top of page
  • Adam Butler

Can You Trust the Gospels? (Part 1)


One of the most common objections to Christianity today is the question of the trustworthiness of the New Testament; namely, the Gospel accounts. After all, the Gospels contain the account of the central event of Christianity: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If this event did not occur, then the entire Christian faith collapses and is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14). So, the question is, can the Gospel accounts be trusted?


There are numerous ways of examining this question in depth, and I believe that is necessary. For our intents and purposes in this article, however, I am going to attempt to answer the question as succinctly as possible.


There are essentially two questions that must be answered in order to determine the reliability of the Gospel accounts:


  1. Are the words we have today the same words that were originally written down?

  2. Are the words we have today true?


If the answer to these questions is yes, then the Gospels can be trusted.


Are the words we have today the same words that were originally written down?


First things first; we must establish the fact that we do not have the original documents of the Gospel accounts. We do have copies, known as manuscripts. Therein lies the discrepancy for many people; the argument you may hear most often is worded this way: since we don’t have the original manuscripts of the Gospels, we cannot trust the copies we do have. They are copies of copies of copies. The original meaning was lost in translation.


Let us evaluate this objection.


First, the idea of “copies of copies of copies” is not accurate and does not represent the translation process fairly. Historical documents are not translated based on the most recent translation; they are translated directly from the original document. So, in this case, any modern translations of the New Testament which arise would be based on the oldest manuscripts of the original Greek text. That way, we can trust that the original meaning is being translated accurately.


Second, the question becomes, since we don’t have the original documents, how accurate are the manuscripts? There are currently approximately 5,800 manuscripts of the New Testament which have been discovered. For comparison, most other ancient historical manuscripts boast only a couple of hundred at best. The New Testament supersedes every other ancient document of its time by a long shot.

The reason why this is important is that the number of manuscripts of a historical document adds to its reliability when reconstructing the original text. For the New Testament to boast such a large number of manuscripts is almost unheard of for its time. For example, the other document of the time which comes close to the New Testament, is the Iliad by Homer, of which there are only about 1,900 manuscripts.

In addition to the quantity of manuscripts, the New Testament manuscripts we do have were written early on. This is important, being that the shorter the gap of time between the original document and the manuscript which was copied, the more difficult it would be for the text to become corrupted in translation. In fact, according to New Testament scholar, Dan Wallace, the entire New Testament was reconstructed based on manuscripts within just three generations of its original writing. This makes it remarkably reliable and easy to reconstruct the original text, especially in comparison to other documents.


Are there variations in these manuscripts? Yes. Does that mean they cannot be trusted? Not at all. For instance, the vast majority of “variations” within the original manuscripts are spelling, grammar, and wording differences. In fact, no significant doctrine of Christianity is in question when comparing the manuscript variations. In other words, even if we were to remove all portions of the New Testament for which we did not have 100% certainty of the true text, the essential doctrines of the faith would remain intact. However, this is not even necessary, being that scholars can reconstruct the original text with supreme accuracy, simply by comparing the vast number of manuscripts.


But what if the Gospels were intentionally altered? Again, the number of manuscripts do not allow for this. After all, if one who possessed a copy of the text were to alter that copy, we could simply refer to the other copies to compare, and deduce which copy had been changed. In fact, there was a “chain of custody” following the documents’ translation process, all the way from the original writing of the New Testament. Early church fathers ensured that the New Testament was translated accurately. These manuscripts were dispersed throughout the Middle East, after all. There would be no possible way that these could all have been changed!


Conclusion


We can trust, beyond reasonable doubt, that the New Testament, namely the Gospel accounts, are trustworthy and reliable. The textual evidence is on the side of Christianity. I have only addressed a bird’s-eye view of the evidence, as well. Do not just take my word for it, however. Investigate the evidence for yourself, and see how the Gospel stands out among other ancient texts. In part 2, we will address the question of whether the words are actually true.


 

Resources:


Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler

Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace

Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament by Daniel B. Wallace

Defending Inerrancy by Norman Geisler



bottom of page