Who Wrote Each of the Four Gospels 7 – The Witness of the Scriptures on John

THE WITNESS OF THE SCRIPTURES

What do the Scriptures tell us about the Author of John’s Gospel?

The Gospel according to John is not as anonymous as the other three Gospels.  In the last few verses of the Gospel its author identifies himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved…the one who also had leaned back on His breast at the supper”.    Yet, even here he does not share his name with us.   John 19:25-27 tells us that Jesus gave this disciple responsibility for his mother Mary from the cross and that from then this disciple whom Jesus loved took Mary to his own home.   Church tradition has long held that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was the apostle John.  So, what can we learn about John from the scriptures?

What do the Gospels tell us about the Apostle John?

John was the younger brother of James, they were sons of Salome and Zebedee.  Salome was one of the women who followed and served Jesus (Matthew 27:55-56 & Mark 15:40-41) and she may have been the sister of Jesus’ mother Mary (John 19:25), which could explain her boldness as “aunty Salome” in asking Jesus to favour her boys (Matthew 20:20-23).  Zebedee was a Galilean fisherman who also hired men for their fishing business.  They lived in Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilea, as did their fishing partners Simon Peter and his younger brother Andrew, who had been one of the first two disciples of John the Baptist to heed the Baptist’s words “behold the Lamb of God” and start following Jesus.  We first read about John and James encountering Jesus as they were in their boat with their father mending their fishing nets (Matthew 4:21-22, Mark 1:19-20).  Christ called them for follow Him so these two young men left everything and went after Him.  Then, in Mark 1:29 we read that they came out of the Capernaum synagogue with Jesus and entered the house of Simon Peter and Andrew where Peter’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever.  Luke 5:1-11 then reports another calling, this time in front of a multitude, and refers to James and John as partners with Simon Peter.  John is next mentioned in the choosing of the twelve apostles:

Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother  Matthew 10:2 NKJV

Simon, whom He gave the name Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder”   Mark 3:16-17 NKJV

He chose twelve whom He also named apostles: Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; Luke 6:13b-14 NKJV

In all of these John is mentioned in the second group of brothers, and after his older brother James.  There has been much speculation over the years as to what the designation “Sons of Thunder” might mean about James and John.   Perhaps it was in relation to their character as revealed when they offered to command fire to come down from heaven and consume the Samaritans who had refused to receive Jesus because He was on his way to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-56).   Eager for a sign from heaven to justify themselves and vindicate their Master, these brothers were zealous and enthusiastic and had a high sense of what honour was due to Jesus, but they were slower to understand His heart of love even for His enemies.  Just before then John had declared that they had seen someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name and forbidden him because he was not one of them (Mark 9:38 & Luke 9:49).   It was important to young John that he was part of the “in group”, which he felt should be distinguished from “outsiders”.  Then there was the time when James and John tried to manipulate Jesus into giving them the positions sitting on His right hand and left hand in Glory (Mark 10:35-41).  Matthew 20:20-23 depicts their mother bringing them to Jesus to make this same request of Him, shortly before His Triumphal Entry.  In all of these incidences we see these two sons of Zebedee zealous and full of confidence in the power and authority of Christ while also attaching personal ambition to their dedication to Him.   This fits with the other evidences that they were young men, possibly in their mid to late teens, when Jesus called them.  Many scholars have concluded that John was the youngest of the apostles, possibly only 13-15yo when he was first called by Jesus. (44) (45) (46) (47) (48) (49)

The Gospels mention three significant incidences where Jesus only allows Peter, James and John to be present with him and witness the event.  The first is the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:22-24 & 36-43; Luke 8:40-42 & 49-56).  The second is the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-10 & Luke 9:28-36).  The third is in the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus asked them to watch with him but they kept falling asleep (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42).  Notably, the writer of the Gospel according to John does not bear witness to any of these three events in his Gospel, which would seem strange if John were the author.   The Transfiguration especially fits with the whole theme of this Gospel, and John was one of only three witnesses to it, yet this Gospel is the only one that makes no mention of it.

It was the two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, James and John, who asked Jesus privately “when will these things be and what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled” after Jesus prophesied that the temple would be destroyed and not one stone of it left upon another (Mark 13:1-4).   It was Peter and John, the oldest and youngest of the twelve, that Jesus sent to prepare the Passover (Luke 22:7-13).   The only other specific mention of John the apostle in the Gospels, and the only direct reference in this Gospel, is after Christ’s resurrection:

 Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together.  Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”  They said to him, “We are going with you also.” John 21:2-3a NKJV

What does the book of Acts tell us about the apostle John?

The first mention of John in the book of Acts finds all the apostles together with Jesus’ family and female disciples in the upper room:

And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James.  These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.  Acts 1:13-14 NKJV

John the apostle is generally found teamed up with Peter as we go through the book of Acts, just as Jesus had sent them together to prepare the Passover.  Acts 3 tells the story of Peter and John going to the temple together at the hour of prayer, seeing the lame man and Peter bringing God’s healing to him in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, followed by Peter preaching to the multitudes who gathered.

Acts 4 sees Peter and John arrested and Peter boldly testifying before the Sanhedrin who: “saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marvelled.  And they realised that they had been with Jesus.” 

In Verse 19 Peter and John replied to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.  For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”

Acts 8 tells of Peter and John being sent by the apostles in Jerusalem to Samaria to minister to the new believers there.  They prayed for these Samaritan believers to receive the Holy Spirit and laid hands on them.   The results were so powerful that Simon the sorcerer offered them money to give him that power and received a very strong rebuke from Peter.  On their way back to Jerusalem Peter and John preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.

John is next mentioned by name some 12-14 years after Jesus’ resurrection when Herod killed his older brother James with the sword (Acts 12:1-2).

Any references to John in Paul’s writings?

Our last reference to John (apart from the Johannine writings) comes about 6 years later, so John would likely be around 35yo now.  In Galatians 2 Paul writes about going up to Jerusalem to resolve the question of circumcision of Gentile believers (see also Acts 15) and states in verse 9: “and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”   The ‘James’ that Paul is referring to in this verse is not John’s older brother who had been killed with the sword, but James the brother of Jesus who had also been a leader in the church since its earliest days despite not being one of the 12 apostles.

Summary of what we know about the Apostle John…

In summary, John is introduced to us as an apprentice in his father’s fishing business, 13-15yo when Jesus first calls him.  He is the younger brother of James and the two of them are always mentioned together until near the end of Jesus’ ministry when He sends John with Peter to prepare the Passover for their last meal before He is crucified.  John’s mother, Salome, also travels with Jesus, possibly as much to keep an eye on her boys as to learn from Jesus.  She certainly demonstrates high ambitions for them which she mixes with her faith in Jesus as Messiah and ruler of the Kingdom of Heaven.   Her presence also suggests that John is the youngest of her children as Salome would not be so free to travel with them if she had younger children still at home.   John was zealous and enthusiastic, loved the miraculous and had a high sense of what honour was due to Jesus.   It was important to young John to be important and part of the “in group” which was clearly distinguished from others whom he did not view as sufficiently following Jesus.  John was close to Jesus and one of only three disciples whom Jesus allowed to be with Him when He was transfigured, when He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead and during his passion in the garden of Gethsemane.  Towards the end of Jesus’ ministry and throughout the book of Acts we see John maturing and coming into his own, becoming less dependent on his older brother and faithfully stewarding increasing responsibilities.

What does the Fourth Gospel tell us about it’s Author?

What can we learn about the author of the fourth Gospel from what we find written within it?   From John 21:20-24 we learn that the author was a man and described himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper”.  It is this closeness to Jesus which has led many to surmise that the author must be one of Christ’s “inner circle”, the three apostles who were allowed with Jesus for the transfiguration, the raising of Jarius’ daughter and Christ’s passion in the garden.   Since Peter motioned to this disciple whom Jesus loved to get him to ask Jesus who was going to betray him (John 13:23-24) the author could not be the apostle Peter and the apostle James was killed by Herod before this gospel was written, so that leaves the apostle John as the author of this gospel.   Scholars who support this view also see the author (either as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” or “another disciple”) as being consistently paired with Peter in the latter part of this gospel (John 13:34-24; 18:15-16, 20:2-9, 21:1-8 & 15-23) even as John is paired with Peter in the book of Acts. (50) This gospel was clearly written by an intimate eye-witness and who could be closer to Jesus than the young apostle John?

We also see in John 21:20-24 that the author refers to himself in the third person, as was not unusual in first-century historiographical practice, even when saying that he was the one who wrote these things down.  The only time the author uses a personal pronoun for himself is in the very last verse of the Gospel, and here he indicates that what he has written is just a small amount of what he knows Jesus to have done:

And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.  Amen.   John 21:25 NKJV

How the author met Jesus…

Let’s start at the beginning of the fourth gospel and see what we can learn about this “disciple whom Jesus loved”.  In John 1:19-51 the author provides us with a report which does not directly describe Jesus’ baptism, it appears that he was not there at that time, but provides an eye-witness account, not mentioned in the other gospels, of the Jewish religious leaders sending priests and Levites from Jerusalem to Bethany beyond the Jordan (“Bethabara” in some versions) to question the baptiser “who are you?”  John the Baptist’s father, Zacharias, had been a priest (Luke 1:5-7) so many of them would have known John growing up as the son of this respected elderly priest.  Some of the priests may have been his childhood friends.  The Baptist’s response to their every question was to testify about Jesus.  As there is no description of any of the actions of John the Baptist before these priests arrived, not even his baptism of Jesus, it is likely that the author was one of the priests or Levites who was sent by the Jewish leadership (high priest) to question the Baptist.  This would suggest that at least one of them was impacted by the Baptist’s sermons, really took his words to heart and was baptised by him.

