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(Guest Post) On the authorship of the fourth Gospel: A letter to a young enquirer

A guest post by Timothy McGrew

R-----,

Great question! I’m a little curious as to how it arose—did your friends raise it? your pastor? someone else?

I am persuaded that the fourth Gospel was written by John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee. There are quite a number of reasons for thinking this, and that means that this is going to be a rather long note.

So here’s the short answer:

1. Every scrap of evidence we have from the writings of the early church indicates that the fourth Gospel had always been known to be written by John. And we have lots.

2. A careful examination of the Gospel itself shows that it must have been written by a Jew who was a native of Palestine and an eyewitness of numerous events, including many where only Jesus and the disciples were present. From internal clues, we can pretty safely narrow it down to John.

Now for the long answer.

First, let’s look at the

External Evidence

The first question we should ask when we are investigating the authorship of any ancient book is what people near to the time said about its authorship. Here, starting about 230 years after it was written and then moving backwards, is a list of some of the evidence:

1. Eusebius (~AD 325) classifies it as a book about which there had never been any doubt. He doesn’t do this for all of the books of the New Testament, so that fact is pretty significant. (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.24.17)

2. Origen (~AD 220) testifies that he had learned by tradition that it was the work of “him who reclined upon the breast of Jesus, John who has left behind a single Gospel, though he confesses that he could make so many as not even the world could contain” (quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.25)—indisputable evidence that he thought it was the work of the son of Zebedee.

3. Tertullian (~AD 200) expressly states that the four Gospels were acknowledged to be the work of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John ever since the apostolic period (Against Marcion 4.5).

4. The Muratorian fragment (~AD 180) affirms that “the author of the fourth Gospel is John, one of the disciples.”

5. At about the same time, it is named as John’s work by Irenaeus (~AD 180). Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp (see his Letter to Florinus, quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.20), who had in turn heard John himself when he was a young man and John was very old. That’s a pretty short chain of testimony; just one link between Irenaeus and the Apostle John. Irenaeus even remarks (Against Heresies 3.11, 12) that the Gnostic followers of Valentinus made use of the Gospel of John and could be refuted directly from it.

6. A generation earlier (~AD 160), Tatian composed a harmony of the Gospels called the Diatessaron. It begins, “In the beginning was the Word ...”

7. Tatian was a pupil of Justin Martyr, who wrote (~AD 145) that “the memoirs of the apostles, which are also called Gospels,” were read every Sunday in all of the churches. In another place, Justin is a little more precise, calling the Gospels the work of “the apostles and the companions of the apostles,” a description that corresponds precisely to our four Gospels. Justin also quotes from John 3:4-5, a passage not found in any of the other Gospels (First Apology 61), which proves his familiarity with our Gospel of John. (I have about half a dozen pieces of evidence like this for Justin’s use of John, if you’re interested.)

8. An ancient preface to the Gospel of John (the Anti-Marcionite Prologue) refers to a work of Papias (~AD 125), now lost, saying: “The Gospel of John was published and given to the churches by John, while he was still in the body, as one named Papias, of Hierapolis, a dear disciple of John, has related in his Exoterica, i.e. at the conclusion of his five books.” Many scholars agree that a comment that Irenaeus attributes to “certain presbyters” is from Papias—it is a comment on John 14:2 (“In my father’s house there are many mansions”).

9. The Apology of Aristides, discovered in 1889, was addressed to the Emperor Hadrian, who became emperor in 117 and died in 138. Aristides writes: “It is acknowledged that Jesus is the Son of the Most High God, and that by the Holy Ghost He came down from heaven for the salvation of men. And that having been conceived of a holy virgin without seed and incorruptibly, He took upon Him flesh, and was manifested to men.” Only John, of the four Gospel writers, uses the expression “... came down from heaven ...” in connection with the incarnation (John 3:13, 6:33, etc.); and only John speaks of Jesus’ human nature as “flesh,” a distinctive term in Greek.

10. The early second century heretic Basilides quotes from John 1:9 and John 2:4. (See the discussion and quotations in Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, book 7.) If the Gospel were not known to be the work of the Apostle John, its early use by heretics would certainly have raised suspicions about it. But every record we have indicates that it was so widely known as to be beyond all doubt.

11. Ignatius (~AD 107), in letters written to the churchs at Philadelphia in Asia Minor (modern day Alaşehir in Turkey) and at Magnesia (modern day Manisia, also in Turkey) gives clear indications of his knowledge of the Gospel of John. (Details available on request.) This is very significant, because this was probably only a decade after the Gospel was written.

These are the primary pieces of early external testimony to the authorship of John, though I could easily double the size of the list by pulling out more obscure quotations from the so-called Second Epistle of Clement, Hermas, Hegisippus, Athenagoras, Polycrates, etc. But they make the point sufficiently clear. There is no other tradition of authorship for the fourth gospel. There is no record of any uncertainty about it at any time; we have one brief mention of some gnostics (not even named) who claimed it was written by Cerinthus, the founder of their heretical sect—but they are mentioned only to be dismissed. It does not appear that any Christian group ever had the slightest doubt about this work.

Next, let’s look briefly at the

Internal Evidence

Here, we can close in on the question with a series of concentric arguments, starting further out (with facts that limit the authorship somewhat, but not too specifically) and then tightening the description until only John is left. This method of solving the problem was made famous by B. F. Westcott, and I will make use both of his outline and of many of his examples as we zero in on John the son of Zebedee.

1. The author was a Jew.

He is intimately familiar with Jewish opinions and customs:

* The unexplained references to “the prophet” (cf. Deuteronomy 18:15) in John 1:21, 6:14 ff, 7:40 ff

* Jesus’ disclosure of himself as the Messiah and the saviour of the world to the Samaritans, who will not confuse this revelation with Jewish national aspirations, in 4:22-25, 42

* The low popular estimate of women in 4:27

* The Judean disparagement of the dispersion in 7:35

* The popular expectation that the Messiah will remain forever in 12:34

The foundation of his religious thought is Judaism, the chosen people to whom the Messiah came (John 1:11; 2:16; 6:45; 10:35; 14:32; 19:27, etc.).

His Greek is full of characteristics of someone whose native language was Aramaic—the limited vocabulary, the simple syntax, the use of conjunctions (for example, his frequent use of καί for adversative as well as coordinative conjunction, just like the Aramaic ו (vav), as in John 1:5, 10; 3:10, 11, 19, 32; 4:20; 5:40; 6:70; 7:4, 19, 26, 30; 8:49, 55, etc.), all point to this conclusion.

Several times, when he quotes the Old Testament, his quotations are closer to the Hebrew text than to the Septuagint, the Greek translation that the Jews often used in Jesus’ day. See, for example, John 12:14, 15 (quoting Zechariah 9:9), 12:40 (quoting Isaiah 6:10), 13:18 (quoting Psalm 41:9), and especially 19:37 (quoting Zechariah 12:10), where John’s rendering does not have a single word in common with the Septuagint.

2. He was a native of Palestine.

He give us an unerring portrait of distinct role that the hierarchical class (the Sadducees, whom he never calls by their name) played in the religious life and legal deliberations of Judaism. He also shows effortless precision in his knowledge of places and topography:

* Cana of Galilee (John 2:1, 11), from which he went down (2:12), literally downhill, to reach Capernaum

* Bethany beyond Jordan (John 1:28), which is distinguished from the better-known Bethany “near Jerusalem” (John 11:18), itself described with precision as “about fifteen furlongs [two miles] from the city”

* Ephraim “near the wilderness” (John 11:54); the dimensions of the Sea of Galilee (John 6:19; contrast Mark 6:47)

* the view from Jacob’s well, which would include Mt. Gerazim (John 4:20) and the fields of corn (John 4:35)

* the location of the Pool of Siloam (John 9:11) and the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:2) in Jerusalem

* the fact that Jesus was walking in the Colonnade of Solomon (10:23) at a time of year when this roofed walkway, protected by a wall, would have afforded protection from the winter winds

By these and numerous other details, the author shows himself to be a native who is writing of places he knows personally.

3. He was an eyewitness of many episodes that he records.

The details about persons (John 6:5, 7 (contrast Matthew 14:14 ff), 12:21; 14:5, 8, 22), numbers (two disciples in 1:35; six waterpots, each holding twenty to thirty gallons in 2:6; forty-six years in 2:20; five husbands in 4:18; thirty-eight years of sickness in 5:5; twenty-five furlongs [or three and a half miles] in 6:19; four soldiers in 19:23; two hundred cubits [or a hundred yards] in 21:8; a hundred fifty three fish in 21:11), and times (Passover in John 2:13, 23; the New Year in 5:1; a second Passover in 6:4; the feast of Tabernacles in 7:2; the Feast of Dedication in 10:22; and beyond these, more specific and details marks of date in 1:29, 35, 43, 2:1, 11:1, 12, 13:1, 19:31, 20:1 and time of day in 1:40, 3:2, 4:6, 52, 6:16, 13:30, 18:28, 19:14, 20:19, 21:4) are too numerous and too specific to be the work of someone who is inventing details or passing on oral traditions.

The gospel overflows with details of objects and scenes not found in the other Gospels that are evidently stamped on the memory of the writer. The loaves at the feeding of the five thousand were barley loaves (6:9); when the ointment was poured out for Jesus’ anointing, the house was filled with its fragrance (12:3); the branches strewn at the triumphal entry into Jerusalem were palm branches (12:13); when Judas went out to betray Jesus, it was night (13:30); Jesus’ tunic was without seam, woven from the top throughout (19:23); the head cloth found in the empty tomb was wrapped together in a place by itself (20:7). These are just illustrations; you can find many more instances of the same thing simply by reading the Gospel attentively.

There can be no question of this as a novelistic invention. The modern, historical, realistic novel would not be invented for another sixteen centuries. This superabundance of specific details is utterly unlike the novels of the first and second centuries like Chariton’s Chaeras and Callirhoe or Petronius’s Satyricon. It is clearly the work of an eyewitness.

4. He was one of the “inner circle” among Jesus’ disciples.

Not only is he familiar with scenes where only the disciples are present (their calling in John 1:19 ff; the journey through Samaria in 4:1 ff; the feeding of the five thousand in 6:1ff; the visits to Jerusalem in chapters 7, 9, and 11, etc.), he frequently describes their thoughts, feelings and reactions (2:11, 17, 22; 4:27; 6:19, 60 ff; 12:16; 13:22, 28; 21:12). He knows both what they said to Jesus (4:31; 9:2; 11:8, 12; 16:29) and what they said among themselves (4:33; 16:17; 20:25; 21:3, 5). He knows the places where they would go as a group without the company of strangers (11:54; 18:2; 20:19). He knows the misimpressions they had that were later corrected (2:21 ff; 11:13; 12:16; 13:28; 20:9; 21:4).

And he knows Jesus’ motives and meaning as only one intimately acquainted with him could (2:24 ff; 4:1-3; 5:6; 6:15; 7:1; 16:19).

5. He was John, the son of Zebedee

Throughout the Gospel, we read of one disciple who goes unnamed (e.g. 1:35, 37, 40) but is later described simply as “the beloved disciple.” At the very end (21:24), we are told outright that he was the author. And going back over the places where he is recorded as being present, we find that they are the particular places where the scenes are recorded with particular vividness and detail—the conversation at the last supper, for example, or the scene by the fire at night in the hall at Caiaphas’s house. There is no reason to doubt that this identification of the beloved disciple with the author of the fourth Gospel is correct. But who was the beloved disciple?

From the lists of those present in some of the scenes (1:35 ff; 21:2), including cross references with the Synoptic Gospels, he must have been either Andrew, Peter, James, or John. He cannot be Andrew, since Andrew appears with him in the opening chapter. He cannot be Peter, since he appears with Peter in the closing chapter. James was martyred too early to have written the Gospel (Acts 12:1). By process of elimination, we arrive at the conclusion that he was John.

And once we have come to that conclusion, we can see that there are other indications of it in the text. If it was not John, then why is John—a prominent disciple, according to the synoptics—almost never named in any scene in the fourth Gospel? But if John is the beloved disciple, then this problem does not arise. Again, when he describes John the Baptist in the opening chapter, why does the author say simply “There was a man, sent from God, whose name was John”—not including the descriptive phrase “the baptist” that we find so frequently in the other Gospels, to distinguish him from John the son of Zebedee? Because John the son of Zebedee was the author of the fourth Gospel and, unlike the other evangelists, he had no need to distinguish among various “Johns” in his use of names. When he said “John,” everyone knew who he meant!

I realize that this is a longer note than you were probably looking for. But I hope that you save it and that you will look up some of the passages later and think about them. The evidence, internal and external, is really quite overwhelming. To use a phrase of Paul’s from the book of Acts, “God has not left Himself without witness”—he has provided plenty of evidence!

If you would like to investigate the question in more detail, I recommend the following resources, which you can find free online:

B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John: The Greek Text with Introduction and Notes, vol. 1 (London: John Murray, 1908), especially pp. xi-lii of the Introduction.

J. B. Lightfoot, Biblical Essays (London: Macmillan and Co., 1904), especially the first three essays.

Comments (116)

Bravo! What a wealth of information, well laid out. Thanks, Tim.

Just this morning my children and I finished reading the “Just the Facts, Ma’am” chapter of Greg Koukl’s book Tactics. How appropriate to have this information to share with them as an active example of how potent facts can be. The notion promoted by some that John is not the author of John is mortally wounded by the onslaught of a “brutal gang of facts,” as N. Geisler might say.

A very helpful post, chockful with information! Thank you.

Thank you for your post, very helpful for me. Confusing with who's the author Gospel of John, finally i find it!!

Thanks, Tim. When you actually try to seriously consider the implications of someone else writing a book like John, with all its many details, then successfully fobbing John's authorship off as a known certainty on the entire Christian community including those close to the man himself, it becomes clear that doing so commits you to a massive conspiracy theory, the sort which would be immediately be laughed to pieces in modern day. Folks seem a lot more willing to engage in wild conspiracy theory, or to not notice that their position implicitly commits them to it, when talking about "back then." But what other option is there for them? If you admit that the apostle John really witnessed these things and wrote them down, you aren't left with a lot of choices.

Ben Witherington has a theory that Lazarus is the author. I can't find a link just now. I give him points for originality, but I wasn't convinced.

Yes, I've always found that very unconvincing. Points 3 and 4 above seem relevant to it.

External Evidence:
Eusebius claimed that Papias never met John the son of Zebedee or any of the other apostles. This is important because "John the Elder" that Papius personally met is also the person he ascribed authorship of the gospel to.

For some of the other external evidence, a story or saying being well known doesn't shed any light upon authorship or accuracy. See here for a few examples:
http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Benjamin_Franklin#Misattributed

Internal Evidence:
John the Disciple is never equated in the text with the Beloved Disciple. The author's close familiarity with the ministry of Jesus seems to extend mainly to the areas around Jerusalem. This gospel eliminates nearly all the stories that the Synoptic gospels say are witnessed or participated in by John the Disciple. For an eyewitness to leave his own personally meaningful stories completely out of his recounting of events is more than just odd, it is downright suspicious.

When he said “John,” everyone knew who he meant!

Let me see if I follow this. If I don't use a qualifier to describe someone more clearly, it is probably because I have the same first name and everyone would know I meant the other person and not myself. Okay, I don't follow.

CJ,

I agree. Witherington is a good scholar overall, and I'm familiar with his theory (which has been floated occasionally by other scholars as well). But I think that it is a very, very distant second as an account of the evidence. To support it, he has to explain away parts of the external evidence (vide his theory that Irenaeus made up the "guess" that John wrote the fourth Gospel in order to make it less palatable to the gnostics). As a disciple of Polycarp, Irenaeus was in no need of guessing. He's partial to the "two Johns" theory which should have been buried by Dom John Chapman, John the Presbyter, and the Fourth Gospel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911), if not indeed by Frederick William Farrar, “‘John the Presbyter’ was ‘John the Apostle’,” The Expositor, second series, vol. 2 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1881), pp. 321-45. It does not seem to me that John 21:22 indicates that the disciple referred to had been raised from the dead, since 21:23 adequately explains the origin of the rumor regarding him. In John 11, Lazarus is described as a beloved friend -- but immediately, the word disciples is applied in a manner that distinguishes them from Lazarus.

Additionally, as Lydia says, the evidence that he was an eyewitness of many scenes where we have no reason to think that Lazarus was present and that he was one of the inner circle of disciples weighs strongly against this theory. And the Lazarus theory does not account for the points I mention at the end regarding the name "John" and the invisibility of John the son of Zebedee, if we do not accept the traditional and unanimous attribution of the fourth Gospel to him.

Step,

For a thorough drubbing of the "John the Presbyter" myth, see the two hyperlinked sources I just posted.

Eusebius said that the author of the fourth Gospel whom Polycarp had heard wasn't the Apostle John, but that was after he said that he was the Apostle John. See Alfred Schoene, ed., Evsebi Chronicorvm Canonvm, vol. 2

(Berlin: Weidmann, 1866), p. 162. It would be unkind to suggest that he was one of John Kerry's ancestors, but his aversion to the Apocalypse seems to provide sufficient motivation for him to think he saw a second John where Papias's words (which Eusebius honestly quotes) do not present one.

