The Gospel of John

Authorship: External Evidence

  • “But I will not hesitate to supplement at any time for you too the interpretations with whatever I learned thoroughly and remembered thoroughly from the presbyters [or “elders”], since I am confident in the truth on their account. For unlike many I was not delighted with those who say many things but with those who teach the truth, or with those who remember not the commandments of others but those given by the Lord to the faith and derived from truth itself. But whenever someone who had followed the presbyters came along, I would carefully ask about the words of the presbyters, what Andrew or what Peter had said or what Philip or what Thomas or James or what John or Matthew or any other of the disciples of the Lord, and which Aristion and the presbyter John, disciples of the Lord say too. For I did not assume that whatever comes from books is as helpful to me as what comes from a living and lasting voice.” (Papias, in Ecclesiastical History 3.39.3-4).
  • “Then John, the disciple of the Lord and also the one who leaned against his chest, also pub­lished the gospel when re­siding in Ephesus of Asia” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1).
  • “John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate. He fell asleep in Ephesus.” (Polycrates, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.24.2-3)
  • “…but John, last, aware that the physical facts were disclosed in the gospels, urged by friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual gospel” (Clement of Alexandria, in Ecclesiastical History 6.14.7).
  • “The fourth of the Gospels is that of John, [one] of the disciples. To his fellow disciples and bishops, who had been urging him [to write], he said, ‘Fast with me from today to three days, and what will be revealed to each one let us tell it to one another.’ In the same night it was revealed to Andrew, [one] of the apostles, that John should write down all things in his own name while all of them should review it” (Muratorian Canon, Lines 9-16).
  • “Nevertheless, of all the disciples of the Lord, only Matthew and John have left us written memorials, and they, tradition says, were led to write only under the pressure of necessity… John accordingly, in his Gospel, records the deeds of Christ which were performed before the Baptist was cast into prison, but the other three evangelists mention the events which happened after that time.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.24.5, 12)

Authorship: Internal Evidence

The passages on the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 1:35-40 [?], 13:23-25; 18:15-16 [?], 19:25-27, 19:35 [?], 20:2-10, 21:1-7, 20-24). The most popular suggestions for the beloved disciple are the Apostle John, the Elder John, Lazarus, John Mark, an anonymous Judaean disciple, or a literary fiction (the most extensive list is in James Charlesworth’s The Beloved Disciple: Whose Witness Validates the Gospel of John?). Here are some of the pros and cons over identifying the beloved disciple as the Apostle John:

  • John is never named in the Fourth Gospel, but none of the scenes that feature him in the Synoptic Gospels occur in the Fourth Gospel (see Mark 1:19-20, 29-32; 5:37-42; 9:2-10; 10:35-40; 13:3; 14:33-34). The one exception is the parallel between John 21:1-14 and Luke 5:1-11.
  • John could be the anonymous disciple who was called alongside Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, in John 1:35-42. However, the scene in John where Jesus recruits two of his followers from the movement of John the Baptizer completely differs from the calling of the two sets of brothers (Peter and Andrew, James and John) from their fishing occupations in Mark 1:16-20.
  • The Twelve were at the Last Supper in the Synoptic Gospels, but the Fourth Gospel never restricts this event to the Twelve who are rarely mentioned in the text (cf. John 6:67, 70; 20:24) and a local follower from Jerusalem may have hosted the meal.
  • In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus is especially close to three disciples (Peter, James, John) and James is executed by Herod Agrippa I around 40 CE. John is also paired with Peter in the book of Acts. But the Gospel of John never mentions this trio as an inner circle among the disciples.
  • Unlike the twelve disciples who fled and denied Jesus, the beloved disciple is loyal to Jesus to the point where he stands at the foot of the cross (19:25-27, 35).
  • The beloved disciple almost exclusively shows up in Jerusalem with the exception of John 21:7, 20-24 (and possibly 1:35-40) and John 19:25-27 may also imply that he had a residence in or near Jerusalem.
  • If the “other disciple” in John 18:15-16 is the beloved disciple, he seems to have been a prominent individual with a personal connection to the high priest.
  • The beloved disciple has to be among the group of seven disciples in John 21:2, but it may be more likely that the beloved disciple is among the two anonymous disciples than the named “sons of Zebedee.”

 Date

  • The Rylands Library Papyrus 52 is a fragment of a few verses from John 18:31-33, 37-38 and is commonly dated in the first half of the second century.
  • Early Patristic references or allusions to the Gospel of John or the First Epistle of John (e.g. Papias of Hierapolis, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyna, Justin Martyr).
  • The Johannine epistles may be an orthodox commentary on the Gospel, especially against schismatic secessionists who denied the incarnation or at least saving significance of Jesus “in the flesh.”
  • There is debate about whether the Gospel of John exhibits literary dependence on one or more of the Synoptic Gospels. There is also debate about what sources were utilized by the Gospel of John (e.g. a hymn to the Logos or “Word,” a signs source, a discourse source, a passion narrative).
  • There is debate about how long it would have taken for the evangelist to develop the high Christology in the Fourth Gospel (1:1-3; 5:17-18; 8:58; 20:28).
  • There is debate about whether the generalized polemic against hoi Ioudaioi (“the Jews” or “the Judaeans”), along with the references to the expulsions of Jesus’s followers from the synagogue (9:22; 12:42; 16:2), reflects a contemporary schism between the Johannine community with their local synagogue. Older scholarship correlated this with the alleged formulation of a liturgical malediction against “heretics” at the council of Yavneh in the late first century called the birkat ha-minim (cf. B. Berakhot 28b-29a).
  • There is debate about how many editorial revisions went into the composition of John’s Gospel. The final form of the book included the epilogue in chapter 21 which contained traditions about the deaths of Peter (by crucifixion?) and the beloved disciple (cf. John 21:20-25).

Provenance

  • Ephesus: supported by the external church tradition about Saint John in Ephesus (cf. Irenaeus, Polycrates, the Acts of John), the positive reception of Johannine literature in Asia Minor (cf. Papias, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Polycrates), the affinities with the book of Revelation (e.g. Christological titles such as Word of God or Lamb), and the cultural milieu where Jews, Christians, and other socio-religious formations interacted.
  • Alexandria: supported by the manuscript evidence from Egypt, the positive reception of John’s Gospel among proto-Orthodox and Valentinian Christians in Alexandria, the affinities with the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (e.g. the Logos), and the interest in a spiritualizing or allegorizing hermeneutic.
  • Syria: supported by the affinities with the Syriac Odes of Solomon and with Ignatius of Antioch (e.g. high Christology, opposition to “Docetism”). The close proximity to Palestine may also explain John’s accurate topographical and cultural knowledge of the region.

