Is it reasonable to reject the Gospels as eyewitness accounts? Part 3

This is part 3 of a six part series.  PART 1PART 2, PART 4, PART 5 PART 6

ObjectionAccording to both Christian and secular scholars, the Gospel accounts were not written during the time of Jesus. They were all written decades after Jesus’ death. Some scholars place one Gospel, John, in the early second century.

One point which is indisputable is that whether the Gospels were written one day after Jesus’ death, or 40 years after his death, if it was written by someone who witnessed the events in the account then it is an eyewitness account.  For example, I was a direct witness to my daughter’s birth five years ago (which I still remember vividly).  If I were to write about that event while in my late 70s, some 40 years later, it is still an eyewitness account.  So long as it is possible that the Gospels were penned within a lifetime of eyewitnesses, then their being written decades later does not negate their being possible eyewitness accounts.

MarkMatthew, and Luke all date within a time frame where we could reasonably conclude an eyewitness could have written them.  The Gospel of John, which some scholars place in the second century, is generally accepted as the final of the four Gospels to have been written.  However, to use the term some is a bit misleading.  While there are some scholars who place the dating of John in the second century, the vast (and I do mean vast) majority date its authorship within the first century.  Granting — for the time being — that John’s Gospel account is written late relative to the other accounts, it does little to disqualify it from being written by the Apostle himself since Jerome recounts that John lived to “the 68th year of our Lord’s passion”, roughly 98 A.D. and the author of the Gospel does identify himself as a witness to the events of which he writes and alludes to being the Apostle John.  Not that this is conclusive evidence that it was in fact John the Apostle, but there is reason to accept it as such.

Generally this objection is offered not to place the Gospel authorship outside the possibility of being written by eyewitnesses, rather it’s to make the claim that the accounts are unreliable sources of information, based on their proximity to the events.  Even if we consider 30 years after the events to be too late for accuracy, I don’t think it is, not for the time period anyway. If we grant that the authors were eyewitnesses for the sake of argument, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to place their ages between 20-40 at best at the time of Jesus’ impact on their lives. Consider the events they’re recording: A man claiming the authority of God Almighty healing lepers, the blind, and the lame.  A man claiming the authority of God being put to death on a cross and then being raised from the dead three days later.  These had to be life changing events. They weren’t simply recording who came to dinner one Friday night, or some conversation they had in line at the DMV (Department of Mule-powered Vehicles).  Think of what witnessing acts like this would have on an individual, certainly something not soon or easily forgotten.

“Hey, remember that time that guy, whatshisname, came back to life?”

“Ehh, vaguely.”

“C’mon, you know the one, the guy who made all blind people see again.”

“Yeah, kinda.”

I think it’s safe to say that if you or I saw what these people claimed to have seen, we could recall these things which would have drastically altered our perspective on life even decades later. Having carried these memories around with you for 30 years, but also many others in the community, who I’m sure had much discussion about them, would certainly keep the information accurate. When there are others who had similar changes in life perspective due to witnessing a miracle from God (presuming for sake of argument) it is not soon forgotten.

So while the Gospel accounts may have been written what we would consider to be much later that the events which they record, three things should be taken into consideration.  First, as far as ancient records go, a few decades is quite early for recording events.  Many, if not most biographies are written a century or more after the subject lived.  Second, even though decades had passed, I believe it to be reasonable that the authors would still have vivid memories of the life, teachings, and miracles of Jesus given their extraordinary nature.  I think it would be safe to say that most of us have memories of events which we experienced years ago that had incredible impact on our lives.  Couple that with the fact that entire villages and communities had the same life changing experiences, the details of which would likely live on through oral tradition accurately enough to then document them reliably.  And lastly, even granting authorship dates of decades after Jesus’ death, they are not so late that the entire generation of witnesses had passed.  The consensus in the field is that the Gospels were written within the first century A.D., early enough reasonably be written by people who saw the events first hand.

Comments

  1. Conclusion A: A man performed miracles.
    Conclusion B: Someone was mistaken.
    Conclusion C: Someone is trying to fool us.

    Please choose apply one of these conclusions to the eyewitness accounts of Jesus, Horus, Mithras, Peter Popov, Aleister Crowley, and Uri Geller. You may reuse answers. Please try to be consistent.

    • Jason, gladly. Please point me to the witness accounts so that I can see the details and actual statements, who they are made by, and how long after the reported events the first accounts were penned. Until then there’s not much to respond to.

  2. I stumbled across some interesting evidence for John’s authorship this weekend. Two interesting facts:
    1) In every other gospel (Matthew/Mark/Luke), John the Baptist is introduced with a “descriptor” like “John the Baptist” or “John son of Zebedee”. (See Matthew 3:1, Mark 1:4, and Luke 3:2) Why? Obviously because there are two major characters in the gospels named “John”. The author needs to distinguish “John the Baptist” from “John the disciple”. But notice the usage throughout the book of John. John the Baptist is mentioned ~20 times – but ALWAYS is referred to simply as “John”. Why? My name is Nathan. When there are two Nathan’s in the room, someone must address me with some sort of descriptor to make it clear that they are talking to me. But when *I* am talking, I do not need this descriptor because it is obvious that I’m not going to refer to myself in 3rd person. The same with John. He felt no need to describe who John was, because as the writer it was clear that he would not refer to himself by the name “John”. This is very difficult to explain unless the author was actually John or was trying to pull a deliberate deception.
    2) Every other Gospel (Matthew/Mark/Luke) repeatedly refers to John the disciple in various narratives. The Gospel of John does not refer to John the disciple AT ALL. But he does refer to the “disciple who Jesus loved” on several occasions, and matching the disciples present in the event from the other gospels, it becomes pretty clear that “the disciple who Jesus loved” is, in fact, John. Then, in the final verse of John, the author specifically identifies himself as that person.

    Sure, this COULD have been part of an elaborately constructed hoax. But, when combined with the other early copies of John (125AD-150AD) and the early testimony of church leaders (100AD-150 AD), it is hardly a reasonable conclusion.

    The more I study it, the more convinced I am that the gospels are either true accounts or they are DELIBERATE hoaxes. There is just no room for “legendary development” or “allegory” etc. They really appear to be eyewitness accounts.

    PS – I just finished reading “Cold Case Christianity” by J. Wallace Warner. (from PleaseConvinceMe.com). He makes a VERY compelling case that the gospels were written by eyewitnesses or close associates of the eyewitnesses. This doesn’t make them true, but it makes them very hard to explain as anything other than deliberate deception or accurate reportage.

    • Great points Tumeyn. One more subtlety I have always found interesting is John mentions some pools in the present tense, pools which were destroyed in ad 70.

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