Letters Written in the Name of Paul?

May 23, 2013

The Pauline Corpus and Pseudonymity (literally “false name)

Study Questions

  1. What possible reasons might an anonymous individual write in the name of an Old Testament prophet or a disciple of Jesus?  Here is an example of writings in Peter’s name:  1 Peter, 2 Peter, Gospel of Peter, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Kerygmata Petrou, the Letter of Peter to Philip (see also sermons attributed to or stories about Peter in the canonical and apocryphal Acts).
  2. Do you think it is an ethical/theological problem if some writings in the New Testament were written in the name of or “forged” in the name of someone else or were there different standards in the ancient world?  Scholars have found a variety of justifications for the practice (the Jewish understanding of attributing works to the fount of the tradition [e.g., Law of Moses, Psalms of David, Wisdom of Solomon], the convention of pseudonymity in Jewish apocalypses, the practice of attributing philosophical works to the founder of a philosophical school, feeling inspired by the same ‘spirit’ that inspired biblical figures, wishing to defend the legacy of a certain founding figure for a new generation) while other scholars have argued that “forgery” was seen as a deliberately deceptive practice in the ancient world (cf. Bart Ehrman).

 Undisputed Epistles: Romans, Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon

Disputed Epistles:  2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians.

Pastorals:  1 & 2 Timothy, Titus

The Disputed Epistles:

Scholars are divided whether Paul wrote these letters. They are similar in content, terminology, and theology with the Undisputed Epistles and the differences may be due to a development of Paul’s thought, the local situation he was responding to or the use of a scribe in composing the letter.  Colossians has many parallels with Philemon including Paul in prison, co-greetings from Timothy and similar co-workers (see Col 1:1; 4:10-14 with Philemon 1, 22-23).  However, they seem to have the following differences:

  1. Differences in language, vocabulary and style.  For instance, Colossians and Ephesians have long sentences written in the style of a liturgical hymn that is unusual for Paul.  For example:  “Blessed [is] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who did bless us in every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, according as He did choose us in him before the foundation of the world, for our being holy and unblemished before Him, in love, having foreordained us to the adoption of sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, in which He did make us accepted in the beloved, in whom we have the redemption through his blood, the remission of the trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, in which He did abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the secret of His will, according to His good pleasure, that He purposed in Himself, in regard to the dispensation of the fulness of the times, to bring into one the whole in the Christ, both the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth — in him; in whom also we did obtain an inheritance, being foreordained according to the purpose of Him who the all things is working according to the counsel of His will, for our being to the praise of His glory, [even] those who did first hope in the Christ, in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth — the good news of your salvation — in whom also having believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of the promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance, to the redemption of the acquired possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Eph 1:3-14, I chose a literal translation because it is one long sentence in the Greek!!!)
  2. Theological Differences
    1. Developed cosmic view of Christ (Col 1:15-20; 2:9-10, but see Philippians 2:6-11), Christ as head of the universal church body (Col 1:18; Eph 4:15-16), emphasis on realized eschatology (Col 2:11-12; 3:1, 3; Eph 2:5-10) and presently raised with Christ in baptism (Col 2:12; compare Rom 6:5, 8).  Ephesians seems dependent on Colossians and the address “in Ephesus” may not be original; it was perhaps originally circular letter “to the saints.”
    2. Different Eschatologies: 1 Thess suggests Christ’s return comes suddenly like a thief in the night (1 Thess 4:13-5:11), while 2 Thess 2 emphasizes an antichrist figure “the lawless one” must come first.  2 Thessalonians seems dependent on 1 Thessalonians.
    3. A signature of authorship or a clever forgery?  “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.” (2 Thess 3:17)
    4. Household Codes first introduced in Colossians and later letters:  “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.  Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord; since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.  For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong has been done, and there is no partiality” (Col 3:18-24); “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word,so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind… This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband. (Eph 5:25-33).  Would Paul, who did not personally recommend getting married as the present age was drawing to a close in 1 Corinthians, now conform to the surrounding culture on the proper maintenance of the household?

The Pastorals (*note: some recent scholarship has protested against grouping these letters together under one collection and have argued for the authenticity of individual letters such as 2 Timothy)

  1.  They are absent from an early collection of Pauline letters (Papyrus 46) and from the canon of the second century follower of Paul “Marcion” (included an edited collection of Paul’s letters and Luke)
  2. Vocabulary and stylistic differences (piety, epiphany, sound, king of the ages, Saviour, “the faith” used as a noun, etc.).  Use of fixed formulas (1 Tim 4:6; 6:3; 2 Tim 2:14; Tit 3:8).
  3. Chronological discrepancies with Acts and Paul’s letters.
  4. Developed church with bishops/overseers (1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:7), elders/presbyters (1 Tim. 4:14; 5:1f, 17, 19; Tit. 1:5; 2:2f), deacons (1 Tim. 3:8, 12; 4:6) and order of widows (1 Tim 5:3-16).
  5. View of Women: “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve;and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.” (2 Tim 2:11-15).  Compare this with Galatians 3:28; Romans 16 (especially Junia among the apostles), Philippians 4:2-3 or 1 Corinthians 14:33-36 (textually uncertain).

Criteria of Authenticity and the Historical Jesus

May 17, 2013


1.  Double Dissimilarity: A saying is likely to be historically authentic if it cannot be ascribed to either his Jewish predecessors/contemporaries or his Christian followers but is distinctive (can you spot the principal problem with this criterion?)

