Friday, 28 February 2014

The Nativity versus the Divity of the Roman Emperors

I came across this blog page (and the two that follow it), and thought it worthwhile linking to:

Its claim is that the nativity was was written to compete with the Roman claims of divinity for their Emperors. For example, it quotes:
 “The following was found chiseled on the ruins of an old government building in Asia Minor, dated 6 BC:

‘The most divine Caesar . . . we should consider equal to the Beginning of all things . . . for when everything was falling (into disorder) and tending toward dissolution, he restored it once more and gave the whole world a new aura;  Caesar . . . the common good Fortune of all . . . The beginning of life and vitality . . . All the cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the divine Caesar as the new beginning of the year . . . Whereas the Providence which has regulated our whole existence . . . has brought our life to the climax of perfection in giving to us (the emperor) Augustus . . .who being sent to us and our descendents as Savior, has put an end to war and has set all things in order;  and (whereas,) having become (god) manifest /PHANEIS/, Caesar has fulfilled all the hopes of earlier times . . . the birthday of the god (Augustus) has been for the whole world the beginning of good news /EVANGELION/ concerning him.’”   (Shane Claiborne, JESUS FOR PRESIDENT, p 70)
Definitely worth a read.

Friday, 21 February 2014

How Creation Science Works

A recent post at Answer in Genesis gives an good insight into how creation science works. It all starts from:

First, we know God’s Word is true and there was a global Flood.

And investigation goes like this:

The Bible states there was a worldwide Flood.
We see plants today.
Therefore plants survived the Flood. 

In other words, they assume their basic premise, and do what they can to manipulate the evidence to support their under-lying assumption.

It is like science in reverse really.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Gospel Authorship: John

The Gospel of John is complicated, as it seems to have more than one author. The most obvious illustration of this is the final chapter, which is clearly a later addition. Though it is possible it is a later addition by the same author, I would have expected such an author to have felt free to change the previous chapter to make it fit; another author is likely to have considered the extant writing to be sacrosanct. See also John 21:24, which further indicates the author of this chapter was not written by the principle author:
John 21:24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
It is quite dissimilar to the other gospels, being more spiritual in its approach, but also in the story it relates. For example, John has Jesus' ministry lasting for two to three years (three pass-overs), compared to only one in the synoptic gospels. John has Jesus crucified on the day of the passover (i.e., the passover was that evening, which would be the next day in the Jewish reckoning). In the synoptic gospels, the last super is the passover meal (the Seder). it has been said (by Jewish scholar, Hyam Maccoby) that the Jesus of John was more Greek than Jewish.


Most of the debate revolves around who the "beloved disciple" was. The gospel mentions him (or her?) several times, and indicates he is the author in some readings, leading many to speculate that it is the disciple John.

However, this exchange, from Mark 10, suggests that James and John were martyred, presumably before Mark was written (in fact, James is believed to have been martyred in 44 AD), making it very unlikely John was around to write a gospel.
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’
36 ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked.
37 They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’
38 ‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?’
39 ‘We can,’ they answered.
Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.’
This is further supported by references by some early church fathers. For example, Eusebius has this to say:
Moreover, Papias himself, in the introduction to his books, makes it manifest that he was not himself a hearer and eye-witness of the holy apostles; but he tells us that he received the truths of our religion from those who were acquainted with them in the following words.

But I shall not be unwilling to put down, along with my interpretations, whatsoever instructions I received with care at any time from the elders, and stored up with care in my memory, assuring you at the same time of their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those who spoke much, but in those who taught the truth; nor in those who related strange commandments, but in those who rehearsed the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and proceeding from truth itself. If, then, any one who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings,--what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord's disciples: which things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice.
What is significant here is that there are two Johns, the apostle and the presbyter. Papias never met the apostle, but was ever eager to learn more about him. It would seem likely that the reason they never met is that John was already dead. This view is contested; however, Papias has also been quoted as saying that John was martyred.

Furthermore, the Gospel of John does mention John the apostle in John 21:2, rather than referring to him as the beloved disciple (though this can be explained by invoking multiple authors).


A case has been made for Lazarus as the author. This is based, in part, on identifying the beloved disciple with Lazarus:
John 11:1 Now a man named Lazarus was ill. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay ill, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is ill.’
It should also be noted that John concentrates on events in Jerusalem much more than those in Galilee, which fits with a citizen of Jerusalem, like Lazarus, rather than a Galilean like John - but of course, there are plenty more citizens of Jerusalem that it could be.

John Mark

A case has been made for John Mark as the author, based in part on the Early Church Fathers believing the author was a John. I find the case weak, and the idea that this guy wrote two gospels seems unlikely, especially when we consider how dissimilar they are.

More here (it is free to download, but there are a lot of hoops to jump through):

No Beloved Disciple?

