Are the Gospel stories based in eyewitness testimony?

“Yes, after all…
  • NT name-ratios precisely match Palestine’s

    There is a surprised man standing above a graph labeled "Names". The left and right sides of the graph are exactly equal.

    Specialists in onomastic studies have catalogued over 3,000 names from tomb inscriptions and similar writings around 1st century Palestine. That's a lot. And as a result, we now know that the very specific Jewish names and name-ratios of in 1st century Palestine precisely matches the combined names and name-ratios in the four Gospels and the book of Acts (a robust sample size).

    This page looks at 4 arguments:

    This is relevant because the name-ratio correspondance to onomastic studies is easy to explain if the material in the Gospels and Acts is witness-based, that is to say, if the eyewitness-sources were simply recounting the genuinely random names of people involved in authentic historical episodes in the time and place they claim to be located. By contrast, no other explanation can easily explain this correspondence. (For example, even liars perfectly located in AD 30 Palestine would be unlikely to conjure up a genuine random sampling of names that gets the ratios right, and for legend-makers outside of Palestine it would be straightforwardly impossible [for example the name-ratios in Egypt at this time are completely different]).1 Moreover, since Jewish names pervade the Gospels and Acts, this correspondence is a statement on the Gospels and Acts as a whole, so if any real number of fabricated stories were even mixed in with the Gospels and Acts, this correspondence could be put in jeopardy.

      • Richard Bauckham: “This correspondence is very unlikely to have resulted from addition of names to the traditions, even within Palestinian Jewish Christianity, and could not possibly have resulted from the addition of names to the traditions outside Jewish Palestine, since the pattern of Jewish name usage in the Diaspora was very different. The usages of the Gospels also correspond closely to the variety of ways in which persons bearing the same very popular names could be distinguished in Palestinian Jewish usage. Again these features of the New Testament data would be difficult to explain as the result of random invention of names within Palestinian Jewish Christianity and impossible to explain as the result of such invention outside Jewish Palestine. All the evidence indicates the general authenticity of the personal names in the Gospels.” [Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans, 2008), 84.]
  • Gospels spew witness-based content

    A book is open and has several eyes on it. Two of the eyes have speech bubbles that have nothing in them, the last eye has a speech bubble that has Jesus in it.

    The Gospels abound in stories which we can—for reasons internal to the story itself— conclude came ultimately from the testimony of one or more witnesses.

    This page analyzes 6 arguments:

    • Gospel stories spew undisputed accuracies.
    • Gospel stories spew vivid realism (30+).
    • Gospels spew complex internal coherences.
    • Gospel stories are oft provably early.
    • Christians swam in witness-based Jesus traditions.
    • Gospel stories are a subset of what witnesses say.

    This is relevant because it means mechanisms were in place which resulted in authentic eyewitness-testimony abounding in the Gospels. By contrast, while there may be evidence of some flexibility in story-telling side-details, there is no example-based evidence of mechanisms operating in Gospel construction which would lead us to think seriously fabricated Jesus-biography was incorporated. Extrapolating from these two results, we can infer that probably most or all of the Gospel material is witness-based and not fabricated.

  • Gospel authors got witness-approval or close

    Rather than just writing down willy-nilly whatever they heard, the gospel authors tended to diligently ground or confirm their material in the testimony of living witnesses, either interviewing them directly or taking extra steps to ensure their content properly traces back to a witness (for example, by interviewing and running content by friends or relatives who would know the truth).

    This page analyzes 9 arguments:

    • Justin Martyr calls the gospels “memoirs.”
    • The Gospels claimed to be from or use witnesses.
    • 60+ year old events didn’t elude historians.
    • In AD 70 witness-based Jesus facts pervaded Christendom.
    • In general, AD 70 historiographers got witness-approval or close.
    • E.g. Mk was judged as witness-based.
    • The Gospel authors didn't lie-invent Jesus-bio.
    • Gospel content is a subset of what witnesses say.
    • Gospels were written because witnesses were dying.

    This is relevant because it essentially entails that the Gospel traditions (i.e. the Jesus-bio which the Gospel authors ultimately incorporated into the gospels) echoed what eyewitnesses said and/or were saying.