  • “Let the dead bury their own dead” (Matt 8:21-22; Luke 8:59-60) (contra Gen 23.3-4; Tobit 6.13-15; m. Ber. 3.1; m. Nazir 7.1; cf. Exod 20:12)
  • “Love your enemies” (Matt 5:44/Luke 6:27) (but see Prov 25:21, 22; Rom 12:14, 20)
  • Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?  As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.  The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.’ (Mark 2:18-20).

2.  Embarrassment:  A saying/deed is likely authentic if it embarrasses or was counterproductive to the aims of later Christian theology.

  • John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins… In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John. (Mark 1:4, 9)
  • Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. (Matthew 3:13-15)
  • [Herod] added this to them all, that he shut up John in prison.  Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened… (Luke 3:20-21; was John imprisoned before Jesus was baptized?)
  • John’s Gospel keeps John the Baptist and the Spirit descending like a Dove but skips the baptism itself (see John 1:29-34).
  • The Gospel according to the Hebrews has Jesus ask “what sin have I committed, that I should go and be baptized by him’ (Jerome, Pelag. 3.2)

3.  Multiple Attestation: The more a saying/deed is found in multiple and independent sources (not just later sources borrowing from Mark), it is more likely authentic or at least early.

  • Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery (Mark 10:11-12; Matt 19:9 permits divorce for unchastity); Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery (Q = Luke 16:18/Matt 5:31-32 [Matthew adds permission to divorce for unchastity]); To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (1 Cor 7:10, except cannot forbid an unbeliever who wants to divorce a believer)
  • Apocalyptic Son of Man sayings in Mark (13:26, 14:62), Q (Matt 24:27, 37-39/Luke 17:24, 26-27, 30), M (Matt 13:40-43), L (Luke 21:34-36), and possibly known to Paul (1 Thess 4:16) and John  (1:51). The title is rare outside the Gospel tradition (Acts 7:56, Heb 2:6, Rev 1:13; 14:14) so it may not be a common title in Christian devotion imputed back to Jesus (i.e. does it qualify as dissimilar to early Christian theology or are the Gospels expressions of one stream of Christian theology?).

4. Aramaic reconstruction

  • A different group of scholars argues that behind the Greek title “the Son of Man” (ho huios tou anthropou) lies the Aramaic bar (e)nash(a), an idiomatic expression either as a circumlocution for “I” (Vermes) or that has a general level of meaning about humanity in general with particular reference to the speaker (Casey).  “The Sabbath was made for [the son of] man, not [the son of] man for the Sabbath, therefore the son of man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28)

5.  Coherence (other sayings/deeds may be accepted as they cohere with others that have already passed the criteria of authenticity; this seems like an extremely circular criterion)

6.  Historical Plausibility:  In direct contradiction to double disimmilarity, does a saying/deed fit in the context of a first-century Jew in Second Temple Judaism and also help to explain the rise of the Christian movement after him (historical controversies in Galilee/Judea, Aramaisms, Torah, Temple and purity, halahkic debates, eschatology, etc.)

  • “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6.9)
  • “Father, hallowed be your name.  Your Kingdom come.” (Luke 11.2)
  • “May he establish his kingdom in your life and in your days and in the life of all the house of Israel, speedily and in a short while.” (Qaddish, Aramaic prayer addresses ‘their Father who is in heaven’)
  • Then comes the end, when he [Christ] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. (1 Corinthians 15:24)

See also John Kloppenborg’s discussion of the criteria of authenticity (http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~kloppen/criteria.htm).  Recently, several scholars have called into question the aim of the criteria with their aim to separate historically “authentic” facts about Jesus from theological inventions of the early churches or evangelists, insisting that our only access to Jesus is how he was interpreted in the social memory of his earliest follower.  For instance Dale Allison’s Constructing Jesus notes the limitations of memory – it is 1. reconstructive, 2. post-event , 3. projects present circumstances or biases, 4. becomes less distinct as past recedes, 5. sequential, 6. forms meaningful patterns to advance agendas, 7. rehearses the memories valued by groups, 8. shaped by narrative conventions, 9. vivid subjective compelling memory may be inaccurate (pp. 2-10) –  and its ability to capture the gist or general outline (pp. 10-14) – and argues that we should settle for the “gist” or “characteristic Jesus” in the different communal memories of him contained within our earliest sources (pp. 10-14).  What do you think?

Further reading:

  • Allison, Dale C. Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and its Interpreters (London and New York: Continuum, 2005); Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010)
  • Arnal, William.  The Symoblic Jesus: Historical Scholarship, Judaism and the Construction of Contemporary Identity (London and Oakville: Equinox, 2005)
  • Casey, Maurice.  Jesus of Nazareth (London:  T&T Clark International, 2010)
  • Chilton, Bruce and Evans, Craig (eds.), Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research (Leiden: Brill, 1994)
  • Crossan, John Dominic.  The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991)
  • Dunn, James D.G.  Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003)
  • Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schüssler.  Jesus: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet: Critical Issues in Feminist Christology
  • Fredriksen, Paula.  Jesus of Nazareth:  King of the Jews (New York: Vintage, 2000)
  • Freyne, Sean.  Jesus, a Jewish Galilean (London/New York: T&T Clark/Continuum, 2004)
  • Funk, R.W., Hoover, R.W. and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (New York: Schribner, 1993)
  • Horsley, Richard.  The Prophet Jesus and the Renewal of Israel:  Moving Beyond a Diversionary Debate (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2012)
  • Keith, Chris and Le Donne, Anthony.  Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (Bloomburg, 2012) 
  • Meier, John P.  A Marginal Jew (multi volume; New York: Doubleday, 1991-)
  • Porter, Stanley.  The Criteria for Authenticity in Historical Jesus Research (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000)
  • Sanders, E.P.  Jesus and Judaism (London: SCM, 1985); The Historical Figure of Jesus (London: Penguin, 1993)
  • Theissen, Gerd and Merz, Annette. The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide. Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 1998
  • Vermes, Geza.  Jesus the Jew (London: SCM, 1973); The Religion of Jesus the Jew (London: SCM, 1993)
  • Witherington, Ben. The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth. InterVarsity Press: 1997
  • Wright, N.T.  Jesus and the Victory of God (London: SPCK, 1996)



