Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The tipsy philosopher

Having lost the argument with Jason Engwer on the Synoptic nativity accounts, Jonathan Pearce has shifted to the Resurrection. He emptied his six-shooter, but had nothing left to reload it with. 

I also see that Jayman is patiently trying to talk some sense into the village atheists. Jayman is a rarity among Catholic bloggers: he reads scholarly commentaries (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish) on the Bible.

On the matter of Pilate, I'm still searching for rules of ancient roman law that would necessitate him even giving Jesus a trial.
Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament by A. N. Sherwin-White might be a good place to start.
Are there any writings about this from Tacitus or other writers?
Both Josephus (Antiquities 18.3.3) and Tacitus (Annals 15.44) confirm Jesus was executed by Pilate.

The statements from Josephus and Tacitus are statements from a Jew and a Roman, respectively. If this level of attestation is not sufficient to confirm an event of ancient history then we don't know much of anything about ancient history.

You wrote: "At most, they confirm the existence of Christians and/or Xian belief in the crucifixion." But neither Josephus nor Tacitus says merely that Christians believed such-and-such about the crucifixion. Both authors mention Jesus's crucifixion as a fact that they accept. So they confirm that Jews and Romans also believed Jesus was crucified by Pontius Pilate.

I would say the text from Josephus is:
At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians (named after him) has not died out. (John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew 1.61)
At no point in the text does Josephus something like "Christians say . . . ." Rather, he seems to saying what he believes happened.

This much is true in at least a number of places (not least the Resurrection), but in the places where they could be reliable, we have no way of verifying or knowing they are.
You can compare different writings against each other and against the archaeological record. The Gospels are four writings, not one.
What we do know is that they were written by people who already believed in Jesus as Messiah, were not eyewitnesses, were trying to evangelise and thus had open agendas and were not writing objective history, were writing 50-100 years after the death of the person they were writing about, and had no recognisable historical methodology which we can see in other contemporaneous historians.
How does already believing Jesus is the Messiah effect the historical accuracy of the authors?
On the one hand you claim that we can only guess as to who wrote the Gospels but on the other hand you claim to know the authors were not eyewitnesses. Which is it? Does the author need to be an eyewitness to be accurate?
How does having an agenda conflict with writing accurate history? Should an historian of the Holocaust discount the words of a Holocaust survivor because the survivor has an agenda to prevent another Holocaust from occurring?
On the one hand you claim we can only guess when the Gospels were written but on the other hand you claim they were written 50-100 years after Jesus's crucifixion. Which is it? And the mainstream position is more like 40-70 years than 50-100 years. This is still within living memory of eyewitnesses so how does this effect historical accuracy?
Does the author need to explicitly state his methodology in order to be accurate? If, say, your book on the infancy does not have a section on historical methodology should it be rejected?
They [the infancy narratives] are pretty much the only cross-referencable claims in the NT.
No they aren't. In Colin Hemer's book on Acts, for example, he records hundreds of cross-referenceable items in the Book of Acts.
As far as the Resurrection goes, there are many contradictions.
What percentage of them can be chalked up to poor reading ability by atheists? That author A1 narrates story S1 but author A2 does not is not a contradiction. If an author appears to contradict himself it's likely that you've failed to understand him.
Why is there not one single external reference or witness to any of Jesus’ amazing miracles?
External to what? Josephus, even when Christian interpolations are removed, notes Jesus was known as a miracle worker. Celsus also admits the same.

