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The “independent sources” of the New Testament

[Here's an excerpt from this week's Evangelical Realism post on Chapter 9 of William Lane Craig's book, On Guard.]

Ted and Shelly are driving down the road one day when they see an minor accident up ahead, with a policeman and a wrecker already on the scene. Being bloggers, they stop and ask the policeman what happened.

“Oh,” says the policeman, “some bimbo piled into the back end of the car in front of her. She says he passed her, cut her off, and slammed on his brakes, but she had her cell phone out and was probably just texting to her friends and not paying attention to the road. She’s just using road rage as an excuse.”

That afternoon, they both go home and each reports the story on his/her blog. Ted reports that a woman was texting while driving, and caused an accident, and goes off on a rant about texting. Shelly reports that a man deliberately caused a woman to have an accident and that there was little hope of the woman receiving justice due to the sexism of the reporting officer.

Do Ted and Shelly’s blogs constitute independent accounts? Yes and no. They are independent accounts of how the accident was being reported, but they are not independent accounts of the accident itself, because neither Ted nor Shelly saw it happen. The common elements in Ted’s and Shelly’s accounts are due to the fact that they’re sharing a common source for the story, not due to the fact that they’re independently verifying the original incident.

This is exactly what we have in the Gospel accounts. The four Gospels (and other accounts) are not independent verification of the events they report, they’re merely independent witnesses to the fact that a common story was being told. Craig consistently confuses the distinction between the two, and tries to make it sound like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are somehow independently verifying that Jesus really did appear. But that’s a distortion of the facts. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are only offering independent verification of the fact that stories about appearances were being told. John might have enjoyed the distinction of providing an independent verification, were it not for the fact that his accounts typically don’t match the stories told by the other three!

[Read the whole post at Evangelical Realism...]