Is it reasonable to reject the Gospels as eyewitness accounts? Part 2

This is part 2 of a 6 part series addressing objections to whether it is reasonable to reject the Gospels as eyewitness accounts. PART 1, PART 3, PART 4, PART 5, PART 6

Objection: The Gospels are not written as eyewitness accounts, rather as third person narrative, which is not the narrative of an eyewitness accounts. Additionally, considering that Matthew and John were written by their supposed apostles/disciples they should have been written in first pe rson perspective but they weren’t, they are both in third person.

I can understand why this point might hinder someone from accepting the Gospels as coming from eyewitnesses themselves.  The lack of the use of the personal pronoun “I” makes it difficult to take from the text that the author is speaking from his own personal perspective.  After all, we do not naturally speak in the third person narrative today, and would seem quite odd to do so.

I suppose what needs to be determined what someone might mean when they use the term ‘eyewitness account’.  Not that it’s an equivocal term with multiple senses in and of itself.  What needs to be determined is whether the term is being applied anachronistically to the Gospels.  The Gospels do not refer to themselves as eyewitness accounts (and they don’t begin with, “legend has it…” either for that matter), it is only modern day apologists who apply this term to them.

The term ‘eyewitness account’ to most people probably conjures up images of a witness statement in a police report, or the testimony of a witness on the stand in a courtroom.  This is certainly what I think of anyway.  But the Gospels aren’t written in this fashion, and there’s a good reason for that.  They are very similar to genre of ancient biography — which also don’t fit our modern vision of biography — though different enough in some aspects to carry a classification of their own if a stringent enough standard were applied.

The Gospels make heavy use of quotation, and itinerary, i.e., Jesus said… then they said… then Jesus replied…,  Jesus went here… then did… and saw… etc.  It is in this manner that they are considered eyewitness accounts.  They record speeches and events in a detail consistent with someone who saw and heard what was going on.  Of course, the Gospels weren’t recorded with the same detail we might expect from a modern news reporter, and we shouldn’t expect them to.

I don’t think it’s fair to impose modern terminology and reporting standards onto written works which were not intended to fulfill. When the authors penned the Gospels I believe their goal was to relate what they believed to be accurate information in a manner consistent with the standards of accuracy for the first century, not the 21st. So while the accounts might not conform to our certain expectations, it is most reasonable to judge them by the standards with which they were expecting to meet.

This speaks also to the first/third person narrative problem.  For centuries the church has accepted the attributions of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John since the earliest these books have been available.  Not only has the authorship of the Gospels not been contested by those to whom the documents were most important, there have been no rival attributions offered either.  This is not insignificant if we consider that a Gospel written by those who held higher authority, Peter or James for example, would have carried more weight than one written by the relatively insignificant Mark, or little mentioned Matthew, or outsider Luke.  Forgers would have been better served placing a major player as the author of such documents.

If we are trying to assess the Gospels as witness accounts by the modern standards of police interviewees, courtroom testifiers, or modern journalists then they fail.  Which shouldn’t be a surprise since they weren’t written with that kind of expectation in mind.  For their  era they were written from the perspective of someone who heard and saw the events which they record.  If we are to presume the primary focus was to record accurately certain events and speeches rather than to measure up to particular literary standards then we are well within reason to conclude that the Gospels report events as an eyewitness writing for his audience.

Any Thoughts?

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