Why I Believe the Bible #10 (Eyewitness Evidence)

Wayne —  November 18, 2009 — 8 Comments

BIble
At the time it was written, the Bible was widely circulated and viewed by eyewitnesses to the events it records.  As regards the New Testament, fragments of 5 books have been found from within 35 years of Jesus’ death.  These eyewitnesses would have been in a position to refute what the authors had written and the lack of any such refutation provides further evidence for the reliability of the Bible.

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul explains that Jesus appeared to 500 and disciples and makes a point that many of them are still alive.

Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.  [1 Corinthians 15:6-8 ESV]

The point is clear, these eyewitnesses were there when the event in question happened, and Paul invites his readers to go corroborate what he is saying.  Rather than shy away from historical figures and events which can easily be proven or disproven, the Bible if chocked full of such events.  Paul is so certain that what he is writing is truth that he invites people to go check it out.

Further support for the reliability of the claims of the Bible, particularly the claims made by the apostles in the New Testament, rests in the persecution they faced from the Roman government and Jewish authorities.  Despite rebuke, beatings, prison, attempts on their lives, and eventual martyrdom, not one of the apostles ever recounted on their story.  It is hard to believe that every man in that group would have been willing to be persecuted and eventually die for a lie.  Furthermore, the Jewish authorities and Roman officials were concerned with the growth of this “sect.”  If they had any evidence to disprove the claims of the apostles and disciples, they certainly would have produced it.  No such evidence exists!

Finally, there are a number of verses in the Bible where the apostles reiterate that they story they are recording is not something they learned second hand but something which they were eyewitnesses to.

Peter explains:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. [2 Peter 1:16 ESV]

In the introduction to his famous epistle, John explains that they were witnesses to the Jesus Christ which they proclaimed.  They had seen him and heard him firsthand:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life– the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us– that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.  [1 John 1:1-3 ESV]

In compiling his gospel, Luke relied on numerous eyewitness accounts:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  [Luke 1:1-3 ESV]

In the sequel to the Gospel of Luke, Luke explains in Acts that Jesus appeared to his disciples and taught them for the forty days prior to his ascension:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.  [Acts 1:1-3 ESV]

In the Gospel of John, John explains that Jesus performed miracles and signs in the presence of the disciples so that people would believe he was the Christ.  Jesus’ plan included the use of eyewitness testimony to his divinity:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  [John 20:30-31 ESV]

This sentiment is echoed in the book of Acts:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know–[Acts 2:22 ESV]

Peter, in exhorting his fellow elders, reminds them that he was an eyewitness:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: [1 Peter 5:1 ESV]

Finally, in his defense before Festus and King Agrippa, Paul reminds the rulers that Jesus’ miracles and ministry were not done in secret.  Rather, they were done in plain view as a testimony to who Jesus was and to allow those eyewitnesses to accurately record what they had seen:

And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”  [Acts 26:24-28 ESV]

In conclusion, the eyewitness evidence is overwhelming.  Jesus intentionally created eyewitnesses to attest to what he had done.  Those eyewitnesses accurately recorded what they had seen.  Those writings were done when other eyewitnesses were still around and could have refuted the Biblical account.  Despite this, there is no record of this happening.  Finally, the Jewish and Roman authorities could easily have squashed this “sect” by producing evidence that the accounts of Jesus were untrue.  They were never able to produce such evidence.

Return to the Why I Believe The Bible index page.

m4s0n501

8 responses to Why I Believe the Bible #10 (Eyewitness Evidence)

  1. Does this reliability business apply, do you think, to the gospel writers’ direct reporting of the exact words spoken by various people?

    I have in mind how often our gospels’ writers “quote” other people. Besides Jesus’ the gospels also record words of the disciples, Herod, angels, demons, Satan, tax collectors, and crowds of people all saying the same words all together. The gospels even record long speeches spoken in dreams, and verbatim accounts of inner thoughts that were never spoken, but that Jesus knew because He could read minds.

    Here’s our reliability question : How’d they do that? How did the gospel writers know, all those decades later, exactly—word for word—what the angel said in Joseph’s dream, or Herod said in his secret meeting, or the Pharisees thought in their private thoughts but never spoke? What possible method could our gospel writers have used to come up with the verbatim quotations they claim to give?

    Or did the gospel writers get all those “quotations” by just making them up? Is it more likely that “Matthew” knew the words Herod spoke in a secret meeting, or did “Matthew” probably, like everyone else back then, just make up quotes because that was the standard way to tell a story?

    And if the only reasonable non-magical explanation is that the gospel writers got their “quotations” by making them up, then …. our gospel writers made stuff up. Just made it up. And it is not true the gospels are historical, not in the sense that the sayings and events we read about in them actually happened.

    Bino Bolumai

    / In Bino Veritas /

    • Thank you for your comments. I appreciate your thoughts. I do have two points of contention with your argument. First, you conclude that the gospel writers “probably, like everyone else back then, just make up quotes because that was the standard way to tell a story.” You offer no support for this contention. I’m sure you are aware that there are numerous written histories from similar time periods which are not questions. To conclude that everyone in that time period simply “made things up” is far reaching and inaccurate.

      Secondly, you seem to conclude that because the writers could not have been eyewitnesses to certain things (like internal thoughts and dreams) that they could not be eyewitnesses to anything. Obviously this is not the case. That said, they could have been eyewitnesses to hearing about those thoughts and dreams. Regardless, they were certainly eyewitnesses (or talked to eyewitnesses) of important aspects of the gospel like the death of Jesus on the Cross, the resurrection and the accession. Finally, Jesus makes a point that he would send the Holy Spirit to the apostles. This is how the gospel writers were aware of certain other undisclosed information. You refer (it seems disparagingly to this as ‘magic’). While it is not natural, it is supernatural in that it comes from God. Later in this series, we will look at Old Testament prophecies given hundreds and thousands of years prior to the birth of Jesus which were perfectly fulfilled in his life, death and resurrection. Those cannot be supported naturally and prove the supernatural origin of the text (that is, that it is the Word of God).

      The point of this article in the series is not that I believe everything in the Bible because there was an eyewitness to it. I believe everything in the Bible (including those parts which cannot be independently verified) because the parts which can be verified are supported by overwhelming truth.

      God bless you, and hope you will continue to follow this series and offer your input.

      Sincerely,

      Wayne
      (aka Dad in the Middle)

  2. Dear Dad in the Middle

    First, you conclude that the gospel writers “probably, like everyone else back then, just make up quotes because that was the standard way to tell a story.” You offer no support for this contention. I’m sure you are aware that there are numerous written histories from similar time periods which are not questions. To conclude that everyone in that time period simply “made things up” is far reaching and inaccurate.

    Not questioned? No, I am not aware that there are ancient histories that are not questioned. And I am certainly not aware of any ancient history with extended quotations that are not questioned.
    Who told you that such things exist?
    Which ones, and specifically which extended quotations, do you have in mind?

    I am aware of the ancient practice of telling history through the literary device of invented dialogue. Let me ask you:

    1. In arriving at your theory of gospel reliability, particularly the reliability of the gospels extended verbatim quotations, were you aware of this ancient literary convention?

    2. If so, on what grounds do you distinguish the gospels\’ impossible extended quotations as \”reliable\” and the other as not?

    3. Or, if you were to discover that ancients frequently told history by inventing dialogue, how would that affect your theory of the reliability of the stories in our gospels that are told via the literary device of extended quotation?

    Secondly, you seem to conclude that because the writers could not have been eyewitnesses to certain things (like internal thoughts and dreams) that they could not be eyewitnesses to anything. Obviously this is not the case. That said, they could have been eyewitnesses to hearing about those thoughts and dreams.

    I see I have not explained myself clearly. My quibble is not with the transmission of the so-called quotations, but with their acquisition in the first place.

