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April 09, 2013

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To make a case from silence on a particular issue, such as they never said they were eye witnesses, seems flimsy at best. We know the book of acts was from 62 A.D 2 years before the martyrdom of Paul and 3 before Peter placing it within the life of eye witnesses. Scholars believe marks gospel and possibly Mathews gospel where the first ones placing them in the 50's A.D even closer to events. Being that they are very early and having knowledge of someone being so close to the events that time had to be spent as eye witnesses to have the insider knowledge that is written about. Now if you are going to write an account of the facts to be passed around so that people will give there life to Christ in the early days of the movement, would you not need to be an eye witness who was writing these these things instead of second hand account? It seems to me that people will cling to anything for it to not be true. And I can understand that, when my selfish nature takes control of me the last thing I want to hear is, what did Jesus do. Forgive me for my simple mindedness. I just woke up, and I'm relatively new to apologetics, but I find I would like to do nothing more with my life than work for the Lord in an apologetic service.

Even if we accept that the gospels were written by the traditional authors (which there is no reason to believe is true), Mark and Luke are not eyewitness accounts as neither knew or walked with Jesus. At best, these are second-hand accounts.

AJG,

>> Mark and Luke are not eyewitness accounts as neither knew or walked with Jesus. At best, these are second-hand accounts.

And yet isn't new reporting all second-hand accounts? Still these would be trustworthy and reliable.

Luke credits his gospel to the recountings of eyewitnesses (Luke 1:2), and insists on being careful and accurate (Luke 1: 3), allowing his work to be appraised on its merits (Luke 1: 4). To declare it questionable because Luke was not not in Jesus' entourage is "straining at a gnat" (which is a line that Matthew culled from being in the group cf. Matt 23: 24).

Andrew, welcome to the discussion. You are correct in asserting the possiblility of the early dating of New Testament sources. In a debate with Daniel Wallace, Bart Ehrmann disparaged the works of conservative Biblical scholars due to perceived assumptions, as if liberal scholars who teach at secular universities are free from them. I have found that the historical-critical methodology has made many mistakes in their studies of the materials (two-document hypothesis to four-source hypothesis, fragmentary theory ... ).

When I clicked on the blog this morning I didn't see any posts, possibly due to using my phone and not a computer. So I have not seen any other posts and do not know what has been said, I have no formal training, which I am working on, I thought what the Heck I'll throw my 2 cents in and see what happens. So forgive me if I haven't kept up with the conversation.

Even if we accept that the gospels were written by the traditional authors (which there is no reason to believe is true)
No none at all, except, of course, for the fact that all the early historians say that it is true. They further say that Mark wrote Mark, with Peter, in essence, looking over his shoulder.

I do not, however, think that anyone claims that these eyewitness accounts are eyewitness accounts from beginning to end. In some cases, the authors are clearly reporting what they got from other sources.

Indeed, we can probably infer the sources of the author's report from what they report. Luke reports that Magnificat because Mary was probably one of his sources. Matthew reports the travels of the Wise Men and the interview between the Wise Men and Herod because one of the Wise Men was probably one of his sources. He reports Joseph's struggles and visions regarding the birth of Christ because Joseph was probably one of his sources.

With that said, the vast bulk of the gospels are eyewitness accounts of the events reported. Matthew saw Jesus ride into Jerusalem with his own eyes. He saw Jesus feed the multitudes with his own eyes. He saw the risen Lord with his own eyes.

Here's my concern:
The date of writing of the New Testament (the gospels in particular) is of key importance in this debate. One of the primary methods by which the Gospels are dated is based on the lack of mention of the deaths of Peter and Paul in Acts, along with the lack of any mention of the destruction of Jerusalem.

On one hand, I agree with this reasoning. It makes sense. But on the other hand, isn't this a classical "argument from silence"? We (as apologists) frequently reject arguments from silence when they are presented by critics of the New Testament. But here we are MAKING an argument from silence in our dating methods! Therefore, I would love to see a reasonable argument for an early dating of the gospels that does NOT employ this destruction of Jerusalem argument as the centerpiece.

Nathan, I don't think this argument from silence, but a logical inference. Luke, in particular, shows himself throughout his gospel account to be a stickler for detail and fills his pages to bursting with verifiable historical references. It strains credulity to think he just failed to mention the second biggest thing to happen to the Jewish people in his lifetime.

The epistles, even more so. These, often, personal letters to the churches contain a number of prayer requests for the believers in Jerusalem, who were under intense persecution from Rome. If the sacking of Jerusalem had already occurred, that is something you can be sure would have made it into their prayers.

No none at all, except, of course, for the fact that all the early historians say that it is true. They further say that Mark wrote Mark, with Peter, in essence, looking over his shoulder.

The "early" historians date to the second century which is at least 50-100 years after these accounts were originally penned. Not very compelling at all.

