Did the disciples write it or not? (edited with more thoughts)
|I've been a follower of Jesus for nearly 30 years and a pastor for nearly 10. Yet I wonder about what the church teaches sometimes. Here is my opinion on why very few of the books of the New Testament were actually written by whom we are taught.
1 Being able to read and write 2000 years ago was for the privileged. Only about 5% of all people in the world could read and write enough to create a letter or narrative that we find in the Bible. About 20% could write their names and the other 75% could do nothing. What would make us think that the disciples would have learned to read or write? They thought that Jesus was coming back very, very soon. What would even make us think that they would have known someone who could teach them? The most educated of them would have been Matthew/Levi who would have been able to write names and count money. I doubt much more. Even Dr. Luke would have very little reason to write. It isn't like they wrote prescriptions. Paul is the only one who would have had the opportunity to learn to read and write and most likely in his position he would have been able to.
2) The earliest manuscripts are written in Greek. At best the disciples knew Aramaic and maybe some local Hebrew. It is very doubtful they would have learned Greek. Who would they have known that would taught them? Paul, growing up in Tarsus probably grew up speaking Greek.
3) The book of Acts 4:13 even states that John and Peter were unschooled or illiterate men. How could they have written 7 books or letters? Also, if they were unschooled men how likely would it be for others in their group of friends to be schooled?
4) Do I need to talk about James and Jude? These two are supposed to be brothers of Jesus. Probably carpenters, like their father Joseph. Again they would have been common laborers. They would not have had access to being taught how to read and write. Maybe Martin Luther would have done us a favor if he got his way and the book of James was cast out of the Bible. Jude only describes himself as the "brother of James". Two very common names. How do we know that these are the brothers of Jesus? James describes himself as "a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ." NOT the brother of Jesus. He was simply a follower of Jesus.
In the book of James, there is no mention Israel, or any example of the Old Testament law. One would think that growing up with all these traditions James would use them to prove his points, but he doesn't. He does, however talk about several of the patriarchs.
Jude deals with a split among the believers. It is between what we call Gnosticism and what became the early orthodox church. If we are to assume that the brother of Jesus wrote this then we must also assume that Gnosticism started almost from the beginning.
5) Now on to Paul. The writer of 2 Thessalonians 2:2 tells us that their are "letters supposed to have come from us". How do we know that Paul wrote all or even any of those that claim to have come from him. Scholars do not debate that the "Acts of Paul and Thecla" or the "Apocalypse of Paul" (not in the Bible) were forged but what about the letters in the Bible? Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians are very Pro-women and yet Ephesians, Timothy and Titus tell women to be subservient. Romans chapter 16 names many women and even the first 2 are women and one is placed in front of the husband (Pricilla and Aquila). So was Paul a flip flopper or did different people write these books? Also, the Pastoral letters of "Paul" (1 & 2 Timothy & Titus) deal with a lot of the church leadership which historically was not in place during his lifetime. The creation of deacons, presbyters, and bishops several decades after Paul’s death. Furthermore, when Paul addresses the problems in Corinthians, he does not go to the deacons or leaders of the church but to the congregation. Why? Probably because there were no deacons or leaders. The leader of the church was supposed to be the Holy Spirit. Finally, the Pastoral letters contain over 300 words that do not occur in any of the other writings attributed to Paul. That simple fact should make you think. No matter how smart we are, we all have a distinct vocabulary that does not vary much.
Many scholars believe that "Paul" wrote between 5 & 7 of the New Testament based on style, wording, and context. There aren't many, outside the church, that believe that he wrote Titus, 1 Timothy, or 2 Timothy. There is some debate over Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and Hebrews, but all seem to agree that he did write, Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians and 1 Thessalonians.
6) How about John? The only book of the 5 that are attributed to John, that mention an author is Revelation. However he only identifies himself as "his servant John." (1:1) Again John is a very common name. Revelation has a good chance of being written after all the disciples were dead and is hardly a book of love like the Gospel and letters of John. Since the other books say nothing or call themselves simply "the elder". There is no way of really knowing who wrote them.
7) What about the idea that the disciples had scribes write the letters or books for them. 1 Peter does suggest that, but 2 Peter 3:1 suggests that Peter is the author of both or at least that there was another writing. However, it does not mention that Silvanus or anyone else wrote it for Peter, suggesting that the author of 2 Peter did not write 1 Peter. The book of 1st Peter never does mention whom it is from.
8) Certainly Matthew 9:9 & 10 indicate that it is not Matthew writing unless he talks about himself in the third person. John 21:24 is kind of confusing. It says, "This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down", making us think it is a disciple and then it says "We know that "his" testimony is true." This seems to refer to the "disciple", but who then wrote that they were the disciple? On the other hand many scholars I've read don't think the writer of the last chapter of John was the author of the rest of John. So who knows who wrote it.
9) There have been many other writings that have been attributed to the disciples and Paul and others associated with Jesus, that no one believes are authentic. These include the Acts of Paul and Thecla, the acts of Peter, Paul, John and Andrew. The Gospels according to Mary, James, Thomas, Judas and Phillip. The epistle's of 3rd Corinthians, Barnabas, and the apocalypse’s of Peter and Paul. I could go on and on about letters of Herod, Pilot, Mark and others associated with Jesus. Some which almost made it into the Bible. None that were written by whom they are attributed to. So why should we believe that the books in the Bible are written by whom they are said to have been written by?
Now, all this leaves us with a not so tiny question. The Bible is supposed to be infallible (without error). However if some of these books were not written by Paul, James, Peter or Jude then there would be an error or errors in the text. So does this make the Bible faulty, or just the claims of the church? Is it both or neither or something else?
What do you think?
If you thought this was interesting, please read some of my other articles about Christianity.
Some books you may want to check out are "Misquoting Jesus" by Bart Ehrman,
"The history and Theology of the New Testament Writings" by Udo Schnelle, "Who wrote the Gospels" by Randel McCraw Helms and "The Jesus Mysteries" by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy. I'm not asking you to believe everything they write. (I don't) Just keep an open mind about the possibilities.
Many have asked me to present both sides of this debate, but I find it hard to do when I see no facts to back up the church tradition that the apostles wrote the New Testament. If you believe that in who the church says wrote the New Testament, it becomes a matter of faith. Faith that even though the church at times became corrupt it still was able to tell us who really wrote the New Testament.
In the end, I don't think it matters who wrote it as long as we follow Jesus to the Father. Not because the church tells us to, but because Jesus asks us to.