Lost in the Weeds: SJ Thomason Takes on Bart Ehrman, part 1

To see all posts in this series, please refer to its index.

Last year I wrote a five-part series on Heather Schuldt’s terrible attempt at taking on biblical scholar Bart Ehrman.1 Now pop-apologist SJ Thomason wants to have her moment in the sun as she responds to Bart Ehrman’s fifteen year old book Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.2 Her first post entitled “Ehrman’s ‘Misquoting Jesus’ Misleads Readers from its Inception”3 is standard pop-apologetic rubbish. Let’s briefly explore why.

Paul, 1 Thessalonians, and the Dating of the Gospels

Thomason begins by addressing Ehrman’s claim that the first epistle to the Thessalonians can be “dated to about 49 C.E., some twenty years after Jesus’s death and some twenty years before any of the Gospel accounts of his life.”4 The pop-apologist claims Ehrman is “intentionally stretching the dating.” But is he?

Despite Thomason’s confidence in dating Jesus’ death to April 3, 33 CE, historians and New Testament scholars aren’t entirely sure exactly when he died.5 Helen Bond notes that

[t]he commonly held assumption that Jesus died in either April 30 or 33 is based on astronomical calculations relating to years in which Nisan 14 fell on a Friday….All we can say with any confidence is that Jesus died some time between around 29 and 33 CE (any later and Pauline chronology becomes problematic).6

Elsewhere Ehrman has shown a preference for 30 CE7 and other scholars tend to lean that way as well.8 If Paul wrote the first epistle to the Thessalonians around 49 CE then this would indeed be “some twenty years after Jesus’ death.”

Thomason next makes two arguments for an early dating of the Gospels. First, she asserts that Paul knew of the Gospel of Luke because in 1 Timothy 5:18 we find the words of Jesus from Luke 10:7 quoted. I have dealt with this issue elsewhere and will not revisit it here.9 Second, Thomason believes that since the Gospel authors fail to mention explicitly the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and that the author of Acts doesn’t discuss the deaths of either Paul or Peter then they must have been written before these events. But she has elsewhere indicated that she believes the Gospel of John was written sometime around 90 CE.10 Yet the Johannine author never mentions the fall of Jerusalem. So why does Thomason accept the standard scholarly date of 90 CE for the writing of the Gospel of John but not the standard dating for the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke? I have already written a post on the dating of the Gospels and so I invite the reader to take a look at that post.11 Needless to say, Thomason’s scheme is off and Ehrman’s view stands.

Other Gospels

Thomason next takes issue with Ehrman’s discussion of other Gospels that were written besides those found in the canonical New Testament. She says,

On page 24, Ehrman makes the claim that “many others” were written, citing Luke 1:1 and his reference to “many” “predecessors.” His examples of many others on page 24 are three Gnostic gospels: Philip, Judas Thomas, and Mary Magdalene.

It is important to note the dating of the three Gnostic gospels that are cited by Ehrman, a point he curiously excluded: Philip was written in the third century, Judas Thomas was written in the middle to late second century, and Mary Magdalene was written in the late second century.

Ehrman does fail to mention the dating of these later Gospels but the context makes it plain he considers them to be written after the canonical Gospels: “Other Gospels, including some of the very earliest, have been lost.”12 Ehrman’s main point is to note that Christians wrote additional Gospels because they “were concerned to know more about the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of their Lord” and therefore “recorded the traditions associated with the life of Jesus.”13 Their canonicity is a non-issue for Ehrman’s point and so Thomason’s subsequent discussion is a red herring.

Setting aside Thomason’s simplistic view of how the canon developed, it is interesting to note what she says about the Lukan author’s claim that “many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us” (Luke 1:1).

The fact Luke stated that “many have undertaken to draw up an account” does not mean many were successful in completing their undertakings. It may mean that many started and only a few – or two – finished.

But notice what the author says in Luke 1:3 – “I too decided…to write an orderly account.” Since Luke evidently completed his account, it stands to reason that there were other completed accounts as well.

I won’t touch on her discussion of Q since she evidently doesn’t know what Q is or how it functions with regards to the Synoptic Problem. Heather Schuldt revealed similar ignorance regarding Q and here is what I said about it.

[T]he purpose of Q was to account for passages not found in Mark but found in Matthew and Luke and this leads to a huge problem for Schuldt. The existence of Q is tied to the notion of Markan priority. Markan priority entails that the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke used Mark as one of their sources in composing their narratives. But why would Matthew – an actual disciple of Jesus – need to use any source, especially Mark’s who wasn’t even a disciple? If Matthew was an eyewitness then there would have been no need to utilize Mark (let alone Q) as his source! Schuldt then has undermined the very position she was trying to promote!14

Ditto for Thomason.

Extra Epistles

Finally, Thomason discusses Ehrman’s mentioning of “lost letters” that were written between Paul and the churches to whom he ministered. But as Ehrman explains, his “point is that letters were important to the lives of early Christian communities.”15 In fact, the entire point of the first chapter of Misquoting Jesus is to explain the “bookishness” of Christianity as seen in the New Testament documents.16 So why in the world does Thomason say the following?

The fact we do not have those or other early letters does not discount the validity of the letters we do have. We have no evidence that any substantive letters are missing – or that early church fathers lamented particular missing letters. One can reasonably conclude no substantive information is missing.

This is nothing more than a strawman set up by Thomason. Nowhere does Ehrman suggest that these missing letters means that what is not missing is somehow invalid. As Ehrman himself explains, the section titled “Christianity as a Religion of the Book” (pages 20-29) was his attempt at “summarizing the different kinds of writings that were important to the lives of the early Christian churches.”17 Imputing to Ehrman a subversive motive that simply isn’t there speaks volumes about Thomason’s inability to read fairly or engage with what she has read in good faith.

Summary

So far, the pop-apologist is not off to a very good start. I do not have high hopes that her future posts will get any better.

NOTES

Amateur Exegete, “Index to Series ‘Hopelessly Confused: Heather Schuldt Takes on Bart Ehrman” (11.9.18), amateurexegete.com. 

2 Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005).

3 S.J. Thomason, “Ehrman’s ‘Misquoting Jesus’ Misleads Readers from its Inception” (2.9.19), christian-apologist.com. Accessed 9 February 2019.

4 Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 22.

5 For an overview of the issues pertaining to the chronology of Jesus’ life and ministry, see John P. Maier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol. 1 (Doubleday, 1991), 372-433. See also E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (Penguin Books, 1993), 282-290.

6 Helen K. Bond, The Historical Jesus: A Guide for the Perplexed (T & T Clark, 2012), 150.

7 Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (HarperOne, 2012), 56.

8 See John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (HarperCollins, 1992), 218; Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, 290; Paula Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews (Vintage Books, 1999), 149; Maier, A Marginal Jew, vol. 1, 407.

9 See “On SJ Thomason’s Argument for Dating the Gospels Early” (12.28.18), amateurexegete.com.

10

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11 Hopelessly Confused: Heather Schuldt Takes on Bart Ehrman, part 1” (11.2.18),  amateurexegete.com.

12 Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 24. Emphasis added.

13 Ibid.

14 Amateur Exegete, “Hopelessly Confused: Heather Schuldt Takes on Bart Ehrman, part 1” (11.2.18),  amateurexegete.com. Accessed 9 February 2019.

15 Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 23.

16 Ibid., 17.

17 Ibid., 29.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Index to Series “Hopelessly Confused: Heather Schuldt Takes On Bart Ehrman”

Below you will find links to all five posts in the series “Hopelessly Confused: Heather Schuldt Takes on Bart Ehrman.” I suggest that to get a full grasp of just how confused Schuldt is that the reader have a look at her post “5 Examples Why Bart Ehrman Is Not a Gospel Expert.

It should also be noted that Schuldt and I had a brief email exchange wherein we discussed topics for discussion and venue. However, she has not responded to my last email and as of the date of this writing has blocked me on Twitter.


Part 1 – In this post I examine issues surrounding the dating of the Gospel accounts. I take a brief look at the Synoptic Gospels specifically and discuss the reasons many scholars date them to the 70s and 80s CE.

Part 2 – In this post I examine issues surrounding the authorship of the Gospel accounts. I discuss Papias on Mark and Matthew, the “We Passages” in Acts, and the “Beloved Disciple” in John.

Part 3 – In this post I examine the relationship of the oral tradition behind the Gospels and the Gospels themselves. Particularly, I consider whether or not we have evidence for Schuldt’s claim that written forms are not malleable.

Part 4 – In this post I examine the Passion Week in both Mark and John. I discuss how the two versions do not sync as Schuldt hoped they would.

Part 5 – In this post I examine the timing of Jesus’ death in Mark and John and how John has strategically placed Jesus’ crucifixion at the time he does for theological reasons. I also summarize the series and offer some thoughts on Schuldt’s approach.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Hopelessly Confused: Heather Schuldt Takes on Bart Ehrman, part 5

This is the fifth and final post in a series examining pop-apologist Heather Schuldt’s attempt to take down New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman. The four previous posts can be viewed here:

In this post we will be looking at Schuldt’s attempt to reconcile the seemingly divergent times recorded in the Gospel accounts surrounding Jesus’ death. At the end we will summarize the series, observing briefly the way Schuldt as a pop-apologist engages with the biblical texts and with biblical scholarship.

WHAT TIME WAS IT?

In the Gospel of Mark we are told that Jesus, having been arrested and tried before the religious authorities, is brought before Pilate on the morning which followed (Mark 15:1). Not long after we are told that Pilate has Jesus crucified. The specific time listed is hōra tritē, literally “the third hour” which the NRSV renders as “nine o’clock” (15:25). A few hours later darkness covers the land for three hours (Mark 15:33). The specific times listed are hōras hektēs, literally “the sixth hour” (NRSV, “noon”), and hōras enatēs, literally “the ninth hour” (NRSV, “three in the afternoon”). At enatē hōra, literally “the ninth hour” (NRSV, “three o’clock”) Jesus finally begins to die (15:34).

