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The Contender
Con (against)

The New Testament is a reliable account on the life of Jesus

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/1/2016 Category: Religion
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 609 times Debate No: 96610
Debate Rounds (5)
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First round is acceptance of the debate. 2nd round will be to present the arguments
Debate Round No. 1


Welcome to this debate, I will be defending the statement that the account of the New Testament are reliable on the life of Jesus, infact I will go one step further.

The New Testament accounts, are the most reliable documents on any historical figure during the 1st century.

Their will be themes that I will discuss throughout:

1. Reliability of the Manuscripts- Have they been transmitted correctly?
2. Internal Reliability of the Documents- are there signs within that demonstrate they are reliable?
3. External Reliability of the Documents- Do they agree with other sources around the time?

Before I begin argueing, I wan't to make a few things clear: 1. The reliability has to be proven without appealing to the Supernatural 2. I will be comparing the NT to other historical figures- a standard to assess 3. This debate isn't about science, but history, so arguments about whether or not miracles are not are possible won't be refuted, that can be done in another debate. Ok on to the topic:

1. Reliability of Manuscripts:

Before even assesing the content, the copies we have today have to be established as the majority of the text to be contained with the originals.

Just to note, I do accept that certain passages have been included into the text, such as Mark 16: 9-20, but using this discredits the passage, not the wholethe whole 27 books. The way by which historians do this is by manuscript tradition.

Below are a list of ancient works and their manuscript tradition, if you want sources please say:

Caesers Writings: Earliest Copy 1000 years after being written, Number of Manuscripts: 10
Tacitus: Earliest copy 1000 years after, Number of Manuscripts: 20
Suetonius: Earliest copy 800 years after, Number of Manuscripts: 8
Homer: Earliest copy 500 years after, Number of Manuscripts: 643

The reason why I have listed these 4, is due to the fact that these writings establish alot we know about ancient Rome and the Greeks, now to be compared to the New Testament:

Earliest Copy: Less than 100 years, some scholars even say 25 years after being written
Number of Manuscripts: 5,700 in Greek alone, 24,000+ in all other languages

The earliest full copy of the New Testament, appear around the early 4th century, with large portions and complete books appearing around the late 2nd and early 3rd century

Scholar John Warwick Montgomery says: "to be sceptical of the resultant text of the NT is to allow all other classical antiqutiy to slip into obscurity"

Sir Frederic G Kenyon principal librarian of the British Museum states "Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament maybe regarded as established"

I challenge you to find one ancient work of antiquity that's manuscript attestation is as large, early and freely transmitted across the globe.

Now just because you have a solid manuscript tradiition, doesn't mean the manuscripts you have are any good, or agree, variants have to come into consideration.

Bart Ehrman, is renowned for saying there are 400,000 variants in the NT manuscripts, which, anyone can agree, is huge, at first glance, until you really understand what a variant is.

A variant, simply means a difference, this can be, and is the majority of the time as small as a letter or grammar, such as in 1 John 1: 4 where two variants occur in many manuscripts

"We write this to make our joy complete."
"We write this to make your joy complete."

Out of those 400,000 variants, only 0.01% of these can't be distuinguished between scholars due to appearing in multiple manuscripts equally and have an viable effect on what the text says. This moves this down to, 40 variants in the whole 5,800 Greek Manuscripts.

Considering that there are more than 830,000 letters in the New Testament and there are thousands of manuscripts which contain thousands of charecters, that equates to around 4.8x10 to the power of 9 in total of all manuscripts, placing 400,000 as not even 0.001% of the charecters in the manuscripts being different.

Secondly, it is well known the New Testament was a freely transmitted text, which means some manucripts haven't been in touch for hundreds of years in completely different locations yet when we compare them, say exactly the same thing.

2. Internal Evidence for the Reliability

This is reffering to the New Testament alone, one thing has to be understood, that the documents are actually 27 documents, with multiple authors written in different locations, but since the Gospels are the main sources of data for Jesus, I will only really focus on these.


The dates given for the gospels haven't been established by NT scholars, this is due to the lack of information from the writers on when they were written, however there are hints, some give evidence for early dates such as how acts ends abruptly on the imprisonment of Paul (61 AD) and have no mention of any events such as other deaths, the Fall of Jerusalem after.

One thing for certain, they were written in the 1st century, this is due to finding manuscripts of the latest Gospel, John, far away from original location which date to the early 2nd century, the time taken for these manuscripts to be written, transcribed then transported would take years.

In additon to this, Early Church Father such as Clement or Ignatius at the brink of the 1st and 2nd century, start to quote and write about them.

