The Historical Reliability of the New Testament (Part 2 of 2)

Jesus heals a paralytic at Capernaum (Mk 2:1-12)

To return to part one of this series, click here.

1. Introduction

In part one of this series, we examined the Gospels and Acts as historical sources about Jesus of Nazareth and the early Church. In particular, we examined multiple factors that influenced the contents of these texts (e.g. genre, time of writing, authorship, the traditioning community they arose from, etc) and discussed how these factors point to the Gospels and Acts being generally reliable historical sources.

In this part of the series (part two), we will tackle the subject of historical reliability by examining the contents of the Gospels and Acts. We will examine the Gospels in terms of the geographical information they provide about Palestine, the local color they reflect, the information they contain that enjoy robust critical support and corroboration from archaeology, as well as compare their content with those of the later apocryphal gospels. Likewise, we will examine Acts in terms of the geographical information it provides about various places, the local color it reflects, and the support it enjoys from archaeology.

With that said, let us begin our discussion on the Gospels and see how their contents argue for their reliability as historical sources.

2. The Gospels

2.1. Geography

As a writer, imagine being given the task of providing substantial and accurate geographical information about a country you have never been to (e.g. Rome, Korea, Canada, etc). You are asked to convey accurate information about local towns, regions, places, bodies of water, and travel routes — how difficult would this be? You might think that this task would require a significant amount of effort and research, but that in time, it is a task you can do sufficiently.

Now turn back the clock 2,000+ years. You are now a writer in the first century Roman Empire. The Internet did not exist. You do not have the privilege of modernity’s rich and accessible book culture or the privilege of modern travel such as cars, navigation software (GPS or Waze), modern vessels, planes, etc. How difficult is your task now? If you were a writer in the first century, the task of acquiring substantial geographical knowledge about a country you have never been to and getting its geography right is extremely difficult (not to mention expensive!). Yet, the Gospel authors were able to do this with the land of Palestine.

The Gospels display a high level of geographical knowledge about Palestine. Mark names thirteen towns in Palestine, Matthew names sixteen, Luke names sixteen, and John names thirteen.[1] These range from well-known towns like Jerusalem to more obscure towns like Aenon or Chorazin which, as scholar Craig Keener notes, would not have been known outside Palestine.[2]

When it comes to regions in Palestine and its surrounding areas, Mark names four, Matthew names seven, Luke names eight, and John names three (e.g. Decapolis, Samaria, Galilee, etc).[3]

As for local places, Mark names three, Matthew names four, Luke names two, and John names four (e.g. Gabbatha, Gethsemane, Mount of Olives, etc).[4] In addition to this, Mark, Matthew, and Luke know that there is a Judean desert near the Jordan.[5]

When it comes to local bodies of water, Mark, Matthew, and Luke each name two while John mentions five (e.g. Bethesda, Kidron, river Jordan, etc).[6]

Knowledge of “place names” like the above is not trivial information.[7] As we shall see later when we compare the canonical Gospels to the later apocryphal gospels (section 3.5), this kind of information was hard to get.

Another notable point is that the Gospels mention place names at similar frequencies despite their individual differences. Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John mention 5.404, 4.905, 5.087, and 4.921 names respectively (roughly five each) every 1,000 words.[8] If the Gospel authors were spreading out place names in their works to “make their stories seem authentic”, we would expect greater variances in frequency. One author would put in a lot of names while another would put in considerably less.[9] The fact that the Gospel authors mention place names at similar frequencies despite “variation within the types of geographical names they mention” suggests that they were doing so as a result of natural, truthful reportage.[10] As scholar Peter Williams notes:

The even distribution of place names in the four Gospels is unlikely to be the result of each of the four writers making a deliberate effort to spread names out, but is exactly the sort of pattern that might occur through unconscious behavior, recording places naturally when relevant to their stories.[11]

The Gospels also display accurate knowledge of roads and travel. All four Gospels know that traveling to Jerusalem (elevation about 750 meters) entails “going up” while Mark and Luke mention that leaving Jerusalem entails “going down”.[12] The parable of the good Samaritan (only found in Luke) accurately describes travel from Jerusalem to Jericho:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed … Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side”.

Jericho is the lowest city on earth, over 800 feet below sea level.[13] Traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho involves a descent of one kilometer so “going down” is certainly the right expression. The parable also correctly assumes a direct route between Jerusalem and Jericho.

In John 2:12, the journey from Cana to Capernaum is accurately described as going “down”. Likewise, John 4 has a nobleman come to Jesus while he is in Cana and ask him to “come down” to Capernaum. Luke 4:31 is accurate in describing the journey from Nazareth to Capernaum as going “down” as well.

In Matt 11:21-24//Lk 10:13-15, Jesus rebukes three Jewish towns — Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, and contrasts the first two with the Gentile towns of Tyre and Sidon:

Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.

The obscure town of Chorazin mentioned here is located on the road to Bethsaida and just a couple of miles north of Capernaum.[14]

Giving further examples, Luke and John know that there are two routes between Judea and Galilee: the hilly route via Samaria and the indirect route avoiding the Samaritan areas via the Jordan Valley.[15] Mark and Matthew know that one can go from the Sea of Galilee directly into hill country.[16] The Gospel authors correctly describe travel to Jerusalem in ways that vary but cohere with each other. As Williams notes:

[Luke] describes a journey to Jerusalem via Jericho (Luke 18:36) and then through the villages of Bethphage and Bethany (Luke 19:29). John depicts Jesus as making his final approach to Jerusalem from the east via Bethany (John 12:1).

The information in Luke and John accords with the way Matthew and Mark portray Jesus’s final approach to Jerusalem. He is said to go from Galilee to the Transjordan (Matt 19:1; Mark 10:1) and to approach Jerusalem from Jericho (Matt 20:29; Mark 10:46) and then Bethphage, which is located by the narrative as on the Mount of Olives (Matt 21:1; Mrk 11:1).

In the end, the Gospels display substantial and accurate knowledge of Palestinian geography.[18] This argues for their historical reliability and points to the conclusion that their authors drew on eyewitness knowledge (i.e. their own eyewitness knowledge, the testimony of other eyewitnesses, or oral tradition deriving from eyewitness testimony). As scholar Simon Gathercole notes:

It is hard to fake accurate geography. If you try to, you get it wrong … The New Testament Gospel writers could not possibly have got the details that they got right … unless they had eyewitness knowledge or knowledge from eyewitness sources.[19]

Likewise, Williams comments:

[The Gospels are] valuable geographical sources … they are not what we would expect from people who made up stories at a geographical distance.[20]

2.2. Elements from Jesus’ Time and Location

If the Gospels contain authentic reminisces of Jesus, we should expect them to firmly reflect the culture in which Jesus lived — Jewish Palestine. The Gospels succeed in doing this very well. As scholars Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz note, Palestinian-Jewish coloring pervades our Gospel accounts about Jesus.[21]

If the accounts in the Gospels were made up by writers outside Palestine, such as in Rome, Greece, or Turkey, for example, we would not expect them to reflect much Palestinian color. I mentioned earlier that it was difficult to acquire substantial and accurate geographical knowledge of a country you have been to in the first century. The same can be said about local color. It is difficult to write about a place as though you were there. If doing this is still difficult now, how much more difficult would it have been back in the first century!

Likewise, if the accounts in the Gospels were made up by later Gentile Christians, we would not expect them to reflect significant Jewish traits. Large numbers of Gentiles entered the Church in the decades following Pentecost, and the Jesus movement gradually became detached from its Jewish roots.[22] Gentiles would have had limited knowledge of Jewish culture as ethnic and religious outsiders. (In the same way that non-Jews today, including Christians, know little about Jewish culture).

Ultimately, if the Gospels reflect strong Palestinian-Jewish color, then this argues for the accounts within them deriving from eyewitness knowledge of Jesus’ life and ministry. 

I will divide the subsequent discussion into three — Names, Palestinian Traits, and Jewishness. There will be some overlap between these subsections. Names, for example, are both Palestinian and Jewish. On the other hand, all information in the Jewishness subsection fits a Palestinian Jewish environment, but some of it, in particular, reflects Jewish Palestine distinctively. Despite this overlap, I separated these sections this way for the purposes of structure. With that said, let us tackle our first subsection — Names.

2.2.1. Names

An impressive line of evidence for the reliability of the Gospels (and Acts!) has to do with the names within them. A series of scholarly studies have shown that Jews located in different places in the Roman Empire had rather distinct naming patterns and that the popularity of names among Jews outside Palestine bore little relationship to those inside Palestine.[23]

Scholar Richard Bauckham’s study, based on Israeli scholar Tal Ilan’s Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity, found that the relative frequency of names in the Gospels corresponds very well to the frequency of Palestinian Jewish names during the time of Jesus.[24] The most popular Palestinian Jewish male names, for example, were Simon and Joseph. These names make up 15.6% of the modern database. On the other hand, men named Simon and Joseph comprise 18.2% of male names in the Gospels and Acts (in Acts’ narratives in Palestine)This remarkable correspondence extends down the rankings of the most common male names, and to female names as well. Furthermore, Bauckham notes that lesser-known names in the Gospels such as Jairus, Nathaniel, Malchus, Jonah, Nicodemus, etc are sometimes attested in Palestine but never outside of it. It must also be noted that the name correspondence in question shines through when one adds up all the names in the Gospels and Acts rather than viewing each text individually. The more data is factored in, the clearer the correspondence becomes.

