Apologists vs. Paulogia and Kamil Gregor: Are the Gospels authentic and are they reliable?

The last few weeks have seen the release of some excellent videos by both defenders and skeptics of the authenticity and reliability of the Gospels. In this post, I’ve decided to collect the best recent articles and videos I’ve seen on both sides, and put them all in one place, where readers can weigh up the evidence for themselves. My work features recent videos on the “names statistics” argument for the reliability of the Gospels, highlighting the recent work of two skeptics, Professor Brian Blais and Dr. Kamil Gregor (who appear in Paulogia’s videos) and a critique by Christian apologist Dr. Lydia McGrew, as well as a five-part series on a new book titled, The Historical Tell: Patterns of Eyewitness Testimony in the Gospel of Luke and Acts by Dr. Luuk Van de Weghe, a New Testament scholar who defends both the authenticity and reliability of Luke’s accounts. My own comments on each episode of the series, in which Dr. Van de Weghe is interviewed by Cameron Bertuzzi on his Capturing Christianity blog, are also shown below. Enjoy!

The Skeptical Side

“How We Know Acts is a Fake History” [April 21, 2023] by Dr. Richard Carrier. Carrier, who is a classical historian, responds to claims by Neo-Christian theologian Greg Boyd on the book of Acts being “a reliable history.”

“Do the ‘We’ Passages in Acts Indicate an Eyewitness Wrote It?” [April 9, 2023] by Dr. Richard Carrier. In this article, Dr. Carrier addresses the question of why the narrative in Acts suddenly changes from a third person account to a first person plural account at three points in the latter half of the book. Dr. Carrier argues that this usage is a literary device, and that “we” is meant to represent the whole Christian body of believers.

“What This Scholar Got WRONG About Bible Names” [October 17, 2023] by Paulogia (featuring Czech data analyst Dr. Kamil Gregor and his Ph.D. supervisor, Professor Brian Blais, who is currently a Professor of Science and Technology at Bryant University).
From the description:
“A recent peer-reviewed paper critically examines an argument made by biblical scholar Richard Bauckham that the distribution of names in the Gospels matches what we’d expect if they were based on eyewitness testimony. It points out flaws in Bauckham’s data and analysis, and presents new statistical tests showing his conclusions don’t follow from the data.”

“Who REALLY wrote the Gospels?” [November 17, 2023] by Paulogia.
From the description:
“The gospels, comprising the first four books of the Christian New Testament, serve as the primary source of information about the life of Jesus. Their reliability is often attributed to the assumption that they were written by eyewitnesses. But, who actually wrote the gospels, and how do we know?”

“Why Gospel Authorship CANNOT Be Correct” [December 20, 2023] by Paulogia, featuring Dr. Kamil Gregor, a Czech data analyst (a response to this video by Christian apologist Michael Jones of Inspiring Philosophy).
From the description:
“The traditional understanding is that the four biblical gospels were written by apostles or their close companions. But most scholars today believe these attributions were added much later and that all four gospels originally circulated anonymously. In this in-depth analysis, we dive into the historical evidence surrounding gospel authorship. Looking at ancient Christian writings and the gospels themselves, we unpack the case for and against traditional authorial claims. Examining the work of early church leaders like Papias and Irenaeus, we reveal how little early Christians actually knew about the origins of texts they held sacred. Mapping out the development of gospel titles and attributions, we discover why critical scholars conclude the surviving authorial claims were a second-century editorial decision rather than historical fact.”

“The Flimsy Folklore of Gospel Authorship” [March 20, 2024] by Paulogia.
In this devastating takedown, Paulogia responds to critics of his videos attacking the claims that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the Gospels. Interestingly, these critics now agree that most of the Gospels were group compositions, and that the traditional authors (who are only attested from 180 A.D.) only had a hand in producing them.

Gospel Names DON’T Prove Eye-witness Accounts: Dr. Richard Bauckham WRONG [October 18, 2023] – a Mythvision panel discussion between Derek Lambert (the host), Professor Brian Blais, Dr. Kamil Gregor and Paulogia.
From the description:
“This video critically examines the research of biblical scholar Richard Bauckham, particularly focusing on his studies on name distribution in the Gospels. The authors contend that Bauckham’s data and methodology warrant further scrutiny, suggesting potential limitations in his conclusions. They further explore the implications of his work, considering its impact on biblical historicity claims. Noting Bauckham’s prominence among certain evangelical circles, the authors aim to provide a balanced academic review to ensure rigorous scholarly standards are upheld.”

