Saturday, October 09, 2004

One man's passion

I waited for The Passion of the Christ to come out on DVD before seeing it. In terms of psychology, there is probably some difference between viewing the film in a dark crowded movie theater, where you see it through the eyes of your fellow moviegoers, and viewing it by yourself in the privacy of your own bedroom.

Never did a movie enjoy more pre-release publicity. Movies on the life and passion of Christ are a cinematic tradition. One is made every decade or so. So there was no reason for Mel to anticipate the opposition.

However, the liberal establishment has been gaining ground over the years, and becoming ever more audacious and self-confident. Liberals really believed that by staging a preemptive campaign they could shut the project down before it ever hit the screen. As usual, this only illustrated how out of touch they were with the general public.

But the film not only came under fire from the far left. It also drew fire from one wing of the Reformed community.

However, the result of the attacks and counter-attacks meant that one comes to the viewing of the film with a preconception of what one’s going to see. And I was rather surprised see that the film I saw so often described by others was not the film I actually saw with my own eyes.

Critics told me that the film depicted the Jewish authorities as hook-nosed Shylocks. But I didn’t see any aquiline actors. All I saw were a lot of bearded Italian actors.

Critics told me that the film depicted the Sanhedrin as unanimous in its condemnation. But I saw a couple of characters--presumably Joseph and Nicodemus--denounce the proceedings--before they were hustled out of the chambers.

Critics told me that the film demonized the Jewish authorities. But if anyone was demonized, it was the Roman soldiers.

Critics told me that the film was a commercial for Catholicism. But although there were some Catholic undercurrents, about which I’ll have more to say, these were rather oblique. Or course, something can be all the more influential by operating below the radar.

Critics told me that the flogging went on too long. But it’s not especially lengthy--either in terms of absolute duration (measured in minutes) or in proportion to the whole. If it seems to go on forever and a day, that’s an artistic triumph. Gibson has succeeded in fostering an impression that exceeds what is actually on film. Our imagination fills in the rest.

I cannot watch the film without drawing constant parallels between the Mideast of Jesus' day and the Mideast today. The same blind brutality is on display whenever we turn on the TV set.

I. What did I like about the film?

1. The moonlight garden of Gethsemane works at several levels.

i) It is historically and theologically accurate, inasmuch as the Passion took place around the Sabbath, on a full-moon.

ii) It simulates the illusion of natural lighting.

iii) It also evokes a spooky lighting effect that fits in well with the introduction of the Devil.

iv) The lunar eclipse in the garden forms a natural inclusio to the solar eclipse on at Golgotha.

The ragged torchlight also has a nice menacing quality as the Temple guards approach to arrest our Lord.

2. Gibson’s depiction of the Devil is fairly successful. Filmmakers have difficulty in the portrayal of pure good and evil. They do well enough with the garden varieties of virtue and vice, because that is a commonplace of human experience, but the limiting-cases challenge their imagination. Are absolute good and evil merely an unadulterated extension of ordinary shades of gray, like the primary colors? Or are the extremes of the spectrum sui generis?

The danger in visualizing the devil is to present a villain who is so operatic in his gleeful iniquity that the character becomes unwittingly comic.

Mel’s androgynous devil, which is emblematic of moral ambiguity, manages to thread the needle. The point is not that Satan really is ambiguous, but although he is too evil to project virtue, he can at least conceal his vicious nature.

Later in the movie, the Devil’s gloating over the ordeal of Christ strikes just the right note. This is primordial payback. This is sweet revenge. He has succeeded--or so he believes--in foisting his hurt feelings back onto God, like a spiteful, malicious child who delights in inflicting pain on its parents.

Of course, the viewer knows something he doesn’t--that he has set a trap for himself. The devil loses by winning.

3. I like the Aramaic. For years we’ve been subjected to actors lining out the King James Version with a crisp aristocratic accent. This destroys all credibility.

The use of Aramaic reminds the modern viewer that Jesus is a concrete universal. He is, on the one hand, the eternal Son and the timeless Savior. And in that respect, Christ is ubiquitous in time and place. He is no more distant to a 21C Christian that he is to a 1C Christian.

But in our focus on his universality, we can lose the particularity of the Incarnation. He did not merely become man, but became a man--a man of a particular time and place.

I also like the Aramaic because it has rough, rich, full-throated quality. All-too-often in Christian iconography and Hollywood movies, Jesus comes across as something of a pantywaist. But the guttural resonance of Aramaic exudes a muscular and manly vigor.

4. The scene of Judas groveling to scrounge up the fallen pieces of silver, coin-by-coin, is effective as an unspoken emblem of his moral and spiritual debasement.

5. The healing of Malchus draws attention to divinity of Christ. This is a man, but more than a man. In a film which has left most of his ministry out of view, this divine insignia is a needed counterweight.

6. I like the way in which the Temple guards seize our Lord. They are like a fearful wolf-pack encircling a bear. The bear is more powerful. It can kill with one swipe.

7. Although the role of Christ is humanly impossible to play, Caviezel turns in far and away the best performance I’ve ever seen in this role.

8. His mother is played a wonderful Romanian actress--with a firm, winsome, empathetic face. And this is a film in which an expressive face goes a long ways, for much of it is a throwback to the silent film era.

9. Critics have said that the message of the Gospels gets lost in the myopic focus on the final hours of Christ. However, Gibson uses flashbacks to bring in more of the teaching and preaching of Christ.

Due to widespread Bible illiteracy, many critics miss the Biblical allusions. A viewer conversant with the Gospels can instantly separate the canonical material from the padding. Among other things, we are treated to brief excerpts from the Sermon on the Mount, the Bread of Life Discourse, the Good Shepherd Discourse, the Upper Room Discourse, Isa 66, Ps 22, Palm Sunday, Maundy-Thursday, and so on.

10. The shot of Mary clawing the gravel sticks in the mind.

11. Although I think that the movie is sometimes graphic to a fault, it makes every other film on the subject look like watching the world through smudgy stained-glass windows.

12. Some critics complain that the cameo scene of the Resurrection lacks balance. However, the contrast between the bloody pulp on Good Friday and the Risen Lord on Easter Sunday is quite powerful. The shot of his winding-sheet collapsing like a snakeskin, followed by a brief shot of his renewed figure, offers yet another forceful contrast. The open, but bloodless, wound in his palm bears mute witness to the reality of the Resurrection. This is no docetic ghost.

13. The shot of the soldiers gambling beneath the cross is both Biblical and dramatically effective as it exposes their spiritual blindness. Likewise, their terrified reaction to the eclipse and the earthquake awakens their moral apprehension. They got the wrong man--and more than a man!

The treatment of the two thieves is fine as far as it goes, but somewhat conventional. Having a raven peck out the eye of the blasphemous thief is a bit of black humor, but sheer fiction.

II. What did I not like about the film?

1. If Aramaic is a plus, Latin is a minus. The Latin is sonorous to the ear, especially when intoned in the cantabile lilt of the actors. But the use of Latin as a 1C lingua franca is anachronistic. The choice of Latin is likely a genuflection (pun intended) to the Tridentine Mass and Gregorian chant.

2. Some Evangelicals were critical of the scene in Gethsemane because the formal temptation of our Lord occurred in the wilderness.

However, Luke says that the devil departed until a more opportune season (4:13). So we should not limit his activity to the wilderness. Strictly speaking, the opportune season more likely has reference to the possession of Judas (22:3). I would prefer if Gibson had developed that line of thought.

Because the director isn’t shooting a life of Christ, he brings the temptation forward in time, so that the Passion narrative recapitulates key moments in the life of Christ. Gibson usually does this through flashbacks. This is artistic license, and valid up to a point.

That does, however, have a way of skewing the theology of the original scene, which is not about Christ and the devil, but about the Father and the Son. In particular, it’s about the covenant of redemption, which unites them in purpose, but drives them apart in practice as the Father must smite him who is Son and sin-bearer in one.

It would have been more dramatically and doctrinally effective if Gibson had been able to exploit this tension. But he is not that theologically astute.

3. In the garden, the subtitles have Jesus denote the bitter cup as a "chalice." This is a Catholic touch, and quite out of place, for the cup in question has nothing to do with the Last Supper or Lord’s Supper. Rather, it is an OT allusion to the cup of divine wrath and judgment (Ps 11:6; 60:3; 75:8; Isa 29:9-10; 51:17,21-23; 63:6; Jer 25:15-29; Lam 4:21; Zech 12:2).

Likewise, the scene of Jesus "elevating" the unleavened bread is an anachronistic allusion to the elevation of the "Host" by a priest at Mass.

4. I can’t help noticing that the snake looks like a small boa constrictor. Not only don’t these inhabit Palestine, but they are non-venomous. It would be better to use a viper, which is more malevolent than a baby boa.

5. The suicide of Judas is overwrought. I don’t know the point of the juvenile furies who torment him--like something that walked right out of Hieronymous Bosch painting. Are these his inner demons? As a demoniac, the phrase might apply to Judas with startling literality. Still, it leaves the viewer scratching his head.

6. The scene with Herod is also overwrought--a little too reminiscent of Charles Laughton as Nero.

7. The Roman soldiers are overwrought. No doubt some soldiers had a sadistic streak, but I expect that many were too callous to take pleasure in the infliction of pain and suffering. Killing was routine. They went about their job in the most efficient and businesslike way availble.

In addition, Christ could not have made it all the way to Golgotha if he were whipped like a back-broken mule every step of the way--especially when made to shoulder that absurdly huge and heavy cross.

8. The film has far too many reaction shots. These serve a couple of purposes:

i) They cut away from the figure of Christ, so that we are not always looking at this same thing. This is a legitimate device. It breaks the tedium.

ii) They function as a prompter’s box, tacitly cueing the audience as to how it should feel about what it sees. This is not a legitimate device. Rather, that’s an artistic defect.

A reaction shot is the cinematic equivalent of an editorial narrator who tells the reader what to think. Resorting to this gimmick reflects a lack of trust on the part of the director. He doesn’t trust the audience to react the right way. And he doesn’t trust his presentation sufficiently to do the job on its own.

This is a pity, because Gibson's treatment has more than enough dramatic power to work on the audience and evoke the desired response. Plastering the viewer with reaction shots weakens rather than augments the effect. He should let his presentation do the work without intrusive cues.