John the Disciple is never equated in the text with the Beloved Disciple.

That is because John the Disciple isn't there to be equated with him. He is suspicious by his absence -- unless he is the nameless disciple whom Jesus loved.

The author's close familiarity with the ministry of Jesus seems to extend mainly to the areas around Jerusalem.

Cana? (John 2:1-11) Samaria? (John 4:1-45) Capernaum? (John 4:47 ff) John has unique material all over the map.

This gospel eliminates nearly all the stories that the Synoptic gospels say are witnessed or participated in by John the Disciple. For an eyewitness to leave his own personally meaningful stories completely out of his recounting of events is more than just odd, it is downright suspicious.

Unless, as a man of failing strength in his 80s, he had no desire to tell over again a bunch of stories that had been adequately told already. And that would be a perfectly natural explanation fully adequate to explain the fact that John rarely duplicates material from the Synoptics -- though when he does, he brings out details they do not, and the stories dovetail well.

Okay, I don't follow.

It's not that hard. If both you and another prominent person in your circle are named, say, "Step," then other people who want to refer to one of you rather than the other will need to use some further distinguishing verbal marker, say, calling you "Step1" and "Step2," respectively. If someone doesn't make that distinction, and there are two such people, it's a little odd and seems to call for an explanation, since prima facie he would be speaking ambiguously. But if the speaker is one of the two "Steps," then his usage is a matter of course; for when he says "Step," there can be no confusion on the part of his listeners or readers.

That's all.

The Gospel of John is marked by its philosophical poeticism (In the beginning was the Word), its didacticism, its dialectical pedantry (long discourses explaining, reiterating, and repeating almost ad nauseum why this is so according to Jesus).

There is such a Greek philosophical strain in John that I can believe a Jew wrote it, but not a simple (or even complex) son of a Galilean fisherman. I believe the beloved disciple was a Jerusalemite, very sophisticated and educated, what we might call a scribe, simply meaning learned and knowledgeable.

John is a very weird book compared to the synoptics. Highly structured with literary devices such as the entire book set up as a chiasma. But it goes much deeper than that. The self-conscious literary quality of it is not unusual in the ancient world any more than a sonnet cycle in Shakespeare's time, but the cleverness of its structure and the ability to carry it out is a work of literary genius.

John was not a fisherman but a writer, a thinker (intellectual), a mystic, and a close friend of Christ throughout his whole adult life. The great theme in John is the forgiveness of sins, that God is love. John's view is the most mature or eldest of Gospels and views of the meaning of Jesus' life and death.

Mark,

John was not a fisherman but a writer, a thinker (intellectual), a mystic,

Why not say, equally, and for the same reasons, that Hamlet is not the work of someone with only a grammar school education?

But the comparison breaks down; John's Gospel is indeed a work of depth (though I suspect that the impression of a book-length chiasm, as opposed to several smaller ones, is a case of clever critics finding something the author did not intend), but his command of the Greek language is not even close to Shakespeare's command of English. There is no reason to doubt that as a young man (probably in his early to mid teens when he became a disciple of Jesus) he worked in his father's fishing business.

Contra Mark's assertion that John’s use of the term “logos” is an example of John employing of Greek philosophy, I cite here twenty passages from the commentary tradition, copied almost at random as I came to them in my study. The number could easily have been doubled, even tripled. No doubt, commentators can be marshaled to support the opposite contention, which, at best, is highly debatable and, at worst, simply wrong.

(1.) “There can be little doubt that the roots of the ideas contained in this term [i.e., “logos”] are to be sought in the O. T.” (Ross, p. 135).

(2.) “[Philo’s] misty, vague philosophizing is worlds away from John’s concrete, historical outlook on the personal Logos, who from times eternal was with God and who became flesh in Jesus Christ. The theory that John derived the term Logos from Philo is very wide of the mark; there is no real evidence that John had ever heard of Philo. It is just as wide of the mark to regard John as having derived this term from Greek philosophy” (Ross, 136).

(3.) “But, though [John] would not have been unmindful of the associations aroused by the term, his essential thought does not derive from the Greek background. His Gospel shows little trace of acquaintance with Greek philosophy and less dependence upon it. And the really important thing is that John in his use of Logos is cutting clean across one of the fundamental Greek ideas. The Greeks thought of the gods as detached from the world, as regarding its struggles and heartaches and joys and tears with serene divine lack of feeling. John’s Logos does not show us a God who is serenely detached, but a God who is passionately involved. The Logos speaks of God’s coming where we are, taking our nature upon Himself, entering the world’s struggle, and out of this agony winning men’s salvation” (Morris, pp. 116-17).

(4.) “[T]he “Word” irresistibly turns our attention to the repeated “and God said” of the opening chapter of the Bible. The Word is God’s creative Word (v. 3). The atmosphere is unmistakably Hebraic” (Morris, pp. 117-18).

(5.) “[W]e find that in other biblical authors, as well as in John, the word [i.e., “Logos”] is never used to signify the divine Reason or Mind; nor indeed those of any human creature” (Alford, p. 677).

(6.) [Comparing Philo and John] “There is a wide and unmistakable difference between his logos and that of the Apostle” (Alford, p. 679).

(7.)“It would be difficult not to recognize in these first verses an allusion to the beginning of Genesis” (Godet, John, 243).

(8.)“The term Word, no less than the term in the beginning, serves to recall the narrative in Genesis; it alludes to the expression: and God said, repeated eight times . . . All these sayings of God John gathers into one single, living word” (Godet, John, 245).

(9.) Logos as reason “is foreign to the N.T.” (Godet, John, 246).
(10.) “The word logos in John, signifies as in the whole Biblical text, word. In Philo, it signifies, as in the philosophical language of the Greeks, reason. This simple fact reveals a wholly different starting-point in the use which they make of the term. . .
“In Philo, the existence of the Logos is a metaphysical theorem. . .God being conceived of as the absolutely indeterminate and impersonal being, there is an impassible gulf between Him and the material, finite, varied world which we behold. To fill this void, Philo needed an intermediate agent, a second God, brought nearer the finite; this is the Logos, the half-personalized divine reason. The existence of the Logos in John is not the result of such a metaphysical necessity. God is in John, as in all the Scriptures, Creator, Master, Father. He acts Himself in the world, He loves it, He gives His Son to it: we shall even see that it is He who serves as intermediate agent between men and the Son (6: 37, 44) . . . in John everything in the relation of the Logos to God is a matter of liberty and of love, while with Philo everything is the result of a logical necessity. . .
“To the view of Philo, as to that of Plato, the principle of evil is matter; the Jewish philosopher nowhere dreams, therefore, of making the Logos descend to earth, and that in bodily form. In John, on the contrary, the supreme fact of history is this: “The Logos was made flesh” (Godet, John, pp. 287, 288).

(11.) “It is not in Greek philosophical usage, however, that the background of John’s thought and language should be sought . . . The true background of John’s thought and language is found not in Greek philosophy but in Hebrew revelation. The ‘word of God’ in the Old Testament denotes God in action, especially in creation, revelation and deliverance” (Bruce, John, 29).

(12.) “John’s standpoint is that of the Old Testament and not that of the Stoics nor even of Philo”(Robertson, 3, 4).

(13.) “It constantly happens in the history of thought that the same terms and phrases are used by schools which have no direct affinity, in senses which are essentially distinct, while they have a superficial likeness . . . A new teacher necessarily uses the heritage which he has received from the past in order to make his message understood”(Westcott, John, p. xv).

(14.) “It is admitted on all hands that [John’s] central affirmation, ‘the Word became flesh,’ which underlies all he wrote, is absolutely unique. A Greek, an Alexandrine, a Jewish doctor, would have equally refused to admit such a statement as a legitimate deduction from his principles, or as reconcilable with them” (Westcott, John, xv).

(15.) “Philo and St John, in short, found the same term current, and used it according to their respective apprehensions of the truth. Philo, following the track of Greek philosophy, saw in the Logos the divine Intelligence in relation to the universe: the Evangelist, trusting firmly in the ethical basis of Judaism, sets forth the Logos mainly as the revealer of God to man, through creation, through theophanies, through prophets, through the Incarnation. . . In short the teaching of St John is characteristically Hebraic and not Alexandrine” (Westcott, John, pp. xvi-xvii).

(16.) “We must not overlook the fact that the Gospel of John begins with the same words as the first book of the Old Testament. If we, like the first Christians of the Diaspora, were accustomed to reading the Old Testament in Greek, this would immediately catch our attention” (Cullmann, p. 250).

(17.) “[T]he Gospel of John did not derive from the widely spread Logos idea a doctrine of general, not exclusively Christian, revelation . . . on the contrary it completely subordinated the extra- and pre-Christian Logos to the one revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth, and in this way, completely re-formed it” (Cullmann, 254).

(18.) “If the author takes over many statements about the Logos from Hellenism as well as from the Old Testament, he does not mean to say thereby that the Greeks, for instance, because they spoke of the Logos, already possessed true knowledge. That would be a modern way of thinking. This is what the evangelist is saying: The Greeks spoke of the Logos without knowing him” (Cullmann, 264).

(19.) “The word logos was a current term in Greek philosophy to denote the rational principle in man and, on a cosmic scale, the universal principle which imposed order on the raw material of which the world was made. . . But the background of John’s terminology is properly to be sought in the Old Testament, where the “word” of Yahweh is his will in action” (Bruce, Message, p. 103).

(20.) “False philosophy was dealing out to the world all kinds of error in regard to God and the modes of the Divine existence. What darkened reason was thus struggling after when ‘the world by wisdom knew not God,’ John was commissioned to set forth, as God’s own revelation of Himself. The Evangelist borrowed none of his doctrines from those systems. But he takes, in this case, a term that had become so universally familiar in the chief philosophies of the world before Christ’s coming, and this Logos that they had spoken of so blindly and ignorantly, he declares unto them” (Jacobus, Notes on the Gospels, p. 21).


In short, the Gospel of John emphasizes Jewish history and piety over philosophy. It focuses on the story of God’s redemptive works in the world, concerning which we find ourselves somewhere in the middle, somewhere short of the end, when all will be made clear, though not by unaided human reason and its metaphysical speculations.

Michael,

I agree completely. John's logos is not Philo's logos. There is little evidence of Greek philosophical influence on John; his thought is thoroughly Jewish. Westcott is spot on.

All it takes to be an compelling writer is being steeped in excellent writing oneself -- and the OT alone, in which John would have been immersed from birth -- provides plenty of excellence in a variety of literary genres. (And there's no reason to think John never saw any other books ever in his whole life, just because he was a fisherman in his youth.) Then it just takes the ability to think clearly, passion about your subject, and maybe a bit of a poetic temperament. With just that much, excellence can certainly be achieved, even in a second language which shows it somewhat "brokenly," if you will. (I can't read Greek, but I find myself wondering if John's lack of facility with the language may even add to its compelling nature to some degree, as when one hears a person with very little education speak eloquently on a subject he knows well; the "brokenness" of the language becomes an actual part of his eloquence.) Anyway, there's no reason someone can't be a compelling, even erudite, writer just because he isn't a scholar.

Tim,

I've read claims in works of popular apologetics that John was specifically written (by John) a supplement to Mark, sort of The Rest of The Story. I've never seen it adequately sourced, though. Are you familiar with this, and if so, what do you think of it?

It's possible John was Zebedee's son, but for me it's highly improbable.

My reference to - In the Beginning was the Word - wasn't meant to refer to Greek conceptions but to the philosophical style presented with such great poetic beauty such as: And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Also, in John, Jesus comes across more as a Socratic, dialectical teacher in the Last Supper discourses where he continually qualifies his terms. He comes across as stiff and preachy (because John has important doctrines and ideas to tell for instruction's sake). It's more difficult to imagine Zebedee's son presenting the very human Jesus he knew as the msytic super-human super-prophet for whom the Cross is no great ordeal.

Anyway, John's gospel, whoever wrote it, is simply awesome, perhaps the greatest guide as to what the experience of Christ means and where it leads.

Tim,
I'm shocked - shocked I say - that you would use the claims of an Apocalypse denier (isn't that like a birther or truther?) such as Eusebius as your first point of evidence to convince us of the veracity of apostolic authorship.

John has unique material all over the map.

I did write mainly, not exclusively. Plenty of scholars have noticed the same thing, that compared to the Synoptic gospels John is more centered around Jerusalem. Of course, plenty of scholars think John was written by more than one author as well.

That is because John the Disciple isn't there to be equated with him.

It takes one easy sentence: "John the son of Zebedee, brother of James, was the beloved disciple of Jesus."

He is suspicious by his absence -- unless he is the nameless disciple whom Jesus loved.

We are making competing claims about what is suspicious. An author writing a testimony who doesn't include any stories in which he might be positively identified from other accounts involving the same group of people. (or) An author known as the beloved disciple, a title not found in other accounts, whose absence is suggestive of the identity of the author.

I think it highly likely that this was written to be a supplemental gospel. This explanation also makes the "known speaker" argument less plausible. The author knew ahead of time he was writing for a large public audience, not for a small circle of friends where the distinction would be apparent.

Let me try an example of the previous point. If you said or wrote in a public forum, "Tim won an award for his charity work," I have no idea if you are talking about yourself or Tim McGraw or someone else named Tim. It would be odd for you to refer to yourself in the third person, so if there were only two choices I would normally assume that you meant the other Tim. However there is little reason for me to concede that there are only two choices in this case, much less that a failure to add an identifying title implies anything about the author's name.

for whom the Cross is no great ordeal.

Mark B., that's ridiculous. No great ordeal in John? Seriously?

Step,

I agree that the fourth Gospel is supplemental, as Clement of Alexandria says in his Outlines (Hypotyposes). I just don't see how that fact tells against John's authorship. Being inexplicit about one's identity is quite common in ancient literature; Josephus refers to himself in the third person frequently in The Jewish War; Caesar refers to himself in the third person almost exclusively throughout his Commentaries and never provides any identifying information; Xenophon refers to himself exclusively in the third person in his Anabasis, e.g.:

There was in the army a certain Xenophon, an Athenian, who accompanied the army neither as a general nor as a captain nor as a private soldier; but Proxenos, an old acquaintance, had sent for him. (Anabasis 3.1)

John has chosen a slightly different method of referring to himself, but the results are much the same: he appears, just under another description. And though it's artfully done, thoughtful readers can figure the author's identity out by process of elimination. One piece of evidence that I didn't mention in the post is John 21:1-7: notice that "the disciple whom Jesus loved" is fishing with Peter on the Sea of Galilee.

The author knew ahead of time he was writing for a large public audience, not for a small circle of friends where the distinction would be apparent.

I don't think he gave much thought to how wide the circle of readers would be. But this is beside the point: it is the habit of referring to the other John without any distinguishing phrase that does the explanatory work here.

It would be odd for you to refer to yourself in the third person, so if there were only two choices I would normally assume that you meant the other Tim.

Step2, the use of 3rd person is extremely culturally influenced. It is a grammatical and stylistic form, and different groups use different grammatical and stylistic forms without meaning anything of substance by it. How many times in the Gospels does Christ refer to "the Son of Man" instead of saying "I"?

Lydia,

Compare the Passion in John with the Synoptics. There is no agony in the garden, the scourging and crucifixion are reported as simply and briefly as possible without emotion or description of any pain, and before dying he claims to thirst and get vinegar to drink simply to fulfill the Scriptures after which he proclaims it is finished. Oh, there's the cool, detached moment when he gives his mother to the care of the beloved disciple.

John simply refuses to let Jesus suffer before the reader. No doubt scourging and crucifixion are extreme suffering, and we may be supposed to be able to imagine it without any help, but even so, John is not about letting us in on what Jesus experiences himself.

Wow, Mark. I mean, no way. Giving his mother to the beloved disciple and saying he is thirsty and asking for wine do _not_ have to be thought of as cool and detached. And saying that he "did it only to fulfill the Scriptures" is question-begging. It assumes that it didn't really happen! This despite the author's emphasis on his having been an eyewitness of the death.

I'm telling you, Mark, starting out by treating this as if it were a work of fiction (or something near thereto) and then thinking of everything in literary terms ("Why might he have put that in there?") is the bane of New Testament scholarship.

I would note, by the way, that the picture of the soldiers dividing Jesus' garments while sitting and watching him die is extremely true to life. It appears that Roman executioners were entitled to their victims' clothing and small effects. Here we find them acting with great thrift: "Hey, that's a nice outer coat. Let's not tear _that_. I have an idea, let's cast lots for it."

And saying that he "did it only to fulfill the Scriptures" is question-begging.

Not to mention the fact that Christ the Word was in absolute control of "the Scriptures", so there would have been no prophecy to fulfill had He not intended it so. Therefore, the fulfillment of the prophecy was intended right from the beginning of the Old Testament's prophecies, and God must have intended a further meaning behind that action, something more than just another notch in the "prophecies fulfilled" category.

Mark, your comment that John doesn't "let" the reader see Jesus suffer is just plain weird. If you look at ALL of the evangelists, they treat it much the same way - very matter of fact, and none of the (probably completely modern) entering into the subject's head and picturing the events from his angle, pain and all. Here is what we find:

Mark - Then he released to them Barabbas: and having scourged Jesus, delivered him unto them to be crucified...

