The Gospels—Fact or Fiction?
SO-CALLED higher critics have long attacked the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life on several fronts: They claim that these accounts are full of contradictions and were written too long after the events to be valid history. They dismiss the miraculous elements as mere fabrications.
In his book Caesar and Christ, historian Will Durant endeavored to examine the Gospel accounts from a purely objective viewpoint—as historical documents. Admitting that there are seeming contradictions and problems in the Gospel accounts, he nonetheless concluded: “The contradictions are of minutiae [trivial details], not substance; in essentials the synoptic gospels agree remarkably well, and form a consistent portrait of Christ.”
But what of the claims of higher critics that the Gospels do not meet the criteria of real history? Continued Durant: “In the enthusiasm of its discoveries the Higher Criticism has applied to the New Testament tests of authenticity so severe that by them a hundred ancient worthies—e.g., Hammurabi, David, Socrates—would fade into legend. Despite the prejudices and theological preconceptions of the evangelists, they record many incidents that mere inventors would have concealed—the competition of the apostles for high places in the Kingdom, their flight after Jesus’ arrest, Peter’s denial . . . No one reading these scenes can doubt the reality of the figure behind them.”
Historian Durant concluded: “That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels. After two centuries of Higher Criticism the outlines of the life, character, and teaching of Christ, remain reasonably clear, and constitute the most fascinating feature in the history of Western man.”