Can the Gospels Be Defended As Eyewitness Accounts?
I’m sometimes surprised skeptics resist the claim(at least) that the gospels are written as eyewitness accounts. We can argue about whether or not the gospels are pure fiction, or whether or not they are accurate. But the idea that the gospels can be read as eyewitness accounts is rather unremarkable to me. The gospels record events from the perspective of writers who either saw the events themselves or had access to those who did. The author of John’s gospel describes a meeting between Jesus and his disciples. This meeting appears to include the author and he makes the following claim:
“This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24)
It certainly appears that the author considers himself to be both a participant in the narrative and a reporter (eyewitness) of the event. That seems rather unremarkable to me. Even if the author is someone other than John, the claim (at the very least) that the author is an eyewitness seems plain. In addition, the author of Luke’s gospel describes himself as a historian who had access to the eyewitnesses:
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word…”
Even if the author of Luke was not himself an eyewitness, it does appear that he believed he was recording true history as delivered to him from eyewitnesses. Once again, this seems unremarkable.
The Gospel Accounts Are Written By Known Authors
But what if we don’t know precisely who wrote the gospels? Does this invalidate them as eyewitness testimony? I don’t see why it should. Let me offer a simple observation. Most people who claim that the gospels have been attributed to people who are not the true authors argue that the early Church attempted to validate the texts by attributing them falsely. If so, why use Mark and Luke as attributions? Why not use someone with more status? Have you noticed that the late fictional gospels (like the gospels of Judas, Mary, Phillip or Thomas) are far more likely to have been attributed to authors who were close to Jesus and close to the action? Meanwhile, two of the four accounts that appear earliest in history (the four canonical gospels) are attributed people who don’t even claim to have been present during Jesus’ ministry! If I were trying to pull one over on gullible potential converts, I would have pick better false attributions for these two gospels. And concerning the gospels of Matthew and John, I’m not sure why it matters if they have been properly attributed (although I believe they have). The real question is simply whether or not these accounts can be trusted. Are they reliable?
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