Were the Gospels eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus?Inspired by Nightline’s recent Christian-Atheist debate, we’ve been discussing the historicity of Jesus, the central figure of Christianity. To further the discussion, I would like to post a comment by Michael Turton (DagoodS) from a previous blog:
Any good introductory text will tell you that not only were the gospels not written by eyewitnesses, but they contain much that is fiction, and separating the cream from the dross is a difficult and demanding task.
A good place to start is with Udo Schnelle’s The History and Theology of the New Testament Writings. Schelle, a conservative Christian and scholar of the first rank, notes that none of the Gospel writers could have been followers of Jesus (see his discussion of the authorship of the Gospel writers in each of the chapters on the particularly texts).
Bart Ehrman sums the situation up in his widely-used intro work The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings: “…They were written thirty-five to sixty-five years after Jesus’ death by authors who did not know him, authors living in different countries who were writing at different times to different communities with different problems and concerns.”
Luke himself clearly states that he was no follower of Jesus. Nor could Matthew have been a follower of Jesus, for he depends almost entirely on Mark for the skeleton of his story. And Mark could not have been a follower of Jesus because the narrative portions of his story are made up almost entirely out of the Old Testament, while the sayings appear to be common to the Hellenistic milieu.
For example, read Mark 11:1-11, then go back to 1 Sam 9 and 1 Sam 10, and you’ll see how Mark parallels the story. Similarly, Mark created the story of the arrest in Gethsemane from 2 Sam 15-17,20. Much of the narrative of Mark is taken from 1 and 2 Kings, while Jesus trial and crucifixion and empty tomb appear to be based on Daniel 6. Ted Weeden, the ranking Mark scholar, has also identified Josephus as a source for Mark, showing that Jesus appears to be sourced from Jesus Ben Ananus, who appears in Wars, Book 6.
In other words, Mark’s work is fiction, and Matt and Luke are based on fiction. If Mark had any eyewitness accounts, he chose either to overwrite them, or ignore them in constructing his story.
I do not know off hand of any atheist historian or NT scholar who accepts the Gospels as eyewitness accounts, and there are several scholars who appear to believe that Jesus was not a historical figure (Earl Doherty, G Wells, Burton Mack).
- Michael Turton
Be sure to check out Michael’s Commentary on the Gospel of Mark.
- The de-Convert