Who Wrote the Gospels?

Seminary can be hazardous to your faith. Author and speaker Bart Ehrman attended seminary, and became an agnostic. He is the darling of secular humanists who buy his books; and university intelligentsia who bow before his seat as the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Educated at Princeton Theological Seminary, Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, Ehrman is a prolific writer and New York Times best-selling author. Forged, published in 2011, claims that the Gospels were not written by their designated authors, but anonymous writers many years removed from the actual events.

Ehrman makes simplistic claims like his assertion that the genealogies found in Matthew and Luke are glaring examples of the Bible’s contradictions.

Who can argue with a distinguished professor?

I will say that Ehrman is correct on this point — the genealogies do differ, but whether that is a contradiction we shall examine in a moment.

While researching Ehrman’s contentions I found a rather lengthy article defending his bullet points. Written by a doctoral student, the 36,000 word essay is an exhausting treatise that begins with a false premise — that the Gospels were forged.

The argument goes that the Gospels were written no earlier than 40 years after the fact — that they were not firsthand, eyewitness accounts, but were composed by anonymous authors who referenced a common source document known only as “Q”. Wasn’t he an enigmatic villain on Star Trek?

However, there is no fragmentary evidence of a mysterious “Q” document. It is simply assumed by academicians to have existed — much like the spark that ignited the Big Bang.

It is argued that the disciples were illiterate and could not have penned Greek manuscripts. Matthew was a tax collector so it’s a given that he was multilingual — Hebrew, Aramaic and Latin (since Rome conducted civic business in Latin). Luke, the physician, was surely educated in the language arts. Alexander the Great had conquered Palestine 300 years before the birth of Christ, and though he permitted a measure of autonomy with regards to the priesthood, the general public was immersed in the Hellenization of Greek language and culture. It is indefensible to suggest that the New Testament writers were illiterate. But these are the arguments by which the left deceives many — sort of like when they say that uneducated people voted for Trump. How often does common sense trump a college education?

Some skeptics will agree that Luke-Acts was probably composed as one book, but it was written late in the first century, or early in the second century; and they will say that Luke, whom Paul wrote of in Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11 and Philemon 24 is not the same Luke. As this position is hard to defend you will find arguments that the three cited books were not authentic to Paul, but forged by pseudonymous authors.

As far as dating the Gospels there are no extant copies absent authorship citation. For example, the oldest manuscript of Luke is inscribed The Gospel According to Luke. Skeptics will argue that the original autographs had no authorship citation, but like the “Q” document they cannot provide fragmentary evidence.

It’s like saying the earth is flat, or man never went to the moon. You can make any number of claims, but without evidence …

That Luke-Acts, for example, was written late and, therefore, could not have been penned by the physician, all we need do is examine the internal evidence. The Book of Acts closes with Paul imprisoned in Rome — alive and well, writing letters and receiving guests (Acts 28:30).

We know that Nero had Paul beheaded, and we know, too, that Nero committed suicide on June 9, 68 AD — the first Roman emperor to take his own life.

So, that means Paul was executed before 68 AD, and Luke-Acts was written sometime earlier. I believe that the whole of New Testament was written before 70 AD for similar reasons. There is not one reference, after the fact, of the most catastrophic event — the Apocalypse of 70 AD that brought a climatic end to the Jewish age.

Skeptics need to posit a late-date for the Gospels, in particular, because of the prophecy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:2. Agnostics have to be able to discredit the authority of Jesus Christ so it is essential that they sow doubt as to the authorship and dating of the New Testament canon. If written late, the skeptics could argue that Jesus was a false prophet.

In the remainder of this post I will present my counterpoints to Ehrman’s specific claims against the Gospel record.

Ehrman, like many of his institutional colleagues, refutes a whole index of Christian orthodoxy even disputing that Christ was born in Bethlehem:

Only in this Gospel (Luke) do Joseph and Mary make a trip from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to register for a census when “the whole world” had to be enrolled under Caesar Augustus. The whole world? Luke must mean “the whole Roman Empire.” But even that cannot be right, historically. We have good documentation about the reign of Caesar Augustus, and there never was a census of his entire empire. Let alone one in which people had to register in their ancestral home. In this account Joseph and Mary need to register in Bethlehem (which is why Jesus is born there) because Joseph is descended from King David, who came from Bethlehem.