9. Another problem with reaction shots is that they turn Jesus into an object of pity. This is a piece of false piety. Christ is not a pitiful victim.

10. There is much too much of Mary. We see her in almost every scene. Wherever we see Jesus, Mary is never far behind.

Here we arrive at a theological divide. For Gibson, there is a dramatic and doctrinal parity between the Mother of God and the Son of God, the Mater Dolorosa and the Via Dolorosa, Redeemer and Redemptrix.

In one scene, Gibson also draws a parallel between the Madonna and child--now a grown child--on one side, with Satan and the Antichrist child, on the other.

That gives the movie a certain aesthetic symmetry. But from an Evangelical standpoint, this is a dramatic distraction and a doctrinal disaster. If Jesus is the only way (Jn 14:6; 1 Tim 2:5; 2 Jn 2:2), then any other way is in the way.

In fact, it even goes beyond parity. In one scene, Peter confesses to Mary; while there are also times when Jesus seems to renew his strength from the inspiration of his mother. At one level, this is rather infantile, while at another level it foments a theological inversion of values.

All these points are made at a tacit, nearly subliminal level. It is possible for this to pass right over the head of the average viewer. So I speak only for myself.

The Pieta scene that rounds out the crucifixion, just before the Resurrection, is another plug for Catholic iconography.

11. There is too much on the idea of unconditional absolution. This involves the combination of selective, one-sided citations, along with a couple of apocryphal addenda as well. However popular the scene of the woman taken in adultery (Jn 7:53-8:11) may be in the Christian imagination, it is a spurious scribal addition. Likewise, Lk 23:34 is of dubious authenticity.

When the theme of forgiveness is sheared from the corollary theme of judgment, and when forgiveness is also decoupled from the redemption of the elect, it becomes a lame and limp-wristed gesture.

12. Many critics have accused Gibson of turning Pilate into a sympathetic character, contrary to the Biblical and extra-Biblical depiction of Pilate.

There’s some truth to this charge. Gibson has made the figure of Pilate into a more complex character than he was in real life.

However, I don’t see him as a sympathetic character. Rather, he comes across as a man who feels superior to the people he must govern. He is so reasonable, but they are so unreasoning. They are unworthy of a man of his fine intelligence. They leave him no choice. What can you do with people like this? His hands are tied.

This is a valid characterization. Surely there are men in power who think this way. This is how they excuse their actions.

But, of course, it’s no excuse at all. They look down on the people they govern, but no one was forcing them into this position in the first place. If, at the end of the day, you do the bidding of your moral and intellectual inferiors--as you deem them--then you are no better than they. Indeed, you are worse, for in your own estimate, you know better, without doing better. You make yourself the pawn of those you despise.

Having said all that, the movie would be better if Gibson stuck with the original--both because it’s true to history, and because it is dramatically effective. Pilate is a conflicted character, not because his conscience is at odds with his pragmatism, but because he is torn between two opposing fears. On the one hand, he is afraid that the political situation will get out of hand. There will be an insurrection. Caesar doesn’t like a Procurator who can’t keep the peace. Worse, Pilate might be denounced to Caesar as disloyal.

On the other hand, Pilate finds the charge against Christ to be unnervingly plausible. His fear is not that the charge is false, but that the charge may be true. What if Jesus really is the Son of God? He has a certain aura about him.

To be sure, Pilate’s theology is not especially rarified, but even a pagan god is more formidable than any mere mortal. It would be decidedly imprudent to get on the wrong side of a god!

In the end, Pilate chooses short-term expediency over long-term expediency.

13. Critics complain that all the nonstop bloodshed is numbing. The spirit of the Gospel disappears under a thick coat of purple gore.

This charge is a little tricky to sort out. The scourging, crowning, nailing, and impaling, are gory events. That’s a fact. Up to a point, it’s good to see this. The printed page does not pack the same punch as an image on the big screen. It is ugly and brutal, but it happened.

In addition, the principle of blood atonement is a fixture in Scripture. This is the Gospel. It is foreshadowed in the OT, and fulfilled in the New. It is ugly and brutal, but sin is ugly and brutal, and the exaction of justice is also ugly and brutal. No getting around this. Sin has no admission fee--you pay on the way out.

Also, how we react to violence is high subjective and person-variable. Women tend to be more sensitive to this than men. I myself have been exposed to so much simulated violence on TV and film that I'm pretty well inured to it all.

But there were a few moments when I could not help but wince. There is one point in the flogging where the scourge becomes wedged in his tissues like fishhooks, to be dislodged with a savage jerk, ripping free bleeding chunks of living flesh. Another was when his flayed epidermis is dragged across the bare pavement. Yet another was when the nails were pounded into his palms, with the wood shuddering under each blow and amplifying the overall effect.

The spectacle of Jesus falling down, as well as the cross falling on top of him, would have the same effect if it were more real to me, but these are legendary details derived from the traditional iconography of the fourteen Stations of the Cross.

Again, the crowning with thorns might also have the same effect except that we've seen this sort of thing in many Jesus films before. What makes the difference is when Gibson brings a new touch to an old story.

It also makes a difference who you think is undergoing this torture. If you believe it to be the divine Redeemer, who chooses to endure this torment in your place, that, too, makes a world of difference.

The shot of the blood-bespattered face of his tormentors is appropriate inasmuch as it speaks to their hard-hearted depravity.

However, there are limits. When Mary kisses his bloodied feet, her lips are smeared with blood. When Christ is impaled, the soldier is drenched in a shower of baptismal blood. She and the Magdalene--whom the director, following a venerable but unscriptural tradition, equates with the woman caught in adultery--also mop up the blood after his flogging. None of this is Scriptural.

To Gibson, thought, this is a metaphor for the Mass. It also has a history in the tradition of Catholic martyriology.

Once again we reach a theological impasse. In Scripture, the theological significance of blood serves two or three related functions:

i) Bloodshed was one way of sealing a covenant (e.g., Gen 15; 17; Exod 24; Mt 26:28). This carries over into our modern notion of a blood-pact.

ii) Bloodshed was emblematic of life given over to death (e.g. Lev 17:11; Heb 12:24).

iii) Bloodshed was emblematic of vicarious atonement, as the victim was slaughtered in lieu of the suppliant (e.g., Lev 16).

To the extent that Mel’s movie degenerates into a splatter-film, drenched in buckets of indiscriminate bloodletting, it loses the true significance of blood atonement in Scripture.

14. Caviezel intones Ps 22:1 as a cry of despair. However, in the days before chapter and verse division, one way of referring to a literary unit was to cite the first sentence. Although Ps 22 begins on a despairing note, it ends on a note of victory. The Psalm is a statement of faith and resignation to the will of God, rather than an expression of spiritual doubt.

15. Mel makes heavy use of the subjective camera. One especially striking instance is the God’s-eye view of cross, reminiscent of Dali’s famous painting, follow by a teardrop from heaven as our Lord expires. On an artistic plane, this is brilliant.

For me, however, the movie only works when history and artistry work in tandem. Since this detail is unscriptural, it fails to edify, for faith must have a factual object.

Likewise, the shot of the dove along the Via Dolorosa, recalling the Baptism of Christ, is another artistic stroke that works well at an imaginative level, but being imaginary, fails to reverberate within the soul.

In sum, I would say that The Passion is a great film, but a flawed film. Gibson is an erratic moviemaker, by turns subtle and heavy-handed. What Gibson does well, he does very well indeed--which is most of the time. The film is well-worth watching, although some scenes repel repeated viewing.
8

Who wrote the Bible?-3

4. Pauline epistles.

All of the NT writings are either by first or second generation Christians. The Apostolate had an inbuilt time limit (Acts 1:21-22). Paul is a partial exception, but an exception that proves the rule, for he is acutely sensitive to his anachronistic status, like the issue of a miscarriage (1 Cor 15:1). Paul is a paradigm of grace, and not Apostleship (1 Tim 1:15-16). As such, this special case sets no precedent for an open canon, and indeed militates against pseudonymity. When someone tried to palm off a letter under an assumed name, the alias was shot down by the fact that Paul was still on the scene (2 Thes 2:2; 3:17).

If Paul, as a relative latecomer to the faith, could begin a theological correspondence in the 40s (e.g. Galatians; 1-2 Thessalonians), why assume that we have to late-date the Gospels to the 60s (conservative estimate) or 80s (liberal estimate)?

The differences, such as they are, between various letters are only to be expected given the changes in occasion, setting, subject-matter, purpose, audience adaptation and so on. If we took any single letter of Paul’s and divided it down the middle, performing word counts and thematic analysis, we could draw up an impressive list of statistical anomalies and shifting emphases between the A section and the B section. We could write up a learned monograph on the theology of deutero-B. The very contrast between genuine and deutero-Paulines assumes a circular standard of comparison inasmuch as it identifies a core corpus of "authentic" letters in advance of the comparison. It then selects a set of letters that falls outside this control group, and which are related in style and subject-matter (Colossians/Ephesians; the Pastorals). By definition, this set is more dissimilar to the core corpus than it is to the set since its members were singled out on account of their similarity.

On the one hand, liberals classify the Prison Epistles (especially Ephesians & Colossians as deutero-Pauline because they are too much alike; on the other hand, they classify the Pastorals as deutero-Pauline because they are too like Romans or Galatians. The entire spectacle is clownish without being funny.

Another objection of the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals is the alleged difficulty of squeezing them into a Lucan chronology. That, however, is mainly a matter of omission. If Paul was released and rearrested, there would be time to accommodate the Pastorals. But beyond getting Paul to Rome, in fulfillment of Luke’s programmatic plan (Acts 1:8), it is not to Luke’s purpose to peg St. Paul’s every move. The Pauline letters contain personal tidbits not recorded in Acts. Lucan historiography is essentially theological rather than biographical: biography is instrumental to theology.

The abrupt ending of Acts is open-ended, and the usual explanation is, in fact, that the trials of Paul had not reached their final disposition.

Scholars like Robinson have also shown that it is possible fit the Pastorals into the timeframe of Acts without extending the timeline. This calls for certain adjustments, but every opposing position, be it liberal or conservative, lines up the variables in its own chosen way.

