Were the Gospel Writers Eyewitnesses? Conclusions

This post is the final post in a series examining whether or not the writers of the canonical gospels were eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.
The Four Evangelists (Book of Kells)

The Four Evangelists (Book of Kells)

What then can we conclude concerning claims that none of the gospel writers were eyewitnesses to the events that they describe? First, on one level it must be admitted that this position could be correct—none of the gospels bear explicit identification of the author or date of writing— and it bears repeating that none of the writers had to be an eyewitness for the gospel accounts to be authoritative. Second however, it must be remembered that the goal of undermining the historical reliability of the canonical gospels does not necessarily follow from any conclusion concerning the eyewitness status of the events recorded. As modern studies concerning trial testimony has demonstrated, eyewitnesses can be wrong. Each gospel account must stand or fall on its own historical merits. Continue reading

Were the Gospel Writers Eyewitnesses? John

This post is part of an ongoing series examining whether or not the writers of the canonical gospels were eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.

fourth-gospelThe Fourth Gospel, traditionally referred to as the Gospel According to John, provides the closest example of explicit reference to authorship, though it too remains originally anonymous. Church tradition has long linked the Fourth Gospel with three early epistles and the Apocalypse, which bears the author’s name, John.[1] While debated (as all good scholarly truth claims are), there exists a good deal of evidence (vocabulary, structure, grammar, theology) indicating that the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse were written by the same individual. Continue reading

Were the Gospel Writers Eyewitnesses? Luke

This post is part of an ongoing series examining whether or not the writers of the canonical gospels were eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.

Gospel of LukeIt should be noted that Luke’s gospel immediately indicates that the author is likely NOT an eyewitness of the events that are recorded afterward. The introduction to the account reads, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”[1] Luke assures Theophilus that while he himself is not an eyewitness of the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, he has done his research as a historian to demonstrate the veracity of the story that he is telling. Continue reading

Were the Gospel Writers Eyewitnesses? Matthew

This post is part of an ongoing series examining whether or not the writers of the canonical gospels were eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.
Synoptic Relationships

Synoptic Relationships

Before diving into consideration of the possibility that the writer of Matthew was an eyewitness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we must first consider the “synoptic problem”, the relationship between Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The Gospels found first and third in the canon, Matthew and Luke, respectively, have had a long and varied history of interpretation and understanding, especially with respect for their relationship to Mark. Approximately 76% of Mark finds itself replicated in both Matthew (45%) and Luke (41%), with an additional 18% of Mark finding its way into Matthew’s gospel (10%). These relationships have led to nearly-endless speculation concerning the reasons for the different uses of the same material and relationship between the three ‘Synoptic’ gospels.[1] Continue reading

Were the Gospel Writers Eyewitnesses? Mark

This post is part of an ongoing series examining whether or not the writers of the canonical gospels were eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.

The Gospel of MarkWe begin our examination of the question “Were the Gospel writers eyewitnesses?” with consideration of may have been the earliest written record of Jesus’ life, that narrative referred to as the Gospel According to Mark. Many modern scholars believe that Mark’s gospel was written between 50-70 CE,[1] placing its composition within one generation of the life and death of the historical Jesus of Nazareth.  Mark’s Gospel does not explicitly profess to have been written by an eyewitness to Jesus, though some traditions and interpreters have understood Mark’s account to have been based primarily upon the theology and understandings of the Apostle Peter (who would have been an eyewitness to the accounts recorded therein). Continue reading

Were the Gospel Writers Eyewitnesses?

Gospel Writers

Gospel Writers

In light of the multitude of cable and internet exposes on early Christianity, I’m occasionally asked if the canonical Gospel writers were eyewitnesses of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Since a great deal of modern Christian belief and practice finds its foundation in the words of Jesus recorded in the New Testament, this seems a perfectly legitimate query, and an important one too. Were the Gospel writers eyewitnesses? Continue reading

Book Review: Lukan Authorship of Hebrews (Allen)

Luke Authorship of HebrewsFew queries surrounding the New Testament are as well known as the question regarding the authorship of Hebrews. Since the early centuries of Christianity—indeed, long before the New Testament canon was finalized—inquisitive readers have investigated who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews. Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Eusebius, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Harnack (to name but a few) have theorized and argued about the identity of Hebrew’s author. No less a list than Paul, Barnabas, Apollos, Luke, Silas, Peter, Clement of Rome, Priscilla and Aqulia, Ariston, Philip, Jude, Epaphras, John the Apostle, Timothy, and Mary (the Mother of Jesus) has been suggested as to whom this figure might be. In recent decades, those studying Paul have increasingly problematized claims that the Apostle’s authored Hebrews, making it less likely that the long-assumed writer of Hebrews actually penned the work. And despite the copious number of theories concerning other potential authors of Hebrews, rather little has been offered by way of solid conclusions. To address this noteworthy issue, a couple of years ago came David L. Allen’s Lukan Authorship of Hebrews (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010. 416 pgs). Continue reading

Reflections on Ephrem’s Commentaries

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Ephrem the Syrian and early Syriac Christianity.
Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Though said to have written a commentary on every book of the Bible, the only authentic and extant prose commentaries of Ephrem the Syrian are those on Genesis and (part of) Exodus. These commentaries, following the more traditional “text and gloss” approach, represent a distinct departure from Ephrem’s approach in his Hymns to commentary and theology. This essay offers several reflections on these commentaries, concluding that they represent an important part of any attempted reconstruction of Ephrem’s conception of scripture and theology. Continue reading

Why “This” New Testament?

I am often asked some variation of “Where did we get the New Testament?” or “Why are these specific books included in the New Testament?” In conjunction with yesterday’s post on the Origins of the New Testament, today’s post seeks to address why the New Testament includes the writings which it contains.

BibleMost of us take for granted the twenty-seven books that make up the New Testament, but this was not always the case. It was not uncommon in the ancient world for there to be different books included in Christian collections of writings. Such works as the Letters of Clement, Epistle of Barnabas, and Shepherd of Hermas are included in such noteworthy and important manuscripts as Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus. For many years the Eastern and Western Churches debated both the inclusion of Hebrews and Revelation. As recently as the 16th century and the Protestant Reformation, there were serious doubts about the works to be included in the New Testament. Of these, Martin Luther’s objections to Hebrews, James, Jude, and the Apocalypse of John (Revelation) were so severe that he placed them in an addendum to his German New Testament. Some contemporary Christian Churches in the ancient parts of the world (mostly the Middle East) still have New Testament canons that differ from the standard twenty-seven book canon of the “Orthodox” (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant). Obviously several factors had to influence why certain writings were included in the New Testament. But what were they? Continue reading

Origins of the New Testament

New TestamentThe two most common questions that I am asked are some variation of “Where did we get the New Testament?” or “Why are these specific books included in the New Testament?”1 Obviously complete answers to these questions are long, nuanced, and complex (i.e., scholarly discussions of dissertation length answer). But there are also relatively straight-forward and easy-to-understand answers to these questions. Today, I want to tackle the first of these queries: Where did we get the New Testament? Continue reading