Why would an eyewitness use a non-eyewitness? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
My in-laws got me an Amazon Tap for Christmas. As I speak, we are listening to the local Christian radio station on it. I also use it to listen to the Unbelievable? podcast, which I had been missing out on. (And during that, I utilize another gift I’ve been given, Final Fantasy XV from my parents.) On the show I heard yesterday, it involved a Christian and a Muslim debating if Jesus was seen as God and the Muslim presented a few times the claim “Why would Matthew use Mark when Matthew was an eyewitness and Mark wasn’t? It doesn’t make sense.”
The sad thing is I see this objection from so many people, even many that should know better, and it leaves me wondering. If these people would spend a few moments thinking about this, then I think the answer would be clear. Just in case it isn’t for some, I figured I’d write a little something about that.
Now some of you will want to contest traditional authorship. Making a case for the authorship of the Gospels is another post, but this objection assumes the traditional authorship for the sake of the argument. Therefore, I will be doing the same so please no replies such as “Well Matthew didn’t really write Matthew!” or something like that. For the time being, let’s accept the claims of attribution to the Gospels made by the early church.
Once we do that, we are reminded that Mark isn’t just Mark writing without a source really. Mark is the testimony of Peter. (Interestingly, the church never called this the Gospel of Peter. They could have skipped the middleman, but they didn’t. This was the work of Mark.) Why would this matter?
It’s because despite Matthew being an apostle, Matthew was not part of the inner circle. Many times in the Gospels, you’ll find that Jesus takes with Him Peter, James, and John. These three then directly saw things that Matthew himself did not see. By going to Mark, Matthew could ascertain his information on these events that he did not see.
On top of that, Matthew could get another perspective on events. Why not avail himself of that? Ancients did have good memories to be sure, but this was often a good memory in community. Some scholars will have you thinking that someone like Mark just suddenly wrote these stories thirty or forty years after the events and the rest of the time he was just sitting on them and not sharing them, talking about them, being a part of conversations with them, etc.
So contrary to the Muslim guest, yes, it does make sense. The explanation I think is simple and is consistent with the idea of traditional authorship. This isn’t a proof of the traditional authorship to be sure, but I would hope that it is at least a refutation of what is a bad argument against traditional authorship.