And they gave him wine to drink mingled with gall. And when he had tasted, he would not drink. 35 And after they had crucified him, they divided his garments,

Mark - And so Pilate being willing to satisfy the people, released to them Barabbas: and delivered up Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified...

And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh. But he took it not. 24 And crucifying him, they divided his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take. 25 And it was the third hour: and they crucified him.

Luke - And when they had come to the place which is called Calvary, they crucified him there: and the robbers, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. 34 And Jesus said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Talk about dispassionate: Luke the doctor, the one who goes into detail in specifying medical conditions, completely passes over any details of where the nails went, or how damaging the whole thing was, or the broken shoulder, or the flesh that was ripped up, simply goes on the say Jesus asked the Father to forgive the murderers. All without any words of intensity.

Clearly, whatever might be true of a story-teller's methods today, using strong emotional grasp, the evangelists were about something else in their accounts. John's telling is much of a piece with the others.

Thanks for taking the time to do that, Tony. I was thinking exactly the same thing.

Mark, you have fallen into the trap of anachronism.

You live in the soft, comfortable world where many people wring their hands at the possibility that the needle of a lethal injection execution (if even that is legal) may suffer from the needle prick.

Both the writer and his immediate audience would be quite familiar with the tortures of scourging and crucifixion. It would be quite redundant to publish something like the script of "The Passion" when everyone reading this Gospel for the next three hundred years would have such agony and humiliation burned into their minds on a regular basis. Friends and family members of most non-Romans would have had lost at least one of their friends or relatives bu the horrors of the Roman gibbet.

People didn't submit to Rome because Caesar offered a "buy one, get one free" sale on aqueducts. It was a brutal, efficient, killing machine bent upon world domination. It ruled through fear, and frequent displays of crucifixion were quite useful in cowing the nations.

Erm, that's what I get for posting without proofing. The first mention of "the needle" should have been "the condemned"

People didn't submit to Rome because Caesar offered a "buy one, get one free" sale on aqueducts.

This line should win some kind of prize.

In honesty, and based on some recent research, I would say that this

Friends and family members of most non-Romans would have had lost at least one of their friends or relatives by the horrors of the Roman gibbet.

is probably numerically too high, unless you are specifically talking about Jews who lived at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem or some similar conquest. (Which some members of John's audience may well have been.) When things were rolling along "normally" in a subdued Roman province, mass crucifixions weren't all that common. Slaves, however, could be crucified at will, so if you had friends or relatives who were slaves, then that might be a different story.

The general point is right, though: The horrors of crucifixion were well known, and there is no reason to expect the evangelists to go on about them in gruesome detail for the sake of conveying "realism."

My somewhat naive (and non-rhetorical) question would be: if the degree of "Early Church" unanimity regarding authorship of the fourth gospel (as being from John) is incorrect, as defenders of the Lazarus view would seem to contend, what would the implications be for the trustworthiness of early Christian writings on other matters ? IOW, how would defenders of Lazarus as Fourth Gospel Author be able to have confidence in early Christian claims (history, theology, traditions, etc.) if they are in this instance going against the totality (?) of early external evidences ?

Thank you.

Scott, one of the ramifications would be that the general, non-religious standards of historical evidence would have to be thrown out. The overall evidence that we have about who wrote John isn't significantly worse than our evidence of who wrote The Gallic Wars, or most of the ancient writings (probably at least 9/10ths of them, maybe 99/100ths). We would end up saying that our attributions of authorship for virtually EVERY work is merely a place-holder name for a generic "we know not who". A follow-through result would be that we could never craft arguments across multiple works from the "same" author, since we would never have any solid proof to think they really were the same author, as every attribution is really just a bare name. "The Iliad wasn't written by Homer, it was written by another poet with the same name," indeed.

Folks,

Remember the Agony in the garden in the Synoptics? Remember all the various expressions of the ordeal to come, the flesh is weak, eloi eloi sabacthani and so on that are entirely missing from John?

John's Jesus is a Superman. He is in control of events. He knows full well who he is, he is God, and he is simply fulfilling his duty.

As for fiction, yeah, John is pretty much fiction, particularly all the Last Supper discourses and other long passages where Jesus explains who he is and what he's doing. Can you read those passages and not think how windy and convoluted they are? Is that the same Jesus of the Parables? Of course not.

But it's great fiction. Just because something is fictional, it doesn't mean it won't convey the most profound truth. Jesus' parables are fiction, too. The book of John is one great parable in itself or can be looked at that way.

John was nearly excluded because of its gnostic qualities, or rather mystical ones which can be put to use by Gnostics or has a similar character in some degree. Enough to taint it.

It's rather like the bishop who complained of St. John of the Cross as "that Buddhist".

Remember folks, we are not people of the Book. We are people of Revelation, the experience of a Risen God, not words about or from the Risen God. Words are helpful and useful, but revelation is HIM. The words tell us to seek and that we shall find.

Also, it's helpful to note that God doesn't write books. People do.

While we're on the subject, can anybody tell me what this means in one simple sentence - In the beginning was the Word (Logos).

Can anything be more of a complicated philosophical statement? I heard people say it means Reason or Mind but it doesn't really, does it? And if Logos isn't a Greek conception, than it's an early Kabbala one, neither of which make any sense to an ordinary reader or hearer. It's mumbo jumbo.

Yes, I know in ancient times words were understood as power. Jesus speaks a word and power flows from it. A king speaks a word and things happen as a result. No difference than today. A general says a word and soldiers march. Okay, words are meaningful. That still doesn't mean that - in the beginning was the Word - really means anything then or now to most people or anyone thinking it through.

Oh yes, in my safe, comfortable world I've had a serious heart attack, I've suffered numerous procedures that have been far from painless multiple times, and suffered life long from a hideously chronic, acute and disfiguring skin disease, nearly lost the function of my kidneys and have kept buggering on only through the grace and direct intervention of God.

And that's merely a portion of things having caused distress, pain, and many Gethsemanes in my life.

But as I keep saying and the many ignore, suffering is the royal road to God.

While we're on the subject, can anybody tell me what this means in one simple sentence - In the beginning was the Word (Logos).

No, of course not. Can you say in one simple sentence all that is Jesus?

We can make analogical comments that shed light on it. For instance: Jesus the Son of the Father is the Father's conception of Himself, by which His knowledge is a wholly adequate self-knowledge. The double-meaning of "conception" as "a thought" and as "a generative act" is intentional.

Also, it's helpful to note that God doesn't write books. People do.

That's an odd attitude to have about the Bible. Yes, it is true that God's ultimate self-revelation is made in the coming of Jesus Christ. But He also reveals Himself in a number of other ways, partially and imperfectly, including by nature as a whole, and by miracles that set nature aside momentarily. Some of those miracles were prophecies, and some of the miracles were acts of inspiration by which human authors were inspired to write of God. The human writings that became the Bible were inspired by God in which God enlightened human minds and hearts so that they wrote all that He wanted expressed in writing and they wrote nothing that was erroneous or detracted from His message. The mere fact that the human authors didn't express in writing God's ultimate revelation (which can only be expressed in The Word), doesn't mean that the work they produced wasn't God's express revelation (in limited form).

As for fiction, yeah, John is pretty much fiction, particularly all the Last Supper discourses and other long passages where Jesus explains who he is and what he's doing. Can you read those passages and not think how windy and convoluted they are? Is that the same Jesus of the Parables? Of course not.

But it's great fiction. Just because something is fictional, it doesn't mean it won't convey the most profound truth. Jesus' parables are fiction, too. The book of John is one great parable in itself or can be looked at that way.

Once you start down that road for interpreting the Gospels, there is no intelligible way to limit the process. You end up fictionalizing everything that you find, including any possible message or "profound truth" that is there. What message you like, the next person says is "just the outward form" of what John is presenting, his real intent lies elsewhere. The whole of "understanding John" becomes a process of determining "what would I like John to have meant by those words." It is narcissistic, and it does not permit God to have used John to say something beyond what you already know.

The only sound way of reading the books of the Bible is to start with the meaning that the (human) writer himself intended as the primary meaning, and accept that level of meaning as valid and inspired in its own right. Other senses and meanings spring off that first, primary meaning (and the validity of the other senses rests on the validity and accuracy of the first meaning). When Mark writes And crucifying him, they divided his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take. he means that they literally and in real life crucified Jesus, he does not mean that they "subjected Him to mental agony that would have been comparable to the agony of a man being crucified," for example.

You can say that John wrote his whole Gospel as a parable, but there is no satisfactory evidence of that. Certainly his own disciples didn't gather that sense. And the mode by which the evangelists introduced parables is different from the way in which John writes the entire book. If he intended a parable form, he failed of his effort. And if he failed, then the work is not inspired, and it is not protected by divine writ, and we can just toss it in the trash bin if we don't like it.

The idea that John leaves out certain things well-canvassed by the other evangelists for "literary" reasons or because he is writing fiction or portraying Jesus "as" something different from their portrayal is really not supportable. The realization that John was deliberately supplying material that was not already in the other gospels _on purpose_ in order to fill out Jesus' life is an excellent explanation, where "literary" explanations are forced.

Dorothy Sayers is very good on the authorship of John in "A Vote of Thanks to Cyrus." I have actually typed out the essay and have it in html for those interested.

John's intensely visual memory is also evidence against such theories. Tim gives many such details in the main post. Reading them in context makes the eyewitness nature especially vivid. C.S. Lewis has a discussion (I forget the name of the essay) of John's eyewitness account of Judas leaving to betray Jesus and saying, "And it was night." The rectangle of darkness as the door opens, stamped upon the memory of the young Beloved Disciple. We, who are drowning in realistic fiction, are to some extent numbed to this effect, but it really is striking when one lets it sink in.

There is also a fascinating theory about the fact that John does not record some of the words from the cross, including, "My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" It says in John that after Jesus gave his mother to the care of the beloved disciple, he took her into his home "from that hour." It is a conjecture but one not to be dismissed too lightly that this may be meant quite literally: Jesus may have sensed that it was time for his mother to leave the scene of the crucifixion, and John may have taken her to his nearby lodgings in Jerusalem immediately, thus missing some portion of the crucifixion. The evangelist is particularly concerned to emphasize that he was an eyewitness of the crucifixion, and for that reason he may have deliberately left out all of the words from the cross and events at the cross that he did not witness with his own eyes. If this conjecture is correct, the scene "picks up" when he returns after taking Mary to his home. It's a fascinating idea and at least worth considering. Not original with me, I shd. add.

One piece of evidence that I didn't mention in the post is John 21:1-7: notice that "the disciple whom Jesus loved" is fishing with Peter on the Sea of Galilee.

Taking a cue from the bane of New Testament scholarship, it is a fairly standard literary device to take a previous passage (on the assumption the author was familiar with preceding gospels), such as Luke 5:4-11, and reframe it in a later yet similar scene. It is an element of a circular plot structure, as well as a meta way of alluding to God's description as alpha and omega. Even if I did take that particular story literally, there are two unnamed disciples at the beginning, either one of them could have been the beloved disciple.

But this is beside the point: it is the habit of referring to the other John without any distinguishing phrase that does the explanatory work here.

Maybe he thought the title would be a distraction from his goal of making the baptist totally subservient to Jesus. The author of John applies a heavy gloss, more than the other gospel writers, that has the baptist exclaim how unworthy he is at every opportunity. This gloss ignores that the reason for the immersion of Jesus and the consecration of his ministry is based on the Jewish ritual mikvah - which has no reflection on the provider's ranking, both men were compared to Elijah, they both had miraculous births announced by angels, and while in prison the baptist sent two of his followers to inexplicably confirm that Jesus was the Messiah.

How many times in the Gospels does Christ refer to "the Son of Man" instead of saying "I"?

According to Wiki, 82. The thing is, that phrase in the OT only has an messianic aspect by way of a similarity (literally "one like a son of man") in a single vision in Daniel, it is used throughout the rest of the OT as a reference for mere human mortals.

Taking a cue from the bane of New Testament scholarship, it is a fairly standard literary device to take a previous passage (on the assumption the author was familiar with preceding gospels), such as Luke 5:4-11, and reframe it in a later yet similar scene.

Meaning...making stuff up. Assumed: that the gospels are not biographical memoirs but just literary thingies that involve making up whole scenes for literary-theological reasons. You cannot assume that making stuff up is a "standard literary device" in the gospels without begging a crucial question concerning their status as, you know, historical memoirs that don't make stuff up.

But there is a clear motivation for trying that sort of exegesis: if the author made up stories like that, then we are free to make up any kind of meaning, message, or interpretation that we want for the story. "Oh, he says Jesus wept? That's because he was using a form of cross-counterpoint, to show us by _contrast_ that Jesus couldn't really have wept because he was God not man."

Once you lose your footing in the Gospels as narration of eye-witnesses, there is no limit to the strange and unearthly theories they can spout, because they become floating free-form rorschach tests. Why bother? If that's what the Bible is, then it is a waste of energy trying to interpret it. Just make up your own stories, 'cause that's what you are doing anyway.

As for fiction, yeah, John is pretty much fiction, particularly all the Last Supper discourses and other long passages where Jesus explains who he is and what he's doing. Can you read those passages and not think how windy and convoluted they are? Is that the same Jesus of the Parables? Of course not.

This is a canard that has been answered over a hundred years ago. Jesus' discourses in John are no longer, on average, than his discourses in Matthew. The two longest connected discourses are in the first Gospel, not in the fourth.

As far as content is concerned, John is deliberately skipping over the popular teaching and giving a lot more of what Jesus said to his disciples. Of course you would expect some difference. But the lofty tone of John is occasionally apparent in the Synoptics, e.g., Matthew 11:27, which looks like a verse of the fourth Gospel gone astray.

The overall evidence that we have about who wrote John isn't significantly worse than our evidence of who wrote The Gallic Wars, or most of the ancient writings (probably at least 9/10ths of them, maybe 99/100ths).

Tony, this is an excellent point, and it can be put even more strongly. Our information regarding Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic Wars comes from Suetonius, a second century writer; it is therefore removed from the death of Caesar by about 150 years. By contrast, the testimony of Papias to the authorship of John cannot be removed by more than 50 years, as John wrote his work in the late 90s and Papias died no later than 155 (at the outside) and probably in the 130s. The evidence for Ignatius's familiarity with John is even more striking since it takes us back to within about ten years of the date of composition; I am not aware of any such early use of Caesar's Commentaries.

It's not my purpose to prove or disprove any particular claim about the Bible or NT except to state my own perspective. In the course of decades I have read the NT many many times and have been struck by different impressions of what I read, fresh insights, or been helped by various exegetes to draw different conclusions or thoughts about what I read.

It's generally the case for everyone to find new treasure in that miraculous storehouse of wisdom and hope.

Tony is right about narcissism if a reader's purpose is always reductionist, but it's possible to see the Bible as miraculous, full of truth, and fallibly made and transmitted. Isn't life just like that? We are pathetic clay vessels, and it's a wonder we hold any living water at all.

The way I see John now is that it's not about what Jesus was like when he lived, but the effect he had on John after he died. The truths John tells about what the Risen God is like, where he leads, what he wants from us, and what we'll face if we follow is truly inspired in that it comes out of experience, deep prayer, and communion.

In that sense, of course it comes from God, his friend.

The way I see John now is that it's not about what Jesus was like when he lived, but the effect he had on John after he died.

I should say that it's about both, but not at expense of the former. There are far too many indications of realism and authenticity in the book -- in every chapter -- for it to be a work of fiction.

You cannot assume that making stuff up is a "standard literary device" in the gospels without begging a crucial question concerning their status as, you know, historical memoirs that don't make stuff up.

I can if I apply the same skeptical standard you do to every religion except your own.

Once you lose your footing in the Gospels as narration of eye-witnesses, there is no limit to the strange and unearthly theories they can spout, because they become floating free-form rorschach tests.

Again, twenty major denominations of Christianity. People are taking the Rorschach test regardless of how they view the divine inspiration of the Bible. I would go even further and say that they were written to be that way, that much like the human brain which integrates a lot of varied, sometimes conflicting input and fills in many minor perceptual gaps, the books were written to construct a unified message from a varied, incomplete text, it takes subjective input from the reader to complete the narrative. Of course I do think that the Bible is a storehouse of wisdom, especially the proverbs, but so are many other stories, poems, and songs.

"Zeus, who has established as a fixed law that “wisdom comes by suffering.” But even as trouble, bringing memory of pain, drips over the mind in sleep, so wisdom comes to men, whether they want it or not. Harsh, it seems to me, is the grace of gods enthroned upon their awful seats." - Aeschylus

I can if I apply the same skeptical standard you do to every religion except your own.

Yawn. Here we go with the outsider test. Wow, Step, I never thought of that. My faith is now officially shaken.

No, sorry. Objectively, the evidence for Christianity is much stronger than for incompatible religions.

And by the way, when was the last time you found me doing loopy interpretations like that of anything, even the Koran? I do not believe that Islam is true, but I stay away from the thin "Hey, so-and-so just transported this scene to a different context" stuff. That's why I switched my studies from English lit. to philosophy. I discovered that even the most conservative lit. scholars had no good concept of demanding strong evidence for their _extremely_ conjectural theories.

Step, do us all a favor and read this:

Richard Burridge, What are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography, 2nd ed. (2004).

