The Four Gospels

Matthew First

We expect different accounts of the same event to revolve around the same points. The account of the tornado devastating the small Kansas town bears a family resemblance in Yahoo News, Reuters, AP, and whatever other news source we consult. The accounts are similar because they describe the same events and even query the same witnesses. "The truthful testimonies of two witnesses about the same occurrence have a common cause, namely the occurrence, however independent (in the legal sense of the absence of collusion) the witnesses may be." (John Maynard Keynes, A Treatise on Probability, Kindle location 6042).

So we expect truthful testimony to converge. We do not expect to see same events recounted in the very same words, however. In that case, we would suspect borrowing. This is the case with the synoptic gospels, whose accounts of the same events are sometimes so very similar as to suggest copying. Who copied whom? In the early church, they said Matthew was first:

  • “For Matthew is understood to have taken it in hand to construct the record of the incarnation of the Lord according to the royal lineage, and to give an account of most part of His deeds and words as they stood in relation to this present life of men. Mark follows him closely, and looks like his attendant and epitomizer. For in his narrative he gives nothing in concert with John apart from the others: by himself separately, he has little to record; in conjunction with Luke, as distinguished from the rest, he has still less; but in concord with Matthew, he has a very large number of passages. Much, too, he narrates in words almost numerically and identically the same as those used by Matthew, where the agreement is either with that evangelist alone, or with him in connection with the rest.”

  • (Aurelius Augustine, The Harmony of the Gospels, Book I, Chapter II 4).

There are two great advantages that follow from counting Matthew first. One is that it follows the independent testimony of history. The other is parsimony. If Mark goes first, as modern Bible scholars believe, then an otherwise unknown document known as 'Q' is required to account for the material Matthew and Luke have in common, which is not found in Mark. William of Ockham's razor requires us to slash away all unnecessary entities. 'Q' is an unnecessary entity, since counting Matthew first eliminates the need for it. That doesn't mean you can't make money selling it, to those suckers willing to shell out cash for a non-existent book.

Epiphanius lists Matthew first, "For Matthew was the first to become an evangelist. He was directed to issue the Gospel first.  . .Matthew himself wrote and issued the Gospel in the Hebrew alphabet, and did not begin at the beginning, but traced Christ's pedigree from Abraham." (Epiphanius, Panarion, Section IV, Chapter 51, p. 29 Brill). Then Mark: "Mark, who came directly after Matthew, was ordered to issue the Gospel by St. Peter at Rome, and after writing it was sent by St. Peter to Egypt." (Epiphanius, Panarion, Section IV, Chapter 51, p. 31 Brill). Then Luke, then John: "Later, therefore, though from caution and humility he had declined to be an evangelist, the Holy Spirit compelled John to issue the Gospel in his old age when he was past ninety, after his return from Patmos under Claudius Caesar, and several years of his residence in Asia." (Epiphanius, Panarion, Section IV, Chapter 51, p. 36 Brill). The revelations John saw at Patmos, incidentally, fit in better with the brief incumbency of Claudius' predecessor than the usual dating.

Other things being equal, one would expect the first gospel written to be also the first cited. Matthew is the most commonly cited gospel by the earliest Christian writers: "At the end of this first book, let me gather briefly the conclusions which can be gleaned from the study of these three authors [Clement of Rome, 'Barnabas,' Ignatius]. They all reveal a knowledge and an indubitable use of the sayings of the Lord drawn from the Gospel of Mt. . .The Gospel of Mk., on the other hand, does not seem to have exercised an influence on the composition of the various works of these authors, who never show the slightest literary relationship to the second gospel." (Edouard Massaux, The Influence of the Gospel of Saint Matthew on Christian Literature before Saint Irenaeus, Book 1, p. 119). It is impossible to understand why this should be if, as is claimed, Mark wrote first.

So early external evidence points to Matthew's priority.


Mark Second

Realizing that both early testimony and the external evidence of the early use and widespread distribution of Matthew's gospel point to Matthew's priority, why do modern scholars overwhelmingly prefer to place Mark first?

One function of the popular conjecture of Mark's priority is to discredit the other gospels, which, it is alleged, are copied from him, but with free and unwarranted additions and subtractions:

"In contemporary studies of the way the gospels came into being, scholars are all but unanimous today in asserting that Mark was written first and that both Matthew and Luke incorporated Mark into their narratives. The problem for the excessive claim of a divine origin for the scriptures then comes when we discover that both Matthew and Luke changed Mark, expanded Mark and even omitted portions of Mark. That is not exactly the way one treats something identified as the 'Word of God,' or even something thought to be inspired by God." (John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 22).

Mark is the shortest gospel, so 'expanded' it must be. One can certainly understand why someone like Bishop Spong is attracted to this conjecture, because his agenda is to discredit the Bible: "I had to come to the place where I recognized that the Bible itself was often the enemy." (John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 11). It is far less obvious why people who think the Bible is God-breathed also find this speculative, fact-free construct appealing. Parsimony requires its abandonment.

When a book comes on the market, it does not obliterate prior publications. Mark's gospel is the shortest, and also the most action-packed, with less of the Lord's instruction than Matthew. Some readers think it inconceivable a shorter work would be produced after a longer. Some of these people think the gospels are collections of fictions which grow by accretion, and some Christians, oddly enough, agree with them. Mark's brevity is the basic argument in favor of Markan priority:

"The third possibility, the Holtzmann/Streeter Hypothesis, which is diagrammed on the next page, is the dominant view today, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, Marks's gospel is much shorter than the other two Synoptic Gospels, and scholars have long theorized that it makes more sense that Matthew and Luke added to Mark's bare-bones account than the opposite, that Mark abbreviated a longer version." (Searching for Jesus, Robert J. Hutchinson, p. 19).

Yes indeed, scholars have long put Mark first for this very reason, that it is the shortest gospel. But Mark had no reason to think Matthew's already published gospel would blink out of existence if he wrote down Peter's gospel. Nothing in Matthew's gospel has been lost as a result of subsequent efforts in the same genre. Your church foyer may have a table, like mine, with pamphlets spread on it. A pamphlet is a short version, but it is not the only version known to the church. Why anyone would write a pamphlet, when there are books available, is not actually any great mystery, especially since publishing the pamphlet in no way harms, diminishes or hollows out the books in the library. Moreover, if Mark did write first, then Matthew and Luke abbreviate him, because their stories often lack detail found in his version of the story. So by shoving him first in line before Matthew, you haven't solved the 'mystery' of abbreviation, just put in on other shoulders.

