Unbelievable? Does Josephus’ Account of John the Baptist Invalidate the Gospels?

In an interview on Unbelievable? with Justin Brierley, I spoke with two skeptics and discussed apparent contradictions in the history offered by the Gospel authors when compared to non-Christian historians. One skeptic offered an objection related to the account of the beheading of John the Baptist. Although I had difficulty hearing and understanding his words through the telephone connection and his accent, his argument can be summed up succinctly: Josephus records the death of John the Baptist at a time in history that appears to be around 36AD, six years after the date commonly accepted for the crucifixion of Jesus. If Josephus’ record is accurate, John was executed after the Resurrection of Jesus, and the gospel accounts are wrong. This objection, along with an objection about the role and dating of Quirinius in the Gospel of Luke, formed the basis for his skepticism toward the Gospel accounts.

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Rapid Response: “The Gospels Are Unreliable”

In our Rapid Response series, we tackle common concerns about (and objections to) the Christian worldview by providing short, conversational responses. These posts are designed to model what our answers might look like in a one-on-one setting, while talking to a friend or family member. Imagine if someone made the following claim: “Even if the events recorded in the Gospels came from eyewitness accounts, why should we trust what eyewitnesses tell us? Even modern-day witnesses are notoriously unreliable and are often wrong about what they claim to have seen. Why should we trust ancient eyewitness accounts?” How would you respond to such an objection? Here is a conversational example of how I recently replied:

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Rapid Response: “The Gospels Have Been Altered”

In our Rapid Response series, we tackle common concerns about (and objections to) the Christian worldview by providing short, conversational responses. These posts are designed to model what our answers might look like in a one-on-one setting, while talking to a friend or family member. Imagine if someone made the following claim: “I can’t believe what the Gospels say because they were altered over the years.” How would you respond to such an objection? Here is a conversational example of how I recently replied:

“I understand the objection, because that was one of my first doubts as a skeptic. I held two suspicions as a committed atheist (I didn’t examine the Gospels until I was in my thirties). First, I didn’t think the Gospels were written early in history, because they contained so many miraculous stories. I was a committed philosophical naturalist and I rejected miracles. So, I figured the Gospels must have been written late in history, after all the people who knew the truth about Jesus were already dead and gone. Secondly, even if the Gospels were written early, I suspected the supernatural elements were inserted later. I believed the earliest versions of the Gospel accounts were probably much less supernatural. Maybe, in the first versions of the story, Jesus was a simple guy who was a good teacher, but not a miracle worker. He didn't walk on water and didn't rise from the dead; all those elements, in my opinion, were inserted later.

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Why Making a Case for the Bible Is More Important Than Arguing About Politics

We’ve just experienced an unprecedentedly contentious and polarizing political season. Throughout this time, I’ve been tempted to enter the fray, especially on social media, where I’ve observed several heated exchanges between my friends and family members. I refrained from commenting or arguing about politics, however, and a few of my followers have asked why I’ve been so silent on the issues that seem to divide our nation. It’s not that I don’t have a view I would like to share, and it’s not that I feel incompetent to express my views. I simply understand the real battle: If everyone held an accurately informed Christian worldview, the number (and degree) of disputes over the issues facing our country would be dramatically reduced. In other words, if people took the Bible as seriously as they took their political positions, we’d probably agree on almost everything.

If you’re in disagreement with an unbelieving friend or family member, you shouldn’t be surprised. They probably reject the Bible (and what it teaches) altogether. If you’re in disagreement with a believing friend or family member, you also shouldn’t be surprised. They may not take their Bible any more seriously than an unbeliever. They may not be reading it, or might not be reading it seriously enough to develop an accurately informed Christian worldview. In either case, our disagreements are rooted in our view of the Bible; if we disagree, it’s because we either don’t understand or don’t accept what the Bible teaches.

