Who Wrote the

"Nobody knows who the four evangelists were, but they almost certainly never met Jesus personally." (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 122).

So they say. The thinking reader may wonder, since nobody knows who they were, how can anyone be certain whom they did or did not meet? There is no lack of early testimony to the authorship of the New Testament, not only as to divine inspiration but the human identify of the authors through whom God worked:

  Justin Martyr  
 Internal Evidence 
  Supply and Demand  


Although no complete works by this early author survive, his testimony touching on this topic is preserved in fragmentary form by other writers. Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis, was roughly contemporary with Polycarp. His magnum opus, the five-volume 'Expositions of the Sayings of the Lord,' does not survive; posterity's verdict seconds Eusebius' perception that Papias was not the brightest bulb in the chandelier. Nevertheless, on the conceptually very simple question of who wrote the gospels and when, Papias delivers clear and compelling testimony:

  • "'And the Elder used to say this: "Mark, having become Peter's interpreter, wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, followed Peter, who adapted his teachings as needed but had no intention of giving an ordered account of the Lord's sayings. Consequently Mark did nothing wrong in writing down some things as he remembered them, for he made it his one concern not to omit anything which he heard or to make any false statement in them. . .
  • "'So Matthew composed the oracles in the Hebrew language and each person interpreted them as best he could.'" (Fragments of Papias, quoted p. 316, The Apostolic Fathers, Second Edition, J.B. Lightfoot, J. R. Harmer, Michael W. Holmes.)
  • "The Gospel of John was made known and given to the churches by John while he was still in the flesh, as a man of Hierapolis by the name of Paias, a beloved disciple of John, has related in the exoteric — that is, the last — part of his five books." (Fragments of Papias, quoted p. 316, The Apostolic Fathers, Second Edition, J.B. Lightfoot, J. R. Harmer, Michael W. Holmes.)

'Interpreter' can mean no more than 'translator.' The first step in discrediting this testimony is mystification; it is pretended there is hopeless obscurity in deciphering the meaning of the terms used. This testimony must be discounted by the contemporary 'Jesus' publishing industry, because, if it is true, the ball-game's over. Discarding the earliest available testimony, in preference, not to any countervailing contemporary testimony but to sheer conjecture, is neither prudent nor empirical.

From the time of the German enlightenment they have set the gospel accounts side by side, taken the most stripped-down version as normative, and declared that the gospel author who provided a more complete account simply made up the additional information. Mark, for example, gives the name of a blind man healed by Jesus: "The difference in the number is more likely to furnish us with a basis for a decision, and it will be in favor of Mark and Luke, who have each only one blind man; not, it is true, for the reason alleged by Schleiermacher, namely, that Mark, by his mention of the blind man's name, evinces a more accurate acquaintance with the circumstances; for Mark, from his propensity to individualize out of his own imagination, ought least of all to be trusted with respect to names which are given by him alone." (David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, Kindle location 12679). (Strauss 'criticized' before they had made up the idea that Mark wrote first.) Mark often does offer more detail in the stories he tells, though he tells fewer stories; where does this additional detail come from? Why would anyone think "out of his own imagination"? From his mentor Peter, an eye-witness.

This author provides a link between the eye-witness generation, whom he personally heard, and the later church: “PAPIAS, the pupil of John, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia, wrote only five volumes, which he entitled Exposition of the words of our Lord, in which, when he had asserted in his preface that he did not follow various opinions but had the apostles for authority, he said 'I considered what Andrew and Peter said, what Philip, what Thomas, what James, what John, what Matthew or any one else among the disciples of our Lord, what also Aristion and the elder John, disciples of the Lord had said, not so much that I have their books to read, as that their living voice is heard until the present day in the authors themselves.'” (Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, Chapter 18).


Justin Martyr

Justin, a Christian philosopher martyred in the mid-second century, describes the gospels as the memoirs of the apostles:

“For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, 'This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;' and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, 'This is My blood;' and gave it to them alone.”
(Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 66.)
"And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things."
(Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 67.)
"For in the memoirs which I say were drawn up by His apostles and those who followed them, [it is recorded] that His sweat fell down like drops of blood while He was praying and saying, 'If it be possible, let this cup pass'. . ."
(Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter CIII.)