Ironically, the liberal position can only take a liberal view of the Pastorals by taking a conservative view of Acts. It employs the history of Acts as the point of reference. This is only valid if you assume that Acts is historical. If so, then why be so sceptical of the Pastoral Epistles?

There is no evidence that the early church ever accepted a letter under an assumed name except when laboring under the false impression that it was really written by the designated writer. Indeed, the idea that the Pastorals are forgeries represents the reductio ad absurdum of liberal scepticism.

The liberal would have us assume that the forger pretended to write a private letter in the name of a dead Apostle, known to be dead. What would such a transparent imposture accomplish?

And who was the recipient of the letter? Is Timothy a real person? If so, he’d hardly be receptive to such a letter. Or is Timothy part of the pretense? If so, what church or Christian community would accept it? To whom was it written? What happens when I mail a letter with a nonexistent return address to nonexistent address? Isn’t that the perfect way to lose a letter?

Some of the liberals suppose that Timothy wrote a letter to himself in the name of Paul. Really? Would a liberal write himself a letter in the name of a deceased professor? This sort of theorizing best belongs in a padded cell.

Given that we have anonymous letters in the NT canon (Hebrews; 1-3 John), what would be the incentive of writing under a pseudonym except to secure a respectful hearing by trading on someone else’s good name, such as the writer could not secure in his own name?

But this is unethical. It would secure a deferential hearing under false pretenses. One wonders if commentators who are so tolerant of forgeries would be as tolerant if one of their students wrote a book or article in the name of the professor.

To attribute a letter to an anonymous forger, the critic bears some burden to postulate the occasion, purpose, and life-setting of the forger. This takes him deep into the realm of the unknown—where a hundred hypotheticals could be equally true or false, where one conjecture builds upon another in a vanishing regress of retreating probabilities.

This is not to deny an important place for detecting forgeries, but there needs to be clear-cut evidence, e.g., blatant anachronisms, ill-gotten gain, inexplicable differences in style.

Paul expressly disapproves of pseudonymity (2 Thes 2:2; 3:17). As far as I can see, the category of canonical pseudepigrapha is a modern makeshift of scholars too liberal to accept the self-witness of Scripture and too spineless to sever their nominal ties with the Christian faith. See the pointed remarks by Ellis, The Making of the New Testament Documents, 322-24.

Honesty aside, there’s a deeper reason for Paul’s stance. He has premised the truth of his gospel on personal revelation (cf. Gal 1-2; 2 Cor 12:1ff.). A forger would lack the revelatory qualifications to present the Pauline gospel on his own authority. This is not the sort of task that can be delegated to a second party. Paul claims apostolic authority for his message. Normally, an Apostle had to be an eyewitness to the ministry of Christ (Acts 1:21-22). Paul is a quasi-exception inasmuch as he’s a virtual eyewitness—having seen and heard the Risen Lord in a vision. A forger cannot lay claim to this inspired backing—any more than I could. Again, the epistles are critical of fantastic and fanciful claims (1 Tim 1:4; 2 Tim 4:4; Tit 1:14; 2 Pet 1:16).

Yet the liberals are not through, for their fallback is to declare 2 Thessalonians unauthentic. In other words, what we really have in 2 Thes 2:2; 3:17 is a forger warning against forgery! But what’s the point of getting into an argument with a conspiracy theorist? In reading liberal literature one can’t help thinking of Gen. Ripper and his bottled water. Everything becomes grist for the cosmic cover-up. Again, though, if pseudonymity had been such an accepted practice, why is Paul at pains to distinguish his words from the ipsissima verba of Christ (1 Cor 7:10, 12,25; 1 Thes 4:15)? Why is Luke so scrupulous about distinguishing the "we-sections" (in Acts) from the scenes in which he was not a participant? Why is the author of Hebrews so conscientious about distancing himself from the eyewitnesses? Why is the author of the Fourth Gospel so indirect about identifying himself?

5. 2 Pet-Jude

2 Peter is the favorite target of attack due to the dramatic difference in style between it and 1 Peter. This calls for several replies:
i) Many of the same critics also deny the authenticity of 1 Peter. But unless 1 Peter supplies the standard of comparison, how would a deviation from the style of 1 Peter prejudice the authenticity of 2 Peter?
ii) As a general proposition, a different style may indicate a different author, although this is hard to quantify, and turns on other factors as well, such as genre, subject-matter, stylistic evolution, audience adaptation and so on. In the case of forgery, however, the presumption is reversed insofar as we expect the counterfeit to imitate as closely as possible the style of the exemplar.
iii) It may be objected that use of loaded terms like "forgery," "fraud," "fabrication," "counterfeit," &c., poison the well. Since pseudonymity was an accepted literary device, as one can witness in the testamentary literature—of which 2 Peter is a specimen—these pejorative characterizations make a morally charged issue out of an innocent practice.

But was pseudonymity just a literary device? And was it acceptable by the standard of Scriptural ethics? Comparisons with the testamentary literature assume that OT farewell speeches were also fictitious. It is tendentious to argue from the alleged pseudonymity of the OT genre to the alleged pseudonymity of the NT genre. And the appeal to Jewish pseudepigrapha (e.g. 1 Enoch; The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs) is counter-productive, for writers only resorted to this "device" because the OT canon was already closed. So it can hardly furnish a precedent for the NT canon.

Moreover, the death of Moses and the Apostles really would mark a transitional phase in the life of the religious community which they have established, so that their final instructions (e.g. Deut 30-33; 2 Peter; Pastorals) are inevitably preoccupied with the orderly transfer of power, custodianship of the message and forewarnings regarding future threats to the community of faith. All this follows from the concrete life-setting. The fact that forgers imitated this form no more validates pseudepigrapha than the fact that Gnostics penned pseudonymous gospels validates the NT apocrypha. Only a critic who is utterly out of touch with the down-to-earth dynamics of a nascent religious movement would attribute all this to literary artifice.
iv) It is reductionistic to equate the epistolary genre with the testamentary genre. We only have to contrast 2 Peter with, say, Gen 49, to see how overstated the comparison is. For a critique of this identification and its bearing on pseudonymity, cf. J. Charles, Virtue Admidst Vice: The Catalog of Virtues in 2 Peter 1 (Sheffield, 1997), 49-75.
v) The logical motive for a literary forgery is to secure a respectful hearing, which the true author could not hope for in his own identity, by deceiving the prospective reader into supposing that it was written by an authoritative figure. To say this is not primarily to characterize the morality of the motive, but merely to describe the motive. It is, first of all, a statement of fact and not a value-judgment. And this ought not to be in dispute.

However, scholars who believe that the canon includes pseudepigrapha are defensive about this description. They don’t like the word "forgery" because it carries an odious connotation. Lying behind this reaction is their own theological positioning. They don’t believe the self-attributions of Scripture, but they also don’t wish to remove a book from the canon just because it’s pseudonymous.

Put another way, they don’t want their position branded as "liberal." They view themselves as Christian believers who honor the authority of Scripture. And they try to show that there is a faithful middle-ground between traditional orthodoxy and liberal infidelity. To this end, they argue that pseudonymity was a morally innocuous convention. But there are two problems with that line of approach:
a) It confounds the viewpoint of the scholar with the viewpoint of the text. He is coming to the text with a personal agenda. He objects to the judgmental connotation of a "forgery," not only because that would reflect on the book, but because that would also reflect on his own theological compromise. But this intrudes a concern that is extraneous to the text. A commentator should assume a more disinterested stance. Critical detachment is a prerequisite in historical studies. This doesn’t mean that a scholar either cannot or should not have a personal stake in the debate. What it does mean, rather, is that he should observe enough distance between his own views and the text before him that he allows the text to speak for itself. Whether or not "forgery" is an invidious characterization is irrelevant to the factual identification of a document. To classify the False Decretals as Medieval forgeries is not, in the first instance, to render a moral judgment, but merely to identify their literary genre.

Because moderate scholars are so sensitive to a loaded word like "forgery," they shy away from it and attempt to justify the practice. But whatever the independent merits of their argument, they can’t take this classification out of play simply because it is charged with disreputable overtones. For that would prejudge the genre. Are we saying that an ancient writer would never operate under an assumed identity in order to ingratiate himself with the reader by trading on the good name of the ostensive author? Should we rule out dishonest motives in advance? This is obviously irresponsible.
b) By trying to neutralize the suspect reputation of pseudonymity, these scholars have destroyed the very rationale for pseudonymity. For if pseudonymity were an accepted literary device, so that the reader took its attribution to be a patent pretence, then why the pretense? In that event, why wouldn’t the author issue the document in his own name? If no one is taken in by the pose, why not drop the pose? What is to be gained by assuming a pose that everyone can see through? The traditional motive for penning a forgery supplies a perfectly coherent rationale—you get something that you could not otherwise obtain by honest means. But in their efforts to remove the ethical sting of forgery, moderate scholars have made the whole exercise self-defeating.

The idea of innocent forgeries is one of the many armchair theories offered by mediating scholars to justify their fence-straddling faith. It mirrors the motives of the scholar rather than forger. The strategy is always the same: take something from real life and then modify it in a direction favorable to the current version of mediating theology. But the modification puts it at one or more removes from real life.

There is another straightforward way of accounting for the stylistic differences between 1-2 Peter. If Silvanus was the amanuensus for 1 Peter, then he may have given Peter some stylistic advice. As Peter dictated a phrase, Silvanus might say, "Wouldn’t this be a more idiomatic way of expressing the same idea?" If Peter approved, that then wording would then be committed to writing.

But since Peter makes no reference to a possible amanuensis in 2 Peter, it is reasonable to assume that he penned that himself. (One might add that if 2 Peter were a forgery, why didn’t the forger finish with another reference to Silvanus for the sake of verisimilitude?) And, as is not uncommon in official or literary settings, he may well have tried to write it in a tonier style that he could really command. One thinks of a courtroom setting where a working-class witness is in the dock. Made self-conscious by his surroundings, he will often strive for a more formal standard of English than he has mastery of.

This still preserves the inerrancy of the document, for inerrancy is concerned with the veracity of the original. Fine-points of grammar and style are devoid of truth- value. Although we are accustomed to speak of "incorrect" grammar, grammatical mistakes merely break conventional rules of discourse rather than violating the veracity of a statement. They aren’t the same as factual errors. We don’t say that bad grammar is "false." God can inspire bad grammar without committing falsehood. But the self-witness of a document (e.g. authorship) is a truth-valued claim.