Example:  Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13/Luke 11:2-4 – Double Tradition or “Q”)

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” (Matt 6:9-13)… “Father, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread.  And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.  And do not bring us to the time of trial.” (Luke 11:2-4)

And do not pray as the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in his Gospel, pray thus: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, as in Heaven so also upon earth; give us to-day our daily bread, and forgive us our debt as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into trial, but deliver us from the Evil One, for thine is the power and the glory for ever.” Pray thus three times a day. (Didache 8:2-3)

May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified in the world that He created as He willed.  May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days, and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel, swiftly and soon. (also uses “their Father who is in heaven) – Qaddish prayer

“God is besought to bring about a definitive manifestation of his power, glory and holiness by defeating the Gentiles, gathering the scattered tribes of Israel back to the holy land, and establishing his divine rule fully and forever.  It is within this trajectory that Jesus’ prayer that God will sanctify his name and bring in his kingly rule is to be understood.” –  John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Volume II, p. 292

It is unlikely… that Jesus taught his disciples the prayer as a whole, even in its reconstructed form… given the conditions under which oral discourse is transmitted, that he employed the four petitions from time to time but as individual prayers. He, of course, frequently used “Abba” to address God. Someone in the Q community probably assembled the prayer for the first time; Matthew and Luke then copied the Q version, while editing and revising it at the same time. – Robert Funk, Five Gospels, p. 327 (only Abba/Father in Red, rest is pink and grey)

“Still, despite the fact that the Lord’s prayer must be a very early summary of themes and emphases from Jesus own lifetime, I do not think that such a coordinated prayer was ever taught by him to his followers” – John Dominic Crossan, Historical Jesus, 294


Example: The Temple Incident Mark 11:15-17

And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves;and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, ‘Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”?  But you have made it a den of robbers.’ (Mk 11:15-17)

Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.”  But even on this point their testimony did not agree. (Mk 14:57-59, cf. Mk 15:29)

See, your house is left to you, desolate. (Matt 23:38/Luke 13:35 = Q)

In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’… Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. (John 2:14-21)

Jesus said, “I will destroy [this] house, and no one will be able to build it […].” (Thomas, 71)

They set up false witnesses who said, ‘This man [Stephen] never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.’… Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands [part of Stephen’s defense for why building the Temple was not God’s intent] (Acts 6:14-15; 7:48)

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises (Romans 9:4)

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; cf. Eph 2:21-22, an implicit critique of the old temple?)

“Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thess 2:3-4, cf. Mk 13:14)

“He did not wish to purify the temple, either of dishonest trading or of trading in contrast to ‘pure’ worship.  Nor was he opposed to the temple sacrifices which God commanded Israel.  He intended, rather, to indicate that the end was at hand and the temple would be destroyed, so that the new and perfect temple might arise.” – E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, p. 75

“Mark’s fiction of an anti-temple messiahship (a contradiction in terms) could have worked only after the temple had already been destroyed.” – Burton Mack, A Myth of Innocence, p. 282

If Jesus had predicted the Temple’s destruction as a sign of the End of the Age… then it is at least odd, I think, that he [Paul] evinces no knowledge whatsoever of Jesus’ prophecy… Shrunk by the size of the Temple’s outer court, muffled by the density of the pilgrim crowds, Jesus’ gesture — had he made it — would simply have been swallowed up.” – Paula Fredriksen, “Gospel Chronologies, the Scene in the Temple, and the Crucifixion of Jesus”, pp. 11, 13

“… Jesus criticism of the financial and trading arrangements in the Temple was consistent with his rejection of oaths by the Temple, with his criticism of the Korban system, of tithing mint, dill and cumin, and of the observance of additional purity laws concerning vessels full from the proceeds of wealth acquired by the rich from the poor.” – Maurice Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, 415


Example:  Sabbath Controversies (Mark 2:23-3:6)

One sabbath he was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions’ [*check out 1 Samuel 21:1]… ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath;so the Son of Man [‘human’] is lord even of the sabbath.’ Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ (Mk 2:23-3:6)

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for 18 long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ (Luke 13:10-15)… [After healing a man with dropsy] ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?’ (Luke 14:1-5, see also Matthew 12:11-12)

Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’  At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.Now that day was a sabbath.  So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.’  But he answered them, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “Take up your mat and walk.”… Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath.  But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is still working, and I also am working.’ For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God… (John 5:8-11, 16-18)

If a man receives circumcision on the sabbath in order that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because I healed a man’s whole body on the sabbath? (John 7:23)

“Controversy between Jesus and his opponents concerning the Sabbath is one of the best attested features in the Gospels.  It is found in three of the four traditions behind the synoptics and absent only from Q, which is hardly surprising since Q contained but one narrative.  Moreover, the independent tradition behind the fourth Gospel contained two Sabbath controversy stories… the sabbath controversies are best understood as the conflict between holiness and compassion” – Marcus Borg, Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teaching of Jesus, p. 158-59