What do you mean by this? They contradict each other in many places.
The more sources that agree on an historical claim the more likely that claim is to be accurate. The four canonical Gospels, not to mention other writings, agree on many things. To assert, as you do, that we have no way of verifying the reliability of the Gospels is therefore false.
Read the Koresh analogy. They are self-confessed evangelists, aiming to persuade and convert. If they are writing objective-style histories or supposed facts. Then one should be somewhat sceptical. Try taking yourself out of your Christian bubble and treat the belief as an outsider.
Nothing in the Koresh analogy explains why having an agenda impedes your historical accuracy. And I provided an outsider test: a Holocaust survivor. If a Holocaust-denier used this tactic would I find it convincing? No. I'm being consistent in rejecting this approach in both cases. You conveniently ignored answering this question.
Well, Luke explicitly admits this, and from form, textual criticism etc, we can safely conclude that the others were not either, though obviously people like Bauckham beg to differ. But mainstream academia seem pretty agreed on this. Ehrman talks about eyewitnesses here:http://ehrmanblog.org/question...
Traditionally, Mark and Luke are not believed to be eyewitnesses to Jesus's ministry. That's why I asked whether an author needs to be an eyewitness to be reliable. You've given no reason why this must be the case.
Textual criticism involves trying to recover the original text of the NT and tells us nothing, by itself, about authorship. Likewise, form criticism could be consistent with the Gospels being written by eyewitnesses or authors with eyewitness sources.
Ehrman believes eyewitnesses were alive when Mark wrote his gospel because that is the only way he can make sense of Mark 9:1. This suggests he focuses too much on internal evidence and not enough on external evidence and common sense. Robert K. McIver provides life-tables to determine how many eyewitnesses might be alive a given number of years after Jesus's ministry (p. 206-7 in Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels). Depending on the life-table, between 8,902 and 11,191 eyewitnesses would have been alive 40 years after Jesus's ministry. Even 60 years later the numbers are between 606 and 1,111. Eyewitnesses were alive when Mark was writing (and even when John, an eyewitness himself, was writing). Ehrman merely appeals to his "sense" as if that counts for anything.
Luke and John certainly claim to have eyewitness sources. Ehrman just hand waves this away. Apparently the great accuracy of Luke in the "we sections" of Acts is not solid evidence that the author had access to eyewitnesses. He suggests that Mark may have written from Rome and therefore not have had access to eyewitnesses. He does not mention that Peter and Paul went to Rome and the external evidence unanimously (IIRC) claims that Peter was a source for Mark.
Well. That is the point. Educated guesses. You obviously favour the earlier ones.
And my point is that even if John is writing in the 90s he is writing within living memory of the events he narrates. By itself this provides no reason to think he is inaccurate.
Too big a point to go into here.
But it's a simple point. We can cross reference the NT with external writings and archaeology.
Er, no.
Let's go to the outsider test. Since you just mentioned him, what doesRichard Carrier say about his own writing?
“If what I say anywhere in this book appears to contradict, directly or indirectly, something else I say here, the principle of interpretive charity should be applied: assume you are misreading the meaning of what I said in each or either case. Whatever interpretation would eliminate the contradiction and produce agreement is probably correct. So you are encouraged in every problem that may trouble you to find that interpretation.”
OK, so Josephus commenting that Christians believed Jesus was a miracle worker is the same as me reporting on Sathya Sai Baba’s followers thinking the same. It is not, in any way shape or form corroborating evidence.
Except Josephus says Jesus "was a doer of wonderful works" not merely that Christians thought he was a miracle worker. And Celsus said Jesus performed his miracles by sorcery. So it is not the same as you saying followers of SSB report that he worked miracles.

Shouldn't someone with a claim that X was resurrected also come with a detailed hypothesis of exactly how that physical resurrection occurred? Can the original claim be given much weight without an accompanying explanation of what conditions made the resurrection physically possible?
You seem to be suggesting that we need to know how something occurred to knowthat something occurred. This is an absurd standard. Is someone not justified in knowing that the sun shines even if he does not know how the sun shines?

This is surely a great irony!
Wouldn't you need to show where I used a god-of-the-gaps argument for it to be irony?
You've summed up the god of the gaps argument perfectly.
An epistemological statement is not a summary of the god-of-the-gaps argument.
Exactly what we've been telling you; we know the universe exists (sun shines) but we don't yet know quite how it came about.
Actually atheists tell me both that the universe did not come about by God and they don't know how the universe came about. They are walking contradictions.
You can go on ad nauseum pointing out non-contradictions etc but that doesn't amount to a case.
I pointed to hundreds of confirmed by claims by Acts. How is that not a case for the reliability of Luke?