Ehrman contends that the Gospel accounts recorded in Matthew and Luke are full of irreconcilable contradictions. It is hard to argue with a learned professor unless you are well enough studied to know that his contentions are false.

Archaeology discredits the assertion that there was no census under Caesar Augustus. Two unearthed bronze plaques titled the Acts of Augustus reveal that there were, in fact, three census registrations during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD).

One need only refer to the writings of Roman historian Tacitus and Jewish historian Josephus to corroborate the historical account.

More contentious is Ehrman’s dismissal of the genealogies as recorded in Matthew and Luke. Here we need keen discernment of scriptural context and meaning. Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience while Luke was writing to a Gentile audience.

Luke’s genealogy traces backwards from Jesus to Adam for the purpose of conveying to the Gentiles that the Christ was born for all people. Matthew’s record goes forward from Abraham to Jesus for the purpose of revealing to the Jews that Christ was their Messiah born of the seed of David.

From Abraham to David, the gospel records concur; but after David the genealogies diverge substantially with only Zerubbabel and Shealtiel appearing in both lists. This should not sow doubt, however, but reveal a greater understanding of the inspired Word of God in context of the culture and age in which the Bible was written.

When we look carefully at the two genealogies it is markedly clear that Matthew is chronicling the life of Joseph while Luke is highlighting the ancestry of Mary. Indeed, the record splits at David with Matthew’s genealogy tracing forward through David’s son Solomon while Luke records the ancestry through David’s son Nathan. Clearly, there are two ancestral lines recorded — one for Joseph and the other for Mary thus proving that Jesus Christ had both legal claim and birthright to the throne of David.

That should be sufficient to end the discussion except that Joseph is listed in both records due only to Roman custom and tradition (remember that Luke is writing to Gentiles) that dictates the mother’s ancestry be traced through her husband (thus Luke writes):

… Jesus, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Heli (Mary’s father) … (Lk 3:23).

Luke is recognizing that Joseph — as was supposed — was not the biological father of Jesus, but the son-in-law of Mary’s father Eli for it was custom and tradition for a son-in-law to have the recognition and status of a natural son through whom the mother’s genealogy is recorded.

We might point out that Luke was a meticulous historian and keeper of records. It is absurd to suggest that he would author a Gospel account that was factually inconsistent, or even contradictory to the synoptic testimonies — or that the church fathers would canonize books that were so disagreeable with historical records.

Agnostics take issue with the lineage of Zerubbabel (son of Shealtiel) in that both names appear in the post-Davidic genealogies. Zerubbabel was the grandson of outcast Jehoiachin (Jeconiah) whom God placed a curse upon during the Babylonian exile — no man of his descendants will prosper, sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah (Jer 22:30).

How, then, is it possible that Christ has legal claim to the throne of David since Joseph was a descendant of the cursed Jeconiah? The simple answer is that Christ was not of the natural bloodline of Joseph by Jeconiah since He was miraculously conceived through the virgin Mary, but we then have the problem that Zerubbabel is also an ancestor of Mary.

The answer to that can be found in the Book of Haggai. The word of the LORD came to the prophet instructing him to tell Zerubbabel (who was governor of Judah upon the return from exile):

I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, My servant, and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you (Hag 2:23).

The LORD explicitly conferred authority upon Zerubbabel, and renewed the covenant line of David which had been removed from Jeconiah, but now resumed through both Mary and Joseph thus confirming that the baby Jesus is the Christ of both Jew and Greek.

But how could the Messiah descend from an illegitimate ancestor? Recall that Judah had relations with his daughter-in-law, Tamar, who gave birth to Perez and Zerah (Genesis 38). Now look carefully at Matthew’s record:

Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David the king (Mt 1:3-6).

