Are the Gospels Eyewitness Accounts?

In a different article I showed that Mark was not written by somebody close to the Jerusalem apostles and that Matthew, who used Mark heavily, could not have been an eyewitness, or he would have chosen a better source.

In this article I look more closely at Luke's and John's Gospels.

Luke's Gospel

It is generally agreed that the author of Luke was a companion of Paul. Perhaps he was actually called Luke. If he wasn't, Luke would still be as good a name as any. Being a companion of Paul, he would have learned all the things about Jesus that Paul wrote in his letters. Unfortunately, Paul wrote nothing about the historical Jesus of Nazareth and seemed to care less. Luke used Mark's Gospel. Unfortunately, Mark's Gospel is not written by someone close to the eyewitnesses of Jesus. Perhaps Luke interviewed the eyewitnesses himself?

If Luke was written after Mark and as even the earliest Christians acknowledged that Mark was written after Peter's death, then Luke would have had trouble intervewing eyewitnesses. Besides, Luke knew very little Aramaic and shows little knowledge of Judaea.

Luke 3:27 says that Rhesa was the son of Zerubabbel. But Rhesa is an Aramaic word meaning 'Prince' and was Zerubabbel's title, not the name of his son. In Acts 4:36 , Barnabas does not mean 'Son of Encouragement', but 'Son of Nebo' or 'Son of a prophet'. To quote Hanson in 'Acts' (Oxford University Press 1967, p 81), 'it is unlikely that anybody who knew Aramaic could have made this mistake'. Barnabas appears in a list in Acts 13:1, together with Manaen (Menahem), whose name is much closer to 'Son of Encouragement'. Presumably Luke misread his list. He certainly never asked Barnabas what his name meant.

Luke 4:18-19 says that Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah, but the text given was not on any scroll of Isaiah. As Robert J. Karris writes in 'The New Jerome Bible Commentary' (section 43:59) 'As the analysis of verses 18-19 will make clear, this Isaiah text is not to be found on a synagogue scroll. It is an artistic text, woven from Isa 61:1-2 and Isa 58:6.' Luke quotes from the Septuagint version of Isaiah and quotes Isaiah 61:1 a,b,d, Isaiah 58:6 d and Isaiah 61:2 a. Luke mixed together two different chapters from Isaiah.

There is an Illustrations page available for readers to double check my claims.

In Acts 4:5, Luke, as also in Luke 3:2 , seems to be under the impression that Annas and Caiaphas could both be high priest at the same time. Annas stopped being the High Priest in AD 14. Acts 3:10 says one of the Temple gates was called the 'Beautiful'. No such name has ever been found in a Jewish source. The Jews should know what they called the Temple gates. Acts 3:11 is confused about where Solomon's porch was. It was attached to the outside perimeter.

Acts 10:1 says that there were Roman troops (the Italian Cohort) at Caesarea a little before 44 AD, which was when Agrippa died (Acts 12). The first mention of the Italian Cohort is in AD 69 and there was no Roman Procurator of Judaea between Marullus in AD 41 and Cuspius Fadus in AD 44. According to Josephus, in Antiquities 19.9.2, Claudius ordered the soldiers of Caeseara to be removed when Fadus became procurator and to be replaced by soldiers from Roman legions, so they could hardly have been crack Roman troops.

Acts 23:23-31 has the Roman garrison send more than half its troops (470 soldiers to escort one man) from Jerusalem to Antipatris, a trip of 45 miles which the foot soldiers do in one night! We won't enquire how Luke got the letter in Acts 23:26-30, nor how he got access to a private meeting of the Sanhedrin in Acts 5:35-40

While Luke has a superb knowledge of the Gentile world, he has little knowledge of Judaea and Aramaic.

His intended readers also had no knowledge of Judaea. Compare Luke's description of where Mount Olivet was (Acts 1:12) and his need to explain names like Tabitha or Akeldama and his description of 'a city of Galilee named Nazareth' and ' Capernaum a city of Galilee' with the casual reference to the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns , and Syracuse, Rhegium, Puteoli in Acts 28 , with no explanation. These were all in the vicinity of Rome. Luke assumed that his readers were familiar with Roman geography.

Luke's readers in Rome would hardly have been able to check out events in Judaea to see if he had been accurate.

Acts 25:13 mentions Berenice without any explanation of who she was. Berenice only became famous after 69 AD when she had an affair with Titus, son of the Emperor Vespasian. This is all in Juvenal's Satires. We can assume that Acts must have been written after AD 69 for Luke to mention Agrippa and Berenice with no explanation of who they were.

As Luke wishes to portray Agrippa as being fairly sympathetic to Paul (Acts 25:32), he naturally takes care not to mention that Agrippa was having an incestuous relationship with his sister, Berenice. This is an example of how the Gospel writers selected what they wanted to tell their readers.

Paul and Peter

Acts gives many speeches by Peter. All of them show signs of being composed by Luke. Readers of ancient histories expected the authors to compose the speeches of the subjects. The better the speeches, the better the histories. There is nothing wrong with Luke composing Peter's speeches, unless you want to argue that Luke was simply reporting what Peter said. I regard it as an open question as to whether Luke ever met Peter.

Luke also seems to have based some of Acts on classical Greek literature, especially Euripides' Bacchae. In Acts 26:12, Luke says that Paul heard Jesus say , in Aramaic or Hebrew, 'It is hard for you to kick against the pricks'. 'Kick against the pricks' (laktizo pros kentron) was a well known Greek saying, which first seems to appear in line 790 of Euripides' Bacchae.