“Are we to imagine that Pharisees regularly patrolled grainfields on the Sabbath, looking for possible violations? Or have the Pharisees sent out a special commission to spy on Jesus and his disciples in this particular grainfield?… “If this scene gives us a true picture of the biblical knowledge and teaching skill of the historical Jesus, then the natural and effective response of the Pharisees would have been not fierce anger and concerted opposition but gleeful mockery. They would have laughed their heads off-and invited the populace to do the same-at this uneducated woodworker who insisted on making a fool of himself in public by displaying his abysmal ignorance of the very scriptural text on which he proposed to instruct the supposedly ignorant Pharisees.” – JP. Meier, ‘The Historical Jesus and the Plucking of Grain of the Sabbath’

“Most importantly for this study is that Mark in no way portrays Jesus condoning non-observance or an abrogation of the Sabbath… Mark 2:23-28 is very Jewish and unlike anything known from the early church.  Thus it is possible that this is a passage that accurately reports an event from the ministry of the historical Jesus” – James Crossley, Date of Mark’s Gospel, 160, 164 [note Crossley does argue that Jesus breaks the Sabbath Law in commanding the man to pick up his mat based on Jeremiah 17:22 and goes beyond Mark in claiming equality with God in John’s Gospel]


Example: the Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:12-26)

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’  (Mk 14:22-25; cf. Matthew 26:17-30)

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’  Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.  (Lk 22:16-20, italicized words absent in some manuscripts)

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread,and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)

And concerning the Eucharist, hold Eucharist thus: First concerning the Cup, “We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the Holy Vine of David thy child, which, thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy child; to thee be glory for ever.” And concerning the broken Bread: “We give thee thanks, our Father, for the life and knowledge which thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy Child. To thee be glory for ever. (Didache 9:1-3)

“On the grounds of multiple attestation (Paul as well as Synoptic tradition) Jesus’ words about the cup, the bread, his body and blood are among the most secure elements of our traditions about Jesus.” – Craig Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, p. 299

“[J]esus probably did not use the term covenant to explain his death at the last supper… Jesus probably said only ‘ this is my blood’ – a tidy parallel to ‘this is my body'” (Scott McKnight, Jesus and His Death, 308, 310)

“But the Didache, a late first century document, shows no awareness of a ritual deriving from the Last Supper, no connection with the Passover meal, and no commemoration of the death of Jesus…  What Jesus left behind was the tradition of open eating as a sign of the inclusiveness and equality of life in the kingdom of God.  Later, certain Christian groups created the Last Supper ritual…” – John Dominic Crossan, Who is Jesus, p. 56

“Christian scholarship has traditionally seen here the institution of the Eucharist.  We found instead a dramatic story of Jesus celebrating his final Passover with his disciples… Jesus death was seen in this light.  As God had redeemed Israel at the Exodus, so he would redeem Israel by establishing his kingdom.” – Maurice Casey, Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel, p. 25

Jesus and the Kingdom of God

May 13, 2013

In twentieth century scholarship, there was a classic debate between the positions represented by Albert Schweitzer and C.H. Dodd over whether the emphasis of Jesus’ eschatological views was on the future or the present or whether there is an already-not yet tension in Jesus’ sayings on the coming of God’s kingdom (Werner Kümmel)?  Eventually scholars became divided between those who view Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet among other categories (Geza Vermes, E.P. Sanders,  Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Paula FredriksenJohn P. Meier, Dale Allison, Bart Ehrman, Gerd Lüdemann, Maurice Casey, N.T. Wright [?]) or as a non-eschatological social reformer or sage (John Dominic Crossan, Robert Funk, Marcus Borg, Burton Mack, Stephen Patterson, Ron Cameron, collectively Jesus Seminar, Richard Horsley [?]).  Read the following verses; what you think is meant by the phrase “kingdom of God” (=”heaven” in Matthew).

Jesus and the Kingdom of God #1

He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’ (Mark 4:30-32; see also Ezek 17:23; 31:16; Dan 4:10-12.)

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matthew 5:3); Then he looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20)

From the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven forcefully advances, and men of violence take it by force.  For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John (Matt 11:12-13); The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the Kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently. (Luke 16:16)

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you’ (Luke 17:20-21); His disciples said to him, “When will the kingdom come?” “It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here!’ or ‘Look, there!’ Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it” (Gospel of Thomas 113)

But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:28); But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you (Luke 11:20)

The disciples of John reported to him about all these things. Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for someone else?” When the men came to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for someone else?'” At that very time he cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and he gave sight to many who were blind. And he answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news proclaimed to them (Isa 26:19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:7, 18; 61:1). Blessed is he who does not take offense at me.” (Luke 7:8-23; see also Matthew 11:2-6)

Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ (Mark 10:15); Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above… Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. (John 3:3, 5)

Jesus and the Kingdom of God #2

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has drawn near; repent, and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:14-15)

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. (Mark 9:48)

And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’ (Mark 9:1)

[After healing the centurion’s servant] I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:11)

When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 11:30)

‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first. (Matthew 19:28-30); I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:29-30)

Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.  From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he [or “it”] is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place… ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mark 13:26-32)

Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’ (Mark 14:25)

Canonical and Non-Canonical Gospels

May 12, 2013

Canonical and Non-Canonical Gospels

“Jesus Christ was a historical figure of staggering influence, perhaps the most enigmatic and inspirational leader the world has ever seen.  As the prophesied Messiah, Jesus toppled kings, inspired millions and founded new philosophies.  As a descendant of the lines of King Solomon and King David, Jesus possessed a rightful claim to the throne of the King of the Jews.  Understandably, his life was recorded by thousands of followers across the land… More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John among them.”  – Sir Leigh Teabing, The Da Vinci Code, p. 310

Against the significant exaggeration in this best-selling novel, a list of non-canonical Christian writings can be found in the table of contents of Bart Ehrman’s Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It Into the New Testament (Oxford University Press, 2003).