Ultimately, as Keener notes:

[T]he names in the Gospels are] precisely the names archaeology associates with their time and place, even if no reference works in antiquity collected this information. In general, the most common names in the Gospels were the most popular Judean/Galilean names in that period.[25] 

The names of people in the Gospels are not what we would expect if the narratives were made up by individuals outside Palestine. On the other hand, they are exactly what we would expect if the Gospel accounts are authentic — stemming from eyewitness knowledge of Jesus’ life and ministry.

2.2.2. Palestinian Traits

The Gospels are very Palestinian, containing many traits reflecting Jesus’ environment.

Mark, Matthew, and John correctly name the “Sea of Galilee” as it is known locally.[26] Outsiders would have viewed the Sea of Galilee as a lake since it only stretches 21 kilometers as a body of water. To local Galileans who had not traveled far, however, this was known as a sea. Other times, the Gospel authors simply call the Sea of Galilee “the sea”.[27] The first time the author of John’s gospel mentions the Sea of Galilee, he rightly notes that it was also called the “the Sea of Tiberias” (Jhn 6:1). The body of water was also named after Tiberias, a major town on the shore.[28] Luke, who is traditionally known to be a Gentile author, diverges from the other Gospel authors and calls the Sea of Galilee “the Lake”.[29]

The Gospels refer to the town of Bethsaida by its pre-30 AD name. Bethsaida was renamed “Julia” in 30 AD, the year of Jesus’ crucifixion.[30] The fact that the Gospels preserve the town’s name during Jesus’ ministry, “Bethsaida” (Mk 6:45; 8:22; Matt 11:21//Luke 10:13; Jhn 1:44; 12:21), is remarkable.

The Gospels are consistent with what we know of occupations in Palestine.

According to the Gospels, Jesus ministered in Capernaum and Bethsaida, which were fishing villages along the Sea of Galilee.[31] Jesus ministering in these towns and even making one of them, Capernaum, his “home base” for his ministry (Matt 4:13), fits perfectly with Jesus calling a number of fishermen to become his disciples (Mk 1:14-20; Lk 5:1-11).

The Gospels mention a whole group of tax collectors at Capernaum (Mk 2:14-15; Matt 9:9-10). Again, this fits well with what we know of the town. Capernaum was situated at a strategic point at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. It was a key location for collecting customs on what crossed the border of the territory of Herod Antipas.[32] Likewise, Luke mentions that Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector in Jericho (Lk 19:2). Jericho was the major town on Pontius Pilate’s side of the border of Judea with Peraea, the territory of Herod Antipas.[33] In light of this information, Williams comments:

Matthew and Mark, on the one hand, and Luke, on the other, have independently recorded different events with tax collectors in different border towns. The Gospels show knowledge of the local tax systems.[34]

When we look at Jesus’ parables in the Gospels, we find that they reflect a Galilean environment, which was heavily rural and agricultural.[35] This matches Jesus’ extensive Galilean ministry.

Farmers sowed seeds by the “broadcast” method (Mk 4:3-9). The mustard seed was the smallest seed typically cultivated in Palestine (Mk 4:30-32). A dragnet was used to trawl the Sea of Galilee in its shallower areas for fish (Mk 13:47-50) and seine nets were cast on the lake (Matt 13:47-50). Although Roman cities had bakeries, Galilean village women baked their own bread for their families (Matt 12:33//Lk 13:21). Building one’s house on sand rather than rock recalls the deep wadis that usually remained dry or had a small stream of water in it, but could turn into raging torrents after heavy rains (Matt 7:24-27). Vineyards and hirelings were important features of Galilean life during Jesus’ time (Matt 20). In the end, as Keener notes:

[Jesus’ parables] bear many traits reflecting their Jewish and often even rural Galilean flavor. Although later Christians employed illustrations, they were usually the sort of illustrations characteristic of the Greek world, not the sort of story parables at home specifically in Jewish Palestine.[36]

Jesus’ language of a millstone being hung around a person who is then drowned in the depths of the sea (Mk 9:42) fits the farmland around the Sea of Galilee very well.[37] In fact, ancient millstones can still be viewed in the ruins of Capernaum today.

In Lk 7:11-17, Jesus is said to have spoken to a widow at a public funeral procession in Nain before going up to the bier. In Galilee, mourning women did walk in front of the casket, as opposed to the better known Judean custom in which women walked behind it.[38]

Sycamore trees did not grow in northern Mediterranean countries (e.g. Italy, Greece, Turkey, etc). They do grow, however, in the location of Luke’s account of Zacchaeus — Jericho (Lk 19:1).[39]

The debate over which mountain to worship on (Jhn 4:21), Mount Zion in Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim in Samaria, was a significant point of conflict between Jews and Samaritans in Palestine.[40]

The Gospels attest that Jesus was arrested in a garden called Gethsemane. This place is not referenced in any other ancient writing but its name betrays its Palestinian origin. As Williams notes:

Gethsemane [in Aramaic] means “oil press” (i.e., press for olives) and is perfectly located on the Mount of Olives [(Lk 22:39)] … However, nowhere do the Gospel writers draw attention to the meaning of Gethsemane and how it particularly suited the location. They just knew.[41]

Examples here can be easily multiplied. (If there was one section I would extend, it would be this one — there are so many fascinating examples!). As Keener notes, the Gospels reflect “abundant” Palestinian traits.[42] The fact that the Gospels are “written in Greek and contextualized for (at least mostly) Diaspora audiences highlights all the more clearly the frequent non-Diaspora elements that remain”.[43]

2.2.3. Jewishness

As we would expect from biographies of a Jewish teacher in Palestine, the Gospels are deeply Jewish. The Gospels reference and talk about Jewish practices, disputes, scripture, thought, politics, etc throughout their narratives. In this section, however, I want to hone in on Jesus in particular and see how the Gospels reflect his Jewishness both in general matters and down to minute aspects of speech. I will also cover some examples of Jewish disputes that Jesus commented on.

Many characteristics of Jesus’s style such as preaching in parables, employing beatitudes, and the use of “amen”, are all distinctively Jewish.[44] Jesus’ proclamation of the “kingdom of God” and his favorite self-designation, “Son of Man”, are Jewish as well. Both concepts are drawn from the book of Daniel (Dan 2:44; 7:13-14).[45]

To give more examples, Jewish teachers often employed the phrase “to what shall I/we compare?”, especially to introduce parables.[46] Jesus did the same (Matt 11:16//Lk 7:31; Lk 13:18, 20). Jesus used the phrase ‘So-and-so is like’ (Mt. 11.16; 13.24; 25.1; cf. also Mk 4.26, 31; 13.34; Lk. 6.48-49). This is common in Jewish rhetoric.[47] In Mk 12:30-31//Matt 22:37-39, Jesus links the two greatest commandments on the basis of the common opening word, we’ahavta (‘You shall love’). This linkage reflects a common Jewish interpretive technique.[48]

In the Gospels, Jesus employs a standard type of Jewish argument called qal vaomer (Matt 7:11/Lk 11:13; Matt 10:25; 12:12).[49] This can be seen when Jesus says “how much more?” (e.g. in Matt 10:25, “If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!”). Jesus also uses this figure of speech in his sermons (Matt 6:26, 30//Lk 12:25, 28).

When Jesus asks a question about the Messiah and David in Mk 12:35-37, he does so in a way similar to other Jewish teachers, asking didactic questions that functioned as “haggadic antimony”, in which both sides of a question were correct but their relationship needed to be resolved.[50]

In Jhn 6:32-58, Jesus closely matches a rabbinic form of homily known as a proem midrash — executing a pattern of “first text plus exposition, second text plus exposition, followed by a return to the first text plus exposition”, and resulting in a tightly knit unity.[51]

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees regarding divorce (Mk 10:2) is characteristically Jewish.[52] Other first century Jewish teachers looked to the creation narrative for God’s ideal purposes on various issues. Jesus did exactly this when he referred to the creation of man and woman in Genesis. The Pharisees’ question about divorce reflects a debate that surviving sources attribute to Pharisaic schools in Jesus’ generation as well.

In Matt 23:25-26, Jesus complains that Pharisees insist on cleaning the outside of the cup but do not clean their hearts first. He then goes on to say that the inside of a cup should be cleaned first, alluding to a debate that extant sources say was raging between two schools of Pharisees in Jesus’ time. These groups were the Shamnmaites, who were divided over whether the inside or the outside of a cup should be purified first, and the Hillelites, who insisted on cleaning the inner part first.[53]

Again, a lot more examples can be given here. As Keener notes, one could “pile up countless other samples” of Jesus’ sayings “fitting a Palestinian Jewish environment”.[54] Suffice it to say that the Gospels are deeply Jewish and this applies to the person of Jesus Himself. As Jewish scholar David Flusser notes, the portrait of Jesus in the Gospels is consistent and Jewish.[55] Similarly, scholar James Charlesworth comments the following on the Jesus we encounter in the Gospels:

Jesus was a very devout Jew. In fact, he was more Jewish than Philo, who mixed Jewish traditions in the caldron of Greek ideals and myths, and Josephus, who explained Jewish theology as if it was like Greek philosophy.[56]

2.2.4. Conclusion: Elements from Jesus’ Time and Location

In the end, the Gospels reflect strong local color. As Keener comments:

[L]ocal color pervades the Gospels so thoroughly … that we sometimes wonder how well Diaspora audiences understood some of the details.[57]

This argues for their historical reliability and points to the conclusion that their authors drew on eyewitness knowledge regarding Jesus’ life and ministry.

2.3. Critical Corroboration

Adding on to what we discussed so far, many Gospel narratives enjoy robust support from critical analysis. As a result, the probability of their historicity is very likely. Although the survey below is not exhaustive, it provides a good overview of the corroboration of the Gospels. The great majority of aspects of Jesus’ life I mention below are widely affirmed by Christian and non-Christian scholars alike, and all aspects mentioned enjoy strong critical support.

