I got into an interesting discussion with Jayman777 over at Evangelical Realism on the topic of whether the New Testament documents can be considered independent accounts of first century events. After I pointed out that the NT documents are derived from a common source (church tradition), Jayman replied:
[C]laiming that NT authors are not independent of each other runs counter to the scholarly consensus. In the Gospels alone scholars typically point out the Markan tradition, the Q tradition, the independent Matthean tradition, the independent Lukan tradition, and the Johannine tradition. At least Craig is apparently starting from a consensus position.
My response to that was that, scholarly consensus or not, if you have a bunch of people collaborating for years and even decades on preaching a common and consistent story, it’s rather silly to call them independent sources. If that’s not collaborating on a common story, then what is? But after I made that reply, I realized that I was overlooking a rather significant loophole, and that the scholarly consensus could be right after all.
Some of you are probably way ahead of me on this. The loophole in my response is that it depends on the assumption that there really was a core group of apostles and other significant NT authors who really did meet together and share common experiences and preach a common gospel in the early to mid to late first century. Such a collaboration would indeed rule out the designation of “independent” for their collaborative testimony, but what if it never actually happened?
If we suppose that “the Markan tradition, the Q tradition, the independent Matthean tradition, the independent Lukan tradition, and the Johannine tradition” all arose from men (not necessarily the apostles) who did not in fact ever meet each other, then it is possible that these could all be genuinely independent traditions. If the Gospels and the book of Acts were not historically accurate, and were instead a credulous confabulation of myths, rumors, and urban legends that were merely attributed to Jesus and his alleged 12 apostles, then the collaboration would have happened well after the Age of the Apostles, thus leaving the door open for separate traditions to be truly independent.
I’m not saying that I deny the historical accuracy of the Gospels and the Acts, but then again, I’m a layman rather than a historian. Maybe I should listen to the scholarly consensus, eh? Maybe the NT was written by men who didn’t collaborate the way the NT says they did. If that’s the case, then I stand corrected (and the NT stands refuted).
So thanks, Jayman777, for bringing this to my attention.