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April 12, 2013

Comments

Jim, I think it's a little misleading to say "The apostles wrote the gospels as eye witness accounts" when neither Mark nor Luke were apostles, and neither Mark nor Luke were eye witnesses.

In Mark's case, if Papias is right, you could say his gospel was based on an eye witness account.

In Luke's case, I don't think you can make that same claim. Luke says that many had already undertaken to write an account of what happened, and that the information had been handed down by people who from the beginning were eyewitnesses, but Luke doesn't tell us that he personally had access to eye-witnesses. To claim that he did is speculative.

I have no doubt that the apostles were eye-witnesses, but I don't think you make a strong case that the gospels are eye-witness accounts, even with your loose definition. At best, I think all you can say is that some of the information in the gospels originated from eye witnesses. But that is trivially true, and hardly any scholar denies it. But the whole quest for the historical Jesus centers around trying to find out what actually happened and what didn't. Obviously, if some of the material is non-historical, then it does not go back to an eye witness because nobody could've witnessed an event that never happened. But if something did actually happen, then there was an eye-witness, because we couldn't have known about it if nobody witnessed it. I don't think you can just skip the whole historical quest by saying some of the information in the gospels originated with eye witnesses. You've got to find out what did and what didn't, and you can do that either by assuming divine authority or by engaging in historical methods like everybody else.

I think if you want to maintain that the gospels are eye-witness accounts, you've got to deal with the synoptic problem. If the two source hypothesis, the Ferrer hypothesis, or the Griesbach hypothesis is true, then at least two of the synoptic gospels are not eye-witness accounts (except by the loosest definition of what it means to be an eye witness account). You've got to give some account of how the synoptical gospels are related to each other, or say plainly that you think they were written independently of each other. And if you think they are independent accounts, you've got to explain why the information they share in common is often word for word identical, and not just in the sayings of Jesus, but in much of the narrative, too. There are a whole slew of arguments you're ignoring, and the ones you're addressing are pitifully weak to begin with.

If you believe Papias when he said Matthew wrote the sayings of Jesus in the Hebrew language, you've got to deal with the evidence that Matthew's gospel was written in Greek, which leads to the question of whether Papias was talking about the same document or not, or whether he knew what he was talking about.

And you should provide a source for saying the criteria for canonicity was eye witness composition. Was this a necessary criteria or just a sufficient criteria? That makes a big difference! And whose criteria were these? After all, the canon was debated for hundreds of years. Did everybody agree to this criteria? Did it all come down to questions of authorship? Were these people using the same definition of "eye witnesss account" that you're using?

Sam wrote:

"Luke says that many had already undertaken to write an account of what happened, and that the information had been handed down by people who from the beginning were eyewitnesses, but Luke doesn't tell us that he personally had access to eye-witnesses. To claim that he did is speculative."

No, Luke does tell us that he had access to James (Acts 21:18). Luke was a close companion of Paul. Given how prominent the other apostles are in Paul's writings and interactions (1 Corinthians 9:5, Galatians 2:9-10, etc.), a high level of Lukan access to other apostles would be probable even if we didn't have comments like Luke's in Acts 21:18. Furthermore, Richard Bauckham argues, from internal evidence, for Luke's use of non-apostolic eyewitnesses (e.g., the women of Luke 8:2-3) in his Jesus And The Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006), e.g., 129-131. Given what Luke writes in the opening of his gospel and the large amount of research he put into his gospel and Acts, it seems unlikely that he wouldn't have consulted eyewitnesses.

You write:

"I think if you want to maintain that the gospels are eye-witness accounts, you've got to deal with the synoptic problem. If the two source hypothesis, the Ferrer hypothesis, or the Griesbach hypothesis is true, then at least two of the synoptic gospels are not eye-witness accounts (except by the loosest definition of what it means to be an eye witness account)."

Even if we assume that Matthew and Luke used Mark, which is the most popular view today, both Matthew and Luke give us a lot of material not found in Mark, including variations on the Markan material they use. Much as Josephus had editors and other assistants helping him compose his writings, Matthew could have done the same. It was a common practice. If Mark's gospel was viewed as a collection of Peter's testimony, then adding Matthew's testimony to it would make sense. I've written an article on the subject here.

What we should be trying to do here is make the most sense of the internal and external evidence combined. Given the vast amount of external evidence supporting the traditional gospel authorship attributions, any theory that contradicts that external data is highly problematic. We need to avoid the popular modern tendency to underestimate the significance of external evidence.

You write:

"And you should provide a source for saying the criteria for canonicity was eye witness composition."

I'd identify the most significant canonical criterion of the early Christians as apostolicity. A book didn't have to be written by an apostle or an eyewitness, but it did have to be either written by an apostle or approved as scripture by an apostle. I've argued for that conclusion, and cited some examples of ancient sources referring to it, in my series on the canon here.

I agree with you that Mark and Luke can only be considered eyewitness accounts in a lesser sense than Matthew and John (assuming the traditional authorship attributions of the latter two). Some of J. Warner Wallace's comments, if taken in isolation, could be interpreted as suggesting otherwise. But if you take all of his comments as a whole, he's not putting Mark and Luke in all of the same categories as Matthew and John. Rather, he's saying that there's one broad category they all belong to, which defines eyewitness accounts loosely enough to include both types of document.

"And if you think they are independent accounts, you've got to explain why the information they share in common is often word for word identical, and not just in the sayings of Jesus, but in much of the narrative, too."

Really?

Isn't it precisely in the narrative that the champions of Biblical errancy have (what they consider) a field day in pointing out 'Bible contradictions'. Two demoniacs vs. one. The healing of the blind men (or man) on the way into vs. on the way out of Jericho. And so forth. Now, I think you can have two-source style dependencies, or you can have the 'Bible contradictions', but you can't have both. (And you probably won't get either.)

Jason,

Yes, I grant that Luke met James, but I was responding to Jim's argument. Jim said, "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)." Luke does not tell us in Luke 1:1 that he got his information for his gospel directly from eye witnesses, yet that is the impression Jim gives.

I can't comment on all of Richard Bauckman's arguments since I haven't read his book, but based on what you said, I think all we can conclude is that Luke could have interviewed eye witnesses. I don't think we can get anywhere near "probable." There are too many unknowns.

I don't think Jim can consistently use Acts 21:18 to prove that Luke relied on eye witnesses to write his gospel. Acts 21 narrates Paul's last trip to Jerusalem where he was arrested and eventually sent to Rome. But on page 165 of Cold Case Christianity Jim claims that Paul quoted from Luke's gospel in his first letter to the Corinthians. That would mean Luke wrote his gospel long before he ever made that trip to Jerusalem. So Acts 21:18 is irrelevant to Jim's case.

I agree with you that we need to look at all of the internal and external evidence combined. My complaint about Jim is that I don't think he's done that. Or, if he has, he's keeping it to himself. The evidence he did present in this blog post as well as in Cold Case Christianity strikes me as being cherry picked. He doesn't even address the synoptic problem or the question of what language Matthew was written in and the controversy over whether Papias was even talking about what we know as the gospel of Matthew. He's either unaware of these things, or he chose to ignore them.

WL, I don't see how your comments are at all relevant to what you quote me as saying. You say, "Really?" as if to disagree with me, but then nothing you said amounted to an argument against what I said. I suppose if I had claimed there were contradictions between the gospels, you could accuse me of inconsistency, but I never made that claim. And although I disagree with you that you can't have both dependency and contradictions, I don't see how it's at all relevant to what I said.

Sam,

The following is worth reading again:

"I have no doubt that the apostles were eye-witnesses, but I don't think you make a strong case that the gospels are eye-witness accounts, even with your loose definition. At best, I think all you can say is that some of the information in the gospels originated from eye witnesses. But that is trivially true, and hardly any scholar denies it. But the whole quest for the historical Jesus centers around trying to find out what actually happened and what didn't. Obviously, if some of the material is non-historical, then it does not go back to an eye witness because nobody could've witnessed an event that never happened. But if something did actually happen, then there was an eye-witness, because we couldn't have known about it if nobody witnessed it. I don't think you can just skip the whole historical quest by saying some of the information in the gospels originated with eye witnesses. You've got to find out what did and what didn't, and you can do that either by assuming divine authority or by engaging in historical methods like everybody else."

You took the words out of my mouth!

WL wrote: "Now, I think you can have two-source style dependencies, or you can have the 'Bible contradictions', but you can't have both."

(Sam is correct that this is irrelevant to the current topic, and so perhaps like him I should just leave it alone. Nevertheless, I will indulge myself.)