    According to Mt. 5 – 8 Jesus sat down on the mountain and spoke, in English translation, 2,400 words. He spoke them once, and \”Matthew\” wrote them down. Decades later. Verbatim.

    Here\’s a test. Right now go read those 2,400 words. Then write them down exactly. Check your work. How\’d you do?

    What \”Matthew\” claims to do is not possible .

    What \”Matthew\” claims to do is not possible. \”Matthew\” made these conversations up. \”Matthew\” made stuff up. The stuff we read in \”Matthew\” did not happen the way \”Matthew\” said it did. \”Matthew\” cannot be trusted. The New Testament is not historical, not in the sense that the sayings and events we read about there actually happened.

    Regardless, they were certainly eyewitnesses (or talked to eyewitnesses) of important aspects of the gospel like the death of Jesus on the Cross, the resurrection and the accession.

    Can you point me please to the verses in Mt, Mk, Lk that confirm that the authors were eyewitnesses?

    Can you point me please to the verses where the authors say they spoke with eyewitnesses?

    Finally, Jesus makes a point that he would send the Holy Spirit to the apostles. This is how the gospel writers were aware of certain other undisclosed information. You refer (it seems disparagingly to this as ‘magic’). While it is not natural, it is supernatural in that it comes from God.

    I see. So then you do agree that the internal evidence is certain: it is not physically possible that the gospel stories are true and reliable — witness the fabricated \”quotations\”. But you believe the stories are true anyway? Am I correct that this is essentially the The Earth Is Flat The Bible Says So reasoning?

    Shall we agree your technique could also apply to belief in Zeus and Islam and Mormonism? The evidence proves they cannot be true, but believers believe anyway, certain that the holy spirit made it so?

    The point of this article in the series is not that I believe everything in the Bible because there was an eyewitness to it. I believe everything in the Bible (including those parts which cannot be independently verified) because the parts which can be verified are supported by overwhelming truth.

    And how is your belief affected by the certainty that the gospel writers cannot possibly have had access to the quotations they pretend to give?

    Bino Bolumai

    / In Bino Veritas /

    • Thank you once again for your extended comments. While I would like to take a second to respond to some of your questions directly, I think it’s prudent to make a couple of general points. First, you seem to be fashioning your entire argument around a pre-conceived idea that it is “impossible” for the gospel writers to include long quotations. Based on that conclusion, you start to postulate arguments supporting the conclusion rather than letting the evidence drive the conclusion. In other words, at the time these “stories” were circulated, there were many people still alive who would have witnessed the events portrayed. Any of those people could have objected or pointed out errors in what was written. They did not! Secondly, you jump repeatedly from an argument that the gospels must include inaccurate quote to the argument that they are therefore fabricated and unreliable. Even if the gospel writers supplemented their accounts with “made up” dialog, and I am certainly not suggesting it to be the case, it does not mean that the events recounted in those accounts did not happen.

      Now, let’s move on to some of your specific questions. I am, and was, aware that Greek philosophers sometimes utilized made up dialog in their writings. I am interested in your assertion that was a common “literary convention” and would be interested in hearing your support for that contention. If I were to “discover that ancients frequently told history by inventing dialogue” it would not change my view of scripture as just because some writers employed that technique it would not follow that all writers must have. As far as the writers being eyewitnesses, Matthew and John were disciples of Jesus and followed him during his earthly ministry. As far as a particular verse, I would encourage you to read Luke 1:1-4.

      In response to your “the world is flat” argument, I would contend that this is an easy, and somewhat inflammatory argument, to throw out to avoid examining the evidence at hand. I believe the Bible because the overwhelming preponderance of the evidence (including eyewitness testimony) supports that fact. That is why this is a 25 part series on why I believe the Bible. As a side note, the Bible doesn’t say that the Earth is flat. Finally, you argue that the idea that the Holy Spirit inspired the authors of scripture could be applied to other religions. I would agree if all of the other evidence which supports the Bible were also true of those sources. For example, no other supposedly inspired literature is 100% accurate in its prophecy (something we will cover later in this series). Might point was, and is, not that I believe the Bible solely because the gospels represents eyewitness testimony. I believe the Bible for a number of reasons (25 of which I have or will cover in this series) all of which testify to its truth and reliability.