“The Gospels are Not Histories” by Richard C. Miller (Mythvision podcast, December 31, 2023).
A response to Dr. Luuk Van de Weghe’s book, “The Historical Tell.” Dr. Miller, who is an adjunct professor at Chapman University in the Department of Religious Studies, makes the telling point that ancient histories listed the names of the eyewitnesses to the events they narrated, and clearly distinguished “history proper” from mere legends by using phrases like “They say,” for the latter. The Gospels, by contrast, do none of these things. Consequently, it would be a mistake to view them as histories.

Head-to-Head Debates

Peter J Williams vs Bart Ehrman on Justin Brierley’s show, “Unbelievable”: “The story of Jesus: Are the Gospels historically reliable?” [October 25, 2019]
A good debate, but a little dated, as we now have good grounds for believing that the Gospels are not as reliable when it comes to names as many Christian apologists allege.

The Believers’ Side

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Eerdmans; Second edition (2017)) by Dr. Richard Bauckham, professor emeritus of New Testament studies at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.

“Names in the Gospels: Evidence for Their Reliability” [March 6, 2021] by Erik Manning (Testify).
From the description:
“Skeptics often say that Gospel writers were writing far away, long after the events they record. But one way we know the Gospel writers were familiar with the setting they’re writing about comes in the form of their awareness of personal names. This is a sneaky- good and underrated argument for the reliability of the Gospels.”

“Are the Gospels Historically Accurate?” [February 12, 2023] by Dr. Peter Williams.
From the description:
“Peter Williams is the Principal of Tyndale House Cambridge and a lecturer on Hebrew language at the University of Cambridge. He earned his M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge studying ancient languages related to the Bible. In this lecture, Peter … talks about names used, locations referenced, stories from the Gospels and many others to showcase the legitimacy and accuracy of these books.”

“Who Wrote the Gospels?” [September 9, 2023] by Michael Jones (Inspiring Philosophy).
From the description:
“Are the Gospels anonymous? Many scholars say the titles were only added long after they were written, but what does the evidence say?”

Dr. Lydia McGrew defends the names statistics argument for the reliability of the Gospels and Acts

“The Name Statistics Argument 1: What’s it all about?” [December 11, 2023] by Dr. Lydia McGrew.
From the description:
“I give a brief overview of the name statistics argument for the Gospels and Acts as found in the work of Richard Bauckham, Peter Williams, and others. I also give a brief overview of the recently published critique by Kamil Gregor and Brian Blais. Over the next weeks I’ll be talking about some things I see right away as problems with Gregor and Blais’s critique.”

“The Name Statistics Argument 2: Mutilating the sample” [December 18, 2023] by Dr. Lydia McGrew.
From the description:
“I critique a central pillar of Blais and Gregor’s attempted refutation of Richard Bauckham’s name statistics argument: They remove from the sample of persons in the Gospels and Acts any person whose existence is attested in other documents–specifically Josephus, the acknowledged Pauline epistles, and Papias. This reduces the sample of persons from the Gospels and Acts from 79 to 53. They justify this strange procedure on the grounds that they themselves do not contest the existence of these persons, due to their outside attestation, as if it were simply obvious that therefore their occurrence in the Gospels and Acts is simply irrelevant to the name statistics argument so that they should be removed from the sample. I argue that this is an important mistake.”

“The Name Statistics Argument 3: Some effects of mutilating the sample

Name statistics argument 12: Can the argument be (Macca)beaten?
“Do the books of Maccabees and the popularity of Maccabean names help to explain away the name statistics evidence for the historicity of the Gospels and Acts?”

Name statistics argument 14: Josephus

“Do the Gospels Contain Eyewitness Testimony? | The Historical Tell” – A Five-Part Series on Capturing Christianity

Finally, here’s a recent five-part series on the reliability of Luke-Acts, in which Cameron Bertuzzi of Capturing Christianity interviews New Testament scholar Dr. Luuk Van de Weghe, author of The Historical Tell: Patterns of Eyewitness Testimony in the Gospel of Luke and Acts (Deward Publishing, 2023). I have included my replies to each part, which can be found in the comments.

Episode 1 (December 26, 2023)

My reply:

Hi Cameron. As a fellow Catholic, I really hate to say this, but you have been badly misled. Please consider the evidence. I urge you to check out the following links. They will change your mind, I can promise you, and they convincingly demolish the traditional arguments that the Gospels contain eyewitness testimony.

1. “Why Gospel Authorship CANNOT Be Correct” (featuring Dr. Kamil Gregor, a Czech data analyst) – a response to Christian apologist Michael Jones (whose Youtube video can be found here). Gregor’s rebuttal is compelling, and about as thorough as you could possibly hope for. (I think you’ll be fascinated to hear what Dr. Kamil Gregor has to say about Papias, starting at 1:08:18. Suffice it to say that Gregor makes a strong case that the documents Papias attributes to Matthew and Mark were not the Gospels we now possess but a collection of sayings similar to the Gospel of Thomas, and a collection of Peter’s sermons, some of which are cited in Acts.)