The next day Jesus returned from his forty days in the Judean wilderness and the Baptist pointed him out as the person he had been talking about in answering the priest’s questions and described what had taken place when he had baptised Jesus.   John’s words were sinking in because the following day when the Baptist pointed Jesus out to two of his disciples “Behold the Lamb of God!” they started following Him.  One of these disciples was Andrew, who would become one of the 12 apostles, and the other remains anonymous.   Many have postulated that this anonymous disciple is the author of this Gospel.   Could one of the priests or Levites sent by the High Priest and Sanhedrin to find out what John had to say about himself have become a disciple of John’s so quickly?   If so, this fits with the anonymous “other disciple” in John 18:15-16 being sufficiently known to the high priest to be able to tell the servant who kept the door to his courtyard to let his friend Peter in. 

Only this fourth Gospel gives the details of Andrew, and an unnamed disciple, being the first to follow Jesus, then Andrew bringing his big brother Simon (Peter) to Jesus, followed the next day by Jesus calling Philip, who found Nathanael, as he started heading back to Galilee.  

Going with Jesus to the wedding in Cana, then Jerusalem for Passover…

The author went with Jesus, Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathanael (and the unnamed disciple, if this person is not the author) to the wedding in Cana of Galilee, and then down to Capernaum with Jesus’ mother and brothers as well, before returning to Jerusalem for the Passover, cleansing the temple and doing many signs (John 2:13-23).   The author was privy to Jesus’ night-time conversation with Nicodemus, away from all the crowds (John 3:1-21).   If he was one of the Levites and priests who were sent by the leaders in Jerusalem to question John the Baptist, then he would likely have invited Jesus to stay in his house in (or near) Jerusalem, a house that would be known to the rulers of the Jews like Nicodemus.

Baptising with Jesus then the woman at the well…

Next, this author describes Jesus going with these early disciples and baptising people in Judea while John had moved to Aeon near Salim to continue baptising (John 3:22-36).  From there the author describes in detail Jesus going back up to Galilee, but via the city of Sychar in Samaria where he talks with the woman at the well (John 4:1-42). 

With Jesus to Cana, then silence…

After going to Cana of Galilee, the author describes Jesus’ long distance healing of the nobleman’s son in Capernaum (John 4:45-54) but mentions nothing of Jesus’ following ministry in Galilee, nor his travels to Capernaum, nor calling of Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John from their fishing boats or Matthew from his tax collector’s booth, nor any of the preaching in synagogues or subsequent miracles and healings that He performed (Matthew 4:13-25, 8:2-4 & 14-17, 9:2-17; Mark 1:14-2:22; Luke 4:16-5:39).  

Map of Jesus' and John's early ministry travels

With Jesus in Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews…

It is as though the author returned to Jerusalem from Cana and did not see Jesus again until He returned to Jerusalem for another “feast of the Jews” (John 5:1).    According to the Torah, God commanded the Israelites:

Three times a year shall all your men appear before the Lord your God in the place that God will choose [the Temple in Jerusalem], on the festivals of Pesah (Passover – early spring), Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks – seven weeks after Passover, at the time of the late spring harvest), and Sukkot (the Festival of Booths – mid-autumn).”     Deuteronomy 16:16

It is unclear which of these festivals Jesus was attending this time, but again only the fourth Gospel writer tells us anything about Jesus’ time in Jerusalem for this festival and he describes the events, the healing of a man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath and the resulting controversy,  in a lot of detail (John: 5:2-47).  

The first three Gospels continue with their narrative of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, including many parables and miracles (Matthew5:1-14:12; Mark 2:23-6:29; Luke 6:1-9:9), and the setting aside of 12 of his disciples and sending them out to be apostles, while the fourth Gospel remains silent on all of this Galilean activity.   Then John the Baptist is beheaded (Matthew 14:1-13) and word reaches Jesus even as the apostles returned from their mission and reported back what they had done and taught (Mark 6:30-31; Luke 9:10) even as the next Passover was approaching (John 6:4).  

With Jesus as Passover approaches…

Passover (Pesach) falls on the first full moon of Spring.  The author of the fourth Gospel is the one who keeps us informed about the relationship of events to the Jewish festivals.  Now we find him together with the others as Jesus takes them by boat to the shore near the city of Bethsaida in Galilee (Luke 9:10) and up a mountain (John 6:3) to a deserted but lush grassy place after the winter rains (Mark 6:31).  There the only miracle Jesus performed that is recorded in all four Gospels took place, the feeding of the 5,000.  

Close to Philip & Andrew…

Only the author of the fourth Gospel gives us the details that Jesus asked Philip, the one of the 12 who lived in Bethsaida; “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?”  Philip was overwhelmed with the cost involved but Andrew, Simon Peter’s younger brother, brought the lad with the loaves and fish to Jesus in response.  If the anonymous disciple who first followed Jesus with Andrew was the author of this Gospel it appears that they continued to have a close relationship such that the author paid special attention to, and had high regard for, Andrew’s expressions of faith.  This is seen again, after the Triumphal Entry, when the author of this fourth Gospel informs us about some Gentiles (Greeks) who had gone up to worship in Jerusalem at Passover and asked Philip (who had a Greek name) if they could see Jesus, who told Andrew (who also had a Greek name) and they both passed on the request to Jesus (John 12:20-22).   

With Jesus in the Capernaum synagogue…

From the narrative continuing on from the feeding of the 5,000 the author was just as likely one of the people who followed Jesus and the disciples to Capernaum the next day as one of the disciples in the boat that night who saw Christ walking on the water (John 6:15-59).  The author joined the multitude who listened to Jesus as He taught in the Capernaum synagogue and stayed, as did the 12, when many of Jesus’ other disciples became offended at His words and walked away (John 6:60-70). 

With Jesus to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles…

We read nothing more from this author for another six months, when the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) is at hand.  He mentions nothing of Jesus’ ministry trips beyond the lands of the Jews to Gennesaret, Tyre and Sidon, through the region of the Decapolis and skirting the Sea of Galilee back through Jewish territory across to Bethsaida and out again to Caesarea Philippi, and up a high mountain for the transfiguration before returning through Galilee to Capernaum.  All this author mentions about that whole time was: “after these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea because the Jews sort to kill Him.”  (John 7:1)  

Herod Antipas, who had just beheaded John the Baptist, ruled over both Perea and Galilee so this was a significant example that Jesus was setting for His disciples of responding to threats by taking the gospel further afield – in this case to the territories of Phoenicia, Ituraea, Syria, Batanea, Auranitis (Trachonitis) and the Decapolis, and yet the author of this gospel writes only that Jesus did not walk in Judea, He was not seen in Jerusalem during this time.   To read where Jesus was seen and what He was doing there we need to study the other three gospel accounts.

John 7:2-3 is very interesting as this Gospel author writes of Jesus’ brothers contending that His disciples were in Judea so He should go there to show them the works that He was doing.  The apostles were with Jesus in Capernaum of Galilee but his brothers are telling him to go to Jerusalem so His disciples can see what He’s doing.   Did Jesus have disciples who were based in Judea as well as those who were based in Galilee?  This fourth Gospel is the only one to record that Jesus did not accompany his brothers to Sukkot (the week-long Feast of Tabernacles) in Jerusalem, but travelled after them to attend secretly.   This would have greatly affected those disciples who were waiting eagerly for Jesus in Jerusalem, but not the disciples and apostles travelling with Him and engrossed in His teaching every day.

It is from Luke that we learn Jesus travelled through Samaria on His way to Jerusalem and one of the Samaritan villages refused to welcome Him because He was determined to go to Jerusalem for the Feast so James and John offered to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them as Elijah had called it down to consume the sacrifice on Mt Carmel but Jesus rebuked them and simply went to another village who would welcome Him (Luke 9:51-56).   Taking this route which most of the Jews avoided because they would not associate with Samaritans also helped keep Jesus hidden from the other pilgrims headed from Galilee to Jerusalem for the Feast.   

Jesus was not seen by the crowds in Jerusalem until about the middle of the Feast when He went into the temple and started teaching the people (John 7:4-14).   This Gospel’s author then provides us with a detailed account of Jesus’ teaching and the crowd’s responses on that day (John 7:15-36) and again on the last day including Nicodemus’ defence of Christ in the Sanhedrin (John 7:37-53).  The seventh day of Sukkot is known as Hoshana Rabbah which is considered to be the day of the final sealing of judgment on which God opens the Books of Life and Death.   

It was in the Temple, in Jerusalem, the following day that the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus.   This Gospel author records Jesus continuing to teach in the Temple until, on a Sabbath day some religious leaders took up stones to throw at him because He had answered them by declaring: “before Abraham was, I AM”, then denounced Him for “not keeping the Sabbath” when he healed a blind man by spitting on the ground and making clay with the saliva then anointing a blind man’s eyes with that clay and telling him to wash in the pool of Siloam (John 8:1-9:41).   Jesus teaches in the temple about His upcoming death and resurrection (John 10:1-21) then vanishes once more from this Gospel until the next Jewish Festival in Jerusalem.     Whereas Matthew, Mark and Luke provide us with descriptions of Jesus’ teachings and works in the Galilee region, and on His expeditions into neighbouring lands, it is this author who recounts Jesus’ teachings and works in Jerusalem during the Jewish Feasts. 

