Now that I’ve written a book, I get the chance to speak around the country and talk about how we, as Christians, assemble circumstantial evidence related to the reliability of the Gospels and the existence of God. As a result, I meet all kinds of Christians who hold a variety of views related to the Genesis creation account. Many are “Literal Day” creationists, while others lean toward some version of “Gap Theory”, “Day-Age Creation Theory”, “Creation Revelation Theory”, “Progressive Creation Theory”, “Genesis Creation Day Theory” or “Genesis Literary Theory” Creationism. Some believe that the universe is very young, others that it is very old. Some believe that God created everything in the form we see it in today (as the result of some form of “instantaneous” creation); others that God shaped His creation through some process of progressive interaction. When you ask these folks about the Bible, all of them will tell you that they believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God. All will agree that the Bible is the final authority. All will tell you that they believe what the Bible teaches. Christians simply disagree on how to interpret the first book of Moses.
I’m sensitive to the variety of views held by Christians on this matter. I see the reasonable nature of every view; I recognize that each approach to Genesis chapter one has its own virtues and its own liabilities. I’m not discouraged by this reality, but encouraged that there are so many reasonable resolutions. I am discouraged, however, when we allow our fallen human nature to get the best of us. Rather than finding areas of agreement, most of us choose to divide over areas of divergence. Regardless of your position related to the Genesis account, I’d like to point out the areas where all of us, regardless of creation theory, agree. As Christians, we all affirm the following premises:
As Christians, we all agree that God exists. He is the creator of the universe and all life within it. While we agree on the aforementioned critical, foundational issues related to God’s creation, we disagree on how long this process took, and precisely how God shaped each object of his creation (did God create everything in the final form we see today, or did God progressively guide his creation over some period of time?). We agree on the big stuff and disagree on the details.
It’s interesting to note that Christians also agree with atheists on a several important premises related to the nature of the universe:
As Christians, we often think that we disagree with atheists on everything when it comes to the origin of the universe and the origin of life, but that isn’t actually the case. We also tend to think, as Christians, that we ought to agree with one another on everything when it comes to the origin of the universe and the origin of life, but I’m not sure that ought to be the case either. Christians disagree with one another on secondary issues. We disagree with atheists on the most important issue: Does God exist and is He actively involved in the creation of the universe? That happens to be the most significant question we can ask as a culture. The answer shapes everything in our worldview; what we believe about our origin determines largely how we will choose to live our lives.
So it seems to me that Christians have a choice. We can focus on the areas where we disagree with one another (secondary issues related to the amount of time taken and the precise mechanisms used by God), or we can focus on the area where we disagree with an unbelieving world (the foundational issue of God’s existence). I am inclined to begin my discussions with Christians by uniting around our common knowledge related to God’s existence and interaction in the universe, rather than dividing over our points of divergence. At the same time, I am also inclined to begin my conversations with non-believers by pointing out our areas of agreement before I address he most important foundational issue that divides us. It’s easy to forget that we have a lot in common, but these points of agreement ought to unite us as we engage other Christians and inspire us to begin a conversation with unbelievers who need to hear the Gospel.
I’ve written about how we, as Christians, ought to respond to the claim that Jesus is simply a fictional re-creation of prior “dying-and-rising” god mythologies. The first step in assessing the evidence requires us to closely examine attributes of the mythological character offered in comparison to Jesus. It turns out that pre-Christian mythologies are far less similar to the story of Jesus than critics claim. When I first began to examine all the alleged similarities, I found that one pre-Christian deity seemed to be most similar to Jesus. When “Jesus Mythers” begin to make their case, they inevitably offer Mithras as their case in point. For this reason, I think it’s fair to examine Mithras in an effort to understand how skeptics construct their arguments related to Jesus and ancient mythologies.
