Does Gospel content abound in direct or indirect witness testimony?

  • Our question

    As one surveys the gospel stories, does one encounter a plethora of events or anecdotes which can be discerned as eyewitness testimony or reliably traceable back to eyewitness testimony? Can we be confident that at least a number of the Gospel report started out as witness testimony, having formed from the memory of someone believing they encountered the living Jesus? Do the gospels spew witness-based information?

“Yes, after all…
  • Gospel stories spew witness-level detail (30+)

    Various Gospels stories sound as if they are coming off the lips of a witness who is recounting them.1

    A full page will analyze 3 kinds of evidence:

    • Gospels spew memorable/vivid details.
    • Gospels spew gratuitous incidentals.
    • Gospels spew contents Christians didn't care about.

    This is relevant because, even if false historical claims very occasionally incorporated faux realism (which they did), more often then not realism is the residue of authentic eyewitness testimony based in memory.2

    1. Wolfgang Schadewaldt: “As a philologist, someone who has acquired some knowledge of ‘literature,’ I am particularly concerned here to note that when we read the Synoptic Gospels, we cannot be other than captivated by the experiential vividness with which we are confronted…. I know of no other area of history-writing, biography or poetry where I encounter so great a wealth of material in such a small space” [“The Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition,” in M. Hengel, Studies in the Gospel of Mark, trans J. Bowden (Fortress, 1985), 102.]

    2. Paul Eddy & Gregory Boyd: “[Consider] the observation (based on experimental data) of Marcia Johnson and Carol Raye that externally generated memories (i.e., actual experiences)—as opposed to internally generated memories produced by imagination—are commonly characterized by spatial, temporal, and sensory attributes. See “Reality Monitoring,” Psychological Review 88 (1981): 67–85. If one wants to challenge this ostensive claim about ‘reality’ in the face of what appears to be a clear and conscious signal of the author/narrator, the burden of proof should decisively rest upon that person’s shoulders. [The Jesus Legend (Baker, 2007), 414.]
      Heda Jason: “The nearer, better known, and more everyday the historical and geographical setting of the tale, and the nearer its actors to the narrator’s personal experience, the more ‘real’ the happening of the tale will appear to the narrator” [“Concerning the ‘Historical’ and the ‘Local’Legends and Their Relatives,” in Toward New Perspectives in Folklore, ed. A. Paredes and R. Bauman (University of Texas Press, 1972), 144]

  • Gospels spew details fine-tuned to AD 30 Palestine

    Incidental details in the Gospels are fine-tuned to local knowledge and experience in AD 30 Palestine.

    This page analyzes 9 examples/evidences:

    • Bethsaida was the pre-AD 30 name of an obscure city.
    • Gospel’s Jesus-rhetoric super-fit AD 30-70 Palestine rabbis.
    • Pharisee vs. Jesus debates fit AD 30-70 rabbi hot-topics.
    • Gospel assumptions oft fit AD 30 Palestine.
    • Gospels rightly capture Pharisaic law meticulousness.
    • Parable with Pharisees and Tax collectors fit the time-place.
    • Gospel depiction of Roman relations super-fit AD 30-70 Palestine.
    • Gospels ruler-titles super-fit AD 30-70 Palestine.
    • E.g. The passion content super-fits AD 30-70 Palestine

    This is relevant because this sort of detail is symptomatic of eyewitness testimony from Jesus's time and place (AD 30, Palestine). And while it is what we would expect to see if the relevant episodes took place in c. AD 30 Palestine, it is not what we would expect to see from events forming outside of witness testimony. (For example, myth-makers and legend-makers who operate any serious degree beyond AD 30 Palestine—temporally or geographically—-would've been less likely to produce these kinds of data.)

  • Gospels spew complex internal coherences

    Within any given Gospel, a careful detective can stumble across several felicitous interlockings between the assumptions and logical scenarios in either the same Gospel or across Gospels. They fit well together, and often make sense in light of each other.

    A full page will discuss several examples…

    • Gospel details stumble upon a coherent event chronology.
    • Gospel characters behaviorally fit their character profile.
    • Gospels indirectly interconnect in undesigned ways.
    • Gospel Jesus-sayings cohere across sources.

    This is relevant because if the Gospel stories are witness-based (i.e. and so usually corresponding to reality), then felicitous coherences can naturally arise. However, they are less likely to arise in stories that have no such correspondence to reality.

  • Gospels spew non-legendary content

    The Gospels burst with content which is demonstrably non-legendary (i.e. honest non-fiction).

    This page analyzes 7 arguments:

    • Gospel stories spew Un-churchy content.
    • Gospel stories spew church-hated content.
    • Gospels spew liar self-exposing content.
    • Gospels spew overtly “doomed-to-fail” content.
    • Gospels spew details fine-tuned to Palestine.
    • Gospels spew witness-based content.
    • In general, Gospel stories are not lies/legends.

    This is relevant because if they aren’t legendary, then there is little else that could explain such intricate stories other than witness-testimony.1

  • Gospel stories are a subset of what witnesses say

    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.1
    • 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 if the Gospel stories are a subset of the witness-based stories concerning Jesus, then as long as the Gospels abound in stories (which they do) they will abound in witness-based stories.

      • James Dunn: “[t]he Gospels compare well with the other biographies of the time and there is a strong historical probability that the Gospel memoirs have preserved the content and character of Jesus’s ministry and teaching” [Review of Keener’s “Christobiography”]