Reasons Why One Should Accept the Traditional Authorship of the Gospels

The Four Gospels are the primary documents that describe the life and teachings of Jesus. Traditionally since the earliest times of the church, the Evangelists[1] have been ascribed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Modern critical scholarship has been more critical of the traditional authors. Many scholars will claim either that the Gospels were pieced together by various writers, or that the writings were pseudonymous but given the names of the Four Evangelists to propel their apostolic authority.

Despite the cynicism of critical scholarship, good reasons exist to hold to the traditional view of authorship for the four canonical Gospels (that is, that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the Four Evangelists). This article will provide five such reasons.

 Internal Evidence of Authorship.

 Within the four Gospels, one will find internal evidence of authorship. That is, the Gospels give clues who the writers were within the text itself. For instance, Matthew was a tax collector who was called by Jesus while sitting in the tax collector’s booth. The First Gospel notes that “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at a tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him” (Matthew 9:9).[2] Matthew’s Gospel goes into more detail on his calling (Matthew is called Levi in the other Gospels). Additionally, the Gospel provides a great deal of monetary details. Even if Matthew did borrow material from Mark’s Gospel (which would make sense since Mark obtained his information from Simon Peter), there is no reason to deny Matthean authorship to the First Gospel.

Mark’s Gospel, who wrote down the words of Simon Peter, provides internal evidence that one who closely knew Simon Peter wrote the Second Gospel. Peter’s life experiences with Jesus is the prime focus of the Second Gospel.

Luke writes a detailed biography of Jesus in the Third Gospel. Luke was not an eyewitness as admitted in the opening verses of the Gospel. The detail and level of complexity in the Greek validates that a highly-educated man wrote the Third Gospel. Luke was a physician. Thus, it stands to reason that Luke was the author of the Third Gospel.

The Fourth Gospel provides great internal evidence that John the apostle wrote (or at least dictated to another) the text. Strewn throughout the text, one will find the beloved disciple passages. The Fourth Gospel indicates that the author was an apostle (1:14; 2:11; 19:35), one of the Twelve Disciples (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:20), and John the son of Zebedee is associated as the beloved disciple who accompanies Peter (13:23-24; 18:15-16; 20:2-9; 21:2-23). The evidence is so strong for Johannine authorship that I feel like I am taking crazy pills when someone denies that John wrote the Fourth Gospel.

External Evidence of Authorship.

External evidence for traditional authorship is quite strong. The early church unanimously accepted traditional authorship for the Four Gospels. Matthew is accredited with the First Gospel by Papias, bishop of Hieropolis (c. A.D. 120) and Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in Gaul (c. A.D. 175). John Mark is accredited with the Second Gospel, Luke is credited with the Third, and John is ascribed with the Fourth Gospel by Papias and preserved by Eusebius of Caesarea (A.D. 260-340).[3] In addition, John is ascribed with the Fourth Gospel by Irenaeus in his work Against Heresies.[4] The church unanimously accepted Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the authors. If one is to claim otherwise, there should be a great deal of evidence.[5] No such evidence exists outside of modern skepticism.

Expense of Documents.

 Interestingly enough, documents the size of the Gospels were quite expensive in antiquity. John Walton and Craig Keener note the following:

  “Writing material was expensive; for example, a copy of the Gospel of Mark may have required the equivalent early twenty-first-century buying power of $1000-$2000 U.S…Works as large as these were major literary undertakings, requiring so much papyrus that in terms of early twenty-first century buying power the larger Gospels may have been worth thousands of dollars of U.S. dollars…Normally in antiquity readers knew who produced such major works, whether by information on the outside of the scroll or by knowledge circulated only by word of mouth. In a work this size [speaking of the Gospels, mine], authorship would be one of the last details forgotten.”[6]

If Mark is noted to have cost around $2000, then larger works like Matthew, Luke/Acts, and John were probably around $4000 (Luke and Acts could have been $6000 a piece). This would have been a major undertaking. No one is going to forget the writers of the Gospels in the early church, especially if the early leaders request the works. It should be rightfully assumed that the church must have raised the funds in order to have the canonical Gospels written.

Early Manuscript Attestation.

 It has been noted that nearly all early manuscripts would have the authors name written on the first page or the exterior of the text (see footnote #6). Thus, the authors’ names would have followed the text. There are reasons to believe that the names were associated with early manuscripts. Thus, here is another reason to hold to traditional authorship.

Oddity of the Four Writers.

 It seems somewhat bizarre that if the early church were going to make up four writers for the Gospels that the four writers that we were given were chosen. John the apostle would make sense as he was one of the inner circle disciples. Yet, John did not hold the prominence of a Simon Peter or James. Even more bizarre is the choice of Mark. Mark is an odd choice as he does not appear in the Gospel story, except for a possible odd inclusion in Mark 14:51-52. If John Mark had nothing to do with the Gospel and only served as an amanuensis, why not attribute the Gospel to Peter? The acknowledgement of Mark verifies the early church’s focus on getting the information correct.

Luke is an oddity also. For one thing, Luke was not an eyewitness to the events of Jesus’ life. So, why have Luke as the author if one is merely passing authority onward? Second, it is possible that Luke could have been a Gentile, or at least half-Gentile. If this were the case, it makes it even more bizarre that the church would invent Luke as the writer of the Third Gospel.

Lastly, Matthew is an extremely bizarre choice. “Wait!,” one may postulate, “wasn’t Matthew one of the apostles? Would that not make his claim all the more probable if the church were to invent an author?” Not really. Matthew was a tax-collector. Tax-collectors were hated in ancient times. Tax-collectors were considered the lowest of the low. In other words, they are loved as much now as they were back then. Tax-collectors were notoriously known for charging far more than what the government required so that they could pocket the additional revenue. Furthermore, Matthew is a fairly obscure disciple. He is not one of the inner circle disciples.[7] If the church were to invent an author for the First Gospel, why not accredit it with James or Andrew? Why Matthew, an obscure disciple with a former hated occupation?

Conclusion

The early claim that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the Evangelists only make sense if in fact they were the writers of the Four Gospels. It is possible that Matthew, Luke, and John dictated their Gospels to appointed disciples (particularly John). Well and good. But that does not demerit the claim that they were the authors. If a person is going to dismiss early testimony to the authorship of the Gospels, that person had better possess strong reasons to overturn such a claim. While critical scholars have every right to believe as they wish, the data does not support their claim. This article has demonstrated five strong reasons to hold to the traditional authorship of the Four Gospels. While I appreciate the works of critical scholarship, the data strongly supports the claims of the early church. Until it can be proven otherwise, this writer will continue to adhere to the testimony of the early church as it pertains to the identity of the four canonical Evangelists.