I do not, however, think that anyone claims that these eyewitness accounts are eyewitness accounts from beginning to end. In some cases, the authors are clearly reporting what they got from other sources.

Nothing in Mark or Luke is an eyewitness account. Neither Mark or Luke (assuming those are the authors of the gospels that bear their names) witnessed anything they report. They are not eyewitness accounts.

Richard Bauckham's "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" sheds important light on this topic. I highly recommend people read for a full treatment of evidential approach; he builds a convincing case.

To say a gospel is NOT an eyewitness account because the writer (ie;Luke) wasn't an eyewitness is to avoid the obvious. The eyewitnesses were questioned and listened to, interviewed so to speak, and the biographer wrote down the testimonial accounts within the formats flow of their written gospels (and Acts). This view doesn't neglect the personality or intended audience of writer, and keeps in mind that first century biographies are not the same as modern biographies.

Again, Bauckham makes much sense.

And yet isn't new reporting all second-hand accounts? Still these would be trustworthy and reliable.

A report by someone at Auschwitz is an eyewitness account. A report by someone who interviewed someone at Auschwitz is a second-hand account. Mark and Luke are, at best, second-hand accounts. More likely, Luke is cobbled together from Mark and other sources.

Tobias,

Although off-topic from this blog entry, your comment piqued two questions:

[From the moderator: The questions have been removed. Please don't purposely take the comments off topic, particularly in the challenges where the comment section serves the specific purpose of answering the challenge. Thanks.]

I find it humorous that we take as history accounts of Caesar and Alexander the Great when there is a dearth of documents about them, yet we have over 5000 Greek manuscripts for the NT and people still claim Jesus never existed.

People in this day and age are spoiled by the internet and the quickness in which we can find news stories. Back then there were no printing presses, every thing had to HAND written. I challenge one person to write Matthew by hand and see how long it takes you to write it just once! Now imagine that we done 5000 times and maybe you'll get some appreciation for what we have here.

I find it humorous that we take as history accounts of Caesar and Alexander the Great when there is a dearth of documents about them, yet we have over 5000 Greek manuscripts for the NT and people still claim Jesus never existed.

Those men were great rulers so their histories are fairly certain. Besides, neither Caesar nor Alexander the Great claimed to have been born of a virgin, performed great miracles or claimed to have risen from the dead. Jesus almost certainly existed, but he was just another apocalyptic prophet like thousands of others who came before and after him.

Alexander the Great supposedly conquered the entire known world. I find that equally ridiculous to believe, especially when our earliest manuscripts of this don't appear until 400 years after the supposed events. You would really have to take it on faith. :-P

If your view of Jesus is correct, then 11 out of the 12 disciples died for a man they knew was a fraud. That simply does not happen. I suppose they could have all gotten the wrong idea about Jesus, but then how does that fit in with His teaching? It's simply incredulous to believe that Jesus was just another teacher, given the radical historical transformation that took place in the life of the early church.

In contrast, Islam was largely spread by the sword early after Muhammad's death(excluding Africa, mostly). However, Christianity spread by the death of it's followers who were convinced that what they saw was true and worth dying for.

AJG,

>> More likely, Luke is cobbled together from Mark and other sources.

It is more likely that the gospel of Luke is the work of one intelligent writer, given to investigative study, who had opportunity in the late fifties AD to speak to the individuals who knew Jesus, as well as examine early editions of narratives. Luke admitted as much in his prolouge. The Apostolic Fathers made much of these writings in their writings.

It would do you well to examine the work of Tim McGrew. Search for his series on the Gospels in Apologetics 315. Early dating is intellectually sound.

Alexander the Great supposedly conquered the entire known world. I find that equally ridiculous to believe, especially when our earliest manuscripts of this don't appear until 400 years after the supposed events.

Then don't believe it. Did Alexander exist? Yes. Did he conquer a great swath of the known world of the day? Yes. We can dicker about the details, but no one is claiming that Alexander was a God (even if he likely believed it).

If your view of Jesus is correct, then 11 out of the 12 disciples died for a man they knew was a fraud.

Prove it. There is no corroborating evidence this happened other than church tradition established in the second century C.E. You don't think the church had a vested interest in propogating those stories of martyrdom, do you?

However, Christianity spread by the death of it's followers who were convinced that what they saw was true and worth dying for.

People have visions and die for them even today. That's weak.

AJG - Wrong on so many points. Alexander the Great claimed divinity and the Ceasars all claimed their political position by divine right and were to be worshipped among the pantheon of Roman gods.

Possibly the only thing you got right is that "Jesus almost certainly existed." As for being be born of a virgin, performing great miracles, and rising from the dead, these are all evidence that he was certainly not "just another apocalyptic prophet like thousands of others who came before and after him."

Anyway, we're getting OT here. The question is are the gospels eyewitness accounts. My assertion is they are not; they are, at best, second-hand accounts.