It is remarkable that people who claim an objective stand-point begin their researches by discarding all of the available historic testimony: ". . .yet it is surprising to see how much history information is being ignored. First, there is Luke's statement that he used apostolic and other eyewitness sources. Second, the comments of Papias are available, and those of several other Fathers, concerning the role of Peter's preaching in providing the material for Mark. Third, the Fathers place Mark after Matthew — and in most cases, after Luke as well. These are, one might say, significant 'clues from history'. . ." (B. Ward Powers, The Progressive Publication of Matthew, p. 198). In what other field of inquiry does one start by tossing out all the available evidence?


Irenaeus, a second century bishop of Lyons, adds his testimony:

  • "We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith...For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. 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 1.1)

Around this time an anonymous source also testifies to, among other things, Luke's authorship of the third gospel, "A primitive Christian document, the Anti-Marcionite Prologue to St. Luke's Gospel, preserves a tradition about Luke and his Gospel as held in the Church between 150 and 180 A.D. It runs as follows: 'Luke is a Syrian of Antioch, a physician by calling, who has become a disciple of the apostles and afterwards, having followed Paul until his martyrdom, and having served the Lord without remission, wifeless and childless, in the eighty-fourth year of his age he, full of the Holy Spirit, fell asleep in Boeotia.'" (The Mission and Message of Jesus, H. D. A. Major, T. W. Manson, C. J. Wright, pp. 252-253).


Tertullian, the great third century African apologist, joins the chorus:

  • "We lay it down as our first position, that the evangelical Testament has apostles for its authors, to whom was assigned by the Lord Himself this office of publishing the gospel. Since, however, there are apostolic men also, they are yet not alone, but appear with apostles and after apostles; because the preaching of disciples might be open to the suspicion of an affectation of glory, if there did not accompany it the authority of the masters, which means that of Christ, for it was that which made the apostles their masters. Of the apostles, therefore, John and Matthew first instill faith into us; whilst of apostolic men, Luke and Mark renew it afterwards."
    (Tertullian, 'Five Books Against Marcion,' Book IV, Chapter 2)

Thrice Holy Radio!


Origen held controversial views on topics like universalism but was a diligent student of the Bible:

"Concerning the four Gospels which alone are uncontroverted in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the Gospel according to Matthew, who was at one time a publican and afterwards an Apostle of Jesus Christ, was written first; and that he composed it in the Hebrew tongue and published it for the converts from Judaism. The second written was that according to Mark, who wrote it according to the instruction of Peter, who, in his General Epistle, acknowledged him as a son, saying, “The church that is in Babylon, elect together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Mark my son.” And third, was that according to Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul, which he composed for the converts from the Gentiles. Last of all, that according to John." (Origen, From the First Book of the Commentary on Matthew, p. 679, ECF_1_10).

In his refutation of the pagan critic of Christianity, Celsus, Origen remarks in passing that even a vehement opponent like Celsus will not venture to deny that the gospels were written by first-generation followers of Jesus: "For they will not maintain that the acquaintances and pupils of Jesus Himself handed down His teaching contained in the Gospels without committing it to writing, and left His disciples without the memoirs of Jesus contained in their works." (Origen, Against Celsus, 2:13). This is of course routinely denied today. Why did it take so long for the critics of Christianity, who were numerous from the start, to make the 'discovery' that the gospels were written anonymously, and belatedly, by persons with no connection to Jesus or the apostles? Was this the kind of 'discovery' that could only be made once all witnesses had died, and all documentary evidence perished?


The fourth century church historian Eusebius investigated the matter:

"Nevertheless, of all the disciples of the Lord, only Matthew and John have left us written memorials, and they, tradition says, were led to write only under the pressure of necessity. For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated those whom he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence. And when Mark and Luke had already published their Gospels, they say that John, who had employed all his time in proclaiming the Gospel orally, finally proceeded to write for the following reason. The three Gospels already mentioned having come into the hands of all and into his own too, they say that he accepted them and bore witness to their truthfulness; but that there was lacking in them an account of the deeds done by Christ at the beginning of his ministry." (Eusebius, Church History, Book III, Chapter 24.).


