Were the gospel writers really eyewitnesses to Jesus?

Asked by Someone

On your website the citation under the above headings says that John and Matthew were probably eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry. No biblical scholar I am aware of suggests that the author of the Gospel is the Apostle Matthew. If he were he would be very long in the tooth when he wrote the Gospel in 85-90 AD. Few lived that long in those days and the handful that did would hardly have their full faculties intact!.
Nor does anyone think that the apostle John was the author of the Gospel which all scholars agree was written after 100 AD when the long in the tooth argument applies even more.

Who are the Biblical scholars to which you refer? One who it may be good for you to meet is Dr John Dickson, an Australian Ancient History Professor who has just written a book called “The Christ Files”. It would be well worth your reading on this and other questions. He with Dr Don Carson, Dr Douglas Moo and Dr Leon Morris are among the many biblical scholars who believe that the Gospel of Matthew can be attributed to Matthew.

The most powerful reason today for denying this is the bound up with an array of a priori judgments about the development of the gospel accounts, the shape of the history of the church in the first century, the evidence of potential changes in the gospels, and much more. The conclusion drawn from these a priori assumptions is that Matthew is too late and too theologically developed to be assigned to any of the first witnesses (ie. Matthew the tax collector and later Apostle). As Dr Dickson and Dr Carson point out, these attempts at discrediting Matthew’s authorship (or at least origin for the Gospel) discount all the external evidence (such as Papias and Irenaeus and detailed comparison between the Gospels) and in the end rest on unsubstantiated assertion rather than reasoned argument. As an example, if it is thought that Matthew’s theology is too developed (and specifically his Christology) one need only compare it with Paul’s Christology from Philippians 2 or Colossians 1 to see that Matthew’s Christological expression is by all means first century.

I am not sure what arguments the biblical scholars you know argue but it would be well worth your while chasing some other views.

There is a chapter in John Dickson’s book on Oral tradition that goes some way to answering your two ‘observations’ at the end there. Let me though, put this to you. How many songs do you think you could recite word for word? And if we got a group of your closest friends together who all like the same music and same bands how many could you together recite word for word. I would think lots. And with accuracy over a long period of time. I have been to enough karaoke nights to know that people remember things that are important, ingrained in their minds and repeated. Could not this be the case with the Gospel accounts? Important information written down some years later by people who had recited, reminded, talked and sung about parts of it for years and years and years. We must also keep in mind that Matthew did not do his work in isolation. He would have had other Christians and perhaps apostles around him to remind hom of things said and done. One man would, I admit, struggle to remember it all if he was in isolation for 40 years without telling anyone anything. But in community, it is different. If you still have the blessing of living grandparents, ask then what they were doing when WW2 was declared, or their recollections of the war. I will bet they could tell you down to the minute detail because they have rehashed them together, with friends and over a few quiet beers many times!! Not dissimilar to Matthew’s recollection of important events sometime later I suspect (perhaps without the beer).

You also wrote:

Further to my earlier email, your article on the net on the above subject cites Mark 7: 1-13 as saying that we should get the truth from the Bible and not from the teachings of religious leaders.

Having now read the passage it in fact says the opposite. While Jesus gives an example where he says Jewish tradition denies the Biblical injunctions, the whole passage is about the Jews saying that the disciples do not follow the law [set out in various places in the Old Testament] to wash their hands before eating. It is thus not just tradition but set out in the Bible. Further the Old Testament bans various foods but if you read beyond verse 17 you see that Jesus [a religious leader] says that what goes into the mouth does not defile thus contadicting many verses in the Old Testament.

You have misunderstood the Mark passage because nowhere in the OT does it say to wash hands before eating. This is the law that the Jews made up to make themselves appear super religious. It was a tradition and is not set out in the Bible as you claim. In Exodus 30:19 it is said that the priests ought to wash in certain circumstances, but it was the policy of the Pharisees to make themselves bigger, better and more religious than the priests so they made up these laws thinking that by exceeding the work of the priests God would be even more pleased with them than anyone else.

When Jesus then speaks in Mark 7:17 and following (did you mean 7:14?), he is speaking rather ironically and condemningly of the Pharisees and their Jewish followers. He says there that the behavior expected of true followers of God far exceeds that of the OT law, but is centered on heart matters, not outward matters. So in matters of ethics, one ought to take Jesus words in Mark 7:21-23 with all seriousness and be on the conservative side of those behaviors and attitudes. Jesus does not contradict the OT, but completes it and puts back into place the intent, which was that the people of God would love him with all their “heart, soul, mind and strength” (eg. Deuteronomy 6:5). Sadly the Jews had just started loving God with their outer actions!! Read John 5:39-40.

Answers are kindly provided by our friends at Christianity.net.au

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