Although this reconstruction involves an element of conjecture, it is less speculative than pseudonymous schemes. It has the virtue of operating on the basis of internal pointers (5:12), our general knowledge of Peter’s background (Gospels & Acts), as well as common sense—the last named item being a rare commodity in higher criticism.

2 Pet-Jude are also synoptic. Either one uses the other or both make use of a common source. There would be nothing unsuitable about an Apostle making use of Jude, for Jude was a half-brother of the Lord. Conversely, there would be nothing unsuitable about Jude making use of a leading Apostle. Their literary interrelationship is sometimes attributed to a common oral source. This requires some independent basis of comparison to assess the range of continuity and discontinuity we might expect under that scenario. What would count as an external check?

To take one such example, the proclamation of the First Crusade by Urban II comes down to us in four independent accounts by contemporary witnesses. But when we compare the summary of Urban’s speech by Fulcher of Chartres with the version by Robert the Monk (Cf. Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History 1/2 [University of Pennsylvania, 1897], 2-8.) there is nothing by way of imagery, sequence, or subject-matter to match the parallels we encounter between 2 Pet-Jude. This suggests to me that a common oral source cannot account for the literary interrelation of 2 Peter to Jude. Now perhaps my choice of examples is defective. My problem is that NT scholars don’t offer any external controls on their appeal to an oral source. An alternative is to suppose that Peter and Jude both made use of a common written source. While this can’t be ruled out, it is unsound scholarly method to postulate unverifiable sources when the extant sources can account for the phenomena in question.

There is no intelligent reason to doubt the authenticity of Jude. If it were pseudonymous, it would identify the author as the Lord’s brother—trading on that matchless association. Instead it identifies the author as the brother of James. That relationship carried a certain prestige as well, but modest when compared with direct dominical affinity.

Some scholars have identified Jude with Judas Barsabbas (Acts 15:22,27,32). Since, however, James already had a blood-brother by that name (Mt 13:55; Mk 6:3) this would be a confusing self-designation--absent further contextual clues. Use of the surname ("Barsabbas") would have been more intelligible.

The fact that Jude refers to a couple of extracanonical writings has left its own canonical status suspect in some quarters. But this is nothing new. Moses quotes from the Book of Wars and Song of Heshbon (Num 21:14,27-30; cf. Jer 48:45-46), and the Book of Jashar is quoted in Joshua (10:12?-13) and Samuel (2 Sam 1:18ff.), while the author of Hebrews draws on Intertestamental sources (Heb 11:34ff.).

But the real problem, it may be objected, is not so much that Jude quotes from extracanonical writings, as that he doesn’t distinguish between historical sources and pious fictions. This is more an issue of inerrancy than canonicity. The fact, however, that a sacred author quotes from an extracanonical source doesn’t commit him to accepting it at face value. Moses offers a subversive reading of the Song of Heshbon. It was originally an Amorite taunt-song. Now the tables are turned as Israel bests the Amorites and makes them eat their own words! The irony trades on a conspicuous contrast between the original context and its recontextualization.

For his part, Jeremiah preserves the original referent (Moab), but time-shifts the terms fulfillment from past to future. In other words, he recycles it. So Moses and Jeremiah both disregard original intent as they reorient the material to score points. No doubt it’s precisely because they’re dealing with uninspired and, indeed, "uncircumcised" sources, that they exercise such license. Here, inerrancy extends to an inspired adaptation of the primary source, and not necessarily to the primary source itself, considered in its life-setting. The application is authoritative, and not the original viewpoint.

1 Enoch is a sectarian document of Essene pedigree. Cf. R. Beckwith, "The Earliest Enoch Literature and its Calendar," Revue de Qumran 39 (Feb 1981), 365-403.

It would never have found its way into the Temple archive alongside the canonical scrolls or from there into the synagogal lectionaries (cf. Lk 4:17; Acts 13:15,27; 15:21). Cf. J. Mann, The Bible as Read and Preached in the Old Synagogue, vol. 1 (Ktav, 1971).

Josephus, a Pharisee who accompanied Vespasian and Titus when they captured Jerusalem and despoiled the Temple, indicates that the Temple was the repository for holy books of Judaism (Life 75; War 5,7.). That would comport with OT precedent (cf. Exod 25:16; Deut 10:5; 17:18; 31:9,26; 1 Sam 10:25; 2 Chron 29:30). This official registry presumably set the standard for lectionary usage as well. Nor do we find Jude employing standard scriptural citation formulas (e.g. "it is written," "scripture says"). Hence, there is no positive reason to suppose that Jude ranked this material with Holy Writ.

The Assumption of Moses betrays Essene and Pharisaic traits. Cf. R. Beckwith, "Daniel 9 and the Date of Messiah’s Coming," Revue de Qumran 40 (Dec 1981), 521-542. A number of his essays are reprinted in Calendar & Chronology: Jewish & Christian (Leiden: Brill 1996).

Based on its studied allusion to the 34 year reign of Herod (6:6; cf. Josephus, Ant. 17.8.1.), the Testament of Moses dates at the earliest to the turn of the 1C AD. It is extremely far-fetched to suppose that a mid-1C author like Jude would be appealing to such a novel document—with no representation in the Temple archives or synagogal lectionaries—as canonical writ. Indeed, R. Bauckham has proposed that the Assumption may be itself dependent on Jude, who is—in turn—dependent on the Testament of Moses. Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (T&T Clark, 1990), 235ff.

From what we can tell, Jude viewed this material as inspirational literature (a la 1 Maccabees) rather than inspired literature. As judged by Protestant standards, his usage is somewhat incautious, but that’s because he didn’t have to guard against contemporary misunderstanding, whereas the conflict with Rome has forced us to spell out our canonical commitments (e.g. WCF 1:1-3; cf. Trent, session 4).

If 2 Peter either adapted Jude or else a source common to both, then that
would color his vocabulary and phrasing. As such, I don’t see that stylistic differences between 1-2 Peter prejudice the case for the apostolicity of either. Only if, in each case, Peter were starting from scratch would a direct stylistic comparison be meaningful. For unless he had a completely free hand in the composition of both, his personal prose style, such as it was, would be sublimated to his sources. One should expect the influence of source on style to figure more forcefully in the debate, yet it’s oddly overlooked. Although the priority of Jude is no more certain than the reverse order of dependence, yet for that very reason it introduces a wild card into the deck of our stylistic calculations.

Guthrie notes a number of verbal parallels between the Petrine speeches in Acts and 2 Pet: "for instance, the words 'receive' (2 Pet 1:1; cf. Acts 1:17), 'godliness' (1:6; cf. 3;12), 'day of the Lord' (3:10; cf. Acts 2:20) and 'punishment' (2:9; cf. Acts 4:21) all occur in both books," New Testament Introduction (IVP 1990), 838. When you consider the extreme brevity of the Petrine speeches, it's statistically improbable that we'd find any verbal commonalities barring common authorship.

In addition, E.F. Harrison has drawn up a list of verbal parallels between 1-2 Peter, on the one hand, and 2 Peter and the Petrine speeches in Acts, on the other. Cf. Introduction to the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1982), 424-425.

B.B.Warfield has also drawn up a list of verbal and doctrinal parallels. Cf. Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield (P&R, 1973), 2:71. These strike me as too distinctive to be coincidental, yet too unassuming to be contrived.

The assumption that every NT author had a personal style is overdrawn. None of the NT authors were professional writers, so that, as a rule, we wouldn’t expect them to cultivate a distinctive prose style. The author of Hebrews is the only NT writer with a consistent and conscious literary sense. To a lesser degree, Luke is stylistically self-conscious. The personal stamp of a forceful personality may also impress itself on the medium. Insofar as Paul and John can command an arresting style, that is due to their tremendous intellectual and temperamental energy. What comes through is the man behind the prose. But most of the NT authors lack such a powerful presence. So unless an author is either a calculated stylist or a charismatic personality, the literary critics are measuring the NT documents by a nonexistent yardstick.

In judging Jude’s estimate of Jewish pseudepigrapha, we must remember that his brother was a very traditional Jew, as is evident from his letter, his administration of the Jerusalem church (e.g. Acts 15), and his ultraist disciples (Gal 2:12ff.). Given this establishmentarian emphasis, it is unlikely in the extreme that he would have ranked sectarian (=Essene) literature on par with Scripture. Now it is no doubt possible that his kid brother was less conservative, but to assume that Jude was way out of the mainstream isn’t very plausible given the impact and position of his elder brother. This was a society in which primogeniture mattered. What’s more, the leadership of James over the Jerusalem church was such that his kid brother could never have functioned in that body unless he enjoyed big brother’s approval. There would have been no receptive constituency for the very letter under review.

In sum, there are many reasonable grounds for reaffirming the traditional authorship of Scripture, but none for disaffirming it.
ˇ

Who wrote the Bible?-2

3. Johannine Corpus

What's the internal evidence for the apostolic authorship of the Fourth Gospel?
i) The work claims to be by an eyewitness (1:14; 19:35; 21:20,24; cf. 1 Jn 1:1ff.).
ii) Besides these more explicit claims, the evidence of an eye-witness includes the narrator’s unobtrusive command of minutiae—the time of day (1:39; 4:6; 19:14), the number of fish (21:11); the number of water pots and their capacity (2:6); the weight of embalming spices (19:39); the name of a servant (18:10), and so on. Just take a brief sentence like—"now at the Sheepgate in Jerusalem there’s a pool—which in Aramaic goes by the name of Bethesda--with five colonnades" (5:2). Because an eyewitness has a lot of extraneous information at his fingertips, it spills over into his narrative, even where it is quite inessential to the main point.
This doesn’t mean that John would record everything to which he was an eyewitness. To begin with, he may not have felt the need to rehash incidents already covered in the Synoptics. Moreover, his selection is based on episodes that illustrate his primary purpose (20:30-31; 21:25).
iii) A phenomenon that hasn’t received much attention in this regard, but which I regard as quite compelling evidence, is the way in which the Evangelist will gloss a statement of Christ’s (e.g. 1:38,42; 2:17,22; 4:2; 6:6,10,46,64,71; 11:13; 20:16). The very fact that the Evangelist draws a distinction between a dominical saying and his own editorial comment assumes that he is reproducing the words of Christ, for he wouldn’t put words in the mouth of Jesus and then jump in to correct possible misapprehension. Rather, this only makes sense if he is faithfully recording what Jesus actually said, and then adding a parenthetical aside for the benefit of the reader. Because John was on the scene, he is privy to the original setting as well as its retrospective significance.
iv) Another indicator is that the author identifies himself as the "beloved disciple" (13:23; 19:26; 21:7,20), and by process of elimination, the Apostle John is the hands on favorite. I might add that if pseudonymity had been an accepted device in Christian circles, and if the Apostle were not the real author of the Fourth Gospel, the writer would not have been so oblique about advertising his apostolic credentials.