2. “How We Know Acts is a Fake History” by Dr. Richard Carrier, who is not a Biblical scholar but who is nonetheless a trained classical historian. The case he makes is devastating, and you might also like to read his response to a query I addressed to him, in the readers’ comments. Carrier also points out the the current scholarly consensus is that Luke & Acts were written between the early 90s and the 130s, with the 110s being the most probable time. In another article, titled, “Do the ‘We’ Passages in Acts Indicate an Eyewitness Wrote It?”, Carrier argues that the author of Acts used the Odyssey as a model. According to Carrier, “it was a popular literary style to narrate sea adventures in the first person plural, even in the midst of narratives otherwise given in the third person, or even first person singular.”

3. “Three Things to Know about New Testament Manuscripts” by Dr. Richard Carrier. This article does an excellent job of rebutting the claim that we have 5,800 New Testament manuscripts. His graph puts this claim in perspective: most of these manuscripts are less than 1,000 years old. Also, Carrier argues that all the New Testament manuscripts we currently possess are derived from a single edition of the New Testament, put together around 150 A.D., although many of the books were written decades earlier. This edition rapidly displaced other editions that were floating around. The person(s) who produced this edition also named the four Gospels. Carrier concludes: “Three things you should know about the New Testament manuscripts…their number is useless, they all come from the same late and flawed edition, and they are more riddled with error and distortion than the most competently transmitted of secular texts would have been.”

4. “What This Scholar Got WRONG About Bible Names” (featuring Dr. Kamil Gregor and his Ph.D. supervisor, Brian Blais) – a refutation of the argument made by Richard Bauckham in his book, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.” Dr. Gregor has published a peer-reviewed paper on the subject. Once again, Gregor’s rebuttal is absolutely devastating.

5. “Allegorical Characters with Common Names in the Alexander Romance and the Gospels” by Dr. Matthew Ferguson, who has a Ph.D. in classics. Ferguson points out that Greek popular-novelistic biographies, which were clearly allegorical, such as the Alexander Romance, contained names that were common in 5th-4th century B.C. Greece. That does not make them historical.

6. “Who published the New Testament?” by Dr. David Trobisch, a German Lutheran Bible scholar. Trobisch argues that the New Testament was published in pretty much its present form (27 books) by Polycarp of Smyrna, between the years 156 and 168.

By the way, if you still think Papias is a reliable source of information about the apostles and about the Gospels, please read Bart Ehrman’s “Jesus Before the Gospels” (HarperCollins, 2016, pp. 111-118). You can see for yourself that he’s given to making bizarre claims, by reading the Fragments of Papias (especially parts III, IV and VI).

Cheers, and happy New Year.

Vincent Torley

Episode 2 (December 29, 2023)

My reply:

Hi Cameron. Thank you for taking the trouble to view Kamil Gregor and Brian Blais’s online critique of Bauckham’s arguments, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIMl4zlNMIA . However, you and I seem to have come to diametrically opposite conclusions. Why is this? What divides us, I believe, is epistemology. Please allow me to briefly explain.

1. Kamil Gregor and Brian Blais authored a peer-reviewed 2023 article, “Is Name Popularity a Good Test of Historicity? A Statistical Evaluation of Richard Bauckham’s Onomastic Argument”, published in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, 21(3), 171-202. https://doi.org/10.1163/17455197-bja10023. Blais, who did the statistical work for the article, is a Professor of Science and Technology at Bryant University, with a Ph.D. in physics. Among the subjects he teaches is statistical inference. In attempting to rebut his arguments, you cite the opinion of Dr. Lydia McGrew, whose Ph.D. is in English literature, that Blais’s methodology is “highly misguided.” I will acknowledge that Dr. McGrew is knowledgeable about Bayes’ Theorem, but we are not discussing Bayes here. Whom should I believe: a peer-reviewed Professor of Science and Technology or an apologist who has published peer-reviewed articles, but whose Ph.D. is in another field and who is not a statistician?

2. In any case, Gregor and Blais explain their reasoning carefully in their video. I majored in pure mathematics as part of my Bachelor of Science degree, and I also studied statistics for two years as part of my Bachelor of Economics degree at Australian National University. I could not fault the authors’ logic.

3. You ask why, if the names in the Gospels are invented, the Gospel authors appropriately disambiguate common names, like Mary, Simon, and Joseph, by calling them Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter, or Joseph of Arimathea, but they don’t do this with rarer names. However, as Gregor and Blais point out in their video, first-century Palestinian Jews had a marked tendency to give their sons the names of Maccabean leaders, like Simon, Judas and John. Even people outside Palestine would have known about this – especially since Diaspora Christians were regularly exchanging letters with Jewish Christians in Palestine.

