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The Gospels are the most reliable historical documents about the historical Jesus of Nazareth

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/18/2015 Category: Education
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,205 times Debate No: 73701
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The topic for this debate is whether or not the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the most reliable historical documents about the historical Jesus of Nazareth. As an apologist and author, I will be showing that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are indeed the most reliable historical documents we have about the historical Jesus. Here are the rules for the debate:

1) you can incorporate whatever field of knowledge you want into the debate, as long as it pertains to the debate topic, and most importantly

The format of the debate will be as follows:

Round 1-- acceptance of challenge
Round 2-- opening statement and main argument
Round 3-- rebuttal of opponent's opening statement and argument
Round 4-- rebuttal of rebuttals
Round 5-- final rebuttals and conclusion


I accept the debate!
Debate Round No. 1


There are two things to look at that show that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the most reliable historical documents we have about Jesus: seven anti-Christian Roman historians who wrote about Jesus and the early followers, and when the Gospels were written.

First, let's look at what these anti-Christian Roman historians had to say about Jesus.

Flavius Josephus, a Jew who became a Roman citizen later in his life, was a historian from the first century whose works covered Jewish history. Josephus mentions Jesus in Antiquities of The Jews- Book XVIII, Chapter 3, paragraph 3, but because of its kind assessment of Jesus in the Greek version, many believe that the Christians who preserved Josephus' work altered his original text in order to make it appear less insulting than Josephus usually was in his writings. Robert Eisler, an Austrian Jewish art historian and Bible scholar who lived from 1882 to 1949, reconstructed the passage, basing it on a less complimentary approach that lined up more with Josephus' writing style. The reconstructed passage confirmed that Jesus had divine powers (which Josephus, like the Jewish religious leaders who opposed Jesus during his ministry, attributed to sorcery), Jews and Gentiles alike became his followers, Jesus was regarded as the Messiah while he was alive, Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus to death on the cross, it was reported that Jesus had risen from the dead after three days, the followers of Christ claimed that Jesus fulfilled all the ancient prophecies about the Messiah, and the followers of Christ were still around at the time of Josephus's writing.

Celsus, a second-century Greek philosopher famous for his attacks on early Christianity, confirms in Contra Celsum 1:28 that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (which is a village in Judea), and that Jesus' father was a carpenter. Celsus then acknowledged that Jesus claimed to be God in human form, and performed miracles in support of that claim.

Mara Bar Serapion, a stoic philosopher who lived in the Roman province of Syria, wrote the Epistle of Mara, which most scholars agree was composed as early as 73 AD. In it, he confirmed that Jesus was called The King of The Jews, Jesus was a very wise person, Jerusalem and the temples were completely destroyed prior to the composition of his letter (a reference to what the Romans under Titus did in 70 AD), and the Jews were now without a country of their own.

Pliny the Younger was a Roman Lawyer who lived from 61-112 AD. During the reign of Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD), Pliny wrote a letter to Trajan concerning his prosecution of early Christians. Pliny confirms that the early Christians had gatherings once a week, they worshiped Jesus as God in human form, they took the teachings of Jesus seriously and put them into practice, and they had meals together as part of their fellowship.

Lucian was a Greek Satirist who lived from 125 to roughly 180 AD. Lucian wrote a satire called"The Death Of Peregrine,"in which the lead character"takes advantage of the generosity of Christians. Lucian confirms that Jesus Christ was a historical person, and Jesus was crucified for what he taught. Secondly, Lucian confirms that Jesus taught that all the early Christians are siblings in Christ from the moment of conversion. Lucian also confirms that the early Christians refused to worship the Roman gods, worshiped Jesus as God, and took the teachings of Jesus seriously.

Seutonius was a Roman historian who lived from 69 to roughly 122 AD. Seutonius makes a reference to Jesus in Life of Claudius 25:4. Seutonius confirms that Jesus was a real historical person, and because of the commotion that the Jews made when they brought Jesus before Pontius Pilate, Claudius kicked the Jews out of Rome (Acts 18:1-2 verifies this).

Tacitus was a Roman Historian who lived from 56 to roughly 117 AD. In The Annals: Book XV, AD 62-65, Tacitus confirms that Jesus was a real, historical person, and he was sentenced to execution by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius Caesar.

(To see the quotes of these Roman historians that I got this information from, please read "secular historians on Jesus and the early Christians" from this blog post:

When were the gospels written?