Key Themes

  • High Christology:
    • Jesus is the pre-existent “Word” (logos) who was both God and was God, who created all things, and who became incarnate in the flesh (sarx) (1:1-18)
    • The “I Am” speeches
    • Balancing the theme of Jesus’s oneness with the Father (5:17-18; 10:27-28; 17:11, 21-23) with the theme of his subordination (14:28)
    • There was a schism in the first epistle of John over whether Jesus had come in the flesh (1 John 2:22-23; 4:1-3; 2 John 1:7).
  • There is a sharp dualism between light and darkness, between the followers of Jesus who have been called out of the “world” (kosmos) and the world that is hostile towards them. Although Jesus and his disciples were Jewish (cf. John 4:9, 22), the Gospel represents hoi Ioudaioi (“the Jews”, “the Jewish leaders”, “the Judeans”) of persecuting the followers of Jesus to the point that they were “expelled” (aposynagōgos) from the synagogues (John 9:22; 12:42; 16:2).
  • The fellowship of believers is to be completely united and “one,” just as Jesus was one with the Father, and are to follow the great commandment to love one another as Jesus had loved them (John 13:34-35; 17:20-23).
  • Jesus’ death is represented as his exaltation or the “lifting up” of the Son of Man (John 3:14-15; 8:28; 12:32).
  • The preferred expression is “eternal life” rather than “kingdom of God” and this was available in the present through trusting that Jesus was sent by God, though there would be a future judgment and resurrection (e.g. 5:25-29; 6:39-58).

Case Study: The “I Am Speeches”

  • the Bread of Life (6:35, 48)
  • the Light of the World (8:12; 9:15)
  • the “I Am” (8:58; cf. Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 41:4; 43:10)
  • the Door of the Gate (10:7)
  • the Good Shepherd that lays down his life for the sheep (10:11)
  • the Resurrection and the Life (11:25)
  • the Way, the Truth, and the Life (14:6)
  • the Vine that supports the branches (15:1).

 

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The Book of Acts

External Evidence

“But that this Luke was inseparable from Paul, and his fellow-labourer in the Gospel, he himself clearly evinces, not as a matter of boasting, but as bound to do so by the truth itself. For he says that when Barnabas, and John was called Mark, had parted company from Paul, and sailed to Cyprus, we came to Troas [Acts 16:8]… As Luke was present at all these occurrences, he carefully noted them down in writing, so that he cannot be convicted of falsehood or boastfulness, because all these [particulars] proved both that he was senior to all those who now teach otherwise, and that he was not ignorant of the truth. That he was not merely a follower, but also a fellow-labourer of the apostles, but especially of Paul, Paul has himself declared also in the Epistles, saying: ‘Demas has forsaken me, and is departed unto Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me’ [2 Timothy 4:10-11]” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.14.1)

“Moreover, the acts of all the apostles were written in one book. For ‘most excellent Theophilus’ Luke compiled the individual events that took place in his presence — as he plainly shows by omitting the martyrdom of Peter as well as the departure of Paul from the city [of Rome] when he journeyed to Spain.” (The Muratorian Canon, 34-39)

Now, since the Acts of the Apostles thus agree with Paul, it becomes apparent why you reject them. It is because they declare no other God than the Creator, and prove Christ to belong to no other God than the Creator; while the promise of the Holy Ghost is shown to have been fulfilled in no other document than the Acts of the Apostles” (Tertullian, Against Marcion 5.2)

“First then must be put the holy quaternion of the Gospels; following them the Acts of the Apostles.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.25.1)

“And indeed afterward this same Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles.” (Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke’s Gospel)

Authorship: Internal Evidence

The book of Acts is the sequel of Luke’s Gospel: “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. (Acts 1:1-2 NRSV)

Explanations for the “we” in Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-37; 28:1-16.

  • The author was a firsthand participant in the narrated events. Irenaeus correlated the last time the “we” is used in Acts 28:16 with the statement that “Luke alone is with me” in 2 Timothy 4:10-11. See also Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History.
  • This was some sort of dramatic literary device that placed the reader in the middle of the action. For instance, see Vernon Robbins’s “By Land and By Sea: the We-Passages and Ancient Sea Voyages.”
  • This was a residue on an earlier source or a travel diary. For instance, see Stanley Porter’s chapter “The We Passages in Acts as a Source regarding Paul” in The Paul of Acts.
  • The “we” was a “pseudonymous” or fictional claim to be by a firsthand participant of Paul’s missionary activities. For instance, see Bart Ehrman’s Forgery and Counter-Forgery.

Audience: Theophilus and the other readers

  • The Gospel may have been dedicated to a wealthy patron who sponsored the writer’s literary project.
  • “Theophilus” may be symbolic for the church as it means “lover of God.”
  • The provenance could be Antioch (church tradition, the Western text that has the first person plural in Acts 11:28), Ephesus (cf. a mirror to the author’s situation in Acts 20:17-38), Rome (the ultimate destination in Acts 28:16-31), or an unknown location.

Date

  • Dates range from the early 60s to 130 CE. Most scholars date the book of Acts between 75-100 CE, though a minority date it on the earlier (cf. Hemer) or later (cf. Richard Pervo, Joseph B. Tyson) end of the spectrum.
  • Since Luke 19:41-44 and 21:20 seems to reflect knowledge of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, its sequel in the book of Acts must post-date 70 CE.
  • Acts ends with Paul awaiting trial in Rome, without narrating his execution around 64 CE. However, the curtain may close as its central focus was how the gospel spread from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth via arriving at the heart of the Empire (Acts 1:8; 28:30-31).
  • There is debate over whether or not Acts was influenced by a collection of Pauline Epistles. On the one hand, there are interesting differences between Acts and Paul’s firsthand testimony about his own apostleship, biography, travels, and theology. On the other hand, there are striking overlaps between Acts and Paul’s epistles (e.g. compare Acts 15:1-21, 35-41 with Galatians 2:1-14; Acts 9:23-25 with 1 Corinthians 11:32-33).
  • There is debate over whether Josephus’s Antiquities, published around 93-94 CE, was a source for Acts. Compare the accounts of the rebels Judas of Galilee and Theudas in Acts 5:36-37 with Antiquities 20.97-102 or the death of Herod Agrippa I in Acts 12:20-23 with Antiquities 19.343-50.
  • The “Christians” are known to political authorities as a distinct entity (Acts 11:26; 26:28; cf. 1 Peter 4:16) and there may be a level of ecclesiastical organization in the governance of churches by “elders” (presbyteroi) and “overseers” (episkopoi) (cf. Acts 20:17-38).