4. You omit to mention powerful evidence uncovered by Gregor and Blais against Bauckham’s thesis that the names in the Gospels and Acts are authentic: namely, that there are too few characters with rare names in the Gospels and Acts. Gregor and Blais point out that there are only four rare names in the Gospels and Acts, and the likelihood of this being the case if Bauckham’s thesis is true is only about 1%. The names Simon, James and Joseph are over-represented in the Gospels and Acts. If, on the other hand, some of the names in the Gospels and Acts are invented, then this fact is easy to account for: rare names were less likely to be known and therefore less likely to be used for invented characters, leading to a preponderance of more popular and more well-known names.

5. Another point you fail to address is that Gregor and Blais have recently written a forthcoming paper, in which they show that if we compare the Gospels and Acts with two corpora that are known to contain quite a lot of fictional names of first-century Palestinian Jews – namely, Christian apocryphal works and the Babylonian Talmud (which includes some fictional individuals), we find that the distribution of names in the Gospels and Acts is no better (in terms of statistical significance) than the other two corpora, which include fictional characters. Indeed, in some ways (e.g. rare vs. popular names), it’s actually worse.

6. You argue that Luke, rather than relying on Josephus decades later, was a contemporary of Paul and his traveling companion. Nothing else can satisfactorily explain how he gets so many incidental details right in the Acts of the Apostles. Allow me to quote classical historian Dr. Richard Carrier’s blog article, “How We Know Acts Is a Fake History” (21 April 2023): “The only details Luke gets right a lot are details with no actual connection to Christianity (like ‘matters of Roman imperial and senatorial provinces,’ from geography to laws and administration) … So that he gets incidental details right that have themselves nothing to do with Christian history tells us nothing about his accuracy in the rest. Those could all be gotten from reference books in any public library, which were in every major city under the Empire.” In a response to a query of mine in the comments, Carrier adds that “there were tons of reference books and public acta and histories, a thousand times more than just the Antiquities… Hence, for example, much of his material for the Aegean region almost certainly comes from a historian of the Aegean.” As a Catholic, I’m quite happy to grant that the author of Acts may have been drawing on a Christian travelogue written by a companion of Paul. However, I think Carrier’s evidence that this author of Acts got certain historical details from Josephus is strong – especially the Theudas episode – so I am inclined to doubt that the author was himself was a traveling companion of Luke.

7. Finally, you make no attempt to deal with passages where Acts clearly contradicts Paul, instead of dovetailing with his account. For example, Galatians 1:18 says that Paul didn’t visit Jerusalem until three years after his conversion experience, while Acts 9:23 says it was much sooner: after many days had gone by. This is but one of the many contradictions highlighted in Carrier’s article.

I believe you’ve attached too great a significance to the trivial details relating to names in the Gospels and Acts, while overlooking the big picture: they don’t fit the distribution we’d expect as they have too few rare names, and the historical details that they do get right could have been verified at any public library at the time they were written. However, I’ll let our readers judge between us, Cameron.

Once again, I’d like to wish you and your family a Happy New Year.

Best wishes,

Vincent Torley

Episode 3 (January 5, 2024)

My reply:

Hi Cameron,

Happy New Year! I hope you had a pleasant break. I have to say this is your best-produced video so far, in this five-part series. The most interesting part for me was the section dealing with Semitisms in Luke. I was intrigued to hear that these Semitisms are five times (400%) more common in sections of Luke’s Gospel which have no parallels in Matthew and Mark. I looked into that, and I’m happy to report that Van de Weghe is correct. I should mention, however, that even scholars who assign Luke a date of 80 to 90 A.D. (or later) are willing to allow that some of his sources (including a source unique to Luke, known as L) are quite old, and may well date to before 70 A.D.

That said, I have a few criticisms.

1. In the video, Dr. Craig Keener defines the phrase, “within living memory,” as “within 60 to 80 years of the events narrated.” He argues that the four Gospels meet this criterion, since they were composed within the first century. It seems that Keener’s position is much more in keeping with mainstream scholarship than that of Van de Weghe, who wishes to argue that Luke and Acts were composed around 60 to 62 A.D., and Mark and Matthew, even earlier. This is very much a minority view among scholars today. In a cogently argued article titled, “When Were the Gospels Written and How Can We Know?” (July 24, 2017), lawyer-turned-firefighter Doston Jones makes a strong case that Luke’s Gospel was written late in the first century, based on Luke’s anachronistic assertion that an empire-wide census was held at the time of Jesus’ birth – a practice first instituted by Vespasian and Titus in the year 74 A.D. Let me quote from the online commentary on Luke 2, approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: “Although universal registrations of Roman citizens are attested in 28 B.C., 8 B.C., and A.D. 14 and enrollments in individual provinces of those who are not Roman citizens are also attested, such a universal census of the Roman world under Caesar Augustus is unknown outside the New Testament. Moreover, there are notorious historical problems connected with Luke’s dating the census when Quirinius was governor of Syria, and the various attempts to resolve the difficulties have proved unsuccessful.” These inaccuracies make it highly doubtful that Luke’s infancy narrative is based on the testimony of an eyewitness.

2. Bart Ehrman’s book, “Jesus before the Gospels” (HarperOne, 2017, paperback) draws on a wealth of evidence, including scholarly investigations of oral traditions, to show that stories get altered over time. New Testament scholar Theodore Weeden investigated some allegedly accurate Middle Eastern traditions “and showed decisively that they were not preserved with anything like verbatim, or even general, accuracy… Some of the different retellings of the story were so full of discrepancies and variations that it is hard to believe they were actually the same story” (2017, p. 76). For example, stories about an Egyptian missionary, John Hogg, underwent massive transformation between 1914 and the 1960s: “The stories were vastly different. The episodes were radically changed. The events were altered” (2017, p.77). Thus when Craig Keener speaks of an “oral archive,” he betrays his ignorance of Ehrman’s valuable work on the unreliability of human memory and the creativity of human storytelling in orally based cultures.

3. You mentioned 1 Corinthians 15 and its list of witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. You really need to read Ryan Turner’s article, “An Analysis of the Pre-Pauline Creed in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11” (an article written for the Christian Apologetics Research Ministry). Turner points out that although the creed is very old, it was originally far shorter than the version found in St. Paul’s letter. Most contemporary scholars think the original form ended at verse 5 and went like this: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” There was nothing in this short original creed about an appearance to the 500 or to James or all the apostles. Furthermore, Van de Weghe’s contention that the pre-Pauline comes from a Semitic source is refuted by numerous lines of evidence described in Turner’s article. In fact, there’s positive evidence for a Hellenistic source. To quote Turner: “First, the reference to kata tas graphas (according to the scriptures) is likely from a Jewish Hellenistic church. Second, te hemera te trite (he was raised on the third day) corresponds exactly to Hosea 6:2 in the Septuagint. Third, opthenai “became something of a technical term for revelation, and hence was an obvious term for references to the resurrection appearances . . .” in passages such as Luke 24:24, Acts 9:17, 13:31, 26:16.” And there’s more. Turner concludes: “Due to the above arguments, it does not seem likely that the creedal material Paul cites took final shape in a Jewish milieu.56 In the present form it seems not to have definite signs of a Semitic original. Paul definitely developed the creed.”

4. Van de Weghe also mentioned the calling of Peter in Luke 5:1-11, as evidence that Luke was drawing on the eyewitness testimony of Peter. Ask yourself first: why does Mark (who was, according to Papias, Peter’s secretary) omit this incident, and offer us a different account of Peter’s calling? Compare Mark 1:16-20 with Luke 5:1-11 and you’ll see what I mean. In Mark, it is James and John who have a boat, and they are called after Jesus calls Simon and Andrew. But let that pass. Here’s what the online commentary on Luke 5, approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says about Luke’s story of Peter’s calling: “Many commentators have noted the similarity between the wondrous catch of fish reported here (Lk 5:4–9) and the post-resurrectional appearance of Jesus in Jn 21:1–11. There are traces in Luke’s story that the post-resurrectional context is the original one: in Lk 5:8 Simon addresses Jesus as Lord (a post-resurrectional title for Jesus — see Lk 24:34; Acts 2:36 — that has been read back into the historical ministry of Jesus) and recognizes himself as a sinner (an appropriate recognition for one who has denied knowing Jesus — Lk 22:54–62).” In other words, Luke’s account of Peter’s calling isn’t historical. Instead, it’s adapted from a different episode which really happened: the risen Jesus’ appearance to Peter and the disciples.