The nineteenth century answered the question of how things came to be with an adverb, 'gradually.' This was the essence of Darwin's revolution in biology. But not only does 'gradually' explain nothing, the fossil record stubbornly persists in showing no sign of 'gradually,' and so in time this revered adverb was displaced in favor of punctuated equilibrium, by means of which it was hoped to salvage Darwinism. The idea that the Bible came into existence bit by bit, growing slowly by accretion, appealed to the nineteenth century mind. Therefore, Mark, the shortest gospel, must be the first, because these things grow. . .gradually. But there was never any objective evidence in favor, and surely such an antiquated mind-set cannot continue to forge reality to fit its demands, when it is no longer accepted even in its field of origin. Almost all of Mark in incorporated into Matthew. So either Matthew built upon Mark, or Mark epitomized Matthew. The external evidence points to Matthew first. If Peter preached with Matthew's gospel open before him, he would naturally present his anecdotes in the same order.

Certainly these four gospels might have been written in any order. The bad use which has been made of the purported priority of Mark is not sufficient reason for denial. Except once the reader understands there is no good reason to affirm it, but mainly bad reasons of primary interest to cultural historians interested in the nineteenth century, and that all the external evidence points to Matthew instead, it is unconvincing.

As to where Mark's gospel was published, given its contents, Rome seems a likely bet. Mark is pre-eminently the gospel of the the Lord's triumph over demonic possession. Rome was a city haunted by a thousand demons. Converts from the pagan world understood that the Lord had defeated their gods, who were demons:

"A careful inquirer would do well to refer this to our Lord and Saviour Jesus the Christ of God, and to turn back again to the record, relating to His Presence among men, by which He routed the hostile invisible powers of evil and corrupt daemons and of wicked and impure spirits, and won very many peoples for Himself out of all nations."
(Eusebius of Caesarea. Eusebius of Caesarea: Demonstratio Evangelica (The Proof of the Gospel) Book V, Chapter 2. (Kindle Locations 3742-3744).)

The pagans had not intended to worship corrupt, fallen spirits, they had intended to worship the resplendent heavenly bodies, the forces of nature, and other noteworthy things. But the sun did not show up at their ceremonies; the only entities that ever did show up for the shin-digs at the pagan temples were not resplendent luminaries but quite the contrary. The demons were worshipped only by imposture, not by intent. Readers not from a pagan background often flip through the many exorcisms of the gospel of Mark with impatience, but to pagans they were the trumpet call of liberation. Tradition reports Mark as Peter's interpreter, i.e. translator, in Rome, and this seems likely from internal evidence. According to Eusebius, the disciples were illiterate, and even orally competent only in Aramaic:

"If then, these Disciples of our Saviour were deceived and deceiving, I would add this also: They were unlearned, and altogether illiterate; that is, they were even barbarians, and understood no language except the Syriac. How then did they, after the departure of their Lord from among men, go forth into the whole creation, and give their testimony to His Godhead? And, by What sort of advice were they prevailed on to attempt this? By What power too, did they effect that which they undertook?"
(Eusebius of Caesarea. Eusebius of Caesarea: Theopania (Kindle Locations 4671-4674). The Fifth Book, Chapter 26.)

This seems doubtful but it would not be surprising if Peter, a fisherman, did need a translator in Rome.


Galilee or Judaea

While there is an evident relation of literary dependence between the synoptic gospels, in whichever direction the arrow points, it is also apparent these authors all relied upon trusted outside sources of information as well. Luke's nativity information is without parallel. The four gospels differ in the geographical focus of their resurrection appearances, earning this crabby notice from David Friedrich Strauss:

"Thus the various evangelical writers only agree as to a few of the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection; the designation of the locality in one excludes the appearances narrated by the rest; the determination of time in another leaves no space for the narratives of his fellow Evangelists; the enumeration of a third is given without any regard to the events reported by his predecessors; lastly, among several appearances recounted by various narrators, each claims to be the last, and yet has nothing in common with the others. Hence nothing but willful blindness can prevent the perception that no one of the narrators knew and presupposed what another records; that each again had heard a different account of the matter; and that consequently at an early period, there were current only uncertain and very varied reports concerning the appearances of the risen Jesus."
(Strauss, David Friedrich; Eliot, George. The life of Jesus critically examined (Kindle Locations 21150-21156).)

These authors cannot, however, have been unaware of one another if they were dependent upon one another, as does seem to be the case to some degree. They do count therefore as four independent witnesses. And if Jesus appeared to His followers in Judaea, that is certainly no proof that He did not also appear to His scattered flock in Galilee! These 'critics' complain of redundancy, but who among us never visits our friends, because we have already seen those people?

The crux of the problem is that Luke mentions no post-resurrection appearances in Galilee, whereas elsewhere Galilee seems like the place where the action is: “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.” (Mark 14:28). How might a differing geographic focus develop? It is easy enough to imagine, if granted license to speculate. Jesus' ministry was centered in Galilee, He had many followers there; yet after the resurrection His half-brother James ran the show from Jerusalem, as becomes apparent in Acts 15. Why was the Jesus movement not headquartered in Galilee, as Matthew may have expected, given his sense that the resurrection appearance there was the important foundational one for the church going forward? And since the Lord's brothers did not believe in Him before the resurrection, why were they the obvious choice to seize the helm? There seems to be a history of some geographic split fossilized here, as paths began to diverge. By the time Luke wrote, James was firmly in the driver's seat and the church was centered in Jerusalem. The site of a resurrection appearance would be a valuable asset of any fledgling religious group, as these might become pilgrimage sites where worshippers could gather for contemplation and commemoration; certainly such a site might form the nucleus for a successful church. James' Jerusalem organization boasted several such sites conveniently within local commuting distance. The gospel authors are not denying the existence of any rival or competing sites, but they are not obligated to advertise them either. It may have seemed to Luke an unproductive poking of a hornet's nest with a stick to play up the Galilee appearances.

Beyond controversy, the Jerusalem church won the competition; they were the center of the church world in the early days:

"Doubtless there were groups of followers of Jesus in the villages as early as during Jesus’ ministry. But after the resurrection it was the Jerusalem church, under the leadership of the Twelve and later of James the Lord’s brother, that became the mother church of the whole Christian movement. Given Jerusalem’s place at both the literal and the symbolic center of the Jewish world, this was a natural development, as well as conforming to the eschatological self-understanding of the Christian community as the place from which the word of the Lord would go out to the ends of the earth and to which the redeemed of Israel and the nations would come (see especially Isa 2: 2-3). The authority of this church over the whole movement was widely recognized, 21 as we can see in a particularly striking way from the fact that even Paul, who was probably, among the Christian leaders of the first generation, the most independent of Jerusalem, nevertheless in his own way recognized the centrality of Jerusalem (Gal 2: 1-10; Rom 15: 19)."
(Bauckham, Richard (2013-09-25). Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (pp. 298-299). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.)

What is unclear at this distance is whether Jerusalem won by default, never having encountered any serious rival, or whether it won out over competing groups. If there were competing groups, however, one based in Galilee, that would explain the geographic disjunction in these parallel passages. Certainly there is something afoot. The reader of Acts discovers a change in focus as the movement begins to attract new classes of disciples. The gospel reader recalls that the Jesus movement, while the Master walked this earth, was in constant conflict with the Pharisees and also with the priestly establishment. The distinctive feature of the Pharisees was their endeavor to erect a hedge around the law. They were quite intentional in this project; the reader of the Talmud, the compendium compiled by their theological heirs, discovers they are by no means apologetic about adding to the law. Jesus was simply against them:

“Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 'Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.' He answered and said to them, 'Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?'” (Matthew 15:1-3).

But in Acts we discover Pharisee Christians: “But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, 'It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.'” (Acts 15:5). Had something changed? What attracted these people? Was James, a charismatic figure in his own right, more in sympathy with their viewpoint than his older brother? This major fault-line which is still visible in the gospel resurrection accounts, between Galilee and Jerusalem, might reflect long-ago conflicts over authenticity and legacy. When Elijah Muhammad, 'prophet' of the Nation of Islam, passed away, leadership of his movement passed to his son, unsurprisingly given that the Nation was run as a family fiefdom. However the first thing his son did upon taking the reins was to jettison his father's unique teachings in favor of mainstream Islam. Those people who still believed in the old-time religion of honor and praise to Wallace D. Fard were driven into opposition. In the case of a religion which doesn't exist any more it is difficult to pin-point what the crux of contention may have been, but it is apparent there must have been one, otherwise these two regions would not be giving each other the cold shoulder as they are in the resurrection accounts. There are reports of both James and John wearing the high-priestly head-band, not obviously intended to be metaphorical. Yet they cannot apply to the consensus temple at Jerusalem. Did the Jerusalem church establish its own parallel temple hierarchy? Or possibly it was after all a matter of legalism. . .or home town. Regional loyalties exist everywhere and need no independent underlying factors to create conflict.

Christians inhabiting a country with 'Southern' Baptists as well as Northern Baptists though they aren't called that, can scarcely make the case that geography doesn't or shouldn't matter, though we cannot now be certain who were the rival players, nor why one party won and the other lost. In any event the fact that Matthew prefers Galilee over Judaea should evoke neither astonishment nor willful blindness nor much of a sensation either way.



It is quite remarkable, and has drawn attention for years, that there is in the entire New Testament no retrospective look back at the Jewish War of 66-73 A.D. Jesus travels through the beautiful Galilean country-side, through villages which will be fiery ruins soon enough, though the narrator makes no mention of this circumstance. If these works are as late as they claim, the narrator must surely have been aware of the present condition of these places. How can he restrain himself from mentioning it as an accomplished fact? 'Barnabas' can't: "And so it came to pass; for through their wars it is now destroyed by their enemies; and the servants of their enemies build it up." (Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter XIII, Section 14, Wake, William. Forbidden books of the original New Testament (pp. 272-273). Kindle Edition.) Or, for that matter, the terrible mass murder of 64 A.D., when Nero Caesar used the Christians of Rome as living torches to illuminate his garden parties? If these things were known, would they not have been mentioned? Would they not cast a gloomy shadow over these bright scenes? Yet the narrator neither warns nor laments. The simplest explanation,— and the simplest explanation is always best,— is that it hadn't happened.


  • “There is not a word in any one of the four books that might not have been written within twenty years after the death of Jesus. . .No argument from silence could possibly be stronger than that which tends to show that all four Gospels were written before the year 70. There is not even the slightest allusion in any one of the Gospels or the Book of Acts to the destruction of the temple or the devastation of Jerusalem by the Romans under Titus, or significant prediction of that particular catastrophe, though there are very many places where such allusion or prediction would be extremely effective. The supposed references of the kind in the Synoptic Gospels are in every word and without exception merely repeated from the Old Testament prophecies, as can easily be demonstrated in detail. Foreign armies will surround Jerusalem (Zech. 14:2.); the city and the temple will be destroyed (Dan. g:26); two-thirds of the people of the land will be butchered (Zech. 13:8); etc.”

  • (Charles Cutler Torrey, The Four Gospels: A New Translation, p. 256).

62 A.D.

Writers often provide a clue as to when they are writing. Luke gives, not a subtle, easily-missed hint, but a giant road-block preventing further progress. Here is the end of Acts, which continues on from the end of the Gospel of Luke:

"And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him,preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him." (Acts 28:30-31).

He leaves Paul in prison, awaiting a hearing and a verdict. Luke drops not so much as a hint of the verdict; to this day people wonder whether Paul was acquitted, and went on to Spain, or whether he was condemned and executed at that time, or whether there was some other outcome. If the verdict had not yet been handed down, this would be understandable; otherwise, not.

"Other explanations, that Acts was left unfinished...are recourses of desperation. [...] From the internal evidence of the two books we should therefore conclude...that Acts was completed in 62 or soon after, with the Gospel of Luke some time earlier." (John A. T. Robinson, 'Redating the New Testament, pp. 90-92).

