Were The Gospels Written By Actual Eyewitnesses Of Jesus?
New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman claimed that: “Even though we might desperately want to know the identities of the authors of the earliest Gospels, we simply don’t have sufficient evidence. The books were written anonymously and evidently not by eyewitnesses.”
Now that we have answered this question and confirmed the identities of the authors of the Gospels, can we really be sure that those authors were actual eyewitnesses of Jesus?
The first followers of Jesus also understood the importance of reliable eyewitnesses, especially when they began to claim that Jesus had returned from the dead. This claim is, after all, quite incredible. As a result, early Christians cherished eyewitness testimonies about the resurrection.
Two New Testament Gospels specifically claim that eyewitness reports formed the foundation for what they had to say about Jesus. ‘”These things were handed down to us,” the preface of the Gospel According to Luke declares, “by those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning.” (Luke 1:2 ; see also Acts 1:22). And St. John’s Gospel announced with utmost sincerity, “The one who saw this has testified-his testimony is true, and he knows he is telling the truth” (John 19:35; see also 21:24). Around A.D. 160, an unknown writer in Rome recorded an oral tradition that backed up these claims. According to this author, Luke based his Gospel on personal interviews, presumably with eyewitnesses, and the Fourth Gospel represented the eyewitness testimony of the apostle John.
The other two Gospels don’t specifically claim to come from eyewitnesses, but early Christians believed that these writings represented eyewitness testimony. Writing from Asia Minor in the early second century, Papias of Hierapolis affirmed that Mark’s Gospel preserved Peter’s eyewitness testimony and that the apostle Matthew was responsible for the Gospel that bore his name. A few years later, lrenaeus of Lyons – the leading pastor in an area known today as northern France – linked each New Testament Gospel to an eyewitness of the resurrected Lord. Justin Martyr – a defender of Christian faith, writing from Rome in the mid-second century – referred to a quotation from Mark 3:16-17 as coming from the “recollections of Peter.” Around A.D. 200, Tertullian of Carthage put it this way: “We present as our first position, that the Gospel testimony has apostles for its authors, to whom the Lord himself assigned the position of propagating the Gospel. There are also some that, though not apostles, are apostolic-they do not stand alone; they appear with and after the apostles.” So, St. John and St. Matthew, of the apostles, first instill faith into us while the apostolic writers St. Luke and St. Mark renew it afterwards.
As we can see, from the first century onward, a consistent strand of Christian tradition tied the truth of the New Testament Gospels to eyewitness testimony.