“Apart from what we can reconstruct of Papias’ treatment of John’s Gospel, the most valuable patristic witness to the identity of its author is Polycrates, who was the bishop of Ephesus late in the second century.” p. 438
My review of chapter 17:
Conservative NT scholar Richard Bauckham believes that only one of the four Gospels in our Bibles today was written by an eyewitness, the Gospel of John. However, contrary to the opinion of most conservative Christians, Bauckham does not believe that this Gospel was written by the Apostle John, son of Zebedee, one of the original Twelve disciples of Jesus. Bauckham believes that the Gospel of John was written by a man named John the Elder, whom the second century Asia Minor Christian bishop, Papias, references in his writings as being a “disciple of Jesus”. Bauckham believes that this designation, “disciple of Jesus” means that this “John the Elder” was a disciple and companion of Jesus during Jesus’ life and ministry and therefore a witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Even more, Bauckham believes that this John the Elder was none other than the mysterious “Beloved Disciple” mentioned in the Gospel of John. Therefore, according to Bauckham, the disciple who lay on the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper and the disciple who ran with Peter to view the Empty Tomb was not John the son of Zebedee, it was this mysterious, unknown to most modern Christians, John the Elder.
What I find interesting in this chapter is Bauckham’s use of Polycrates as one of the two principal sources for his belief that John the Elder was the author of the Gospel of John, yet, Bauckham is forced to admit that Polycrates believed some pretty outlandish things, the most outlandish being that Polycrates believed that this same John was at one time the high priest in Jerusalem; leader of the entire Jewish Faith!!!
My, my, my. I’d loved to hear what Jewish scholars say about that claim! The author of the fourth Christian Gospel a former Jewish high priest! Oy veh!
Bauckham states that this belief by Polycrates, that the Elder John of Ephesus had once been, or at least temporarily officiated as, the Jewish high priest in Jerusalem, was probably not historically accurate or even metaphorically accurate but was based on Polycrates’ “exegesis” of a passage in the fourth chapter of the Book of Acts. To me this is “theological-ese” to say that Polycrates misinterpreted a Bible passage and based on his misinterpretation innocently concocted false history.
Therefore, to me, Polycrates, as we saw with Papias in an earlier section of this book review, is NOT a reliable source of historical information. Why Bauckham would trust the reliability of a source who believed that a first century Jewish high priest converted to Christianity and eventually wrote one of the four Christian Gospels, is beyond me!
And what about Irenaeus?
Bauckham admits that much of Irenaeus’ information most probably came from Papias (By the time we finish this chapter we will see that all sources of information regarding the traditional authorship of the Gospels lead back to Papias!) Bauckham also admits that even though Irenaeus claims to have sat at the feet of Polycarp when he was a young boy (when Polycarp was an old man), and that Polycarp was a disciple of “John”…it is unclear exactly who this John was! So contrary to the assertions of many Christian apologists and pastors, according to Bauckham, there is no certain evidence that Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee! Another claimed apostolic link to the early Church Fathers bites the dust!
How about Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria? Do these early Church Fathers give us a clear indication as to the authorship of the Gospel of John? Not according to Bauckham!
“Unfortunately neither of them [Justin Martyr nor Clement of Alexandria] provides the clarity we would wish.” —Bauckham, p. 466
Gary: This highly esteemed conservative NT scholar has claimed that only ONE of the Gospels we possess today in our Bibles was written by an eyewitness, the Gospel of John. However, he disagrees with the overwhelming majority of conservative Christianity regarding the identification of the eyewitness author of this Gospel. So if conservative Christian scholars can’t even agree on the identity of the author of the one Gospel they all agree was written by an eyewitness, the evidence that ANY Gospel was written by an eyewitness is seriously called into question.
And that, dear readers, is very, very different from what my former LCMS pastor originally said in my local parish newsletter on this subject which started this entire discussion:
“Prima facie a strong case could be made for the fact that much of the New Testament, including the Gospels and the sources behind them, was written by eyewitnesses.”
