Category Archives: Books of the Bible

Who Wrote the Fourth Gospel? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1 of this series, we looked at a blog post written by Timothy McGrew where he presents external and internal evidence for the authorship of the fourth Gospel.  Part 1 summarized the external evidence, and part 2 will summarize the internal evidence.

McGrew starts off the presentation of the internal evidence with the following:

Here, we can close in on the question with a series of concentric arguments, starting further out (with facts that limit the authorship somewhat, but not too specifically) and then tightening the description until only John is left.  This method of solving the problem was made famous by B. F. Westcott, and I will make use both of his outline and of many of his examples as we zero in on John the son of Zebedee.

McGrew’s outline consists of 5 steps (he provides a lot of evidence to back each of these up in the blog post):

  1. The author was a Jew.  He is intimately familiar with Jewish opinions and customs.
  2. He was a native of Palestine.  He give us an unerring portrait of the distinct role that the hierarchical class (the Sadducees, whom he never calls by their name) played in the religious life and legal deliberations of Judaism. He also shows effortless precision in his knowledge of places and topography.
  3. He was an eyewitness of many episodes that he records.
  4. He was one of the “inner circle” among Jesus’ disciples.
  5. He was John, the son of Zebedee.

Here are some of the details McGrew presents in support of outline item 5:

Throughout the Gospel, we read of one disciple who goes unnamed (e.g. 1:35, 37, 40) but is later described simply as “the beloved disciple.”  At the very end (21:24), we are told outright that he was the author.  And going back over the places where he is recorded as being present, we find that they are the particular places where the scenes are recorded with particular vividness and detail—the conversation at the last supper, for example, or the scene by the fire at night in the hall at Caiaphas’s house.  There is no reason to doubt that this identification of the beloved disciple with the author of the fourth Gospel is correct.  But who was the beloved disciple?

From the lists of those present in some of the scenes (1:35 ff; 21:2), including cross references with the Synoptic Gospels, he must have been either Andrew, Peter, James, or John.  He cannot be Andrew, since Andrew appears with him in the opening chapter.  He cannot be Peter, since he appears with Peter in the closing chapter.  James was martyred too early to have written the Gospel (Acts 12:1).  By process of elimination, we arrive at the conclusion that he was John.

Again, remember that all of the internal evidence is gathered from the text of the fourth Gospel.  We are looking for clues from the text that would indicate who the author is, and McGrew has done a nice job compiling some of the highlights.  He ends the blog post by reiterating,

The evidence, internal and external, is really quite overwhelming. To use a phrase of Paul’s from the book of Acts, “God has not left Himself without witness”—he has provided plenty of evidence!

And with him, I wholeheartedly agree.

Who Wrote the Fourth Gospel? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

There is much hay made in skeptical circles of the fact that none of the four Gospels were signed by an author, that if we reconstruct the original texts from the copies we have, there are no sentences in the texts that explicitly say something like, “This Gospel was written by John, son of Zebedee.” 

Yet church tradition does claim that the four authors were Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – all of them apostles or companions of apostles of Jesus.  I have written previously on the authorship of the first Gospel, but today I want to quote from an outstanding blog post written by Timothy McGrew which makes a compelling case that the author of the fourth Gospel is indeed the disciple John.

If you want the full treatment, go to McGrew’s post.  What I will do is summarize some key points from his post below.  McGrew starts with the following:

I am persuaded that the fourth Gospel was written by John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee. There are quite a number of reasons for thinking this, and that means that this is going to be a rather long note.

So here’s the short answer:

1. Every scrap of evidence we have from the writings of the early church indicates that the fourth Gospel had always been known to be written by John. And we have lots.

2. A careful examination of the Gospel itself shows that it must have been written by a Jew who was a native of Palestine and an eyewitness of numerous events, including many where only Jesus and the disciples were present. From internal clues, we can pretty safely narrow it down to John.

The first group of evidence is called the external evidence, as it consists of evidence external to the Gospel text itself.  McGrew lists several early, ancient authors and documents that mention John as the author of the fourth Gospel and/or quote passages only found in the fourth Gospel (this second line of evidence is important because it establishes that the fourth Gospel was considered apostolic very early, and thus more likely to be written by an apostle such as John).  In his post, McGrew provides background information on each of these sources, but I will only list the sources themselves.