Silent on the 70…

It is Luke again who tells us of Jesus appointing another seventy (some versions have seventy-two) and apostéllō (sending) them two by two with authority to heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God in every city and place where He himself was about to go (Luke 10:1-24).    After they returned with joy and amazement that even the demons were subject to them in His name, Jesus began going to each of the places that the seventy have just been, teaching as he went.  In Bethany He stayed with Martha and Mary, teaching in their house (Luke 10:38-42).   It is 63 days from the seventh day of the autumn Sukkot until the beginning of the eight day winter Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah – which was instituted after Judas Maccabeus recaptured Jerusalem, cleansed and rededicated the Temple to God) and Luke provides us with Jesus’ teaching during that time as He travelled to those places that He had sent the other seventy to in a circuit that brought him back to Jerusalem (Luke 11:1-13:35).

With Jesus in Jerusalem for Hanakkah

Once again it is the author of the Fourth Gospel who tells us the time of year and Jewish religious occasion – this time it was winter and Jesus was returning to Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication (Hanakkah).    Again, this author picks up the story when Jesus enters Jerusalem and describes His interactions in the Temple (John 10:22-39).  

Luke 14:1-24 picks up on Jesus’ interactions outside the temple – with His disciples in the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees (a member of the Sanhedrin) on the Sabbath.   As Jesus left Jerusalem Luke notes that great multitudes went with Him (Luke 14:25), but it appears that the author of the fourth Gospel was not among them although he does tell us exactly where they travelled to – Bethany beyond the Jordan where John had baptised Jesus and first proclaimed Him.  Matthew 19:1-12, Mark 10:1-12 and Luke 14:26 – 17:10 share with us what Jesus taught through this time and the fourth Gospel author declares: “many believed in Him there”, beyond the Jordan.

Close to Mary, Martha & Lazarus…

Interestingly, the fourth Gospel’s author was confident that those he was writing for had already heard about Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with fragrant oil and wiping them with her hair.   Even though he had not got to that part of the story yet the author helps his readers understand which Martha and Mary he is writing about by recounting that incident before it has taken place in his narrative (John 11:1-2).   Could the author have been the person whom Mary and Martha sent to Jesus with the news of their brother’s illness?   Some have contended that the author, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was Lazarus as he is the only man specifically referred to as being loved by Jesus (51) (52) (53) (54) (55) (56) (57) (58):

“Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”    John 11:3 NKJV      

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. John 11:5 NKJV

Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”    John 11:36 NKJV

This author provides us with a very detailed description of the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-46), an event which the other Gospels omit, and how that related to the plot to kill Jesus (John 11:47-53).   The author notes that Jesus goes from that area into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and then has nothing more to add until the next feast, the spring feast of Passover, is near (John 11:54-55).  

Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem…

Luke 17:11 picks it up from there with a verse that makes little sense unless we realise that the starting point is the city of Ephraim:

Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.      Luke 17:11 NKJV

All four Gospels are now focused on this final journey to Jerusalem where Christ will be crucified, the culmination of everything that has taken place thus far.   So Luke describes Jesus’ final missionary journey through Samaria and Galilee as going to Jerusalem.  On the way Jesus cleansed 10 lepers, blessed the little children, and continued teaching all who followed Him and explaining what was going to happen to Him this time in Jerusalem (Matthew 19:13-20:19, Mark 10:13-10:34 & Luke 17:12-18:34).  

As they are heading down the Jordan Valley with all the pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus confides in the twelve that He will be betrayed, condemned and handed over to the Gentiles who will mock and scourge and crucify Him and then on the third day He will rise again (Matthew 20:17-19, Mark 10:32-34 & Luke 18:31-33).  In what appears to be about the worst timing in history, James and John then took Jesus aside (with their mother), to ask for the top positions in His kingdom – to sit on His right hand and left (Matthew 20:20-23 & Mark 10:35-40).   Luke helps us understand this by writing about the twelve’s reaction to Jesus telling them how he was going to suffer and die:

But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.  Luke 18:34 NKJV

Then coming up out of the Jordan Valley and through Jericho, Jesus stopped for Zacchaeus and to heal two blind men, one of whom was Bartimaeus, before continuing on to Bethpage and Bethany (Matthew 20:29-21:1, Mark 10:46 – 11:1 & Luke 17:12-19:29).  

Focus on Jerusalem and Bethany…

The fourth Gospel omits everything from when Jesus left Bethany for Ephraim until Passover drew near and he records the attitudes of those in Jerusalem, particularly the Sanhedrin, wondering if Jesus would come for the feast and giving orders that they be notified if anyone sees Him so that they could seize Him.    Again this Gospel writer appears to be based in or near Jerusalem and privy to the discussions of the Jewish pilgrims who were already in the temple, and to the religious leaders.

Then it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover.  They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple area they asked one another, “What do you think?  Isn’t He coming to the Feast at all?”
But the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, he should report it so that they might arrest Him.  John 11:55-57 NIV  

While it made little difference to those travelling with Jesus how many days before Passover He arrived in Bethany, to those waiting for Him it was of prime importance and so this author records it:  

Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. John 12:1-2 NKJV

The Passover began at sunset on Nissan 14, so six days before this would bring us to Nissan 8.   It was a steep, rugged 21 km (13 mile) walk along the main road up the range from Jericho, ‘the City of Palms’, to Bethany. Mathew 20:29-34 lets us know what we would have expected – that a large crowd followed Jesus out of Jericho.  It was about a six hour walk to Jerusalem, where most of the pilgrims would be lodging (59) (60). 

Preparing for Passover…

While it is the miracles in Jericho that the synoptic gospels focus on, the fourth gospel writer begins with the pilgrims already in Jerusalem and then turns to Jesus’ arrival in Bethany and the reception He received there, with a dinner given in Jesus’ honour where Lazarus reclined at the table with Him, Martha served and Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and poured very expensive perfume on them, which Judas objected to (John 12:2-8), and the large crowd who came to see both Jesus and Lazarus whom He had raised (John 12:9-11).

All four Gospels record the Triumphal Entry (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-40 & John 12:12-22), which John places in “the next day” after the crowds came to see Jesus and Lazarus in Bethany.  The fourth Gospel appears to lack the insider knowledge of the other three that Jesus sent two of his disciples (possible not two of the twelve because none of the Gospel’s name them) with specific instructions for getting the donkey and her colt, but adds the local knowledge that the people who had witnessed Him raising Lazarus from the dead were telling everyone so the crowd and excitement kept growing and:

The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing.  Look, the world has gone after Him!”    John 12:19 NKJV  

Only the fourth gospel author tells us what Jesus said in the Temple on this day of His Triumphal entry, 10th Nissan – the day the Jews are to choose their Passover lamb and take it home to care for it until the time of its sacrifice (John 12:23-36), but he tells us nothing of Jesus’ other trips to Jerusalem; the cursing of the fig tree and cleansing of the Temple on the following day nor Christ’s teachings in the Temple on the 11th & 12th Nissan.  Matthew devotes the most words to such: Matthew 21:12-16 & 18-46, 22:1-25:46.  Mark devotes two chapters, Mark 11:12-18 & 20-44, 12:1-13:2.  Luke 19:45-21:4 are devoted to these accounts of Jesus’ final temple teachings. Those three also note that Jesus returned to Bethany each night (Matthew 21:17, Mark 11:19, Luke 21:37-38).  Interestingly, the fourth Gospel author gives us much less detail about Jesus’ teachings in the temple this time than the other three and only he does not mention Jesus cleansing the temple this time or travelling back and forth from Bethany to the Temple in Jerusalem each day.  Only Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9 tell us of the 12th Nissan meal at the home of Simon the leper that was interrupted by a woman coming to Jesus and anointing His head with expensive fragrant oil.  Matthew 24:3-51, Mark 13:3-37 and Luke 21:7-38 all share with us from Jesus private session on the Mount of Olives with Peter, James, John and Andrew, but the fourth Gospel author again omits this significant time that John had with Jesus.

Washing the disciple’s feet…

At last, on the night of 13th Nissan (remember that in Hebrew reckoning the evening of each day comes before the morning of that date) the author of the fourth Gospel re-joins us to share something significant, and something that the other three mention nothing of (John 13:1-14:31).  A supper before the Feast of Passover, probably in Bethany, where Jesus washes His disciple’s feet, the disciple whom Jesus loves reclines on His bosom and at Peter’s urging asks which one of them will betray Jesus who responds by giving a morsel to Judas whom Satan enters as he goes out.  Matthew 26:14-16, Mark 14:10-11 & Luke 22:3-4 pickup at this point, noting that Judas went to the chief priests to ask what they were willing to give him for delivering Jesus to them in the absence of the multitude, while the author of the fourth Gospel focuses on what Jesus shared with His followers after Judas had left that night until they left from the place where they had shared the meal (John 14:31).

Jesus’ final teachings…

The author of the fourth gospel then gives us three more chapters (John 15, 16 & 17) of Jesus’ final teachings and prayers for them on 13th Nissan, before the Passover – possibly the next morning – before becoming silent on the Passover meal that Peter and John followed Jesus’ prophetic instructions to begin preparing that afternoon for Jesus to share with the twelve once evening had come and it was 14th Nissan and the lamb they had chosen on 10th had been sacrificed and Peter and John had carried it back to the assigned place, roasted it on a wooden rotatory over a fire, and purchased unleavened bread and bitter herbs from the many stores in Jerusalem catering to the pilgrims flooding the city (Matthew 26:19-30, Mark 14:16-26 & Luke 22:13-39).  There Jesus instituted one of the most important sacraments of the church, communion, but the author of the fourth gospel provides us with not witness to this.

