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The Bible Bible Contradictions

On The Reliability Of Luke As A Historian

Christian apologists and missionaries believe that Luke was “inspired” and “inerrant,” even though Luke himself does not make such a claim in his books (Gospel according to Luke and Acts). luke as a historian One of the most popular arguments often proposed by the missionaries as “evidence” that Luke was “inspired”, or at least someone who we can blindly trust without second thoughts, is as follows: he was an excellent historian who conducted a careful investigation during the course of composing his books.

It is claimed that Luke accurately named many countries, cities, that he accurately described certain events of his time, correctly named various officials with their proper titles and referred to places which have only recently been discovered. Therefore, this somehow “proves”, according to the apologists, that Luke’s story can be trusted in its entirety and that there is no room for doubts regarding his claims whatsoever.

We refer to the author as “Luke” simply for the sake of convenience and not because we believe that Luke authored the third Gospel and the Book of Acts. We might as well call the author “Max”, but because the third gospel is commonly known as the “Gospel according to Luke,” the name “Luke” is retained.

Did Luke Author The Third Gospel and Acts?

According to critical scholars, the third gospel, like all the gospels, is anonymously authored. That is to say, we really do not know who authored it. Nonetheless, even if we accept the traditional authorship claim, it remains that Luke was a non-eyewitness – he did not witness any of the alleged events from the life of Jesus first hand. Luke was a follower of Paul.

According to the late Raymond Brown, it is possible that Luke, a minor figure who travelled with Paul for some time, wrote the third gospel and the book of Acts decades after Paul’s death.

Brown writes:

We have no way of being certain that he was Luke, as affirmed by 2nd-century tradition; but there is no serious reason to propose a different candidate.1

Similarly, Lee Martin McDonald and Stanley Porter accept traditional Lucan authorship but not wholeheartedly. They write (p. 295): “We are inclined to accept Lucan authorship, but not without some reservation …”2

Bart Ehrman, summing up the stance of critical scholars, writes:

Proto-orthodox Christians of the second century, some decades after most of the New Testament books had been written, claimed that their favourite Gospels had been penned by two of Jesus’ disciples – Matthew, the tax collector, and John, the beloved disciple – and by two friends of the apostles – Mark, the secretary of Peter, and Luke, the travelling companion of Paul. Scholars today, however, find it difficult to accept this tradition for several reasons.

…none of these Gospels makes any such claim about itself. All four authors chose to keep their identities anonymous.3

As for the dating of Luke and Acts, most scholars place it in the 80 – 100 AD period. For instance, Paula Fredriksen places Luke between c. 90 – 100.4 E. P. Sanders dates the final form of the gospels between the years 70 and 90.5 Theissen and Merz place Luke anywhere between 70 C.E to 140/150 C.E — more in the first half of this period6 The late Catholic scholar and priest, Raymond Brown, placed Luke in the year 85 — give or take five to ten years7

Never Claimed To Be Inspired

It should be noted that the author of the third gospel and Acts nowhere claims to have been “inspired” by a higher source to write his accounts. Such arguments are listed by one missionary as follows:

    Independent archaeological research has solidified the authenticity and the historical reliability of the New Testament. Some of the discoveries include:

  • Luke refers to Lysanias as being the tetrarch of Abilene at the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry, circa 27 A. D. (Luke 3:1) Historians accused Luke of being in error, noting that the only Lysanias known was the one killed in 36 B. C. Now, however, an inscription found near Damascus refers to “Freedman of Lysanias the tetrarch” and is dated from 14 and 29 A. D.
  • Paul, writing to the Romans, speaks of the city treasurer Erastus (Romans 16:23). A 1929 excavation in Corinth unearthed a pavement inscribed with these words: ERASTVS PRO:AED:P:STRAVIT: (“Erastus curator of public buildings, laid this pavement at his own expense.”)
  • Luke mentions a riot in the city of Ephesus which took place in a theatre (Acts 19:23-41). The theatre has now been excavated and has a seating capacity of 25,000.
  • Acts 21 records an incident which broke out between Paul and certain Jews from Asia. These Jews accused Paul of defiling the Temple by allowing Trophimus, a Gentile, to enter it. In 1871, Greek inscriptions were found, now housed in Istanbul which read:

    NO FOREIGNER MAY ENTER WITHIN THE BARRICADE WHICH SURROUNDS THE TEMPLE AND ENCLOSURE. ANYONE WHO IS CAUGHT DOING SO WILL HAVE HIMSELF TO THANK FOR HIS ENSUING DEATH.

  • Luke addresses Gallio with the title Proconsul (Acts 18:12). A Delphi inscription verifies this when it states, “As Lucius Junius Gallio, my friend, and the Proconsul of Achaia …”
  • Luke calls Publicus, the chief man of Malta, “First man of the Island.” (Acts 28:7) Inscriptions now found do confirm Publicus as the “First man”. (Josh McDowell, The Best of Josh Mcdowell: A Ready Defense, pp. 110-111)

He goes on to present more similar citations and arguments:

    The significance of such extra-Biblical evidence is of such magnitude that honest sceptics are now forced to agree that the Bible is historically accurate and reliable. One such person was Sir William Ramsey, considered one of the world’s greatest archaeologists. He believed that the New Testament, particularly the books of Luke and Acts, were second-century forgeries. He spent thirty years in Asia Minor, seeking to dig up enough evidence to prove that Luke-Acts was nothing more than a lie. At the conclusion of his long journey, however, he was compelled to admit that the New Testament was a first-century compilation and that the Bible is historically reliable. This fact led to his conversion and embracing of the very faith he once believed to be a hoax.

    Dr Ramsey stated:

      “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy … this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”

    Ramsey further said: “Luke is unsurpassed in respects of its trustworthiness.” (Josh McDowell, The Best of Josh Mcdowell: A Ready Defense, pp. 108-109)

Firstly, we should note that there is nothing in the above which would indicate that Luke was “inspired”or “inerrant” and that everything within his books can be trusted blindly. There is nothing here which would show that Luke was somehow “special”. Far from being remarkable, the above are very ordinary examples of Luke’s alleged accuracies. There is no reason to suppose that unless a person is inerrant or inspired, he or she cannot get such basic elementary facts straight. Such type of ordinary accuracies relating to certain factual matters is also to be observed in fictional books, which name, for instance, cities correctly, etc.

So what if Luke was able to name the various cities in existence in his time, accurately name officials of his time with their correct titles, name certain countries of his time, mention a theatre he knew about which has recently been discovered and accurately mention certain religious rites and practices of the time? There is nothing “extraordinary”about this. This only shows that Luke was a person who had a basic education and was familiar with his surroundings.

