Richard Bauckham defends the reliability of the gospels against James Crossley

I just finished listening to all the new William Lane Craig and Saddleback Apologetics Conference lectures, and now I’ve found something a little more difficult. A debate between the brilliant Cambridge New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham, and another solid atheistic New Testament Scholar, James Crossley.

The debate links are here at Operation 513.

The leading New Testament scholar from Cambridge, Dr. Richard Bauckham, was recently on the radio program ‘Unbelievable?’ which is on the Premier Christian Radio network. Bauckham was arguing that the Gospels are based on eyewitness accounts and therefore should be regarded as fundamentally trustworthy.

Joining in on the discussion was also New Testament historian, Dr. James Crossley, discussing the implications of Bauckham’s work and whether the Gospel of John was written by the disciple John himself, as Bauckham claims.

It is well worth the listen.

Part 1 – (1 hr 20 mins)
Part 2 – (1 hr 20 mins)

This is a great debate between two great New Testament scholars.

Richard Bauckham

You can find out more about Bauckham in this Christianity Today profile.


The author of CT’s 2007 Book Award winner in biblical studies, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Richard Bauckham proposes a new (or, rather, an ancient) paradigm through which to view the Gospels: as the eyewitness testimony of trustworthy insiders. Wheaton professor Gary Burge asked the St. Andrews scholar how his approach diverges from mainstream New Testament scholarship—and what it means for our understanding of Jesus.

I’m really excited by the respect he is getting in the academy. This is a completely NEW perspective on the gospels that is getting a lot of attention.

James Crossley

Crossley specializes in Mark, the earliest and most reliable gospel. Mark’s source for the Passion narrative of Jesus is dated to the 40s, about 10-20 years after the death of Jesus. Mark’s gospel is based on the eyewitness testimony of his companion Peter. So it is fun to hear them debate Mark in the first show. And they get into 1 Corinthians 15 as well, which is dated to 1-3 years after Jesus died.

Crossley debated against William Lane Craig before here and he debated against Michael Bird here, (part 1, part 2).

9 thoughts on “Richard Bauckham defends the reliability of the gospels against James Crossley”

  1. Bauckham is excellent.

    I spent the 80s reading Crossan and his confederates and becoming less and less convinced by their “peel the onion” scholarship. At some point it seemed that the effort to peel back the purported overlays of different stories and themes, allegedly designed to address the concerns of supposed but never established communities, became absolutely unreal. It was as if the “real” Jesus community existed for a 20 minute period in June of 33 AD and then was distorted by other “communities” with their peculiar agendas.

    Bauckham’s book “The Gospel and the Eyewitnesses” was refreshing because it supports the idea that what the Gospels say about themselves might actually be true.

    What a novel concept!


  2. Wintery Knight — You are on a roll! I have read reviews of Bauckham’s work in the past, and now you’ve gone and done it: linked to a debate. Thanks. In a short while I’ll get a link up to your post.


  3. A minor clarification, unclear from Unbelievable? Dr. Bauckham claims the Gospel of John was written by another disciple of Jesus who was also named “John.” Not John, the son of Zebedee.


    1. I think it’s not entirely uncommon in NT scholarship to attribute any number of “Johns” to the various writings. I think the one that gets the most variation is Revelation.

      The most important questions at hand are: Is this an eye witness account? and If it’s not John son of Zebidee, does this then create internal conflict (does it make the gospel a lie). I am convinced that the Gospel of John is from John, son of Zebidee, in large part because of the intimacy and love that it displays throughout. There is also a matter of unity of the corpera, which I think people have gone through great contortions to attack, but I think holds nicely.

      I wouldn’t be too bothered if it wasn’t.

      Other writings, like Luke-Acts, and many of the epistles, name the author, so the question of their authorship is of utmost importance. I know 1 Peter gets a lot of argument here. I think that Karen Jobes, in her commentary on 1 Peter from the Baker Exegetical Commentary series presents a fantastic defense of this.


  4. If you are interested, (I am hopelessly addicted to this type of minutia. I apologize if I am dragging this on)–Dr. Bauckham argues for the authorship of another John in order to stay consistent with his methodology.

    He uses the method of inclusio (first and last person named) as the author’s identification of eyewitness sourcing. Since Peter was the first disciple and last disciple named in Mark (1:16 & 16:7), Dr. Bauckham would argue this indicates Peter as the source. If you want more detail as to inclusio, please read the book.

    Dr. Bauckham would say the beloved disciple is indicated at the source of John by John 1:37-40 and 21:21-24. He also relies heavily on 21:24 as proof the beloved disciple was the author. (See also John 19:35).

    Finally, Dr. Bauckham is persuaded the early identification of the Gospel to “John” is indication the source was “John.”

    However, the Doctor also argues the gospels did not include certain names as a means of protecting the individuals. That part of the reason the beloved disciple is not named, is to protect whoever that individual is. However, the “sons of Zebedee” are identified in 21:2 (albeit not by name) and therefore would be excluded from possible source candidates. In simple words, Dr. Bauckham argues the beloved disciple is going to great lengths to conceal their identity, and it would be counter-productive to then name themselves in 21:2.

    Dr. Bauckham then spends (more) time on Papias, arguing there was “another John”—John the Elder—who flourished in the First Century. A John who was a disciple (from Jerusalem), but not one of the 12.

    All to sum up in the argument that the Gospel of John was written by an eyewitness disciple named John—just not the John most probably think of when they hear that designation. *grin*


    1. “All to sum up in the argument that the Gospel of John was written by an eyewitness disciple named John—just not the John most probably think of when they hear that designation. *grin*”

      Precisely what’s important. That said, I think Dr. Bauckham is placing too little on too much. The inclusio is present in that time and style of literature, but is it always used the way he wants it to be? I think a LOT more work is due to show that such an form must mean, or is even very likely to mean, authorship before it can be convincing. In its current form, it strikes me as a novelty, worthy of a nod and more research, but not convincing in and of itself.

      Also, there are other good explainations on why “the beloved disciple” may very well be John, son of Zebidee. Too much attempt is made to put clear cut, technically precise definitions, where either embarrasment or literary variation may come to play.


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