowledge a confusion and misdating on Luke's part."[132]

Teachings of Jesus[edit]

Only a few of the parables can be attributed with confidence to the historical Jesus.[133] Most of them come from the M and L sources (rather than Mark or Q), but marked by the special language and theology of each of those gospels; this leads to the conclusion that they are not the original words of Jesus, but have been reworked by the gospel-authors.[134]

Passion narrative[edit]

The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem recalls the entry of Judas Maccabeus; the Last Supper is mentioned only in the synoptics.[135]

Death of Judas[edit]

There is a contradiction regarding the death of Judas Iscariot with the account of his death in Acts differing from the one given in Matthew.[136] In Matthew 27:38, Judas returns the bribe he has been given for handing over Jesus, throwing the money into the temple before he hangs himself. The temple priests, unwilling to return the defiled money to the treasury,[137] use it instead to buy a field known as the Potter's Field, as a plot in which to bury strangers. In Acts 1:18 Peter says that Judas used the bribe money to buy the field himself, and his death is attributed to injuries from having fallen in this field. Other scholars state that the contradictory stories can be reconciled.[138][139]

Archeology and geography[edit]

Skeletal remains of Jehohanan, 1st-century CE crucifixion victim from Givat HaMivtar in Jerusalem, with a nail still lodged inside the heel bone.

Archaeological tools are very limited with respect to questions of existence of any specific individuals from the ancient past.[140] According to Eric Cline, there is no direct archaeological evidence of the existence of a historical Jesus, any of the apostles, or the majority of people in antiquity.[140] Craig Evans notes that archaeologists have some indirect information on how Jesus' life might have been from archaeological finds from Nazareth, the High Priest Caiaphas' ossuary, numerous synagogue buildings, and Jehohanan, a crucified victim who had a Jewish burial after execution.[141] Archaeologists have uncovered a site in Capernaum which is traditionally believed, with "no definitive proof" and based only upon circumstantial evidence, to have been the House of Peter, and which may thus possibly have housed Jesus.[142] Some of the places mentioned in the gospels have been verified by archaeological evidence, such as the Pool of Bethesda,[143] the Pool of Siloam, and the Temple Mount platform extension by King Herod. A mosaic from a third century church in Megiddo mentions Jesus.[140] A geological study based on sediments near the Dead Sea indicate that an earthquake occurred around 31 AD ± 5 years, which plausibly coincides with the earthquake reported by Matthew 27 near the time of the crucifixion of Christ.[144][145]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ These criteria are the criterion of dissimilarity; the criterion of embarrassment; the criterion of multiple attestation; the criterion of cultural and historical congruency; the criterion of "Aramaisms".
  2. ^ Sanders, E. P. (1993). The Historical Figure of Jesus. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-192822-7. Archived from the original on 2017-04-18. Retrieved 2017-08-29.
  3. ^ "Markan priority" is based on several lines of reasoning:
    • Content: Mark is simpler than Matthew and Luke; it is seen as unlikely that Mark would eliminate the missing stories;
    • Mistakes: Mark makes mistakes with history, the Hebrew scriptures and with Jewish law, which Matthew and Luke appear to have corrected; it is seen as unlikely that Mark would have deliberately changed correct information to incorrect;
    • Wording: Mark's language is less literary than that of Matthew and Luke; it seems unlikely that Mark would have downgraded this language;
    • Length: Mark is shorter than Matthew or Luke, yet his individual stories are longer; it is considered unlikely that he would have shortened one of the others overall, while lengthening the pericopes;
    • "Editorial fatigue": Editorial fatigue is the phenomenon whereby an editor introduces inconsistencies while adapting a source, resulting in errors; Matthew and Luke make such errors, but Mark does not.
      See Smith (2011), pages 12-16.
  4. ^ Matthew and Luke both use Mark, composed around 70, as a source, and both show a knowledge of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 (Matthew 22:1-10 and Luke 19:43 and 21:20). These provide an earliest possible date for both gospels; for end-dates, the epistles of Ignatius of Antioch show a familiarity with the gospel of Matthew, and as Ignatius died during the reign of the Emperor Trajan (r.98-117), Matthew cannot have been written later than this; and Acts, which scholars agree was written by the author of Luke, shows no awareness of the letters of Paul, which were circulating widely by the end of the 1st century. See Sim (2008), pages 15-16, and Reddish (2011), pages 144-145.
  5. ^ The existence of the Q source is a hypothesis linked to the most popular explanation of the synoptic problem; other explanations of that problem do away with the need for Q, but are less widely accepted. See Delbert Burkett, "Rethinking the Gospel Sources: The unity or plurality of Q" (Volume 2), page 1.
  6. ^ For the circumstances which led to the tradition, and the reasons why the majority of modern scholars reject it, see Lindars, Edwards & Court 2000, pp. 41–42



