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The Contender
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As a historical document, the New Testament is unreliable

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/29/2011 Category: Society
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 4,763 times Debate No: 20110
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (5)
Votes (5)




I. Introduction

I would like to thankmy friend for debating this topic with me. Given the last debate, I can tell this will be tough.

II. Thesis

In spite of the Christian argument that says the Bible does not contradict known history, the New Testament is an unreliable historical document. The New Testament contains some gross historical mistakes that shows the New Testament is mostly false.

III. Definitions

New Testament: The 27 books of the New Testament that tells the story of Yeshua and the "fulfillment" of the Tanach.

IV. Rules

A. Structure

Round 1: Acceptance
Round 2: Opening Arguments
Round 3: 1st Rebuttals
Round 4: 2nd Rebuttals.
Round 5: Closing statements.

B. Technical

A. Voting

Please read the entire debate before voting.

Conduct: A violation of any rule results in an automatic conduct loss of the conduct vote.

Spelling: I am not too picky about spelling; but please spell appropriately. Points may be awarded for superb spelling/grammar and/or structure.

Please post a detaied RFD. An RFD that may be deemed a "vote bomb" may be nullified.

B. Attacks

A display of any anti-sematic behaviour, or behaviour that constitutes ad hom. attacks will result in an automatic loss.

C. Sources

Please do not plagarise. Plagarism is an automatic loss.

D. Forfeiting.

If you desire to resign the debate, please do so honorably---do not troll or prolong the debate.

E. Structure

The arguments should be clear and easy to follow. Please tag the arguments (i.e,, contention 1; premise 1 etc.)

V. Acceptance

In round 1, please post that you have read and agree to abide by the rules to the debate. Moreover, you are more than welcome to post your thesis and/or any other definitions you see fit.

You may post a summary of your arguments.

If you troll this debate, you will be blocked and reported.

Only members rated as good or better than me may accept.

VI. Burden of Proof

The burden of proof is on me. I must prove the New Testament is historically unreliable.

Good luck!



I would like to thank my opponent for proposing this debate, and look forward to an engaging debate.
Debate Round No. 1



I wish to thank the readers for taking time to read this debate. I would also like to thank ReformedArsenal for graciously accepting this debate. I will be arguing that the New Testament is an unreliable historical document and hope to explain why in this case.

==My Case==

I. What makes a document reliable?

This is a fundamental key to the debate. The burden of proof needs to be established that the New Testament is a reliable or unreliable historical document. However, this first begs the question what makes a document reliable?

A. The Historical Method

Historians, like scientists, have a method to research and documents. We call this the historical method. I will analyze the method and put the New Testament in light of this method.1

B. Observations

1) The gospels are anonymous: the earliest record of the traditional titles come from the early church fathers long after the books were written. (NIV study Bible: Introduction).

2) The gospels were written past the year 70 CE (Not important for right now).

II. Passion Week

A. The Triumphal Entry

1) Mark’s Geographical Mistake

Mark records the triumphal entry in Mark 11:1-11. In this short passage, Mark shows his ignorance of geography.

Mark 11:1-11, “As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt there which no man has ever ridden . Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you,

Mark 11:1-11
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt there which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?' tell him, 'The lord needs it and will send it back shortly.'" They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, "What are you doing, untying the colt?" They answered that Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had out in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming of the kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!" Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

The very first verse shows Mark’s ignorance of geography. In his previous passage, Mark had Jesus in Jericho. The sentence above shows that Jesus and his group were traveling from Jericho to Jerusalem via Bethphage and then Bethany. However,, seeing this map below shows that this is impossible.

Biblical theologian D.E. Nineham states: “The geographical detail make an impression of awkwardness, especially at Bethphage and Bethany are given in r everse order to that in which travelers from Jericho would reach them..and we must therefore assume that St. Mark did not know the relative positions of the two villages on the road to Jericho.”2

This error was noticed by Matthew, who copied Mark, who had changed the passage to remove this error: “When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of olives…”3 We must therefore conclude that Matthew noticed Marks error and attempted to correct the mistake.

2) The Nature of Pilate

According to the gospels, Pilate is the governor that is ruling at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and condemnation—in fact, he even is the one who condemns Jesus.

A quick read of all four gospels show a man who is weak and eventually gives in to the Jewish orders to have Jesus killed.4 The only problem is, this story is highly implausible due to the nature of Pilate.