In the Gospel of John we are told that Jesus, having been arrested and tried before the religious authorities, is brought before Pilate on the morning which followed (John 18:28). Not long after we are told that Pilate has Jesus crucified (19:14). The specific time listed given is hōra…hōs hektē, literally “about the sixth hour” (NRSV, “about noon”). Sometime after this Jesus finally dies (19:30).

It is clear that by reading these accounts that they do not sync up at all. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had been crucified around 9am. But in John’s Gospel the crucifixion takes place around noon, well after what Mark reports. Interestingly, in some manuscripts of Mark 15:25 the word tritē is replaced with hektē in a bid to harmonize the Markan with the Johannine account while in some manuscripts of John 19:14 hektē is replaced with tritē in a bid to harmonize the Johannine account with the Markan account.1 Clearly later copyists noticed the discrepancy and tried to fix it.

Schuldt’s Response

How does Schuldt resolve this difficulty? She offers four points by which she means to rescue inerrancy. Let’s consider each in turn.

First of all, it is important to understand how they told time back then. Ehrman completely overlooks this historical time telling system. The first hour was at sunrise. The third hour was mid-morning. The sixth hour was mid-day. The ninth hour was mid-afternoon. The twelfth hour was twilight/sunset.2

Someone of Ehrman’s caliber hasn’t overlooked anything, and if he has then we can also blame evangelical scholars like Craig Evans for doing the same.3 Since the hours of the day were from sunrise to sunset and roughly twelve hours, Schuldt’s reckoning is correct. So the third hour was midmorning, commonly seen as 9am, the sixth hour was midday, roughly noon, and the ninth hour was midafternoon, roughly 3pm.

Next she writes,

Second, try not using a modern clock for just one month and see if you can figure out when it is 10:30 AM and when it is 11 AM. The point is that it is difficult to distinguish between the end of the third hour and the beginning of the sixth hour.

This is almost comical. Rather than read the text as we have it, Schuldt has to shift goals and avoid the obvious. Furthermore, she is missing the very reason John has changed Mark’s “third hour” (9am) to “about the sixth hour” (noon). In John’s Gospel, Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). By changing Mark’s 9am to noon, John aligns the crucifixion of the “Lamb of God” with the time when the sacrificial lambs were slaughtered in the temple! Pilate’s words coupled with the sending off of Jesus to be crucified shows that “Jesus is the true paschal lamb, about to suffer death at the appropriate hour of the appropriate day for the life of his people.”4 John, therefore, is portraying Jesus in a particular way, a way different from how Mark is portraying him.

Next, Schuldt says,

Third, the third hour might have included anything from 9 AM-11 AM, which is the accepted time frame of when Jesus was crucified. John was not wrong when he said it was “about” the sixth hour. He was estimating.

The assumption here is that the author of John’s Gospel was an eyewitness to the event. He wasn’t. And if she accepts inerrancy she would need to believe that none of the disciples were present at the crucifixion as Mark makes abundantly clear (Mark 14:26-31, 50-52). Her claim that John was “estimating” is just apologetic posturing with no exegetical warrant.

Finally, she says,

Fourth, the two accounts actually give us more information that the time must have been closer to the beginning of the sixth hour, closer at the end of the third hour, and not during the beginning of the third hour. 

This is absolutely bewildering. The Markan text makes it clear that “as soon as it was morning” the religious authorities discuss taking Jesus to Pilate which they then do (Mark 15:1). The next time marker tells us that it was 9am when he was crucified, not about 9am (15:25). Then we are told that at noon darkness comes over the land until 3pm at which time Jesus begins to die (Mark 15:33-34). If all you had was Mark’s Gospel then you wouldn’t think, “Well, maybe it was around 11am when he was actually crucified.” No, you would think that he was crucified at 9am. Schuldt has to resort to hermeneutical gymnastics to avoid the obvious.

Summary 

Schuldt resorts again to very contrived explanations to rescue inerrancy. She has forced an explanation that just doesn’t work. And it is one that ruins what John was trying to do in his version of events.

In the final analysis, then, we need not be concerned with whether the Johannine version is more correct at the level of “history” [than the Synoptic version]. It is not a claim about history at all, but about the theological significance of the death of Jesus as understood within the Johannine community. Nor is it necessary – or even possible – to force the Johannine chronology to fit that of the Synoptics. To do so would destroy the entire effect of the Johannine story. In other words, unless the audience allows the Johannine author to change the story in these significant ways, the all-important Johannine message regarding Jesus’ death – and the image of Jesus as the Lamb of God – cannot come through.5

Schuldt, with her eisegetical tendencies, has disrespected not only the texts themselves but the communities for which they were written. They were telling their story about Jesus, not the one of later harmonies. For them, it was less about the historical sequence and more about the meaning of the events of Jesus’ death. She’s missed it.

SERIES SUMMARY

As was the case with SJ Thomason, Heather Schuldt shows all the signs of the quintessential pop-apologist: ignorance of basic scholarship, the inability to pay attention to the way texts are written, and the assumption that their knowledge on a little translates to knowledge about a lot. Whatever one may think about Ehrman, there is no doubt that he is an expert in his field and to claim otherwise is (as I’ve said before) the height of hubris. What books has Schuldt written? Where has she been published? How long has she trained in biblical languages? Where does she teach?

But you will observe that in my response to Schuldt I didn’t resort to this kind of argument from authority. Instead, I presented the relevant data and I tried to do so while engaging with actual scholarship as well as the biblical texts directly. Meanwhile, Schuldt has provided 1) no evidence for the early dating of the Gospels, 2) no evidence for traditional authorship of the Gospels, 3) no reason to think the oral tradition behind the Gospels wasn’t malleable, 4) no exegetical reason to think that John and Mark agree on the Seder meal and the Passover, and 5) no appreciation for the way John’s Gospel was written with regards to the hour of Jesus’ crucifixion.

One of the utter failings of Schuldt’s approach is that she does not appreciate the Gospels for what they are. They were never intended to be read as snapshots of Jesus. The Synoptic Problem reveals this clearly. Instead, the Gospels were intended to be portraits of Jesus. The late New Testament scholar Robert Guelich wrote that

the presence of four distinctive gospels demands that each be taken seriously with its own divinely inspired message. Harmonization that obliterates the distinctiveness of the four gospels in the interest of reconstructing the life and teachings of Jesus can actually distort the plain meaning of the text. To read the four gospels as an unscrambled Diatessaron misses the genius of having four distinct gospels.6

I do not share in Guelich’s view on inspiration but I do share in his view that the Gospel authors were writing distinct accounts of Jesus’ life and that any subsequent attempts to harmonize them “obliterates the distinctiveness of the four gospels.” Yet obliterate Schuldt does when she tries to force the texts to align. Her high view of the doctrine of inerrancy results in a very low view of the biblical texts and serves as a parable for those seeking to understand the Gospel accounts: she is like one stumbling in the dark, putting together four different puzzles that portray four different images. Such attempts at harmonization result in fifth kind of Gospel, one derived from all four Gospels, but also one that has so distorted these portraits of Jesus that he is not even recognizable. Instead of a portrait of Jesus, Schuldt’s technique results in something far more abstract and far less interesting.

Schuldt reminds me of myself when I was younger and had received a lot of information about topics that I was interested in but lacked the conceptual framework with which to harness it. As a result, I was running with arguments rather than learning to walk or to even crawl with them. Schuldt is a student as Southern Evangelical Seminary in their graduate program of apologetics. No doubt in her classes she has been receiving a lot of information. But the way apologetics works is to confirm biases, not question them. And so she is being trained not to think critically. Therefore all the information they give her is filtered through particular views of the Bible that simply do not align with the biblical texts themselves. With what she’s learned she ends up being like a bull in a china shop and ends up absolutely wrecking the biblical texts. She certainly thinks she is defending the Bible but in reality she has done it a disservice. And frankly, SES has done a disservice to her and all their students.

One thing that cannot be overemphasized is that apologists like Schuldt simply do not spend very much time in the biblical texts. Rather, they spend a considerable amount of time in texts other than the biblical texts. But if you want to understand the Bible then spending large amounts of time in the Bible is indispensable. This may seem obvious but so often it isn’t to those who claim to actually believe the Bible in all it says. I saw this when I was an evangelical and I continue to see it as an atheist: the people of the Book have no appreciation of the Book because they don’t read the Book.

Maybe Schuldt will learn her lesson. But I have a feeling she won’t.

NOTES

1 See Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the New Testament, second edition (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), 99, 216.

2 Heather M. Schuldt, “5 Examples Why Bart Ehrman Is Not a Gospel Expert” (10.17.18), Ladyapologist.com. Accessed 8 Nov 2018.

3 See Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20, WBC vol. 34b (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001), 503.

4 FF Bruce, The Gospel and Epistles of John (Eerdmans 1983), 365.

5 L. Michael White, Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite (HarperOne, 2010), 16.

6 Robert A. Guelich, “The Gospels: Portraits of Jesus and His Ministry,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (June, 1981), 121. Accessed 9 November 2018.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Hopelessly Confused: Heather Schuldt Takes on Bart Ehrman, part 4

This is the fourth post in a series examining pop-apologist Heather Schuldt’s attempt to take down New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman. The three previous posts can be viewed here:

In this post we will be looking at Schuldt’s attempt to reconcile the Synoptics version of Passion Week with that of the Gospel of John.

PASSION WEEK PROBLEMS

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ first trip to Jerusalem is also his last. The final chapters of Mark’s Gospel are devoted to what has become known as “Passion Week.” Beginning with the “Triumphal Entry” episode and finishing with the crucifixion, the events take place over a seven-day period.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus has made multiple trips to Jerusalem over the course of a few years (see John 2:13, 5:1, etc.). And in John, Passion Week doesn’t begin with the Triumphal Entry but with an anointing at Bethany. Let’s begin with the Markan Passion Week.

Markan Passion Week

The sequence of events in the Markan narrative is fairly clear and we have the benefit of certain time markers to guide the way. Let’s briefly look at each day.