That is the whole basis of our argument with believers, whose case for god is that he is the explanation.
Positing God as an explanation is not necessarily the same as a god-of-the-gaps argument. In non-theological matters we have no trouble positing a new entity to explain evidence. For example, the unexpected orbit of Uranus led scientists to posit the existence of Neptune. Was this a planet-of-the-gaps argument? I think not. It was an inference to the best explanation. I realize later we observed Neptune too. The point is that the process leading to its discovery was not invalid.

All my comment was meant to show is that positing God as an explanation is not necessarily a god-of-the-gaps argument. Nothing in your subsequent comment calls that into question.

And you've failed to do that (or, alternatively, all belief is based on gaps of some kind).

But at least we know the sun does shine and can be explained scientifically. IT MAKES SENSE AS A THING
And the first Christians knew Jesus rose from the dead. My claim is that the sun would "make sense as a thing" regardless of whether we could explain how it shined or not. Any attempt to argue that Jesus did not rise from the dead because we can't explain exactly how he was raised from the dead is a form of argument we would not take seriously in other matters and so should not be taken seriously when discussing the resurrection.

No I did not know that there were two revolts and that the Romans destroyed Jerusalem but that shouldn't have stopped god intervening and either preserving the shroud for someone else to take and keep for further preservation or appearing to all the Romans like Saul was privileged to experience and converting them or smiting them all down which he loved to do so much. Anything short of this would not be enough. . . .
The Shroud of Turin is still in existence (see here and here for more [which is not an endorsement]). But a skeptic could still claim that a first-century shroud does not prove Jesus rose from the dead. He could pass it off as someone else's shroud or even say Jesus's burial shroud was preserved but Jesus did not rise from the dead.
Nor can I agree with your claim that anything short of the risen Jesus appearing to all the Romans would be enough evidence for the resurrection. It is an ad hoc standard. The evidence needs to be treated in the same fashion as it would be treated for other historical claims.
Religious cults get together en masse and claim loadsa stuff all the time so do conspiracy theorists. It could have happened with christianity back then.
Would you put your life on the line for something you knew was false and that brought little in the way of earthly benefits? Most people would not and so it is difficult to see how the first Christians would have bothered with Christianity if they knew Jesus was really dead. And it would seem that the resurrection deniers are analogous to the conspiracy theorist in this case.
Since we don't know all natural phenomena if you use your imagination there are many alternatives for explaining the supernatural think a bit. Early christians may have witnessed something out of the ordinary and then in their desperate state been convinced of unearthly benefits.
The problem is that when we think a bit we come up with no plausible natural explanations.
With regard to criminal cases if two or more stories are conflicting in considerable ways then generally I don't see how the verdict can be conclusive especially if there is no physical evidence.
Really? You can't weigh evidence and try to study the reliability of different eyewitnesses? Furthermore, in the case of the resurrection, all the allegedly contradictory sources agree that Jesus rose from the dead.

For starters it shows that god does not treat everyone equally.

Why also are we in modern times expected to rely on a copy of a translation of a book to get into heaven?
These objections are irrelevant as to whether Jesus rose from the dead.
Well you said yourself there are alternative explanations for the shroud
I'm trying to reply to you on your own terms. On the one hand you say it would be nice for the shroud to be preserved. On the other hand you seem to now realize that a shroud can always be explained in different ways. It's not clear you really know what evidence you want.
Think of the heavens gate attrocity and others such as (I can't remember the exact details) the one where over 900 people committed suicide in a field listening to some cult leader....it does happen, people die for all sorts of causes. Muslims being the most obvious.
The point is about people dying or undergoing suffering for what they know to be false. If the first Christians were just making things up then they knew Jesus did not rise from the dead. A modern-day Muslim terrorist, on the other hand, sincerely believes in Islam and jihad so it is not an apt comparison to the first Christians. Any alternative resurrection hypothesis that claims the first Christians were not sincere is implausible for this reason.
As for natural explanations I would say technology could have been involved especially if an advanced civilisation had something to do with it. And that civilisation wouldn't even have to be extraterrestrial in origin.
The issue then becomes whether an advanced civilization or God is a better explanation for the evidence. I would start by noting the participants thought God was the correct explanation.
And also the problem is how many of these so called witnesses are alive today to confirm that what was written in the bible was actually what they saw and said they saw? And did they intend to give an historical account?
Given the genre of the Gospels and Acts it does appear they intended to give an historical account. The authors of every piece of historical evidence, except that written most recently, are dead. This does not stop us from studying history and so I see no reason why it should stop us from studying the resurrection.

