Fr Dwight Longenecker writes:
Anyone who wishes to engage in a thoughtful and intelligent exploration of the Christian faith will have to ask whether the gospels are historically reliable. Can we believe that the stories in the gospels are a true and accurate account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth?
In answering this question the first thing to understand is what kind of documents the gospels are. To do this we have to first say what they are not. The gospels are not factual news reports. They are not a bald list of events and eyewitness testimony as might be compiled, say, in a police report: “Just the facts ma’am.” They are not typical biography or the work of a professional historian. Neither are the gospels academic historical documents which are cross referenced with multiple documentary, archeological and anecdotal evidence. They don’t pretend to be this kind of document, so it is ridiculous to blame them for not being so.
The gospels are actually totally unique documents. They are recorded accounts of personal experiences of multiple individuals from within a faith community. They are the written record of the stories told and sermons preached by the immediate followers of Jesus Christ about his life, teaching and death. They were recorded by the faith community that followed the teaching of Jesus and his disciples.
They differ in this respect, not only from every other type of historical document, but also from every other type of religious document. The Book of Mormon and the Koran purport to be dictated by an angel to the founder of the religion. Virtually every other book-based religion bases their religion on a book written by its founder. Jesus Christ never wrote a word. He didn’t leave a book with his teachings. Why this is important will become clear momentarily.