Are evangelists reliable source of information?

It’s pretty obvious, for anyone that analyzed Bible or has some theological edution, who is aware of many of Bible’s contradictions and discrepancies that Bible is weakly inspired, if at all.

While most of its many mistakes can be attributed to ignorance while still giving an useful account of what was happening, sometimes it just looks like a lie.

And it’s not some Old Testament stuff that I’m talking about, but the four evangelists themselves, the ones that we trust the most in providing us the correct information about Jesus.

What contradiction I am talking about though? Not about some small nitpicks that many enjoy alluding to like Luke 9:3-5 and Mark 6:8 disagreeing whether Jesus said they can take a staff on their journey or Mark 10:20-21 and Matthew 21:18-20 disagreeing on how quickly did fig tree wither away. In the end, those don’t matter in the big picture.

Why not? Because obviously there were not historians, they didn’t cared that much about accuracy and if not strongly inspired by God, it was not possible to agree on everything if they weren’t a direct witnesses (even then, it’s understandable that their accounts would have differences).
What I want to talk are fully planned parts of the story that were created only to convince us of some greater plan when facts just weren’t there.

A very good example is Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus, biologos article describing possible meanings, hidden in it. The way Matthew uses different spelling of some names and even omits some of the kings so he has his sets of fourteens and beautiful math we can derive from it is good and all, but it’s doesn’t mean anything. After all there are numbers of people and crazy theories using numerology to predict or see patterns in number of things, obviously it’s apparent that if you look at something trying to find some connection you will find it.
Here we have Matthew, trying his best to make numbers align so everything seemingly makes sense. But just adding one ruler that was ommited there or changing name to how it was more commonly spelt will make the whole structure fall apart.

It shows that Matthew not only tried to interpret the story he heard but also worked painstakingly so it looked like God’s hand was in play. If he used this genealogy as important part of his gospel, how can we know that he didn’t do it at other fundamental parts like Jesus teachings, trying to convince his readers Jesus story is something more than it is.
Also, returning to Jesus nativity, both Apostles wrote widely different stories of where Jesus was born, when, under what circustances or even to which parent was the Angel speaking.
The thing is, it’s quite visible that they try to make Jesus nativity fit to prophecies a lot and because they did it independently they ended up with completely different stories, now that we know that they not only write from inspiration and from testimonies but also they manipulate facts(at least some of them) so the Jesus looks more like Messiah truly shows that the authors of gospels were biased and at the very least, they fanatically wanted Jesus to be Messiah (which heavily undermines their credibility) and in the worst scenario, they may have wanted to manipulate people.

Because of that, many would probably feel justified to decide that Bible is bogus, another religion created to manipulate masses, especially hearing constantly how perfect and innerant Bible is from its followers and priests, and truth to be told, I can’t fault them for it.

I still hope though that even though Bible is far from accurate, and while many things may have been added, removed or corrupted, testimony of all four and many other parts of New Testament will enable us to derive one shared wisdom and truth in all of them, and by extension acknowledge maybe less certain lessons as valid, while reject others, always reconsidering if what we rejected and accepted was correct.

Some sources I used:
Blog which humorously describes many of contradictions I used (most of them are not contradictions but there are some worth considering).


The other evangelists are secondary to Paul by decades. Whoever they were. And Paul was appropriately violently grafted in to the extant prior witness; the historical church. The gospels are literally afterthoughts.

So are they reliable? The Church and Paul?

A lot of the examples in the blog post you linked to are fairly pedantic and concern fine details rather than the overall bigger picture. The fact of the matter is that people who focus on these things would claim all sorts of collusion and making things up if there weren’t any difference such as these. Heads I win, tails you lose.

I think that we do the Bible a disservice if we subject it to unrealistic expectations of detailed accuracy. Writing an account of something that happened in such a way as to get all the details perfectly accurate is a hard problem, and it’s only been in recent decades with the assistance of audio and video recordings that we’ve been able to come anywhere close. Condensing an account of three years of events into a few dozen short chapters is even harder, especially when you are trying to distill a particular message from it.

It’s a bit like radiometric dating. Occasionally you find rock samples that give slightly different ages using different methods for one reason or another. But the fact that we see those occasional disagreements and discrepancies doesn’t justify any suggestion that the techniques concerned could be so badly out of whack that they consistently fail to distinguish between thousands and billions. The fact remains that the overall body of data contains vast swathes where there aren’t any discrepancies and the results are consistent enough to be credible. In the same way, there is enough in the bigger picture portrayed by the Gospels that is consistent both internally and with other historical sources that we can establish that they do have a basis that is grounded in reality.


