Are the Gospels Biased?

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Are the gospels biased? This is a common objection brought against the reliability of the evangelists. Did the authors have an agenda when writing about Jesus? Since many assume we cannot trust, let’s say politicians with an agenda, than we cannot trust the gospels. Since Matthew and the others had an agenda then they could not report the facts about Jesus accurately. Thus, the gospels are not reliable. Does having a bias distort the facts? Can someone have an “agenda” and still report things fairly and accurately? Or does being biased always lead to inaccuracies? These are the questions that we will look at in this article.

The Bias of the Gospels 

It is agreed by both conservative and liberal scholars that the primary focus of the Gospels was theology, and not merely history. As Bible scholar Mark Roberts says, “In the language of our contentious world, the Gospel writers had an agenda. They were writing theology, not raw history (as if there were such a thing).”[1] It is clear that the Gospel writers had no hidden agenda. Matthew 1:1 states that Jesus is the Christ and Mark 1:1 speaks of the good news of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God. The beginning of Luke is the clearest:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

John says something similar (although towards the end of his Gospel):

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

It is pretty clear that the gospels are not very neutral in reporting the details about Jesus’ life. Roberts notes, “The Gospels are, without a doubt, theologically motivated writings, composed for pastoral, evangelistic, or apologetic purposes, or some combination of the three.”[2] If this is the case than how can we trust the Gospels to be historically reliable? Wouldn’t this color their views of who Jesus was and what he did during his life?

It must first be admitted that it is possible to have theology and ideology separated from history. Examples include any kind of mythology such as the Greek, Roman, or Norse. There are even parts of the Bible that do not require theology and history to be mixed. For example, there does not need to have been a real Good Samaritan in order for Jesus’ theological point to be true.[3] However, the Gospels (and most of the Bible for that matter) present themselves as more than just a bunch of made up stories to present a theological point. Luke‘s prologue is similar to other prologues of historians from that period of time. Roberts makes an excellent point:

“The evangelists wrote reliable history because they cared about what had happened in the past. And why did they care about the past? Because their theology was anchored in past events. After all, one cannot very well believe that salvation came through the atoning death of Jesus if that death didn’t really happen. A nice story about a dying Messiah just wouldn’t cut it.”[4]

It is clear in John 1:14 that John really believed that Jesus was God in the flesh when he says that Jesus “lived among us.” Roberts continues, “Moreover, it’s theology that leads one to care about history. Believe that Jesus was really God in the flesh and you’ll pay close attention to what he actually did and said.”[5] It was in real history that God chose to make his presence known. “Therefore history wasn’t inessential. It was at the heart of the evangelists’ theology.”[6]

Most believe that having a bias or an agenda can prevent someone from accurately understanding the truth. Although this does happen a lot, it is not always the case. A bias can also help us accurately report the truth. Someone can be biased towards the truth. For example, think of an historian who is writing about President John F. Kennedy. The historian who wants to tell the truth accurately about the life of this president has an agenda – to report the facts.

Scholar Craig Blomberg makes a good point about having an agenda and accurately reporting history. Many people actually believe that the Holocaust never happened. In order for the world to remember the horrors of that event, the Jews have created museums, preserved artifacts, written books, and documented eyewitness testimony. These Jews have an ideological purpose (an agenda) for doing all of this – mainly to help prevent something like this from ever happening again. Yet because of this ideology they have been the most faithful and objective in reporting the facts.[7] This is what the Gospel writers were doing. They found the person of Jesus Christ so important that it forced them to want to be accurate in reporting the historical details.

The apostle Paul even stresses the importance of history when he says in 1 Cor. 15:13-14: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

Roberts notes, “What happened to Jesus [history] has everything to do with theology.”[8]

Double Standard

What is interesting is that skeptics accuse the Bible as having an agenda, yet they themselves have biases as well, especially when it comes to the belief in God and evolution. The best example is Philosopher Thomas Nagel. Read carefully whatheoncewrote:

“I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about human life, including everything about the human mind …. This is a somewhat ridiculous situation …. [I]t is just as irrational to be influenced in one’s beliefs by the hope that God does not exist as by the hope that God does exist.”[9]

Notice what he just said! He doesn’t want God to exist, and that this belief is not limited to him alone. The desire to not want God to exist often leads to the overuse and desire to see the theory of evolution everywhere. Nagel is clearly not the only one. This is clearly a bias; it is an agenda. Is Nagel the only one? Nope.

Writer Arnold Lunn (1888-1974) once commented on a quote by evolutionary biologist August Weismann (1834-1914), who is said to be one of the greatest biologist of all time[10]: “We must accept, so [Weismann] argues, a theory [evolution] which we have every reason to distrust because the only alternative implies the existence of God.”[11]

Professor of genetics, Richard Lewontin said:

We take the side of [evolutionary] science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs…in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment to materialism [the belief that matter is all there is]…Moreover, that materialism is absolute for we cannot allow a Divine foot in the door.[12]

Here’s one more quote by Physicist H.S. Lipson says:

In fact, evolution became in a sense a scientific religion; almost all scientists have accepted it and many are prepared to “bend” their observations to fit in with it.[13]

Conclusion

The above quotes on evolution do not prove or disprove creation or evolution. I’m just showing the reader that agendas are everywhere, even in science! It is well known that a bias can be a bad thing (think of all the media bias). However an agenda or bias can also be a good thing. A bias does not automatically mean something is false.

What do you think? Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.

[1] Mark D. Roberts. Can We Trust the Gospels? (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007). 115.

[2] Ibid., 117.

[3] Ibid., 119.

[4] Ibid., 119-120.

[5] Ibid., 120.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Lee Strobal. The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998). 32.

[8] Roberts, 121.

[9] Thomas Nagel. The Last Word (Oxford University Press, 1997). 130-131. Emphasis added.

[10] Ernst Mayr. The Growth of Biological Thought. (Harvard, 1982). 698.

[11] Arnold Lunn, “The Flight from Reason,” quoted in Robert T. Clark and James D. Bales. Why Scientists Accept Evolution (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1966). 90-91.

[12] Richard Lewontin. “Billions and Billions of Demons,” New York Review, January 9, 1997, p. 31. Quoted in Gary Bates. Alien Intrusion (Powder Springs: Creation Book Publishers, 2004). 138. Emphasis added.

[13] H.S. Lipson. “A Physicist Looks at Evolution,” Physics Bulletin, vol. 31, 1980, p. 138. Quoted in Bates, 138.

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