To start, Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist is highly probable.[58] It is unlikely that the early Church would have invented Jesus, whom they believed to be God and thus sinless, undertaking an action associated with repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

It is likely that Jesus ministered in Capernaum and Bethsaida, and made Capernaum his home base for his ministry.[59] No one would have invented fishing villages as sites of a great person’s ministry. Furthermore, as Keener notes regarding Jesus and Capernaum:

Jesus’ association with Capernaum is multiply attested in various strata of tradition (e.g., Mk 1:21; 2:1; Matt 4:13; Lk 4:31; Jn 2:12), including “Q” (Matt 8:5//Lk 7:1).[60]

It is also very probable that Jesus experienced resistance to his preaching at Capernaum (Matt 11:21-24//Lk 10:13-15).[61] In addition to being embarrassing, the authenticity of this tradition is supported by the fact that Capernaum later became a center of Christianity. As Keener notes:

Later Christians probably would have been loath to fabricate opposition to Jesus’ ministry in his adopted town. Indeed, far from testifying that the saying is a later Christian invention, Capernaum’s unrepentance suggests that the saying dates to Jesus’ lifetime, since, as we have noted, Capernaum later became a center in Galilean Christianity.[62]

Jesus likely experienced resistance at Bethsaida and Chorazin (Matt 11:21; Lk 10:13) as well, since this attestation is likewise unflattering to Jesus.[63] Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, this passage of Jesus’ rebuke of three Jewish towns (Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida) displays intimate familiarity with Galilean geography. This argues for the tradition originating from very early Palestinian sources.

It is highly likely that Jesus called some fishermen and tax collectors to be his disciples. Jesus calling fishermen coheres perfectly with his ministering in fishing villages such as Capernaum and Bethsaida. Furthermore, as scholar Ben Witherington notes, the saying “fishers of humans” (Mk 1:17) is hardly a later Christian image for mission.[64] The metaphor, however, does make sense if some of Jesus’ earliest disciples were fishermen. Luke also attests to the “fishers of humans” saying in a different context and form (Lk 5:10), making the saying multiply attested, and thus, more likely to be authentic. Jesus’ calling of tax collectors, on the other hand, is unlikely to be invented since Palestinian Jews disdained the profession.[65] The calling of tax collectors also coheres with a secure element of the tradition — Jesus’ outreach to sinners.[66]

It is highly likely that Jesus called twelve disciples to form his inner circle, with the number twelve representing the twelve tribes of Israel.[67] The existence of the Twelve is not only attested in the Gospels (Mk 3:13-19; Matt 10:1-4; Lk 8:1; Jhn 6:70) and Acts (Acts 1:12-26), it is also attested in a primitive Christian creed embedded in Paul’s letters (1 Cor 15:3-ff). This creed is widely viewed by scholars as the oldest extant Christian tradition — dating within five years of the death of Jesus (30-35 AD)![68] They also affirm that this creed stems from the Jerusalem church, which was the “headquarters” of the early Church.[69] In addition to being multiply attested, no one would have invented the Twelve and placed Judas inside of it.

The evidence for Jesus being a miracle worker is so strong that virtually all contemporary scholars, including skeptical scholars, believe that Jesus was a healer and exorcist, who performed deeds that were viewed by his contemporaries as miracles.[70] The disagreement among scholars is not over whether Jesus performed miracles or not, but over how these miracles are to be interpreted (i.e. healings of organic illnesses and therefore pointing to divine causation, healings of psychosomatic illnesses, or the result of the placebo effect). All five sources behind the Gospels (Mark, Q, M, L, and J) and the Jewish historian Josephus attest that Jesus performed miracles (see footnote 71 for more information on Josephus’ attestation).[71] The Gospels and Josephus both agree that Jesus’ success in drawing large crowds stemmed from two factors — miracle-working and compelling teaching.

Later hostile sources, both Jewish and pagan (the Talmud and the pagan critic Celsus), also affirm that Jesus was a miracle worker, but they attribute his actions to sorcery.[72] These attestations cohere well with the Jewish polemic recorded in Mark and Q (Mk 3:20-30; Matt 12:22-32//Lk 11:14-23), which states that Jesus healed by calling on a demonic power. This polemic is likely authentic. In addition to being multiply attested, it is unlikely that the early Church would have invented a charge that cast Jesus in an ambiguous light.[73] If this polemic and Jesus’ rebuttal of it in Mk 3:23-24 were not historical, it begs the question — “Why answer a charge that was not leveled?”. The embarrassing account of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6), his own hometown, as well as his being able to heal only a few individuals there due to lack of faith, is likely authentic as well.[74] Ultimately, Jesus being a miracle worker is scarcely disputed in scholarship. As scholar Graham Twelftree notes:

There is now almost unanimous agreement among Jesus questers that the historical Jesus performed mighty works.[75]

Likewise, scholars Bruce Chilton and Craig Evans note:

Any fair reading of the Gospels and other ancient sources (including Josephus) inexorably leads to the conclusion that Jesus was well known in his time as a healer and exorcist. The miracle stories are now treated seriously and are widely accepted by Jesus scholars as deriving from Jesus’ ministry. Several specialized studies have appeared in recent years, which conclude that Jesus did things that were viewed as “miracles”.[76]

Moving on, John the Baptist’s doubts about Jesus are very likely historical (Matt 11:2-11//Lk 7:19-28). No one would have invented such a tradition.[77] Not only was John a very respected religious figure in Palestine, but the Gospel narrative does not even conclude with a clear statement of John’s renewed faith. There are also many reasons supporting the authenticity of Jesus’ response to John’s doubts in this passage (Matt 11:5-6//Lk 7:22-23) — it is characteristic of Jesus’ responses (fitting the Messianic secret, a Middle Eastern teaching style, and Jesus’ fondness of riddles), the gospel to the “poor” coheres with other Q tradition about Jesus (Mat 5:3//Lk 6:20), and the saying exhibits Semitic structure.[78]

In general, Jesus’ controversial actions are unlikely to have been invented. One example of this is Jesus’ dining with sinners.[79] Another example would be Jesus’ violation of his contemporaries’ conventional purity boundaries, which as Keener notes, “appears throughout the gospel tradition”.[80] The Gospels portray Jesus touching the unclean, including lepers (Mk 1:41), and most impure of all, corpses (Mk 5:41; cf. Lk 7:14). They also recount Jesus publicly acknowledging the touch of a bleeding woman (Mk 5:31-33), which should have rendered him impure. As Keener notes regarding Jesus’ dining with sinners and his violations of his contemporaries’ standard purity boundaries:

That most of Jesus’ religious contemporaries did not share Jesus’ practice [of dining with sinners] is not difficult to understand. Table fellowship established something of a covenant relationship; eating with sinners thus would appear to connote acceptance of them. By contrast, a pious person normally preferred to eat with scholars.

Pure table-fellowship was a primary defining characteristic of the Pharisaic movement. Scripture was already clear that one should not have fellowship with sinners (Ps 1:1; 119:63; Prov 13:20; 14:7; 28:7), though the point in each instance was to warn against being influenced by sinners. Jewish tradition developed this warning against improper association with the wicked. Jesus’ behavior thus thoroughly violated his contemporaries’ understanding of holiness. Yet had the Pharisees valued his objective more than his method they should not have been annoyed. In Jesus’ case the influence was going one way — from Jesus to the sinners (Mk 2:155, 17; Lk 15:1; cf. Ps 25:8) … Jesus goes even to the most obviously sinful and seeks their repentance. This behavior was so shocking that it left an indelible mark in the traditions about him.

[Likewise, when it comes to Jesus violating his peers’ conventional purity boundaries,] Jesus does not explicitly address contracting impurity so much as he removes the impurity [through healing the individual] … Presumably the [Gospel] writers viewed such cases the way they viewed Jesus’ contact with sinners: the true influence flowed from Jesus to others, not the reverse. Nevertheless, they are no more likely to have deliberately invented this pervasive yet potentially controversial emphasis in Jesus’ behavior toward the impure than they are to have invented his welcome of sinners.

Earlier, we discussed the Jewish polemic that Jesus healed by calling on a demonic power. This is not the only polemic attested in our sources. The Gospels state that Jesus was called a “glutton-and-drunkard” (Matt 11:19//Lk 7:34).[82] No one would have invented this charge. In all likelihood, it is authentic.

When it comes to Jesus’ teachings, it is highly probable that he taught the primacy of love.[83] It is difficult to see how love came to enjoy such a central prominence in the early Church’s ethics if the teaching did not originate from Jesus. As Keener notes:

[O]nly Jesus wielded the moral authority among his followers to focus their ethics so profoundly around a single theme. The distinctive primacy that love plays in virtually all early Christian ethics would not have been possible had the Christians not derived this primacy from the mouth of the one Teacher who united them. Thence comes the early Christian “law of love,” attested not only in Mark’s tradition but in Paul (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14), James (Jas 2:8), and Johannine tradition (Jn 13:14-35).[84]

Similarly, scholar James Charlesworth notes:

Jesus most likely taught a love command that was unique. Jesus elevated the concept of love and made it central to his teachings; he even seems to have taught that his followers should love their enemies.[85]

The beatitudes of Jesus (Matt 5:3-12; Lk 6:20-23) are widely accepted as authentic.[86] Beatitudes are a Jewish rhetorical form. The Old Testament authors, the Qumran, the New Testament writers, and later rabbis all used beatitudes. It would be strange if Jesus were an exception to this. Furthermore, the contents of Jesus’ beatitudes cohere very well with secure elements of the tradition — Jesus being an eschatological prophet, his proclamation of the kingdom of God, the content of many of his parables, as well as his basic exhortations to mercy, love, and forgiveness.[87] The short Q beatitudes also reflect the same structure as the M beatitudes, multiply attesting that Jesus used beatitudes in chains like Ben Sira and Qumran.