 Study Questions

  1. The Greek word kanōn meant a measuring rod or a standard and came to refer to “canonical” books that were included in the New Testament.  Why do you think the early Christians referred to their list of scriptural books as a “canon”?
  2. The Criteria for what to include in the New Testament in the fourth century included apostolic authorship (by Peter, John, Paul, etc), antiquity of the book, widespread consensus on a book’s value, and conformity with the “rule of faith.”  How might these criteria have been applied to the Gospels believed to be by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?
  3. In addition to the proto-Orthodox (or “centrist”) form of “Christianity” that emerged victorious, there were rival Christian factions in the first few centuries.  Jewish followers of Jesus variously known as the “Ebionites” (from ebyonim or “poor ones”) or the “Nazaraeans” accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah or the Moses-like Prophet and continued to practice Torah, with some denying the deity and Virgin birth of Jesus and insisting that he was adopted as Messiah at his baptism while others accepting the Christology of the proto-Orthodox Church.  Teachers (Simon Magus, Cerinthus, Basilides, Valentinus, Carpocrates, Ptolemy, Heracleon, etc) or groups that scholars label “gnostic” (from gnōstikos or “possessor of knowledge”) basically taught that the material world was created by an ignorant or wicked Demiurge (meaning craftsperson, artisan) rather than the transcendent Supreme Being and salvation is attained through knowledge of one’s divine origins so the divine spark within can escape this material prison (for Christian Gnostics Jesus is the divine revealer of esoteric knowledge).  Marcion, a devoted follower of Paul, distinguished the harsh God of justice in the Hebrew Bible (Demiurge) from the loving heavenly Father of Jesus as separate divine beings and accepted only the letters of Paul and a Gospel condemned by critics as a mutilated version of Luke.  How do you think the proto-Orthodox reacted to each group?
  4. A bishop and apologist, Ireneaus of Lyons, tells readers that various Jewish Christians preferred the Gospel of Matthew (though we also have citations of other Jewish Christian Gospels that scholars variously label the Gospel according to the Hebrews, the Gospel according to the Ebionites, and the Gospel according to the Nazaraeans), that Docetists preferred the Gospel of Mark, that Marcion preferred the Gospel of Luke, and that Valentinus preferred the Gospel of John.  Meanwhile, Irenaeus championed the Four Gospels as normative and scriptural (see Against Heresies 3.11.7-8).  Why do you think he did this?
  5. The Nag Hammadi Corpus was discovered in 1945.  One of the most important texts in this collection was the Gospel of Thomas, a list of  114 sayings of Jesus.  How does a Gospel made up of sayings with no narrative differ from the emphases of the New Testament Gospels?
  6. Below are some sayings in Thomas:  which sound familiar from the New Testament Gospels and which sound very different (there is a stalemate about whether Thomas is dependent or independent of the Synoptics or whether it is a rolling corpus with some early independent sayings enlarged by later sayings influenced by or in reaction to the Synoptics)?  What are the views of Thomas on Jesus, other disciples or Christian traditions, soteriology (salvation) or eschatology (end times)?

These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded. And he said, “Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death.”  (1)

Jesus said, “Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all.” (2)

Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is within you and it is outside you.  When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.” (3)

Jesus said, “Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you.  For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. (5)

His disciples asked him, “Do you want us to fast? How should we pray? Should we give to charity? What diet should we observe?” Jesus said, “Don’t lie, and don’t do what you hate, because all things are disclosed before heaven. After all, there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and there is nothing covered up that will remain undisclosed.” (6)

Jesus said to his disciples, “Compare me to something and tell me what I am like.” Simon Peter said to him, “You are like a just messenger.”  Matthew said to him, “You are like a wise philosopher.”  Thomas said to him, “Teacher, my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like.”  Jesus said, “I am not your teacher. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring that I have tended.”  And he took him, and withdrew, and spoke three sayings to him. When Thomas came back to his friends they asked him, “What did Jesus say to you?”  Thomas said to them, “If I tell you one of the sayings he spoke to me, you will pick up rocks and stone me, and fire will come from the rocks and devour you.”  (13)

The disciples said to Jesus, “Tell us, how will our end come?” Jesus said, “Have you found the beginning, then, that you are looking for the end? You see, the end will be where the beginning is.  Congratulations to the one who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end and will not taste death.” (18)

For this reason I say, if the owners of a house know that a thief is coming, they will be on guard before the thief arrives and will not let the thief break into their house (their domain) and steal their possessions. As for you, then, be on guard against the world. Prepare yourselves with great strength, so the robbers can’t find a way to get to you, for the trouble you expect will come. (21)

Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, “These nursing babies are like those who enter the (Father’s) kingdom.”  They said to him, “Then shall we enter the (Father’s) kingdom as babies?”  Jesus said to them, “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter.” (22)

His disciples said to him, ‘Is circumcision profitable or not?’ He said to them, ‘If it were profitable, their father would beget them already circumcised from their mother. Rather true circumcision in the Spirit has become completely useful.’ (53)

Jesus said, ‘I tell my mysteries to those who are worthy of my mysteries.’ (62)

Jesus said, “I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, you will find me there.” (77)

Jesus said, “The Father’s kingdom is like a person who wanted to kill someone powerful. While still at home he drew his sword and thrust it into the wall to find out whether his hand would go in. Then he killed the powerful one.” (98)

They showed Jesus a gold coin and said to him, “The Roman emperor’s people demand taxes from us.”  He said to them, “Give the emperor what belongs to the emperor, give God what belongs to God, and give me what is mine.” (100)

Jesus said, ‘He who drinks from my mouth will be as I am, and I shall be that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to him.’ (108)

His disciples said to him, “When will the kingdom come?” “It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here!’ or ‘Look, there!’ Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.” (113)

Simon Peter said… “Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.” Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven.” (Saying 114)

For the sayings in translation, see http://gnosis.org/naghamm/nhl_thomas.htm.

