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6 reasons why we know the Gospel writers didn’t lie

An original handwritten Syriac (Peshitta) translation of The Gospels from the 9th century is displayed at the 'Book of Books' exhibition in the Bible Lands Museum on October 23, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel.
An original handwritten Syriac (Peshitta) translation of The Gospels from the 9th century is displayed at the "Book of Books" exhibition in the Bible Lands Museum on October 23, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. | Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Why is defending the Gospels important? Christianity hinges on the resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus didn’t resurrect, then Christianity is false. So any claim that the Gospel writers lied, is a claim that they lied about Jesus’ resurrection, and therefore Christianity is false.

Most importantly, if things didn’t happen the way the Gospel writers said they did, then Jesus did not fulfill Old Testament prophecies. If He didn’t fulfill the prophecies, He’s not the Messiah.

Here are six ways we can know the Gospel writers didn't lie.  

1. The Gospels contain details that embarrass the writers

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If you were going to make up a story, would you make up a story that makes you look stupid?

I would hope not! Most authors leave out details that make them look bad. So any details that make the author look bad are probably true. Below are some details about the Gospel writers that appear in the Gospels because the writers were concerned with historical accuracy.

In the book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, Frank Turek and Norman Geisler point out that,

A. The apostles appear to be dim-witted. On many occasions, they don’t understand what Jesus is trying to tell them (Mark 9:32, Luke 18:34, John 12:16).

B. They are flaky. They fell asleep twice in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus told them to keep watch while He prayed (Mark 14:32-41).

C. They are rebuked by Jesus and fellow followers. In Mark 8:33, Jesus rebukes Peter and calls him Satan. Then Paul rebukes him on a theological issue in Gal. 2:11.

D. They are cowards. When Jesus went to the cross, where were his twelve? They scattered. They went into hiding for fear of persecution. Even Peter denies Jesus three times after Jesus predicted he would, and after Peter claimed, “I will never disown you” (Matt. 26:33-35)

E. They wrote that the women were the first to discover the empty tomb. In Second Temple Judaism (the religious culture of the day), a woman's testimony was not valid. Sorry, ladies. But that was the first century. They also admitted that Jesus appeared to a woman first after his resurrection.

F. They doubted Jesus. Several times after Jesus predicted His resurrection (John 2:18-22, 3:14-18, Matt. 12:39-41, 17:9, 22-23). They are even doubtful about His resurrection after it occurred and after they see Him risen (Matt. 28:17)!

I would think if the Gospel writers made up their testimonies, they would not want to appear as dim-witted, flaky, and cowards. They would have left out these details if they were making up a story. I’m sure they would claim that they were the ones that first discovered the empty tomb.[1]

There are also details about Jesus that are embarrassing.

Turek and Geisler continue that,

2. The Gospels contain embarrassing details about Jesus:

A. Jesus is considered “out of his mind” by his own family (Mark 3:21, 31).
B. Even his own brothers don’t believe He is who He says He is (John 7:5).
C. The crowds think Jesus is a deceiver (John 7:12).
D. His own followers desert Him (John 6:66).
E. His words offend the Jews to the point that they want to stone Him (John 48-59).
F. He is called a drunkard (Matt. 11:19), demon-possessed (Mark 3:22, John 7:20 8:48), and a madman (John 10:20).
G. His feet are wiped with the hair of a prostitute, which could be seen as a sexual advance (Luke 7:36-39).
H. He is crucified by the Jews and Romans when the common knowledge of that day was that “anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deut. 21:23, Gal. 3:13).[2]

All of these accusations and sayings of Jesus could be arguments against His deity. So why would the Gospel writers leave these details in the story if they made it up? The answer is because the Gospel writers intended to be accurate while recording the historical facts of what Jesus actually said and did. They weren’t thinking about how their writings would make their life easier.

3. The apostles had no motive to lie

The claim that the apostles lied shows a lack of understanding of who these men were, and the social and cultural climate at the time of Jesus' death. These men were as Jewish as they come and were hated by the Jewish leaders for buying into the truths that Jesus taught them while letting go of their Jewish traditions. Because of this, they endured intense persecution. There were no perks to being an apostle. Being a follower of Jesus meant you were hated by the establishment. They were poor, homeless, persecuted, stoned, jailed, and martyred for what they knew to be true, that Jesus is the Messiah. Peter was crucified upside-down. Now some may die for something they think is true (as do the terrorists). But nobody dies for what he or she knows is a lie. Nobody. Last and very important, the apostles never recanted their testimony, even if it meant saving their lives.

4. The lives of the apostles were transformed

After Jesus’ resurrection, the apostles became empowered and emboldened to share what they had seen with their own eyes. They performed miracles. They healed others, cast out demons, raised others from the dead, (Acts 4 and 5), and became starters of churches all over Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. There were witnesses who saw all of this.

When Peter and John were arrested for testifying about the resurrection, they told the members of the Sanhedrin, “We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20), and they went right back to the streets to continue giving testimony of the risen Lord.