The parables of Jesus in the Gospels are very likely authentic. They reflect Jesus’ agrarian environment as opposed to the urban environment of the early Church.[88] As Keener notes:

Jesus most often told stories about agriculture and the daily life of his common hearers, a characteristic that supports authenticity in his Galilean context”.[89]

Furthermore, bracketing the reportage of Jesus’ parables, other New Testament writers do not employ parables when typically addressing urban communities outside Palestine. Early Christian writers scarcely used parables too. Since parables were not a popular rhetorical form in early Christianity, later Christians are unlikely to have invented parables. Even if we were to suppose that they did invent parables, they likely would not have reflected Jesus’ environment, as the parables in the Gospels do. Whenever early Christians employed illustrations, they typically reflected the Greek world. For these reasons, scholars widely accept Jesus’ parables in the Gospels. As Keener notes:

[Jesus’ parables] are among the least debatable, most securely authentic elements of the Jesus tradition.[90]

It is highly likely that Jesus taught a form of the Lord’s prayer (Matt 6:9-13; Lk 11:2-4).[92] Although Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of the prayer agree on many points, they also differ significantly. As Charlesworth notes, this suggests that they derive from two independent sources. Furthermore, the prayer echoes the Kaddish as well as the language of other early Jewish prayers, so it cannot be an invention of the later Gentile church.[93]

The account of Jesus and his disciples at Caesarea Philippi, in which Jesus blesses and commissions Peter (Matt 16:13-17), is very likely historical.[94] Beatitudes and comissionings appear elsewhere in Jesus’ words and elsewhere in early Judaism. Jewish teachers sometimes pronounced blessings on those who gave correct responses, just as Jesus does to Peter in the narrative. Jesus’ renaming of Simon to Peter fits Jesus’ authority as a teacher and biblical naming traditions (e.g. God renaming Abram to Abraham). The name Peter is not a common name so it is apt to be a symbolic nickname. The Aramaic translation of Peter, “Cephas”, is multiply attested, including in the primitive Christian creed in 1 Cor 15:3-ff. This points to a very early tradition. Of course, Jesus granting Peter the chief rank among his disciples in this account “best explains his multiply attested leadership role both in the gospel tradition and in the apostolic church.[95] Lastly, the passage contains several Palestinian-Jewish elements. As Keener notes:

[N]early every other element of the blessing (not least the blessing formula itself) … [is] at home in a Palestinian Jewish setting.[96] 

Moving into the passion narrative, the Last Supper enjoys strong critical support.[97] It is multiply attested not only in the Gospels (Mk 14:12-26; Jhn 13:1-4) but even in Paul’s letters. Quoting St. Paul at length (1 Cor 11:23-26):

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

If the Last Supper was known by Paul then the tradition must be very early. This is supported by the recorded words of Jesus in the Last Supper, which display various early linguistic features. In addition to being very early, the tradition satisfies the criterion of embarrassment. Being asked to eat one’s flesh and blood is scandalous — no one would have invented such a controversial command. John’s gospel, in fact, reports that many of Jesus’ disciples had difficulty in accepting this teaching of his (Jhn 6:60-62). In the end, as Keener notes:

Jesus’ words about the cup, the bread, his body and blood are among the most secure elements of our traditions about Jesus.[98]

One of the most striking things about the Gospels is that the disciples are portrayed in an unflattering light in many instances.[99] Indeed, as Keener notes, it is interesting that Jesus’ leading disciples, though viewed as a foundation for the Church (Matt 16:18; Eph 2:20; Rev 21:14), “never achieve a heroic status in the Gospels”.[100] When Jesus asks his disciples to stay up with him in prayer on the night of his arrest, they struggle to do so and eventually fall asleep (Mk 14:32-37). Judas, one of the Twelve, betrays Jesus (Mk 14:43-44). Once Jesus is arrested, the disciples flee and abandon him (Mk 14:50). Peter, the leader of the early Church, denies Jesus several times after inquiries from others about his identity and affiliation (Mk 14:66-71). These slew of embarrassing details are likely historical.

Moving on, it is highly probable that Jesus was weak enough to carry his own cross, needing the help of a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, to carry it all the way to Calvary (Mk 15:21). As Keener notes:

Since condemned criminals normally carried their own crosses, it would increase the perception of Jesus’ shame if he proved too weak to carry his own … [Furthermore,] Simon does not bear the cross willingly as a mere invention to fulfill a disciple paradigm.[101]

Jesus was indisputably crucified under Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Judea.[102] This event is supported by a number of Christian and non-Christian sources. Jesus’ death by crucifixion is attested across the New Testament texts. It is also attested by the Jewish historian Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus. Furthermore, crucifixion was seen as (literally) the most shameful manner of execution in the Roman Empire.[103] It is not something any Christian would want to invent. In fact, St. Paul states that Jesus’ lowly end was an obstacle to conversion for many non-Christians. As Paul notes in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 1:23):

[W]e preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.

The Alexamenos graffito, our earliest known pictorial representation of Jesus’ crucifixion (early 3rd century graffiti), attests to the embarrassing nature of Jesus’ execution as well.[104] The drawing portrays a crucified man with a donkey’s head to the right of the image and a young man to the left of the image. Underneath the crucified figure is a Greek inscription that when translated into English says: “Alexamenos worships [his] god”. With this graffiti, an unknown pagan artist mocked a Christian named Alexamenos for believing in a god who was crucified.

Next up, we will discuss the critical support for the resurrection narratives. (Hold your thought on what Christian and non-Christian scholars affirm about the resurrection appearances! We will get to that towards the end of this section).

In the Gospels, a group of Jesus’ female followers is said to have visited Jesus’ tomb, discovered it empty, and witnessed Jesus’ first post-mortem appearance. That the first witnesses to the empty tomb and resurrection were women (Mk 16:1; Matt 28:8-10) and not men bespeaks authenticity.[105] Women were viewed in a low light in antiquity. In fact, in ancient Jewish culture, the testimony of women was considered unreliable and inadmissible in a court of law. For this reason, if the narratives were invented, it is very difficult to see why women were made the first witnesses — to Christianity’s biggest claim and foundational event no less — the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. As Jewish scholar Adela Yarbo Collins notes:

The status of women in the ancient world was such that a story fabricated as proof or apology would not be based on the testimony of women.[106]  

Another notable point is that although the women are recognized as the first witnesses in the Gospels, they are left out of the statement of eyewitnesses in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:1-7). This may very well be because of the low status of women in antiquity. Mentioning them as witnesses, especially as first in order, would not have been persuasive to ancient audiences. As Pope Benedict XVI comments in his Jesus of Nazareth series:

In the confessional tradition [(1 Cor 15:1-7)] only men are named as witnesses, whereas in the narrative tradition [(the Gospels)] women play a key role, indeed they take precedence over the men. This may be linked to the fact that in the Jewish tradition only men could be admitted as witnesses in court — the testimony of women was considered unreliable. So the “official” tradition, which is, so to speak, addressing the court of Israel and the court of the world, has to observe this norm if it is to prevail in what we might in what we might describe as Jesus’ ongoing trial.[107]

With all that said, let us shift our focus from the women as first witnesses and tackle the resurrection appearances generally.

The evidence for the resurrection experiences of the disciples is so strong that virtually all contemporary scholars, including skeptical scholars, affirm that Jesus’ disciples had experiences that caused them to believe that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them. As scholar Michael Licona notes:

[S]ubsequent to Jesus’ execution, a number of his followers had experiences … that convinced them Jesus had risen from the dead and had appeared to them in some manner. This conclusion is granted by a nearly unanimous consensus of modern scholars and may therefore be added to our “historical bedrock”.[108]

How these “experiences” are to be interpreted (i.e. actual appearances of a risen Jesus or some variant of the hallucination theory) is where the disagreement comes in. Jesus’ resurrection appearances are attested not only in the Gospels and Acts but also in Paul’s letters. The most valuable tradition among these is 1 Corinthians 15:1-7, which is widely agreed by scholars to date within 5 years of the death of Jesus and originate from the Jerusalem church:[109]

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [(Peter)], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the Apostles.

After conveying this tradition, Paul, a former persecutor of the Church, concludes by testifying about Jesus’ appearance to him (1 Cor 15:8):

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

In light of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, atheist scholar Mark Crossley affirms:

The resurrection appearances are some of the hardest, best evidence we have.[110]

Combining the evidence for the post-mortem appearances with the strong evidence for the willingness of the disciples to endanger themselves by preaching a risen Christ, historians are on firm ground in saying that the disciples were genuine in their belief that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them.

2.4. Archaeology

The Gospels enjoy support from archaeology as well. In modern times, many discoveries have been made that confirm or give credence to the New Testament narrative.

In 1990, several ancient ossuaries were discovered in a burial cave in Jerusalem. One of these belonged to a “Joseph, son of Caiaphas”.[111] This Caiaphas has been identified as the high priest of Israel who presided over the trial of Jesus. In 2008, another ossuary, called the “Miriam Ossuary”, was discovered. This find mentions Caiaphas as well saying “Miriam daughter of yeshua son of Caiaphas, priest of Ma’azya from Beit Imri”.[112]

In 1962, an archaeologist working on Israel’s coast discovered an inscription that confirmed the existence of Pontius Pilate.[113] This discovery, now known as the “Pilate Inscription”, mentions Tiberius, the Roman emperor during Jesus’ time, and Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Judea — “Tiberieum/[Pon]tius Pilatus/ [Praef]ectus Iuda[eae]”.

