The evidence suggests that Peter was indeed a portrait painter, but he used words alone. Jesus was his subject.
Mark’s Gospel is all about Jesus. But when we read it, we can also hear Peter’s preaching and eyewitness testimony in the background, in small hints.
Answering that one-word question is the subject of this long article on the historical reliability of the Gospels, not their inerrancy and inspiration; if we cannot establish the Gospels’ historical reliability, then how can we move on to discuss their inspiration and inerrancy, as they have been traditionally understood? But nothing here contradicts those doctrines.
The entire series is committed to bringing onto the web what scholars are saying in their books that support traditional conclusions about the Gospels; and in this article it is Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Eerdmans 2006). We also consider two other scholars’ book: D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament.
The series is intended for the laity, though I hope seminarians, church leaders, and scholars can find something beneficial in it.
Before we begin, recall that Matthew, Mark, and Luke have a lot of passages in common, so they are called the synoptic Gospels (synoptic means viewed together). The authors are sometimes called synoptists. Slashes // mean parallel passages among them. The writers of the four Gospels are also called evangelists.
Even though I tried hard to simplify Bauckham’s evidence and conclusions, I admit that this article may get complicated unless, perhaps, the readers look up some passages. Hovering over the references below will bring up the NET Bible version on each of these.
1. What’s the evidence for Peter’s eyewitness testimony in Mark’s Gospel?
Like the other Gospels, Mark is a story or narrative. Story does not mean only fiction. Mark intends to write a true story. It makes sense that he would use narrative strategies to show and tell the life of Jesus.
One strategy that has been generally overlooked in narrative analyses of Mark’s Gospel is employed in Greco-Roman literature, such as Lucian’s Alexander and Porphyry’s Life of Plotinus. This is not to say that Mark borrowed from either of them, especially since he lived before them. Rather, the strategy seems to be a topos or commonplace rhetorical tool.
2. What is that commonplace rhetorical tool?
The common narrative strategy is called inclusio. Generally, inclusio is the literary technique of placing corresponding material at the beginning and end of a particular stretch of text (short or long) in order to mark off that section and to say something about the intervening section of text. Inclusio in this general sense is extremely common in ancient literature. So readers of Mark, even if they did not know of the specific device of the inclusio of eyewitness testimony, would be very open to spotting inclusios. Even small inclusios were used within a Gospel or epistle (see Carson and Moo, pp. 226, 621, 689, for more examples).
Mark’s inclusio makes Peter the principal eyewitness in the second Gospel. It just makes sense that a biographer would name his human sources early in his account and remind his readers of them at the end of his account.
3. How does the inclusio show Peter is the principal eyewitness in Mark?
The following example may seem trivial to us today because we are not tuned into inclusios, as a common literary strategy. However, note that Mark repeats Simon’s name in 1:16, before Jesus changes his name to Peter in Mark 3:16. Mark 1:16 reads: “And going along the Sea of Galilee, he [Jesus] saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother” . . . (my translation).
Most translations ignore the second “Simon” and instead translate it with the pronoun “his.” But there is a particular emphasis on Simon. Mark could have used the pronoun “his,” as he did in verse 19: “He saw James the son of Zebedee and his brother John” . . . (but see 5:37, where Mark follows 1:16 for James and John). Yet Mark does not always follow this practice, but he does for Peter. In any case, Simon is the first to be called, and he is spotlighted a mere sixteen verses away from the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel.
At the end of the Gospel Peter likewise plays a prominent role, thus framing Mark’s Gospel. In 16:7, the next-to-last verse, an angel tells the women at the empty tomb to inform “the disciples and Peter” that the resurrected Jesus is going on ahead to Galilee. Mark shines the spotlight on Peter as a leader of the disciples in the words of an angel.
Thus, the literary device of the more specific inclusio of eyewitness testimony at the beginning and end of Mark means that Peter is the principal eyewitness in this Gospel.