If I am not considered inspired and inerrant — despite accurately naming fifty countries in existence today, accurately naming various world cities, accurately naming heads of state and various other officials together with their correct titles and ranks, accurately naming a few theatres around London together with a few additional tourist attraction sites and accurately describing the workings and practices of the local mosques and churches — then why must Luke be considered inerrant and inspired? These are utterly ordinary matters and such type of accuracies do not in anyway suggest that the person or book is “extraordinary”, “special”, or in any way heavenly “inspired”.

Secondly, besides the above listed so-called wonderful “accuracies”, there are also grave inaccuracies within Luke’s gospel. The following are some inaccuracies and discrepancies within Luke’s Gospel and Acts over which there is widespread agreement among scholars, including devout Christian scholars:

  • Luke forged a genealogy for Jesus(P) even though he(P) had no father. The genealogy has no historical standing. Worse, his genealogy contradicts the one forged by Matthew.
  • Luke provides an infancy narrative which is irreconcilable with the infancy narrative provided by Matthew.
  • Luke mentions a census under Quirnius during the birth of Jesus(P) which is almost universally recognized as a major historical blunder on Luke’s part.

In addition to the difficulties raised by a detailed comparison of the two birth narratives found in the New Testament, serious historical problems are raised by the familiar stories found in Luke alone.8 In Acts, Luke has Gamaliel referring to a revolt by Theudas which in fact took place years later after his speech. Again, there is widespread agreement among Christian scholars that Luke was in error on this occasion.

There is also general agreement among New Testament scholars that the speeches found in Acts are either the creations or adaptions of Luke.9

Furthermore, Luke’s story in Acts contradicts at a number of points with the information within the authentic Pauline epistles, something also generally acknowledged by scholars. Luke was thus an errant writer who made mistakes and inaccuracies in his writings.10

How Luke Copied From Mark

Moving on, “inspired”Luke lifted 50% of his gospel from Mark — a secondary source authored by a non-eyewitness. Why would Luke do this if we are to suppose that he was accurately researching the issues and shifting through reliable first-hand sources? We know from Luke’s opening words that he did not have high regard for the previous narratives. Evangelical scholar Donald Guthrie writes:

Luke’s preface is illuminating in regard to his own approach to his task. He claims to have made a comprehensive and accurate survey over a considerable period, which throws a good deal of light on his seriousness of purpose. Moreover, Luke admits that others had previously attempted the same task, but his words imply that he found them unsatisfactory…11

W.G. Kummel, in his classical introduction to the New Testament writes:

With his historical work Lk joins their ranks [ranks of his predecessors who composed gospel narratives], though he was not himself a witness from the beginning, because he feels the works of his predecessors to be in some way inadequate.12

Raymond Brown, on the other hand, says:

…neither evangelist [Matthew and Luke] liked Marks’s redundancies, awkward Greek expressions, uncomplimentary presentation of the disciples and Mary, and embarrassing statements about Jesus. When using Mark, both expanded the Markan accounts in the light of post-resurrectional faith.13

Yet Luke, our so-called “reliable” historian, copies no less than 50% of his book from Mark, regarded as an unsatisfactory source!

Raymond Brown mentions some of the ways on how Luke had used Mark:

  • Luke improves on Mark’s Greek, bettering the grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, e.g., in 4:1, 31, 38 and passim by omitting Mark’s overused “immediately”; in 20:22 by changing a Latinism like kensos (=census) from Mark 12:14; in 20:23 by substituting the more exact “craftiness, treachery” for the “hypocrisy” of Mark 12:15.
  • Luke states at the beginning his intention to write carefully and in an orderly manner (1:3); accordingly he rearranges Marcan sequence to accomplish that goal, e.g., Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth is put at the opening of the Galilean ministry rather than after some time had elapsed (Luke 4:16-30 vs. Mark 6:1-6) in order to explain why his Galilean ministry was centred at Capernaum; the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law is placed before the call of Simon and companions (4:38-5:11 vs. Mark 1:16-31) in order to make more logical Simon’s willingness to follow Jesus; Peter’s denials of Jesus are put before the Sanhedrin trial in preference to Mark’s complicated interweaving of the two. At times Luke’s orderliness is reflected in avoiding Marcan doublets (Luke does not report the second multiplication of loaves) whereas Matt likes to double features and persons. Yet Luke has a double sending out of the apostles/disciples (9:1-2; 10:1).
  • Because of changes made in material received from Mark, Luke occasionally creates inconsistencies, e.g., although in Luke 5:30 the partners in the conversation are “the Pharisees and their scribes,” 5:33 speaks of “the disciples of the Pharisees,” as if the Pharisees were not present; although in 18:32-33 Luke takes over from Mark the prediction that Jesus will be mocked, scourged, and spit on by the Gentiles, Luke (unlike Mark 15:16-20) never fulfills that prediction; Luke has changed the Marcan order of the denials of Peter and the Jewish mockery of Jesus but forgotten to insert the proper name of Jesus in the new sequence, so that at first blush Luke 22:63, in having “him” mocked and beaten, seems to refer to Peter, not Jesus. See also n. 67 above.
  • Luke, even more than Matt, eliminates or changes passages in Mark unfavorable to those whose subsequent career makes them worthy of respect, e.g., Luke omits Mark 3:21,33,34 and (in 4:24) changes Mark 6:4 in order to avoid references detrimental to Jesus’ family; Luke omits Mark 8:22-26 which dramatizes the slowness of the disciples to see, and Mark 8:33 where Jesus calls Peter “Satan”; in the passion Luke omits the predicted failure of the disciples, Jesus’ finding them asleep three times, and their flight as reported in Mark 14:27,40-41,51-52.
  • Reflecting Christological sensibilities, Luke is more reverential about Jesus and avoids passages that might make him seem emotional, harsh, or weak, e.g., Luke eliminates: Mark 1:41,43 where Jesus is moved with pity or is stern; Mark 4:39 where Jesus speaks directly to the sea; Mark 10:14a where Jesus is indignant; Mark 11:15b where Jesus overturns the tables of the money changers; Mark 11:20-25 where Jesus curses a fig tree; Mark 13:32 where Jesus says that the Son does not know the day or the hour; Mark 14:33-34 where Jesus is troubled and his soul is sorrowful unto death; Mark 15:34 where Jesus speaks of God forsaking him.
  • Luke stresses detachment from possessions, not only in his special material (L), as we shall see below, but also in changes he makes in Mark, e.g., followers of the Lucan Jesus leave everything (5:11,28), and the Twelve are forbidden to take even a staff (9:3).
  • Luke eliminates Mark’s transcribed Aramaic names and words (even some that Matt includes) presumably because they were not meaningful to the intended audience, e.g., an omission of Boanerges, Gethsemane, Golgotha, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani.
  • Luke may make Marcan information more precise, presumably for better story flow, greater effect, or clarity, e.g., Luke 6:6 specifies that the next scene (Mark 3:1: “again”) took place “on another Sabbath”; Luke 6:6 specifies “the right hand” and 22:50 “the right ear”; Luke 21:20 clarifies or substitutes for Mark’s “abomination of desolation”.14

The important point to note here is that Luke has used Mark and made a number of changes to its contents. New Testament scholars compare Luke and Mark to see how Luke is using his source (Mark) and adapting it. Mark is obviously not the only source employed by Luke, but since we know that he has altered the Markan stories in a variety of ways, it is only logical and reasonable to conclude that Luke must have done the same with the other sources at his disposal – he must have altered them as well to suit his agenda and presuppositions. The fact that Luke accurately mentions certain ordinary details, such as naming cities correctly etc., does not follow that his story in its entirety can be trusted blindly.

