Are Gospel Accounts Lies, Legends or History?
Were the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life simply made-up as part of a conspiracy? How do modern, skeptical scholars think of them? And what kind of response do Christian scholars give to these skeptics? Dr. William Lane Craig, a New Testament historian, sheds some light on this issues. He explains that skeptical scholars regard the New Testament, not as bald-faced lies but as embellished history that turned into legendary material over time. But the problem with this view, as he points out, is that there simply was not enough time for this to have occured.
No modern scholar thinks of the gospels as bald-faced lies, the result of a massive conspiracy. The only places you find such conspiracy theories are on atheist Web sites and in sensationalist books and movies. When you read the pages of the New Testament, there’s no doubt that these people sincerely believed in the truth of what they proclaimed. Rather ever since the nineteenth century, skeptical scholars have explained away the gospels as legends. Like stories of Robin Hood or King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, as the stories about Jesus were passed on over the decades, they got muddled and exaggerated and mythologized until the original facts were all but lost. The Jewish teacher was transformed into the divine Son of God.
One of the major problems with the legend hypothesis, however, which is almost never addressed by skeptical critics, is that the time gap between Jesus’ death and the writing of the gospels is just too short for this to have happened.
William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010), 190.