4. How does Mark’s inclusio compare in Matthew or Luke?
In our study of Matthew in the previous article, the Gospel does not seem to have an inclusio of eyewitness testimony, but maybe of authoritative testimony, from Matt. 10:1 to 28:20. But I decided not to analyze this Gospel through that narrative strategy, though Matthew may use one. So for a comparison, Luke is the relevant Gospel in this article on Mark.
If Luke borrows from Mark, which seems likely, then the literary technique is imitated in Luke. For instance, the calling of Peter occurs at the beginning of Luke, after the infancy, temptation and baptism narratives (4:38). And at the end of the Gospel, Luke names Simon (Peter) (24:34). “In thus imitating Mark’s inclusio of eyewitness testimony with reference to Peter, Luke has acknowledged the extent to which his own Gospel is indebted to the Petrine [adjective of Peter] testimony he recognized in Mark” (Bauckham, p. 127).
Thus, both in Luke and Mark, Simon Peter is the first disciple called with specific emphasis and the last one mentioned with specific emphasis.
Bottom line for this Q & A: Luke follows Mark in the literary strategy of inclusio.
We will further explore Luke’s use of it in the next post.
5. Does Mark’s inclusio of Peter’s eyewitness testimony get other support in Mark?
Yes, it receives support from two textual facts.
First, Mark names Simon (with reference to Peter) seven times and Peter nineteen times. This is considerably higher than in the much-longer Gospels of Matthew (Simon [with reference to Peter] five times and Peter twenty-four times) and Luke (Simon [with reference to Peter] twelve times and Peter eighteen times) (Bauckham, p. 125). In a Greek word count of the three Synoptics, Mark outnumbers the other two in the mention of Simon or Peter: Mark (one out of 432 words), Matthew (one of 654 words) and Luke (one of 670 words) (p. 126).
Second, not surprisingly, then, Peter figures very prominently and is actually present throughout large portions of Mark’s Gospel from 1:16 to 14:72 (the only exceptions are 6:14-29; 10:35-40; 14:1-2, 10-11, 55-65) (Bauckham, p. 126). This second point is particularly important. In addition to Jesus, Peter is the focus between Mark’s inclusio.
In all three Synoptics, Peter plays a big role, but it is bigger in the much-shorter Gospel of Mark.
6. Is there another strategy in Mark that shows Peter’s eyewitness testimony?
Mark employs a nearly unique strategy in twenty-one passages: 1:21, 29-30; 5:1-2, 38; 6:53-54; 8:22; 9:9, 14-15, 30, 33; 10:32, 46; 11:1, 12, 15, 19-21, 27; 14:18, 22, 26-27, 32.
He uses the third person plural subject or verb (e.g. “they”) and then goes right to a singular subject or verb (e.g. “he”). This is called the “plural-to-singular narrative device.” In almost all cases, it appears in passages describing movement from one place to the next.
7. What are some examples of this narrative device?
Bauckham lists these examples.
1 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus got out of the boat . . . (5:1-2; NIV)
22 They came to Bethsaida, and some brought a blind man to him . . . . ( 8:22; my translation)
12 The next day, they left Bethany, and he [Jesus] was hungry . . . . ( 11:12; my translation)
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples . . . . ( 14:32; NIV)
See Q & A Eleven for the bottom line on this narrative device.
8. What is Mark’s purpose in using the plural-to-singular narrative device?
This is where things can really get complicated, if they are not already.
The plural-to-singular narrative device, nearly unique to Mark, is designed to reveal point of view. Mark is especially concerned to distinguish the crowds from the Twelve, and to focus on a core of disciples, mostly Peter, James, and John. Recall that Peter is distinguished in the literary strategy of inclusio, and he is actually present in large portions of Mark.
In all stories, whether modern or ancient, a point of view is presented. Often, it is the “omniscient” narrator who has control of the overall ideology and flow of the story. He can get into the minds of all the characters. He can change vantage points. He can present a passage from one character’s point of view, and in the next (or even same) passage he can shift it to another character.
