Debate: External Evidence for Jesus – Part 3

Debate: External Evidence for Jesus – Part 3 July 9, 2016

Question 1: What are Hinman’s Central Claims about Polycarp?

As with his discussion about the external evidence of Papias,  Hinman begins his discussion of Polycarp with some strong claims:

III. Polycarp:
Knew the Apostle John and studied with him. He speaks of where the apostle sat when they studied together.

The first sentence is lacking a subject.  But the heading just above the sentence implies that the subject of the sentence is Polycarp.  The first sentence uses the pronoun “him”, and this pronoun clearly refers back to the phrase “the Apostle John”.  So the first sentence makes two strong claims:

A.  Polycarp knew the Apostle John.

B.  Polycarp studied with the Apostle John.

The subject of the second sentence of Hinman’s article is “He”,  and once again the heading over the first paragraph (as well as the content of the sentence) implies that the subject of this second sentence is Polycarp.  The phrase “the apostle” in the second sentence is a clear reference back to the fuller phrase “the Apostle John” in the first sentence.  The pronoun “they” in the second sentence presumably refers to the only two people that have been mentioned so far: Polycarp and the Apostle John.  Thus, the second sentence makes a third strong claim:

C. Polycarp speaks of where the Apostle John sat when Polycarp and the Apostle John studied together.

Most of my post here will be concerned with claims (A) and (B).

Claim (C) can be immediately dismissed, because Hinman provides ZERO evidence in support of this strong claim, which seems odd given that he makes the claim in the second sentence of the opening paragraph of his article about Polycarp.

Perhaps Hinman believes that he has provided evidence in support of (C), because in the quotation he provides in that first paragraph, we find the following words:

…I can even describe the place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit and discourse…his [i.e. Polycarp’s] general mode of life and personal appearance, together with the discourses which he [i.e. Polycarp] delivered to the people…  (emphasis added)

The quotation that Hinman provides in his first paragraph is from Eusebius, who is himself quoting from a letter written by Irenaeus to Florinus.  Given this context, it is clear that the pronoun “I” refers to the person who wrote this letter, namely to Irenaeus.  So, this quotation shows us that Irenaeus “speaks of where” Polycarp “sat when they [Irenaeus and Polycarp] studied together.”

It looks suspiciously like Hinman has misread the quotation that contains the key evidence for his claims.  Hinman appears to be confused about the reference of the pronoun “I” and seems to be mixing up the student/teacher relationship between Irenaeus and Polycarp with an alleged student/teacher relationship between Polycarp and John the Apostle.

Interestingly, this sort of misunderstanding and the confusion of people, names, and relationships that Hinman’s confusion illustrates  might well explain the very evidence that he provides in this key quotation.  Many scholars believe that Irenaeus could have misunderstood or misremembered his childhood experiences of Polycarp and became confused and mixed up people, names, and/or relationships, and thus failed to accurately characterize Polycarp (in the above quotation).  Hinman’s confusion illustrates why we should be cautious about accepting Irenaeus’ characterization of Polycarp.

You can find plenty of articles on Polycarp on the internet that agree with Hinman’s other strong claims about Polycarp, claim (A) and claim (B).  For example, one article that came up near the top of a Google search on “Polycarp” is an article on the “Christian History Institute” website:

https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/polycarp/

The article “#103: Polycarp’s Martyrdom” asserts the following as if it were an historical fact:

Polycarp was an old man, at least 86…, and probably the last surviving person to have known an apostle, having been a disciple of St. John.

However, it is NOT a fact that Polycarp was a disciple of John the Apostle (i.e. it is not a fact that Polycarp had “known an apostle” named John, that he had face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle).  The problem with this article, and many other similar articles, is that (despite the official-sounding name of the website “Christian History Institute”) this is simply religious propaganda masquerading as objective history.

Scholars who study the issue have significant doubts about whether Polycarp was a disciple of John the Apostle.  Just as in the second and third centuries,  Christians are still hard at work lying to, and deceiving, uncritical thinkers and true believers about the history of Christianity.  Facts don’t matter; truth doesn’t matter; scholarship and objectivity don’t matter: just say whatever it is that will strengthen the faith of Christian believers, and that will suffice to justify any lies or deceptions or misinformation that one wishes to promote.