In the past, there was only evidence of Nazareth being inhabited before and after the first century.[114] The hyper skepticism of some scholars led them to doubt the inhabitation of Nazareth during Jesus’ time (despite the fact that continuity of inhabitation between the two periods should have been a likely conclusion). In 2006, a first century stone house with underground cisterns and grain silos was discovered in Nazareth, confirming that the town was inhabited during Jesus’ lifetime. (This is the problem with skeptical arguments or conclusions from silence!).

Some scholars used to doubt the veracity of the Gospels regarding the existence of synagogues in Palestine during Jesus’ lifetime. This put into doubt one key feature of Jesus’ ministry — his preaching in synagogues across Galilee. The reason for these doubts was that, in the past, there was no archaeological evidence of synagogues in Palestine before 70 AD. In light of this, some skeptical scholars presumed that the Gospel authors retrojected a reality in their time to Jesus’ ministry. This all changed in 2009 when archaeologists uncovered the ruins of a large and well-preserved first century synagogue complex in Magdala (the village of Mary Magdalene).[115] This synagogue was determined to be in use between 50 BC and 67 AD. Based on the size of the synagogue, its location in Magdala, and information from the Gospels, archaeologists have come to the conclusion that Jesus “almost certainly” preached here. Since this discovery, nine more first century synagogues have been discovered in Palestine, showing once again why absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.[116]

One of the most fascinating archaeological discoveries related to the New Testament is St. Peter’s house.[117] In the late 1960s, archaeologists discovered a series of insula or attached stone houses in Capernaum. Built on top of one of these structures was an ancient 5th century Byzantine church. The stone house beneath the church dates back to the first century BC. Scratched on the walls of one of its rooms, in the plaster, are Christian prayers in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and Syriac. Archaeologists came to the conclusion that the structure was a ”house church” from the first century and very likely the home of St. Peter, who lived in Capernaum. This also makes it the site of one healing account in the Gospels, the healing of St. Peter’s mother-in-law (Mk 1:29-31). 

Another major discovery is the pool of Bethesda, which is mentioned in John 5:2. The pool was accidentally discovered in the 19th century when workers sought to restore the medieval church of St. Anne.[118] Underneath the courtyard of the church, ruins of a large and very deep pool were discovered. These ruins precisely match John’s description of the pool of Bethesda — bounded on the sides with four colonnades and spanned across the middle by a fifth. Prior to the discovery, some scholars doubted the existence of the pool due to lack of evidence as well as its unusual design. As it turns out, however, such a pool existed. Its unique design is likely the reason why it was described by the author of John’s gospel in the first place. This site is also the location of another one of Jesus’ healings (Jhn 5:1-14)

Finally, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre may very well be the site of Jesus’ tomb. There are several reasons supporting the authenticity of the site.[119]

One, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands on an ancient first century Jewish cemetery, with rock-cut tombs matching the description of Jesus’ tomb in the Gospels.[120]

Two, the history of the identification of the site shows that it was known as Jesus’ tomb as early as the first half of the second century. Helena, the mother of Constantine, went to Jerusalem to identify the Holy Places in 326-328 AD. When she asked the locals where the site of Jesus’ tomb was, she was pointed to a pagan temple that was erected by Emperor Hadrian (reigned 117-138 AD), who desecrated many Jewish holy sites by building pagan temples on top of them. If Jesus was truly buried on the site of today’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, then Hadrian’s action of disrespect ended up serving as a marker of identification for future generations.

Three, the location of the site is unlikely to be invented. This strengthens its credibility. Christian tradition is unanimous that Jesus was buried outside Jerusalem’s walls (Heb 13:12; Jn 19:41). Jewish custom made it common knowledge that burials would occur outside the city’s walls as well. No one would invent a site inside. Today, the site of the Holy Sepulchre is located inside Jerusalem’s walls, not outside, but Agrippa I expanded the walls of Jerusalem to include the area of the Holy Sepulchre sometime between 41 and 44 AD. In other words, the site of the Holy Sepulchre during Jesus’ time was located outside Jerusalem’s walls but 11-14 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, the location became inside the city’s walls due to Agrippa I’s wall expansion.

Ultimately, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was rightly located inside Jerusalem’s walls during Jesus’ time. The site would also be an unlikely choice for later Christians who would want to invent a location for Jesus’ tomb, since during their time, the site would be located inside Jerusalem’s walls and not outside. We may very well have a site that was identified as Jesus’ tomb within 14 years of his death, during a time in which his disciples “led the growing church in Jerusalem, within walking distance away”.[121]

On the probability of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre being the site of Jesus’ tomb, archaeologist John McRay states:

The archaeological and early literary evidence argues strongly for those who associate [Jesus’ tomb] with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.[122]

Likewise, archaeologist Jerome Murphy-O’Connor of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem comments the following in his “The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide” (2008):

Is this the place where Christ … was buried? Very probably, yes.[123]

Dan Bahat, a Jerusalem archaeologist, comments on the probability of the site being authentic:

We may not be absolutely certain that the site of the Holy Sepulchre Church is the site of Jesus’ burial, but we certainly have no other site that can lay a claim nearly as weighty, and we really have no reason to reject the authenticity of the site.[124]

Although the evidence in favor of the site is not decisive, it is significant and definitely worthy of being taken seriously.

2.5. Comparison with Apocryphal Gospels

We can close our discussion on the reliability of the Gospels by comparing them with the later apocryphal gospels (e.g. the Gospel of Thomas, Judas, Peter, etc). These texts were written after the first century AD and originated from heterodox gnostic communities outside the early Church. The apocryphal gospels provide a great comparison to the canonical Gospels Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.

When it comes to geographical information, the apocryphal gospels hardly mention any place names. The gospel of Thomas, one of the earliest apocryphal gospels (mid-second century) and the most popular one, mentions Judea, the world” and names no other location.[125] Likewise, the gospel of Judas mentions Judea and “the world” only.[126] The gospel of Truth names no locations.[127] The gospel of Philip names four locations — Jerusalem, Nazareth, the Jordan River, and “the world”.[128] This, however, is not impressive, considering that Jerusalem was a known religious capital, and Nazareth, though an obscure town and not known outside Palestine in Jesus’ day, was already famous because of Jesus by the time the gospel of Philip was written.[129] Furthermore, as a point of comparison, the gospel of John names more local bodies of water (five) than the gospel of Philip mentions all types of place names (three, excluding “the world”) — think about that!

Another characteristic of the apocryphal gospels is that when they do give geographical descriptions, they “often” make mistakes.[130] The Sophia of Jesus Christ locates the Mount of Olives “in Galilee” despite it being located beside Jerusalem.[131] The Infancy Gospel of Thomas errs in describing the town of Nazareth as being located “in the region of Bethlehem”.[132] Nazareth is not located anywhere near Bethlehem. Nazareth is located in the region of Galilee to the north while Bethlehem is located in the region of Judea to the south. The gospel of Barnabas describes Jesus as “sailing to his city of Nazareth”.[133] Nazareth is not a city and it is also located inland, making it impossible to “sail to”.  The gospel of Philip gives a detailed discussion on temples in Jerusalem and mentions the directions these buildings faced. Scholar Hans Martin Schenke described this discussion as displaying “irritatingly unrealistic topography”.[134]

The apocryphal gospels also do a poor job of reflecting Jesus’ environment containing limited Palestinian-Jewish traits. As Keener notes, the apocryphal gospels “reflect the environment of their authors far better than the environment in which the story is set”.[135] In the following discussion, we will focus on our earliest apocryphal texts (those that can be dated to the second century), such as the gospel of Thomas and the gospel of Peter, in order to see the best that the apocryphal tradition can offer.

When it comes to Palestinian traits, the apocryphal gospels hardly reflect any. They display, as Keener put it, “second-century tendencies far removed from a Palestinian tradition”.[136] The gospel of Thomas’ ending image of a woman being saved by becoming male “fits Philo’s Platonic Alexandrian milieu far better than that of Jesus”.[137] In the gospel of Peter, Jewish priests wait in a burial plot. This makes no sense in Jesus’ original environment.[138]

As for the quality of Jewishness, Williams notes that the apocryphal gospels look “decidedly less Jewish than the canonical Gospels.[139] The gospel of Thomas, for example, reflects “little Jewish background” while the Gospel of Peter is bluntly described as “so far removed from any knowledge of early Judaism”.[140]

In the end, the apocryphal gospels are a great comparison to the canonical gospels. Unlike the canonical Gospels, the apocryphal gospels provide limited geographical detail, and when they do give geographical descriptions, they often make mistakes. Unlike the canonical Gospels, the apocryphal gospels hardly reflect Palestinian-Jewish color and instead, much better reflect the second century environment of their authors.

The apocryphal gospels provide us with another line of evidence for the reliability of the canonical Gospels. The differences between the two are stark — as clear as day and night. As Williams comments:

These later Gospels … provide us with an excellent control sample. They show that sometimes people wrote about Jesus without close knowledge of what he did. The fact that the four Gospels, both as a group and individually, contrast with these other Gospels illustrates the qualitative difference between these sources.[141]

3. Acts of the Apostles

Having finished our discussion on the Gospels, we can now move on to the book of Acts.