  1. Eusebius (~AD 325)
  2. Origen (~AD 220)
  3. Tertullian (~AD 200)
  4. The Muratorian fragment (~AD 180)
  5. Irenaeus (~AD 180)
  6. Tatian (~AD 160)
  7. Justin Martyr (~AD 145)
  8. Anti-Marcionite Prologue quoting from a work of Papias (~AD 125)
  9. The Apology of Aristides (AD 117 – 138)
  10. Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, book 7, quoting early second century heretic Basilides
  11. Ignatius (~AD 107)

McGrew finishes up this section of external evidence with the following summary:

These are the primary pieces of early external testimony to the authorship of John, though I could easily double the size of the list by pulling out more obscure quotations from the so-called Second Epistle of Clement, Hermas, Hegisippus, Athenagoras, Polycrates, etc.  But they make the point sufficiently clear.

There is no other tradition of authorship for the fourth gospel.  There is no record of any uncertainty about it at any time; we have one brief mention of some gnostics (not even named) who claimed it was written by Cerinthus, the founder of their heretical sect—but they are mentioned only to be dismissed.  It does not appear that any Christian group ever had the slightest doubt about this work.

 In part 2 of this series, we will look at the internal evidence that McGrew presents.

Did the Early Church Believe in a Literal Thousand-Year Reign of Christ on Earth? – #10 Post of 2010

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The Book of Revelation, according to some Christians, teaches a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth after his second coming (see Rev. 20).  This will then be followed by the creation of a new heaven and new earth. This view is known today as premillenialism.

But there are other Christians, in fact, the majority, who interpret the thousand years in Rev. 20 as a spiritual reign of the church which started at Christ’s first coming and ends at his second coming.  This view is known today as amillenialism.

The proponents of both of these views have an array of arguments to support their positions, but what was the view of the early church?

It seems that up until the third century, the early church was primarily premillenialist.  Writers like Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Tertullian all thought the second advent of Christ was imminent and that he would inaugurate his thousand-year reign on earth.

The tide, however, started to turn with the writings of Origen in the early third century, who adopted an allegorical method of interpreting Revelation.  Origen believed that the thousand years represented a spiritual reign of the church.  His disciple, Dionysius of Alexandria, continued the attack against premillenialism and turned the eastern church away from it.

In the western church, Augustine, in the late fourth century, began to teach amillenialism, siding with the Alexandrians in the east.  His views of eschatology (the end times) were detailed in his most famous work, The City of God.

From the time of Augustine until the Reformation in the sixteenth century (~1,100 years), amillenialism was the dominant view in the church.

The story obviously doesn’t end there, but you now have a brief introduction of what happened in the first fifteen hundred years of Christianity with respect to the millennium scribed in Rev. 20.

What about you?  Which view do you think is more likely correct?  Do you think there will be a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth (i.e., premillenialism) or do you think the thousand years mentioned in Rev. 20 is a spiritual reign of the church which ends at Christ’s second coming (i.e., amillenialism)?

Does Genesis 2 Contradict Genesis 1?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

A common misunderstanding of the Book of Genesis is how chapters 1 and 2 are related.  Specifically, chapter 1 claims that land animals were created before Adam (see Gen. 1:24-26), but chapter 2 seems to claim that Adam was created before land animals (see Gen. 2:19).  Is it possible that these two creation accounts are contradictory?

The alleged contradiction is refuted when we look more closely at Gen. 2:19.  The NIV translates the verse, “Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”

Notice that the verse says that God had formed the animals, meaning that the animals were already formed before Adam.  So the contradiction evaporates.

Some translations (e.g., NAS), however, don’t translate the word had, but leave it out (either translation of the verse from Hebrew to English is permissible).  Does this make it a contradiction?

No, not really.  When we look at the focus of chapter 1, it seems to be on the order of creation, but the focus of the passages surrounding Gen. 2:19 is on the naming of animals and the creation of Eve.