Modern secular Bible scholars would rather reduce the book of Acts to nonsense than allow for the obvious solution to the difficulty: "We would have expected to have been informed of these things. Why weren't we? All the text does is bring us to Rome with Paul. Then it leaves us. We do not know what happened to Paul in the end any more than we do Peter — or James for that matter. . .Acts is not history. It is not even particularly good narrative, romance, or fiction." (Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus, pp. 94-95). If the author breaks off his narrative with Paul awaiting trial because that is the time of writing, then it is perfectly self-evident why it stops where it does; the life story you tell yourself always stops 'now.' Otherwise, why aren't these things mentioned?: "We do not even hear what Paul did after he arrived in Rome, except for a hint in Romans 15:24-28 that he might have gone to Spain. We hear nothing of his death either and are dependent upon the early Church fathers for this, and, of course, nothing about the death of James, which, given what we know from other sources, should have been a central focus of any narrative about early Church history in Palestine. These defects in the narrative of Acts as history should be clear. . . (Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus, p. 413). What unforgiveable defects! But is there an explanation for them? Hmmm. . . "However these things may be, Acts' presentation of Paul's last days in fuzzy in the extreme. Acts appears to know nothing about Paul's death or, if it does, is unwilling to tell us about it because it was presumably too embarrassing." (Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus, p. 527). If the story is embarrassing, why the big build-up to it? But the other theory, that the author doesn't know what happens next because it hadn't happened yet, fits the facts to a 'T.' Normally theories with considerable explanatory power are preferred to those with none, but in this disreputable corner of the academic universe, those theories are preferred which make the most nonsense. Ultimately, Robert Eisenman leaves us hanging, unwilling to reveal whether it is the Illuminati or the Trilateral Commission which engineered this scandalous cover-up: "Luke, Acts' reputed author, certainly must have known more. In any event, a we have seen, Acts is incomplete, also leaving James' and Peter's deaths untreated and just trailing off. One must ask why." (Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus, pp. 929-930). See how much silliness can be avoided by a timely application of a dollop of common sense!

They would rather believe that Paul "disappeared," because after all, doesn't that happen in third world countries today: "Once in Roman custody, Paul could also simply have disappeared. In our own time, we have seen how easily a powerful regime can dispose of small-fry subversives who stand in its way." (Karen Armstrong, St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to Hate, page 114). What absurdities are they willing to promote rather than acknowledge the obvious!

Luke addresses his gospel to the "most excellent Theophilus" (κρατιστε θεοφιλε) (Luke 1:3). He uses this same form of address for Roman imperial functionaries sitting in judgment in Acts 24:3, "most noble Felix" (κρατιστε φηλιξ), and Acts 26:25: "most noble Festus" (κρατιστε φηστε). This gives us a clue that the Theophilus to whom the work is addressed might be a Roman functionary, perhaps even a prosecutor or other court official. This would explain the favorable treatment Acts accords to the Roman authorities. The Roman empire had two faces. Like the Greeks, the Romans imagined they were civilizing the peoples they conquered. They were proud of their law, not completely without reason. But there was another face, a demon face, that peeked out for example when the Romans conquered Spain, butchering people who had surrendered, butchering their own allies, annihilating Carthage at a time when the two cities were yoked by a treaty of peace. This hideous demon face, which Paul, a Roman citizen, may not have seen in its full horror, was all too evident after 64 A.D. when Rome burned and the Christians were blamed.

Luke had in front of him a variety of sources when he sat down to compose his gospel:

"Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed." (Luke 1:1-4).

These already existing gospels must have included Matthew, if not Mark also. Thus 62 A.D. provides a natural end-point for the composition of the synoptic gospels. As further confirmation, Paul's letter 1 Timothy includes a quote of Luke's gospel:

“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,' and, 'The laborer is worthy of his wages.'” (1 Timothy 5:17-18).

Paul is quoting a written source, and where was it written, in Paul's lifetime before his martyrdom under Nero Caesar, that the laborer is worthy his wages? Luke 10:7: "And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages." Of course, modern reductive critics eject the pastorals from the body of Paul's works; they do what they have to do, because these letters do not work for them on several levels.

Holy, Holy, Holy

Prophecy is Impossible

Readers of the literature produced by the 'Jesus' publishing industry are aware that these luminaries date the gospels quite late. Not as late, thankfully, as their predecessors, the 'higher critics' of the nineteenth century, who used to date John's gospel to the mid-second century, because the papyrus finds of the twentieth century headed them off at the pass, but still as late as they can get away with. Furthermore, they incorporate these very late dates into their polemic against Christianity:

  • “Most critical scholars think Acts was written sometime after the Gospel of Luke, possibly around 85 or 90 CE -- about twenty or twenty-five years after Paul died. If so, it would be no surprise to see that information about him in Acts may not be historically accurate.”

  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 54).

Notice, please, that, according to Bart Ehrman, the Book of Acts may be presumed to be inaccurate, because it is so very late. Against all the early testimony, Dr. Ehrman alleges that the gospels were written, or might as well have been written, by people from Mars:

  • “And none of the Gospels was written by a follower of Jesus, all of whom were lower-class Aramaic speakers from Galilee, not highly educated Greek-speaking Christians of a later generation....They were not written by Jesus' companions or by companions of his companions. They were written decades later by people who didn't know Jesus, who lived in a different country or different countries form Jesus, and who spoke a different language from Jesus."
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 112).

This theme recurs again and again in Dr. Ehrman's anti-Christian polemic. Since the gospels are late, he claims, their testimony about Jesus is not credible: "...the Gospels...were written decades after Jesus' ministry and death by authors who had not themselves witnessed any of the events in Jesus' life...They were written thirty-five to sixty-five years after Jesus' death by people who did not know him, did not see anything he did or hear anything that he taught, people who spoke a different language from his and lived in a different country from him" (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' pp. 143-144).

So how do we know this? How do we know when the gospels were, in fact, written? Get this:

  • “It also appears that the Gospel writers know about certain later historical events, such as the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE (possibly Mark, in 13:1; almost certainly Luke, in 21:20-22). That implies that these Gospels were probably written after the year 70.
  • “This means that our earliest surviving written accounts of Jesus' life come from thirty-five to sixty-five years after his death."
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 112).

As every school-child knows, it is altogether impossible to predict the future. Therefore, if Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple:

"And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." (Mark 13:1-2).

The temple whose downfall was predicated was that temple, those stones, the very same to which the disciples were pointing. Though interspersed with prophecies of the end times, and requiring to be disentangled from them according to the Law of Prophetic Perspective, this prophecy was fulfilled in 70 A.D.

Is there any reason for any theist to accept this logic? Of course not! If there is a God, and He is not tethered to the time-line as are we, as Christians have always thought, then why cannot He communicate future events to man? We dimly recollect the past, guess at the future, and experience no more than a point, a boundary, the present. This is not so with God. This reasoning is binding upon atheists and no one else.

Church of the Transfiguration

Timid Atheists

What the atheists are demanding may sound reasonable at first, but just wait and see how extravagant it gets. Bart Ehrman believes Jesus is making real, live predictions; indeed he believes he has detected predictions which experience has falsified. There is a prophecy which the gospel writers, who follow it up with a description of the event called the Transfiguration, evidently understood of that event, though Dr. Ehrman prefers to believe it is a prediction of the second coming.

Notice, Dr. Ehrman will allow Jesus to make a false prediction...but he will not allow Him to make a true one! This is like saying to someone guessing at the outcome of a coin toss, 'every time you are wrong I will score it to your account, but every time you are right I will accuse you of cheating.' In the end, even the wild guesser must be right some of the time! If you do nothing but guess 'heads' every time, you will be right 50% of the time.

The bettors at the race track predict the outcome of a future event. One better says, 'I predict the horse in Lane 1 will finish first,' another says, 'I predict the horse in Lane 2 will finish first.' Let us say there are ten horses in ten lanes. Is it really possible all the bettors' predictions will fall short of fulfillment? Unless the horses stumble out of the gate and trip over each other, and not a one crosses the finish line, then somebody must have picked the winning horse. To look at that bettor collecting his winnings and say, 'He can only have picked that horse ex eventu. How, after all, can a man know the future?' is not sophistication but cluelessness. But this is what the atheists are demanding. They will have all successful predictions to be ex eventu, after the fact.

Isaiah Deuteronomy
Dividing Line Track Record
Copernican Revolution Joseph Atwill
70 A.D. Selection Bias

What the atheists are demanding is, in fact, statistically impossible. If you stand in front of a building and say, 'I say, this building will come down!' what are the odds your prediction will pan out? Nearly 100%...given enough patience. Those buildings which survive any great length of time, even in a ruined condition like the Parthenon, are the exception, not the rule. People who think it takes a miracle for a building to come down do not understand how fire insurance rates are set. Most constructions of man end up level with the ground, sooner or later. If those structures stand in a war zone, so much the shorter is their expected life span.

Theists believe that genuine prophecy is possible. One cannot expect the atheists will share this belief. But the atheists must, in the end, live under the laws of statistics, which cannot allow all predictions to be wrong. Unless the Sibyl or TV psychic confines herself to predicting impossible events, then some of her predictions must be verified. That Jesus did predict the downfall of the temple is shown in Matthew 16:14:

"When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets." (Matthew 16:13-14).

These people have a procedural rule called the 'Criterion of Dissimilarity,' which is more of an act of vandalism than a rule, a monkey wrench thrown into the machine. What this rubric requires is that a report about Jesus which is unlike what His followers say about Him is deemed true. No Christian has ever believed that Jesus is Jeremiah redivivus; Christians understand Him to be much more than Jeremiah. What were the people thinking who thought that Jesus was Jeremiah redivivus? Well, what did Jeremiah prophesy? The destruction of the temple:

"But go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. And now, because ye have done all these works, saith the LORD, and I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but ye answered not; therefore will I do unto this house, which is called by my name, wherein ye trust, and unto the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh." (Jeremiah 7:12-14).

All the atheists need to rectify this situation according to their lights is the principle of 'selection bias.' Josephus records many Messianic aspirants who led their disciples out into the wilderness to see signs and wonders. The only signs and wonders most of these people ever saw were the Roman troops slashing their necks and draining their life-blood. These Messianic claimants went in for rosy scenarios. They assured their followers the Romans would drop like flies, God would work miracles and preserve His temple forever. One can understand why this approach was popular; people like to hear good news. But suppose someone zigged while the others zagged. Suppose one of these Messianic claimants prophesied doom and gloom, not easy victory. To say both predictions: the rosy scenario and doom and gloom, must both have failed, is the same as to say all the bettors on the horse race must have lost their money. Something's got to happen after all, either sunshine or rain. Once the event was clear, who would have continued to copy the books written by followers of the false Messiahs, those whose predictions were falsified by events? Yet people would have been struck by the success of the discordant doom and gloom prediction.

This is selection bias, and it's all the atheists need to hold on to their position. They are so terrified of supernaturalism that, to chase it out, they must surrender common sense as well. One wonders why they are so insecure in their own belief system that they feel they must claim the holder of the winning ticket on the horse race can only have placed his bet after the race was over. No doubt atheist science will soon discover no one ever purchases a winning lottery ticket, the winning tickets are all forged after the event: who, after all, could possibly know the numbers before they are announced?

Lamentation at Nerezi

I Am Legend

The atheists want it understood that, while we really have no idea who wrote the four gospels, we are quite certain it cannot have been any apostles or associates of the apostles, as reported by contemporary witnesses. One wonders what ever happened to the apostles, that they were not around to answer the many questions Christians in the burgeoning churches surely would have had. Christians nowadays sing,

"More about Jesus let me learn,
More of His holy will discern;
Spirit of God, my teacher be,
Showing the things of Christ to me.

"More, more about Jesus,
More, more about Jesus;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me." (More About Jesus, Eliza E. Hewitt)

Didn't they used to sing that then? Didn't they want to know more about Jesus? Wouldn't they have been eager to meet an apostle, or read the writings of one? So what had happened? They tell us there was no one to ask, so they had to improvise, and make it all up guided by prophecy: "For me, the received tradition is not a core of memory recalling what happened to Jesus under trial but a core of prophecy replacing memory's absence." (John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? p. 117). But why was memory absent?

There is a vogue nowadays in zombie movies, like 'I Am Legend.' These movies presuppose there has been a dreadful epidemic that has devastated the human race, leaving only a few surviving zombies lurching around. These movies I could very well do without. I propose this must have been what happened in first century Palestine. A zombie epidemic claimed all the apostles and their immediate associates, before these people could answer the questions and meet the needs of the growing churches around the world. What else could it have been? Where else did all the people could have said 'No, it didn't happen that way' disappear to?:

"If such fictions were accepted in the early church, what happened to all the people who knew the life and ministry of Jesus first hand? To the crowds who so frequently heard his teachings and saw his mighty works? To the apostles themselves, specifically chosen and designated by Jesus to be his witnesses and trained for this role?" (B. Ward Powers, The Progressive Publication of Matthew, p. 341).

John Dominic Crossan assures us, "those who knew did not care and those who cared did not know." (John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? p. 219). Why were "those who cared" unable to acquire the information about matters of great interest to themselves? Because they were "illiterate peasants." Modern secular Bible scholarship makes the assumption, and indeed cannot do without this assumption, of almost universal illiteracy in the ancient world. Women take it particularly hard on the chin. Does surviving ancient literature confirm these claims?:

Perhaps through a prick of conscience, Crossan admits that somebody, after all, had to know; Jesus did not die alone in the wilderness: "Why should even the soldiers themselves remember the death and disposal of a nobody?" (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, p. 394). He reimagines the ancient world as if it were a Hindu caste society, with a shunned 'peasant' class to which the carpenter Jesus is somehow or other attached; nobody would have cared about a "peasant nobody" like Jesus.

There is a sucker born every minute, and it is truly surprising how many people, hearing that the 'Jesus Seminar' or some such group has voted to black-ball the sayings of Jesus as inauthentic, respond by saying, 'Gosh, they're scholars, they must know.' What they don't realize is the pure and perfect circularity of their reasoning. Going back into the history of this endeavor, we find certain events rejected on principle. They don't discover that it didn't happen, they presume it didn't happen. We know, they say, that the gospels were not written by eye-witnesses; how do we know that? Because the gospels report miracles, and no such reports can ever have been offered by eye-witnesses:

"But it will be said, the writer who attest it is the Apostle John. This, however, is too improbable, not only on account of the incredible nature of the contents of the narrative, which could thus hardly have proceeded from an eye-witness, but also from another reason." (David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, p. 451).

The 'other reason' being a purportedly faulty etymology, let us leave that aside: we learn that any miracle account cannot proceed from an eye-witness. Can we verify that empirically? When we hear wonderful stories of instantaneous faith healings at evangelist Benny Hinn's services, do we conclude those conveying these reports were born generations later?


Illiterate Authors

One of the world's perennial best-sellers, the Koran, was written by a less-than-fully literate man, Mohammed ibn Abdallah:

"Who shall follow the Apostle, the unlettered Prophet -- whom they shall find described with them in the Law and Evangel." (Koran, Sura 7:157)

Some interpreters understand this to mean he couldn't read and write at all, others that he was not conversant with prior scripture, others that the people to whom he was bringing the word had hitherto lacked scripture: "Muslim tradition holds that Muhammad was functionally illiterate and so could not have written down what was in his mind and heart. This belief is based on one Koranic text alone (7:157-158), which twice speaks of Muhammad as al-ummi. This word is often translated 'the unlettered one ' and is understood to indicate that Muhammad was unable to read or write. . .If ummi derives from the root word ummiyya, which means 'illiteracy,' then one of these two meanings is most likely: Either he was functionally illiterate or religiously illiterate." (Understand the Koran, Mateen Elass, Chapter 3). It seems he was not altogether without the ability to communicate in written form:

"Ibn 'Abbas said, "When the ailment of the Prophet became worse, he said, 'Bring for me (writing) paper and I will write for you a statement after which you will not go astray.'"
(Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 3, Number 114).
"Narrated Said bin Jubair:

"Ibn 'Abbas said, 'Thursday! What (great thing) took place on Thursday!' Then he started weeping till his tears wetted the gravels of the ground. Then he said, 'On Thursday the illness of Allah's Apostle was aggravated and he said, "Fetch me writing materials so that I may have something written to you after which you will never go astray." The people (present there) differed in this matter and people should not differ before a prophet. They said, "Allah's Apostle is seriously sick." The Prophet said, "Let me alone, as the state in which I am now, is better than what you are calling me for." The Prophet on his death-bed, gave three orders saying, "Expel the pagans from the Arabian Peninsula, respect and give gifts to the foreign delegates as you have seen me dealing with them." I forgot the third (order).'"
(Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 288. See also: Sahih Bukhari Volume 9, Book 92, Number 468; Volume 7, Book 70, Number 573; Volume 5, Book 59, Number 717.)

They were evidently afraid of some unlooked-for innovation and so did not bring him the writing materials. Who knows what he might have said?

This illiterate, or perhaps semi-literate, man was an inveterate letter-writer: "The apostle sent letters with his companions and sent them to the kings inviting them to Islam. He sent Dihya b. Khalifa al-Kalbi to Caesar, king of Rum; 'Abdullah b. Hudhafa to Chosroes, kind of Persia; 'Amr b. Umayya al-Damri to the Negus, king of Abyssinia. . ." (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, Ibn Hisham's notes, p. 789). Whether Mohammed actually sent letters to these named recipients is of course open to question. Perhaps his correspondents mistook him for a crank, though he meant business. However it is not realistic to suppose he governed an area the size of Arabia without ever sending letters to anybody. So how do you manage that if literacy is not your strong suit? Your people do it.

Of course you do not have to be illiterate to make use of this labor-saving device; Oswald Chambers was a prolific writer who never put pen to paper. His wife was a stenographer: "Over the years, she had taken stenographic reports of her husband's messages and, at the request of many friends, began to edit and publish them. Oswald Chambers never actually wrote any of his books, although his name is on them. He spoke every word, but it was his wife, and later his daughter, who prepared the manuscripts and mothered each book through the presses. How grateful we are to God that Chambers married an expert stenographer!" (Warren W. Wiersbe, 10 People Every Christian Should Know, p. 105). Though even the literate benefit from dictation, it does level the playing field.

People used to wonder whether Homer was literate; it's safe to say we'll never know. A more modern illiterate author was Sojourner Truth, a freed slave and anti-slavery activist. Joseph Smith was unlearned, and a poor speller ('cimeter' for 'scimitar'), though not unable to read and write; The Book of Mormon was delivered via dictation. Illiterate authors, or unlearned, depend upon the assistance of others. One of Mohammed ibn Abdallah's transcriptionists played a dirty trick on him, introducing changes into the text, just to see if 'the unlettered prophet' noticed when the words were read back. He didn't, and presumably some foreign material still remains in the Koran.

The 'writing style' of an illiterate author can vary greatly depending on the transcriber's skill set. Quanah Parker, the last great Comanche chief, left a body of letters which run the gamut: "Throughout the reservation years, Quanah's apparent level of literacy varied with the educational level of whomever he got to write for him; he sounds alternately like a hillbilly, a pidgin-speaking Indian, and an English professor." (Empire of the Summer Moon, S. C. Gwynne, p. 291). Cynthia Ann Parker, Quanah's mother, was abducted as a nine-year-old child from her home. When recaptured years later, she had forgotten English, and knew only Comanche and a little Spanish. So for Quanah, English was a second language acquired late; he was consequently dependent on those helping him to write letters. If 'hillbilly' was the best they could do, so it was for him. Nowadays the idea is dismissed without a hearing that the same author wrote the gospel of John and the book of Revelation, because the quality of the Greek differs. But people in the day realized this does not answer the question, because an illiterate Comanche with the right helper can sound like "an English professor." John was not illiterate, but may have been unable to avoid 'Hebraisms' without assistance.

Were any of the New Testament authors illiterate? Some thought so:

"Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned ['agrammatos'] and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus." (Acts 4:13).

This word, 'agrammatos,' means 'unlettered' and was used, for example, when an illiterate person required the assistance of an agent in signing a contract:

"agrammatos... is of constant occurrence in the formula used by one person signing a deed or letter on behalf of another who cannot write..." (Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan).

And so Bart Ehrman helpfully informs us that 'unlettered' means "he did not know his alphabet." (Bart Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, p. 108). But the ancients often called each other 'illiterate' when they were not so in the strict sense, as Seneca confirms: "Some things, on account of their similarity, are included under the same designation, although they do not really deserve it. Thus we speak of a silver or golden box; thus we call a man illiterate, although he may not be utterly ignorant, but only not acquainted with the higher branches of literature; thus, seeing a badly-dressed ragged man we say that we have seen a naked man." (Seneca, On Benefits, Book V, Chapter XIII).

In this they were like modern Americans. Google 'George W. Bush illiterate' and see how many hits you get. It is not likely a technically illiterate person could have gained admission to Harvard Business School, even with family friends looking out for him. These writers who said that George W. Bush was illiterate were incensed, I would imagine, at the unspeakable things that happened when President George W. Bush was left alone in a room with his mother tongue. I'm not sure when the lexicographers started to believe they could rescue humanity from the charge of 'contumely,' but sometimes they try too hard. The English word 'illiterate' means 'cannot read or write.' Its use of George W. Bush is tendentious and exaggerated. The fair-minded reader must wonder if the same is true of the accusation that Peter and John were 'agrammatos.'

One very articulate Christian author who was quite sure 'unlettered' means 'unlettered' is John Chrysostom:

  • “But nothing can be poorer, meaner, no, nor more ignorant, than fishermen. Yet even among them there are some greater,
    some less; and even there our Apostle occupied the lower rank, for he did not take his prey from the sea, but passed his time on a certain little lake. And as he was engaged by it with his father and his brother James, and they mending their broken nets, a thing which of itself marked extreme poverty, so Christ called him.
  • “As for worldly instruction, we may learn from these facts that he had none at all of it. Besides, Luke testifies this when he writes not only that he was ignorant, but that he was absolutely unlettered. (Acts 4:13) As was likely. For one who was so poor, never coming into the public assemblies, nor falling in with men of respectability, but as it were nailed to his fishing, or even if he ever did meet any one, conversing with fishmongers and cooks, how, I say, was he likely to be in a state better than that of the irrational animals? how could he help imitating the very dumbness of his fishes?
  • “This fisherman then, whose business was about lakes, and nets, and fish; this native of Bethsaida of Galilee; this son of a poor fisherman, yes, and poor to the last degree; this man ignorant, and to the last degree of ignorance too, who never learned letters either before or after he accompanied Christ; let us see what he utters, and on what matters he converses with us. Is it of things in the field? Is it of things in rivers? On the trade in fish? For these things, perhaps, one expects to hear from a fisherman. But fear ye not; we shall hear naught of these; but we shall hear of things in heaven, and what no one ever learned before this man.”
  • (John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homily 2, Section 1-2, pp. 30-31 ECF 01.14).

Eusebius also 'talks down' the literacy of the apostles, magnifying the miraculous spread of the gospel; speaking of the Great Commission, he says, "Now in this precept, there must have been (much) that was discouraging to them, knowing as they did in themselves the rusticity and illiterate character which they sustained; on account of which, they might indeed have sought to be excused, and have well imagined it impossible that those, whose Language was the Syriac (only), and who knew nothing beyond the art of catching fish, could he Teachers both of the Greeks and Romans, of the Egyptians also, the Persians, and the rest of the barbarous nations: and set about to legislate,--in opposition to all other Legislators and Kings throughout the whole creation,---that which was opposed to the things delivered to them from all ages, respecting the Gods of their Forefathers. . .Thus therefore, these His disciples,--men rude of speech and altogether illiterate, poor and needy, (as) they were in their character,--trusted in the power of Him who appeared to them after Death, and openly held converse with them. And they began from Jerusalem according to His commands, and went forth into all nations; the things too, which they were commanded, they performed, and preached repentance to all men, and remission of the former sins of the soul." (Eusebius of Caesarea. Eusebius of Caesarea: Theopania (Kindle Locations 3416-3450). The Fourth Book, Chapter 8-9.)

But the question must remain open. Bart Ehrman is sure that the "uneducated, illiterate, Aramaic-speaking fisherman from rural Galilee" (Bart D. Ehrman, Forged, pp. 138-139) was incapable of authoring either of the two letters ascribed to him in the New Testament. Certainly some of the twelve were literate. Matthew, whose duties as a tax-collector involved record-keeping, must have been literate. John's connections in priestly circles suggest the same. However, if Peter, too, was literate, one must wonder why Mark wrote 'his' gospel:

"Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia." (Irenaeus, 'Against Heresies,' Book 3, Chapter 1).