Thus, the statement that “honest sceptics are now forced to agree that the Bible is historically accurate and reliable” is nothing more than nonsense. Critical scholars certainly do not regard Luke, or any book of the Bible, in its entirety to be “historically accurate and reliable” just because certain ordinary details are recorded accurately within them.

Luke As A Historian: Final Observations

Although we have not gone into detail regarding the above-mentioned issues, the aim was to simply highlight here some of the major problems within Luke’s writings over which we have a scholarly consensus. Contrary to Ramsey’s conclusion (and bear in mind that he was an apologist and not a balanced historian) is the fact is that there is nothing “super”, “extraordinary” or “special” about Luke’s writings, even if we buy all of Ramsey’s claims regarding Luke’s alleged accuracy on certain issues.

Moreover, Luke also makes mistakes, some examples provided above. Of course, apologists will challenge all of them but note that these are accepted as such and acknowledged by mainstream scholarship.

Instead, we come across a fairly ordinary writer who utilises sources at his disposal, making a variety of changes to them to suit his theological agenda and one who makes errors at times and also gets certain facts right. None of the examples presented by these apologists suggests that the “Bible” (which is a collection of many individual books and letters by authors of varying degrees of education and literacy) is “historically reliable” as a whole.

Modern New Testament scholars do not entirely endorse Ramsey’s claims pertaining to Luke’ abilities as a historian and consider him to have exaggerated his case. To be more precise, the studies by Ramsey and others did at least establish that Acts was not a complete fiction authored in the mid-late second century period. The author is likely to be one writing sometime in the late first century, someone who was educated and well-travelled, and was using some traditions and sources at his disposal. There is no doubt that he does present accurate details, yet it is also a fact that his account is selective, romanticised at times and theologically motivated. We know that the author was not just relating bare incidents and events without changes but was adapting them to suit his purposes.

Hence his work (the gospel and Acts) needs to be used carefully and critically by the historians.

The late Raymond Brown made a remark that Luke would have been a fitting candidate for membership in the brotherhood of Hellenistic historians, but he would never be made the president of the society.15 Howard Marshall, on the other hand, a major conservative evangelical scholar of our times who is quite charitable towards Acts, admits that:

“…he [Ramsey] was capable of making assertions about Luke’s historical accuracy which went beyond what could be shown by the available evidence.”16

Marshall talks about the “essential” reliability of Acts regarding historical matters and not its complete reliability. Sherwin-White, for instance, believes that “Luke makes mistakes, but the main thrust of his book is to demonstrate that for the most part, Luke portrays the first-century Roman scene accurately.”17

Do note that this does not mean that we can accept all of Luke’ stories blindly. So, while many modern scholars do not outright dismiss Acts and consider it to be more accurate than was previously thought, it is nonetheless recognized that its author is not without mistakes and does colour sources at his disposal for theological and apologetic reasons. This means that not everything within his books is historically accurate, as alleged by Christian missionaries. On The Reliability Of Luke As A Historian 1

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "On The Reliability Of Luke As A Historian," in Bismika Allahuma, March 14, 2010, last accessed December 4, 2021, https://www.bismikaallahuma.org/bible/luke-as-a-historian/
  1. Raymond E. Brown, S.S, An Introduction To The New Testament (The Anchor Bible Reference Library), 1997, Doubleday, p. 326 []
  2. See Lee Martin McDonald, Stanley E. Porter, Early Christianity And Its Sacred Literature, 2000, Hendrickson Publishers. For a more critical assessment, see Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, who dismiss the traditional authorship claims about the gospels in their The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide, 1998, SCM Press Ltd. See also W. G. Kummel, Introduction To The New Testament, 1975, Revised Edition, SCM Press Ltd. Helmut Koester also discusses gospel authorships in his Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development, 1990, Trinity Press International. Also Vincent P. Branick, Understanding the New Testament and its Message: An Introduction, 1998, Paulist Press []
  3. Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 2000, Second Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 52. For a defense of traditional authorship claims, see the following books by evangelical scholars: Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (Master Reference Collection), Revised Edition, 1990, InterVarsity Press; D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, Dr. Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament, 1992, Zondervan Publishing House. []
  4. See Paula Fredriksen, From Jesus To Christ: The Origins of the New Testament Images of Christ, Second Edition, 2000, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, pp. 3-4, 19. []
  5. See E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure Of Jesus, 1993, Penguin Books, p. 60. []
  6. Gerd Theissen, Annette Merz, The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide , 1998, SCM Press Ltd. p. 32 []
  7. Raymond E. Brown, S.S, An Introduction To The New Testament (The Anchor Bible Reference Library), 1997, Doubleday, p. 247. Similar dates are also proposed in the following sources: Gerd Ludemann, Jesus After Two Thousand Years: What He Really Said and Did, 2001, Prometheus Books; Graham N. Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus, Second Edition, 2002, Oxford University Press; James L. Mays (General Editor), The HarperCollins Bible Commentary, 2000, HarperSanFrancisco; Donald Senior, Jesus: A Gospel Portrait, New and Revised Edition, 1992, Paulist Press; W. G. Kummel, Introduction To The New Testament, 17th Revised edition, 1975, SCM Press Ltd; Vincent P. Branick, Understanding the New Testament and Its Message: An Introduction, 1998, Paulist Press; John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Vol. 1, 1991, 1st edition, The Anchor Bible Reference Library, Doubleday; Also Geza Vermes, The Authentic Gospel Of Jesus, 2004, Penguin Books. These types of dates are accepted by the vast majority of New Testament scholars and the references provided above are only a few examples. For much earlier dates, see the aforementioned introductions by Donald Guthrie and Carson. See also John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament, 2000, Wipf & Stock Publishers. []
  8. Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 2000, Oxford University Press, p. 109 []
  9. Marshall believes that most of the speeches in Acts are based on traditional material, but he adds that they were never meant to be verbatim reports and that Luke has provided us with nothing more than brief summaries. Hence he leaves room for at least some Lucan creativity [I. Howard Marshall, Acts (The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), 1980, Inter-Varsity Press, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, p. 41]. Moreover, he acknowledges that Luke could not have known what Festus and Agrippa said to each other in their private apartments (25:13-22; 26:30-32) nor could the Christians have learnt what exactly was said by the members of the Sanhedrin in closed sessions (4:15-17; 5:34-40). Nonetheless, he speculates that perhaps Luke could have expressed the things that the public behaviour of rulers indicated that they had probably said in private (so some invention of speech by Luke did take place?) and that it is possible that some sympathizer from the Sanhedrin may have given Christians the gist of the conversation (ibid.). []
  10. Marshall admits that there are points of tension between Luke’s portrait of Paul and his own writing, but insists that they are not so substantial so as to make Acts entirely unhistorical (ibid.) []
  11. Donald Guthrie, B.D., M. Th., New Testament Introduction. The Gospels and Acts, 1966, Inter-Varsity Press, p. 87 []
  12. W. G. Kummel, Introduction To The New Testament, 17th Revised edition, 1975, SCM Press Ltd, p. 129 []
  13. Raymond E. Brown, S.S, An Introduction To The New Testament, 1997, (The Anchor Bible Reference Library, Doubleday, p. 115 []
  14. Raymond E. Brown, S.S, An Introduction To The New Testament, 1997, The Anchor Bible Reference Library, Doubleday, pp. 263-265 []
  15. Raymond E. Brown, S.S, An Introduction To The New Testament, 1997, The Anchor Bible Reference Library, Doubleday, p. 322. []
  16. I. Howard Marshall, Acts (The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), 1980, Inter-Varsity Press, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, p. 34 []
  17. I. Howard Marshall, Acts (The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), 1980, Inter-Varsity Press, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, pp. 36-37 []
Categories
Bible Contradictions The Bible