In the Garden…

We next hear the author of the fourth Gospel he states “When Jesus had (in the Greek) ‘légō’ (originally, “lay down to sleep,” and later used of “laying an argument to rest,” i.e. bringing a message to closure) … so: “When Jesus had brought His teachings to a closure”, ie not a moment too soon, Jesus would not go to the place of His arrest until He had told His disciples everything He needed to before His sufferings, “He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden…” that Judas also knew because Jesus had often met there with His disciples.  

All four gospels note Jesus entering this garden and Judas leading an armed contingent from the chief priests.  Mark 14:51-52 presents us with what appear to be strange verses, yet they provide us with the evidence that it was not only the eleven remaining apostles who had been with Jesus in the Garden, others of His followers also knew He met there and had come in the hope of receiving more teachings from Him.   Passover was a special and formal celebration and everyone who attended with Jesus would have dressed appropriately for it and so come into the Garden fully dressed.  But it was late when they entered the Garden, and there were some followers who had been watching and waiting for His crossing over the Kidron ravine.  It sounds like one young man had gone to bed and was asleep when he heard the excited call “Jesus is coming”, wrapped his sheet around him and hurried out (possibly almost dragged out by an older brother) to see what Jesus had for them this night.   It is possible that the author of the fourth gospel was among the disciples who were not part of the last supper but knew where to find Jesus when that was finished.

Here we come to another distinction between the first three Gospel accounts and the fourth.  The first three clearly state that Jesus ate the Passover with His disciples as their last supper together, which would have been at the beginning of 14th Nissan (as each Jewish day began when the sun went down on the previous day), but the fourth gospel writer is equally clear in stating that the Passover sacrifice for the nation of Israel did not happen until the time of Jesus’ death the following afternoon, which would be around 3pm on 14th Nissan.   One thing that we have seen already during the Hasmonaean dynasty is that different Jewish groups interpreted many of the Torah rules for the feasts in different ways.   One of the contentions was over the proper time for the slaughter and consumption of the Passover sacrifice.    The instructions in Exodus 12:6 state: “And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight.”  There was (and in some circles still is) much contention over that word “twilight”, which in Hebrew is:   עֶרֶב ereb; which can be translated as evening, night, sunset, twilight, or ‘between the evenings’.   The Essenes and others contended that the sacrifice was to be made as soon as the sun set and 14th Nissan began so that it would all be consumed on the night of 14th Nissan in line with verse 8: “they shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.”   The most powerful groups of the Pharisees and priests, however, interpreted it to mean that the Passover sacrifice should be sacrificed at the end of 14th Nissan – between 3-6pm and then eaten that night (therefor on 15th Nissan) as the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.   If the author of the fourth gospel were a priest it would be understandable that his focus would be on the time set for the priesthood to formally make the sacrifice for the nation and then attend to all the pilgrim’s sacrifices lined up for them to be slaughtered in the temple and then taken away to be cooked and eaten that night.  So John 18:28-19:15 states of the priests accusing Jesus: “they themselves did not enter the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled and might eat the Passover…”.

The disciple whom Jesus loved…

We have returned to where we began this search – the scriptures in the fourth gospel referring to “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”   The first of these was in John 13, after Jesus had washed His disciple’s feet and:

There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of the disciples, whom Jesus loved”. 

Our next reference to him does not use that same term “disciple whom Jesus loved”, but just refers to him as “another disciple”.   So it may not be the same person, although the characteristics do fit everything else we have learned about him through his eyewitness account of Jesus’ life in this fourth gospel.

Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus.  Because this disciple was known to the High Priest, he went with Jesus into the High Priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door.  The other disciple, who was known to the High Priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in.     John 18:15-16 NIV

Now, before the cross, we see our next reference to him:

“When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”  From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”  John 19:26-27 NIV

There is some suggestion that this provides another reason for suggesting that this disciple whom Jesus loved is not one of the 12. Jesus was walking with the 12 (minus Judas) to the Gethsemane when He told them: “All of you will desert Me” and they all vowed that they would not (Matthew 26:31-35, Mark 14:27-31). In the High Priest’s quarters only Peter and the author of this gospel were still with Jesus and Peter denied Him three times and fled in tears while this author remained even to the cross now. If he was not one who deserted Jesus, he was not one of the 12, yet he was someone close enough to Jesus to consider himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved“.

Witness to Jesus’ death and burial…

Then, in now characteristic style, this disciple gives us details pertaining to priests (Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were both members of the Sanhedrin who had not consented to their ruling against Jesus) and the rules of the Jewish feast days:

Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe. For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, “NOT A BONE OF HIM SHALL BE BROKEN.” And again another Scripture says, “THEY SHALL LOOK ON HIM WHOM THEY PIERCED.”

After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body. Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.     John 19:31-42 NASV

Resurrection First Fruits…

Only the fourth Gospel makes reference to Christ needing to be presented to the Father as the First Fruits Offering on the day of His resurrection, which was the first Sunday after Passover and thus the day of the First Fruits Offering, the first stalk of ripe grain from the upcoming harvest being waved before God in the Temple:

Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God. ‘”        John 20:17 NASV

Resurected Jesus at See of Galilee…

After specifying Thomas as the one of the twelve who was the last to believe that Jesus had indeed been resurrected but proclaimed upon seeing Him “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:19-29), John then goes on to describe the last incident where the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is featured:

After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way. Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” … …
So Jesus said to them, “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?”
They answered Him, “No.”
And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.”
So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish.
Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” …

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “… … when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.”
Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God…

Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?”
So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?”
Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!”

Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?”
This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. John 21:1-24

Conclusions…

So, was this disciple whom Jesus loved John the son of Zebedee or one of the two unnamed “others of His disciples” who had followed Jesus’ direction to meet Him in Galilee and agreed to go fishing with Peter while they were waiting for Him?   Church tradition holds that it was John, and thus the Gospel has been labelled.  Many scholars argue that John just left out the bits about most of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and the last supper because he wrote after the other three Gospels had been accepted and they covered those events sufficiently for him to feel no need to write about them, after all, the author did state that if everything Jesus did was written down the world would not be able to contain the books, and besides, it had to be one of Jesus’ “inner circle” who got selected for special assignments with Him – Peter, James and John.   

Some have contended that the author was Lazarus, because he is the only man specifically referred to as one whom Jesus loved (John 11:3&36) and the term “disciple whom Jesus loved” was only used after Lazarus’ resurrection and description as reclining at the table with Jesus (John 12:2). 

Some have contended that it was Jesus’ younger half-brother James because it would not be right for Him to place His mother into the care of someone outside the family when He had siblings with family responsibility for her. 

Some have suggested John Mark (the author of Mark) was the author because he was related to the Levite Barnabas and so would have been known to the high priest. 

Some argue that it was Thomas, because he had known to ask to see the spear wound in Jesus’ side and of all the apostles, only the beloved disciple had been at the cross to see that wound inflicted.  

Others have suggested that it is the man that early church father Papias (via Eusebius) referred to as “John the Elder”, and that he was a priest from Jerusalem (Polycrates’ references John wearing the sacerdotal plate in Eusebius, ‘Church History’, 5.24.2-3) and also the author of the Johannine letters, as both 2 John and 3 John state that they are from “the Elder”.

What we do know is that the author of the fourth Gospel was an eye-witness who had followed Jesus since John the Baptist proclaimed Him to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), referred to himself as “the one whom Jesus loved“, and was closely tied to Jerusalem and the activities of the priesthood.