  1. ^ Craig Evans, "Life-of-Jesus Research and the Eclipse of Mythology," Theological Studies 54 (1993) p. 5,
  2. ^ a b Charles H. Talbert, What Is a Gospel? The Genre of Canonical Gospels pg 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977).
  3. ^ a b Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word (Vol. II): Meditations on the Gospel According to St. Matthew – Dr Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Ignatius Press, Introduction
  4. ^ a b c Grant, Robert M., "A Historical Introduction to the New Testament" (Harper and Row, 1963) "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-06-21. Retrieved 2009-11-24.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ In a 2011 review of the state of modern scholarship, Bart Ehrman (a secular agnostic) wrote: "He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees" B. Ehrman, 2011 Forged : writing in the name of God ISBN 978-0-06-207863-6. page 285
  6. ^ Robert M. Price (an atheist) who denies the existence of Jesus agrees that this perspective runs against the views of the majority of scholars: Robert M. Price "Jesus at the Vanishing Point" in The Historical Jesus: Five Views edited by James K. Beilby & Paul Rhodes Eddy, 2009 InterVarsity, ISBN 0830838686 page 61
  7. ^ Michael Grant (a classicist) states that "In recent years, 'no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non historicity of Jesus' or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary." in Jesus by Michael Grant 2004 ISBN 1898799881 page 200
  8. ^ Richard A. Burridge states: "There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church's imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more." in Jesus Now and Then by Richard A. Burridge and Graham Gould (Apr 1, 2004) ISBN 0802809774 page 34
  9. ^ Powell, Mark Allan (1998). Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 181. ISBN 978-0-664-25703-3.
  10. ^ Jesus Remembered by James D. G. Dunn 2003 ISBN 0-8028-3931-2 page 339 states of baptism and crucifixion that these "two facts in the life of Jesus command almost universal assent".
  11. ^ Prophet and Teacher: An Introduction to the Historical Jesus by William R. Herzog (Jul 4, 2005) ISBN 0664225284 pages 1–6
  12. ^ Crossan, John Dominic (1995). Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. HarperOne. p. 145. ISBN 978-0-06-061662-5. That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus...agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.
  13. ^ Who is Jesus? Answers to your questions about the historical Jesus, by John Dominic Crossan, Richard G. Watts (Westminster John Knox Press 1999), page 108
  14. ^ James G. D. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, (Eerdmans, 2003) page 779-781.
  15. ^ Rev. John Edmunds, 1855 The seven sayings of Christ on the cross Thomas Hatchford Publishers, London, page 26
  16. ^ Stagg, Evelyn and Frank. Woman in the World of Jesus. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978 ISBN 0-664-24195-6
  17. ^ Funk, Robert W. and the Jesus Seminar. The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus. HarperSanFrancisco. 1998. "Empty Tomb, Appearances & Ascension" p. 449-495.
  18. ^ Bruce M. Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament: Luke 24:51 is missing in some important early witnesses, Acts 1 varies between the Alexandrian and Western versions.
  19. ^ a b c Sanders, E. P. (1993). The Historical Figure of Jesus. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-192822-7. Archived from the original on 2017-04-18. Retrieved 2017-08-29.
  20. ^ "The Synoptic Gospels, then, are the primary sources for knowledge of the historical Jesus" "Jesus Christ." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 27 November 2010 [1] Archived 2015-05-03 at the Wayback Machine.
  21. ^ Vermes, Geza. The authentic gospel of Jesus. London, Penguin Books. 2004.