The law is given in Deuteronomy that no illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the LORD. That’s a pretty strong case that the agnostics lay charge against the authority of Jesus Christ. However, let’s examine the complete text:

No one of illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of his descendants, until the tenth generation, shall enter the assembly of the LORD (Dt 23:2).

Now scroll up and count the highlighted names in Matthew’s record and note how many generations passed from Perez to King David — ten generations. Our God is an awesome God — faithful and true.

In this season I would encourage you to remain faithful and true to Him; and be always prepared to give an answer to those who doubt.

Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Lk 2:10-11).

Suggested reading: Newsweek vs. the New Testament

Copyright © 2016 Messiah Gate

Feature Film: The Atheist Delusion

Ken Ham recently premiered Ray Comfort’s The Atheist Delusion at the Ark Encounter. The producers of this 2016 film summarized:

Having to prove the existence of God to an atheist is like having to prove the existence of the sun at noon on a clear day. Yet millions are embracing the foolishness of atheism. The Atheist Delusion pulls back the curtain and reveals what is going on in the mind of those who deny the obvious. It introduces you to a number of atheists who you will follow as they go where the evidence leads, find a roadblock, and enter into a place of honesty that is rarely seen on film.

Ken Ham said after the screening:

I introduced the film by talking about our Ark, which is the largest timber-frame structure in the world. In many ways we built the Ark for the same reason that Ray and his team made The Atheist Delusion: to teach apologetics to people who don’t know how to defend the Word of God and to share the gospel with skeptics and unbelievers.

Voted Best Science Film at the 2016 International Christian Film Festival, the movie runs about 62 minutes so plan to schedule an hour when you can sit and watch. (The HD video is stunning.)

Be blessed, and thank you for visiting Messiah Gate.

Copyright © 2016 Messiah Gate

Creation Times Two

genesis

Brothers and sisters put on your full armor of God because we are about to go for a wild ride in apologetics. The following quote, found on the Internet, presents a smarmy interpretation of the creation story found in Genesis.

Most people don’t realize it, but there are two (yes, count ’em TWO) different and contradictory stories of Creation in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. The first story runs from Genesis 1:1 thru Genesis 2:3; the second story picks up at Genesis 2:4 and runs to the end of the chapter at Genesis 2:25.

In the first story, Creation takes six days and man (and woman) are created last after all the plants and animals are created. In the second story, Creation takes one day, man is created first, then all the plants and animals are created, and finally woman is created.

Warning: Most Creationist’s faith is not actually very strong – learning that the Bible has serious internal contradictions may lead to their ill-being – use this knowledge with caution! And the next time a Creationist tries to foist some Intelligent Design poppycock on you, ask them if the world was created as described in Genesis; then ask ’em “which version?”

Christian, do you know how contemptible you are in the eyes of the world?

Okay, let’s examine the creation account to see if it is, in fact, contradictory. Here is the complete text of Genesis 1:1 – Genesis 2:25.

The first thing we have to understand is that Scripture is the inspired revelation of God, but it was chronicled by human hands reflecting not only the personality of the author, but also the literary style of the culture. Ancient Semitic literature commonly utilized the method of recapitulation, or summarizing (often restating) what had previously been written.

In short, the creation story in chapter one is a chronological presentation (Days 1-7), while the account in chapter two details the central purpose of God’s handiwork, that is, the creation of man on Day 6.

To the casual reader, or one who is predisposed to finding Scriptural errors, it might appear that there are contradictory accounts — some will assert multiple authors.

Jean Astruc, a 19th century French physician, claimed that Moses was not the author of the Pentateuch, but that the first five books of the Bible were a compilation of several authors identified only by the letters “J”, “E”, “P” and “D”.

“P” (a priestly author) supposedly penned the chapter one creation story prior to (or during) the Babylonian captivity (ca. 586 BC), while the second account was written 300 years earlier by a divine author, “J” (Jehovah).