Key Themes in the Acts of the Apostles

  • When the disciples ask whether or not Jesus was about to restore the kingdom to Israel (cf. Luke 21:24), the risen one responds that this will happen at an unknown date fixed by the Father and that they are to be his witnesses in Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:6-8). The evangelist Philip inaugurates the mission in Samaria (8:5-25) and Peter ministered to the non-Jewish centurion Cornelius (10:1-11:18; cf. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in 8:26-39).
  • The twelve apostles governed the mother church in Jerusalem (cf. replacing Judas by Matthias to restore the number “twelve” in 1:15-26) and other missionaries like Paul and Barnabas are generally subservient to rather than identified as “apostles” or “sent ones” (exception: 14:4).
  • The church is completely harmonious, though occasional cracks appear beneath the surface like the division between the Hebrews and the Hellenists (6:1-15), the debate at the Jerusalem Council (15:1-21; cf. 21:17-25), and the split of Paul from Barnabas (15:36-41).
  • The Christians message is in continuity with the scriptural heritage of Israel. The Jerusalem church wins over thousands of their Jewish compatriots and the apostles as well as Paul exemplify their Jewish piety (e.g. the apostles attend the temple, Peter’s obeys a kosher diet, Paul circumcises Timothy and participates in a Nazarite vow). Acts seems to portray the church as primarily drawn from the ranks of the Jews and non-Jewish “God-fearers” who attended synagogues (compare Paul’s target audience in Thessalonica in Acts 17:1-9 and 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10); this can be compared with the poor reception of Paul among the philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:1-34).
  • Stephen’s speech, including his denunciation of the temple as an idol built with hands (7:48-50), and the scattering of all but the apostles in Jerusalem (8:1) marks a turning point. There are signs that the majority of adherents joining the Jesus movement were non-Jewish (cf. Acts 13:46-48; 18:6; 28:26-28). Nevertheless, the future is open-ended and Paul continues to evangelize Jews and non-Jews (28:30-31).

The Gospel of Luke

Authorship: External Evidence

“Luke, the follower of Paul, set forth in a book the gospel that was preached by him.” (Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies 3.1.1)

“But Marcion, mutilating that according to Luke, is proved to be a blasphemer of the only existing God, from those [passages] which he still retains” (Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies 3.11.7)

“Marcion, on the other hand, you must know, ascribes no author to his Gospel… Now, of the authors whom we possess, Marcion seems to have singled out Luke for his mutilating process. Luke, however, was not an apostle, but only an apostolic man; not a master, but a disciple, and so inferior to a master” (Tertullian, Against Marcion 4.2)

“The Gospels containing the genealogies, he [Clement] says, were written first” [or] “He [Clement] said that those gospels with genealogies were openly published.” (Clement of Alexandria, in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 6.14.6)

“…third, Luke, who has composed for those from the Gentiles the gospel praised by Paul.” (Origen, in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 6.25.6)

“The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke. Luke, the well-known physician, after the ascension of Christ, when Paul had taken with him as one zealous for the law, composed it in his own name, according to [the general] belief. Yet he himself had not seen the Lord in the flesh; and therefore, as he was able to ascertain events, so indeed he begins to tell the story from the birth of John.” (The Muratorian Canon, lines 2-8)

“The holy Luke is an Antiochene, Syrian by race, physician by trade. As his writings indicate, of the Greek speech he was not ignorant. He was a disciple of the apostles, and afterward followed Paul until his confession, serving the Lord undistractedly, for he neither had any wife nor procreated sons. [A man] of eighty–four years, he slept in Thebes, the metropolis of Boeotia, full of the holy spirit… [he] instigated by the holy spirit, in parts of Achaea wrote down this gospel, he who was taught not only by the apostle, who was not with the Lord in the flesh, but also by the other apostles, who were with the Lord, even making clear this very thing himself in the preface, that the others were written down before his, and that it was necessary that he accurately expound for the gentile faithful the entire economy in his narrative, lest they, detained by Jewish fables, be held by a sole desire for the law, or lest, seduced by heretical fables and stupid instigations, they slip away from the truth. It being necessary, then, immediately in the beginning we receive report of the nativity of John, who is the beginning of the gospel, who was the forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ, and a partaker in the perfecting of the people, and also in the induction of baptism, and a partaker of his passion and of the fellowship of the spirit. Zechariah the prophet, one of the twelve, made mention of this economy.” (Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke’s Gospel)

Authorship: Internal Evidence

The author imitates a Graeco-Roman literary preface (cf. historiography, biography, scientific treatises), but chooses to remain anonymous.

  • “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.” (Luke 1:1)

The following explanations have been offered for the sporadic usage of the first-person plural in Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-37; 28:1-16.

  • The author was a firsthand participant in the narrated events. This is the view held in the majority of commentaries on the book.
  • This was some sort of dramatic literary device that placed the reader in the middle of the action. For instance, see Vernon Robbins’s “By Land and By Sea: the We-Passages and Ancient Sea Voyages.”
  • This was a residue on an earlier source or a travel diary. For instance, see Stanley Porter’s chapter “The We Passages in Acts as a Source regarding Paul” in The Paul of Acts.
  • The “we” was a “pseudonymous” or a fictional claim to be by a firsthand participant of Paul’s missionary activities. For instance, see Bart Ehrman’s Forgery and Counter-Forgery.

Audience: Theophilus and other readers

  • The Gospel may have been dedicated to a wealthy patron who sponsored the writer’s literary project.
  • “Theophilus” may be symbolic for the church as it means “lover of God.”
  • There is debate over the provenance of the author and the readers, with some major suggestions including Antioch, Ephesus, or Rome.

Date

  • Dates range from the early 60s to 130 CE for the two volume work Luke-Acts. Most scholars date it between 75-100 CE, though a minority date it on the earlier (cf. Colin J. Hemer) or the later (cf. Richard Pervo, Joseph B. Tyson) end of the spectrum.
  • Luke was literarily dependent on Mark’s Gospel and must postdate it. There is debate over whether the Gospels of Luke and Matthew independently relied on a common sayings source called Q (Quelle or “source”) or whether one was literarily dependent on the other.
  • There are similarities between the Gospels of Luke and John such as the woman who anointed Jesus’s  feet (Luke 7:36–50; John 12:1–8), the naming of Lazarus and the sisters Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38–42; 16:19–31; John 11:1–44), the inspection by Peter of the empty tomb (Luke 24:12; John 20:2–9), the resurrection accounts localized in Jerusalem (Luke 24:1–11, 33–53; John 20:1–29), and the miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1-11; John 21:1-11). These similarities may be based on the common use of oral traditions or on one Gospel writer copying the other.
  • Luke 19:41-44 and 21:20 may reflect knowledge of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE.
  • The Gospel of Luke is the first part of a two-part work and must date before its sequel, the book of Acts. Acts ends before narrating the deaths of Peter, Paul, and James, perhaps to conclude on the note that the Gospel has spread from Jerusalem to Rome (Acts 1:8; 28:30-31).
  • There are debates about whether the author of Luke’s Gospel had access to the Pauline Epistles. Compare Luke 18:9-14 with Paul’s view of justification by faith or the Lord’s Supper in Luke 22:15-20 (note the omission of verses 19b-20 in some Western witnesses) with Paul’s account in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (cf. Mark 14:22-25 and Matthew 26:26-29). Further examples are provided in the handout on Acts.
  • There is debate over whether Luke-Acts is literarily dependent or independent of Josephus’s Antiquities published around 93-94 CE. Compare the account of the census in Luke 2:1-3 with Josephus’s account in Antiquities 18.1-5 (cf. War 2.117-18). There is debate over whether Acts is literarily dependent or independent of Josephus’s Antiquities. Further examples are provided in the handout on Acts.