Reference List

44. Got Questions. How Old Were Jesus’ Disciples? Got Questions. [Online] [Cited: 12th Sept 2019.] https://www.gotquestions.org/how-old-were-Jesus-disciples.html.
45. Thiessen, Rick. How Old Were the Disciples? Ask Anything. [Online] 18th April 2017. [Cited: 12th Sept 2019.] http://ac3askanything.blogspot.com/2017/04/how-old-were-disciples.html.
46. Hyndman, Rob J. How old were the disciples of Jesus when they joined him? Bible Q – Bible questions answered. [Online] 5th Nov 2011. [Cited: 12th Sept 2019.] http://bibleq.net/answer/4801/.
47. Kirkpatrick, David Paul. Jesus’ Bachelors – The Disciples Were Most Likely Under the Age of Eighteen. David Paul Kirkpatrick’s Living In The Metaverse. [Online] 25th March 2013. [Cited: 12th Sept 2019.] https://www.davidpaulkirkpatrick.com/2013/03/25/jesus-bachelors-the-disciples-were-most-likely-under-the-age-of-18/.
48. Cary, Otis & Frank. How Old Were Christ’s Disciples? 1, Chicargo : The University of Chicargo Press, July 1917, The Biblical World, Vol. 50, pp. 3-12.
49. Wallace, Jack. About how old was the Apostle John during Jesus’ earthly ministry? Quora. [Online] 27th Mar 2018. [Cited: 16th Sept 2019.] https://www.quora.com/About-how-old-was-the-Apostle-John-during-Jesus-earthly-ministry.
50. Köstenberger, Andreas. Who Wrote John’s Gospel. Biblical Foundations. [Online] February 2008. [Cited: 23rd Sept 2019.] https://www.biblicalfoundations.org/who-wrote-johns-gospel/.
51. Miller, Matthew Scott. 4 Reasons Lazarus, not John, may be the Author of the Fourth Gospel. Logos Made Flesh. [Online] 12th June 2012. [Cited: 24th Sept 2019.] http://logosmadeflesh.com/2012/06/12/4-reasons-lazarus-not-john-may-be-the-author-of-the-fourth-gospel/.
52. Witherington, Ben. Was Lazarus the Beloved Disciple? Ben Witherington Blogspot. [Online] 29th Jan 2007. [Cited: 24th Sept 2019.] http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/01/was-lazarus-beloved-disciple.html.
53. Rudnick, Alan. Lazarus, not John, was the Disciple whom Jesus loved. Alan Rudnick. [Online] 13th April 2017. [Cited: 24th Sept 2019.] http://www.alanrudnick.org/2017/04/13/john-was-not-the-disciple-whom-jesus-loved/.
54. Phillips, J. The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved, Fifth Edition. The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved. [Online] 2011. [Cited: 24th Sept 2019.] http://www.thedisciplewhomjesusloved.com/beloved-disciple-fourth-gospel-author/.
55. Jones, Edgar. Authorship of the Fourth Gospel. Voice of Jesus. [Online] [Cited: 24th Sept 2019.] http://www.voiceofjesus.org/lazarus.htm.
56. Curtis, David B. Gospel of John – Authorship. Berean Bible Church. [Online] 2016. [Cited: 24th Sept 2019.] http://www.bereanbiblechurch.org/transcripts/john/authorship-of-gospel-of-john.htm.
57. Dunne, John Anthony. Lazarus & The Fourth Gospel: Did John Write John? The Two Cities. [Online] 27th Sept 2011. [Cited: 24th Sept 2019.] http://www.thetwocities.com/biblical-studies/lazarus-the-fourth-gospel-did-john-write-john/.
58. Kroll, David. Did John Write the Fourth Gospel? Theological Perspectives. [Online] [Cited: 24th Sept 2019.] http://theologicalperspectives.com/did-john-write-the-fourth-gospel-.
59. Edersheim, Alfred. In Jericho and at Bethany – Jericho – a Guest with Zacchæus – the Healing of Blind Bartimæus – the Plot at Jerusalem – at Bethany. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. [Online] [Cited: 6th Oct 2019.] https://biblehub.com/library/edersheim/the_life_and_times_of_jesus_the_messiah/chapter_xxiv_in_jericho_and.htm.
60. Andrews. Arrival at Bethany. The Life of Our Lord Upon the Earth – Part VI. [Online] [Cited: 6th Oct 2019.] https://www.biblestudytools.com/classics/andrews-the-life-of-our-lord-upon-the-earth/part-vi/.
61. Biblical Hermeneutics. Stack Exchange. [Online] [Cited: 17th Oct. 2016.] http://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/15372/in-john-135-who-were-the-two-disciples-of-john-the-baptist.

Who Wrote Each of the Four Gospels 6 – The Witness of the Scriptures on Matthew

THE WITNESS OF THE SCRIPTURES

What do the Scriptures tell us about the Author of Matthew’s Gospel?

Church tradition holds that the apostle Matthew (also called Levi) wrote this Gospel for a Hebrew audience, and originally wrote his account in Hebrew (Aramaic).  So, let’s see what we can learn about Matthew from the scriptures to discover whether that confirms or conflicts with the church tradition.  

Matthew, like Jesus and all his twelve apostles, was a Hebrew, a Jew.  His parents had given him a Jewish name, “Matthew” comes from the Hebrew, mattija – meaning, “the gift of the Lord”.  This is suggestive of a conservative, religious family.  His other name “Levi”, is suggestive of someone from the priestly tribe of Levi.  His father, Alphaeus, is named in Mark so was probably a respected member of the Jewish community.  Also like the other apostles, Matthew was living in the traditional and religious region of Galilee and would have received the traditional Jewish schooling of five years in the Bet Sefer (House of the Book) learning to read, write and memorise the Torah, then graduated to the ‘Beit-Talmud’ (House of Learning) where he would have memorised the rest of the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures), learnt the art of rhetorical debating and begun studying the Pharisees’ Oral Law and interpretations.    

Here are the Gospel accounts of his calling:

As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ He told him, and Matthew got up and followed Him.  And it happened that as He was reclining at the table in the house, behold many tax-gathers and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples.    Matthew 9:9-10 NASB

As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow me!”  And he arose and followed Him.  And it came about that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax-gathers and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them and they were following Him.     Mark 2:14-15 NASB

After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax-gatherer named Levi sitting in the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow me.”  And he left everything behind, and rose and began to follow Him.  And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax-gatherers and other people who were reclining at the table with them.   Luke 5:27–28 NASB

Jesus was heading out from Capernaum, a large Jewish village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  He was probably following an important trading route – the road which passed through Capernaum from Damascus to the seaports of Phoenicia, when he saw Matthew collecting taxes.   The term “tax collector” or “tax-gatherer” is from the Greek word “telones” and some versions of the Bible translate it as “publican.”   Telones were essentially customs officers who charged a tax on all imports and exports and were renowned for their ingenuity in inventing taxes on everything; crossing rivers, entering or leaving a town, travelling on a road, admission to markets, taxes on axels, wheels, pack animals, pedestrians and anything else they could think of.  The tax offices for “receipt of custom” were at city gates, on public roads and on bridges.  The telone could walk up to any traveller on any road within his district and ask them to unload all their goods and open all packages so they could be valued by him and taxed on that value.  Many scholars believe that the customs raised at Capernaum went into the treasury of Herod Antipas, apart from the amounts kept by the telones for their income.     The dominant school of Pharisees in Jesus’ day were separatists and would not lower themselves to have anything to do with a tax collector, whom they saw as no better than a Gentile, defiled by their constant contact with the heathen which would have necessitated fluency in the Greek language, and regarded as traitors and apostates.  To them the tax collector was irredeemable, excluded from all religious fellowship including the Temple and Synagogue, unfit to be a witness in any Jewish court and their money considered tainted such that it defiled anyone who accepted it.  (27) (28) (29) (30) (31) (32)

Could a despised tax-collector, considered unredeemable and unfit to be a court witness, become the author of the Gospel that was most frequently quoted by the early church fathers?  Matthew would be the least likely person for the early church to name as author if they were just looking for the name of one of the apostles to attach to this Gospel to give it credibility, as some have proposed. 

As a member of the priestly tribe Matthew would likely be well educated in Jewish law. (33)   It appears that at some stage during his teens Matthew rebelled against the strict separatist Judaism that he had been taught in order to follow a more financially prosperous path.  Maybe his rebellion was sparked by what he saw as hypocrisy in his teachers and religious leaders – fifteen of the twenty denunciations of hypocrites in the gospels come from Matthew’s Gospel.   Like many a young person, Matthew had not rejected God just the hypocrisy that he saw in his religious leaders.  When he saw Jesus totally without hypocrisy Matthew was willing to give up everything to follow him.   He was intelligent, excelled in maths, could keep ordered accounts and records, had been trained in a shorthand to record people’s statements verbatim, and knew Greek well enough to ingratiate himself to the Romans in charge of revenue collections.  The price he paid for this was the derision of many and being ostracised from his community, but so many were ostracised from the religious Jewish community at this time that they formed their own communities of outcast ones.  Matthew had no difficulty attracting a large crowd of these to the dinner he held for Jesus (Luke 5:29).

It is interesting that in the Gospel according to Matthew there is no mention of Matthew until after the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus’ stilling the wind and waves, sending the legion of demons into the herd of swine, and forgiving and healing the man who was paralysed.  Mark and Luke’s gospels both introduce Matthew (Levi) earlier in the narration but all three accounts place Matthew’s calling directly after Jesus proving that He had the authority to forgive sins by healing the man who was paralysed.  Christ’s authority to forgive sins is the essential pre-requisite for His calling a tax collector to follow Him.   Almost a third of Matthew’s Gospel is written about events which happened prior to any indication in it that Matthew had encountered Jesus.   As one who had close contact with all travellers, Matthew probably heard many of the stories of the miracles that Jesus was doing and it could be that he was part of the crowd for some of these earlier events, particularly the Sermon on the Mount, was drawn to Jesus’ teaching and took meticulous notes but never thought that Jesus would accept one such as him for a disciple.   That would explain Matthew’s immediate response to Jesus’ call.

The only other time that Matthew is named in any of the gospels is when Jesus chose twelve of his disciples and named them apostles (Matthew 10:1-4,  Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:12-16) then sent them out to the lost sheep of Israel to preach, heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons (Matthew 10:5-8).   Matthew is not named again until the twelve are listed once more in Acts 1:13.  He is specified nowhere else in scripture, although it is clear that he continued faithfully following Jesus with the other apostles and then testifying to his resurrection after Pentecost.

