The Case for the Eyewitness Status of the Gospel Authors

by J Warner Wallace

I’m often challenged about status of the Gospels as eyewitness accounts of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. Many skeptics reject the eyewitness authority of these accounts, even though the early Church selected and embraced the canonical Gospels based primarily on the eyewitness authority of their authors. Some skeptics argue the Gospels were never even intended to be seen as eyewitness testimony, in spite of the fact the earliest students of the apostles (and first Church leaders) repeated the content of the Gospels in their own letters, affirming the eyewitness status of the Gospels. It might be helpful, therefore, to review the context in which the Gospel events were first observed, recorded and transmitted in the 1st Century:

Eyewitness Authority Is Inherent to the Gospels
The Gospel accounts are written as historical narratives. The life of Jesus is intertwined with historical events locating it geographically and historically. The Gospels repeatedly affirmed their own historical, eyewitness nature, mentioning key figures who served to validate the history of Jesus as eyewitnesses:

John 1:6-7
There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him
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Eyewitness Authority Was Commissioned by Jesus
Jesus understood the eyewitness status of the Apostles. In fact, he commissioned them to grow the Kingdom on the basis of their eyewitness observations:

Luke 24:44-49
Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Acts 1:6-8
So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Eyewitness Authority Was Affirmed By the Gospel Authors
The authors of the Gospels proclaimed their authority as eyewitnesses (or as chroniclers of the eyewitnesses). While some skeptics have attempted to disassociate the Biblical statements from the Gospel authors to refute the authorship of the Gospels, the earliest believers embraced the traditional authorship of the eyewitnesses (and we can also make good circumstantial cases for the traditional authorship). The Gospel authors (and their sources) repeatedly identified themselves as eyewitnesses…

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