Yes but if christianity can be rendered defunct on other grounds the resurrection becomes defunct as well and cannot be taken seriously anyway.
God not behaving how you think he should is hardly a knock-down argument against Christianity.
The people in the heavens gate attrocity and others died for what they believed in, I mean they actually took their own lives for crying out loud. That shows they believed in it wholeheartedly and unreservedly.
I'm not denying they were sincere. I'm noting that an hypothesis that thinks the first Christians were insincere is implausible because people don't generally die for what they know to be a lie. Your counter-examples are not cases where people die for what they know to be a lie.
My point is I accept there are other ways A SHROUD OF SORTS can be forged and preserved.
Then why think God should bother preserving the shroud in the first place? Do you realize that you can provide an alternative explanation for nearly any piece of evidence in any area of inquiry? If the risen Christ appeared to you right now, for example, you could pass it of as an hallucination.
Why do believe it actually happened just because the written accounts survived? I am sure in thousands of years every criminals innocent plea statement will still be on record, will you believe those? I could write a book and claim fame by saying it's true about Hitler's pet dinosaur. You must get my point
I believe Jesus rose from the dead because I think that is the best explanation of the totality of the evidence. The key there isbest explanation. There are always alternative explanations for evidence. This goes for any kind of evidence, not just historical evidence.

Yes but god behaving in a way which contradicts his other teachings and mass opinion on the subject should warrant at least doubt.
If God acted in a way that contradicted one of his teachings that still wouldn't show he did not raise Christ from the dead. And it's not like there's a teaching in the Bible where God says he is going to appear to all Romans immediately after the resurrection.
Yes but the christians died for what they believed to be true as did the heavens gaters NOT FOR WHAT THEY KNEW TO BE FALSE.
You still don't grasp the point. I never said members of Heaven's Gate died for what they knew to be false. I'm saying the sincerity of the first Christians, evidenced by their willingness to die and undergo suffering, is a reason to reject any hypothesis that posits the first Christians knowingly lied about the resurrection.
And the fact that an alternative explanation can be thought of shows the whole system is not infallible.
No system of acquiring knowledge is infallible and there arealways alternative explanations. If you wanted to, you could explain the allied victory in World War II, in part, by appeals to technology given to them by an unknown advanced civilization. The fact that such an alternative explanation is possible is not a reason to include it in part of one's best explanation.
At the end of the day if god can reveal himself to some without actually jeapardising their free will as MUST be the case (if not the argument still stands) then he can reveal himself to all.
I'm not denying that he can reveal Himself to all. I'm merely noting this does not offer a better hypothesis for the resurrection.
Well I have been diagnosed with schzophrenia and bipolar disorder which is ironic BUT I'm certain if god appeared the whole experience of god's overwhelming omnipotence would find a way to convince me. Plus if it happened the coincidence would be too much of a correlation to ignore.
My point was, that even in such a case, an alternative explanation would still be possible. The fact that you would reject an alternative explanation suggests you agree with my broader point: the mere possibility of alternative explanations is not a reason to reject the best explanation.