Some websites avoid engaging in outright deception by using hedging phrases.  A good example of this is on the Christianity Today History website, which is one of the top sites that came up in my Google search on “Polycarp”:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/martyrs/polycarp.html

This article supports the claim that Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna, and that Polycarp “was personally discipled by the apostle John”, but it does so with the use of the hedge “Tradition has it that…”:

He [Polycarp] lived during the most formative era of the church, at the end of the age of the original apostles, when the church was making the critical transition to the second generation of believers. Tradition has it that he was personally discipled by the apostle John and that he was appointed as bishop of Smyrna (in modern Izmir in Turkey) by some of the original apostles. (emphasis added)

The use of this hedging phrase gives the author an escape hatch: “I was just describing the content of a tradition, not asserting that the tradition was true.”  But, an obviously important question is begged:  IS THIS TRADITION TRUE OR FALSE?  The author of the article never indicates whether these claims are true or false.  The author never indicates whether these claims are probable or improbable.  The author never discusses any evidence for or against these claims.

So, it appears that the writer of this “historical” article on Polycarp at the Christianity Today History website does not give a damn about whether these claims are true or false.  What kind of historian does not give a damn about the truth of such obviously significant claims?  I  know who does not give a damn about the truth of obviously significant historical claims: a worthless pseudo-historian who cares more about promoting Christian propaganda and pleasing the sheeple in the pews than about what actually happened in the past, that’s who!

It is possible that the author of that article on Polycarp did care about truth and objectivity to a degree, and did express some doubts about these claims in an earlier version of this article (e.g. “but this tradition is probably false, because….” ) but then the editors at Christianity Today objected and demanded that expressions of such doubts be removed from the article before it was published.  But if that were the case, the author is still to blame for caving in to pressure to conform his/her scholarly opinions to the goals of some Christian propagandists.  It would be better for the article on Polycarp not to be published, than to sacrifice one’s intellectual integrity and objectivity to make the article more pleasing to Christian propagandists in order that the article would be published.

Joe Hinman, of course, is not to blame for the stupidity, ignorance, bias, and dishonesty of numerous Christian psuedo-historians or of modern Christian propagandists, any more than I am to blame for the stupidity, ignorance, bias, and dishonesty of Atheist pseudo-historians or modern Atheist propagandists.  Hinman and I are only to blame for our own stupidity, ignorance, bias and dishonesty, not for that of others who happen to share a similar point of view about God or Jesus.  I’m simply pointing out that there is a whole lot of bullshit about Polycarp on the internet, and that some of this bullshit is presented as if it was scholarly historical writing, when it is simply religious propaganda: BUYER BEWARE.

 

Question 2: What is the Logic of Hinman’s Argument from Polycarp?

As with Hinman’s argument from Papias, my initial guess at the logic of his argument focuses on the idea of a chain of face-to-face relationships:

(1) Polycarp had personal, face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle.

(2) John the Apostle had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus of Nazareth.

THUS:

(3) Polycarp had personal, face-to-face conversations with someone who had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus of Nazareth.

(4) If Polycarp had personal, face-to-face conversations with someone who had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus of Nazareth, then Jesus of Nazareth was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.

THEREFORE:

(5) Jesus of Nazareth was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.

Premise (1) is highly questionable, as I will argue for most of the rest of this post.

But, as with my attempt to summarize Hinman’s argument about Papias, there is a premise in the above argument that clearly begs the question:  premise (2).   In order to determine that (2) is true, one must first determine that Jesus of Nazareth really existed, i.e.  that Jesus of Nazareth was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.  Thus, to assert that premise (2) is true involves ASSUMIING that the conclusion (5) is true, which begs the question at issue.

Because premise (2) so clearly begs the question, and because Hinman did not clearly and explicitly lay out this argument, I hesitate to attribute this obviously bad argument to Hinman.  Perhaps he had some other line of reasoning in mind,  some other bit of logic that connects the basic factual premise (1) to the conclusion (5) about Jesus.   The problem, therefore, with Hinman’s argument from Polycarp, is that his argument is incomplete.  There is a logical gap between his factual premise (1) and the implied conclusion (5).

I can provide a generic “warrant” premise to fill this logical gap, but Hinman needs to provide some line of reason or argument in support of the generic “warrant” premise:

(1) Polycarp had personal, face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle.

(W) IF Polycarp had personal, face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle, THEN it is probable that Jesus of Nazareth was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.

THEREFORE:

(5A) It is probable that Jesus of Nazareth was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.

I will focus my remaining objections on the factual premise (1),  but I also have serious doubts about the warrant premise (W).  Hinman has not provided any reason or argument to believe that (W) is true or correct, and the most obvious way to support (W) begs the question.  It is not clear to me that there is any good reason to accept (W).  Apart from a convincing reason to accept (W),  Hinman’s argument fails even if the basic factual premise (1) was proven to be true.