  • On Sunday, Jesus enters the city on the back of a colt, goes into the temple complex to survey it, and departs that evening for the city of Bethany (Mark 11:1-11).
  • On Monday morning, Jesus and the disciples make another trip to the temple (Mark 11:12-19).
  • On Tuesday morning, Jesus and the disciples make yet another trip to the temple (Mark 11:20-13:37).
  • On Wednesday, “two days before the Passover,” Jesus is anointed by an unnamed woman in the home of Simon the leper in Bethany (14:1-9) and Judas seeks out the religious authorities to betray Jesus (14:10-11).
  • On Thursday, Jesus’s disciples prepare to eat the Passover Seder and that evening they share the Seder and Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper (14:12-31). Following this, Jesus takes the disciples to Gethsemane where he is subsequently arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin (14:43-72).
  • On Friday morning, Jesus is brought before Pilate who then crucifies him at 9am (15:1-32). At 3pm Jesus dies (15:34-41). That evening, Joseph requests Jesus’ body from Pilate for burial (15:42-47).
  • On Saturday, Jesus’ body lay in a tomb.

The sequence of events is quite clear. The first major event of the week is the Triumphal Entry. The next major event is the cleansing of the temple. Then comes the anointing in Bethany. After this is the Seder meal and Jesus’ arrest. Finally comes Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.

Johannine Passion Week

The sequence of events in the Johannine version of Passion Week differs greatly from the Markan version as can be seen in some very obvious discrepancies.

  • Whereas in Mark the Triumphal Entry takes place before the anointing in Bethany, in John’s Gospel the Triumphal Entry (John 12:12-19) takes place after the anointing in Bethany (12:1-8). John has rearranged events such that the Wednesday anointing in Mark takes place on Sunday and the Sunday Triumphal Entry in Mark takes place on Monday.
  • Whereas in Mark Jesus cleanses the temple complex the day after the Triumphal Entry, in John the cleansing of the temple takes place years before not long after Jesus performs his first miracle in Cana (2:13-22).
  • Whereas in Mark Jesus shares in a Seder meal with the disciples, in John the meal is not a seder meal as the context makes abundantly clear. For example, we are told that the meal of 13:21-30 takes place “before the festival of the Passover” (13:1). Furthermore, the religious authorities refuse to enter Pilate’s headquarters to turn Jesus over “so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover” (13:28). We are also told that the day Jesus was crucified “was the day of Preparation for the Passover” and that it “was about noon,” the time when the Passover lambs would have been slaughtered. So in John, the Passover coincided with the sabbath making that sabbath “a day of great solemnity” (19:31).

So we have in John’s Gospel a Passion story that contradicts quite clearly that found in the Gospel of Mark.

Schuldt’s Response

How does Schuldt respond to this? She offers five points that demonstrate that “Jesus ate the Passover meal on Thursday night.”

First of all, the Old Testament is very clear in several different books of the Pentateuch when the Israelites were supposed to eat the Passover meal (Lev. 23:4-8, Nu. 28:16-25). It says the Passover meal is supposed to be eaten on the first calendar Jewish month (Abib, also called Nisan), on the fourteenth day at twilight. The Passover dinner was supposed to be a one time dinner once a year.1

In a sea of misinformation and poor scholarship, Schuldt gets this one right! So let’s not linger.

Second, the Jewish day would begin at twilight and extend into the night and throughout the next sunlight part of the day. Ehrman completely overlooks this important cultural difference between the culture back then to the culture today. So the fifteenth can also be called Passover day, but the Passover dinner was supposed to be eaten at twilight on the fourteenth day of Nisan (Abib). Jesus knew all these festival rules and regulations. He followed them by eating the Passover meal that we refer to as his Last Supper, but other corrupt priests might have planned on eating a Passover dinner on another night during the seven days that followed, which they were not supposed to do. In other words, corrupt priests may not have been following the rules for when to eat the Passover meal.

Schuldt is absolutely correct that the Jewish day in the first century was reckoned from evening to evening, roughly 6pm to 6pm. She is wrong that “Ehrman completely overlooks this” fact. Ehrman writes in his textbook on the New Testament that “in Jewish reckoning, a new day begins when it gets dark (that is why the Jewish Sabbath begins on Friday evening).”2 She is correct that the Passover Seder was to be eaten on the evening of the Passover, which would have been Thursday evening in Mark. But what she claims next is just downright dirty.

Schuldt claims that while Jesus followed the rules and regulations set forth in the Torah concerning the Passover, “corrupt priests” may have acted against those regulations and celebrate it at a different time not prescribed by Levitical law. But this is not only pure speculation that she brings in to rescue inerrancy (i.e. eisegetical), it also flies directly in the face of the textual evidence. In Mark’s Gospel we are clearly told that before the Seder of Thursday night the disciples made preparations to celebrate it “[o]n the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed” (Mark 14:12). The lambs were sacrificed before the Seder meal. Since the Deuteronomic code forbade sacrificing Passover lambs anywhere but the temple (Deuteronomy 6:5-6) the disciples would have acquired their lamb at the temple from a priest that Thursday.

But this plainly contradicts what John says. It is John (not the priests) who note that the meal of John 13:21-30 takes place before the Passover (13:1). It is John (not the priests) who are said to not enter Pilate’s headquarters lest they become defiled and are therefore unable to eat the Passover meal that would have taken place later that evening (18:28). It is John (not the priests) who tell us that the day Jesus was crucified was the day of the Preparation for the Passover, i.e. the day when the lambs were slaughtered for that evening’s Seder (19:14). It is John (not the priests) who inform us that the coming sabbath day was one “of great solemnity” (19:31) because the Passover Seder would be eaten the evening the sabbath began.

The lengths to which people like Schuldt will go to rescue inerrancy never cease to amaze.

Schuldt continues.

Third, the Feast of Unleavened Bread lasted seven days beginning with Passover (day) on the fourteenth/fifteenth. Some people may have referred to the seven day celebration by calling all seven days the Passover Week. In the gospels, we hear what the people were actually saying and doing, but the law of Moses describes what was actually supposed to happen (Ex. 23:14-15).

I have no idea why Schuldt has brought this up here. Clarification on her part would be needed. So let’s move on to what she says next.

Fourth, the “preparation day” most likely refers to Friday, the day before the Sabbath day. Every Friday was called the Jewish day of preparation in order to rest on the Sabbath (Saturday). On the fourteenth of the first month, however, the Israelites still had to prepare for the Passover meal. Thursday that year was also a kind of preparation day, preparing for the Passover dinner that night. According to the law of Moses, the Feast of Unleavened Bread required food preparations on all seven days of the celebration. If Ehrman would take the time to understand some of these things, he would not be concluding with contradictions. Further explained in this way: Thursday the fourteenth of Nisan is when Jesus had the Last Supper at its proper time when the Passover dinner was supposed to occur, according to the law of Moses. Jesus was arrested after dinner. The next day was Friday the fifteenth of Nisan when Jesus was crucified, but it was technically still called Passover Day. Friday happened to be the day of preparation for the Sabbath, but it was also the day of preparation for the first Day of Unleavened Bread when the sacred assembly celebrated. John 19:14 does not contradict any other gospel book. Some people began to call the seven day celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, “Passover Week.”

Here again Schuldt needs to change the wording of the texts to fit her narrative. Regardless, this doesn’t actually change the narrative details found in the Gospel accounts themselves. In Mark, the lambs were sacrificed on Thursday afternoon before the Seder which happened Thursday evening. In John, the lambs were not sacrificed until Friday afternoon in preparation for the Seder which happened on Friday night.

Things that are different are not the same.

Next, Schuldt writes,

Fifth, in the Pentateuch, some people asked if they could still participate in the Passover meal even if they had been around a dead person. According to the books of Moses (Nu. 9:7-16; 19:11-16), a person who touched or was around a dead person was considered to be unclean for seven days. After Moses asked the Lord about this, the Lord instructed those unclean people to celebrate the Passover dinner in the following month, the second month of the Jewish calendar, at twilight on the fourteenth. In other words, no… anyone who touched a dead person or anyone who was around the dead person cannot participate in the ceremony because they are unclean for seven days. This might be why some people backed away from Jesus when he was dying on the cross: they didn’t want to be counted as unclean for seven days. 

This has nothing to do with the sequence of events in the Gospels so we will not comment on it.

Summary

Schuldt’s explanation for the discrepancies between Mark’s version of Passion week and John’s version is very contrived. It denies the language used by the authors in a bid to rescue the doctrine of inerrancy. It also shows how utterly out of her depth she is when it comes to reading the New Testament and dealing with scholars like Ehrman. Calling his expertise into question actually serves to call her own into it.

NOTES

1 Heather M. Schuldt, “5 Examples Why Bart Ehrman Is Not a Gospel Expert” (10.17.18), Ladyapologist.com. Accessed 8 Nov 2018.

2 Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 89.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Hopelessly Confused: Heather Schuldt Takes on Bart Ehrman, part 3

This is the third post in a series examining pop-apologist Heather Schuldt’s attempt to take down New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman. The two previous posts can be viewed here:

In this post we will be looking at Schuldt’s claim regarding the oral tradition that lay behind the Gospel accounts.

ORAL TRADITION

Schuldt writes,

Oral Reports Passed OnFirst of all, while verbal storytelling most likely did occur in history, how can Ehrman be so sure that no one wrote down anything? He can’t. The Q document hypothesis shows that if the story was written down and reproduced, which it was, then it did not have any time to be changed. Once a story is written and reproduced, such as anything from Gilgamesh to any other historical document, it becomes a specific story. Once a written story is reproduced and begins to circulate, the original becomes obvious. Today, we have thousands of early dated copies of the same gospel story. The story did not change from year to year like Ehrman imagines. Second, The “telehone operator game” that second graders play does not apply to the publication process, and it does not apply to a monologue that is memorized and performed in front of an audience. Third, some people have remarkable memories and can recite word for word from scripts and monologues. I personally witnessed in my lifetime a speaker recite the entire book of Revelation from memory in front of a large audience. Even if sermons were given verbally in the past, when the same sermon is given over and over, it most certainly does not change at all. Rather, it becomes even more ingrained into the memory, in a very precise way, much like a stage performer where the speaker recites exact lines night after night without error.1

As we indicated in previous posts, Schuldt has not provided a link to the video wherein Ehrman makes these statements and so I cannot comment on them directly. Nevertheless, we can say a few things about Schuldt’s view.