      Thank you once again for your input, and I hope you will continue to read the other installments in this series before drawing a final conclusion.

  3. First, you seem to be fashioning your entire argument around a pre-conceived idea that it is “impossible” for the gospel writers to include long quotations. Based on that conclusion, you start to postulate arguments supporting the conclusion rather than letting the evidence drive the conclusion.

    Yes. I assert it is impossible to stand on a hill and hear someone speak 2,400 words and then to write down those words accurately. Or even close. It cannot be done. It is not humanly possible.

    I suggested that if you imagine otherwise, that you try it yourself. Read Jesus “speech” in Mt 5 – 7 then write it down. You didn’t do it. You can’t do it. It can’t be done.

    What the bible claims to be true cannot be true. Mt is not “reliable” in the sense that Jesus really said the things Mt claims he said.

    I call this a reasoned analysis of the evidence, proven by your failure to reproduce the impossible feat. Your contribution is to…to call all this “pre-conceived.”

    Good. We have arrived at the point where our theories diverge.

    In other words, at the time these “stories” were circulated, there were many people still alive who would have witnessed the events portrayed.

    Please list all the people still alive who would have witnessed the magis’ secret meeting with Herod?

    On what evidence do you form your theory about when the books first “circulated”?

    Any of those people could have objected or pointed out errors in what was written. They did not!

    Who told you they did not?

    Secondly, you jump repeatedly from an argument that the gospels must include inaccurate quote to the argument that they are therefore fabricated and unreliable. Even if the gospel writers supplemented their accounts with “made up” dialog, and I am certainly not suggesting it to be the case, it does not mean that the events recounted in those accounts did not happen.

    Well the “event” in Mt 5 – 7 was the 2,400 words Jesus didn’t really say. So that event certainly didn’t happen.

    You are correct it doesn’t prove the events didn’t happen. It does prove that over and over the gospel writers recorded as true events that did not really happen.

    Does the fact that over and over and over the gospel writers reported as facts things that did not really happen, does that make the other stuff they wrote, the stuff we can’t check, does that make that stuff MORE credible or LESS credible, according to your theory?

    Now, let’s move on to some of your specific questions. I am, and was, aware that Greek philosophers sometimes utilized made up dialog in their writings. I am interested in your assertion that was a common “literary convention” and would be interested in hearing your support for that contention.

    Herodotus writes with quotations more than 400 times.
    Homer does it.
    Hesiod does it.
    Gilgamesh does it.
    Lucian does it.
    Philostratus does it — read Apollonius of T.
    Thucidides not so much.
    Tacitus does it
    Diodorus Siculus does it.
    Philo does it.

    In fact impossible quotation was a strong Jewish tradition.
    I have in mind the Old Testament. How do you imagine whoever wrote Genesis got verbatim quotes from God and Adam?
    Balaam and the Ass?
    God and Job?

    One thinks as well of 1 Enoch. And Tobit. And the Gnositc gospels.

    What ancient literature have you read that doesn’t include such quotation?

    If I were to “discover that ancients frequently told history by inventing dialogue” it would not change my view of scripture as just because some writers employed that technique it would not follow that all writers must have.

    I’m less interested in your conclusion than in the reasoning you use to reach it.

    Is there a consistent analysis of the facts that can identify the impossible “quotations” in these other writers as impossible and yet, when applied to the Jesus stories, give a different result?

    As far as the writers being eyewitnesses, Matthew and John were disciples of Jesus and followed him during his earthly ministry. As far as a particular verse, I would encourage you to read Luke 1:1-4.