According to Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe,

Genesis 1 gives the order of events; Genesis 2 provides more content about them. Genesis 2 does not contradict chapter 1, since it does not affirm exactly when God created the animals. He simply says He brought the animals (which He had previously created) to Adam so that he might name them. The focus in chapter 2 is on the naming of the animals, not on creating them. Genesis 1 provides the outline of events, and chapter 2 gives details. Taken together, the two chapters provide a harmonious and more complete picture of the creation events.

A footnote in The Apologetics Study Bible explains:

Chapter 2 is a second creation account only in the sense that it gives a more detailed accounting, not a contradictory one.  While chapter 1 provides a general description, chapter 2 is specific.  Twofold accounts were common in ancient theories of creation (e.g., the Babylonian story of Atrahasis).  The differences in the order of the creation events are due to the narratives’ respective purposes.  The first gives a loosely chronological account, gathering creation events into a discernible pattern to show the symmetry of creation’s purpose.  The second is topical, focusing on the sixth day by expanding on the creation and the relationship of the man and the woman.  Genesis 2 presupposes chapter 1 and does not duplicate all the creation events.

So Genesis 2 does not contradict Genesis 1 at all, once we see the different purposes for the two different creation narratives.  In fact, they are complementary to each other, with Genesis 2 filling in details from the creation account of Genesis 1.

Did Jesus Want Us to Think?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

According to Martin Lloyd-Jones, the answer is “yes.”  Below is a quote from Lloyd-Jones where he is commenting on Matt. 6:30, from the Sermon on the Mount.  He argues that Jesus’ words indicate that he expected his listeners to be actively using their minds to make logical deductions from the evidence around them.  The source of this quote is Tim Challies’ blog.

Faith according to our Lord’s teaching in this paragraph, is primarily thinking; and the whole trouble with a man of little faith is that he does not think. He allows circumstances to bludgeon him. …

We must spend more time in studying our Lord’s lessons in observation and deduction. The Bible is full of logic, and we must never think of faith as something purely mystical. We do not just sit down in an armchair and expect marvelous things to happen to us. That is not Christian faith. Christian faith is essentially thinking. Look at the birds, think about them, draw your deductions. Look at the grass, look at the lilies of the field, consider them. …

Faith, if you like, can be defined like this: It is a man insisting upon thinking when everything seems determined to bludgeon and knock him down in an intellectual sense. The trouble with the person of little faith is that, instead of controlling his own thought, his thought is being controlled by something else, and, as we put it, he goes round and round in circles. That is the essence of worry. … That is not thought; that is the absence of thought, a failure to think.

What Are Romans 9,10, and 11 About?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I’ve touched on this topic before, but it continues to interest me, so I thought I would cover some new ground on this important section of the New Testament.

Context, when reading any passage of the Bible, is crucial to understanding it.  When we look at the context of Romans 9-11, we immediately discover that the Apostle Paul is speaking of the national condition of Israel.  If you take nothing else from this post, please take that!  Every verse in Romans 9-11 is advancing Paul’s treatment of national Israel.

Dr. Barry Leventhal, of Southern Evangelical Seminary, explains that Romans 9-11 can be outlined as Paul asking and answering a series of four questions:

  1. Haven’t God’s promises to Israel utterly failed? (Rom. 9:1-29)
  2. Why then did Israel fail to attain the righteousness of God? (Rom. 9:30-10:21)
  3. So then God has finally rejected Israel, hasn’t he? (Rom. 11:1-10)
  4. If Israel’s failure is neither total nor final, then what possible purposes could her failure serve in the overall plan of God? (Rom. 11:11-36)

Rather then answering these questions in this blog post, I invite the reader to read these three chapters and attempt to answer these questions herself.

A final point.  Some Christians attempt to draw from these chapters doctrines about individual believers’ justification before God.  But Paul has already dealt with individual justification in the first four chapters of Romans.  Certainly Paul could review what he taught in chapters 1-4, but the context of chapters 9-11 seems to deal with a completely different topic.  So be very careful when making claims about justification from chapters 9-11; you may be placing the words of Paul in a subservient position to your particular theological views.

Who Wrote The Book Of Hebrews?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

To be honest, we just don’t know.  Let’s take a brief look at the evidence we have.

First, we will summarize the evidence external to the actual words of Hebrews.  According to D. Edmond Hiebert, there were three early church traditions about authorship.