Just because an author betrays his dependencies doesn't prevent him from making changes to his sources---changes which sometimes result in contradictions. It's also possible for an author to contradict himself, and for the contradictory material to be copied by others. So too, an author may add independent material which contradicts his sources. Etc. We see this happening in the Gospels, as is well known, and elsewhere in the Bible too. I don't know why you thought contradictions can't happen with literary dependence, but it's not hard to see that the two are simultaneously present in the Synoptics.

Sam wrote:

"I can't comment on all of Richard Bauckman's arguments since I haven't read his book, but based on what you said, I think all we can conclude is that Luke could have interviewed eye witnesses. I don't think we can get anywhere near 'probable.' There are too many unknowns."

Whether Luke had access to eyewitnesses and whether he interviewed eyewitnesses he had access to are two different issues. You raised the issue of access to sources. I responded to your framing of the discussion. The issue you initially brought up is different than what you're focusing on now.

Whether it's probable that Luke consulted the eyewitnesses he had access to is something that has to be judged based on more general considerations, like the ones I mentioned in my last post. Luke was in a movement, Christianity, that placed a lot of emphasis on eyewitness testimony. He opens his gospel with an appeal to eyewitnesses, and he uses some of the language of the historiography of his day (in the opening of his gospel and elsewhere). That historiographic language, which Bauckham discusses extensively in his book, placed a lot of emphasis on eyewitness testimony. Luke gives us some of his own eyewitness testimony in Acts. Producing documents like Luke and Acts would have required a large amount of research. Would somebody so interested in eyewitness testimony and so willing to do research, living at a time when so many eyewitnesses were available, be likely to consult none of them? Already, before we even get to Acts 21, it seems likely that Luke would have consulted eyewitnesses.

When he met James in Acts 21, he would have been present to hear what James said and to observe his (James') interactions with Paul. Since Paul was recounting his efforts among the Gentiles "one by one" (Acts 21:19), it seems unlikely that all of the relevant details Paul mentions when proclaiming the gospel elsewhere in Acts, about the life of Jesus and other historical data, would have been left out. When James gives his approval to Paul and coordinates his efforts with Paul's proclamation of the gospel, as we see in Acts 21, the implication is that he's agreeing with Paul's gospel message. Paul confirms James' agreement in 1 Corinthians 9, 1 Corinthians 15, and Galatians 1-2. Paul's gospel message involved some historical claims about Jesus. Just by observing the interaction between James and Paul, Luke would have been acquiring some information from an eyewitness about Jesus and the events surrounding his life. Even if Luke hadn't set out to get that sort of information, he would have gotten it anyway. There was no need for an interview, which is what you refer to above. Luke would have gotten information from James even if he didn't conduct an interview. It is probable that Luke received relevant information from one or more eyewitnesses.

You write:

"But on page 165 of Cold Case Christianity Jim claims that Paul quoted from Luke's gospel in his first letter to the Corinthians. That would mean Luke wrote his gospel long before he ever made that trip to Jerusalem. So Acts 21:18 is irrelevant to Jim's case."

Your earlier comments weren't as qualified as what you're saying now. You're more focused on Wallace now, such as how informed he is and how consistent he's been. That's less significant than a broader consideration of the gospels. Why object that Luke 1 (which Wallace cited) doesn't mention Luke's access to eyewitnesses, only to go on to concede that we know he had such access anyway? Why raise the implications of something Wallace wrote in a book when he didn't address that subject in this thread, and the claim he made in the book is something that's unnecessary to the argument he's pursuing here? I don't think there's much significance in your criticisms of Wallace, and your earlier comments seemed to be addressing broader issues.

Even if Luke had published his gospel prior to the events of Acts 21, he reaffirmed his gospel after it was initially published. He refers to it positively in the opening of Acts (1:1). The two documents circulated together in the years that followed, without any indication that Luke renounced what he'd written earlier. Even if meeting James in Acts 21 didn't shape the production of Luke's gospel, it would still have significance in confirming the gospel after its production. Acts 21 is significant either way.

Sam-

I can't say that I really see your difficulty in understanding my remark. That's not to say that you must agree with it, but do you truly not see how it's on point?

The argument for independent authorship (that you said it was incumbent upon me to provide) is that the texts are so different that finding 'Bible contradictions' is a bit of a cottage industry for Christianity's critics.

Of course, I don't believe the texts actually do conflict. We may be able to reconcile the manifest differences between the passages and thereby avoid the 'Bible contradictions'.

But no one will ever be able to make the differences that form the basis of the 'Bible contradictions' not differences. And in light of this, I don't believe that the texts are really all that close when it comes to relating the events of Jesus ministry.

And aren't the differences pretty obvious? Do you really want to say that Matthew's two-donkey account of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem was cribbed from Mark? The two accounts agree on the major details, but the idea that one is cribbed from the other is off by hundreds of pounds of donkey!

Just for grins, I used a free online copy checker and I compared the NRSV versions of Matthew, Mark and Luke on the triumphal entry. I used the NRSV rather than my preferred NASB because it's a favorite of liberals who find comfort in things like the two-source hypothesis. And as a nod to the ahistorical Markan prioritists, I used Mark as the 'original'.

I found a 59% overlap for Matthew with Mark and a 61% overlap of Luke with Mark.

"Wow! That's high!" you might say.

Well, as a control, I took the paragraph from President Bush's 2004 State of the Union address where he declares that the state of the union is strong, and the paragraph right before it. I compared that to the state-of-the-union-is-strong paragraph of President Obama's 2012 address, and the paragraph right before that. 79% overlap.

Now, I know that according to some, all politicians are the same. But do you really think we're not dealing with a case of independent authorship for Bush and Obama?

Was this test scientific? Hardly. For one thing, I don't know how the duplicate checker I used even works. Still...

It seems to me that the accounts are independent and the overlap we see comes from the fact that the authors (or their eyewitness sources) were relating their own descriptions of the same events.

WisdomLover,

I have no idea whether Obama copied material from Bush's address. It would not surprise me if he did, but I would need to see the paragraphs in question to be sure.

In any case, we are concerned with the Synoptics, not Bush and Obama. Look at this example comparing Matthew and Mark.

Matthew 8: "30 Now a good way off from them there was a herd of many swine feeding. 31 So the demons begged Him, saying, 'If You cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine.' 32 And He said to them, 'Go.' So when they had come out, they went into the herd of swine. And suddenly the whole herd of swine ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and perished in the water. 33 Then those who kept them fled; and they went away into the city and told everything, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they begged Him to depart from their region."

Mark 5: "11 Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. 12 So all the demons begged Him, saying, 'Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.' 13 And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea. 14 So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that had happened. 15 Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 16 And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine. 17 Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region."

Seriously, just compare those two line by line. If this were the only example available it would still be a dead giveaway of literary dependence. But I just chose this example at random. In fact, almost all of Mark can be found embedded somewhere in Matthew, with the same kinds of structural and linguistic similarities. We have page after page of these often-verbatim parallels! And the same goes for Luke.

The notion that differences between the Gospels somehow undermine this painfully obvious literary dependence is just a nonsequitur. It reminds me of the old joke that if you eat enough carrots it will undo the harm from the cheeseburger you ate before. In this case here, the (often verbatim) similarities are still similarities, regardless of what differences you might find.

But don't take my word for it. Again, just look.

Matthew 21: "6 So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. 8 And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: 'Hosanna to the Son of David! "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" Hosanna in the highest!'"

Mark 11: "6 And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. 8 And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: 'Hosanna! "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" 10 Blessed is the kingdom of our father David That comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!'"

This is the passage you think helps prove the two Gospels are independent. It makes me wonder, have you actually spent much time reading these texts? How can you miss the obvious dependence?

Ben-

Sorry you commented before I had a chance to get this out regarding the comparison tool. I have to admit that I misread the tool. Of course, Obama did not copy Bush. That's a given. I'll comment on the donkey passage in detail in the next post. In any case...

Retraction. I read the chart backward on my little comparison utility. So Bush v Obama is 79% unique, while Matthew v. Mark is 54% unique.

This makes more sense. I mean Bush and Obama, while both were talking about the strong state of the union, were not trying to relate the same event. Matthew, Mark and Luke are.

With that said, it's still pretty significant that two clearly independent pieces of prose only manage about an 80% score where texts that are near 'word-for-word' copies show up at about 40-50%.