For a full bibliography, see http://web.archive.org/web/20010410223938/http://huizen.dds.nl/~skirl/gthomas/bibliography/index.html

For some newer sources not included, see Stephen Patterson, The Fifth Gospel:  the Gospel of Thomas Comes of Age (Trinity Press, 1998), April DeConick, Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas: A History of the Gospel and Its Growth (T&T Clark, 2005); Simon Gathercole, The Composition of the Gospel of Thomas – Original Language and Influences (Cambridge University Press, 2012), Mark Goodacre, Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas’s Familiarity with the Synoptics (Eerdmans/SPCK, 2012); Christopher W. Skinner, What are They Saying About the Gospel of Thomas(Paulist Press, 2012).

John and the Synoptics

May 9, 2013

John and the Synoptic Gospels

I have adapted some of my list below from http://bible.org/seriespage/major-differences-between-john-and-synoptic-gospels

Study Questions

  1. What are some of the similarities and differences of John from the other three Synoptic Gospels?
  2. Do you agree with the following 2nd century Christian writers that John knew the other Gospels and just wanted to supplement them?  Or is John an independent source because it is just too different from the other Gospels to have depended on them?

The Traditional Understanding of John

Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1)

But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel. This is the account of Clement [of Alexandria]. (cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.7)

“The fourth of the Gospels is that of John, [one] of the disciples. To his fellow disciples and bishops, who had been urging him [to write], he said, ‘Fast with me from today to three days, and what will be revealed to each one let us tell it to one another.’ In the same night it was revealed to Andrew, [one] of the apostles, that John should write down all things in his own name while all of them should review it. And so, though various elements may be taught in the individual books of the Gospels, nevertheless this makes no difference to the faith of believers, since by the one sovereign Spirit all things have been declared in all [the Gospels]: concerning the nativity, concerning the passion, concerning the resurrection, concerning life with his disciples, and concerning his twofold coming; the first in lowliness when he was despised, which has taken place, the second glorious in royal power, which is still in the future. What marvel is it then, if John so consistently mentions these particular points also in his Epistles, saying about himself, ‘What we have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears and our hands have handled, these things we have written to you? For in this way he professes [himself] to be not only an eye-witness and hearer, but also a writer of all the marvelous deeds of the Lord, in their order. (Muratorian Canon)

Similarities of John with the Synoptics

  •  There is a basic narrative outline that begins with John the Baptist and ends with the Passion in Jerusalem (compare with a sayings Gospel like Thomas)
  • There are parallels that might suggest John’s knowledge of the Synoptic tradition (e.g., compare the anointing of Jesus by the woman in John 12:1-8 with Mark 14:3-9; cf. Luke 7:36-50)
  • There is a saying known as the Johannine thunderbolt (no one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him) that sounds more like John but is found in Matthew 11:25-27/Luke 10:21-22 (Q?)
  • John may supplement the Synoptics at various points.  In the Synoptics Jesus grieves over Jerusalem about how they were unwilling to heed his message (Matt 23:37/Luke 13:34) but only John has Jesus make multiple trips to Jerusalem for the Feasts.  Jesus is accused of threatening to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days in the Synoptics (Mark 14:58; 15:34) but only John has Jesus make a similar claim (John 2:19)

 Major Differences

  • Much of John’s dialogue or stories are unparalleled in the Synoptics (e.g., turning water into wine, the resurrection of Lazarus, the extended discourses about his own identity, the extended discourses, the ‘I am’ speeches when Jesus says that he is the shepherd/vine/light/water of life, the washing of the feet, etc)
  • John has significant omissions (no virgin birth stories, no temptation by Satan, no exorcisms, no narrative parables about the kingdom of God, no Last Supper, etc)
  • Chronology:  John narrates Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem at different festivals; many assume a 3 year ministry of Jesus by calculating the number of Passovers.  Other major events, such as the incident of Jesus making a scene in the Temple, are relocated in a different place than in the Synoptics (cf. John 2:13-24)
  • May be a more mystical, reflective Gospel:  “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13)
  • Exhibits a “higher” Christology than the Synoptics:
  1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God [no article before theos]. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (1:1-3)
  2. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is still working, and I also am working.’ For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God. (5:17-18)
  3. Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ (20:28)
  4. “Before Abraham was I am” (see Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 41:4; 43:10, 25; 45:19; 46:4 (2 times); 48:12; and 51:12)
  • While Jesus seems to offer short aphorisms or narrative parables in the Synoptics, John features extended discourses of Jesus that span chapters (e.g.,. the farewell discourse in John 13-17)
  • Symbolism/double meaning and antithetical dualism (light/darkness, truth/falsehood, life/death, above/below; also found in Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi texts)
  1. ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body (2:19-21)
  2. ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” ’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive (7:37-39)
  3. as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up (3:14)
  4. Some take things too literally (e.g., John 3:4 Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?)
  •  John seems to replace “kingdom of god/heaven” (only in John 3:3, 5; 18:36) with  “eternal life.”
  • Does John have a future or a realized eschatology?  “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgement, but has passed from death to life.  Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgement, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” (John 5:26-29)
  • Differences in Grammar and Style:  John’s Jesus sounds less like the Synoptics and more like the Johannine epistles.