There are two distinct (and non-continuous) traditions related to Mithras, one coming out of the areas of India and Iran, centuries prior to the birth of Jesus, and another developed in Roman times concurrent with the Christian era. Many experts have struggled to try to connect these as one continuous tradition, and in so doing, have distorted or misinterpreted the basic elements of the tradition and mythology. There is no surviving Mithraic scripture; most of what is known about Mithras comes from statues and murals that have no captions, or from the writings of ancient Christians who described Mithraic rituals many years after the arrival of Jesus. The vast majority of scholarly work on this mythological character is pure speculation. Given that foundation, let’s take a look at some of the alleged similarities between Mithras and Jesus:
Claim: Mithras was born of a virgin on December 25th, in a cave, attended by shepherds
Truth: Mithras was actually born out of solid rock, leaving a cave. He was not born of a virgin (unless you consider the rock mountain to have been a virgin). His birth was celebrated on December 25th, but both Mithras worshippers and the earliest Christians borrowed this celebration from earlier winter solstice celebrations. The earliest version of the Mithras narrative that includes shepherds appears one hundred years after the appearance of the New Testament; it is far more likely Mithraism borrowed the shepherds from Christianity than the other way around.
Claim: Mithras was considered a great traveling teacher and master
Truth: There is nothing in the Mithras tradition that indicates he was a teacher of any kind, but he could have been considered a master of sorts. But why would we expect any deity to be anything less than a great teacher and master?
Claim: Mithras had 12 companions or disciples
Truth: There is no evidence for any of this in the traditions of Iran or Rome. It is possible that the idea that Mithras had 12 disciples came from a mural in which Mithras is surrounded by twelve signs and personages of the Zodiac (two of whom are the moon and the sun), but even this imagery is post-Christian.
Claim: Mithras promised his followers immortality
Truth: While there is little evidence for this, it is certainly reasonable to think that Mithras did offer immortality, although this is not uncommon for any god of mythology.
Claim: Mithras performed miracles
Truth: This claim is true, but what mythological god didn’t perform miracles?
Claim: Mithras sacrificed himself for world peace
Truth: There is little or no evidence that any of this is true. The closest Mithraic narrative is a story in which Mithras killed a threatening bull in a heroic deed.
Claim: Mithras was buried in a tomb and after three days rose again, and Mithras was celebrated each year at the time of His resurrection (later to become Easter)
Truth: There is nothing in the Mithras tradition that indicates he ever even died, let alone was buried or resurrected. Tertullian, the ancient Christian Case Maker, did write about Mithraic believers re-enacting resurrection scenes, but he wrote about this occurring well after New Testament times. This again appears to be another example of Mithras followers borrowing from Christianity (in the Roman version of the Mithraic religion).
Claim: Mithras was called “the Good Shepherd”, and was identified with both the Lamb and the Lion
Truth: There is no evidence that Mithras was ever called “the Good Shepherd” or identified with a lamb, but Since Mithras was a sun-god, there was an association with Leo (the House of the Sun in Babylonian astrology), so one might say that he was associated with a Lion. But once again, all of this evidence is post New Testament, and cannot, therefore, have been borrowed by Christianity.
Claim: Mithras was considered to be the “Way, the Truth and the Light,” and the “Logos,” “Redeemer,” “Savior” and “Messiah.”
Truth: Based on the researched, historic record of the Mithraic tradition, none of these terms have ever been applied to Mithras deity with the exception of “mediator”. But this term was used in a way that was very different from the way that it is used in the Christian tradition. Mithras was not the mediator between God and man but the mediator between the good and evil gods of Zoroaster.
Claim: Mithras celebrated Sunday as His sacred day (also known as the “Lord’s Day,”)
Truth: This tradition of celebrating Sunday is only true of the later Roman Mithras followers; it is a tradition that dates to post-Christian times. Once again, it is more likely to have been borrowed from Christianity than the other way around.
It is reasonable that ancient people groups, thinking about the world around them and the existence of God, would assign certain characteristics to God (more on that next week), and it’s also reasonable that many of these groups might begin to imagine God with some measure of accuracy. But when you take the time to investigate the initial claims of those who say Jesus is similar to some ancient mythological god, you’ll quickly discover that those pre-Christian deities aren’t much like Jesus after all.
