The Gospels and the Historical Jesus

New Testament scholar Larry W. Hurtado offers some thoughts for why he believes the Gospels are reliable as a historical testimony to the life of Jesus Christ.  While some scholars try to undermine the authority of the Scriptures for establishing who Jesus is, and prefer to rely on Second Century gnostic documents to form their ideas of Jesus, Hurtado feels there is good reason to read the canonical Gospels as the most reliable witness to what Jesus did and what He taught.

“The narratives are also studded with individuals given specific identities. There are named figures such as Jesus’ twelve disciples and Jairus, Lazarus, Bartimaeus, Nicodemus, Barabbas, Caiaphas, and Pontius Pilate. But even un-named figures are identified specifically and memorably, such as the woman with the blood flow, the clever Syrophoenician woman with a daughter in need, the Gerasene man with a legion of demons, the woman who was ‘forgiven much’ and lavished her gratitude upon Jesus in a dining scene, the man with a demoniac son who confessed belief and his need of help in believing, and the scribe who was ‘not far from the kingdom.’ In short, this all amounts to a shared programmatic effort to locate Jesus in a specific historical, geographical, and cultural setting. It represents an insistence that the Jesus whom the writers and intended readers of these Gospels reverenced (who include Gentile and Jewish believers in various locations in the Roman world), and were to see as linked with God’s purposes in a unique way, is quite definitely Jesus of Nazareth. He is not some timeless symbol, not a mythical figure of ‘once upon a time,’ but instead very specifically a Jew whose life and activities are geographically and chronologically located in a particular place and period of Jewish history in Roman Judea.[…] He is not simply a powerful wonder-worker, an impressive teacher and debater, and/or a heroic leader of his followers; he is the special vehicle of the purposes of God, which involve (ultimately) the transformation of the world, the judgment of evil, and the vindication of those who ally themselves with God’s purposes.”   (Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, pp  266 + 269)