I think the ‘problem’ is even much more intractably deeper than that yet too. It wouldn’t matter even if videography had infinite resolution and absurdly high frame-rates, there would still be the matter of where all the camera person decided to point the camera - what was left outside the frame and therefore unavailable to the viewer? The story will always be told from a director’s point of view and with some narrative in mind - and these are the agendas of a finite person. So it isn’t as if our better technology gives us that much advantage in the pursuit of higher truth / narrative than the quill and papyrus had.

And on their criteria and demands, it certainly is. Or (from my point of view as a believer), I would say rather that it’s the nature of their extractive demands that are the bogus things. If I pick up a cookbook hoping to learn how to fix my car, the cookbook will be a disappointment indeed!.


I am having a hard time thinking of one thing on which they are a reliable source of information…

science? no
politics? no
morality? no
religion? no
Christianity? no
the Bible? no

BUT you get the same answer if you ask about people in general.

The reason evangelists are not a reliable source of information is because of the very great variety of them.

Some are scholars and others are liars and scam artists.

Frankly such diversity is one of the surest signs of life.

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He’s talking about the biblical authors. But “evangelists” in this context usually refers to just the writers of the 4 gospels. (btw, Bach is sometimes called the 5th Evangelist)


Yeah sometimes I just reply to the question in the title rather than the OP.

After reading the OP. I don’t have much to say to that. Just put my like on @jammycakes post and leave it there.

I’m the last person to defend inerrancy or argue against Biblical discrepancies, but this one is just confusing the genre of the texts. Non-chronological narration is acceptable in antiquity and Mark has the temple cleansing sandwiched in by the fig tree. This is called a Marian intercalating or sandwich. He has a bunch of them. Matthew copied Mark’s gospel. Sometimes he keeps the Markan literary device and some times he doesn’t. Here he elected to remove it. Confusing a literary device with chronological history is the problem here. Not to mention the fig tree doesn’t easily commend itself as historical. I believe Mark 11-13 is largely concerned with the temple and was written ca 75 and is commenting on it (otherwise why would Gentiles even care?). Mark is using historical material from Jesus and also probably being a bit creative and making a theological point about the destruction of the temple. Luke who also copies Mark omits this completely and only has a parable about fig trees. It’s at least possible a parable was historicized over time…kind of hard to explain Jesus’s actions in any other scenario…as if the tree chose not bare fruit…. It has to be rationalized as a demonstration “for his disciples only” where Jesus wasn’t really upset, if historical.

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And that the evangelists make mistakes and are creative is okay. They aren’t infallible. Our textual reconstruction and translations of scripture isn’t infallible. Our canons are not infallible. Our interpretation of scripture is not infallible. Our own narratives and personal theology is not infallible. It is God that is infallible. Not a book with a bunch of human links starting at being written and ending with us interpreting it.

Dale B Martin wrote:

We may trust scripture to provide what we need for our salvation. We may trust that we can read scripture in prayerful hope that God will speak to us through our reading that text. But ultimately this belief-or, perhaps better put, this stance, attitude, or habitus-is actually an expression of our faith not in a text but in God and the holy spirit. We “leave it up to the holy spirit” to protect us from damnable error in our readings of scripture. We depend on God to keep us with God in our readings of scripture. Properly understood, the doctrine of the infallibility of scripture is a statement less about a text and more about God." [The Meaning of Scripture in the Twenty-first Century]

Don’t fuss over small stuff and creativity in the gospels. If the big picture is false then we can all fuss and fret over it and become nihilists.



Also, Matthew’s point is that a new and greater Moses is here. The birth story is probably mostly fiction. But how amazing is this individual who inspired Matthew’s typology and appeal to the OT? How strong is Matthew’s belief in the power and authority of Jesus to write this story? I think the birth story is beautiful and wonderfully creative. This type of exegesis was not unique to Christians. They understood truth and falseness but were not modern day fact-literal westerners. They were driven by narrative and story— that in the case of Jesus was inspired by actual events.

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How do you think the story of Moses can be considered historical? what about the exodus from Egypt?

if i may be so bold, I fear you are interpreting and assuming motives here. Yes, Matthew clearly worked his sources to have the nice round numbers for his genealogy. Why he did so is not explicitly laid stated… he makes no explicit theological claim from his arrangement… Maybe he a mild case of OCD, maybe he had a variation of triskaidekaphobia with other numbers, Maybe it was a common artistic device at the time, who knows for sure. i generally have a hard time with the idea that he was trying to deceptively sneak fudged data past an audience and culture that had their own copies of the geneologies, and for that matter probably had all Judah’s kings memorized, where he would be called out in a moment for falsifying data. Beyond that, what would it prove or accomplish? Even if there indeed been 14 generations from abe to David and from David to exile, there were countless people who were also in the fourteenth generation from the exile, it isn’t like this is some proof-positive-pedigree that confirms Jesus alone as messiah or something. Point is, there are many possible reasons Matthew may have organized his material they way he did; intentional deceptive falsification to establish Jesus as Messiah is not the only explanation (except to those where this explanation is the only one that furthers their narrative).