Perhaps though the beloved disciple was a literary invention. Compare Luke:
Luke 24:12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
With John:
John 20:3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.
It would seem that a good case can be made that the author of John simply made up this beloved disciple, and inserted him into the narrative.

Not Even A Witness?

This verse, referring to the crucifixion, suggests the author was not himself a witness, but only recording the testimony of a witness:
John 19:35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.


Around 90 AD, Jews started to exclude Christians from their synogogues. The Gospel of John alludes to this, but assumes it happened in Jesus' lifetime:
John 9:22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.

John 12:42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue;

John 16:2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.
This suggests the gospel was written some time after that (but there is good evidence it was before 140 AD), though it is possible these these were added by a later author.

That the author was confused on when this happened further argues against him being an eye witness himself.

I find it interesting that chapter 21, so clearly a later addition, seems to refer to the very earliest resurrection appearance; Jesus appearing to the disciples in Galilee as alluded to in the original Mark.


The consensus appears to be that the Gospel of John was written in Ephesus between 90 and 140 AD (probably nearer to 90 AD) by an anonymous Jewish Christian, and later went though at least two redactions.

More here:

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Gospel Authorship: Luke

The author of the Gospel of Luke gives the story of Jesus in a way that links him to Elijah, rather than Moses as is done in Matthew.

The author of the Gospel of Luke makes it clear that he was not a witness to any part of Jesus' life:
Luke 1:1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye witnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
Opinion seems divided on the author, with scholars approximately evenly split between Luke and some anonymous, Hellenised Christian. As for the date, this seems likely to be 80-100 AD.
This scholarly consensus holds that the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke were composed, independently of one another, sometime in the 80s or 90s.

A date for Luke-Acts in the 90s of the first century or first decade of the second would account for all the evidence, including the alleged use of Josephus and the apparent authorship by a sometime companion of Paul. If Luke did not use Josephus, a date in the 80s is permissible.

While some scholars argue for a pre-70 date for when the gospel was written, most scholars place the date ca. 80-90. 

We know Luke drew heavily on Mark, so much of the gospel is therefore third-hand knowledge. We have no reason to suppose any of it is any more direct than that. For that reason, I see no point in dwelling any more on this gospel.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Gospel Authorship: Matthew

The author of Matthew draws a parallel between Jesus and Moses, the most striking example being the flight to Egypt in the nativity.

The evidence that the Gospel of Matthew was written by the apostle Matthew is poor indeed. This seems to be:
  1. It has consistently been accredited to Matthew from around the middle of the second century
  2. The testament of Papias
  3. The fact that only this gospel mentions that Matthew was a tax collector and details his call to discipleship
In fact, the testament of Papias argues against Matthew as the author. He is cited by Euebius: "Matthew collected the oracles (ta logia) in the Hebrew language, and each interpreted them as best he could." As discussed later, modern scholars recognise that the Gospel of Matthew we have was originally written in Greek, and therefore is not the text that Papias talked about.

The supposed prophesy about a virgin birth is due to a mistranslation of Isaiah in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (in the original, the text indicates a young woman, not a virgin). The author must have been more familiar with this Greek translation than the original, indicating a Hellenised Jew, not a Galilean countryman,

The other important fact to note is that Matthew draws heavily on Mark. Fully 94% of Mark is reproduced in Matthew. Why would a first -hand witness base his account on a second-hand witness?

Was Matthew First?

Of course, some hold instead that Mark is based on Matthew, but Marcon priority has been accepted by the majority of scholars since the late nineteenth century. It is based on a number of things, including a refinement of language (Luke and Matthew will modify clumsy wordage in Mark). Omissions in Mark are easy to explain (Mark did not include the Lord's prayer because he did not know about, rather than because he felt it was not important). Also, while Luke and Matthew add much to the narrative, they conversely tend to be more succinct in the text. It is hard to imagine why Mark would be so selective in what he chose to include, whilst also choosing to be more wordy in his accounts.

For more on Marcan priority, see here:

The chances that the disciple Matthew wrote the gospel ascribed to him seem remote, but perhaps he did have some influence on it. It may be that the text the Papias mentions was used by the real author, together with the Gospel of Mark, to write the work we have today.