 

© November 14, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] That is, the authors of the Four Gospels.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

[3] See Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2; 3.39.14-16.

[4] See Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.2.

[5] To the degree of evidence needed to overturn a touchdown in the NFL.

[6] John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener, “Introduction to the Gospels and Acts,” NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 1603.

[7] That being Peter, James, John, and perhaps Andrew.

Examining Jesus by the Historical Method (Part 6: Eyewitness Testimony–The Case for the Gospels)

As we have engaged in our evaluation of Jesus according to the historical method, my previous articles have demonstrated that the historical Jesus passes the historical method with flying colors. However, we must continue our quest in asking, “Do we have eyewitness testimony concerning Jesus of Nazareth?” That is, do we have the accounts of Jesus from those who personally knew him? If someone is investigating a person or an event of history, the investigator will want testimony from those who actually knew the person, or witnessed the event.

Admittedly, this area of study pertaining to the historical Jesus is among the most controversial. Many prominent New Testament scholars hold that the accounts that we have of Jesus come from second-hand sources, which would eliminate any eyewitness account that one possesses of the historical Jesus of Nazareth.

But hold on! Not so fast! There are just as many scholars who hold that the testimonies in the New Testament come from eyewitnesses. This article will examine the reasons for holding that the Evangelists record eyewitness testimony. The second installment will look into the weight of this eyewitness testimony as it tells us who provides the witness. For this investigation, we will examine the Four Gospels. Since at least 7 letters of Paul are undisputed and since I have previously discussed the pre-NT traditions found in Paul’s letters, we will not focus on proving the eyewitness nature for his material.[1]

Internal Evidence of the Gospels

Within the Gospels, one can find reasons to hold that the testimony comes from eyewitness testimony.

Internal Testimony of Matthew

Matthew has traditionally been ascribed to the disciple Matthew who was a former tax-collector. It is odd that the church would ascribe the Gospel to one who was a tax-collector if it was not true. Tax-collectors were hated in ancient times. Internally, one finds reasons for holding Matthean authorship. Blomberg writes,

This author, at least of an original draft of this book (or one of its major sources), seems quite probably to have been the converted toll collector, also named Levi, who became one of Jesus’ twelve apostles (cf. 10:3; 9:9–13; Mark 2:14–17).”[2] In addition, Cabal adds that “The Gospel also contains clear evidence that the author possessed a strong command of both Aramaic and Greek, something that would be a prerequisite for most tax collectors. Furthermore, the author of Matthew used the more precise term nomisma for the coin used in the dispute over tribute (Mt 22:19) than Mark’s and Luke’s denarion (Mk 12:15; Lk 20:24).”[3]

This would have been something that a tax-collector would have known.

Internal Evidence of Mark

The church unanimously agreed that John Mark had recorded the eyewitness testimony of Simon Peter in the Second Gospel. The internal nature of Mark’s Gospel seems to indicate that John Mark was indeed the author. Grassmick notes that

“Several features also point to the author’s connection with Peter: (a) the vividness and unusual detail of the narratives, that suggest that they were derived from the reminiscences of an “inner-circle” apostolic eyewitness such as Peter (cf 1:16–20, 29–31, 35–38; 5:21–24, 35–43; 6:39, 53–54; 9:14–15; 10:32, 46; 14:32–42); (b) the author’s use of Peter’s words and deeds (cf. 8:29, 32–33; 9:5–6; 10:28–30; 14:29–31, 66–72); (c) the inclusion of the words “and Peter” in 16:7, which are unique to this Gospel; and (d) the striking similarity between the broad outline of this Gospel and Peter’s sermon in Caesarea (cf. Acts 10:34–43).”[4]

The tradition that Mark records Simon Peter’s testimony is affirmed by the internal nature of the Gospel as well as the external witness which will be given later in the article.

 Internal Evidence of Luke

The physician Luke is normally ascribed to have been the author of the Third Gospel. Internally, one finds evidence for this association. While Luke was not an eyewitness, Luke acknowledges his use of eyewitness material by saying, “just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us” (Luke 1:2).[5] Thus, Luke never claims to be an eyewitness but uses eyewitness material.

Internal Evidence of John

The Fourth Gospel is normally ascribed to the apostle John. John is nearly universally agreed to have been the last Gospel written. While some may disagree, the episodes of the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20) within the Gospel points to an inner circle disciple. Peter and James are mentioned in such episodes, but never John. The Gospel ends by saying, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know his testimony is true” (John 21:24). In addition, the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is assigned by Jesus to care for Jesus’ mother Mary (John 19:27). The letters of early church leader Ignatius confirms this report. Thus, the internal evidence is clear. John the apostle wrote the Fourth Gospel either by his own hand or dictating the information to a student.

Now that we have considered the eyewitness testimony of the Gospels by the internal evidence, let us consider the eyewitness testimony of the Gospels given by external testimony.

 External Evidence of the Gospels

The early church was unanimous in their acceptance of the four canonical Gospels. Early on, church father Papias provides a glimpse at how the Gospels were written.

Testimony of Papias of Hierapolis (c. AD 95-130)

Papias may not have personally known John the apostle, although he may have heard John speak.[6] Nevertheless, Papias knew Polycarp and others who knew John well. Papias recorded the following pertaining to the writings of the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Matthew that he received from the presbyter (presumably John, but perhaps Polycarp):

“And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements…Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.”[7]

It must be remembered that we do not possess the entirety of Papias’ writings. However, we are benefited by the documentation of those who knew Papias’ writings well.

Testimony of Irenaeus of Lyons (c. AD 175)

Irenaeus of Lyons probably knew the writings of Papias well. Irenaeus describes the writing of all four Gospels by documenting the following:

“Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.”[8]

 These testimonies would find further corroboration by church historian Eusebius.

Testimony of Eusebius of Caesaria (c. AD 325)

Eusebius of Caesaria was a church historian writing around AD 325. He writes the following pertaining to the writing of the Gospels:

“But Luke, who was of Antiochian parentage and a physician by profession, and who was especially intimate with Paul and well acquainted with the rest of the apostles, has left us, in two inspired books, proofs of that spiritual healing art which he learned from them.”[9]

“For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated those whom he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence.