J. Warner Wallace dealt with that a couple weeks ago in this blog post:


Eyewitness Reliability Related to Criminal Trials
The standard for criminal trials is exceptionally high related to eyewitnesses and there’s a good reason for this. We would rather release one hundred guilty people than wrongly convict one innocent person. For this reason, we give the defendant the benefit of the doubt, assume his innocence, and give his defense team every possible opportunity to confront and examine accusers and witnesses. That’s appropriate in criminal trials, even though it often limits the ability of the prosecution to establish the truth.

Eyewitness Reliability Related to Chronological Truths
The standard for establishing historical truths must, by necessity, be very different than the standard for criminal trials, unless, of course, we are willing to reject any claim of history for which we don’t have a living eyewitness (to cross-examine). History is established on the written testimony of eyewitnesses or the research of historians who have access to such testimony. If we rejected every claim about the past that couldn’t be supported by living testimony, we’d be forced to live in the present, unsure of anything that precedes us by more than two generations.


In this case, while Mark & Luke may not have been eyewitnesses themselves, they had direct access to the first-hand eyewitnesses, and should be taken as historians.

And you haven't provided any reasons to disregard Matthew and John as eyewitnesses.

I agree with AJG. I think that unless the gospels writers themselves were eye-witnesses, it's misleading at best to call the gospels "eye witness accounts." After all, if we can call the gospels eye witness accounts just because some of the sources were eye-witnesses, then almost any historical account is an eye-witness account. John Adams by David McCullough would be an eye-witness account just because some of the sources included letters written by John and Abigail Adams.

I have yet to read Richard Baukam's book on Jesus and the Eye Witnesses, but I acquired it recently and am curious what influence it will have on me. I also read J. Warner Wallace's book, Cold Case Christianity and was unpersuaded by his case that the gospels were eye-witness accounts. Throughout Part II of the book, he used the phrase "eye witness accounts" instead of "gospels," even while admitting that Luke was not an eye-witness. He seemed to take no position on the synoptic problem and gave the impression that each gospel was a fresh account. I find that nearly impossible to believe.

My own position is that Mark was written first. Although it's possible Mark got some of his information from Peter, I'm not really convinced of that. I think both Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source, so I am almost completely convinced that neither one is an eye-witness account. There may have been an earlier account written by Matthew in Aramaic that the writer of Matthew's gospel relied on, and maybe Luke, too. I think Luke probably also used Matthew's gospel as a source, so I'm highly skeptical of Q. It's possible that Luke interviewed eye-witnesses, but he appears to have gotten most of his information from earlier written sources. I think John was written independently of the synoptic gospels, although the author of John's gospel may have read one or more of them. He didn't use them as a source when writing his gospel, though. John's gospel shows a lot of familiarity with Jerusalem before the war, so I think it's possible some of the information in John's gospel came from an eye-witness, but I doubt an eye-witness wrote it. Certainly, no eye-witness wrote the end of it.

That's my fallible opinion. I'm not going to argue about it, though, because that would involve too much discussion. There's a lot to it.

AJG - Wrong on so many points. Alexander the Great claimed divinity and the Ceasars all claimed their political position by divine right and were to be worshipped among the pantheon of Roman gods.

Of course they did. Nobody today believes they were gods though. How is the fact that Caesar claimed to be a god even relevant to whether or not they existed? Romulus may have existed but nobody believes he was suckled at the teet of a she-wolf. Troy existed but nobody believes that a hero named Achilles really died there from a poison arrow shot by a man named Paris. Those are myths based on real people or events that occurred in history. Kind of like Christianity.

Possibly the only thing you got right is that "Jesus almost certainly existed." As for being be born of a virgin, performing great miracles, and rising from the dead, these are all evidence that he was certainly not "just another apocalyptic prophet like thousands of others who came before and after him."

There's no evidence any of these things occurred so they are certainly not evidence that Jesus was Yahweh incarnate.

And you haven't provided any reasons to disregard Matthew and John as eyewitnesses.

Given that there is no evidence that these gospels were written by the persons to whom they are attributed, I don't see any reason to do so. So are you admitting that Luke and Mark are not eyewitness accounts?

Nothing in Mark or Luke is an eyewitness account. Neither Mark or Luke (assuming those are the authors of the gospels that bear their names) witnessed anything they report. They are not eyewitness accounts.
Actually, that's not true. Mark is generally assumed to be the young man wearing the linen cloth who fled naked. That strange vignette is taken as the author's signature. If so, Mark is an eyewitness.

The reason the association with Peter is important is not because Peter was an eyewitness and Mark was not. It is because Peter was an apostle and Mark was not.

Now, as for the early histories that memorialize who the authors are. They are very probative. At least some of them would have been written during the lifetimes of people who knew the authors.

Justin is right about everything (except the usage of "incredulous" ;-)

Nicely put Justin.