In this general connection, have you noticed how the critics insist on the anonymity of the Gospels and the pseudonymity of the Epistles? This is psychologically incoherent since motives of anonymity are incompatible with the motives for pseudonymity.

The use of the plural in 21:24 is likely an editorial "we." The shift from singular to plural in 21:24 is a trifle awkward if the same speaker is in view in both cases. However, Johannine usage is not fixed in this regard (1:14; 19:35; 21:20; 1 Jn 1:1ff.; 3 Jn 12). It would be at least as awkward if we were to attribute the verse to a redactor—if not more so, since one would expect a redactor to smooth out the idiosyncratic variety in favor of a more uniform usage. Indeed, it would not be uncharacteristic of John to be bringing together the first-person singular, plural, and third-person forms of address at this climactic point in the narrative. This is probably a linguistic quirk which he picked up from his Master (cf. Jn 3:11).

The present tense form of the verb (marturon) makes more sense if John is still alive, in which case he also penned the closing verses.
v) A very subtle pointer is the fact that in this Gospel, the Baptist is referred to simply as John, without the qualification introduced by the Synoptics. Now that omission is very understandable if the Apostle John were the author, since in his mind there’s no imminent danger of confusing himself with the other John, while his immediate audience would know his true identity as well.
vi) Dorothy Sayers is best remembered as a mystery writer, but she was also, among other things, a fine Medievalist. It’s often helpful when someone from an outside discipline takes a fresh look at an old issue. Bible scholarship is faddish and clannish. Each new school of criticism fancies that it has discovered the master key for unlocking Scripture, until that key is discarded in the next paradigm-shift. One of her projects was to write a play cycle on the life of Christ. This confronted Sayers with the challenge of reducing the four Gospels to a single storyline, as well as supplying the motives driving the dramatic action and linking one scene to the next. Solving this practical problem led Sayers to pick up on things in John that completely escape the notice of liberal critics. To quote a few of her observations:
"The Synoptists, on the whole, report the "set pieces"; it is St. John who reports the words and actions of the individual...who knows the time of year, the time of day, where people sat, and how they got from one place to another. It is John who remembers, not only what Jesus said, but what other people said to him, who can reproduce the cut-and-thrust of controversy, and the development of argument.

"Indeed, when John is the authority for any scene, or when John’s account is at hand to supplement those of the Synoptists, the playwright’s task is easy. Either the dialogue is a all there—vivid and personal on both sides—or the part of the interlocutor can be readily reconstructed from the replies given. And it is frequently John who supplies the reason and meaning of actions and speeches that in the Synoptists appear unexplained and disconnected. Thus, after the Feeding of the Five Thousand, there seems to be no very good reason why Jesus should have withdrawn Himself and sent the disciples across the lake by themselves; but John supplies the missing motive and also the answer to one or two practical questions, e.g. how the disciples were able to see Jesus coming across the water (it was near Passover, therefore the moon was full)," The Man Born to be King (Ignatius, 1990), 27.

This is exactly the shakedown we would expect given the traditional authorship of the Gospels. Luke relies on eyewitness testimony. Mark also relies on eyewitness testimony, although he may supplement this with eyewitness observation on the public ministry of Christ in Jerusalem. Matthew reuses Mark but also supplements his source with personal observation. But it’s John, as a member of the inner circle, and one of the two earliest disciples, who would be the best informed about who did this or said that when, where, and why—either because he was on site, or free to ask follow-up questions. I’m assuming that John is the unnamed disciple in chapter one. The temporal markers (1:29,35,39,43) indicate the presence of an eyewitness. Moreover, mention of the "beloved disciple" in chapter thirteen would be abrupt and inexplicable without this preparatory introduction.

Liberals don’t so much deny these inferences as sidestep them by arguing that it’s all part of the impersonation. But this argument suffers from several flaws:
i) If the author were prepared to assume a false identity in order to win a following for his message, why not fabricate a fraudulent autobiography of Jesus instead of a fraudulent biography? Why not eliminate the middleman altogether and speak in the voice of the Master? Indeed, we have an example of this in the apocryphal correspondence between Christ and King Abgar (Cf. Eusebius, H.E., 13:13-22). That would be more in keeping with the motives of a forger. The only reason why the apocryphal gospels don’t make that move is that the die was already cast with the canonical gospels, and so the Apocrypha were left to imitate revered precedent.
ii) Or if, for whatever unaccountable reason, a forger chose to pen a biographical rather than autobiographical fraud, the strategy would then be to portray himself as a devoted and discerning disciple of the Master. This is a standard dynamic in master/mentor to apprentice/disciple relations. The protégé’s credentials to carry on the tradition of the Master lie in his claim to be a trusted and diligent disciple of the Master. Indeed, controversies flare up over who is the authentic custodian of the Master’s legacy, with rival schools springing up. So if the Fourth Gospel were pseudonymous, why would the Evangelist present the apostolic circle in such an unflattering light? Why, conversely, does Peter receive a renewed commission? Why wouldn’t the Evangelist monopolize the affections of the Master? Not only does this go against ordinary vanity, but the qualifications of the forger would depend on the purity and exclusivity of his spiritual bloodline. Only a reporter who is actually in a position to know the facts can afford the confidence to be so candid about his personal failings and share the credit with his associates

Again, the Evangelists never accuse each other of breaking faith with the mandate and message of Jesus. There are no feuds over succession. All we have is the inevitable clash of strong personalities. Their absence would be historically suspect. As the favorite disciple, John comes closest to the stereotype of the pseudepigraphic method, but it still misses by a mile:
a) John is too self-effacing about his identity;
b) Until his Easter epiphany (Jn 20:8), he was as obtuse as his fellow followers;
c) Neither does he claim an insight superior to theirs. Indeed, his gospel presupposes the Synoptics at many a turn. For example, he merely alludes to the Baptism of Christ (1:29-34). This reference would be unintelligible to the reader unless he were already familiar with an independent account. John takes that preunderstanding for granted and supplements it.
iii) Many of the internal indicators I’ve cited are too inconspicuous and unself-conscious to make for an effective imposture. Most listeners would miss them entirely. Only careful reading and rereading of the text—silent reading, I might add, and not merely hearing it read aloud—would pick up on these unostentatious and often unintentional clues. A pseudonymous author would advertise his identity and qualifications in bright lights.
iv) When a critic operates by the standards of a conspiracy theorist, we should not allow ourselves to be put on the defensive. When someone insists that the Holocaust was a hoax, is the onus on me to prove him wrong? One of their grandest conceits is the way that liberal critics confidently deny the eyewitness character of the Gospels as if they themselves had a front row seat on the proceedings and could tell us just what went down! So they assume the very standpoint which they deny to the Evangelists!

It is often argued that the theology of the Fourth Gospel is too advanced to be the work of the Apostle John. Though popular, such an objection is rather obtuse. The music of J.S. Bach is more sophisticated than the music of his sons. Relative chronology is obviously not the reason. Rather, his sons were simply less gifted than their old man. Likewise, the theology of the Fourth Gospel is more mature than the Synoptics because John was a deeper thinker than the other Evangelists, and enjoyed a special relationship with Christ. Again, it is not as if John just fell out of the sky. He had a thousand years of inspired theological tradition under his belt (the OT), plus another four hundred years of theological reflection (the Intertestamental period), not to mention his apprenticeship in the school of Christ—to supply him with a running start. As such, the Fourth Gospel and Apocalypse represent the culmination of progressive revelation.

If the liberals were right, the Fourth Gospel ought to be the most miracle-laden of the four. Yet it is the earliest of the four gospels (Mark) that so stresses the thaumaturgical ministry of Christ as an exorcist and wonder-worker, with Matthew and Luke placing more emphasis on his teaching ministry and passion, while John limits himself to a handful of pregnant "signs," and accentuates to an even greater degree the teaching and passion of Christ. So what happened to "legendary embellishment" over time? We find this in the apocryphal gospels, but not in the canonical gospels.

The final chapter of the Fourth Gospel also supplies an indicator of a pre-70 date of composition. To be sure, the case for its apostolicity never depended on this dateline, for John may well have lived to an advanced age with his faculties fully intact. One can think of a number of elderly Bible scholars (e.g. Allis, Bultmann, Cullmann, Davies, Dodd, Eissfeldt, Godet, Gordon, Headlam, Kasemann, MacRae, Metzger, Morris, Pedersen, Salmon, Sayce, Schweitzer, Stendahl, Thiele, Weiss, Wenham, Vos, Zahn, Zeller, et al.). And there could also have been a considerable interval separating the date of his Gospel from the date of his Apocalypse. These are distinct issues.

But Jn 21 does suggest the immediate occasion of its composition, and that carries with it some roughly datable conclusions. A number of commentators have said that Jn 21 has the feel of a postscript. While that impression is hard to quantify, I agree. If this chapter had been lost, I doubt we’d notice anything amiss, whereas Jn 20 is indispensable to the completeness of the Gospel. That isn’t to deny that Jn 21 makes a precious addition. Unlike, however, the general rationale for his Gospel (20:31), this chapter owes its existence to a more topical occasion.

The death of Peter precipitated a potential crisis. Jesus had remarked on the fate of Peter and John (21:18-22; 2 Pet 1:14). With the death of Peter, attention shifted to John. According to popular misconception, John would not die before the Parousia (v.23a). When this rumor came to John’s notice he corrected the misinterpretation (v.23b). Since it was news of Peter’s death that gave rise to this rumor, that would date the revised edition of his Gospel to the mid-60s. Of course, it’s possible that this was a last minute addition to the Gospel, in which case it never circulated without this postscript.

