Gospel Authors and the 500 Witnesses

Hi! My question is what’s the best evidence that the gospels were written by their namesakes? My second one is, how can we best defend Paul’s citing of 500 witnesses to Christ risen as good evidence and not something he just made up?

To kind of answer my own questions I always use the Church Fathers as evidence for the gospel writers writing the gospels and the implausibility of Paul just making things up like “go talk to these people, they exist” if they didn’t actually see what he said. Why he would knowingly lie is beyond me as he clearly believed Christ was risen enough to die for it, but what’s your guys’ thoughts?


Paul encountered Jesus Christ in a vision on the road to Damascus. For him this encounter was very real and life changing. I suspect that as Paul got to know his new Lord, he would have wanted to meet as many people as possible who had actually known, or encountered, Jesus face to face. His realisation that everything about his faith in Jesus Christ was dependent on the resurrection being real, would have made him particularly interested in those who had met him, in the flesh, after his resurrection. This was life and death for him. If it hadn’t happened, why was he puting up with stonings, imprisonments, 49 lashes, ship-wrecks, intense opposition from his former colleagues and friends, and finally death?

You’ll have to get “evidence” on the authorship of the Gospels from someone more competent than me. Though I have never had a reason to doubt that Matthew, Mark Luke and John actually wrote the gospels given their names, I have been more interested in evidence that what they wrote is true, if only as their perspectives of what they saw, heard from fellow followers and Apostles. Luke, as a Greek, strikes me as particularly trust-worthy, because he writes many things in a literary format that is/was unique to the Jewish writers. He could not have made these stories up himself, so he must have got them from others, probably cross-checked and confirmed, and presented them in the format he received them. (See Kenneth Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes for elaboration, description, and many examples.)

With regard to the resurrection, the more I read the stories of Easter morning, the more believable they get - they reveal so much about human nature, that I recognise in myself and others, even today. The strongest point (for me) is that at first, NONE OF THEM BELIEVED IT! It was unbelievable if true. People simply don’t come back to life from a crucifixion death. Not three days later! We are unfair to Thomas and call him the Doubter, as if he was the only sceptic, but he wasn’t! NONE of them believed it! The irony of that morning was that the people who took the event most seriously were the guards and the chief priests. They took it so seriously that the Priests bought the silence of the guards and started a campaign of fake news - “the disciples have stolen the body!” (Do we recognise a cover-up in high places?) Why, in that case was Mary asking (even after meeting the angels) the gardener if he knew “where they have taken the body?” It wasn’t until he spoke her name, and she recognised his voice, that it dawned on her that it was true - and that he repeated what the angel had said.

As to numbers, you will find quite a few mentions of significant numbers of followers of Jesus in the Gospels. We often think there were only 12, but this isn’t accurate - these were only the apostles, a special group of disciples. Jesus sent out 70 or 72 to practice preaching and healing in rural villages. There were about 120 followers in the upper room on pentecost. There are a lot of named followers too - Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Joseph of Aramathea, (probably Nicodemus), Mary Magdalene, the two on the road to Emmaus, and reference to a lot of women who followed Jesus and supported him. Probably a large number of these individuals were among the 500 Paul refers to.

Another thing: After Jesus was captured and crucified, his followers were petrified that the authorities would turn on them, to stamp out all remnants of this blasphemous teaching. They admitted their fear in the stories; there is no white washing of the apostles’ or disciples’ behaviour or feelings. (Saul was later part of the attempt in fact.) And yet not long after, their fear had changed to boldness that amounted to “turning the world upside down.” And it wasn’t a temporary thing. This movement fundamentally changed the nature of the Roman Empire’s society over the next 3 centuries.

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Good question, @BrandonCorley - and I think your taking the Church Fathers’ word for their authorship is perfectly fine. Believers who were within a generation of the lifetimes of the writers were certainly in a better position to know such things than critics living 2000 years after the fact.

But I’ve never really bothered myself much about human authorships since the divine Authorship is far more important. If someday in heaven I discover that Barnabas actually wrote Luke, it really doesn’t change a jot or tittle of the text itself.

As for the hill of 500 believers - you’re right in thinking that Paul would hardly have said many of these 500 were still alive at the time he wrote this (and could corroborate the claim) if they really weren’t. It appears to be something that was common knowledge at the time - perhaps many of these 500 were well known.

Also, Jesus told the first women who saw Him alive, as well as the disciples later that day, that He would meet them on a hill in Galilee, and His brethren should go there. So with the event being so well publicized ahead of time, I would consider it remarkable if 500 brethren didn’t show up for it. If I’d been a disciple at the time, I’d have done everything possible to have not missed this event!

Wouldn’t you?

Hope it helps!