5. Craig Keener mentions Arrian’s and Plutarch’s biographies of Alexander the Great. He regards these accounts as inferior to Luke’s Gospel as they were written centuries later, whereas Luke’s account was written in the same century as Jesus. What he overlooks is that Arrian and Alexander relied on earlier sources that were contemporary with Alexander. Plutarch quoted from actual letters of Alexander and Olympias (III.7.6, III.8.1, III.17.8, III.20.9, III.22.2‑5, IV.27.8, V.39.7, VIII.55.7), and the Memoirs of Aristoxenos (III.4.4). His Life of Alexander also contains numerous stories of Alexander’s childhood, which he appears to have taken from a book called Alexander’s education, written by a Macedonian named Marsyas, who went to school with Alexander. As for Arrian, his sources in writing the Anabasis of Alexander were the lost contemporary histories of the campaign by Ptolemy and Aristobulus, and, for his later books, Nearchus, a Greek officer in Alexander’s army. Luke, by contrast, doesn’t quote his sources, even in his preface (Luke 1:1-4). As Professor Robyn Faith Walsh comments in an interview with Derek Lambert of Mythvision [5:24], “I wonder: who are those people who are claiming that they’re eyewitnesses? How do you know that that’s true, with eyewitnesses of eyewitnesses, right? That’s where you start to play that game of historical telephones. So when I read something like that, I am automatically dubious on multiple registers, if you see what I mean… If you encode an eyewitness, it’s a rhetorical strategy to say: there are people who were there… So, it’s hard to say what to make of eyewitnesses.”

Well, I think I’ve said enough for today. Over to you, Cameron. I’m looking forward to your next video.


Vincent Torley

Episode 4 (January 12, 2024)

My reply:

Hi Cameron,

Thanks once again for a very thought-provoking documentary episode. I’d just like to offer a few thoughts.

1. Jesus’ interrogation by Pilate in the Praetorium (John 18:33-38) must have been a private one. The Jews would not have entered the Praetorium, because it would have made them ceremonially unclean to eat Passover. Thus Joanna the wife of Chuza, whom you suggest may have been an eyewitness to some key events recounted in Luke’s Gospel, could not have witnessed Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus. (Joanna was a name among the Jews for a woman.) Nor could the Beloved Disciple (who was also Jewish) have witnessed the interrogation. By the way, the meaning of Luke’s “You say that I am,” in response to Pilate’s question, “Are you the King of the Jews?”, is disputed among scholars: it could be a “Hebraic idiom of affirmation” or “a cryptic way of answering,” where Jesus is saying he’s not a king in the conventional sense (see here). Nobody knows for sure.

2. Re the Last Supper: the dispute among the disciples recorded in Luke 22 about which of them was the greatest seems to explain the mysterious foot-washing episode in John 13. This could be an undesigned coincidence. Perhaps Luke was indeed relying on the oral testimony of the Beloved Disciple, as Dr. Lydia McGrew suggests. However, a critical flaw in this hypothesis is that John, throughout his Gospel, presents Jesus as the spotless Passover lamb, slain on the eve of the Passover (John 1:29, 1:36, 18:28, 19:16-37). Luke and the other Synoptics, on the other hand, depict Jesus as having been crucified on the Passover itself. Luke and John disagree on a fundamental point. Even the late Pope Benedict XVI recognized this contradiction, and opted for John in his biography of Jesus.

3. In this episode, you argue that Luke had access to John the Beloved Disciple, as an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry. But who was this person? You (and Van de Weghe) seem to be implying that John son of Zebedee was the Beloved Disciple, but you never say why. There are literally dozens of scholarly theories as to who this mysterious disciple was, and Richard Bauckham (whose work you cited in your first episode) believes he was actually Lazarus. The identity of an eyewitness matters, when assessing credibility. Let me give one example. Let’s suppose several teenagers claimed they’d seen a UFO land in a paddock. Would you believe them? Probably not. But if several respectable middle-aged people (e.g. a psychologist, a judge and a midwife) told you they’d seen the same thing, I imagine that you’d go and have a look. (Incidentally, there are strong grounds for believing that all of the apostles except Peter, who was married, were aged under 18. See this article by Jeff Grenell: “Were the disciples teenagers?”)

4. Supposing that the Beloved Disciple (whoever he or she may have been) was indeed an eyewitness to Jesus’ preaching and healing ministry, and spoke to Luke. Even so, Luke’s Gospel is reliant on memories that are decades old, and hence frequently unreliable, as Bart Ehrman demonstrates in his book, “Jesus before the Gospels” (HarperOne; Reprint edition, 2017) and as psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons show in their best-selling book, “The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us” (Harmony; Reprint edition, 2011).

5. In the final part of this episode, Van de Weghe contrasts the attitude of the skeptic who rejects Luke and Acts out of hand with that of the open-minded seeker after truth who is prepared to credit miracle reports based on the testimony of eyewitnesses. But there’s an intermediate view: that of a cautious person who accepts supernatural reports only if they are based on the testimony of numerous credible eyewitnesses, who are publicly identified. The problem with the eyewitnesses in Luke and John is that they are rarely named as eyewitnesses to the events narrated in those Gospels. Historians of antiquity occasionally narrated miracles in their biographies, but whenever they did so, they named the eyewitnesses and critically evaluated the strength of their evidence – see Livy’s diffident account of the ascension of Romulus in his “History of Rome,” Book 1, chapter 16. From a purely historical standpoint, the testimony of the unnamed eyewitnesses in Luke’s and John’s Gospels is unreliable, and hence unsuitable for establishing the reality of miracles.

