Questions Surrounding Jesus’ Birth/Part 5

By: Dr. John Ankerberg with various Scholars; ©{{{copyright}}}
Why Should We Trust the Information in the Gospels?

Ed. note: This article is based upon the transcript from programs produced by the John Ankerberg Show. Additional material has been added for this print version.

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Why Should We Trust the Information in the Gospels?

Dr. John Ankerberg: In the ABC Special The Search for Jesus, Peter Jennings stated, “On the question of where Jesus was born, only two Gospels even talk about it, and they tell it differently.” But this is not true. Matthew states: “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king.” Luke writes: “Joseph also went up from Galilee from the city of Nazareth to Judea to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem,” and then he tells us this is where Mary gave birth to her firstborn son. In light of these clear statements, one can’t help but wonder what motivates modern scholars to question the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. We talked about this with Dr. Ben Witherington, Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminar. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth.

Dr. Ben Witherington:[1] What they want to do is, they want to stress the differences in such a way that it then warrants the conclusion that since the birth narratives are sort of riddled with contradictions, then you know, we can assume that the rest of the stories that come after that have to be very critically scrutinized, and there’s only going to be a distinct minority of that evidence that could possibly be historically veracious. It sort of sets them up for a way of coming to the conclusion that only a distinct minority of the rest of the tradition is trustworthy.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Some of the other scholars say that the disciples, because they were Christians, just padded the case. Therefore the historical Jesus is different again from the Jesus of faith, because they just went on and made it up to talk about their own experience and to kind of impress the crowd. It was almost like an evangelistic tool to bring people in. What would you say to that?

Dr. Ben Witherington: Well, I would say that it takes, and it did take, in the first century A.D. a great deal of courage to be a Christian, and to claim that a crucified manual worker named Jesus from Nazareth, against all expectations, turned out to be the savior of the world. Now this is a fantastic claim. Early Jews were not looking for a crucified Messiah, so far as we can say. Greco-Roman persons were certainly not looking for a crucified manual worker being their Messiah. So here we have these people, evangelizing the world and claiming this is the truth that you need to know about: Jesus died and rose again, and this demonstrates who he is. It takes an awful lot of guts to put that message out there.
Now you can say an awful lot about what people are willing to live for, but what people are actually willing to die for is another question. These early Christians were prepared to die for an honest testimony about those facts. It’s hardly likely that these are things that they would make up about Jesus.

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  1. Dr. Ben Witherington: Ph.D. from University of Durham, England; currently Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary. Author of The Jesus Quest, The Christology of Jesus and Jesus the Sage.


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