[T]he gospels were written decades after the resurrection was supposed to have occurred.
The resurrection is not only attested in the Gospels. We must also make sense of the rest of the early Christian writings.
That means these stories could've been floating around and passed on from one person/group to another person/group for years...decades.
Your suggested model of transmission seems inconsistent with what the first Christians say about passing on tradition, how the Jews of the time passed on tradition, and how modern-day oral tradition is passed on. You also seem to ignore the ability of the apostles to correct misrepresentations of their teachings while they were still alive.
They all could easily have been the results of a few recurring dreams that one or two of the apostles had days, weeks, months or even years after Jesus died.
In 1 Cor. 15 Paul notes that 500 people saw the risen Christ at once. 500 people do not have the same dream. He also mentions that most of those people are still alive, meaning the readers did not have to take Paul's word for it. According to Galatians, Paul had direct access to the apostles so the tradition did not pass between numerous intermediaries.
Perhaps they were told initially AS dreams but with retelling folks started believing they were actual events. Or perhaps they accepted dreams accounts as actual events.
The early Christians seem quite capable of distinguishing between a vision (e.g., Revelation, Peter's vision about clean/unclean food) and an objective event.
They probably heard the stories similar to those that appear in the gospels. It doesn't mean anyone actually saw a risen Jesus...just that everyone heard the stories about others seeing him...perhaps hundreds of others... and believed the storied.
We have writings of people who claim they saw the risen Jesus.
Their belief based on those stories might've been strong enough to embolden them to face death...NOT for a known lie, but for something they believed true because they believed the stories.
Paul, for example, claimed to have seen the risen Jesus. He must have been persecuted and killed for a known lie.
Maybe they believed him still alive in a spiritual realm...like Christians today do, why would they need to see a physical being.
Without a physical resurrection Jesus would be no different than the failed Jewish Messiahs of his time. The resurrection is God vindicating the ministry of Jesus. A Jew might believe Bar Kochba is alive in a spiritual realm but he is no longer taken as a serious contender for the Messiah.
Christians today don't need a physical Jesus to follow.
But, as Paul says, we need a resurrected Jesus to follow.
how do we know any were executed specifically because of their belief that Jesus physically rose from the dead? Do we have testimony or documents that claim that?
The claim is not that they were executed specifically for their belief that Jesus physically rose from the dead. They were executed for being uncompromising Christians and they were Christians because they believed Jesus rose from the dead. According to emperor Trajan, a Christian could avoid execution by simply offering prayers to Roman gods (Pliny, Ep. 10.97).

D Rizdek, I'll try to hit the main points:
1. There is a difference between resuscitation and resurrection. A person who is resuscitated will die (again) whereas a person who is resurrected is raised to eternal life and will not die again. If Jesus had merely been resuscitated he would not have appeared to have conquered death and he would have died later. The interpretation of Christ's resurrection is determined by the surrounding context. If someone else was resurrected from the dead then the interpretation of that event would also have to be determined from the surrounding context. I am not aware of any Greek tradition that claims a recently deceased person was physically raised from the dead.
2. Christ's death by crucifixion is also attested by Josephus (Jew) and Tacitus (Roman). I'm not sure how much more "verification" is necessary.
3. If the Gospels borrow verses from earlier Gospels this could be taken to indicate that they were not making things up and that they looked for earlier sources. Even eyewitnesses will provide different accounts so differences between the Gospels are not incompatible with their being based on eyewitness testimony. The names mentioned in the Gospels link the story to a specific date. Texts outside the Gospels, including Josephus and Tacitus, also link Jesus's life to the same time.
4. You are correct that Paul was not there with the 500 witnesses (1 Cor 15:6) but he does seem aware that most of the 500 were alive but some were dead. That does not seem compatible with one person having a dream with 500 people in it. Reading through Paul's letters indicates that he was challenged by his churches. Since the early Christians traveled they could verify things. In 1 Cor 1:12 we read that some of the Corinthians said, "I follow Cephas," so the Corinthians had contact with another witness to the resurrection. Hence it is not unlikely that they could verify the resurrection with other witnesses too. Luke 1:1-4 also shows the ability of a Christian to verify things.
5. In Gal 1:18-19 Paul says he only saw Peter and James but he mentions another visit in 2:1-10. Acts mentions visits as well. Despite disagreements over Gentiles following Jewish laws there seems to be no debate over Christ's resurrection.
6. That a vision is believed is not the same thing as a vision being mistaken for an objective event. The very examples you provide show that the Christians distinguished between visions and objective events.
7. John 20:30-31; 21:24; 1 Pet 1:3, 21; 3:21; 2 Pet 3:16-18; 1 Jn 1:1-4; 4:14 are non-Pauline writings by eyewitness to the resurrection.
8. My claim is that after his death Jesus needed to be resurrected for him to the taken as the Messiah. Other alleged messiahs from the time were abandoned as messiahs after their deaths.

In the same way that I've been trying to find out how we know Pilate would actually give Jesus a trial, I've also thought that the deaths of people like Peter and Paul could have been quick executions with no opportunity for them to give some grand pronouncement as to what they are dying for.
See Paul's speeches in Acts while he is in custody.
Maybe Peter was just carrying on what he thought was Jesus mission, to preach the coming kingdom, without any belief in a resurrection.
The resurrection is attested in 1 Peter and 2 Peter.
All Peter's supposed beliefs were just placed on him by later writers.
Paul is a contemporary of Peter's and the fact that someone wrote after Peter's death does not mean they were not also alive when Peter was alive.

Mormon's have multiple independant attestation that the golden plates Smith translated existed and were seen, but I doubt Christians would accept those witnesses, no matter how numerous. Would 100 Mormon witnesses, or 1000, really have any effect on a Christian? I doubt it.
I admittedly don't have a well-informed opinion on whether Joseph Smith ever had golden plates but I'm open to their existence. The reason their existence would not have an effect on Christians (in the sense of making them convert to Mormonism) is because their existence does not establish Smith as a true prophet. There's not even anything extraordinary (in the sense of being unacceptable to an atheist) about golden plates with writing on them.

Suffice to say that it is well worth getting hold of Theissen and Merz's superlative summary of academia, The Historical Jesus.
tsw318, this book does a good job providing an overview of the historical Jesus but the link you provided probably goes into more depth regarding the authors of the Gospels. Commentaries on the individual Gospels often provide the most depth.
Mark writes after 70CE, probably in Antioch, the others later.
The book you just recommended says (p. 26): "Mark was composed around 70. . . . There is a dispute as to whether the destruction of the temple announced in Mark 13.2 has already taken place, or is still expected." And they don't say it was probably written in Antioch. They say it was most likely written in the cities of Syria, for example Antioch.
Thiessen and Merz at least note that the earliest church tradition holds that Mark was written in Rome and was based on the oral teaching of the apostle Peter. The only reason they give for saying Mark was probably written in Syria is because it contains Palestinian Jesus tradition with rich local coloring alongside pre-Pauline Hellenistic traditions and this combination is most likely in the cities of Syria.
We don't have enough ancient Christian writings from the first century to allow us to say where the combination of Palestinian Jesus tradition and pre-Pauline Hellenistic tradition was most prevalent. There is simply no basis on which Thiessen and Merz can make this claim.
Theissen is pretty damning on p.27 of their tome in saying, of Mark as a source for the study of Jesus, "The chronological and geographical outline of Mark is secondary to the individual traditions; its form is determined by the author's theological premises and therefore [is] historically worthless (the same goes for Luke, Mark and John)."
What Thiessen and Merz are saying is that the authors of the Gospels may not give the individual stories in chronological order. The very next sentence in the book says (p. 27): "However, some of the material from the tradition presented in Mark goes back a very long way and represents an important source for the reconstruction of the teaching and the life of Jesus."
Put it this way, with all these unknowns, if they had been in the context of another competing holy book, Christians would be the first to decry them.
That's not the case. I've seen debates between a Christian and a Muslim where the Christian will actually give more credence to the Hadith than the Muslim. Keep in mind the Hadith were written longer after the life of Muhammad than the Gospels were written after the ministry of Jesus.

Though these are written with unmistakable agenda or equal ex post facto positions as the Gospel writers themselves. This does not invalidate their truth per se, but does lower thresholds of probability as I stated wrt Koresh.
Everyone has an agenda. The liberal scholar has an agenda just as surely as the conservative scholar has an agenda. In itself, this tells us nothing about the reliability of an author. I suggest the way to manage one's bias is to read the works of authors who have a variety of viewpoints. And your comment does not rebut my claim that a commentary will likely provide more depth than a summary on the historical Jesus.
Rome vs somewhere like Antioch (which others like Raymond Brown also entertain as potentially viable) do not particularly lead to the likelihood of eyewitness either way.
If, on internal grounds, the text leads us to believe Mark was written in Rome this is significant because it would mean the internal evidence and the external evidence point in the same direction. The same external evidence that says Mark was written in Rome also says he had access to the apostle Peter.
This is primarily because the disciples were ostensibly uneducated (in foreign language literacy) workers.
Do you have evidence that the disciples could not speak or write Greek? I doubt it. This means any argument that says John could not write the fourth Gospel because John could not write Greek is just speculation. It also ignores the fact that a disciple who did not know Greek could employ the services of someone who did.
Mark was unlikely the companion of Peter as tradition maintains, and as most modern scholars contest. Peter came from a line of fishermen, it seems, and is unlikely to have had a learned scribe as a companion, though obviously not necessrily so.
Your assumption seems to be that a fisherman-turned-apostle was unlikely to ever become companions with a scribe. I would counter by noting 1 Peter mentions Mark by name and was written in Rome (Babylon). The very existence of the NT proves that there were early Christians who could write Greek. With this in mind, it seems quite unlikely that an apostle, such as Peter, who traveled around the Roman Empire never came in contact with another Christian who could write.
I think you also need to look at the nature of written sources like these. They contain an awful lot of direct speech. Now you tell me any non-modern supposedly historical texts which contain this level of speech. There simply is none because direct speech is very difficult to remember and record. This itinerant ministry, especially when involving private f almost private and personal conversations, was no replete with Dictaphones. So before you even start detailing the who, where and when, there are huge question marks over the reliability of a source which is claimed to have accurate speech and be historical.
Off the top of my head and as but one example, I believe there are around four accounts of Pope Urban II's speech that launched the Crusades. The claim that there are no non-modern sources that record speeches is absurd.
The issue is rather whether the speech is recorded verbatim or not. I am not claiming the Gospels and Acts preserve the exact words Jesus spoke on such-and-such an occasion. But I see no reason, given what I've read on oral tradition, why the gist of Jesus's teaching could not be recorded.
And Mike Licona lost his job for admitting that the ridiculous claims of Matthew 27 were poetic and not historical.
I don't see how this proves Christians won't accept the historicity of the texts from other religions.