The Synoptic Problem Handout

May 6, 2013


The word Synoptic comes from the prefix syn (with, together) and optic (from optikos “having to do with sight”).  We refer to Matthew, Mark, and Luke as the Synoptic Gospels because they are so much alike and can be easily compared by consulting a  Synopsis.  The Synoptic Problem refers to their literary relationship; for all the proposed solutions see Stephen Carlson’s site http://www.hypotyposeis.org/synoptic-problem/2004/09/overview-of-proposed-solutions.html.  Please fill in the spaces below with arrows to show the direction of influence.

a. Griesbach hypothesis/Two gospel theory:  J.J. Griesbach, W. Farmer, B. Orchard

Matthew          Luke



b. Two source hypothesis; H. J. Holtzmann; B. H. Streeter, R.H. Stein, C.M. Tuckett

Mark                 Q


Matthew           Luke

c. Markan priority without Q; A. Farrer, M. Goulder, M. Goodacre



Matthew            Luke

d. Augustinian Hypothesis; B.C. Butler, J. Wenham



Mark             Luke

 There Must be Some Literary Relationship

  • Sometimes the agreement in the wording of the three Gospels is nearly verbatim, so one writer must be copying from another rather than each independently relying on the same oral tradition.
  • So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand) (Matthew 24:15); But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand) (Mark 13:14); ‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near’ (Luke 21:20)

Which Gospel has the Earliest Version?

Example 1:

  • And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13.58)
  • And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.  And he was amazed at their unbelief. (Mark 6:5-6)

Example 2:

  • “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” (Matt 8.26)
  • “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4.38)
  • “Master, Master, we are perishing!” (Luke 8.24)

Example 3:

  • ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’ (Matthew 16.28)
  • And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’ (Mark 9.1)
  • But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.’ (Luke 9:27)

Example 4:

  • Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness… (Matthew 4:1; cf. Luke 4:1-2)
  • The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness (Mark 1:12)

Example 5:

  • “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good.” (Matt 19:17)
  • “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:18; cf. Luke 18:19)

Example 6:

  • A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with anger [textual variant: compassion], Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do chose. Be made clean!’ (Mark 1.40-42)
  • …and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you chose, you can make me clean.’ He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’  (Matthew 8.2-3)
  • When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do choose. Be made clean.’ (Luke 5.12-13).

Example 7 (Matthew and Luke have a parallel to Mark 2:28 but not Mark 2:27 – what do you think might be the explanation?)

  • Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; [verse 28] so the son of man is lord even of the Sabbath.’ (Mark 2.27-28; cf. Matt 12.8; Luke 6.5)

Example 8 (the following passages in Mark are not in Matthew and Luke)?

  • When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ (Mark 3.19-21)
  • He took the blind man by the hand… and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked them, ‘Can you see anything?’ And the man looked up and said, ‘I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. (Mk 8.22-25)
  • A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked. (Mk 14:51-2)

The Non-Markan Double Tradition in Matthew/Luke

Which version of these passages do you think is the earliest version?  Do you think that Luke is using Matthew (or vice-versa) or are they both drawing on a common sayings source labelled as Q (from German Quelle meaning “source”) or from a variety of oral/written sources?

Example 1:

  • “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruit worthy of repentance.  Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.  Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3.7-10 and Luke 3.7-9 almost verbatim)

Example 2:

  • “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
  • “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20)

Example 3:

  • “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28)
  • “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Luke 11:20)

Example 4:

  • “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: Justice and mercy and faith.” (Matthew 23:23)
  • “But woe to you Pharisees!  For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God.” (Luke 11:42)

Introducing the New Testament in its Context

May 4, 2013


721 BCE – Assyrian Deportation of the Northern Kingdom of Israel

586 BCE – second deportation of Southern Kingdom of Judah to Babylon

539/8 BCE – Cyrus the Great (rule 550-530 BCE) conquers Babylon

520-515 BCE – Zerubabbel governor of Persian state of Yehud, Joshua the high priest, re-establishment of temple cult

333/2 BCE – conquest of Persian Empire by Alexander the Great (reign 356 -323 BCE)

300-198 BCE – Palestine under control of Ptolemies of Egypt

250 BCE – Greek translation of Jewish Scripture known as the Septuagint (LXX). The legend is that Ptolemy II Philadelphus asked 72 elders to translate the Law for the library of Alexandria (cf. The Letter to Aristeas)

198 BCE – Palestine under control of Seleucids of Syria

175 BCE – Antiochus IV “Epiphanies” (manifest) comes to power and enforces the spread of Greek culture (Hellenization), transforming Jerusalem into a Hellenistic city named “Antiochia” with its own gymnasium (check out Daniel 7 and 2 Maccabees 7 [below])

167 BCE –  the attempted profanation of the temple under Antiochus IV precipitated the revolt under Matthias and his five sons John, Simon, Judas, Eleazar, and Jonathan

164 BCE – re-dedication of the Temple under Judas Maccabeus (the hammer)

160-63 BCE – the leadership and high priesthood of Jonathan (died ca. 143 BCE). The leadership and high priesthood of Simon (died ca. 134 BCE) was the beginning of autonomous Hasmonean rule and the expansion of borders (e.g., conquests of Samaria, Idumea, etc.). A number of sectarian groups emerge during this period including:

