21 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2009
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
While it may come as a complete suprise to a majority of the faithful (although this information is clearly stated in most Bibles' own introductions to each of the the four Gospels), it has been known for centuries that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Instead, these are "traditional" names tacked onto anonymously-written works over a hundred years after they were composed. This knowledge is not controversial among biblical scholars, although it is deliberately kept from general church-goers. What is controversial is the dubious attempt to assign actual authorship to these anonymous works, and to insert them into historical, social, cultural, and theological context as testimony. Most believers might be shocked to learn that the Gospels were not eyewitness accounts, or even second-hand accounts ('hearsay'), of Jesus' time. Rather, they are contrived products of a complicated theological advocacy created generations after the time described.
"It's important to acknowledge that strictly speaking, the gospels are anonymous, but..." --Dr. Craig Blombery to Lee Strobel; The Case For Christ, page 22
There is no 'but'; the gospels are either anonymous compositions or they are not, and no amount of apologetic sophistry or argument from tradition is going to turn them into eyewitness accounts or first-person accounts or even 'hearsay' accounts once removed. The PLAIN-AND-SIMPLE TRUTH of the matter (although truth is hardly plain and rarely simple) is that (1) the four Gospels are copies of copies of copies of original documents that (2) no one has actually found, that (3) no one knows who wrote, and (4) were finally 'given names' a hundred years after the fact so as to make them appear authoritative.
Too often Christian apologists use the argument that "by all historical accounts Jesus rose from the dead." Ask them what they mean by "historical accounts" or what they are using for historical records and they will quickly point you to the New Testament, specifically the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But is it at all reasonable and rational to consider the Gospels 'historical accounts' beyond the basic fact that they were created sometime in history? When Christians use the terms 'historical accounts' or 'historical records' what they want to mean is 'eyewitness accounts'.
But are the Gospels 'eyewitness' accounts? Were they composed by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as witnesses to the life of Jesus?
As any true student of the Bible and church history can tell you, the four gospels are not eyewitness accounts: (1) they were written as third-person narratives, and (2) they were originally composed anonymously and the names Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John ascribed to them were actually second century "guesses" in order to give them the appearance of legitimacy and credibility. So what does it mean when someone makes the claim that 'by all historical accounts Jesus rose from the dead'? It actually means that according to an anonymously written third-person narrative a supernatural and/or magical event occurred in which a character called 'Jesus' circumvented the Laws of Physics and Biology and rose from the dead. And what, exactly, is an anonymously written third-person narrative? It is nothing more than hearsay thrice-removed! Not only is there (1) not an eyewitness account, but (2) only a third-person account, without (3) a named or recognized author taking credit for the composition of that third-person account! That is why the Gospels are hearsay three-times removed. No one knows who wrote the Gospels or if any of the events contained therein actually happened. In other words, millions of people may be using as a "testimony" of their faith four documents describing magical and supernatural events that may have been created out of whole cloth and motivated for purely political or religious reasons.
Which explanation is more feasible given what we know about the way the world works? That magical/supernatural/miraculous events occurred two thousand years ago, although such events haven't occurred since, or that these documents were deliberately and anonymously created in order to satisfy a political or religious agenda? Since they were anonymously written and in the third-person, it would be irrational to attribute to them any sense of validity because the events they describe simply do not correspond with the way we know the real world works. Miracles and magical and supernatural hocus-pocus simply do not occur, so the simplest explanation (by way of Occam's Razor) is that these anonymously-written third-person narratives were created solely as a tool for propaganda in order to entice superstitious or magically-inclined people to climb aboard a particular band-wagon.
What does it mean that the Gospels are hearsay three-times removed?
(1) Hearsay Once Removed: I overheard somebody say something to somebody else, then repeat what I overheard. My repeating of what I heard is not the original source. It is once-step removed from the original source, and it wasn't even said to me directly. Anything I say could be pure invention, so this is hearsay once removed.
(2) Hearsay Twice Removed: I repeat something that somebody else claims to have seen or overheard or read. I didn't actually see or overhear it, but only repeat what somebody else claims to have seen or heard. The problem with this form of hearsay is that whatever I am told and then repeat might never have happened at all. The person telling me the story may have fabricated the whole thing out of whole cloth. This is hearsay twice-removed.
(3) Hearsay Thrice Removed: Suppose I pick up a notebook written in the third-person claiming all sorts of fantastic things, strange and magical events that simply do not happen in the 'real' world. There is no author's name on the notebook, so I have no way of knowing who wrote it. Not only do I have no idea who wrote it, because it is written in the third-person (because it doesn't claim to be a first-person 'eyewitness' account) I have no way of knowing if any of the events or any of the conversation described therein actually occurred. Since the events it describes are strange and magical, it would be particularly foolish of me to take the events described in the notebook as true and at face value, because (1) I don't know who wrote the notebook, (2) I don't know where it came from, (3) because it is written in the third-person I have no way of knowing if anything the notebook describes ever happened at all, and (4) if strange and magical events don't typically occur in the 'real' world, why would I start believing them only because they were described in an anonymously written third-person narrative? Now, suppose fifty years later somebody slaps an author's name on the notebook simply to make it look more appealing and legitimate; does the fact that it's now been associated with an arbitrary name alter the fact that it is still hearsay, still a third-person narrative account, still reciting strange and magical stories that don't actually occur in the 'real' world? No! However you try to argue around it, the notebook is still hearsay, still a third-person account, still not an 'eyewitness' account or so-called 'historical record'. If I quote from this notebook, what am I actually quoting? Am I quoting the words and deeds of 'real' people or simply made up characters? Because it is a third-person narrative I have absolutely no way of knowing, none of it may never have happened, so in the end all such supernatural claims, accounts, and conversations contained within the notebook are ultimately meaningless.
Just like the Gospels.