Just for fun, and because I didn't really trust my initial test (given that I read the result backward) I re-ran the test, this time using the NASB. In addition to comparing Matthew, Mark and Luke, I compared a version of Matthew with the prophecy bit removed. Compared to Mark, Matthew is 53% unique, redacted-Matthew is 44% unique and Luke is 36% unique. Compared to Luke, Matthew is 60% unique, and redacted-Matthew is 54% unique.

I'd say these texts, given their shared theme, are still pretty different. Though I daresay that there are cases of real cribbing (where you do synonym substitutions and so on) that would score as well or maybe even better.

Ben-

My time is limited, so I will limit my address to compare Matthew and Mark on the triumphal entry.

I'm going to save the initial verses for the end.

I'm using the NASB.

The passages are clearly quite different.

For starters, Matthew mentions what is certainly true, that the donkey that Jesus would be the first to ride had his buddy donkey with him. (Jesus, of course, didn't ride the buddy.) Mark leaves that detail out. So, as I said the passages differ by hundreds of pounds of donkey.

As for the coats and palms spread in the road, I think that's a significant event in the overall episode. So it does not surprise me that both mention it (though John does not). So if there's any argument for dependence here, it has to be based on the similarity of wording.

But the wording is not really all that similar. Both use the same root word to describe spreading the coats and palms. But Mark only uses it explicitly of the coats. You have to infer the spreading of the palms. They use different words to indicate that the people who owned the coats were the ones spreading them. They use different words for the branches. Mark notes that the people spread palms that they had cut (aorist tense) from the fields. In contrast, Matthew says that they were cutting (imperfect tense) the leaves from the trees.

Presumably the trees were in the fields.

On what the crowd said ("Hosanna" etc.), I'll defend the independence thesis this way: That's what the crowd said, and both accounts accurately report that, thereby corroborating eachother. Though it is worth noting that Matthew leaves out one of the phrases that Mark reports. Showing that the two aren't exactly alike. In all events, the crowd was shouting lines of the OT that they all knew by heart (as did Matthew and Mark). Would you really expect that to greatly diverge in the two accounts?

Now, finally, those, oh so similar commands that the disciples obeyed. Here is Mark 11:5-6

Some of the bystanders were saying to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?" They spoke to them just as Jesus had told them, and they gave them permission.
What was Jesus command that the disciples were following here? Clearly, it was the command to say to anyone who challenged them "The Lord has need of it".

In contrast, Matthew never mentions that anybody actually did challenge the disciples. So when Matthew 21:6-7 says

The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them, and brought the donkey and the colt
We are not even talking about the same instructions! Here we are talking about Jesus command that they should go and get the donkeys.

And, just to gild the lily, the word that your translation renders as "commanded" in Mark is "lego", which means "speak"...in fact its the same word that Mark uses to describe what the bystanders did when they challenged the disciples.

The word that your translation renders as "commanded" in Matthew is "syntasso" and that means to put in order or prescribe.

This is a passage where you think the two Gospels are obviously dependent? It makes me wonder, have you actually spent much time reading these texts? How can you miss the obvious differences in the accounts?

WisdomLover,

Again, your argument is a nonsequitur. Nobody is saying that Matthew and Mark are not different. Of course they are different! Rather, the issue is one of literary dependence. We look at the wording and literary structure of the accounts. I'm not talking about fancy statistical analyses here. You can just read the texts. It's as plain as day. Really, just read them.

Here's another random example.

Matthew 8: "12 Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 And He said to them, 'It is written, "My house shall be called a house of prayer," but you have made it a "den of thieves."'"

Mark 11: "15 So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 16 And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. 17 Then He taught, saying to them, 'Is it not written, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations"? But you have made it a "den of thieves."'"

Seriously, it just goes on and on. Each one of these examples by itself would be a dead giveaway for literary dependence. Do you really not see the striking similarities? Or do you think it's just a big coincidence? Or do you have some alternative explanation you haven't mentioned yet?

That should be Matthew 21, not Matthew 8.

It is extremely strange to see inerrantist Christians worrying themselves about whether the Gospels are eyewitness accounts.

Second Timothy does not say "all eyewitness accounts are God-breathed, and useful for teaching." It talks about scripture. Inspiration. Revelation. Providential oversight.

An eyewitness account may be inerrant only in the mundane sense of happening not to contain falsehoods within the four corners of its page. On the assumption that an account is a direct revelation (or providentially overseen, or however you think the precise mechanism actually works), then it shouldn't matter whether a document was an eyewitness account, or a hearsay account, or a vision in a dream, or late 1st century or mid-2nd century or written in 1963.

WisdomLover, Dr. Daniel Wallace wrote this article on the Synoptic Problem—a good initial introduction to the subject. There is more demonstrating literary dependence than similar words.

Who is the intended audience of this blog entry? If it is persons familiar with the arguments surrounding the Gospels’ authorship, not only are those persons aware of these claims, they are equally aware of counter-claims, responses, etc. such as those brought up by Sam. By not even mentioning the Synoptic problem, let alone addressing it, it would seem to lessen the argument’s credibility.

If the intent is to inform laypersons unfamiliar with the arguments, shouldn’t they be prepared for the counter-arguments of those who claim the authors are not eyewitnesses?

Either way, it would seem to me the prudent approach would be to address those issues raised by Sam.

Jason,

Whether Luke had access to eyewitnesses and whether he interviewed eyewitnesses he had access to are two different issues.

I agree. I'm sure Luke knew a lot about the historical Jesus just as a result of being a Christian and hanging out in Christian communities. But the question is what sources he consulted to write his gospel, and I don't think Luke 1:1 gives us any indication that he interviewed eye-witnesses. In fact, I get the opposite impression. He talks about written sources and information that was passed down from eye witnesses. He believed that information he was able to discover through his research originated from eye witnesses, and that's it.

Luke was in a movement, Christianity, that placed a lot of emphasis on eyewitness testimony. He opens his gospel with an appeal to eyewitnesses, and he uses some of the language of the historiography of his day (in the opening of his gospel and elsewhere). That historiographic language, which Bauckham discusses extensively in his book, placed a lot of emphasis on eyewitness testimony.

I agree. But what Luke seems to be saying is not that he got his information directly from eye witnesses, but that he believed the traditions (whether oral or written) were handed down by eye witnesses.

Luke gives us some of his own eyewitness testimony in Acts.

But that's irrelevant. The topic we're discussing is Luke's gospel. Luke's own eye witness testimony isn't about Jesus at all. He doesn't come into the picture until years later.

Producing documents like Luke and Acts would have required a large amount of research. Would somebody so interested in eyewitness testimony and so willing to do research, living at a time when so many eyewitnesses were available, be likely to consult none of them?

I think at best we can say that Luke would like to have consulted them. But there are too many unknowns to say that he did. For example, where was Luke when he wrote his gospel? Were there any eye witnesses around? Could he have easily traveled to find them? If he was writing during or near the turmoil of the Jewish War, would he have even known where they were? Would the eye witnesses have been willing to meet with him? What kind of clout did Luke have that he would be granted a personal interview? Was Luke a Greek, and if so, would that have made it harder for him to get an interview from a Jewish believer? How many eye witnesses were still alive when Luke wrote his gospel? When did he write his gospel? How reliable did Luke think his written sources were? Etc.

Granting the possibility that Luke consulted eye witnesses, what internal evidence do we have that Luke's gospel included information he got from those eye witnesses? Depending on what solution to the synoptic problem you subscribe to, Luke seems to have relied heavily on earlier written documents when writing his gospel, not on eye witnesses. For the information unique to Luke, you might say he got that information from eye witnesses, but that is hardly enough to make the sweeping statement that "Luke's gospel is an eye witness account."

When he met James in Acts 21, he would have been present to hear what James said and to observe his (James') interactions with Paul. Since Paul was recounting his efforts among the Gentiles "one by one" (Acts 21:19), it seems unlikely that all of the relevant details Paul mentions when proclaiming the gospel elsewhere in Acts, about the life of Jesus and other historical data, would have been left out.

I'm sure Luke had just as much historical information as any other Christian just from being in a Christian community and hear Jesus preached. It's hard to say how much detail that would've included and whether any Christian could've written a biography of Jesus from that information alone. So I don't think Luke having met James and other eye witnesses is enough to say that Luke's gospel is an eye witness account. We have no idea how much historical information about Jesus that James talked about during that time. Assuming, contra Jim Wallace, that Luke had not written his gospel yet, we don't know whether he had any plans to do so at that point, so we don't know that he put forth any effort to get more historical information from James et. al. than he would've absorbed otherwise.

