The Gospels as History

It is a question that is often asked: Are the Gospels "history" — are they literally true? Did all the events happen just as they are reported in the Scriptures?

The Scripture

John 18:35-38

Pilate asked, “Your own people and chief priests handed You over to me. What have You done?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world; if it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jews. But now, My kingdom is not of this realm.”

“Then You are a king!” Pilate said.

“You say that I am a king,” Jesus answered, “For this reason I was born and have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice.”

“What is truth?” Pilate asked.

Essential accompanying reading: About "those Jews.”

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Theology Thoughts by Deborah Beach Giordano

The Gospels as History

I’m inclined to place the Gospel passages which describe First Encounters under the heading of “Grandfather Stories”: collected from oral memories from early followers and first disciples as they were recalled.

Many of us have heard repeated versions of the past from our elders (and told some ourselves) particularly of significant events — and what could be more noteworthy than having met Jesus of Nazareth? Some are “enhanced” with the telling, all are told from the teller’s point of view. As we age (and, hopefully, mature), we gain insight into events and situations from our past: seeing how they helped to set our path, what we learned, how we changed.

So, is it history? Well, as we know, even capital aitch History carries a bias, assumptions, and mistakes (as do all retellings/ revisions).

For a scholarly but accessible overview of “the historical Jesus” there is John P. Meier’s A Marginal Jew — especially Volume One. There is also an outstanding book on this subject, written by Jacques Barzun, Clio and the Doctors: Psycho-History, Quanto-History and History, now out of print, but available in libraries and through used-book sellers such as

In (partial) response to Pilate's famous question: “What is truth?”, I would say that truth is our understanding of how and who influenced us, and what we experienced.

For many, many, many people — people who were literally willing to put their lives on the line — Jesus was Someone Special, unlike any they had ever known. Amazing stuff happened; people were healed and blessed and comforted. They had to tell someone, and they told many people, who were persuaded — AND experienced — that Something. An experience that continues to this day.

It also is part of the story (which doesn’t mean “lie,” but “retelling”) that, having experienced otherwise inexplicable things, those who were there resorted to metaphor and analogy — I think the prophets are particular examples of this. Did they “really” see fiery angels, was God literally anthropomorphic: a REALLY BIG GUY wearing a full-length robe that filled the temple? Or was that the nearest sense of WOW and awe that could even begin to convey the experience? I believe it was the latter. Our early ancestors were just as able to understand descriptive/ creative/ expressive language as we are. To insist on literal meaning in all things is … well, to try to dumb-down those who were there.

This is not to discount the Miracle Stories; as I’ve said; some seriously amazing stuff did happen, things that transformed peoples’ lives, restored their hope, encouraged and blessed them in ways unlike they had ever experienced.

May your life in Christ be seriously amazing,