The alternative way of taking our passage is that it was John’s demise which precipitated a crisis. An obvious problem with this identification is that the chapter claims to be by the decedent (v.24)! I suspect that, for the average reader, the specter of a post-mortem addendum would lack the ring of truth! Again, John’s death could scarcely be the source of a rumor that John wouldn’t die!

There is less to go on respecting the date of Revelation, but the fact that John was a political prisoner on Patmos (1:9) better fits with what little we know about the extent of persecution under Domitian than Nero—although this is also open to debate.

Scholars generally favor the late Domitianic date (e.g. Aune, Hemer), but there are fine scholars who favor the early Neronic date (e.g. Ellis, Robinson). Domitian’s reputation has undergone a face-lift among some recent scholars. Cf. R. Martin, Tacitus (Berkeley, 1981), 45-48; 55-56; 91,93; L. Thompson, The Book of Revelation: Apocalypse and Empire (Oxford, 1990), 101-09. Of course, conscientious emperors could still persecute the Church (e.g. Aurelius). It should be kept in mind that the scale of persecution in Revelation takes in the whole course of God’s people, from the OT until the Porous. Therefore it does not coincide with either the Neronian or Domitianic crackdown.

Incidentally, the fact that John suffered banishment rather than execution is more easily explicable given his priestly and high priestly affiliations (Jn 18:15). Even Paul, although enjoying dual citizenship, was eventually executed. Exile was reserved for figures who moved in high circles.

John and 1-3 John share so many signature themes and telling turns of phrase that, regardless of their respective chronology, implicate the same author.

Perhaps the most widely challenged identification is the commonality of authorship between John and 1-3 John, on the one hand, and Revelation, on the other.

The Apocalypse identifies its author by name (1:1,4,9; 21:2; 22:8). Both liberals and conservatives agree that its author is likely a Palestinian Jew. The fact that he is in a position to address the churches of Asian Minor in this magisterial manner testifies to his extraordinary standing in the Church at large, for this is not even his native soil. This fact dovetails perfectly with the Apostle John, not to mention all of the interconnections I’ve so far documented between the Gospel, Epistles and Apocalypse. Furthermore, both the Fourth Gospel and Revelation are works of genius. As a matter of explanatory economy, it is better not to multiply genius beyond necessity.

The leading objection to common authorship is owing to the stylistic chasm separating the Apocalypse from John and 1-3 John. The standard conservative reply is that this objection pivots on comparing the incomparable inasmuch as Revelation belongs to a different literary genre. While I’m in basic agreement with this line of response, one could put a sharper point on the nature of their incommensurability. It’s not only that Revelation belongs to a different genre, but to a highly stereotyped genre. As coming, moreover, at the end of a tradition, the author’s diction is loaded down with stock OT imagery. This severely limits his opportunities for putting a personal stylistic stamp on the work—which was never his ambition in the first place. John’s memory was saturated with OT themes and images, and God evidently pictured his disclosure in such terms—not unlike the way in which our dreams exploit our imaginative recall. And inasmuch as the OT is genuinely prophetic and typical, the media were preadapted to the message.

If we were to compare the visions of Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah and John, could we tell on stylistic grounds alone that they were recorded by four different seers? Don’t they share a generic idiom? This is a programmatic question. Yet I don’t find it being explored or even raised. Before we compare the style of Revelation with the Fourth Gospel, we should compare it with other apocalyptic writings of the canon. That should supply the primary standard of comparison.

The difference between the cautiously correct Greek of the Fourth Gospel and craggy solecisms of the Apocalypse has been cited as an evidence against common authorship. But as the Apocalypse was written in a penal colony, John was not in the same position to run his work by native Greek-speaking disciples. This grammatical difference, rather than posing a difficulty for common authorship, is consistent with the situational difference in the respective circumstances of their composition. Moreover, it is easy to overplay the linguistic contrast, for the Greek of the Fourth Gospel is peppered with semiticisms as well. Cf. N. Turner, A Grammar of New Testament Greek (T&T Clark, 1980), 4:67-74.


None of this is to deny that certain habits of mind may filter through:
i) Various catch-phrases and motifs that are either distinctive to the Fourth Gospel, or at least highly characteristic, resurface in Revelation. These two writings, and these alone, refer to Christ as the word of God (Jn 1:1; Rev 19:13; cf. 1 Jn 1:1). This isn’t just singular from the standpoint of linguistic usage, but reflects a personal and pregnant theological reflection. No other NT author conceptualizes Christ in these terms. A lot of concentrated thought lies behind this simple sounding identification.
ii) The verb skenow (to pitch a tent), with its rich reverberance (=the tabernacle, the Shekinah) is peculiar to the Fourth Gospel (1:14) and the Apocalypse (cf. esp. 7:15; 21:3).
iii) Another common christological motif is the identification of Christ as the Lamb of God. This is rare in the NT. It is used only twice in the non-Johannine corpus (Acts 8:32; 1 Pet 1:19), and one of these is owing to an OT quotation (Acts 8:32; cf. Isa 53: 7). There’s also one allusion in Paul (1 Cor 5:7). It’s true that in specific reference to Christ, Revelation uses arnion where the Fourth Gospel uses amnoV. However, the author of the Fourth Gospel also employs this verbal variant (21:15). In Jn 1:29,36, moreover, we should note that the author is quoting from the Baptist, whereas in Revelation he’s speaking in his own voice. Furthermore, arnion is only represented in John and Revelation—nowhere else in the NT.
iv) "Keeping the word" is a phrase distinctive to John, 1 John and Revelation. Distinctive phrasing is more idiosyncratic than distinctive vocabulary. That is to say, any word can be put with just about any other combination of words. Many stereotypical phrases are fixed by linguistic custom. So when we run across a peculiar turn of phrase that recurs in just two sources, this suggests a very individual choice. Even if the words are commonplace, their combination is not.
v) Marturia (witness), marturew (to witness), and nikaw (to overcome) are disproportionately represented in the Johannine corpus. They function as favorite slogans.
vi) It goes without saying that the Apocalypse is fond of septenarian schemes. Is it coincidental that the Fourth Gospel records seven strategic miracles (2:11; 4:54; 5:8-9; 6:11,19; 9:6-7; 11:43-44), and seven "I am" sayings (6:35; 8:12; 10:7,11; 11:25; 14:16; 15:1)? Some scholars would add seven discourses to the total. Cf. L. Morris, Jesus is the Christ: Studies in the Theology of John (Eerdmans/IVP, 1989), 22ff.
vii) The motif of life-giving water (Jn 4:10ff.; 7:38; Rev 7:17; 21:6; 22:1,7) is exclusive to the Johannine corpus, as is the metaphor of spiritual manna (Jn 6:31,49,51; Rev 2:17).
viii) Going to the axial structure of Johannine soteriology is the conflict be-tween God/Christ and the Devil (Jn 8:44; 13:2,27; 1 Jn 3:8-10; Rev 2:9,13,24; 12; 20:1-10). This focal point is distinctive to John. Paul prefers to rotate redemptive history around a Christ/Adam axis. The two perspectives are distinctive, but complementary.
ix) Zech 12:10 is referred to on just three occasions in the NT (Mt 24:30; Jn 19:37; Rev 1:7). And only Jn 19:37 and Rev 1:7 reproduce the phrase about the pierced subject. That choice has a contextual basis in Jn 19:37, in relation to the crucifixion. But it’s inessential to the eschatological context of Rev 1:7—which is presumably why Matthew omits it. So the only reason Rev 1:7 would repeat it is under the gravitational pull of the Fourth Gospel, assuming common authorship.
x) The designation of Christ as the arch of creation (Rev 3:14; cf. 22:13) triggers inevitable associations with his creative agency in the prologue of John (Jn 1:1-3; cf. 1 Jn 1:1).
xi) Likewise, the designation of Christ as the Amhn (Rev 3:14) also triggers inevitable associations with our Lord’s distinctive use of the emphatic dual formula in the Fourth Gospel. An alternative explanation attributes this usage to the influence of Isa 65:16. However, in an author of John’s allusive pregnancy, these two explanations are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, the dual formula in the Fourth Gospel may also be colored by Isa 65:16. And since both documents share a common author, they preserve this dominical appropriation of the OT. Incidentally, both of these titles (x-xi) would be more intelligible if the Fourth Gospel were chronologically prior to the Apocalypse
xii) The distinctive egw eimi formula, with lofty predicates, recurs in the Apocalypse on the lips of Christ (Rev 1:17-18; 2:23; 22:13,16).
xiii) There are parallels between the Apocalypse and the Johannine epistles, most notably in the common Antichrist motif (1 Jn 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 Jn 7; Rev 13; 17).
xiv) Both the Fourth Gospel and Revelation are outstanding for their subtextual density of allusion to the OT. This highly suggestive and polysemous style contrasts with the more linear and explicit teaching technique of St. Paul or the author of Hebrews. Paul argues directly for the truth whereas John—both in the Fourth Gospel and Revelation—unveils the truth through a spiral of symbolic action.
xv) A central theme in Revelation is the conflict between true and false worship. This recalls the pivotal discussion in Jn 4:20-24 as well as the climactic admonition in 1 Jn 5:21.
xvi) Both the Apocalypse and the Fourth Gospel represents salvation in terms of God’s cohabitation with his people (Jn 1:14; 14:23; Rev 7:15; 21:3).
xvii) Both the Apocalypse and the Fourth Gospel compare and contrast the kingdom of Christ with the kingdom of this world (Jn 18:36; Rev 11:15).
xviii) In both the Apocalypse and the Fourth Gospel, the dramatic action pivots on a heavenly/earthly axis (Jn 1:51; 3:3,12-13,31; 6:38; 19:11; Rev 3:12; 4:1; 5:10; 9:1; 11:12; 12:4-5,8-9; 19:14; 21:1-3,10).
xix) The Fourth Gospel, 1 John and Apocalypse all accentuate the testimonial value of eyewitness acquaintance with the Master (Jn 1:14; 19:35; 21:24; Jn 1:1-3; 4:14; Rev 1:2,17).
xx) Both the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse make distinctive use of Ezekiel. In Revelation this is especially true with respect to the introductory christophany (chap 1) and the climactic conclusion (chaps 19-22). In the Fourth Gospel there is a strategic reliance on Ezekiel for the motif of a judicial sign (Jn 4:48; 12:37 cf. Ezk 4:3), water/spirit wordplay (Jn 3:5-8; 4:10-24; 7:37-39; 6:63; 20:22; cf. Ezek 36-37; 47:1ff.), Shepherd theme (Jn 10; cf. Ezk 37) and vine motif (Jn 15; cf. Ezk 15).
xxi) Both the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse trade on the water/spirit double entendre (Jn 3:5-8; 4:10-24; 6:63; 7:37-39; 20:22; Rev 21:6; 22:1-2,17).
xxii) The Fourth Gospel, 1 John and Apocalypse all index the testimony of Jesus to the work of the Spirit (Jn 15:26; 1 Jn 4:2; Rev 19:10). Depending on context, the "testimony of Jesus" can either be an objective or subjective genitive.
xxiii) Both the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse are bracketed by a Prologue and Epilogue (Jn 1:1-18; 21:1-25; Rev 1:1-8; 22:6-21).
xxiv) Both the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse refer to the fall of Lucifer (Jn 12:31; Rev 12:9).