On The Methodology For Determining The Various Bible Difficulties

The Christian missionaries in their initial response to our list of Internal Contradictions of The Bible have made the claim that we are:

    …more bothered with seeking excuses not to take the Bible seriously, than finding reasons for their [our] own faith.

In light of this “excuse” by the missionaries to avoid the gory details of the mass of contradictions within the Bible, we find it neccessary to hence outline our methodology for determining the various difficulties inherent in the Bible text, insha’allah.

We also aim to educate the Muslims about the criteria that the Bible sets for itself in order for it to be considered an “inspired” text from God, and hence the seriousness of the various Bible difficulties found are not to be taken lightly.

Judging The Authenticity of the Bible Literature

In judging the authenticity of the Bible, the criteria should be on scientific grounds — grounds which are helpful in defining the authenticity of any other old document. A document is first examined internally and then externally.

Internal evidence is the study of the text itself while the external evidence is the study of the historical process through which the text was transmitted to us. Internal evidence deals with the content of the text, and if there are any errors, it should be determined whether they are internal contradictions or external errors. If the text suffers from errors and inconsistencies of either the former or the latter, then it is clear that such text is contrary to what it is claiming. For an example of an internal contradiction, if a fragment in a passage talks about “a red chicken” in a context but then a few paragraphs later talks about “a blue chicken” in the same context, that is certainly a contradiction.

An example of an external error would be if supposing that same fragment purporting to be Shakespearean in origin talks about King James travelling in the Space Shuttle Columbia and using Pentium Computers, we would be obliged to reject it right there as a Shakespearean writing and would not waste time in examining it any further, since it is in contradiction with historical evidences, i.e. that there were certainly no such thing as space shuttles or computers in existence during Shakespeare’s era.

Based on the above methodology that we have outlined, we will look at a list of the many difficulties within the text of the Bible, whereby the reader is encouraged to read in order to verify it for themselves.

Bible Criteria For Determining “Divine Inspiration”

The Christian missionaries, as is their nature of making excuses, seek to trivialise the importance of these Biblical difficulties. They appear to have completely given up on refuting the proof of distortion and have now resorted to “spiritualizing” the Bible and adamantly refuse to believe that anyone has changed the “word of God” or that the Bible contain any conflicts whatsoever, no matter how much the evidence is presented. They are willing to either:

  • Explain it away using abstraction to explain the “true” meanings of the verses presented, or
  • Explain it based upon assumptions of their own not contained within the Bible, or
  • Explain it away by attributing it to “scribal error” (the most common explanation), but a few lines later they say that as long as the contradictions does not affect doctrine, it is OK for the Bible to have mistakes, or
  • Claim that these matters are all insignificant and that the words remain the inspiration of God even if we do not know who the “inspired” authors were and their narrations contradict one another.

The problem in many cases is that it is human nature when given a choice between two matters, to take the simpler of the two, sometimes even against one’s better judgement.

For example, let us look at an answer given for the numerical discrepancies in the Bible by a Christian:

    Linguistically, none of these verses contradict. One can have 40,000 stalls for horses and still have 4,000. If the verse said ONLY 4,000, then it would be a contradiction. Likewise, if you have three cars and you say “I have a car,” it does not mean you don?t have three, but you do have one.

So, using his standard of “explaining”, can I say that when I have three daughters and instead I say “I have a daughter”, does it mean that, linguistically, that it does not mean “I don’t have three daughters, but I do have one daughter”?

We are amazed at such an “abstract” explanation being used to brush away the difficulties in the Bible. For such people who have been very well-indoctrinated, the answer is very simple – all of the changes to the text are all “trivial” and “inconsequential”. For them, errors evident in the “inspired word of God” is very acceptable, and is just a matter of the “spirit” of the book. For them, some of the words of God are not really that important and can be disregarded. But to understand the criteria for “divinely inspired” writings, we would have to look at the nature of God as outlined in the Bible itself.

Firstly, we are told in the Bible that God does not lie or change His mind after He has made a promise:

“God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should repent. Has He said He will do something and will not do it? Has he promised something and not fulfilled it?” (Numbers 23:19)

We are also told that God is not the author of confusion:

“…because God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:33)

We note that Jesus himself is reported to have said that

“But he [Jesus] answered and said, ‘It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:4)

In other words, if the Bible contains various irreconcilable difficults, it would be contrary to the nature of God as highlighted above, and hence the Bible is certainly not the “divinely inspired” Word of God as believed by Christians.

Hence, to charge us with that the difficulties in the Bible are merely “…excuses not to take the Bible seriously” is no doubt an attempt to trivialise and make a mockery of the nature of God, as outlined in the Bible itself.

Dr G.C Van Niftrik and Ds B.Y Boland themselves admit that:

Kita tidak usah malu bahwa terdapat berbagai kesalahan dalam Alkitab, kesalahan dalam angka-angka, perhitungan, tahun dan fakta-fakta. Dan tak perlu kita pertanggungjawabkan kesalahan-kesalahan itu berdasarkan caranya isi Alkitab telah disampaikan kepada kita, sehingga dapat kita berkata dalam naskah asli tentulah tidak terdapat kesalahan-kesalahan, tetapi kesalahan-kesalahan itu barulah kemudian terjadi didalam salinan-salainan naskah itu.