Our departure from the early church age comes with this late author, who sifted through such early manuscripts as still survived:

"MATTHEW, also called Levi, apostle and aforetimes publican, composed a gospel of Christ at first published in Judea in Hebrew for the sake of those of the circumcision who believed, but this was afterwards translated into Greek though by what author is uncertain. The Hebrew itself has been preserved until the present day in the library at Caesarea which Pamphilus so diligently gathered." (Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, Chapter 3).
"LUKE a physician of Antioch as his writings indicate was not unskilled in the Greek language. An adherent of the apostle Paul, and companion of all his journeying, he wrote a Gospel, concerning which the same Paul says, “We send with him a brother whose praise in the gospel is among all the churches” and to the Colossians “Luke the beloved physician salutes you,” and to Timothy “Luke only is with me.” He also wrote another excellent volume to which he prefixed the title Acts of the Apostles, a history which extends to the second year of Paul’s sojourn at Rome, that is to the fourth year of Nero, from which we learn that the book was composed in that same city."
(Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, Chapter 7).
"MARK the disciple and interpreter of Peter wrote a short gospel at the request of the brethren at Rome embodying what he had heard Peter tell. When Peter had heard this, he approved it and published it to the churches to be read by his authority as Clemens in the sixth book of his Hypotyposes and Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, record."
(Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, Chapter 8)
"JOHN, the apostle whom Jesus most loved, the son of Zebedee and brother of James, the apostle whom Herod, after our Lord’s passion, beheaded, most recently of all the evangelists wrote a Gospel, at the request of the bishops of Asia, against Cerinthus and other heretics and especially against the then growing dogma of the Ebionites, who assert that Christ did not exist before Mary."
(Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, Chapter 9).

The conventional attributions of authorship are not imaginary nor made up long after the fact; those who credit them are going by the best available early evidence.

Internal Evidence

The gospels themselves are not silent as to authorship. Luke turns up in Acts, when the voice of the narrator shifts to 'we'. He makes no claim to have witnessed anything prior to that, but knows those who did: "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).

The author of John's gospel claims to have seen what he records: "And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe." (John 19:35). A postscript testifies that this truthful narrator is the beloved disciple: "This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true." (John 21:24). This is a very clear and unambiguous claim of authorship embedded in the work itself. Thus people who say the beloved disciple did not write the fourth gospel are classifying John's gospel as pseudepigraphic. He goes further:

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ." (1 John 1:1-4).

If he says he not only saw but "handled" the Word of Life, those who retort, 'No, he didn't' are calling him a liar.

John Mark, Peter's interpreter, turns up in Acts, along with his mother: "And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.  And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda." (Acts 12:12-13). His gospel reports the odd incident of a young man who drops his drawers in his haste to escape: "And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked." (Mark 14:51-52). Is this comedic relief, or a 'signature'? — was that young man Mark himself?

It is natural for 'hero worship' to set in once a movement matures. Members look back on their founders with unbridled admiration. The gospel writers could have given the apostles all manner of opportunities to strike a heroic pose. . .except they are too busy recording Peter's defection, the whole group's general incomprehension, Judas' treason, etc. This is understandable if the authors are of the apostolic generation, not otherwise.

The unknown author of the letter to Hebrews reports that the early gospel preachers included hearers of the Lord:

"How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with diverse miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?" (Hebrews 2:3-4).

It strains credulity to imagine that no one at any time had sufficient interest in the testimony of these early eye-witnesses to bother interviewing them and writing down their reminiscences. Though they travelled about preaching the gospel, confirming to the author of Hebrews what they had heard from the Lord's lips, they finished the course and departed this life without anyone ever troubling to make a note of anything they said. How could these things be? Why, because it was an 'oral culture,' if you please. There is no 'fact' known to modern 'scholarship' which is more demonstrably false than this; literacy was a common possession in this literate and indeed literary culture:

It matters because their constant endeavor is to remove the gospels in time and place from the apostles and their associates, and minimizing literacy is their chosen means of accomplishing this project.