And when Mark and Luke had already published their Gospels, they say that John, who had employed all his time in proclaiming the Gospel orally, finally proceeded to write for the following reason. The three Gospels already mentioned having come into the hands of all and into his own too, they say that he accepted them and bore witness to their truthfulness; but that there was lacking in them an account of the deeds done by Christ at the beginning of his ministry.”[10]

 Evidence from Dating

We mentioned in a previous article that good reasons exist for holding that the three canonical Gospels were all written before AD 64. Primarily, it was argued that Luke does not record the death of Paul and Peter, quite odd if Acts was written after Peter and Paul’s execution. Some scholars hold that Peter and Paul died around AD 64. If this is true, then Acts must have been written before AD 64, forcing the Gospel of Luke and the borrowed material from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark prior to the 60s. An early dating bodes well for claiming that the Gospels hold eyewitness testimony because the time-frame puts the writings well within the time of the eyewitnesses.

Conclusion

While there are many who deny the authenticity of eyewitness testimony in the four canonical Gospels, I feel that the evidence strongly supports the assertion that the Gospels are based upon eyewitness testimony. If the findings of this article are true, then Matthew and John provide first hand eyewitness testimony, whereas Mark and Luke provide documentation of eyewitness testimonials. In the next section of this article which will be published next week, we will look at the number of eyewitnesses we have in the New Testament alone. The historical Jesus continues to pass the historical methodological test.

Copyright February 1st, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Bibliography

 Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. The New American Commentary, Volume 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992.

Cabal, Ted, et al. The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.

Eusebius of Caesaria. “The Church History of Eusebius.” In Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Volume 1. Second Series. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890.

Grassmick, John D. “Mark.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1985.

Irenaeus of Lyons. “Irenæus against Heresies.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Papias. “Fragments of Papias.”In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Endnotes

[1] In addition, we are looking for material for those who knew Jesus during his earthly ministry.

[2] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 44.

[3] Ted Cabal et al., The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 1402.

[4] John D. Grassmick, “Mark,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 95–96.

[5] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[6] This is an area of dispute. It depends on one’s understanding of Papias’ testimony.

[7] Papias, “Fragments of Papias,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 154–155.

[8] Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 414.

[9] Eusebius of Caesaria, “The Church History of Eusebius,” in Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 136.

[10] Eusebius of Caesaria, “The Church History of Eusebius,” in Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 152–153.

The Christmas Story in the Gospel of John

When most people think of Christmas, they think of the Christmas stories found in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. In Matthew, one finds the genealogy on the father’s side—albeit, the adopted father; the visitation of the angels to Mary and Joseph; the visitation of the wise men; the flight to Egypt; and the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod.

In Luke’s Gospel, one finds the foretelling and birth of John the Baptist; the foretelling of Jesus’ birth; Mary’s visit to Elizabeth; Mary’s song of praise; the birth of John the Baptist; Zechariah’s prophecy; the birth of Jesus; the pronouncement of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds; and Jesus’ presentation before the Temple.

Unbeknownst to many, John’s Gospel holds a Christmas story as well. While John does not provide many of the historical details that Matthew and Luke do, John provides a deep Christmas story. John’s Christmas story is found in the first chapter of John’s Gospel.

What does John’s Christmas story tell us? Seeing that Christmas is really a celebration of the incarnation of Christ, John tells at least three things about Christmas.

John’s Christmas Story introduces the divine nature of Jesus.

First, John addresses the true nature of Jesus. John boldly proclaims that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).[1] John describes the divine nature of Jesus in this passage. D. A. Carson notes that

Since Mark begins his Gospel with the same word, ‘The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ’, it is also possible that John is making an allusion to his colleague’s work, saying in effect, ‘Mark has told you about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry; I want to show you that the starting point of the gospel can be traced farther back than that, before the beginning of the entire universe.’[2]

That is, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all acknowledge the beginning of Jesus’ life at his birth. John takes Jesus’ beginning back to the vast realm of eternity.

A person cannot escape the divine nature attributed to Jesus in John chapter 1. Jesus is described as being eternal with God, being in the nature of God. John also describes Jesus as the Creator by noting that “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made hat was made” (1:2). John also notes that Jesus is the source of life in 1:4-5. But, John’s Christmas story does not only include the divine nature of Jesus, he also includes information about Jesus’ mission on earth.

 John’s Christmas Story introduces the interactive mission of Jesus.

John notes that the “true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (1:9-10). Perhaps the most important truth that John provides pertaining to Jesus’ interactive ministry in the world is that “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14). Kenneth Gangel emphasizes this point in saying,

“This may be the most important verse in the Bible on the doctrine of the incarnation. John went back to verse 1 to pick up one of his favorite themes, the Word. God became human; God showed us his glory; God offered us grace and truth; God literally “tabernacled” among us.”[3]

The core truth of Christmas is that God came and dwelt among us. The very God who gave us life came and became one of us. What should this tell us? It should tell us that God is concerned about the human race. God is a loving and caring God who was not willing to leave humanity as it is, but desires to save it.

Which brings us to the final point.

 John’s Christmas Story introduces the transformative gift of Jesus.

John demonstrates that God came to dwell among us. John uses the illustration of the tabernacle where God’s glory would reside in the holy of holies. In this manifestation, one finds the fulfillment of the law.

John states quite succinctly that in Jesus one finds “grace and truth” (1:17). Grace is unmerited favor. Nothing within us says, “I am worthy of God’s love and mercy.” Rather, God gives us something that we do not deserve—salvation.

While many will be inundated with the commercialism that surrounds Christmas, it is a good practice for us all to remember God’s grace during this time. We don’t deserve the love of God. But since God is loving, he came to save us from ourselves. He came to help us understand the true meaning of love. In Christ, we find the full expression of God’s love.

The world could use a great refresher course when it comes to the true meaning of love.

Love is not selfish. Love does not seek to hoard. Love seeks to give.

Conclusion

John’s Christmas story provides a poignant, yet profound statement… “the Word became flesh” (1:14). That’s the point in celebrating Christmas. Often, we become obsessed with finding the accurate date of Christ’s birth. We spend countless hours discriminating between those things that appear pagan in our celebrations, while failing to ponder on the most important truth behind Christmas.

God left the portals of heaven and dwelled in a physical body among us. He came to save us. He came to love us. He came to show us the truth. Will you be willing to focus on the core essential truth of Christmas this season? If so, you might want to camp in the midst of John’s Christmas story this year.

 

© December 24, 2015. Brian Chilton.

 

Sources Cited:

 Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991.

Gangel, Kenneth O. John. Volume 4. Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

 

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 114.

[3] Kenneth O. Gangel, John, vol. 4, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 13.

Is the Biblical Canon Open or Closed?