These men were transformed from being the cowards that they were to proclaiming the truths of what they saw no matter what the cost. If what they testified was made up, there would have been plenty of people to refute their story. But no one in history ever came forward to refute what the apostles claimed.

5. The apostles were qualified to testify to the truths they witnessed

As the canon of scripture was being assembled, the issue of apostolic witness or authority was the most important criterion for a writing to be admitted as Scripture in the canon. Only the accounts of eyewitnesses or someone who had very close access to one of the eyewitnesses were given serious consideration.[3] Because of this, the Gospels have always been known to be eyewitness accounts.

A. They were present
Jesus’ apostles were eyewitnesses to the teachings, and miracles of Christ. For three years, they lived, ate, walked, talked, listened, learned from, and lived with Jesus. Jesus was a real person who existed in history, and they knew Him on a very personal level. This qualified them to write the historical account of the life and death of Jesus that they did.

B. They were accurate
Why do we have four Gospels instead of one? Because they were written to different audiences, there’s more than one witness to the events described, and to have the perspective of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Matthew was written to the Jews so that they would know that Jesus was the Messiah. Mark (based on the eyewitness of Peter) was written to Roman Gentiles to show that Jesus became a servant. Luke was written to Greek Gentiles to provide certainty of the universal nature of God’s salvation regardless of status or nationality. Finally, John was written to display Christ’s deity. John’s Gospel was written to challenge the gnostic teachings that were prevalent at that time which were redefining who Jesus was and threatening the Church. John’s Gospel contains and focuses on the personal encounters of Jesus with others.

With these different purposes and perspectives in mind, it is easy to see how one could wonder why the Gospels seem to differ from each other in some places and appear inaccurate. But Wallace reminds us that not all memories are counted equal. [4]                   
Different people remember different details and can fill in gaps. The Gospels are simply written from different perspectives. Further, a difference in some small details does not refute the good news that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised from the dead.

C. Their stories were corroborated
If you threw out the Gospels in the Bible, the testimonies from first and second-century non-believing historians like Josephus, Tacitus and Pliny could reconstruct the Gospel message. We would still know that there was a man, Jesus, who was crucified on a cross, who died and was buried and was seen after His resurrection three days later by the apostles. As I mentioned before, if the Gospels weren’t accurate, there were people who were named in the Gospels who were still alive, and who could have come forward to refute them. This never happened. 

6. There was no Christian conspiracy

One has to know something about the nature of a good conspiracy to know if this is what the Gospel writers were part of. Wallace contends that a good conspiracy would have the following characteristics:

A. Few people
B. Close proximity
C. Good communication
D. Protection over time
E. No pressure

There were 12 apostles. This is a large number to accomplish a Christian conspiracy.

After Stephen was stoned and the apostles left Jerusalem for fear of persecution, they were scattered across the Roman Empire. Communication was extremely slow. They would have been interrogated in locations that prevented them from communicating with each other in a timely fashion. What’s more, they would have had no idea if any of their “co-conspirators” gave up “the lie.”

A good conspiracy requires time. The apostles would have had to protect their lies for a very long time. Many of them didn’t know each other prior to their time as disciples of Jesus. Some were related, and some were not. They would spend three years together with Jesus, but then decades apart from each other, testing the bonds of friendship and brotherhood, especially if their individual lives were in danger.

Finally, successful conspiracies are unpressured. The apostles were aggressively persecuted. As I mentioned, they were scattered from Jerusalem to Italy and India. All 12 of them suffered unbelievable physical pain and died a martyr’s death. Peter was crucified upside down in Rome, James was slain with a sword in Jerusalem, and Thomas was murdered by a mob. John was the only one who died a natural death. None of the twelve ever recanted their testimony of Jesus’ resurrection. Not one.[5]

As you can see, the idea that the Gospel writers lied is nothing more than amusing when you know the historical background. I pray that this objection will be one that you will be prepared for the next time you hear it. Frank Turek says, “The curse of knowledge isn’t just what you don’t know. It’s what you think you know that ain’t so.”

[1] Frank Turek & Norman Geisler, I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, (Wheaton, Ill., Crossway 2004) 276, 277
[2] Turek and Geisler, I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, 277-8
[3] J. Warner Wallace, Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospel, (Colorado Springs, Co., David C. Cook, 2013) 80
[4] Wallace, Cold Case Christianity, 83
[5] Ibid. 114

Claudia is a Christian apologist, national speaker, and blogger with a Master of Arts degree in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. She is on the speaking team for the Talbot Seminary Biola On-The-Road Apologetics conferences, teaches Apologetics at her church, and leads the ladies Bible study. Claudia has been a repeat guest on the KKLA radio show in Los Angeles, Real Life With Gina Pastore and David James. Her blog posts have been published multiple times in The Poached Egg online apologetics magazine, and she is a contributing writer for Women In Apologetics. She blogs at Straight Talk With Claudia K. After raising two now adult sons, her focus now is to make an impact in the world for Christ.

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