The Reliability of the Gospels 

You can trust the reporting of the four Gospel Accounts as the truth

John 2.1–12

Don Ruhl • Savage Street, Grants Pass, Oregon • May 3, In the year of our Lord, 2015


  1. Last Lord’s Day evening, 
    1. I said that I would show you my examination of the first miracle of Christ
      1. from the standpoint of a critical magician.
      2. Therefore, I will show you John 2 tonight; and
    2. I said that I would show you
      1. that the writers wrote their Accounts in the first century,
      2. that later generations worked to transcribe the manuscripts precisely,
      3. that the Accounts have endured the centuries,
      4. that they show a Jesus consistent with unfavorable writers, and
      5. that we can verify the Gospel Accounts to discover the truth.
        1. After looking at the first miracle of Christ,
        2. we will only have time to examine
          1. the fact that the writers wrote in the first century, and
          2. the fact that later generations transcribed the manuscripts carefully.
  2. The last three points I will cover next week, Lord willing. 


  1. John 2.1–12 – The Genuineness of the First Miracle of Jesus 
    1. Back in 1987, I wanted to approach the first miracle of Jesus
      1. from the viewpoint of a critic,
      2. from the vantage point of a magician-critic.
        1. Some magicians have written critiques of modern-day faith healers.
        2. James Randi came out with a book, The Faith Healers.
          1. When Jesus turned water into wine,
          2. did He simply do a magician’s trick?
            1. Or, did He demonstrate power over creation as the Creator?
            2. We turn water into wine using natural processes.
              1. Did Jesus do a magic trick or
              2. did He bypass the natural and man-made processes?
    2. John 2.1–2 – The Setting: A Social Event

      1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding (John 2.1–2).

      1. This was the third day after the encounter with Nathanael.
      2. Mary was the primary invitee, but
        1. Jesus and His disciples also also received an invitation.
        2. They went to celebrate a couple getting married
          1. not to do anything to bring the attention to themselves.
    3. John 2.3–5 – Jesus Did the Miracle Reluctantly

      3 And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it” (John 2.3–5).

      1. This shows Jesus did not plan on turing water into wine.
      2. His mother did not realize
        1. that doing miracles would hasten His death.
        2. He came to die, but
          1. it would happen in God’s timing, and
          2. she did not see that connection.
      3. Yet, she knew that her Son could do something.
        1. She remembered the events that surrounded His birth.
          1. Gabriel announced divine things about Him.
          2. Elizabeth confirmed that she was the mother of the Lord.
          3. The shepherds gave their witness of the heavenly messengers.
          4. The wisemen looked for the King of the Jews and worshiped Him.
          5. Two prophets spoke of Him in Jerusalem.
        2. Luke informs us that she thought about these things,

          19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2.19).

          51 Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart (Luke 2.51).

        3. Later, at His baptism both
          1. God and John
          2. gave their witness of the identity of Jesus.
    4. John 2.6–10 – A Miracle

      6 Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. 9 When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. 10 And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!” (John 2.6–10).

      1. 2.6 – The waterpots 
        1. John described these waterpots as pots of purification.
        2. Therefore, they could only hold pure water.
          1. John even revealed the various sizes of the six waterpots, because
          2. he wanted us to see the sizable amount of water.
            1. The New King James Version has them at 20 or 30 gallons.
            2. If all six were 20 gallons, that would be 120 gallons of water.
            3. If all six were 30 gallons, that would be 180 gallons of water.
              1. Since there was a mixture in size,
              2. we just know that the amount was between 120 and 180.
        3. What is the big deal about the holding capacity and number of pots?
          1. Could a magician, who was not expecting to do any tricks,
          2. bring enough dye or additive for that much water
            1. to turn it into wine?
            2. We are not talking about turning one glass of water into wine!
      2. 2.7–8 – Jesus ordered the servants to handle the waterpots 
        1. He did not have His disciples do it.
          1. They were not servants of the host.
          2. The disciples did not know what was going on.
          3. No one could say that Jesus and the disciples conspired.
        2. The servants filled the pots to the brim,
          1. preventing anything else from being added!
            1. Jesus did not provide the water.
            2. He let the servants get the water.
          2. Jesus, His mother, His disciples, the servants, and
            1. any guests who happened to be close by,
            2. could see exactly what was going on.
              1. He had them get water from another source or place.
              2. All could see the water added to the pots.
        3. Then Jesus had the servants take a sample to the master of the feast.
          1. Jesus did not do it Himself, and
            1. along the way add something to the water
            2. to make it seem like wine.
          2. He did not have His disciples do it for the same reason.
        4. It does not appear that the servants knew what was going on.
          1. They knew where they got the water or the wine, but
          2. they were oblivious to what had happened.
      3. 2.9–10 – Reaction of the ruler 
        1. We always serve the best first.
        2. The master testified that the wine was good, superior, the best.
          1. Not knowing the source:
            1. he was unbiased,
            2. not seeking to deceive, nor
            3. had he been deceived.
          2. How could a mere magician’s trick
            1. add something to the water to make it that good of wine, or
            2. how could a magician use smoke and mirrors
              1. to move six large waterpots full of water and
              2. bring in six large waterpots filled with wine?
        3. Jesus came with no predetermined plan,
          1. no equipment,
          2. no stage show and
          3. no assistants.
            1. He never touched the pots nor prepared them beforehand.
            2. An additive would not make good wine.
            3. The quantity prevented someone from adding a mixture to the pots.
    5. 2.11 – This showed His glory

