John Beversluis, "The Gospel According to Whom? A Nonbeliever Looks at The New Testament and its Contemporary Defenders" 2

I'm posthumously posting six chapters from an unfinished book sent to me for comment in 2008 by the late John Beversluis (see Tag below). Here is chapter two. As you will read, John conclusively shows that the gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. This alone destroys the credibility of Christianity and its miracle claims due to the fact that miracles, by definition, require more than mere hearsay testimonial evidence.

Chapter Two: An Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels
This chapter launches my examination of the synoptic Gospels. I will not get into the details of when they were written and by whom. Suffice it to say that no reputable New Testament scholar any longer thinks they were written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. As a matter of fact, the tradition of attributing them to Matthew, Mark, and Luke only goes back to the second century. The overwhelming consensus today is that these names are mere attributions. This remains true in spite of the fact that people still say things like “Matthew teaches this” and “Luke teaches that.” Unlike Paul, Peter, James, and Jude, who start their letters by identifying (or claiming to identify) themselves, the Gospels are written anonymously.
Most of the church fathers—especially Augustine—thought that Matthew was the earliest, but almost all recent and contemporary New Testament scholars think that Mark was written first. As with all the Gospels, its date of composition cannot be precisely determined, but it was clearly towards the end of the first century—possibly as early as 70. Matthew was written between 80 and 90, Luke closer to at the end of the first century and possibly early in the second, and John last—probably between 100 and 110, and possibly as late as 120.
1. The Term “Gospel”      
The term “Gospel” is not the name of a literary genre. Ones does not announce that one has decided to write a Gospel as one might announce that one has decided to write a novel or a play or an autobiography. The term is a description of the contents of the book. It derives from the Old English God-spell and, ultimately, from the Greek euangelion. In Greek eu means “well” and angelia means “message” or “report.” Hence euangelion means “a favorable report.” The term is usually translated as “good news,” although that seems a bit tepid in view of the momentous fact allegedly involved, which is nothing less than the Incarnation of the Son of God who has come to die for the sins of the world.
Actually, the word “gospel” predates any of the four Gospels. Before they were ever written Paul used the term when he spoke of the Gospel (euangelion) “I preached unto you” (1 Cor. 15:1). According to him, the gospel is “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that he rose again the third day.” Originally, the “gospel” was this message. In fact, Paul uses the term more than any other New Testament writer (e.g., Romans 1:1, 10:16, 15:16, 15:19; 1 Corinthians 9:12, 11:7; 2 Corinthians 2:12, 9:13, and 10:14; Galatians 1:7, 1:11, and 1:16; and 1 Thessalonians 3:2—to cite just a few). Of the authors of the synoptic Gospels, only Matthew and Mark use the term “gospel.” Unlike Mark, Matthew always qualifies the noun “gospel” so that it becomes the gospel “of the kingdom” (4:23, 9:35, and 24:14), i.e., the kingdom that Matthew’s Jesus is always telling people “is at hand”—Jesus’s “master idea,” according to ancient historian Michael Grant, and one that appears thirty-seven times in Matthew and thirty-two in Luke (Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels, p. 11). Clearly, the primary meaning of the term “gospel” is something brought about or affected by Jesus Christ and only secondarily something written about. No matter how many Gospels there are, there is only one gospel.
These Gospels are not “Lives of Christ” or biographies in the modern sense, but they do claim to be factual, i.e., to be reporting conversations that actually took place and events that actually occurred. Third century church father Justin Martyr rather loosely called them the “memoirs” of the apostles.
2. The Dependence of Matthew and Luke on Mark 
Matthew and Luke both make extensive use of Mark whom they often quote verbatim and at considerable length. Matthew includes most of Mark. Of Mark’s 661 verses Matthew reproduces more than 600 and more than half of his very words. Luke reproduces only about half of Mark. Both also contain a good deal of material that Mark either did not know about or decided to omit. Many scholars think they got this material from a still earlier source referred to as “Q” (from the German word Quelle which means “source”). This theory is known as the “two document hypothesis,” the two documents being Mark and “Q.” If Mark’s Gospel is not an eye-witness account, then Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, which rely heavily on it, are twice-removed from the alleged facts reported. 