Luke wrote about events that transpired when Jesus was born up until he was 8 days old… Matthew wrote about events that happened around the time Jesus would have been approximately a year old. I dare say that if two people accurately wrote about two different events in my life that were nearly a year apart, they would also sound like two “completely different stories”.

It is “quite visible” that they manipulated facts, i’m afraid, only to those who have already decided on a particular narrative. To others like me, it sounds perfectly consistent with two historians having different sources and including data about two entirely separate events.

And if i may be so bold, only someone who has an agenda to find an error or contradiction will see a problem with one account recording the occasion of an angelic visit to Joseph, and another account recording an angelic visit to Mary. if the miraculous event of the virgin birth and incarnation of God indeed happened, is it really that odd to think God may have informed both parents?

This is akin to claiming a contradiction or discrepancy between Gabriel speaking to Mary on the one hand, and Gabriel speaking to Zechariah (father of John the Baptist) on the other. Well, which is it? Luke clearly can’t get his own internal facts right about the circumstances or even to which person the angels was speaking? It obviously couldn’t be describing two entirely separate occurrences, right?

Finally, i recommend you be very skeptical with your linked blog/source…

talk about someone writing with an such an agenda to find an error that they either can’t be bothered with basic facts or are being intentionally disingenuous… they tried to invent a non-existent contradiction between luke and matthew, by making it look like Matthew had Jesus “born” outside of Israel and only later coming to Israel…?!? Even the most cursory reading of Matthew belies this: matthew’s explicit statement that Jesus was born in bethlehem? his account of the magi finding him in bethlehem? that one little detail that only later did Jesus and his family leave israel for egypt due to the later persecution? that is perhaps one of those most disingenuous manipulations of facts in order to invent a non-existent contradiction that i have ever seen. This is beyond egregious mishandling of details.

(only slightly less egregious is this blog author claiming a contradiction between a post-resurrection account of Jesus interacting with his disciples and different gospel’s account of Jesus’ initial call of his disciples, some 3 years earlier)

You claim if i understand rightly that matthew and luke had an agenda which made them play loose with facts… i encourage you to be sure not to miss the far more obvious examples in your source blog of someone playing very loose with facts among those who want to find (invent) contradictions in Scripture.


They must be because their flocks give them millions of dollars.

I’m not sure we have rock solid historical evidence for Moses or much for the Exodus, and certainly none for the Exodus as described in the Biblical version. There are probably historical cores or something that started many of these stories. Often enough where we see smoke there is usually fire.

Just because we don’t have historical evidence for it doesn’t mean it did or didn’t happen. A judgment of non liquet is appropriate when there is no evidence for or against it on historical grounds.

The Bible is not interested in pure history or addressing the question “did it really happen like this” from the modern sense. I just don’t read it like I’m reading history or that its all literally true. That gets the genre wrong. Ancient people loved narratives. Today we devalue them as “fiction” but a foundational story is meant to move us to action. It absolutely pushes an agenda. We have to decide if that agenda aligns with God’s or not. One can easily get a “bigger picture” out of all God’s interactions with Israel --whether they all happened or not–and one can also, in an absence of evidence either way, give the Biblical stories the benefit of the doubt when there is no reason to object to them.

In the end, I’m happy the Exodus as described is largely fiction. I don’t have to worry about why God hardened a pharaoh’s heart and then killed a bunch of Egyptian babies. The glass is half full here and I’ll take the silver lining. Same with the flood story. Blessings sometimes come disguised.


True in many cases. But "if i may be so bold, only someone who has an agenda not to find an error or contradiction will see no problems between the infancy narratives. "

Entire streams of NT thought evince no knowledge of a birth at Bethlehem, Jesus is hailed as being from Nazareth. Even the demons know this in Mark. A place where some have to ask “can anything good come from there?” (John).

Most scholars look at the birth narratives and see Matthew and Luke get Jesus to Bethlehem in different ways because in their mind that is where the Messiah should have been born. Motivation for creation is there. If we read something like this in Josephus and Philo, we would call it an error. Its only not an error when a priori considerations don’t let it be one. Some of us find it easier to see errors as opposed to engaging in tortured mental gymnastics with contrived harmonizations.