      11 This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him (John 2.11)

      1. He who can
        1. create water,
        2. walk on it, and
        3. still it;
          1. can also change it instantly into something else,
          2. bypassing the whole growth and human processing.
      2. Therefore, this contributed to demonstrating His true identity.
    6. John 2.12 – Jesus moved on

      12 After this He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days (John 2.12).

      1. He only did that one miracle there.
      2. A fraud would not have stopped.
  2. The Reliability of the Gospels 
    1. The writers wrote their accounts in the first century.
      1. The manuscripts we possess of the Gospels, have two significant factors:
        1. We have dated them close to the timing of the originals.
        2. We have a large number of manuscripts.
      2. We have some manuscripts or fragments
        1. that date to the second and third centuries.
        2. Now, we have even uncovered some from the first century.
        3. Compare that to other ancient manuscripts,
          1. which skeptics do not deny, but accept fully.
            1. The copies we have are separated from the originals
            2. by many centuries or even millennium.
          2. For example, we have less then 10 manuscripts of Plato’s writings.
            1. We can compare them and determine what he said.
            2. The oldest manuscript of Plato that we have
              1. dates about 1,400 years after his original writing.
              2. Yet, people read, learn from, and respect what he wrote.
                1. Does anyone dispute his writings?
                2. What we have of his manuscripts are enough.
      3. The number of manuscripts of the New Testament that we possess,
        1. in comparison to the number ancient manuscripts of other documents
        2. shows just how strong the case for the New Testament, or
          1. more specifically the Gospels is.
          2. We have over 5,000 manuscripts, some of which are fragments!
            1. We can study these and compare them,
            2. although they have been written at different locations and
              1. at different times,
              2. leading us to have the Bibles we have today!
          3. The oldest copies date to 25 to 50 years after the first century!
            1. Yet, people question the reliability of the Bible!
            2. They believe it has been changed along the way, but
              1. they cannot present any proof of such.
              2. Ask people: What has been changed?
                1. If they can produce a change,
                2. that means they know the original!
                  1. Otherwise, how do they know it has changed?
                  2. If they have copies of the original, produce them.
    2. Later generations worked to transcribe the manuscripts precisely.
      1. Anyone associated with Jesus or His disciples
        1. had a strong interest in truth.
        2. Therefore, they worked carefully to copy the originals.
      2. J. Warner Wallace is a homicide detective and cold-case investigator,
        1. who had been skeptical of the Gospel claims,
        2. until he used his detective investigator knowledge on the Gospels.

          “How do we know, for example, that a particular piece of evidence hasn’t been tampered with (or added) over the years between the time of the crime and the time of the eventual trial? As a detective, I know one way to determine if evidence has been altered: I simply examine the ‘chain of custody.’”

          “I begin by looking at the documentation at the crime scene. Was the piece of evidence documented by someone at the scene? Did an officer take a Polaroid photograph and describe the evidence? When the evidence was collected and booked into property, was the transfer properly recorded? At some point later in the investigation the evidence may have been delivered to the crime lab for further examination. Was this transfer documented with photographs and reports? When the evidence was retrieved from the crime lab, did the investigating detective document the process? Did he take additional photographs? If this process was documented properly, the photographs and reports related to the piece of evidence can be compared to one another to make sure the evidence hasn’t been tampered with over time. The chain of custody helps us to determine evidential reliability.”

      3. He argues that we can do this with the Gospel Accounts, such as John.
        1. John is the “officer” who took a “Polaroid,” his Gospel Account.
        2. However, do we possess the same material that John wrote?
          1. John gave the evidence to Ignatius and Polycarp,
          2. well-known students of John.
            1. They copied John’s Gospel and wrote letters to churches.
            2. They handed off the Gospel Account to Irenaeus.
              1. In addition to copying the Gospel According to John,
              2. Irenaeus wrote information and passed it to Hippolytus.
        3. Thus, we have a “chain of custody,” for the Gospels.
          1. [Hand out “Chain of Custody” chart]
      4. According to scholars, if we lost all Greek manuscripts of the Gospels,
        1. we could still reconstruct them
        2. from quotes that the church fathers copied.
    3. In my next lesson, Lord willing, I will cover:
      1. The Accounts have endured the centuries.
      2. They show a Jesus consistent with unfavorable writers.
      3. We can verify the Gospel Accounts to discover the truth.


  1. This is no intellectual pursuit. 
    1. Nor is it simply a matter of the head.
    2. We cannot treat this material as just another thing we have learned.
  2. This is life and death. 
    1. This is a matter of the will.
      1. We accept the content of the Gospels for eternal life, and
      2. we reject the message of the Gospels for eternal separation from God.
    2. What will you do with Jesus?