For more information related to Mithras:
The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries (Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World) by David Ulansey (Oxford University Press, 1989), Mithras, the Secret God by M. J. Vermaseren (Barnes and Noble Publishers, 1963), and Mithraic Studies (Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies – 2 Volumes) edited by John R Hinnells (Manchester University Press, 1975).
You don’t have to read much of my book to realize I’m an evidentialist. The title usually gives it away. As a result, my inbox is filled with email from people who want to convince me that true faith is independent of evidence. Many of them point to the well-known passage in John chapter 20 where Thomas expresses his doubt that Jesus has been resurrected. When Jesus presented Himself to Thomas, He made an important statement that is occasionally offered as an affirmation of some form of “blind faith”:
After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been [f]shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” (John 20:26-29)
Without any other context to understand what Jesus believed about the relationship between evidence and faith, this single sentence (“Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed”) does sound like an endorsement of faith independent of evidential support. But context changes everything. Like other declarations offered by Jesus, this statement has to be reconciled with everything else Jesus said and did before we can truly understand what He believed about the role of evidence.
As it turns out, the Apostle John wrote more about Jesus’ evidential approach than any other Gospel author. According to John, Jesus repeatedly offered the evidence of His miracles to verify his identity and told His observers that this evidence was sufficient:
“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” (John 14:11)
“If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:37-38)
“…the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I do, testify about Me,
that the Father has sent Me.” (John 5:36)
John frequently described Jesus as someone who offered the evidence of his miraculous power to demonstrate His Deity. In fact, the passage describing Thomas’ doubt is also an affirmation of an evidential faith, if it is read in its entirety:
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus *said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:25-31)
John makes an important statement right after the line that is typically offered to “demonstrate” Jesus’ alleged affirmation of a non-evidential faith: “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples…” What? Blessed are those who did not see and yet believed, therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples? Do you see the contradiction here? Why would Jesus continue to provide evidence if those who believe without evidence are supposed to be blessed? The answer is found, once again, in the Gospel of John. In Jesus’ famous prayer to the Father, he prayed for unity and He carefully included those of us who would become Christians long after Jesus ascended into Heaven:
“I do not ask on behalf of these (the disciples) alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:20-21)
Jesus is talking here about all the people (like you and me) who will believe in Jesus not because of what we will see with our own eyes but because of what the disciples saw and recorded as eyewitnesses (“their word”). Yes, Thomas was blessed to believe on the basis of what he saw, but how much more blessed are those who will someday believe, not on the basis of what they will see, but on the basis of what the disciples saw and faithfully recorded. Jesus understood the value of evidence and continually provided “many convincing proofs” (Acts 1:2-3) to His followers so they could record their observations and change the world with their testimony. Jesus commended this process; His words to Thomas were not an affirmation of “blind faith."
When investigating the gospel accounts of the Crucifixion, I was immediately interested in John’s description of the blood and water that came from Jesus’ side when one of the soldiers pierced Him with a spear (John 19:34). I wondered how John, the ancient peasant fisherman, would have known about any of the physical conditions that could account for the appearance of water (pleural or pericardial effusion, for example; two conditions that result from heart failure). This observation is consistent with the death of Jesus on the cross and seems to reflect John’s desire to accurately record the things he saw related to the Crucifixion. John placed the observation in his account without any attempt to clarify or explain his comment. He simply appears to be describing the events as he saw them. But is it possible that John was trying to make a theological point rather than merely recording history? It’s remarkable that many early Church leaders and theologians believed this to be the case.
Tertullian (in On Baptism XVI), Augustine (in Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John), Cyril (in Catechetical Letters), and Jerome (in A Commentary on the Apostle’s Creed 23), all suggest that John is either referring to the baptism of Jesus, water regeneration, or the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Many seem to point to 1 John 5:5-8:
Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.
These early theologians are trying to make sense of John’s words here in 1 John. Does this passage necessitate a metaphorical understanding of John’s account of the crucifixion in John 19:34? Did John include the description of water coming from Jesus’ side to make a theological point related to the triune witness of God (or the role of baptism), or did it really happen? I lean toward the latter.
