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Don Stewart :: Are the Four Gospels Historically Accurate?

Don Stewart
The four gospels have many references to people, places, customs, and events. While it is not possible to independently verify everything that it records, it is possible to see if what it records matches up with what we know about first-century life in that part of the world.

They Should Be Investigated The Same Way As Other Documents

The gospels were written in the same way as other documents in the ancient world. Consequently, it should be examined the same way as these other documents. They are the straightforward accounts of the people who walked and talked with Jesus and were observers of the things that He both said and did. The men who wrote these books made them public at the time they were written. There is no idea of hiding them so as to be discovered by some later generation. Every aspect of the composition of the New Testament is the same as other historical writings of that period. Therefore we need to investigate their claims as we would any other historical record. When we do, we find that they match up with known history.

The People Actually Existed

The people that the four gospels mention were historical figures. For example, Pontius Pilate, Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, and Tiberius Caesar are known to have existed. Consequently we are dealing with real people.

The Places Are Actual Places

The various places recorded in the gospel were not fictitious. The cities that are mentioned in the four gospels are known to have existed in the first century. The exact location of almost all of them has been firmly established. In other words, we are dealing with real places.

The Writers Knew The Local Customs Of The Times

The customs that were practiced in the first-century are consistent with that which is recorded in the four gospels. In fact, we find that these customs are related in a way that is minutely accurate. For example, in the Gospel of Luke we read the following account.

Soon afterwards Jesus went to a city called Nain; and his disciples were going along with him, accompanied by a large crowd. Now as he approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, he felt compassion for her, and said to her, "Do not cry." And he came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, arise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother (Luke 7:11-15).

At the time of Christ, there were different customs with respect to women walking in a funeral procession. In Judea, the area around Jerusalem, the custom was for the women to walk behind the funeral procession. However in the Galilee region, the custom was reversed. The women walked in front of the funeral procession. The description given by Luke demonstrates the minute accuracy of his account. Jesus began to talk to the mother of the dead child and then touched the coffin of the dead man. At that time the funeral procession stopped - because it was following behind her and the coffin. This would have only been true in the Galilee region. If this story would have been placed in Judea, then it would not have happened this way - the women would have followed the procession. The fact that Luke incidentally notes that the procession stopped when Jesus touched the coffin shows the minute accuracy of his account.

Events

There is non-biblical confirmation for some of the events recorded in the four gospels. Luke tells us of a census that was to be taken for the Roman world.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register (Luke 2:1-3).

From secular sources we know that this type of census did occur on a regular basis in the Roman Empire. While there is an issue with respect to the timing of the census to which Luke gives reference there is no doubt that such a census took place.

Summary

The four gospels give an accurate portrayal of people, places, customs, and events in the land of Israel in the first century. We know that the people mentioned are historical characters - they actually did exist. In addition, the places match up geographically with what we know about first century Israel. The customs fit well with the times. Events recorded are also consistent with what we know occurred. The gospels are not only accurate they are minutely accurate. Consequently their testimony concerning anything they record should be taken seriously.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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