In AD 30-80, did witness-approved Jesus-biography predominate over any falsehoods?

  • Question

    Above a map of the mediterranean are many speech bubbles with Jesus's head inside. Each has a check mark next to it.

    Let “early Christians” be those in AD 30-70, or the whole 1st century, or for however long witnesses of Jesus’s ministry were still prevalent. We mean to ask here: rather than deviating from what the relevant witnesses themselves would’ve said, did the Jesus biography circulated by early Christians align with what eyewitnesses remembered and testified to? (A relevant witness here would be one that was present to observe the truth of the matter.) Put another way: in c. AD 30-70 across the Mediterranean, did the biographical reports which Christians were circulating about Jesus’ life, sayings, ministry, death, and resurrection largely fit within the bounds of what authentic eyewitness testimony was saying or said?

  • Historians

    • Martin Dibelius: “At the period when eyewitnesses of Jesus were still alive, it was not possible to mar the picture of Jesus in the tradition” [From Tradition to Gospels, trans. B. L. Woolf (Scribner’s, 1935), 293]
    • William Lane Craig: “One of the major problems with the legend hypothesis, however, which is almost never addressed by skeptical critics, is that the time gap between Jesus' death and the writing of the gospels is just too short for this to have happened.” [On Guard (Cook, 2010), 190.]
“Yes, after all…
  • Witness-based truth always beats legend for 50+ years

    In general, legends in that AD 30 Mediterranean did not stick and pervade.1 They rather struggled in vain. There may not even be one exception to this, but if there is an exception it is truly an exception. This is relevant because if this were true of Greco-Roman/Jewish issues in general, then all the more it would be true of the Jesus stories (which, as seen below, have even more checks and balances in place than normal).

    1. Julius Müller: “Most decidedly must a considerable interval of time be required for such a complete transformation of a whole history by popular tradition, when the series of legends are formed in the same territory where the heroes actually lived and wrought. Here one cannot imagine how such a series of legends could arise in an historical age, obtain universal respect, and supplant the historical recollection of the true character [Jesus]. …if eyewitnesses were still at hand who could be questioned respecting the truth of the recorded marvels. Hence, legendary fiction, as it likes not the clear present time but prefers the mysterious gloom of gray antiquity, is won’t to seek a remoteness of age, along with that of space, and to remove its boldest and most rare and wonderful creations into a very remote and unknown land.” [The Theory of Myths in Its Application to the Gospel History Examined and Confuted (John Chapman, 1844), 26.]
      William Lane Craig: “Müller challenged scholars of his day to show where in 30 years a great series of legends, the most prominent elements of which are fictitious, have anywhere gathered around an important historical individual and become firmly fixed in general belief; the challenge was never met. Dibelius sought an analogy in the Apophthegmata Patrum, but the tradition in this case took a century to form, not thirty or forty years; such a temporal gap for the gospel traditions would land us in the period when the apocryphal gospels were beginning to originate.” [Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historical Resurrection of Jesus (Edwin Mellen, 1989), 387.]
  • Warranted Jesus-bio thrived in AD 30-70 Med.

    There is a man with an eye for a head standing above a map of the Mediterannean. Two lines come out from behind him connecting him to two people behind him. Each of those people have two lines connect them to people even further back.

    Whether or not it predominated over legend (a seperate question) in the AD 30-70 Mediterranean, witness-based testimony on Jesus’s life and ministry truly thrived.

    This page analyzes 6 arguments

    • Lk: “Jesus-bio witnesses were the teachers.”
    • Apostles as witnesses oft taught & started churches.
    • Witnesses etc. were actively relaying testimony.
    • The 1st church passed down tons of Jesus-bio.
    • Christians were orally passing down Jesus-bio.
    • Lk says Jesus-biographies were being written.

    This is relevant if, by contrast, Jesus-bio which which was not grounded in witness testimony did not thrive. (There are no comparable mechanisms for it, especially in Christian circles.) The consequent ratio suggests then that warranted Jesus-bio outproduced unwarranted Jesus-bio; i.e. it predominated.

    But so what? Plausibly…

    • Unwarranted Jesus-bio also thrived alongside it (a full page will be located at /early-christians/jesus-biography/falsehoods-struggled-to-circulate).
  • Gospel content is a subset of what witnesses say

    A speech bubble from the bible has a jesus head in it, while standing witnesses with a speech bubble includes or subsumes it.

    Most of the Jesus-biographical content reported in the gospels faithfully falls within what the relevant witnesses were themselves saying and approving.

    This page analyzes 6 arguments

    • Gospel authors got it all witness-approved or close.
    • Gospels spew witness-based stories.
    • Gospel stories are not lies/legends.
    • Gospel stories are a subset of 1st church’s.
    • The Gospels are historically reliable.
    • Pop Jesus-bio was a subset of what witnesses said.

    This is relevant because, although the Gospels may have put some extra effort into fitting witness-testimony, it is at least largely due to their information coming from sources that fit what witnesses said, i.e. early Christian Jesus-bio in general fitting witness testimony. (We also assume here that a fair amount of proposed Jesus-bio was circulating.)

“No, after all…
  • Fabricated Jesus-bio thrived

    Unjustified Jesus-biography easily formed, circulated, and stuck in AD 30-70.

    See this page to analyze 3 arguments

    • Christians didn’t relay Jesus-bio in a controlled way.
    • Christians did invent Jesus-bio.
    • The Gospels spew verified inaccuracies.

    This is relevant because if fabricated Jesus-bio thrived in this way, then it would be false that true Jesus-bio overwhelmingly dominated.

    But in favor of unjustified Jesus-biography not easily forming, circulating or sticking:

    • Time causes compression of data (not expansion).
    • Christians passed down Jesus-bio in a controlled way.
    • Deviant Jesus-bio usually gets killed by witnesses.
    • Christians didn’t lie-invent Jesus-bio.
    • Witness-based Jesus accounts pervaded.
    • Pop Jesus-Bio was a subset of witness-testimony.