Personally, I don't care if they were written in 30 AD, or 99 AD, as long as the actual sources and information within them dates back to the disciples, it doesn't bother me.

But lets say we go with the standard dating, of Paul's Letters of 50-60 AD, Gospel of Mark 65-70 AD, Gospel of Matthew and Luke 80-90 AD and John 90-95 AD.

How do these sources compare to other historical figures?

If we look at Alexander the Great, he has 5 primary sources, similar to the NT, however these don't within the century he was born, not even the year after, infact Plutarch writes almost 500 years after the events, yet these are considered reliable enough accounts on the life of the Great.

Emperor Tiberius, who ruled during the time of Jesus, two main sources (Suetonius and Tactius) date to the 2nd century, infact one of the first mentions is in the Gospel of Luke.

Once you compare, the 4 gospels to other historical works, the dating becomes no problem for the scholar, since the documents demonstrate a line of tradition going back to the original disciples and Paul.


Much dispute is on who wrote the Gospels, one thing for sure, is that they MUST of been followers of the original disciples at the very minimum, to have such authority and considered scripture by 1st/2nd century Christians who quoted them and lived with the disciples of Jesus.

Secondly, the argument that they aren't eyewitnesses, has no credibility once you apply the same standard to other historical figures, infact, Christians already admitted this, with Luke who was a follower of Paul, and Mark a follower of Peter.

To state two members as the authors, who never even met Jesus, rather than one of the 12 disciples, seems very unlikely to be made up by the early church, why not Peter or one of the others? This is what we find in later, gnostic gospels.

Again, it doesn't matter, when the information within the text goes back to the eyewitnesses, which i will prove in Round 2, but even the claim that Matthew and John weren't written by eyewitnesses, lacks conviction, once you see the evidence in comparison to the Historical Method.

When looking at the external attestation, we find that followers of early disciples such as Polycarp, Justin Martyr etc, all s
attribute the gospels to the authors they say, and never anyone else. Infact, when we see the map of whole vast this attestation was of who wrote the gospels, across vast countries, in the 2nd and 3rd century, the date to the origins literally falls back to when they were written.

In comparsion, the first mention of who wrote the Annals (By Tacitus) was over 300 years after being written, by one man, the New Testament has dozens by that time, and several within 50-100 years.

3. External Evidence

When we look at other accounts on who they said Jesus was: Christian, Jewish, Greek, Roman etc, we find complete agreement with the New Testament text.

Tacitus (115 AD) , one of the greatest Roman Historians of all time on many emperors and events of the 1st century, who had access to primary data, being a senator such as the Actus Senatus, and other historians works, comments of Jesus' crucifixion under Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius and being the founder of the group, which lead to mischevious superstition, and persecution of the Christians, this is supported by Josephus (90 AD) twice, born in a Pharisee background, once with the death of James, and also comments on Jesus' crucifixion and who Christians thought he was, and how they report he rose again, Suetonius (107 AD) on expelling the Jews from Rome because of the problems of jesus, and the persecution of the Christians along with Pliny the Younger, on their early teachings, with the gospels and pauls letters, the Crucifixion even according to Bart Ehrman, is the GREATEST fact in ancient 1st century history.

40 authors mention Jesus and his life, to compare to the gospels within 150 years, this is compared to Emperor Tiberius who had 9 in the same period, even if you removed the Christian writings, you have a Jewish Carpenter equalling the amount of attestation as the Emperor of Rome. I will go into more detail in round 2 especially on archealogy

I have shown that when applying the same standard of the NT to any other book, it comes out far more reliable and stronger, with multiple attestation from various sources, all agreeing on the death, ressurection and miracles of Jesus Christ



Skeptics have criticized the Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, as being legendary in nature rather than historical. They point to alleged contradictions between Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They also maintain the Gospels were written centuries after the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses. The late date of the writings allowed legends and exaggerations to proliferate, they say.

Are the Gospels historical or mythological?

The first challenge to address is how to account for the differences among the four Gospels. They are each different in nature, content, and the facts they include or exclude. The reason for the variations is that each author wrote to a different audience and from his own unique perspective. Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience to prove to them that Jesus is indeed their Messiah. That’s why Matthew includes many of the teachings of Christ and makes numerous references to Old Testament prophecies. Mark wrote to a Greek or Gentile audience to prove that Jesus is the Son of God. Therefore, he makes his case by focusing on the events of Christ’s life. His gospel moves very quickly from one event to another, demonstrating Christ’s lordship over all creation. Luke wrote to give an accurate historical account of Jesus’ life. John wrote after reflecting on his encounter with Christ for many years. With that insight, near the end of his life John sat down and wrote the most theological of all the Gospels.