Translation: We should not be ashamed of the various errors in the Bible, the contradictions in numbers, calculations, years and facts. And we should not hold the transmission of the Bible text as responsible for the cause of these errors, for we say that in the original texts, there would not be any errors, but the errors only occur in the copies of that original text.1

The point here is that there are certainly grounds for the Muslim position that the text of the Bible has been tampered with by human hands, and thus the errors of the text of the Bible in our hands today are the result of this human tamperation. Muslims indeed hold that the Taurat, Zabur and Injeel are from God but do not accept that the various books added to these books and form the bulk of the Bible in our hands today as wholly “inspired” from God.

This is no doubt consistent with modern scholarship findings that say that the Bible is a “living text”2 and were “not even free from factual error(s)”3.

Conclusions

At the end of the day, belief in something does not make it so. For many centuries, scholars believed that the earth was flat. On later examination, it was discovered to be round – not flat. Those scholars did not change their minds simply because facts and truth proved them wrong, they continued to believe what they had always believed, because they were unable to face the fact that their belief had been disproved.

Thus, we do not expect to have the slightest effect on any bigoted Christian missionary who really think that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. Instead, our exposition on the matter is to educate Muslims who are the target of judgements, criticisms and accusations by the Christian missionaries and also for those who are honest enough to seek the truth.

And only God knows best! On The Methodology For Determining The Various Bible Difficulties 2

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "On The Methodology For Determining The Various Bible Difficulties," in Bismika Allahuma, October 15, 2005, last accessed December 4, 2021, https://www.bismikaallahuma.org/bible/bible-difficulties/
  1. Dr G.C Van Niftrik & Ds B.Y Boland, Dogmatika Masa Kini. The translation into English was done by the author. []
  2. Aland & Aland, The Text Of The New Testament, p. 69 []
  3. See M. F. Wiles, Chapter 14 : Origen As Biblical Scholar in P. R. Ackroyd & C. F. Evans (eds.), The Cambridge History of the Bible: From the Beginnings to Jerome, Volume 1 (Cambridge University Press, 1970), p. 463 []
Categories
Bible Contradictions External Contradictions Of The Bible The Bible

Geographical Errors Within The New Testament

It is well known that the Gospel of Mark contains numerous geographical errors. This is summed up in Kummel’s classic, Introduction to the New Testament:

[T]he considerations against this assumption [that John Mark, companion of Peter, wrote the gospel of Mark] carry weight. The author obviously has no personal knowledge of Palestinian geography, as the numerous geographical errors show. He writes for Gentile Christians, with sharp polemic against the unbelieving Jews. He does not know the account of the death of the Baptist (6:17 ff) contradicts Palestinian customs. Could a Jewish Christian from Jerusalem miss the fact that 6:35 ff and 8:1 ff are two variants of the same feeding story? The tradition that Mk was written by John Mark is therefore scarcely reliable. The reference to I Pet 5:13 (“The elect of Babylon and my son Mark also greets you”) does not account for the tradition, but only the subsequent linking up of the author of Mk with the preaching of Peter. Accordingly, the author of Mk is unknown to us.1

In fact, one of the reasons why many scholars doubt that the anonymous author of Mark was a Jewish individual and a native of Palestine is precisely due to the presence of a number of geographical errors, mistakes and confusions in this gospel. If the author was a native of Palestine and a Jew, then how was he so ignorant regarding the region’s geography?

Essentially, the arguments against John Mark, a Jewish resident of Jerusalem and later the companion of Paul and also of Peter, writing this Gospel are that he does not appear to be familiar with the geography of Palestine in the first century (Mark 7:31; 11:1) or with Jewish customs, overgeneralizes about the Jews (7:3-4), from whom he seems to distance himself, and does not reflect the theology of either Paul or Peter as a companion might (Phlm 23; cf. Col. 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11).2

To give an example, we read in the gospel according to Mark the following account:

“As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt there which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you,’Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The lord needs it and will send it back shortly.'” They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They answered that Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had out in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming of the kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” (Mark 11:1-11)

In Mark 10:46 however, we read that Jesus was in Jericho. The sentence above shows that Jesus and his group were travelling from Jericho to Jerusalem via Bethphage and then Bethany. This, however, is quite impossible. Bethany is further away from Jerusalem than Bethphage is. The Biblical theologian, D.E. Nineham, comments:

The geographical details make an impression of awkwardness, especially as Bethphage and Bethany are given in reverse order to that in which travellers from Jericho would reach them…and we must therefore assume that St Mark did not know the relative positions of the two villages on the Jericho road…3

The missionaries would obviously deny the above glaring error in Mark with their multiferous explanations. However the author of Matthew fully realised that Mark, who was supposedly “inspired”, had made a gross factual error. Matthew, who copied Mark changed this passage to remove the error:

“When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives…” (Matthew 21:1)

Note that Matthew had removed the reference to Bethany completely from Mark’s account. Again the most likely explanation is that Matthew noticed Mark’s error and tried to correct it. As Randel Helms informs us:

Mark writes on the basis of a vague knowledge of Judaean geography, not knowing that one approaching Jerusalem from the east on the road from Jericho would reach first Bethany and then Bethphage, not the reverse order he indicates. However, the important location is the Mount of Olives; typology, not history, is at work here. The typological fiction continues on the basis of Zech. 9:9 LXX:

‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion; proclaim it aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, the king is coming to thee, just and a Saviour [sozon, “saving”]; he is meek and riding on an ass, and a young foal [polon neon, a “new (unridden) foal”].’

It is only with this passage that we can understand why Mark has Jesus specify that his diciples obtain a “colt [polon] which no one has yet ridden” (Mark 11:2). Mark ignores the danger and unlikelihood of riding on an unbroken, untrained animal, assuming its miraculous tractability; typology rather than history is operative here.4

Who is correct, Matthew or Mark? Was Mark “inspired” or was Matthew “inspired” as far as the above passage is concerned?

