Where are the Eyewitness Accounts of Jesus?

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.

12 Responses to Where are the Eyewitness Accounts of Jesus?

  1. Don Severs says:

    Another problem. Even if there are eyewitness accounts in the Bible, they would, by definition, not be the Word of God. Anyone who says, “the Bible is the Word of God” would have to admit that some of the most important evidence for Jesus’ divinity is, actually, not the Word of God, but the eyewitness accounts of ordinary, mortal humans.

    If they admit that, then they have to admit that these very same eyewitness accounts, which are vital to the premise of Jesus’ divinity, don’t have the transcendent validity of being the Word of God. Mere humans can lie, they are unreliable and they can be bribed or swayed by pride, etc….

    • Anonymous says:

      Actually, if you believe in the soveriegnty of God then it is His word. They were led by the Spirit to write it making it therefore the Word of God. I also love how you capitalized it, evidently you have some respect for it.

  2. The Atheist says:

    Quite right! The first step is to get a concession that the so-called eyewitness accounts have a human origin rather than a divine one (or else by definition they can’t be eyewitness accounts). Once we agree on a human origin of the accounts, we can discredit the accounts by pointing out the inconsistencies and by pointing out the astounding and complete lack of corroboration from any extra-biblical sources.

    Better yet, we can look to literal criticism of these human accounts to learn more about their true origins. The vast majority of bible scholars whose area of expertise is in literal criticism agree that the accounts are not personal accounts at all, but rather an amalgam of earlier source material: earlier writings, and oral traditions from various (and often competing) Jesus communities. The evangelist modified the source material and re-ordered the chronologically to make the pieces fit together into a biographical-style narrative. Each so-called eyewitness account is actually a fiction, written to gather and incorporate existing tradition into a single narrative.

  3. Andrew Kerwin (in Richmond, VA) says:

    The Bible is a really easy target, to someone who is not already brainwashed, it is obviously a fraud. Not many Christians today are brave enough to ready the whole thing. Their pastors will pick an isolated scripture and come up with a “lesson” from it. Few are brave enough to look at the whole book at once. The ones that do have some crazy ‘supernatural’ explanation for the literalness of it that usually starts off by saying that our brains are not large enough to comprehend the whole book. Richard Dawkings, in a 400 page book, primarily devoted to debunking Christianity, only devotes 6 pages to scripture because it is SO absurd.
    If I was trying to de-brainwash a Christian, I would start with the bible.. 5 or 10 bullet points written on my hand (joke) would be enough.
    My question is; Was Jesus a real person? Is he a complete allegory?, or was there really a teacher named Jesus? If there was a man named Jesus, why are there no Roman or Hebrew records of him?

  4. The Atheist says:

    I agree completely that Christians often misrepresent what the Bible is, and misinterpret what the Bible says to the point of being fraudulent themselves. However I’d have to disagree that the Bible as a whole is a fraud. Maybe parts of it are.

    My distinction here is that simply being wrong doesn’t constitute fraud. Fraud is an intentional deception. I don’t find any reason to suspect that Mark, for example, was intentionally misrepresenting anything. Since he was probably a believer himself, he would have believed that the traditions he was weaving together into a single story were true. He would have seen his task as recreating the actual biography of Jesus from the collection of story fragments he had on hand. To accomplish his task, he had to invent dialog that he imagined must have taken place, and he had to invent scenes that must have taken place to segue from one story fragment to the next. “What must have taken place” could have been Mark’s best guess, or maybe even the result of considerable debate.

    On the other hand, the Bibles we have today, even oldest Greek versions, do not contain the authors’ original text. They are copies of copies of copies (etc.) of the original manuscripts. There is ample evidence that scribes often changed the manuscripts they were copying – not only by accident but also intentionally. Sometimes scribes would have thought they were correcting an error from a previous scribe when in fact, they were creating a new error by their very attempt at a “correction”. Other times, they would intentionally change the text to make it conform with their own theology. Is this fraud? Maybe. But that would depend on their motive. For example, a scribe might have thought that the previous scribe inserted his own erroneous theology, so the motive was to try to restore the original meaning rather than to change the original meaning.

    I don’t claim for a minute that fraud never occurred during the composition of the Bible. I think it’s likely that it did since it was written and copied by many human beings, and human beings are fraudulent from time to time. I’m merely pointing out that we can’t justify a claim of fraud unless we have evidence for it, which means evidence of the intention to deceive.

    • Anonymous says:

      So what you’re saying is no one intended on writing a fairytale.. it was an accident?

      • deleted says:

        I can’t speak with certainty for the person above, but I don’t think they are claiming the bible was “an accident.” More likely, that some (or many) of the people writing it firmly believed that the stories they were telling were true, just as Greeks once firmly believed in the stories they wrote about the god Zeus and the gang. They didn’t intend to deceive or commit fraud, they just happened to be wrong about what they believed.