Hopelessly Confused About Q

Schuldt again brings up the Q source and again demonstrates absolutely no understanding about what it was and what it entails. We saw this in part 1 of this series when we commented on her use of Q as evidence for an early date for the Gospel accounts. So let’s review what Q is and why many New Testament scholars think it existed.

Most readers should be familiar with the phrase “the Synoptic Problem.” In reading the Synoptic Gospels (i.e. Matthew, Mark, and Luke) we readily notice the existence of multiple parallel accounts, sometimes referred to as the “triple tradition.” The “problem” of the Synoptic Problem is how to account for this tradition. While there have been a variety of proposals, the one agreed upon by most New Testament scholars is what has become known as the Two-Source Hypothesis (2SH). 2SH rests on the notion of what is called “Markan priority,” the position that the first of the Synoptic Gospels to have been written was Mark’s Gospel and that both the authors of Matthew and Luke used Mark’s Gospel as a basis for their own works.

Slide1

There is no need to defend Markan priority here but the reader is encouraged to see Ehrman’s own defense of it in his textbook on the New Testament.2 

2SH also rests on the assumption that both Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels utilized another source apart from the Gospel of Mark. Certain texts found in Matthew and Luke closely resemble one another, something often referred to as the “double tradition.” Under 2SH, the source for the double tradition is the hypothetical source Q (German, Quelle). Q was a source utilized by both Matthew and Luke but not by Mark.3

Slide1

So then 2SH posits that both Matthew and Luke had two sources from which they drew when composing their Gospel accounts: the Gospel of Mark and Q.

Slide1

Whatever else we may think about Q, it is clear that its existence was inferred and proposed on the basis of Markan priority. Therefore, to appeal to its existence commits one to the notion of Markan priority. Markan priority, in turn, commits one to the position that Matthew and Luke both utilized source material when composing their Gospel accounts. And this is problematic for Schuldt’s belief that Matthew’s Gospel, for example, was written by Matthew the tax collector because if Matthew was an eyewitness to the events he reports why would he need to draw from sources at all, especially from Mark who was not an eyewitness?

Schuldt’s appropriation of Q in a bid to rescue the Gospels serves to undermine her position on those Gospels functioning as eyewitness accounts. But there is more. Schuldt also doesn’t seem to know of what Q is comprised. By-and-large, Q would have included material from the double tradition that is non-narrative. In other words, Q was actually a “sayings source” akin to what we find in the Gospel of Thomas; very little of Q is considered to be narrative.4 So from where did the narrative material in Matthew and Luke come? Under 2SH, much of it came from Mark. But what about the rest? A modified form of 2SH, known as the Four Source Hypothesis, posits that Matthew had a third source “M” and Luke had a third source “L” upon which they drew. However, it is also possible that the non-Markan and non-Q material was simply invented by the authors.

How the Story Changes

The existence of Q and Matthew and Luke’s utilization of it serves to undermine yet another assert of Schuldt’s. She wrote, “The Q document hypothesis shows that if the story was written down and reproduced, which it was, then it did not have any time to be changed.” But this is absolutely incorrect. Let me provide an example.

In Matthew 8:5-13 we read the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant. It is a story that also appears in the Gospel of Luke (7:1-10). In the Matthean narrative, the centurion indicates that Jesus is superior to himself and that all Jesus needs to do is “speak the word” to heal the servant. Jesus’ response is one of amazement and he tells the centurion, “Truly, I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matthew 8:10). Then Jesus says these words:

I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (8:11-12).

In the Matthean narrative, these words serve to underscore the theme that those who are “heirs” may find themselves left out of the messianic banquet while those who are usually regarded as outsiders (i.e. the centurion) will be welcomed at the table.

The Lukan version of this story is rather truncated by comparison. After the centurion tells Jesus that Jesus need “only speak the word” and the servant would be healed, Jesus responds as he did in Matthew’s Gospel but without any of the language of Matthew 8:11-12. Instead, Jesus responds with the words of Matthew 8:10 and the scene ends with the healing of the centurion’s servant. So what has happened to the words Jesus spoke to the centurion recorded in Matthew 8:11-12? Well, Luke did not erase them entirely. Instead, Luke has inserted them into an entirely different context in Luke 13:28-29!

There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from the east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.

Since both the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant and the saying about the messianic banquet are both from Q, it tells us that the Q material has been rearranged and appropriated. In fact, it is possible that the saying of Matthew 8:11-12 and Luke 13:28-29 was part of its own section in Q as was the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant. Matthew inserted the saying in his story of the centurion’s servant while Luke inserted it into a parable about the narrow door (Luke 13:23-30).

This is evidence that just because a source was written down it doesn’t mean that later authors cannot take that source and use its material in different contexts and therefore in different ways.5 This is also true of Matthew’s and Luke’s utilization of Markan material. In Mark’s Gospel, the anointing of Jesus at Bethany takes place just prior to Passover, during Passion Week (Mark 14:1-9). Matthew’s Gospel follows suit (Matthew 26:3-13). But Luke places the event long before Passion Week (Luke 7:36-50). In Mark’s Gospel, the story of Jesus stilling the storm (Mark 4:35-41) takes place after the healing of the paralyzed man (Mark 2:1-12) and the calling of Levi (Mark 2:13-17). Luke follows suit (Luke 8:22-25). But in Matthew, the stilling of the storm (Matthew 8:23-27) takes place before the healing of the paralytic man (Matthew 9:2-8) and the calling of Levi (i.e. Matthew; Matthew 9:9-13).

If Matthew and Luke rearranged both material from Q and from Mark then it means that the story did change. And what this says is that the Gospel authors were not interested in writing eyewitness accounts but rather they were painting portraits of Jesus relevant to the needs of their Christian communities. And if this happened with concrete written  sources, then it must have happened with oral tradition. But this is unsurprising as it wasn’t the accuracy of the words that was important so much as the message those words conveyed and their usefulness for particular contexts. Quite often they used those words in ways entirely separate from their original context. Eric Eve writes,

A further potential complication is that the relative stability of the Jesus tradition observable in the surviving sources may have been preceded by a period of rapid change as Jesus’ first followers tried to make sense of what they or their informants had experienced (as may be illustrated, say, by the proposal that a Passion narrative was created early on in response to the need to make sense of Jesus’ death). The need to make sense of other aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry, such as the overall significance of his person, his most notable deeds and his teaching, may also have shaped (and probably did shape) the way Jesus was remembered from the start, for example, by keying the stories about him to salient aspects of Israelite tradition that were already well known, such as tales about Moses, Elijah, Elisha and David. Such interpretive shaping of the memories of Jesus was probably well underway prior to the earliest appearance of Jesus traditions in any surviving writings, and thus cannot be traced. The move from the original Galilean setting of Jesus’ first followers to the urban setting of Jerusalem and other cities of the empire will have given further impetus to reshaping the primitive Jesus traditions to meet the needs of a new context. Thus the relative stability of the tradition as it appears in its written remains cannot automatically be taken as an index of its historical reliability.6

Similarly, EP Sanders writes,

In trying to convince others, [early Christians] sometimes told stories of things that Jesus had said and done. In the early years this material was probably not written, but was simply passed on orally. When the disciples used incidents from Jesus’ life, they wanted to illustrate points, points that were important at the time….Besides winning new adherents, the disciples also instructed one another and their growing converts by recalling incidents from Jesus’ life. Sometimes they debated with Jewish teachers who rejected Jesus; these disputes provided a third context in which material from and about Jesus was employed.

Positively, these ways of using material from Jesus’ lifetime preserved it. It was preserved, however, in a form that was valuable to Jesus’ followers in their various activities. Thus, negatively, Jesus’ words and deeds were pulled out of their original context (in his own career) and thrust into another context, the disciples’ preaching and teaching.7

The fact of the matter is that the earliest memories of Jesus were shaped by years of telling and retelling stories about him. These stories were applied to contexts different from the one in which Jesus lived. The result is that what we currently have in the Gospel accounts is not a reliable guide to what happened in Jesus’ day. Bart Ehrman concludes,

If the Gospels have differences in historical detail, and each Gospel preserves traditions that have been changed, then it is impossible for the historian simply to take those stories at face value and uncritically assume that they provide historically accurate information.8

Whatever can be said about the historical Jesus and the circumstances of his life can only be teased out by rigorous and critical examination of the accounts we have in the Gospels.

Summary

As we have seen, the existence of written sources – even the hypothetical Q source – does not preclude the idea that changes could have been made to the Jesus story. In fact, as we saw, there were changes to that story. And if that happened in a written source, it surely happened in the oral sources whose form was far less concrete and far more malleable. Schuldt yet again is wrong in her attempted takedown of Ehrman and exhibits a lack of knowledge not only about the written sources we have and the hypothetical sources but also the oral tradition that stands behind the Gospel accounts.

If Ehrman’s is no expert, what is Schuldt?

NOTES

1 Heather Schuldt, “5 Examples Why Bart Ehrman is Not a Gospel Expert” (10.17.18), ladyapologist.com. Accessed 7 November 2018.

2 Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 122-123.

3 I have no interest in defending (or attacking) Q’s existence in this post. Readers are encouraged to consult works like Mark Goodacre’s The Case Against Q: Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem (Trinity Press International, 2002) as well as John Kloppenborg’s Q, the Earliest Gospel: An Introduction to the Original Stories and Sayings of Jesus (WJK Press, 2008).