Paul was well educated. That James and Jude were literate is suggested by the example of their more famous brother, and also their mother. The Lord was literate:

"And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor..." (Luke 4:16-18)

Perhaps He was home-schooled (John 7:15). That Mary was literate is suggested by the literary quality of her song. Modern writers low-ball ancient literacy, well below what the evidence will support, and even more scandalously in the case of women. These 'Bible scholars' fear lest anyone imagine the four gospels are early and authentic, they must hold down the ancient literacy rate, far below what any ancient writer actually reports. This leads to two tracks; writers in other fields naively take the evidence for what it says:

"Jews and Chinese have a particularly strong tradition of respect for scholarship, with Jews said to have achieved complete adult male literacy — the better to read the Talmud — some 1,700 years before any other group. ('Rising Above I.Q.,' By Nicholas D. Kristof, Published: June 6, 2009, New York Times online.)

...and what, exactly, is the argument against taking the evidence for what it says?

A prior generation of atheists demanded to know why God wrote the New Testament in 'bad' Greek, i.e., non-literary, Koine Greek. Now they demand to know where the apostles learned their high literary style. In fact, the New Testament is not written in the Atticizing, archaizing, convoluted style popular in Greek literary circles. As to how an author might achieve good results in a language which is not his native tongue, how would you do it? Read the text aloud to a test sample of native speakers; where they groan, make changes. John isolated on Patmos could not find such an audience, so there are Semiticisms in the book of Revelation, not the gospel nor the letters.



The ancients delighted in biography, 'lives' as in 'Plutarch's Lives.' The reader who delves into this branch of moralistic literature traces out how the subject's virtues led to his success while his faults doomed him to ultimate failure. Given that the military adventurers who arose during the transition from the Hellenistic world to the Roman Empire tended to flame out, there is plenty of failure to be handed out, and of course human beings are crawling with character flaws, so the genre 'works.' Biography is the empirical branch of the study of ethics:

"To recount the lives of men of the past is a task which presents difficulties to writers and yet is of no little advantage to society as a whole. For such an account which clearly portrays in all frankness  their evil as well as their noble deeds renders honour to the good and abases the wicked by means of the censures as well as the praises which appropriately come to each group respectively."

(Library of History, Fragments of Book X, 12.1, Siculus, Diodorus. Complete Works of Diodorus Siculus (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 32) (Kindle Locations 8990-8993).)

Truth to tell, the military adventurers who rose up in this era, were not so much done in by their character flaws, as they bet on the wrong horse; if you thought Carthage was the rising power, you would inevitably be crushed beneath the wheels of the advancing Juggernaut, Rome, regardless of your good traits.

The gospel writers had no intention of showing how Jesus' character flaws led to His downfall, because they thought He was holy, harmless and undefiled, nor did they see in the cross anything but victory. So the little morality plays crafted by the Greek authors, while delightful, are not very much to the point.



There are certain textual difficulties in certain of the gospels; for example, the ending of Mark is variable and may have been missing in some copies. There are conclusions which do, and do not, follow from these perplexities. Several possible explanations come to mind: the reader may recall a dramatic mid-twentieth century forgery of a letter of Clement of Alexandria in which he reports, in Alexandria, a public 'gospel of Mark' and an esoteric one, with additional, apocryphal, material. That this brazen forgery, apparently intended to normalize homosexual behavior, imposed upon such luminaries as John Dominic Crossan should tell you something about the gullibility of today's 'scholars.' However, the premise upon which this forger's enterprise rested is not entirety without merit. While we today are sure that Christianity, unlike other religions, laid all its cards on the table, early authors are not so committed to this idea. Perhaps there were some in Alexandria who thought Christianity should follow the model of a mystery sect, with the ending: resurrection — available only to the baptized. In these esoteric religions, only the initiated knew 'how it all turned out,' though the public likely had a pretty good idea. There is nothing of this approach left standing in Christianity, though some early practices reflect a similar protocol; for instance, in some cases the unbaptized were expected to leave,— not simply not partake, but to get up and leave,— prior to communion. Mark's gospel emphasizes the 'Messianic secret,' and may have struck some readers as tending in this direction, leading them to take the next step of restricting access to the ending to the 'illuminated,' i.e., baptized. A 'public' gospel circulating alongside the full version would explain the problem with the ending.

Christianity breaks the mold of ancient religions, and modern expectations are very much in line with Christian practice, which is, let it all hang out. People today assume transparency is natural and inevitable, because Jesus said, "What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops." (Matthew 10:27). There is no 'secret doctrine.' This seems normal to us, and is in fact in accord with gospel instructions, but was not what was expected when the instruction was first given. In most ancient religions, the information available to the public at large was a dramatically reduced subset of the total information content of the religion. Publically revealing the 'mysteries' was in some cases a criminal offense. These secret things were not necessarily profound truths about man, God, and the universe, but were more likely the contents of a 'goodie bag' given to neophytes at their initiation, along with a puerile little story explaining them. A minority sect of Judaism, the Sadducees, took a different approach, with no authority except publically available scripture, but such was not the case with the majority Pharisees, who claimed an oral tradition inaccessible to the untaught. Ultimately this tradition was written down in the Talmud, but not for some centuries. Modern historians take it for granted the gospel writers told us everything they knew, even though no ancient person would have expected them to do so; this is why, for example, they are skeptical of John's gospel with its 'I am' sayings: the synoptic writers, they allege, would have included these sayings had they known anything about them. It seems much likelier, though, that not every teacher and editor was on-board with the new policy of transparency, rather than not every evangelist; an editor who decides to withhold the ending, leaving it for the master class of initiates, can produce a textual puzzle.

With respect to the ending of Mark, another possibility is that the comments about drinking poison, handling snakes, etc., caused a similar problem in antiquity to what happens today in Appalachia, where some people interpret these comments to mean, 'you should handle snakes, you should drink poison.' Though there is no such command in the text, and making this promise into a command requires putting God to the test, elsewhere made unlawful, it may be that some thought the only way around this problem was to suppress the text. To conclude that: there are difficulties with the text, therefore Mark, Peter's interpreter, did not pen this gospel, is a non sequitur.

Who Wrote the Gospels?

The modern tendency is to ignore all ancient evidence in favor of conjecture and surmise:

  • Irenaeus
  • Tertullian
  • Eusebius
  • Jerome
  • Internal Evidence
  • Forgery