How Do we Know the Gospels are Historical?
FATHER DWIGHT LONGENECKER via CERC
Anyone who wishes to engage in a thoughtful and intelligent exploration of the Christian faith will have to ask whether the gospels are historically reliable.
Can we believe that the stories in the gospels are a true and accurate account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth?
In answering this question the first thing to understand is what kind of documents the gospels are. To do this we have to first say what they are not. The gospels are not factual news reports. They are not a bald list of events and eyewitness testimony as might be compiled, say, in a police report: “Just the facts ma’am.” They are not typical biography or the work of a professional historian. Neither are the gospels academic historical documents which are cross referenced with multiple documentary, archeological and anecdotal evidence. They don’t pretend to be this kind of document, so it is ridiculous to blame them for not being so.
The gospels are actually totally unique documents. They are recorded accounts of personal experiences of multiple individuals from within a faith community. They are the written record of the stories told and sermons preached by the immediate followers of Jesus Christ about his life, teaching and death. They were recorded by the faith community that followed the teaching of Jesus and his disciples.
They differ in this respect, not only from every other type of historical document, but also from every other type of religious document. The Book of Mormon and the Koran purport to be dictated by an angel to the founder of the religion. Virtually every other book-based religion bases their religion on a book written by its founder. Jesus Christ never wrote a word. He didn’t leave a book with his teachings. Why this is important will become clear momentarily…
In addition to the pure historical facts of Scripture there is also the “Divine Stamp” of historicity so clearly articulated here -Mike:
But when the Scriptures say that Cain rose against Abel and slew him, or that God rained fire and brimstone upon Sodom, if these events be the creation of folk-lorists, there is no truth in them ; they are false beliefs narrated as history. ***The nature of the narration of such facts and their context take them out of the category of allegory and parable ; they are narrated as history, and must be true as history. The object of the writer is to teach men this very history, and to move men to believe it. ***It may be called primitive history; but it still remains true history. The fact that many myths and fables mingle in the primitive history of other peoples does not necessitate that the history of the origin of the universe as related in the Bible must also have its myths and legends. By the fact of divine inspiration the history narrated in the Bible transcends all other history, for the reason that it is infallibly true. The historical parts of Holy Scripture, and in fact all its parts, are subject to proper hermeneutical laws to determine their sense ; but in the last analysis every sentence of the Bible, as it came from the inspired writer, must be true in its proper sense. History according to popular beliefs is false history, and can not be a part of the word of God.
–A General Introduction to Holy Scripture, pg. 236, A.E. Breen Ph.D., D.D.