In Phio’s Legatione ad Caium, Philo notes: “He [Pilate] feared lest they might in reality go on an embassy to the emperor, and might impeach him with respect to the other particulars of his government, in respect to his corruption, his acts of insolence, and his rapine and his habit of insulting people, and his continual murder of persons untried and uncondemned, and his never ending and gratuitous and most grievous inhumanity.”5

Josephus also records how vicious Pilate really was. This begs the question as to how plausible this event really is. I want my partner to answer this question honestly: If the New Testament were the only sources on Pilate, what impression would you receive? I certainly would not receive the impression that Phios and Josephus give.

III. Anachronism

An anachronism is defined as an inconsistency in some chronological arrangement, especially a chronological misplacing of persons, evens, objects, or customs in regards to each other.7

A) Right to carry out death sentences

John 18:31, “Then said Pilate unto them [the Jews], ‘Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.”

This is obviously an anachronism as the Jewish authorities did in fact have the right to sentence a person to death for a religious crime.

Proof 1: Archeology

There is archeological evidence to support the claim that the Jews did have the right to put a person to death for a religious crime. For example, archeologists discovered incised stones near the temple of Jerusalem which warns of the death penalty for any Gentile who trespass the temple’s Jewish only area.

Proof 2: The Bible

In Acts chapter 6, it is clear that Stephen was killed by the Jewish authorities for blasphemy and other “crimes” that are recorded in Acts. If historical evidence supports this claim, it logically follows that the Jewish people had the right to carry out capital punishment.8

Thank you, I look forward to your arguments.

Notes and References

  1. 1. I do not have the time nor space to get in detail about this method. For a better understanding, go to and
  2. 2. Nineham, Saint Mark: p294-295 quoted on
  3. 3. Matthew 21:1
  4. 4. Due to limited space, I will not write out all passages. Go to Mark 15:1-15, Matthew 27:24-25, and Luke 23:13-16 for reference of this event.
  5. 5. Maccoby, Revolution in Judea: p57-58 quoted on
  6. 6. The Rambam’s 13 principles of faith. (point 13)
  7. 7.
  8. 8. Tobin, Paul. “Rejection of Pascal’s Wager.”



I would like to thank my opponent for his contribution to this debate.

Let us begin with a brief summary of my opponent's argument.

He begins his argument by asking "What makes a document reliable?" However, he doesn't actually answer this question.

He then remarks on two observations. The first (contention I.B.1) is that the Gospels are anonymous and were named by Early Church Fathers "long after the books were written." The second (contention I.B.2) is that theGospels were written past the year 70 CE.

Next, my opponent lists several "errors" related to the narratives of the Passion week (the week leading up to and including Christ's death). The first (contention II.A.1) is that Mark made a mistake in stating that they came to Bethphage prior to Bethany. A sub point of this is that Matthew corrected this mistake. The second (contention II.A.2) is that the Gospels present a portrait of Pilate that is inaccurate.

Finally my opponent provides an anachronism that "disproves" the validity of the Gospel accounts. This anachronism is that the Jews did not have the authority to put a man to death (contention III.A) and supports it by two arguments. Proof 1 (contention III.A.1) is that archeologically there is evidence that the Jews did put people to death, the example of a inscription near the temple warning of the death penalty is given. The next proof (contention III.A.2) is that in Acts chapter 6 Stephen is killed for blasphemy, and therefore the Jews did in fact have the right to put people to death.

Now, I do not wish this debate to simply turn into an exchange of Mr.Infidel proposing contradictions and me resolving them. We've done that debate before, and I am sure we will do it again. However, this debate is much more conceptual. Rather, I would like to show that even if these "mistakes" or "contradictions" are present (I am not conceeding that they are) that it does not make the Gospel accounts historically unreliable.

Observations (Contentions I.B.1 and I.B.2)
First, I would like to address the observations my opponent makes of the Gospels. The Gospels are indeed anonymous and were likely written after 60 CE. (The year 70 is probably a little late for Mark, and is definately early for John. The accepted dating among most scholars is Mark in 60-65, Luke and Matthew in 70-80, and John sometimes in the early 90s). However, this is irrelevant in determining historical accuracy or reliability. Consider the following scenario: If I wrote on a piece of paper that George Washington was the first president of the United States, was a general during the Revolutionary War, and was married to Martha and didn't sign my name... would that make it any less accurate? Of course not, all of those things are historical facts, and simply because I wrote them 200+ years after the fact and did not sign my name does not change that. Neither date of writing nor attributed authorship makes a document more or less reliable or accurate.