4 The narrative material of Q would include the temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:2-13), the healing of the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10), and the episode involving the disciples of John (Luke 7:18-28; Matthew 11:2-11).

5 See also Matthew 7:21 vs. Luke 6:46 and Matthew 7:22-23 vs. Luke 13:25-27, as two more examples.

6 Eric Eve, Behind the Gospels: Understanding the Oral Tradition (Fortress Press, 2014), 178-179.

7 EP Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (Penguin Books, 1993), 58-59.

8 Ehrman, 92.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Hopelessly Confused: Heather Schuldt Takes on Bart Ehrman, part 2

In our first post we discussed Heather Schuldt’s blog post “5 Examples Why Bart Ehrman Is Not a Gospel Expert.”We addressed specifically issues concerning the dating of the Synoptic Gospels, briefly giving an overview of why Mark is dated to around 70 CE and Matthew and Luke to post-70. We also showed that Schuldt’s use of the Q source to demonstrate the early attestation of the Gospel records serves to undermine her own views on their dating and reliability. In today’s post we will briefly address the issue of authorship again and how it relates to claims that the Gospel writers were eyewitnesses to the stories about which they wrote.

GOSPEL AUTHORSHIP

Next in her response to an unidentified video featuring New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, pop-apologist Heather Schuldt writes,

Authors and Eyewitnesses – Ehrman claimed that there were no eye witnesses in the video? Did he misspeak? Of course the four gospels have eye witnesses directly to Jesus himself. Matthew was a tax collector who was a direct disciple of Jesus. Mark worked closely with Peter who was a direct disciple of Jesus. Luke traveled with Paul who had a remarkable encounter with the risen Lord Jesus Christ that forever changed his life. John was a direct disciple of Jesus. The authors of the four gospels were most certainly qualified to report the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. For more information about early gospel dates and the reliability of the gospel writers, please read this short booklet, Why Four Gospels? The Historical Origins of the Gospels by David Alan Black. 

There is some charm to the incredulity with which Schuldt regards the notion that the Gospel accounts are not eyewitness reports. In some ways her view is very simple, if not simplistic. But it is not parsimonious, at least not with regards to the available data.

The Gospels Are Anonymous

For starters, all four of the Gospels are anonymous. This may come as a surprise to many Christians who assume that the titles to these ancient works – “The Gospel According to Matthew,” “The Gospel According to Mark,” etc. – are indicative of their authors. But there is no internal evidence to identify specific individuals as the authors of the Gospels.

In the modern understanding of authorship the traditions that form the basis of our Gospels are anonymous. In most instances there is little reason to doubt that the traditions originated with the first disciples who had been intimately associated with Jesus during his lifetime. But there is no way for us to ascribe a particular tradition to a specific disciple with certainty. They were told and retold by too many Christians on too many and too diverse occasions over too extended a period of time. The entire early Christian community is author of the Jesus tradition.2

So from where did the titles that attribute these works to particular individuals come?

For the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, that attribution came from Papias, a Christian leader who lived in the first and second centuries CE. Papias had written a five-volume work entitled Logiōn Kyriakōn Exēgēsis – Exposition of the Lord’s Words or Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord. However, this work is lost to history and we can only read fragments of Papias’ words in the works of Irenaeus (second century CE) and Eusebius (fourth century CE). It is in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History that we find Papias’ views on Matthew and Mark.

Papias on The Gospel of Mark

Regarding the Gospel of Mark, Papias has this to say:

And in his own writing he [Papias] also hands down other accounts of the aforementioned Aristion of the words of the Lord and the traditions of the presbyter John, to which we refer those truly interested. Of necessity, we will now add to his reports set forth above a tradition about Mark who wrote the gospel, which he set forth as follows:

And the presbyter would say this: Mark, who had indeed been Peter’s interpreter, accurately wrote as much as he remembered, yet not in order, about that which was either said or did by the Lord. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but later, as I said, Peter, who would make the teachings anecdotally but not exactly an arrangement of the Lord’s reports, so that Mark did not fail by writing certain things as he recalled. For he had one purpose, not to omit what he heard or falsify them.(Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.14-15)3

Assuming Eusebius is reporting accurately what Papias wrote, it seems Papias is connecting his claim concerning Markan authorship to an earlier tradition that came from “the presbyter John.” Who is this John? Some have asserted that this John was “in all probability the apostle John,”4 a view that is based on a particular reading of the Johannine literature we find in the New Testament.5 Both the epistles of 2 and 3 John identify the sender as “the elder [ho presbyteros]” (2 John 1; 3 John 1) and this connection coupled with the view that it was the disciple John who wrote the Johannine literature of the New Testament has led many to believe Papias was a disciple of the apostle John. However, this connection is dubious and owes its origin to the gradual evolution of the so-called “beloved disciple” (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7; 21:20) into the disciple John.Yet there is no indication in what little we have in Papias’ words that there was such a connection. This “presbyter” John could have been an important figure within a particular Christian community but not an actual disciple of Jesus. And it could be that Papias was not telling the truth at all about his sources. Either option seems more probable than Papias knew the apostle John.

Regardless of where Papias got his information, he quotes the presbyter at length and thereby makes certain claims about Mark’s Gospel that are of historical interest. Fundamental to them all is that the presbyter traces Mark’s Gospel to the apostle Peter (3.39.15), the de facto leader of the fledgling Christian community. Thus Mark’s Gospel has apostolic authorization, as it were, and belongs in the Christian community. There is no way to assess the truth of such a claim whether on external or internal evidence. Michael Kok writes, “There is no sound basis in the earliest external evidence or the internal evidence of the Gospel that the author really was the interpreter of Peter.”7 And while pop-apologists have attempted to connect the Gospel of Mark to Peter on internal grounds, their efforts are far from convincing.8 At most we can say that a tradition arose wherein Mark was connected to Peter that was added to the notion that Mark wrote the Gospel attributed to him.

In claiming Petrine influence upon Mark’s writing, the presbyter has admitted implicitly and explicitly that Mark was not an eyewitness to the events he records: Mark “neither heard the Lord nor followed him” (3.39.15). Mark’s function seems to have been as an amanuensis, jotting down what Peter said about Jesus said or did. The presbyter suggests that the result of Mark’s efforts was a Gospel that was disjointed as Mark was going off Peter’s memories which apparently were not offered in a chronological manner but “anecdotally” (3.39.15). Yet this does not diminish the Markan arrangement of material since it stems from Peter’s own recollections: “Mark did not fail by writing certain things as [Peter] recalled. For he had one purpose, not to omit what he heard or falsify them” (3.39.15). So then “Papias’ observations suggests that according to his standards Mark’s work consisted of a collage of traditions faithfully passed on but rhetorically ineffectual.”9 

There has been some debate over whether Papias was speaking of some kind of proto-Mark or the Gospel as we know it today. In reading the Gospels of Matthew and Luke we find that the order of events contained within them follows almost exactly that which we find in the Gospel of Mark. So then what could it mean that the work was written in a disorderly fashion? And as Papias also comments on Matthew’s Gospel but doesn’t mention it being disorderly, could this mean that Papias was speaking of entirely different works than what we find in the New Testament canon? It is difficult to tell but we can be certain that no matter to what Papias through the presbyter was referring Eusebius uses Papias as evidence for the purpose of connecting Peter to the Gospel of Mark.

Papias on the Gospel of Matthew

Papias as recorded in Eusebius has little to say on the Gospel of Matthew.

Now this is reported by Papias about Mark, but about Matthew this was said, Now Matthew compiled the reports in a Hebrew manner of speech, but each interpreted them as he could. (Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.16)10

Papias’ words on Matthew are very brief and perplexing. The above translation renders the first clause from Papias as suggesting he thought Matthew had written in a Semitic style of speech. However, it is also possible that he meant that Matthew was written in the Hebrew (i.e. Aramaic) language.11 Regardless of what Papias meant, we know that many Christians came to think that Matthew’s Gospel had indeed been first written in Hebrew before it was then translated in Greek. For example, the second century Christian writer Irenaeus claimed that “Matthew…issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect.”12 Augustine followed this line of thought and also claimed Matthew had written in Hebrew: “Of these four, it is true, only Matthew is reckoned to have written in the Hebrew language; the others in Greek.”13 These seem to have been based upon the testimony of Papias and therefore represents the earliest interpretation of him. This also helps to make sense of what Papias means when he says that “each interpreted them as he could.” For those who were not fluent in Hebrew, reading and utilizing the Matthean text would prove difficult and so the usefulness of the Gospel of Matthew was dependent upon the ability of the one who “interpreted” it.

But there is no direct evidence that Matthew’s Gospel, as we have it, is a translation from Hebrew to Greek. All of the earliest manuscripts of Matthew (13745, etc.) are in Greek and none are in Hebrew. The case for a Hebrew original is virtually nonexistent. Some have argued that Papias may have been referring to an Aramaic version of Q or some kind of proto-Matthew14 but if Q did exist it seems to have been written in Greek and a proto-Matthean text would still have had to have been translated into Greek from Hebrew and there is no indication in the Gospel as we have it that this is the case. 

There is also the issue of the relationship between Matthew and Mark mentioned above. Papias considered Mark’s Gospel to be disjointed and disorderly. Yet he makes no such statement about Matthew’s Gospel despite the fact that the order of events in Matthew generally matches the order in Mark. So was Papias talking about the Gospel of Matthew as we have it today? And if he wasn’t, was he perhaps talking about a different version of the Gospel of Mark than what we have as well? If this is the case then the claim that Papias gives early attestation to Matthean and Markan authorship is wrong.

However one evaluates the overall trustworthiness of Papias, he does not provide us with clear evidence that the books that eventually became the first two Gospels of the New Testament were called Matthew and Mark in his time.15

Who Wrote the Gospel of Luke? 

The authorship of the Gospel of Luke is inexorably tied to the authorship of the book of Acts since whoever wrote the former must have written the latter. But the author never identifies himself and so we simply do not know who wrote it. Some have seen in the Lukan text of Acts subtle references to the author in the classic “We Passages.” In these passages the narrator suddenly inserts himself at particular points using the first personal plural whereas before he had not. For example, in Acts 16:10 we read, “When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.” This phenomenon is repeated throughout Acts (16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16) leading some to believe that the individual composing Acts had joined Paul’s ministry team (see Acts 16:1-4 where it the author speaks of “they” rather than “we”).

The natural reading of these passages is that the author of Acts was present during the events he narrates in these passages and that he kept a diary or itinerary report that he incorporates into the Book of Acts.16

Unfortunately we are not told explicitly that it was Luke. In fact, Luke appears nowhere in the whole book of Acts! And in the whole New Testament Luke appears by name only three times: Colossians 4:14, Philemon 24, and 2 Timothy 4:11. Those passages do not give us any explicit information that Luke was the author of the “We Passages.”

In what other ways could these “We Passages” be explained? Ehrman has suggested that the author of Acts was using the first person plural to make it seem as if he was present for the events and therefore an eyewitness even though he was not.

Throughout the Christian literature there are passages in which an author will suddenly start using the first-person pronoun (“I” or “we”) in order to convince his readers that the account is completely trustworthy, since it is (allegedly) by an eyewitness (e.g., 2 Peter 1:16-19; 1 John 1:1-4; Gosp. Pet. 26, 59-60; the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, and many other instances). An author who does this does not need to call attention to the fact that he is claiming to be an eyewitness. By speaking in the first person, it is obvious to the reader (or at least it is meant to be obvious) that the author was present for the accounts that he is narrating, and that therefore he can vouch for them. Is something like that happening with the “we-passages” of Acts? Does the author want us to assume that he accompanied Paul at times on his journeys? If so, he was remarkably successful: for centuries, readers have naturally assumed that he was Paul’s traveling companion.17

The “We Passages” therefore do not constitute evidence for Lukan authorship or even that the author was a participant in the ministry activities of Paul in the passages that the first person plural is used. Furthermore, William Sanger Campbell argues that the

“we” characters primary role is to replace Barnabas as Paul’s companion and witness in urgent times, to defend Paul’s credibility in the story in ways that the apostle himself cannot, and to provide reassurance that Paul carries out God’s directives as charged in spite of obstacles constructed by human characters or by nature. Paul is unable to provide this witness on his own merits because the narrative portrays his reversal of position with respect to the jesus movement as creating a credibility problem for him among Jews and Gentiles inside and outside the movement….The narrative provides two characters with impeccable credentials, Barnabas and the “we” narrator, to bridge Paul’s credibility gap in the story and for readers.18

So the “we” character is support for Paul and the authenticity of his ministry and its presence does not necessitate it being an actual historical eyewitness.

But there are other problems with connecting Luke with Acts that call into question the accuracy with which he wrote. For example, in the book of Acts we are told that Paul leaves for Athens without Silas and Timothy (Acts 17:15). Yet in 1 Thessalonians Paul clearly states that Timothy was with him while in Athens (1 Thessalonians 3:1-3). There are other incongruities as well.19 What this tells us is that whoever wrote Acts, if they did accompany Paul, didn’t get it completely right. (Or that Paul didn’t get it right.) And if Luke didn’t get the things to which he was actually an “eyewitness” right, can he be trusted with those things for which he clearly wasn’t (i.e. the Gospel of Luke)?

The Gospel of John

We come to the final of the canonical Gospels, the Gospel of John. Yet John is a bit different because we find at the end of it a claim of authorship: “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24; cf. 19:35). In context, “[t]his disciple” is a reference to “the disciple whom Jesus loved” whose fate is contrasted with that of Peter’s in 21:20-23. Despite multiple references to the individual who has become known as the “Beloved Disciple,” there is no place in all of the Gospel of John that explicitly identifies him with John the disciple. As I’ve discussed elsewhere,20 in the Gospel of John very few of the disciples are mentioned by name. They are Simon Peter, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, and Judas. There is also a disciple that appears in no other Gospel: Nathanael (see John 1:43-51). James and his brother John are only alluded to with the phrase “the sons of Zebedee” (21:2). This seems strange if John was the author of the Gospel. Why not mention him by name?

There is also evidence that the Gospel of John was produced in stages and perhaps from various source material. Within the text of John we see what some have referred to as literary or editorial “seams.”21 These are places where it appears that the text of John’s Gospel underwent some kind of redaction. For example, in John 5-6 we see a series of events that seem out-of-order. At the end of chapter four, Jesus was in Galilee in the city of Cana (4:46). In 5:1 he makes a trip to Jerusalem, a distance of about seventy miles. In Jerusalem Jesus performs a healing miracle (5:2-9) which results in an exchange with the Jews (5:10-47). Then suddenly in 6:1 we read how “Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.” This is odd since we were just told he was in Jerusalem, seventy miles from the Sea of Galilee. But if chapter five originally belonged after chapter six then the narrative flow makes much more sense.

Another seam is seen in the end of John’s Gospel. Following his appearance to Thomas in 20:24-29, we read these words:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (20:30-31).

This feels like a natural ending to the Gospel of John. Jesus has confirmed that he is alive through multiple appearances to Mary (20:11-18) and to the disciples twice (20:19-29). What further proof is needed? And yet there is a whole other chapter of John left! What follows in chapter twenty-one differs in both language and style from the rest of John’s Gospel. It also shows evidence that it was added after the death of the Beloved Disciple. In 21:20-23 Peter and Jesus interact over the issue of the death of the Beloved Disciple. Peter had been told his fate (21:18-19) and then asks about the Beloved Disciple, “Lord, what about him?” (21:21) Jesus responds, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” (21:22) The text then tells us that in “the community” a rumor had spread that the Beloved Disciple would not die but that this was not what Jesus intended by those words (21:22-23).

This editorial comment tells us several things about the authorship of the Gospel. First, it shows that the Gospel, as we now have it, was completed only after John’s (or the “beloved disciple’s”) death. Several early legends held that John was the last of the original disciples to die, in about the year 95 CE. The testimonial also shows that there were some Christians who thought John would not die before the return of Jesus, so the occasion of his death has caused chagrin that the author is trying to allay. Since the rumour is attributed to a saying of Jesus himself, it may well derive from a variation of the statement reported in Mark 9:1: “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” John’s death raised once again a traditional apocalyptic expectation that the author(s) of the Gospel had to dispel. On the other hand, the testimonial finally says that this is indeed “John’s” Gospel; however, it also adds an affirmation: “and we know his testimony is true” (21:24). Here we have evidence that others in the community, people who thought of themselves as disciples of the “beloved disciple,” have carried on the process and completed the Gospel after his death.22

We have no direct evidence, then, for Johannine authorship but it is very possible that it is the product of a Johannine community, one that had been under the ministry of John himself and learned about Jesus from his teaching.

New Testament scholar George Beasley-Murray, after examining the texts featuring the Beloved Disciple and how they “hold well together and present a consistent picture,” thinks that there are some things about the Beloved Disciple that can be tentatively said.23

  • He was presented as a historical figure among Jesus’ early disciples and in the Church.
  • He was not a member of the Twelve or a person well-known among Christians.
  • He is not the author of the Gospel of John.24
  • He is presented as an eyewitness of certain events in John’s Gospel, especially the Resurrection.
  • His authority extends beyond events he may have witnessed.
  • The relationship between the Beloved Disciple and Peter requires exegetical examination.
  • He served as an authority figure in his community and had teachers who followed him.
  • The identity of the Beloved Disciple is the secret of the author of John’s Gospel.

Whoever this Beloved Disciple was, it is clear that his role in the Johannine community was vital and that the community looked to him for teaching about Jesus. His death forced changes to be made to the Gospel of John that sought to correct misconceptions about him and though he was not one of the Twelve, he was important enough that his views of Jesus served as the basis for some of the stories in the Gospel.

Or at least that is what the author of John’s Gospel would have us think.

The Gospels in the Second Century

Justin Martyr, a Christian author writing in the second century, alludes to the Gospels in his First Apology. Speaking of the Eucharist, Justin offers as a source for Jesus’ words at the Last Supper the Gospels: “For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them” (1 Apol. 66).25 Later he writes,

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits…. (1 Apol. 67)

Justin serves as evidence that these “memoirs” were part of early Christian worship as a collection. And it also serves as evidence that the titles by which we refer to the four Gospels were not in circulation. There is debate over whether Justin knew of John’s Gospel,26 but it seems clear from other writings that he knew of the Synoptics.27 If the Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, why does Justin never refer to them as such?

Beginning with Irenaeus at the end of the second century we start to see the Gospels referred to by the names by which we know them today. Irenaeus writes,

It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. (Against Heresies, 3.11.8)28

He then mentions all four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Ehrman notes,

This is remarkable. Before this time and place, nowhere are the Gospels said to be four in number and nowhere are they named as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Justin, living in Rome just thirty years earlier, did not number or name the Gospels. But now, near the end of the second century, in sources connected with Rome, they are both numbered and named. How do we explain that?29

At the beginning of the second century there does not appear to be a collection of the Gospels into the four as we know it as most communities had access to but one of the four Gospels.30 This seems to have persisted up until the time of Justin Martyr. But Justin’s mention of memoirs need not imply a canonical collection of Gospels existed yet. But even if it did, the lack of titles as we have them is quite telling. The historical situation in Rome must have changed such that attaching titles to the Gospels was born out of the necessity to differentiate between them whereas before this was not necessary. Ehrman’s hypothesis is that during the time of Justin Martyr, the Gospels lacked names because few had access to more than one. But between Justin’s day and Irenaeus’ a definitive collection of the four Gospels was circulated with the titles in order to set each apart within the collection. And it is this collection that then becomes the norm for orthodox Christianity. Writes Ehrman,

These ascriptions [i.e. “According to Matthew,” “According to Mark,” etc.] made perfect sense to people who read the books….This edition of the Gospels was rapidly copied and recopied and became common property. Since Rome was the theological and practical center of Christendom at the time, and since it had so many people – Christians included – come to and from the city, this edition of the Gospels spread quickly throughout the worldwide church. Scribes who copied these books started giving them their titles. Everyone familiar with these Gospels within a couple of decades was accepting the idea that they were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Those are the apostolic names that came to be associated with these books all over the Christian map. That is how the Gospels came to be title everywhere. That is how the Gospels came to referred to, from that time down to today.31

This is certainly a plausible scenario but one that is difficult to test. What we can say is that from the time of the writing of the Gospels to Irenaeus, there appears to be no attribution to the traditional four of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, a fact problematic for Schuldt.

