Were the Gospels Based on Eyewitness Accounts?

Were the Gospels Based on Eyewitness Accounts? October 25, 2011

It’s a critically important question for every Christian to consider — and the video below, addressing this question, is called by John Piper “the most remarkable (video) lecture on the reliability of the Gospels I’ve ever heard.”  (HT Denny Burk)

Curious yet?  When young Christians study the Bible in the context of modern biblical scholarship today, they’re confronted very quickly with the question of whether the Gospels accurately and faithfully describe the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.  Many scholars have made their names, and the Jesus Seminar has made a cottage industry for themselves, out of challenging or ostensibly debunking the historicity of certain Gospel stories.  And one of the most critical sub-questions in the whole debate — tied into questions regarding the authorship and the dating of the Gospels — is whether the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses to the events they describe.  We rightly and intuitively place greater trust in the recollections of people who were actually present at the events they describe than we do in second- or third-hand (or worse) recitations of what the eyewitnesses described.

Peter Williams, who addresses this question below, is the Warden at Tyndale House in Cambridge, one of the world’s greatest centers of biblical study and translation.  He’s a rising star in the world of evangelical scholarship, having taken his degrees at Cambridge and having taught at Cambridge and Aberdeen before taking this (very prestigious) position at Tyndale House.  Here are his thoughts on the question.

For more from Peter Williams, see Justin Taylor’s interview with him, on the occasion of his appointment as Warden, and his bio page (with links to articles and etc) at Tyndale House.

Note: This post was originally entitled “Were the Gospels Written by Eyewitnesses,” which did not precisely reflect the gist of Dr. Williams’ lecture, which does not say “written by” but “based on.”  Thanks to a commenter for the suggestion.


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