Furthermore, my opponent's claim that the attribution of the Gospels come long after the books were written is true, but misleading. As early as the 150s we have Ireneaus attributing the traditional authors to all four Gospels. [A] This is within 3 generations of the authorship of the earliest Gospel (Mark) and within 2 of the latest (John). Futhermore, Ireneaus was an apostle of Polycarp, who was an apostle of John himself. If John did not write the Gospel we would expect his disciple (Polycarp) to know it, and in turn we would expect him to communicate this to his disciple (Ireneaus). So even if we do not have John's name on the Gospel, we have someone who is only one generation removed from John attributing it to him.

Passion Week Observations
Now, I'm not going to address the details specifically, rather I am going to point out the flaws in my opponent's reasoning.

Mark's Geographic Mistake
My opponent makes a contradiction out of the fact that when traveling from Jericho to Jerusalem, one would come to Bethany prior to coming to Bethphage. However, this is really not an issue. I am originally from the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropoltan area. The two cities aer right next to each other opposite the Missisippi River. However, due to a radio jingle on a popular radio station when I was growing up I always refer to it as Minneapolis-St. Paul, in that order. If I was driving from Stillwater (On the Minnesota/Wisconsin Boarder) to South Dakota I would drive through both cities, Minneapolis first, then St. Paul. However, if I would driving the opposite direction, I would still refer to it as Minneapolis-St. Paul. This does not mean that I don't understand the geography or am mistaken, it simply means that the specific order in which I progressed through the cities was not important to me. Similarly, we see no significant difference if Mark says Bethphage and then Bethany, and if Matthew says Bethany and then Bethphage. Unless the author was INTENDING to explain the geography this is absolutely irrelevant. There is no indication that the author was intending to give a strict geographical account, nor a strict chronological account, and this therefore makes no difference. My opponent is dismissing a document for not providing details about something it doesn't care about. If I said "I drove from South Dakota to Wisconson and drove through Minneapolis and St. Paul," would that be grounds to dismiss my account as historically inaccurate or unreliable? No it would not, and it isn't grounds to place Mark or Matthew in that category either.

Pilate's Character
This point is particularly interesting. My opponent uses primarily Philo and Josephus to compare the Gospel's account of Pilate's character. This is an exercise in begging the question, as my opponent has done nothing to prove that Philo or Josephus are any more or less reliable than the New Testament itelf. Beyond that, let us check these two documents according to my opponent's criteria. According to Murrell Selden, Josephus places the date of Herod's death in January of 1 BCE. [B] This is contrary to the accepted historical date of 6 BCE. Furthermore Josephus has a radically incorrect chronology of the return of Judah from exile. One author writes "anachronisms in Josephus are no strange thing" [C] Furthermore, it is widely know that Josephus was writting as a lapdog of Rome (he was already a traitor during the Jewish War), so his historical objectivity is already in question. One could make similar arguments and point to similar issues in Philo, but for the sake of space I shall refrain. At this point, the very criteria with which my opponet seeks to discredit the New Testament comes into question under that critera. He must resolve this if this argument is to have any force.

OT Reliablity?
Furthermore, lets compare the Old Testament to the New Testament and see if my opponent is willing to dismiss that as easily. According to item 8 of The Rambam's Thirteen Principles "I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that we now have is that which was given to Moses." Let us observe what happens to the book of Exodus when my opponent's requirements for reliability are applied.
Authorship - Anonymous. There is no attribution in any of the five books commonly attributed to Moses.
Date - Dating varies greatly depending on how you look at it. However, references to places that would only be called that much later (Dan and Bethlehem) seem to indicate that it was written long after Moses's death. This is further bolstered by teh fact that Genesis 36:31 references a time "before there erigned any king over the children of Israel." This places the document after there was a king in Israel, which was at least 150 years after the death of Moses.

If my opponent wishes to dismiss the New Testament on the ground provided, he will also have to dismiss the books of Moses. Otherwise he is going to have to come up with other critera with which to do so.

[Please see comments for References]
Debate Round No. 2


Thank you for your well-thought-out rebuttals. I am impressed with your arguments, though I feel as if you made a few mistakes.


Before I begin, it should be noted my partner dropped the anachronism charge; therefore, I would like to extend that argument.

I. Passion Week

A. Mark's geographical error

My partner's reply is quite interesting, though I'm not sure that his reply works. In order to understand why, let's take a closer look at the image:

Mark has Jesus riding into Jerusalem via Bethany and Jerusalm. However, when we take a look at the Gospel of Matthew, we see something interesting: Matthew leaves out the trip to Bethany: "And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples..." [1]

Likewise, the problem is that this does not always work.