  22. ^ a b Keener, Craig S. "Otho: A Targeted Comparison of Suetonius's Biography and Tacitus's History, with Implications for the Gospels' Historical Reliability." Bulletin for Biblical Research (2011): 331-355. Penn State University Press. See Abstract. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26424373?seq=1
  23. ^ a b Licona, Michael R. Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography. Oxford University Press, 2016. p.3
  24. ^ Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. HarperSanFrancisco, 2005, pp. 88–89.
  25. ^ a b Paul Rhodes Eddy & Gregory A. Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. (2008, Baker Academic). 309-262. ISBN 978-0801031144
  26. ^ Fredriksen 2000, p. unpaginated.
  27. ^ a b c d Reid 1996, p. 18.
  28. ^ a b Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey (2nd Edition).425.
  29. ^ Craig L. Blomberg, Historical Reliability of the Gospels (1986, Inter-Varsity Press).19–72.ISBN 978-0830828074
  30. ^ Paul Rhodes Eddy & Gregory A. Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. (2008, Baker Academic).237–308. ISBN 978-0801031144
  31. ^ Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey (2nd Edition).424.
  32. ^ Tuckett 2000, p. 522.
  33. ^ Graham Stanton, Jesus and Gospel. p.192.
  34. ^ Encyclopedia of theology: a concise Sacramentum mundi by Karl Rahner 2004 ISBN 0-86012-006-6 pages 730–741
  35. ^ Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. 117.
  36. ^ James D.G. Dunn, "Messianic Ideas and Their Influence on the Jesus of History," in The Messiah, ed. James H. Charlesworth. pp. 371–372. Cf. James D.G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered.
  37. ^ [2] Archived 2014-04-04 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 15nov2010
  38. ^ Norman Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus 43.
  39. ^ Christopher Tuckett, "Sources and Method" in The Cambridge Companion to Jesus. ed. Markus Bockmuehl. 132.
  40. ^ Meier, John P., A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Doubleday: 1991. vol 1: pp. 168–171.
  41. ^ Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament:A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.194-5.
  42. ^ The criteria for authenticity in historical-Jesus research: previous discussion and new proposals, by Stanley E. Porter, pg. 118
  43. ^ The criteria for authenticity in historical-Jesus research: previous discussion and new proposals, by Stanley E. Porter, pg. 119
  44. ^ Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament:A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.193.
  45. ^ Stanley E. Porter, The Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research: previous discussion and new proposals.127.
  46. ^ Reddish 2011, p. 17.
  47. ^ Burkett 2002, pp. 124–25.
  48. ^ Valantasis, Bleyle & Haugh 2009, p. 7.
  49. ^ Smith 2011, p. 2.
  50. ^ Martens 2004, p. 100.
  51. ^ Valantasis, Bleyle & Haugh 2009, p. 7,10,14.
  52. ^ Valantasis, Bleyle & Haugh 2009, p. 11.
  53. ^ a b c Smith 2011, p. 7.
  54. ^ Valantasis, Bleyle & Haugh 2009, p. 19.
  55. ^ Eve 2014, p. 135.
  56. ^ Bellinzoni 2016, p. 336.
  57. ^ Wilson 2014, p. 135.
  58. ^ a b Bauckham 2008, p. 290.
  59. ^ Köstenberger, Bock & Chatraw 2014, p. 137.
  60. ^ a b Blomberg 2009, p. 97.
  61. ^ Puskas & Robbins 2011, p. 86,89.
  62. ^ Reddish 2011, p. 27,29.
  63. ^ Tiwald 2020, p. 13-14.
  64. ^ Isaak 2011, p. 108.
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  66. ^ Yu Chui Siang Lau 2010, p. 159.
  67. ^ Valantasis, Bleyle & Haugh 2009, p. 82-83.
  68. ^ Moyise 2011, p. 33.
  69. ^ Kimball 1994, p. 48.
  70. ^ Theissen & Merz 1998, p. 24-27.
  71. ^ Reddish 2011, p. 74.
  72. ^ a b Schroter 2010, p. 273-274.
  73. ^ Williamson 1983, p. 17-18.
  74. ^ Winn 2018, p. 45.
  75. ^ Strickland & Young 2017, p. 3.
  76. ^ Nelligan 2015, p. xivxv.