It’s interesting to note that all the early thinkers in the church felt the need to better explain the water that emerged from Jesus’ side. Why? These theologians wanted to account for something unexpected and potentially unreasonable, and that’s precisely my point. None of these ancient thinkers knew anything about the fatal anatomical conditions that would account for the presence of water, so they sought to assign theological implications to the observation. Perhaps God supernaturally provided the water to make the points they were advocating. I think there are three possibilities here. First, John may simply have been reporting what he saw at the cross, without any intention of spiritualizing this observation for us. If this is the case, the passage in 1 John 5:5-8 is not an attempt to explain John’s observations of the crucifixion at all. Another possibility is that John observed the water come from Jesus’ body and then used this observation to make a theological point that was also true. If this is the case, John’s passage in 1 John is the fruit of this effort. A final possibility is that John simply included the information in the gospel record to make a theological point, even though it didn’t happen that way. If this is the case, John’s account in the Gospel is not historically accurate, but simply an effort to lay the groundwork for the theological point he wanted to make later in 1 John.
I think there are several good reasons to believe the first explanation is the most reasonable, but I can certainly understand why some scholars think the second explanation is also worthy. John ends his gospel by saying, “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24). He seems to be assuring his readers that he is recording true eyewitness observations. It just so happens that pleural or pericardial effusion would account for the water John described and are also an evidential indicator that Jesus died on the cross (consistent with John’s description of events). In addition, John’s later statements in 1 John are not clear. John could have taken the time here to “connect the dots” for us and tie his statements in 1 John to his observations in John 19:34. After all, the early Church theologians (when writing about this topic) had no problem making direct statements about this connection. Why wouldn’t John do so as well? Finally, the ambiguous meaning of John’s statement in 1 John has resulted in a variety of interpretations from theologians over the years. Note that the ancient thinkers did not agree precisely with their interpretations of this passage. If John intended to make a theological point, rather than a simple observation about history, his point is somewhat obscure.
It is quite reasonable to believe that John spent many years trying to understand what he saw at the cross. It was certainly a highly emotional experience, and John’s lack of anatomical or medical expertise resulted in many unanswered questions related to the water. It also seems reasonable that John might make powerful theological points based on his observations. But even if this is true, John’s statements in 1 John have no bearing or impact on the historicity of his initial observations in John 19:34. John merely appears to be interpreting what he saw. In writing his Gospel, John’s was simply “testifying to these things… and we know that his testimony is true”.
As a detective, I’ve learned to evaluate words carefully when considering the statements of victims, witnesses and suspects. What someone didn’t say is often more important than what they actually did say. In fact, I often stop and ask myself, what were some of the options available when this person made this specific statement? What could they have said in this particular circumstance and what does their choice of words tell us about their thoughts or the truth of the situation? As a new investigator of the gospels, I found myself asking the same kinds of questions as I studied God’s response to doubt. What does God think about those of us who occasionally doubt, and what would He recommend for those of us who occasionally struggle? There is an important passage of Scripture that provides us with an answer.
Jesus said that “among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). John was a godly man raised in a godly home. His parents served God and his mother, Elizabeth, knew that Jesus was “Lord” while He was still in His mother Mary’s womb (Luke 1:39-45). Surely John grew up with this information, and Jesus’ status as Messiah was confirmed to him when he saw God’s Spirit descend on Jesus at the point of His baptism (Luke 3:22). If anyone should have been sure of Jesus’ identity, it was John the Baptist. But the New Testament reveals a moment of dramatic doubt in John’s life. Even after hearing from the disciples about all that Jesus had done and the reaction that Jesus was receiving from those who witnessed His miracles, John sent two of his own disciples to as Jesus a question that revealed his doubt: “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” (Luke 7:19). Jesus’ response was important and revealing. “At that very time” Jesus cured many people in the presence of John’s disciples then said, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them. Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me” (Luke 7:22-23).
