Six Reasons Why We Know The Gospel Writers Didn’t Lie

The end of summer and the Labor Day holiday is here. My family has done quite a bit of travel this summer. My husband and I enjoyed spending time with our two adult sons and made some great memories. As a result, my blogging got a little behind, but I’m back!

Over the summer, I experienced some interesting conversations both in person and on Facebook. It seems the most common objection to Christianity that I heard this summer was “The Gospel writers just lied.” This is probably the one objection to Christianity that irks me the most. I think it’s because people say it with such ease, and smugness. This is both annoying and amusing at the same time, because one doesn’t even know how arrogant this comment sounds. On what basis does one know that the Gospel writers lied? Were they there when the Gospels were written? Most of the time people parrot things they’ve heard others say. That’s the easy thing to do when one has no cogent argument for their point of view.

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 writer’s lied, is a claim that they lied about Jesus’ resurrection, and therefore Christianity is false. Most important, if things didn’t happen the way the Gospel writers said they did, then Jesus did not fulfill Old Testament prophecy. If He didn’t fulfill OT prophecy, then He’s not the Messiah.

So we are going to unpack this objection and I hope this blog helps you when someone makes the same blind assertion to you.

1. The Gospels Contain Details That Embarrass The Writers:

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

  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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)
  5. They wrote that the women were the first to discover the empty tomb. In first century Palestine, a woman’s testimony was not valid. Sorry ladies. But that was first century Palestine. They also admitted that Jesus appeared to a woman first after his resurrection.
  6. 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 that if the Gospel writers made up their testimonies, they would not want to appear as dim-witted, flaky, 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]

Details that embarrassed the apostles are not all that they included in their historical account. There are also details about Jesus that are embarrassing. Turek and Geisler continue that,

2. The Gospels Contain Embarrassing Details About Jesus:

  1. Jesus is considered “out of his mind” by his own family (Mark 3:21, 31).
  2. Even his own brothers don’t believe He is who He says He is (John 7:5).
  3. The crowds think Jesus is a deceiver (John 7:12).
  4. His own followers desert Him (John 6:66).
  5. His words offend the Jews to the point that they want to stone Him (John 48-59).
  6. He is called a drunkard (Matt. 11:19), demon-possessed (Mark 3:22, John 7:20 8:48), and a madman (John 10:20).
  7. His feet are wiped with the hair of a prostitute, which could be seen as a sexual advance (Luke 7:36-39)
  8. 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. If anything, these writings made their lives more difficult.

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. It was not glamorous. 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 that 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 once were to proclaiming the truths of what they saw no matter what the cost. If to 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 criteria 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 eyewitness were given serious consideration.[3] Because of this, the Gospels have always been known to be eyewitness accounts. Another criteria for writings to be admitted into the canon of scripture is that the writings had to be inspired by God. These men’s writings fit that bill and were made part of the New Testament we now have.

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 was prevalent at that time which were re-defining 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 innacurate. 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 detail                does not refute the good news that Jesus died, buried and was raised from the dead.

C. Their Stories Were Corroborated.

In the testimonies of first and second century, non-believing historians who wrote outside the Bible, Josephus, Tacitus and Pliny, if you threw out the Gospels all together, the facts of the Gospel writers stories could be reconstructed from these outside, non- Christian sources. 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, 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:

  1. Few people
  2. Close proximity
  3. Good communication
  4. Protection over time
  5. No pressure

There were twelve 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 when the bonds of friendship and brotherhood would be tested, 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 twelve of them suffered unbelievable physical pain and died a martyr’s death. For example: 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