When James gives his approval to Paul and coordinates his efforts with Paul's proclamation of the gospel, as we see in Acts 21, the implication is that he's agreeing with Paul's gospel message. Paul confirms James' agreement in 1 Corinthians 9, 1 Corinthians 15, and Galatians 1-2. Paul's gospel message involved some historical claims about Jesus.

But Paul says in Galatians 2:2 that when he presented his gospel to James and Peter that he did so in private. We don't know if Luke was there or not. And even if he had been there, what reason is there to believe they discussed enough historical information about Jesus for Luke to have written a gospel from it? When Paul says he presented his gospel to the apostles, what reason is there to think they discussed anything more than "the gospel" Paul recites in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff as well as whether gentile converts needed to submit to circumcision and keep the whole Law?

Just by observing the interaction between James and Paul, Luke would have been acquiring some information from an eyewitness about Jesus and the events surrounding his life.

We have no idea how much historical information about Jesus they discussed and how much of it Luke heard.

Why object that Luke 1 (which Wallace cited) doesn't mention Luke's access to eyewitnesses, only to go on to concede that we know he had such access anyway?

The question is not whether Luke had ever met any of the eye witnesses. The question is whether Luke had access to eye witnesses when he wrote his gospel and whether consulting eye witnesses was part of his research project. Luke 1:1 doesn't tell us that he did. We can only speculate.

Why raise the implications of something Wallace wrote in a book when he didn't address that subject in this thread, and the claim he made in the book is something that's unnecessary to the argument he's pursuing here?

Wallace claimed, based on Luke 1:1, that Luke's gospel is an eye witness account because Luke consulted eye witnesses. I objected that we can't know that from Luke 1:1, and that we could only speculate. You attempted to correct me by pointing to Acts 21:18 where Luke met James. I pointed out that that's irrelevant to Jim's case because Jim thinks Luke wrote his gospel before he met James, and I cited Jim's book to show you that. I don't know what your confusion is.

Even if Luke had published his gospel prior to the events of Acts 21, he reaffirmed his gospel after it was initially published. He refers to it positively in the opening of Acts (1:1). The two documents circulated together in the years that followed, without any indication that Luke renounced what he'd written earlier. Even if meeting James in Acts 21 didn't shape the production of Luke's gospel, it would still have significance in confirming the gospel after its production. Acts 21 is significant either way.

This is all speculative. Immediately after Luke's visit to Jerusalem, he joined Paul on his treacherous journey to Rome, and we don't know what happened to him there. We don't know where his gospel was circulating or whether he would've been able to go make corrections. And we don't know that he would've gotten any information from James that would've been relevant to the bulk of his gospel anyway.

Just to avoid getting lost in the details of this discussion, let me say what my overriding point is in all this. Jim claims that Luke's gospel is an eye-witness account of Jesus' life. I don't think we can say that for sure because:

1. Luke was not an eye witness of Jesus.

2. If Luke wrote his gospel before meeting James, as Jim Wallace thinks, we don't know that he had spoken to any other eye witnesses.

3. If Luke wrote his gospel after meeting James, we don't know how much historical information Luke got from James et. al.

4. Luke 1:1 doesn't tell us that Luke interviewed any eye witnesses as part of his research in writing his gospel.

5. Luke appears to have gotten the bulk of his information from earlier written sources, which is evident in:

a. the fact that he cites earlier written sources in Luke 1:1, and

b. the fact that it appears that Luke used Mark as a source. (And personally, I think he also used Matthew, though I don't want to get into the details of that argument.)

WisdomLover:

I can't say that I really see your difficulty in understanding my remark. That's not to say that you must agree with it, but do you truly not see how it's on point?

I thought I did understand your point but just didn't think it was relevant to what I said.

But let me mirror back to you what I think you're saying and you can correct me if I'm wrong.

I said that if Jim thinks the gospels are independent accounts, then he needs to explain why the synoptic gospels are often word for word identical in both the sayings of Jesus and in some of the narrative.

Your response appears to be that contradictions between the gospels prove that they are independent accounts, and that a skeptic would be inconsistent if he claimed there were contradictions while at the same time claiming that the accounts are dependent on each other.

But, since you don't believe there actually are contradictions, you can't use that as an argument for the independence of the gospels. You only mean to point out an inconsistency in some skeptics.

However, you think there are differences between the gospels and that those differences show that the gospels are independent accounts.

Have I got that right?

If so, let's move on. First, I still don't see how that's relevant to what I said. I claimed that if Jim thinks the accounts are independent, then he's got to account for why they have identical wording. The identical wording suggests that they are dependent either on each other or on a common source or both.

Second, I do not think the differences between the gospels shows that they are independent accounts. I see no reason to think those differences wouldn't exist if there had been dependency.


And in light of this, I don't believe that the texts are really all that close when it comes to relating the events of Jesus ministry.

Really? You should get a copy of Gospel Parallels. There's a reason Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called "the synoptic gospels" and John is not included.

Well, as a control, I took the paragraph from President Bush's 2004 State of the Union address where he declares that the state of the union is strong, and the paragraph right before it. I compared that to the state-of-the-union-is-strong paragraph of President Obama's 2012 address, and the paragraph right before that. 79% overlap.

If these two speeches have exact wording to the same degree or more than the synoptic gospels, then I would conclude either that Obama's speech writers used Bush's speech as a source, or else they both relied on the same source.

But do you really think we're not dealing with a case of independent authorship for Bush and Obama?

Not if you're saying what I think you're saying.

Was this test scientific? Hardly. For one thing, I don't know how the duplicate checker I used even works.

Well, I think that would be pretty important. Supposing it works by comparing whole sentences and phrases and finding them to be identical, or close to it, do you honestly think it's just a coincidence?

It seems to me that the accounts are independent and the overlap we see comes from the fact that the authors (or their eyewitness sources) were relating their own descriptions of the same events.

You honestly think that if two people both witnessed the same event, then later without consulting each other wrote what each of them saw, that we should expect them to use identical sentences in their explanations?

WL, I'm just curious. If one writer were using another document as a source, how would you know it? Aside from explicitly citing the source, do you think it's even possible to know? Also, do you think the Book of Mormon borrowed from the Spaulding Manuscript? Or do you think the Book of Mormon borrowed from View of the Hebrews? If so, how did you come to that conclusion?

I'm just curious if you think it's possible to tell that one document borrowed from another, and if so, what method you would use to determine that, or if you think it's even possible to ever know.

Staircaseghost:

It is extremely strange to see inerrantist Christians worrying themselves about whether the Gospels are eyewitness accounts.

Well, let me explain the reason. It's because we Christians know that when we're talking about the gospel with non-believers, that those non-believers do not share our belief in inerrancy. And rather than prove that the Bible is inerrant in order to prove that Jesus is the messiah who rose from the dead, we find it easier to show that even if the gospels are not inerrant, one can apply historical methods to them to make a case for the resurrection of Jesus, showing that he is the messiah. Since we are attempting to make arguments using historical methods apart from any assumption of inerrancy, whether the gospels are eye witness accounts or not is relevant.

Jason,

The view that Luke was a responsible historian who engaged in careful research seems very common among Christians, but I see no basis for it in the evidence available. For instance, you claim that writing the third Gospel would have required a "large amount of research." Now, I agree that responsibly writing a biography requires a significant investment of time and energy to carry out. But an irresponsible author has no such chains to bind him. How can we hope to determine whether the third Gospel was produced by a responsible or an irresponsible author?

It's not as if the early Christian world lacked irresponsible authors. Take the Gospel of Peter for instance. Presumably you agree that it's a second-century forgery, and not actually written by the Apostle Peter. Or consider the recently-popularized Gospel of Judas. Or the Infancy Gospels of Thomas and James. These authors clearly did not take too great a care with the truth. That doesn't mean they were disinterested in the truth. I can't help but imagine them attempting to correct and/or enrich earlier Gospel traditions with what they honestly believed was authentic new material. But they obviously reported many falsehoods, regardless of their intentions.

I just don't see why we should think Luke was any more responsible than those other authors. So far I've seen two arguments to support the claim, and neither is convincing.

First, it is sometimes argued that the language of Luke's Gospel indicates he interviewed eyewitnesses in preparation for its production, and reported their testimony with great care. Maybe I'm missing something here---I'm no expert after all---but this argument seems downright silly. It requires we rely on the gut feelings of a few academics---nearly all of them who just happen to be conservative Christians---which tell them that Luke's writing resembles other writings which apparently we should already believe are carefully-researched, and that this means Luke is likely to also have done careful eyewitness research. I'm sorry, but I don't buy that argument for a second.