Now think about all the things that Jesus could have done or said in response to John’s expression of doubt. He could have condemned John but He didn’t. He could have scolded him for his failure to trust what John’s own mother seemed to know so clearly, but Jesus didn’t do that either. Finally, Jesus could have instructed John to simply trust in what he had been raised to know, but that’s not what Jesus did. Instead, Jesus provided John with evidence. Jesus performed miracles as a demonstration of His identity as the Messiah (these miracles were consistent with the Messianic expectations found in the Old Testament in Isaiah 29:18 and Isaiah 35:5-6). From this brief passage of Scripture, two realities emerge:
Doubt Is Displayed By Everyone
If John the Baptist experienced doubt, we will probably also find ourselves in a similar situation. I know many wise and confident Christian case makers (apologists). In spite of their confidence and strength of character, they’ve all experienced doubt at one time or another. It’s not a sign of our weakness; it’s a sign of our humanity. You and I should expect to have doubts at some point in our lives.
Doubt Is Dispelled By Evidence
When those times of doubt arise, It’s important for us to return to the evidence that brought us here in the first place. That’s what Jesus did for John; he provided clear evidence that helped John “connect the dots” and reminded John of Jesus’ identity. Given all the other things that Jesus could have done or said, it’s remarkable that Jesus used evidence to assuage John’s doubt.
When we return to evidence to strengthen our faith, we stand in a long line of great men like John the Baptist. We can have confidence that our doubt does not offend God, and that we have the resources available to develop our confidence. As we review the evidence related to Jesus’ nature, teaching and resurrection, we will grow in our certainty. This is not displeasing to God, but is, instead, part of God’s design for our lives.
As an atheist, I was satisfied with the purpose I had created for my life. I found meaning in my work, my family, and my responsibilities as a father and husband. I also loved the idea that I was in charge of my purpose; that I was the one who got to decide what life was all about. It wasn’t until I became a Christian that I realized my ideas about purpose and meaning were far too small and limited. I now try to illustrate this truth for others with an important utensil from my wife’s kitchen. This tool helps me demonstrate an important point: While it is certainly possible for each of us to design a purpose for our lives, we are missing opportunities for greatness if we reject the existence of a Creator God.
When I show my wife’s utensil to groups, they are always curious about its purpose. It has two joined metal parts; one is a rectangular sheet of metal (approximately 13 inches long), stamped with a rows of small holes, two rails along the long edges and a handle at one end. The other piece of the device is a square, open-top metal receptacle that slides along the length of the railed rectangle. It is a truly curious utensil that usually captures the imagination of the audiences I address. I typically begin by asking them to tell me the purpose of the device. Over the years, I’ve heard a number of interesting explanations. Most say they think it is some kind of cheese grater. But the holes in the rectangular section are entirely flat and it would be difficult to slice cheese without some slight burr on one side of each hole. One person (on a television show) said he thought it might be a device used to cut hair! He held it up to his head and slid the receptacle back and forth to see if it could trim the hair that poked through the holes. I’ve heard a number of potential explanations for the utensil, and some of them have seemed quite reasonable (others have not).
At some point in the presentation, I ask the group, “OK, you’ve all offered a number of possibilities and some of these might even work, but how do you think we might find out what the device is really meant to do?” Most, by this time, have noticed that the tool has the manufacturer’s name stamped on the handle. Someone will usually realize that the best way to figure out the purpose of the utensil is simply to call and ask the company that made it. Of course this is the point of the illustration in the first place. While each of us can assign a purpose to the device, its true purpose can be discovered by simply asking its creator. Why would we think it’s any different for us as humans? As a naturalist, I was able to assign purpose to my life, and I was quite happy with the meaning I created for myself. But my ideas were far too small.
As some point in my presentation, I reveal the purpose of the utensil. It is a German spaetzle maker. The tool is used to make German pasta; the raw batter is poured into the receptacle as the cook slides it back and forth over a pot of boiling water. The batter then drips through the holes into the boiling water and is cooked into dense little noodles called spaetzle. They are incredibly delicious, especially when fried with cheese and onions!