This is nothing more than a far-fetched liberal attempt to cast doubt on Moses’ authorship of the Pentateuch, and to undermine the credibility of the Genesis account.

Let’s now examine the specifics. In Genesis 1:11, God created vegetation — literally, let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees

This was the third day before God created man. But in Genesis 2:5 we read that no shrub or plant had sprung up prior to the creation of man. What are we to do with this seemingly awkward discrepancy? Somehow we must reconcile what clearly appears to be a valid contradiction.

Quite simply, the chronological account (Days 1-7) ends at the beginning of chapter two. (Be mindful that chapter breaks were inserted by translators.) Beginning, then, at Genesis 2:4 is the recapitulation of the creation story:

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the (proverbial) day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.

In summary, this is the detailed history of God’s creation.

Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground (Genesis 2:5).

That concurs with the chronological record. There was, at first, nothing — no vegetation, no rain upon the earth and no man to till the soil.

But a mist rose up from the earth and watered the ground (Genesis 2:6).

This verse is the transitional key to unlock the meaning of chapter two. The necessary presumption is that vegetation then sprouted from the irrigated land.

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (Genesis 2:7).

Again, the account concurs with the chronological record, as the succeeding verses provide additional details about the Garden of Eden and the creation of Eve which were not disclosed in chapter one.

We have, then, not a contradiction but a clarification of the creation story.

There is only one remaining disagreement found in Genesis 2:19:

Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.

But didn’t God create animals before man in Genesis 1:24-26?

Remember, now, that chapter two is not a chronology, in the strictest sense, but a recapitulation. William Tyndale (1494–1536) was the first Bible scholar to edit an English translation directly from the Hebrew and Greek text. He noted that the Hebrew usage of formed ( וַיִּצֶר֩, way·yî·ṣer) should be interpreted in the pluperfect rather than perfect tense so that the verse should read (as it does in the Tyndale Bible, the NIV and ESV):

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky.

So we understand the verse to mean that God brought to Adam the animals He had made in order for man to give them a name.

Consider, finally, that vegetation in chapter one does not exclusively refer to farmable plants. Referring to the 1917 translation of the Tanakh by the Jewish Publication Society we see that the Hebrew word that is translated vegetation (דֶּ֔שֶׁא, de·še) literally means grass. Whereas, in context of the Garden of Eden in chapter two, we find that the wording there refers to cultivated plants.

It is often claimed that Genesis 1 and 2 contain two different creation-narratives. In point of fact, however, the strictly complementary nature of the “two” accounts is plain enough: Genesis 1 mentions the creation of man as the last of a series, and without any details, whereas in Genesis 2 man is the centre of interest and more specific details are given about him and his setting (i.e., the Garden of Eden). There is no incompatible duplication here at all. Failure to recognize the complementary nature of the subject-distinction between a skeleton outline of all creation on the one hand, and the concentration in detail on man and his immediate environment on the other, borders on obscurantism. [1]

Critics have other issues with these passages of which you should be aware. They nitpick that Elohim (God) is used in chapter one while Jehovah (Yahweh) is used in chapter two. Not really an issue when you consider there are 16 names for “God” in the Hebrew Bible each reflecting a specific trait or character of the Holy One of Israel.

This has been a difficult and tedious study in the Book of Genesis that I hope has strengthened your faith in the word of God, and equipped you to defend the Bible against a deluge of lies and deception.

I pray that you have a desire to go deeper into Scripture to uncover those hidden truths which can only be known by those who are called by His name.

Credits:

1. Ancient Orient and Old Testament, Kenneth Kitchen, pp. 116-117, (London: Tyndale, 1966).

Are There Two Creation Accounts in Genesis?, Wayne Jackson, M.A., Copyright © 1991 Apologetics Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

Why are there two different Creation accounts in Genesis chapters 1-2?Got Questions?.org

Two Creation Accounts?Paul F. Taylor, Answers in Genesis, June 15, 2009.

Do Genesis 1 and 2 Contradict Each Other?, Tim Chaffey, Answers in Genesis, September 3, 2010.

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