Shouldn’t We Give the Authors of the Gospels the Benefit of the Doubt?

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How often have you heard the following from conservative Christians:  “Skeptics of the Bible are so hypocritical.  Skeptics do not question the honesty of Herodotus, Tacitus, Pliny the Elder, or Plutarch regarding their writings, so why do they question the honesty of the authors of the Gospels?  Shouldn’t the authors of the Gospels be given the same benefit of the doubt as any other author from Antiquity?”

Regarding the internal evidence test, John Warwick Montgomery reports that literary critics still follow Aristotle’s dictum that “the benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself.”  Therefore, “one must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualified himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies.”  (John Warwick Montgomery, EA, 29)

–evangelical Christian authors, Josh and Sean McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, p. 68

Do skeptics hold the authors of the Gospels to a different standard?  I don’t think so, and here is why:  If Herodotus, Tacitus, Pliny the Elder, or Plutarch had claimed in their writings that they knew a man who had been fathered by a god, born of a virgin, walked on water, turned water into wine, healed lepers, raised people from the dead, had been resurrected from the dead himself, and finally, had levitated into outer space, I would bet that most skeptics would question the veracity of these claims just as strenuously as we do the very same claims made by the authors of the Gospels!

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5 thoughts on “Shouldn’t We Give the Authors of the Gospels the Benefit of the Doubt?

  1. That’s very convenient. That way even if everything the Gospels report did in fact happen, you simply can’t be convinced.

    As I have said – skeptics dismiss the Gospels for two reasons: they claim the Gospels were written late, and that they have been corrupted over time.

    By these criteria we cannot trust anything written in antiquity since our earliest copies are so late for every author you have mentioned and many others.
    And since just about all of the authors – including Thucydides – report on events decades or centuries before they wrote, they should also be invalidated.

    Since you don’t do that with these authors, it is special pleading to dismiss the Gospels.

    A better question to ask is what did Jesus do to convince His disciples that He was worthy of a biography in the genre reserved for Emporers and famous men (see the beginning of Mark).
    What did Jesus do to get “legendary-status” events attached to Him which took centuries to form for great men like Alexander?
    What did a Jewish carpenter crucified do to make people claim He was alive after death?

    All the reconstructions that dismiss the Gospels seem to overlook these questions and don’t provide answers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As I have said – skeptics dismiss the Gospels for two reasons: they claim the Gospels were written late, and that they have been corrupted over time.

      Not true. We do not reject the historicity of everything said in the Gospels, only those things which defy the laws of nature. We are consistent. We would not believe a claim by Plutarch that Caesar walked on water either. It is you and other conservative Christians who are inconsistent for although you believe the supernatural claims about Jesus, you reject the supernatural claims about other great men in Antiquity.

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    2. Even if we had pristine copies of the gospels, and we could show that the gospels were written by eye witnesses at the time of the events in question, I still wouldn’t believe that a man walked on water, turned water into wine, or rose from the dead. These events go against our very understanding of how nature operates, and no amount of mere testimony is going to change my opinion on such things. There are ways to convince me that these things are possible, but just making the claims isn’t going to do it.

      Also, if these events were meant to convince the people around Jesus that he was God, then those people got better evidence for Jesus’ divinity than I ever will (assuming that you accept that first hand evidence is better than second hand evidence?) What makes his disciples, and any other supposed witnesses, more worthy of first hand experience than I am? Why can’t I have a first hand experience of Jesus performing a miracle? Why do I have to rely on what other people may have claimed to have witnessed about Jesus, and rely on it with nothing more than their say-so?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Blessed are those who believe without seeing”, Lehman.

        What an ingenious cop-out! Criticize the skeptic for using his/her brain to question a very extra-ordinary claim, and praise the gullible for believing someone else’s laws-of-nature-defying tall tale.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. And nobody is asking me to devote my life to a religion based on the idea that Herodotus was accurate! If the best an apologist has is “benefit of the doubt”, that’s a really weak foundation to base belief on.

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