Key Themes in the Gospel of Luke

  • There are unique Lukan sayings, parables, and narratives on economic and social inequality
    • Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)
    • the shepherds in the infancy narrative (Luke 2:8-20)
    • the poor person’s sacrificial offering (Luke 2:22-24)
    • not extorting money or excessive interest (Luke 3:10-14; 6:34-35)
    • Isaiah’s good news to the poor (Luke 4:16-21; cf. 7:22-23)
    • the Lukan form of the beatitudes and woes (Luke 6:20-26)
    • the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
    • Mary as a disciple (Luke 10:38-42)
    • the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21)
    • hosting a banquet for the needy (Luke 14:7-14)
    • the woman with the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10)
    • the son who squandered his inheritance (Luke 15:11-32)
    • the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-15)
    • the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)
    • the widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8)
    • the repentance of the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)
  • ministering to non-Jews outside the boundaries of Israel
    • Simeon’s prophecy about how Jesus would be a light of revelation for the nations (Luke 2:32).
    • Tracing Jesus’s genealogy to the original human (Luke 3:38)
    • Compare Luke 4:16-30, where the crowd takes offense at Jesus’s remarks about how the prophets Elijah and Elisha healed foreigners, with the parallel accounts of the incident in the Nazarene synagogue in Mark 6:1-6 and Matthew 13:54-58 where the members were incredulous that a local resident was a prophet.
    • Ten lepers are healed, but only a Samaritan returns to express gratitude in Luke 17:12-19.
  • The martyrdom of Jesus is modeled on the themes of the noble death and the Deuteronomistic theme of the rejection of the prophets culminating in the death of Jesus. Although Luke seems to have removed Mark’s ransom saying (compare Luke 22:25-27 with Mark 10:45), he has Paul articulate Jesus’ vicarious death in Acts 20:28.
  • The impending eschatological return of Jesus has been delayed (Luke 21:24; Acts 1:6-8). Hans Conzelmann famously argued that Luke-Acts divided history into the epochs of Israel, Jesus, and the church.
  • Peter will be fully rehabilitated after his temporary lapse in denying Jesus three times (see Luke 22:31-34) and will emerge as the leading spokesperson of the Jesus movement in the first twelve chapters of Acts.

Case Study: Women in the Gospel of Luke

  • Unique accounts of women in Luke’s Gospel: Elizabeth (1:5-25, 39-45, 59-80), Mary (1:26-38, 46-56; 2:4-52), the prophetess Anna (2:36-38), the sinful woman (7:36-50), the wealthy female patrons of Jesus including Mary Magdalene (8:2-3), the sisters Mary and Martha (10:38-42), the woman with the lost coin (15:8-10), the poor widow (18:1-8)
  • Watch the video lecture by Professor Emerita Carolyn Osiek entitled “Carolyn Osiek on Women Disciples, Leaders, and Apostles: Mary Magdalene’s Sisters

 

 

 

The Gospel of Mark

Authorship: External Evidence

“And the presbyter [or “elder”] would say this: ‘Mark, who had indeed been Peter’s interpreter [hermēneutēs],  accurately wrote as much as he remembered, yet not in order, about that which  was either said or did by the Lord. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but later, as I said, Peter, who would make the teachings anecdotally but not exactly an arrangement of the Lord’s reports, so that Mark did not fail by writing certain things as he recalled. For he had one purpose, not to omit what he heard or falsify them.’” (Papias, in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15)

“… but after their [Peter’s and Paul’s] depar­ture Mark, the disciple and inter­preter of Peter, he too handed what was preached by Peter down to us in writing…” (Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies 3.1.1)

“but Mark had this procedure: when Peter was in Rome preaching in public the word and proclaiming the gospel by the spirit, those present, who were many, entreated Mark, as one who followed him for a long time and remembered what was said, to record what was spoken; but after he composed the gospels, he shared it with anyone who wanted it; when Peter found out about it, he did not actively discourage or encourage it.” (Clement of Alexandria, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.6-7)

“And so greatly did the splendor of piety illumine the needs of Peter’s hearers that they were not satisfied with hearing once only, and were not content with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, a follower of Peter, and the one whose Gospel is extant, that he would leave them a written monument of the doctrine which had been orally communicated to them. Nor did they cease until they had prevailed with the man, and had thus become the occasion of the written Gospel which bears the name of Mark. And they say that Peter – when he had learned, through a revelation of the Spirit, of that which had been done – was pleased with the zeal of the men, and that the work obtained the sanction of his authority for the purpose of being used in the churches. Clement in the eighth book of his Hypotyposes gives this account… (Clement of Alexandria, in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2)

“but second, Mark, who composed as Peter led him, whom he avowed as son in the catholic epistle, saying as follows: ‘She who is in Babylon, chosen together, sends you greetings and so does my son Mark’ [1 Peter 5:13]…” (Origen of Alexandria, in Ecclesiastical History 6.25.5)

“Mark made his assertion, who was also named stubby-fingers, on account that he had in comparison to the length of the rest of his body shorter fingers. He was a disciple and interpreter of Peter, whom he followed just as he heard him report. When he was requested at Rome by the brethren, he briefly wrote this gospel in parts of Italy. When Peter heard this, he approved and affirmed it by his own authority for the reading of the church. Truly, after the departure of Peter, this gospel which he himself put together having been taken up, he went away into Egypt and, ordained as the first bishop of Alexandria, announcing Christ, he constituted a church there.” (Anti-Marcionite Prologue to  Mark)

“And they say that this Mark was the first that was sent to Egypt, and that he proclaimed the Gospel which he had written, and first established churches in Alexandria.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.16.1)

“Mark follows him closely, and looks like his attendant and epitomizer. For in his narrative he gives nothing in concert with John apart from the others: by himself separately, he has little to record; in conjunction with Luke, as distinguished from the rest, he has still less; but in concord with Matthew, he has a very large number of passages.” (Augustine, The Harmony of the Gospels 1.2.4)

Mark too, in Egypt, is said to have done this self-same thing [wrote a Gospel] at the entreaty of the disciples” (John Chrysostom, Homily on Matthew 1.7)

Authorship: Internal Evidence

  • The Gospel is formally anonymous and its opening verse launches right into the subject of the “gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1).
  • Peter is an important literary character, mentioned 25 times from his initial call to discipleship to his getting singled out to be the recipient of the good news about the risen Jesus (Mark 1:16; 16:7). In the middle of the narrative, he makes the central confession that Jesus is the Messiah (8:29). Peter was one of the three core disciples of Jesus (i.e. Peter, James, John) and the leading spokesperson of the twelve apostles.
  • Peter is often represented ambivalently or negatively. He made impulsive statements (Mark 9:5; 10:28; 14:29), is rebuked for acting like “Satan” in opposing Jesus’s mission to die (8:32-33), fell asleep during Jesus’s hour of greatest need (14:37), and denied Jesus three times (14:68-71).
  • The narrative outline of Mark’s Gospel from the baptism to the resurrection of Jesus may correspond to a sermon from Peter in Acts 10:36-41, though the speeches of Peter and Paul follow a similar pattern in the book of Acts and there is debate about the extent of Luke’s utilization of sources or authorial creativity. There are also marked similarities and differences between Mark and Paul on subjects such as Christology (doctrine of Christ), soteriology (doctrine of salvation), and eschatology (doctrine about the last things).
  • There is debate over the level of Mark’s knowledge of the geography and customs of Judaea (e.g. Mark 5:1-20; 7:3-4, 31; 11:1) and whether a Jewish missionary from Jerusalem was responsible for this text (cf. Philemon 23; Colossians 4:10; Acts 12:12, 24).