Since Matthew, Mark, and Luke have a good deal of material in common, reporting basically the same sayings and doings of Jesus, they are called the “synoptic” Gospels. (“Synoptic” means to “see with one eye”.) The term was first used by Johann Griesbach, a late eighteenth century German New Testament scholar who was the first to study Matthew, Mark, and Luke side by side in parallel columns (the so-called “parallel passage” method). In the nineteenth century German scholar David Strauss made extensive use of this method and argued that it requires us to conclude that the synoptic Gospels could not have been written by eyewitnesses to the sayings and events reported, but were written later by authors who drew on pre-existing traditions (both written and oral) and freely altered them according to their own theological and political beliefs and agendas. This material included, among other things, ascriptions of deity to Jesus that are not found, or are ambiguously expressed, in earlier manuscripts.
One of Mark’s most curious omissions is Jesus’s alleged virgin birth, which Matthew and Luke both report in some detail, although not identically (Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 1:26-38). If the earliest Christians believed in the virgin birth of Jesus, why would the author of the earliest Gospel fail to mention it? On the other hand, if the earliest Christians did not believe in the virgin birth of Jesus and this doctrine did not emerge until late in the first century, as many mainstream scholars believe, that would explain Mark’s silence about it. However, if they did believe this doctrine from the very beginning, as all conservative-fundamentalist scholars believe, then his silence is somewhat puzzling but not inexplicable because his Gospel starts with the ministry of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus who was already about thirty years old.
Interestingly, Paul is silent about this too. He says that Jesus was “made of a woman” (Galatians 4:4), not made of a virgin. True, virgins are women; but if Paul believed in the virgin birth of Jesus, why was he not more explicit? As every reader of his letters knows, subtlety was not one of his most conspicuous characteristics. He also describes Jesus as “made of the seed of David according to the flesh” (kata sarka, the usual word for “flesh” (Romans 1:4) which also seems to imply normal biological procreation. Since Paul’s letters are earlier than any of the Gospels, his silence about this is harder to explain than Mark’s.
In any event, considerations like these about authorship, dates, and sources have convinced mainstream New Testament scholars that the synoptic Gospels could not have been written by eyewitnesses. 
3. Mark’s Credentials as an Eye-Witness 
Conservative-fundamentalist theologians contest this on the ground that it is entirely possible that Mark was written within the lifetime of somebody who had been an eyewitness. That seems highly unlikely to me. But even if it is correct, the fact remains that only somebody desperately in need of an eyewitness would ever report stupendous events of the kind found in this Gospel—feeding 5,000 famished people with five loaves of bread and two fish, stopping thunderstorms with gale-force winds, walking on water, raising people from the dead, and coming back from the dead himself—relying solely on the memory of an old man well into his nineties whose knowledge of even such humdrum matters like Palestinian geography was so shaky that he reports that Jesus went through Sidon on his way from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee (Mark 7:31). The author of this Gospel obviously did not know that Sidon is located twenty five miles north of Tyre. His mistake would be similar to somebody’s today who told you that he drove through Seattle on his way from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The author of Mark also tells us that, while in the village of Gadara, Jesus exorcised a demon from a man and commanded it to enter into a herd of 2,000 pigs who were grazing nearby, causing them to gallop down a precipice into the Sea of Galilee and drown (Mark 5:1-17). The problem is that Gadara is not a coastal city, but a city located six miles southeast of that body of water—a distance that not even a herd of demon-possessed pigs could cover without pausing to catch its collective breath. Clearly, the author of Mark was not present at either of these alleged events.