Much more plausible is the argument you raised in your comments here, about Luke being expected to have acquired information from eyewitnesses just by virtue of the company he kept during the course of his evangelical activities. Unfortunately we really don't know that much about Luke's life. In particular, we don't know nearly enough to say with confidence that he spent much time hanging around eyewitnesses to Jesus' ministry. And if he did, well, who knows how accurate he reported what he heard from them? Furthermore, we don't even know that Luke really did write the third Gospel. It could have been someone else entirely. These three concerns just pile one atop another, and not a single one of them appears to me to have a good answer.

It's easy to ignore these difficulties and just pretend that Luke fits the image we want to have of him. Certainly we all want to think that Luke has handed down valuable information. We always want to think that of our ancient sources, because they give us our most direct link to those periods in history. But we need to be realistic about them, too. As much as we might want to think well of Luke, and imagine him to be a responsible historian passing down eyewitness testimony, nevertheless we just don't have enough good evidence to support that image.

Sam and Jason, additionally, I would note we see were Luke modified from his written source (Mark and in my opinion Matthew). If Luke would modify where we can see it, why should we suspect he would not when we cannot—i.e. when taking information from eyewitnesses? Therefore, even if Luke had access to eyewitnesses, we have every indication he would modify, ignore or add to what he learned anyway.

So his access does not add any new information to our search on historical Jesus.

I have read the Wallace article long before. I've even commented on it in this blog. Suffice it to say, I don't find it convincing. At the time of my earlier comment, I was thinking that Matthew influenced Mark and Luke. I've moved toward the independence hypothesis since then. (BTW, I'm also not convinced by that other internet chestnut on the synoptic problem by Mark Goodacre)

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Where Does Wallace Argue Against the Independence Hypothesis?

I'm not going to fully review Wallace's article again.

The reason for this is that it is not relevant to our current discussion. The vast bulk of his article depends on the prior assumption of literary interdependence. They are not arguments against the independence hypothesis per se

For example, it only matters that Matthew is a better writer than Mark if you first assume that one cribbed from the other. Even with that assumption, this is not a very good argument that it was Matthew doing the cribbing.

But that is neither here nor there. The argument doesn't work if you reject the idea that there was any cribbing going on.

Otherwise I could argue that Goodacre is a better writer than Wallace, so Wallace must have written first (though they wrote at about the same time...1998). I could also argue that Bertrand Russell wrote after all of them, since he is by far the best writer of the three.

Those arguments would all be ridiculous though, because we aren't assuming that any of them cribbed from any of the others.

Wallace's actual arguments against independence all occur in section A of his article, and aren't very good.

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Wallace's Independence Straw Man

For starters, of course, his characterization of the independence hypothesis is dreadful

It is popular today among laymen to think in terms of independence—and to suggest either that the writers simply recorded what happened and therefore agree, or that they were guided by the Holy Spirit into writing the same things.
With that characterization, naturally, he finds the hypothesis historically and theologically naive.

What shows the naivete of the view is that its proponents, according to Wallace, cannot account for the differences between the Gospels.

Wallace is a smart guy, it really should have occurred to him that it was he who provided the naivete by characterizing the independence hypothesis as he did.

Of course, the common object and common inspiration is what accounts for the similarities in the texts.

But people who really espouse the independence hypothesis also make it central to their view that the eyewitnesses each had their own perspective.

They also insist that inspiration works through the inspired persons. The authors of Scripture are neither automata under the control of nor stenographers taking dictation from the Holy Ghost. They are people who react to the Breath of God by writing.

It is the differences in perspective and personality and all the thousands of other differences between human persons that accounts for the differences in the texts that those persons write to faithfully and under the guidance of the Holy Ghost record the same events remarks and teachings.

It's even possible that some people might say that Matthew, Mark and John are independent, but Luke, inasmuch as he says as much, depends on sources (two of which just might be Matthew and Mark).

And, insofar as this proponent of independence does say that, I'm going to skip over Wallace's argument against independence of Luke.

Finally, as I've already noted in somewhere in the current bevy of threads we've had on the reliability of the NT, the Gospels are not eyewitness accounts from beginning to end.

Matthew didn't necessarily eyewitness every single event he describes. Peter did not eyewitness every single event that Mark describes. John did not necessarily eyewitness every single event that he describes. Where the gospels relied on sources to fill in their work, their may be some interdependency.

If Matthew and Mark are both talking about something that Caiaphas thought, it might, of course, be that the Holy Ghost revealed that to Matthew and Peter. But it's also possible that they got that from some source who had been part of the High Priest's household. There is no reason to suppose that Matthew and Mark's sources on something like that would be different.

In any case, the number one problem with Wallace's argument is that he's arguing against his straw man version of what a proponent of an independence hypothesis would assume.

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Wallace's Argument from Order

Wallace makes an argument based on the fact that overlapping stories occur mostly, but not rigidly, in the same order.

I'm not sure what this is supposed to prove. My initial reaction is that it doesn't prove a blessed thing.

Just giving it a stab, I guess the rough overlap of event ordering is supposed to show that the authors cribbed from one another, but the fact that once in a while one author places an event in a different order shows...thingy.

Wallace concludes with this remark, which I must say never occurred to me (any time before I was ten):

there seems to be no intent on the part of the evangelists to present a strict chronological sequence of events.
(In fairness, that did trouble me at ten.)

It's not possible, I suppose that the accounts agree in order because they are presented in a roughly but not strictly chronological way. And the variations in the order are due to any one of a thousand reasons that an author might have for presenting selected events in non-chronological ways.

That couldn't be it!

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Wallace's Argument From Parenthetical Material

Finally, Wallace argues that the agreement in parenthetical material shows not only interdependence, but documentary interdependence.

He believes that this is the most powerful argument, and proves the point "beyond a shadow of a doubt" (his words).

As an example he gives Mark 13:14

But when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION standing where it should not be (let the reader understand ), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.
And Matthew 24:15-16
Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand ). Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.
Now, Wallace would argue, the fact that this parenthetical remark appears in the the same place in the middle of a direct quotation of something Jesus was speaking shows two things.
  1. The reference to the reader shows that it was added parenthetically by the author of a written work...it is not a part of the quotation that is being presented
  2. The sameness of location shows that it was added by the same author.
Both of these claims are actually pretty dubious. I'd say the first more so than the second, and I'm going to concentrate on it for that reason.

The reason the first is dubious is that it is quite possible (and, I think, probable) that the parenthetical remark occurs in what Jesus himself said. Thus the remark is similar because the quote as a whole is similar, and the quote as a whole is similar because both authors are accurately representing Jesus' actual words.

For starters, in English or any language that is read, written, heard and spoken, it is possible to refer, in oral communication, someone as a reader. There are all sorts of reasons one might do so, and I hardly need to go into all of them here.

Instead, I'll just note the one that seems most obviously the case. To wit, Jesus is talking about a prophecy from Daniel. I will grant that Daniel was, at the time of the writing of the Gospels, a written document, and that people interacted with Daniel by reading the words of his prophecy.

Jesus was orally exhorting his listeners to be attentive when they were reading Daniel. Matthew and Mark faithfully presented this exhortation from this teaching of Christ.

I'd say that this is the most plausible reading of the text. Period.

But it, any any rate, provides more than a shadow of a doubt on Wallace's argument.

Ben,

I'm not going to reinvent the wheel regarding issues like Lukan authorship and the historicity of Acts. The fact that you put the Lukan documents in the same category as documents like the Gospel Of Peter and the Infancy Gospel Of Thomas suggests to me that you don't know much about the subject. And your reference to "two arguments" in support of Luke's reliability, as if you aren't familiar with any others, suggests that you haven't done much research.

I'll point you to my material on Acts at Triablogue, such as here, and I suggest consulting Craig Keener's recent commentary on Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2012). The introduction alone is more than 600 pages long. James Dunn calls it "unbeatable in today’s market" on issues of historicity, Richard Bauckham calls it "magisterial" and refers to Keener’s "encyclopedic knowledge of ancient literature", and Daniel Marguerat calls it "the most comprehensive commentary on Acts to date", among other endorsements.

You tell us, "It's easy to ignore these difficulties and just pretend that Luke fits the image we want to have of him." I'm not ignoring, and I'm not pretending. I've argued for my position, and so have the many scholars who hold a high view of Luke's reliability.

Sam wrote:

"But the question is what sources he consulted to write his gospel, and I don't think Luke 1:1 gives us any indication that he interviewed eye-witnesses."

