In the Holy Cross debate done against William Lane Craig, scholar Bart Ehrman argues that the gospels were not written by the traditional authors. The names “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John” were not part of the text. These were the authors noted by early church tradition as the writers of the gospels.
In Ehrman’s words, “The Gospels were written 35 to 65 years after Jesus’ death — 35 or 65 years after his death, not by people who were eyewitnesses, but by people living later.” Let us suppose for the sake of argument that Ehrman is right about his first claim in the earlier paragraph. Let us suppose that the authors were not the ones named.
I don’t think that, but my point is that the second point does not follow from the first. How do we know they were not written by eyewitnesses. The only way we can know that is if we know who the authors were and whether or not they were eyewitnesses. They could have been written by anyone in the area who could have been an eyewitness.
This was a point I wanted to see substantiated. We hear that the accounts are not eyewitness accounts. (Neither is much of ancient history.) How do we know such though? I read through the debate and sadly, I cannot see anywhere where this claim was backed and I was quite pleased with Craig’s performance.
However, one of the gospels was most likely not written by an eyewitness. This would be the gospel of Luke. However, Luke tells us that he spoke to the people and heard the stories and gave an account of what happened. In fact, Luke has been found to be quite accurate in his history and thorough in his detailing.
This seems to make the case more. If the account written by a non-eyewitness can be so reliable, then what will happen if we find the gospels were written by eyewitnesses? (Note I do believe Mark is the memoirs of Peter. Mark is writing for Peter and thus, it is an eyewitness account.)
Even if they weren’t, do we throw them out? No. We look and see if they are historically reliable. Unfortunately, Ehrman, like many others, holds to a a priori assumption of naturalism. The way he argues, if a miracle occurred, we’d have no way of knowing that it did so it’s best to assume that they didn’t.
This seems odd though. If a miracle happened, then it happened. We cannot just say “It didn’t.” What kind of evidence would there be? There would most likely be accounts from eyewitnesses that described what happened. This is what we have. People talk about events that we call miracles. The only reason to rule them out a priori is because of our immediate bias.
Historians ought to give the benefit of the doubt until something is shown to be false. If a friend came to me today and said “I saw an angel” and I was assured he wasn’t trying to pull a joke on me as many of my friends are jokesters, I would believe him. What am I to say? “Well, an angel never appeared to me!” or “I’ve never heard of anyone else seeing one!” or “That’s highly improbable!”
No. I would believe him for the same reason I believe him when he tells me that he and his wife went to dinner last night. The only reason to refuse it is to either say my friend is insane or something of the sort or that the testimony of people is not reliable. If the first, then we have a priori again. If the second, then why trust anyone on anything? We should not make special pleading just for the cases that don’t fit into our preconceived worldview. (Which is why the Christian should always be open to arguments from any angle and evaluate them.)
Now, have I argued that the authors are the traditional ones? No. I believe they are but that is secondary. I have stated that I believe Luke was accurate, but I could even say they were inaccurate and my main point would still stand. We have no way of knowing these are not eyewitness accounts simply because we don’t have 100% certainty on the authorship of the books.
Of course, we can get into other arguments after that. My case has simply been that which I stated above. I hope my fellow Christians see that point and realize that many other times non-Christians make statements like these. This question should always be asked. “Does the conclusion follow from the premises?” This time, it doesn’t.