The tradition from Alexandria, Egypt held that the apostle Paul was either directly or indirectly involved with the writing of the epistle.  Both Clement of Alexandria and Origen associated Paul with Hebrews, although they both allowed that someone else (possibly Luke) may have written the epistle or translated the epistle for Paul.  Even though Paul was involved, he may not have directly written the book himself.

The tradition in North Africa, as evidenced by Tertullian, was that Barnabas was the author.  But this tradition gave way to the Alexandrian tradition of Pauline authorship during the fourth century.

In Italy and Western Europe, the Pauline tradition was rejected early on.  In fact, western church fathers did not know who wrote Hebrews, but they did not believe Paul wrote it.  This view of anonymous authorship survived until the fourth century when Jerome and Augustine adopted the Pauline tradition from Alexandria.

Once the western church accepted Pauline authorship in the fourth century, the issue was closed until the sixteenth century, when scholars again began to question the source of Hebrews, largely based on the language and style of the Greek used in the epistle.

Advocates of Pauline authorship point to close affinities in thought within Hebrews to other Pauline writings.  Opponents point to differences in theology between the writer of Hebrews and Paul.  For example, Hebrews dwells on Christ’s high priestly function, whereas Paul tends to dwell on Jesus’ death, resurrection, and living presence in the church.

Opponents also argue that all the Old Testament quotations in Hebrews are from the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), whereas Paul quotes from both the Septuagint and the Hebrew Scriptures in his other letters.  More telling, opponents claim that the Greek language style used in Hebrews is dramatically different from Paul’s other writings, thus making it highly unlikely that he could be the author.

Hiebert’s conclusion, in An Introduction to the New Testament, is that The Book of Hebrews was not written by Paul, but by someone within his circle of influence.  Who that person is, we may never know.  Roman Catholics officially hold to Pauline authorship, as do some Protestants.  But many Protestants do not, because of the internal evidence mentioned above.

Does this mean we should question the value of Hebrews if it did not come from the hand of Paul?  No, the church accepted the spiritual power and authority of this epistle long ago, even while debates swirled around authorship.  God was clearly involved in the production of this literary masterpiece, regardless of who wrote it.

Does God Really Hate Esau?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Many Christians are shocked when they read Romans 9:13: “Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'”  Since when does the God of love hate people?  This verse, coupled with the rest of Romans 9, has led many to believe that God does not love all people, at least with regard to their eternal salvation.  He seems to arbitrarily choose some people for salvation and some people for damnation.  But must we interpret this verse in that way?

I think the answer is “no.”  A more careful reading of this passage indicates that the subject is not individual salvation, but Israel’s national role in redemptive history.

Paul is actually quoting from Mal. 1:2-3, and a reading of those verses in the context of Malachi’s book clearly indicates that Malachi is using the word “Jacob” to refer to the nation of Israel and the word “Esau” to refer to the nation of Edom.

This makes perfect sense because Romans 9, 10, and 11 are all about national Israel and her role in redemptive history.  Romans 9 refers to Israel’s past, Romans 10 refers to her present, and Romans 11 refers to her future.

It is a serious exegetical mistake to interpret Romans 9 to be referring to individuals’ salvation.  According to Norman Geisler, “the election of the nation was temporal, not eternal; that is, Israel was chosen as a national channel through which the eternal blessing of salvation through Christ would come to all people (cf. Gen. 12:1–3; Rom. 9:4–5). Not every individual in Israel was elected to be saved (9:6).”

God works through nations to accomplish his will, just as he works through individuals.  Just because Israel was the chosen nation to bring forth the Messiah did not mean that every Israelite would be individually saved.  Individual salvation has never been and will never be based on a person’s nationality.  Paul is talking about the nation of Israel in Romans 9, not individual salvation.

Finally, it is also important to explain that the word used for “hate” in Malachi 1 is a Hebrew idiom which actually means to “love less.”  Norman Geisler explains: “This is evident from Genesis 29:30: The phrase ‘loved Rachel more than Leah’ is used as the equivalent of ‘Leah was hated’ (cf. also Matt. 10:37).”

God does not hate anyone, but he does bless some nations more than others.