We've had discussions already on all the objections that AJG raised in which his side did not fare too well.

This quote is emblematic of the problem with the historically-challenged objection

There is no corroborating evidence this happened other than church tradition established in the second century C.E.
Early in the second century A.D. In other words, the church 'tradition' was established during the lifetimes of people who knew many of the 11.

What the Apostles were eyewitnesses to was the Incarnation of God. As John says, "We have seen his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." The testimony they provide in the Gospels is of the unique circumstance of the Incarnation, and the mission objective of the Incarnate Christ, namely his miracles and ministry culminating in the atonement through His death and resurrection.

Being eyewitnesses to the pinnacle events of human history and sharing the pertinent details in writing does not somehow mean the Apostles would observe firsthand every moment of Jesus' life. No reasonable person would expect such intrusiveness, nor is such a thing conceivably possible. And the fact that Jesus' disciples, whom He met in his late 20's, did not observe everything about which they wrote, in no way diminishes the reliability of their narrative as factual documentary history. Jesus had ample opportunity to share the details of His life with these men as they traveled together for roughly three years. It is their firsthand access to, and familiarity with, the Incarnate deity, that lends distinctive authority to the Gospel records.

I'll amend one word:

It lends distinctive credibility to the Gospels.

The authority of Scripture was conferred by God, not simply by proximity. Many thousands saw Jesus, but only four Gospels commend themselves authoritatively.

Pointing out the eyewitness nature of the Gospels reinforces their credibility, not their inspiration per se.

"find it humorous that we take as history accounts of Caesar and Alexander the Great when there is a dearth of documents about them, yet we have over 5000 Greek manuscripts for the NT and people still claim Jesus never existed.

Those men were great rulers so their histories are fairly certain. Besides, neither Caesar nor Alexander the Great claimed to have been born of a virgin, performed great miracles or claimed to have risen from the dead. Jesus almost certainly existed, but he was just another apocalyptic prophet like thousands of others who came before and after him.

Hi AJG, the historical account of Jesus is not so easily minimized like you have done in comparison to Alexander and Caeser. Even though they claimed god status which was compeletly normal in near eastern treaty language, they were political leaders. Jesus' claims were unique, that you list Him as "another apocalyptic prophet...", shows an unreasonable bias, a bias that ignores what history has abundantly recorded[His claims, what He was charged with, and crucified for].

It's odd you think that you can trust the historical account of Alexander or Julius Caesar, and not the historical account of Jesus, I think you ought to question yourself why.

If I was defending the Christian position, I would respond to this challenge as follows:

“Somewhere along the line we—both skeptics and Christians alike—were sold a faulty premise: that eyewitness testimony insures 100% historical accuracy. We have been conditioned by legal fiction presented in our current culture to value eyewitness testimony over hearsay or second-hand information. In truth, eyewitness testimony can be inaccurate (either intentionally or non-intentionally) and second- (or third-) hand information can be accurate by unerring report from various sources.

“By reducing the debate surrounding the canonical gospels to, ‘Were the authors eyewitnesses?’ or ‘When were they written?’ we have diminished their historical value and trivialized the debate along too simplistic lines. The gospels are not courtroom testimony—they were never intended to be such. The gospels are not 21st century historical accounts—they were never intended to be such.

“Instead we should appreciate the accounts within the genre of their time-- bios. And as bios the authors wrote the accounts with specific intentions, deliberately introducing and modifying elements to conform to those intentions. Just like other authors within the culture and time. The question should never be, ‘Were the authors eyewitness?’ because it makes little difference regarding the larger question--‘What happened?’”

DagoodS

>> By reducing the debate surrounding the canonical gospels to, ‘Were the authors eyewitnesses?’ or ‘When were they written?’ we have diminished their historical value and trivialized the debate along too simplistic lines.

I can't reckon this statement as anything other than non sequitur reasoning. The questions you raise speak to historic value and are ultimately important. This is the point of the challenge. If the gospel writers are eye-witnesses (or in Mark and Luke's cases a recorder of incidences as seen by eye-witnesses), then we have made the primary step in moving to the question of their accuracy. We must accept both questions you've raised toward the end of your 5:51 AM post: "Were the authors eyewitness [sic]?" and "What happened?"

I marvel that we have accepted the works of Jesus biographers as Renan and Switzer simply due to their de-emphasis in the miraculous works of Jesus, works that were written centuries later, but pause at the works of four accounts written at the times by those who walked with the man, simply because of the situation Jesus would make of His identity in Matt. 16: 13ff. "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?"

Due to this assertion that Jesus was the Christ, the apostle John and gospel-writer Luke would vow to the integrity and goal of their works, John in the last verses of chapters twenty and twenty-one, Luke in the first four verses. Matthew would center his gospel on the fulfillment of prophecy as a trademark proof of the Messiahhood of Jesus. The Apostolic father Papias, in the following generation, noted Mark as the writer of Peter's memories.