It is often alleged that false attribution of authorship was an accepted convention in the ancient world; that the titles 'According to Matthew, According to Luke,' etc., which were prefixed to the gospels, were not understood to imply anything as to who had written the works. But when false attribution was discovered, the penalty could be severe:

"But if the writings which wrongly go under Paul’s name, claim Thecla’s example as a license for women’s teaching and baptizing, let them know that, in Asia, the presbyter who composed that writing, as if he were augmenting Paul’s fame from his own store, after being convicted, and confessing that he had done it from love of Paul, was removed from his office." (Tertullian, 'On Baptism,' Chapter 17).

Why was this presbyter "convicted" if he were understood to have done nothing wrong, or "removed from office"? Forgery was no more accepted in that day than when 'Ossian' got away with it. The professed standards of the historians of the day were no lower than our own: "'As to the facts themselves, [the historian] should not assemble them at random, but only after much laborious and painstaking investigation. He should for preference be an eyewitness, but, if not, listen to those who tell the more impartial story. . .'" (Lucian of Samosata's Hist. Conscr. 47, quoted in Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, p. 25). To be sure ancient historians did not always live up to their high ideals, but then neither do those of the present day, especially not those involved in the 'Jesus' publishing industry, who just make stuff up:

Moses Twelve Tables
Untangling the Threads Fact-Checking
Seth Speaks Quintilian
Self-Incrimination Pythagoras
Who's Zooming Who? Historiography
False Musaeus Jerome's Vulgate
Publishing Contract

Jacques Joseph Tissot, Christ Reading the Scroll

What can't be denied is that forgery happened; the chore of sifting the true from the spurious was taken for granted:

"As we have therefore enumerated all these modes of the Platonic theology, and have shown what compositions and analyses of fables are adapted to the truth respecting the Gods, let us consider, in the next place, whence, and from what dialogs principally, we think the dogmas of Plato concerning the Gods may be collected, and by a speculation of what types or forms we may be able to distinguish his genuine writings, from those spurious compositions which are ascribed to him." (Proclus, Theology of Plato, Book I, Chapter V).

They used rational means in this quest, such as ascertaining the date of earliest citation. What was lacking in the ancient world was any meaningful legal protection for copyright. The student of ancient history will recall that Pompey the Great suppressed the pirates in the Mediterranean. What was lacking prior to that time wasn't the realization that piracy, which is stealing, is wrong, but rather any effective legal umbrella under which the pirates could be ejected from their hidden coves. Modern forgers, such as the fellow who produced Adolf Hitler's diary, or the one who penned Howard Hughes' memoirs, run into a thicket of legal troubles; the ancient ones glided along through an open plain, unfortunately.

In a 'one-two' punch, first they claim that forgery was an accepted practice in antiquity, thus lulling to sleep well-meaning Christians, then, surprise, we discover that forgers were as despised in antiquity as in the present day!: "As it turns out, many New Testament scholars who make pronouncements on forgery ('It wasn't meant to be deceitful.' 'No one thought of it as lying.' 'It wasn't looked down upon.') simply haven't read what the ancient sources say about it. Throughout this book it will become quite clear from the ancient writings themselves that even though forgery was widely practiced, it was also widely condemned and treated as a form of lying." (Bart D. Ehrman, Forged, p. 36). It is quite true that the early Christians despised forgery and indignantly rejected those gnostic and other productions which claimed, but lacked, apostolic authorship. Now we are supposed to believe, however, that they were wrong in almost every case, on a point about which they cared passionately, even though they lived in an era when documentary evidence remained plentiful.