  77. ^ Casey 1999, p. 86,136.
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  79. ^ Sim 2008, p. 15-16.
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  81. ^ Green 1995, pp. 16–17.
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  83. ^ Ehrman 2005, pp. 172,235.
  84. ^ a b c Augsburger 2004, p. unpaginated.
  85. ^ Moyise2011 2012, p. 87.
  86. ^ Burkett 2009, p. 33ff.
  87. ^ Gillman 2007, p. 1112.
  88. ^ Strecker 2012, p. 312-313.
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  90. ^ Powell 1998, p. 38.
  91. ^ Jones 2011, p. 10,17.
  92. ^ Casey 2010, p. 27.
  93. ^ Burkett 2002, p. 214.
  94. ^ Lindars, Edwards & Court 2000, p. 41.
  95. ^ a b Lincoln 2005, p. 18.
  96. ^ Aune 2003, p. 243.
  97. ^ Edwards 2015, p. ix.
  98. ^ Dunn 2011, p. 73.
  99. ^ Dunn 2011, p. 76-77.
  100. ^ Burkett 2019, p. 218.
  101. ^ Dunn 2011, p. 72-73.
  102. ^ Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (2005), p. 46
  103. ^ Ehrman, Bart D.. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. HarperCollins, 2005, p. 265. ISBN 978-0-06-073817-4
  104. ^ Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus Ch 3, (2005)
  105. ^ a b Strobel, Lee. "The Case for Christ". 1998. Chapter three, when quoting biblical scholar Bruce Metzger
  106. ^ Guy D. Nave, The role and function of repentance in Luke-Acts,p. 194
  107. ^ John Shelby Spong, "The Continuing Christian Need for Judaism", Christian Century September 26, 1979, p. 918. see "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-06-15. Retrieved 2010-10-13.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  108. ^ Feminist companion to the New Testament and early Christian writings, Volume 5, by Amy-Jill Levine, Marianne Blickenstaff, pg. 175
  109. ^ "NETBible: John 7". Bible.org. Archived from the original on 2007-02-28. Retrieved 2009-10-17. See note 139 on that page.
  110. ^ Keith, Chris (2008). "Recent and Previous Research on the Pericope Adulterae (John 7.53–8.11)". Currents in Biblical Research. 6 (3): 377–404. doi:10.1177/1476993X07084793. S2CID 145385075.
  111. ^ 'Pericope adulterae', in FL Cross (ed.), The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
  112. ^ Ehrman 2006, p. 166
  113. ^ Bruce Metzger "A Textual Commentary on the New Testament", Second Edition, 1994, German Bible Society
  114. ^ a b Bruce, F.F. (1981). P 14. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?. InterVarsity Press
  115. ^ a b c K. Aland and B. Aland, "The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions & to the Theory & Practice of Modern Textual Criticism", 1995, op. cit., p. 29-30.
  116. ^ Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, Ch 3, (2005)
  117. ^ a b Heide, K. Martin (2011). "Assessing the Stability of the Transmitted Texts of the New Testament and the Shepherd of Hermas". In Stewart, Robert B. (ed.). Bart D. Ehrman & Daniel B. Wallace in Dialogue: The Reliability of the New Testament. Fortress Press. pp. 134–138, 157–158. ISBN 9780800697730.
  118. ^ Meier 200.
  119. ^ Brown, Raymond Edward (1999-05-18). The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library). Yale University Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-300-14008-8.
  120. ^ W.D Davies and E. P. Sanders, 'Jesus from the Jewish point of view', in The Cambridge History of Judaism ed William Horbury, vol 3: the Early Roman Period, 1984.
  121. ^ Vermes, Géza (2006-11-02). The Nativity: History and Legend. Penguin Books Ltd. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-14-102446-2.
  122. ^ Sanders, E. P. The historical figure of Jesus. Penguin, 1993. Sanders discusses both birth narratives in detail, contrasts them, and judges them not historical on pp. 85–88.
  123. ^ Marcus Borg, 'The Meaning of the Birth Stories' in Marcus Borg, N T Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (Harper One, 1999) page 179: "I (and most mainline scholars) do not see these stories as historically factual."