6. You argue that Luke’s Gospel is based on the recollections of John the Beloved Disciple. I note for the record that according to St. Irenaeus of Lyons, John’s Gospel was written last, after the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, respectively: “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also handed down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon his breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.” (Adv. Haer. III.1.1). Virtually every patristic source agrees with this order, although scholars today are virtually unanimous that Mark predates Matthew, and that Matthew was originally written in Greek. In any case, no Church Father thinks John’s Gospel predates Luke’s. To be sure, Luke may have been basing himself on John’s oral testimony (as Van de Weghe argues) rather than the Gospel of John, but wasn’t that Gospel written with the express purpose of presenting the testimony of the Beloved Disciple as an eyewitness to remarkable and miraculous signs wrought by Jesus? If Luke had already done that, then John’s Gospel would have been redundant.

I’ll leave it there for now. Thanks once again for stimulating a lively discussion, Cameron.

Best wishes,


Episode 5 (January 25, 2024)

My reply:

Hi Cameron. Congratulations on your final episode of “The Historical Tell” series. It was a good summing up. I’d just like to make a few quick comments.

1. There isn’t any scholarly consensus that the Gospels are fan fiction as Derek Lambert of Mythvision suggests, so in attacking his view, you are in no way undermining the current scholarly view of the Gospels.

2. Despite the fact that Matthew and Luke follow Mark closely, there are instances where they diverge significantly (especially Luke). One of these instances relates to the Resurrection of Jesus. William Lane Craig argues that because Luke was borrowing from Mark, he couldn’t have been contradicting Mark. That would only follow if Luke viewed Mark’s Gospel as inspired and infallible. However, there’s no evidence that he did. In Mark 16:7, Jesus says to the women at the tomb: “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” However, in Luke 24:49, on Easter Sunday, in Jerusalem, Jesus tells the eleven apostles, “But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (a reference to Pentecost, which is described in Acts 2). That’s a clear-cut contradiction. Luke is not skipping over the Galilean appearances, as Craig suggests; rather, he’s deliberately leaving no room for them. And to those readers who would suggest that Luke was using an accepted literary device in omitting the Galilean appearances, let them show me a parallel in the works of a pagan historian. There isn’t one.

3. You and Dr. Van de Weghe claim that Mark portrays Jesus as God. Really? Mark 1:1 calls Jesus “the Son of God” (although some manuscripts omit that phrase), but “Son of God” does not necessarily mean “God the Son.” The Emperors of Rome called themselves “Son of God.” In Mark 1:11, a voice from heaven says to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son,” but nowhere does Mark say that Jesus was God’s Son from all eternity. In Mark 2:5, Jesus says to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” However, the inference that people drew was not that Jesus was God (since only God can forgive sins), but that God must have delegated to a man (Jesus) the power to forgive sins. Matthew 9:8 (which narrates the same miraculous healing of the paralytic) even says as much: “When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” Moreover, in Mark 2:10, Jesus merely declares that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” That’s not universal authority; it’s limited to this world. And in Mark 10:18, Jesus says to the rich young man, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” The obvious implication is that Jesus is not God. Indeed, in Mark’s Gospel, the term “God” is used exclusively of the Father. In Mark 13:32, concerning the Last Day, Jesus says, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” It’s no use suggesting that Jesus knew the date of the Last Day in His Divine consciousness but not in His human consciousness. Mark knows nothing of the later Christian dogma that Jesus possessed two consciousnesses or intellects: a Divine Mind with unlimited knowledge and a human mind with limited knowledge. To ascribe such a view to him is an anachronism. Finally, in Mark 14:62, Jesus declares Himself to be the Son of the Blessed, and adds that “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Here, he’s depicting Himself as God’s right-hand man, and suggesting that He’ll one day be second only to God Himself – a view that the Jewish priests found blasphemous. Philippians 2:9 goes further and says that since His death on the cross, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” As Bart Ehrman pints out, what that means is that Jesus has been promoted from humanity to Divinity, not that He always was God. That’s a pretty high Christology, but it’s not Nicene.

4. What about Luke? Luke does indeed call Jesus “Lord,” but see my remarks above on Philippians 2. There’s no suggestion that Luke views Jesus as pre-existent. Indeed, in some manuscripts, Luke 3:22 (which describes Jesus’ baptism) has God declaring to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son; today I have begotten you.” Ehrman thinks this was the original reading. If he’s right, then Luke’s view of Jesus was unorthodox by today’s standards. Even if he’s wrong, there’s still Luke 1:35, where the angel Gabriel says to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God.” That is, Jesus is Son of God from His conception – a different view from John, who depicts Jesus as the Word of God from the beginning.