 

Question 3: Was Polycarp a Student of John the Apostle?

Hinman quotes from Eusebius, who quotes from the contents of a letter from Irenaeus to Florinas:

For, while I [Irenaeus] was yet a boy, I saw thee [Florinus] in Lower Asia with Polycarp, distinguishing thyself in the royal court, and endeavouring to gain his approbation. For I have a more vivid recollection of what occurred at that time than of recent events (inasmuch as the experiences of childhood, keeping pace with the growth of the soul, become incorporated with it); so that I can even describe the place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit and discourse— his going out, too, and his coming in—his general mode of life and personal appearance, together with the discourses which he delivered to the people; also how he would speak of his familiar intercourse with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord; and how he would call their words to remembrance. Whatsoever things he had heard from them respecting the Lord, both with regard to His miracles and His teaching, Polycarp having thus received [information] from the eye-witnesses of the Word of life, would recount them all in harmony with the Scriptures. These things, through, God’s mercy which was upon me, I then listened to attentively, and treasured them up not on paper, but in my heart; and I am continually, by God’s grace, revolving these things accurately in my mind. (AnteNicene Fathers, Volume 1, Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeusemphasis added)

Note that Irenaeus does not here speak of “John the Apostle”.  However, he does imply that Polycarp knew a person named “John” who had “seen the Lord”.  But many Christians claimed to have “seen the Lord” long after Jesus had been crucified.  So, this “John” could have been just a Christian believer who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus (perhaps in a vision, like Paul “the Apostle”).

The additional comments about Polycarp learning about the miracles and sayings of Jesus from “those who had seen the Lord” does, however, indicate that Irenaeus is talking about literally seeing a flesh-and-blood Jesus prior to the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus.  In that case, “John” could be the “John the Apostle”, but it is also possible that this “John” was some other follower of Jesus, outside of the inner circle of “the twelve” disciples of Jesus (perhaps the “beloved disciple” mentioned in the Fourth gospel).

Since “John the Apostle” was a central figure in the early church,  let’s grant the assumption that IF the above words are an accurate representation of the words of Irenaeus, then it is probable that Irenaeus intended to assert that Polycarp was a disciple of John the Apostle, and that this was intended to mean or imply that Polycarp had personal, face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle.

Granting this assumption, however, does not mean that it is probable that Polycarp did in fact have face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle, because Irenaeus might well have been mistaken (or possibly dishonest) about this matter.

Instead of turning to Christianity Today’s propaganda on Polycarp, let’s turn to a more scholarly and objective source: The Anchor Bible Dictionary (hereafter: ABD)one of the best Bible reference works in the English language.

In his argument based on Papias, Hinman quoted from an ABD article by William Schoedel, a scholar who specializes in the study of early Christianity.  In the article quoted by Hinman, Schoedel asserted that Eusebius was probably correct about the meaning of the preface of the book by Papias, namely that Papias was NOT an “eyewitness of the holy apostles”, and thus that Papias did not have face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle.

Hinman does not quote from Schoedel’s article relating to Polycarp, but if he had, he would have seen that Schoedel also supports my skeptical view about the claim that Polycarp had face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle:

In spite of all this [evidence like the letter from Irenaeus to Florinus], a link between Polycarp and John [the Apostle] is not assured.  Irenaeus was young when he heard Polycarp and may well have taken references to John the elder (Eus. Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3-7) as references to John the apostle.  Polycarp himself certainly makes no appeal to having known any of the disciples of the Lord, and he does not claim to have been appointed by one of them over the Church in Smyrna.  He does not even lay claim to the title of bishop….Yet even Ignatius makes no use of the idea of apostolic succession in this connection.  When he writes against Docetism on Polycarp’s behalf (Ign. Smyrn. 1-9), he never appeals to the special authority of John [the Apostle].  A link between Polycarp and John, then, seems about as unlikely as a link between Papias and John.  In any event, Irenaeus evidently remembered very little of what Polycarp may have said concerning his mentor John.  For it is significant that he presents the story of the encounter between the apostle and Cerinthus–a high point of his account of the bishop of Smyrna [i.e. Polycarp]–as derived from others. (ABD, “Polycarp (Epistle Of)” by William Schoedel, emphasis added)

Schoedel is a serious scholar who cares about the truth and who does not sugar-coat his findings to please Christian propagandists or the sheeple in the pews.  Schoedel is very much aware of the passages attributed to Irenaeus about Polycarp’s alleged relationship with the apostles, and with the apostle John in particular, but his considered and well-informed judgement is that it is UNLIKELY that Polycarp had personal, face-to-face contact with John the Apostle.