Summary

The Gospels are anonymous and the titles by which we now refer to them are unknown until the late second century CE. Consequently, the particular individuals to whom attribution is given is arrived at through very tenuous and often contrived means. Thus, when Schuldt writes that “the four gospels have eye witnesses directly to Jesus himself” she is not in line with the available evidence. Rather, she is regurgitating what she’s read in apologetic literature or in one of her classes at SES.

NOTES

1 Heather M. Schuldt, “5 Examples Why Bart Ehrman Is Not a Gospel Expert” (10.17.18), ladyapologist.com. Accessed 3 November 2018.

2 Keith F. Nickle, The Synoptic Gospels: An Introduction (WJK Press, 2001), 8.

3 Papias as quoted by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.14-15, hypotyposeis.org. Accessed 3 Nov 2018.

4 William Hendricksen, Mark, New Testament Commentary (Baker Academic, 1975), 12.

5 For example, the anonymous letters of 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John show some kind of interconnectedness though it is not clear that the same person wrote all three of the letters. For example, whereas the epistle of 1 John frequently speaks in the first-person plural (“we”) the other two epistles attributed to John speak in the first person singular (“I”). It is possible that the first letter was sent by multiple church leaders in a Johannine community and 2 and 3 John were sent by individual leaders.

6 For treatment of this issue see Michael Kok, The Beloved Apostle? The Transformation of the Apostle John into the Fourth Evangelist (Cascade Books, 2017).

Michael Kok, The Gospel on the Margins: The Reception of Mark in the Second Century (Fortress Press, 2015), 267. In his volume, Kok effectively argues that by connecting Mark’s Gospel to Peter the “centrist” Christians made sure that fringe groups who were using Mark to support their views on Adoptionism and other “heresies” could do so no longer. Consequently, Mark’s “voice” was somewhat muted as it faded into the background of the more prominent Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John. See Kok’s conclusion in that work (pp. 267-269).

8 For example, see J Warner Wallace, “Good Reasons to Believe Peter Is the Source of Mark’s Gospel” (8.24.18), coldcasechristianity.com. Accessed 3 November 2018. It is incredibly frustrating to see how Wallace treats Gospel literature, believing his credentials as a “cold case detective” somehow translate into the ability to do analysis of biblical texts and history. It is even more frustrating to see just how many people believe him!

9 David E. Garland, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel, Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Zondervan, 2015), 56. Garland suggests that the point of Papias’ remarks were not to directly connect the Markan Gospel to Peter but to show that it faithfully represented what Petrine teaching. Eusebius, on the other hand, was using Papias to establish Peter as the source behind the Markan Gospel (pp. 56-57).

10 Papias as quoted by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.16, hypotyposeis.org. Accessed 3 Nov 2018.

11 The Greek text reads, Matthaios men oun Hebraidi dialektō ta logia synetaxato. A reasonable translation could be, “Now Matthew composed the words in the Hebrew dialect.”

12 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1.1, earlychristianwritings.com. Accessed 3 Nov 2018.

13 Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels, 1.2.4newadvent.org. Accessed 3 Nov 2018.

14 Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13, WBC vol. 33a (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993), xlvi.

15 Bart Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior (HarperOne, 2016), 118.

16 DA Carson and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, second edition (Zondervan, 2005), 290.

17 Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 330.

18 William Sanger Campbell, The “We” Passages in the Acts of the Apostles: The Narrator as Narrative Character (Society of Biblical Literature, 2007), 90.

19 For example, Todd Penner writes that

Acts and Paul’s letters exhibit significant divergences. For instance, the letters narrate conflict between Paul and people in his communities—rather than between Paul and Jewish and Gentile authorities, as we see in Acts. Acts says nothing of Paul the letter writer, and he is not called an apostle except in one instance (Acts 14:4, Acts 14:14). Most notable is the incongruity between Paul’s gospel message in Acts and the message we see in his letters, especially Romans and Galatians. Paul’s emphasis on “justification by faith” is completely absent from his speeches and sermons in Acts, where he seems more aligned with Peter’s mission to the Jews (compare Acts 2 and Acts 13). Indeed, the so-called Jerusalem Council dealing with issues arising from Gentiles entering the new movement looks quite different in Acts (Acts 15:1-35) and Galatians (Gal 2:1-10).

It should be noted that Penner still believes that both the book of Acts and the epistles of Paul can be viewed as “true and historical” and that perhaps these incongruities are less about Paul and the book of Acts and more about our modern preconceptions. See Todd Penner, “Paul and Acts” (n.p.), bibleodyssey.org. Accessed 3 November 2018.

20 Amateur Exegete, “Some Thoughts on Carey Bryant’s ‘The Gospel of John as an Eyewitness Account‘” (10.29.18), amateurexegete.com.

21 See Ehrman, The New Testament, 179-181.

22 L. Michael White, Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite (HarperOne, 2010), 357.

23 George R. Beasley-Murray, John, WBC vol. 36, second edition (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), lxxiii-lxxv.

24 “The texts in which the disciple features present him as the witness on which the Gospel rests, not its author.” Ibid., lxxiii.

25 Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 66earlychristianwritings.com. Accessed 6 November 2018.

26 Arthur G. Patzia, The Making of the New Testament: Origin, Collection, Text & Canon, second edition (IVP Academic, 2011), 93; C.E. Hill, “Was John’s Gospel Among Justin’s Apostolic Memoirs?” in Sara Parvis and Paul Foster, editors, Justin Martyr and His Worlds (Fortress Press, 2007), 88-93 (accessed 6 November 2018).

27 Or, perhaps, a harmony of them. See Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, 119.

28 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.11.8earlychristianwritings.com. Accessed 6 November 2018.

29 Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, 121. See also Gerd Theissen, The New Testament: A Literary History (Fortress Press, 2012), 216.

30 Theissen, 211.

31 Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, 124-125.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Hopelessly Confused: Heather Schuldt Takes on Bart Ehrman, part 1

Yesterday I posted a lengthy but necessary rebuttal to pop-apologist Heather Schuldt’s bewildering piece on the Documentary Hypothesis. As I was poking around on her blog I noticed she had recently written another piece, this time attacking New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, entitled “5 Examples Why Bart Ehrman Is Not a Gospel Expert.It is in many ways as bewildering as her post on the Documentary Hypothesis.

Schuldt’s post focuses on five areas where she believes Ehrman is wrong regarding the Gospel accounts.

  • The dating of the Gospel accounts.
  • The authorship of the Gospel accounts.
  • The passing on of oral reports.
  • The date of Jesus’ death.
  • The time of Jesus’ crucifixion.

As we will show in this post and the posts to come, Schuldt is hopelessly confused about so many things and it demonstrates just how little she knows about the New Testament generally and the Gospel accounts specifically. And since there is a lot of ground to cover, today we will cover only the dating of the Synoptic Gospels (and related issues).

DATING THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS

Schuldt alludes to but does not provide a link to a video wherein Ehrman discusses some of the aforementioned issues about which Schuldt thinks he is wrong. I have no interest in trying to track that video down and we don’t need to do so to assess Schuldt’s views on those issues. So let’s begin by quoting Schuldt and then offer some commentary.

She writes,

Ehrman claimed that the (publication) dates of the gospels are a problem. No, the publication dates and writing dates are not a problem. The early dating of the four gospels add credibility and reliability to the text so much so that we can be certain that God preserved the original texts.

What Schuldt is discussing is the fact that the overwhelming majority of New Testament scholars think the Gospels were written long after Jesus lived. There are a variety of reasons for thinking this which we will get into shortly. It suffices to say that when Schuldt claims that there is “early dating” for the four Gospels and that this “add[s] credibility and reliability to the text so much that we can be certain that God preserved the original texts” she is speaking out of turn. But let’s see if she can defend her position. She offers three arguments to rebut Ehrman.

“Qualified Writers”

The first argument Schuldt marshals has to do with the period in which she believes the Gospels were written. She writes,

First, can Ehrman bring more value to the fact that the publication process and writing process was vastly different back then? He completely overlooks the entire writing process that took place from 30 AD-70 AD. While qualified writers at that time were able to use certain materials to write down specific texts, the serious nature of some Jewish priests hating Jesus, being jealous of Jesus, and calling for his death made the writing process even more protective. It is quite amazing that the four gospels survived at all under terrible authority figures. Ehrman cannot expect to apply a writing process and a publication process from 2018 to a time so long ago. I would expect that the original was significantly protected, and the task of reproducing the original was also significantly protected, both tasks which are completely ignored by Ehrman.

It is difficult to assess Schuldt’s claim given she hasn’t provided context in the form of a link to the video. But nevertheless, we can examine this poorly worded paragraph.

For starters, to what is Schuldt referring when she speaks of “qualified writers”? What does that even mean? The ability to read in ancient times did not entail the ability to write and literacy rates in first century Palestine have been estimated at anywhere from just three percent of the population to ten percent.2 Among Palestinian Jews, learning to read was for the most part a wholly unnecessary exercise unless one planned to become a scribe or a priest as on the sabbath the Torah was read aloud for the benefit of the illiterate.3 In first century Palestine, the lingua franca of the common people was Aramaic, a language related to but distinct from Hebrew, and so Jesus himself as well as his earliest followers would have spoken Aramaic. This is attested to in the Gospels themselves (i.e. Mark 3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 11:9-10; 14:36; 15:22, 34, 42). And therein lies the problem: the Gospels weren’t written in Aramaic but Greek. This means that whoever wrote the Gospels had to have been educated since they wrote fairly decent Greek.