Some sceptical scholars have argued that Matthew could not be the author of this Gospel because the writer never identifies himself with Matthew the tax collector, or with anyone else in the text.  There are no instances of “I”, “me”, “we” or “us” anywhere in the Gospel according to Matthew, everything is written in the third person.   Bart Erhman and others argue that this precludes Matthew, or anyone who walked with Jesus, from being the author of this Gospel.  It was not, however, uncommon for ancient auto-biographers to write in the third person about themselves; Xenophon, Josephus and Julius Caesar all did so.  Therefor it is plausible for the author of this Gospel to also write in the third person when referring to himself, so this does not preclude Matthew from being that author.  (34)

Another objection raised by sceptical scholars is that Jesus’ followers were unlearned and therefore could not have written such high quality works.  Matthew’s Gospel is the one that focuses most strongly on Jesus being the fulfilment of the Jewish scriptures and contains the most quotes thereof so some have argued:  “If the Gospel of Matthew was written by a tax collector, the gospel couldn’t have such intimate knowledge of the Law—because tax collectors were religious outsiders”.  (25)   It appears that such scholars think that the disciples both started off ignorant of their own religion and never learnt anything more after Jesus called them as teenagers or young men.   Although some experts have concluded that literacy rates in the Greco-Roman world were seldom been more than 20 percent (35) (36), in 59 BC Julius Caesar established a daily newspaper Acta Diurna which was distributed throughout the Roman Empire and was continued on by subsequent rulers, suggesting sufficient literacy among the populace to have a social impact. (37)  It should also be noted that the Jewish people were a people “of the Book”, they highly valued literacy even for the ‘common man’ as it enabled one to read from the holy scriptures in the Synagogue and every Synagogue in every village had a number of different people each week read to the congregation from the Torah and Prophets.   Having grown up in this the apostles then had three years of intensive training with Jesus and it gave them a love for learning and for the Word as we can see in Acts 6:2,4.  The original expression used here for “give ourselves continually” is very emphatic.   It denotes intense and persevering steadfast application to a thing, unwearied effort in it.   While most commentaries focus on the proclamation of the Word, such also requires prayerful study of the scriptures.   The evidence suggests that the 12 apostles, 11 after James was killed by Herod, remained based in Jerusalem – the centre of Jewish religious life and debate – for around twenty years after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, until after the Acts 15 council in Jerusalem.  Two decades in the epicentre of Jewish thought and debate, steadfastly applying themselves to prayerfully studying and reflecting and preaching under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and debating with the most learned of their Jewish counterparts who did not see Jesus as the fulfilment of the scriptures read every Saturday in their Synagogues and proclaimed daily in the Temple.   Such would have produced a very deep and thorough understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures.

There are other clues to the author of this Gospel in its style and content.  It is the most unequivocally Hebrew of the four Gospels, most focused on the scribes and Pharisees, and has a greater focus on money than the other Gospels.

The Gospel according to Matthew is clearly written by a Jew and for other Jews to show them that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Law and God’s promised Messiah.  He quotes the Hebrew scriptures over sixty times, more than twice as many times as any other Gospel author, and refers to Hebrew prophecies of Christ’s virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14) in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), His return from Egypt after the death of Herod (Hosea 11:1), His ministry to the Gentiles (Isaiah 9:1-2; 60:1-3), His miraculous healings of both body and soul (Isaiah 53:4), His speaking in parables (Psalm 78:2), and His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Zechariah 9:9).  Matthew both uniquely depicts Jesus affirming the importance of the law (Matt. 5:17-20) and contrasts Jesus’ interpretation of the law with that of the Pharisees “you have heard that it was said… … But I say unto you… …”  He refers to but does not explain Jewish customs (unlike Mark who provides explanations for a Gentile audience).  He emphasis Jesus’ role as ‘Son of David’ and provides his genealogy back to Abraham.  He also directly responds to the Jewish leader’s initial objections to the narrative about Jesus, such as claims that the empty tomb was from his disciples stealing the body (Matthew 28:11-15).   This focus on writing for Jewish believers has led some scholars to agree with church tradition that Matthew’s Gospel was written very early in the history of the church, possibly even in response to the first scattering of believers mentioned in Acts 8:1, when they would have been separated from the apostles’ direct testimony of all that Jesus taught and did.   (38)  (39) (40) (33) (41)

The author of the Gospel according to Matthew shows a greater focus on the scribes and Pharisees than the authors of the other Gospels.  In Matthew scribes and Pharisees are mentioned a combined 54 times, compared with 42 in Luke, 33 in Mark and 20 in John.   This is consistent with someone who grew up under their training then rebelled against it and suffered their shunning.

Matthew’s Gospel references money 44 times, compared with Luke’s 22 times and Mark’s 6 times.  This author is the only one to record payment of Jesus’ and Peter’s temple tax to the tax collector in Capernaum (Matthew 17:24-27).  He is also the only one to record the parable of the payment of the vineyard workers, and accurately states the rate for a day’s wages at that time (Matthew 20:1-6).  It is the only Gospel that records anything about the Pharisees swearing by the gold in the temple (Matthew 23:16-17) and attaches more specific monetary detail to Jesus’ directions about taking nothing with them (compare Matthew 10:9, Mark 6:8 and Luke 9:3).   Such detail with regard to monetary matters is also consistent with the author being a former tax-collector.  (42) (39)  (38) (41) (34) (40)

The church tradition that Matthew’s Gospel was originally written in Hebrew (Aramaic) fits well with it being composed for early Jewish believers but not, according to scholars, with the way the earliest copies that we have of it are written in the Greek.  The fluid Greek of the Gospel suggests that, in its current form, it was first written in Greek and not translated from Aramaic (43). Nevertheless, Matthew may well have originally recorded Jesus’ sayings and actions in his native Aramaic and shared these with others before formally writing his account of Jesus’ life in Greek for the Jewish diaspora living in a Greek speaking world.

While we do not have sufficient evidence to prove that the former tax-collector turned apostle, Matthew, penned the Gospel attributed to him, what we do know collaborates this church tradition.   (25)

Reference List

25. ZA Blog. Who Wrote the Gospels and How Do We Know for Sure? Zondervan Academic. [Online] 20 Sept 2017. [Cited: 5th Sept 2019.] https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/who-wrote-gospels.
26. International Bible Society. Introduction to NIV Study Bible 1 Peter. Biblica. [Online] [Cited: 5th Sept 2019.] https://www.biblica.com/resources/scholar-notes/niv-study-bible/intro-to-1-peter/.
27. Bible History. Tax Collectors – First Century. Bible History. [Online] [Cited: 7th Sept 2019.] https://www.bible-history.com/taxcollectors/.
28. —. Tax Collectors Overview. Bible History. [Online] [Cited: 7th Sept 2019.] https://www.bible-history.com/taxcollectors/TAXCOLLECTORSOverview.htm.
29. —. The Name Tax Collector. Bible History. [Online] [Cited: 7th Sept 2019.] https://www.bible-history.com/taxcollectors/TAXCOLLECTORSName.htm.
30. Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. s.l. : Hendrickson Publishers, 1992 (first published 1883). 0943575834.
31. Bible History. Brief History About the Tax Collectors. Bible History. [Online] [Cited: 7th Sept 2019.] https://www.bible-history.com/taxcollectors/TAXCOLLECTORSHistory.htm.
32. —. The Customs of Tax Collectors. Bible History. [Online] [Cited: 7th Sept 2019.] https://www.bible-history.com/taxcollectors/TAXCOLLECTORSCustoms.htm.
33. Mead, Aaron. Who Wrote the Gospel according to Matthew? Aaron Mead Writer, Theologian, Philosopher. [Online] 10th Aug 2018. [Cited: 8th Sept 2019.] http://www.ameadwriter.com/who-wrote-the-gospel-according-to-matthew/.
34. Manning, Erik. Did Matthew Write the Gospel of Matthew. Is Jesus Alive. [Online] [Cited: 7th Sept 2019.] https://isjesusalive.com/did-matthew-write-the-gospel-of-matthew/.
35. Harris, H.V. Ancient Literacy. s.l. : Harvard University Press, 1989.
36. Literacy in the Roman World. Routledge. [Online] [Cited: 16th Sept 2019.] http://documents.routledge-interactive.s3.amazonaws.com/9781138776685/Ch8/Literacy%20in%20the%20Roman%20World.pdf.
37. Wright, Brian J. Ancient Rome’s Daily News Publication With Some ikely Implications For Early Christian Studies. 1, 2016, Tyndale Bulletin, Vol. 67, pp. 145-160.
38. The International Bible Scoiety. Matthew – Introductionfrom the NIV Study bible. Biblica. [Online] [Cited: 7th Sept 2019.] https://www.biblica.com/resources/scholar-notes/niv-study-bible/intro-to-matthew/.
39. Chilton, Brian. Who Wrote the Gospel of Matthew? Cross Examined. [Online] 11th June 2017. [Cited: 7th Sept 2019.] https://crossexamined.org/wrote-gospel-matthew/.
40. Got Questions. Gospel of Matthew. Got Questions Miistries. [Online] [Cited: 7th Sept 2019.] https://www.gotquestions.org/Gospel-of-Matthew.html.
41. Hamilton, Seraphim. Matthew: Date and Authorship. Orthodox Christianity. [Online] 2nd March 2016. [Cited: 7th Sept 2019.] http://orthochristian.com/91189.html.
42. Nelson, Ryan. Who Was Matthew the Apostle? The Beginner’s Guide. Overview Bible. [Online] 1st April 2019. [Cited: 7th Sept 2019.] https://overviewbible.com/matthew-the-apostle/.
43. Hagner, Donald A. Word Biblical Commentary Matthew 1-13, Volume 33A. Michigan : Zondervan, 2015. 978-0-310-52098-3.

Who Wrote Each of the Four Gospels 5 – The Witness of the Scriptures on Mark

THE WITNESS OF THE SCRIPTURES

What do the Scriptures tell us about the Author of Mark’s Gospel?