Until you have, please do not try to discuss the genre of the Gospels. It will spare others the embarrassment of pointing out that you don't know what you are talking about.

I do not believe that Islam is true, but I stay away from the thin "Hey, so-and-so just transported this scene to a different context" stuff

I would be totally surprised if you know enough of the Koran to have any chance of doing that. That isn't a criticism btw, I wouldn't be able to do it either. In any event, your belief that Islam isn't true is all I need to make my claim. If you think something isn't completely true, i.e. it is partially fiction, and there are strange parallels between the beginning and the end of a story, why would you assume that both those parts must be factual accounts?

Until you have, please do not try to discuss the genre of the Gospels.

Ah, the "go read a book" strategy. No thanks, I read far too much about religion as it is.

If you think something isn't completely true, i.e. it is partially fiction, and there are strange parallels between the beginning and the end of a story, why would you assume that both those parts must be factual accounts?

I would keep my mouth shut about making heavy weather of parallels and saying, "Hey, it looks like so-and-so transported this into a different literary context" until and unless I had read the thing and there were *strong reasons* to think that the origin was by that route--e.g., making up one as a deliberate literary parallel to the other. I would investigate genre carefully. I would consider various possibilities, including, yes, that both events actually happened. The mere fact that one doesn't in fact consider a religion to be true does not exercise some irresistible causal force on one's mind such that one takes with undue seriousness literary theories about the origin of passages in a book associated with that religion.

h, the "go read a book" strategy. No thanks,

(Sigh)

I read far too much about religion as it is.

I agree -- but judging from your comments, the stuff you're reading is largely nonsense, and you don't seem to have the background to realize that. Try reading something better.

It's generally the case for everyone to find new treasure in that miraculous storehouse of wisdom and hope.
The way I see John now is that it's not about what Jesus was like when he lived, but the effect he had on John after he died. The truths John tells about what the Risen God is like, where he leads, what he wants from us, and what we'll face if we follow is truly inspired in that it comes out of experience, deep prayer, and communion.

In that sense, of course it comes from God, his friend.

From that, Mark, I take it that you DON'T think that John, or any of the Gospels for that matter (as well as the Old Testament), constitute written works that enjoyed Divine inspiration of an order fundamentally different from that of the inspiration that may have gone into Aeschylus's Antigone, Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, or Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. They are all works of human genius and absolutely prone to all the defects of mere human authorship, including simple errors of fact, faulty logic, and deficiencies of moral or spiritual light. Is that right?

This is probably the 100th time that I have seen this sort of spectacle of dispute about whether a Gospel provides literal narrative of actual events. I swear I must be a literary and logical midget of positively evanescent proportions, or somebody (else) is missing a very important step in their exegesis.

Starting from the standpoint that the given Gospel is a great book, a book worth anyone's time to ponder and ponder yet again:

The message that the author is pointing at in his work rests inherently on a claim he is making: that the person and the miracles and the events are real. (Not, yet, an insistence that they are accurate in every single detail). That is, the reason John (or Mark's) work is one of import is that the message isn't merely (for example) one that presents a wish for the perfectibility of man, a wish of raising him up out of his defects, but that it is a confident hope that is grounded in real possibility. But that real possibility is itself grounded in the narrated events being real events.

The Jesus character isn't a great teacher unless there is something that "backs up" his claims more than that his mere say-so. If the Jesus character is at root a literary figure, then the message itself is undermined irreparably. You cannot make "wish" into "hope" (much less a confident hope by Paul's standards) telling an inspiring fictional story, that's not enough. Both Aristotle and Sophocles had more than a mere glimmer of the basic need for man to be raised up above himself, but neither one could locate any real hope for it. You don't get hope out of fiction, unless the fiction (as is the case for fiction out of the Christian West) itself assumes an existing framework of redemption. And if you do get some kind of hope, it isn't a hope that bears the light of reason peering at it. Faith seeking understanding goes by the wayside: faith seeking no contact with reason would be your by-word.

(This is one problem if you want to suggest that the main theme is hope. Similar problems attend any other important theme of the books as literary works not as factual narratives.)

So, either the Gospels are nothing better than new-age feel-goods for the therapeutic age of self-help books, or the authors were staking a claim of narrating literal events, not literary events. You can't make these books important if they aren't claims of factual narratives.

Tony, what people just don't get however often one tells them is this: You and I and Tim and many other people who take our position think "literary readings" of the Gospels are unreasonable for reasons of genre, not first and foremost because we're Christians. It's because we believe that you can read these books and tell that, whether one believes them or not, whether they *in fact* contain any errors or not, etc., the _kind_ of thing they are is, at root, historical memoir, not literary fiction or myth or anything of the kind. So the authors are attempting to describe events that really happened, events that they believe really happened, not writing what they do because they are trying to "explore a theme" or "transport a theme" or make a theological point or "paint a character" or any of that other stuff.

This relates to something that has been much, much discussed in the evangelical world lately: There is a well-known apologist who now takes very seriously the hypothesis that the scene in Matthew where it says that the righteous dead after Christ's crucifixion came out of the graves is some kind of Roman literary trope that was never intended to be taken as literally true. The big controversy has been whether this person, if he thinks this is really the correct interpretation of the passage, can in good faith call himself an inerrantist or not. I'm not getting into that question here. My point here is just that my chief problem with that hypothesis is that it seems patently untrue to the kind of work that Matthew is writing. There is absolutely nothing to signal any "switch" to literary trope there in an otherwise obviously intended-to-be-historical book. It would be in my opinion _more_ reasonable, in terms of genre, to hold that Matthew really thought that the dead came out of their graves (because of something he had heard but hadn't personally witnessed, say) but that he was _mistaken_ than to hold that he never intended actually to say that the dead came out of their graves. Nor am I saying that that's my position. I'm just saying it would fit better with the type of book the gospel of Matthew appears to be. But that, of course, would be obviously at odds with inerrancy.

The overall evidence that we have about who wrote John isn't significantly worse than our evidence of who wrote The Gallic Wars, or most of the ancient writings (probably at least 9/10ths of them, maybe 99/100ths).

At the risk of a digression, here's an outstanding infographic to visualize just how much more textual evidence the NT has and how much closer it was to the original chronologically.

http://visualunit.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/nt_reliability1.jpg

That's a very nice graphic.

I'll just add that the numbers in the graphic do need to be updated, and the updates will increase (moderately) the number of manuscripts for the non-Christian writings. However, the mismatch will still be staggering.

Pardon my presumption, but since Respectabiggle posted a link, I thought I would as well. I have found a number of the essays by Glenn Miller at christian-thinktank.com to be helpful. E.g. see here: http://www.christianthinktank.com/topix.html and scroll down to the entries on "Gospels" for some interesting studies. (Spoiler: he comes down in favor of historicity.)

My personal Conspiracy Theory about the fourth Gospel is that is was written not by John but by someone else of the same name. Which isn't to say that it's not John's gospel, just that he may have composed it and narrated it to someone else who actually wrote it out. Which would explain the appellation "the beloved disciple", which seems an odd way to refer to oneself. And I posit that this scribe was also named John to explain why the gospel doesn't bear a different name (the way "Peter's gospel" is attributed to Mark as the actual writer). Naturally, this is clearly a bit silly, but it's the kind of silliness that happens often enough in real life.

Of course, I make no pretence that If You Only Looked Carefully Enough you would be bound to conclude that this is the One and Only Serious Explanation. The Lazarus theory also has a certain appeal (the rumor that the disciple would not die, for example, fits rather neatly), but in other respects it's an even worse fit than St. John. (Why would he be referred to separately as the beloved disciple and as Lazarus? Sure, you can come up with excuses, but they are no better than the "excuses" for the apostle John.)

Speaking of "the beloved disciple", it has always seemed to me to be hardly a "modest" way for John to avoid referring to himself. But it recently struck me that something may have been gained in translation: "beloved" is slightly archaic, so in modern English it connotes a special love; but in the original context, to say that Jesus loved him may mean no more than to say that he was a friend of Jesus. Perhaps Tim or someone else knowledgeable can address this? On the other hand, referring to someone as the something-or-other is a kind of superlative, so I'm still not sure that counts as modest. But maybe after the other apostles had died and John was the only one left, referring to him as "the Apostle" was just natural.

At any rate, it's clear that the author was a close disciple of Jesus; the only possible question is whether he was an apostle or not. One of the works cited above mentions that only the apostles were present at the Last Supper. That's certain an idea I had formed subconsciously (based on many famous paintings, no doubt), but do we know that? Was there some kind of policy that would make it very unlikely for any other disciples to be present? (And what about the apostle's families? Where would Peter's mother-in-law have eaten the passover?) It's certainly possible that John never mentioned any of the special events where only he and James and Peter were present because he was merely supplementing the other gospels, but did the poetic and mystical John really have nothing he could add about the Transfiguration? Oh well, it's entirely possible, after all.

I said: the only possible question is whether he was an apostle or not

I have a brand new Conspriacy Theory: it's really the Gospel according to Judas! No, not that Judas — Jude Thaddeus, of course. But given the name, maybe he figured it was better to avoid confusion and controversy by simply referring to himself as a "disciple"... the one Jesus loved, naturally, as opposed to the other Judas, of whom we might readily suppose he was not all that fond.
(Actually, I'm not terribly enamored with this theory, but maybe I can sell it to Dan Brown....)

Begin rant-

The Jesus character isn't a great teacher unless there is something that "backs up" his claims more than that his mere say-so. If the Jesus character is at root a literary figure, then the message itself is undermined irreparably. You cannot make "wish" into "hope" (much less a confident hope by Paul's standards) telling an inspiring fictional story, that's not enough.

First, I am convinced there was a real human person who attempted to be the Messiah for the Jews, understood in the context of freedom from Roman control. The claim that we can't get hope out of fiction is simply absurd. You have to be in denial of thousands of years of plays, heroic myths, epic poetry, and much more to suggest such a bizarre notion. In modern times, Atticus Finch is often considered a role model for adults even though he is plainly a fictional person and teen literature is overflowing with heroic fictional characters that have supernatural powers.

Second, have you never heard of propaganda? Most every authority since the beginning of society has used it to inspire their people, to keep a lid on mistakes, and generally to unify their population against a real or imagined threat. You have to keep in mind what had happened to the disciples: their charismatic leader had just been killed by the very same pagans the Messiah was supposed to defeat; furthermore he was betrayed by one within their own small circle. To say they were up against impossible odds is the understatement of all time. If they (correctly) understood they were in a total war against the Roman authorities then they had to find some way to fight back, and the best way to do it was to attack the symbols of Roman domination by transcending the brutal terror tactic of crucifixion with a promise of majesty in a new kingdom, by co-opting elements of pagan myth so their founder is supreme over Roman gods, and by a litany of vague prophecies that Jesus fulfills to reveal himself as the Messiah.

Third, if the propaganda angle is a bridge too far you should still admit the high likelihood of bias. How many times have you read historians and journalists and thought, "I'm getting a distorted picture?" Sometimes it is an unintentional problem with how the author gathered his evidence, sometimes it is a deliberate attempt to make their protagonist look better than he or she is, sometimes the author is trying to enhance his reputation by making a "new discovery" or he is forging alliances for political and financial reasons totally outside the events being written about. Whatever the reason(s), the author is telling a story with a gloss that directs the reader’s focus at the expense of the total weight of evidence.

Finally, outlandish stories are common to every time period. The whole birther conspiracy theory is qualitatively similar in my opinion to the story of the virgin birth. A sizable segment of the political Right is devoted to the idea that a prophetic awareness of Obama’s future led to a massive conspiracy in the press and government to conceal his true birthplace and/or parentage. Thirty years from now I expect half of conservative historians will include this “inspired truth” in their memoirs of Obama’s reign of Kenyan Marxist anti-colonialism.

Um, yeah, and this "propaganda" was supposed to convince people to repent and believe on Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and then prepare to get persecuted, forgive one's enemies, form no armies, etc. Wow, sounds like a winning plot to overthrow the Romans by messianic propaganda to me.

And bias? That's one heck of a "bias" that says, "This close friend of ours met us in person, physically, after he died. He had risen from the dead, you see. We met him repeatedly over a period of forty days, ate with him, talked with him. Our whole group met with him several times and spent time with him. Then at the end of the forty days he ascended into heaven before our very eyes." Nobody calls that a mere "bias." If you are supposed to be one of the disciples who saw all of this, and you aren't insane to the point of having repeated, long-running, wild hallucinations, then this is what is known, technically, as a whopping lie.

...forgive one's enemies, form no armies, etc.

Forgiving one's enemies is sometimes a difficult matter in the New Testament. There are many passages where forgiveness is immediately and freely given, a few others where it isn't (the Pharisees), and obviously Revelations is the ultimate payback for every wrong. I admit there is some internal conflict between his mission as Messiah and his role as the final sacrifice for mankind's sins, but it may have something to do with a Jewish understanding of scapegoating. I'm unsure where you got the idea Jesus commanded them to form no armies, although the disciples clearly had to be careful about not antagonizing the Romans directly, hence their propaganda to subvert Roman symbols.

If you are supposed to be one of the disciples who saw all of this, and you aren't insane to the point of having repeated, long-running, wild hallucinations, then this is what is known, technically, as a whopping lie.

Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism. Jesus ascended to heaven 40 days after his resurrection. Another one of those strange parallels. In Luke's Gospel, supposedly by the same author as Acts but written earlier, Jesus ascended to heaven on the evening of the day of his resurrection.

although the disciples clearly had to be careful about not antagonizing the Romans directly, hence their propaganda to subvert Roman symbols.

That's utterly laughable. The disciples' non-political, totally religious message is as evident as anything can be from all the documents of the history of the early church--Acts and the epistles, including striking passages in both Romans and Peter, are so clear in this regard as to raise some doubts as to whether armed rebellion against a duly constituted government is _ever_ justified for Christians.


Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism. Jesus ascended to heaven 40 days after his resurrection. Another one of those strange parallels.

Wow, there's a knock-down argument. If there's a parallel number, the thing didn't happen. Yep, and the children of Israel also spent forty years in the wilderness. Makes you think, huh? Of course, _if_ these things really happened, then the times were, presumably, chosen by a personal agent. (Hint: God) And personal agents _do_ sometimes do the same type of thing, use the same numbers on more than one occasion, etc. The facile assumption that if there are parallels or similarities this must mean that the thing *didn't really happen* and is a made-up fictional/literary parallel is another of the results of that bane of New Testament studies I was mentioning above.

As for Luke and Acts, they are _self-evidently_ by the same person. This is obvious not by some mysterious light of faith but by ordinary canons of history, style, and the mere ability to read ancient texts. Actually, though one might easily infer that Jesus ascended immediately after his resurrection from the end of Luke, it doesn't say so in so many words. And in any event, I am quite comfortable with the hypothesis that the author learned more in between the two books and is, in fact, clarifying matters on the basis of further information at the beginning of Acts. If this makes a really strict inerrantist uncomfortable, that's not my problem. The hypothesis makes quite good sense when one takes seriously the idea that the two books are historical memoirs written by a careful and conscientious but not absolutely infallible historian who was not present at the events related but was working from the testimony of eye witnesses which might be added to, updated, or clarified over time as he had more interactions and did more research. I could come up with a couple of other examples of the same kind all by myself, and if anything, they only _confirm_ my confidence in the basically historical nature of the documents. They don't have that suspicious "cleaned-up" feeling that one gets with collusion or literary documents. Substantial agreement with variation in detail is the mark of actual testimony and history.

The disciples' non-political, totally religious message is as evident as anything can be from all the documents of the history of the early church...

For very obvious reasons I reject the notion that any religion is non-political. Religion may be a great deal more abstract than your average political discourse, but it is highly charged politics nonetheless.

Actually, though one might easily infer that Jesus ascended immediately after his resurrection from the end of Luke, it doesn't say so in so many words.

Yes it does. Luke 24:51-52 "While he blessed them he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God."

If this makes a really strict inerrantist uncomfortable, that's not my problem.

By definition an inerrantist is really strict, there is no such thing as a "kind of/sort of/maybe" inerrantist.

Substantial agreement with variation in detail is the mark of actual testimony and history.

Just so I'm crystal clear on this, a difference of 39 days is a minor detail and not a substantive difference?

Yes it does. Luke 24:51-52 "While he blessed them he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God."

And this verse says that the occasion of the ascension was on the same day as the resurrection ... how? A substantial number of commentators think that the scene for Luke 24:50 ff must be different from that of 24:36 ff, if only because there would not have been time for all of the events listed to be crammed into a single evening. Such telescoping is found in Greco-Roman bioi of the period; we should not boggle at finding it here.

By definition an inerrantist is really strict, there is no such thing as a "kind of/sort of/maybe" inerrantist.

Let me introduce you to Norman Geisler and Mike Licona.

a difference of 39 days is a minor detail and not a substantive difference?

It's a heck of a lot less substantive than the fact of Jesus' resurrection and his physical appearance to his disciples. Again, we're talking history here. Skeptics who make much of the alleged contradictions in the biblical narratives really don't seem to understand the nature of history. Yes, stuff gets left out in some narratives, and sometimes that means that the person who left it out didn't know about it at the time he wrote and would have said, had you asked him, that it didn't happen. That doesn't make his document an ahistorical piece of literary New Age fluff that makes stuff up for effect. It does, however, lead us to a certain amount of awe and gratitude that in this particular case we have _multiple_ biographical memoirs of the life of this particular 1st century rabbi--a quantity of mutually filling-out, reenforcing, and correcting material ancient historians would kill for concerning other ancient historical figures.