We have strong reasons to view Acts as a reliable history of the early Church. A great amount of information in Acts has been corroborated, even in matters of small detail. Luke’s accounts of Paul’s missionary journeys are both detailed and coherent, and as Keener notes, the “we” sections tend to be “among Luke’s most detailed material”.[142] This is exactly what we would expect if Luke was a traveling companion of Paul and an eyewitness to the “we” sections in Acts.

When it comes to Paul’s first missionary journey, Luke tells us that Paul and Barnabas traveled to Cyprus, Barnabas’ homeland. Traveling from east coast to west coast, as they would have to do after coming from Seleucia, Luke mentions their significant stops at Salamis and Paphos. These were the two biggest cities of Cyprus on each of those respective coasts.[144]

The existence of the family of Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7), a proconsul in Paphos who becomes a Christian, has been impressively confirmed by two gravestones and one inscription.[145] Luke mentions that one of Paulus’ attendants was a sorcerer. This fits with the historical data. As scholar James Dunn notes:

[Roman sources] tell us of more than one high-born Roman who was attracted by the “superstitions” stemming from the East. And several Roman rulers had magicians and soothsayers among their personal staff.[146]

Luke tells us that this sorcerer was also Jewish (Acts 13:6), making this a case of religious syncretism. This fits with other information Luke provides about this individual — the attendant was known by two names, “Bar-Jesus” and “Elymas” (Acts 13:7-8). Bar-Jesus is a Jewish name and Elymas is a Greek name.

Paul and others head to the south-central coast of Turkey. As scholar Craig Blomberg comments on Luke’s description of Paul’s travels in this area:

All the places can be identified, and all of Luke’s geography proves accurate.[147]

Paul’s next stop after Paphos was Pisidian Antioch. Impressively, we have inscriptional evidence that members of Sergius Paulus’ extended family lived there, suggesting that perhaps, Paulus requested Paul to proclaim the good news to his relatives after becoming Christian himself.[148]

Luke tells us that Paul and company visited the local synagogue at Pisidian Antioch. In the early 20th century, the foundations of a first century building underneath a fourth century Byzantine church in Pisidian Antioch was uncovered. According to archaeologists, this may very well be the synagogue that Paul and his companions visited.[149]

In Acts 14:1-23, Paul and Barnabas visit Lystra and Derbe. For the longest time, scholars did not know where these ancient cities were located. Some even doubted their existence altogether. Inscriptions for both cities were discovered in the late 19th century and mid 20th century respectively.[150] Luke rightly identifies both cities as part of the ancient territory of Lycaonia. He is also aware that a separate indigenous Lycaonian language is spoken in these cities. Luke correctly identifies worship to Zeus and Hermes in Lystra. An ancient altar and inscription to both Zeus and Hermes were discovered just outside the ancient city.[151]

Retracing their steps to the Mediterranean sea, Paul and Barnabas preach in Perga, a major port city in Pamphylia. Afterward, they travel to nearby Attalia and sail back to Syrian Antioch. As Blomberg comments, landing at Perga when coming from Cyprus and traveling to Attalia to sail for Syria “corresponds to the most common routes of the day”.[152]

Luke recounts Paul’s journey back to Jerusalem and his geography is on-point. From Syrian Antioch, Phoenicia is farther south and Samaria even further, on the way to Jerusalem in Judea.

At the beginning of Acts’ fifth section (now in Paul’s second missionary journey), Luke displays very accurate and detailed knowledge of Roman provincial organization.[153] Luke shows knowledge that there was one region jointly encompassing both Phrygia and Galatia (16:6; cf. 18:23). This is precisely the arrangement Rome created in 25 BC when it reorganized its empire into ten provinces — a reorganization that often blurred historic territorial divisions along ethnic lines.

Luke continues to recount Paul’s journeys. His geography continues to be accurate and his travel routes are coherent. As Blomberg comments:

The territories of Asia (minor), Mysia, Bithynia and Macedonia, and the city of Troas, are all real places, listed in a way that makes sense of Paul’s attempted and actual travels. The same is true of his itinerary in Greece — from the island of Samothrace to the cities of Neapolis (16:11), Philippi (16:12), Amphipolis, Apollonia, Thessalonica (17:1), Berea (17:10), Athens (17:16), and Corinth (18:1). Paul is visiting the major towns on the eastern side of the peninsula in sequence as he progresses from north to south.[154]

Luke correctly describes Philippi as a Roman colony and he impressively identifies a small river near a gate to the west of the city, the Gangites.[155] Luke tells us of a woman named Lydia (Acts 16:14), a dealer of purple cloth from Thyatira who converts to Christianity and urges Paul and his companions to stay at her house in Philippi. This fits with the historical evidence. As scholar Eckhard Schnabel notes:

A Latin inscription from Philippi refers to dealers in purple, an inscription from Thessalonica documents a guild of purple dyers, and an inscription from Philippi mentions purple dyers from Thyatira.[156]

The use and abuse of fortune-tellers in Greco-Roman antiquity (Acts 16:16-18) is just as well-attested, and the description of being stripped, beaten with rods, and put into foot stocks, is in line with documented experiences of the day (Acts 16:22-24).[157]

Paul’s mention of an altar to an unknown god at Athens (Acts 17:23) is corroborated by other ancient writers and various inscriptional evidence — such altars did exist at Athens.[158] As Luke accurately notes, there were many Epicureans and Stoics in the city. Paul’s recorded sermon in Athens is both brilliant and contextualized for his audience, just as one would expect from a first-rate intellectual like Paul. As Blomberg comments on this sermon of Paul:

[Paul’s sermon beautifully plays] the views of each group against each other in service of Christian truth. The Cretan Epimenides and the Cilician Stoic Aratus are quoted in verses 27-28 to support God’s immanence, but only after his transcendance, in agreement with the Epicureans, was well established (vv. 24-26).[159]

Paul being questioned by the Athean city council, the Areopagus, makes sense. It was their job to serve as custodian of the accepted gods and goddesses who could be legally worshipped in the city.

Luke breezes through Paul’s voyage to Israel and return to Syrian Antioch. As usual, he gets the details right. As Blomberg notes:

[Luke] knows it was natural to sail directly across the Aegean Sea and dock at Ephesus (v. 19) before making the much longer journey to the eastern Mediterranean (v. 18). He knows Caesarea was a major port city on the coast of Israel (v. 22a) and that one goes “up” to Jerusalem because of its elevation and “down” to Antioch in Syria (v. 22b) at a lower altitude, even though it was north of Jerusalem.[160]

On Paul’s third missionary journey, a major stop for him was Ephesus. Luke, again, displays accurate knowledge of the place. As Keener notes:

Luke also displays accurate information about Ephesus (Acts 19:1-41): Ephesians used a unique title for Artemis, sometimes defended her cult, were sensitive at precisely this time concerning the economics of Artemis worship, could have unscheduled meetings in the theater near the crowded market, and countless other details.[161] 

As for Paul’s travels after Ephesus, Blomberg comments:

Much of Paul’s subsequent journeying is narrated almost like a travel itinerary, with only sporadic additional information about what happened at the various locations. All of the sites were real places — Troas (20:5), Assos (v. 13), Mitylene (v. 14), Chios, Samos and Miletos (v. 15) … The travel itinerary continues in chapter 21, with every city in the right order forming a logical sequence — Kos, Rhodes, and Patara (v. 1), passing by Cyprus en route to Tyre in Syrophoenica (vv. 2-3). Then would come Ptolemais (v. 7) and Caesara (b. 16), prior to Jerusalem (v. 17).[162] 

Impressively, even the account of Paul’s and Luke’s trip from Caesarea to Rome, in which they both experienced a shipwreck, shows great accuracy and detail. As Keener notes:

Although further examples could be multiplied, I conclude this section with Luke’s “we” narrative about the sea voyage (Acts 27:1-28:15). Even minor details of the account match what we know of weather conditions and the sailors’ actions. Already in the nineteenth century, a mariner [(James Smith and his work, “The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul”)] showed how the seasonal storm conditions, direction and timing of the ship’s drift, and other details precisely fit Mediterranean conditions. More recent meteorological studies offer further confirmation. Luke or his source was clearly aboard a ship in these conditions. Skeptics suggest that perhaps Luke simply added the mentions of Paul to the existing narrative, but if Luke describes the conditions accurately, is it not simpler to assume that he was also present with Paul, as he claims?.[163]

Likewise, Blomberg comments:

There is not an unrealistic detail in this entire account. The mid-nineteenth-century commentator, James Smith, wrote a classic work … In meticulous detail he examined every aspect of ancient seafaring relevant to Paul’s experiences in these chapters, concluding that the author of Acts must have either accompanied Paul, as is implied by the “we”-narrative, or was relying on another person’s eyewitness account of the events. Every element of the route, the danger yet desire to travel late in the fall while still before winter, the outfitting of the vessel, the measures taken to survive during the storm, the hurricane-force wind blowing from the northeast, soundings as land became closer, and the danger of running aground at too great a speed all correspond perfectly to what we know of the practices and technology of the day.

The completion of the trip to Rome on a new boat after winter had ended likewise fits what we know of Paul’s era. Castor and Pollux were the twin gods of seafaring, so they formed a natural figure head for a ship (28:11). Syracuse, Rhegium, Puteoli, and Three Taverns were towns on the Appian Way as travelers made their way northward on the Italian Peninsula toward Rome (vv. 12-15).

The ending of Acts with Paul under house arrest in Rome fits what we know of the practice during the period.[165] House arrest, with a prisoner lightly chained to a series of rotating guards, was common practice for individuals not considered to be dangerous (v. 16). As Luke accurately notes, the prisoner had to pay for his own rent and accommodation (v. 30) — adding insult to injury!