In Euripides' Bacchae, line 447, we read the following 'Of their own accord (autamato), the chains were loosed from their feet and keys opened the doors (thura) without human hand.' In Acts 10:12, we read how doors opened for Peter of their own accord (automatos) and in Acts 16:26, we read how an earthquake loosed the chains from everybody and all the doors opened by themselves.

Did an earthquake really loose a chain from a prisoner, not a noted result of seismic activity? Or did Luke base his account of Peter and Paul's escapes on Euripides' play about the persecuted followers of a persecuted and misunderstood deity, the son of Zeus and a young , mortal woman?

Links to Euripides' play can be found Euripides Bacchae 795 and Euripides Bacchae 441

Just out of curiosity, Euripides play 'Alcestis' is about a person who dies voluntarily in the place of another and then conquers death by being raised from the dead by a god. This is speculative, but perhaps 'Alcestis' is what first drew Euripides to Luke's attention.

Less speculative is the admission by F.F.Bruce in his book 'The New Testament documents - Are they reliable?' that Acts 14:12 'ho hegoumenon tou logou' comes from 'The Egyptian Mysteries' of Iamblichus, where Hermes is described as 'the god who is the leader of the speeches' (theos ho ton legon hegemon). Clearly, Luke was well acquainted with Greek classical literature.

John's Gospel

It was assumed by the early Christians that John's Gospel was written by John, simply because no disciple is called John in the Gospel.

One thing is clear. John's Gospel clashes head-on with the other three Gospels. The events in Mark seem to take place over a two or three month period. John puts 3 Passovers in the ministry of Jesus. In John's Gospel, there are no exorcisms. There is not a single parable, although the other Gospels have this as one of the main ways Jesus taught. There is no Lord's Prayer in John. There is no Sermon on the Mount. The main commandments of the other Gospels is to love your neighbour and to love your enemies. John's Gospel does not think that worth recording. He gives the main commandment of Jesus that Christians should love one another. This is something that the Jesus of Matthew 5:46 says that even tax-collectors and pagans do.

There is no agony in the Garden of Gethsemene, no Virgin Birth in Bethlehem, no temptation by Satan, no Transfiguration,no proclamation that the kingdom of God is coming, no stay in the wilderness. How could anybody leave out such important stories if they were circulating freely among Christians?

In Mark 8:11, Jesus refuses to ever give a sign. In John 2:11, 2:23, 3:2 , 4:48, 4:54, 6:2, 6:14, 7:31, 9:16, 11:47, 12:8, 12:37, 20:30 there are many signs. John does not record anything about the blood of the new covenant at the Last Supper.

These are all things that you would imagine a disciple of Jesus would have commented on.

In the other Gospels Jesus never states directly who he his. In John, this seems to be all he talks about. In John, Jesus only mentions the Kingdom of God once (John 3:3-5), in sharp contrast to the Jesus of the other three Gospels. Mark and Matthew has Jesus teach the disciples a great deal in private. In John, Jesus's teaching is entirely in public. Jesus speaks in long narratives, just like the voice of the narrator in John.

John has a very different account of how the disciples were called than the other Gospels have. In John, 2 disciples of John the Baptist follow Jesus , when they hear John speak of Jesus. This took place in Bethany, not Capernaum as in Mark. Philip brings Nathanael who is not listed in the Synoptics.

John has Nathanael say to Jesus 'Rabbi, you are the Son of God'. In Mark, the disciples are quite unaware of who Jesus is - only supernatural beings know. Matthew makes sure that only Judas Iscariot ever calls Jesus 'Rabbi'.

The text of John shows clear signs of being edited. Almost everybody accepts that it originally ended at Chapter 20:31 and that Chapter 21 was added later. It is possible that John 1:1-18 were also added later as they use many terms not in the main text, but this is disputed.

In chapter 2 , Jesus performs his first sign, and then in verse 23, it is stated that Jesus did more signs, and then in 4:54 , he does his second sign.

In John 2:23, Jesus is in Jerusalem, the capital of Judea. He talks to Nicodemus and then goes , in John 3:12, into the land of Judea. Notice that the NIV tries to get around this by translating 'ge' (land) as countryside, so that Jesus goes into the countryside of Judea. This is the only time that the NIV translates 'ge' as 'countryside', and 'countryside' (chora) is translated correctly everywhere else in the NIV. The translation is done just to avoid a contradiction.

Jesus is in Jerusalem for all of chapter 5. Then in 6:1, he goes to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. How could he go to the other side , if he is not already at one side, but is in fact three days journey away.

Peter aks Jesus 'Lord, where are you going?' (John 13:36). Thomas says 'Lord, we do not know where you are going' (John 14:5). Very soon after, Jesus says to the disciples 'None of you ask me - Where are you going?'. (John 16:5). It seems that chapters 15,16 and 17 have been spliced on to an original story.

In John, Jesus seems to have been one of the dullest speakers ever. In John 14:31, Jesus says 'Rise, let us go hence', but takes another 3 chapters to do so, until John 18:1.

John 16:5 contradicts John 14:5. John 12:44-50 is out of any context as Jesus has just gone into hiding (12:36). John 3:31-36 is another passage that does not seem to have any context. Is it the narrator speaking, or John the Baptist, or Jesus?

In John 5:26-30, he virtually repeats what he said in John 5:19-25. John 6:51-58 is very repetitive of what Jesus has just said in 6:35-50.


John's Gospel contradicts the others and seems to have been heavily edited and reworked. The portrait of Jesus is so different from the others that I do not see how it can be claimed, as it often is, that the Gospels present a consistent and coherent characterisation of Jesus.

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