    But no... [All forthcoming]

    • The Gospels in large part invented their Jesus-bio.
    • The Gospels spew errors.
    • Mk was not witness testimony nor close.
    • Q was not based in witness testimony nor close.
    • Stylized oral tradition can't be 1st hand memory.
  • Gospel stories formed honestly (not lies/legends)

    one man with a bible for a head is talking with a speech bubble and a thought bible which both have jesus face

    Whether the Gospel stories originated prior to the Gospels being written or not, when they did form, they formed in an honest way, rather than as the result of someone inventing them; the content is not legendary.

    This page analyzes 5 branches of evidences…

    • The Gospels abound in local Palestinian content.
    • The Gospels spew confirmed non-legendary content.
    • The Gospels lack anatopisms.
    • The Gospels lack anachronisms.
    • In general, early Christian Jesus-bio was honest.

    This is relevant because, if the content is not legendary, then that leaves few or no other ways the Gospel traditions could have entered into circulation. The hypothesis that the content simply formed from eyewitnesses remembering Jesus and talking about it stands strongest.

  • Gospel’s Jesus-bio is a subset of 1st church’s

    Most Jesus biography that was reported in the gospels faithfully falls within what the Jerusalem church was saying and circulating.

    A coming page debates 6 arguments…

    • Gospel Jesus-bio pre-dates the Gospels.
    • Gospel-recorded events are multi-attested.
    • Christians relayed the gospel’s Jesus-bio.
    • Gospels relayed oral tradition (pre-markan).
    • Gospels strove to be witness-warranted.
    • Gospels are a subset of witness testimony.

    This is relevant if the Jerusalem church’s Jesus-bio is a subset of eyewitness testimony (e.g. it is where the apostles and major witnesses resided). So, there is a transitive relation here: if the Gospels' content is a subset of the Jerusalem church's, and the Jerusalem church's teachings on Jesus is a subset of what witnesses were saying, then by transitivity the Gospels content is a subset of what eyewitnesses were saying.

    But so what? Plausibly…

    • The 1st church’s Jesus-bio wasn’t as subset of witnesses’ (a forthcoming page)
  • Jesus-bio before AD 80 was all (or mostly all) witness-based

    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?

    On this page we can debate these 4 arguments:

    • Witness-based truth always beats legend for 50+ years.
    • Warranted Jesus-bio thrived in the AD 30-70 Mediterranean.
    • False Jesus-bio did not thrive.
    • Gospel content is a subset of what witnesses say.

    This is relevant because the Gospels depended on sources for virtually all of their content, and if eyewitness-based Jesus-bio predominated in this era, then that means the Gospel authors would’ve likely included witness-based stories even without putting in any work to check; i.e. it would have been harder for them to find and relay a false legend, even if they tried.

“No, after all…
  • The Gospels are not historically reliable

    The Gospels are regularly inaccurate; they are not historically reliable.

    See this page to ultimately evaluate this argument:

    • The Gospels spew verified inaccuracies.1

    This is relevant because if the Gospels were witness-based, then we would expect them to be generally reliable.

    1. Details are forthcoming, but for an example of one scholar drawing out the relevance:
      • Stephen Patterson: “Moreover, he [Richard Bauckham] does not explain how Gospels shaped by a single authoritative body could present such widely divergent views of Jesus as one finds in John and the Synoptics. If both John and Mark relied on eyewitness testimony, one of the witnesses was very unreliable. This makes it doubtful that the Twelve, or any other body exercised the control Bauckham imagines.” [Can you Trust a Gospel? in Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 6(2) (2008): 200.]
  • The Gospel stories are lies/legends

    Many/most Gospel accounts are in fact dishonest fabrications—created lies drawn up from human minds.

    [This content is forthcoming]

    This is relevant given that legendary content obviously does not trace back to witness testimony (and if a story is a partial legend, then the legendary part doesn’t trace back to witness testimony).

    But no,

    • See Green evidence above for “they are not lies or legends.”
  • Gospels only ask to be read as myth

    The Gospels were meant to be read as fictional histories (i.e. myths), not as literal truths.

    [The evidences for this are forthcoming]

    This is relevant because if the Gospel stories are not intended to be historical recountings, then obvious they are not rooted in witness testimony.

    But no, they intended their works to be read as non-fictional histories...

    • Gospel authors strove for witness-based Jesus-bio.
    • Gospel authors aimed to fit respected oral tradition.
    • The Gospels faithfully relay their text-sources.
    • The Gospels self-identify as biography/history.
    • Gospel authors would strive for accuracy.
    • The Gospels were usually accurate.