How Did the Gospel Writers Know About ‘Hidden’ Events?

Skeptics try to make this a talking point, but there is nothing is in the least implausible in any of this.

Daniele Crespi, “St. Joseph’s Dream,” c. 1625
Daniele Crespi, “St. Joseph’s Dream,” c. 1625 (photo: Public Domain)

My thinking here came about as a result of an online (public) exchange with an atheist. He commented:

I’ve always had problems with so many Bible passages that purport to document what happened either in secret or at least unobserved. Jesus praying, for example. It seems unlikely he issued a press release containing the words he used to commune with God.

This example of a supposed “conundrum” is rather easily “solved”:

  1. Jesus tells a disciple the content of what he prayed.
  2. Said disciple includes it in his Gospel (or, alternately: it becomes part of an accepted oral compilation of Jesus’ sayings, that is later a source for one or more Gospels).

We can’t absolutely “prove” this, of course, but it is a perfectly plausible explanation of how a “secret” prayer was recorded in the New Testament. The same process would apply to something like, for example, Jesus talking to the devil when the latter vainly tried to tempt him in the wilderness. The atheist wrote about that:

The Jesus/Devil conversations are reported as if the writer witnessed the conversation directly. I don’t see how this inconsistency (along with others) can be taken literally, as they make the whole narrative seem more like a series of supposedly salutary fables.

The Jesus vs. the devil dialogue is written from the perspective of the narrator of the book. Since no one was there, it had to initially come either from a report by Jesus or from direct revelation by God. I always accept a natural, common-sense explanation before I believe it was a supernatural event.

Why anyone would think it was impossible or — a lesser claim — implausible for Jesus to have simply told one or more of his followers what happened during the exchanges with the devil is beyond me.

Jesus was with these disciples for three years, day and night. They talked for multiple thousands of hours. There was lots of talking, teaching and communicating. It’s common sense. There is no unsolvable mystery here.

The Bible (we must always remember) is supernaturally-inspired revelation — a quite extraordinary type of literature — so it’s always possible that the writer could receive a direct revelation from God regarding a specific thing.

But most Christians believe that almost all Scripture was not originated in that way. They simply wrote, and God guided and protected them from writing error.

Yes, it’s a belief in faith (as all people in effect have, including atheists, who accept — and must accept to think and communicate — many unproven axioms).

In fact, we even have a passage (Luke 22:32) where Jesus revealed that he was praying for one of his disciples, and exactly what he was praying for:

… but I have prayed for you [Peter] that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.

My atheist friend continued:

This reads as if the author of Luke witnessed the conversation between Jesus and Peter, in which Jesus relates what he has done (“I have prayed for you…”).

Luke wasn’t one of the 12 disciples, so he would have had to hear this report from Peter himself (which was entirely possible) or from one of the other 10 disciples (minus fallen disciple Judas). Or he got wind of a dependable oral tradition that came from Jesus and/or one or more of the eleven. We know this was precisely his methodology (Luke 1:1-4):

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.

Again, there is nothing is in the least implausible in any of this. Yet he tried to make it a skeptical talking point against the Bible.

Jesus also prayed for the disciples out loud in John 17:7-9, at the last Supper (with all of them present, according to John 13:1-2, 22):

Now they know that everything that thou hast given me is from thee; for I have given them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from thee; and they have believed that thou didst send me. I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world but for those whom thou hast given me, for they are thine;

Our articulate atheist debater continued on in his skeptical speculations:

It would surely have added much-needed verisimilitude to the account if the author had written something to the effect of, “Jesus related to me/us that he had a conversation with Satan, as follows …” Given the apparent purpose of the account in the first place, it’s extremely puzzling that the writer didn’t do this. Leaving readers plenty of room to doubt the narrative’s veracity seems highly counter-productive.

There’s no need to; no “puzzle” at all. Most folks who aren’t already hostile and predisposed to be cynical to the text, could figure out exactly what I explained. It’s not difficult.

We know that Jesus massively taught his disciples (“privately to his own disciples he explained everything” — Mark 4:34), and lived with them continually for three years.

This line of thinking is as fundamentally silly as when some atheist asked, “how could Christians know that Mary gave birth as a virgin?” Well, she told them!

Similarly, St. Paul gives a public account of his conversion story (Acts 22:6-16), which was included in a Scripture narrative (Acts 9:1-19).

We regard the New Testament as trustworthy because it has been proven hundreds of times by archaeology to be historically accurate in details — just as we trust the demonstrably credible, reliable witness in a court trial.