The universal and unanimous church tradition is that Mark authored this Gospel as a collection of Peter’s teachings as one of the twelve appointed witnesses to all that Jesus taught and did.

And the elder used to say this, Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said and done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord, nor had followed him, but later on, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them.    Papias of Hierapolis (60-130AD)

There is nothing in the scriptures which contradicts this tradition and some attributes of the Gospel which support it.  This Gospel focuses on the events that Peter was part of and tends not to include other information, like the birth narrative, that Peter had not directly witnessed.  It has the fast paced narration of someone with an engaging preaching style.  It is not necessarily in chronological order but more like a collection of different narrations than one single story.  It contains explanations of Jewish customs and uses some Latin terms, suggesting that the intended audience was not only the Jews that Peter’s ministry had focused on.  This would fit with someone who had also ministered with Paul and so had in mind both Jewish and Gentile readers.  (24) (25)

Does what we know of John Mark from the rest of scripture fit with him having a close relationship with Peter and having authored this Gospel to convey Peter’s testimony of Christ?     We first learn of John Mark in Acts 12:12.  His mother Mary owned a house in Jerusalem that had been frequented by Peter the apostle.  Many gathered together in this house for prayer. When Peter had been miraculously released from prison by an angel he came first to this house to let the brethren praying there know of his release and instruct them: “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren”, indicating a hand over of responsibility as he had to leave Jerusalem for a time.  Clearly there had been a close relationship between John Mark’s family and the apostle Peter from the earliest days of the church and Mark probably got to hear Peter tell the same stories again and again as he recounted his journey with Jesus.  Mark may have travelled with Peter to Antioch and then stayed there with his cousin Barnabas when Peter moved on to encourage the other scattered believers.

In Acts 13:5 Mark joins Barnabas and Saul as their assistant on their first missionary journey from Antioch, but left them in Perga to return to Jerusalem where his mother lived (Acts 13:13).  That is a long way for a young man to travel by himself and it is likely that he was joining others from that city in their journey to Jerusalem.  We know that Peter was back living in Jerusalem by Acts 15 – could Mark have left Barnabas and Paul to travel back there with Peter?  In Acts 15:36-41 we note that Mark travelled with Barnabas and Paul back to Antioch after the Jerusalem Council, and Barnabas wants to take him with them as they do a return trip to see how the new believers in every city are doing, but Paul refuses to allow Mark to join them on this missionary journey because of his leaving them last time so they split up and Barnabas takes Mark to Cyprus to encourage the brethren there. Over the next few years that rift was healed and Paul came to greatly appreciate Mark and his ministry.  By the time Paul writes Colossians (about 10 years later) he is referring to Mark as his fellow worker for the kingdom of God and a comfort to him (Col. 4:10-11), and instructs the believers at Colossae to welcome Mark if he goes to them.  Then in 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul instructs Timothy: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”  Peter records Mark being with him when he wrote 1 Peter 5:13, which was after Paul wrote Colossians, and refers to Mark as “my son”.  Mark has a long and close association with Peter, from times in his mother’s house until the latter years of Peter’s life.   He was also closely associated with Paul and his mission to the gentiles.  Everything that we know about Mark fits with the church tradition of him having written the Gospel bearing his name, and having done so from Peter’s perspective as one who walked with Jesus and witnessed what He said and did.  (25) (26)

Reference List

24. —. The Gospel of Mark. Blue Letter Bible. [Online] [Cited: 5th Sept 2019.] https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/intros/mark.cfm.
25. ZA Blog. Who Wrote the Gospels and How Do We Know for Sure? Zondervan Academic. [Online] 20 Sept 2017. [Cited: 5th Sept 2019.] https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/who-wrote-gospels.
26. International Bible Society. Introduction to NIV Study Bible 1 Peter. Biblica. [Online] [Cited: 5th Sept 2019.] https://www.biblica.com/resources/scholar-notes/niv-study-bible/intro-to-1-peter/.

Who Wrote Each of the Four Gospels 4 – The Witness of the Scriptures on Luke

THE WITNESS OF THE SCRIPTURES

What do the Scriptures tell us about the Author of Luke’s Gospel?

We will examine the Gospel attributed to Luke first because he provides us with the most information to begin our search.  The prologue offers our first hint:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word.  Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. Luke 1:1-4 NIV

Our next clue is found in the prologue of Acts, where we discover that the same person authored both books:

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaved, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen.     Acts 1:1-2 NIV

Then, in Acts 16 we find the author of the book joining Paul in Troas and continuing with him on his journey to Macedonia. 

 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did . not permit them. So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.  And a vision appeared to Paul in the night.  A man from Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.       Acts 16:7-10 NIV

These “we” and “us” passages continue to be interwoven through Acts 16:11-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; and 27:1-28:16.  The author stayed in Philippi of Macedonia when Paul and Silas were expelled (Acts 16:38-40) and then re-joined Paul when his group returned through Macedonia on their way to Jerusalem: “These men, going ahead, waited for us at Troas. But we sailed away from Philippi…” (Acts 20:5-6). 

As they travelled the Holy Spirit kept testifying that chains and tribulations lay ahead for Paul, the Jews in Jerusalem would bind him and deliver him over to the Romans.  On his third day back in Jerusalem Paul was seized, dragged out of the temple, beaten, rescued from the mob by a Roman commander and held in their barracks.   Soon Paul was sent to Caesarea, where he remained imprisoned for two years (Acts 21:26-25:12).

Map of Paul's journey from Jerusalem to Caesarea

It was likely during these two years that the author did his research and wrote his gospel account.  After Paul had appealed to Caesar the author travelled with him to Rome (Acts 27:1-28:16) and finished his account by writing that “Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.”

This also provides us with a timeframe for the writing of Luke and Acts, as clearly the Gospel account was written first and Acts was written before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, before Nero’s persecutions in the mid-60s, before the martyrdoms of James, Paul and Peter and before the Jewish wars against the Romans which began in 66 AD. (19)  This would give us a likely time-frame for the writing of Luke as somewhere in the late 50s.  Paul’s 2 year Caesarean imprisonment has been placed somewhere between 56 and 60AD. (20) (21) (22) (23) That a third of the book of Acts is focused on Paul’s imprisonments in Caesarea and Rome is not surprising for a book written by someone who had travelled to Jerusalem with Paul and stayed with him throughout this ordeal.

For our next clue as to who may have written Luke and Acts we look to the letters that Paul wrote during his two year confinement in Rome: Philippians; Colossians; Philemon; and Ephesians.  Does Paul mention anyone in these letters who may have been this author who had travelled with him from Jerusalem to Rome and stayed with him during his Roman confinement?

PHILIPPIANS (Philipi is the city in Macedonia where the Acts narrative appears to suggest that its author spent several years between Paul’s visits to this area (Acts 16:40 – Acts 20:5) – this should be a top contender for naming the author).  Philippians begins with a greeting from Paul and Timothy (Phil. 1:1), states that the Philippians know Timothy’s proven character as someone who sincerely cares for their spiritual wellbeing and expresses Paul’s plan to send Timothy to them as soon as Paul knows the results of his trial (Phil. 2:19-24).  Paul also wrote about Epaphroditus, whom the Philippians had recently sent to minister to Paul’s needs in Rome and who Paul was sending back to them with this letter (Phil. 2:25-30 & 4:18).  The only others mentioned as being in Rome were “the brethren who are with me” which included “those who are of Caesar’s household.”  It would seem from Philippians that either the author of Acts was Timothy, or he was not with Paul when this letter was penned.

COLOSSIANS (Colossae was a city in Asia Minor, about 160km from Ephesus, that had been impacted by the gospel during Paul’s more than two year ministry in Ephesus through a convert named Epaphras).   Again this letter begins with a greeting from Paul and Timothy (Col. 1:1).  Tychicus and Onesimus were with Paul and going to take this epistle to the Colossians (Col. 4:7-9).  Aristarchus is described as being a fellow prisoner, he was one of the Jewish believers from Thessalonica in Mascedonia who had accompanied Paul to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4) and then on to Rome (Acts 27:2).  The two other Jewish believers with Paul are listed as Mark the cousin of Barnabas and Jesus who was called Justice.  The gentile believers whom Paul then mentions being with him are Epaphras (from Colossae), Luke the physician and Demas.

The epistle to PHILEMON also opens with a greeting from Paul and Timothy.  Paul writes concerning Onesimus, whom he had led to Christ while imprisoned and who was to be carrying his letters to the Colossians and to Philemon. Paul also sends greetings from Epaphras (who was to travel with Onesimus back to Colossi), Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke whom he describes as fellow labourers.  

It is suggested that EPHESIANS is the last letter that Paul sent during his first imprisonment in Rome, and it is the only one who’s initial greeting does not include Timothy with Paul.  Aristarchus is not mentioned either, even though he had been one of Paul’s travelling companions during his second visit to Ephesus which lasted for two years.  He may have been either released or executed before this time.  The author of Luke and Acts had remained in Philippi when Paul was in Ephesus and so may not have been known to the Ephesians and therefore not mentioned by Paul.  In fact the only person Paul mentions being with him in this letter is Tychicus who is to carry the epistle to them. 

So, from those listed as being with Paul in Rome are there any who could have been the author of Luke and Acts?  The first of those listed is Timothy, Paul’s closest companion, but he could not be the author because he is recorded as ministering with Paul and Silas in Berea, Athens and Corinth during the time that the author was staying in Philippi.  Timothy had also accompanied Paul to Jerusalem but had gone ahead of Paul and the author to Troas (Acts 20:4-6).  

