Did the Gospel stories originate honestly, rather than as lies or legends?

  • Our question

    one man with a bible for a head is talking with a speech bubble and a thought bible which both have jesus face

    Whether these stories originated prior to the Gospels being written or not, when they did form, did they form in an honest way, rather than as the result of someone inventing them? To clarify, even if it was arguably permissible to alter details for comprehension etc., did those who formed the Gospel stories nevertheless respectfully refrain from fabricating the core information about Jesus-biography? So rather than being largely dishonest fabrications, or lies conjured up from human minds, did the Gospel stories largely or entirely form as reports aiming at representing the truth accurately? Practically speaking, we are asking whether the stories generally find their origin in the experience and memory of people who were impressed by seeing and knowing Jesus.

  • Historians

    One summary

    • Greg Herrick: “The ‘burden of proof’ rests upon those who would argue [against the trustworthiness of the Gospel stories]. Several factors tend to support this standpoint..[including] 1) the presence of eyewitnesses; 2) the existence of a church center in Jerusalem to oversee the guarding and disseminating of the traditions; 3) the generally high view the church had for its traditions (cf. Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 7: 10, 12); 4) the faithfulness of the church in transmitting some of Jesus’ more difficult sayings (Mark 9:2, 10:18, 13:32, etc.); 5) the problems of the early church as seen in the epistles are not specifically found in the Gospels, which indicates that the Gospels are not wholesale inventions of the early church in its attempt to deal with its questions, needs, and problems.” [“The Historical Veracity of the Resurrection Narratives” at Bible.org]
“Yes, after all…
  • Gospels spew confirmed non-legendary content

    two men are standing on the top of a book. One man is talking to the other. The man who is talking has both a speech and a thought bubble that have Christ's face on it.

    The Gospels burst with content which is demonstrably non-legendary (i.e. honest non-fiction).

    This page analyzes 5 arguments

    • Gospel stories spew Un-churchy content, quite dissimilar to and uncharacteristic of the early Christians. For example, speakers in the Gospels (e.g. Jesus) think and talk in ways that contradict the ways early Christians spoke and thought, and the Gospel speakers moreover failed to speak in ways that the Church inevitably would if inventing the content. More than this, the Gospel stories are full of content that the Church would hate, either because it was embarrassing or it would harm their evangelism efforts, or gratuitously elevated its enemies and so forth. This is virtually incompatible with the hypothesis that the material in question is legendary since it directly violates the trends of legend.
    • Gospels spew liar self-exposing content, including material that would overtly and gratuitously put the liar at risk, much of which would've likely been doomed-to-fail anyways if it were false. Material that would clearly expose the would-be liar is generally honest material--i.e. non-legendary.
    • Gospels spew overtly “doomed-to-fail” content, especially material whose local popularity was in the immediate or nearly immediate control of actual witnesses or experts who knew better.
    • Gospels spew early content, e.g. content which appeared independently in different strands of tradition, or which has the hallmarks of having been passed-down orally (early), or which inevitably ran through the approval of early witnesses, or which was clearly non-legendary (and therefore witness-based), or which fit the AD 30 Palestinian environment too sharply to be easily explained by creation outside of its initial origin in AD 30 Palestine. Early content does not fit well with being "legend" or "lies" because at its origin point the presence of witnesses and accurate news is is too overt to overcome; legend generally gets snuffed out and no one even attempts to create it (and generally no one exists yet who would even have a desire to).
    • Gospels spew witness-based content, including stories with witness-level details, complex internal coherencies, and details fine-tuned to AD 30 Palestine, all of which fit far better on then hypothesis that they are ultimately eyewitness testimony. And if they are eyewitness based reports, then of course they are not legends.

    The Gospel's abounding in material we know (or can safely presume) is not legendary helps show the Gospel stories formed honestly because at the same time we do NOT see confirmed non-legendary content. We can conclude that some mechanism was resulting in an output of entirely or predominantly non-legendary content. And if such a mechanism were active, we can look over the content which is not confirmed to be legendary or non-legendary, and presume it is the latter (non-legendary).

  • The Gospels spew Palestinian content

    The Gospels burst with incidental assumptions and details fine-tuned to a Palestinian milieu.