You keep changing the subject. You initially referred to access to eyewitnesses. Now you're focusing on interviewing eyewitnesses. Why would they have to be interviewed? I explained in my last response to you why interviewing wouldn't be needed.

And why limit the discussion to Luke 1:1?

You write:

"But what Luke seems to be saying is not that he got his information directly from eye witnesses, but that he believed the traditions (whether oral or written) were handed down by eye witnesses."

There's nothing about handing down by eyewitnesses that excludes getting information "directly from eyewitnesses".

You write:

"But that's irrelevant. The topic we're discussing is Luke's gospel. Luke's own eye witness testimony isn't about Jesus at all."

What I was addressing was Luke's general interest in and use of eyewitness testimony. Those general tendencies of Luke would be relevant to a consideration of how likely it would be that he'd consult eyewitnesses in the process of compiling his gospel. If he expressed so much interest in eyewitness testimony in Acts, was in contact with so many eyewitnesses in that context (Paul, Philip, etc.), and included so much of his own eyewitness testimony there, then those attributes of Acts have implications for Luke's gospel. It would be possible for somebody so interested in eyewitness testimony and who made so much use of it in the second volume of a work to consult no eyewitnesses in the first volume. But that's a less likely scenario.

You write:

"I think at best we can say that Luke would like to have consulted them. But there are too many unknowns to say that he did. For example, where was Luke when he wrote his gospel? Were there any eye witnesses around? Could he have easily traveled to find them? If he was writing during or near the turmoil of the Jewish War, would he have even known where they were? Would the eye witnesses have been willing to meet with him? What kind of clout did Luke have that he would be granted a personal interview? Was Luke a Greek, and if so, would that have made it harder for him to get an interview from a Jewish believer? How many eye witnesses were still alive when Luke wrote his gospel? When did he write his gospel? How reliable did Luke think his written sources were? Etc."

I've already explained why interviews wouldn't be needed.

And the issue isn't just where Luke was when he wrote his gospel. If he had read a letter Peter wrote twenty years earlier, or had heard John discussing some relevant information a decade before, for example, he wouldn't need to consult those men at the time he composed his gospel. He'd already attained information from them.

If you want to know where Luke was, that information can be partially reconstructed by means of Paul's letters and Acts. We repeatedly see him in places where the apostles were and where their writings were circulating.

Regarding which eyewitnesses were available, I addressed that subject briefly earlier in this thread. Passages like 1 Corinthians 9 and Galatians 1-2 tell us about some of the eyewitnesses who were around during Luke's lifetime. Acts gives other examples. We have good evidence that some of the sources, like John and Symeon, lived until the closing years of the first century or the opening years of the second. If you want more information, I can give you links to material I've written on the subject at Triablogue.

Concerning the availability of eyewitnesses, Luke's own account in Acts suggests that many eyewitnesses were highly accessible to the public. None of the church leaders or their associates Luke encounters in Acts refused him access or tried to avoid him. If he got access to Paul and James, two of the most prominent eyewitnesses of the apostolic era, it's unlikely that individuals like the other relatives of Jesus or the women of Luke 8 would have denied him access. The notion that they would have refused access to somebody like Luke, based on something like his Gentile status, is dubious. You're raising a lot of weak objections. And Luke didn't need to be granted private access to people or be granted an interview. If he heard John speaking in public or overheard a discussion between James and Paul, for example, he'd be getting information from an eyewitness without any private meeting or interview.

You write:

"Depending on what solution to the synoptic problem you subscribe to, Luke seems to have relied heavily on earlier written documents when writing his gospel, not on eye witnesses."

The two aren't mutually exclusive.

You write:

"For the information unique to Luke, you might say he got that information from eye witnesses, but that is hardly enough to make the sweeping statement that 'Luke's gospel is an eye witness account.'"

I've already addressed that issue. J. Warner Wallace was defining the notion of an eyewitness account loosely, allowing for multiple types of sources to be included. That loose definition weakens the significance of his position, but he does explain that he had that looser definition in mind.

I'm not Wallace, and I haven't been using his language, so defending all of the details of his position isn't my concern. I've been focused on broader issues, as I mentioned earlier.

You write:

"So I don't think Luke having met James and other eye witnesses is enough to say that Luke's gospel is an eye witness account."

I was addressing whether Luke consulted any eyewitnesses. You're changing the subject to whether his experience with an eyewitness in Acts 21 is enough to lead us to the conclusion that "Luke's gospel is an eye witness account". Those are two different subjects. And the second subject is highly ambiguous in the context of this thread, since Wallace has indicated that he's defining the term loosely and hasn't provided much detail about his parameters.

You write:

"But Paul says in Galatians 2:2 that when he presented his gospel to James and Peter that he did so in private. We don't know if Luke was there or not."

I didn't cite Galatians 2 in order to argue for Luke's presence on that occasion. Rather, I cited the passage as an example of Paul's affirmation that he and James were in agreement about the gospel.


You write:

"When Paul says he presented his gospel to the apostles, what reason is there to think they discussed anything more than 'the gospel' Paul recites in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff as well as whether gentile converts needed to submit to circumcision and keep the whole Law? "

I was addressing whether Luke consulted any eyewitnesses. Objecting that the information he got from James in Acts 21 might not have given Luke enough material to compose his entire gospel is irrelevant.

You write:

"We have no idea how much historical information about Jesus they discussed and how much of it Luke heard."

James' positive reception of Paul, especially in the context described in Acts 21, would have implied James' agreement with Paul about the gospel message. Luke knew what that gospel message was, based on information from Paul and from many other sources, and he had ways of discerning James' agreement with Paul even if he (Luke) sometimes didn't hear what James was saying.

You write:

"This is all speculative. Immediately after Luke's visit to Jerusalem, he joined Paul on his treacherous journey to Rome, and we don't know what happened to him there. We don't know where his gospel was circulating or whether he would've been able to go make corrections."

No, Luke's positive reference to his gospel at the beginning of Acts isn't "speculative". And we have more than speculation to go by concerning how documents would normally be composed and distributed, how the early Christians used their literature in general, how they viewed Luke and his relationship to his gospel, etc. You can suggest that some sort of unusual scenario occurred with Luke's gospel, which would differentiate it from what normally occurs, but we don't assume abnormalities or agnosticism as our default position. Rather, we assume normal circumstances unless there's evidence suggesting otherwise. Just as we assume normal circumstances, unless there's sufficient evidence to the contrary, when studying Philo, Tacitus, or some other non-Christian source, we should do the same with Christian sources, like Luke.

If Luke wanted to "go make corrections" to his gospel, then why is there no trace of a change in the textual record or the historical record? Why does he make a positive reference to his gospel in the opening of Acts? Why does he go on, in Acts, to reaffirm so much of what he said in the gospel? Acts refers to Jesus' relatives, his miracles, the events surrounding his death, the names and activities of his disciples, his resurrection, etc. If Luke had changed his mind after writing his gospel, and wanted to change the gospel, then why is Acts so consistent with and reaffirming of that gospel?

You write:

"I don't think we can say that for sure"

We should avoid terms like "for sure", since probability is all that's needed.

You write:

"Luke 1:1 doesn't tell us that Luke interviewed any eye witnesses as part of his research in writing his gospel."

We don't need an explicit statement that Luke consulted an eyewitness, as we have in Acts 21, in order to conclude that he probably did so. We can conclude that it's probable that he consulted eyewitnesses based on general considerations like the ones I referred to earlier. All of us frequently draw conclusions about history based on such general considerations. We do it in our everyday lives. It would be preferable to have something more explicit, like we have with Acts 21, but lesser evidence is still evidence.

You write:

"And personally, I think he also used Matthew"

I think Matthew's gospel was authored by an eyewitness, for reasons I explained earlier. Do you hold that position?

Sam-

Didn't you see my correction to the Copy-Compare stuff?

Maybe you skipped it over because I addressed it with an apology to Ben who had spent some time remarking on it before I had a chance to post the correction.

Now I have to apologize to you too for making you also worry about the false 80% similarity between Bush and Obama. Suffice it to say that I read the tool exactly backward. What I was reading as an index of overlap was actually an index of uniqueness.

This makes the Bush-Obama comparison more plausible. No?

The fact that Matthew and Mark still come out as 55% unique is still not terribly conducive to your word-for-word identity hypothesis. In fact, the case is now worse, since before we were saying that the two were 55% identical and 45% unique. Now we are saying that they are 45% identical and 55% unique.

But at least we don't need to worry that Obama plagiarized Bush. (Not that anything politicians do should, as a rule, be shocking;-)

Now, I think I owe you a response to some of your other remarks as well.