Bruce M. Metzger makes mention of several internal and geographical errors within the New Testament in which later scribes attempted to clear away:

A few scribes attempted to harmonize the Johannine account of the chronology of the Passion with that in Mark by changing ‘sixth hour’ of John xix. 14 to ‘third hour’ (which appears in Mark xv. 25). At John i. 28 Origen 1 altered in order to remove what he regarded as a geographical difficulty, and this reading is extant today in MSS. 33 69 and many others, including those which lie behind the King James version. The statement in Mark viii. 31, that ‘the Son of man must suffer many things…and be killed and aftee: three days rise again’, seems to involve a chronological difficulty, and some copyists changed the phrase to the more familiar expression, ‘on the third day’ . The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews places the golden altar of incense in the Holy of Holies (Heb. ix. 4), which is contrary to the Old Testament description of the Tabernacle (Exod. xxx. 1-6). The scribe of codex Vaticanus and the translator of the Ethiopic version correct the account by transferring the words to ix. 2, where the furniture of the Holy Place is itemized.5

Another Christian scholar, Raymond E. Brown, notes the inability of the author of Mark to identify the geographical places in ancient Palestine. He says:

That the author of this Greek Gospel was John Mark, a (presumably Aramaic-speaking) Jew of Jerusalem who had early become a Christian, is hard to reconcile with the impression that it does not seem to be a translation from Aramaic,82 that it seems to depend on traditions (and perhaps already shaped sources) receieved in Greek, and that it seems confused about Palestinian geography83 (The attempt to claim that Mark used geography theologically and therefore did not bother about accuracy seems strained).6

In footnote 83, Brown had in fact revealed another instance of the gospel author’s unfamiliarity with ancient Palestine geography. He states that:

83 Mark 5:1, 13 betrays confusion about the distance of Gerasa from the sea of Galilee (n. 17 above). Mark 7:31 describes a journey from Tyre through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee in the midst of the Decapolis. In fact one goes SE from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee; Sidon is N for Tyre, and the description of the Sea of Galilee in the midst of the Decapolis is awkward. That a boat headed for Bethsaida (NE side of the Sea of Galilee) arrives at Gennesaret (NW side: 6:45,53) may also signal confusion. No one has been able to locate the Dalmanutha of 8:10, and it may be a corruption of Magdala.7

Though Brown attempts to explain away these geographical errors by stating that “one must admit that sometimes even natives of a place are not very clear about geography”8, he does not deny their presence in the text. In another footnote, he states that:

Many other examples of improbable reconciliations could be offered. Since Matt has a Sermon on the Mount and Luke has a similar Sermon on the Plain (Matt 5:1; Luke 6:7), there must have been a plain on the side of the mountain. Since Matt has the Lord’s Prayer taught in that sermon and Luke has it later on the road to Jerusalem (Matt 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4), the disciples must have forgotten it, causing Jesus to repeat it. Mark 10:46 places the healing of the blind man after Jesus left Jericho, while Luke 18:35; 19:1 places it before Jesus entered Jericho. Perhaps Jesus was leaving the site of the OT Jericho and entering the site of the NT Jericho!9

Furthermore, the Gospel according to Luke, another anonymous gospel, also contains a number of geographical errors that have led scholars to the conclusion that its author was not from Palestine. Brown comments:

What happens when Jesus goes to a deserted place (Luke 4:24-44) exhibits typical Lucan universalizing, since the people rather than Simon and his companions come to seek out Jesus. Compared to Mark 1:39, which has Jesus going through the synagogues of all Galilee, Luke 4:44 localizes the synagogues in Judea. That may illustrate the vagueness of Luke’s ideas of Palestinian geography, since in the next verse (5:1) Jesus is still in Galilee, at the Lake. Or does Luke’s Judea simply mean “the country of the Jews”?10

Brown presents another example of Luke’s confusion with Palestinian geography:

3. Last Stage of Journey till Arrival in Jerusalem (17:11-19:27). This begins with the uniquely Lucan cleansing of the ten lepers, including the thankful Samaritan (17:11-19). Jesus has been travelling toward Jerusalem since 9:51, and in 9:52 his messengers entered a Samaritan village. That at this point in the story he is still passing between Samaria and Galilee tells us that the journey is an artificual framework (and also that Luke may not have had a precise idea of Palestinian geography).11

G. A. Wells in his The Historical Evidence for Jesus makes mentions a number of geographical errors within the gospel according to Mark together with quoting other Biblical scholars admiting the presence of these errors and confusions in this gospel:

Mark makes serious mistakes in his geographical references to Palestine. He knows the Galilean place names and the general relative positions of the localities, but not specific details. Hence he “represents Jesus as travelling back and forth in Galilee and adjacent territories in a puzzling fashion” (Kee, 117, pp 102 – 3). To go (as Jesus is said to in Mk. 7:31) from the territory of Tyre by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee “is like travelling from Cornwall to London via Manchester” (Anderson, 2, p 192). Again, Mark’s “references to movements across the Sea of Galilee are impossible to trace sequentially. Mention of specific location near the sea are either unknown sites, such as Dalmanutha (8:10), or are patently inaccurate, as in the designation of the eastern shore of the lake as the country of the Gerasenes (5:1)” (Kee, loc cit). Gerasa is more than thirty miles souteast of the lake, too far away for the setting of the story which demands a city in its vincinity, with a precipitous slope down to the water. Probably all that concerned Mark, collecting and adapting pre-existing stories about Jesus, was that the lake and its surrounding territories, some Jewish and some mainly Gentile, was an ideal setting for journey’s of Jesus and his disciples, showing how both Jews and Gentiles responded to him with faith. That place names in Mark caused perplexity among early readers is shown by the wide range of variants in the textual tradition where names occur in the gospel. Perplexity is also evidenced by Matthew, who changed Mark’s Gerasenes to Gadarenes (Mt. 8:28), Gadara being a well-known spa only eight miles from the lake.12

Michael T. Griffith makes note of this confusion between Gerasenes and Gadarenes, and says that:

According to most modern versions of the Bible, Mark 5:1 refers to the Sea of Galilee’s eastern shore as the country of the Gerasene:

“They [Christ and the disciples] came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes” (RSV; so also the NIV and the New American Bible).

This translation is based on the fact that the best and oldest manuscripts for this verse all read “the country of the Gerasenes.” However, the Sea of Galilee’s eastern shore cannot qualify as the land of the Gerasenes because Gerasa (modern Jerash) is more than thirty miles to the southeast. In addition, the account which follows verse 1 requires a nearby city with a steep slope leading down to the Sea of Galilee. This could not possibly be Gerasa. Gerasa is simply too far away, and there is no slope running all the way from that site to the Sea of Galilee.

In the KJV, Mark 5:1 reads, “the country of the Gadarenes,” but this is based on inferior readings from the Greek texts. As mentioned above, the best and oldest manuscripts read “the country of the Gerasenes.” In any event, Gadara, though closer than Gerasa, is still too far away to fit, since it is located about six miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee.

According to the KJV rendering of Matthew 8:28, the region in question is named “the country of the Gergesenes.” This reading is based on inferior manuscript evidence and represents a scribal addition by later copyists (Metzger 1971:23-24). The best textual evidence for Matthew 8:28 reads “the country of the Gadarenes,” which is how it appears in the better modern translations of Matthew. Again, though, Gadara is too far away from the Sea of Galilee. To add to the confusion, Luke 8:26 follows the geography attributed to Mark. Although the KJV reads “the country of the Gadarenes,” this is another case of this version’s reliance on inferior textual evidence. The better modern translations read “Gerasenes.”