Two problems arise when we try to assign our own meaning to the spaetzle maker. First, we end up with a device that we try to use for something other than its optimum purpose. Yes, we may be able to grate cheese with the tool, but we’ll end up struggling to do so and making a mess along the way. We can certainly force the utensil to do what we want it to do, but it will never work the way it was designed to operate unless we know who designed it and why it was created in the first place. But there’s an even more important problem. When I tell most people that the utensil is a spaetzle maker, they still need me to explain spaetzle! Most people have never even heard of this German noodle. They’ve missed one of the true culinary delights available on the planet. When they discover what the utensil is designed to do, they also have their eyes opened to something they had never previously experienced. The purposes they offered for the utensil inaccurately limited their own culinary choices. When people eventually sample spaetzle they are glad they learned about spaetzle makers.
Something very similar occurs when you embrace the notion that your objective purpose is found by asking the Creator. Not only do you stop assigning meanings to your life that may “work” but are less than optimal, you also discover something beautiful that was previously unknown. I do think it’s possible for each of us to assign our own meaning, but I think most of our ideas are simply too small; we miss something beautiful. When we ask the manufacturer, we end up blossoming in ways we never imagined. That’s what happens with your purpose is found in a transcendent Creator.
When you write a book that seeks to evaluate the Gospels as eyewitness accounts, you shouldn't be surprised to find that some critics will attack the premise that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts in the first place. Several skeptics have either emailed me or posted comments questioning whether or not the Gospels are truly eyewitness accounts. After all, the accounts are not written as first-person narratives, and there are no direct statements in the Gospels suggesting that they were written by people at the scene. Luke, for example, slips into first-person narrative for portions of his account in the Book of Acts, why don't the other Gospel authors do something similar when writing their own “eyewitness accounts”? Why don't these authors simply identify themselves more directly so we can understand their specific role as eyewitnesses? It’s certainly true that the authors of the Gospels take a reserved and humble approach to their own identity within the narrative, and this is not uncommon in ancient literature of the time. But there are several good reasons to believe that the Gospels are, in fact, eyewitness accounts:
The New Testament authors repeatedly referred to themselves as eyewitnesses, even if they did not make overt statements including their names. In the last chapter of John's Gospel, the author tells us that he is testifying and that his testimony is true. Language such as this presumes the author has seen something that he can describe as eyewitness testimony. In addition, the authors of 1 John and 2 Peter identify themselves as eyewitnesses who directly observed Jesus, and were not inventing clever stories (1 John 1:1,3 and 2 Peter 1:16). While Luke clearly states he is not an eyewitness to the events in his Gospel, he does tell us that he is relying on the true eyewitnesses for his information (Luke 1:1). These cumulative statements are consistent with the notion that the authors of the Gospels saw themselves as eyewitnesses who were recording history.
This is consistent with the way these authors behaved in the Book of Acts. It's interesting that the strategy used by the apostles to share the truth of Christianity was consistent with their role as eyewitnesses. When the apostles chose to share what they believed with the unbelievers in their midst, they did so by proclaiming the truth of the resurrection and their own status as eyewitnesses. This is consistent throughout the Book of Acts. The apostles identified themselves as eyewitnesses, shared the truth as eyewitnesses, and eventually wrote the Gospels as eyewitnesses.
The earliest writings of the church fathers simply confirm the eyewitness nature of the Gospel authors. Papias, for example, described Mark’s Gospel as a record of Peter’s teachings related to what Peter saw and heard from Jesus. According to Papias, while Mark was not himself an eyewitness to the events described in his Gospel, he did accurately record the firsthand experiences of his teacher and mentor, Peter.
Finally, the Canon of Scripture reflects the eyewitness nature of the Gospel accounts. One of the primary criteria for the selection of the Canon was the issue of eyewitness composition. The original Gospels were protected and revered based on their apostolic authorship, and late documents were rejected by the early Church Fathers based on the fact they were considered to be fraudulent narratives offered by authors late in history who were not actually present for the life and ministry of Jesus. The criterion of eyewitness authorship became foundational to the selection process.
A straightforward reading of the Book of Acts reveals that the apostles saw themselves as eyewitnesses. The early Church recognized this and formed the Canon around the historic, apostolic record related to Jesus. While features of the Gospels may still be challenged by those who deny the eyewitness nature of the texts, the best inference from the evidence is that the Gospels were intended to be eyewitness accounts.