Tony,

I happen to be a writer. I've examined and experienced the art, exposition, construction, and inspiration of creative writing in every possible way as far as I know in my pursuits. I have never heard a single person give a good account for what "divine inspiration" actually means.

People say the Gospels and Bible are divinely inspired, but they never define what they mean. If I happen to write - God is truth - was that divine inspiration? It is absolutely true about God and I absolutely believe it, and I arrived at it through direct experience of God, but today I write it as easily and dispassionately as I would a math formula. So what I have I written? Is it divine?

I have often felt inspired in writing stories or verses and in composing music which are beautiful, but I've also created writing and music just as beautiful without "inspiration".

God doesn't write books. People do. And they don't do it by dictation (except that frauds claim so). I recommend "Misquoting Jesus" for its scholarship regarding the transmission of the Gospels which no one disputes or refutes. I disagree with the author's conclusions and rather pathetic atheism, but the scholarship is impeccable.

Part of the point being, that if the Gospels (or Bible) is so carefully inspired and crafted by God, you'd think he could manage it's transmission equally as well through the ages.

But again, people, you miss the point. If you want to know God, who He is and what He wants, go to the Source, not to a book. Meet God face to face. Quit playing word games, chasing arguments about words. Face Him and be guided directly.

The Gospels and NT point to Jesus and God. They can't give you Jesus or God. So go out and meet them for yourselves.

>>By definition an inerrantist is really strict, there is no such thing as a "kind of/sort of/maybe" inerrantist.

Yes there is -- 'strict' inerrancy usually implies so-called 'verbal' inerrancy. There are numerous scholars, both ancient and modern, who believe in the infallibility of the Scriptures' teaching without being verbal inerrantists. I have heard this sort of person referred to as a 'loose' inerrantist.

In the contemporary era strict verbal inerrancy usually goes along with an extreme sola scriptura view, since complete and total reliance on a text for all of one's faith and conduct necessitates the complete and total reliability of the text as text. In other words, if you're relying solely on a text, that text better be completely reliable.

Mark B: People say the Gospels and Bible are divinely inspired, but they never define what they mean.

Actually, they do. Proventissimus Deus:

But it is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred. For the system of those who, in order to rid themselves of these difficulties, do not hesitate to concede that divine inspiration regards the things of faith and morals, and nothing beyond, because (as they wrongly think) in a question of the truth or falsehood of a passage, we should consider not so much what God has said as the reason and purpose which He had in mind in saying it-this system cannot be tolerated. For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true.

But even more directly, Dei Verbum:

In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted. Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings

Mark B: But again, people, you miss the point. If you want to know God, who He is and what He wants, go to the Source, not to a book. Meet God face to face.

Many and many a Christian does just that: knows God by intimate communion, daily meditation and prayer. But vast numbers of these very same Christians have found that this interior life of conversation with God is subject to various kinds of kinks, twists, and de-railings, due in no small part to Satan who can also communicate with man through interior activity, and thus can mimic conversation with God. Hence, every man needs, in addition to his prayer and conversation with God, a reliable source external to him as a check and support for that interior life. Furthermore, part of our work here is to announce the Truth of Christ to others, and (like the Apostles before us) part of the way we do that is to show how Christ is the fulfillment of God's own pre-Revelation, pre-announcements in the Old Testament. Christ Himself used the Scriptures in His work of teaching, we should expect to do no less. Proventissumus Dei:

the chief of all is, the innumerable benefits of which it is the source; according to the infallible testimony of the Holy Ghost Himself, who says: "All Scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work."(6) That such was the purpose of God in giving the Scripture of men is shown by the example of Christ our Lord and of His Apostles. For He Himself Who "obtained authority by miracles, merited belief by authority, and by belief drew to Himself the multitude"(7) was accustomed in the exercise of His Divine Mission, to appeal to the Scriptures. He uses them at times to prove that He is sent by God, and is God Himself. From them He cites instructions for His disciples and confirmation of His doctrine. He vindicates them from the calumnies of objectors; he quotes them against Sadducees and Pharisees, and retorts from them upon Satan himself when he dares to tempt Him. At the close of His life His utterances are from Holy Scripture, and it is the Scripture that He expounds to His disciples after His resurrection, until He ascends to the glory of His Father. Faithful to His precepts, the Apostles, although He Himself granted "signs and wonders to be done by their hands"(8) nevertheless used with the greatest effect the sacred writings, in order to persuade the nations everywhere of the wisdom of Christianity, to conquer the obstinacy of the Jews, and to suppress the outbreak of heresy. This is plainly seen in their discourses, especially in those of St. Peter: these were often little less than a series of citations from the Old Testament supporting in the strongest manner the new dispensation. We find the same thing in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. John and in the Catholic Epistles; and most remarkably of all in the words of him who "boasts that he learned the law at the feet of Gamaliel, in order that, being armed with spiritual weapons, he might afterwards say with confidence, `The arms of our warfare are not carnal but mighty unto God.' "(9) Let all, therefore, especially the novices of the ecclesiastical army, understand how deeply the sacred Books should be esteemed,...As St. Jerome says, "To be ignorant of the Scripture is not to know Christ."

God doesn't write books.

Au contraire. Divino Afflante Spriritu:

n our own time the Vatican Council, with the object of condemning false doctrines regarding inspiration, declared that these same books were to be regarded by the Church as sacred and canonical "not because, having been composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority, nor merely because they contain revelation without error, but because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God for their author,

The notion "God doesn't write books" can only be put forth under a particular theory about the meaning and authorship of Scripture. That particular theory is not manifest and self-evident, so it needs to be explained and defended. There is no way to prove such a theory, it can only be represented as possible or (if you're really zealous, "probable"). Against this we have the testimony of 1900 years of the best of men, the heroes of Christianity, who manifestly DO know Christ, who time after time point us to Scripture as well as to prayer and the sacraments as certain and necessary elements of life in God.

Well, I wrote a comment yesterday evening, or perhaps it was started 40 days ago, hard to remember. As self-reported by your humble scribe, it was filled with sublime insights about psychology and dream states and the power of suggestion, exquisite poetry concerning the mysteries found in both a chorus of voices and in silence, and profound wisdom of the human condition in being caught between hope or despair, fight or flight, innocent truth or artful fiction. Then darkness suddenly fell as angels descended from on high and carried it off into the ethereal realms to admire its timeless essence. Either that or a thunderstorm knocked out my electricity. I'm unsure which one is a better explanation, although I know which one is a more memorable story.

Step2, I think the lightning was God's way of making sure the level of "inspiration" was evident. Some the Holy Spirit inspires one way, some another way - like a few thousand joules of excess electrons in the wiring. :-)

Step2, I've been meaning to say a little about this:

For very obvious reasons I reject the notion that any religion is non-political. Religion may be a great deal more abstract than your average political discourse, but it is highly charged politics nonetheless.

and this

the disciples clearly had to be careful about not antagonizing the Romans directly, hence their propaganda to subvert Roman symbols.

Actually, all of this is rather anachronistic. Jewish Messianic movements in the first and early 2nd centuries were not subtle attempts to undermine Rome by propaganda and a long march through the institutions. It would be astonishing, if you were correct, that the apostles _somehow_ managed to make it through their entire lives without ever so much as assembling a single mob to fight a single battle against Rome. People got this strange idea, within their own lifetimes, beginning within a couple of months of Jesus' death, that they were ordering people to be good citizens and to hope for a heavenly country, to be most concerned about their sins and their souls. The Roman officials are clearly at something of a loss as to what to do with the Apostle Paul, and he seems at first to have been kept in custody chiefly at his own instigation in the way of appealing to Caesar (which was apparently a move on his part to obtain the protection of Rome against Jewish lynch mobs). In contrast, nobody _ever_ thought that Simon bar Kochba was simply talking about the forgiveness of sins or telling people how they could be reconciled with God through prayer, repentance, and good works. Nor was there any ambiguity about the goals of the leaders of the rebellion that led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70.

By the way, Step, I'm beginning to wonder if we've ever met. I've only ever known one other person who says the kinds of somewhat...surprising things you say about the New Testament as "subtle political propaganda," but never until now did I suspect that you were this person. I still am inclined to doubt it, however.

The Gospels and NT point to Jesus and God. They can't give you Jesus or God. So go out and meet them for yourselves.

Alternatively,

"To be ignorant of the Scripture is not to know Christ."

Mark, I am puzzled. How is it that the person you "meet" for yourself is, in fact, the Jesus who is the Son of God? What proof do you have? What evidence establishes it? And, once you have established it, what by what operation is this different order of insight such that it replaces and makes simply unnecessary knowing what Jesus the guy in Jerusalem 2000 years ago actually did then? If it's the same Jesus, then I would think that knowing Him and knowing why He came to earth would both matter. You seem to be saying that knowing Him makes knowing all the factual details completely irrelevant. But without the factual details, there can be no confidence that Who you are meeting is the God / Man.

Does it matter, when you have an inner experience of someone awesome, that it be the right someone awesome?

How is it that the person you "meet" for yourself is, in fact, the Jesus who is the Son of God? What proof do you have? What evidence establishes it?

Right on, Tony.

A rather well-known, previously Christian, philosopher named Michael Sudduth recently converted to Hinduism on the basis of a religious experience at an ashram which he took to be a direct experience of Krishna, whom he praises as the "Lord Krishna" in his letter explaining his conversion. Makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. As the Apostle Paul says, "Test the spirits." Experience is a poor guide in isolation.

Jewish Messianic movements in the first and early 2nd centuries were not subtle attempts to undermine Rome by propaganda and a long march through the institutions.

That neatly explains why the Christian movement survived and other Messianic movements perished.

People got this strange idea, within their own lifetimes, beginning within a couple of months of Jesus' death, that they were ordering people to be good citizens and to hope for a heavenly country, to be most concerned about their sins and their souls.

Part of that was probably from the teachings of Jesus, who as far as we are told did seem to have a dualistic or more likely an incremental approach to his mission as Messiah. There are also other mission hats he could have worn, not knowing anything about his life until the start of his ministry makes it difficult to guess at what goals or strategy Jesus may have had. Beginning at the start of his ministry though, his first attempts were aimed at undermining what was widely considered to be the corrupt power structure within the Temple. It was only after he had gathered his "own team" into a respectable and cohesive force that Jesus might, and I stress it is only might, have considered other options, or he may have wanted to continue with a subversive diplomatic approach. Ironically, one of the reasons that could have led to his betrayal by Judas is because Jesus wasn't trying to take a direct, confrontational approach. That famous verse, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s..." which taken in context subtly points out that God's laws and tributes are distinct and superior, could have been easily mistaken as a notice of surrender to Roman authority in the mind of a militant.

By the way, Step, I'm beginning to wonder if we've ever met.

We haven't met.

Part of that was probably from the teachings of Jesus, who as far as we are told did seem to have a dualistic or more likely an incremental approach to his mission as Messiah. There are also other mission hats he could have worn, not knowing anything about his life until the start of his ministry makes it difficult to guess at what goals or strategy Jesus may have had. Beginning at the start of his ministry though, his first attempts were aimed at undermining what was widely considered to be the corrupt power structure within the Temple. It was only after he had gathered his "own team" into a respectable and cohesive force that Jesus might, and I stress it is only might, have considered other options,

No, six ways from Sunday, no.

We know just a little about "his life until the start of his ministry", we know that his birth was to a virgin and he was called the son of God by the angel, and at the temple his mission was foretold.

who as far as we are told

The evidence we have is the evidence of the Gospels. that's "as far as we are told." If that evidence is not reliable narrative evidence, then it is at least as likely that (a) there was no Jesus person at all, or (b) that he was a complete madman, or (c) that he was a schemer and a fraud, or (d) that he was a carpenter his whole life and never even left Nazareth, or (e) that he was killed by the high priest's guards after the first time he shot his mouth off, or (f) he was actually a Lebanese banker who got on the nerves of Pilate before Pilate was sent to Palestine and Pilate cooked up the whole "teacher" story and planted it on unsuspecting fishermen to use the "messiah" prophecy to defuse some tensions (worked, too, for a generation), all for the main purpose to besmirch the name of this Lebanese Jesus. Once you start discarding the straightforward meaning of parts of the narrative and forming your own back story, there is no possible limit to the different versions of Jesus that will be running around, not a single one of them having any more connection to reality than your imaginative powers and leprechauns.

Beginning at the start of his ministry though, his first attempts were aimed at undermining what was widely considered to be the corrupt power structure within the Temple. It was only after he had gathered his "own team"

At the start of his ministry, he got baptized by John, he collected his first disciples, (gathered his "team"), he performed his first miracle (water into wine, very non-political and very non-temple oriented), without the least reference to temple or state politics. Get your "facts" right. This theoretical Jesus you are talking about isn't any person one can read about in the Gospels. If the person you are presenting is the Jesus the Apostles knew, then nobody would have bothered dying for his name, not Peter, not James, etc. Forget the later Christians: all but one of the Apostles died for Christ, all of them thought that he was the Messiah, was God come to earth. That's why they died for him. John, in particular, was convinced that Christ knew everything the whole time, and John took pains to show this, rather than protraying a Jesus that "came to" a realization of one optional role among many that he rejected. This fictional Jesus you have is, I hope, someone different from the Jesus that Mark is meeting and greeting.

We know just a little about "his life until the start of his ministry", we know that his birth was to a virgin and he was called the son of God by the angel, and at the temple his mission was foretold.

I don't know that any more than I know leprechauns. No amount of you insisting that I ignore the obvious is going to change that.

At the start of his ministry, he got baptized by John, he collected his first disciples, (gathered his "team"), he performed his first miracle (water into wine, very non-political and very non-temple oriented)...

Get your own interpretation straight. The containers Jesus used were intended for ritual purification, which was as important to Jewish custom as the temple itself. It was a religious act because Jesus is showing the old water ritual was being replaced with a new covenant, a recurring theme throughout the gospels. The next scene in John is Jesus cleansing the Temple, so apparently that first miracle was enough to make him reveal his political purpose to all the pilgrims during Passover.

Also, I wrote a respectable and cohesive force, meaning a team capable of sustained armed resistance.

If the person you are presenting is the Jesus the Apostles knew, then nobody would have bothered dying for his name, not Peter, not James, etc.

People are willing to sacrifice their time, energy, and lives for all sorts of beliefs that have no correlation to their beliefs being true. That sacrifice doesn't make their belief true, it only makes their need to believe in its truth manifest.

I don't know that any more than I know leprechauns. No amount of you insisting that I ignore the obvious is going to change that.

You missed the point. The entire body of "what we know" about Jesus's early life is what we have from the Gospels. You can discount that evidence as insufficient to state definite conclusions, but you cannot claim it isn't evidence. But once you start down the road of saying that some of that evidence is unreliable, you cannot in principle discount any (and EVERY) other bit of data in the Gospels being unreliable, including the very existence of a Jesus from the town of Nazareth to begin with.

The containers Jesus used were intended for ritual purification, which was as important to Jewish custom as the temple itself.

I don't think so. The washing was ritually important (though just how important is surely up to debate), but the containers were clearly of lesser importance, if any at all. For one thing, the passage strongly suggests that the vessels present this time were of different sizes. For another, clearly those vessels were needed because of the large number of people present for the wedding, the usual situation was to use smaller vessels, so there was some interchangeability going on. Finally, if you look at the descriptions of the rituals and requirements, it's all about the washing and the water, not of the vessels.

People are willing to sacrifice their time, energy, and lives for all sorts of beliefs that have no correlation to their beliefs being true. That sacrifice doesn't make their belief true, it only makes their need to believe in its truth manifest.

The issue I was addressing wasn't whether John's beliefs about Jesus were true beliefs, (i.e. adherence to actually true propositions), but rather that he really did believe the things he wrote about Jesus. People will (rarely) die for an ideal that doesn't net them or their family or friends obvious benefit in this life. They don't do it at all for a myth that they made up about the wonders of some character they crafted.

Whether John's narrative of events and a Person is a sufficient motive of credibility for us to sacrifice our lives for that Person, something was a sufficient motive for the Apostles to do so. If that something wasn't the specific things that Jesus did and that they witnessed, then why don't they tell us about those specific things that DID constitute the source of motivation for them? And why does John instead think that a crafted myth will be that motive force for us, when it wasn't for the Apostles? To quote a famous character: "It don't add up...it just don't add up!"

If you don't think that Jesus of Nazareth was God and was capable of the things that are narrated, then upon what basis does it make sense to treat the Gospels as something worth study? Especially if each and every passage is capable of being turned to "mean" something different for every person once unhinged from being the narration of witnessed events? I have a better idea. I will give a passage below, out of which every worthwhile saying in English (or translated into it) can be derived:

abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz.

There, I have given all of the great works of all the masters past and future. I leave it for the student to draw out the appropriate meanings in the appropriate senses for the appropriate cultural context. All will read my work and its interpretations, and despair of improving upon it.