Provenance

  • An audience in Rome has been supported by the ancient church traditions, the Latinisms in Mark’s Gospel (e.g. the Roman coin “quadrans”), the persecutions which may correspond to what the Christ followers recently suffered under the emperor Nero in Rome, the supposed lack of firsthand acquaintance with the recent events that Palestinian Jews lived through (e.g. the Jewish War) or the geography and culture of the region, and the purported allusions to the imperial victory of the emperor Vespasian.
  • An audience in Syria has been supported by the eastern rural agricultural way of life presupposed in Mark’s Gospel, the audience that may have followed the advice in Mark 13:14 to flee at the onslaught of the Romans’ invasion and desecration of the temple, and the reference to persecution from synagogue authorities and local governors. The imperial allusions and the Latinisms could reflect the impact of Roman imperialism all over the Empire.
  • An audience in Galilee could be supported by all of the arguments for a provenance in Syria, but has the additional support of the preference in Mark’s narrative for the small villages of Galilee over against the capital in Jerusalem and the reference to meeting the risen Jesus in Galilee in Mark 16:7 (a resurrection appearance or the second coming?). Proponents argue that Mark’s comprehension of the geography and customs of Palestine is not lacking, that Greek was commonly used alongside Aramaic, and that there was a mixed association of Jewish and Gentile Christ followers in the region.

Date

  • The earliest manuscript evidence comes from the Chester Beatty papyri (p45) in the 3rd century that contains all four gospels. The recent claims about a fragment of Mark dating to the first-century needs to be subject to critical peer-review and testing (http://www.livescience.com/49489-oldest-known-gospel-mummy-mask.html).
  • Irenaeus has a specific tradition on the evangelist Mark along with the other three evangelists (Against Heresies 3.1.1) and explicitly cites the text of Mark’s Gospel (e.g. 3.10.5; 3.16.3).
  • Justin Martyr cites Mark 3:17 for it alone refers to Zebedee’s sons by the name Boangeres, which is translated by Mark as ‘sons of thunder’ (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 106.3).
  • The Longer Ending of Mark (16:9-20) is written in the first half of the second century by a scribe dissatisfied with the abrupt ending at Mark 16:8, harmonizing it with the resurrection narratives in the Gospels of Luke and John.
  • In the first quarter of the second century, likely around 110 CE, Papias referred to Mark as “Peter’s interpreter” (see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15). Papias received his traditions from an earlier source, the followers of the Elder John.
  • The order of events in the Gospel of John and the passion narrative in the Gospel of Peter 50-57 may be indebted to Mark’s Gospel.
  • According to the consensus on Markan priority, Matthew and Luke copied Mark’s Gospel and it must have achieved fairly wide circulation to be used by both authors in different locales. The Didache (8:2; 11:3; 15:3, 4) and Ignatius (Smyrn. 1.1; 6.1; Phil. 2.2; Eph. 5.2; 6.1; Rom. 9.3; Trall. 11.1; Poly. 1.2-3; 2.2) knew Matthew, so Mark must be earlier.
  • The Patristic tradition is divided between the view that Mark was written after Peter died (e.g., Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1.; the anti-Marcionite Prologue) or while he was still alive (e.g., Clement of Alexandria, quoted in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2; 6.14.5-7).
  • The reference in Mark 13:1 to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple (cf. 11:12-14, 20-25; 14:57-59, 15:29) may be a vaticinium ex eventu (“prophecy from the event”) or a genuine prediction (e.g. there is no fire and Mark 13:14 may be interpreted as a future antichrist figure)? Alternatively, Mark 13:14 could be read in reference to the failed plans of emperor Caligula (37-41 CE) to place a statue in the temple.
  • Mark 13 may either reflect the Jewish War or repeat apocalyptic tropes (e.g. wars, famines, natural disasters, persecutions)?
  • How much time is needed for oral or written traditions to be translated from Aramaic to Greek and developed into their present form? What does Mark’s Gospel presuppose about the Torah observance of Christ followers or the Christian mission to the nations (Mark 13:10, 27)?
  • Does Mark believe that Jesus’s generation will be the last one before the coming of the Son of Man and have most, but not all, of Jesus’s disciples passed away (Mark 9:1; 13:30; 14:9)?
  • There is no copy of Mark’s Gospel, or any Christian text, found at Qumran (cf. Daniel Wallace, “7Q5: The Earliest NT Papyrus?“).

Key Themes

  • There is dramatic irony in the narrative of Mark in that, while both the reader and the supernatural characters know the truth about Jesus’ Christological identity, the human characters in the narrative are either ignorant about it or are silenced when they discover it (see more information on the messianic secret below).
  • Jesus’s overwhelming power in the first half of the narrative (e.g. the exorcisms, healings, and nature miracles) is juxtaposed with the increasing focus on Jesus’s plans to suffer and die in the second half of the narrative. However, there are hints about Jesus’s death as early as Mark 2:20 and 3:6 and there are displays of Jesus’s power in the second half of the narrative (e.g. the resurrection and the glorious coming of the Son of Man on the eschatological day of judgment).
  • Jesus models servant-leadership for the power-hungry disciples and exhorts them to take up their crosses and follow him. They are alienated from the temple establishment and, through the path of discipleship and suffering in this age, will be vindicated in the next one.
  • Although Jesus deciphered his parables for the twelve disciples (4:10-20) and commissioned them (6:6-13), they frequently misunderstood Jesus’s message and deserted him in the passion narrative. It is supposed outsiders – a woman suffering from hemorrhages who reached out to touch Jesus, a Syrophoenician woman who had a witty retort for Jesus, an exorcist who was not part of the Twelve, a blind man named Bartimaeus who followed on the way to Jerusalem, a father who barely believed that Jesus could heal his son, a woman who anointed Jesus for burial – that are revealed as true insiders.

