Christians often argue that one reason we should believe in Jesus is because we have firsthand eyewitness accounts that testify of his divinity. They are speaking of the Gospels and Acts of course (Paul never claims to have met Jesus except in a dream). Yet the first Gospel in the Bible to be written (there are other Gospels that were not included in the Bible), the Gospel of Mark, wasn’t written until 65 – 80 years after the time that Jesus would have been crucified. Matthew wasn’t written for 80 – 100 years after, Luke & Acts – 80 to 130 years after, and John – 90 to 120 years after. These are hardly eyewitness accounts.
The lack of any eyewitness accounts of Jesus is a bigger problem than it may seem at first. It’s not just that there is one less reason to believe in Jesus. It’s that if the stories in the Gospels were true, there really should be eyewitness accounts – a lot of them.
Take Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth for example (Mat 2:16)
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi
Outside of the Gospel of Matthew written 80 to 100 years after Jesus would have been crucified, there are no firsthand accounts of Herod’s order to kill every Jewish firstborn in the city. Wouldn’t such a massacre be noteworthy? Shouldn’t we expect at least a mention of it in some writings from that period? In fact, there is no mention of it anywhere else.
Take Matthew’s story of Jesus’ death for another example (Mat 27:45, 27:51-53):
From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land … At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
Rocks spontaneously splitting, the temple curtain spontaneously tearing (that would be THE curtain that separates the rest of the temple from the Holy of Holies where the Arc of the Covenant was kept), and the dead coming back to life and walking around Jerusalem – how often to these sorts of things happen? How “normal” are these events? How many people should have seen at least one of these events?
How plausible is it that all of these events really occurred AND that there are no firsthand accounts of any of the events? Certainly the lack of any firsthand account is a good reason to doubt that the events really happened, but isn’t the Gospel of Matthew THE firsthand account? No, the Gospel of Matthew was an embellishment of the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Mark does not mention any of the events except for the tearing of the Temple curtain. Paul’s writings, the earliest writings in the New Testament, says nothing at all about any of these events.