Let's start with this one:

Have I got that right?
Yes and No.

Yes, you do have this much of my point: There are differences between the texts.

No, my argument does not depend in any way on these differences actually being contradictions, as was suggested by this remark:

But, since you don't believe there actually are contradictions, you can't use that as an argument for the independence of the gospels. You only mean to point out an inconsistency in some skeptics.
You are right that I can't use the fact of 'Bible contradictions'. There is no such fact. I can however use the belief by some that there are contradictions. There is such a belief as I'm sure you are well aware.

The point is that the texts aren't just different. The point is that they are so different that some people think they contradict each other.

If text-A leads a person to conclude P, and text-B leads that same person to conclude not-P, I'd be curious to know what you even mean when you say that text-A and text-B are word-for-word identical.

You should get a copy of Gospel Parallels.
Thanks, I've seen similar resources. But I'll try that one. It is precisely some of these parallels that have led me away from the inevitability of the interdependence theory.

The parallels are almost never what I'd call word-for-word copies of one another, especially when you factor out the direct quotations of Jesus and others (where similarity just indicates that you've got the quote more-or-less right). And when you factor out stuff like the fact that when a passage is about something, say Jesus, both passages will tend to mention that thing by name, the case for word-for-word identity becomes less clear.

Just as an example of that last point, the name "Herod" is supposed to be counted as part of the 'triple-tradition' of Matthew-Mark-Luke in Matt 14:3, Mark 6:17 and Luke 3:19. I'm sorry, but no. That should not count as any kind of 'parallel'. But according to friends of ours like the authors of Gospel Parallels, I'm sure it does.

There's a reason Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called "the synoptic gospels" and John is not included.
Yes, it's because all three give a rough synopsis of Jesus ministry. That implies a rough chronological ordering of events. John is topically arranged. It is not an automatic endorsement of the interdependency hypothesis.
You honestly think that if two people both witnessed the same event, then later without consulting each other wrote what each of them saw, that we should expect them to use identical sentences in their explanations?
Well, when you exclude direct quotation, you don't actually see identical sentences as a rule. Otherwise Wallace couldn't argue that Mark was not as good a writer as Matthew. Right?

You do often see very similar sentences. And whether you should expect to see highly similar sentences would depend on the event wouldn't it?

I'm just curious. If one writer were using another document as a source, how would you know it? Aside from explicitly citing the source, do you think it's even possible to know?
I think it's very difficult to know, especially if the two are writing about the same things. Much of the similarity can always be explained by the fact that you are talking about the same things.

Here's what I'm curious about. Would it be even possible to express a parallel claim or set of claims without it somehow being evidence of dependency?

BTW - I don't know what to say about the Book of Mormon issue. I've heard of the plagiarism charge of course, but I don't know enough to know what to say. There are all sorts of reasons not to be a Mormon that have nothing to do with whether Smith plagiarized the Book of Mormon, so I guess I view that as a less important issue.

Jason,

You say that you've argued your position, but the whole point of my last comment was to explain that your arguments so far have not done the job. Anyway, you made it pretty clear that you don't want to engage with me in any depth. That's fine I guess. But if you change your mind, you will have to actually respond to my criticisms, or else present new arguments.

As for me not knowing about more arguments for the responsibility of Luke, well, the natural thing for you to do is give an example. But I notice you didn't do that. Why not? Probably there are other arguments out there---I haven't seen them, but as I said before, I'm no expert. But I wonder, are they just more bad arguments?

Well, in any case, the two you presented aren't convincing, for the reasons mentioned earlier. To recap, the argument from language seems downright absurd, and requires that we depend on the opinions of a handful of academics with overt religious biases. Meanwhile, the argument from Luke's company depends on three dubious assumptions: Lukan authorship, sufficiently extensive fraternization with eyewitnesses, and reliability in reporting what they told him. If you can overcome these difficulties, I will be impressed. But if you can't overcome these difficulties, then that should alert you to the fact that your arguments are not reasonable.

Again, your argument is a nonsequitur. Nobody is saying that Matthew and Mark are not different. Of course they are different! Rather, the issue is one of literary dependence.
I know we are talking about literary dependence. But are you aware that that is the conclusion you are supposed to be defending and that I am attacking? The problem is that literary dependence is a complex relationship that is difficult to detect and identify (if it weren't there wouldn't be upwards of 1400 viable multi-source hypotheses).

You don't read literary dependence off of the text. You do read differences of the text. And the question comes down, at least in part, to whether the differences are too great to support the thesis that the one text depends on the other.

I'm glad to see that you agree that the texts are different. But how are they different?

We look at the wording and literary structure of the accounts.
How can two texts in the same language differ except by differing in wording and literary structure? To say that the texts are different is to say nothing more or less than they differ in wording and/or structure.

As already noted, the question comes down (at least in part) to how much they differ.So when you say

I'm not talking about fancy statistical analyses here.
I think its reasonable to consider that maybe we should be.

I'm not saying that the little internet toy I brought up proves anything...it was only meant to be suggestive. What I reject is this

You can just read the texts. It's as plain as day. Really, just read them.
No, it is not as plain as day, and it's silly to say so. Day is really, really really plain. What it is is murky as all get out. You know, people who endorse the independence hypothesis do read the Bible.

In particular, I just did read and analyze Matthew and Mark on the triumphal entry and found them to be quite different, even in areas where you had alleged parallels.

But rather than responding to that argument we're supposed to move on now to other examples. What if they all turn out like the triumphal entry?

Jason,

I think Matthew's gospel was authored by an eyewitness, for reasons I explained earlier. Do you hold that position?

I don't know, but I doubt it. My suspicion is that Matthew himself wrote something in Aramaic, and that's what Papias was talking about. The author of the gospel of Matthew had some connection with Matthew's original composition. Either he used it as a source, or the author was a disciple of Matthew, or they came from the same community, or something. I figure there has to be an explanation for why Matthew's name got attached to that gospel, but I don't think that gospel was written by Matthew himself.

Sorry for not continuing the discussion. It was getting a bit long and unruly, and most of what I would say would just be repeating myself or making clarifications.

WL,

Didn't you see my correction to the Copy-Compare stuff?

Yes, but I posted my response to you before I saw it.

Would it be even possible to express a parallel claim or set of claims without it somehow being evidence of dependency?

I guess it depends on the situation. For example, if we know that both Dan and Bob were at the scene of the crime, and they both reported seeing the same thing, that wouldn't mean one was depending on the other. But if Dan and Bob both wrote works of fiction, and whole paragraphs from one book appeared to be paraphrased in the other book, that would be good evidence for dependency.

Now, in the case of Dan and Bob both witnessing the same crime, if there is a lot of similarity in wording, order, sentence structure, etc., then yes, that could be evidence of dependency.

For example, let's say they both witness a robbery at a convenient store, and they give the following descriptions of what happen.

Dan: This feller come in wearin' a green hoodie with a star painted on it. He walked to the frigerator, then up to the counter. He pulled a gun out of his pocket and threatened the cashier with it, telling him to give him the money. The cashier did, and the guy with the hoodie took it and ran.

Bob: I was looking at the hotdog conveyor thing when a man in a green hoodie walked in. I didn't pay much attention until I saw him at the counter saying, "Give me the money." I looked over there and saw him holding a gun. The cashier calmly handed over the money from the cash register. The guy with the gun took it, stuffed it in his pocket, and quickly left the store.

Now, if we saw these two statements, there'd be no reason to think one was borrowing from the other. But suppose a third guy made this statement:

Ed: A guy came in the store wearing a green hoodie with a star on it. He walked back to the refrigerator, then he walked to the counter. He pulled a gun out of his pocket and pointed it at the cashier, telling him to give him the money. The cashier gave him the money, and the guy with the hoodie took it and left the store.

Now, compare Ed's account to Dan's account. Would it not be obvious that there was some dependence between Dan and Ed in spite of the fact that their sentences were not identical in every detail? The similarities would be an enormous coincidence if there was no dependence.

Well, that is exactly the sort of thing we see in the synoptic gospels. If Matthew, Mark, and Luke were students in the same history class, each writing on the historical Jesus, the professor would be well within his rights in accusing them of plagiarism. It would be no excuse for them to say, "Well, we were writing on the same subject, so of course there's going to be similarities!"

I'm not making a value judgement here, so don't get the wrong idea. I'm making a factual claim--that there is good evidence, just from looking at the synoptic gospels, that there is a literary relationship between them.

