A Question of Reliability: Eyewitnesses and the New Testament Documents

There has been a, somewhat, false narrative of the undependability of eyewitnesses, especially in regards to the gospels.

There has been a good deal of research done on the nature of eyewitness testimony in an attempt to bring doubt to the veracity of the claims made by the gospel writers. The majority of the research, often done with great drama in its demonstration, is, just for example, a class of students being given a lecture on testimony when a person abruptly enters the room and does something dramatic and disruptive and runs out. The students are then asked to describe what occurred in as much detail as possible, the results of which are usually varied and sometimes contradictory. The students are then usually shown a secretly recorded video that recorded the incident to show what actually occurred. Supposedly, this research “debunks” the reliability of eyewitness testimony, but there’s a problem, and smart, clear thinking people often see the problem with applying this to all eyewitness testimony, it commits the fallacy of hasty generalization.
The argument that is presented is because eyewitness testimony in sudden instances is unreliable, therefore all eyewitness testimony in all circumstances is unreliable. That places all events in the category of sudden and random, but not all events fall into that category. One can spend a lot of time with someone, become very familiar with the person or persons involved in the activity, and recount the events later and be absolutely reliable as an eyewitness to the event.
J. Warner Wallace, a former atheist and retired homicide detective, in his book, Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, gives his readers 5 tests to gauge witnesses in chapter four:
  1. Were they even there?
  2. Have they been honest and accurate?
  3. Can they be verified?
  4. Do they have an ulterior motive?
  5. IF the accounts differ, why?
As I’ve stated here, there are good reasons to believe that the four gospel writers were reporting the facts as they saw them, but can this be demonstrated from the text itself? I believe so.
The First Epistle to the Corinthians is believed to have been written between AD50 and AD55, in chapter 15, Paul gives, what an is believed to be an early creedal statement:
(That) Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 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. —1 Corinthians 15:3-7
In v.8, Paul adds his own testimony to the creed, thereby listing himself as an eyewitness to the risen Christ, but the statement itself is dated, by scholars in the field, to between AD35 and AD37, which is very soon after the crucifixion, about 3-5 years. Earlier in his epistle, Paul, while discussing the Lord’s Supper, directly quotes from Luke’s gospel, saying,
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. —1Corinthians 11:23-27
Logically, one cannot quote from a text that supposedly doesn’t exist for another 5-7 years, so we are forced to conclude that Luke’s gospel was written at least 1 year prior to the letter, which places it from AD49 to AD54. If Mark’s gospel predates Luke’s, which is supposedly the template for Luke’s gospel, it has to exist at least 5 years prior, which places it from AD44 to AD48. Luke admits that his work is not original, but he is an investigator into the claims:
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, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. —Luke 1:1-4 (emphasis mine)
The fact that “many have undertaken to compile a narrative” means that there were other sources that he was referencing as well as “eyewitnesses and ministers”.
Hopefully, one can see that the question of the reliability of the witnesses is essentially secured by the means of verification through examining the internal consistency of not only the gospels themselves, but on the additional texts of the New Testament on which exhibit dependence on the veracity of their information.
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