Lindsey Pherigo sums up the situation with regard to Mark 5:1:

The general location [of the events spoken of in Mark 5] is reported [in vs. 1] to be the E shore of the Sea of Galilee but the exact location is reported in different ways. The oldest and best manuscripts have Gerasa, but this is too far from the Sea of Galilee to fit well. Matt. changes this to Gadara (“the country of the Gadarenes,” 8:28), but this, though nearer, is still too far from the water. Later copyists change both to “Gergesa,” which may correspond to some ruins on the E side of the sea. It remains a problem.13

Conclusion

We have thus shown that the scribes of the New Testament were certainly aware of the presence of errors, in this case geographical errors, within the New Testament text. That is why they had proceeded to clear up whatever obvious errors that recur within their texts. Many of such errors were thus “corrected” over the passage of time whereas others that escape “correction” are vehemently defended by current-day missionaries with the preference to use a number of highly-imaginative mental gymnastics.

And only God knows best! Geographical Errors Within The New Testament 4

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "Geographical Errors Within The New Testament," in Bismika Allahuma, October 15, 2005, last accessed December 4, 2021, https://www.bismikaallahuma.org/bible/geographical-errors-new-testament/
  1. Kummel, Introduction to the New Testament, p. 97 []
  2. Lee Martin Mc Donald and Stanley E. Porter, Early Christianity and its Sacred Literature, (Nov 2000, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.), p. 286 []
  3. Nineham, Saint Mark (Westminster John Knox Press, 1978), pp. 294-295 []
  4. Randel Helms, Gospel Fictions, p. 103 []
  5. Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament. Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (Third Enlarged Edition, 1992, Oxford University Press), pp. 199-200 []
  6. Raymond E. Brown, S.S., An Introduction To The New Testament, The Anchor Bible Reference Library (Doubleday, 1997) pp. 159-160 []
  7. ibid., p. 160 []
  8. ibid. []
  9. ibid., pp. 109-110 []
  10. ibid., pp. 238 []
  11. ibid., p. 251 []
  12. G. A. Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus (Prometheus Books, 1982), p. 230 []
  13. Michael T. Griffith, Is The Bible Inerrant And Complete? (1994) [Online Document] []
Categories
Christianity Paul of Tarsus

Paul Of Tarsus: The Clear-Cut Hypocrite

We read the following teachings of the so-called “apostle” from Tarsus, Paul, written in his epistles as follows:

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” (Romans 12:18-19)

Another teaching which Paul had written is:

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Col 3:13)

A summary of the above recorded statements by Paul:

  • Be at peace with all men.
  • Never take your own revenge, beloved!
  • Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.

We admit that these are all beautiful teachings. The question now, however, is did Paul himself put these very same teachings of his into effect? As it so happens, we beg to differ!

Paul’s Hypocrisy Revealed

We read in Acts that:

And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” And Barnabas was desirous of taking John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. (Acts 15:36-40)

It is clear that Paul and Barnabas had had a sharp disagreement and later parted company because of that same disagreement. So Paul was not following what he had preached, namely to “…be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18).

We also observe that Paul had not forgiven John (called Mark) for having abandoned him and Barnabas at Pamphylia (Acts 15:38) and opposed Barnabas’ plan to take John with him. Apparently Paul had amnesia with regard to his teaching, “forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13). So why did not Paul forgive John for abandoning him earlier?

Further, regarding revenge, this snake taught that “Never take your own revenge, beloved!” (Romans 12:19) but yet Paul himself took his revenge against John (called Mark) by refusing to take him in the journey. So again we ask, why did Paul seek his revenge against John when he had clearly forbidden this? He is no doubt a clear-cut hypocrite, through and through!

On a related sidenote, this snake also has used Jesus’(P) name in his teachings when in reality it is not originally from Jesus(P), but from his own concoction. For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:6, Paul taught that the resurrected Christ had appeared to over five hundred breathren at one time but this episode is not available in the Gospels. Another proof is in Acts 20:35, whereby Paul cites, “remember the words of the Lord Jesus how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive”. This citation is certainly not from Jesus(P) because nowhere in the Gospels is this quote to be found and attributed to Jesus(P). This same snake has also urged all the Jews amongst the Gentiles to forsake Moses(P), he told them not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs (Acts 21:21), this goes against what Jesus(P) himself taught. But sadly, the Christian missionaries and Christians in general have taken this hypocrite as their “apostle” and they generally behave like him as well.

Conclusions

It is very clear from the above exposition that Paul was a hypocrite, and hence, how could the Christian missionaries expect Muslims to accept this snake as a legitimate “follower” of the Messiah Jesus(P), the son of Mary? Paul clearly told others to make peace but he himself did not practice what he had preached when he had a sharp disagreement with Barnabas and they parted company (Acts 15). This totally contradicts what he had earlier taught, namely “be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18) and “forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Col. 3:13)

He had also taken his revenge upon John (called Mark) because John had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work, as recorded in Acts 15, even though he told the Romans, “Never take your own revenge, beloved!” (Romans 12:19). It seem that it was Barnabas who was more religious than Paul because he did not take his revenge upon John.

Which leads us to the question:

    If Paul himself has failed to follow what he had taught, would he indeed follow what Jesus(P) had taught?

And only God knows best. Paul of Tarsus: The Clear-Cut Hypocrite 5

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "Paul Of Tarsus: The Clear-Cut Hypocrite," in Bismika Allahuma, October 7, 2005, last accessed December 4, 2021, https://www.bismikaallahuma.org/christianity/paul-of-tarsus-the-clear-cut-hypocrite/
Categories
Bible Textual Integrity

The Influence Of The Pauline Epistles Upon The Gospels Of The New Testament

Christians believe that Paul of Tarsus was the “Apostle” of Jesus(P), whom he met in a vision on his journey to Damascus. Paul is also claimed to be the author of the Epistles to the Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon and Hebrews. It is therefore strange that this self-confessed ‘Apostle’ of Jesus Christ fails to pay more attention to the words of Jesus(P) himself in his epistles:

All the evidence indicates that the words of Jesus were authoritative in the Church from the first, and this makes it the more remarkable that such scanty attention is paid to the words or works of Jesus in the earliest Christian writings, Paul’s letters, the later Epistles, Hebrews, Revelation, and even Acts have little to report about them….Papias (ca. AD 130), the first person to actually name a written gospel, illustrates the point. Even though he defends Mark’s gospel (Euseb. Hist. III.xxxix.15-16), and had himself appended a collection of Jesus tradition to his “Interpretation of the Oracles of the Lord” (Euseb. Hist. III.xxxix.2-3), his own clear preference was for the oral tradition concerning Jesus, and the glimpses that Eusebius provides of Papias’ Jesus tradition give no hint of his dependence on Mark. Neither do the more frequent citations of Jesus in the apostolic fathers, largely “synoptic” in character, show much dependence on our written gospels.1

To what extent has the Pauline letters shaped the selection of the gospels of the New Testament as canon today? This article would examine the evidence and present its conclusions on the matter, insha’allah.