Based on what's already been said in this conversation, though, I don't expect to convince you of that. I do wonder, though, if you were a history teacher what it would take to convince you that one of your students had committed plagiarism.

You can just read the texts. It's as plain as day. Really, just read them.

No, it is not as plain as day, and it's silly to say so.

Well, colour me silly, then, because it's as plain as day to me, too. In fact, colour most new testament scholars silly for thinking the same thing. If you can look at Ben's examples and still say no, then I don't see how this difference of opinion can be resolved.

WisdomLover,

You wrote: "In particular, I just did read and analyze Matthew and Mark on the triumphal entry and found them to be quite different, even in areas where you had alleged parallels."

Yes, you said that before. And my response from before boils down to this: I agree that Matthew and Mark have profound differences---in wording, structure, content, tone, theme, size, etc. But so what? It's a nonsequitur to say that therefore the texts are independent.

You continue: "But rather than responding to that argument we're supposed to move on now to other examples. What if they all turn out like the triumphal entry?"

I didn't post a third example because I am abandoning the first two. Indeed, I did respond to your argument. Maybe you were just thrown off by the fact that my response was so short. And why shouldn't it be short? You spent most of your time talking about differences between the Gospels. But there was no need to make that case. I already agree there are differences. That too is plain as day. And it's not that we disagree on the extent of the differences. Rather, where we disagree is that you seem to think the differences prevent us from concluding the texts are dependent, whereas I say that your inference is a nonsequitur.

In other words, this is incorrect: "And the question comes down, at least in part, to whether the differences are too great to support the thesis that the one text depends on the other."

It doesn't matter how great the differences are. They do not matter in the face of the clear and unequivocal examples of literary dependence such as I have posted already.

But as Sam has already noted, this difference of opinion probably can't be resolved. I do not know how to explain the obviousness of the dependence other than pointing to the texts and saying "look!" If after three clear examples you still don't see it, then I am at a loss to proceed further.

Sam wrote:

"Sorry for not continuing the discussion. It was getting a bit long and unruly, and most of what I would say would just be repeating myself or making clarifications."

That's fine. Don't be sorry.

Ben-

At this point, I have to say that I honestly have no idea what you are talking about.

You seem to be claiming that you can just see literary dependence.

I don't think that that's really possible. What can be seen are similarities and differences. Literary dependence must be inferred.

Sam-

I think most New Testament scholars would disagree with you and Ben, even the most liberal. I believe their position would be the same as mine. No, you can't just see literary dependence. Critical analysis of the texts reveals it if it exists.

Where actual scholarly proponents of the interdependence hypothesis and I would part ways is not on that point, but on whether that critical analysis really does reveal the dependency they allege. I'll grant that it's a brazen claim for a rank amateur such as myself to make, but from what I've seen so far, their analysis doesn't really work, so I find myself more and more drawn to the independence hypothesis.

Look at it this way, we don't have an academic discipline focused on knowing your colors. There are of course, researchers that study issues involved in visual perception, but I guarantee you that no Ph.D. thesis will ever be approved where the thesis is something like "Blood is red".

Why not?

Well, I'd guess it's because everyone with normal visual equipment knows their colors just by looking. If literary dependence were something one saw, as you and Ben claim, just by looking, then we wouldn't need any academic discipline of critical analysis.

But there are, in fact, many such disciplines because there are so many ways to analyze texts. And one of the discoveries made in those disciplines is whether and how the literary dependencies between texts pan out.

Nor is what they do easy work. In fact, I think it's such hard work that most of the time they get it wrong. (And with upwards of 1400 viable theories on the synoptic problem, I suspect that most of these scholars might agree with me even on that.)

I think you guys may be living in the past when 'everyone' agreed on the two-source hypothesis. That's just not so anymore. Two-source still enjoys majority status, but there's no consensus. But if you could just see literary dependence, then I'd expect the kind of agreement we would expect about the color of the sidebars on this web page.

BTW-

On Dan, Bob and Ed, I thing Dan and Ed's account are certainly more similar to each other's than they are to Bob's. But I don't think that any of them are so similar that I'd feel comfortable with a claim of dependency. If you were a DA, would you consider charging Dan and Ed with collusion? I sure wouldn't.

And, I've been one of those professors and I've gotten more than one paper that were similar, some of which were plagiarized. And I'll tell you right now, nothing in Matthew and Mark would even come close to the threshold where I'd consider confronting them for plagiarism.

I've also been a student on the receiving end of the charge...a professor once asked me whether I'd let a weaker student see my paper. I hadn't. But we had studied together. Turns out that I'd just, by studying with him, helped him write a better paper than the professor considered him capable of. It also turns out that his paper was very similar to mine as a result. See how that can work?

Those, of course, are just my anecdotes. So they're not really worth a hill of beans.

I will, of course, grant dependence between the Gospels on the same level as existed between me and my old college pal: Matthew and Peter 'studied together'.

BTW-

If you want to know what word-for-word, plagiarism actually looks like, search for "BINO BOLUMAI" in the STR blog archives.

The phrases "word-for-word" and "plagiarism" get tossed about in discussions like this with reckless abandon. It inclines the casual reader or hearer to think of the relationship between Matthew and Mark as being on the same level as the one between Bino and Greg Kane, which is just absurd. It is disrespectful to those who disagree with the dependency doctrine, but even more so to those who work very hard to argue for it.

1) The "apostles" wrote the Gospels?

We agree that Mark and Luke were not apostles. So the title of this blog post should be changed to read, "Two apostles wrote two of the Gospels."

And the two remaining Gospels (according to Matthew and John) are later attributions. Scholars disagree as to who wrote any of the Gospels. Only maximally conservative scholars claim that the later attributions are without a doubt entirely trustworthy.

2) Keener is a maximally conservative scholar. He's aware of alternative explanations. He mentions them in his commentaries, but never sees any truth in any of them, but sees absolute truth in his own ingenious harmonizations. It's ironic how many maximally conservative scholars remain unaware of the fact their own ingenuity is what has to invent such harmonizations. (They blame liberals for inventing ingenious alternative explanations to account for various biblical discrepancies, but they never spy the fact that when a conservative attempts to harmonize one Gospels with another or with history they also must invent ingenious harmonizations.) Furthermore, harmonizations are not only ingenious inventions, but there is no evidence that any harmonization is inspired or inerrant, so we are back at square one when it comes to trying to prove to others that a maximally conservative interpretation and understanding of the Gospels is true.

3) Sure, read Keener's maximally conservative commentary on Acts (I've read portions of his Gospel of John commentary). Also read commentaries from moderate, liberal, Jewish and secular biblical scholars. The more you read the more realize that there is more to read and think about: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2010/08/luke-acts-dates-history-and-other.html

4) Neither do scholars agree what the term "eyewitnesses" means in Acts. Has Bauckham responded to Collins' questions concerning the meaning of the term "eyewitnesses?" http://ext.sagepub.com/content/121/9/447.abstract
More on the term, "eyewitnesses," https://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/what-did-lukes-eyewitnesses-see/

Personally, I suspect that the use of the term "eyewitnesses" in Acts, and the refrain found in the fourth Gospel that it's "true," in the last written Gospels, suggest to me that such works were written not soon after the events, but longer after them, when questions were increasing. Such works were composed to try and convince people, "written that ye might believe," "Blessed are those who believe and have not seen." Which also suggests there must have been plenty of doubt out there by the time those last two late Gospels were composed. And may also help explain why they feature the fish-eating resurrected Jesus, who is "flesh and bone," and "not a spirit" at all. None of that "pneuma body" stuff as in Paul. So solid in fact that Luke has to get rid of the body by having it ascend into heaven.

5) Might I suggest Dale Martin's debate with Licona on the resurrection? http://www.apologetics315.com/2012/10/michael-licona-vs-dale-martin-did-jesus.html Dr. Martin of Yale raised many of the same basic points that I raised in my Carnival of Questions for Resurrection Apologists, yet I had not heard of Martin's debate until a few weeks after I had composed my blog post: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2013/03/carnival-of-questions-for-resurrection.html

Dale Martin also has a series of NT podcasts for free at iTunes U: https://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/introduction-to-new-testament/id341652017

Though I enjoyed listening to Goodacre's NTPod even more: http://podacre.blogspot.com/ Which is also available on iTunes U for free: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/nt-pod/id319974061

And there's Robert M. Price's Bible Geek podcast, along with his new podcast, The Human Bible.

They all have facebook pages as well.

There's a variety of scholarly questions being raised and featured for free online, not just links found at say, "Apologetics 315," though that site does a great job of illustrating maximally conservative opinions.

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