  • The aristocratic and priestly Sadducees who accepted only the Pentateuch of Moses as authoritative and denied the resurrection of the dead. They are known to us from Josephus and the Gospels.
  • The Pharisees (etymologically linked to perushim or separate ones) may have been originally linked to the Hasidim. They were a lay scribal group that commanded popular support. They endeavored to keep the whole Law as interpreted through their oral traditions (=compiled in the Mishnah in the late second century CE) and live life in a priestly state of purity, especially during their table fellowship. Two major schools go back to Shammai and Hillel and they accepted a wider canon of Scripture than the Sadducees as well as the beliefs in immortality and angels.
  • The”Teacher of Righteousness” is remembered as a major figure by the sectarian community at Khirbet Qumran behind the Dead Sea Scrolls and was persecuted by the “wicked priest” (Jonathan or Simon Maccabeus?). They practiced a strict interpretation of the Torah, celibacy and communal living and are often identified with the Essenes.

63 BCE – Roman conquest by Pompey

44 BCE – assassination of Julius Caesar

37-4 BCE –Herod the Great

31 BCE – Marc Antony defeated by Octavian at the battle of Actium and afterwards Antony/Cleopatra killed themselves

27 BCE – 14 CE – Octavian “Augustus” (revered), the adopted great-nephew of Caesar and divi filius (son of god), leads transition from the Roman Republic to the Empire and starts Julio-Claudian dynasty (ends with Nero in 68 CE)

4 BCE – 6 CE – Herod’s son Archelaus named ethnarch, ruling Judea, Samaria and Idumea until it came under direct Roman rule.  This led to the census of Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, appointed governor of Syria, for taxation of the provinces of Syria and Judea under the new political arrangement.  In reaction, Judas the Galilee led an uprising and is named as the alleged founder of the “fourth philosophy” or zealot party by Josephus.

4 BCE – 39 CE – Herod’s son Antipas appointed tetrarch, ruling Galilee and Peraea.  Rebuilt Sephorris before building his capital at Tiberius on a cemetery in 17 CE and had John the Baptist executed on political charges (Josephus, Ant. 18.5.2; cf. Mark 6:22-28)

5/4 BCE – birth of Jesus of Nazareth

6-41 CE, 44-66 CE – Roman prefects and procurators in Palestine

29-34 CE – crucifixion of Jesus

30-early 60s CE – earliest Jewish Jesus associations including the Jerusalem Pillars (Jesus’ brother James, Cephas and the Twelve), missionary activity of the Apostle Paul

66-74 CE – the Jewish War, fall of Jerusalem and temple in 70 CE

69-96 CE – the Flavian Dynasty

96-192 CE – the Nerva-Antonine dynasty

132-135 CE – the Bar Kochba revolt, banishment of Jews from the city of Jerusalem renamed Aelia Capitolina

Study Questions

  1. Why do you think it is important to study the New Testament  (NT) writings in their historical and literary contexts?
  2. The New Testament was not written in a historical vacuum! Can you spot some parallels to the NT in the Jewish or Greco-Roman writings below.

The gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:3-4)

  • “Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus,  whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a  savior, both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and  arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance (excelled even our anticipations), surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving  to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the  god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings for the world that came by  reason of him, which Asia resolved in Smyrna. (Priene Calendar Inscription, ca 9 BCE; cf. Craig Evans, “Mark’s Incipit and the Priene Calendar Inscription: From Jewish Gospel to Greco-Roman GospelJournal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 1 (2000): 67)
  • Roman Coin calls the emperor Octavian “divi filius” or “son of (a) god” (http://www.utexas.edu/courses/ancientfilmCC304/lecture23/detail.php?linenum=9)
  • The [son of the] G[reat Master] shall he be called, and by His name he will be called. He will be said (to be) the son of God, and they will call him the son of the Most High. (Aramaic Apocalypse I 9–II 1)

He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:15)… In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:1, 14)

  • Now the image of God is the Word, by which all the world was made. (Philo, On the Special Laws 1.81)
  • For she [Wisdom] is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty… For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. (Wisdom of Solomon 7:26-27)

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

  • ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.’ – attributed to Rabbi Hillel (Shabbat 31a)

‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. (Luke 7:12)

  • Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire house of Israel, speedily and soon (Kaddish)

Those who passed by derided him [Jesus], shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days,save yourself, and come down from the cross!’  In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ (Mark 15:29-31)

  • Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training.  He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord.  He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange.  We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father.  Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.  Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance.  Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.” (Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20)

For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)…  Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

  • It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and cords, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh. One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, “What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers.” … And when he [one of the sons about to be killed] was near death, he said, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life… [the last son to be killed said] “I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our fathers, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by afflictions and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God, and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty which has justly fallen on our whole nation.” (2 Maccabees 7)
  • These, then, who have been consecrated for the sake of God, are honored, not only with this honor, but also by the fact that because of them our enemies did not rule over our nation, the tyrant was punished, and the homeland purified — they having become, as it were, a ransom for the sin of our nation.  And through the blood of those devout ones and their death as an xpiation, divine Providence preserved Israel that previously had been afflicted. (4 Macc 17:20-22)
  • Shall countless warriors, armed with shields, those myriads sitting at the oar, find courage to attack the foe and die for Hellas, because their fatherland is wronged, and my one life prevent all this?… I give my body to Hellas [Greece] (Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis 1390)

‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ (Acts 7:56)

  • And all the kings and the mighty and the exalted and those who rule the earth Shall fall down before him on their faces, And worship and set their hope upon that Son of Man, And petition him and supplicate for mercy at his hands. (1 Enoch 62:9)