The Pauline Epistles and Their Influence Over the Selection of Gospels

It is acknowledged that the current gospels of the New Testament, which contain the words of Jesus, were written after the Pauline epistles. This statement is confirmed by Prof. Brandon, when he informs us that

The earliest Christian writings that have been preserved for us are the letters of the apostle Paul.2

All but the gospels acceptable to the Pauline faith were systematically destroyed or re-written. In fact, the gospels were not even in existence prior to the Pauline writings. Rev. Charles Anderson Scott tells us that:

It is highly probable that not one of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) was in existence in the form which we have it, prior to the death of Paul. And were the documents to be taken in strict order of chronology, the Pauline Epistles would come before the synoptic Gospels.3

Hyam Maccoby makes an interesting observation regarding the influence of Paul as follows:

We should remember that the New Testament, as we have it, is much more dominated by Paul than appears at first sight. As we read it, we come across the Four Gospels, of which Jesus is the hero, and do not encounter Paul as a character until we embark on the post-Jesus narrative of Acts. Then we finally come into contact with Paul himself, in his letters. But this impression is misleading, for the earliest writings in the New Testament are actually Paul’s letters, which were written about AD 50-60, while the Gospels were not written until the period AD 70-110. This means that the theories of Paul were already before the writers of the Gospels and colored their interpretations of Jesus’ activities. Paul is, in a sense, present from the very first word of the New Testament. This is of course, not the whole story, for the Gospels are based on traditions and even written sources which go back to a time before the impact of Paul, and these early traditions and sources are not entirely obliterated in the final version and give valuable indications of what the story was like before Paulinist editors pulled it into final shape. However, the dominant outlook and shaping perspective of the Gospels is that of Paul, for the simple reason that it was the Paulinist view of what Jesus’ sojourn on Earth had been about that was triumphant in the Church as it developed in history. Rival interpretations, which at one time had been orthodox, opposed to Paul’s very individual views, now became heretical and were crowded out of the final version of the writings adopted by the Pauline Church as the inspired canon of the New Testament.4

There is no doubt that the influence of Paul is much more dominant than the influence of Jesus (P) himself in the New Testament. Scholars have known and recognized the influence Paul exerts over the New Testament, to the extent that Paul even declares that he has a different gospel than Jesus.5

Dating for The Authorship of The New Testament

The popularly accepted dates for the authorship of the current books of the Bible are approximately as follows:

    Approx. AD Event / Document
    30 Crucifixion (Ascension) of Jesus
    50 First Epistle of Paul
    62 Last Epistle of Paul
    65-70 Mark’s Gospel
    70 Epistle to Hebrews (The Epistle to the Hebrews is not listed in the 6th century list of the manuscripts called Codex Claromon. This leads to the suspicion that it could have been written at a later date)
    80 Luke’s Gospel
    85-90 Matthew’s Gospel
    90 Acts
    90-100 John’s Gospel and First Epistle
    95-100 Revelation
    100 I & II Timothy and Titus6

Uncertainty about James I & II, Peter, John and Jude does not allow historians to estimate their origin dates7. Note that the Epistles are dated earlier than even the earliest gospel, “Mark”. Thus we begin to see the degree to which the current religion of “Christianity” is based more on the teachings and writings of Paul than anything else. The gospels which are popularly believed to have been written first were in actuality written long after the writings of Paul. The more Christian scholars study the text of the Bible, the more it becomes painfully apparent that what is popularly referred to today as “Christianity” should more appropriately be called “St. Paulism”.

Were The Epistles Attributed to Paul Really Authored By Him?

Even the attribution of authorship of the epistles to Paul himself is doubtful. For example, let us take a look at the Epistle to the Hebrews. This Epistle, once attributed to Paul, is now generally accepted to have not been written by him. We read that

The Letter to the Hebrews, at one time ascribed to Paul, is now generally accepted to be by some unknown Christian of the 1st century. More like a sermon than a letter, it is one of the best and most carefully constructed compositions in the New Testament. Addressed originally to Christians out of Jewish backgrounds, the book makes extensive use of Old Testament material to demonstrate that the ministry of Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the Old Covenant.8

The editors of the KJV, in their Introduction to the Epistle to the Hebrews, wrote that:

The author of the Book of Hebrews is unknown. Martin Luther suggested that Apollos was the author…Tertullian said that Hebrews was a letter of Barnabas…Adolf Harnack and J. Rendel Harris speculated that it was written by Priscilla (or Prisca). William Ramsey suggested that it was done by Philip. However, the traditional position is that the Apostle Paul wrote Hebrews…Eusebius believed that Paul wrote it, but Origen was not positive of Pauline authorship.9

Even the books of Acts was written to fulfill a certain purpose. As Hyam Maccoby observes:

As we have seen, the purposes of the book of Acts is to minimize the conflict between Paul and the leaders of the Jerusalem Church, James and Peter. Peter and Paul, in later Christian tradition, became twin saints, brothers in faith, and the idea that they were historically bitter opponents standing for irreconcilable religious standpoints would have been repudiated with horror. The work of the author of Acts was well done; he rescued Christianity from the imputation of being the individual creation of Paul, and instead gave it a respectable pedigree, as a doctrine with the authority of the so-called Jerusalem Church, conceived as continuous in spirit with the Pauline Gentile Church of Rome. Yet, for all his efforts, the truth of the matter is not hard to recover, if we examine the New Testament evidence with an eye to tell-tale inconsistencies and confusions, rather than with the determination to gloss over and harmonize all difficulties in the interests of an orthodox interpretation.10

Conclusions

We have seen that the Pauline Epistles were written before the gospels of the New Testament and therefore exerts an influence over the selection of the gospels of the New Testament in our hands today. Jesus(P) himself had no idea of what Paul had done to his teachings and would have been amazed and shocked at the role assigned him by Paul as a suffering deity. Moreover, not all the epistles attributed to Paul were really written by him, and some were even written to fulfill a certain purpose. It is this reason which makes the epistles unacceptable to be divinely ‘inspired’, as it is clear they are the product of men. The Influence of the Pauline Epistles Upon The Gospels of The New Testament 7

  1. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Supplementary Volume, p. 137 []
  2. S. G. F. Brandon, Religions in Ancient History, p. 228 []
  3. Rev. Charles Anderson Scott, History of Christianity in the Light of Modern Knowledge, p. 338 []
  4. Hyam Maccoby, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1986), p. 4 []
  5. cf. Romans 2:16 []
  6. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Supplementary Volume []
  7. Irene Allen, The Early Church And The New Testament, 1953 []
  8. Excerpted from Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia, copyright — 1994, 1995 Compton’s NewMedia, Inc. []
  9. KJV, New Revised and Updated 6th, the Hebrew/Greek Key Study, Red Letter Edition []
  10. Hyam Maccoby, op. cit., p. 139 []