Who wrote the Bible?-1

I. The Old Testament.

In OT criticism, the books whose authorship is the most hotly contested are the Pentateuch, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, and Daniel. I've addressed the authorship of the Pentateuch (Bible or Babel?) and Ecclesiastes (Vanity of vanities) in separate essays.

That leaves Isaiah and Daniel. As with higher criticism generally, attacks on traditional authorship consist in both generic and specific objections. The generic objections seize on internal differences in form and content to infer composite authorship--as well as alleged anachronisms in relation to the external data, such as we have.

The generic objections have been addressed by a variety of writers, so there's no need for me to reinvent the wheel.

Specific to the prophetic literature is the secular assumption that revelation regarding the future is simply impossible. This is bolstered by appeal to the alleged presence of assorted historical, doctrinal, and linguistic anachronisms that postdate the documents.

To stipulate that foreknowledge is impossible, even for God, is a very ambitious metaphysical claim. It assumes that there is no God, or that God cannot know the future, or that he cannot disclose the future, or that he would not reveal it.

It should be unnecessary to point out that so-called Bible scholars who deny predictive prophecy almost never present the kind of logical apparatus and metaphysical machinery needed to justify their prejudice. Having no high cards to play, they try to bluff their way through the game.

Even an open theist does not attempt a direct disproof of divine foreknowledge. Rather, he gets a running start from his postulate of libertarian freedom. Deny the operating assumption, and he is dead in the water.

Some scholars contend that even if, in principle, we made allowance for inspired foresight, it would still be highly artificial of Isaiah to assume a viewpoint in which the future is experienced as present (i.e. chaps 40-66). The problem here is that the critic has failed to crawl out of his skin and consider the psychological dynamics of visionary revelation. It isn’t simply a case of God telling Isaiah the future, which the prophet then recasts in first-person terms, but showing him the future (e.g. 1:1; 2:1; 13:1). This makes the prophet a practical participant. Insofar as he is a virtual eyewitness to future events, it is entirely natural for him to describe his experience in observational terms. But because the critic doesn’t believe in prophetic prescience, he doesn’t make a serious effort to understand the phenomenon from the inside out, based on what the seer himself tells us regarding his mode of inspiration.

Moreover, God’s foreknowledge is integral to the Isaian apologetic against heathen idolatry. In contrast to the ignorant and impotent idol-gods of heathendom, the true God declares the end from the beginning because he is the "first and the last" (41:21-26; 42:8-9; 43:9; 44:6-8; 45:20-21; 46:9-10; 48:5-8).

If, furthermore, these ostensible predictions were penned after the fact, we would expect the imagery to depict Babylonian topography, whereas the scenery, with its reference to mountains and hills (e.g. 40:4,9; 57:7)—even though Babylon lies on a flood plain—as well as acacia, cedar, cypress, and oak (41:19; 44:14), suggests that God depicted his visions in a setting familiar to the Palestinian prophet and his audience. This would be consistent with the doctrine of organic inspiration and divine accommodation. By contrast, Isaiah lacks anything like Ezekiel’s density of detail in drawing socioeconomic and political map of Exilic times (e.g. Ezk 27). If Isa 40-66 were really written by Exilic and post-Exilic hands, they would more nearly resemble Ezekiel in their plenity of period circumstantiality. Nor will it suffice to suppose that the references to Cyrus have been interpolated, for the entire chapter is centered on this future figure.

Concerning the Maccabean date for Daniel, I'd briefly make the following points:
i) As was stated above, this assumes that genuine predictive prophecy is impossible. But that is a metaphysical claim, predicated on a secular, closed-system worldview. Liberal scholars who assume this outlook never favor the reader with the kind of supporting argumentation they would need to make their operating assumption plausible, much less persuasive.
ii) It assumes that pseudonymity was an accepted literary convention. But other criticisms aside, why would the author's contemporaries be impressed by an ex eventu prophecy?
iii) Contrary to 7:26, Antiochus did not raze the Temple or level the city. But if 9:24-27 was written after the fact, how could the author be so wrong, and why would his contemporaries take him seriously? With the benefit of hindsight, why wouldn't the author make his "prophecy" fit the known facts?
iv) 2C BC Jews knew their contemporary history better than Porphyry (2-3C AD). How do we account for the canonicity of Daniel if it was riddled with anachronisms obvious to the very audience to whom and about whom it was addressed?
v) Copies of Daniel among the DDS put a squeeze on the liberal dating scheme.
vi) As Jerome pointed out, the late-dating of Daniel is a backhanded admission of Daniel's accuracy.
vii) The visions (7-12) are dependent on the narratives (1-6) for their historical frame of reference. So the two halves of his book rise and fall together. One can account for the shift from 3rd person (1-6) to 1st person (7-12) if Daniel dictated the biographical material (1-6) to scribes, which—as a statesman—he certainly had at his beck-and-call. But the viewpoint of the visions was inherently autobiographical—since these are private rather than public events.

The other OT book which has been singled out for special scorn by the liberal establishment is Jonah. Although certain historical objections have been broached, the real reason is, of course, the story of the whale.

The Hebrews were not a sea-faring people. That, indeed, is one of the sub-themes of the book. Hence, they had no exacting taxonomy for marine life. "Whale" is merely a conventional designation.

There are a number of marine animals capable of swallowing a man whole, viz. a sperm whale, killer whale, great white shark, large salt-water crocodile, or even a giant squid.

The trick would be for a man to survive in such an environment. The temporal marker (three days and nights) may be idiomatic. We shouldn't necessarily equate it with 72 hours.

There have been attempts to rationalize the miracle. However, the effort to take the miracle out of the miracle renders the event less credible rather than more so. It seems highly unlikely that a man could survive very long in a vat of stomach acid by natural means.

It is not entirely clear why liberals choose to pounce upon this particular miracle, for it is no more extraordinary than many others in Scripture. If a commentator is going to deny that such a thing could have happened, then he ought to honestly admit to himself and his reader he is an atheist in a clerical collar. There is no particular point in reading the Bible unless one reads it as a believer.

To ask, "How did God preserved the prophet alive?" is a category mistake, for a miracle is not in need of any intervening medium or mechanism. Every event is equally effortless to omnipotence.

Likewise, the question of probability is inapplicable to an act of God. Either he did it or not. Probability attaches to normal, and especially inanimate, processes of nature, like a radiometric decay rate. But it is no more or less probable that God, as a personal agent, would or would not do something.

Jonah was regarded as a historical figure in Scripture (2 Kg 14:25). The miracle was regarded as an actual event by Jesus (Mt 12:40-41), as well as Josephus and even Philo, despite the latter's love of allegory. So, in terms of original intent, the book and its contents were meant to be believed--as a real life record of space-time events.

For further reading:

_Aalders, C. The Problem of the Book of Jonah (Tyndale 1948).
_Alexander, T. "Jonah and Genre," TynB (1985), 35-59.
_Allis, O. The Old Testament: Its Claims & Its Critics (P&R 1972).
_____, The Unity of Isaiah (P&R 1950).
_Archer, G. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Moody 1994).
_____., "The Hebrew of Daniel Compared with the Qumran Sectarian Documents," The Law & the Prophets, J. Skilton, ed. (P&R 1974), 470-81).
_Baldwin, J. Daniel (Eerdmans 1978).
_____, "Is there pseudonymity in the Old Testament?" Them 4 (1978-79), 6-12.
_Harrison, R. Introduction to the Old Testament (Eerdmans 1969).
_Hasel, G. "The Book of Daniel" AUSS 19 (1981), 37-49,211-25.
_Kitchen, K. On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003).
_Margalioth, R. The Indivisible Isaiah (Yeshiva U 1964).
_Millard, A. "Daniel 1-6 and history" (EQ 49 (1977), 67-73.
_____, "Daniel and Belshazzar in history" (BAR 11 (1978), 73-78.
_Payne, J. ed. New Perspectives on the Old Testament, (Word 1970). See articles by Archer & Yamauchi.
_Waltke, B. "The date of the Book of Daniel" Bsac 133 (1976), 319-29.
_Wiseman, D. "Jonah's Ninevah," TynB 30 (1979), 29-51.
_____, Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon (Oxford 1983).
_____, ed. Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel (Tyndale 1965).
_Yamauchi, E. Persia & the Bible (Baker 1990).
_Young, E. The Prophecy of Daniel (Eerdmans 1949).
_____, Who Wrote Isaiah (Eerdmans 1958).

II. The New Testament

2. The Synoptics-Acts

As a matter of tradition, as well as self-attestation, the following books are by Apostles—Matthew, John, Romans—Philemon, 1-2 Peter 1-3 John, and Revelation.

This has been challenged on a number of grounds. Before getting to the specifics, I'd like to begin with a few general remarks.