In 1 Timothy 6:13, Paul makes a reference to the conversation Jesus had with Pilate, which is recorded only in the gospel of John. Since 1 Timothy was written between 63-65 AD, John's gospel had to have been written before that. In other words, the gospel of John was written within 30 years of Jesus' lifetime.

What about the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke?

Virtually all scholars agree that 1 Corinthians, which was Paul's first letter, was written between 53-57 AD. In this letter, Paul writes the following:

1 Corinthians 11:23-26: "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord"s death until he comes."

Paul appears to be referencing Luke's gospel:

Luke 22:19-23: "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.'

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!' They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this."

Since 1 Corinthians was written between 53-57 AD, that means that Luke was written before 1 Corinthians. On page 166 of his book Cold-Case Christianity, famous homicide detective and Christian apologist Jim Warner Wallace had this to say about the gospel of Luke:

"...Luke often repeated or quoted entire passages that were offered previously by either Mark (350 verses from Mark appear in Luke's gospel) or Matthew (250 verses from Matthew appear in Luke's account). These passages were inserted into Luke's gospel as though they were simply copied over from other accounts."

Since we know that Luke repeated and quoted passages from Mark and Matthew, both Mark and Matthew had to have been written before Luke. In other words, Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written within 20 years of Jesus' life.

When we look at the Roman historians who wrote about Jesus and the early Christians, if you take away Josephus and Mara Bar Serapion, five of the seven Roman historians wrote their documents over 80 years after the events took place, some of them closer to 90 years. The four Gospels, on the other hand, were written within 30 years of the life of Jesus, with three of them written within 20 years. Since it take a minimum of 60 years for legendary embellishment to creep into a historical account, this means that there is no possible way that the Gospels are legendary due to the fact that they were written while the eyewitnesses were still alive.

The writings of Josephus, Celsus, Serapion, Pliny the Younger, Lucian, Seutonius, and Tacitus show that Jesus was clearly a historical person; in fact, he was so significant that those Roman historians specifically mentioned him by name even though he was a Jew. However, these Romans don't give enough details about Jesus. They say that he was a wise man, but they don't talk about what he taught that made him wise like the Gospels do; they say that he claimed to be God, but they don't tell you how people reacted to that like the Gospels do. They say that he performed miracles in support of his claim to be God, but they don't describe any of the miracles like the Gospels do. They say that he was put to death on a cross by Pontius Pilate, but they don't record the conversation between Pilate and Jesus like the gospel of John did.

While the Roman historians' accounts about Jesus and the early Christians are congruent with the New Testament, the facts are that the gospels contain far more information about Jesus than the Roman historians do, and they were written far closer to the events than the works of the Roman historians. Therefore, the Gospels are the most reliable sources of information about Jesus.


64bithuman forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


Since you missed round 2, Round 3 will be your round to state your side of the debate. The rules for round 3 will become the rules for round 4, and round 5 will stay the same.

You're up.


Thanks Pro, sorry for the delay, I’ve been very busy with work.

The Gospels, that is, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are not reliable documents to begin with. As for the historical view of Jesus, if we were left with only the bible to prove that Jesus existed as a historical person, we might not have sufficient evidence to prove Jesus’ existence. The multiple contradictions in between these books help prove this point.

Take the example of Jesus’ genealogies between Luke and Matthew that are rife with error, starting with Jesus’ supposed grandfather who in Matthew is called Jacob, while in Luke is called Heli. Matthew lists 26 Generations from Jesus to King David, while in Luke lists 41 generations to get to David.

These contradictions continue and do not abate. From the start: Matthew says Joseph immediately fled to Egypt with baby Jesus, while Luke states that they stayed in Bethlehem. To the end: Matthew says Jesus was crucified with two taunting prisoners and declared “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” while Luke says that one prisoner taunts Jesus while the other is saved by Jesus and that Jesus’ final words were “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

As a rational person with a preference for events that are possible in the material world, the gospels are also historically inaccurate as to the so-called miracles of Jesus. Books that most scholars believe were written at the very earliest from 40-100 years after the death of Christ in Greek and then passed down generation by generation through the process of recopying, with revisions a certainty (in fact, regional translations were common) – these books are about as historical as the tale of Beowulf.