Case Study: The Messianic Secret

  • Explicit identifications of Jesus as the Messiah or the Son of God by the narrator (Mark 1:1), God (1:11; 9:7), and (ironically?) by the Roman centurion at the cross (15:37-39). Jesus also answers the high priest’s question in the affirmative (14:61-62; cf. Matthew 26:64/Luke 22:67-70).
  • Whenever humans or demons recognize Jesus’s identity during his ministry, Jesus silences them (1:24-25; 8:29-30; 9:9-10).
  • A closely related theme is when Jesus silences those he heals from spreading the news (e.g. 1:40-45; 5:18-20, 35-43; 7:35-37). However, the characters often disobey and Jesus was then swarmed by the crowds.
  • The parables are also designed to conceal the “mystery of the kingdom” from those outside the inner circle of disciples (4:11-12)
  • William Wrede’s theory was that the theme of the “messianic secret” was an editorial addition introduced by the evangelist and that it was designed to impute the post-Easter belief in Jesus’ messiahship back to Jesus’ pre-Easter ministry.
  • Other theories for the “messianic secret” is that the titles “Christ” and “Son of God” were liable to being misconstrued in this-worldly terms (a would-be political candidate or a Hellenistic miracle-working divine man), that Jesus refused to allow the demons to misuse his name as a way of trying to attain power over him, that the Markan Jesus challenged conventions of honour and shame by refusing to be identified as a powerful benefactor, that Mark presented Jesus as the ideal ruler who does not demand excessive public honors, or that Jesus’s messianic mission cannot be fully grasped apart from his sacrificial death.
  • A short bibliography:
    • William Wrede, The Messianic Secret (translated by J. C. G. Greig; London: Clarke, 1971 [1901]).
    • David Aune, “The Problem of the Messianic Secret” Novum Testamentum 11 (1969): 1-31.
    • J.D.G. Dunn, “The Messianic Secret in Mark” Tyndale Bulletin 21 (1970): 92-117.
    • J. L. Blevins, The Messianic Secret in Markan Research, 1901-1976 (Washington: University Press of America, 1981).
    • C. M. Tuckett, The Messianic Secret (London: SPCK, 1983).
    • Heikki Räisänen, The ‘Messianic Secret’ in Mark’s Gospel (trans. Christopher Tuckett; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1990).
    • David F. Watson, Honor among Christians: The Cultural Key to the Messianic Secret (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010).
    • Adam Winn, “Resisting Honor: The Markan Secrecy Motif and Roman Political Ideology” JBL 133 (2014): 583-601.

 

 

The Gospel of Matthew

Authorship: External Evidence

“Now this is reported by Papias about Mark, but about Matthew this was said, Now Matthew compiled the reports [or “oracles”] in a Hebrew manner of speech, but each interpreted them as he could” (Papias, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.16)

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Compare me to something and tell me what I am like.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘You are like a just messenger.’ Matthew said to him, ‘You are like a wise philosopher.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Teacher, my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like.'” (Gospel of Thomas 13)

“So Matthew, among the Hebrews in their own dialect, brought forth a writing of the gospel when Peter and Paul in Rome were evan­geli­zing and founding the church…” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1)

“Those who are called Ebionites [a Jewish Christian sect] agree that the world was made by God; but their opinions with respect to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They use the Gospel according to Matthew only, and repudiate the Apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the law.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.26.2)

“The Gospels containing the genealogies, he [Clement] says, were written first” [or] “He [Clement] said that those gospels with genealogies were openly published.” (Clement of Alexandria, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.6)

“… first, written was Matthew, once publican but later apostle of Jesus Christ, who published it for the believers from Judaism, composed in Hebrew letters…” (Origen of Alexandria, in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 6.25.4)

“Now in what they [the Ebionites] call a Gospel according to Matthew, though it is not the entire Gospel but is corrupt and mutilated—and they call this thing ‘Hebrew’!” (Epiphanius, Panarion 30.13.2)

“Matthew, also called Levi, apostle and aforetimes publican, composed a gospel of Christ at first published in Judea in Hebrew for the sake of those of the circumcision who believed, but this was afterwards translated into Greek, though by what author is uncertain. The Hebrew itself has been preserved until the present day in the library at Cæsarea which Pamphilus so diligently gathered. I have also had the opportunity of having the volume described to me by the Nazarenes of Berœa, a city of Syria, who use it.” (Jerome, On Illustrious Men 3)

Authorship: Internal Evidence

  • The Gospel is formally anonymous and opens up with a genealogy tracing Jesus’s descent back to Abraham and David (Matt 1:1-17).
  • The Greek text of the Gospel does not appear to be a translation from Aramaic or Hebrew. Its main narrative source, Mark’s Gospel, was a Greek text. Matthew may have either been indebted to a second Greek document in the Q sayings source or inherited the sayings that it shared in common with Luke from a mixture of oral and written sources. It seems to largely depend on written sources rather than on an eyewitness informant.
  • The name of the tax collector “Levi” in Mark 2:14 is changed to “Matthew” in Matthew 9:9 and “the tax collector” is appended to Matthew’s name in the list of twelve apostles in Matthew 10:2-4.

Date

  • Matthew’s Gospel has to postdate Mark’s Gospel since it was literarily dependent on the latter. There is also debate on whether the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are literarily independent of each other, with their common material derived from a shared source labelled “Q” (from Quelle or “source”), or whether Luke was dependent on the text of Matthew.
  • Matthew may have been aware of the fire that burned down the temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 22:7).
  • Scholars debate whether Papias of Hierapolis (ca. 110 CE) referred to Matthew’s Gospel, Q, another lost source text, or the so-called “Gospel according to the Hebrews” cited by various Patristic authorities.
  • There seems to be references to the text of Matthew in the Didache (8:2; 11:3; 15:3, 4) and the epistles of Ignatius of Antioch (Smyrn. 1.1; 6.1; Phil. 2.2; Eph. 5.2; 6.1; Rom. 9.3; Trall. 11.1; Poly. 1.2-3; 2.2).

Provenance

The external church tradition has Matthew’s Gospel originally written to the Jews in a Semitic language. It could have been written in Syria-Palestine, possibly in the city of Antioch because this was a popular center for Jewish/non-Jewish Christ followers and fits with the early reception of the Gospel there. The provenance is ultimately a mystery.

Key Themes

  • Matthew emphasizes that the saving mission of Jesus the Messiah is rooted in the antiquity of the Jewish Scriptures, from the opening genealogy tracing Jesus’s descent to Abraham and David (1:1-17) to the fulfillment of Scripture formulas (1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 26:54-56; 27:9). Key to Matthew’s interpretive method is “typology” in which Jesus recapitulates the experiences of past scriptural types (compare Matthew 1:22-23 to Isaiah 7:1-17; Matthew 2:6 to Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:15 to Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:17-18 to Jeremiah 31:15, and Matthew 2:23 to Isaiah 11:1/Zech 3:8 and 6:12 that contain the Hebrew word netser or “branch”).
  • Discipleship to Jesus is compatible with observance of the Torah and the righteousness of Jesus’s followers ought to exceed that of the Pharisees (Matt 5:17-20; 23:2-3). Matthew’s audience may have been Torah-observant Jewish Christ followers involved in a fierce debate with other Jewish groups such as the Pharisees (Matt 23:1-39) and engaged in a mission to the nations (27:18-20).
  • Matthew may combine Mark’s emphasis on Jesus’s vicarious death with the emphasis on Jesus as the authoritative teacher in other sources.
  • Matthew’s Gospel may have a higher Christology than its sources. Matthew cites the Septuagint on how a virgin will give birth to a child called Emmanuel or “God with us” (1:23), is present with the fellowship of believers who gather in his name (18:19), and has all authority in heaven and earth invested in him as well as advises his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (28:8-10). Matthew seems to explicitly identify the sage Jesus with Lady Wisdom (compare Matthew 11:28-30 with Sirach 51:25-26 and Matthew 24:34-35 with Luke 11:49).
  • Matthew seems to rehabilitate Peter and the disciples. Peter asks to walk on the water after seeing Jesus perform this feat, and although Jesus has to catch him when he begins to sink, the disciples respond by worshipping Jesus as the Son of God rather than being perplexed with hard hearts (Matt 14:26-32; cf. Mark 6:49-52). After Peter’s confession of Jesus’s messianic identity at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus gives him the keys of the kingdom and praises him (or his confession) as the foundational “rock” of the church (Matt 16:13-20; cf. Mark 8:27-31).