Another notable point about Acts is Luke’s accuracy when it comes to local rulers and titles of local officials.

Luke identifies several local rulers in Acts such as Herod Agrippa I, Herod Agrippa II, Felix, Festus, and Galio. The most impressive of these is his identification of Galio, the proconsul of Achaia in Greece. A discovery of an inscription at Delphi confirmed that Gallio was indeed the proconsul of Achaia and that his term only lasted less than a year (Gallio also did not finish his term) — encompassing 51-52 AD. As Blomberg comments: “The reference to Galio in verse 12 forms a major synchronism with extra-biblical history”.[166] Although not a local ruler, Luke correctly identifies the Jewish high priest at the time of Acts 23:2, Ananias.[167]

In addition to identifying several local rulers, Luke gives accurate information about these individuals. Agrippa I, for example, did die of a gastrointestinal disorder as he was giving a public address to a crowd that revered him. Agrippa II took in his sister, Bernice, to live with him precisely during the time of Acts 25:13.[168] Before and after the time of Acts, Bernice did not stay with Agrippa II for she was and would be married. Felix was married three times in his life but Drusilla was his wife at exactly the time of Acts 24:24.[169]

Overall, Luke’s depiction of local rulers comports well with what we know of these figures from other sources. Luke’s depiction of political rulers in Judea accords well with what we know of these individuals from Josephus (who wrote later than Acts!). As Keener notes:

Often in Acts, and especially once the narrative streches beyond Judea, we have sources available that confirm Luke’s reports about persons or events … the depictions of Herod Agrippa I, Agrippa II, Felix, and Festus (Acts 12:1-23; 23:24-26:32) resemble what we know of these figures from Josephus.[170]

Likewise, Luke’s depiction of Gallio accords well with what we know of him from other sources.[171]

Luke gets the titles of local officials correct too. City officials in Thessalonica, for example, are rightly called “politarchs” (Acts 17:8). This term was unattested in history until an inscription on the city’s Vardar Gate was discovered. Likewise, the office of “city clerk” (Acts 19:35) did exist at Ephesus. Luke mentions a good number of terms used for local officials in the many places his narratives span — all of them are accurate. As Keener notes:

Even though no handbook for local titles of officials existed … Luke always gets correct the titles for officials in different locals.[172]

In the end, a great amount of information in Acts has been corroborated, even in matters of small detail. As Blomberg puts it, in Acts:

[O]ne can trace in detail … [Paul’s] travels, identify every location, and understand something from the local culture or Paul’s past experience that explains his movements, behavior, and forms of public address. And the historical existence of even minor characters and details can often be confirmed from extra biblical sources.[173]

Likewise, Roman historian A.N. Sherwin-White comments on Acts saying:

The confirmation of historicity is overwhelming … any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd.[174] 

Ultimately, there is strong evidence for the historical reliability of Acts. Since Luke and Acts were written by the same author, this evidence also reflects well on the gospel of Luke.

I will close this section with a quote from Sir William Mitchell Ramsay, a leading 20th century New Testament scholar and distinguished archaeologist. Ramsay was educated in the liberal Tübingen school of thought, which viewed the New Testament texts with skepticism. Later in life, Ramsay traveled to Asia Minor to study the land extensively. As he did, however, his skepticism of Acts collapsed and he reversed his opinion on the text and its author. As Ramsay remarks:

Further study showed that the book [Acts] could bear the most minute scrutiny as an authority for the facts of the Aegean world, and that it was written with such judgment, skill, art and perception of truth as to be a model of historical statement  … Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historic sense.[175]

St. Paul’s Areopagus sermon at Athens. Painting by Raphael.

4. Conclusion

In closing, we have strong reason to trust the Gospels and Acts as historical sources about Jesus and the early Church.

In part one, we discussed how multiple factors (e.g. genre, time of writing, authorship, the traditioning community they arose from, etc) point to the conclusion that the Gospels are generally reliable biographies of Jesus. We have very good reason to believe that a historical core lies behind the average account in the Gospels. Unless there is good reason to believe otherwise, the basic attitude towards events in the Gospels should be one of trust, since full-length early empire biographies about recent figures normally recounted genuine historical information. 

We also discussed how the evidence points to Acts being a generally reliable history of the early Church. There is good reason to believe that Acts was written by Luke — a traveling companion of Paul, an eyewitness to the “we” sections in Acts, and a member of the Christian Church at an early date (the 50s AD, possibly earlier). These are great credentials to write a work like Acts.

The conclusions of part one summarized above are strengthened by the evidence presented in part two. 

Looking at the texts, the Gospels possess qualities we would expect if they were based on eyewitness knowledge of Jesus’ life. The Gospels display substantial and accurate knowledge of Palestinian geography as well as strong local color. Furthermore, critical analysis indicates that a substantial portion of Jesus’ life and teachings are very likely historical. Especially striking is the presence of many embarrassing details in the narrative. These testify to the existence of a significant conservative impulse within the early Church.[176] Evidence from archaeology and a comparison with the later apocryphal Gospels provide further evidence for the historical reliability of the Gospels.

Likewise, Acts possesses qualities we would expect if it was based on eyewitness knowledge of events in the early Church. A great amount of information in Acts has been corroborated, even in matters of small detail. The simplest and most logical conclusion is that Luke was indeed a traveling companion of Paul and an eyewitness to the “we” sections in Acts. The evidence for the reliability of Acts also reflects well on the gospel of Luke, which was written by the same author.

Ultimately, there is strong evidence for the general reliability of the Gospels and Acts. We have very good reasons for trusting these texts as historical sources about Jesus of Nazareth and the early Christian Church. 


  1. Williams, Can We Trust The Gospels, loc. 739-808
  2. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pg. 183
  3. Williams, Can We Trust The Gospels, loc. 808
  4. Ibid, loc. 808.
  5. Ibid, loc. 968
  6. Ibid, loc. 808.
  7. FOCLOnline. Youtube. Can We Trust the Gospels? – Peter Williams. Retrieved from:
  8. Ibid, loc. 905
  9. FOCLOnline. Youtube. Can We Trust the Gospels? – Peter Williams. Retrieved from:
  10. Williams, Can We Trust The Gospels, loc. 894
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid, loc. 955
  13. Ibid, loc. 974
  14. Ibid
  15. Ibid
  16. Ibid
  17. Ibid
  18. Ibid, loc. 1249. Skeptics will point to a number of geographical errors (less than a handful) in Mark to argue against his reliability as a source. Two points to note here.

    One, geographical errors were made by other ancient historical writers as well. The Jewish historian Josephus was very familiar with Galilean geography. He was the leader of Jewish forces in Galilee during the Jewish-Roman war. Despite this, Josephus made a number of Galilean geographical errors in his works. Geography was not easy.

    Despite being an eyewitness, Josephus made mistakes himself. This does not mean that Josephus’ work is unreliable. In fact, scholars view Josephus as a generally reliable historical source. In the same way, if Mark made a number of geographical errors in his work, it would not count against his general reliability. More evidence needs to be marshaled in order to cast doubt on a source.

    Two, there are genuinely good explanations offered for these possible geographical errors in Mark. Looking at the explanations offered, I certainly think not all of them are errors. Check out Faithful Philosophy’s article, Thoughts on Mark’s Supposed Geographical Errors, for more information. If the explanations offered by scholars are correct, then these geographical errors become evidence for Mark’s geographical accuracy as well! Like a seat in the House of Representatives “shifting” from party A to party B if an incumbent congressman from party A is dethroned by the challenger from party B.
  19. Gathercole, The Journeys of Jesus and Jewish Geography. Retrieved from: 
  20. Williams, Can We Trust the Gospels, loc. 993
  21. Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, pg. 101.
  22.  Williams, Can We Trust The Gospels, loc. 1296
  23.  Margaret H Williams, “Palestinian Jewish Personal Names in Acts,” in The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting, vol. 4, Palestinian Setting, ed. Richard Bauckham (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 79-113; Tal Ilan, Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity, pt. 1 Palestine 330 BCE-200 CE.
  24. Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, pgs. 67-92
  25. Keener, Christobiography, pg. 489.
  26. Williams, Can We Trust The Gospels, loc. 894-955
  27. Ibid, loc. 894
  28. Ibid, loc. 955
  29. Ibid, loc. 955
  30. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pg. 182
  31. Ibid, pg. 183
  32. Williams, Can We Trust The Gospels, loc. 1333
  33. Ibid.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pg. 20
  36. Ibid, pgs. 188 and 194
  37. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament, pg. 132
  38. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament, pg. 126
  39. Williams, Can We Trust The Gospels, loc. 1333
  40. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament, pg. 197
  41. Williams, Can We Trust The Gospels, loc. 1004
  42. Keener, Christobiography, pg. 100
  43. Keener, Christobiography, pg. 489
  44. Keener, Christobiography, pg. 493 and Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament, pg. 118
  45. Pitre, The Case for Jesus, pgs. 104-113
  46. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pg. 188
  47. Keener, Assumptions in Historical-Jesus Research: Using Ancient Biographies and Disciples’ Traditioning as a Control
  48. Ibid.
  49. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pg. 215
  50. Ibid, pg. 270
  51. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament, pg. 203
  52. Ibid, pg. 217
  53. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pg. 233
  54. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pg. 220
  55. Ibid, pg. 241
  56. Homlen and Porter (editors), James Charlesworth in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus
  57. Keener, Christobiography, pg. 77
  58. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pg. 176
  59. Ibid, pg. 182
  60. Ibid.
  61. Ibid, pg. 182
  62. Ibid, pg. 183
  63. Ibid.
  64. Ibid, pg. 184
  65. Ibid, pg. 210-211
  66. Keener, Christobiography, pg. 6
  67. Homlen and Porter (editors), James Charlesworth in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus
  68. As scholar John Granger Cook notes: “There is almost universal scholarly consensus that 1 Cor 15:3-5 contains a carefully preserved tradition pre-dating Paul’s apostolic activity and received by him within two to five years of the founding events” (The Resurrection of Jesus in the Pre-Pauline Formula of 1 Cor 15.3–5).
  69. As noted by leading scholar Larry Hurtado: “It is widely accepted, however, that the tradition Paul recites in 15:1-7 must go back to the Jerusalem Church” (Lord Jesus Christ, pg.  168).
  70. Homlen and Porter (editors), James Charlesworth in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus
  71. Although the passage in Josephus was tampered by a later Christian scribe, scholars widely agree (even skeptical scholars) that the mention of Jesus’ miracle working is authentic to Josephus. Below is the scholarly reconstruction of what Josephus actually said:

    “At this time [the rule of Pontius Pilate as prefect of Judea] there appeared Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of paradoxical deeds, a teacher who received the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Gentile origin. And when Pilate at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day”.