Well, we have much evidence to believe that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses or based on the eyewitnesses’ accounts. For example, Mark who based his Gospel on the eyewitness account of Apostle Peter sometimes omits some incidents in which Peter seems faithless. Based on the language used, we can be sure that the other two synoptic Gospels were written by the ones to whom they are attributed. In the case of the Gospel of John also we have sufficient evidence. For example, John is the only Gospel writer who doesn’t mention Mary by name but rather refers to her as the mother of Jesus. Perhaps it is because Mary is a motherly figure to John. And reading the Gospel of John tells us that it is indeed an eyewitness account.Moreover, it is unreasonable to accept that early forgers chose to write in the names of Mark, Luke and Matthew while there are many other candidates. The former two are, even in their own gospels, never mentioned as eyewitnesses and the latter is also not a good choice for he was, before becoming a disciple, a tax collector whom the Jewish community abhorred. In fact, the pseudo gospels were written with the names of Peter, Phillip, Thomas and Mary. Moreover, these Gospels, especially that of Mark were written within 10-35 years after the ascension of Jesus. Some scholars argue that the Gospel of Mark can be dated as early as AD 40.
For more information - Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace
- The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel

Thank you for your response about the 500 witnesses. It is really helpful

Hello, @BrandonCorley great questions. Since the gospels are not signed by the authors we have to “reconstruct who the authors are” as is said by Dr. Darrell Bock. Here’s what he says about the gospels.

We look at how far back this gospel tradition goes. We know that the claims associated with it reach at least to the latter part of the 2nd century because Irenaeus mentions the four gospels and gives their names as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But is he right? We actually know from the reports we get from Eusebius about Patheos that these associations go back to somewhere between the latter part of the 1st century and the beginning part of the 2nd century – within a couple of decades of when these gospels were actually written. Patheos reports on Mark being associated as the interpreter of Peter; Matthew being a writer of a gospel in the Hebrew dialect in a Hebrew context; Luke being the writer of his gospel; and John being associated with the fourth gospel. So these take us pretty far back.

One thing people have to understand is how history works. All you can really do is follow the evidence that is there. Here are some historical references that talk about the Gospels and who wrote them. By following history names on the Gospels have been there more than likely from the start and weren’t added later on.

"I [Irenaeus] am able to describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat as he discoursed, and his goings out and his comings in, and the manner of his life, and his physical appearance, and his discourses to the people, and the accounts which he gave of his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord.” -Eusebius of Caesaria. (1890). The Church History of Eusebius. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), A. C. McGiffert (Trans.), Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine (Vol. 1, pp. 238–239). New York: Christian Literature Company.

Tertullian: Writing in North Africa (200 A.D. Against Marcion 4.2.1-2)
“…that the documents of the Gospels,” were written by the apostles Matthew and John and “the apostolic men of Luke and Mark”.

“Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him…” -Irenaeus of Lyons. (1885). Irenæus against Heresies. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 414). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

So far we know that we can trace this back to the end of the 1st century and to the beginning of the 2nd century. That’s really close to the times where we believe the gospels were written. Some ask what if a name was just put on the Gospels to give it more notoriety. Dr. Bock addresses this as well.

Mark. Think about Mark’s résumé. His ‘curriculum vitae,’ if you will. His CV is that he did not make it through the first missionary journey. He went home to his mom because the pressure got to be too much for him. Second part of his CV is that he caused a split between Paul and Barnabas before they went out in ministry. So does this sound like a figure you are going to commend as the author to undergird the support of a gospel? Remember, if it the author is unknown, then the name is ‘X,’ so you can put anyone in there that you want. Yet Mark goes in there. Mark does not commend himself as a luminary who can lift up the credibility of a gospel. Some people suggest that it was not just Mark; but since he was connected to Peter, it is really Peter who is behind this gospel. That would be interesting. If you could put in any name for ‘X,’ including an apostle (like the claim for Matthew and John), then why not put Peter in there? That would solve your credibility problem instantly. The gospel tradition does not do that. It makes it very clear that Mark is responsible for the gospel, but he interacted with Peter in producing it. It seems to me that this gives evidence that the gospel tradition is trying to be very careful about how it states its origins, and does not ‘jump the gun’ in terms of credibility.

As you can see it wouldn’t make sense to accredit Mark’s name because of the issues he had with Paul earlier. Another form of evidence is the amount of uniformity in the titles of the gospels. If they were written late there should be way more gospels written with different names around the same time but there aren’t. These same facts you can use with the Gospel of Luke. Neither Mark or Luke was part of the Original 12 and on top of that, they were gentiles. This gives more truth to authorship because if you wanted to get more people to read something you would use someone’s name who had more authority. Because this wasn’t the case you can conclude there was a different goal/motivation for them writing the gospels.

Here are a few books you could read as well if you’d like to know more about this.

Blomberg, Craig. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2007. (B)

Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman “The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration”. Fourth Edition

Since I already kind of made this long I will let someone else answer about the 500 lol
But I do hope this helps some.

God Bless :slight_smile: