Elisha and the 42 Children

He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!’ And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.  From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.

2 Kings 2:23-25

Taken at face value, this seems excessive. I mean it was just a bunch of kids just acting like kids, right? And yet Elisha the prophet thought it was appropriate to kill them all just because his feelings were hurt. In fact, in cursing them in the name of the Lord, it was ultimately God who sent the two bears. Most people will see this as unjust killing which further illustrates that God is evil and capricious. But is that in fact the case in this scenario? Was Elisha (and ultimately God) just in his actions against these innocent kids who were just acting like kids? That is the objection I will be dealing with in this blog post.

First, the Hebrew word used for children in this text is also used for young men. The Hebrew word used for “children,” is also used to describe Joseph in Genesis 37:2, who was 17 years old at the time, and refers to army men in 1 Kings 20:14-15. In addition it was used to describe the baby Moses in Exodus 2:6 but that’s the only time it refers to a baby. At other times it refers to a servant of unknown age. Instead of children, it’s more appropriate to say mature adolescents or young men.

Second, The Hebrew word for “little” is the word most critics hang onto in order to justify the view that these are actually children. While the word will frequently refer to size, it also refers to quality of significance. For example: It is used to compare the moon to the sun (Genesis 1:6); it refers to insignificant legal cases (Exodus 18:26); as well as “lesser” weights (Deuteronomy 25:13). It is also used to mean “young” when referring to persons who are obviously old enough to be mature (such as those surrounding Lot’s house and demanding to rape the visitors, Gen. 19:11).

Third, there was over 42 young men taunting Elisha. Does that not seem like an odd scenario? It seems rather odd that a crowd of over 42 young men only banded together for the sole purpose of insulting someone. Could it be that this crowd of young men could actually mean physical harm after their insults? I don’t see why it wouldn’t. Unfortunately we don’t know exactly how many young men. We know its over 42 but out of of how many people? 42 out of 50? 42 out of 100? 42 out of 500? There’s no evidence that these young men were innocent and only intended to insult God’s prophet after which they peacefully left. Also there’s no evidence that these young men were intending to rob/beat/kill Elisha after their insults as well. So if the critic is going to just assume that they are innocent young men only intending to insult and then peacefully leave why should I not assume that they were intending to harm Elisha? I don’t know. God knows though. And He thought it was an appropriate to act to protect Elisha.

Fourth, there is not enough biblical evidence to suggests that the crowd of over 42 young men were actually killed. There are two main points I want to make in this area:

Point 1: These were most likely Syrian Brown bears. These bears would typically weigh between 400-500lbs. For a comparison, female American black bears weigh between 150-300 lbs. and female American Grizzly bears weigh 290-440 lbs. The point is that 42 young men being injured or killed from just two of these bears is hard to imagine unless the crowd of men fought back instead of running away, seeking safety.

Point 2: The Hebrew word that was used to describe the action the two bears did to the 42 men does not mean “killed,” “devoured,” or anything similar. It means to “break open” which is used for chopping wood (Genesis 22:3), ripping garments (Joshua 9:13), an egg hatching (Isaiah 34:15), or breaking through an army (2 Kings 3:26). The use in this passage in 2 Kings could possibly be a way of saying that the bears scattered the young men, not that they killed them.

Fifth, it’s important to keep in mind that it wasn’t Elisha who is responsible for the injuries or deaths (if there were any) of the 42 young, aggressive men, it was God who was responsible. God is the creator, designer, and sustainer of the universe. His very nature is the standard of holiness, righteousness, and justice. And He is ultimately the very source of all life. If He wants to take your life, He has the right and authority to do such an action whether directly or indirectly and for whatever reason He deems necessary. It’s important not to think of God as a super-powerful human being but an all-knowing and all-powerful being who keeps the universe in being by his sovereign will. For God, it is not murder or killing when he takes someone from this life. He’s merely moving you from one plane of existence to another plane of existence…and no matter how much we might not like that, God, as the source of life, has the authority to do that and we do not.

Maybe these were not 42 innocent little kids. They were more likely a crowd of over 42 young men who wanted to do more than just insult God’s prophet and then peacefully leave. In showing aggression toward Elisha, God acted to protect his prophet. Even if deaths or injuries occurred, there is nothing evil and unjust in what God or Elisha did in this scenario.

Notes: I owe some of my insights on this tough passage to this article:
http://www.tektonics.org/film/elisha2bears.html

Did Jesus Believe Himself to be God?

Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship (proskyneō) the Lord your God and serve Him only.'”

Luke 4:8

Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship (proskyneō) the Lord your God and serve Him only.'”

Matthew 4:10

The idea that there is one God and that He alone should be worshiped is shown throughout the Jewish scriptures (Deuteronomy 4:35, 6:4, 6:13-16, and 32:39, 2 Samuel 7:22, Isaiah 8:13, and Isaiah 43:10-11). The New Testament has provided several examples of people worshipping something or someone other than God and then being immediately corrected to worship God alone (Revelation 22:8-9, Acts 10:25-26 and 14:11-15). This can be clearly seen through the use of the greek word proskyneō, in the examples below:

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship (proskyneō) at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. But he said to me, “Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship (proskyneō) God.”

Revelation 22:8-9

When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped (proskyneō) him. But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man.”

Acts 10:25-26

Jesus’ disciples, like many religious Jews at that time, clearly understood only God is to be worshipped. To worship someone other than God would make that person an idolater and a violator of the first commandment.

What’s most amazing is that Jesus was worshipped at various times throughout his earthly ministry. The fact that he accepted worship and did not condemn it (as in the cases above) gives us strong reason to believe Jesus considered himself God. Below I’ve listed a host of examples:

The wise men worshiped Him from the moment He was born

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped (proskyneō) him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

Matthew 2:10-12

The leper worshiped Him at his healing

And behold, a leper came to Him, and bowed down (proskyneō) to Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

Matthew 8:2

The synagogue ruler worshiped Him

While He was saying these things to them, behold, there came a synagogue official, and bowed down (proskyneō) before Him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.”

Matthew 9:18-19

The disciples worshiped him in the boat

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped (proskyneō) him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:32-33

The Canaanite woman worshiped Him

But she came and began to bow down (proskyneō) before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

Matthew 15:25-26

The mother of James and John worshipped Him

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Him with her sons, bowing down (proskyneō) , and making a request of Him.

Matthew 20:20-21

The blind man worshiped Him at his healing

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped (proskyneō) him.

John 9:35-38

The women worshiped Him at the empty tomb

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped (proskyneō) him.

Matthew 28:8-10

The disciples worshiped Him at the Ascension

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped (proskyneō) him.

Matthew 28:16-17

End Notes

*Much of the material for this post was taken from Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek’s book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist (Crossway, 2004) and Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ by Robert M. Bowman, Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski (Kregal, 2007).

How Could Jesus Be Tempted?

Could God sin?

If God has the potential to sin, then he would not be essentially or necessarily good. But God is necessarily or essentially good. He cannot be otherwise. This means that it is impossible for God to commit acts of evil and therefore God cannot even be tempted to do wrong just as it says in James 1:13:

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.”

The skeptic may ask in response: Wasn’t Jesus himself tempted in the wilderness? (Matthew 4:1-11). What about Hebrews 2:18 which says that since Jesus himself “was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” Doesn’t this verse imply that Jesus could, in fact, have sinned? If Jesus could not have sinned then wasn’t he pretending to endure temptation?

The Bible certainly portrays the temptations of sin as real.  For some, this realistic portrayal of Christ’s temptations casts into doubt the doctrine of his divinity.  Yet, if we press his perfection (divinity), others suggest that Jesus could not have been fully human since “to err is human”.  This presents a problem since the historic church going back at least as far as the mid-5th Century at Chalcedon (modern day Turkey) has officially taught that Jesus is fully God and fully human.  

So how do we explain this apparent conundrum?

First, the ability to sin does not make a person essentially human. This should seem obvious to Christians because after we die we will go to heaven and heaven is a place without sin. So because of that, having the ability to sin may not be an essential attribute to being human. It is not an attribute that we must have in order to be human. Jesus, therefore, did not need to have the ability to sin to be fully human.

Second, when Jesus came to earth, he voluntarily set aside access to certain things; one item of knowledge he gave up was being aware of his inability to sin. The skeptic will often ask: If Jesus is God, why was he ignorant of certain things? As an example, he was ignorant of his second coming (Matthew 24:36). It appeared that Jesus’ knowledge was limited when he asked for the name of a demon in Mark 5:1-20. It could very well be the case that not only was he ignorant of the timing of his second coming, he was also ignorant that he could not ultimately deviate from the Father’s will.

Was Jesus able to sin? No. Why not? Because Jesus was not merely human. He is also God and therefore could do no wrong. At the same time, Jesus’ struggles and temptations were real. Even though Jesus was not able to carry out a sinful act as a result of temptation, for the temptation to be meaningful, he had to be ignorant of the fact that it was impossible for him to sin. This temporary ignorance was part of Jesus’ earthly mission.

Some Christians and skeptics alike might ask: How could Jesus know he was divine yet not know that he could not sin? However, we could ask the same thing about Jesus not knowing the time of his second coming: How could Jesus know he was divine (which would entail omniscience) yet not know this fact? If we understand it as Christ voluntarily limited access to this knowledge as part of his mission to earth, then we can affirm both that Jesus understood he was standing in the place of God and that he temporarily gave up access to certain truths about his capacities.

Third, since Jesus did not know he could not sin (being God), this made temptation very real for Jesus; although his being God would have prevented him from actually carrying it out, acting on the temptation seemed a possibility for Jesus. Let’s imagine a scenario that might make more sense of this: You enter a room and close the door behind you. You do not realize it, but the door immediately locks with a two-hour time lock. You consider leaving once or twice, but in the end you freely choose to stay in the room for the full two hours. After you read your Facebook feed and watched some Youtube videos, you decide to leave. By this time, the lock has automatically been released by the timer and you freely choose walk out the door only later finding out that you were incapable of leave during those two hours. Why did you stay in the room and not try to leave? Because you freely decided to stay. Would you have been able to leave? No. This is similar to what Christ had to go through when he took a human nature.

Christ freely chose by his human will to resist temptation; that is, his divine will did not overwhelm or impose itself upon his human will. This is the difference between being and knowing: In Jesus’ nature or being, it was impossible for him to sin; yet the temptation was very real to him because he did not know that sinning was impossible for him. Christ in his human awareness voluntarily limited access to his divine knowledge so that he could suffer real temptation; Christ did not know that he could not sin. Christ freely chose by his human will to resist temptation; that is, his divine will did not overwhelm or impose itself upon his human will.

Jesus lived his life in dependency on the empowering of the Spirit and, therefore, is an example for how we too can live victoriously over sin. Just as Jesus was “led by the Spirit” (Luke 4:1), we too as believers are to be “led by the Spirit” (Romans 8:14). Just as Jesus needed the Spirit’s empowering to rise above the limitations of human weakness and frailty, so too do we as believers need the Spirit’s empowering. His temptation was not artificial and his victory over it was real.*

*I borrowed heavily from the book, That’s Just Your Interpretation: Responding to Skeptics Who Challenge Your Faith by Paul Copan to write this post and I highly recommend reading the book for a more in depth response to this specific subject.

Who wrote Luke-Acts?

A couple of weeks ago we looked at who wrote the Gospel of Mark, and before that we looked at who wrote Matthew’s Gospel.

Now we will take up Luke’s Gospel.

Who wrote Luke? Was the person in a position to record what he recorded? Can we know anything about this author? Did this person have contact with any of the apostles?

External Support that Luke wrote Luke

Irenaeus of France (120–190 A.D.)

Now the Gospels, in which Christ is enthroned, are like these…That according to Luke, as having a priestly character, began with the priest Zacharias offering incense to God. For the fatted calf was already being prepared which was to be sacrificed for the finding of the younger son.1

Clement of Alexandria (150–215 AD)

In Clement’s Hypotyposes, he gives the tradition of the earliest church leaders, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner:

“The Gospels containing the genealogies [i.e. Matt and Luke], he says, were written first. The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it. But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel.” This is the account of Clement.2

Muratorian Canon (around 190 A.D.)

In the earliest orthodox list of books dated to around A.D. 190 known as the “Muratorian Canon” we read:

“The third book of the gospel is according to Luke. This Luke was a physician who Paul had taken after the ascension of Christ to be a legal expert. Yet he had not seen the Lord in the flesh. So, as far as he could, he begins his story with the birth of John.”3

Tertullian in Carthage (160-220 A.D.)

“The same authority of the apostolic churches will afford evidence to the other Gospels also, which we possess equally through their means, and according to their usage–I mean the Gospels of John and Matthew–whilst that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s whose interpreter Mark was. For even Luke’s form of the Gospel men usually ascribe to Paul. And it may well seem that the works which disciples publish belong to their masters.”4

Origen (185-254 A.D.)

“And the third by Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul, and composed for Gentile converts. Last of all that by John.”5

Internal Evidence

Reasons for Common Authorship between Acts and Luke

Some scholars believe that it was Luke’s intention to write two books from the beginning when he first penned the Third Gospel,6 while some others will go so far as to say that they were originally a single unit—one book7

Whether Luke had Acts in mind from the beginning or not, there is a strong case to be made that he was the author of both works.  The connection is important because if Luke was also the author of Acts it would establish that Luke was a companion of Paul and other apostles.  Here are a few solid reasons for the belief that Luke wrote both works:

(1) Both books are dedicated to the same man, Theophilus.

(2) Acts refers to the first treatise, which is most naturally understood as the gospel (of Luke).

(3) The books contain strong similarities of language and style.

Evidence that the Author was a companion of Paul

The “we” passages in Acts (16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1–28:16), prima facie, suggest a companion of Paul.

Internal Reasons a Physician wrote Luke-Acts:

First, Colossians 4:14 calls Luke ‘the beloved physician.’ In 1882 W. K. Hobart wrote his celebrated The Medical Language of St. Luke in which he argued that where Matthew and Mark use common, everyday terms, Luke often used medical terms in describing Jesus’ healings. This perspective was challenged by H. J. Cadbury three decades later (1920), who pointed out that Luke’s language was no different than that of any educated person.  As Caird quips, if we should now appeal to Hobart’s tome: This would make doctors of almost all the writers of antiquity.  Nevertheless, one should admit that Luke’s terminology is compatible with an educated person and that a physician would fit this picture well. In his New Testament Introduction the German scholar Alfred Wikenhauser notes that: “… the author displays familiarity with medical terminology,”8 and he undisputedly describes maladies and cures from the point of view of a medical man.9

Second, Luke has more healing and exorcist stories than all the other Gospel writers.10 At the same time, there tends to be more unique healing and exorcist stories in Luke than in the other Gospels.11

Third, when one compares Mark 5:26 with Luke 8:43, it is interesting that whereas Mark mentions that the woman had spent her life’s savings on doctors and only grew worse under their care, Luke omits the jab at physicians…probably because he was a physician.

Fourth, the only Gospel to mention of Jesus quoting a proverb “Physician, heal yourself.”12 Fifth,  Luke is the only Gospel to mention the healing of Malchus’ ear when Peter chopped it off.13  These slivers make sense if Luke the physician is the author.

Sixth, Luke is the only Gospel writer to mention why the disciples kept falling asleep. It was because of exhaustion from grief that they fell asleep.14 Leave it to a physician to diagnose people’s physiological condition.

With additional information from external testimony from the early church leaders as well as the what we know from Scripture,15 Luke seems to be the most likely person behind the composition of Luke-Acts.

End Notes

 

  1.  Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 3.11.8.
  2.  Cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.5-7
  3.  Muratorian Canon quoted in Alister E. McGrath, The Christian Theology    Reader, (Wiley-Blackwell, 2006), p. 77.
  4.  Tertullian Against Marcion, 4.5, 207 AD.
  5.  Cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.25.6.
  6. D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo in their An Introduction to the New Testament state “Luke almost certainly had both books in mind when he began to write…” (An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 203); I. H. Marshall in his New Testament Theology says, “Luke, unlike the other evangelists, saw his Gospel as the earlier part of a two-volume work.  This verdict stands firm regardless of whether Luke had the second volume in mind at the time he compiled the first (as I believe to be the case) or decided later that the Gospel needed to be complemented” (New Testament Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 155); Werner Georg Kummel in his Introduction to the New Testament, asserts: “Acts is not a literary work that can stand on its own: as the dedication to Theophilus shows, it constitutes the carrying forward of Luke and belongs with it as the second part of a complete historical work (Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville: Abingdon, 1975), 156.
  7. Robert Maddox states in The Purpose of Luke-Acts “By phrasing the subject of our inquiry as ‘the purpose of Luke-Acts,’ we imply that the two volumes are indeed a single work, which therefore can be regarded as sharing a common purpose…” (The Purpose of Luke-Acts (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1982), 3); David A. DeSilva, says “The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are two volumes of a single written work…” (An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods and Ministry Formation (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 298).
  8.  Luke 4:38; 5:12; 8,44; Acts 5:5 10; 9:40.
  9. Luke 4:35; 3:11; Acts 3:7; 9:18.
  10.  Luke-14, Matthew-12, Mark-11, John-4.
  11.  Luke-4, Matthew-1, Mark-0.
  12.  Luke 4:23.
  13.  Luke 22:51.
  14.  Luke 22:45.
  15.  Colossians 4:14 – “Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas.” 2 Timothy 4:11 – “Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.” Philemon 1:24 – “as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers.”.

Who Wrote the Gospel of Mark?

Critics today almost take it for granted that the gospels were not written by the people we think they were; that the names on each gospel were added at a much later date.  They further surmise that whoever wrote these books was not relying on any kind of eyewitness testimony for their material.

A few weeks ago we investigated the book of Matthew to see if there’s any evidence that the disciple Matthew actually wrote the gospel attributed to him.

Today, we are going to take a look at the gospel attributed to Mark.

Can we be confident that Mark wrote Mark?  Even if we were certain that he wrote the Gospel of Mark, why trust him?  Do we have good reason to think he had access to eyewitness testimony?

To answer these questions, there are a couple of things we must do:  First, we must look at some external evidence to figure out who wrote Mark.  And second, we will investigate to see whether or not Mark used Peter as an eyewitness source since some of the external evidence points in that direction.

If we can determine that Mark wrote the gospel that bears his name and that his material came from an eyewitness, we can be confident that his testimony is trustworthy.

EXTERNAL SOURCES

Many sources outside the Scriptures assume that Mark, Peter’s interpreter, was the author of the Gospel According to Mark.

Papias of Asia Minor (60-130 AD)

Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.1

Justin Martyr (100-166 AD)

It is said that he [Jesus] changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter; and it is written in his memoirs that he changed the names of others, two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means ‘sons of thunder’…2

Justin, identifies a particular Gospel as the ‘memoir’ of Peter and he says that this memoir describes the sons of Zebedee as the ‘sons of thunder’. Only Mark’s Gospel describes John and James in this way, so it is reasonable to assume that the Gospel of Mark is the memoir of Peter.

Irenaeus of France (120-190 AD)

Mark, on the other hand, commences with [a reference to] the prophetical spirit coming down from on high to men, saying, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” as it is written in Esaias the prophet, pointing to the winged aspect of the Gospel; and on this account he made a compendious and cursory narrative, for such is the prophetical character.3

Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD)

Again, in the same books [the Hypotyposeis], Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner:The Gospels containing the genealogies [i.e. Matt and Luke], he says, were written first. The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it. But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel.This is the account of Clement.4

Tertullian of Carthage (160-220 AD)

The same authority of the apostolic churches will afford evidence to the other Gospels also, which we possess equally through their means, and according to their usage–I mean the Gospels of John and Matthew–whilst that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s whose interpreter Mark was. For even Luke’s form of the Gospel men usually ascribe to Paul. And it may well seem that the works which disciples publish belong to their masters.5

Origen (185-254 AD)

The second is by Mark, who composed it according to the instructions of Peter, who in his Catholic epistle acknowledges him as a son, saying, ‘The church that is at Babylon elected together with you, salutes you, and so does Marcus, my son.’6

EVIDENCE THAT MARK IS USING PETER AS A SOURCE

Within the gospel of Mark, we find additional evidence to make our point that Mark’s gospel was not written by him, but that’s material is based upon eye-witness testimony.  There is a lot to suggest that Mark was especially fond of Peter, which is a good indicator that they had a special relationship.

Mentioning of Peter with Prominence

Mark referred to Peter twenty-six times in his short account, compared to Matthew who mentions Peter an additional 3 times in his much longer account.

Mark used Peter as a set of “bookends”

Peter is the first disciple mentioned (Mark 1:16) and the last mentioned (Mark 16:17). Scholars describe this type of “bookending” as “inclusio” and have noticed it in other ancient texts where a piece of history is attributed to a particular eyewitness.

Mark Identified Peter with the Most Familiarity

Mark is the only gospel that does not use “Simon Peter.” It’s always “Simon” or “Peter.” Mark consistently used the briefest, most familiar versions of Peter’s name.

Mark Paid Peter the Utmost Respect

Mark shows more respect towards Peter than any other gospel writer did; he repeatedly painted Peter in the kindest possible way, even when Peter made a fool of himself.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is walking on water and Peter fails in his attempt to do so. As he sinks into the sea; Jesus described him as a doubter and a man “of little faith.” Interestingly Mark omits Peter’s involvement altogether. (Matthew 14:22-33 vs Mark 6:45-52)

Similarly, Luke’s gospel includes a description of the “miraculous catch” of fish where Peter was heard to doubt Jesus’ wisdom in trying to catch fish after Peter had been unsuccessful all day. After catching more fish than his nets could hold, Peter says, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  Mark’s parallel omits this episode completely. (Luke 5:1-11 vs Mark 1:16-20)

While other gospels mention Peter directly as the source of some embarrassing statement or question, Mark’s gospel omits Peter’s name specifically and attributes the question or statement to “the disciples” or so other similarly unnamed member of the group. Over and over again, Mark offered a version of the story that is kinder to Peter.

This evidence, taken with what has been mentioned above, strongly suggests that not only did Mark write the gospel attributed to him, but that Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, was a major source for its material.

  1.  Cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.
  2.  Justin Martyr, Dialogue, 106.
  3.  Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 3.11.8.
  4.  Cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.14.5-7.
  5.  Tertullian Against Marcion, 4.5, 207 AD.
  6.  Cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.25.5.

Who Wrote the Gospel of Matthew?

If the accounts of Jesus’ life that we have were written by eyewitnesses, that would be considered good evidence for the reliability of their contents.  Most significantly, those portions that carry the most weight both historically and doctrinally in Christian faith–the death, deity and resurrection of Jesus.

Let’s turn our attention to Matthew’s Gospel and see if we have good reason to believe that the Gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew the tax collector and disciple of Jesus.

First, we will look at the internal evidence where we examine the gospel writer’s focus on currency terms and the special interest in the disciple Matthew portrayed in the book.  Next, we look at the external evidence for the testimony of other Church leaders on who they believed to be the author of that Gospel.

Knowledge and Interest in Currency Terms

  • Matthew is the only Gospel to mention gold, chrysos, 4 times1
  • This is something to expect from someone who works with money.
  • Matthew is the only gospel to mention the word argyros, which means silver.2
  • Only Gospel to mention tatanton which means talents, another form of currency: 13 times.3
  • The author of Matthew used the more precise term nomisma for the coin used in the dispute over tribute4 rather than Mark’s and Luke’s denarion in the same story.5
  • Only Gospel to mention didrachmon (a silver coin).6
  • Matthew is the only gospel to mention stater which means shekel, which is the standard coin.7
  • When Jesus was reciting the Lord’s Prayer: Matthew uses debts where the Lukan parallel has sins.8
  • Matthew uses trapezites for money broker or banker. Only Gospel writer to mention this word.9

Special Treatment of the Disciple Matthew

  • The calling of Matthew is less self-deprecating in Matthew’s Gospel. For example, in Luke’s account, it says that Matthew left everything and followed Jesus (5:28) while Matthew simply says that he got up and followed Jesus. If the first gospel were not by Matthew, one would be at a loss to explain why the author seemed to not be deprecating to Matthew in a subtle way.
  • Matthew 9:9 humanizes the individual by referring to him as “a man” rather than more formally referring to his ancestry10 or referring to his despised employment as a tax collector.11
  • Matthew 9:10 refers to “the house” rather than “his house”.12 “The house” is more natural coming from the house’s owner.
  • Matthew identifies himself as a tax collector in the roll call in Matthew’s gospel. (Matthew 10) Mark, and Luke don’t mention “tax collector” when describing Matthew in the roll call. (Mark 3 & Luke 6)

External Support

Papias of Asia Minor (60-130AD)

“So then Matthew composed the oracles in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as he could.”13

Irenaeus of France (120–190 A.D.)

“Now the Gospels, in which Christ is enthroned, are like these…Matthew proclaims his human birth, saying, ‘The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham,’ and, ‘The birth of Jesus Christ was in this manner.’ For this Gospel is manlike, and so through the whole Gospel [Christ] appears as a man of a humble mind, and gentle.”14

“Matthew published his own Gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel in Rome and founding the church there. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching. Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by his teacher. Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on his breast, himself produced his Gospel while he was living at Ephesus in Asia.”15

Pantaenus (180 AD)

Eusebius tells of a missionary named Pantaenus, who traveled to India around 180 A.D.:

“…he there found his own arrival anticipated by some who there were acquainted with the gospel of Matthew, to whom Bartholomew, one of the apostles, had preached, and had left them the gospel of Matthew in the Hebrew, which was also preserved until this time.”16

Tertullian in Carthage (160-220 A.D.)

“The same authority of the apostolic churches will afford evidence to the other Gospels also, which we possess equally through their means, and according to their usage–I mean the Gospels of John and Matthew–whilst that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s whose interpreter Mark was. For even Luke’s form of the Gospel men usually ascribe to Paul. And it may well seem that the works which disciples publish belong to their masters.”17

Origen (185-254 A.D.)

“Among the four gospels… I have learned by tradition that first was written that according to Matthew, who was once a tax collector but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, who published it for those who from Judaism came to believe, composed as it was in the Hebrew language.”18

Eusebius of Caesarea (260–339A.D.)

“Matthew, also having first proclaimed the gospel in Hebrew, when on the point of going also to other nations, committed it to writing in his native tongue, and thus supplied the want of his presence to them, by his writings.”19

End Notes:

  1. Matthew 2:11, 10:9, 23:16, 23:17.
  2.  Matthew 10:9.
  3. Matthew 18:24, 25:15, 25:16, 25:17, 25:20, 25:22, 25:28.
  4. Matthew 22:19.
  5. Mark 12:15 & Luke 20:24.
  6.  Matthew 17:24.
  7. Matthew 17:27.
  8. Matthew 6:12 and Luke 11:4.
  9. Matthew 25:27.
  10. Mark 2:14.
  11. Luke 5:27.
  12. Mark 2:15 & Luke 5:29.
  13. Cited by Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.16 from Papias’ work, Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord, around 120 AD.
  14.  Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 3.11.8.
  15.  Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 3.3.4.
  16. Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, Chapter 10.3.
  17. Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4.5, 207 AD.
  18.  Origin, Commentary on Matthew, quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.25.4.
  19. Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, Chapter 24.6.

Jesus on the Old Testament

tin mail boxes bunched together on a wall with a set of stairs by the side in an amber lit room

If Jesus is God, then would he be in a good position to know whether the Old Testament is reliable in any way.  It seems that that would be a safe assumption to make. The fact is that when you read the gospels, you will see that Jesus has a very high view regarding the Old Testament. According to Jesus, the Old Testament:

Is Imperishable

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus claimed that not even the smallest little mark in the Scriptures—the equivalent of a dot on an “i” or a cross on a “t”—will ever perish. He said:

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. —Matthew 5:17

Is Infallible

In John 10, Jesus was about to be stoned for blasphemy. To get himself out of this jam, Jesus cited the Old Testament and declared:

“The Scripture cannot be broken.” —John 10:35

When his life was on the line, Jesus referred to what he sees as an infallible authority that cannot be broken—the Scriptures. He later affirmed the truth of the Scriptures when he prayed for the disciples,

“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” —John 17:17

Is Inerrant

When the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus with a question, Jesus said to them:

“You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”  —Matthew 22:29

The implication, it seems, is that Jesus is implying that the Scriptures are inerrant. It wouldn’t make much sense for Jesus to say: You are in error because you don’t know the Scriptures, which also err!  Jesus clearly believed that the Scriptures were total truth.  What is more, during Jesus’ entire earthly ministry, he never pointed out any errors in the Old Testament. He only pointed out misinterpretations by the religious authorities. If God had any chance to correct an error in the Old Testament, Jesus’ ministry would be the perfect time to do it, but we don’t get anything from Jesus, his disciples or even the apostle Paul for that matter.

Has Ultimate Supremacy

Since Jesus implicitly taught that the Old Testament is divinely authoritative, imperishable, infallible, and inerrant, you would expect him to assert that it has ultimate supremacy over any teaching of man. This is exactly what Jesus said. He corrected the religious authorities by claiming that they should be obeying the Old Testament Scriptures instead of their own man-made traditions.

“Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?…You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” —Matthew 15:3, 6

He then blasted them for failing to live up to the Scriptures by quoting from the Old Testament:

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” —Matthew 15:7-9

Why would Jesus correct the religious leaders of Israel with the Old Testament unless the Old Testament had ultimate supremacy over their own ideas?

Is Complete

In light of Jesus’ teaching, there’s no question he considered the entire Old Testament to be the inerrant, written Word of God. He said he came to fulfill the entirety of scripture (Matthew 5:17), which he referred to as “the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:26-27). And he told the Jews,

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” —John 5:39-40.

So Jesus came to fulfill the Scriptures that testify to him. But what did that Old Testament comprise? To what books was Jesus referring when he spoke of “the Scriptures”? In his rebuke of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, Jesus covered every book in the Jewish Old Testament, first to last, when he declared,

“Upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” —Matthew 23:35

Abel was killed in the first book of the Old Testament (Genesis) and Zechariah was killed in the last (Chronicles). 1 2

So to conclude, Jesus affirmed that the Old Testament is imperishable, infallible, inerrant, has ultimate supremacy and is complete. Why should we not take Jesus’ word for it and take the same position on the Old Testament?

  1.  For those who do not know, the original ordering of the Hebrew Bible had Chronicles (and not Malachi) as the last book of the Old Testament canon. With the exception of the ordering of books, our Old Testament mirrors the canon the Jews had in place before Christ was born.
  2.  Much of this comes from the book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be An Atheist by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler of which I highly recommend reading.

Eyewitness claims in the New Testament

eyes of a woman in a letterbox frame

When considering whether a document has within it eyewitness testimony, probably the first question that should be asked is: Does the writer of said document claimed to be an eyewitness or claims to get information from eyewitnesses? I think we have this in the New Testament.

When taking the New Testament as a whole, both the apostles and those who wrote the New Testament documents claim to be eyewitnesses. In addition to Peter’s proclamation throughout the early part of Acts (Acts 2; 3; 4; 5; 10) and John’s writing in his own gospel (John 19 & 20), we have many more examples.  Here’s a sampling:

1 Corinthians 15:3-8, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

1 Peter 5:1, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and an eyewitness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed…

2 Peter 1:16, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

1 John 1:1-2, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us

It’s kind of hard to not get the impression that they actually saw something. In addition, Luke (Luke 1:1-2) and the writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 2:3-4) claim to be informed by eyewitnesses.

At the very least, Peter, Paul, and John all claim to be eyewitnesses, and Luke and the writer of Hebrews claim to be informed by eyewitnesses. Paul cites in the 1 Corinthians 15 oral creed that Jesus appeared to over 500 people as well as to the disciples and himself. In addition, Matthew and Luke confirm the appearances to the apostles. All four Gospels mention the women as eyewitnesses. Not only do the apostles claim to be eyewitnesses, on several occasions they tell their audience that everyone knows what they’re saying is true. These are radically bold statements to make in front of people.

Probably the boldest eyewitness claim was from Paul in front of King Agrippa and Governor Festus while he was on trial. Paul was explaining why he converted to Christianity and how Christ rose from the dead as predicted by the Old Testament when suddenly Festus interrupts and exclaims that Paul is insane! The exchange is recorded by Luke in Acts 26:24-28:

While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.”

But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.”
Agrippa replied to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian?”

Do you see how brave and brash Paul is? He not only boldly witnesses to the king and his governor, but he has the audacity to tell the king that he already knows Paul is telling the truth! Why is Paul so confident of this? Because the events of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were “not done in a corner.” They were common knowledge and surely had not “escaped [the king’s] notice.” Imagine a defendant challenging a ruler or judge in that way! Such a witness must know that the events he describes are well known.

This approach is taken by several New Testament characters, who are not shy about challenging their hearers to test the truth of their testimony. For example, the apostles, led by Peter, are just as brash and confident when the angry Jewish authorities question them. Luke records the incident in Acts 5:27-32:

Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

Peter and other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are eyewitnesses of these things, and so it’s the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

The account goes on to say that the Jewish authorities “were furious and wanted to put [the apostles] to death,” but a well-respected Pharisee named Gamaliel talked them out of it.

The risk Paul, Peter, and the other apostles took to claim that they were providing eyewitness testimony certainly suggests that they were telling the truth. If these accounts are true, the apostle’s uncompromising testimony and bold challenges demonstrate that they were eyewitnesses who really believed Jesus rose from the dead.

Dating the New Testament books

Titus destroys temple

All of the New Testament Documents were written before 100 AD

In letters written between 95-110 AD, three prominent church fathers [Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp] quoted passages from 25 of the 27 New Testament books.1 Only the brief books of Jude and 2 John were not referenced, but they certainly had to have been written (Jude, being Jesus’ half-brother, was almost certainly dead by 100 AD and 2 John would have to be written because it came before 3 John, which is quoted by the church fathers.).

Most if not all of the NT books were written before 70 AD

The problem is that the destruction of the temple in 70 AD is not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament books. Jesus Christ prophesies this, yet there is no mention of its fulfillment. How strange it would be to leave out something that helps prove Jesus is who he said he was.

This isn’t just an argument from silence. All the gospels, Acts, and Hebrews at least mention the temple but they do not say anything about its destruction.2 Even if it was an argument from silence, that doesn’t mean its wrong. 70 AD marked the end of such a terrible war that Josephus—who himself surrendered to the Romans in 67 AD—called it the “greatest” war of all time. The Jews lost their entire country, their capital city, and their temple, which had been the center of their religious, political, and economic life for the last thousand years. In addition, tens of thousands of their countrymen were dead and hundreds of their villages burned to the ground. We can reasonably conclude that most if not all of the New Testament books were written before 70 AD.

Many NT Books were composed before 62 AD

Luke records all kinds of details in Acts, which is the history of the church. Luke records the deaths of two Christian martyrs (Stephen and James, the brother of John), but his history account ends with James, Jesus’ half-brother, and Paul still alive and well. Acts ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome and there’s no mention of James having died. We know from Clement, writing around 95 AD, and other church fathers, that Paul was executed sometime during the reign of Nero, which ended in 68 AD. And we know from Josephus that James was killed in 62 AD. So we can conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the book of Acts was written before 62.

If Acts was written before 62, then the Gospel of Luke was written before that. We know this because Luke reminds the recipient of Acts, Theophilus what he had written to him earlier. “In my former work, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach…” The “former book” must be the Gospel of Luke, because Luke addresses that to Theophilus as well. 3

If Luke was written by 60 AD, then Mark and Matthew must have been written in the mid-to-late 50s if not earlier. Why? Because Luke says that he got his facts by checking with eyewitness sources (See Luke 1:1-4).

Some NT Books were composed in the 40s and 50s AD, with sources from the 30s

Even non-Christian scholars would agree that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians and that it was composed in 55 AD. In this letter, Paul speaks about the moral problems in the church and then proceeds to discuss controversies over tongues, prophecies, and the Lord’s Supper. This helps demonstrates that the church in Corinth was experiencing all kinds of miraculous activity and was already observing the Lord’s Supper within 25 years of the Resurrection. What is most significant about this letter is the oral creed Paul wrote in the letter.( See 1 Cor. 3:3-8.)

Why is this important? Because most scholars (even non-Christians) believe that this testimony was part of an early creed that dates right back to the Resurrection itself—eighteen months to five years after, but some say even earlier.

In addition to 1 Corinthians, there are other documents written in the 50s and one in the 40s. Galatians (48 AD), 1 Thessalonians (50-54), and Romans (57-58) are all in that category.

The pre-Markan passion story, which Mark used in writing his Gospel, predates his writing of the gospel itself. Most of Mark’s gospel consists of short anecdotal stories strung like pearls on a string, but when we get to the final week of Jesus’ life we encounter a continuous narrative of events from the Jewish plot during the Last Supper through Jesus’ burial and finally to the empty tomb.

The main reasons the passion story in Mark is extremely early is because 1) Paul’s account of the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-5 presupposes the Markan account. Since Paul’s own traditions are themselves very old, the Markan source must be even older than that and 2) the pre-Markan passion story never refers to the high priest by name. It is as when I say “The President is hosting a dinner at the White House” and everyone knows whom I am speaking of because it is the man currently in office. Similarly, the pre-Markan passion story refers to the “high priest” as if he were still in power. Since Caiaphas held office from AD 18-37 (we learn this from Josephus), this means at the latest the pre-Markan source must have been composed within seven years of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Christian scholars aren’t the only ones who consider early dates on the New Testament documents. Atheist John A.T. Robinson, admit the New Testament documents were written very early. He wrote a book called Redating the New Testament, in which he posited that most New Testament books, including all four Gospels, were written sometime between 40 and 65 AD. The great and once-liberal archaeologist William F. Albright, after seeing how well the New Testament fit with the archeological and historical data, wrote: We can already say emphatically that there is no longer any solid basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about 80 AD. 4

  1.  Paul Barnett, Is the New Testament Reliable? (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVasity Press, 1986), page 38-40.
  2. Predictions of Destruction: Luke 21:5-6, Matthew 24:1-2, Mark 13:1-2. The temple is mentioned many more times continuously through the Gospels, Acts, and Hebrews 5:1-3; 7:23, 27; 8:3-5; 9:25; 10:1, 3-4, 11; 13:10-11.
  3.  Luke 1:1-4, “Many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.
  4.  William F. Albright, Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1956), page 136.