We should expect some differences between four independent accounts. If they were identical, we would suspect the writers of collaboration with one another. Because of their differences, the four Gospels actually give us a fuller and richer picture of Jesus.

Let me give you an example. Imagine if four people wrote a biography on your life: your son, your father, a co-worker, and a good friend. They would each focus on different aspects of your life and write from a unique perspective. One would be writing about you as a parent, another as a child growing up, one as a professional, and one as a peer. Each may include different stories or see the same event from a different angle, but their differences would not mean they are in error. When we put all four accounts together, we would get a richer picture of your life and character. That is what is taking place in the Gospels.

So we acknowledge that differences do not necessarily mean errors. Skeptics have made allegations of errors for centuries, yet the vast majority of charges have been answered. New Testament scholar, Dr. Craig Blomberg, writes, “Despite two centuries of skeptical onslaught, it is fair to say that all the alleged inconsistencies among the Gospels have received at least plausible resolutions.”{1} Another scholar, Murray Harris, emphasizes, “Even then the presence of discrepancies in circumstantial detail is no proof that the central fact is unhistorical.”{2} The four Gospels give us a complementary, not a contradictory, account.

The Date of the New Testament Writings: Internal Evidence

Critics claim that the Gospels were written centuries after the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses. This would allow for myths about Jesus’ life to proliferate. Were the Gospels written by eyewitnesses as they claim, or were they written centuries later? The historical facts appear to make a strong case for a first century date.

Jesus’ ministry was from A.D. 27-30. Noted New Testament scholar, F.F. Bruce, gives strong evidence that the New Testament was completed by A.D. 100.{3} Most writings of the New Testament works were completed twenty to forty years before this. The Gospels are dated traditionally as follows: Mark is believed to be the first gospel written around A.D. 60. Matthew and Luke follow and are written between A.D. 60-70; John is the final gospel, written between A.D. 90-100.

The internal evidence supports these early dates for several reasons. The first three Gospels prophesied the fall of the Jerusalem Temple which occurred in A.D. 70. However, the fulfillment is not mentioned. It is strange that these three Gospels predict this major event but do not record it happening. Why do they not mention such an important prophetic milestone? The most plausible explanation is that it had not yet occurred at the time Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written.

In the book of Acts, the Temple plays a central role in the nation of Israel. Luke writes as if the Temple is an important part of Jewish life. He also ends Acts on a strange note: Paul living under house arrest. It is strange that Luke does not record the death of his two chief characters, Peter and Paul. The most plausible reason for this is that Luke finished writing Acts before Peter and Paul’s martyrdom in A.D. 64. A significant point to highlight is that the Gospel of Luke precedes Acts, further supporting the traditional dating of A.D. 60. Furthermore, most scholars agree Mark precedes Luke, making Mark’s Gospel even earlier.

Finally, the majority of New Testament scholars believe that Paul’s epistles are written from A.D. 48-60. Paul’s outline of the life of Jesus matches that of the Gospels. 1 Corinthians is one of the least disputed books regarding its dating and Pauline authorship. In chapter 15, Paul summarizes the gospel and reinforces the premise that this is the same gospel preached by the apostles. Even more compelling is that Paul quotes from Luke’s Gospel in 1 Timothy 5:18, showing us that Luke’s Gospel was indeed completed in Paul’s lifetime. This would move up the time of the completion of Luke’s Gospel along with Mark and Matthew.

The internal evidence presents a strong case for the early dating of the Gospels.

The Date of the Gospels: External Evidence

Were the Gospels written by eyewitnesses of the events, or were they not recorded until centuries later? As with the internal evidence, the external evidence also supports a first century date.

Fortunately, New Testament scholars have an enormous amount of ancient manuscript evidence. The documentary evidence for the New Testament far surpasses any other work of its time. We have over 5000 manuscripts, and many are dated within a few years of their authors’ lives.

Here are some key documents. An important manuscript is the Chester Beatty Papyri. It contains most of the N.T. writings, and is dated around A.D. 250.

The Bodmer Papyri contains most of John, and dates to A.D. 200. Another is the Rylands Papyri that was found in Egypt that contains a fragment of John, and dates to A.D. 130. From this fragment we can conclude that John was completed well before A.D. 130 because, not only did the gospel have to be written, it had to be hand copied and make its way down from Greece to Egypt. Since the vast majority of scholars agree that John is the last gospel written, we can affirm its first century date along with the other three with greater assurance.