5. Dr. Luuk Van de Weghe cites the evidence from names as an argument for Luke’s historical reliability. I’ve discussed this in a previous comment, so I won’t rehash my views here. I will, however, say that while only certain people were allowed to access records of Senate proceedings, there was nothing to stop the author of Luke’s Gospel (and Acts) from going to a public library, where he could have freely accessed the historical information that he mentions in his narratives. Finally, I should not that Dr. Van de Weghe provides no evidence that Luke was a physician, as he asserts.

I shall stop there, and lay down my pen. Thank you for hearing me out, and best wishes for the future.

Take care,

Vincent Torley

4 thoughts on “Apologists vs. Paulogia and Kamil Gregor: Are the Gospels authentic and are they reliable?

  1. Wow, so many words.
    After 2000 years we are still arguing, at agonizing length, such basic questions as who wrote the gospels, etc etc.
    Why couldnt the creator of the universe organize things so that his message was communicated just a bit better than this ? And in future, as our spoken languages continue to mutate, the meaning of the biblical text will just blur even further.

  2. From my reading, there was some political disagreement over whether the “Official Truth” should reflect Paul’s celestial Jesus, or should create a new historical Jesus (for which there is no valid evidence). The latter policy position ended up winning out, so it’s no coincidence that the first century is a documentary desert, because the coalescing church elected not to preserve anything written by anyone during that period (except those letters of Paul that didn’t, quite, contradict this position).

    Now, this euhemerization faced the usual challenges, plunking a messiah down somewhere and somewhen in the past. That of course there could be no attesting materials documenting an imaginary messiah was a problem, but on the other hand there would be no competing viewpoints for the same reason. So Mark was free to conjure up the messiah preferred by the winning sects, except he couldn’t cite sources (there could be none, he was writing pure fiction). No names, no witnesses, no written competing positions, nothing that could be cross checked. And of course Mark was writing in a land far away from those events, in a language not used there. So no danger of someone popping up and saying “Hey, I was there and that stuff never happened.”

    Now, this approach wasn’t foolproof. The gospels do depict their Jesus as being quite notorious, as one would expect of someone who performed miracles before thousands of people. This leads to several serious problems: why would none of those people write anything about the events as eyewitnesses? Why would the church choose not to preserve such corroborating writings? Why would careful historians of the period, Jewish and Greek and Roman alike, somehow also not consider any widely witnessed miracles worth mentioning? Anything written about the gospel Jesus by any of those sources would have been invaluable, not selectively forgotten.

    Well, the Josephus problem was partly solved by simply interpolating the gospel Jesus into his history, and hope that nobody notices that this interpolation is inconsistent with Josephus’ vocabulary and style, and is stuck in where it doesn’t fit. The solution to the other historians was simply to not preserve their accounts covering the times and places where the gospels had their Jesus actively doing notorious things. Yes, this leaves very suspicious gaps in otherwise detailed histories, but failure to preserve their histories (for those times and places) is better than having people wonder why nobody outside the gospels ever noticed anything the gospels reported.

    And so, across the 4 gospels, we see the Official Jesus emerging and evolving, as embellishments are added to the story. Note that Paul’s Jesus wasn’t a person, but rather a celestial spirit taking on a human body for the purpose of tricking the devil. Paul mentions no locations, no exploits, nothing earthly. Some of his letters may have made his non-earthly Jesus spirit explicit, but we certainly wouldn’t expect those to be preserved. We only know much of what Paul wrote was not preserved.

    So the gospel Jesus is no more historical than Romulus, or Osiris, or Hercules (and biographies of those mythical characters were actually written!). Efforts to force the gospels to be historically accurate are a category error. The appropriate question is, did they effectively serve the purpose for which they were written. And they certainly did!

  3. Not sure what you’re asking for. The oldest relevant physical manuscript is about 1000 years old. Everything else we have is copies of copies of copies of copies (and the 1000-year-old manuscript is itself a copy of prior copies, etc.). In none of these copies do we find anything about the history of the early church. We in fact do have some not-particularly-relevant translated material from the dead sea scrolls, which give no indication that any of its authors ever heard of Christianity, or were aware of the developing church.

    Also preserved were some books and prophecies that don’t contradict the gospels (of course), but were not selected for inclusion in the bible. Which hints at some political disagreement as to what should be included. There are also internal hints of disagreement over church platforms. I have read that scholars today consider that there were four primary tribes involved, but I don’t know what they base this on.

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