That’s why I spend more time making the case for the reliability of the Bible to unbelievers, and the correct interpretation of the Bible to believers, than I do arguing about our respective social. Moral or political views. If my goal is agreement, it’s more important to address the cause of our disagreement than the disagreement itself. It all comes down to helping people understand why it’s important to take the Bible seriously:

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Rapid Response: “I Think the Disciples Lied About the Resurrection”

In our Rapid Response series, we tackle common concerns about (and objections to) the Christian worldview by providing short, conversational responses. These posts are designed to model what our answers might look like in a one-on-one setting, while talking to a friend or family member. Imagine if someone said, “I can’t trust what the New Testament says about Jesus. I think the disciples (or whoever wrote the Gospels) lied about Jesus and the Resurrection.” How would you answer such an objection? Here is a conversational example of how I recently responded:

“When I was an atheist, one of the reasons I rejected the claims of the Gospels was a similar distrust in the testimony of the authors.

Rapid Response: You Can’t Trust the Gospels Because They Were Written by Christians

In our Rapid Response series, we tackle common concerns about (and objections to) the Christian worldview by providing short, conversational responses. These posts are designed to model what our answers might look like in a one-on-one setting, while talking to a friend or family member. Imagine if someone said, “I can’t trust what the New Testament says about Jesus: after all, it was written by biased Christians. I can only believe what’s been written by ancient non-Christians, and they don’t say much about Jesus.” How would you answer such an objection? Here is a conversational example of how I recently responded:

“When I hear someone demand an ancient non-Christian authority, I immediately recognize the objection for what it is: a complaint about the historical reliability of the Gospels. Some skeptics think you can’t trust the New Testament because it was written by people who were friends of Jesus. They assume those who were close to Jesus would lie about (or exaggerate) the details of his life and ministry. But the Gospel accounts have to be assessed based on their own historical merit, and we have to remember the nature of their authors. Let me give you an example from a case I worked many years ago.

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Rapid Response: You Can’t Trust the Gospels Because There Are Variations Between the Ancient Manuscripts

In our Rapid Response series, we tackle common concerns about (and objections to) the Christian worldview by providing short, conversational responses. These posts are designed to model what our answers might look like in a one-on-one setting, while talking to a friend or family member. How would you respond if someone said, “I don’t trust the Gospels because I know we don’t have the originals and there are tons of ‘variants’ between the ancient manuscripts we do have”? Here is a conversational example of how I recently responded to this objection:

“I understand this objection; there are many places in the Gospels where scribes over the centuries made small changes, either intentionally or unintentionally, resulting in a different word or passage. These resulting variations can seem problematic, for sure. Some skeptics claim we can't trust any of the New Testament because of the presence of these differences.

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You Can Trust the Gospel Accounts, Even If They Don’t Agree

In the upcoming movie, God’s Not Dead 2, I was asked to defend the historicity of Jesus and the eyewitness reliability of the Gospels. Skeptics sometimes challenge the gospels because there appear to be differences between the accounts. As a skeptic myself, investigating the gospels for the first time at the age of thirty-five, I also observed the discrepancies between the gospels. These differences didn’t, however, automatically disqualify them for me. If there’s one thing my experience as a detective has revealed, it’s that witnesses often make conflicting and inconsistent statements when describing what they saw at a crime scene.

Did the “Virgin Conception” First Appear Late in History?

Some critics have argued the "virgin conception" of Jesus is a late mythological addition attributed to Christian believers many centuries after the fact. These skeptics presume, of course, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written far later than the 1st Century, when eyewitnesses would have been available to refute the additional mythology. The history of the early Church reveals, however, that the "virgin conception" was recognized and accepted very early in history. The first opponents of Christianity recognized that Mary gave birth to Jesus without an identified earthly father and claimed that Jesus was, therefore, illegitimate. Celsus (a Greek philosopher and opponent of Christianity) echoed this charge in the 2nd Century in his work entitled, "The True Discourse". It's clear that the issue of Jesus' parentage was an early concern, and the first believers were committed to the idea of the "virgin conception":

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Are the Birth Narratives in Luke and Matthew Late Additions?

Many critics, in an attempt to discredit the "virgin conception", have argued that the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are simply late additions that were not present in the first versions of the gospels. These claims are typically based on (1) Efforts to find stylistic differences between the birth narratives and the rest of the text, and (2) Efforts to find subject shifts that occur immediately after the birth narratives and the remainder of the text. But these approaches to the Gospels fails to demonstrate the birth narratives are late additions for the following reasons:
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