Biblical studies: July 2006 Archives

Mark Roberts gives an argument that hadn't occurred to me. Some people doubt the traditional authorship of the gospels. One thing that's strange about that view is that we have no explanation of why someone would choose the minor characters of John Mark and Luke, even if they did have some connection with Peter and Paul. Wouldn't it make more sense to choose someone who had actually met Jesus to serve as the invented author of gospels that are pretty much accounts of Jesus' life? If you're going to be inventing the authorship of the book we now call Mark, and you're going to say that the author who wrote it was Mark, who got his information from Peter, why not just say that it came from Peter? There was no Gospel of Peter at the time, so it wasn't as if the name was taken? Even if it made sense to choose a companion of someone who knew Jesus, it would be silly to choose a companion of someone who as far as we know didn't. That makes the choice of Luke extremely strange.

What Mark then goes on to argue is that this makes it far more likely than otherwise that the attributions to Matthew and John are accurate. Even if it seems really silly to question the tradition on Mark and Luke, it doesn't automatically follow that the tradition on Matthew and John is inaccurate. But it is the same tradition. These listings appear together generally, all around the same time, and we shouldn't expect it to be right on two of the four gospels but drastically wrong on the other two. That does increase the plausibility factor for Matthew and John a little.

Now I don't think much stands of falls on this issue. The only gospel of the four that makes any claim relevant to its authorship is John, and that's not exactly unambiguous (though I do think the most plausible expanation is that John is its author). But if we found out for sure that all four gospels were written by people we've never heard of, it wouldn't threaten conservative views on scripture's authority. It's just that this is a real difficulty for those who want to suspect that the tradition is unreliable. This is at least one reason for thinking of it as more reliable than many scholars, even some evangelicals, are willing to admit.

A common urban legend in evangelical circles (and probably elsewhere too) is that 'ekklesia' in the New Testament (the word usually translated as "church") means "called out ones". This is simply false. It means "assembly" or "congregation". Its etymology derives from the sense that you can call together or call forth a group of people to gather for a purpose, but its meaning in the time of the Hellenistic period, when the NT was written, is simply a group of people gathered together. The literal translation should be "gathering" rather than "called out ones". See Jollyblogger's recent post on this for more information, with some careful nuance about various ways this etymological fallacy can occur. Note carefully his point that this has some relevance to George Barna's "assembly that never assembles" movement. He also makes several other nice little points in the process.

This is part of a larger project reviewing commentaries on each book of the Bible. Follow the links from that post for more information on the series, including explanations of what I mean by some of the terms and abbreviations in this post. You can see my annotated Amazon Listmania! list of Leviticus commentaries if you want a quick overview of what I think are the most important commentaries (or at least what I thought when I made the list) before looking more deeply at this more detailed review.

Gordon Wenham (NICOT, 1979) has my favorite commentary on this difficult book. Wenham is especially strong on understanding the theological significance of cleanness/uncleanness, holiness, and other ritual matters. It's not as detailed as some of the following commentaries, but I think it's the best starting place for a pastor or Bible teacher. He's got a good sense of the symbolism behind most of the laws that sound very strange to the modern ear and what they would have meant to Israel. He ends each section with some reflections on connecting the material he's just discussed with the New Testament. Especially helpful are his explanations of how the New Testament authors would consider the various festivals and sacrifices as fulfilled in Christ in different ways. I thoroughly enjoyed working through this commentary. Wenham spends little time speculating on source critical issues, due to the circularity of most such arguments and the wide divergence of source reconstructions among those who spend their time making what flimsy consensus there is even less of a consensus.

The seventh Biblical Studies Carnival is at Daily Hebrew. I hadn't sent anything to this particular carnival for several months, but I finally managed to have something that I thought was worth submitting, my post on Zadok and Eleazar.

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