When I speak to critics and skeptics, it is common to hear comments about the lack of unbiased evidence for Jesus from the first century. They reject the New Testament evidence for Jesus as biased and point out that we lack the unbiased evidence for Jesus that as historians we would want. I have all sorts of things I could say about the historical value of the New Testament despite the bias, but I am not going to go there.
I want to take a moment to think about this complaint about the lack of unbiased evidence. What exactly would that look like? Can someone give me an example of what an unbiased report about Jesus would be? What sort of text would we be looking for? Would we like a first century text by a Pharisee or a Sadducee that spoke about Jesus? I would like to see that. But I still do not see how that would be unbiased. From everything we know, the Pharisees and Sadducees greatly disliked Jesus and wanted to see him dead. That is hardly unbiased. What about a Roman report? Wouldn’t it be great if we found a report written by Pontius Pilate about Jesus’ trial? I would love to see that. But this is the person who signed Jesus’ death sentence. Could he be considered unbiased by any stretch of the imagination? To be honest, I cannot think of any possible example of a first century account of Jesus that would be unbiased. Truth be told, I doubt there has been an unbiased account of Jesus in any century.
So when a skeptic says they won’t believe in Jesus unless they have an unbiased account of Jesus from the first century, they are doing the same thing as a child saying to their parent, “If you really love me, draw me a square circle, otherwise I will not believe you.” It just is not possible.
This of course leads us back to the New Testament. If the New Testament is rejected as being a biased account and if it is impossible to be unbiased, what really is the problem with the New Testament? Do not get me wrong, as a historian I would love to see a great discovery of non-biblical first century reports of Jesus. That would be extremely exciting. But let us not fool ourselves about this whole biased versus unbiased business.