All these men could vouch for being with Jesus, or faithfully recording their memories. Skeptics only grouse at the idea that they noted spectacular things about Him. But their accounts would answer the question "What happened?"

Please excuse my late entry to this discussion. I would like to pose a couple of questions if I may regarding the identity of eyewitnesses.

Who could have possibly witnessed the events preceding, during, and following the birth of Jesus? If it was Mary, why do the narratives vary so greatly? Why so many differences between Matthew's and Luke's telling? Why no mention of it in Mark? Is it no likely that Matthew included a story in order to fulfill a mistaken prophecy from a mistranslation in the Septuagint?

Who could have possibly witnessed the events preceding, during, and following the events surrounding the empty tomb? Why do the narratives vary so greatly?

FL-

People other than Mary who might have witnessed some of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus

  1. Joseph
  2. The Magi
  3. The shepherds
  4. Members of Herod's court
  5. The owner of the house or stable where Jesus was born and laid in a manger
  6. Soldiers sent out to slaughter the Holy Innocents

The reason there is no mention of the Nativity in Mark is because Mark chose not to write about it. I'm pretty sure that that's also the reason there's no mention of it in John, First Corinthians or the Acts of the apostles.

Why would you expect Mark to mention it?

And here's another thought. The seventy were better translators of Hebrew to Greek than anyone living today. Now, they might have an agenda, and that might color their translation. But if your point is simply that they were incompetent translators, you need a different point.

It is your assertion that the narratives vary greatly regarding the empty tomb. What you actually see is an overlapping and complementary set of distinct descriptions.

As for who might have witnessed those events (and provided all those distinct descriptions):

  1. Jesus
  2. Mary Magdalene
  3. Mary the mother of Jesus
  4. Mary the sister of Lazarus and Martha
  5. Salome
  6. Other Holy Women
  7. Peter
  8. John
  9. Other Apostles
  10. Other disciples who were not among the Apostles

As many textual critics like to point out Matthew, Mark and Luke seem to draw from many of the same materials. This is evidence that they were not written in isolation. Mark and Luke were secondhand accounts only in the sense that they wrote them. The accounts were compiled from eyewitness accounts and validated by the eyewitnesses. Matthew and John were both eyewitnesses and although they contained material not personally witnessed by them, they also were validated by eyewitnesses.

But there is an element that most debates lack. Christians are personally witnesses to the activity of Jesus Christ today. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, we can validate the scriptures. We can't validate the historical accounts, per se, but the Holy Spirit validates them to us. But we can validate the truth claims of the gospel spelled out in the Bible on our lives today.

Jim,

How do you know that "The accounts were compiled from eyewitness accounts and validated by the eyewitnesses?" Please provide some actual evidence that is not just a presumption about what might have happened.

On the other hand, we have this from the Book of Mormon:

And Also The Testimony Of Eight Witnesses
BE IT KNOWN unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold ; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.
Christian Whitmer Joseph Smith, Sr.
Jacob Whitmer Hyrum Smith
Peter Whitmer Hiram Page
John Whitmer Samuel H. Smith

Given all that we know about Joseph Smith, all serious historians dismiss this statement. Even so, millions of Mormons still believe it and the Book today.

What makes you think that even if actual disciples were running around Jerusalem saying, "I knew Jesus and that character in the Gospel is not him" that anyone would have changed their minds? Given slow and spotty communications of the time, Christians in Greece and Italy may never even have heard the objections.

WL,

The seventy were better translators of Hebrew to Greek than anyone living today.

Are you suggesting that the "virgin" prophecy was the correct translation and that the prophet actually did prophecy that a "virgin" would give birth to a messiah?

Yes. That's exactly what I'm suggesting.

BTW, the Hebrew word "haalmah" means "virgin". It is with only one exception translated in the gold-standard NASB as "virgin" or "maid" or "maiden" (which are synonyms for "virgin"). It is translated in the exceptional case as "girl". But in that case, it is surely referring to a virgin (Moses sister, who spoke to Pharaoh's daughter after she had fished Moses from the river). Had it been translated as "maiden" it would have worked just fine.

DGFischer,

I agree the question of historic value is ultimately important. So why add a difficult proposition—claiming the authors were eyewitnesses—to an already problematic concern? Why make two (2) arguments when one suffices? I see two concerns with this approach:

1) By relying too heavily on the authors being eyewitnesses, the apologist creates two (2) arguments where s/he could possibly not persuade rather than one. Alternatively, by admitting it is irrelevant, the apologist takes away an argument by the skeptic, while retaining the same greater (and ultimately more important) argument surrounding historic value.

