I hadn't been by this site in forever and just happened across this. I'm not Mountaineer but maybe I can help, or make it worse, I'm not sure.
(I hope that's not too shrill a way to begin a discussion about a delicate topic.)
That's okay, people have got to be honest without being abrasive or insulting, and that's exactly what I see here. I know it's hard to convey tone in these discussions sometimes, people on all sides sound like they're condescending or smug, etc.
I hope if I "sound" like that, you will indulge me and try to take the remark in the best light like I'm trying to do here.
It's okay to disagree with anything I say or just say it's not persuasive.
And I'll try to be honest if I see an area where I don't know or I'm still working on the answers myself. I'll also try to say where I don't think I can resolve the impasse.
On what basis can a person conclude as a factual matter that Jesus did and said all of the things attributed to him in the Gospels? There are easily observable contradictions and embellishments in the Gospels. If some inaccuracies can be seen by simply comparing the text of the Gospels with one another, what would make us think that there may not be other embellishments, including the time-honored practice back then of attributing miracles to very wise people (actually, the Catholic church is still doing that today). It seems like we are talking about a matter of faith right off the bat, with a somewhat weak basis for even faith, given the contradictions among the Gospels when taken literally.
I interpret this as a question of reasonableness? Am I misintepreting that?
Well, let me try an imperfect parallel here. We don't have all the pertinent details of the doings of what people did in the past, and the further back you go, the harder it is to establish.
We have people who disagree on whether someone as recent as Abraham Lincoln was a hypocrite who chided Polk for starting an unnecessary war for political and economic gain and then did it himself, or the lionized, selfless emancipator who was just defending his noble ideas?
It's not just the interpretation of the person either, the hard objective facts aren't always known. For example what precisely was he doing May 26, 1843 at 11:07 PM in his local time zone? I just picked that date out of a hat.
From that perspective, I understand why you'd question a factual recollection of anyone's exploits.
I don't know what to say here beyond these few points:
1. I'm not accusing you of this, but I noticed Jesus of Nazareth gets subjected to a higher level of scrutiny than other figures, to the point some claim he's made up from whole cloth (note that this is different from those who claim he's inspired by other figures active at the time). I'm just pointing that out, FWIW.
2. What strikes you as reasonable may be different from what strikes others as reasonable.
I don't think consistency is necessarily the key to reasonableness, I interpret the Gospels as different witnesses recounting what struck them as the most important about the events they witnessed. Look, it personally strikes me as reasonable that multiple people, penning multiple independent accounts, should produce different versions that don't quite jive with each other.
It's not like they had dayplanners or Ipads to record everything (I'm being a bit cheeky here, but really, four guys with scrolls and ink, recalling events after they happened, what else could they do?).
I guess I'm trying to say while I agree about the point about accuracy, I think the accounts appear to have validity, and the inclusion of them all gives greater completeness (though not total, the Bible tells us there's far more things Jesus did that aren't recorded in it).
I simply do not see something that should be cast off immediately and simply disregarded. Upon multiple reviews, I have determined I believe that what they are recalling is real and factual, though I'm the first to acknowledge there's gaps, we haven't a complete story and we likely have some accuracy and interpretation issues.
Despite that I find what's present personally compelling.
The issue of where you draw the line on whether you believe a given thing is true or accurate is yours to draw, I cannot reasonably say where that line should be drawn.
It's just hard for me to say how much effort should go into analyzing the veracity of anything. I can only satisfy myself based on my entirely subjective criteria which are probably a combination of my personality, environment and who knows what else.
I can only point to extremes. The moon landing deniers seem like their lines are too high, to me personally.
Similarly, people who believe a powerful Jewish family cabal controls the Fed seem to have their line too low, to me personally.
3. Related to the point I just made, I'll point out that while I can't explain my ability to discern why I believe the Gospel is true in a nuanced way, for your consideration I'd like to include the following:
I don't believe in conspiracy theories. I don't believe in the Tooth Fairy. I don't believe in most urban legends (though I've fallen for a handful, but I was still skeptical enough to go research them and resolve them). I have two college degrees, one in a hard science.
