Scholar Ben Witherington Responds to My Survey on the Authorship of the Gospels

A Scholar's Devotion with Ben Witherington III – spoiledmilks

More than a year ago I sent out a survey to approximately 30 conservative Christian New Testament scholars and apologists regarding their view of the current scholarly consensus on the authorship of the Gospels. I only received six responses. I’ve waited over a year to collect as many responses as possible, but I doubt any more will come in. Since a total of six responses is insufficient to claim that the results reflect any position or pattern within conservative Christian New Testament scholarship, I have decided to simply post each respondent’s response, and let my readers make their own assumptions.

The survey contained three questions:

  1. Do you agree with the following statement by conservative scholar Richard Bauckham that the current consensus of NT scholarship is that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses?

“The argument of this book [Jesus and the Eyewitnesses]–that the texts of our Gospels are close to the eyewitness reports of the words and deeds of Jesus–runs counter to almost all recent scholarship.  As we have indicated from time to time, the prevalent view is that a long period of oral transmission in the churches intervened between whatever the eyewitnesses said and the Jesus traditions as they reached the Evangelists [the authors of the Gospels].  No doubt the eyewitnesses started the process of oral tradition, but it passed through many retellings, reformulations, and expansions before the Evangelists themselves did their own editorial work on it.”  p. 240   

Circle one answer: Yes or No

2. If you agree with Bauckham’s statement that “almost all recent scholarship” believes that the texts of our Gospels are NOT close to the eyewitness reports of the words and deeds of Jesus, do you believe that this scholarly consensus is due to an objective evaluation of the evidence or due to a bias against the supernatural as some conservative Christian online apologists allege?

Circle one answer: Evidence or Bias

3. If you believe that the scholarly consensus on the authorship of the Gospels is due to a bias against the supernatural, how would you explain the fact that most Roman Catholic scholars, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and many moderate Protestant scholars such as NT Wright, who very much believe in the supernatural and the bodily resurrection of Jesus, also reject or at least question the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels?

Please write your answer in the space below:

Response by Ben Witherington:

Question 1: Depends on what “prevalent” means. I know Richard well. He means a “common view” not “almost all scholars”.

Question 2: I would say lack of knowledge in some cases, bias in others.

Question 3: First of all, no one is claiming Luke or Mark were eyewitnesses. The claim is they were in contact with eyewitnesses. On Matthew and John, see my Invitation to the New Testament, Oxford U. Press.

Gary: Thank you for participating in my survey, Dr. Witherington.

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End of post.

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