Some would suggest that the canon of the Bible is open. That is to say, some think that the canon of the Bible should be reevaluated and open to change. Such advocates indicate that other so-called gospels such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Philip should be added to the list of acceptable books. However, it must be asked whether such additions are appropriate. Is the biblical canon open or closed? To answer this question, first the term “canon” will be defined. Then, the process of canonization will be evaluated. Finally, the article will examine the beliefs of the early church as it pertained to the canonization process.

Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard define the canon as stemming from the “Greek kanon, meaning ‘list,’ ‘rule,’ or ‘standard’” (Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 103). The biblical canon refers to “the collection of biblical books that Christians accept as uniquely authoritative” (Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 103). The term suggests that the books that comprise what is known as the Bible are the rule of faith being divinely inspired by God. Thus, evangelical Christians recognize the fact, as the Apostle Paul denotes in that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Like the Old Testament, the New Testament was canonized by a process. Already by the time the New Testament books were being composed, early apostles recognized them as Scripture to a similar degree to the Hebrew Bible (what we would call the Old Testament). Peter recognizes that individuals were compromising the writings of Paul as, in the words of Peter, “they also do with the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). Later toward the end of the first century and into the second, leaders like Clement of Alexandria recognized the integrity and inspiration of the New Testament. Clement of Alexandria denotes that,

  “We must know, then, that if Paul is young in respect to time—having flourished immediately after the Lord’s ascension—yet his writings depend on the Old Testament, breathing and speaking of them. For faith in Christ and the knowledge of the Gospel are the explanation and fulfillment of the law…that is, unless you believe what is prophesied in the law, and oracularly delivered by the law, you will not understand the Old Testament, which He by His coming expounded” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata IV.21, 434).

Thus, Clement of Alexandria elevated the writings of the New Testament as a means to understand the Old Testament, as Christ explained the Old Testament in and through His teachings and fulfillment of the Old Testament.

Early canons were comprised, but most notably by the heretic Marcion. Due to Marcion’s limited canon, others such as Irenaeus and more notably Athanasius compiled a complete canon which would be officially accepted at a later time. Irenaeus denotes that a canon was floating about in the early church by stating that Marcion “and his followers have betaken themselves to mutilating the Scriptures, not acknowledging some books at all; and, curtailing the Gospel according to Luke and the Epistles of Paul, they assert that these are alone authentic, which they have themselves thus shortened” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.12.12, 434-435). But how did one know if a text was inspired and worthy of canonicity? Norman Geisler denotes five measures of authenticity that was placed upon a text by the asking the following questions: “Was the book written by a prophet of God?…Was the writer confirmed by acts of God?…Does the message tell the truth about God?…Did it come with the power of God?…Was it accepted by the people of God?” (Geisler, “Bible, Canonicity of, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 81-84). Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard identify the criteria as the text’s “apostolicity, orthodoxy, and catholicity” (Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 115). That is, the text had to have apostolic endorsement (if not having been written by an apostle). The text must promote correct doctrine as presented by Jesus and the early church. Finally, the text must be universally accepted by the church.

Which of these elements hold the most importance? In this writer’s opinion, if one were to use Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard’s list of canonicity, apostolicity would hold the highest importance. If a text stemmed from a true apostle, or friend of an apostle, one would expect the text to be orthodox in its teaching. Many books of antiquity, especially in the second century, claimed apostolic authority. However, only those texts in the first century that were in the time-frame of the earliest church leaders could hold apostolicity. It is difficult to choose which of these criteria are less important, as all of them hold great weight in identifying a text as authentic and inspired.

In conclusion, some hold that the canon should still be open. However, this is greatly problematic for several reasons; however this post will only provide two. First, early church leaders knew of the origins of particular texts. While modern scholarship is excellent in many areas, it is impossible to know with the certainty that earlier church leaders held in knowing a text’s authenticity. In fact, it is in this writer’s opinion that many other texts existed in the first century, most that have been lost to the modern scholar. Thus, modern Christians can speculate, whereas early leaders could know the origin and authority of texts with a much higher level of certainty. Second, the early church preserved the New Testament books for a particular reason. It would be negligent for modern Christians to seek to override nearly 2,000 years of church history in arrogantly claiming that persons today know more about Jesus than those who were physically with Jesus. Therefore, it is in this writer’s opinion that the canon is closed and finalized.

Portions of the preceding article were posted in a discussion board assignment by Pastor Brian Chilton. As in all cases, any documentation should be properly assigned. The use of this information for academic purposes will require documentation as plagiarism will be detected. Portion of the contents of this article have been run through the system SafeAssign.

 Copyright. 2015. Brian Chilton.

Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009.

Clement of Alexandria. The Stromata. In Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), Volume 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies. In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, Volume 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Klein, William W., Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Revised and Updated. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004.

Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ (Eyewitness Evidence)

Click here to hear the audio podcast that goes along with this article.

Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus:

Eyewitness Evidence

 

by: Pastor Brian Chilton

 

When a tornado touches down, reporters search for individuals who witnessed the tornado first-hand.  One may report on the sound of the tornado while others may report on the direction and intensity of the tornado.  The more eyewitnesses’ one is able to find, the more detailed and accurate story can be built.

When it comes to resurrection of Christ, the number of eyewitnesses is staggering.  Six documents give us information concerning the resurrection appearances of Jesus: the Gospel of Matthew (which came from part to whole from the apostle Matthew himself), the Gospel of Mark (which came from eyewitness testimony of the apostle Peter dictated to John Mark), the Gospel of Luke (an investigative biographical reporter who obtained several eyewitness reports), the Gospel of John (which came from the eyewitness testimony of John the apostle), the Book of Acts (the same as Luke’s Gospel), and 1 Corinthians 15 (an early Christian formulation recorded by Paul).  From these sources, we are able to construct four categories of witnesses: the women, the disciples, groups, and the adversaries.

Women

It is of great interest that Jesus chose to appear before the women and it is of even greater interest that the church used the women as witnesses to the resurrection.  Why?  In the first century, women were not viewed as reliable sources.  It was viewed that two women would equate to a single male’s witness.  Yet, the church used the testimony of women on equal level as the testimony of men.  Let us look at some of the women who met the risen Christ firsthand.

“But very early on Sunday morning* the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.

The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man* must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

Then they remembered that he had said this. So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. 11 But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it. 12 However, Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb to look. Stooping, he peered in and saw the empty linen wrappings; then he went home again, wondering what had happened.”[1]

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene is an interesting woman.  She was a disciple of Christ par excellence.  She never left the side of Jesus.  Perhaps due to this, she was the first to see the risen Lord.  Speculations exist as to the relationship of Mary to Jesus.  Some think of Mary as being Jesus’ wife.  Scripture does not in any way give this indication.  However, we do know that Mary had been cured a demonic possession in Luke 8:2, “Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.”[2]  Whatever the case, Mary from Magdala was chosen to be first to see the risen Lord Jesus.  From the testimony given in the gospel records, Mary was a woman of great faithfulness.