I don't consider myself "smart" or any such thing, rather I look at the fact I seem to function, grow and adapt as a person, and I seem to believe reasonable things.
Reasonable does not imply perfection or accuracy, incidentally. The internet tends to inflate what it means to be reasonable.
The point is, whatever my filter for veracity is, it seems to function. I don't seem to be a crazy person looking from the inside out. I don't have any particular reason to believe it's infallible, but I also have nothing else, it's literally basic to who I am. I improve it all the time, there's things I don't believe any more I used to believe passionately (like I've completely changed my position on public welfare programs just for an example).
So even if I initially am wrong, I seem to slowly, over time, converge to a more and more accurate and correct understanding.
I don't think the process ever finishes, not really, but at the same time there's a few things that just seem to carry forward no matter what else I assimiliate or change. I think if they've been consistent in my ever changing mindset this long they're likely to be true. I think Jesus was real and did everything they say he did. I wish there was something more profound to it that would persuade you, but that's all I have.
I personally struggle with it a lot when other people, who seem as reasonable as I am, sometimes disagree with me on an issue of basic import like religion. The implications of that are staggering, and well beyond my grasp. It's fascinating really.
None of this is in and of itself strictly an argument for you to believe the Gospel, but my reasoning is I can only try to argue is my own sincerity. Perhaps if I get you to believe I genuinely believe what I'm saying, I can make some transitive argument that I'm reasonable, therefore this has some validity.
That's a terrible terrible argument, just awful, but I've really tried to think of something better and I just can't.
I'm just trying to shed just a little insight on how someone comes to the conclusion the accounts of Jesus seem to be true. You can question anything, you can believe anything, and how people who seem to otherwise be perfectly sane don't seem to do that consistently baffles me.
I've had some people tell me I'm just an irrational or insane person because I have religious beliefs. Okay fair argument, but I'm left at an impasse there, I don't know how to defend my own sanity or rationality other than saying it seems to be intact from my perspective. If it's not intact, I don't understand how I'd ever determine this.
And I'm getting ahead of myself here, but to me this is what people mean when they say you've got to have faith: you have to find that frame of mind. I think some people might have a harder time getting there than others because no one can recreate my personal uniqueness, they have to devise their own method. I can but attest.
Not to be irreverent here, but why is so much made of the offer of forgiveness? If God is righteous and he made us and some of us turned out not to be righteous, is an offer of forgiveness really all that special? That almost seems like providing warranty service on the human soul when it goes haywire. It's not a gift so much as a the same type of obligation that manufacturers assumes when they build any product.
If you can, please provide more information about the gift of forgiveness and why it's a gift? If I tell God that I love him and simply want to be closer to Him, why can I not even be in God's presence without being washed in the blood of his mortal son who was murdered by a joint effort between Roman rulers and Jewish clerics? That almost seems like God gets out of connecting with people on a technicality ("Sorry, no one came to your village to preach the Gospel--can't talk to you or forgive you"). If God is God, why is He limited to only listening to those who are aware of the Jesus story? To use a car metaphor, it would be like saying that the manufacturer's warranty only applies to cars purchased from a certain dealership.
More generally, why is it necessary for a supernatural being to forgive us of anything in the first place? Why can't we forgive ourselves or have other people forgive us, sort of like the Catholics do?
Those are just a few things that pop to mind.
I was long winded before so I'll try to be concise here. Sin is an offense against God (not just God in many cases mind you), who else can possibly forgive it than the offended?
I actually rather agree we have the power to forgive ourselves, others, etc. but only God can forgive for God's sake. I realize that probably puts me at odds with others who think some intervening agent on Earth has to solicit this forgiveness, but that's my perspective.
Anyway there's many things I didn't answer and I am sorry for that but time is of the essence, I wish I could comment more and hope I haven't just made a mess of things.