The liberal Bible scholars' presentation that people in antiquity saw nothing wrong in assigning authorship inaccurately is a 'rope-a-dope' strategy to inveigle Christians into their fold. They assign authorship, whimsically and arbitrarily, to the New Testament documents to everyone in the world but the apostles and their associates, because they must; 'early' is almost the same as 'authentic.' Now it turns out they are perfectly well aware that people in antiquity did care passionately about who had actually written the material:

"This interest in 'apostolic' writings became a common feature of early third-century scholars. . .Scholarly criticism of early texts also began about this time, such as a dispute about the authenticity of the Gospel of Peter, on the basis of which Serapion of Antioch discouraged its being read in the churches of Syria around 200 C. E. . . . Elsewhere, Eusebius does list the writings of the 'New Testament' (Ecclesiastical History 3, 25), distinguishing (1) those about which their apostolic authenticity was unquestioned from (2) those about which apostolic authorship was disputed or was clearly not genuine." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, pp. 287-288).

But of course everybody already knows that the early Church did care intensely who had written these works, so what is gained by pretending otherwise? There never was any ancient consensus that authorship doesn't matter.

In the same vein, the atheists cannot allow any successful prophecies. This might seem amazing, but it's so. One may wonder how anyone can ever make money in the stock market if no one is allowed even a lucky guess from time to time, but their confidence in their own world-view is so shaky they must date everything late, and thus everything must be inauthentic. Is prophecy impossible? Is even a lucky guess impossible?:


Supply and Demand

The testimony of the Book of Acts is that the number of professing Christians exploded in the years immediately after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Luke's account ends, abruptly, at a critical turning point: Paul is in Nero's custody at Rome, awaiting trial. What happens after that would winnow the ranks of the faithful: Nero blamed the great fire at Rome on the Christians, and several years after that the Jewish rebellion was squelched with massive loss of life. What followed was several centuries of stubborn growth and survival in the teeth of official persecution. A graph of membership in the infant Christian church should show a big uptick, then a big downtown, then a slow recovery. Examining supply and demand, when would be the likely time to expect the production of literature for the Christian market: after the membership crash or before? After, say the 'scholars.'

Modern readers prefer biographies and histories based on eye-witness, insider testimony. Was the ancient preference any different? Modern markets function efficiently in delivering to consumers products in high demand. Did ancient markets function so inefficiently that they could only deliver unwanted products? One may object, but the ancient book market was small and poorly organized; it was neither, Pliny the Younger's works were offered for sale in France: "I did not think there were booksellers at Lyons, and was all the more pleased to learn from your letter that my works have a ready sale there." (Pliny the Younger, Book IX, Letter 11. Delphi Complete Works of Pliny the Younger (Delphi Ancient Classics) (Kindle Locations 5123-5124). Delphi Classics.).

A principle often touted, but rarely observed, by the modern-day Jesus Publishing Industry is 'uniformitarianism,' the expectation that things work now much the way they always worked. This principle, though dangerously misleading if made absolute, is in many cases not half bad and should be utilized more often. When we observe new religious movements springing up today, we notice that the founding generation produces documents by the cartload: Joseph Smith and his associates, Mary Baker Eddy, David 'Mo' Berg, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and all their company, put stuff out there for later generations to see, study, and perhaps be embarrassed by. We are expected to imagine it was not like this in the first century: the first Christians wrote nary a word, only decades later did anyone pick up pen and paper. Why didn't it work then the way it works now, if we adhere to the guiding principle of uniformitarianism, as we claim that we do? Please do not say, 'Because no one was literate;' that simply isn't so. A better assumption is that the documents preserved in the New Testament are, in fact, the founding documents. The only reason anyone would ever have promoted, by contrast, these strange and exotic assumptions and methodologies is from a conviction that to discredit Christianity is to enlighten.

Return to Answering Unitarianism...
Holy, Holy, Holy

The Synoptic Problem

What is the inter-relationship amongst the synoptic gospels?

'Scholars agree' that Mark wrote first, then Matthew, then Luke. Has history so testified? Not a word. The beauty of making Mark first, is that Mark's gospel is the shortest of the four. You see what comes out of that way of proceeding, which has no independent historical or documentary foundation? It makes the other gospels into fiction:

"Again, simply by looking at the biblical stories chronologically, we can see the heightening of details, the building of a legendary tradition. . .For when scholars turn their spotlights on the Easter narrative, utilizing all the tools of their profession, one rule of thumb becomes apparent: the later the resurrection tradition, the more graphic, the more miraculous become the details that tradition includes. The later the narrative, the more vivid, the more detailed, the more specific the accounts become." (John Shelby Spong, The Easter Moment, Kindle location 1712).

