Gary: Nine out of ten times that I ask a conservative Christian apologist for evidence for the eyewitness/associate eyewitness authorship of the Gospels, they will point to the scholarship of conservative evangelical New Testament scholar, Richard Bauckham, in particular his book, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, published in 2006. Dr. Bauckham believes that the Gospels are historically reliable accounts of the life and death of Jesus primarily because:
“Many characters in the Gospels are unnamed, but others are named. I want to suggest now the possibility that many of these named characters were eyewitnesses who not only originated the traditions to which their names are attached but also continued to tell these stories as authoritative guarantors of their traditions. In some cases the Evangelists may well have known them.”
–Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” p. 39
“It is the contention of this book that, in the period up to the writing of the Gospels, gospel traditions were connected with named and known eyewitnesses, people who had heard the teachings of Jesus from his lips and committed it to memory, people who had witnessed the events of his ministry, death, and resurrection and themselves had formulated the stories about these events that they told. These eyewitnesses did not merely set going a process of oral transmission that soon went its own way without reference to them. They remained throughout their lifetimes the sources and, in some sense that may have varied for figures of central or more marginal significance, the authoritative guarantors of the stories they continued to tell.”
–Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, p. 93
Gary: What is the evidence given for this claim? Answer: Assumptions and conjecture, nothing more! But let’s take a look at a truly shocking statement that Bauckham makes later on in the book which directly undermines his claim that these named characters in the Gospel stories “remained throughout their lifetimes the authoritative guarantors of these stories”. First, Bauckham explains why he does not believe that the disciples Levi and Matthew are the same person:
“…the identification of Matthew with Levi the son of Alphaeus—a traditional case of harmonizing the Gospels in view of the parallel passages Matt. 9:9 (about Matthew) and Mark 2:14 (about Levi) must, on the same grounds of the onomastic evidence available, be judged implausible. Mark tells the story of the call of Levi the son of Alphaeus to be a disciple of Jesus in 2:14 (followed by Luke 5:27 where the man is called simply Levi) and lists Matthew, with no further qualification, in his list of the Twelve. It is clear that Mark did not himself consider these two the same person. In view of the other details Mark does include in his list of the Twelve, he would surely have pointed out Matthew’s identity with Levi there had he known it.”
–Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, p.108
Gary: Here Bauckham explains why the author of the Gospel of Matthew, who Bauckham does not believe was Matthew the Apostle, invented a fictional tale in this Gospel:
The most plausible explanation of the occurrence of the name Matthew in [Matthew] 9:9 is that the author of this Gospel, knowing that Matthew was a tax collector and wishing to narrate the call of Matthew in the Gospel that was associated with him, but not knowing a story of Matthew’s call, transferred Mark’s story of Levi to Matthew. The story, after all, is so brief and general it might well be thought appropriate to any tax collector called by Jesus to follow him as a disciple. There is one feature of Matthew’s text that helps to make this explanation probable. In Mark, the story of Levi’s call is followed by a scene in which Jesus dines with tax-collectors (Mark 2:15-17). Mark sets this scene in “his house”, which some scholars take to mean Jesus’ house, but could certainly appropriately refer to Levi’s house. In Matthew’s Gospel, the same passage follows the narrative of the call of Matthew, but the scene is set simply in “the house” (Matthew 9:10). Thus, this Evangelist has appropriated Mark’s story of the call of Levi, making it a story of Matthew’s call instead, but has not continued this appropriation by setting the following story in Matthew’s house. He has appropriated for Matthew only as much of Mark’s story of Levi as he needed.” (bolding, Gary’s)
—Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, p.111
Gary: Wow! The author of Matthew has inserted a fictional story into the inerrant Word of God! How could that possibly have happened if Bauckham is correct that the named characters in these stories safe-guarded the integrity of these stories until they passed them on to the Evangelists? The fact that even evangelical Christian scholars believe that fictional tales exist in the Gospels (evangelical scholar Michael Licona believes that Matthew’s “Dead Saints Shaken out of their Tombs” story is also fiction) indicates that either the “guardians of truth” were not very reliable…or…Bauckham’s theory is full of holes!
Just how historically reliable can the Gospels be if even evangelical scholars admit that they contain invented, fictional material???