Musings on Mark: The Johannine Calling Narratives of John 1:35-51

In the Gospel of Mark, the first four disciples that Jesus calls to follow him (akoloutheō) are Simon, Andrew, James, and John (Mark 1:16-20). All four of those men were fishing on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus walked by and all four of them dropped their nets to follow him. Both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke include this calling narrative. Matthew (4:18-22) follows Mark’s version almost verbatim while Luke (5:1-11) makes some rather interesting changes.1 Despite their differences, all three of the Synoptics are univocal in their portrayal of Jesus’ disciples as fishermen and that this is what they were doing when Jesus found them.

But not the Gospel of John. While we may infer their status as fishermen from the end of the Gospel (21:1-4),2 we do not get this impression from the beginning. And this is because the calling narrative of John’s Gospel looks nothing like that of Mark’s.

Disciples of John the Baptist

One of the main differences between the Markan calling narrative and the Johannine narrative is its location. Whereas in Mark the setting is the Sea of Galilee (Mark 1:16), in John the setting is “in Bethany across the Jordan” (John 1:28). While the exact location of this Bethany is disputed3 it is clear that it is not in Galilee (cf. 1:43). Rather, John’s work is generally associated with the region of Perea, an area under the control of Herod Antipas who also ruled the region of Galilee.4 In the Johannine Gospel, John baptizes in Bethany and in “Aenon near Salim” (3:23), another town whose location is unknown but from the given context is somewhere near the Judean countryside and close to sufficient water for Jesus to perform baptisms (3:22).

With the Sea of Galilee not in the picture, there are no fishers for Jesus to call to become fishers of people (Mark 1:17). So from where do Jesus’ first disciples originate? According to the Johannine author, some of Jesus’ first disciples were actually disciples of John the Baptist!

The next day [cf. John 1:29-34] John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed [ēkolouthēsan; cf. Mark 1:18] Jesus (John 1:35-37).

In what follows (1:38-42) we discover that one of the disciples’ name is Andrew and that he has a brother named Simon (1:40). So Andrew is in the Gospel of John a disciple of John the Baptist before he begins following Jesus. This detail – one that seems rather important – is nowhere to be found in the Markan text.

The calling of Simon in the Gospel of John consequently differs from what we find in the Gospel of Mark. Rather than being found fishing in the Sea of Galilee with Andrew, he is instead in a location other than where both Jesus and Andrew were (cf. 1:39). The narrative thus has Simon coming to find Jesus at the prompting of Andrew rather than Jesus finding Simon and calling him himself (1:41-42).5 

Substituting James and John

Another striking difference between the Markan and Johannine calling narratives is that John’s Gospel makes no mention of the calling of James and John. In fact, James and John are only alluded to with the moniker “the sons of Zebedee” (John 21:12; cf. Mark 1:19-20). In each of the Synoptic Gospels their calling plays an important part of the narrative and they as characters engage in conversations with Jesus that result in teaching moments about the fate of Jesus’ followers (i.e. Mark 10:35-45). Yet in John’s Gospel they are mentioned but once and then not even by their own names but by their father’s.

Instead of a calling narrative concerning James and John we find a calling narrative about Philip and Nathanael. Philip is known from the Synoptic Gospels where we find him mentioned in the list of disciples (Mark 3:18; Matthew 10:3; Luke 6:14). Nathanael on the other hand is not attested in the Synoptics at all and is wholly a Johannine character. But he is surely a member of the Twelve since he is among those listed in 21:2 which include disciples about whom we know from the Synoptics like Simon, Thomas, and James and John.

The narrative structure of 1:43-51 is similar to that of 1:37-42.

  • Philip, like Andrew, begins to follow Jesus (1:43).
  • Philip, like Andrew, seeks out another (i.e. Nathanael) to follow Jesus (1:44).
  • Philip, like Andrew, says that, “We have found [heurēkamen; cf. 1:41]” a messianic leader.6
  • Nathanael, like Peter, comes to Jesus (1:47).
  • Jesus, simply seeing Nathanael, announces his true character – “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” (1:47) which is similar to Jesus’ renaming of Cephas upon simply seeing him. (See note 5.)