Case Study: Jesus as the New Moses

  • Jesus escapes the slaughter of the infants ordered by a tyrant (2:13-16).
  • Jesus spent his early years in Egypt (2:19-20).
  • Jesus performed sea and feeding miracles (8:23-28; 14:13-33) and the demonic “legion” drowned in the Sea like Pharaoh’s army (8:28-34).
  • Jesus acted as an interpreter of Torah in the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7). Jesus also offers his great commission to make disciples of all nations on a mountain (28:16-20).
  • The teachings of Jesus were organized into five thematic discourses that ended with a statement about “when Jesus had finished these words/parables/teachings” (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1).

Resources for Jude

I have listed below some resources online that will assist you in the academic study of Jude. Please, feel free to email me if you would like to recommend other resources that could be included on this list.

Jude

Reception

“Moreover, the epistle of Jude… [is] counted (or, used) in the catholic [Church]” (the Muratorian Canon)

“Jude, who wrote the Catholic Epistle, the brother of the sons of Joseph, and very religious, while knowing the near relationship of the Lord, yet did not say that he himself was His brother. But what said he? Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ,— of Him as Lord; but the brother of James. For this is true; he was His brother, (the son) of Joseph.” (Clement of Alexandria, in Cassiodorus, Adumbrationes in Epistulas Catholicas). See also

“To sum up briefly, he [Clement] has given in the Hypotyposes abridged accounts of all canonical Scripture, not omitting the disputed books, — I refer to Jude and the other Catholic epistles, and Barnabas and the so-called Apocalypse of Peter” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.1). 

“To these considerations is added the fact that Enoch possesses a testimony in the Apostle Jude” (Tertullian, On the Apparel of Women 1.3.1)

“And Jude, who wrote a letter of few lines, it is true, but filled with the healthful words of heavenly grace, said in the preface, “Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ and the brother of James.'” (Origen, Commentary on Matthew 10.17.40)

“Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.25.3)

“Jude the brother of James, left a short epistle which is reckoned among the seven catholic epistles, and because in it he quotes from the apocryphal book of Enoch it is rejected by many. Nevertheless by age and use it has gained authority and is reckoned among the Holy Scriptures” (Jerome, On Illustrious Men 4)

Authorship

The traditional position is that the author was Judah/Judas (Ioudas), the brother of Jesus and James. James “the Just” was a highly venerated leader in the Jesus movement and was remembered as the bishop of the Jerusalem Church (Acts 12:17; 15:13-21; 1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 2:9, 12; James 1:1; Josephus, Antiquities 20.9.1; Thomas logion 12; Hegesippus, in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 2.23.4-18), so he needed no further introduction in the letter.

  • Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:3; cf. Matthew 13:55)
  • Of the family of the Lord there were still living the grandchildren of Jude, who is said to have been the Lord’s brother according to the flesh. Information was given that they belonged to the family of David, and they were brought to the Emperor Domitian by the Evocatus. For Domitian feared the coming of Christ as Herod also had feared it. And he asked them if they were descendants of David, and they confessed that they were. Then he asked them how much property they had, or how much money they owned. And both of them answered that they had only nine thousand denarii, half of which belonged to each of them. And this property did not consist of silver, but of a piece of land which contained only thirty-nine acres, and from which they raised their taxes and supported themselves by their own labor. Then they showed their hands, exhibiting the hardness of their bodies and the callousness produced upon their hands by continuous toil as evidence of their own labor. And when they were asked concerning Christ and his kingdom, of what sort it was and where and when it was to appear, they answered that it was not a temporal nor an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly and angelic one, which would appear at the end of the world, when he should come in glory to judge the quick and the dead, and to give unto every one according to his works. Upon hearing this, Domitian did not pass judgment against them, but, despising them as of no account, he let them go, and by a decree put a stop to the persecution of the Church.” (Hegesippus, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.20.1-7)

While the authorial modesty (i.e. not exploiting his familial relationship with Jesus), the extensive midrash (i.e. interpretation) on passages from the Hebrew Bible, and the citation of Jewish apocalyptic writings supports the traditional authorship. Yet other scholars question whether a poor Galilean whose first language was Aramaic would have the fluency in Greek to compose this epistle (e.g. there is a rich vocabulary and 14 hapax legomena or words used only once in the New Testament in this relatively short epistle).

Other potential candidates for authorship are less persuasive:

  • Judas Didymus Thomas: didymus is the Greek word for “twin” and thōmas transliterates the Aramaic word te’oma’ for “twin,” Thomas was the authoritative apostle in the Thomasine literature consumed by some Christian communities (e.g. the Gospel of Thomas, the Acts of Thomas, the Book of Thomas the Contender), and some later Christian traditions interpreted the apostle’s nickname to mean that he was the twin brother of Jesus.
  • The apostle “Judas of James” (Ioudas Iakōbou) in Luke 6:16: the Greek likely meant Judas, the son of James.
  • The prophet Judas called Barsabbas, the emissary who delivered the letter outlining the Jerusalem decree in Acts 15:22-33.
  • An unknown Jude and James: how would the letter have attained an authoritative status if written by unknown figures?

 Date

  • Kevin Brown has a helpful blog post entitled “The Epistle of Jude in Early Christianity” summarizing the Patristic references and early manuscript evidence for the Epistle of Jude. See also Gerald L. Bray’s James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Volume XI).
  • There are extensive parallels between Jude 4 -19 and 2 Peter 2:1-3:3. While there is debate about whether the direction of influence ran from Jude to Second Peter or vice versa or whether both writings employed a common source, the majority of commentators agree that the author of Second Peter copied the epistle of Jude and dropped the explicit references to the apocryphal Jewish writings (Enoch, The Assumption of Moses). Mark Allan Power has posted the chart “Parallels between Jude and 2 Peter” for comparative purposes. Thus, Jude likely predates Second Peter and the composition of Second Peter establishes the terminus ad quem or the “limit to which” for dating the former epistle.
  • Although saint Jude is remembered as a martyr in the later hagiography about him, we do not have much secure historical information about the length of his life or the circumstances of his death. An epistle from Jude would have to be written before his death sometime in the first century, while an epistle written by another author defending the authoritative legacy of Jude could be written earlier or later.
  • Some scholars argue that the epistle is an exemplar of Jewish apocalyptic thought and dates early in the Jesus movement, while others argue that the reference to the faith delivered to the saints in verse 3, the prophecies of the collective “apostles” that are on par with other scriptural prophecies verses 17-18, and the trinitarian language in verses 20-21 reflect the context of “early Catholicism.” However, Paul also speak about the “gospel” that he shared with the Pillars in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:6-10) and Jude does not feature any discussion of ecclesiastical offices.
  • Some scholars have associated the opponents of the letter writer with “Gnosticism,” but there are no polemics against the belief in an inferior creator deity, the deprecation of the physical creation, or the role of esoteric knowledge in salvation.