Are There Things God Does Not Know?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Christians believe that God is omniscient, which means that God knows everything—past, present, and future.  In addition, he knows the actual and the possible; only the impossible (the contradictory) is unknown to God, as the logically contradictory is unknowable to anyone.

But there are passages in the Bible that seem to indicate that God is ignorant of certain facts and that he needs to discover them.  One of the best examples is in Gen. 18:20-33, where Abraham bargains with God to save people in Sodom.  God says that he “will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached [him]” (Gen. 18:21).  If this verse is taken in a strictly literal sense, it indicates that God does not know how bad is Sodom without first visiting himself.

So how do we deal with passages like this?  The answer is that we must always interpret any passage in light of all the other texts in the Bible.  They must all integrate together and they cannot contradict each other.

Reading the rest of the Bible, we discover a multitude of verses that speak of God’s unlimited knowledge.  Consider Job 37:16, which says,  “Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who is perfect in knowledge?”  In Ps. 139, David speaks of God’s knowing everything about him, even his words before he speaks them.  In Psalm 147, the writer proclaims that God’s “understanding has not limit.”

God announces things to men before they ever occur (Is. 42:9).  Jesus teaches that God knows every person’s needs before they ever ask (Matt. 6:8).  Every hair on your head is numbered (Matt. 10:30).  Paul proclaims the “depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom. 11:33).  The writer of Hebrews reminds us that “nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight” (Heb. 4:13).

There is a strong theme of God’s unlimited knowledge running throughout the Bible.  So, if we understand the Genesis 18 passage to be teaching that God does not know what is happening in Sodom, we run head-long into contradiction.  How can the God who knows every hair on every person’s head not know what’s going on in Sodom?

The answer is fairly simple.  Students of the Bible have traditionally understood passages like Genesis 18 to be anthropomorphic in nature.  This means that the passage is written from a human perspective, rather than a divine perspective.  God already knows how many wicked people are in Sodom, but he wants to teach Abraham something about the wickedness of the people.  God must speak to human beings in terms they can understand, so he sometimes asks questions and expresses uncertainty to elicit appropriate human responses.

Recognizing anthropomorphisms in the Bible is extremely important.  The person who claims that passages like Genesis 18 must be taken literally is knocking an infinite God down to a finite creature.  In addition, once you deny the presence of anthropomorphic language in the Bible, you must admit that God has wings, arms, and eyes; that he repents and forgets things.  The list could go on.  The Bible, like any other literature, employs figurative and metaphorical language.  Failure to recognize this leads a reader into all kinds of serious problems.

What Is the Basic Message of Ecclesiastes?

The book of Ecclesiastes is one of the most misunderstood books in the Hebrew Bible.  The author of the book, called Qohelet, who many believe is King Solomon, appears to contradict many of the teachings of the other books of the Bible.  Ecclesiastes is placed, in the Christian Old Testament, in the wisdom literature section, just after the book of Proverbs.  But Qohelet appears to dismiss the teachings of Proverbs and the overall pursuit of wisdom as meaningless!

How can this be, since many believe that Solomon also wrote the book of Proverbs?  Did he change his mind?

I don’t think so.  A careful reading of Ecclesiastes gives us some clues as to its basic message.  The first clue is a phrase that is repeated several times in the book: “That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.”  This phrase, or something close to it, is repeated five times in the book of Ecclesiastes.  In Hebrew literature, repetition is a sure clue that the author wants you to focus on this phrase.  It is like a signal flare saying, “Look at me!!”  The message seems to be that we should enjoy the pleasures God has given us in this life.

A second clue is the closing of the book in chapter 12.  Here is what it says: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”  I think this ending speaks for itself.

The rest of Ecclesiastes chronicles the attempts of Qohelet to find the meaning of life in various pursuits, all of which fail him.

When you put it all together, according to Dr. Tom Howe, Professor of Bible and Biblical Languages:

Although the tone of the book as a whole seems to be pessimistic, Qohelet is not a pessimist.  Rather, his goal is to demonstrate that life is meaningless, unless one lives it in the fear of God,  keeping His commandments and enjoying life as a gift from Him.  Ultimately, Qohelet is urging the reader not to trust in anything in this life to provide meaning and value.  Rather, one should trust only and always in God, and live life before Him.