Nathanael’s amazement at Jesus’ insights is to acknowledge that he is “the Son of God” and “the King of Israel” (1:49). Yet Jesus is quick to say that compared to what Nathanael will see, Jesus’ statement in 1:47 (cf. 1:48) is small peanuts (1:50): “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (1:51). This plays into the Johannine motif of the role that signs play in having faith in Jesus (John 20:30-31; cf. 21:24-25).

An Attempt to Reconcile

The Johannine calling narratives reveal that their author wrote with theological and rhetorical interests at heart. Because of this, the Markan and Johannine narratives are in direct conflict with one another. But this has not prevented attempts to reconcile the tensions. For example, Eric Lyons in a post entitled “When Did Jesus Call the First Apostles?”7 claims that “John is describing a totally separate incident from the one the synoptists describe.” The Synoptic narratives are about the call of the disciples to become apostles whereas the Johannine narrative is about their relationship to Jesus as Messiah.

John records Peter and Andrew’s first meeting with the Christ. The synoptists, however, testify of a later meeting, when Jesus called them at the Sea of Galilee to become “fishers of men.”

But this apologetic only results in a more confusing narrative and doesn’t take the language of John’s Gospel seriously.

The Johannine narrative takes place over a series of days (1:29, 1:35, 1:43, 2:1), culminating in Jesus’ appearance with “his disciples” (2:2) at a wedding in the Galilean city of Cana (2:1-11). Undoubtedly, among his disciples were Andrew, Simon, Philip, and Nathanael who had just interacted with Jesus both temporally in the days before and narratively in the preceding context. In the narratives that follow, there is no sense that these disciples have abandoned Jesus for the Sea of Galilee: they follow him to Capernaum (2:12), to Jerusalem (2:13-25), and so on. At what point does Jesus have to go back to Galilee to call the disciples to be “fishers of people”? As Raymond Brown noted,

The standard harmonization is that Jesus first called the disciples as John narrates but that they subsequently returned to their normal life in Galilee until Jesus came there to recall them to service, as the Synoptics narrate. There may be some basic truth in this reconstruction but it goes considerably beyond the evidence of the Gospels themselves. In John, once the disciples are called, they remain Jesus’ disciples without the slightest suggestion of their returning to normal livelihood. Nor in the Synoptic account of the call in Galilee is there any indication that these men have seen Jesus before.8

In other words, the Gospel narratives do not allow any such reconciliation. In both, the disciples continue with Jesus without interruption. Lyons contrived explanation simply doesn’t work.

No Harmonization Needed

In truth, no harmonization is needed. If the Johannine author was working from traditional material then it is clear that there was a version of Jesus’ first interactions with Andrew and Peter that differ from that found in the Markan narrative. And if the author was working with some version of Mark or Luke9 then he has clearly reshaped preexisting narratives to suit his own particular purposes, especially with regards to his rather high Christology. In either case, a harmonization simply isn’t possible. The authors of the Gospels of Mark and John were clearly writing with different criteria in mind.10  These are portraits, not snapshots, of Jesus. And they are portraits painted with the brushes of later authors in historical situations different from Jesus’ own.

NOTES

1 Not only does Luke’s version of the calling narrative come after Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, in the narrative it is stated that Jesus gets into Simon’s boat (Andrew is nowhere to be found) and that James and John were Simon’s fishing partners!

2 The Johannine addendum shares particular similarities with the Lukan calling narrative of Luke 5:1-11. For example, in both the Lukan and Johannine accounts we see Simon mentioned without Andrew and we also find James and John, although they are referred to as “the sons of Zebedee” (John 21:2). Both accounts also include a miraculous haul of fish (John 21:6; cf. Luke 5:5-6) as well as a specific response from Simon (John 21:7; cf. Luke 5:8).

