The Lack of Unbiased Evidence for Jesus

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.

Master of Jesus in Bethany
Image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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.




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8 thoughts on “The Lack of Unbiased Evidence for Jesus”

  1. No one is ‘unbiased’, indeed, the claim that we need an unbiased account of Christ is an unargued assumption – and is itself biased!

    35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.”
    John. 6:35-36 ESV

    Even though the crowd had seen signs, they did not believe.

    18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made, so they are without excuse.
    Rom. 1:18-20 ESV

    Paul makes plain the truth that unbelievers know God but suppress the truth in unrighteousness.

    No one is unbiased, or ‘neutral’ in the debate.

    Dan

  2. Everyone is biased towards their own opinion. Skeptics are biased towards theirs. There is never a neutral ground in a discourse. The moment you speak about neutrality, it only means one thing: entering into unfamiliar terrains. The fundamentalism’s of Christ answers to Origin, Meaning, Morality & Our Destiny in Him. No other can 🙂

  3. I am not sure that many skeptics do ask for ‘unbiased’ accounts, since they are generally intelligent enough to understand that there is no such thing. What they are probably asking for is corroborating accounts. For instance, why are there no NEGATIVE accounts of Jesus’ life? If Jesus was such an influential figure, such a controversial figure, and so dangerous to the status quo that he had to be put to death, why are there no contemporary accounts at all? Even the earliest gospel, Matthew, was not written until (at least) 30 years after Jesus died, and ‘Matthew’ wasn’t even an eyewitness! There is not just a lack of ‘unbiased’ accounts, but also a lack of reliable accounts!

    1. Fair enough, but one still has to suggest what kind of text this would be. People act as if we have tons of texts from the first century (Roman and Jewish) and for some mysterious reason none of it speaks about Jesus. The truth is that we have almost nothing from that time. Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we relied on the New Testament to understand first century Judaism.

    2. Thank you.

      Very disappointed by this article — too much energy put into creating a straw man to then knock down. The Reply to this post (other documentation doesn’t exist, in summary) would have been a far more useful initial article.

  4. On most occasions an individual asking for an “unbiased source” is really asking for a non Christian source. For some reason there is a belief that a non Christian source would be more accurate and truthful in recording the truth of the events.

    I think this comes from the saying, “history is written by the victors”. Of course just because the history is written by the victors does not necessitate that the history is grossly incorrect. Just as victors have a motivation to write favorable history, losers have motivation to try and write favorable history to their cause (think “sore losers”).

    As you have said, all groups have their biases, yet that does not necessitate that their accounts of history are grossly inaccurate simply due to the face that they write from their perspective. It is rather important to realize the fact that the scriptural recording of history often agrees with later non Christian accounts of history regarding much of the events in the NT times. This of course shows reliability, rather than unreliability, of the texts. It would be a poor historian who claims the scriptures unreliable simply because they are the scriptures.

  5. I believe that bias in history doesn’t exist. Whether it’s conscious or not…that’s to be debated. But with every record comes a life time of the bits and pieces that compose you as a human.

    This discussion reminds me of It reminds me of this video I recently came across– it’s a cute little song about how Jesus and his followers actually Occupy Jerusalem.

    Anyways, here it is: http://youtu.be/a6akkb_afqs

    Which, it has a point.

    Great Blog!

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