You can discount that evidence as insufficient to state definite conclusions, but you cannot claim it isn't evidence.

Just because it is a form of testimony doesn't mean I have to treat it as evidence, there is a valid reason hearsay is denied evidential status in every court in the country.

But once you start down the road of saying that some of that evidence is unreliable, you cannot in principle discount any (and EVERY) other bit of data in the Gospels being unreliable, including the very existence of a Jesus from the town of Nazareth to begin with.

You are correct that I can't irrefutably prove that Jesus was a real person; I can only determine the likelihood of a small group of people, including his supposed relatives, willing to provide extensive accounts about his time in public life. For any other historical figure that would be sufficient to prove that person existed, even if all the other details about him were suspect.

Finally, if you look at the descriptions of the rituals and requirements, it's all about the washing and the water, not of the vessels.

Right, but the vessels are indicative of what the water is for. If water is placed in a baptismal font you don’t presumably think it should be consumed, even if it has not been sanctified. In this case, to change both the substance and purpose of the material within the vessel is to convey a religious message.

People will (rarely) die for an ideal that doesn't net them or their family or friends obvious benefit in this life. They don't do it at all for a myth that they made up about the wonders of some character they crafted.

That is another factor in determining that Jesus was not an entirely fictional character. Given that premise, my claim is better phrased this way: People will sometimes tell themselves and others falsehoods to fit a real person or event into an ideal fictional role. Clearly the other Messiah movements showed that there were plenty of people willing to die for the ideal of a Jewish king and savior, so in that respect the apostles are not unique. Remember as well my previous point about fiction being a legitimate source of inspiration and hope.

If you don't think that Jesus of Nazareth was God and was capable of the things that are narrated, then upon what basis does it make sense to treat the Gospels as something worth study?

On the basis that it has such powerful meaning to everyone else, both friends and adversaries. Let me restate your question this way: On what basis do people enjoy fiction of any kind? It’s because it reveals something tragic, noble or absurd about the human condition.

All will read my work and its interpretations, and despair of improving upon it.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Epic win :)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4b-Z0SSyUcw

People will sometimes tell themselves and others falsehoods to fit a real person or event into an ideal fictional role.

Not about definite empirical claims about matters they would have been in a position to know about clearly and could not have been merely mistaken about. Not unless they are nuts to the point of being totally jointly hallucinatory over an extended period. Distinguish a) an ideology from b) a set of concrete, specific claims about things you supposedly witnessed.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Epic win :)

Your work was included in my work as a necessary and implicit consequence. But my work goes further: yours has no "q" or "v". Epic dud! :-))

Just because it is a form of testimony doesn't mean I have to treat it as evidence, there is a valid reason hearsay is denied evidential status in every court in the country.

I don't think you understand my distinction, or that I understand yours. In my book, evidence is data about a matter, data that may lead in the direction of a conclusion, but might not, depending on how it rests with all the other data. Data that is insufficient to force a definite conclusion but bears on a matter is, by definition, "evidence".

Hearsay is not admissible as evidence in most courts in our country because it is a very poor form of evidence, and some legal beagles decided a long time ago that it is such a poor form of evidence that it is prudentially more useful to simply deny it's use than try to sift out what little merit there is in it. That means that it still fits under the English meaning of "evidence", not under the legal meaning as applied. In other countries hearsay can be admitted in some circumstances. (I happen to think that - like many of our evidentiary legal rules - this rule usurps away from the jury its proper role of deciding the merits of evidence, and puts the judge in control of access to data inappropriately. Let the jury get the hearsay, with instruction about the historical defects in that kind of evidence.)

You are correct that I can't irrefutably prove that Jesus was a real person; I can only determine the likelihood of a small group of people, including his supposed relatives, willing to provide extensive accounts about his time in public life. For any other historical figure that would be sufficient to prove that person existed, even if all the other details about him were suspect.

!!! It don't add up. It just don't add up! Who cares about the supposed relatives of a fictional character? (Actually, none of the evangelists were relatives, so the relatives are purely characters in the narratives.) But much more importantly: all the standards that are used "for any other historical figure" indicate that the literary form of the works we have are witness-accounts of real events so far as they understand what they saw and heard. Using ordinary historical standards gets us EXACTLY to Tim's work, which shows that if this amount of data were applied to any other figure, there would be no doubt about its narrative veracity (which is not the same as historical accuracy - even witnesses can mistake details like dates, times, and places on occasion.)

Distinguish a) an ideology from b) a set of concrete, specific claims about things you supposedly witnessed.

I'll confess I don't entirely understand what you are getting at, but if it concerns people putting ideology over specific testimony, I'll go with this example. Note that both writers had personal access to Constantine. As Tony would say, the accounts just don't add up.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chi-Rho#Christian_accounts_of_Constantine.27s_adoption_of_the_Chi-Rho

Epic dud! :-))

I don't know how you could belittle Mary Poppins that way, she is obviously a precocious magical being. Millions of people saw her with their own eyes, what further evidence could you need? :)

Data that is insufficient to force a definite conclusion but bears on a matter is, by definition, "evidence".

That is the most common definition, but the other definitions concern legal proof. We can go round and round about this, but by your own beliefs you should accept the framework of higher and lower standards of evidence for the simple reason that the gospels became canonical only because they met a higher standard than other works written about Jesus. The only point of dispute should be whether that higher standard was high enough. We shouldn't even be arguing over whether or not lower standards of evidence are acceptable.

Who cares about the supposed relatives of a fictional character?

You seem to be trying to force me into a strong either/or. Either the narrative is entirely fiction or the narrative is entirely true. That isn't what I'm saying, I'm saying it has elements of both. Being a skeptic, I'm going to lean towards it being mostly fiction instead of fact, but that means disentangling the factual part is difficult, not impossible.

Using ordinary historical standards gets us EXACTLY to Tim's work, which shows that if this amount of data were applied to any other figure, there would be no doubt about its narrative veracity (which is not the same as historical accuracy - even witnesses can mistake details like dates, times, and places on occasion.)

A) I'm quite willing to challenge other historic narratives when there is a strong hint of bias or mythology in them.
B) While I don't dismiss the possibility that reporting about your own cause can be detached and factual, there is a strong tendency for it to be partisan and exaggerated.
C) There is a leap, a leap of faith in fact, between saying that the narrative is historically inaccurate in some of its details and saying it is beyond doubt. There is no good reason for an eyewitness to be unable to make a clear distinction between 40 days and a single evening when talking about a life-altering experience.

Tony, Tony, Tony, (sigh). Are you so afraid of God that you have no desire to know him? Words, words, words. I meet so many Christian men and they know lots of words about God, but nothing of him as He is.

Do you never tire of misreading other people?

How did Abraham know Yahweh was God? How did Moses? How did Jesus know who the Father and Holy spirit were? Who told him God was "Abba"? And that there was a Holy Spirit and not Wisdom or the Sheckinah?

I knew about Jesus from the NT even if I didn't know if every word in the NT was absolutely accurate or if he really walked on water. I know about Caesar, too, but I can't swear everything I read was utterly factual.

Tony, you're just arguing for arguments sake.

I'll confess I don't entirely understand what you are getting at,

Yep, I see that.

You seem to be trying to force me into a strong either/or. Either the narrative is entirely fiction or the narrative is entirely true. That isn't what I'm saying, I'm saying it has elements of both. Being a skeptic, I'm going to lean towards it being mostly fiction instead of fact, but that means disentangling the factual part is difficult, not impossible.

I don't think you grasp the full difficulty, once you start down that road.

The only reason these works are remotely interesting to us today is because they constitute a claim by the authors (whoever they are): there was someone so remarkable, and he had a message so remarkable, that it has changed my life and it can change yours too.

These authors clearly believed that there was a remarkable message caught up in what happened (whatever happened). SOMEHOW they came to (a) understand fairly clearly what the message was, and (b) accepted the message strongly enough to based very difficult life choices on it.

Why?

Upon what source of explanation was the message driven home, and upon what source of verifiability did they trust and accept the message?

If those authors found THAT explanation helpful to their understanding, then presumably they might have used it to pass on the message to us, as clearly as they could manage to do. And if those authors found that the source of verification was so strong as to willingly die for the truth of the message, then presumably they would also have conveyed that to us as well, so that we too might be motivated to an intense belief in the message.

If these are right, then that has to inform our reading of the Gospels. Your skeptical approach is incompatible with that. The only conclusion I can come to is that, from your standpoint, the Gospels are less worthwhile reading than the Iliad, for example.

How did Jesus know who the Father and Holy spirit were?

By being consubstantial with the Father? That's slightly different from the way we do it.

Are you so afraid of God that you have no desire to know him? Words, words, words. I meet so many Christian men and they know lots of words about God, but nothing of him as He is.

Meeting a person is better than being told about him. But they aren't supposed to be mutually exclusive. Jesus met with the Devil, too, but He didn't worship him just because the Devil came and talked to Him.

The history of world religions is the history of people "meeting divinity" that turns out, somehow, not to be divinity after all. When I meet God through an interior operation I want it to be the same God who is capable of ordering and constructing world history so that events themselves were a forecast of His coming in human flesh. That implies that my interior meeting with Him has to comport with standards that are outside of me, independent of me, that I can look to for confirmation. Those standards are scriptural, the written revelation that very same God undertook as a necessary part of His self-revelation to man.

I look to Christian saints for inspiration in how to meet with God. They certainly agree with you, Mark, that we need to go beyond the words of the Bible as mere words. But they don't agree with you about what the Bible means in terms of that meeting. One after the other, the saints are rooted in the written revelation as inseparable from the other kind of revelation. Either one without the other is dead.

Tony, you're just arguing for arguments sake.

I do enjoy a good discussion, but that's not why I am arguing here. Sorry, that's a misread.

The only reason these works are remotely interesting to us today is because they constitute a claim by the authors (whoever they are): there was someone so remarkable, and he had a message so remarkable, that it has changed my life and it can change yours too.

I don't contest the idea that there is something remarkable about the message of Jesus, especially in the highly abstract sense of love conquers all, that doesn't mean everything he was reported to have said or done is based on fact. Also, simply because I am a skeptic I am hypersensitive to sales pitches. When you write, "it has changed my life and it can change yours too" I just cringe because it is such a common sales line. One thing you have to know about a sales pitch is that a good seller has to absolutely believe in his product. There shouldn't be any doubt or qualification, this is your best chance to purchase this amazing opportunity. A few years ago I was invited to a multilevel marketing presentation for a nutrient supplement and the atmosphere was like a tent revival. There was a short buildup to create a desire in the audience, a dramatic reveal to exclaim how their product fulfilled that desire perfectly, then a fiery speech by a charismatic speaker from headquarters to tell us how it had transformed his previously respectable yet uninspired life and the incredible ways it could make our dreams come true, followed by personal testimony from a few local people. Interestingly, they were very careful to insist that whatever health benefits you experienced or witnessed were framed to make sure you weren't making an objective medical claim.

The only conclusion I can come to is that, from your standpoint, the Gospels are less worthwhile reading than the Iliad, for example.

Taken on their own, they are equally worthwhile. Because America has historically been a predominantly Christian culture, there are social benefits from being familiar with the Gospels that are greater than those from reading the Iliad.

There is no good reason for an eyewitness to be unable to make a clear distinction between 40 days and a single evening when talking about a life-altering experience.

Which eyewitness did you have in mind?

Which eyewitness did you have in mind?

The eyewitness Luke's author spoke to.

I don't contest the idea that there is something remarkable about the message of Jesus, especially in the highly abstract sense of love conquers all, that doesn't mean everything he was reported to have said or done is based on fact.

I didn't mean "remarkable" in the sense that 3 of the many books I have read in the past 5 years are remarkable, I meant "astounding, unique, and completely life-altering". Unless their thesis is about something that differs critically from the profound, valid, but essentially limited truths of the great pieces of literature that are wholly human works, then we aren't talking about the same thing kind of "remarkable".

Amway sellers aren't selling you something that will bring you _eternal_ salvation. Ponzi-scheme multi-level marketers are not selling you something that will reform your soul, your person, from the ground up so that you not only do the right thing, but you want to. Land opportunists are not selling you on a program wherein they are promising you that you will be persecuted, and you will have to learn to sacrifice any and every worldly good - and then work side-by-side with you without pay or benefit for themselves until said persecution came and took them. But the Apostles did all these.

The only people with even remotely comparable sales pitches are people selling other religions. OK, so you are skeptical of all religious sales pitches. But you still have a problem with the form of the written narratives. The writers thought they were passing on the best "sales pitch" they could for this new religious group, because it was the very same pitch they bought themselves. If they didn't think the narratives were factually-based, then they would have bought into this new religious ideal based on something else, they would have thought that this something else was incredibly persuasive, and they would have given us that something else. Remember, before Christ came along they were Jews through and through, some more zealous, some less, some pretty hard-bitten and practical, but all Jewish. The whatever it is that convinced these Jews that Christ was totally unique, THAT's what they would use to convince others. But we know what that was: the events that they wrote up as if they witnessed them.

The eyewitness Luke's author spoke to.

I have already pointed out that -- your unargued claim to the contrary -- Luke does not say that Jesus' ascension took place on the day of the resurrection. Your quotation of Luke 24:51-52 merely underscored my point, for although that pair of verses says that Jesus ascended, it does not say when the event took place.

In case I was too subtle, let me elaborate. The question is whether Luke portrays the ascension as occurring on the evening of the day that Jesus rose from the dead. This question is not about Luke's veracity or the quality of his information: it is simply a question about what the account, as he gives it, means.

Let's start with the fact that, as Luke tells it Jesus, met Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus, which is sixty stadia (about seven English miles) from Jerusalem. As they came to Emmaus, the two urge their companion to dine with them, as it is "toward evening" and "the day is far spent." Sunset in Judea in the middle of March would be around 5:50 p.m., so this clue places the discussion not very far before that time -- that is to say, about 5 p.m.

They go into the village to their place of lodging, and Jesus comes in to stay with them. They are provided with a meal, and Jesus breaks the bread. At that moment they recognize him, and he disappears. By now, it must be about 5:30.

They are astonished and have a brief discussion about the matter, but they resolve to go back to Jerusalem at once and tell the disciples. They arose "that same hour" and went back. Assuming that they leave supper uneaten, they're dressed for travel and back on the road by, say, 5:45, just as the sun is setting behind them.

And they are seven miles away from Jerusalem.

Assuming that they are both in fairly good shape, they would reach Jerusalem in a little over two hours, about 8:00. (Remember that they are not setting out fresh; they had just walked seven miles the other direction.) Once they reach the city, they go directly to the place of lodging of the disciples and those gathered with them to give their news, which is met by an excited exchange of stories -- Jesus has appeared to Simon! They hear these stories and explain their own experience, telling how Jesus opened the Scriptures to them while they were in the way and how they suddenly recognized him when he broke bread. Suppose that from their reaching the outer limit of the city until the full exchange of these accounts has taken 20 minutes. It is now about 8:20.

Then Jesus appears among them and says, "Peace to you!" They are astonished and frightened; some fear that they may be seeing a ghost. Jesus shows them his hands and feet; they see, but are still stunned. He asks them whether they have anything to eat, and they give him some broiled fish, which he eats. At a very conservative estimate, it is now 8:30.

An account of Jesus' teaching now intervenes. Supposing for the sake of the argument -- and we will come back to this point later -- that this teaching all happened on the same evening, we would have the first recorded Very Long Sunday Evening Service. Jesus reminds them of the things he said before his death, that everything in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled (24:44). He "opens their minds to understand the Scriptures," plainly meaning that he expounds on the Scriptures in question (24:45). He explains how his rising the third day was predicted by the Scriptures (24:46). He instructs them to teach repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem (24:46). He gives them the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit (24:48). He instructs them to remain in Jerusalem until the coming of power from on high (24:49).

I think any reasonable assessment of this discourse would have to make it at least two hours in length, but let's be a bit unreasonable and suppose that everything described here happened in 90 minutes. Following our earlier (and conservative) estimates, that would take us to about 10 p.m.

At that point, again supposing for the sake of argument that this all took place on the same evening, Jesus leads these newly-instructed disciples out of the city about two miles to Bethany, high on the southeastern slope of the Mt. of Olives. Allowing 45 minutes for the entire group to make this moonlit journey downhill and uphill, it would now be at least 10:45 p.m.

And there, in the dark, a little more than an hour before midnight, Jesus blesses them and ascends into heaven.

Now, there is not the slightest hint in Luke's actual description that anything beyond verse 43 happened at night. And the notion that Jesus would have led them out of the city to go to Bethany at that hour is, in itself, quite absurd.

But there is more. Look at the language Jesus uses in verses 44ff. He speaks of the message they are to give, not "beginning in this place" or "beginning here," but "beginning in Jerusalem." He tells them, not to "stay here," but to "stay in the city." Such expressions are far more natural if the location of the discourse in question is somewhere other than Jerusalem itself.

But that would mean that in Acts 1, Luke is returning to a subject he has already discussed. Would a writer like Luke pass on from one topic, irrespective of chronological sequence, and then resume it? The answer is that he not only would, he does, and in passages that are perfectly open to inspection. For example, take 3:18-20, which ends with John in prison, and then note the chronological reversion in 3:21.

