Friday, 24 June 2011

Another Skeptic's Straw Man Addressed

"The Bible cannot be trusted because the four Gospels were not written by those whose names appear on them."

We often hear this accusation from atheists, skeptics or liberal 'scholars,' (and yes, I include them all in the same category as being equally far from the orthodox Christian faith.) They will claim that these books were originally written anonymously, with the names attached pseudepigraphally (if that is the correct word) at a later date. Now, I freely admit my limited scholarship, but let me give some thoughts on the matter; thoughts that to me make perfect common sense, something that sometimes seems to be lacking in those who attack the Bible just to cast doubts on the Christian fiath.

First of all, so-called religious texts all had names attached to them. Even the false gospels, which were written much later and were true pseudepigrapha, had names; gospels of Peter, Thomas, Mary, etc. So I believe we can be sure that what we know now as the four Gospels would have had names attached to them at the time of writing. If they didn't, then we would have copies or fragments without names, or indeed, with other, varying or different names atached to them. If the names by which we know them now were attached many years later, then others earlier would have referred to various copies by different names, because they would have had to be identified in some way.

It follows, then, that from the earliest times, the Church knew them by their current designations; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The next question then becomes, "Were these men the ones we generally think they are?" In other words, was Matthew written by Matthew the disciple of Jesus? Was Mark written by John Mark of the book of Acts? Was Luke written by Dr Luke and did he also write Acts? And was John (and his three letters and Revelation) written by John, Jesus' beloved disciple?

Was Matthew, for instance, written by the disciple of that name, or some other guy named Matthew? Or was it written by someone who wrote down what he learned from Matthew the disciple? It could still be the Gospel According to Matthew. Does the inspiration of Scripture depend on Matthew writing it down personally? I have no trouble believing that the author was the disciple, but I'm not sure my faith depends on it being so. What is certain, as I said above, the book was surely known by that name, and its authorship accepted, from the very earliest years of church history, as were the others.

The same goes for Mark, but with one further point. If Mark was not the author, but some other anonymous scribe, why attach the name, 'Mark' to it. Mark was a minor player at the time, a follower, so I've heard, of Peter, and someone who, for a time, fell into disgrace in the eyes of the Apostle Paul. An anonymous author would probably have chosen a more famous and glamorous name, such as Peter, or James, or Andrew. Why would he bother with a seeming second stringer like Mark. Again, it is probably known as the Gospel of Mark because Mark actually wrote it, and probably much of it as he learned it from Peter.

Internal evidence indicates that Luke and Acts are the beginning and the continuation of the same story, recorded by Luke from eyewitness testimony and personal experience, and I see no reason to doubt their authorship.

John may be quite a different story, and here is where I may really get into trouble. I am quite prepared to accept that John was not written directly by John himself, but by one of his followers, or students, who either took his dictation, or more probably, recorded his story and teachings. I have heard it claimed, for instance, that the phrase, "the disciple who Jesus loved" is evidence for John's direct authorship, but I think it is better evidence for authorship by one of his devoted followers. It seems to me that for John to refer to himself that way is rather boastful, even narcissistic. But that does not make it any less John's gospel. Also, the entire gospel is written in the third person, except for the switch to the first person in the final verse of the book (21:25). If John, personally, was the author, why the switch? Why not just record the entire book in the first person? The author (or perhaps merely the editor) does acknowledge that the beloved disciple is the one who testifies to these things (the things recorded in the book) and wrote them and that his testimony is true (v 24), but that, in my considered yet totally unprofessional opinion, does not exclude the possibility of a student or follower of the Apostle as the author.

John's three letters, on the other hand, are written in the first person. And fairly obviously with some of the same influence (compare chapter 1 of both the Gospel and the first letter of John), so it is not too difficult for me to accept that John himself wrote the three letters, while someone in his group of followers recorded the Gospel. My thinking would be that the gospel was written some time after the letters.

Finally, Revelation could or could not have been written by the same, "John" as the other books atributed to him. The Bible doesn't specify either way. All we know is that it was recorded by someone named John.

So, my point in this post is not to go all liberal on you. It is to give some thoughts and an answer to someone who might think that by questioning the authorship of these books he has somehow mounted an effective argument against the Christian faith. Bottom line; my question is, "Does any essential part of our faith rest on the actual authorship of the Gospels, or can the term, "according to" mean merely the source of the information?" Whoever might read this and like to comment, I would appreciate any further thoughts.

Take Care

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