This is a problem for Schuldt since we have no indication that the disciples were multilingual or even educated. Take the Gospel of John, for example. Tradition ascribes its writing to the disciple John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee. But what was John doing before he was called by Jesus to become his disciple? He was a fisherman! (Mark 1:18-20) He wasn’t a priest and he wasn’t a scribe. He caught fish for a living, an activity that required no ability to read or write Aramaic, let alone Greek. Furthermore, in the book of Acts the author tells us that both Peter and John “were uneducated and ordinary men” (Acts 4:13). And yet John’s Gospel is written in Greek. Ehrman observes,

Did the apostles go back to school after Jesus died, overcome years of illiteracy by learning how to read and write at a relatively high level, become skilled in foreign composition, and then later pen the Gospels? Most scholars consider it somewhat unlikely.4 

Schuldt is clearly confused on the authorship of the Gospels and the time period in which they were written.

Schuldt also discusses the survival of the New Testament Gospels but I have no idea why that is even important. It is unlikely any of the Gospels were written in Jerusalem where the Jewish religious authorities held the most sway. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest there was widespread persecution of Christians such that they sought to destroy Christian literature. Schuldt would need to provide evidential support if she wants to claim there was such a threat and that it did occur.

Confused on Q

Next Schuldt says in response to Ehrman,

Second, not only have the four gospels been dated to the lifetime of the author, biblical experts suggest that a fifth document most likely did exist, a document they often refer to as the Q document, which part of it may very well have been written during the life of Jesus, for example, soon after an event, sermon, or conversation occurred. Ehrman may be a leading expert in applying criticism to a text, but he is most definitely not a leading gospel expert by any means. He is not a biblical expert at all.

Let’s begin with the very first sentence. Schuldt presupposes without any warrant whatsoever that the Gospels were written by those men to which tradition ascribes them. She has made no case to support this.

More interesting is her comments on Q, the so-called “Sayings Source.” The great irony here is that she says that Ehrman is “not a biblical expert at all” and yet she exhibits absolutely zero understanding of what the Q source is or why scholars propose its existence. Let me explain.

Scholars have long noticed that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very similar. They tell many of the same stories and often in the same order. This is why they are referred to as the “Synoptic” Gospels. Early Christians believed that the first of the four Gospels to have been written was Matthew’s and that Mark and Luke wrote after Matthew’s Gospel had been circulated. Some believed that Mark utilized Matthew in his writing and was abbreviating his work. They also believed that Luke was using both Matthew and Mark to compose his narrative.5 This view on the order in which these books had been written as well as their literary relationship to one another held sway until the nineteenth century, at which time there was a shift away from Matthean priority (i.e. Matthew wrote first) to Markan priority (i.e. Mark wrote first).

With the reasonable assumption of Markan priority, scholars could see which passages were clearly Markan and which passages were not. For example, in Mark’s Gospel we read of the ministry of John the Baptist (Mark 1:4-8) which both Matthew (Matthew 3:4-6) and Luke (Luke 3:1-6) describe. However, both Matthew and Luke contain wording that didn’t come from Mark’s Gospel, specifically in Matthew 3:7-12 and Luke 3:7-9, 16-17. So where did these words come from if not from Mark? Well, their similarity led many scholars to suggest that a no longer extant source known as Q (German, Quelle – “source”) must have existed from which both Matthew and Luke got this bit of information. This source may have been one of the earliest written sources about Jesus to have been produced by early Christians, perhaps around 40 to 65 CE.6 

The existence of Q is held by the majority of New Testament scholars today though it has been contested.7 Regardless, the purpose of Q was to account for passages not found in Mark but found in Matthew and Luke and this leads to a huge problem for Schuldt. The existence of Q is tied to the notion of Markan priority. Markan priority entails that the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke used Mark as one of their sources in composing their narratives. But why would Matthew – an actual disciple of Jesus – need to use any source, especially Mark’s who wasn’t even a disciple? If Matthew was an eyewitness then there would have been no need to utilize Mark (let alone Q) as his source! Schuldt then has undermined the very position she was trying to promote!

And she says Ehrman isn’t an expert.

The Destruction of the Temple

Schuldt moves on to an area that is frequently discussed when dating the Synoptic Gospels: the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 CE. She writes,

Third, since there is no mention of the temple being destroyed in 70 AD, we have yet another clue as to the early dating of the gospels, placed before 70 AD, because at least one of the authors, if not all of the authors, would have included the major historical event in the New Testament texts.

The is an odd way to argue for the “early dating” of the Gospel accounts. The stories we read in the four Gospels are set in the historical context of Jesus’ day and since Jesus died forty years before the destruction of the temple it would have made no sense for them to mention its destruction explicitly. It would be like an author writing about the life of someone living in the Antebellum South but also throwing in explicit references to the battle of Gettysburg. It makes no sense to do that.

The Olivet Discourse and Dating Mark’s Gospel

So what does the destruction of the temple have to do with the dating of the Gospels? It largely has to do with the words of Jesus in what is commonly referred to as the “Olivet Discourse.” This discourse is found in Mark 13:1-37 (cf. Matthew 24:1-44; Luke 21:5-33). Jesus has just left the temple for the last time and as they are exiting the grounds one of his disciples points out the buildings of the temple complex: “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” (Mark 13:1) To this Jesus responds with an ominous warning: “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (13:2). In other words, the temple’s days are numbered. Jesus and the disciples then make their way to the Mount of Olives across from the temple where the disciples Peter, James, John, and Andrew inquire further: “Tell us, when will this [i.e. the destruction of the Temple] be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” (13:3-4) Jesus then begins to explain what will take place before the temple’s destruction.

It is clear from Mark’s Gospel that the destruction of the temple is tied to “the end” (13:7), a term that implies the consummation of human history. In the context of Mark 13, the destruction of the temple is tied to the appearance of the Son of Man (13:24-27). And when will this all happen? According to Jesus, “[T]his generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place” (13:30). He even tells the religious authorities that they “‘will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven'” (14:62). In other words, the destruction of the temple and the end of the age is coming very soon. In fact, it would take place within a generation.

So what does this have to do with dating Mark’s Gospel? The language he uses seems to suggest that he is writing sometime during the Jewish War (66-73 CE). Because while Mark ties the destruction of the temple to the end of human history, he is careful to not make them synonymous. So there would be “wars and rumors of wars” (i.e. the Jewish War) but despite it and the ensuing destruction, “the end is still to come” (13:7). And “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” and there would be earthquakes and famines but these are only “the beginning of the birth pangs” (13:8). So then Mark is living in a time period wherein Rome has either begun to wage war against Jerusalem itself and destroyed the temple or not long after the destruction of the city and temple. Using Jesus’ metaphor of birth pangs, the labor has begun (i.e. conflicts) but the baby (i.e. the coming of the Son of Man) has not yet been born. This is one of the reasons that scholars date the Gospel of Mark to sometime around 70 CE.

Dating Matthew and Luke

The dating of Matthew and Luke is less complicated given Markan priority since they must have appeared after Mark had been written. Therefore the two Gospels are generally dated to sometime in the 70s or 80s CE. (though later dates for Luke have been proposed well into the second century). Therefore, these accounts were written after the destruction of the temple, rendering Schuldt’s point moot. But are there internal grounds upon which we can make that determination?

Within Matthew’s Gospel there are various hints that the text was written after the temple’s destruction. Recall that in Mark’s Gospel the disciples ask Jesus to tell them when the temple’s destruction would take place and what would be the signs it was about to happen. But in Matthew (Matthew 24:3) the disciples ask two distinct questions: “Tell us, when will this be [i.e. the destruction of the temple], and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Thus Matthew has made the issue of the temple’s destruction and the end of the age separate (though related) issues whereas Mark had intertwined the two. Furthermore, Matthew seems to allude to the destruction of Jerusalem in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants (21:41) and the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (22:7).

Luke is far more explicit in his allusions to the destruction of Jerusalem. In his version of the Olivet Discourse, Luke discusses “wars and insurrections” instead of the Markan “wars and rumors of wars,” a nod to the Jewish War that was an insurrection against Rome (Luke 21:9). He also changes Mark’s reference to the “desolating sacrifice [to bdelygma tēs erēmōseōs]” that would be “set up where it ought not be” (Mark 13:14) to a desolating army: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation [hē erēmōsis autēs] has come near” (Luke 21:20). This reference to a siege makes sense if Luke had been writing after the fall of Jerusalem. Previous to this, following his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus weeps over the city and makes this ominous “prediction”:

Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God (Luke 19:43-44).

These are clearly very specific references to siege warfare that only make sense if Luke’s Gospel had been written after the destruction of Jerusalem.

Summary

As we’ve seen, Schuldt makes fundamental errors regarding Gospel authorship as it pertains to literacy and the disciples of Jesus who she believes wrote those Gospels. She has also misunderstood the Q source and undermines her own position on Gospel authorship in her discussion of Q, and, finally, she has misunderstood the issues surrounding the dating of the Synoptic Gospels and the relevance of the destruction of the temple.

How Schuldt ever came to the conclusion she was able to judge Ehrman’s expertise is a mystery to me.

NOTES

1Heather M. Schuldt, “5 Examples Why Bart Ehrman Is Not a Gospel Expert” (10.17.18), Ladyapologist.com. Accessed 2 Nov 2018.

2L. Michael White, Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite (HarperOne, 2010), 95.

3Paula Frederiksen, Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews (Vintage Books, 1999), 61.

4Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 93.

5For more, see my video “The Synoptic Problem: The Augustinian Hypothesis.”

6See the discussion on dating Q in Gerd Theissen, The New Testament: A Literary History (Fortress Press, 2012), 36-37.

7A recent episode of the fantastic podcast New Testament Review featured an episode discussing the work of Austin Farrar, a New Testament scholar who found the Q hypothesis to be unnecessary. Listen to it here.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.