This ignores the fact that they are contradictory in many places and relate details of the conception and birth of Jesus of which they could not have been eye-witnesses, but that's not the main point of this blog.
As Jonathan MS Pearce points out in Matthew and the guards at the tomb, and as is pointed out in the comments to that excellent blog, Matthew effectively debunks that argument itself, as does Luke. The most sensible conclusion is that the claim of being eye-witness accounts was a later claim and not intended by the author. Indeed, no where does Matthew claim to have been an eye-witness to the events he describes and he always writes in the third person, using 'they' not 'we'.
This centres around the rather curious and implausible account of the guards on Jesus' tomb, something none of the other 'witnesses' mention, not even Luke who, since he quotes Matthew extensively, must have had access to either his version of events or the source from which he drew it, yet Luke opens his account with:
Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.In effect, Luke is disputing Matthew's account of guards by omitting it in what he clearly states is only an account of what is believed; not what he witnessed or even what is known, but what is believed.
But that's not the main problem, fatal though that might be for the notion that these were eye-witness accounts.
Firstly, there is the problem of just how exactly Matthew could have been a witness to what was said between Pilate and the chief priests and Pharisees
Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.or to the conspiracy between the hapless guards and the chief priests and the elders.
Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.
Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.So, these unfortunate guards were to try to get away with the absurd tale that they were asleep but none-the-less saw what happened.
And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.
So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.
We are expected to believe that and that these soldiers were the sole witnesses to the greatest event in Christian history - Jesus' resurrection - and to have seen a great earthquake and an angel descend from Heaven and roll the stone away then sit on it talking to Mary Magdalene and 'the other Mary' and yet they remained unconverted.
Just to emphasise that point: the only human witnesses to the alleged resurrection of Jesus were not convinced by it! Instead, they accepted money to lie about what they had seen.
We are also expected to believe the chief priests of Judaism, having just been told by people with nothing to gain by lying that Jesus indeed rose from the dead just as he had said he would, and so fulfilled the prophesies, also remained unconverted even though they seem to have believed the guards and so needed to buy their silence. Having been given the astounding news that Jesus was indeed God, they decided to forgo eternal salvation and everlasting life and bribed the soldiers to keep quiet about it.
And we are expected to believe that the chief priests and Pharisees were concerned about the body being stolen yet didn't think to even ask for a guard until a day later, and that Pilate didn't think to ask how they would know it hadn't already been stolen.
Now, what of Matthew's final clause in 28:15 "... until this day"? What day? Why would someone writing this soon after the events described use that phrase? This phrase would only be used by someone writing long after the events being described to conveys the impression of the passage of some considerable time. It would be like someone writing about the American Declaration of Independence a short time after it was signed in 1776 and saying it has existed 'until this day'. That would be understandable if written now, but why would an eye-witness to its signing use that phrase?
In fact, Matthew uses almost the same phrase when relating the tale of the betrayal by Judas, when he says:
Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.Again, not the phrase of someone writing a contemporary eye-witness account but of someone writing a story about the distant past.
And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day.
So, Christians, a few questions. If Matthew was an eye-witness to the events he described:
It should be perfectly plain to anyone who thinks rationally about this that, presented in court as the statement of an eye-witness, and subjected to cross-examination by an even half-competent defence counsel, Matthew's account would be ruled inadmissible, being either the work of a liar, or of someone writing stories long after the events they purported to be describing. Hence, as an historical source document it could at best only be regarded as a secondary source corroborating some primary source or other and then only if this primary source existed and Matthew was known not to be aware of it. Otherwise, it has no more credibility than any other novel based on a mythical person.
- How did he know what was said between the chief priests and Pharisees, and Pilate concerning the setting of a guard?
- How did he know about the secret conspiracy and bribing of the guards?
- Who would have believed the guards when they reported what they had seen whilst asleep?
- Why did the guards, who allegedly were the only people to have witnessed Jesus' resurrection, take the bribes rather than being converted by the event they witnessed?
- Why were the chief priests and Pharisees concerned enough about the truth of the guards' account to need to buy their silence and yet not enough to be converted to Christianity by it?
- Why did Matthew use the phrases 'until this day' and 'unto this day'?
- Why does Luke omit them from his account of what Christians believe and yet quotes Matthew extensively and verbatim in other places?