Joanna

Joanna is another woman who was listed among the women who saw Jesus risen from the dead.  We do not know a lot about Joanna except for what we learn in Luke 8:3 in that she was the wife of Chuza, who was himself a steward of King Herod.  Joanna must have been one of substantial financial wealth as it seems that she helped support the ministry of Jesus quite a bit.  Joanna’s faithfulness was rewarded as she too was one of the early witnesses of the risen Lord.

Mary, the mother of James

Not a lot is known about this Mary, either.  This Mary is the mother of James the Lesser and Joses, perhaps her husband was Alphaeus.  She was a faithful follower of Jesus and one who witnessed the risen Lord Jesus.  She was Galilean and not much more is known.

Salome[3]

Salome is the wife of Zebedee and the mother to the apostles James and John.  From a link in John 19:25, Salome may have been Mary the mother of Jesus’ sister, therefore making Salome Jesus’ aunt.  If this is true, it would have been intriguing to note that the cousins and aunt of Jesus believed in Him before His own brothers did.  Salome’s faith would be substantially increased as she witnessed Jesus risen from the dead.

Mary the mother of Jesus

“They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.” [4]  Even though Luke does not specifically mention Mary as a witness to the risen Lord, one can clearly see that Mary, the mother of Jesus was in attendance in the choosing of the new disciple to replace Judas Iscariot who hung himself after turning Jesus in to the authorities.  Clearly, one could strongly argue that Mary was another witness of the risen Lord Jesus.

Not only did the women see the risen Lord Jesus, many male disciples witnessed the risen Lord.  Let us look now at the disciples who were listed among those who saw the risen Lord.

Disciples

Robert Sloan defines “disciple” as, “Follower of Jesus Christ, especially the commissioned Twelve who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry. The term “disciple” comes to us in English from a Latin root. Its basic meaning is “learner” or “pupil.”[5]  The disciples were in fact students and followers of Jesus.  The fact that the disciples remained faithful to Jesus of Nazareth after His crucifixion when expecting a military leader speaks volumes to the authenticity of Jesus’ resurrection.  Something changed the disciples from a bunch of cowardly spectators to a bunch of bold players in the ministry of the church.  Let us now examine the disciples who witnessed the risen Lord Jesus.

Peter

In the formulational creed posited by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, we read, “He was seen by Peter* and then by the Twelve.”[6]  Although Peter was in attendance at the other visitations of the risen Jesus, the gospels do not tell us about the individual experience that Peter had with the risen Jesus.  In John 20:1-5, John tells us that he and Peter went to the tomb after Mary Magdalene had told them about seeing the tomb empty and witnessing the angels.  Peter and John went to the tomb and then went home.  Mary then had her encounter with Jesus.  Perhaps Jesus met Peter on his way home.  Or, maybe Peter hung around in a private area before going home.  Maybe Peter went back to the Garden where Jesus told him to pray.  It seems to be that it was right after Mary’s experience with Jesus that Peter had a one on one encounter with the risen Jesus.

Ten Apostles

“One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),* was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”[7]  Jesus appeared to ten of the eleven disciples.  Where was Thomas?  Well, Thomas being the natural skeptic probably was preparing to head back to Galilee to restart his fishing business.  Being the skeptic that he was, I could see where Thomas may have thought, “Well, it was nice while it lasted, but this ministry is over now.  I had better start thinking about my future now.”  Perhaps Thomas was planning to say “good-bye” to the disciples.  God only knows for sure.  But, nonetheless Jesus appeared before the ten disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday, April 9th, 30AD.

Thomas

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” [8]

For those of us who are skeptically inclined, we can find great appreciation in the witness of Thomas.  Throughout the ministry of Jesus, Thomas was always somewhat of a “negative Nancy.”  He was skeptical of Jesus’ teaching of the kingdom and was sarcastic when he thought that the disciples should go down and die with Jesus.  Thomas the realist had a difficult time when the other disciples told him that they had seen Jesus alive from the dead.  Thomas probably thought, “Yeah, and I bet you want me to believe that there is an ocean in the Sinai Peninsula too, huh?  That was, until about a week later.  The Sunday following Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared again to the disciples this time with Thomas present.  It seems that Jesus strung Thomas along for a while perhaps to test to see how long he would stay with the disciples.  Thomas uses the phrase “Ὁ κύριός μου καὶ ὁ θεός μου.”[9]  The phrase “my Lord and my God” was used for the Roman emperors in the emperor cult of the time.  It showed that the emperor or Caesar was a god and overlord of the people.  In this sense, Thomas showed that he now knew that Jesus was THE Lord of all creation and THE God who had come in flesh.

Amazing as it is, Jesus not only appeared to individuals, He also appeared to groups.  This is something of vast importance for the skeptic who would claim that the disciples simply had grand hallucinations.  Large groups do not have the same hallucination.

Groups

Jesus appeared to a group of people at least five times.  Some groups were large while others consisted of a couple.  In all of these occasions, numerous people witnessed the reality of Jesus’ resurrection as they were conversing with the risen Lord Jesus.

500 Brethren (1,000 – 1,500)

“After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.”[10]  Paul documents as part of the early Christian formulation that Jesus appeared to over five hundred brethren.  Two things need to be addressed with this number.  First, Paul says that over 500 brethren witnessed the risen Lord.  It could have been 520 or even 550.  Second, notice that Paul does not record the witnesses of the women in 1 Corinthians 15.  In first-century times, women and children were not counted in official numbers.  If you notice, Luke does not mention the women in attendance in Acts until the presentation of a new disciple.  My guess is that the women were not counted in this number.  We see the same phenomenon with the feeding of the 5,000.  Only the men were counted.  If you take into account the women who were in attendance at the feeding of the 5,000, then the number of actual individuals present soars to 10,000.  If you take into account that the average household had 6 children, then the number soars to a possibility of 35,000 people who were in attendance.

Using the same logic, we could take the 500 who witnessed the risen Jesus at one time and multiply that by two to take into account the women who were there and get 1,000.  We could also naturally assume that children would have been present, also.  If that is the case (also taking into consideration that the average Mediterranean household of the first-century had 6 children), we could multiply the women with the average house of 6 children and get a possibility of 3,500 individuals who could have witnessed the risen Lord Jesus at one time.  This is phenomenal!  How do 3,500 people have the same hallucination?  They don’t.