3 See Rainer Riesner, “Bethany Beyond Jordan,” in David N. Freedman, editor, Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday, 1992), 1:703-705.

4 See Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Baker Academic, 2003), 1:449-451.

5 There may be more going on with Simon’s name change in John 1:42 from “Simon son of John” to “‘Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).” Not only is it Andrew rather than Simon who affirms that Jesus is the Messiah (1:41; cf. Matthew 16:16), Simon’s change of name to Cephas/Peter occurs far earlier in the Johannine narrative than in the Matthean. Bradford Blaine, Jr. has suggested some Christological motivations for “transplanting the naming episode to the front” of the Gospel of John.

First, Jesus has not met Peter and yet knows enough about him to give him the name “Cephas” which means “rock.” In this way, “John highlights both Jesus general foreknowledge (cf. 4:25; 6:6; 14:26; 16:30, etc.) and his specific foreknowledge concerning the fates of the disciples (14:16; 15:20 and 16:32).

Second, Peter’s statement of Jesus’ identity and that he is the one who has “the words of eternal life” (6:68-69) in the midst of many of Jesus’ disciples leaving him (6:66-67; cf. 6:60-65) serves as a “profession of loyalty in a time of crisis” and not simply as a confession like what we find in the Matthean text. Jesus’ role as Messiah has already been acknowledged (1:41) and the name change is not connected to a Petrine confession. In other words, the Johannine Jesus has already established Peter’s faithfulness.

Third, “by bringing the name change to the front of the Gospel but leaving the confession [i.e. 6:68-69] in its ‘original’ context…John introduces the familiar character of Peter without letting him overshadow Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael.” Consequently, the Johannine author creates “a powerful chain of witness” in the earliest stages of Jesus’ ministry.

See Bradford B. Blaine, Jr., Peter in the Gospel of John: The Making of an Authentic Disciple (Society of Biblical Literature, 2007), 38-39.

6 If we compare Andrew’s statement to Peter – “We have found the Messiah” (1:41) – with Philip’s statement to Nathanael – “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth” (1:45) – we see an example of narrative exposition. Philip in essence explains what the word “Messiah” means to the Johannine community: the one about who the Hebrew scriptures wrote, seen in its fullness in Jesus of Nazareth. So then for this community there is no doubt who the Messiah is: it is Jesus!

7 Eric Lyons, “When Did Jesus Call the First Apostles?” (2007), apologeticpress.org. Accessed 16 January 2018.

8 Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (I-XII) (Doubleday, 1966), 77.

9 There is some evidence that John may have known of the Synoptic Gospels of Mark and Luke, including both direct verbal parallels and knowledge of Synoptic episodes. See L. Michael White, Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite (HarperOne, 2010), 354-355. See also Thomas L. Brodie, The Quest for the Origin of John’s Gospel: A Source-Oriented Approach (OUP, 1993), 67-120.

10 The clearest sign of this is that there is not even a whiff of the secrecy motif that is so prevalent in Mark’s Gospel found in John’s. From the outset, Jesus is declared to be the Messiah and the one about whom the Hebrew scriptures had foretold (John 1:41, 45). This is absent from Mark’s Gospel as virtually no human characters – especially not the disciples – understand who Jesus is.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Bart D. Ehrman: The Significance of John 9:22

Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 187-188.

This verse [i.e. John 9:22] is significant from a socio-historical perspective because we know that there was no official policy against accepting Jesus (or anyone else) as messiah during his lifetime. On the other hand, some Jewish synagogues evidently did begin to exclude members who believed in Jesus’ messiahship toward the end of the first century. So the story of Jesus healing the blind man reflects the experience of the later community that stood behind the Fourth Gospel. These believers in Jesus had been expelled from the Jewish community, the community, presumably, of their families and friends and neighbors, in which they had worshiped God and had fellowship with one another.