This is your assumption. Luke is writing a historical narrative from birth to 8 days and Matthew a historical narrative from when he was a year old. It may help some sleep at night but it is an assumption alien to the text itself. That it it might clear up an error doesn’t mean we should be interpreting it as such. For that is to circularly assume it is not an error from the outset. I see no evidence to suppose Matthew is largely writing history in his infancy narrative. Stars don’t settle over houses and he has a host of literary parallels to Moses/the Exodus. A stronger case can be made for the author of Luke but I doubt it there was well. Even if he was attempting history, that doesn’t mean it was correct or his source material was solid. Another explanation is that Jesus was given a suitable and grandiose birth like so may others in antiquity. The infancy narratives are then comparable to the primeval history in Genesis in a sense. What emerges is a general time frame Jesus was born, the names of his parents and his being from Nazareth.

If we read the Bible like we would any other source, clear errors emerge here. If we have doctrinal considerations forcing us to come up with contrived explanations, we will find a way to harmonize them. For some of us, many harmonizations to apparent discrepancies are valid, but in other cases they seem tortured to the point of special pleading.



And some scholars believe that Matthew and Luke record his birth as being in Bethlehem because that is where he was in fact born, and that the record of him being widely regarded as being from Nazareth, is because that is indeed where he grew up from somewhere around age 2 onwards.

I personally do not immediately assume an error, or wholesale fabrication, in the account of any ancient source, biblical or not. Especially in a situation like this one where the basic explanation as presented in the text (by multiple independent attestation, no less) makes patently common sense… he was born in Bethlehem but was raised in Nazareth. Is that possibility really so far fetched that we must be looking for some real or hidden meaning?

I’m afraid i see the mental gymnastics on the part of those who want to find an error here.

If some day, someone explores the history of a particular relative of mine, they may discover that most people, even those who know him well, regard him as being from Florida, and others with other knowledge may discover accounts from others that say he was born in Spain. only someone looking for an error would automatically assume that there must be some falsehood , error, or fabrication involved.

Alien to the text? are you talking both the timeframes in Luke and Matthew? Are you kidding?

In Luke…

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

I think that one is pretty self-evident, i hope i have no further need to comment.

And in Matthew…

Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”…Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared… Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.

The text goes out of its way to clarify that Herod kills the children of a certain age because he’s making calculations based on how old the child is by now based on how long ago it was that the wise men first saw the star… and the timeframe is measured in years. if you really want to maintain that Matthew’s account gives no substantial internal evidence whatsoever that Jesus was a bit more than 8 days old at this point… well, then i would submit again that I’m not the one doing mental gymnastics.


Largely? How large? You don’t have to worry because they didn’t happen? What did? What is the silver lining? And what is the disguised blessing in the Flood Story?

You remind me of something from my childhood here.

My parents both came from Scotland. I, on the other hand, was born in Hull, in the north of England. When I was fourteen, we moved to the south of England, where I have lived ever since.

As a child, all my friends in England would tell me that I was Scottish. On the other hand, my relatives up in Scotland would all insist that having been born in England made me a “Sassenach” – in other words, irredeemably English.

Then I got into Cambridge University. For some reason, at this point, it all of a sudden became the other way round.

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Very interesting, thanks for sharing that…I hadn’t thought about it until you shared this, but your story reminds me just a bit of C. S. Lewis, whose story is pretty at least somewhat similar….

Most people (at least that I know here in the U.S.) naturally assume he was “English”…. professor of English literature, friends with Tolkien, his education at Oxford and previous schooling and tutoring in England, a layman of the Church of England, spent his life teaching at Oxford and Cambridge.

Until I read his autobiography I would have assumed he was English.

That the Matthew and Lukan infancy narratives are independent is a tough sell. I subscribe to the two-document hypothesis personally which posits the independence of Matthew and Luke but the latter started in chapter 3 originally in my view. The infancy narrative was attached later on–probably by the original author. It is quite possible Luke was aware of Matthew’s birth story created largely out of the Old Testament and took the posture of, “I’ll show you how to write a proper infancy narrative.” That is just as plausible and intrinsically likely as is your assertion they are both writing history and focus on different “time periods.” Divine birth stories are common in antiquity, Or both could have simply relied on an earlier tradition or had two competing traditions for Jesus’s birth and put them together in different ways.