Men on Road to Emmaus

That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles* from Jerusalem. 14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. 16 But God kept them from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. 18 Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

19 “What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. 20 But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

22 “Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. 23 They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! 24 Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, 29 but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. 30 As they sat down to eat,* he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!

32 They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” 33 And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, 34 who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.*” [11]

This special appearance is also referenced in Mark 16:12.  Although this was a small group that experienced the risen Jesus, the appearance is nonetheless phenomenal.  This event seems to have taken place late in the day of the first Easter Sunday, April 9th, 30AD.  The two disciples were concerned about what had taken place.  Jesus appears to them and explains everything to them.  Towards the end as they sit to partake of supper, the two men understand that it is Jesus who was speaking to them all along.  After Jesus left their sight, the men ran back towards Jerusalem to tell the disciples.  When they arrived, they told the disciples about what happened.  The disciples were talking about how Jesus had appeared to Peter.  At that time, Jesus appeared again before them all.  Notice the depth of detail in the story.  Unless one takes a bias against the possibility of the supernatural, the reader cannot help but see the eyewitness details given in this account.

Other Groups

Other groups of people witnessed the Risen Lord Jesus.  Those 120 who were present at Jesus’ ascension all witnessed the risen Jesus as well as the 72 who were previously sent out by Jesus.

The 120 at the Great Commission

“So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”[12]

So how do we get 120 out of this number?  Well consider the reading in Acts after the ascension takes place and the people re-gather in Jerusalem to assign a new disciple to take the place of Judas Iscariot who had hung himself after betraying Jesus, Perhaps some 120 or more were witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.  “During this time, when about 120 believers* were together in one place, Peter stood up and addressed them.” [13]  Peter tells the people, ““God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.”[14]  It could be argued that many others saw Jesus risen from the dead because Luke records, “Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.”[15]  Can we know with certainty that all 120 were there at the ascension of Jesus?  Well, no.  But, can we imagine that they would not have been?  No.  It would seem that it could be argued with a great deal of certainty that the disciples witnessed the risen Jesus at that time as Peter storms the streets proclaiming that they had all seen the risen Jesus.  I think you could also argue that many others in the streets of Jerusalem may have seen the risen Lord.  Perhaps that is why upwards of 3,000 people were added to the church at the preaching of Peter…because the people knew the resurrection to have been a fact.

The 72

“The Lord now chose seventy-two* other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit.”[16]  “Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”[17]  We cannot say for sure that the 72 witnessed Jesus risen from the dead at one time.  However, from the previous passages, I think one could strongly infer that they did.  The 72 may have been part of the over 500 that witnessed Jesus or perhaps they were part of the 120 who witnessed Jesus at His ascension.  Nonetheless, from the rendering of the 1 Corinthians 15 passage, I think it can be safely said that the 72 witnessed the risen Lord Jesus.

Adversaries

If you really want to know something about a person, ask that person’s enemy what they think about the person.  Like in all things, you would have to take the person’s thoughts with a grain of salt.  However, when an adversary has a change of heart, you must listen.  Some of the strongest attestations pertaining to the resurrection of Christ come from two adversaries who witnessed Christ risen from the dead and became staunch leaders of the church that they had previously opposed.  Those two individuals are James and Paul.

“Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.”[18]

James

James, the brother of Jesus, was not a follower of Jesus during Jesus’ earthly ministry.  James and the brothers thought that Jesus was a little crazy.  John writes, “His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. 4 For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” 5 For even His brothers did not believe in Him.[19]

James may have even been the brother who told Jesus to go to Judea.  Yet James became a disciple of Jesus after Jesus was crucified.  That does not make sense.  Well, it would if you added the resurrection factor.  James became a believer in Jesus after he witnessed the power of life in the resurrected Jesus.  James would even write, “This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”[20]

Paul

Paul was in the same category of James.  Paul was not a believer in Jesus.  Paul sought to destroy the church.  Yet, Paul ceased from seeking the church’s destruction to seeking the church’s growth.  What happened?  Paul witnessed the risen Lord Jesus.  His witness of Christ is given in Acts,

“As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.”[21]

This event would transform Paul for the rest of his life and even into eternity.  Paul became one of the greatest missionaries that the church has ever seen.

Conclusion:

Weightlifting is a great hobby for me.  I especially enjoy powerlifting.  Being in my mid-thirties, I pay a greater price for lifting heavy weights than I did in my twenties.  However, I have had great success with weightlifting.  I can still bench press around 500 pounds, but my squat lift is what really has impressed.  A friend of mine wanted me to workout with him and a buddy of his.  That day, my chest was sore and could not hoist up weight in the bench press as much as I desired.  However, I wanted to show him that I was truthful in what I could do.  So, I threw on close to 600 pounds on the Smith-machine to squat.  I can still to this day see his, his buddies, and others eyes in the weight room that day bulge out in disbelief.  They could believe the reports of my lifts because they could see firsthand the accuracy in one of my reports.

People at work could believe my reports too because he and others could tell them of my lift.  Well what if over 500 people told you the same thing?  Would you believe them?  That is what you have in the resurrection of Christ.  Others could be added to the list such as the guards at the tomb and bystanders who may have witnessed the risen Christ.  The core question is, do you have the faith to believe what the evidence suggests…that Jesus Christ did rise from the dead?


[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted comes from Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Lk 24:1–12.

[2] Luke 8:2.

[3] See Mark 16:1.

[4] Acts 1:14.

[5] Robert B. Sloan, Jr., “Disciple” In , in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 425.

[6] 1 Corinthians 15:5.

[7] John 20:24–25.

[8] John 20:25–29.

[9] Michael W. Holmes, The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Logos Bible Software, 2010), Jn 20:28.

[10] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Corinthians 15:6.

[11] Luke 24:13–34.

[12] Acts 1:6–11.

[13] Acts 1:15.

[14] Acts 2:32.

[15] Acts 2:41.

[16] Luke 10:1.

[17] 1 Corinthians 15:7.

[18] 1 Corinthians 15:7–9.

[19] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Jn 7:3–5.

[20] James 1:1.

[21] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Ac 9:3–9.

Who Really Wrote the Gospels?

Click here for the Redeeming Truth Radio show on “Who Really Wrote the Gospels?”

The “Gospel of Matthew” and “The Gospel of John” portions of this transcript were submitted as part of a discussion board for NBTS 521 at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.  The class was taught by Dr. R. Wayne Stacy, author of the book “Where Jesus Walked: A Spiritual Journey Through the Holy Land.”  Due to the integration of the text with the post, Turabian format (with footnotes) is used for the “The Gospel of Matthew” and “The Gospel of John.”  MLA format is used for “The Gospel of Mark” and “The Gospel of John.”   My apologies beforehand for any confusion.