  124. ^ Interpreting Gospel Narratives: Scenes, People, and Theology by Timothy Wiarda 2010 ISBN 0-8054-4843-8 pp. 75–78
  125. ^ Jesus, the Christ: Contemporary Perspectives by Brennan R. Hill 2004 ISBN 1-58595-303-2 p. 89
  126. ^ The Gospel of Luke by Timothy Johnson 1992 ISBN 0-8146-5805-9 p. 72
  127. ^ Recovering Jesus: the witness of the New Testament Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld 2007 ISBN 1-58743-202-1 p. 111
  128. ^ Warren, Tony. "Is there a Contradiction in the Genealogies of Luke and Matthew?" Archived 2012-11-14 at the Wayback Machine Created 2/2/95 / Last Modified 1/24/00. Accessed 4 May 2008.
  129. ^ Geza Vermes, The Nativity: History and Legend, (Penguin, 2006), page 42.
  130. ^ a b Encyclopedia of theology: a concise Sacramentum mundi by Karl Rahner 2004 ISBN 0-86012-006-6 p. 731
  131. ^ Blackburn, Bonnie; Holford-Strevens, Leofranc (2003). The Oxford companion to the Year: An exploration of calendar customs and time-reckoning. Oxford University Press. p. 770. ISBN 978-0-19-214231-3.
  132. ^ Raymond E. Brown, An Adult Christ at Christmas: Essays on the Three Biblical Christmas Stories Archived 2016-08-21 at the Wayback Machine, (Liturgical Press, 1988), p. 17.
    For example, Dunn, James Douglas Grant (2003), Jesus Remembered, Eerdmans. p. 344. ISBN 0-8028-3931-2 Similarly, Erich S. Gruen, 'The expansion of the empire under Augustus', in The Cambridge ancient history Volume 10, p. 157.
    Geza Vermes, The Nativity, Penguin 2006, p. 96.
    W. D. Davies and E. P. Sanders, 'Jesus from the Jewish point of view', in The Cambridge History of Judaism ed William Horbury, vol 3: the Early Roman Period, 1984
    Anthony Harvey, A Companion to the New Testament (Cambridge University Press 2004), p. 221.
    Meier, John P., A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Doubleday, 1991, v. 1, p. 213.
    Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke. London: G. Chapman, 1977, p. 554.
    A. N. Sherwin-White, pp. 166, 167.
    Fergus Millar Millar, Fergus (1990). "Reflections on the trials of Jesus". A Tribute to Geza Vermes: Essays on Jewish and Christian Literature and History (JSOT Suppl. 100) [eds. P.R. Davies and R.T. White]. Sheffield: JSOT Press. pp. 355–81. repr. in Millar, Fergus (2006), "The Greek World, the Jews, and the East", Rome, the Greek World and the East, 3: 139–163
  133. ^ Meier 2016, p. 366.
  134. ^ Meier 2016, p. 369-370.
  135. ^ Smith 2010, p. 440.
  136. ^ Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, p.114.
  137. ^ Alfred Edersheim Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 5.xiv Archived 2017-12-22 at the Wayback Machine, 1883.
  138. ^ Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 5.xiv Archived 2017-12-22 at the Wayback Machine, 1883.
  139. ^ Inter-Varsity Press New Bible Commentary 21st Century edition p1071
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v. 1, The Roots of the Problem and the Person, 1991, ISBN 0-385-26425-9
v. 2, Mentor, Message, and Miracles, 1994, ISBN 0-385-46992-6
v. 3, Companions and Competitors, 2001, ISBN 0-385-46993-4
v. 4, Law and Love ISBN 978-0300140965
v. 5, Probing the Authenticity of the Parables ISBN 978-0300211900
  • Sanders, E.P. Jesus and Judaism. Augsburg Fortress Publishers: 1987.
  • Wright, N.T. Christian Origins and the Question of God, a projected 6 volume series of which 3 have been published under:
v. 1, The New Testament and the People of God. Augsburg Fortress Publishers: 1992.;
v. 2, Jesus and the Victory of God. Augsburg Fortress Publishers: 1997.;
v. 3, The Resurrection of the Son of God. Augsburg Fortress Publishers: 2003.
  • Wright, N.T. The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering who Jesus was and is. IVP 1996