The author of Luke candidly admits that he was not an eyewitness to the story he is about to tell. He prefaces it by saying that since accounts of the life of Jesus had been written by many others who were not eyewitnesses, based on the testimony of people who were, he has decided to write one too (Luke 1:1-4).
4. The Intended Audiences of the Synoptic Gospels
Generally speaking, all four Gospels had the same general purpose—“to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us which were from the beginning eyewitnesses” (Luke 1:1-2), “any many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book, But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name: (John 20:30-31). Similar statements can be found in Matthew and Mark. It follows that these Gospels are not (and were never intended to be) objective, neutral, and unbiased narratives. They purport to state facts, but they also place these facts in a larger historical, social, and theological context which requires them to interpret the facts they purport to state. They are unabashedly apologetic, have a built-in agenda, and are even a kind of propaganda. 
I do not say this as a criticism but as a description of them. The same must be said about many ancient writings, e.g. Xenophon’s Memorabilia—a work designed to depict Socrates as a wise and good man, and hence defend him against charges of not believing in the gods and corrupting the youth of Athens for which he had been tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. It might even be said of Plato’s dialogues whose purpose, at least in part, was to depict Socrates as the voice of reason and the foe of ignorance. Just as we have no way of knowing whose portrait of Socrates—if any—is  closest to the historical Socrates, so also we have no way of knowing whose portrait of Jesus—if any—is closest to the historical Jesus. The authors of the Gospels clearly do not simply present facts and leave us to draw our own conclusion, they want us to see Jesus in a particular way. Sometimes their portraits are consistent and sometimes they are not.
But while the content of the Gospels reveal that these authors had a common purpose, it also reveals that each was written with a different audience in mind. So far as the synoptic Gospels are concerned, the scenario seems to be as follows. Matthew’s seems aimed at a Jewish audience. His aim is to convince his readers or hearers that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah and the fulfillment of the Old Testament law. He never tires of citing Old Testament prophecies of which he was also the alleged fulfillment. (As we will see, some of them are rather far-fetched and others demonstrably false). Mark’s seems aimed at a Roman audience. He is generally complimentary of the Romans and, unlike Matthew, given to extremely anti-Jewish sentiments. He avoids Matthew’s pedantic special pleading about the Old Testament and is content to establish that Jesus was the Son of God. In his Gospel even a Roman centurion present at Jesus’s crucifixion declares that he was “truly the Son of God” (Mark 15:39). His Jesus is more favorably disposed to non-Jews. His Greek is by far the weakest of the three synoptic authors—matter-of-fact, fast-paced, and lacking smooth transitions. His favorite transition words are “and” (kai) and “and immediately” (kai euthus). More than any other Gospel writer, Mark inserts the actual Aramaic words or sentences spoken by Jesus and then translates it into Greek (Mark 5:42, 7:34, and 14:36). His Gospel ends as abruptly as it starts. Luke’s Greek is by far the best of the three. He even follows the Greek literary tradition by starting with an introduction of himself to the unidentified “most excellent Theophilus”—not, however, as “Luke” but merely as “I,” i.e., the author. His Gospel contains much that is not found in Mark or Matthew and is distinctive to him. He also pays more attention to history. His Gospel is more Hellenistic and seems aimed at a more educated, sophisticated, and cultured Greek (or more broadly Gentile) audience.
Each decided to start his story at a different point. Matthew and Luke start with genealogy of Jesus and then recount two separate visits of the angel Gabriel to Mary and Joseph to announce his virgin birth. Luke actually starts earlier and recounts how this same angel appeared to Zacharias a few months before to announce that his elderly wife Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist. He also inserts details omitted by Matthew—notably, the young Jesus found in the temple discussing theology with “the doctors” (Luke 2:46) who were “astonished” by his knowledge. Mark dispenses with these (and all other) preliminaries and starts thirty years later with the appearance of John the Baptist and the baptism of the adult Jesus. He prefaces his account of this by calling it “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Again, the “gospel” is primarily a message, not a book about it.
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