Their expulsion from their synagogue had serious implications for the Christian community’s social life and for the way it began to understand its world and its stories about its messiah, Jesus.

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 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.

Some Thoughts on Carey Bryant’s “The Gospel of John as an Eyewitness Account”

Over at his blog Theology in Motion, Carey Bryant posted a piece entitled “The Gospel of John as an Eyewitness Account,” summarizing why he thinks the Johannine Gospel is an eyewitness account to the life of Jesus. He makes four main arguments:

  1. The author was familiar with Jewish culture.
  2. The author seems to identify himself as the disciple “whom Jesus loved.”
  3. The author has insider’s knowledge of events that happen in the Gospel of John.
  4. The author claims to be an eyewitness.

All this Bryant claims constitutes “strong internal evidence” for Johannine authorship. But is it?

John and Jewish Culture

Bryant points out that in the Gospel of John we see various quotations from the Hebrew Bible as well as a familiarity with Jewish customs. He also points out that the Pool of Bethesda mentioned in John 5:2 has been found in archaeological digs of Jerusalem. Bryant writes,

These details are easily explained if [the author] was a Jew living during the time of Jesus This by itself is by no means decisive, but it is a starting point.

I appreciate Bryant’s candidness here because he is right – this is in no way whatsoever decisive. All this demonstrates is that it was written by a Jew who was familiar with Judaism and Jerusalem. 

The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved

In multiple places in the Gospel of John we read about “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (see 13:23; 19:26-27; 20:1-10′ 21:7, 20-24). But nowhere does the Gospel of John come out and say, “Hey, the disciple whom Jesus loved was John the brother of James!” Interestingly, though we know Jesus had twelve disciples in the book of John (see John 6:67, 70-71; 20:24) we are not given a list of them as we are in the Synoptics (i.e. Mark 3:13-19).

A Comparison of Disciples in the Markan and Johannine Gospels

Disciples in Mark’s Gospel
(Mark 3:13-19)

Disciples in John’s Gospel

Simon Peter Simon Peter (1:42)
James the son of Zebedee Not mentioned but alluded to in 21:2
John the brother of James Not mentioned but alluded to in 21:2
Andrew Andrew (1:40)
Philip Philip (1:43)
Bartholomew Not mentioned
Matthew Not mentioned
Thomas Thomas (11:6)
James the son of Alphaeus Not mentioned
Thaddaeus Not mentioned
Simon the Cananaean Not mentioned
Judas Iscariot Judas “son of Simon Iscariot” (6:71)
Not mentioned Nathanael (1:45)

As the above table shows, James and John aren’t even mentioned by name in the Gospel of John and they are only mentioned in passing in 21:2 as “the sons of Zebedee.” Isn’t it bizarre that the Gospel of John never once mentions John by name?

Insider Knowledge

Bryant suggests that certain details in the Gospel of John suggest that the author had first-hand knowledge of the events. He offers three examples: 1:39, 2:11, and 6:19. But none of these suggests first-hand knowledge. Instead, it reflects a narrator writing omnisciently as narrators tend to do. For example, the narrator knows of the secret meeting between Nicodemus and Jesus in John 3:1-10 and of the conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman while the disciples were off buying goods in town in John 4:7-30. This is the narrator at work, detailing for the reader what has transpired. It isn’t insider knowledge.

Is the Author an Eyewitness? 

Bryant thinks that passages like John 19:35 or 21:24 demonstrate that the author was an eyewitness. But let’s consider the implications of this.

In John 19:35, we are told that the writer saw a soldier pierce the side of Jesus with a spear indicating that he was dead (19:34). If this is John the son of Zebedee we have a fairly significant problem. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells the disciples, “You will all become deserters” (Mark 14:27) and this is precisely what happens (14:50). There are no disciples present at Jesus’ death in Mark (15:21-41) and the same is true of both Matthew (27:32-56) and Luke (23:26-49). In the Synoptics, the only ones who knew Jesus who witnessed his death were a group of women who had followed him and, per Luke, “his acquaintances” which is not a term that Luke ever uses to describe the twelve disciples.