What about the way the passage reads in Greek? In 24:44 we read, εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτοὺς -- Moreover, he said to them, ... What is the significance of the weak adversative particle δὲ as far as chronological proximity is concerned? Look at some of Luke's other uses of the same particle: in discourses (14:1; 17:1; 18:1; 20:41), in events (20:27, 41, 45; 21:1) Luke uses δὲ without any indication of an intention to link the previous events to those subsequent with a strict chronological sequence.

Is it possible that Luke doesn't have any more specific term for indicating that one event follows hard on another? No. Luke is too good a master of Greek to leave an ambiguity when he intends to tie events into a tight chronological sequence. In this regard, note the use of παραχρῆμα ("immediately") in Luke 1:64; 4:39; 5:25, 8:44, 47, 55; 13:13; 18:43. (I note in passing that Luke's use of this term is one of the many pieces of evidence for the common authorship of the third Gospel and the book of Acts: see Acts 3:7; 5:10; 12:23; 13:11; 16:26, 33. In all the rest of the New Testament, it occurs only two other times.)

In summary: there are too many events crammed between late afternoon in Emmaus and the ascension for us to read Luke as trying to cram them all into one evening. Jesus' language in verses 45 ff suggests that the lengthy discourses are not, or not all, delivered in Jerusalem. Luke's own practice in handling chronology gives us no reason to find the account in Acts 1 odd as a followup to Luke 24. And Luke's use of δὲ indicates that he is not trying to describe events that occurred in strict chronological succession, something he is quite capable of doing when he wants to.

No doubt Luke's inexplicitness about the exact chronology was unsatisfactory to some of his readers. And he himself may have felt the lack. That would explain why, at the beginning of his second book, he takes pains to lay out the chronology in more detail.

But to say that in Luke 24 he places the resurrection and the ascension on the same day is insupportable.

I meant "astounding, unique, and completely life-altering"

If you haven’t read as much science fiction and mythology as I have, you likely would think the Gospels are astounding. They are actually kind of tame by those standards, which is another thing that gives them a nod towards a factual element.

If they didn't think the narratives were factually-based, then they would have bought into this new religious ideal based on something else, they would have thought that this something else was incredibly persuasive, and they would have given us that something else.

I’m really not sure why you are convinced people will only make strong commitments or encourage those commitments in others based on factual narratives. It defies an extreme amount of evidence to the contrary.

Tim,
Thanks for showing that the events could have happened all in one evening, just like I claimed. Let's say are right and instead it happened over a couple of days instead a single night. There is still the mathematical problem of forty doesn't come close to either. My point being that the eyewitness wasn't clear about a significant event lasting over a month compared to something lasting a night (and possibly a morning). Or the eyewitness was clear and Luke provided some embellishments in his later writing. Moreover, (which is my new favorite word), I looked up the translation of δὲ and no surprise it has multiple English meanings. Two of those translations related to time sequence are "then" and "now".

I’m really not sure why you are convinced people will only make strong commitments or encourage those commitments in others based on factual narratives.

That's three times, and you STILL don't understand the argument. If this were baseball, you would be out. No, I am not saying that "people will only make strong commitments based on factual narratives", or only encourage others to by that method. I am saying - please pay attention here - that those who are trying to encourage others to believe a brand new, astounding idea, are going to use the kind of convincing that they themselves came to accept, because they found that kind of convincing, well, _convincing_, so they clearly think that THAT KIND of evidence is really convincing. Therefore, it is most probable what the Evangelists used is like to what was convincing to them, as close as they could get.

If you haven’t read as much science fiction and mythology as I have, you likely would think the Gospels are astounding. They are actually kind of tame by those standards, which is another thing that gives them a nod towards a factual element.

I used to read science fiction day in and day out by the cart-load. Don't get me started. But here's the thing: in our day, the novel is a well-recognized literary form, and I know perfectly well how to assess the meaning of the narrative. But in the year 50, the novel as such did not exist. Other long accounts did exist in a few other forms, of course (like Hedotus's accounts, Caesar's, etc). The authors always put in the known (at the time), conventional literary cues for which type of narrative they were writing. Their compatriots, knowing the literature of the times, were fully able to pick up on those literary cues and perceive the model of writing. I ask you, do you know of one, single near-contemporary to the Gospels who speaks of them as having a literary form OTHER than simple direct eye-witness accounts of actual events? There could have been someone who said "these accounts are full of errors", or even "these accounts are full of lies", but that's completely different from "these accounts are full of myths, fables, and other ways of non-literal representation of non-event truths." I don't think there is any evidence of the latter comment. Which means that the near-contemporaries of the Evangelists missed the the literary cues that the writers would not have failed to use. Which means that they were distinct failures as writers. And yet, being particularly thick-headed writers who could not convey their message properly, they still managed to convert half a world. Amazing.

Thanks for showing that the events could have happened all in one evening, just like I claimed.

And almost certainly didn't -- the point you seem conveniently to have ignored.

Let's say are right and instead it happened over a couple of days instead a single night.

Why say a thing like that?

I looked up the translation of δὲ ...

... and ignored the evidence I gave you of Luke's actual usage. Sorry. That's not the way philological arguments are made.

And for the record, when δὲ is translated "then," it is generally to introduce the apodosis, e.g., from the Iliad: εἰ δέ κε μὴ δώωσιν, ἐγὼ δέ κεν αὐτὸς ἕλωμαι -- if they will not give it, then I will take it. When it is translated "now," again, it frequently does not have any temporal reference, e.g., Matthew 1:18: Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἡ γέννησις οὕτως ἠν -- Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place this way ...

If this were baseball, you would be out.
Fortunately it is a boxing match, seven rounds to go. Part of our miscommunication is because you are approaching this from an entirely different angle. According to the Gospels the disciples witnessed miracle after miracle and still maintained their doubt about Jesus until they saw Jesus resurrected. Then it all clicked together in their heads. I don't think you want me or anybody else to adopt their confirmation standard, not unless you expect everyone to receive a divine visitation, because that was the convincing evidence for them.

I ask you, do you know of one, single near-contemporary to the Gospels who speaks of them as having a literary form OTHER than simple direct eye-witness accounts of actual events?

If I knew of a way to research that I would, because that is a very interesting question. Part of the problem with simply asking the question is if any of those kinds of criticisms would still be around. A large amount of critical material failed to survive the collapse of the Roman Empire and the wide ranging censorship of the Church. Moreover, I'm not sure how those near-contemporary writers would have viewed such a criticism. Historical narrative was more stylized back then, and authors were not discouraged from filling in the blanks. I've already pointed out a couple of places where I think there were literary cues, and Tim's 1300+ word exegesis of Luke undermines any claim of it being simple and direct. Finally, the supernatural was part of the background during that time period. So talking and writing about myths, fables, legends, demigods was not by itself unusual.

And almost certainly didn't -- the point you seem conveniently to have ignored.

I ignored it because your reasons for considering it improbable are unreasonable.

Now, there is not the slightest hint in Luke's actual description that anything beyond verse 43 happened at night.

There isn't any time of day indicator at all, that doesn't preclude it happening at night.

And the notion that Jesus would have led them out of the city to go to Bethany at that hour is, in itself, quite absurd.

Was there a curfew? Were the disciples exhausted or afraid of the dark? Whatever your reason for saying it is absurd, I doubt you can find anything in the text to support it.

Jesus' language in verses 45 ff suggests that the lengthy discourses are not, or not all, delivered in Jerusalem.

Because he said "beginning in Jerusalem" instead of "beginning here"? Surely not, he is giving a formal proclamation, indicated by "Thus it is written...".

Sorry. That's not the way philological arguments are made.

I'll make a deal with you, when you get two of the major translations of the Bible to adopt "moreover" in their text for these verses, I'll reconsider your argument.
http://bible.cc/luke/24-44.htm

I ignored it because your reasons for considering it improbable are unreasonable.

Wow! "Unreasonable"?? Now I know you aren't serious.

Step,

I'm sorry that you're reduced to demanding a particular English translation of the term as a way of avoiding the argument I've laid out. I do note with some amusement that on the very site you linked, both the parsing chart and the interlinear translation for Luke 24:44 render δέ as "moreover." But what do they know?

G. B. Winer says that δέ "is frequently employed, when something new is subjoined, distinct and different from what precedes, though not, strictly, its very opposite." A Grammar of the New Testament Diction, vol. 2, p. 463. Perhaps Winer is in on the conspiracy too.

I do note with some amusement that on the very site you linked, both the parsing chart and the interlinear translation for Luke 24:44 render δέ as "moreover."

So you are halfway there already, is that a great deal or what? If instead you insist I go through each of your examples, I'll oblige you. However, it will take me a few days to look at each one carefully.

To lay the groundwork a little bit, it would be incredible if you want to make the interlinear translation the exact, correct translation, because it would make many parts of the Bible incomprehensible. In one fell swoop you would turn the Bible into word salad. Since δέ clearly has multiple English translations, what I am looking for is whether or not the verses can justify a strict sequential meaning over something that is more ambiguous and disjointed. In that respect, I accept Winer's point, but what is different and distinct is not a break from the timeline, it is an abrupt change in the narrative direction. Simply stated verses 36ff can be viewed as a miniature story, where the (re-)introduction ends at verse 43 and the plot action starts at verse 44.

Step2, your inability to recognize the reality of the situation here is reminding me rather of this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eMkth8FWno

O ye of too much faith.

For example, take 3:18-20, which ends with John in prison, and then note the chronological reversion in 3:21.

The difference is that Chapter 3 doesn’t have a proper ending in the story arc until Jesus is acknowledged by the Holy Spirit, not until the reversion finishes it. Chapter 24 does have a proper ending with the ascension; Acts is rewriting an already completed story.

Luke 14:1 doesn’t use δὲ at all.

Luke 17:1 is where Jesus warns the disciples of temptation. Since he had just finished a lengthy speech regarding the evils of mammon, adultery, and easy living; there is good justification for viewing it as a continuation.

Luke 18:1 does appear incongruous, yet Jesus had just spoken about God’s wrath in the previous passage and in this one he tells a fairly odd parable about God vindicating his people. There could be an immediate connection between the two passages, but I wouldn’t give it a high probability.

Luke 20:27 seems to follow within a small time frame from his confrontation with the chief priests and scribes, albeit not immediately after. There is no reason to assume that Jesus wasn’t challenged on the same day by various factions within the temple.

Luke 20:41 is most likely a continuation of the previous scene. If not it is impossible to figure out who Jesus is speaking to or why; it is one of those verses where Jesus seems to be responding to an unasked question.

Luke 20:45 has three possible scenarios:
Jesus is talking to the scribes and condemning them in front of everybody, which is a strangely direct confrontation after deftly answering their earlier antagonistic questions.
The scribes have left so Jesus is only talking to his disciples and the people.
Jesus and his disciples have left and he is talking to a different group of people.
If it is the first scenario it could well follow immediately after the previous passage. If it is the second scenario it could follow within a small time frame but not immediately after. If it is the third scenario it could occur at any time.

Luke 21:1 depends upon what interpretation is given to 20:45. If it is either of the first two scenarios, then it could have happened immediately, since the scribes are presumably within close vicinity of the temple. If it is the third interpretation, then it could have happened immediately or much later, depending on where Jesus is speaking.

In the King James Version, δὲ is translated 484 times in Luke’s gospel alone. The notion that it indicates a disconnected event or setting more than a very tiny fraction of those instances is unjustifiable within a literalistic viewpoint. Under higher criticism theories, you could make Luke a quilt of stitched together sayings and fictionalized events that are molded to serve a higher narrative theme, but that makes inerrancy a pipe dream.

Tim: For example, take 3:18-20, which ends with John in prison, and then note the chronological reversion in 3:21.

Step: The difference is that Chapter 3 doesn’t have a proper ending in the story arc until Jesus is acknowledged by the Holy Spirit, not until the reversion finishes it. Chapter 24 does have a proper ending with the ascension; Acts is rewriting an already completed story.

And your point is ...?

Step: Luke 14:1 doesn’t use δὲ at all.

Sorry, that was a typo for 13:1—παρησαν δε τινες εν αυτω τω καιρω απαγγελλοντες αυτω περι των γαλιλαιων, ...

Step: Luke 17:1 is where Jesus warns the disciples of temptation. Since he had just finished a lengthy speech regarding the evils of mammon, adultery, and easy living; there is good justification for viewing it as a continuation.

The connection is a tenuous topical one. In Greco-Roman biography, bundling together teaching based on topical similarity is the rule rather than the exception. There is very little justification for saying whether what Jesus said in 17:1 was uttered on the same occasion as what he said in 16:31.

Step: Luke 18:1 does appear incongruous, yet Jesus had just spoken about God’s wrath in the previous passage and in this one he tells a fairly odd parable about God vindicating his people. There could be an immediate connection between the two passages, but I wouldn’t give it a high probability.

Here I think it’s pretty plain that, whatever else may be the case, Jesus did not dive straight from 17:37 to 18:1

Step: Luke 20:27 seems to follow within a small time frame from his confrontation with the chief priests and scribes, albeit not immediately after. There is no reason to assume that Jesus wasn’t challenged on the same day by various factions within the temple.

And there is no reason to suppose that he was, whereas the juxtaposition of these two scenes would be expected if Luke were bundling material together thematically.

Step: Luke 20:41 is most likely a continuation of the previous scene. If not it is impossible to figure out who Jesus is speaking to or why; it is one of those verses where Jesus seems to be responding to an unasked question.

For just that reason, it seems likely that it is not a continuation of the previous scene. There is no ground for saying when the saying occurred; it does not fit well with the previous scene, which is about God’s being the God of the living and not of the dead.

Step: Luke 20:45 has three possible scenarios: . . .

. . . and there is no particular reason to assume that any one of them is the case.

Step: Luke 21:1 depends upon what interpretation is given to 20:45. If it is either of the first two scenarios, then it could have happened immediately, since the scribes are presumably within close vicinity of the temple. If it is the third interpretation, then it could have happened immediately or much later, depending on where Jesus is speaking.

From 21:37 we learn that Jesus was teaching in the Temple every day. This appears to have been something he said on one or another of those occasions. That's all.

Step: In the King James Version, δὲ is translated 484 times in Luke’s gospel alone. The notion that it indicates a disconnected event or setting more than a very tiny fraction of those instances is unjustifiable within a literalistic viewpoint.

Actually, δε is often untranslated -- just one of those things about particles in Greek. I never said that it indicates a disconnected event or setting; I argued that it need not, and in some instances does not, indicate a connected event or setting. I also pointed out that Luke has, and frequently uses, a term that does indicate a connected event or setting.

Step: Under higher criticism theories, you could make Luke a quilt of stitched together sayings and fictionalized events that are molded to serve a higher narrative theme, but that makes inerrancy a pipe dream.

Nobody in this discussion is arguing either for or from inerrancy. The question is a simple semantic one: we are trying to determine what Luke meant. The evidence in this case must be literary (including the evidence of genre, about which you resolutely refuse to educate yourself by reading Burridge’s book) and philological. Notwithstanding your odd jibe to Lydia, there is no appeal to faith and no appeal to inspiration in this argument. The suggestion to the contrary is merely an artifact of your misconception as to what the discussion is about.

And your point is ...?

My point is that your example of Luke 3 is sufficiently different from Luke 24. Maybe the author would go back and add a missing detail to a story, maybe he wouldn't. Your example only proves he would write a reversion if the story did not have a proper ending, but it did.

Actually, δε is often untranslated -- just one of those things about particles in Greek. I never said that it indicates a disconnected event or setting; I argued that it need not, and in some instances does not, indicate a connected event or setting. I also pointed out that Luke has, and frequently uses, a term that does indicate a connected event or setting.

In many of the cases you've pointed to where you say it does not indicate a connected event or setting, you also claim there are additional reasons in the text for saying those verses aren't connected. In the rest of the cases the identifiable connection is presumably thematic instead of chronological. Neither one of those conditions applies to the end of Luke. There is no overarching theme because it is a straightforward description of events, and there are no reasons in the text to indicate a break in chronology. Moreover, while I know the end of Mark is disputed it is canonical; it also bears a close resemblance in its basic story arc to the end of Luke and there is no way to interpret it as being disconnected in time or setting.

Nobody in this discussion is arguing either for or from inerrancy. The question is a simple semantic one: we are trying to determine what Luke meant. The evidence in this case must be literary (including the evidence of genre, about which you resolutely refuse to educate yourself by reading Burridge’s book) and philological.

Well, I think Tony did argue for inerrancy. Regarding Burridge’s book, I have never asked you or anyone else to read a book in order to have an online debate. If you can’t summarize it in a reasonable amount of space, you should link to someone who can or don’t bring it up. I will mention that after reading only the Amazon reviews it doesn’t appear to prove what you hope it will prove, because it doesn’t begin to show if the genre is historically reliable or not.

…there is no appeal to faith and no appeal to inspiration in this argument. The suggestion to the contrary is merely an artifact of your misconception as to what the discussion is about.

There are all sorts of appeals to faith involved in this argument. I could point to the Book of Mormon and say it has a clear literary and textual meaning, it has the form of a biography, and anyone who disputes its accuracy or authenticity has a radical double standard from other types of text. That is my misconception of what this discussion is about.

