“The majority of critical scholars believe that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses.”
— Michael Licona, evangelical NT scholar, in a debate with Bart Ehrman (February 2018)
“We have strong reasons to accept the authenticity of Jesus’ claims of deity found in the gospel of John. For example, external evidence is virtually unanimous in ascribing the gospel’s authorship to the apostle John, who was an intimate eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry.”
–Josh and Sean McDowell, evangelical apologists in Evidence that Demands a Verdict, p. 177
Dear Apologists and Pastors,
Truth matters. I hope you will agree with me on that point. And when the discussion involves religion and faith, subjects which so seriously affect the lives of millions of people, we should keep our conversations and debates on the topic based on facts not falsehoods.
In reference to the quotes above, the first statement is false; the second statement is at best misleading if not also false. The majority of critical scholars do not believe that eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels. If you do not believe me, ask conservative New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham. In his book, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, he clearly states that the current majority view in New Testament scholarship is that eyewitnesses did not author the Gospels. He disagrees with this majority scholarly opinion but does not deny that it is the majority view.
The second statement is ambiguous. Is the claim that “external evidence is virtually unanimous” for John the Apostle being the author of the Gospel of John an opinion of the authors or are they insinuating that this is the “virtually unanimous” opinion of most scholars? If it is the latter, they are very wrong. Most New Testament scholars do not believe that John the Apostle authored the Gospel of John, including conservative scholar Richard Bauckham! (again, read his book, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”)
“Ok, so maybe it is true that the majority of New Testament scholars do not believe that eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels, but this is due to a bias: The majority of NT scholars are liberals who have a bias against the supernatural. For instance, the majority of scholars refuse to consider an earlier dating for the writing of the Gospel of Mark due to a bias against Jesus’ ability to prophesy the destruction of the Temple,” some conservative Christian apologists and pastors will respond.
This again is false.
Raymond Brown, a highly respected Roman Catholic scholar who very much believed in the existence of the supernatural and the bodily resurrection of Jesus makes this statement in his book, “The Death of the Messiah”:
I have already said that I do not think of the evangelists themselves as eyewitnesses of the passion; nor do I think that eyewitness memories of Jesus came down to the evangelists without considerable reshaping and development. p. 14
Does it matter that one respected Roman Catholic scholar agrees with liberal scholars that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses? Maybe not, but the fact is it’s not just one Roman Catholic scholar. And the last time I checked, Roman Catholics very much believe in the supernatural! Look at this statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:
“The questions of authorship, sources, and the time of composition of this gospel [Matthew] have received many answers, none of which can claim more than a greater or lesser degree of probability. The one now favored by the majority of scholars is the following. The ancient tradition that the author was the disciple and apostle of Jesus named Matthew (see Mt 10:3) is untenable because the gospel is based, in large part, on the Gospel according to Mark (almost all the verses of that gospel have been utilized in this), and it is hardly likely that a companion of Jesus would have followed so extensively an account that came from one who admittedly never had such an association rather than rely on his own memories. The attribution of the gospel to the disciple Matthew may have been due to his having been responsible for some of the traditions found in it, but that is far from certain.” –from the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
From About Catholics, a Roman Catholic website:
“They [the Gospels] were anonymously written. In fact most scholars today do not believe that the evangelists were eyewitnesses for the simple reason that their chronology of events and theological interpretations are different. The titles of the gospels were added in the second century and very well could designate the authority behind the finished gospel or the one who wrote one of the main sources of the gospel. The [Roman Catholic] Church takes no official stance on their authorship. It is important to understand that the Church by its authority and the guidance of the Holy Spirit canonized these four gospels over many others that were circulated and read in the early centuries.”
In addition, respected Anglican New Testament scholar NT Wright (who believes in the supernatural and the bodily resurrection of Jesus) has said,
“I don’t know who the authors of the Gospels were, nor does anyone else.”
In conclusion, it isn’t just liberal scholars who doubt or question the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels, it seems to be practically all scholars except fundamentalist and conservative Protestant scholars! Those are the facts, dear apologists and pastors.
The reading public deserves honest facts and statements. Please in the future consider refraining from repeating the false claim that the majority of scholars believe that eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels, and, the equally false claim that the reason that the majority of scholars doubt the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels is because they are biased against the supernatural. Neither are true. The majority of scholars doubt the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels because of the evidence! Scholars who believe in the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels are a small minority, consisting almost entirely of fundamentalist and conservative Protestants.