Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Eye-Witnesses? Nope.

It's claimed all the time by apologists that the writers of the New Testament were eye-witnesses to Jesus (particularly the gospel writers), but this simply isn't the case.
It is generally accepted that Mark is the earliest gospel written, and just who is Mark? He is believed to be a follower of Peter from the Gospel accounts, the rock upon whom Jesus apparently built his church. Did Mark ever meet Jesus? As far as we know he never knew the man at all. Matthew and Luke both used Mark as a source material for their gospels (although they contradict each other quite substantially concerning the birth narrative of Jesus, which Mark never mentions), and John is generally held to have been written in the very late first century or early second century. Considering that life expentancy in those days was ~40, and Jesus supposedly died around 29-33 C.E. By the time the gospels were written not a single one of Jesus' followers would still have been alive. Mark is placed around 70 C.E. at the earliest, So assuming Jesus' followers were at least teenagers during his ministry years, that would make them at least about 20 years old when he died. Add on another 40 years minimum to the writing of Mark, and that would make the youngest followers at least 60, which is rather unlikely considering the circumstances. If we're fairly certain that the youngest gospel was written by someone who wasn't an eyewitness, and that all eyewitnesses were likely to be dead by the time he put his pen to the paper, I think it is fairly safe to assume that the gospel accounts are unreliable.

EDIT: Sorry, I had the Life Expectancy wrong, it was 35 in the bronze/iron age not 40.


  1. But KJ maybe they all descended from Abraham and inherited his ability to live for hundreds of years because god made them that way so they could write things in the bible? But they never got to see each other because there weren't any bus services back then, hence the contradiction?

  2. John Mark is also "believed" to be the young nudist on the night of Jesus' arrest.

  3. I really can't say what they teach Protestants, and I don't know what kind of church you were once in (although from what I've gleaned by reading your blogs it seems like one of those more extreme or fundamentalist-like evangelical mobs which have been sprouting around like mushrooms in the past 100 or so years). However I can talk about my own educational experiences in a Catholic secondary school, and it is from this point that I have to say we were NEVER taught that the gospel writers were immediately contemperaneous with JC. We did Religious Studies for the entire time I was at school (yes, even 7th form when it wasn't even a Bursary subject but still compulsory) and spent a lot of time going over the background to the New Testament as well as other things like Being Catholic in the Modern World, Comparative Religions (Islam, Judaism, Buddhism etc - actually we spent a lot more time looking at those religions that any Protestant faiths - interesting...!)

    Mark, we were taught, was essentially writing Peter's accounts of what he had seen or been told, so it is at best a second hand account, and no, he did not meet Jesus as far as we knew. Because Peter arrived on the scene relatively late, he knew very little about the Nativity, so it doesn't appear in Mark's account.

    I am aware, however, that some Biblical scholars actually date Matthew earlier than Mark and Luke was written either between the two or around the same time as Mark. As far as I know these scholars are in a significant minority.

    The middle two, Matthew and Luke, seem to have used either Mark as a source material or some of the same source material as he used (scholars refer to a "Q Gospel" which may predate all of these and which, though non-extant today, formed the basis for the co-called synoptic gospels). John, meanwhile, is believed by all scholars to be the last gospel, and it differes significantly from the other three.

    Your remark about life expectancy during the iron age is accurate so far as official views go, but consider all the famous people from that period and how old they were when they died. Figures such as Caesar, Pompey, Cicero, Cato, Herod, Augustus etc all lived well past their 50s. The difficulty of estimating life expectancies is that it is essentially an average, and it is arrived at using data which is incomplete and also includes estimated infant mortality levels which were quite high. Tjus, 35-40 could well be the average age, but if you subtract all those who died before the age of 1 from the equation the average would probably jump to 45-50, taking into account also the vast number of "poor" or non-elites who would have lived harder and thus shorter lives than the rich and powerful.

    However, your point is valid - if JC died before 36 AD, which is usually the latest possible date given for his execution (being the last year of Pontius Pilate's term as governor) and assuming that Mark's Gospel was written at the earlest date of c70AD, there's a gap of 34 years there, making a meeting between the two unlikely and also making it difficult for any significant eyewitnesses from the time of Jesus' life to be either alive or totally compos mentis. DIFFICULT, but not impossible. Had Mark been gathering information for his gospel over a long period, the chances of his communicating with eye-witnesses increases, however, and you should consider this possibility - after all, books don't just get written overnight!

  4. I love getting comments like this Karl. There's one thing with the life expectancy, that I feel I should add. You mentioned that the rich and powerful lived longer than the poor, this is particularly relevant considering most of Jesus' followers would have been rather poor, and thus not expected to live as long, they were fishermen, carpenters and such, though there were disciples such as the tax collector who would have been much better off, these people would likely have been a minority among his followers.

    Yes you're right, books don't get written overnight, but none of the books are particularly lengthy even by ancient standards.

    But even if it were shown that all four gospels were written by direct eye-witnesses, it still wouldn't give us much of an imperative to believe the miraculous events described in them. These things don't happen today and with science we know why they don't, so why should we believe that someone nearly 2000 years ago managed to perform feats such as walking on water and turning water into wine.

  5. Hey KJ! Walking on water! Check it out

    Haha, no but seriously, there's possibly perspex sitting 10cm under the surface, but it's still a cool vid.

    Re: Early Christian Life Expectancy/Social Status

    "The group of believers were united in their hearts and spirit. All those in the group acted as though their private property belonged to everyone in the group. In fact, they shared everything. With great power the apostles were telling people that the Lord Jesus was truly raised from the dead. And God blessed all the believers very much. There were no needy people among them. From time to time those who owned fields or houses sold them, brought the money, and gave it to the apostles. Then the money was given to anyone who needed it. - Acts 4:32-35

    Food for thought.

  6. "These things don't happen today and with science we know why they don't, so why should we believe that someone nearly 2000 years ago managed to perform feats such as walking on water and turning water into wine."

    I guess that's the definition of faith, isn't it? Believing that the apparently impossible isn't? If you can prove it, it's not faith - it's knowledge, which isn't half as much fun :)