The argument regarding canonical gospel authorships broadly falls into two categories—external vs. internal evidence. Those relying on internal evidence-- silence to authorship, geographical errors, contradictions, errors in persons, and reliance upon other gospels--eventually conclude the authors were not eyewitnesses. Those relying on external evidence-- Papias, Irenaeus, and Origen indicating authorship--conclude the authors were eyewitnesses or relied upon eyewitnesses.

It comes down to internal vs. external evidence. But more importantly, it comes down to arguments, claims and propositions going back and forth where Christian scholars cannot agree amongst themselves regarding authorship. If Christians cannot agree, why give more (and unnecessary) fodder for skeptics to chew upon?

2) If one establishes the probability of eyewitness authors (or sources), one still retains the dilemma of eyewitnesses modifying the events. For example, assuming Matthew the disciple wrote Matthew the Gospel and was an eyewitness to Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem, what prevents this eyewitness from introducing the non-historical myth about the raising of the saints? Matt. 27:52-53. Nothing! It was perfectly acceptable within the genre.

Or assuming John, son of Zebedee wrote John the gospel, what prevents this eyewitness from modifying the day of Passover at Jesus’ death to make a doctrinal point? Nothing! Again perfectly acceptable within the genre. I deliberately picked these two points because Dr. Mike Licona notes both modifications, even though Dr. Licona believes these gospels were written by eyewitnesses. Christian scholars agree eyewitnesses modify events.

By making this issue so black-and-white—they were eyewitnesses and reliable or eyewitnesses and not reliable—the apologist ends up losing those who see so much gray in the question.

Finally…in response to our grousing; actually we are being consistent in our methodology. Tacitus reports Vespasian miraculously healed a blind man and a crippled man. Tacitus bolsters the story by noting there are eyewitness accounts who gain nothing by lying. (Reminiscent of John 19:35) These events are also recorded by Suetonius and Cassius Dio. While historians greatly rely upon Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio regarding Roman history, I do not know of a single historian who claims, “Because Suetonius is correct regarding geography, we must also accept as true Vespasian could do miracles.” No historian (that I know) says, “Tacitus talked to eyewitnesses, so Vespasian could do miracles.” Not at all—we understand these historians could be accurate in some matters and not accurate in others. And we (along with Christians) do not consider the miraculous accounts as historical.

Or take Josephus who was present at the siege of Jerusalem. He records a star in the shape of a sword and a comet lasting a year. A cow giving birth to a lamb, a bright light in the middle of the night, doors opening on their own and armies seen running amongst the clouds. Again, we rely heavily on Josephus for Jewish history. But no historians claim these miracles occurred because Josephus witnessed them or talked to witnesses. No historian claims Josephus was accurate elsewhere, therefore these miracles happened.

Nope—we recognize the genre, culture and time by weeding out miracle stories in Tacitus, Suetonius, Cassius Dio and Josephus as not being historical. Why shouldn’t we do the same with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? Even IF they were eyewitnesses or used eyewitnesses as sources? Why should the canonical gospels be treated differently than other writings of the time?

I think what is being completely over looked in this discussion is the question of why any of the Gospels were written. I guarantee that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, and show Himself to His followers (and many others)the Gospels would have never been written, and Jesus followers would have become extinct within a generation or two. By the time Jesus revealed Himself to the 11, they had gone back to what they were doing before Jesus called them. The fishermen went back to fishing etc. Others were hiding from the Jews in fear they would suffer the same fate as Jesus. The post resurrection apostles and disciples came out of hiding and knowingly faced persecution and death.
I keep reading about the lack of mention of events from one Gospel to the next, slight variations in the telling of events etc. Yet as one blogger mentioned, there are distinct over lapping consistencies that cannot be disregarded, and in some ways makes the accounts more credible. Take for example a traffic accident, and an investigator is questioning witnesses to find out what happened. If every supposed eye witness told exactly the same retelling of the event, the investigator would disregard the information because it would be clear that the information was somehow influenced. Perhaps the driver came around before emergency responders arrived and told them what he wanted them to say etc. If the eye witnesses provided accounts with more or less detail, but basically supported each other, then is would be more reliable. The investigator EXPECTS real accounts of an event to be slightly different, containing more detail in one area than the other. But as a whole, the different accounts put together pieces of a larger story that becomes clearly defined and consistently pointing toward the central point. Why is this acceptable everywhere but when discussing Scripture?

Mike,

You ask: "Why is this acceptable everywhere but when discussing Scripture?"

The thing is, you (and most every other Christian, it seems) bring a lot of assumptions to the table which are not shared by others. For example, did the Eleven really go back to their old lives? You seem to think so, but I see no good reason to believe it. You also claim they faced persecution and death. That is less implausible, but still dubious. And anyway, religious leaders often face persecution and death, but this is no reason to think their religious claims are true.