Written in Greek

The majority of scholars believe Matthew was originally written in Greek, despite Papias:
If Matthew originally wrote his Gospel in Aramaic, it is difficult to explain why he sometimes, but not always, quoted from a Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. The Hebrew Old Testament would have been the normal text
for a Hebrew or Aramaic author to use. A Greek translator might have used the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX) to save himself some work, but if he did so—why did he not use it consistently?
This cannot possibly mean our Gospel of Matthew, for the identities of Greek expression between it and Mark and Luke cannot be reconciled with the idea that it is a translation; the Greek relationship between the three must have come through Greek and could not have survived independent translation, which always breeds variation in abundance.
These peculiarities of language, especially the repetition of the same words and expressions, would indicate that the Greek Gospel was an original rather than a translation, and this is confirmed by the paronomasiæ (battologein, polulogia; kophontai kai ophontai, etc.), which ought not to have been found in the Aramaic, by the employment of the genitive absolute, and, above all, by the linking of clauses through the use of men . . . oe, a construction that is peculiarly Greek.
Against Papias, it has been claimed, however, that Matthew cannot be a translation from Hebrew or Aramaic (even though some of the Old Testament quotations seem to have come from the Hebrew Bible), especially since it is written in a clear Greek which reflects an advance over Mark’s style and language; there is a play on the Greek words ‘kopsontai’ and ‘opsontai’ in Matthew 24:30. This claim neglects the wide variety to be found in the work of translators, and the play on Greek words can be balanced by Matthew 1:21: ‘you shall call his name Jesus, for it is he who will save his people from their sins -- ‘Jesus’ and ‘save’ are related in Hebrew (‘ieshua’ -- ‘ieshoa’).


The consensus appears to be that the Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek, in Antioch between 80 and 100 AD by an anonymous Hellenised Christian Jew.

More here:

Monday, 10 February 2014

Gospel Authorship: Mark

The question of who wrote the gospels is a fascinating, and one I would like to briefly dip into. Let us start with Mark, as it is generally thought to be written first.

Around 300 AD, Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea quotes Papias:
This also the presbyter said: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things done or said by Christ.  For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord's discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them.  For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely.
Eusebius also cites Clement of Alexandria:
And so greatly did the splendor of piety illumine the minds of Peter's hearers that they were not satisfied with hearing once only, and were not content with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, a follower of Peter, and the one whose Gospel is extant, that he would leave them a written monument of the doctrine which had been orally communicated to them. Nor did they cease until they had prevailed with the man, and had thus become the occasion of the written Gospel which bears the name of Mark.  And they say that Peter when he had learned, through a revelation of the Spirit, of that which had been done, was pleased with the zeal of the men, and that the work obtained the sanction of his authority for the purpose of being used in the churches.  Clement in the eighth book of his Hypotyposes gives this account, and with him agrees the bishop of Hierapolis named Papias.
From here.

A little later, 392 AD, Jerome, in the eighth chapter of Lives of Illustrious Men says:
Mark(55) the disciple and interpreter of Peter wrote a short gospel at the request of the brethren at Rome embodying what he had heard Peter tell. When Peter had heard this, he approved it and published it to the churches to be read by his authority as Clemens in the sixth book of his Hypotyposes and Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, record.
From here.

From the The "Anti-Marcionite" prologues to the gospels, we also have:
Mark recorded, who was called Colobodactylus 1, because he had fingers that were too small for the height of the rest of his body.  He himself was the interpreter of Peter.  After the death of Peter himself, the same man wrote this gospel in the parts of Italy.
From here.

What this seems to point to is that some kind of gospel was indeed written by Peter's scribe, Mark. Whether it is the same body of work as we have today is not certain, but I think it is reasonable to conclude that it largely is. It is worth pointing out that the third and fourth quotes above are probably only referring to Eusebius, which means we really only have a single witness, but conversely that does lend credence to the claim that what Eusebius was talking about is - more or less - the same text as we have today.

Some would have us believe that the gospel counts as a first-hand witness account on the basis that Peter dictated the gospel to Mark. While it does seem as though Mark was Peter's scribe, the quotes above indicate that the gospel was not dictated by Peter, but rather was Mark recalling what Peter had said at some remove. This then would be a second-hand account.

The Ending of Mark (16:9-20)

It is fairly well accepted that the last few verses on the Gospel of Mark (16:9-20) are a later addition (even some Bibles admit this), as they are missing from some of the oldest manuscripts, the Vaticanus (350 AD) and Sinaiticus (375 AD) (see here).

It is also noted that the addition introduces Mary Magdalene, "out of whom he had cast seven devils", and yet she had been referred to just a few verses earlier. Furthermore, the women had just been told Jesus would appear to the disciples in Galilee, then in the addition, Jesus appears to the women and later the disciples in Jerusalem. It is worth also noting that the order of appearances in the late addition has no resemblance to that presented in 1 Corinthians 15, believed to be the oldest text we have on that subject.

Some claim the text is obviously incomplete if it ends at 16:8, but I disagree. Here we have the triumph of the empty tomb, and the promise of the resurrection to come - plus a neat explanation for why no one checked the tomb at the time. That said, I think it is plausible that there was originally another ending, detailing the appearance in Galilee. Perhaps a non-corporeal appearance in Galilee did not fit the later beliefs of the church of a bodily resurrection (eg John 20), so was quietly removed. We just do not know.

The addition seems to be derived from Luke and John, so post-dates both of them.

More on the ending here:


The consensus appears to be that the Gospel of Mark (to 16:8) was written in Rome between 65 and 80 AD, quite possibly by Mark, the scribe of Peter.

More here: