Are the Gospels Anonymous?

In his best-selling book, How Jesus Became God, Bart Ehrman outlines his case that the Gospels were originally anonymous.

First, the Gospels were written without any attached names. So, the titles you see at the top of your Gospels (“The Gospel of Matthew”) were not there originally.

Second, the Gospels then circulated for about a century as anonymous before someone attached names to them. They did this in order to give the Gospels “much needed authority.”

Last, and most important, the conclusion is that the Gospels cannot be attributed to any eyewitnesses, or to anyone that would have known an eyewitness. They are the result of a century’s worth of anonymous storytelling and editing.

Ignorance

Of course, this entire story is as made up as Ehrman imagines the Gospels to be. As Ehrman likes to point out, we do not have the original autographs of the Gospels, so how does he know they were originally anonymous?

He doesn’t. But he wants/needs them to be in order to discredit them.

There has never been a more textbook example of an argument from ignorance. Because we don’t have the autographs, we should conclude that they were originally anonymous? What kind of reasoning is that? Without the originals, he cannot make this case.

No Anonymous Manuscripts

Per usual, our skeptical friends have ignored an ELEPHANT in the room. This time the elephant is this: there is not a single anonymous manuscript. That is to say, we have no anonymous Gospel manuscripts. Every single manuscript that we do have, without exception (which would obviously include our very earliest manuscripts), attribute the Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Again, this bolsters the fact that Ehrman’s argument is one GIANT argument from ignorance. How can you move from (1) every manuscript we have is attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to (2) they were originally anonymous? Reasonably, you cannot. You are arguing from what you do not know, instead of arguing from what we do know.

The only, and I mean ONLY, reasonable, or even possible conclusion is this: As far as we actually know, there has never been an anonymous manuscript, including the original autographs, for the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Is it logically possible that they were originally anonymous? Of course. It’s logically possible that you are having a hallucination right now and that I didn’t actually write these words. It’s logically possible that the Gospels were written by aliens.

Who cares about what is logically possible? We want to know what is most plausible based on the evidence we actually have. And all the evidence we have attributes the Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John without exception. There isn’t a single case to the contrary.

Without Contradiction

A relevant point in this discussion is that of the book of Hebrews. What does the book of Hebrews have to do with this conversation? I thought we were talking about the Gospels?

The Book of Hebrews is unquestionably anonymous. Not only is it “formally anonymous” like the Gospels (meaning the author doesn’t say in the body of the text, “I, Haden, wrote this book”), but the earliest manuscripts we have for the book of Hebrews are also anonymous.

Here’s a key point: Later manuscripts have title’s attached and those titles have contradictory author attribution. Some later manuscripts attribute the letter to Paul, and others to Timothy, or whoever. The point is that they are contradictory.

Based on this evidence, we are justified in saying the original was anonymous. This is what a truly anonymous letter looks like. Only God knows who wrote Hebrews.

Now, compare this with the Gospels. There is no contradiction in the manuscript evidence. ZERO. Not only are they all attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but they are attributed without contradiction. It is not as if someone attributes the Gospel of Matthew (traditionally known) to Mark, Peter, or someone else. There is not a single case of contradictory attribution. The historical record is unanimous and uniform.

The reason for the contradictory attribution in the case of Hebrews may very well be as Ehrman says, in order to add “much needed authority” to the letter. The letter became widely accepted by the early church and somebody thought it useful to attribute the letter to Paul. Or, maybe Paul really did write the letter of Hebrews, though my friend Dr. David L. Allen makes a very convincing case for Lukan authorship.

It could have been a number of reasons, but we all agree that this letter was originally anonymous because the earliest manuscript we have is actually anonymous and later manuscripts contradict each other in regards to authorship. This is what a truly anonymous letter looks like, and the Gospels are no where close.

The Gospel manuscripts are uniform in their author attribution.

Incredible

Another major problem with this anonymous scenario is, as Brant Pitre points out, “the utter implausibility that a book circulating around the Roman Empire without a title for almost a hundred years could somehow at some point be attributed to exactly the same author by scribes throughout the world and yet leave no trace of disagreement in any manuscripts” (Pitre, The Case for Jesus, pg 29).

What should also be pointed out, as Pitre goes on to do so, is that this incredible story must not just be true for one Gospel, not two Gospels, not three Gospels, but all four Gospels. The argument for alien attribution is starting to sound more plausible than this.

Uneducated Fishermen

A common objection to the traditional authorship of the Gospels is that Jesus’ disciples were uneducated fishermen. They would have spoken Aramaic and therefore, could not have written these Greek Gospels.

The first thing to point out, which should be obvious to scholars like Ehrman, is that Matthew wasn’t an uneducated fisherman, he was an educated tax collector, and Luke and Mark were not original disciples from Galilee.

So, the first point is that this objection only has the potential to be leveled against John. The historical record tells us that Matthew was an educated tax collector, Luke was an educated Gentile physician, and Mark we don’t know much about other than that he was closely connected with Peter, Paul, and the church at Rome. Without any evidence to the contrary, we have no reason to doubt Markan authorship.

The objection of being uneducated seems at first to be a reasonable objection to John.

However, the objection amounts to nothing, as we know that even educated people like Paul used scribes to write down their words as they dictated them. If even an educated person would use this practice, how much more would an uneducated person?

As Richard Bauckham points out, “John 21:24 means that the Beloved Disciple composed the Gospel, whether or not he wielded the pen” (Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, pg 362).

Following that, a strong case can be made for John being the Beloved Disciple that I won’t give here. The point is that there is no reason to think John wouldn’t have simply dictated the words to a scribe. We know this was a common practice, even for educated people like Paul.

Furthermore, with regards to this John being an uneducated fisherman, I would like to push back a bit. While John used to be a fisherman, he would have written this Gospel long after his years as a fisherman, and after years of studying under the most influential teacher in history.

More importantly, when we find out that John is a fisherman in the Gospels we also find out that he worked for his father who had “hired servants.” This at least tells us that John was well-off, and could have received an education. Maybe he didn’t, it doesn’t really matter is the major point, but he very well may have.

The Early Church

Like with the manuscript attribution, the early Church Fathers unanimously attribute the Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John without contradiction.

Whether Papias (around 120 CE), Justin Martyr (140-165 CE), Irenaeus (around 180 CE), the Muratorian Canon (around 180 CE), Clement (around 200 CE), or Tertullian (200-225 CE); the early church unanimously, and without contradiction, attribute the Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

There simply is no competing historical record. The only alternative explanations exist in the minds of modern scholars, and YouTube commentators.

Conclusion

The idea that the Gospels were originally anonymous is simply without any historical attestation. There is none.

No anonymous manuscripts exists.

All Gospel manuscripts that we do have are attributed unanimously to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The Gospel manuscript record is without contradiction, unlike the truly anonymous letter, Hebrews.

The early Church Fathers, much like the manuscript evidence, unanimously and without contradiction, attribute the Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

One is left to marvel at the fact that some scholars like Ehrman, despite all of this, would prefer an argument from silence.

It doesn’t surprise me that you find these arguments all over YouTube and blog sites, but someone as educated as Ehrman ought know better. I suspect he does.

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27 Times Paul Proved He Knew About the Historical Jesus

Conspiracies abound on the internet. One that gives me a good laugh is the idea that Jesus didn’t exist. You won’t find it in academics, but for some reason it is pretty popular among uneducated atheists on the internet. These “mythicists” make the strangest claims like “Paul knew nothing about the historical Jesus.” Paul only knew about the heavenly Christ, after all he didn’t see a physically risen Jesus, he only had a vision. Okay buddy, we’ll see how that holds up. Erik Manning lists 27 times Paul references Jesus as a real, physical, historical person.

27 Times Paul Proved He Knew About the Historical Jesus

How I Get So Much Done

Here is a nice little break from apologetics and theology. In this short blog post, Sean McDowell explains how he gets so much done with such a busy schedule. We often say things like “I don’t have time” when it comes to doing things that we would really like to do. Reality is: we do have time.

How I Get So Much Done | Sean McDowell

Is Jesus’ prediction of the Temple destruction a good way to date the Gospels?

It is no secret that Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple is the driving force of the dating of the Gospels. There may be other factors that scholars consider, but this one data point seems to be the rudder guiding the ship.

The argument goes, more or less, that the author of Mark (assuming Mark wrote first) recorded Jesus prophesying the destruction of the Temple because Mark (or whoever wrote the Gospel of Mark) was looking back on an event that had already occurred by the time of his writing. Hence, the Gospel had to be written after 70 CE when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans.

Assumptions

While this is one way of explaining the text, some things should be pointed out.

The first is that this argument rests on not a small assumption, namely that Jesus was incapable of making such a prediction.

Now, before the skeptic remarks, “You would have to assume that he was divine in order to believe that he could make such a prediction, and historians don’t make such assumptions,” hear me out.

I do not mean that historians are assuming that Jesus wasn’t divine, and therefore not capable of making such a prediction.

For the sake of argument, let us assume that Jesus was merely a man. For my Christian audience, let me reiterate that this is simply for the sake of argument.

Is a mere man incapable of making such a prediction?

Imagine for a moment that the political lines in the United States become more and more polarized, that tensions rise and rise, and that a wave of violence sweeps the country. Unfortunately, that isn’t too hard to imagine. Though, I am more optimistic.

Imagine that for the next 20 years such a pattern continues. Now, imagine that a certain political pundit were to write an undated article that said, “The United States is headed for a second civil war.” Probably, somebody has already said so. (If they have, sorry, I don’t keep up much).

Now imagine, that this prophecy were to come true some ten years after the pundit’s article. Would a future historian, some 100 years in the future, be forced to conclude that the pundit was divine? Would the future historian be forced to conclude that the pundit had to have been writing after the fact?

Surely, not. Mere men (and women) can make predictions.

The Details

“But the details of a siege and famine are too exact. This was no mere general prediction.”

While there is still a bit of assumption here, the objector is forgetting an elephant in the room.

The Old Testament.

Let us look at Mark 13 briefly:

And as he was going out of the temple courts, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look! What great stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here on another stone that will not be thrown down!”

Mark 13:1-2 | Lexham English Bible

Jesus’ prediction here is actually quite vague. It is in his “signs of the end of the age” that add more detail.

For nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. But all these things are the beginning of birth pains.

Matthew 24:7-8 | Lexham English Bible

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside it must depart, and those in the fields must not enter into it, because these are days of vengeance, so that all the things that are written can be fulfilled.

Luke 21:20-22 | Lexham English Bible

But these details can be found in the Old Testament. In fact, Luke explicitly says that these things will fulfill “the things that are written.”

The “famines” reference can be found in 2 Kings 25:3, a passage about the destruction of Jerusalem, and hence the Temple. Also, there is mention in this passage of an “encampment” or “siege” against Jerusalem.

The “earthquakes” is likewise found in Zechariah 14:5, a passage that also mentions “all the nations” rising up against Jerusalem, as well as the “fleeing by the valley of my mountains.”

The “birth pains” reference is found in Isaiah 13:8, a passage that, you guessed it, is also about the destruction of the Temple.

Every single detail of Jesus’ prediction can be found in Old Testament passages that predict the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

As C.H. Dodd said, “There is no single trait of the forecast which cannot be documented directly out of the Old Testament.”

Is Mark looking back on the event of 70 CE and putting words into Jesus’ mouth to make him look prophetic, or is Jesus simply aware of his surroundings and his Old Testament?

Out of the Ordinary

What is truly out of the ordinary here is that none of the Gospel writers say something to the effect of “And this came true when Titus destroyed the Temple.”

Lest you think this an argument from silence, the Gospel writers did in fact record prophecies that had come true by the time of their writing (Acts 11:27-28; Matthew records countless Old Testament prophecies fulfilled).

If Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple, and the Gospel writers knew that it had come true because they had seen it happen, wouldn’t they record it? If they made up Jesus’ prediction because they were writing after the fact, wouldn’t they include a parenthetical statement that it came true, like they do elsewhere? Maybe not, but the fact that they don’t is certainly suspicious.

Jesus wasn’t alone

What’s more is that we know Jesus wasn’t alone in his expectation, or even prediction, that Jerusalem would fall.

We know from Josephus that others were predicting the same thing, reportedly before the events (Josephus, Jewish War, 6.301).

Based on the first century understanding of the prophet Daniel, we know that there was an expectation that such events would take place during the rule of the Romans (see Brant Pitre on the first-century understanding of Daniel, 2, 7, and 9 in The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence, Chapter 8).

Another Way

Given this understanding, should we not reassess the dating of the Gospels? Perhaps they were written after 70 CE, but surely not because of Jesus’ prediction here.

This way of dating the Gospels, as far as I can tell, makes an unfounded philosophical assumption, and completely ignores the first-century understanding of the Old Testament, as well as the fact that Jesus is simply quoting the Old Testament in his detailing of the destruction.

Side Note

For the Christian audience, yes, I believe Jesus was the divine Son of God, and in retrospect of His Resurrection I believe He was perfectly capable of predicting a future event in exact detail.

The point here is simply that even from a skeptical view point, the assumption that Jesus could not have, or would not have made such a prediction is completely unfounded.

Did the early church invent the divinity of Jesus over a long period of time?

The Wintery Knight chronicles a few of the earliest passages of the New Testament accepted by even skeptical scholars in which Jesus is described as divine. Even the earliest creed that dates to a few years from the crucifixion describes Jesus as divine. The idea that Jesus’ divinity was a later invention disappears.

Did the early church invent the divinity of Jesus over a long period of time?

The Nazareth Inscription: Did You Know Caesar Outlawed Grave Robbing After the Resurrection?

Arthur Khachatryan gives a good explanation of what the Nazareth Inscription is, what time period it probably belongs to, and what the possible implications of the inscription are. This was a good article. It didn’t try to stretch the evidence too far.

The Nazareth Inscription: Did You Know Caesar Outlawed Grave Robbing After the Resurrection?

Fulfilled Prophecy or Fish Story?

So, I was just tweeting about this the other day. Did Jonah die in the belly of the fish? Did God bring him back to life to go preach good news to the Gentiles? If this is the case, Jesus’ reference to “the sign of Jonah” makes a bit more sense. Erik does a good job summarizing Dr. Brant Pitre’s argument here.

Fulfilled Prophecy or Fish Story?

Review of my Interview with Atheist, Doug, from PineCreek

Doug is an atheist YouTuber whose channel is called PineCreek. He invited me on for an interview over the weekend.

It was a lot of fun and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Doug.

At no point did I feel deceived, tricked, or uncomfortable. Doug is sometimes accused of being this way, but I think he asked straight-forward, honest questions.

Likewise, I think I gave straight-forward, honest answers.

I think it would be fair to breakdown the interview into a few main categories: (1) Doug’s presupposition, (2) Doug’s hypotheticals, and (3) Haden ceding things to Doug.

Doug’s Presupposition

Straight out of the gate Doug said he didn’t find philosophical arguments for the existence of God convincing at all because he thinks philosophy is more or less dead, or at least a bunch of “poo-poo.”

He quoted Steven Hawking who said “philosophy is dead” which of course is a self-defeating statement.

I responded that I would give Hawking the benefit of the doubt and say that he was speaking tongue-in-cheek because the statement “philosophy is dead” is a philosophical statement which would make Hawking’s statement self-defeating. And I think Hawking was too smart to say something so silly.

Doug said, no, I think he was a little bit serious. Doug seemed to think philosophy was indeed dead, which left me a bit stunned, but I tried to keep my facial expressions to a minimum as to be a respectful guest.

I even tried to soften Doug’s own position by making a distinction between philosophy per se, and metaphysical arguments for the existence of God, but he affirmed that he was referring to philosophy per se.

What shocked me most about Doug’s presupposition that philosophy is dead is that Doug later said he loved “street epistemology”. Street epistemology is basically what Doug was attempting on me throughout the whole interview. Namely, Doug, through hypothetical scenarios would try to get me to doubt that the evidence and reason actually warrants my belief in God and Jesus (more on this in a minute).

The obvious problem is that epistemology just is philosophical in nature. Doug can’t love epistemology and hate philosophy, not coherently anyway. I didn’t point this out, as I wanted to be a respectful guest, but maybe I should have.

Doug’s Hypotheticals

Later on, Doug would present me with a couple hypotheticals.

Say a friend came up to me and said, “So-and-so died and came back to life three days later.” Would you believe them? And I held up the piece of paper that Doug had me fill-out before the interview labeled, “Leans No.”

I probably wouldn’t believe a close friend that claimed someone else rose from the dead. I mean, I just wouldn’t, I don’t know what to say.

I clarified that if they were a close, trustworthy friend, I would look into the claim.

The point was: I would need more evidence.

With the resurrection of Jesus, I think we have way more evidence. I told Doug I didn’t think his parody was analogous to the situation we have with Jesus and he disagreed, and I said okay.

His other hypothetical was that of his (naked?) grandfather flying over the grand canyon unaided at a time when there was no photography. What would it take to make me believe this actually happened?

One eyewitness? Two eyewitnesses? Doug said he wouldn’t believe it if there were 10 independent eyewitness accounts. I said I might, it would depend on the eyewitness accounts.

Haden Cedes Things to Doug

Then we came to what I think was the most important part of the interview. I ceded a lot of “points” to Doug. I don’t think they were actually points that mattered, but I did cede a lot.

Let me preface by saying, I will pretty much cede everything to a skeptic that doesn’t directly relate to the existence of God, or the Resurrection of Jesus. Since none of the things I ceded to Doug had anything to do with those two things, I was happy to do so.

Doug asked if I thought there was anything fictional in the New Testament. I said I don’t think so, but I’m not opposed to it. If the New Testament purports some aspect as true when it isn’t, that doesn’t mean much to me, as long as it doesn’t directly relate to the Resurrection.

He pressed me on the Transfiguration narrative. Which I think is telling that he chose this narrative instead of say, the Resurrection, but I digress.

I admitted that I couldn’t really verify that as a historical claim. Maybe I can, I just haven’t studied that specific claim that much because I focus on the Resurrection.

Doug then asked me about the Old Testament. He asked me if I believed the Flood really happened. I said it probably did, but that I couldn’t verify it one way or the other from a historical perspective. I simply haven’t studied the evidence.

He then asked me if God gave me a choice to drown everyone or poof them out of existence, which would I do? Without hesitation I said I would poof them out of existence.

Doug was pleasantly surprised, I think he even clapped. Why would I choose differently than God? I said because I don’t want people to suffer. So why would God choose the way he did things? I have no idea.

He, as well as the audience, went crazy about how honest I was. I think I won them over at that point. Maybe they just thought Doug was talking me out of my beliefs, but they seemed to appreciate my honesty.

But wait, things got even better.

Doug then asked me if God gave me the choice, which would I choose: have Jesus be beaten and crucified, or just have Jesus die for my sins by a stroke.

I said I would choose for Jesus to die by a stroke.

Again, Doug and the crowd went wild. I was amused at this point and asked, “Do people not come out and say that?” To which there was a resounding “No!”

But why not? Why can’t this tension exist? God is omniscient and I am not. Maybe things had to play out the way they did, I have no idea and am fine saying that I don’t.

Perhaps there are better answers to these questions than a simple “I don’t know.” I’m sure there are. I’m quite sure I’m not the perfect person for the job of answering these questions. But I think a simple and straight-forward “I don’t know” went miles further with Doug and his audience than some speculative answer that I might have been able to conjure up.

The God of the Bible is the God who says, “Come, let us reason.” He is the God who listens to the prayer of “How long, oh God?!” I see a tension here between my understanding and God’s omniscience, but I see no contradiction.

What’s more, I told Doug and his audience that when I became a Christian, I struggled with the fact that Jesus would die in my place, while I seemingly got off scott-free. That doesn’t seem fair and I’m fine with admitting that it doesn’t.

I deserve the wrath due for my sins. I’ve told God that numerous times. But God didn’t want me, or any of us, to suffer forever for our sins, and Jesus was a willing participant to take our place. Adding that into the equation, I don’t see anything immoral, but Doug did, and I understand perfectly where he is coming from.

My biggest take away was this: we should be honest when we don’t know, and we should be honest when there is a tension in our beliefs.

I could’ve dug my heels in and insisted that everything Genesis purports is a historical fact and if you deny that you’re dishonoring God.

I could’ve dug my heels in and insisted that the Transfiguration is a historical fact and to deny it would be to take “man’s word” over “God’s word.”

But that isn’t my aim. My aim, first and foremost is the truth. Did those things really happen? Did the author really intend them to be taken as a historical fact in the way you and I would think of a historical fact?

But, perhaps more importantly, I want as few hurdles as possible for potential believers.

I believe you can become a Christian and think those things didn’t really happen, or just say that you don’t know. I don’t think you have to hold to a certain view of inspiration, or innerancy to become a Christian.

I know that might ruffle some peoples feathers, I’m sorry.

The testimony of Scripture is clear: “If you believe in your heart that God rose Jesus from the dead, and confess Him as Lord, you will be saved.”

I think we can work backward from the Resurrection and say, if Jesus rose from the dead then he is Lord and we should place our faith in Him, so that we too can conquer the grave and all the suffering that has come from the curse of death.

For that reason, I was willing to cede everything to Doug because all that I am interested in convincing unbelievers of is that God exists and Jesus rose from the dead.

Unfortunately, Doug and I didn’t talk about those two subjects, but that’s okay. I still think our conversation was productive. If nothing else, I made a lot of new atheist friends!

History and the Resurrection

If I’m not reading, there’s a good chance that I’m listening to, or watching, a debate or lecture.

In almost all the debates I’ve watched on the Resurrection, at some point during the debate, without fail, someone will say something to the effect of, “History cannot prove a miracle.”

As Bart Ehrman says in all of his debates, “A miracle is by definition is the least probable explanation.”

However, initially appealing as these two objections seem, and they do seem that way, I think a better understanding of history, as well as the Resurrection will reveal them to be vacuous.

The Nature of History

History doesn’t “prove” anything. History is the study of events that happened in the past.

The past cannot be observed, nor can we run experiments on the past. In fact, the past (like the future) doesn’t even exist. Not anymore, at least.

So, to say you are certain about an event that occurred 2,000 years ago is dishonest. You aren’t.

You are 2,000 years removed from a time and place that no longer exists. There is plenty of possibility for doubt.

However, none of this means the past is unknowable. We don’t need to have certainty in order to know something. If we did, we would literally know just about nothing and our species would never have developed into what we have become.

Knowledge of the past is vital. You couldn’t function properly if you didn’t have knowledge of the immediate past stored in memory.

But knowledge of the distant past is important as well. It is important that we understand what led to the atrocities of the past, lest we repeat them.

The Nature of the Resurrection

We speak of the Resurrection as one event. While this is an accurate way to speak, obviously Jesus’ coming back to life would constitute a single event, I would like to propose another way of looking at things (This doesn’t originate with me. I think William L. Craig does this too).

Think of the Resurrection as 3 Events.

Event 1: Jesus lived.

Event 2: Jesus died.

Event 3: Jesus lived again.

If history is the tool by which we study events in the past, then history is the tool for this job.

The probability of miracles doesn’t matter, as Ehrman insists, the question is simply what evidence do we have for each event?

As it is, events 1 and 2 are accepted by virtually everyone. The evidence for Jesus’ life, ironically, is the overwhelming attestation to his crucifixion.

The question then really comes down to this: What historical evidence do we have that he lived again?

Why Everyone Should Believe that the Gospels are Reliable

The idea that the Gospels are unreliable, contradictory, copies of copies of translations of copies, is false. In this article, drawing on Peter J. Williams’ new book, Brett Lunn gives some evidence as to why the Gospels are indeed reliable sources not only of their historical claims, but also the miracle claims.

Why Everyone Should Believe that the Gospels are Reliable