    This full page analyze 15 examples/categories:

    • Gospels well-refer to 14 local rulers in AD 30.
    • Gospels well-refer to 50+ Palestinian sites.
    • In Gospels all & only Palestine pop-names get clarity.
    • NT name-ratios precisely match Palestine’s.
    • Jesus’ Gospel sayings super-retrovert from Greek to Aramaic.
    • Gospel details reveal solid travel-plans.
    • Gospel society super-fits Palestine.
    • The Gospels correctly get subtle geography.
    • Gospel set-pieces super-fit Palestine.
    • Gospel pricings super-fit Palestine.
    • Gospel hope for a “Messiah” fits.
    • Gospels well-refer to Palestinian flora & fauna.
    • Gospels well-refer to Palestinian coinage.
    • The Jesus-HighPriest exchange was hyper-Jewish.
    • Gospels spew details fitted to AD 30 Palestine.

    This is relevant given that, soon after Jesus was crucified, Gospel stories circulated through the non-Palestinian regions of Egypt, Italy, the Anatola and so forth. So the lies and legends would have been formed frequently enough in these outer regions. But if that were the case, then we would not expect to see references to esoteric features unique to Palestinian life because the liars would not know it. (There were no relevant reference works that could be consulted on this sort of thing.) By contrast, if the Gospel stories do all originate from honest eyewitness reports of Palestinians reporting things they experienced first-hand in Palestine, then it is only natural that these honest and accurate details would appear in the Gospel stories.

    But so what? Plausibly…

    • The Gospels do contain time-place absurdities.2
  • The Gospels lack anatopisms

    The Gospels lack details which are geographically inappropriate (e.g. penguins roaming Jerusalem). This is relevant insofar as:

    1. On the standard model wherein the Gospel stories are legends and lies, they are more specifically legends and lies formed by Christians over time from various regions. (The idea is that nothing stopped stray Christian lies and embellishments from entering into the stream of stories passed down by word of mouth).
    2. But if the Jesus stories were lies formed by Christians over time from various regions, then we wouldn’t see the Jesus stories regularly containing esoteric information local to Palestine.
    3. So given the Gospels do spew esoteric Palestinian content, the standard skeptic’s model suffers a corresponding amount of disconfirmation. (On that model, these sorts of details and their distribution should not exist.)
  • The Gospels lack anachronisms

    a surprised 1st century shepherd finds a man jamming out on a guitar with an amplifier

    Rather than being anachronistic (with chronological absurdities), the words and themes in the Gospels are appropriate to the specific time of Jesus’s ministry in c. AD 30. This matters since on the standard legend model, the Gospel accounts are lies that were accrued by word of mouth as the stories of Jesus’s life, ministry, and death passed through Gentile regions and as more people converted to Christianity and spoke of him. But if that’s how Jesus-stories were forming, then historians would expect to see an abundance of accidental anachronisms (i.e. temporal absurdities).1 So the absence of any such anachronisms is evidence against the hypothesis that the Gospels have a non-negligable amount of legend in them which cropped up as Christianity spread.

    1. Anachronisms are a prime example:
      Martha Howell & Walter Prevenier: “The most interesting anachronisms are probably not, however, formal in this sense. They are mere slips, moments when the plagiarist or falsifier let his guard down and included a phrase, a reference, or, if a painter, perhaps a color that the avowed author or painter would not have used. A nineteenth-century Italian physician, Giovanni Morelli, made this argument explicitly, proposing that forgers of paintings tend to copy the most striking elements of the original very well (Mona Lisa's smile, for example), but miss small details-the earlobe. Thus, he concluded, scholars should focus on the small, the apparently insignificant, in search of clues for falsifications, whether of handwriting, literary style, or painting, because a forger will rarely be able perfectly to ape every element of the original and is likely to miss on the smaller, less obvious points. In many ways, this method parallels those employed in the clinical practice of psychiatry associated with Sigmund Freud and in Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories.” [From Reliable Sources (Cornell, 2001), 59f]
    2. In a full page, we analyze the major alleged time-place errors. They include:
      • Luke's Quirinius census-date is wrong.
      • Tomb’s wouldn’t have a round stone.
      • Galilee wouldn’t have Pharisees.
      • Palestinian garden’s didn’t have mustard seeds.
      • Palestine didn’t have cellars.
  • In general, Christian Jesus-bio was honest

    Rather than inventing Jesus-biography, Christians in AD 30-80 were usually or always honest in their core reporting of it.

    One page will analyze these 3 arguments

    • Christians circulated the 1st church’s Jesus-bio.
    • Christians would avoid lie-inventing Jesus-bio.
    • In general, early Christians didn’t invent/lie.

    This is relevant because in AD 30-70 there were relatively few Christians, and if no one was trying to dishonestly inject faked Jesus-bio into the church then the Jesus-bio we ultimately see Christians/churches circulating wouldn’t ultimately be lies/legends.