Progressive scholarship has taken over much of New Testament studies.  Some would have you believe that the gospels are a product not from apostolic authority, but by communities.  Even if communities wrote in honor of an apostle, would that not imply that the texts presented came from the apostle?  However, as you examine the evidence and not simply conjecture, you find that the evidence does not support a belief in a community based authorship of the gospels.  Rather, you find that tradition has been correct all along in that these gospel texts do indeed come from writers presenting eyewitness testimony concerning the life of Jesus.

The Gospel of Matthew

When it comes to the Bible and the authorship of the gospels, I am a traditionalist.  By “traditionalist” I mean that I hold to what the patristic fathers wrote about who the authors were.  Let’s be honest.  Despite the world-class scholarship we have today, we are still almost 2,000 years removed from the events.  We can speculate, but I believe the early church fathers knew who wrote the gospels.  That does not mean that they were correct necessarily in everything they wrote, but I believe they were correct in most of what they wrote.  As we look to the gospel of Matthew, I believe that Matthew the apostle was the author of at least most of what we have in the gospel today.  This is supported by internal and external evidence.

-external evidence for authorship

The early church fathers all agreed that Matthew the apostle was the author of the gospel.  Why dispute that claim when these men were writing very close to the time of the original church?  Eusebius writes, “The other followers of our Lord were also not ignorant of such things, as the twelve apostles and the seventy, together with many others: yet of all the disciples, Matthew and John are the only ones who have left us recorded comments, and even they, tradition says, undertook it from necessity.  Matthew also having first proclaimed the gospel in Hebrew, when on the point of going also to other nations, committed it to writing in his native tongue and thus supplied the want of his presence to them by his writings.”[1]  Why is it impossible to think that Matthew first wrote a Hebrew version of the Gospel and later reworked a Gospel in Greek?  Even if you supposed that Matthew borrowed material from Mark that does not negate the fact that Matthew still could have written the text we now possess.  If the Greek version was more appropriate, why hang on to the Hebrew version?  Matthew could still be the author of both.

-internal evidence for authorship

Carson and Moo give two, among many other, internal evidences for Matthean authorship: “1. Only this gospel refers to “Matthew the tax collector” (10:3)…3. The assumption that Matthew was a tax collector (essentially a minor in customs official collecting tariff on goods in transit) and was the author of this gospel makes sense of a number of details…A number of peculiarly Matthean periscopes do depict financial transactions (17:24-27; 18:23-35; 20:1-16; 26:15; 27:3-10; 28:11-15).”[2]

-Date

Most likely, Matthew was written either in the late 50s or the early 60s.  Some has postulated that Matthew was written after 70AD during the destruction of the Temple.  However, if Luke wrote both Acts and his Gospel which did not record any event after 64 AD and he used Matthew as an eyewitness account, then Matthew must have been written prior to 64AD.

-purpose

I personally believe that Matthew wrote first to show that Jesus was the Messiah.  The book may have been a sort of apologetic for a Jewish audience.  Along those lines, I think Matthew wrote his gospel to show that Jesus, or Yeshua, was the Messiah who had long been prophesied and was the fulfillment of the Hebrew Bible’s prophecies.  As Carson and Moo write, “Because Matthew devotes so much space to Old Testament quotations, some have suggested that he wrote his gospel to teach Christians how to read their Bibles—what we refer to as the Old Testament.”[3]

-intended destination

I believe Matthew intended his gospel for the Jews first perhaps in Syria.  However, as Carson and Moo write, “Matthew wrote his gospel with certain kinds of readers in mind, rather than readers in a particular location.  Moreover, the strong arguments of Bauckham and others, to the effect that the gospels were first written to be read by all Christians, should not be lightly set aside.”[4]

The Gospel of Mark

The Gospel of Mark is short, sweet, and to the point.  Mark is thought to be the earliest completed Gospel that we possess in our modern New Testament.  But, who wrote the Gospel?  It would appear that John Mark wrote the gospel under the tutelage of the Apostle Simon Peter.  I feel that for this reason that this Gospel could be called “The Gospel of Simon Peter.”  Evidence, externally and internally, exists for this fact.

-external evidence for authorship

As with Matthew’s Gospel, the early church leaders unanimously agreed that John Mark wrote the Gospel that bears his name.  Eusebius writes, “This also the presbyter said: ‘Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III.39.15).  Peter shows that John Mark was with him for a time in Rome (called Babylon “symbolically”), “Your sister church here in Babylon* sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark” (1 Peter 5:13, NLT).  Peter shows that Mark was with him and this adds credibility to the patristic father’s writings about Mark.

-internal evidence for authorship

Internally, clues exist that John Mark was the author.  First, several references exist pertaining to Peter.  In Mark, we find references to Peter’s rejection of Jesus during Jesus’ trial (chapter 14:66-72).  The structure of Mark’s gospel even is comparable to Peter’s messages found in the Book of Acts.  Secondly, discipleship is key to Mark’s gospel.  This would have been a major them of Peter’s messages, too.

Also, we are perhaps met with John Mark in an incident in his Gospel that is recorded nowhere else.  It has been noted that John Mark’s home may have been the place where the Last Supper was held.  But, more noteworthy is the reference in Mark 14:51-52, “Then all his disciples deserted him and ran away. 51 One young man following behind was clothed only in a long linen shirt. When the mob tried to grab him, 52 he slipped out of his shirt and ran away naked” (Mark 14:50–52).  It has been held that the young man may have been John Mark himself.

-Date

Evidence is mounting that Mark wrote sometime in the 50sAD.  New fragments have been found that may have been dated from Mark’s Gospel to the 50s, but we will have to wait to hear more from these discoveries.

-purpose

Mark’s main purpose may have been for evangelism.  He wanted to write an easy-to-read book that would show the life of Christ in a brief, compact way; similar to a gospel tract.  Mark may have also written to show the importance of perseverance despite mounting persecutions.

-intended destination

Lea and Black give us our answer as they write, “Internal evidence suggests that Mark wrote for a Roman audience.  His explanation of Jewish customs implies that he wrote to a Gentile audience unacquainted with Jewish practices (7:3-4).  He frequently translated Aramaic expressions so that his Roman audience could understand them” (Lea and Black, The New Testamant: Its Background and Message, 144).

