Are the gospels not historical because they are theological documents?



I just saw your study on Jesus being rejected at Nazareth after teaching in the synagogue. I am currently in a graduate-level course before I start my grad studies. I've been looking at your studies for quite some time since I became Christian, and I appreciate your loyalty to the authority of Scripture. My whole class has been quite upset since the book I have been reading has been claiming that the whole Bible is not inspired, and even the historical aspects of the Bible are not reliable. He's been making the argument often, trying to convince the reader of his agenda. He even goes as far as to say that the Hebrew prophets' prophesies never predicted Jesus. My question about your study is how do we harmonize how Jesus in Matthew and Mark is rejected in Nazareth after his ministry seems to have already done some stuff, while Luke has his rejection be the first thing in Jesus' ministry? I think your study also showed John being on Luke's page with this as well.

I have attached the section of the book that argues against the historical validity of the Gospel. It's from Sumney's "The Bible: An Introduction."

"... the Gospels are theological accounts, not history texts. They tell their stories as they do to make theological points, not to give more accurate accounts of facts. The Gospels assume that their readers are already familiar with many, probably most, of the stories they recount, so their task is not to introduce or even preserve those stories but to interpret them. These writers want their accounts of what Jesus said and did to provide their readers with a proper understanding of Jesus. They do not want to tell what happened (since the readers already know), they want to tell what it means that Jesus did or said a particular thing. The Gospels are thoroughly theological documents.

"One can tell that they do not intend to be historical writings, but rather theological interpretations, by comparing some of their stories. One example will have to suffice here. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell a story about Jesus returning to his hometown after becoming famous for his preaching and healing in the region of Galilee (an area in northern Palestine that borders the western side of the Sea of Galilee). While the crowd initially appreciates his return, it eventually turns on him. Matthew (13:53-58) and Mark (6:1-6) place this story in the middle of Jesus' ministry in Galilee, where it makes good sense in the flow of the narrative. Luke, however, makes this the very first story he tells about the ministry of Jesus (4:16-30); in fact, he makes this episode the story that sets out a central theme in Jesus' ministry."


The author makes several mistakes because he approaches the Bible from the viewpoint that it cannot be true. His own belief system prevents him from looking for and considering the possibility that he might be wrong and the Bible just could be true.

For instance, of the four gospel accounts, only Luke states that he is presenting a chronological account. "In as much as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught" (Luke 1:1-4). Comparing Luke's account to the other three, we find that all are roughly in chronological order. John skips over large sections of Jesus' ministry, focusing most on Jesus' dialogs. Mark is mostly chronological, but he will reorder events to put important events on a particular topic next to each other. Matthew is the least chronological, his order is more topical that the other three. But none of this supports Sumney's claim that the accounts are not historical. History does not always have to be told in time order -- though Luke does this for us.

By the way, Luke's introduction contradicts Sumney's claim that the gospel writers were not interested in the events, but only their theological implications. Perhaps you could say that theology was more important for John, but all are grounded in history, and Luke is quite clear that he is clarifying what Theophilus was taught based on eyewitness accounts. While Sumney makes the assertion, it remains unproven: Who said that a theological document cannot also be historically accurate? Yes, all historians select which of many events to document because they are looking to prove one or more points from history. I don't know any historian who writes history solely for history's sake and without an agenda. As John points out, there is not enough time or space to record everything that happens to even a single man. "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written" (John 21:35). Therefore, a subset was selected to make a point: "Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:30-31). What Sumney is trying to do is make it a "crime" to do what every historian does.

But we don't even have to note the differences in order in the Gospel accounts. What Sumney fails to consider is that there could have been two rejections of Jesus in Nazareth.

In the first rejection, recorded by Luke (Luke 4:16-30) and mentioned briefly by (John 4:44), Jesus enters the synagogue, reads from Isaiah, and states that the prophecy has been fulfilled. The people are surprised at how well-spoken Jesus was. When Jesus pointed out that they were wondering why he did not do miracles in his hometown as he had done in Capernaum, Jesus stated that it wasn't worth doing because they would reject him. But in this very act, he did a miracle because he was answering the questions they were thinking and had not said out loud. His point is proven because no one seems to have noticed. He then cites two Old Testament prophets who did miracles among the Gentiles instead of in Israel. This hits the core of the Jewish prejudice against Gentiles and in their anger, they attempt to throw him off a cliff. But Jesus quietly walks away instead.

In the second rejection, recorded by Matthew (Matthew 13:53-58) and Mark (Mark 6:1-6), Jesus again teaches in the synagogue -- the topic is not recorded for us -- but now the people are demanding out loud where Jesus got his wisdom and the ability to do miracles in other places. Jesus again cites that a prophet isn't accepted in his own country, but he doesn't return to the two examples he gave before. The people are offended, but they don't try to kill him. Instead, Jesus does do a few miracles in the area, but he is surprised by their continued unbelief and leaves.

These are not the same events. Therefore, Luke doesn't contradict Matthew and Mark. They simply chose two different events to make their points. The events had some similarities, but they were not the same event.

I would like you to consider some of the following that discuss the evidence that the Gospels actually do contain historically accurate information:

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