    Yes, and Pilate was an eyewitness too. That does not indicate to me that Pilate was the true author of the Acts of Pilate. Does it to you? If not, why does the fact that Mt and Jn were in the stories indicate to you that they were the authors of books first attributed to them 100 years later?

    Luke you admit was not an eyewitness.
    Mk you apparently know was not an eyewitness in the legend.

    Mt. you can provide no verse to confirm your theory that Mt was the actual author.

    BTW, in formulating your theories about authorship, would it be important to you to know when the gospels were first quoted by other Christians? Or mentioned by other Christians?

    For example, if the gospels were not mentioned by anyone for 100 years after the “events” in the stories, would that make it MORE likely or LESS likely that they were really eyewitness accounts, according to your theory?

    What dates do you use for the first attestation and quotation from Mt, Mk, Lk and Jn?

    Thank you once again for your input, and I hope you will continue to read the other installments in this series before drawing a final conclusion.

    You’re welcome. I’m happy to help you work out the rough edges of your theory.

    Bino Bolumai

    / In Bino Veritas /

    • Thank you once again for your reply. I do enjoy reading your take on the issues though I must say, you seem to ask a lot more questions than providing information. Allow me to take a second to address a couple of your concerns. One, you challenge me to read the Sermon on the Mount once and then recite it verbatim, and you note that it is not “humanly possible.” I would say that recording the entirety of scripture is not humanly possible – that is why it’s origins must be supernatural. The supernatural origins of scripture is supported by prophecies and other items dealt with elsewhere in this series. Second, you seem to conclude that any lengthy quotes “must” be inaccurate and therefore false. Is your assertion that the quotes must be false based solely on the fact that you don’t view it as possible (which I would argue is circular logic), or do you have some other proof that they are false? Third, when it comes to eyewitnesses, I have never argued that the writers were eyewitnesses to everything they recorded, but they were eyewitnesses (or drew on those who were) to many of the of the events recorded. As to the authorship of the books, many are based on church tradition, but I don’t view that as a stumbling block. While I would like to submit a more lengthy response to some of your questions, time does not permit it at the moment. I hope that this response addresses some of your major points.

      Take Care.

  4. Intersting debate. I will simply add this to say that Bino has presented some very excellent thoughts about how accurate the translations were with these writers and verbatin dreams and conversations. He should call Kwve?Calvary Chapel radio and ask the Pastors Chuck Smith and Don STewart on Pastor’s Persepective and see what they have to offer to your concerns.
    As far as my faith in the Biblr, it can not be shaken for the man profound reasons given by Wayne which is in far more detail than a pamphlet I have on 10 REasons to Believe the Bible by RBC Ministries. The Bible says that men were brought along by the Holy Spirit. A Holy God would NEVER allow His word to be corrupt or misrepresented. There was a time, years back, when I had dreams of lengthy conversation and when I awoke I was able to recall the conversations verbatim.
    The Bible has proven itself over and over and over in prophecy if nothing else, which I can see slapping the world dead in the face today. Scarey but reassuring that the Lord’s patience has been just about exhausted. The Bible says that there would be a completion of numbered Gentiles and we Christians are waiting for the last convert so we can the Hey out of here.

    And one other thing that gives the Bible a profound authenticity—ISRAEL and the Jewish nation. Every prophecy and promise given to them is and has been fufilled. One to explode in prophecy is that the dry bones of the house of Israel would come back to life. And that a nation would born in one day. May (sorry forget the exact day) 1948. And that Israel would become a burdensome stone to the world. BOY is she EVer. A nation barely an inkspot on the world map is in the news daily and being blamed for the lack of peace in the world. Nations will eventually turn on her as they are now determined to do and America, always having been her strongest supporter, has blind fools in the govt that are trying to manipulate her to give away her land (a dire warning in I believe the book of Jude) So, regardless of your concerns over a few issues, the Bible has never failed in all that God has told and warned about to bring man to salvation and to bring this wicked system to an end, where those who love God and goodness will find a promise of paradise restored.

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