Were the gospels written by eyewitnesses?
New Testament writers claim to be eyewitnesses
It is also important who wrote about the event. Was it written based on hearsay or based on eyewitness accounts? We know that a eyewitness’s testimony is valuable in a court of law.
The authors of the New Testament claims to be either eyewitnesses of the events that were recorded or at least those who narrated the events of eyewitnesses. Even in our modern court of law, the testimony of an eyewitness carries much weight.
The New Testament accounts of the resurrection were written by eyewitnesses and not based on hearsay. The writers of the New Testament recorded that Jesus “presented Himself (to them) alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days.”(Acts 1:13)
Lk 1:13 1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, (NIV)
Jn 19:35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. (NIV)
Non-biblical writers attest to the fact that the gospels were written by eyewitnesses.
According to Papias, writing in the beginning of the second century, “Matthew wrote the logia in the Hebrew language and everyone interpreted them as he was able ” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History iii 39:16). Logia is the Greek word which means literally “little words”. It usually refers to short sacred pronouncements and is used in the New Testament to refer to the sacred Word of God. It is translated “oracles” in Acts 7:38, Romans 3:2, 1 Peter 4:11 and Hebrews 5:12. Since the “gospel according to Matthew” that we have now was originally written in Greek and is not a translation from the Hebrew, Papias’ Hebrew logia cannot be referring to it. If Matthew didn’t write the “gospel according to Matthew” that we have now, why did the church name it after him? Possibly Matthew was the compiler of some collection of sayings of Jesus which was then translated by someone into Greek and incorporated into the present “gospel according to Matthew” that we have. This would mean that although the gospel was not written by Matthew, it was written by someone who related the accounts of Matthew who was an eyewitness and one of the 12 disciples of Jesus.
A strong tradition in the early church affirms that Mark is the author of the gospel bearing his name and that the book represents the preaching of the apostle Peter. According to Papias, “Mark having been the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately all that he mentioned…. So then Mark made no mistake, writing down in this way same things as he mentioned them; for he paid attention to this one thing. not to omit anything that he heard, nor to include any false statement among them (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3:39). Thus although Mark was not an eyewitness, he wrote down accurately what he was taught by Peter, who was an eyewitness and one of Jesus’ disciples.
Tradition has been unanimous in attributing the third gospel to Luke. But where is Luke’s source? He confessed that he was dependent on the earlier transmitters of tradition who were eyewitnesses.
Luke 1:1,3 In as much as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word have handed them down to us, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning , to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophillus.
The “gospel according to John” does not name its author but professes to have been composed by the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:2024). Early church tradition strongly associates John with the Gospel named under him. Iraneus writes, “John, the disciple of the Lord, who had also leaned upon his bosom, himself also published the gospel while he was residing in Ephesius of Asia.” It is clear that Iraneus understood that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was term used by John to refer to himself in the gospel as we find in John 13:23, “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of the disciple whom Jesus loved”. Another document, dated the end of the 2nd Century, tell us that “The Gospel of John was published and given to the churches by John when he was still in the body…” Thus we see that early tradition strongly associates John, the disciple of Jesus, with the compilation of the gospel ascribed to him.
In conclusion, we see that of the 4 gospels, 2 were written by actual eyewitnesses and 2 were written by people who quoted directly from eyewitnesses.
Accuracy of facts proves that Gospel writers were eyewitnesses.
Not only do we have their claims to be eyewitnesses, the authors’ accuracy proves that they were indeed eyewitnesses. Archaeology has demonstrated the accuracy of the events that were recorded. For example, the following verse alone contains many points that can be verified for accuracy.
Lk 3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar–when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene– (NIV)
The accuracy of Luke was by no means an easy task when one considers the fact that at that time there were no efficient records for easy reference. The accuracy of Luke has caused many scholars to put him among the very best of historians.
Luke at one time was considered incorrect for referring to the Philippian rulers as praetors. According to the scholars, two duumuirs would have ruled the town. However, Luke was right. Findings have shown that the title of praetor was employed by the magistrates of a Roman colony. Still another case for Luke’s reliability is his usage of politarchs to denote the civil authorities of Thessalonica. Since the word politarch is not found in classical literature, Luke was again assumed to be wrong. However some 19 inscriptions have now been found that make use of that title. Interestingly enough, five of these refer to leaders in Thessolonica.
Other New Testament incidents have been illuminated by archaeological discoveries in and around Jerusalem. The pool of Bethesda described in John 5:2 has been located in the northeast quarter of the old city of Jerusalem called Betheza.