  5. rosiemoto says:

    Sitchin’s Earth Chronicle series start to give a scientific explanation to the Bible. Evolution followed by intelligent tinkering answers a ton of questions. These stories came from something.

  6. Jackson says:

    I think the entire basis of you little speal here is stupid! You said yourself that without firsthand accounts of something it’s a good reason to doubt it… Well what about the “Theory” of the Big Bang. Not a single person knows if it happened at all. It’s always as soon as science comes out with a theory that no one can disprove or prove makes it the only answer. But as soon as it get to God or Jesus it just can’t happen it’s not possible. Listen to yourself! So in the beginning according to science there was nothing anywhere but just some how nothing exploded and created everything ever? How does that even sound close to being right? Now in Genisis God said let there be light. So now doesn’t that make more since for something to be created out of nothing by an explosion created by nothing. And if you want to know how to get eyewitness accounts of God, Jesus, ect. Just google testimonies of Heaven, God, ect. Also I have been doing research on other religions and eyewitness account of their god and their is none but for God they’re millions. One last thing God loves you more than anyone ever could. If you want to hear him and know that he is God just ask him, just talk to him and ask him to show you the truth and he will.

    • Anonymous says:

      Your post shows a shocking lack of understanding of what the big bang theory is. For starters, science does not state that in the beginning “there was nothing.” The big bang theory states that approximately 13.8 billion years ago, all matter was contained in a single point which exploded. It does not attempt to explain how or why matter got to be in a single point, it only serves as a reasonable starting point for a theory that largely explains how the universe came to be the way it is (an explanation based on observed, modern facts, mind you). Sure we don’t know what happened before the big bang, or why matter was contained in that single point, but that doesn’t mean the answer has to be God. Once upon a time, we didn’t know how or why the sun rose and set each day, and it was easy for people to say “that’s God’s doing” and just stop there, but now we know it is a result of the Earth spinning on its axis. Science doesn’t have all the answers, but if you took the time to understand the answers it proposes before you start needlessly bashing them, you’d realize that the answers it DOES have are at least based on sound reasoning and observable facts.

      Secondly, the point of the writers post wasn’t simply that “if there are no eyewitnesses to an event, we shouldn’t believe it.” Nobody with half a brain is that obtuse. The only reason we require accurate eyewitness accounts for the story of Jesus is because there is no other lingering evidence to support the miraculous elements of the biblical tales. Other events (like the big bang) have left evidence for us to examine, so we don’t necessarily need an eyewitness.

  7. Timothy David david Harris says:

    I think that both sides have posted some viable arguments. I know that I am at a point in my life where I am not really sure for certain what I believe. I do not really understand what the atheists point is though because John was a disciple of Jesus he witnessed the crucifixion and the resurrection and he wrote 5 books in the bible, and he called himself the disciple whom Jesus loved. Also Jesus chose John to take care of his mother Mary.On the other hand I can understand why people do not take to the bible because he requires 100 percent blind faith which takes courage, but I would rather believe that their is something that explains why we are on this shitty planet, full of war, and disease, like a god who could love us even though we are sinners. Instead of 13.8 billion years ago a small amount of matter exploded and their was a big bang, and we are all accidents that are alone on this earth doomed to die and thats the end. No thank you! Also I would challenge anybody who believes in theory of evolution to research facts like that their is not enough salt in the ocean or dust on the moon for the universe to be that old, or the fact that their are huge gaps in the fossil record called the missing links which mind you have never been discovered and never will. Try this on for size in the 1990’s a complete trex skull was discovered by a paleontologist that still contained red bloods cells which even contained in a lab could not come close to surviving 65 million year. My point is maybe the bible is wrong I dont believe it is, but if your skeptical do not be so fast to listen to sad sacks like charles darwin, richard dawkins, and steven hawkings who have dedicated their lives to prove we as the human race are alone on this planet and we have nothing to look forward to besides an average of 70 years on this crap hole. Thank for reading

    • Jo Fitz says:

      http://www.livescience.com/41537-t-rex-soft-tissue.html – this is the beauty of science. It’s not afraid to ask hard questions and work on providing answers. You call this world shitty and a crap hole – I think it’s a beautiful planet and every day for me is a wonder. I think it’s kind of interesting that someone who professes to love their god and the bible would be so ugly about the world that they believe their god created.
      As far as your challenge, I’m not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination but I do know that the amount of salt in the ocean or dust on the moon (whatever that means) has nothing to do with evolution. Your challenges mean nothing – they are just puzzles that science hasn’t found answers to yet.
      Your god is one of thousands and your belief is yours alone. Your bible is a fiction and no more real than Harry Potter.

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