The next person we read about having been in Rome with Paul is the trusted Tychicus, whom Paul would appoint to help guide different churches and who had accompanied Paul to Jerusalem but, like Timothy and others, had gone ahead of Paul and the author to Troas. 

Next is Onesimus, from Colossae, but he had only come to faith in Christ during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome so could not be the Acts author. 

Aristarchus is our next contender, a Jewish believer from Thessalonica who had also accompanied Paul to Jerusalem but gone ahead of Paul and the author to Troas and in Acts 27:2 the author writes: “Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica was with us”, so Artistarchus was someone separate to the author. 

Mark the cousin of Barnabas was next listed, he had started out with Barnabas and Saul on their first missionary journey (Acts 12:25) but left them in Perga of Pamphylia to return to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).  Mark was referred to by the author as part of “they” (Acts 13:6 & 13) and so was not the author of Acts and Luke.  

Jesus Justice was mentioned next, and all we know about him is that he was another Jewish believer who proved to be a comfort to Paul during his first imprisonment in Rome – so he is not ruled out.  

Epaphras, who took the gospel to Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis after having learned it from Paul in Ephesus and who contended powerfully for the believers in prayer, is listed next.   It appears that Epaphras travelled to Rome to support the imprisoned Paul but had not been part of the original party that took the gifts to Jerusalem and therefor was not the author. 

The last two are Demas and Luke. Both are mentioned by name in two of Paul’s letters penned during his first imprisonment in Rome: Colossians 4:14 “Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings” and Philemon 1:24 …”Demas and Luke, my fellow labourers”; and in 2 Timothy 4:10-11, which scholars think Paul wrote towards the deadly end of a second imprisonment in Rome.   In 2 Timothy the two are contrasted – Demas having forsaken Paul and Luke being the only one with him.  

Was Luke likely to have written the Gospel according to Luke and Acts of the Apostles as church tradition has attested?  The earliest manuscript that has been found of the Gospel, dated 200 AD, ascribes the work to Luke; as did Irenaeus, writing in 180 AD, and the Muratorian fragment from 170 AD.  While it appears strange that Luke was not included in Paul’s greeting to the Philippians that is not sufficient reason to rule him out.  It would not contradict anything in the scriptures for Luke to be the author and his being a gentile born physician is also suggestive of one having an extensive classical education which would fit with the style of writing in these manuscripts which is that of the traditional Greek histography.  

The other support for this is the specific medical terminology the author uses in both books.   In Luke 13:11-13, Jesus heals a crippled woman and the Greek words Luke uses both to describe her condition (sugkuptousa) and the exact manner of Jesus’ healing (apolelusaianorthothe) are medical terms.  In Luke 14:1–4, Jesus heals a man with dropsy and uses a word to describe the man in this passage that’s found nowhere else in the Bible: hudropikos. While this passage is the only place this word appears in the Bible, it’s a precise medical term frequently used in other texts—namely, the works of the renowned Greek physician, Hippocrates.  The use of medically-accurate phrases and descriptions continues in Acts, such as Acts 28:8–9, where the writer uses puretois kai dusenterio sunechomenon to describe a man’s exact medical condition (“suffering from fever and dysentery”).

The Gospel according to Luke was likely written by an educated gentile who travelled with Paul to Jerusalem and “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” in seeking to “write an orderly account” of the life and teachings of Jesus.  Unlike Matthew, Luke makes few references to Old Testament quotes and explains Jewish traditions, in addition to being attentive to emphasizing that the Gospel message is addressed to all peoples, including gentiles.   While not conclusive, the evidence from within the scriptures is supportive of the church tradition that Dr Luke did write the Gospel attributed to him, along with the book of Acts.    Together they account for 27.5% of the New Testament, the largest contribution by a single author.

Luke is reported to be a native of Antioch in Syria.  Acts 11:19-26 tells us that some of those who fled Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen travelled as far as Antioch and preached the Lord Jesus to both Jews and Gentiles and a great number believed and turned to the Lord so the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to them who in turn sort out Saul to help with teaching these new believers.   It is possible that Luke was one of these early Gentile believers.   He was well educated and may have been drawn o God and started attending a synagogue, worshipping and learning about Judaism before he first heard the Gospel.  He writes as one who was painstakingly learning about all the different practices of the Jewish faith rather than one born into it and Paul refers to him as one of his fellow labourers who is not “of the circumcision” (Colossians 4:10-14).   After Peter miraculously escaped from Herod (Acts 12:1-17) and left Jerusalem he likely also spent some time teaching in Antioch, and throughout Asia Minor.  So Luke may have sat under Peter’s teaching in Antioch and heard his eye-witness accounts of what Jesus did.

We first read about Luke joining in one of Paul’s missionary journeys in Acts 16:8-10 after Paul, Silas and Timothy came to Troas in Cilicia.   The scriptures give no indication of when or why Luke travelled to Troas but indications are that there was a Christian community in this port city of more than 50,000 people long before Paul reached there, so it is possible that Luke had been part of a missionary team (maybe even with Peter) to this strategic city.  Luke was obviously known to Paul and accompanied them to Philippi where he stayed after Paul and Silas were expelled from the city and travelled on to Thessalonica.

Like us, Luke never had the opportunity to meet Jesus in the flesh, but understood what Paul was preaching sufficiently to know that he did not want to just be a disciple of Paul, he wanted to find out everything he could about Jesus whom Paul preached in order to truly be a disciple of Christ.   

Luke took every opportunity to learn from those who had been with Jesus and to read the accounts of Christ’s life that started circulating around the churches.   So, when Paul was leading a delegation back to Jerusalem with gifts for the Jewish believers, Luke leapt at the chance to meet and learn from the eyewitnesses among them, to walk the paths that Jesus had walked and see the places where he had been. 

Luke reports that when they arrived in Jerusalem “the brethren received us gladly”.  Now he could begin to seek out Jesus’ family members, and ask them all the questions burning within him.  The next day Paul took them to meet Jesus’ brother James – this was the introduction that Luke had been hoping and praying for, there was so much he wanted to learn from James and his mother about every aspect of Jesus’ life. 

Luke had read all the accounts that were circulating at that time, but he wanted to hear it for himself from those who were there, and there were questions he had which were not addressed in the accounts that he had read. 

Nine days after Paul had introduced the delegates to the church in Jerusalem he was attacked in the temple and imprisoned by the Romans for the ensuing riot.  Luke, being a gentile, was not in the temple with Paul and so is not caught up in the riot.   For the next two years of Paul’s imprisonment in the Judean town of Caesarea, Luke had opportunity to seek out and interview Jesus’ mother and brothers, researching every aspect of Jesus’ life to put together a detailed account from conception to ascension.  Because of the danger they were all in this would have been much more difficult without that introduction to the eldest brother James. 

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word.  Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. Luke 1:1-4 NIV

Reference List

19. Staudinger, Hugo. The Trustworthiness of the Gospels. Edinburgh : The Handsel Press, 1981.
20. Timeline of the Apostolic Era. The Hesitant Prize Fighter. [Online] 15th July 2014. [Cited: 14th Sept 2019.] https://tben.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/nt-timeline.gif.
21. Paul Imprisoned Two Years at Caesarea. Bible History . [Online] [Cited: 14th Sept 2019.] http://timeline.biblehistory.com/event/paul-imprisoned-two-years-at-caesarea.
22. Paul in Caesarea. The Bible Journey. [Online] [Cited: 14th Sept 2019.] https://www.thebiblejourney.org/biblejourney1/12-pauls-journey-to-rome82062/paul-in-caesarea/.
23. Blue Letter Bible. Timeline of the Apostle Paul. Blue Letter Bible. [Online] [Cited: 14th Sept 2019.] https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/paul/timeline.cfm.

Who Wrote Each of the Four Gospels 3 – The Witness of the Scriptures

THE WITNESS OF THE SCRIPTURES

Introduction

The authors of the four Gospels maintain their anonymity throughout their accounts of the life of Christ.   They write as journalists or biographers recording events rather than as active participants describing their involvement in these events.   The Gospels focus on their subject – Jesus Christ – and how people are reacting to Him, with the author fading into the background.   The Gospel writer’s demonstrated attitude mirrored that of John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 JKV)

Many scholars argue that the opening line of the Gospel of Mark probably also functioned as the original title of the text and the inspiration for establishing euaggelion (a Greek word meaning “good news”) as a new literary genre of books that record the words and deeds of Jesus Christ:

The beginning of the gospel (euaggelion) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.         Mark 1:1 KJV

This original text-title of Mark can be compared with those of other ancient texts in which the opening lines served as titles.  Herodotus’ Histories, for example, begins with the following line which probably served as the title of the text:

This is the exposition of the history of Herodotus…

A major difference between the Gospel of Mark and Herodotus’ Histories is that the opening line of Mark does not name the text’s author, but instead attributes the gospel to Jesus Christ.   We see this same total focus on Jesus with no thought of trying to get personal recognition for their work in the openings of the Gospel that has been attributed to Matthew and that attributed to John:

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of.    Abraham.    Matthew 1:1 KJV

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.        John 1:1 NIV

Despite the anonymity of the writing there is still evidence within each gospel as to who their author might be.   Over the next four blogs we will examine that evidence of scripture to see whether it supports, or contradicts, the church tradition with regard to each of the four Gospel accounts.