Being that there are no complete manuscripts dating from the first or second centuries for any gospel and that the seven major complete versions, although ‘written’ in some cases up to 1000 years after the events of Jesus (and therefore having hundreds of years to get their story straight) still came up at only 62% variant free, the reliability of such a document is doubtful. The origins of such documents are also dubious, as there is no proof that such writings came from any one of the Apostles, as there are no documents old enough to prove such a thing.

If such a book is good enough to work as historical proof then may I present the Quran’s version of Jesus’ death: “And they said we have killed the Messiah Isa son of Maryam, the Messenger of God. They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, though it was made to appear like that to them; those that disagreed about him are full of doubt, with no knowledge to follow, only supposition: they certainly did not kill him. On the contrary, God raised him unto himself. God is almighty and wise.

Or from the Talmud, "It was taught: On the day before the Passover they hanged Jesus. A herald went before him for forty days (proclaiming), “He will be stoned, because he practiced magic and enticed Israel to go astray. Let anyone who knows anything in his favor come forward and plead for him.” But nothing was found in his favor, and they hanged him on the day before the Passover.”

In the Quran, Jesus isn’t killed at all, but rather is raised into heaven and an imposter is murdered in his place. Meanwhile, the Talmud just says he was hanged. The Quran and the Talmud are both equally as contradictory, ancient, and unreliable, and so should work just as well as a historical document – at least for Pro, perhaps.

If Jesus even existed at all, the document you absolutely do not want is the document that is charged with religious controversy and a history of being changed and altered because of its importance – and its power. What you would want was a quiet piece of information proving that Jesus was born and died – something without controversy, something boring like a census or an official letter.

Something like Tacitus would work and he does mention a Jesus who “suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus…” and who started “…a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.”

Tacitus is writing firsthand here, unlike the earlier record by Thallus, whose words aren’t to be trusted, as they are from a secondary source. His account seems more reasonable; a man started a ruckus in Judea and was put to death, but not before his teachings had spread. No mention of the resurrection, or earthquakes, zombies or floating to heaven. Suetonius wrote in a historical document “Because the Jews at Rome caused constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus (Christ), he (Claudius) expelled them from the city (Rome)”.

Lucian of Samosata made fun of early Christians and Christ by saying “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account… then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.”

Again, no supernatural mentioning, just death.

Josephus, a Jewish account, said “Now around this time lived Jesus, a wise man. For he was a worker of amazing deeds and was a teacher of people who gladly accept the truth. He won over both many Jews and many Greeks. Pilate, when he heard him accused by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, (but) those who had first loved him did not cease (doing so). To this day the tribe of Christians named after him has not disappeared”

A common sight among non-biblical accounts is the objectivity of their words. No miracles, no fluff, just a historical account; a crucified Jewish troublemaker who was killed.

Debate Round No. 3


It's actually kinda funny; 64bithuman's main argument looks an awful lot like rebuttals of my argument, and he even uses some of the same sources that I used to justify the historical reliability of the gospels as evidence against the gospels' historical reliability. I'm going to be interested in seeing what his rebuttal of my main argument will be. Let's go through what he said.

The reasons there are differences in the genealogies between Matthew and Luke is because Matthew's genealogy is focused on tracing the legal decent of the House of David (which is why the genealogy starts with Abraham; the patriarchs were the beginning of that line of heirs to the throne of the House of David), while Luke is focused on showing Jesus' relationship to the entire human race (which is why his genealogy goes back to Adam). They aren't complete genealogies, but considering the contents of the rest of their books, I doubt that Matthew and Luke were setting out to write a complete genealogy. Frankly, this topic isn't something that greatly interests me, and I don't know too many people in the general populous that care any more than I do.

In paragraph three, 64bithuman asserts that there are two contradictions going on, and he is wrong on both of them. It is true that in Matthew 2 Joseph took Jesus and Mary, and fled to Egypt, but in Matthew 2:19-23, we learn that instead of moving back to Bethlehem, he moves his family to Nazareth. In the book of Luke, there is no mention of them moving to Egypt; instead, Luke 2:22-40 is an account that take place after they moved back from Egypt. The reason that I know this is the case is because in Luke 2:39, it says that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus went to Nazareth, not Bethlehem. So he's wrong on that supposed contradiction.

64bithuman is also wrong about the two prisoners who were crucified next to Jesus. In Luke 23:32-33, we learn that the two prisoners had actually been walking alongside Jesus before they were hung next to him. It is incredibly likely that both prisoners were taunting Jesus along with the crowd while they were walking to their execution site, and maybe they were even taunting him during the early stages of his hanging on a cross. At some point while they were hanging next to each other, one of the prisoners obviously had a change of heart as indicated by Luke 23:40-43.