If you remember, I challenged my former pastor on this statement and was told that I had not read enough scholarship. He then gave me a list of books by conservative Christian scholars to read. The first on the list was a book he had co-authored, Making the Case for Christianity. I read the book. However, much to my disappointment, this book regurgitated the same fundamentalist scholarship I was taught as a fundamentalist Baptist in my youth: The Gospels were written very early, prior to the destruction of the Temple, and, Papias was carefully and accurately recording eyewitness testimony about the authorship of the Gospels in 80 AD. 80 AD! Most historians believe that Papias was born in circa 70 AD! That would have made him TEN years old!
In addition, one of the authors of Making the Case for Christianity presents a hypothetical legal case which he believes proves that “the evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus is as solid as any fact in the ancient world” (p. 89). Wow! The evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is just as solid as the evidence for Alexander the Great’s destruction of the city of Tyre??? Why then is Alexander’s destruction of Tyre found in every university world history text book as a fact of history but the Resurrection of Jesus is not? Think about that.
I pointed out to the authors of Making the Case for Christianity that these positions were either outdated scholarship or fringe scholarship. I was told by one of the authors, Dr. Adam Francisco, that I still needed to read more conservative scholarship. I was told that the consensus of New Testament scholarship that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses nor by the associates of eyewitnesses is biased. He recommended that I read another conservative NT scholar’s book. He recommended that I read Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. So I read it. Not only have I read it, I have reviewed it chapter by chapter here on this blog.
And if you boil all of Bauckham’s evidence down into one sentence it is this: Papias’ testimony regarding the authorship of the Gospels of Mark and Matthew should be viewed as reliable, and, the authors of the Gospels left hidden literary clues within their Gospels which if carefully examined will tell us the eyewitness sources of their stories.
Dear Readers: Is that all conservative Christianity has? Is that all conservative Christianity has to prove the historical reliability of the Gospels? Is their best evidence Papias and hidden literary clues?
Is that really the best that the Creator of the Universe could do to reveal the truths of his universe to us? Is that the best the King of Heaven and Earth could do to demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth really is the Savior of Mankind? Seriously? The Lord God Almighty expects us to accept as reliable the testimony of a second century man who also believed that Judas Iscariot’s genitalia swelled to enormous proportions? The omniscient, all-powerful Lord God expects us to go digging through the Gospels for literary clues to find his eternal truths? Dear friends, if there is a Creator God, isn’t it likely that he is much more intelligent than that?
And isn’t it much more probable, folks, that Papias’ third and fourth hand, second century information was wrong and that the hidden literary clues that Bauckham sees in the Gospels are present only in his vivid imagination which so desperately wants the Gospels to contain eyewitness testimony to support his conservative Christian faith?
Let’s accept the evidence. The majority of NT scholars are right. The Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses nor by the associates of eyewitnesses! The majority of scholars do not hold this view because they are biased, they hold this view because that is what the evidence demonstrates.
Watch the above five minute You Tube video. In it, NT Wright, renowned New Testament scholar, admits that NO ONE knows who wrote the Gospels, where they were written, nor when they were written!
Therefore, if the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses, my friends, no modern, educated person should believe the very improbable, 2,000 year old, tall tale that a three-day-dead Jewish preacher walked out of his sealed tomb, ate a broiled fish lunch with his former fishing buddies, and a few days later flew off into outer space where he sits today on a golden throne, at the edge of the universe, as King of the Cosmos, Lord and Master of Heaven and Earth!
It is an ancient tall tale. It is a superstition. It didn’t happen.
—Gary Matson, Jr., author, Escaping Christian Fundamentalism Blog, Web address: http://www.LutherWasNotBornAgain.com
A copy of this post sent to:
-the authors of Making the Case for Christianity
–Rev. Matthew Harrison, President/Bishop of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
-Rev.Larry Stoterau, President/Bishop of the Southwest District, LCMS
-Rev. Jonathon Fisk, author, Worldview Everlasting Website
-Rev. Jordan Cooper, author, Just and Sinner Blog