In Mark, the so-called “omniscient” narrator is used. He provides information that characters in the story may not know about (5:3-5). He describes the thoughts and emotions of a character (1:41; 2:6-8; 3:5). He perches the reader from one vantage point or another (2:2-5). Within this omniscience is an important strategy, called internal focalization, which views things from the vantage point of a character within the story (Bauckham, p. 162).
9. What does this internal focalization technique mean to Mark’s plural-to-singular narrative device?
Bauckham writes: “The plural-to-singular narrative device in Mark meets the test for internal focalization . . . it is possible to rewrite the passage, substituting first-person forms for the third-person references to the focalizing character(s)” (p. 163). In other words, the narrative device in Mark can go easily from “they” to “we.” And the “we” is Peter’s point of view. Other than Jesus, Peter is the focus of Mark’s Gospel. But Peter represents, not distances himself from, the Eleven or a core of disciples, such as James, John, and Andrew, or just James and John.
True, Jesus is included in the “we” (Bauckham, p. 159), but this is obvious. “We,” changed to “they” by Mark who was not on the scene originally, is mainly Peter’s point of view.
Bauckham says, “Mark does not usually shift internal focalization in passages introduced by the plural-to-singular narrative device [and] is further proof that he uses this characteristic narrative feature deliberately and with a view to its function for internal focalization” (pp. 163-164). Thus, the plural-to-singular device and internal focalization work well together and show, again, that Peter is Mark’s principal eyewitness source.
Additionally, there is a correlation of the plural-to-singular narrative device with the many references to Peter and the core disciples. Table Fifteen in Bauckham’s book is a list of plural-to-singular passages in one column and a list of references to Peter in a second column (p. 181). About this Table, Bauckham says that there is an emphasis on Peter around the early uses of the device and its final uses. The device and the references to Peter also cluster in the midpoint in the narrative (8:22-9:33) (p. 162).
Internal focalization can shift from one character to the next. In passages where this plural-to-singular narrative device is not used, the internal focalization can shift over to another viewpoint or more than one (e.g. 2:2-12; 3:1-6, 20-34; 5:21-43; 6:1-6a, 47-52; 9:14-29) (p. 163). But among the multiple points of view in Mark’s Gospel, Peter is prominent, second to Jesus.
Finally, it should be noted to balance out the picture that Peter takes the lead in many passages that include the Twelve or the core, whether the plural-to-singular narrative device is used or not. Passages showing Peter’s prominence but not using the device follow: 1:16-20, 35-39; 5:35-37; 8:27-30, 31-33; 9:2-8; 10:23-31; 14:54, 66-72 (p. 165).
10. How does Mark compare to Matthew and Luke in this plural-to-singular device?
After a careful study of the parallel passages in the synoptic Gospels, Bauckham provides a table of the relevant passages in the three Gospels (p. 181). He concludes that “Matthew and Luke have a clear tendency to prefer a singular verb to Mark’s plurals encompassing both Jesus and the disciples” (p. 157). Luke may have some interesting uses of the plural-to-singular narrative device, but “they do not alter the overall picture of the . . . device as overwhelmingly Markan” (p. 158).
11. So what’s the bottom line on the plural-to-singular device?
Mark is writing a narrative that he is not in. So he cannot use “we.” Instead, he uses “they” in a careful way in passages of movement from one place to the next. These passages imply the “we” of Peter’s point of view.
And who is included in the “we”? It is Peter and the eleven other disciples or the core of Peter, James, and John, and sometimes Andrew (Peter’s brother). Bauckham says that “the literary function of the plural-to-singular narrative device in Mark makes it, in effect, Mark’s way of deliberately reproducing in his narrative the first-person perspective – the ‘we’ perspective – from which Peter naturally told his stories” (p. 164).