As for the traffic accident analogy, it is true that multiple independent attestation is helpful when verifying facts. However the Synoptic Gospels are clearly not independent, and we have no way of verifying that the Johannine traditions are independent either. Remember, we aren't interviewing eyewitnesses on the scene. Instead we are dealing with anonymous documents written decades after the events they recount. They tell us only what they choose to tell us, and express no interest whatsoever in setting aside their overt religious biases.

Now don't get me wrong here---I'm not saying we should throw out the Gospels. They are easily the most valuable sources of information we have for the life of Jesus. However if we want to be responsible historians, we mustn't naively accept them at face value either.

Hey Ben. Thanks for your response. I like how you forced me to think of the assumption aspect. I don't think any conclusion on any point can be made without some assumptions. Regardless of how concrete the evidence. Every theory on how the universe was created for example, can only come about with SOME assumption. I personally think there is enough factual evidence in the Gospels that far out weigh the amount of assumption necessary to get to the conclusion.
I believe where Jesus revealed himself to the fishermen (and four other disciples)was while they were fishing.
I think several other events recorded after the Gospel accounts also validate the credibility of the preceding documents. I feel the life of Paul supports the Gospels well. You cannot deny the radical, physical, mental and spiritual change that occurred in Paul. The transformation that took place in Paul is amazing. Paul had everything to loose including his life. His story is an autobiography, and backed up by witnesses who watched the transformation take place. Paul himself reminds us several times that he is completely aware of who he was and who he had become. My point is, if you take each Gospel account by itself, maybe you can find holes in it. Add in the other Gospels and some of those holes get filled in. Add in the Epistles and more holes get filled in. Lump the New Testament into the Old Testament and the holes are few and far between.
As far as the persecution and death idea, I agree that religious leaders died all the time as martyrs. However the writers of the New testament did so before there was any religion called Christianity. Jesus came to knock people out of religion. The Disciples and Apostles were not religious, and some actually knew Jesus. I fully believe that if Jesus did not rise from the dead and reveal Himself to the 11, we would have never heard from them again. The Torah would be all we have and the New Testament would never have been assembled or even written. The post resurrection Disciples and Apostles had nothing to gain from what they were doing. So why did they do any of it? Because they had all the evidence they needed, a Jesus who died and rose from the dead. No other reason could justify their response; living a life devoted to carrying out the commands of Jesus.
The religious having something to gain aspect did not come until much later when money, power and protection could be gained under the façade of religion.

DagoodS

I truly appreciate your insights in the matter of clarifying the question that is central to this challenge. I can see you point as to separating the matter of "eyewitness" and "accurate." But I need a little more clarity as to two comments you made in your post (5:56 AM, April 11). They are:

1) actually we are being consistent in our methodology. (this being in reference to the miraculous elements in the Gospels)

2) we recognize the genre, culture and time by weeding out miracle stories in Tacitus, Suetonius, Cassius Dio and Josephus as not being historical.

The nature of the miracle seems to be a key assumption that divides us. In your apparatus of historical analysis, is the miracle to be consistently excised, or is there room to consider whether such a miracle is possible given some degree of explanation. In other words, are miracles to be excluded on principle, or is there a system of culling legitimate miracle to historical fib.

Is purpose relevant? The nature of the miracles of Jesus was to establish His Messiah-hood, a matter that was argued among those who had seen such events and still would discredit them. The miracles of Vespasian could be nothing but propaganda to bolster the position of a regicide. The reports of Josephus (who was outside the walls of a besieged Jerusalem) could be nothing more than the collection of tales expressed by an alarmed populace.

To discard the miraculous element is based on a principle of naturalistic bias. If there is no naturalistic explanation, there is nothing. This notion is dangerously limiting.

The Synoptic Gospels are clearly not independent
What makes this so clear?

The fact that two accounts talk about the same events does not make them dependent on one another. They could both talk about the same events because both are based on independent perspectives on the same or similar events.

Let's suppose that you and I go to separate political events. Let's say it's a presidential campaign stop in a dairy state. And it's the same candidate.

We both might hear something along the lines of "Blessed are the Cheesemakers" (though not for Monty Python's reasons). The fact that both of us report hearing the phrase "Blessed are the Cheesemakers" does nothing to imply that our reports are dependent on each other or on a single 'sayings' source. The single source that explains the correlation is the candidate himself. I heard the candidate say it in Wisconsin, you heard him say it in Minnesota.

The disciples walked around with Jesus for three years hearing Him preach. I suspect that they knew His 'sayings' in their sleep.

And when it comes to doings, this is where you get the most complaints of divergence in the accounts. One account mentions the intermediaries used by the centurion, another doesn't, one account mentions two donkeys another only the one that was actually ridden. One account mentions two demoniacs, another just the one who tried to follow Jesus, but describes his plight in fuller detail. One account has a spitting miracle, another doesn't. And so on.

BTW, I'm not asserting that the gospels are completely independent. I'm just saying that the proposition that they are is highly defensible.