Redaction criticism begins with the idea that each Evangelist (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) has his own theological agenda, with a selective emphasis and distinctive shaping of the narrative. This idea does not strike me as inherently objectionable. But we must clarify what this admission allows for. There is no hard evidence that the Church invented a "Jesus tradition" that was then worked into the Gospels. To the contrary, the internal evidence rebuts such a theory. As G.B Caird has pointed out,
"There is one very simple test which we can apply to see whether the interests and needs of the early Church could have created the tradition as well as preserving and moulding it. Many of these needs and interests are known to us from the epistles of Paul which antedate any of our gospels. If the hypothesis of the form critics were sound, that much of the gospel tradition had its origin in the life of the early Church, then we should expect that the great debates of Paul’s career would have given rise to authoritative sayings of Jesus by which they could be settled once and for all. Yet in questions of marriage and divorce Paul admits that there are limits to the dominical sayings available to him (1 Cor
7:10,13,25). On such weighty matters as the circumcision of the Gentiles
or the value of glossolalia the gospels are wholly silent. There is in fact
not one shred of evidence that the early church ever concocted sayings
of Jesus in order to settle any of its problems," The Study of the Gospels: II. Form Criticism," ExT (1975-76), 140a.

For that matter, even the theology of the epistles does not derive from the communities to which they were addressed. This correspondence is often prompted by some doctrinal or moral crisis. In such a case, the writer (Peter, Paul, John, James, the author of Hebrews) imposes his theology on the church.

As commonly practiced, redaction criticism involves comparison between two or more documents (e.g. Deuteronomy-Kings; Samuel-Kings/Chronicles; the Synoptics), although it often presupposes the identification and isolation of editorial strata within a given document. Even though this form of criticism is typically associated with liberals, conservative scholars who try to harmonize parallel passages (e.g. the Resurrection accounts) by splicing together the various sources in order to reconstruct what "really" happened are also engaged in the same enterprise.

An obvious weak-link in any comparative method is that unless one of these documents can function as a frame of reference, we lack a standard of comparison for saying what represents the unredacted "core," what represents a modification, and what principles are operative in modifying the core material.

Redaction criticism should take its models and methods from parallel material by the same author. If you want to discover what principles and techniques of splicing and editing were employed by a Biblical narrator, the only sound procedure is to begin with a study of how he retells the same story. Examples would include the parallel accounts in Gen 24 (vv1-27,34-48), the Lucan versions of the post-Resurrection/Ascension appearances (Lk 24:13-53; Acts 1:1-11); the conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10; 11:1-18; 15:7-9) and the conversion of Paul (Acts 9:1-30; 22:3-21; 26:4-20).

Even the example of Luke doesn’t leave a lot of play in generalizing to other authors, for he is in dialogue with Greek historiography and professional literature, adapting that tradition or genre to further his own agenda. Every Biblical writer comes to the task with a distinctive socialization and set of aims. But for all its limitations, the Lucan model affords us at least one external control on how a historically and theologically alert writer of the Bible "redacts" his own material. The same general considerations apply to the Genesis account (chap. 24).

A more creative case would be the recapitulary scheme in Revelation (e.g. 6:1-8:1; 8:2-11:19; 15:1-16:21). But, of course, the apocalyptic genre allows for more creativity in the use or reuse of symbolism.

Before redaction criticism there was form criticism. This assumes a prior, oral stage before the kerygma was committed to writing. Liberals critics act as if NT culture consisted in a society of hunter-gatherers without a written language. Although the culture that produced the NT was an oral culture, it was also a literate culture. Both modes of communication were operative at one and the same time.

I don’t see anything beyond force of habit and a need to justify unbelief that warrants this pervasive assumption in the critical literature. It even infects conservative scholarship.

Is there the slightest cultural (Jewish/Greco-Roman) evidence to suggest that the 1C Church must have or would have put off the task of committing the life and teachings of Christ to writing? From what I can tell, this is all based on abstract evolutionary schemes that have no concrete connection with 1C literary practice.

On another front, it is fashionable for moderate to liberal critics to contend that pseudonymity was a morally neutral cultural convention of the day. Among other things, though, this contention flies in the face of the controversies over the canonical status of the "antilegomena." Is precisely because the authorship of various books was suspect in some quarters that there was any controversy over the canon. And this controversy was very widespread. That, by itself, supplies direct and diverse evidence that actual authorship was not a matter of indifference to early church. Hence, the view of the liberal critics disregards the history of the canon. Put another way, the liberal theory of pseudonymity is a liberal anachronism.

Moving from the question of pseudonymity to anonymity, It is usually asserted, without benefit of argument, that the Gospels are anonymous. It is simply assumed that the titles are editorial additions. Perhaps they are, but the presumption is to the contrary. To my knowledge, all of our Greek Gospel MSS are entitled and there are no variants in the author named. The only variants are between the shorter form ("according to...") and the longer form ("the gospel according to..."). It may be objected that if the titles were original, we would expect the formula to be "the gospel of…" rather than "the gospel according to…" However, Luke informs us that a number of formal or informal gospels were already in circulation when he wrote his own (1:1), so a comparative formula was in order—even for Mark.

The fact that our MS tradition is unanimous in witnessing to these designations at the very least implies that, if they are editorial additions, they were added extremely early in the process of transmission and therefore count as one of our earliest sources of external attestation to the apostolicity of the Gospels. Cf. M. Hengel, The Four Gospels (Trinity, 2000), 48-56; 238-45.

But why assume that they must have been added by a later hand? We don’t find our friendly critics claiming that the apocryphal gospels were initially anonymous, do we? So why must the canonical gospels be anonymous? Why the double standard? The only reason that our Evangelists might not have entitled their works would be if they were addressed to a narrow and known audience. And that may, in fact, be the case. But once the gospels began to circulate more widely—and isn’t it a fair expectation that word-of-mouth would have created instant demand?—and found their way into private libraries, there would have been a natural need to add the titles. We know that at least three of the four Evangelists traveled widely. They understood that their gospels would eventually end up in strange hands and lands. Churches would want to know who wrote what. The prologue of Luke, and his evident use of Mark, serves to document this wider circulation, and within a time-frame no later than the 50s.

There is also an ambiguity in claiming that the titles are not original to the Gospels. Does this have reference to the original author or to the first edition? For example, Matthew could easily have issued more than one edition of his gospel. The first edition might have been anonymous if it was at first available to his immediate social circle. But once other churches began clamoring for copies, wouldn’t it have been natural for him to add a title identifying himself as the author? Remember, this is more than plausible speculation. We have to account for the ancient MS tradition as well as taking into account the practice of period historians and librarians.

As over against this suggestion, multiple editions might introduce unconformity into the MS tradition. However, that might also depend on whether a first edition enjoyed a very limited private circulation and did not, therefore, survive the transmission process. A later edition would naturally tend to supercede an earlier edition. It’s the later edition that would circulate more widely and be more widely copied and recopied.

Now let’s move on to some particulars. The question is often bound up with the question of dating, for a late date takes the document outside the likely lifespan of the Apostolate and their contemporaries. Assuming Marcan priority, Mark was written before Matthew and Luke. Luke was written before Acts. There are several reasons for dating the composition of Acts in the early 60s:
i) no reference to the final disposition of Paul
ii) no reference to the death of Peter or James
iii) the legal ambiguity of the Christian "sect"
iv) Luke’s effort to bring Christianity under the protective penumbra of Judaism. None of these amounts to conclusive evidence, but each is more plausible than alternative explanations, and they have a cumulative force. Luke had taken careful note of martyrdom of Stephen and the Apostle James (Acts 7:58ff.;12:2), so why not Peter, Paul and James the Lord’s brother? They were hardly less important. Luke devotes chapter after chapter to the impending trial of Paul. How could he ratchet up the reader’s interest only to drop the whole affair if he knew its ultimate outcome? Linking Christianity to the legal fortunes of Judaism would have backfired after the Jewish Revolt (AD 66).

There are also internal indicators of a pre-70 date for Matthew:
i) The Gospel spends a lot of time on debates over the kosher laws, Temple rites and regulations, Sadducean banter, the terms of Gentile admission, and so on—all of which presuppose a transitional period when the Temple was still standing, the Sadducees had clout and the tension between Christian and Jew hadn’t yet hardened into an irreversible rift. It is telling that liberals are so indifferent to this evidence when they are the first to insist that the NT documents were the product of religious communities who contemporized the message to suit their immediate circumstances. But even apart from liberal assumptions, there is, at least, a demographic slant to each of the Gospels. Notice the difference in orientation between Matthew and Justin. Justin writes as a Gentile trying to bring Jews into the fold. Matthew writes as an insider to Judaism, arguing from within the same living tradition as his Jewish target.
ii) Matthew contains three prophecies that would have been worded differently after the fact (10:23; 16:28; 24:34). According to liberal theology, the redactors felt free to make up speeches and put them in the mouth of Christ. It is inexplicable that a redactor writing after AD 70 would fabricate a "failed" prophecy or reproduce a tradition that falsified his own cause. Remember that liberal scholarship regards the gospels as unhistorical propaganda. Insofar as a putative redactor made creative use of tradition, it would be a self-serving rather than self-defeating adaptation. After all, there’s some evidence that the Evangelists were prepared to gloss statements that invited misunderstanding (e.g. Mt 19:17; cf. Mk 10:18). If, however, these considerations constrain us to date Matthew prior to AD 70, then the clunky machinery of redactional middlemen is even more suspect, since we’re now pushing the date back to within the normal life-span of the original disciples.
iii) Related to (ii), if the Olivet Discourse were post-70 composition, we would expect Matthew’s fulfillment-formula to kick in at 24:15.
iv) If Jas 5:12 is dependent on Mt 5:34-37, then that would push the date of Matthew back to at least the 50s if not the 40s (Cf. D. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction [IVP 1990], 749-753.), given that James was executed c. AD 62. Against Matthean priority, it may be argued that Mt 5:34-37 represents an expanded version of an oral logion. However, it could just as well be the case that James alludes to the Matthean saying because his audience was already familiar with the fuller form. Conversely, there are three points in favor of Matthean priority:
a) In terms of scholarly method, if you can account for the data on the basis of extant sources, that is more responsible than postulating imaginary (=oral) sources.
b) We have another parallel between Jas 5:2 and Mt 6:19. This coincidence is easier to account for from a literary rather than oral source.
c) It is hard to understand why Matthew would rewrite James in a less idiomatic style whereas it is easy to figure why James, with his cultivated ear, would improve on the tramontane original. Cf. Blass/Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament (Chicago, 1961), §149.
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