What should we do with the Gospels?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: I’ve seen many scholars say some parts of the Gospels (specifically regarding Jesus’s birth, Baptism and crucifixion) as historical events, though they doubt other things (like miracles) that are recorded in the Gospels were not historically accurate and didn’t happen. This is referring to what scholars call “The Historical Jesus.” I’ve seen many Christians take this view. So, how should a Christian view the Gospels? Because it seems weird how the Gospels say “… and Jesus said” or “… and Jesus did” when he might’ve never actually said that or done those things.

Answer: My radar goes up every time I hear the phrase “the historical Jesus.” To me, it’s a euphemism. When they use this phrase they are saying that Jesus is arguably a great teacher and significant moral leader… but we don’t find any evidence that he is God. This is not a new idea, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been pushing this since their organization’s inception.

Our stand is that Jesus is both truly God and truly human and that he is the second person in the Trinity. This is often described as having a “high” Christology. I will admit that the Theanthropic Person and the Trinity are constructed doctrines — and that “owning” them takes some work. But I also believe we have warrant to believe in them.

The “search for the historical Jesus” was popularized through the Jesus Seminars ... which were too popular in the United States in the 80s and 90s. Although these seem to have run their course, the damage has been done. These “scholars” said that the historical Jesus was not Christianity’s Jesus... and you know what? We should always be checking that out!

(Click here to learn more about the Jesus Seminars.)

You see, as a methodology, we want to make sure that our doctrines and beliefs align with the best data and the best analysis of that data... lest we look like back-woods-Bible-thumpers. If all truth is God’s truth and no falsehood is God’s falsehood, then what is to fear in the search for truth? Nothing for the earnest seeker.

The problem is that many on both sides of the divide are not earnest seekers. They are looking to push new ideas or protect embedded ones. That is not how you look for truth. The Historical Jesus supporters began with the assumption that Jesus did not rise from the dead... despite the historical evidence that this is true. This is the pivot point of Christianity. The apostle Paul was clear: if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then our religion is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:12ff).

The conservative side has the same kind of problem, though... and I have to be careful not to assign it extra epistemological weight because I lean this way... and because I have the veridical testimony of the indwelling Holy Spirit. But when it comes to what can be textually and logically proven, I’m harder than most skeptics are on the Bible... and on doctrines... and on things in the Christian culture that ought not to be. But even though I am very hard on Christianity, I still find it to be the most reasonable choice. Besides, it makes for the hardiest worldview!

Christians should do with the Gospels what they do with all Scripture: understand that it is the inspired word of God (2 Timothy 3:16) — and that it is inerrant under the terms of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978). In technical terms, it is plenarily and verbally inspired by God. This means that every part is true and the whole of it is true. When Christians affirm this of the Bible, they affirm this of the Gospels too.

(Click here to read the Chicago statement. Click here to learn more about verbal plenary inspiration.)

I’m not saying that the Gospels should not be analyzed according to their genre or with a critical historical eye. We just have to work with God to understand them as part of the synergistic work that is the Bible... and certainly not take a starting point that is arbitrarily antagonistic to either God or objectivity.

But I cannot let this topic go without discussing what those on the outside can only see as circular reasoning. God affirms the Bible, and the Bible affirms God. If this were the only apologetics “trick” in our arsenal, we’d be sunk. Fortunately, we have plenty of extra-biblical arguments for the existence of God.

(Click here for links to those arguments.)

But there is another instance of ostensive circular logic... which is harder to explain to the unsaved person: the Holy Spirit. A Christian is a person who has become a child of God (John 1:12) … a person who has the indwelling Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). He or she is not a person who knows the Bible or natural theology… although those would not hurt!

Millions of people are saved through the testimony of other saved people who have never even seen a Bible. Salvation is coming to grips with sin... and laying that sin at the feet of Jesus… not at the feet of the Bible. Then, the Holy Spirit moves in (John 14:17) ... and life is never the same. The Bible is an important part of the Christian life, but it is not a deal-breaker for salvation… and different people will be at different points in their understanding of it as they grow in Christ.

So, here’s what outsiders see as circular but which we see as a properly basic condition for a Christian: the Holy Spirit testifies within us that the Scripture is true. But unbelievers do not have him as an indweller. He works on them from the outside… but this is not the same. You can see how this would seem like circular reasoning to outsiders... the Holy Spirit being the veridical proof of our having cooperated with the biblical Jesus Christ... and the Bible teaching how this happens?

So, what should a Christian do with the Gospels? Walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16) — and ignore the skeptics! … except we can’t… can we… not those of us who have the burden to explain things to ourselves and others. To Christians who are not convinced that the Bible is inspired and inerrant — and who have chosen not to pick that fight among their fellow believers — they are robbing themselves of peace (Psalm 119:165) … so I have one more recommendation with those people in mind.

Dr. Peter J Williams is the Principal at Tyndale House. He is a well-qualified champion of the Scriptures. Although he can be found all over the web, this discussion — Can we trust the gospels? - Critical Witness — is right on topic for this question… so I recommend that you listen.

(Click here to hear that talk by Peter Williams.)

Thank you again for submitting your question. God bless you.


(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20220124 What should we do with the Gospels?).

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)