Genre

  • An epistle with an opening salutation (sender, recipients, greetings), body of the letter (scriptural interpretation, exhortations), and postscript (formal doxology). The epistle contains a sermon that may not have been able to be delivered in person.
  • Audience: unspecified. There may be clues to the audience in the esteem for one of Jesus’s brothers, the Jewish modes of interpretation of the Hebrew Bible and the apocryphal texts, and the condemnation of antinomian teachers living among the audience.

Themes

  • The author of the epistle is concerned that false teachers have infiltrated the ranks of his Christ-following audience, participating in their “love feasts” (1:12), and urges them not to fall for their erroneous beliefs and practices. There is debate over whether the description of the opponents’ morally libertine behavior reflects their actual practices or reflects stock ancient polemic leveled at others.
  • The author compares the false teachers to past “types” who were condemned in the Scriptures; These types also serve as a warning of the coming apostasy immediately before the eschatological consummation of history.

 

Resources for Second Peter

I have listed below some resources online that will assist you in the academic study of First Peter. Please, feel free to email me if you would like to recommend other resources that could be included on this list.

 

Second Peter

Reception:

“Even Peter cries out with trumpets in two of his epistles” (Origen, Homily on Joshua 7.1)

“And Peter… has left one acknowledged epistle; perhaps also a second, but this is doubtful” (Origen, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.25.8)

“But we have learned that his extant second Epistle [of Peter] does not belong to the canon;  yet, as it has appeared profitable to many, it has been used with the other Scriptures. The so-called Acts of Peter, however, and the Gospel which bears his name, and the Preaching and the Apocalypse, as they are called, we know have not been universally accepted, because no ecclesiastical writer, ancient or modern, has made use of testimonies drawn from them.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.3.1-2)

“Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter  and those that are called the second and third of John, whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name. Among the rejected writings must be reckoned… the Apocalypse of Peter” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.25.3-4)

“He [Peter] wrote two epistles which are called Catholic, the second of which, on account of its difference from the first in style, is considered by many not to be by him… On the other hand, the books, of which one is entitled his Acts, another his Gospel, a third his Preaching, a fourth his Revelation, a fifth his Judgment are rejected” (Jerome, On Illustrious Men 1)

Patristic exegesis of the text of 2 Peter can be found in Gerald L. Bray’s James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Volume XI) and in online catenas here and here.

Author: Peter or a later follower writing in his name

  • “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). The use of the Semitic “Simeon” is paralleled in Acts 15:14 where it is places on the lips of Jesus’ brother and the Jerusalem leader James.
  • 2 Peter faces the same questions about whether the author’s facility in Greek and rhetorical skill matches the Galilean preacher Cephas. Further, the grandiose “Asiatic” Greek style and the allusions to Old Testament narratives rather than direct citations is quite different from the style of f 1 Peter. The Church Fathers recognized the different style of the two epistles, leading to debates over the apostolic authorship and canonicity of 2 Peter.
  • 2 Peter 1:12-15 has elements that characterize other fictional “testaments” or farewell speeches including the protagonist’s predictions of his/her death and of what the future holds along with other ethical exhortations to the survivors (cf. Richard Bauckham). For example, check out The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs.

Date: between 64-150 CE based on scholarly decisions on these points.

  • In 2 Peter 1:14-15, the author is aware that he was about to lay aside the tent of his body and wants to prepare the readers for his exodos or “departure” (cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1 where this euphemism is used for Peter’s death)This could either be read as a prediction from the historical Peter or an example of a fictional testament.
  • There seems to be a tense shift that indicates that Peter’s future predictions about false teachers are actually a present reality for the readers of this letter.
  • The reference to the passing of the “fathers” (2 Peter 3:4) has been interpreted either as the past Christian generation or as the Patriarchs in Genesis.
  • 2 Peter 2:1-22 extensively parallels Jude 3-19 in wording and order, though it adds a few examples (Noah, Lot) and drops others (1 Enoch, Assumption of Moses). While there is debate about whether the author of Second Peter copied the text of Jude or vice versa or whether both writings employed a common source, the majority of commentators agree that it was the epistle of Jude that was almost totally incorporated into the later epistle of 2 Peter. Mark Allan Power has posted the chart “Parallels between Jude and 2 Peter” for comparative purposes.
  • 2 Peter 3:1 seems to be a reference to 1 Peter, unless the author was referring to some other lost letter, and thus postdates 1 Peter.
  • Certain doubters criticized the belief about Christ’s imminent parousia or “coming” (3:4) and the readers were encouraged to maintain their future eschatological expectations. It may be in the second or third generation that Christians really began to struggle with the delay of Christ’s return and had to be reminded that it will happen on God’s own timing (i.e. a day for the Lord is like a thousand years in 3:8).
  • 2 Peter 3:15-16 appears to refer to a collection of Pauline Epistles that are placed on par with the other Jewish “Scriptures.”
  • 2 Peter may have access to Matthew’s Gospel (cf. 2 Peter 1:17-18; 2:20), while the references or allusions to the other New Testament Gospels are debatable.
  • Origen of Alexandria (ca. 185-254 CE) offers the earliest explicit reference to 2 Peter; whether there are earlier references or allusions to the epistle (e.g. in the Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyon, Clement of Alexandria) is a debatable matter. Most, but not all, scholars judge the Apocalypse of Peter and the Acts of Peter to exhibit literary dependence on 2 Peter.

Audience:

  • Uncertain. This “second letter” seems familiar with 1 Peter, unless this is a reference to an unknown writing in Peter’s name (cf. 2 Pet 3:1), and may imply that the audience is the same as the one in 1 Peter 1:1 (i.e. Christ followers in Asia Minor).

Purpose:

  • The text wishes to defend the apostolically “Petrine” witness that Jesus will return against antinomian “scoffers” who deny that Christ will return in the final judgment and allegedly use this as an excuse for immoral living.
  • The text combines Jewish apocalyptic with a Hellenistic ethos from its list of virtues that enable the reader to take on the “divine nature” or immortality (2 Peter 1:3-11) to its possible contacts with Epicurean philosophy (cf. Jerome H. Neyrey).

 

Resources for First Peter

I have listed below some resources online that will assist you in the academic study of First Peter. Please, feel free to email me if you would like to recommend other resources that could be included on this list.