This is the age of fake news. Distrust of the media has never been higher. There aren’t all bad reasons for that. We’ve all seen the press skewing things to suit a political narrative. Both sides have been guilty.
It’s gotten so bad, you even have social media companies trying to combat fake news. Funny enough, they often reveal their own biases in the process. And to add to the irony, on those same platforms, we have the President constantly calling out certain members of the press for fake news!
So yeah. We got some trust issues. This is the cultural background we’re living in. In this age of hyper-awareness of bias, Christians have the audacity to say Jesus is alive and that we have historical evidence to prove it.
But these reports are from Christian sources. They’re not dispassionate, disinterested parties. They’re skewed in favor of their faith. Does this fact mean that the gospels are unreliable?
Bias doesn’t necessarily require distortion.
In fact, sometimes bias motivates someone to take special care with the truth. Take the Sandy Hook school shooting as an example. You got Alex Jones/Infowars claiming the shooting never happened. According to Jones, it’s an anti-gun rights conspiracy.
Survivors have become victims of harassment by people who believe this far out stuff. They’ve become passionate to expose what actually happened that tragic day. In this case, personal bias encourages historical accuracy.
Now think about what the Gospel writers were reporting. Claiming that a crucified Jewish man is alive and is also God wasn’t popular. It was getting people killed. This was happening when they were writing their accounts.
They knew that the bias of the world around them would be against their claims. They could’ve watered down their statements to be more culturally acceptable rather than expose believers to harm. Yet they didn’t.
We have Luke who indicates that his bias drove him to be more accurate:
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1-4)
Rejecting biased writers means undermining almost all history.
We don’t throw out Tacitus because he wrote from a Roman bias. We don’t junk Josephus because he wrote from a Jewish bias. We don’t discard Robert E. Lee’s memoirs because he wrote from a Confederate bias. That’s not how we do history.
Sure, we need to keep bias in mind and understand that it can color what’s reported. But a good historian will try and see past the biases and sort out what’s fact and what’s distortion. That’s what historical-critical methods are set in place for.
This is why even skeptical critics still use the Gospels as the primary source for the historical Jesus. They recognize that the gospel writers are biased. But they still sift through the accounts and generally, all agree on several facts on the life of Jesus. Here are just a few:
- John baptized him.
- He’s considered to be an exorcist and miracle worker.
- He had 12 disciples.
- He taught in parables.
- The Romans crucified him.
- That the disciples had “resurrection experiences” after his death.
- That his disciples went from cowering in fear to proclaiming the resurrection.
They might reject miracle stories, but ironically that’s often due to their own naturalistic bias.
Now think about modern reporting again for a second. Breitbart and The Daily Kos publish news stories. Both have glaringly obvious biases. Yet that doesn’t mean that neither aren’t reporting facts at all, ever. You might become more cautious what you read there. But unless you are hyper-partisan, you don’t ratchet up your level of skepticism to the nth degree.
Rejection because of bias commits the genetic fallacy.
Truth claims stand or fall on their own merit. The source of the claim is irrelevant. Yet this fallacy is committed all the time. Oh, CNN or Fox News said it? People will look at each other knowingly and say “well, we know all about them, right?”
The historical truth claims of the Gospels stand independent of who wrote them. You can’t shoot them down because they’re motivated by their faith and declare “game over.”
Saul of Tarsus had a bias – against Christians. Yet he changed.
Saul was not a fan of Christianity. He agreed that Stephen had it coming when he was martyred for the faith. He persecuted Christians. Later he met the risen Jesus and his bias changed. He became Paul, an apostle of Jesus.
We need to remember that Paul wasn’t separated from the events like we are. He didn’t have access to documents, but people. He talked with the priests that plotted to have him executed. He was a student of Gamaliel. He heard all their proofs that Jesus was a deceiver of the people.
Apart from his own encounter with Jesus, Paul also had full access to the others who also claimed he saw Jesus after his death. He could interview them. He could hear from those who followed Jesus up close himself. And we know he met with Peter, James, and John to cross-check his own message. (Galatians 2:1-9)
He was in the time and the place to sift fact from fiction. This is exactly the type of source we want when we’re looking to sort out the facts from fake news. And we got it in Paul. This is the kind of info that historians drool over.
Check your own bias.
While we say this is the age of fake news, it’s sort of strange that we all tend to only follow the sources that confirm our own biases. We all know that person who shares a few memes too many from Occupy Democrats, or that latest epic Ben Shapiro roast. Groupthink prevails in packs.
The same goes for matters of faith. We need to point out to our skeptical friends that they need to consider their own bias. If God exists, would that be acceptable to them? If Christianity is true, would they believe it? Are they open to being wrong? If we start from a place of stubborn disbelief, we’ll seek out “the experts” that just confirm our bias. (I understand that the sword cuts both ways. Christians can be guilty of this too.)
So let’s stop assuming bias equals distortion of the truth. In fact, our own bias can prevent us from seeing it for ourselves.
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Erik is a Reasonable Faith Chapter Director located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He’s a former freelance baseball writer and the co-owner of a vintage and handmade decor business with his wife, Dawn. He is passionate about the intersection of apologetics and evangelism.