Historical works from the Greco-Roman mediterranean proudly self-identity as relaying witness testimony.
See this page to analyze 4 arguments:
In Luke 1:1-4, the Gospel of Luke self-identifies itself as being witness-based biography.1
This is relevant because the Gospel of Luke is presumably the same genre as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John. It is certainly our our closest analogue to them, and so we can expect that they were also understood to be witness-based.
Gospel stories had attached to them eyewitness names who, in being so attached, were thereby cited as the relevant witness sources of the story.
This is relevant because in appealing to witness names by citing them, one is implicitly saying the person cited is a witness source on which the relevant information is based.
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke quote the Gospel of Mark regularly, and some other common material often referred to as "Q"; in fact, most of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are constituted by echoing these two sources. This is relevant because:
- Craig Keener: “On the usual reconstruction of Gospel sources, Matthew and Luke clearly depend heavily on prior information (at least Mark and Q), and source-dependent Matthew and Luke, who undoubtedly knew the circumstances of Mark’s writing better than we do, would use these sources for information only if they believed that these sources likewise depended on prior information.” [Christobiography (Eerdmans, 2019), 73.]
The Gospels (especially Mark) were popular literature that was well circulated by early Christians in the latter half of the 1st century.
We know this for a few reasons...
This is relevant because they were specifically circulated as authentic witness-based history. The Gospels would not be so popular if they were theological tales It must at least consist of memories (chreiae)—i.e. uninvented historical content2—otherwise the gospels would not have had nearly so much appeal.2
• Craig Blomberg: “Most of the New Testament Apocrypha show little overlap with the information found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This fact alone is significant; it means that even in those circles where early Christians apparently felt free to invent stories about Jesus, they almost never tried to deny the truth of the canonical accounts. Instead they went about ‘filling in the gaps’ in the historical record, imagining what Jesus’ childhood was like, describing his correspondence and travels to other lands, and adding adventures of his disciples…” (op. cit. p 216)
• Ben Witherington: “But an actual study of how ancient biographers used chreiae and formed their material for their works will reveal it was more often a matter of editing source material down to chreia form, not creating the material out of thin air. Of course there was expansion, arrangement, rephrasing, but source material was indeed used. This was even true when chreiae were formed as a school exercise.” [The Gospel of Mark (Eerdmans, 2001), 12.]
• R. O. P. Taylor: “[is right to say that these chreiae, which always are related to and about real historical persons,] “were not merely a literary form, but essentially a historical statement — So-and-so who was a known historical figure, actually said or did this…. Actual fact was demanded.” [Groundwork of the Gospels (1946), 78-79.]
The word apomnemoneumata (memoirs, recollections, or memoranda) is important, for it is precisely the word Justin Martyr uses for the Gospel material (Apol. 1.67). They are based on the apostle’s memoirs or recollections, so to speak. Like the term diegesis, or narrative, which Luke uses (Luke 1:1-4), “recollections” can be seen as longer, less precisely formed pieces of tradition which could serve as the basis for the creation of a chreia.
• R. O. P. Taylor: “If then the Gospels had not some guarantee of this kind, if they could not be shown to be ascertained history, they would have failed in their appeal.” [Groundwork of the Gospels (1946), 78.]
Rather than inventing Jesus-biography, the authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—as editors/redactors—were honest in writing their Gospel reports.
This page analyzes 4 arguments:
This is relevant because if the Gospels were witness-based—a feat often requiring significant work—then we can be sure that they claimed to be, at least implicitly through genre conventions.