So either John is an eyewitness and thus contradicts the Synoptics or John is not an eyewitness and is in error about his claim in 19:35. It is a lose-lose situation, particularly for inerrantists.

John Was Not the Author

It seems unlikely that John, the disciple of Jesus, was the author of the Gospel that bears his name. Perhaps some of the material contained in it go back to John but the idea that John wrote it is dubious at best. The “strong internal evidence” for Johannine authorship turns out not to be very strong at all.

Weekly Roundup – 10.5.18

Here’s the Weekly Roundup! (Note: there will be no Roundup next Friday.)

  • Over at bibleinterp.com there is an excerpt from John: Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators (Eerdmans, 2018) entitled “The Spiritual Gospel: The Gospel of John in the Early Church.” In this excerpt Bryan Stewart discusses the way early Christian writers viewed and used the fourth Gospel, often drawing parallels between it and various Old Testament texts.
  • Over at The Secular Outpost Bradley Bowen has posted an index to his lengthy series rebutting Peter Kreeft’s chapter on God in Handbook of Apologetics. I have not read the entire series but from what I have read it seems very thorough. Those interested in philosophy of religion may want to take a look.
  • I am slowly getting caught up on @StudyofChrist’s series on the genealogy of Matthew. And I need to hurry because he has moved on to the Lukan genealogy! I recently watched four videos: Time Variation” parts 1 and 2 and Why Does Matthew Include Women in His Genealogy” parts 1 and 2. The two on women in the Matthean genealogy are very interesting and @StudyofChrist shows that he has really done his homework. If you aren’t subscribed to his channel, do it already!
  • Over at his blog Twitter user, YouTuber, and blogger D.M. Spence has an absolutely devastating critique of a blog post by pop-apologist SJ Thomason had written on why she thinks the angel of Yahweh is the pre-incarnate Jesus. Spence’s rebuttal is simply titled “Jesus is NOT the Angel of the LORD.” I had toyed around with the idea of writing a rebuttal to Thomason’s post but I don’t need to as Spence has written exactly what I what have written and more and he did it far better than I could have. Not that Thomason cares; she is still stuck in her echo chamber.
  • Last December Clint Heacock put a nice little post covering the topic of inerrancy entitled “Deconstructing Biblical Inerrancy.” Heacock traces its origins to the heresy trial of Charles Briggs, the nineteenth century Union Seminary professor whose love for “higher criticism” got him into some real trouble with the confessional crowd. It is an interesting post, one that asks some very serious questions about just how tenable inerrancy is.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Musings on Mark: Mark vs Matthew vs John on Jesus Walking on Water

One of the few stories shared by both the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John is the story of Jesus walking upon water. (Well, almost all of the Synoptics – Luke omits it.) Each version is different in one way or another.

The Markan Version

The Markan version (Mark 6:45-52) comes on the heels of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand (6:30-44). Jesus forces the disciples into their boat and tells them to head to Bethsaida. He then dismisses the crowd and heads up to a mountain to pray. When evening comes and while he is still on the land, Jesus sees that the disciples are having difficulty crossing the lake due to adverse winds. He then walks towards them on the sea and intends to pass by them. The disciples think he is a ghost and cry out in terror. But Jesus tells them to not fear and identifies himself. He then gets into the boat with them and the wind died down. The scene ends with the classically Markan motif of the disciples’ inability to grasp what they’ve just witnessed and grounds that inability in their hardened hearts, especially with regards to the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.

Jesus and the disciples end up in Gennesaret (6:53) and not Bethsaida.