Bart Ehrman notes in his book Jesus Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium “Because our surviving Greek manuscripts provide such a wide variety of (different) titles for the Gospels, textual scholars have long realized that their familiar names (e.g. “The Gospel according to Matthew”) do not go back to their “original” title but were later added by scribes.”
The fact that the titles were not original says nothing, in itself, about the authors of the Gospels. What is interesting is that what we know as Matthew is always attributed to Matthew, what we know as Mark is always attributed to Mark, what we know as Luke is always attributed to Luke, and what we know as John is always attributed to John. The fact that Christians across time and space all made these consistent attributions is best explained by hypothesizing they knew, from the beginning, who wrote each Gospel. If these attributions occurred at a later date it is astonishing that a Christian at one end of the Roman Empire thought the Gospel in his hands was written by Luke and so did another Christian at the other end of the Empire.
Firstly, it [Matthew] makes no claim to be written by an eyewitness – wouldn’t you include that if you wanted to convince people?
I admit I'm not confident who wrote Matthew but these objections can be answered. Matthew would not have needed to write his name within the text of his Gospel for his recipients to know he wrote it. I don't believe Tacitus includes his name in the Annals yet we don't doubt he wrote it.
Secondly, he doesn’t seem to discriminate at all between events he was personally involved in or present for and those he was not (“Then Jesus and I went up to Jerusalem...”).
Perhaps he wants the focus to be on Christ and not on himself. Or perhaps he wants to write in a style similar to that of the historical narratives of the OT where the narrator does not put himself into the account.
Thirdly, if he was an eyewitness why would he borrow so much from a secondary source (Mark).
Because Mark is based on the work of the leading apostle, Peter.
However, they tended to write much later than the Gospels were, and at a time when there was an ideological battle that gave all sides a motive to imbue their preferred writings with greater authority (e.g. the writer Irenaeus was writing at the end of the second century - over 100 years after Mark was put on paper).
The life of Papias actually overlapped, to some extent, the life of the Gospel writers. Irenaeus was a follower of Polycarp who was a follower of the apostle John. The chain of transmission is not as great as it might seem at first and the claims need to be taken seriously. And if the early Christians were trying to imbue their writings with authority they would not have used Mark and Luke as authors.
In 200 AD there is for example also a clear reference to the use of a Gospel written by Peter by the bishop Serapion but we don’t point to that and say “already there was a tradition saying that this document was written by Peter!” – that fact alone doesn’t tell us much.
That's because Serapion notes that it was not handed down by the church.
However, we don’t know that these refer to the documents we have. The description of Mathew certainly does not look our Gospel of Mathew
This is why I'm unsure of who wrote Matthew. But in the case of Mark I don't believe there is any other possible writing it could be. The fact that other Christians seem to build on Papias shows that they did not think he was out of line.
Moreover, we don’t know who the beloved disciple is. Some people think it might more plausibly refer to Lazarus (see Jn 11:3) rather than John.
This is why external evidence is important. The external evidence is quite clear that John wrote the fourth Gospel. (The internal evidence also makes this rather clear.)

The writings of the church fathers which state the Gospel of John was written by the apostle John. One can also include the titles found on manuscripts of the Gospel.

I'm not sure that follows. It simply means that that was who it was first attributed to, for any number of reasons, and that has stuck.
I'm not saying it follows as a matter of logical deduction. I'm saying the evidence from the titles on the manuscripts better fits the "traditional hypothesis" than the "anonymous hypothesis". The traditional hypothesis explains why the attribution was made, why it stuck, and makes a confirmed prediction about the kind of evidence to expect. The anonymous hypothesis does not explain why the attribution was made, does not explain why it stuck, and does not make predictions.

It is always speculative, biased, based on assumptions, and unsupported by hard evidence. I also realize that the same can probably be said regarding the traditional attribution of the Gospels being written by the apostles and apostolic companions Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Who is more speculative? The traditionalist who gives serious credence to the ancient sources or the non-traditionalist who speculates about source criticism and what an apostle could or could not write?
Everyone has biases and makes assumptions. You need to read different perspectives and try to determine, to the best of your ability, what assumptions are acceptable.
I'm not sure what you mean by "hard evidence". Most history involves working with texts and I'm not sure texts are considered "hard evidence". We could point to the hard evidence of archaeology to support the historical trustworthiness of the Gospels but this would not necessarily prove who wrote the Gospels.


  1. Jayman is a rarity among Catholic bloggers: he reads scholarly commentaries (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish) on the Bible.

    I'm a Protestant, not a Catholic, although I would love to know how I was pegged as a Catholic. Defending the Catholic Encyclopedia article on God's attributes on Pearce's blog? Too many Catholic blogs in my blogroll? Too much love for Aquinas's metaphysics and natural theology?

    1. Unfortunately, your Protestant identity now reduces the already scarce and endangered number of Catholic bloggers who read scholarly commentaries from 1 to 0. Perhaps you could become a honorary Catholic blogger to temporarily fill the breach.

    2. I have the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, commentaries by Raymond Brown, and writings by John P. Meier on hand if needed.

      P.S. The discussion has moved to here although I think the conversation is devolving quickly.

    3. I salute your efforts.