The main problem that I see with 64bithuman's assertions about the contradictions between Matthew and Luke is that he seems to think that the two gospels should read exactly alike in every way. However, if that was the case, he would rightly assert that the authors simply copied each other. What he doesn't seem to understand is that Matthew and Luke are two different eyewitness accounts; they tell the same basic story, but there are enough differences in the small details to indicate that they are not simply copying each other. It is true that Luke copied some parts of Matthew into his account, but he also has plenty of different eyewitness details that none of the other gospels have.

At the beginning of paragraph four, 64bithuman shows his anti-supernatural bias by implying that you can't trust the gospels as historical documents because they contain miracles. Dr. Frank Turek (an apologist who I disagree with strongly about the Big Bang theory, but agree with on just about everything else) does a great job of showing the problem with such a bias in this video:

The problem with saying that the gospels were written 40-100 years after the fact is that it just isn't possible. As I pointed out in my main argument, the scholarly consensus is that 1 Timothy was written between 63-65 AD, and that 1 Corinthians was written between 53-57 AD. If the scholarly consensus is correct, then you have a problem because 1 Timothy makes a reference to the gospel of John (which means that the gospel of John had to have been written before that), and 1 Corinthians makes a reference to Luke (which means that Luke had to have been written before that); since it is impossible to make references to documents that don't exist yet, this means that all four gospels were written within 30 years after the fact. If 64bithuman is going to maintain that the gospels were written 40-100 years after the fact, then he's going to have to claim that 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy were written after 73 AD, which would mean that he would have to go against the scholarly consensus on the dating of 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. It's my experience that atheists tend to treat scholarly consensus as if it's gospel truth. Consequently, the early dating of the Gospels means that there is zero reason to doubt that the apostles and eyewitnesses are the authors of the Gospels (Luke is another story for another time).

In terms of the manuscript evidence that 64bithuman referred to, while it might be true that the manuscripts are only 62 % variant free and that there are about 400,000 variants, the large majority of the variants are completely inconsequential, and they don't prevent us from figuring out what the original documents actually said. To see the whole case I made about it in the past, please watch this video:

I found it hilarious that 64bithuman quoted the Quran's account about Jesus' death; I think he knows as well as I do that the Quran account was written about 600 years after the fact by people who weren't eyewitnesses to Jesus' life, and the account is actually ripped straight out of the gospel of Barnabas, which is a forgery that was not written anywhere near the first century. It's not a valid source of information about Jesus.

I am actually glad that 64bithuman mentioned the Talmud, because that is another source of information that actually helps confirm the historicity of the Gospels. You see, the Talmud was written by the religious leaders of Jerusalem who opposed Jesus during his ministry and their descendents, and when they wrote that Jesus was guilty of practicing magic in order to lead people astray, they are referring to the fact that Jesus was performing miracles that convinced his followers that he was the Messiah, who is God in human form. This is 100 percent confirmed by the Gospels; just read Matthew 12:22-37, Mark 14:60-64, and Matthew 27:62-64.

64bithuman claims that a common thread among non-biblical accounts is that there is no reference to Jesus being a miracle-worker; he is lying through his teeth. The very quote he gave from the Talmud shows that Jesus was indeed performing supernatural miracles; Celsus said that Jesus performed miracles in support of his claim to be God, and the quote of Josephus that 64bithuman gave us says that Jesus was a "worker of amazing deeds", which is a clear reference to the fact that he was a miracle worker. You have three non-biblical sources confirming that Jesus was a miracle-worker, and all three of those sources were hostile towards Christianity! Did 64bithuman even think about what he was saying before he made this statement?

Even though there are a lot of problems with what 64bithuman said in his argument, he is much better at debating than the last guy I debated against; I look forward to seeing what his rebuttal of my main argument will be.


64bithuman forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4


AnotherInconvenienttruth forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 5
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by 64bithuman 3 years ago
Sorry but I won't be able to finish this debate due to some personal issues. Thanks!
Posted by 64bithuman 3 years ago
Oops - I've been swamped with work lately. Sorry I missed the round!
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by dsjpk5 3 years ago
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Total points awarded:10 
Reasons for voting decision: Con ff more rounds