    Scholars believe they can reconstruct what Josephus said with good confidence because the portions of interpolation are obvious and clumsy, and a Christian interpolator would not have used the word “paradoxical” to describe Jesus’ miracles (“Paradoxōn” is only used once in the New Testament, in Lk 5:26. It is also a fairly neutral term) but “signs” or “wonders”. Josephus also uses the word paradoxōn in another work when describing the miracles of the Jewish prophet Elisha. Other portions of the agreed-upon authentic core also have very good reasons for being legitimate. For example, the beginning “Now about this time …” is used by Josephus as a way of introducing a new topic many times in his work. There are also no early Christian parallels that refer to Jesus merely as “a wise man”, but this is a term used by Josephus several times, such as for Solomon and Daniel. The use of the word φῦλον (“phylon” – “race, tribe”) is also not used by Christians about themselves in any works of the time, but Josephus uses it elsewhere when he talks about nations or other distinct groups. All of the above elements mentioned are distinctively Josephean.
  72. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pg. 241
  73. Homlen and Porter (editors), James Charlesworth in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus
  74. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pg. 241
  75. Twelftree, The Face of New Testament Studies, pg. 206
  76. Chilton and Evans, Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, pgs. 11-12
  77. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pg. 170
  78. Ibid.
  79. Ibid, pg. 211
  80. Ibid, pg. 221
  81. Ibid, pg. 211-212 and 221
  82. Ibid, pg. 211
  83.  Keener, The Historical Jesus, pg. 215-216
  84. Ibid, pg. 216
  85. Homlen and Porter (editors), James Charlesworth in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus
  86. Ibid
  87. Meier, A Marginal Jew Volume Two, pgs. 330-331 and 336 
  88. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pg. 188
  89. Ibid, pg. 189
  90. Ibid, pg. 189
  91. Ibid, pg. 194
  92. Homlen and Porter (editors), James Charlesworth in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus
  93. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pg. 198
  94. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pgs. 247-248
  95. Ibid, pg. 248
  96. Ibid.
  97. See also Brant Pitre’s excellent Jesus and the Last Supper (2017)
  98. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pg. 299
  99. In other parts of the Gospel tradition, the disciples are portrayed as having difficulty understanding (Mk 9:9-11), cowardly (Jhn 20:19), lacking in faith (Mk 4:40; Matt 14:30-32) and being worldy in thinking (Mk 8:32-33; Mk 10:35-37).
  100. Keener, Christobiography, pg. 128
  101. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pg. 322
  102. Ibid, pg. 323.
  103. Holland, T. Tom Holland & AC Grayling — History: Did Christianity give us our human values? Retrieved from
  104. Hutchinson, Searching for Jesus, pg. 262
  105. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pg. 331 and Homlen and Porter (editors), James Charlesworth in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus
  106.  Adela Yarbro Collins, The Beginning of the Gospel, pg.  127
  107. Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection
  108.  Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, pg. 372
  109. As noted by leading critical scholar Dale Allison:

    “We can also be confident, given that Paul knew Peter and James, that 1 Cor. 15:3-8 is not folklore; and ‘since Paul…visited Peter and the Christian community in Jerusalem about five to six years after the crucifixion of Jesus, the tradition which he reports…can, at least, not contradict what he heard then’.” (The Resurrection of Jesus, pg. 40)

    Scholar John Granger Cook comments regarding the creed, which at minimum, extends as far as 1 Cor 15:3-5:

    “There is almost universal scholarly consensus that 1 Cor 15:3-5 contains a carefully preserved tradition pre-dating Paul’s apostolic activity and received by him within two to five years of the founding events” (The Resurrection of Jesus in the Pre-Pauline Formula of 1 Cor 15.3–5).

    Likewise, scholar David C. Sim notes on the tradition in 1 Cor 15:6-7 being equally early as the creed:

    “Many of them have argued that the original creedal formula extended from vv. 3-5a (“Christ died for our sins” to “he appeared to Cephas”) or from vv. 3-5b (which would include the appearance to the twelve). While there can be little doubt that in the list of later appearances Paul has added material, it is equally clear that the references to the appearances to the 500, James and all the apostles also stem from very early tradition. Whether this material was joined to the early creedal formula in vv. 3-5 or whether it was originally independent and brought together by Paul, the important point is that in either case Paul in 15:3-7 is citing very early material from the church in Jerusalem” (“The Family of Jesus and the Disciples of Jesus in Paul and Mark: Taking Sides in the Early Church’s Factional Dispute,” in Paul and Mark, pg. 76).

    Leading scholar Larry Hurtado notes regarding the origin of 1 Cor 15:3-7:

    “It is widely accepted, however, that the tradition Paul recites in 15:1-7 must go back to the Jerusalem Church” (Lord Jesus Christ, pg. 168).
  110. Unbelievable? Do the minimal facts support the resurrection? Gary Habermas & James Crossley. Retrieved from:
  111. Biblical Archaeology Review 18:5, September/October 1992. Retrieved from:
  112. Zissu and Goren, Israel Exploration Journal Vol. 61, No. 1 (2011), pp. 74-95 (22 pages). The Ossuary of ‘Miriam Daughter of Yeshua Son of Caiaphas, Priests [of] Maʿaziah from Beth ʾImri’. Retrieved from:
  113.  Hutchinson, Searching for Jesus, pgs. 110-111
  114.  Ibid, pgs. 96-100
  115. Ibid, pgs. 103-104 
  116. Faithful Philosophy. Bible and History. Retrieved from:
  117. Hutchinson, Searching for Jesus, pgs. 107-109
  118. Craig, Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology,
  119. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pgs. 327-328
  120. Romey, Unsealing of Christ’s Reputed Tomb Turns Up New Revelations. National Geographic. Retrieved from:
  121. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pg. 328
  122. McRay, Archaelogy and the New Testament, pg. 216
  123. Murphy-O’Conner, The Holy Land; An Oxford Archaeologist, pgs. 49-57
  124. Romey, Unsealing of Christ’s Reputed Tomb Turns Up New Revelations. National Geographic. Retrieved from:
  125. Gathercole, The Journeys of Jesus and Jewish Geography. Retrieved from:
  126. Ibid.
  127. Ibid.
  128. Ibid.
  129. Williams, Can We Trust The Gospels, loc. 1030.
  130. Gathercole, The Journeys of Jesus and Jewish Geography. Retrieved from:
  131. Ibid.
  132. Ibid.
  133. Ibid.
  134. Ibid.
  135. Williams, Can We Trust The Gospels, loc. 1315 and Keener, the Historical Jesus, pg. 51
  136. Keener, The Historical Jesus, pg. 49
  137. Keener, Christobiography, pg. 492
  138. Keener, Christobiography, pg. 492
  139. Williams, Can We Trust The Gospels, loc. 1270-1315
  140. Ibid.
  141. Williams, Can We Trust The Gospels, loc. 1038.
  142. Keener, Christobiography, pg. 228
  143. A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Law and Roman Society in the New Testament, pgs. 186–89.
  144. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament, pg. 271-272.
  145. Dunn, Beginning from Jerusalem, pg. 421
  146. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament, pg. 272
  147. Ibid, pg. 271
  148. Ibid, pg. 272
  149. Ibid. pg. 271
  150. Ibid, pg. 273
  151. Ibid.
  152. Ibid, pg. 274-275
  153. Ibid, pg. 278
  154. Ibid.
  155. Apologetics Academy, The Reliability of Acts: A Conversation with Dr. Tim McGrew. Retrieved from:
  156. Ibid, pg. 279
  157. Ibid.
  158. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament, pg. 282
  159. Ibid, pg. 283
  160. Ibid, pg. 285
  161. Keener in Jesus, Skepticism and the Problem of History, loc. 9180.
  162. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament, pg. 287
  163. Keener in Jesus, Skepticism and the Problem of History, loc. 9180.
  164. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament, pgs. 291-292
  165. Ibid, pg. 292
  166. Ibid, pg. 284
  167. Keener, Skepticism and the Problem of History, loc. 9242
  168. Keener in Jesus, Skepticism and the Problem of History, loc. 9180.
  169. Ibid.
  170. Ibid.
  171. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament, pg. 274
  172. Keener in Jesus, Skepticism and the Problem of History, loc. 9086-9180.
  173. Ibid, pg. 275
  174. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, pg. 189
  175. Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915, pgs. 85 and 89
  176. Meier, A Marginal Jew, Volume 1, pg. 170

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