The Gospel of Luke

The Gospel of Luke is among the most exquisite books among ancient Greek texts.  Some have argued that Luke’s equal in the fluency of Greek is found only in Homer’s Iliad.  When Greek students seek to learn biblical Greek, they do not start with Luke.  They start with John or Mark.  They end with Luke because of Luke’s complex writing style.  Evidence suggests that Luke, the physician and companion of Paul, wrote the Gospel that bears his name.

-external evidence for authorship

As with Matthew and Mark, early church leaders unanimously contributed Luke’s Gospel to the physician Luke, who was also the companion to Paul.  Luke not only wrote the Gospel but he also wrote the book of Acts.  Acts ends with Paul in Rome.  The personal pronoun “we” is used to show that the author was with Paul in Rome.  Of those listed in Rome with Paul in his letters: Epaphras (Col. 4:12), Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25), Timothy (Phil. 2:19), Tychicus (Col. 4:7), Mark (Col. 4:10), Jesus called Justus (Col. 4:11), Aristarchus (Col. 4:10), Onesimus (Col. 4:9), Luke (Col. 4:14), and Demas (Col. 4:14); only Luke is qualified to be the author of the Gospel.  As Lea and Black write, “Of the companions, Aristarchus, Tychicus, Timothy, and Mark are mentioned in the third person at some point in Acts and thus could not be the author of the book.  Demas later deserted Paul (2 Tim. 4:20) and is not likely the author of the book.  Epaphroditus joined Paul after his arrival in Rome and could not have described the voyage to Rome.  Epaphras also apparently arrived in Rome at a later date (Col. 1:7).  No tradition supports the authorship of the third Gospel by either Jesus (Justus) or Onesimus.  Logically Luke becomes the best choice for the author of the book.  Since the author of Acts is also the author of the third Gospel, we suggest that Luke authored both writings” (Lea and Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd Edition, 147).

-internal evidence for authorship

Within the Gospel of Luke, medical conditions are listed in more precise details than in any other Gospel.  This would be evidence of someone who had medical knowledge.  Paul writes in Colossians 4:14, “Luke, the beloved doctor, sends his greetings, and so does Demas” (Col 4:14).  So, the inclusion of medical knowledge in the text adds to the veritability that Luke, the physician, wrote the text.  We also find that the author was interested in writing down an accurate and orderly account of the life of Jesus.  Luke writes, “

Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. 2 They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples.* 3 Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theophilus, 4 so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught” (Lk 1:1–4).

-Date

Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and Acts.  Some even think that it may be one unified book, although I have my doubts about that.  Nonetheless, Acts ends with Paul in Rome.  Paul and Peter were martyred in 67AD.  But, Paul was under house arrest long before that time.  So, 64AD has been tossed around as the probable date of Acts composition.  Since the Gospel was written earlier than Acts, the Gospel must have been written around 61-63AD.

-purpose

Luke wrote to a Gentile audience and showed that Jesus ministered to the outcasts, the Gentiles, and the poor.  It is in Luke we find the only listing of the beautiful parables of “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” and “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” given by Jesus.  Luke provided eyewitness testimony from several that were unlisted by Matthew and Mark.  Internal evidence suggests that Mary, the mother of Jesus, may have been interviewed for the text.

-intended destination

Rome is a probable location for Luke’s original destination.  One thing is for sure; Luke wrote for Gentile believers in Christ.

The Gospel of John

John’s gospel has always been my favorite.  Now I know by our readings that some speculate that John of Zebedee was not the author, but I personally do not see how.  The only reason I can guess is that some would not desire an apostle, or eyewitness, to be the author of a New Testament text.  Nonetheless, strong internal and external evidences show that John the apostle, son of Zebedee was the author of the Gospel that bears his name.

-external evidence for authorship

Several patristic fathers wrote that John wrote the gospel.  Some indicate that John was a pastor in Ephesus before he died.  On that several patristic fathers wrote about John composing his gospel, Carson and Moo writes, “Not only did Irenaeus but Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian provide firm second-century evidence for the belief that the apostle John wrote this gospel.”[5]

-internal evidence for authorship

I think it is simply logical.  Many things could be said about the internal evidence for John’s authorship being the apostle.  Carson and Moo provide two of three powerful internal arguments for John of Zebedee being the author of the gospel that bears his name, “1. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls compels us to recognize that it is unnecessary to resort to a person of expansion into the Hellenistic world to account for John’s characteristic expressions…2. …that at least in some instances John’s quotations are closer in form to the Hebrew or Aramaic than to the Greek.”[6]  For me the most powerful evidence comes from John’s conclusion.  Throughout the gospel we read of the “beloved disciple.”  Then John ends with this, “This disciple is the one who testifies to these events and has recorded them here. And we know that his account of these things is accurate.  Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.”[7]

-Date

Strong tradition holds that John wrote while pastor in Ephesus.  It would seem that John wrote around 80AD or sometime in the 80s AD.

-purpose

Eusebius quotes Clement in saying, “But John, last of all, perceiving that what had reference to the body in the gospel of our Savior, was sufficiently detailed, and being encouraged by his familiar friends, and urged by the spirit, he wrote a spiritual gospel.”[8]  So, I think John filled in the gaps and wrote a more theologically based gospel showing the person of Jesus.

-intended destination

Because there are strong reasons for holding that John lived in Ephesus at the time of the gospel’s composition, it could have been that John wrote to Ephesus first.  Carson and Moo write, “If John the son of Zebedee wrote this book while residing in Ephesus, then it might be inferred that he prepared the book for readers in this general part of the empire.”[9]

Why authorship is an important issue in today’s times?

In a world that is becoming more skeptical, I think it is important to show that the New Testament is built upon strong authority.  Showing apostolic authorship to Matthew and John, while also showing John Mark building his gospel from the teachings of Simon Peter and Luke’s from Paul and other early eyewitnesses, gives more credence to the New Testament text.  My faith was damaged when John Dominick Crossan and others of the Jesus Seminar claimed that the New Testament showed little about Jesus.  However, I was led to the works of some great New Testament scholars who showed otherwise.  This is one reason why I am proud to be part of a university that stands on truth and not popularity.  Being shown that the New Testament was built upon apostolic authority was one of the steps that God used to bring me back to the faith that I once enjoyed.  So, I think the issue of displaying apostolic authorship and authority is essential.

Bibliography

 Carson, D. A. and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005)

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History.

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007).

Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd Edition (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2003).

[1] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III.24.5-6.

[2] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 147-148.

[3] Ibid, 157.

[4] Ibid, 156-157.

[5] Ibid, 231.

[6] Ibid, 236.

[7] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Jn 21:24–25.

[8] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, VI.14.7.

[9] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 267.