One must concede to Bishop Spong that Matthew and Luke include more narrative details than are found in Mark; they are, after all, considerably larger books, and moreover the ending of Mark is missing in some early manuscripts. Does that mean, as he claims, that Matthew and Luke made those additional details up, their only source being Mark, who wrote earlier? There is no independent evidence, none, that Mark wrote earlier. They say so just in order for it to come out this way! If Matthew wrote first, as the early church believed, and Mark is a digest of Matthew, then the claim of fictional heightening dissolves into air.

It is very common for critical scholars to deny authentic authorship to the New Testament documents. A case is put together, such as this, where Bart Ehrman denies the possibility that James' letter was written by James.

"The historical James, on the other hand, was an Aramaic-speaking peasant from Galilee who almost certainly never learned to read. Or if he did learn to read, it was to read Hebrew. If he ever learned Greek, it would have been as a second language in order to speak it, haltingly no doubt. He never would have gone to school. He never would have become proficient in Greek. He never would have learned how to write, even in his native language, let alone a second tongue." (Bart D. Ehrman, Forged, p. 198).

Not a one of these assertions is verifiable; this is 'history' by fiat. James' more famous (half)-brother was literate; He stood up to read the scroll in the synagogue: "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). He could write also: "But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not." (John 8:6). (Rather comically, these people often insist that, in antiquity, reading and writing were completely unrelated skills, possessed by different people.) So what is the problem? Greek literacy training was available in Palestine at the feet of none other than the celebrated Rabbi Gamaliel:

"But was Grecian Wisdom proscribed? Did not Rab Judah say that Samuel stated in the name of R. Simeon b. Gamaliel: '[The words] Mine eye affected my soul because of all the daughters of my city [could very well be applied to the] thousand youths who were in my father's house; five hundred of them learned Torah and the other five hundred learned Grecian Wisdom, and out of all of them there remain only I here and the son of my father's brother in Asia'?— It may, however, be said that the family of R. Gamaliel was an exception, as they had associations with the Government, as indeed taught: 'He who trims the front of his hair in Roman fashion is acting in the ways of the Amorites.' Abtolmus b. Reuben however was permitted to cut his hair in the Gentile fashion as he was in close contact with the Government. So also the members of the family of Rabban Gamaliel were permitted to discuss Grecian Wisdom on account of their having had associations with the Government." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Baba Kamma, 83a.)

Merely declaring, by dictate, that James cannot have been literate, resolves nothing, nor if he were, would he be the first published illiterate author.

The Canon of Scripture

God-authored scriptures are just that, God-authored, whether any reader recognizes them as such or not. But how were certain works recognized as God-breathed? The Holy Spirit in the churches recognized the Holy Spirit's authorship of these works of literature. As Tertullian explains, church meetings were held for this purpose. The conclusions they arrived at present very large areas of overlap, and very small points of disagreement.

The reader who will accept no substitute for the Roman Catholic canon of scripture, with its Old Testament apocrypha, must wait a long time for even a local council which will be acceptable. Demanding an ecumenical council requires him to wait until the seventeenth century of the Christian era. But the reader willing to accept the Protestant canon will be happy to discover that the early church agrees with him, nor is this a happy coincidence:

  • “Shepherd,' which is the only one which favors adulterers, had deserved to find a place in the Divine canon; if it had not been habitually judged by every council of Churches (even of your own) among apocryphal and false (writings); itself adulterous, and hence a patroness of its comrades; from which in other respects, too, you derive initiation; to which, perchance, that 'Shepherd' will play the patron whom you depict upon your (sacramental) chalice, (depict, I say, as) himself withal a prostitutor of the Christian sacrament, (and hence) worthily both the idol of drunkenness, and the prize of adultery by which the chalice will quickly be followed, (a chalice) from which you sip nothing more readily than (the flavor of) the “ewe” of (your) second repentance!”
  • (Tertullian, 'On Modesty,' Chapter 10, p. 172 ECF)