The Matthean Version

The Matthean version (Matthew 14:22-33) also comes on the heels of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand (14:13-21). Jesus forces the disciples into their boat to go to the other side of the lake. He then dismisses the crowd and heads up to a mountain to pray. When evening comes and while he is still on the land, the boat is far from the shore and the disciples are having difficulty with adverse winds. Jesus then walks towards them on the sea. The disciples think he is a ghost and cry out in terror. But Jesus tells them not to fear and identifies himself.

Matthew’s version includes a scene not found in the Gospel of Mark. While in the Markan version Jesus gets into the boat upon identifying himself, in Matthew’s Gospel Peter responds to Jesus’ identifying of himself and asks to come out onto the turbulent waters. Jesus tells him to join him but as soon as Peter notices the strong wind he becomes afraid and starts to sink. He cries out, “Lord, save me!” and Jesus takes his hand, turning the episode into a lesson about faith. Jesus and Peter then get into the boat and the wind died down. The scene ends not with a statement about the disciples’ inability to grasp what they’ve just witnessed but with worshipping Jesus and declaring him to be the Son of God.

Jesus and the disciples then end up in Gennesaret (14:34).

The Johannine Version 

The Johannine version (John 6:16-21) also comes on the heels of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand (6:1-14). Following that miracle, the crowds wanted to make Jesus king and so he heads up to a mountain so he can get away from them (6:15). When evening comes, the disciples head down to the sea and get into their boat to head to Capernaum. As they are on the sea, it becomes dark and a strong wind begins to blow. When they are three or four miles into their journey, they see Jesus walking on the water and coming toward them. This terrifies them. But Jesus tells them not to fear and identifies himself. The scene ends with the disciples wanting to bring Jesus into the boat and the boat “immediately” reaching the shore near Capernaum.

Jesus and the disciples then end up in Capernaum (6:24-25).

So Many Differences!

Reconciling these stories is an impossible task and here are some reasons why:

  • The Markan version ends with the disciples not understanding what they had just seen (Mark 6:51-52) but the Matthean version ends with the disciples worshipping Jesus and declaring him to be the Son of God (Matthew 14:33).
  • The Matthean version includes a story about Peter (Matthew 14:28-32) that neither the Markan or Johannine versions have.
  • In the Markan version, only Jesus gets into the boat with them (Mark 6:51) whereas in the Matthean we are told that “they got into the boat” since Peter was outside of it due to the added narrative (Matthew 14:32). And in John it doesn’t seem that Jesus gets into the boat at all, merely that the disciples wanted him to get in and that it was apparently unnecessary since they were already at the shore near Capernaum (John 6:21).
  • In the Markan version, Jesus “intended to pass [the disciples] by” (Mark 6:48; a topic we will discuss in a future post). But this detail is omitted by both Matthew and John.
  • In the Markan version, the disciples in their boat are apparently close enough to shore that Jesus can see them struggling against the wind (Mark 6:48) but in the Matthean version the boat was “far from land” and there is no statement about Jesus seeing their struggle (Matthew 14:24). The Johannine version makes this more explicit by stating that the disciples were three or four miles into their journey (John 6:19).
  • In the Markan version, the disciples were to go to Bethsaida (Mark 6:45) but end up in Gennesaret (Mark 6:53) whereas in John they are headed to Capernaum (John 6:16) and end up in Capernaum (John 6:24-25). In Matthew the disciples are to go to “the other side” of the sea (Matthew 14:22) and end up in Gennesaret (Matthew 14:34).
  • In the Markan and Matthean versions, Jesus dismisses the crowd and heads up to the mountain alone to pray (Mark 6:45-46, Matthew 14:22-23). But in the Johannine version he goes up the mountain to escape the crowd trying to make him king (John 6:15).

It is clear then that these are not stories intended to be read as complimentary to one another. They can’t be. But what this does teach us is that the Gospel writers were not giving us literal history. Rather, they were painting their own portraits of Jesus. If the details in their version contradicted previous versions, who cared? They were intended to address the community of which they were a part, not anyone else’s.

And that should only bother the inerrantists.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.