Both texts start before the birth of Jesus. Both end after it. Matthew has Herod slaughtering two and up and Luke mentions the boy Jesus in the temple.Most of Luke’s events end at the 8th day of Jesus but he goes beyond that as well. In Matthew, Bethlehem seems to be where Mary and Joseph live considering its where they want to return to after their sojourn in Egypt but elect to “retreat” to Galilee because one of Herod’s sons (Archelaus) is ruling Judea (Mt 2:19-23). The wording of this settling in Nazareth does not, in Meier’s words, sound like a “return to the old homestead” as he formally introduces Nazareth for the first time and uses the same words in 4:13 when Jesus left Nazareth and settled down in Capernaum.[1] This decision comes through a warning in a dream (Mt 2:22), curiously, just after the Lord told him in a dream that those seeking to kill Jesus are now dead and it is safe to return to Israel (2:21). Was the angel of the Lord wrong in sending Joseph back? Was it or was it not safe? Also, this account becomes even more implausible if we ask whether or not the angel of the Lord knew that another of Herod’s sons (Herod Antipas) was ruling Galilee at the time? The angel basically says its safe, the men chasing after you have died, go back to Israel. It turns out its not actually safe in Judea since Herod’s son is in charge. So Joseph goes to Galilee where Herod’s other son is in charge! One cannot prove an error on this alone but it is a very peculiar account. Given the convoluted narrative Matthew has created, with a sojourn in Egypt meant to cast Jesus in light of the Exodus as a new Moses, he appears to struggle to get Jesus to where everyone knew he was actually from—Nazareth. It is of note to me that the NIV labels this section “the return to Nazareth” despite Matthew not presenting it as a return. The NRSV more soberingly refers to it as “the return from Egypt.” Luke has a pregnant Mary accompanying Joseph, who clearly lives in Nazareth, to Bethlehem for a census (Luke 2:4-7). At the end of it all they “return to their own town of Nazareth.” (Luke 2:29)

[1] John Meier A Marginal Jew, Vol 1 pg. 212. He also argues on page 211 that the plain sense of the words even before the return from Egypt is that they live in Bethlehem: “In the case of Matthew, the first place name that occurs in his narrative proper (1:18-2:23) is Bethlehem of Judea (2:1). Since no indication of a change of place is given at this point, the reader who knows only Matthew’s story would naturally take the preceding story of “the annunciation to Joseph” (1:18-25) as located in Bethlehem too.” This fits in with the magi finding the child in a house (presumably theirs) as opposed to a cave or manger, and Herod killing all the boys in Bethlehem and surrounding areas two and under.

Trying to claim they focus on different periods is eisegesis. You also need to imagine two trips to Nazareth here, ignore the plain sense of the words, attribute to them vast ignorance or bizarre telescoping of a story that defies common sense story telling. Not to mention the huge problems with Luke’s census, the curious “out of the frying pan and into the fire” logic on the return along with he angel’s ignorance, Matthew’s star and OT typology. Josephus not narrating the slaughtering of the innocents is against historicity but far from definitive. The two accounts don’t even agree on who Jesus’s grandfather was and the idea that Luke used Mary’s is culturally absurd (and undercuts arguments for the empty tomb) and historically problematic since he gets the purification rituals wrong. Luke writing at the end of the century can get them wrong. Mary probably not so much.

John Meier writes bluntly that Mary was not the source of her purification rituals story in Luke, which are confusingly narrated. First Meier narrates how Luke 2:22 uses their in reference to purification and in the following sentence that they brought Jesus to Jerusalem. Only Mary, the wife would be ritually unclean after given birth. Joseph would have undergone no purification rituals on account of Jesus’ birth. It gets worse for Luke as Meier writes, “Furthermore, Luke conflates two distinct rituals, as the two halves of 2:22 show: the purification of the mother (which, according to Lev 12:1-8 and later rabbinic statements, did require a visit to the tent/temple) and the redemption of the firstborn make child (which required the payment of five shekels to the temple, but not a temple visit). Luke is thus inaccurate when he describes the bringing of the child to the temple as “according to” the Mosaic Law (2:23 + 27). He is likewise incorrect when he connects the redemption or “presentation” of Jesus with the sacrifice of doves or pigeons (actually a part of the purification ritual), while he says nothing about the payment of the shekels, a necessary part of the redemption ritual”

At any rate, there are a ton of problems with the infancy narratives. I’ll give you the last word after this if you want it. I am not interested in any “divide and conquer apologetics” or convincing you of this. It is not edifying in any way so I can agree to disagree. But I fully understand what the topic starter is getting at. Critical scholars, those outside conservative seminaries where they have to sign statements of faith which disallow finding contradictions, tend to all see errors in this account. I share their view and the opinion that special pleading is the only way to get rid of them.

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