Mark 7:31 says, “And again he went out from the borders of Tyre, and came through Sidon unto the Sea of Galilee, through the midst of the borders of Decapolis.”

There is a clear error here as we can plainly see Tyre and Sidon on the coast of the Mediterranean sea, northwest of the Sea of Galilee. It is simply impossible for Jesus (or anyone) to go through Sidon to get from Galilee from Tyre. It is the opposite direction .

(sorry to my partner for adding this new argument).

B. Pilate's character

My partner's reply is rather strange as he attacks Josephus, my secondary source, rather than Philos, my primary source. In order to explain why Josephus may not be a reliable source is because Josephus places Herod's death in January of 1 BCE rather than the historical date of 6 BCE. The problem with this defense is that there would then be no possible way of reconciling the error in the Gospel of Matthew & Luke by having Herod and Qurinnius as contemporary rulers. [3] Likewise, my partner seems to have contradicted himself. In his debate with Patzer24, ReformedArsenal actually uses Josephus in order to reconcile a contradiction! [4] Likewise, if we want to reject Josephus based upon interpolations, we must throw out the New Testament. There are at least three interpolations within the New Testament:

Interpolation 1: 1 John 5:7, "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one." We know that this is an interpolation because not a single Greek manuscript contain the phrases "these three are one." [5]

Apparently, this was to re-affirm the doctrine of the trinity. How do you expect a beni Noach (Jewish-Gentile), to accept the doctrine of the trinity (or doctrine of the New Testament), if there are indeed purposeful forgeries within the New Testament?

Interpolation 2: Enging of Mark

The last few verses of Mark are clearly interpolations. Again, we know this because at least two of the most reliable manuscripts do not contain these verses. [6]

C. Anachronisms

My partner doesn't even attempt to address this point. Extend.

==Partner's Case==

I. OT Reliability?

The Old Testament is irrelavent to this debate.

Thank you.


1. This is in Matthew chapter 21. I am using the King James Version. If my partner wishes me to use a different version, I request he has the right to say so and I will gladly change versions.

2. Map credit: Rejection of Pascal's Wager.

3. For more on this error, see;


5. KJV Ryrie Study Bible notes on 1 John 5:7.

6. Nelson KJV Study Notes on the Gospel of Mark.


Thank you for your contribution. I look forward to continuing this dialogue.

My opponent seems to want to have a back and forth dialogue about specific issues, rather than dealing with the issue conceptually. This is not the debate I wish to have, if he insists I guess I have no other choice.

Let's get to it.

A) Mark's Geographical Issues

Bethany and Bethphage
My opponent claims that the text is presenting an inaccurate geographical situation because Mark presents Jesus riding to Jerusalem from Jericho through Bethany then Bethphage and points out that Bethphage is directly between Jersualem and Jericho, so it is illogical to think that one would ride through Bethany. This, my opponent claims, is compounded by the fact that Matthew reverses the order. To further "complicate" issues, Matthew also refers to this journey by simply saying they went through Bethphage however, my opponent is attempting to force the text to say what it doesn't say.

Here is what the text says

Mark: They went to Jerusalem from Jericho, they passed through Bethphage and Bethany on the way.
Matthew: They went to Jerusalem from Jericho, they passed through Bethany and Bethphage on the way
Matthew: They went to Jersalem and and then went to Bethphage.

Here is what it does not say

Mark does not say they first went to Bethphage and then to Bethany
Matthew does not say they first went to Bethany and then to Bethphage
Matthew does not say that they only went to Bethphage

None of the above statements of what they did say are contradictory with each other. Mark and Matthew simply reverse the order (without implying chronological difference, just as I always say Minneapolis-St. Paul regardless of the order that I actually traveled through them). Matthew simply comments that they came through Bethphage, without excluding that they went to Bethany (just as in my previous scenario I may say "I drove through Minneapolis on my way to Wisconsin" regardless of the fact that I also drove through several other cities, including St. Paul).

Tyre and Sidon
No where does Mark say that Jesus took the most direct route to the Sea of Galilee. Perhaps Jesus stopped in Sidon to pick up some bread, or to visit a friend. Perhaps the road from Tyre to Sidon had fallen into disrepair, or was known for banditry. If I was driving from point A to point B, there are many reasons that I may go through point C, even though it is out of my way. If there was road construction and I had to go around I could legitimately say "I drove to point A to point B through point C?" Similarly if I had to drive through a dangerous part of the city I may chose a route that is out of the way. When I arrive at my destination someone may say "Why would you go that far out of your way, that's completely the opposite direction?" To which I would respond with a reason, we simply do not have the reason in this case. Unless the text positions Sidon between Tyre and the Sea of Galilee, which is does not, this is a non-issue.

