Submitted by Ben Johnson
As many of you may or may not have been able to guess based on my last post on this blog, I am currently trying to come to grips with my own personal understanding of Scripture. In that regard, one of the things that I have begun to realize in my own reading and studying is that in the academic environment we find ourselves in it is not permissible to assume the historical reliability of the Gospels. This must be argued. And it appears, that in the wider realm of biblical scholarship one will find oneself arguing up hill. So, in developing my own view of the historical reliability of the Gospels I offer this pseudo-review of a book a have found most helpful in this regard: Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), 508 pp. + indices. I will summarize what I think are Bauckhams’ strongest arguments (a slightly fuller review of this work is available on my <a href=”http://kilbabo.wordpress.com“> blog </a>).
1) The contention of form critics that the Gospels reflect later Christianity assumes that the disciples told their story and then disappeared. To be historically accurate we must account for their testimony since “The gospels were written within living memory of the events they recount” (7).
2) Ancient historiography viewed eyewitnesses who were the closest and most intimately connected to events to be the most credible historians because they were able “to understand and interpret what they had seen” (9), thus the Gospels reflect first century historian’s best practice.
3) The earliest church fathers (Papias) attribute the Gospel traditions to eyewitnesses and preference eyewitness testimony over written sources.
4) The phenomenon of named ‘minor characters’ can be explained as named eyewitnesses, who could testify to events.
5) Mark in particular can be seen as the testimony of Peter by way of the “inclusio of eyewitness testimony” (155), which basically means that Peter is the first and last eyewitness mentioned in Mark, and the distinct plural-to-singular narrative device (e.g., Mk. 5:1-2), whereby the narrative switch from plural to singular “closely reproduces the way Peter told the story” (156) and functions to give the reader “the ‘point of view’ of the group of disciples” (161).
6) The memory of the eyewitnesses is reliable because the events of the Gospels are just the kind of events that people are able to remember in detail.
7) The Gospel of John was written by an eyewitnesses own hand, the beloved disciple (whom Bauckham identifies as John the Elder, not John the son of Zebedee). His Gospel is not a theologized account but an account reflecting historiography’s best practice in that it is the most structured and gives best the interpretation of the significance of the events.
For my part I found Bauckham to be a breath of fresh air. It affirmed to me that the Gospels are in fact based on very early eyewitness testimony it is therefore, historically, best practice to begin by trusting the eyewitness testimony, which is, after all, what testimony asks us to do. What have others found helpful in coming to grips with the reliability of the Gospels? Are there other works that people have found helpful?