My question is: are the arguments used against the historical legitimacy of the Gospels, particularly Luke and the timeline/events surrounding the birth of Christ relatively recent, or have they been around since the beginning? Are there any works around from the first couple of centuries AD that make any such claim?

I ask this because occasionally I will come across an argument against the legitimacy of the Bible from a historical perspective. Recently I came across a detailed article (sorry, I can't find it now, but there are ones similar in Richard Dawkins and other sites) which discussed how Luke's description of the census, traveling to Bethlehem, etc. defies historical evidence.

I got to thinking: Suppose Luke's (or Matthew's, Mark's, John's) account was just a story made up for the audience of the day as it is often portrayed today. If so, rebutting Christianity should have been a simple matter for the scholars of the time who had either lived through these historical events or had first or second-hand knowledge of them. After all, why wait 2000 years to bring up arguments which were even more valid back then? If the census timeline and other significant events were totally wrong, everyone back then should have known, even a hundred years later? Since Christianity had so many enemies early on, you would think Jewish or Greek scholars of the time would have had a field day ripping apart the Gospels and Epistles in order to make believers look particularly foolish.

If someone began to claim some yokel who died 40 years ago was divine and performed miracles at Woodstock in 1970, a whole lot of people would still be alive to debunk the year at least (1969), if not the yokel. 1500 years from now, nobody may know that exact year of Woodstock, but we certainly do now.

An argument I might make is the absence of such material is highly unlikely if the Gospels were historically inaccurate. It is difficult for me to believe any movement, particularly one as radical as Christianity, could have gotten off the ground like it did without a solid historical basis.

However, if there IS material making such claims from that period, it would at least lend an air of credibility to the argument against the Gospels.

Does anyone know of any? TIA

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    Good question. My current guess is that the closest thing to what you are looking for would be "alternative histories;" namely, the Gnostic Gospels (Gospel of Thomas, Peter, etc.) Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 22:43
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    @kmccarty - Bingo. I would say your reasoning is spot on. I would strongly recommend the book "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" by Richard Bauckham to confirm your view. An easier read is "The Case for Jesus" by Brant Pitre. He is Catholic, I am Evangelical Protestant - trust me, its a terrifically good book. Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 10:33

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Consider the testimony of Scripture itself. 1Corinthians 15:3-19

1 Corinthians 15:3–19 (NASB95) — 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. 12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

The testimony of Scripture to this age-old question is centered around the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The entire Christian faith relies upon the reality and truthfulness of Jesus Christ, who is God, lived a sinless life (Heb 4:15; 1Peter 2:22; 2Corinthians 5:21; 1John 3:5), died and was buried, and rose on the third day according to the Scriptures (Hosea 6:2; Luke 24:46).

Why did Christianity "take off"? That question has been answered many different ways throughout history. Probably the most helpful and memorable is the one offered by C.S. Lewis who said:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. . . . Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. (Mere Christianity, 55-56)

His argument has been whittled down to Jesus as one of three possiblities: Liar, Lunatic, or Lord. But the conclusion of so many eye-witnesses was that He was indeed Lord. For example the Centurion soldier:

Matthew 27:54 (NASB95) — 54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

So to answer your question, Christianity has been tested since the beginning. The Jews tried to discredit Jesus, the Pharisees and Saduccees tried to trap him, Judas tried to kill Him, the Romans tried to judge Him, but Jesus had full control of His life as he would often say, "My time has not yet come" (John 7:6). Ultimately it was the Father who crushed the Son (Isaiah 53:10). Jesus gave up His life of His own accord because He was God (Matthew 27:50).

The arguments for atheism are fairly recent. Even the wicked pagans and Jews believed in God. At least they were not as foolish as the people of today who believe there is no God (Psalm 53:1). The attacks on Christianity was to discredit Jesus, to expose Him as a fraud, to retain power over the region of Judea, to preserve the social structure of the Jews. Yet the answer for all is the same. Jesus Christ who lived, died, was raised on the third-day, seated on the right-hand of the Father remains the same answer yesterday, today, and forever.

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