A final piece of evidence comes from the Dead Sea Scrolls Cave 7. Jose Callahan discovered a fragment of the Gospel of Mark and dated it to have been written in A.D. 50. He also discovered fragments of Acts and other epistles and dated them to have been written slightly after A.D. 50.{4}

Another line of evidence is the writings of the church fathers. Clement of Rome sent a letter to the Corinthian church in A.D. 95. in which he quoted from the Gospels and other portions of the N.T. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, wrote a letter before his martyrdom in Rome in A.D. 115, quoting all the Gospels and other N.T. letters. Polycarp wrote to the Philippians in A.D. 120 and quoted from the Gospels and N.T. letters. Justin Martyr (A.D. 150) quotes John 3. Church fathers of the early second century were familiar with the apostle’s writings and quoted them as inspired Scripture.

Early dating is important for two reasons. The closer a historical record is to the date of the event, the more likely the record is accurate. Early dating allows for eyewitnesses to still be alive when the Gospels were circulating to attest to their accuracy. The apostles often appeal to the witness of the hostile crowd, pointing to their knowledge of the facts as well (Acts 2:22, 26:26). Also, the time is too short for legends to develop. Historians agree it takes about two generations, or eighty years, for legendary accounts to establish themselves.

From the evidence, we can conclude the Gospels were indeed written by the authors they are attributed to.
How Reliable was the Oral Tradition?

Previously, I defended the early dating of the Gospels. Despite this early dating, there is a time gap of several years between the ascension of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels. There is a period during which the gospel accounts were committed to memory by the disciples and transmitted orally. The question we must answer is, Was the oral tradition memorized and passed on accurately? Skeptics assert that memory and oral tradition cannot accurately preserve accounts from person to person for many years.

1. Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 10.

2. Ibid., 9.

3. F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? 5th ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 14.

4. Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2002), 530.
5. Michael Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, Jesus Under Fire, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing, 1995), 80.

6. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 27-28.

7. Geisler, 474.

8. Ibid.

9. Quoted by Norman Geisler, General Introduction to the Bible, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 405.

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Debate Round No. 5
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by Lonely-Bird 2 years ago
What's to debate? The differences are there for all to see in each of the gospels.
Posted by Oliver_Douglass 2 years ago
Lonely Bird: How about a debate on the differences in the Crucifixion?
Posted by Lonely-Bird 2 years ago
Who heard the alleged conversation between the Christ and Pilate? His followers didn't. Why the change in Pilate's demeanor between gospels? Pilate was noted for barbarism and not really giving a damn about the Jews yet the gospel writers felt compelled to write stories placing blame for the crucifixion elsewhere.

We also know for certain that at least one gospel was altered. The so-called epilogue in Mark was added after the fact. We also know that Paul did not write all of the letters attributed to him. Most obvious if this is the letter to Hebrews which was not written to the jewish community at large. In fact there's is some discussion as to who it was written to. And the Christology is different in the letter as well. Garry Wills covers this.

No, the gospels not only are inaccurate they are not historical.
Posted by Lonely-Bird 2 years ago
Suggest pro actually read biblical scholars who gave engaged in contextual analysis. Bart Ehrman is the place to start. And when pro can explain the differences most crucially between the crucifixion narratives perhaps some understanding will have been achieved.
Posted by Lonely-Bird 2 years ago
Let us add a couple of other things. The first is somewhat important. The gospels were written for/by hellenized jews. They could speak Greek and likely write Greek. The Jews to which the Christ spoke spoke Aramaic. The son of a tekton (laborer, not carpenter as there was no need for carpenters) was very likely illiterate. Thus he would not use Greek writing nor speak Greek. Which leads us to one issue. He would not have said "church" as church derives from Greek. Of more importance is the crucufixion stories. As the gospels proceed in age in terms of moving farther from the actual event we see the Christ moving from crying "Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani" (my god, my god, why have you forsaken me?) in Mark to carrying on an almost pleasant conversation in John as to where his mother is to go to live. Oh, and one other minor point revolves around the translation of Isaiah's "prophesy" and the virgin birth. Iirc from Bart Ehrman the word Isaiah uses means young girl. There is a different word for virgin.

Historically accurate? Not hardly. They were written to emphasize particular theological points.
Posted by Phenenas 2 years ago
@kwells None of the four evangelists knew Jesus, nor did any of them claim to. The Gospels were written from 30 to 50 years after Jesus died. Ask any historian or Biblical scholar.
Posted by kwells 2 years ago
I absolutely think that the new testament is accurate regarding the life of Jesus. It was written by people who actually knew him how more accurate could it be unless he were to write it himself
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