Sunday, 27 May 2012

Authorship of the New Testament Gospels

     The first four books of the New Testament are anonymous in the sense that the names of the authors do not appear in the respective texts. However, there is no evidence that any of the canonical Gospels ever circulated without a title, and the only extant appellations are "According to Matthew," "According to Mark," "According to Luke," and "According to John." In fact, Tertullian of Carthage (ca. 160-220) was highly critical of the idea of a Gospel being published without its official designation (Adv. Marc. 4.2), and there is no manuscript support for the groundless assertion that the titles were not added until the second century. It is inconceivable that such significant writings would circulate anonymously for decades, or that the names of the real authors were lost and then replaced by fictitious monikers without any variations in subsequent years.
     Early and consistent testimony ascribes authorship of the First Gospel to the apostle Matthew Levi. The oldest surviving reference is from Papias of Hierapolis (ca. 60-140), while others include Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 115-202), Tertullian of Carthage (ca. 160-220), Origen of Alexandria (ca. 185-254), Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 263-339), and Jerome (ca. 347-420). No other name was ever appended to Matthew’s Gospel.
     The invariable title of the Second Gospel has always been, "According to Mark." The earliest attestation is that of Papias of Hierapolis (ca. 60-140), with comparable testimonies from Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165), the Anti-Marcionite Prologue (ca. 160-180), Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 115-202), Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215), Tertullian of Carthage (ca. 160-220), and Jerome (ca. 347-420). No one from the early church ever denied this claim or proposed a different author.
     Luke’s authorship of the Third Gospel is also affirmed very early and includes the Muratorian Canon (ca. 170), the Bodmer Papyrus XIV (ca. 200), Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 115-202), the Anti-Marcionite Prologue (ca. 160-180), and Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 263-339). Lukan attribution is unvarying (see Authorship of Luke-Acts).
     The earliest extant reference to John’s authorship of the Fourth Gospel is that of Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 115-202), whose testimony is based on the corroboration of Polycarp, a contemporary of the apostle John himself (cf. Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 4.14.3-8; 5.20.5-6; 20.4-8). Other testimonies include the Muratorian Canon (ca. 170), Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215), Theophilus of Antioch (ca. 181), Hippolytus of Rome (ca. 170-235), Origen of Alexandria (ca. 185-254), and Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 263-339). With the exception of the heretics mentioned by Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 3.11.9) and Epiphanius (Haer. 51.3), no one seriously questioned the authorial role of John until 19th-century critical scholarship.
     During the period approximating the composition of the New Testament documents, particularly before the widespread use of the codex, a work was typically identified by a tag on the outside of the scroll. How likely is it that any of the Gospels would have been left unidentified, especially if they were meant to be passed around and read by a wide audience? There had to be some way to distinguish between them as they circulated. The fact remains that the unanimous testimony of the early church is that the canonical Gospels were written by the men whose names they bear.

--Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Biblical Authorship Part 1Authorship of Luke-ActsIntroducing John's Gospel

Helpful Resources: S. J. Gathercole, "Titles of the Gospels," ZNW 104.1 (2013): 33-76.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Bible Miracles: Fact or Fiction?

     A common viewpoint with which a number of modern critics approach the Bible is the following: "Seeing that the pages of the Bible are filled with incredible miracle stories, none of which can be replicated or observed today, and supernaturalism is beyond our current experience, the books of the Bible appear to be imaginative creations produced by biased persons with ideological agendas rather than by credible witnesses and historians."
     But surely critics of the Bible do not view themselves as unbiased persons without an agenda! Anyone who is convinced and passionate about anything is necessarily biased to some degree. If biblical writers sincerely believed the message they transmitted, does their "biased agenda" automatically render them incapable of honesty and factual reporting? John Drane has aptly observed:

But the idea that only ‘unbiassed’ people can ever tell the truth belongs to a way of understanding reality that no longer stands up to critical scrutiny. The philosophical notion developed through the European Enlightenment, that merely by the exercise of human reason it is possible to step outside our own experience of life and judge things in some kind of ‘objective’ way entirely detached from our own perspective, is now seen to have been just wishful thinking on the part of self-opinionated white Westerners who wished to justify their own ideas over against what they regarded as the ‘irrational’ understandings of people of other times and places. (Introducing the New Testament [Rev.] 221-22)     Miracles by their very definition are out of the ordinary. When the universe is conceptualized through the restrictive lenses of scientific method and philosophical naturalism, viewed as a closed system operating according to inflexible laws that are totally predictable and never vary, any deviation from what is expected is regarded as impossible. However, no scientist is in the position to deny that miracles occurred in the past, as these unique happenings are outside the range of scientific investigation. It is one thing to assert that supernatural manifestations as depicted in scripture are not witnessed today, but to dismiss even the possibility that they could have ever taken place is to assume one's own conclusion and involves unprovable (unscientific) speculation. Science has its limitations. It does not encompass all reality and is not the infallible key that accounts for every conceivable anomaly.               
     The historical method is also somewhat restricted. The historian’s role is simply to repeat the facts of history without attempting to provide creative explanations. The biblical record is a matter of historical evidence. Unlike myths, legends, and fairy tales, Bible miracles are reported in the context of real historical events, in a simple, straightforward, and unembellished manner, typically occurring in the presence of multiple (sometimes hundreds and even thousands of) witnesses. If biblical authors are proven to be trustworthy in other areas (e.g. geography, historical data, etc.), then their testimony deserves serious consideration and should not be rejected outright.
     When one is predisposed from the start to deny the possibility of exceptional phenomena that defy the natural world as we currently know it, then the entire Bible, with its description of miraculous events, will be like the proverbial baby thrown out with the bath water. On the other hand, if one is open to the prospect that God is real and that Jesus is in fact who he professed to be, extraordinary workings are not beyond what is to be expected. Thus Bible miracles are not surprising at all, and certainly not impossible in a theistic world. One’s assessment of supernaturalism in the biblical record is inextricably linked to his/her assessment of the plausibility of God.
--Kevin L. Moore

Related PostsDuration of Miracles: 1 Cor. 13:8-13

Saturday, 12 May 2012

A Closer Look at John 3:16

     It is probably the best known and most frequently quoted passage in the New Testament, affectionately labeled, "the Golden Text of the Bible." This single verse is often printed, framed, and reverently displayed as though it encapsulates the entire Christian faith. In his book 3:16: The Numbers of Hope (2007), best-selling author Max Lucado concludes his somewhat shallow (albeit emotionally stirring) treatment of the passage with these simple words: "Believe in him and you will . . . not . . . perish" (130). While this popular evangelical interpretation is also advanced in a number of modern English versions, does it give a genuine account of what the Lord actually said? If this twenty-five-word affirmation to Nicodemus is of such monumental consequence, surely it deserves our utmost care to ensure that it is accurately translated, correctly understood, faithfully observed, and consistently taught.
     While Jesus, in all likelihood, originally spoke these words in Aramaic, they have come down to us in the form of John’s Greek translation. As we try to make sense of the statement from a contemporary, English-speaker’s perspective, we need to break it down, analyze each word, and then put it all together to grasp its full implications.
     The translation starts with the term gar ("for"), even though it is not the first word in the sentence, because it is a postpositive and thus marks the beginning of the conveyed thought. It is important to realize that "for" immediately calls our attention to the fact that John 3:16 does not stand on its own. It is a continuation of the preceding discourse and is therefore just a small portion of a larger context.
     In the expression ho theos (lit. "the God"), the article ("the") is left untranslated because its use simply identifies theos ("God") as the subject. The verb ēgapēsen (the aorist form of agapaō = "he loved") encompasses God’s entire action. The adverb houtōs ("thus, in this way, so") is emphatic, i.e., its position at the beginning of the sentence adds intensity to the action: "For God so loved . . ."      
     The expression ton kosmon ("the world") is the direct object of the leading verb, followed by the conjunction hōste ("so that, so as"). The next verb is edōken (the aorist form of didōmi = "he gave"), and the object of this verb is ton huion ("the Son"). But this is not just any son (cf. Galatians 3:26; Hebrews 2:10); this is ton monogenē, the accusative form of monogenēs. This compound word, from monos ("alone, only") and genos ("offspring, kind"), signifies "the only one of his kind" (cf. Hebrews 11:17).
     The conjunction hina ("that, in order that") is followed by pas ("every") and then by the articular participle ho pisteuōn (lit. "the believing"). A participle is a verbal noun, which is typically conveyed with an "-ing" word (e.g. "Believing is important"). Since the participle here is accompanied by an article, to complete the thought it is rendered, "the believing one." This is significant because the articular participle is not a description of what the person has done but is indicative of who the person is. In other words, "the believing one" is not merely someone who has cognitively accepted a truth in his heart; rather he is included among those who are distinguished from the unbelieving world that rejects the gospel of Christ. Consider, for example, Acts 2:44, where pantes hoi pisteusantes ("all the believing ones") describes those who have responded to the gospel in obedient faith, viz. penitent baptized believers (vv. 37-44). While they are referred to as "the believing ones," they have obviously done more than simply "believe" in their hearts!
     The preposition eis can denote "in," "into," "unto," or even "for," depending on its use in the sentence. Here it runs parallel to the preceding statement in v. 15 ("that every believing one in [en] him . . ."), so the comparable expression eis auton in v. 16 appears to be "in him." This reminds us of Paul’s well-known "in Christ" motif, where the preposition eis is also sometimes employed (2 Corinthians 1:21; 11:3; Galatians 2:16; Philippians 1:29; Colossians 2:5).
     On a side note, a person who is unfamiliar with New Testament Greek can still figure this out. Remember that John 3:16 opens with the word "for," indicating that it is part of a broader context and is not to be viewed in isolation. Those who attempt to get "faith only" out of the verse, discounting obedience in general and baptism in particular, have failed to consider the rest of the paragraph. Jesus has already affirmed the essentiality of baptism (v. 5) and goes on to highlight the necessity of obedience (v. 21). In fact, the chapter ends with this sentiment: "The believing one [ho pisteuōn] in the Son has life everlasting; but the one not obeying [ho apeithōn] the Son will not see life . . ." (v. 36). To be a "believing one," in the biblical sense, is to be obedient.
     The term is a particle of negation and means "not." Apolētai is the aorist passive subjunctive form of apollumi. In the active sense, apollumi conveys the idea of "destroy," whereas in the passive sense (as here) it means to "perish." For some curious reason, many modern versions render this expression as a future passive indicative ("shall not perish"), advocating the Calvinistic doctrine of the perseverance of the saints or "once saved, always saved." However, the inspired writer does not use the indicative mood (the mode of reality) but rather the subjunctive mood (the mode of potentiality). Thus, the phrase is more accurately rendered, "should not perish." All’ (or alla) is a conjunction that means "but." The verb echē (present active subjunctive of echō) is "should have," and zōēn aiōnion denotes "life everlasting."
     What does John 3:16 actually say? "For God so loved the world that he gave the one/only Son, that every believing one in him should not perish but should have life everlasting." What are the implications? For (the greatest reason), God (the greatest Being), so (the greatest intensity), loved (the greatest virtue), the world (the greatest cause), that he gave (the greatest sacrifice), the one/only Son (the greatest gift), that every believing one (the greatest commitment), in him (the greatest location), should not perish (the greatest tragedy), but should have (the greatest assurance), life everlasting (the greatest destiny).
– Kevin L. Moore

Related PostsNew Testament "Believers"Perseverance of the Saints?

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Fulfilling the Law

"Owe no one anything except to love one another; for the one loving the other has fulfilled [the] law. For ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not kill,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if [there is] any other commandment in this word, it is summed up in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does not work evil to one’s neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilment of [the] law" (Romans 13:8-10, author’s own translation).
     If Christians are free from the Mosaic law, in what sense do they "fulfill the law"? There is a clear distinction between doing the law, on one hand (Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:10, 12), and fulfilling the law, on the other (Romans 8:4; 13:8, 10; Galatians 5:14). For those who desire to live under the law’s ordinances, consistency demands that they keep the whole law (Galatians 5:3), whereas in Christ the law is fulfilled by the biblical principle of love.
     The law of Moses served its designed purpose in bringing adherents to the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:19-29); thus the church of Christ is what God intended the people of Israel to become (Galatians 6:16; cf. 3:6–4:7). Accordingly, Christians are not under the law but fulfill the law by living out God’s purpose. The apostle Paul stresses love, not as a rule to be obeyed but as an overarching principle characterizing a new way of life (cf. Galatians 5:13–6:10).
     What is "the law of Christ" that disciples of Jesus are to fulfill (Galatians 6:2)? Scholarly opinions range from a loosely-defined "law of love" to a continuance of the Mosaic law (filtered through the teachings of Christ). But note the thoroughly antithetical thrust of Galatians, i.e., the true gospel vs. a false one (1:6-12; 2:5, 14), Paul’s former life as a Jew vs. his new life as a Christian (1:13-23), liberty vs. bondage (2:4; 4:1-9; 5:1), circumcision vs. uncircumcision (2:7-9; 5:2-4), works of law vs. faith of Christ (2:16, 20; 3:2, 5-27), and flesh vs. spirit (3:3; 4:21-31; 5:5-26). Within this context it is apparent that the law of Christ is separate and distinct from the law of Moses. From the very beginning of the epistle, the crucial role of the truth of the gospel is highlighted (1:1-12, 23; 2:1-9, 14-21; 3:1-14, 22-29; 4:4-7; 5:7, 13). The law of Christ is simply the practical expression of Christlike love, exemplified in the teachings and example of Christ, and revealed in and obeyed as the gospel of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:21; Romans 3:27; 8:2).
--Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Is the Law of Moses Still Binding?Was Paul Anti-Law?