Hi,

I don't know if this is going to be of interest (or of help) but I did chance upon a passage in which Luke uses "de" to refer to events in a less-than-chronologically-tight manner.

First I went to one of my favorite sites for Biblical resources for the parallel passages:

http://www.bible-researcher.com/parallels.html

Scroll down to Pericope #144, which, according to the synopsis, is presented in a fairly similar sequence in both Mt. and Mk. But in Luke, the passage is found not in or around Ch. 9 but way back in Ch. 3.

(You can click on the Pericope number in the left column to be taken to a site showing the passages in English. You can also use the drop-down menu at the latter site to find a Koine rendering.)

What I see here (using one of the Greek NTs) is that in Luke's pericope in Ch. 3 he uses the word "de" to speak of ('transition to') events that he knows very well (according to both Mt. and Mk.) occurred much later. In fact, in the very passage in Luke 3, Luke mentions John the Baptist's baptism then jumps way ahead (using "de") to mention his imprisonment and then comes back again to the baptism of Jesus.

I'm not sure, but ISTM (please, correct me if I'm misunderstanding/misinterpreting) that there may be some sort of confirmation here, not that Luke is untrustworthy in his chronology, but that we must allow him (and other authors) to refer to events separated by a period of time as though they were very close together even though the author knows (and expects his audience to know) that they're not.

Scott

Well, I think Tony did argue for inerrancy.

Good gravy. Not in trying to establish the genre of the work. My comments about inerrancy were along a different line of discussion. In speaking about the genre, I specifically allowed room for the possibility that the apostle was erroneous about some of his observations in his narrative. Even if he made errors, that doesn't up-end that he was attempting to describe things he saw and heard.

Step: My point is that your example of Luke 3 is sufficiently different from Luke 24. Maybe the author would go back and add a missing detail to a story, maybe he wouldn't. Your example only proves he would write a reversion if the story did not have a proper ending, but it did.

I made my point very clear in introducing Luke 3:18ff: It shows that Luke does sometimes pass on from one topic, irrespective of chronological sequence, and then resume it; and it does show exactly that. I’m unmoved by your attempt to wriggle away from that. If you think I’m being perverse in shrugging, show me some reason why what you term “a proper ending” should make a difference and then we’ll talk.

Step: In many of the cases you've pointed to where you say it does not indicate a connected event or setting, you also claim there are additional reasons in the text for saying those verses aren't connected. In the rest of the cases the identifiable connection is presumably thematic instead of chronological. Neither one of those conditions applies to the end of Luke.

I showed that there are other reasons for believing that δε introduces material from another time and/or place so that you wouldn’t have a ground for insisting stubbornly that δε always indicates immediate chronological proximity of discourses or events. Now you seem to be arguing that in the absence of other grounds for claiming that the material following a δε comes from some other time or place, the default assumption must be that the events are contiguous. Why think a thing like that?

Step: There is no overarching theme because it is a straightforward description of events, and there are no reasons in the text to indicate a break in chronology.

But there are, and I laid these out in detail: the cramming of events into too narrow a space for them all to take place before dark, the absence of any hint that the ascension took place in the deep of the night, and Jesus’ repeated language in reference to Jerusalem. Even pretty hard-core critics of the Gospels like Davidson acknowledge that there is a shift in time at least at verse 49, and many more make another division at 44.

Step: Moreover, while I know the end of Mark is disputed it is canonical; it also bears a close resemblance in its basic story arc to the end of Luke and there is no way to interpret it as being disconnected in time or setting.

This comment is completely irrelevant to the discussion of the genre of the Gospels, the meaning of Luke 24, or anything else that we are talking about. The ending of Mark is almost certainly not the original ending, and the original ending is almost certainly lost.

Step: Regarding Burridge’s book, I have never asked you or anyone else to read a book in order to have an online debate.

If it’s clearly pertinent and is widely recognized as a significant scholarly work by an established, reputable scholar, please feel free to do so.

Step: If you can’t summarize it in a reasonable amount of space, you should link to someone who can or don’t bring it up.

This is a ridiculous demand. If you honestly believe that the argument for every point worth bringing up in a scholarly debate can be crammed into a combox, you need to take a break from the internet.

Step: I will mention that after reading only the Amazon reviews it doesn’t appear to prove what you hope it will prove, because it doesn’t begin to show if the genre is historically reliable or not.

The point of bringing up Burridge’s book wasn’t to establish the historical reliability of the Gospels; it was to establish the fact that, as bioi, they are documents written with historical intent. This contradicts what you said above, when you wrote:

People are taking the Rorschach test regardless of how they view the divine inspiration of the Bible. I would go even further and say that they were written to be that way, that much like the human brain which integrates a lot of varied, sometimes conflicting input and fills in many minor perceptual gaps, the books were written to construct a unified message from a varied, incomplete text, it takes subjective input from the reader to complete the narrative.

It was in direct response to this claim that I told you that you should read Burridge.

Step: There are all sorts of appeals to faith involved in this argument. I could point to the Book of Mormon and say it has a clear literary and textual meaning, it has the form of a biography, and anyone who disputes its accuracy or authenticity has a radical double standard from other types of text. That is my misconception of what this discussion is about.

Well, we finally agree about something: that is your misconception. Two questions:

1. To what criteria would you appeal to justify your claim that the genre of the Book of Mormon is biography?

2. Where has anyone in this discussion claimed that the Book of Mormon is like a Rorshach test where people fill in an incomplete text to create a meaning that isn’t there?

It shows that Luke does sometimes pass on from one topic, irrespective of chronological sequence, and then resume it; and it does show exactly that.

It shows he will resume a topic, it does not show he will rewrite a previous topic.

Why think a thing like that?

Because δε occurs well over 1000 times in the Gospels, do you want to scramble the chronology up to that extent? I'm not sure why you would want to disrupt the inspired sequence it was composed under, unless you have your own sequence that has more meaning. By the way, doing that would take us back to the Rorshach test.

But there are, and I laid these out in detail: the cramming of events into too narrow a space for them all to take place before dark, the absence of any hint that the ascension took place in the deep of the night, and Jesus’ repeated language in reference to Jerusalem.

Your timeline disproved your own theory about there being too many events. You oddly assume midnight to be your cutoff point - as if there were a clock on the wall. Is there any hint the ascension took place in daylight when lots of people other than the disciples would have seen it? I've already addressed the reason for why Jerusalem would be formally stated rather than informally referenced and if you think there is a drastic difference between "stay here" and "stay in the city", I can't help you.

If you honestly believe that the argument for every point worth bringing up in a scholarly debate can be crammed into a combox, you need to take a break from the internet.

Yet I've managed to do it for over five years, never once telling anyone they had to read a book in order to understand my point. I've also never claimed to be a scholar because I'm not.

...it was to establish the fact that, as bioi, they are documents written with historical intent.

So the assumption is the authors could only have one intent?

To what criteria would you appeal to justify your claim that the genre of the Book of Mormon is biography?

That it is narrated literature supposedly written by the original prophets of their religion to relate their history and struggles. It is recorded primarily as a compilation of autobiographies.

Where has anyone in this discussion claimed that the Book of Mormon is like a Rorshach test where people fill in an incomplete text to create a meaning that isn’t there?

Considering how many sects their are in the Latter Day Saints, someone should make that claim.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sects_in_the_Latter_Day_Saint_movement

Is there any hint the ascension took place in daylight

Yes. They could see that he was lifting up his hands, and they could tell that he was ascending (instead of peering around and saying, "I can't see him anymore -- where did he go??"). Sheesh.

Yet I've managed to do it for over five years, never once telling anyone they had to read a book in order to understand my point.

No one told you that you had to read a book to understand the claim that the Gospels are not choose-your-own-adventure books. Reading a recommended book would have provided you with evidence for that claim. But you prefer, for reasons of your own, not to look into the evidence. As you please. But you might consider how silly you then look when you accuse your interlocutors who actually have read the relevant scholarly material, and are trying to get you to read it in order to correct your fantastical theories, of believing things on faith.

The Book of Mormon stuff is such an evident rabbit trail, and at the same time it's such a silly attempt at a parallel with the Gospels, that I'm going to decline to chase down it. If you sincerely think that there is a significant parallel here that should have any impact on the topics of this post, then you are probably beyond the reach of rational help. I would suggest something for you to read, but we already saw how that would be received. Oh well!

I will let you have the last word if you want it, so this will be my parting shot.

They could see that he was lifting up his hands, and they could tell that he was ascending (instead of peering around and saying, "I can't see him anymore -- where did he go??").

In order to travel they needed enough moonlight to walk by or more likely they carried their own light sources. So they could tell those things even if it was past midnight.

No one told you that you had to read a book to understand the claim that the Gospels are not choose-your-own-adventure books.

If you tell me the meaning of a piece of writing is obvious, and twenty other people tell me the same thing but they all have different interpretations from yours and from each other, I have a choice. I could conclude that only your interpretation is correct because you have discerned its true meaning where all others have failed, despite their best sincere efforts, or I could decide that the writing itself is incomplete, obscure or esoteric, and that is why everyone has a different interpretation. Take a guess at which one I'm going to choose.

...to correct your fantastical theories...

MY fantastical theories, that is so rich in irony I could explore it for the rest of my life.

I would suggest something for you to read, but we already saw how that would be received.

Even on Right Reasons, which typically promoted an air of scholarly debate, people got burned for making a "read the book" supporting argument. If the primary argument is about a book, you can reasonably expect commentators to read sizable portions of it. Otherwise, online debates are simply not conducive to what you seem to expect. It isn't only a matter of time, money, and desire; there are too many claims that can be shielded from scrutiny by appealing to it, since it is a complex tangent that may or may not provide a valid support. If you want to make a specific, detailed supporting argument you can make it (like you did when you cited specific verses), but don't put up an obstacle that could easily take over a week to both read and critique in order to make a single point.

Step: In order to travel they needed enough moonlight to walk by or more likely they carried their own light sources. So they could tell those things even if it was past midnight.

I have done plenty of walking by moonlight, and it is much harder to see the gestures of a person even twenty feet away than it is to see where to put your feet. Given the situation with the Jews at the time, the suggestion that a large party of Jesus’ disciples decided to follow him out of the city at night carrying torches is a non-starter.

Step: If you tell me the meaning of a piece of writing is obvious, and twenty other people tell me the same thing but they all have different interpretations from yours and from each other, I have a choice. I could conclude that only your interpretation is correct because you have discerned its true meaning where all others have failed, despite their best sincere efforts, or I could decide that the writing itself is incomplete, obscure or esoteric, and that is why everyone has a different interpretation. Take a guess at which one I'm going to choose.

Do you also try that with Shakespeare? And do you conclude that Shakespeare’s plays don’t have any meaning?

Step: MY fantastical theories, that is so rich in irony I could explore it for the rest of my life.

Then enjoy yourself. You obviously think we’re ignorant and crazy and don’t know how to make or follow an argument. About the kindest thing I can think of to say is that the sentiment is fully reciprocated.

Step: Even on Right Reasons, which typically promoted an air of scholarly debate, people got burned for making a "read the book" supporting argument.

That would be “Right Reason.” And I don’t see why I should care.

Step: If the primary argument is about a book, you can reasonably expect commentators to read sizable portions of it. Otherwise, online debates are simply not conducive to what you seem to expect. It isn't only a matter of time, money, and desire; there are too many claims that can be shielded from scrutiny by appealing to it, since it is a complex tangent that may or may not provide a valid support. If you want to make a specific, detailed supporting argument you can make it (like you did when you cited specific verses), but don't put up an obstacle that could easily take over a week to both read and critique in order to make a single point.

Well, I don’t live principally in the blogosphere, so we may have a clash of cultures here. Where I spend most of my time, the idea of reading a book or three in order to get one’s head around an issue is not merely acceptable; it’s the norm. If that’s not the way you roll, so be it. But it is not helpful to try to invest inveterate shallowness with an air of intellectual or moral superiority.

Step2, Tim's book recommendation was entirely reasonable. He has even gone on to argue with you at length despite your unwillingness to familiarize yourself with academic writings regarding the Gospels' genre--not just Burridge's book, but also, as far as I can tell from your comments, any other relevant texts.

If you don't want to read the book, fine. But it doesn't strike me as wise to respond that you are already well-read ("I read far too much about religion as it is") when you clearly aren't in the area in which you continually speculate; or to demand a link to a summary ("If you can’t summarize it in a reasonable amount of space, you should link to someone who can or don’t bring it up") when you're obviously on the internet (the second result for my Google search was a review in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review that summarizes the book); or to demonstrate that you don't even understand Tim's point in bringing up the book in the first place ("it doesn’t begin to show if the genre is historically reliable or not").

...anybody out there still discussing this subject. Traditionalists' still maintain the same lame argument on behalf of (or so they say) the Apostle John based mainly upon external evidence, evidence which remains, after nearly two thousand years of speculation, debate, and at various times bloody conflagrations over a seeming secondary issue, absolutely impossible to validate as true based solely upon the plain text of scripture. Besides, if it were possible to bridge the gap between hearing the truth for the first time...Jesus Christ is risen from the dead...and knowing with the greatest degree of scriptural certainty whom exactly is worthy of the honor "the disciple whom Jesus loved," then any debate over authorship of the fourth gospel would never have been necessary in the first place. That is of course the point...it is most certainly possible, because when I first heard the good news of God's only begotten Son...how that he was crucified, buried, and the third day rose again from the dead...I was comforted by what God had so graciously wrought for me, a sinner...and I believed.
Know therefore and understand, that if I follow this son of thunder to the heart of Jesus in accordance with a doctrinal tradition of men, then I would be walking contrary to what I first believed when I heard the report...
"No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."
Luke 9:62 KJV

There are a host of scriptural reasons explaining why this multifaceted fish story called "Polycarp" is as unreliable today as the day it was construed to defend the bacchic flood of Gnosticism. While I by no means subscribe to the pornographic notion that Mary Magdalene was Jesus beloved disciple simply because a few pretenders were bold enough to advertise that Jesus was somehow a part of Mary Magdalene's "inner circle..." for such a world view denies the heart of Jesus overall message...
the traditional view leaves as much to be scripturally desired. Both views represent the fanciful notion that unbelief precedes belief in Christ resurrected.
How could the Apostle John be "that other disciple, which came first to the sepulcher, and (he) saw, and believed (that Jesus was risen from the dead)" at the advent of (John)20:8...if the Apostle John is counted as one of "the eleven" whom Jesus rebuked for unbelief in the testimony of them that saw Jesus after he was risen from the dead at the advent of Mark 16:14...which chronologically took place after (John)20:8?
Many continue to defend the erroneous traditionalist view by positing that 'John did not necessarily believe Jesus was risen from the dead at the advent of (John)20:8, but that he believed Jesus overall message.' Really?!!!? Jesus overall message is this..."The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again." Luke 24:7 KJV
I will boldly defend the true identity of him whose testimony many claim to know is true...and say with confidence that only Lazarus of Bethany would have been comforted by what the careful and quite deliberate placement of Jesus face cloth signified...only Lazarus of Bethany could have known how to read this unveiled message between resurrected friends' hidden in plain sight.

Ah, you're drunk, you're drunk, you silly old fool:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CWIIoSf4nw

Now, no contentless personal insults.

However, I think we will leave the previous comment mercifully un-replied-to. It isn't that there are not answers to the implausible conjecture (put forward seriously, without drama and emotion, by Ben Witherington) that Lazarus was the author of the fourth Gospel. But it doesn't seem propitious to make those answers in response to that particular comment by Little Witness.

Lydia
did you believe Jesus Christ is risen from the dead when you first heard the report? If not, then following the Apostle John in accordance with a doctrinal tradition of men probably appealed to you.
Any implausible conjecture therefore rests solely with you by reason of your unbelief. I chose to follow Lazarus to the heart of Jesus because I did believe Jesus is risen from the dead, like Lazarus did when he saw the sign of Jesus resurrection...a face cloth folded together in a place by itself. The traditional view of authorship of the fourth gospel is a lie (the Apostle John is Jesus beloved disciple)...veiled by the truth (Jesus Christ is risen from the dead).
Only a man who first believed that Jesus Christ was risen from the dead could lend the greatest degree of scriptural credibility in testifying and writing that "ye might believe." Only a man whom Jesus raised from the dead could testify with power and authority that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead...a kind of takes one to know one gig.

You're really over the top, so I think you need to drop it. Nothing you are saying here amounts to any sort of reasonable argument. The question of who wrote the gospel just is an historical question, not some kind of heavy experiential question. As I said, that isn't even the approach taken by the one or two scholars who do think Lazarus was the author of the fourth Gospel. If you're going to fill the comments with oddness like this, I may just close comments for this thread, as it's an old thread in any event.

The greatest scriptural measure by which the greatest degree of scriptural certainty might be achieved in discerning the true identity of him whose testimony we know by faith is true is simply belief in Jesus Christ resurrected...without which Jesus beloved disciple could have had no good reason to testify thereby, much less whereby to write. Turns out that it is a heavy experiential question, because each one of us is confronted by the historical fact of Jesus resurrection from the dead...and either you experience it on a personal level, or you don't.
This "thread" is as new now as the day Jesus beloved disciple first believed, so closing any comments in your little world isn't going to stop the truth from being made known. Do you believe that Jesu Christ is risen from the dead?

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