Were the Gospels Written by Eyewitnesses?

When I first started to look at scripture New Testament, I didn’t have really any background in Christianity, didn’t even know what I’m going to find. And as I read through the gospels, I was struck by a texture of each gospel that was so familiar to me as it’s so similar to the kind of texture I would see when I reach supplemental reports that are written by detectives who are interviewing witnesses. And I notice right away that the witness never ever agree on any case in every word. There’s always would appear to be contradictions between the eyewitness accounts and they’re at a certain kind of level, a certain kind of texture, a certain ethos that I see in the account. I see that as I was reading the gospels. I said “Wow, these really feel like they have the degree of variation that I expect to find between reliable eyewitness accounts” but I thought “Could these really be eyewitness accounts because if they are, they have to pass four things to attest that I apply to all eyewitness accounts. It’s really a test that is written out and almost every set of jury instructions in America for any criminal trial, the questions are:

  • Were the witnesses really there to see what they said they saw?
  • Can they be verified or corroborated even in some small way?
  • Have they been honest and accurate over time without changing their story?
  • Did they possess a bias that would cause them to lie?

I needed to know if the authors of the gospels could pass the test in those four categories. And so I simply started to dig in to determine how early were these written, were they early enough to have been written by eyewitnesses in front of others who would know if the stories were lies. I think there is more than enough reason to believe that they were written early enough to have been written by witnesses. Can they be corroborated by something, maybe the other statements of non-christians early in history, archaeology or internal evidence that would tell us if the authors are accurately describing events in the first century. I thought that that was actually a reasonable inference also from the evidence. Have they changed over time? If you track the narratives of the gospels as they are transmitted from eyewitness to students say John, Polycarp, Papius and Ignatius and their students Irenaeus and to his students. If you follow the course of history and examine what is being said about Jesus, it doesn’t change. These are early accounts that don’t change. And if you look at the bias, what potential bias, there are only three reasons why anyone lies about anything – that’s for money, sex or power. That’s it. Every crime I’ve ever worked is driven by one of those three motors. What is driving the disciples if they’re lying to us? If they are lying, they are only lying for one of those three reasons. What do they get out of this? In the end, I really realized that I forgot to come to grips with this Jesus of Nazareth, the stories, the eyewitness accounts that are offered in the gospels, they passed the test as well as any ancient account about anyone. The only thing left to do is decide how I am going to respond. Once you determine that I witness is telling you something true, the only thing left of the investigator is to do something with what he’s just learned. So for me the question was: If this is true, now what am I going to do with it? And that’s the question that you have to ask yourself as well.