Thus, Mark heard Peter preaching. The apostle probably said, “The next day, we left Bethany, and he [Jesus] got hungry.” But Mark is writing a story from a distance, uninvolved in it personally. So he uses narrative devices like omniscient, third-person point of view and the plural-to-singular narrative device peculiar to him and not to Matthew and Luke, mostly. Therefore, Mark writes: “The next day, they left Bethany, and he got hungry.”
12. Aren’t the literary strategies of inclusio, the plural-to-singular device, and internal focalization farfetched?
No, they are not farfetched, if we understand that all stories use narrative strategies. Inclusioswere common in Greco-Roman writings, specifically biographies, so Mark fits in with his own larger literary context. Next, every story has a point of view or multiple points of view. Finally, Mark’s plural-to-singular device has been demonstrated with ample evidence (see the Biblical references in Q & A Six).
13. Is there more evidence of Peter’s eyewitness testimony in Mark?
Here we leave behind Bauckham’s findings, until Q & A Seventeen. We now look at Carson’s and Moo’s study.
To answer the question directly – yes. In Acts 10:34-43, the author of Acts, whom scholars usually take as Luke, records one of Peter’s speeches, probably in a summary. Our focus is on vv. 36-42. Here is a table of the similarities among Peter’s speech and Mark’s Gospel.1
The Gospel of Mark
“Telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ” (v. 36)
“The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ” (1:1)
“After the baptism that John preached” (v. 37)
“Jesus . . . was baptized by John” (1:9)
“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit” (v. 38)
“Jesus . . . saw the Spirit descending on him” (1:10)
“Beginning in Galilee” (v. 37)
The Galilean ministry (1:16-8:26)
“He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil (v. 38)
Jesus’ ministry focuses on healings and exorcisms; e.g. “Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons” (1:34)
“We are witnesses of everything he did . . . in Jerusalem” (v. 39)
“Jesus entered Jerusalem” (11:11); see chapters 11 to 14
“They killed him by hanging him on a cross” (v. 39)
“And they crucified him” (15:24)
“God raised him from the dead on the third day” (v. 40)
“He has risen! He is not here” (16:6)
“He was seen . . . by witnesses . . . by us” (v. 41)
“Tell his disciples and Peter . . . ‘you will see him’” (16:7)
“He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify” (v. 42)
See the first commission (6:6b-13) and 13:10
Both Peter’s speech and Mark’s Gospel follow the outline of Jesus’ life, but so do the other Gospels. What’s the difference? Peter and Mark give only the very basics, as their speech and narrative move from one thing to another, rapidly. This assessment takes into consideration that Luke probably records a summary of Peter’s speech. His other speeches follow brevity and are action oriented (Acts 2:14-41; 2:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32). By contrast, Paul’s speeches, though likely summaries as well, seem to be lengthy arguments, particularly since half of them in the following references were delivered in a legal setting: Acts 13:16-41; 17:22-31; 20:18-35; 22:1-21; 24:10-21; 26:1-23. Outside a legal context, Acts 20:7 says that Paul spoke to a Christian gathering for a long time, until midnight. Paul was not brief!
But the differences between Peter’s and Paul’s speeches in Acts are the subject of another article, so let’s move on.
Bottom line for this Q & A: The narrative style or flow of the Gospel of Mark and Peter’s speech in Acts 10:36-42 match up well.
14. What about Mark’s style compared with Matthew’s and Luke’s?
Mark uses adverbs that are translated as “immediately,” “at once,” “without delay” or “quickly” over forty times in his short Gospel. Matthew and Luke do not come close to this number in their long Gospels. Mark’s rapidity and inclusion only of the “bare bones” facts and themes make his Gospel and Peter’s speech parallel each other closely, as noted in the previous Q & A. In contrast, Matthew and Luke (and John) extend their Gospels, slowing them down to include major teaching sections of Jesus. They are not extra-small summaries.
15. What’s the bottom line on that table, the other Gospels, and Paul’s speeches?
Peter’s speech and Mark’s Gospel, in proportion to Paul’s speeches and the other Gospels, respectively, are extra-small summaries of the full ministry of Jesus. Mark’s Gospel is action oriented (Carson and Moo, p. 193), and so is Peter’s speech in Acts 10:36-42. Those are the unique similarities between them. Mark’s Gospel, following Peter’s brevity, seems to be almost a learning manual of gospel essentials so witnesses can go around the world to preach the new message in its boiled-down simplicity.
16. This article is complicated, so will you please summarize things so far?
I agree that this article is complicated. But the basic facts so far are as follows:
One narrative device that Mark uses is called the inclusio of eyewitness testimony. It frames a narrative with an emphasis on the same character as an eyewitness at the beginning and end of the story. This participating eyewitness is Peter. Also, in between, he figures very prominently in Mark’s Gospel, much more so than in the longer Gospels of Matthew and Luke. So this prominence coheres with the inclusio.
Next, Mark uses the plural-to-singular narrative device that mostly reflects Peter’s perspective. It is probable that Peter preached, “We then went to this or that place, and Jesus said or did this.” Mark was not part of the “we,” so he writes “they” naturally.
This device fits the strategy of internal focalization, which is the point of view of a character in a story. In this case, the viewpoint belongs to Peter or the disciples or a core of them, as opposed to the crowds. Internal focalization coheres both with Peter’s prominence in Mark and the plural-to-singular narrative device.
Finally, Peter’s speech in Acts 10:36-42 corresponds to Mark’s Gospel. Both are brief, move rapidly, and are action oriented.
17. Are there other eyewitnesses in Mark’s Gospel?
Now we again return to Bauckham’s study.
Have you ever wondered why some persons in Mark (and the other Gospels) are named, while others are not? A simple (not simplistic) answer is at hand. Let’s lay out some basic facts in three sample categories, and answer the question as we go (see especially Bauckham, pp. 39-66, for this Q & A).
(1) Women at the cross and tomb: We already saw in the article on Matthew that Mary Magdalene figures prominently. She appears in Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1, and so does Salome (15:40 and 16:1). “The naming [of the women] is surely more likely to reflect how very important for the whole story of Jesus were the events of which they were the sole witnesses” . . . (Bauckham, p. 49). In other words, women provided participatory eyewitness testimony, particularly at the cross and tomb – the culmination of all four Gospels.
(2) Simon of Cyrene and his sons Alexander and Rufus (15:21): Matthew and Luke omit the names of Simon’s sons. But why does Mark name them? After reviewing several plausible explanations (e.g. the early church knew Alexander and Rufus), Bauckham narrows down the answer: “There does not seem to be a good reason available other than that Mark is appealing to Simon’s eyewitness testimony, known in the early Christian movement not from his own firsthand account but through his sons” (Bauckham, p. 52).
(3) Recipients of healing, only three examples follow: Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:22-24a, 35-42 //Matt. 9:18-19, 23-26; // Luke 8:40-42, 49-56); Simon the Leper (Mark 14:3-9 // Matt. 26:2-16); Bartimaeus, former blind man (Mark 10:46-52 // Matt. 20:29-34; Luke 18:35-43).
Still under the third category, Mark and Luke, but not Matthew, name Jairus. Mark and Matthew name Simon the Leper (Luke 7:36-50 is another episode, in Bauckham’s opinion). And only Mark names Bartimaeus. Most likely, the reason that the names of the recipients are included in the Gospels is that they were original eyewitnesses who testified while being members of the Jesus movement, perhaps mainly participating in it more fully after the events in Jerusalem (e.g. the crucifixion, resurrection, and Pentecost).