B) Pilate's Character

Josephus and Philo
My opponent has missed the point entirely. Simply put, my opponent is using historical documents that would not pass his own tests of reliability to disprove the New Testament. So if he dismisses the New Testament, he must also dismiss these texts, therefore undermining his own argument.

I am not proposing that we dismiss Josephus, nor am I proposing that we dismiss Philo. Rather, I am saying that my opponent cannot use them to discredit the New Testament without also discrediting his sources.

Does my opponent wish to argue that three interpolations in a document that is several hundred pages long invalidates the entire document? This would be like saying that since George Washington is historically recorded saying "I cannot tell a lie" after chopping down a cherry tree, an incident that American Historians acknowledge never happened, that George Washington was not a general in the Revolutinoary War or the first President of the United States of America. This kind of standard leaves us with essentially no reliable documents earlier than the advent of audio and video recordings. This kind of argument might be able to make a successful argument that the New Testament is less reliable than another source, but not that it is utterly unreliable.

Ending of Mark
Again, a small portion of the text may be unhistorical. At best you can prove that this means that that portion of the text is unreliable, but a small portion does not prove the entire document unreliable.

C) Anachronisms
My opponent wishes me to address this point, so I will.

The text of Acts does not say that the murderers of Stephen were acting according to Roman law. The picture that is presented is a group of angry Jews who were infuriated by Stephen's teaching, in a moment of anger cast him out of the city and murdered him. This is no more a scene of legal state ordained execution than a mob of angry KKK members stringing up a black man. Furthermore, the text does not state that the Roman courts sanctioned this execution, or were even aware of it.

In regards to the inscription warning Gentiles of capital punishment if they enter the Jewish only section of the Temple, my opponent has not provided a source for this evidence so it is impossible to know what to do with it. However, in order for this argument to hold force my opponent must show the following: A) This inscription was present during the time period in question, B) It wasn't an idle threat (meaning that the Jews intended to carry it out), and C) This inscription and the fulfillment of the threat was sanctioned by the Roman authorities.

Consider this: If I put up a sign on three tree in front of my house that says "All tresspassers will captured and made into private slaves," does that mean that the government has sanctioned my ability to capture and make slaves of anyone on my land?" Of course not. However, the government also would not force me to take it down either. However, according to my opponent's assertion, if they found this sign 1000 years from now it means that the government allowed me to make slaves of anyone I captured on my property.

D) OT Reliability
My opponent is correct that the Old Testament is irrelevant to this debate. However, what is not irrelevant to this debate is how my opponent's critera are applied. If my opponent discredits the New Testament according to the various critera he has presented (specifically Time span between the authorship and the event, and the attribution or lack of attribution of the author), then he also discredits the Old Testament, Plato's Republic, and almost any historical document older than 1000 years. If my opponent is willing to acknowledge that he is dismissing all of these sources then this point can be discarded.

For clarification, I'll simply ask: Is the book of Exodus historically reliable? Knowing this will help me to further understand my opponent's position.

Debate Round No. 3



I thank my partner for this intriguing debate. Unfortunately, due to school, I am unable to complete this debate. I have made numerous errors in this debate and feel I should concede the debate to you.

I thank you for your scholarly knowledge of the New Testament.


I would like to thank my opponent for his contribution, and appreciate that he has the humility to concede the debate.

As such, please vote Con.
Debate Round No. 4


Vote con!

In the meantime, here is a song: ;


Vote Con.
Debate Round No. 5
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by 16kadams 6 years ago
I just thought you where.
Posted by Mr.Infidel 6 years ago

How was I winning?
Posted by Wandile 6 years ago
Great debate so far gents. Really enjoying the debate.
Posted by ReformedArsenal 6 years ago
References for Round 2

[A] Attributes all four in Adversus Haereses -
[C] - p231
Posted by Mr.Infidel 6 years ago
I forgot to insert the map for the contention of the geographic error. The map can be viewed at
5 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
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Vote Placed by royalpaladin 6 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Conceded the debate.
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Reasons for voting decision: really? pro was winning he should have just said due to lack of time I will not post an argument vote pro. sadness.
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Reasons for voting decision: Concession