In AD 30-70 (or even up to AD 100), did easily accessible known witnesses of Jesus-biography abound?
While elsewhere we ask whether witness-based testimony thrived, here we ask whether the witnesses themselves (human persons) were accessible and known. Was their presence a characteristic feature of the 1st century Christianity, especially in those first decades?
- Were these sorts of witnesses available/alive?
—Witnesses in the Jerusalem church (e.g. James and Peter)
—McIver’s 20,000 (see below)
- Did these witnesses testify?
— The one or more Gospel authors who were witnesses
— The sources used by the Gospel authors (e.g. the sources of Luke 1:1)
- Were these sorts of witnesses available/alive?
What historians say
- Michael Bird: “[e]yewitnesses like Peter and John were active in the churches in the eastern Mediterranean and so too were their associates — such as John Mark, Barnabas, and Silas — who were also tradents of the Jesus tradition outside Palestine. Papias seemed to think that through disciples of the eyewitnesses he had in fact access to eyewitness testimony. While not every community had its own eyewitness authenticator of Jesus traditions, given the mobility of Christian leaders among the network of churches, plus the fact that most of the original eleven disciples appear to have left Jerusalem by the time of the Jerusalem council, it is quite reasonable to expect that eyewitnesses and tradents of eyewitness testimony were active and abundant within the relatively small Christian movement.” [The Gospel of the Lord (Eerdmans, 2014), 35.]
Even at the end of the 1st century
- F.F. Bruce: “The first three gospels were written at a time when many were alive who could remember the things that Jesus said and did, and some at least would still be alive when the fourth Gospel [John] was written.” [The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Eerdmans, 1960), 13.]
There were 20,000+ Jesus witnesses in c. AD 70
Around AD 70, there were over 20,000+ people who had witnessed at least some of Jesus’s life and ministry.
- In AD 30, about 60,000 Jesus-bio witnesses lived.
- Robert McIver: “[O]f the 60,000 or so potential eyewitnesses, between 18,000 and 20,000 would be still alive after thirty years, and between 600 and 1,100 after sixty years. …as is evident from the life tables, some surviving eyewitnesses would have been available to the Evangelists to consult had they so wished.” [Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels (SBL, 2011), 209.]
- Craig Evans: “An appendix charts out first-century lifespans. Statistics about averages around forty years must recall that almost half of all children died by age five. So it is not as impossible as some critics have alleged to imagine eyewitnesses of the life of Christ living to the end of the first century, perhaps in their eighties. There just would have been far fewer than there would be today. According to one formula, only 671 people out of 100,000 would have lived to the age of eighty.” [Blomberg’s review of “Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels” in Themelios 37:2.]
This is relevant because they would have been quite accessible (e.g. Jesus ordered his disciples/witnesses to be testifying of his words and deeds.)
Quadratus recalls meeting Jesus-witnesses (e.g. in AD 80)
Quadratus of Athens, who died in AD 129, recalls witnesses of Jesus being loud and present in the Mediterranean area, and he would have been referring to the time around AD 80.
- Quadratus of Athens (writing c. 117 CE): “[T]he works of our Savior were always present, for they were true: those who were healed, those who rose from the dead, those who were not only seen in the act of being healed or raised, but were also always present, not merely when the Savior was living on earth, but also for a considerable time after his departure, so that some of them survived even to our own times [i.e. in Quadratus’s life, presumably when he was decades younger]” [Cited by Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 4.3.2].
Jn 21:22-23 implies ‘the beloved disciple’ was still alive
In the Gospel of John there are indications that the author was a disciple of Jesus and had survived until the end of the century.
- Jn 21:22-23 — “[Jesus] If it is my will that he [the beloved disciple] remain (me μένειν nein) until I come, what is that to you? Therefore this account went out among the brothers, that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?’” 1
This is relevant because the Gospel of John was written around AD 80-90, and therefore he and his apparently loud teachings (with followers) was all the more available in AD 30-70.
- • Michael Bird: “The passage explains why the Beloved Disciple lived for as long as he did. It likewise refers to the continued existence in a Christian community of an eyewitness of Jesus to whom was attached particular authority.” [The Gospel of the Lord (Eerdmans, 2014), 277.]
Witnesses etc. were actively relaying testimony
In AD 30-70 Christendom, witnesses of Jesus’s life and teachings actively recounting and spreading what they heard and saw.
This page analyzes 5 arguments
- Apostles oft started, taught & visited churches.
- Papias: “Young Jesus-witnesses became old super-teachers.”
- Lk says Jesus-bio witnesses were the teachers/tradents.
- Handy witnesses abounded.
- In general, Christians strove on faithfully pass on Jesus-bio.
This of course helps show that accessible known witnesses were available during these later decades because you can't be actively relaying testimony unless you are alive and available.