As time passed, the eyewitness testimony of some people lasted because the participatory eyewitnesses themselves lived for a long time. Bauckham cites an early-second-century Christian apologist (defender of the faith), Quadratus, who says that some recipients of healings done by Jesus lived into the apologist’s own time, presumably in the apologist’s life span, not necessarily his adulthood (p. 53).
In many cases, the named persons in the Gospel provide eyewitness testimony, as the three sample categories indicate. An unnamed character in Mark does not gain a name in Matthew or Luke. So the tendency is to eliminate names in the Synoptics. Unnamed persons in the Gospels either did not join the Jesus movement, even though they were healed or blessed in some way; or they did join the Jesus movement, but their names were unknown to a given Gospel writer at the time and place that he wrote, so they were dropped.
Bottom line for this Q & A: These early names indicate that we have original, eyewitness testimony. This kind of detail increases the historical reliability of Mark specifically and the Synoptics generally.
18. What does all of this mean for the Gnostic “gospels”?
We can quickly mention postmodernism, also. Proximity to the source as providing the greatest potential for accuracy is a commonsense and obvious truth. It contradicts the postmodern notion that origins have little or nothing to with accuracy and reliability and truth. Mark the Gospel writer certainly valued proximity and origins.
This commonsense and obvious truth also contradicts the claims made by some heavy promoters of the Gnostic texts. These scholars say that the texts (should) share an equal or near-equal footing with the four Biblical Gospels. However, the Gnostic texts appear much later (the second century and beyond) than the four Gospels (a generation or two after Jesus’ ministry). And the Gnostic texts do not have the same high-level participatory eyewitness testimony to ground them in history – as things really happened in Jesus’ ministry.
Therefore, the Gnostic texts are filled with flights of fancy and errors, compared to the storyline and the teachings of the four Gospels. The Biblical Gospels are the gold standard by which we measure all religious truth-claims masquerading as Christian truths.
See my Postmodern Truth Soup, which critiques, among other things, Karen King’s What Is Gnosticism? (Harvard, 2003).
19. Does Mark mention mission and divine authority, as Matthew does?
Yes. Mark has a summary of the commission of the Twelve (3:13-19), mentioning that Jesus imparts authority to them (v. 15). Then Mark has an abbreviated first commission (6:6b-13), when Jesus actually imparts authority to his twelve disciples for a real mission (v. 7). They indeed exercise their God-given authority during their ministry (v. 13). Jesus predicts that the Gospel shall be preached to all nations (Mark 13:10).
The second commission is implied at the end of Mark’s Gospel, but not explicitly stated (16:6-7). A young man dressed in a white robe (an angel) commands some key women to tell Jesus’ disciples and Peter to meet him in Galilee. However, the Gospel ends abruptly, saying that the women, fearing, said nothing to anyone (v. 8). But the other Gospels fill out the picture and say that the women, apparently overcoming their fears, eventually told the men.
Therefore, in my opinion, it is unlikely that the Gospel of Mark would end on a verse (v. 8) that stops the rest of the story: mission. The proposed verses at the end of many Bibles may not (or may) be the correct ending. But in this debate, I do not lose track of Jesus’ prediction that the gospel shall indeed be preached to all nations (Mark 13:10). This mission was done by the ones who figure prominently in Mark’s Gospel, notably Peter, James, John, some key women, and the Twelve, individually or as a group.
All four Gospels cohere together on the future witness of the disciples, in one storyline, though Mark in its ending takes the circuitous route or implies the future witness.
20. How does the first mission relate to handing on traditions?
In Jesus’ authority, the disciples, while on their first mission, surely wanted to pass on accurately what he had been teaching and to imitate closely what he had been doing. Though their message was basic, surely they wanted to get things right. Does this mean that the disciples were sent out for the express and only purpose of learning how to pass on traditions? No, of course not. They were sent out to minister to people. But to evaluate the interaction between a master and his students in Jewish culture, this training during the disciples’ first mission surely honed their skills, as they continued to teach what the Master had said and to imitate what he had done, after he was crucified (and resurrected). The net result is clear: the Gospel traditions were accurately and reliably handed on during their second, lifelong mission.
Please see the article on Matthew’s Gospel for clarification (in that link scroll down to Q & A Twelve).
21. What’s the bottom line for the historical reliability of Mark’s Gospel?
Bauckham provides evidence that, for me, is convincing. Peter is the main eyewitness source in Mark’s Gospel. It is amazing to me that when we read Mark’s Gospel, we hear Peter’s portrait of Jesus. Imagine that!
Mark also includes eyewitness testimony from other persons in the Jesus movement. Mark is concerned to show that he wrote up his account from the best possible sources. For him, origins have everything to do with accuracy and reliability and truth.
This fits in with Greco-Roman histories and biographies, which borrow or draw from sources, and the historians and biographers preferred reliable sources, for the same reasons we do today (see Part Six and Q-&-A’s Fourteen to Nineteen in that link).
22. What does all of this mean to the date and authorship of the Gospel of Mark?
Questions of authorship and date are important. Bauckham and Carson and Moo present very strong evidence for the early church’s view that Mark wrote the second Gospel, and Peter stood behind it. The church’s view is all the more believable because the fathers did not succumb to the temptation of assigning the Gospel only to Peter, as if to “fudge” the truth a little by securing its authorship by the lead apostle. Instead, they held to Mark’s authorship, a non-apostle. Tradition also says that Peter was martyred under Nero (ruled AD 54-68). So it is likely that Mark completed his Gospel shortly afterwards, though tradition also implies that he was working on it, in some form, while Peter was alive.
However, in my opinion, questions of authorship and dates, though important, take second place to eyewitness testimony. It is very clear to me now that Peter’s eyewitness testimony is the main source of the Gospel, along with some other eyewitnesses.
23. What does all of this mean to the Church of all denominations?
The Gospels are not the imaginative inventions and fictions – with only a kernel of accuracy – of much-later generations of anonymous disciples who never witnessed with their own eyes the ministry of Jesus in Israel and the events in Jerusalem (e.g. the crucifixion, resurrection, and Pentecost). This misleading scenario has permeated many seminaries and churches. Maybe it explains, to a large degree, why many segments of the Church no longer take Scripture as seriously as the Church once did, except of course those passages about peace and love and justice.
Rather, the Gospel writers took great pains to include eyewitness testimony from those who followed Jesus from the beginning. In fact, one of the reasons, among many, that the Gospels were written was to preserve eyewitness testimony before the eyewitnesses themselves died out. (The key criterion for the main eyewitnesses was that they were with Jesus from the beginning, as the next two articles on Luke and John will show.) These eyewitness participants in the Jesus movement cherished their Lord’s teachings and activities, so they retained and recounted them scrupulously and painstakingly.
In my view, for what it’s worth, many parts of the Body of Christ need to find, again, the value of all of Scripture. The Gospels really do reflect Jesus’ words and voice and ministry, according to the earliest and most reliable eyewitness participants.
Written by James Malcolm
Articles in the Series
10. Eyewitness Testimony in Mark’s Gospel
Church fathers and the authorship of the four Gospels
Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts (Part 4 is the summary)
References and Further Reading
Richard Bauckham. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Eerdmans, 2006. I emailed Dr. Bauckham to make sure that I understood his arguments in my article here, and he was kind enough to correspond with me. I take his words seriously: “I think you’ve done an excellent job here.” I hope that I have adequately incorporated his suggestions. I added some things and revised portions after I incorporated them. So the final version is my responsibility.
D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Zondervan, 2005.
Mark D. Roberts. “Gospel Authorship by Mark and Luke: Some Implications.” July 2006.
—. “Did the Gospel Writers Know Jesus Personally?” Section A.
—. “Did the Gospel Writers Know Jesus Personally?” Section B.
—. “Did the Gospel Writers Know Jesus Personally?” Section C.