DGFischer,

Fair question. We (theist and non-theist alike) approach life with a naturalistic primacy—we look for a naturalistic explanation first. If one’s car does not start on a cold morning, we check for gasoline, power and spark. Most (all?) would not immediately ascribe God’s intervention. Who wouldn’t look to the gas tank indicator first?

Likewise we see other theists’ supernatural claims, and determine there is a naturalistic explanation. Do you believe the Maker and Sustainer of the Universe miraculously intervened into our natural world to carefully burn the image of Mary on….a grilled-cheese sandwich? Or—like me—do you think there is a natural explanation for Mary-on-Cheese?

What method do you use to determine what miracle claims are true and which ones are false? (I recognize there is a vast spectrum between, including possible, probable, etc. Presumably there is at least one (1) miracle in each category of true or false to inspect the methodology.)

I agree the Vespasian miracles were written in support of what was expected of an emperor. And the Josephus miracles were written in support of what was expected at great events. But couldn’t we also say the Jesus miracles were written in support of what was expected of a holy man at the time? These miracle accounts conformed to the genre, culture and expectation of society. All of them.

Worse, our earliest New Testament writer, Paul, doesn’t list a single miracle performed by Jesus in support of Jesus’ position. Indeed, Paul specifically says the Jews are looking for a sign (what Jews called “miracles.”) and Christianity does not provide signs! 1 Cor. 1:22-23 What prevents later writers from inventing miraculous accounts? Nothing.

Further, how does this methodology deal with other claimed Christian miracles? Like those in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of James, Gospel of Peter, the Acts of Andrew, Acts of John, Acts of Paul, Acts of Peter, etc.? How do we “weed out” (although it fit, I didn’t particularly like my choice of words, and am glad you took it in the manner I meant) which miracles are true and which are false?

What prevents ALL miracle accounts from being false?

I agree miracles are possible and should not a priori be excluded. However, I wonder whether it is naturalistic bias-- I see theists without my naturalistic predisposition weed out other theist’s miracle claims for the same naturalistic reasons I use. If even other theists aren’t convinced God intervened—why should we non-theists be convinced?

@AJG,

Those men were great rulers so their histories are fairly certain.

So, the only requirement for the truthfulness of certain historical claims is that the subject be famous? If that's the case, then I suppose Elvis is alive after all...

Back to the topic at hand, the question is "The Gospels Aren't Eyewitness Accounts."

First, let's understand what is meant by the question. It would lump all 4 documents into the same category of unreliability based on proven, faulty reasoning. Matthew and John were eyewitness accounts, so therefore this challenge fails for those two.

So, to be accurate, the challenge should really state, "The Gospels of Mark and Luke Aren't Eyewitness Accounts".

Now, let's examine the wording further because it's still not right. I think the implication is that because they are not eyewitness accounts, then they must be unreliable and the information contained in them cannot be held as truth.

So, to be more accurate, it should really state, "The Gospels of Mark and Luke Aren't Eyewitness Accounts and therefore are Unreliable".

So the response to this challenge is two-fold:

a) Ask the question properly.

b) For this particular challenge, does something depend on eyewitness testimony in order to be reliable? Do we not see examples to the contrary every day? Is not our entire legal system built around things other than eyewitness testimony?

So, we see that this challenge is from the outset built on a faulty premise, and therefore is a flimsy attempt at best...

And again, the Gospel of Mark is an eyewitness account.

Mark was a follower of Jesus. He is probably the young man who fled naked from Gethsemane. That was his signature and his claim to have been there.

He just was not an Apostle.

There were more than twelve eyewitnesses to the ministry of Christ.

So the question is really just about Luke.

He is probably the young man who fled naked from Gethsemane.

I suspect that this is how all the authorship traditions originated. Someone speculated "It was probably John" or "It was probably Matthew," and it came to be accepted as established fact.

The authorship traditions stem from at latest the early second century at a time when people who knew the authors would still be living.

Nice try though Vinny.

My point in mentioning the man who fled naked was that it seems like an author's signature. So that, whoever the author was, was claiming to have been at Gethsemane (and therefore an eyewitness of at least some of the events he records in the text).

Irenaeous is our earliest identification of the traditional authors of all four gospels late in the second century. Papias reports earlier in the century that Mark and Matthew composed writings, but the evidence is insufficient to determine whether he is referring to canonical Mark and canonical Matthew as he doesn't quote from them, he doesn't claim to have read them, and his descriptions of them don't quite match the canonical versions.

More importantly, the fact that someone might have known who actually wrote the books is no proof that the authors were correctly identified in the tradition. Look at the reason Irenaeous gives for thinking that there are only four authoritative gospels, i.e., there are four winds and cherubs have four faces. If that was his reason for rejecting the gospels he rejected, why should we think he had any better reason for accepting the ones he did? Why should we think that the tradition rested on anything more than it "seemed" like those where the authors?

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