Are the gospels based on credible eyewitness testimony? This is a question on which modern scholars line up on both sides of the divide. From my point of view, the cumulative case for the gospels being based on the testimony of eyewitnesses is clear and convincing. In his groundbreaking work, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Richard Bauckham (professor of New Testament studies at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland) lays out an array of compelling evidence for the trustworthiness of the gospels. Among them is the test of personal names, which is covered in chapters 3 and 4 of the book. What he finds is that there is a remarkable correlation between the frequency of names found in the Gospels and Acts and the frequency of names found in writings outside the New Testament. This argument is also developed by Peter Williams, of Tyndale House in Cambridge, in this lecture.
The top 2 men’s names (Simon and Joseph) in first century Palestine outside the New Testament have a frequency of 15.6%. The frequency of those two names in the gospels and Acts is 18.2%. The frequency of the top 9 men’s names outside the New Testament is 41.5%; whereas the frequency in the Gospels and Acts is 40.3%. The frequency of the top two women’s names (Mary and Salome) outside the New Testament is 28.6%; the frequency in the Gospels and Acts is 38.9%. The frequency of the top 9 women’s names outside the New Testament is 49.7%; and 61.1% in the Gospels and Acts.