If you read the letters of Ignatius, you will see that he was obsessed with the importance of the role and authority of bishops in Christian churches.  Ignatius repeats over and over how Christians must respect and obey and follow the bishop of their local church. But when Ignatius writes to the church in Smyrna, he says nothing about their bishop (allegedly Polycarp) having been appointed by Apostles, or having personally known and conversed with various Apostles, or having been a student of John the Apostle.  Any one of those points would have helped Ignatius to convince the Christians at Smyrna to respect, obey, and follow Polycarp, but there is no mention of any direct relationship between Polycarp and any of the Apostles.  Similarly, Ignatius makes no mention of any such relationship with any of the Apostles in his letter addressed to Polycarp (which was also intended to be read by Christians who belonged to the Church in Smyrna).

There is only one document that exists that is believed to have been written by Polycarp: The Letter of Polycarp to Philippians.  In that letter, Polycarp makes no mention of having had been appointed bishop of Smyrna by some of the Apostles, there is no mention of his having personally known and conversed with various apostles, and he does not mention having been a disciple of John the Apostle.  Any one of these points would have helped Polycarp to persuade the believers in Philippi to take his moral guidance and his theological teachings seriously.

Although mentioning that Polycarp had been appointed by Apostles, had personally known and conversed with some of the Apostles, or had been a student who had face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle, would have clearly provided support and authority to Polycarp and his words, neither Ignatius nor Polycarp mention any such relationship between Polycarp and the Apostles.

This casts doubt on Irenaeus’ claims that Polycarp was a student of John the Apostle, and that Polycarp had face-to-face conversations with various other Apostles, and “how he would speak of his familiar intercourse with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord; and how he would call their words to remembrance.”  In the one letter we have from Polycarp, where speaking about such relationships and conversations with John the Apostle and other Apostles would have clearly helped him to persuade his audience to take his guidance and teachings seriously, Polycarp says nothing about any such relationships and conversations.

 

Question 4: Was John the Apostle a Teacher of Polycarp?

This is basically the same question as the previous question: “Was Polycarp a student of John the Apostle?”  The difference is that Question 4 is focused primarily on John the Apostle rather than on Polycarp.   William Schoedel is an expert on Early Christianity, especially on Papias, Ignatius, and Polycarp.  But other scholars have expertise on John the Apostle, so we can flip the question around and see what scholars who focus on John the Apostle have to say about the alleged relationship between Polycarp and John the Apostle.

The Encyclopædia Britannica has an article called “Saint John the Apostle“.  The article was written by Henry Chadwick, who was “Regius Professor Emeritus of Divinity, University of Cambridge; Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, 1987–93. Author of The Early Church and others.”  Here is what Wikipedia has to say about this scholar:

Henry Chadwick, … (23 June 1920 – 17 June 2008) was a British academic and Church of England priest. A former Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford – and as such, head of Christ Church, Oxford – he also served as Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, becoming the first person in four centuries to have headed a college at both universities.

A leading historian of the early church, Chadwick was appointed Regius Professor at both the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. (emphasis added)

Here is an important conclusion that Henry Chadwick asserts in his article about John the Apostle:

John’s subsequent history is obscure and passes into the uncertain mists of legend. (emphasis added)

According to Chadwick, at a certain point in time, historical data on the life and activities of John the Apostle become “obscure” and any further events in the life of John the Apostle beyond that point in time pass “into the uncertain mists of legend.”  In other words, up to a certain point in time, there is sufficient historical data to use as the basis for probable claims about the activities of John the Apostle, and after that point in time, there is NOT sufficient historical data to use as the basis for probable claims about the activities of John the Apostle.

But what IS that point in time, when, according to Chadwick, the life and activities of John the Apostle pass “into the uncertain mists of legend”?  The word “subsequent” in the above sentence, refers to an event described in the previous paragraph of the article:

John’s authoritative position in the church after the Resurrection is shown by his visit with Peter to Samaria to lay hands on the new converts there.  It is to Peter, James (not the brother of John but “the brother of Jesus”), and John [the Apostle] that Paul successfully submitted his Gospel for recognition. What position John held in the controversy concerning the admission of the Gentiles to the church is not known; the evidence is insufficient for a theory that the Johannine school was anti-Pauline—i.e., opposed to granting Gentiles membership in the church. (emphasis added)

This event when a decision was made by the leadership of the Church in Jerusalem to grant Gentiles membership in the church is known as the “Apostolic Council” or the “Jerusalem Council” (see Acts 15:4-29).  This event is usually dated to 49 CE.  Thus, Chadwick’s Historical Principle (hereafter: CHP) about the history of John the Apostle can be re-stated as follows:

(CHP) Claims about any activities of the Apostle John that allegedly occurred after 49 CE cannot be determined to be probable based on the availavble historical evidence.

But, according to Hinman,  Polycarp was born about 69 CE.  So, if Polycarp was a student of John the Apostle, that means that the alleged face-to-face conversations between Polycarp and John the Apostle would have occurred in the 80s or 90s, when Polycarp was a teenager or a young man and John the Apostle was a very old man.  This alleged activity of John the Apostle is well beyond the year 49 CE, and thus this alleged activity of John the Apostle has, according to Chadwick, passed “into the uncertain mists of legend”.  In other words, the claim that John the Apostle engaged in teaching Polycarp is a claim that cannot be determined to be probable based on the available historical evidence.

Chadwick is not the only scholar who accepts (CHP).  John Meier is a leading Jesus scholar, and he has carefully investigated the history of Jesus’ disciples.  In Volume III of Meier’s multi-volume work about the historical Jesus (A Marginal Jew), Meier discusses the various people and groups with which the historical Jesus allegedly interacted.  One chapter is on “The Disciples”; another chapter is on “The Existence and Nature of the Twelve”, and another chapter is on “The Individual Members of the Twelve” (John the Apostle was one of the members of the Twelve).

Here is the skeptical conclusion that Meier reaches about our knowledge of the Apostle John:

In fact, all we can say of John the son of Zebedee after Easter is that he remained in Jerusalem in the company of the Twelve in the early days of the church (Acts 1:13),  was active with Peter in Jerusalem as well as in Samaria (Acts 3:1,3-4,11; 4:13,19; 8:14,17) and that, along with James (the brother of Jesus) and Peter he was considered a leader (“pillar”) of the Jerusalem community as late as the “Jerusalem Council” held ca. A.D. 49 (Gal. 2:9).  After that, we must admit total ignorance of John’s life and fate.  (A Marginal Jew, Vol. III, p.219-220, emphasis added)

Henry Chadwick and John Meier both agree with (CHP).  Both are highly-respected N.T. scholars and historians, and both have carefully studied the historical data concerning the life and activities of John the Apostle.

Because Hinman’s claim (A), and his claim (B),  and premise (1) of his argument imply claims about alleged activities of John the Apostle which occured (if they did occur) long after 49 CE,  Chadwick and Meier would clearly reject these claims by Hinman as not capable of being shown to be probable based on the available historical evidence that we have about John the Apostle.

There is another problem that puts the final nail in the coffin of claims (A), (B), and premise (1).  In all likelihood, John the Apostle would have died before Polycarp became old enough to become a disciple of John the Apostle.

Hinman suggests that Polycarp was born about 69 CE.  We don’t know when John the Apostle was born, but John was probably in his twenties when he was a disciple of Jesus,  so if John was in his mid-twenties when Jesus was crucified (around 30 CE), then when Polycarp turned 16, the year would be 85 CE, and John the Apostle would have been about 80 years old.  A scenario in which Polycarp became a student of John the Aposlte in the 80s is not impossible, but it is very unlikely, given that people usually did not live very long back in the first century.

The skeptical historian Richard Carrier writes about this issue in his book On the Historicity of Jesus (hereafter: HOJ):

Even in the best of times, no more than one in three people made it to 55 or above.  Yet if anyone started in the apostolate at, for example, age 15 in the year 30, they would be 55 in the year 70.  And it is far more likely the first apostles were in their 20s or 30s, not teenagers, which would make them around 65 or 75 in the year 70.  Teenagers would have incredible difficulty earning the respect or deference of those in their 20s or 30s, much less of elder folk, and therefore would be ineffective as evangelists.  So it is very unlikely the first apostles were of teen age.  Indeed, such a thing would be so remarkable it could not have failed to have been remarked upon in the sources we have.  Yet only one in five teenagers would reach age 65, and barely one in twenty would make it to age 75–and that’s without wars, famines, and persecutions reducing their survival rate.  Factor those in, and we can expect none of the original ‘twelve’…will have made it much beyond the year 75 (to which age the chances of a 25-year old surviving are one in eight in normal conditions).  Combine these prior expectations with the lack of any reliable evidence of anyone so surviving, and the silence of the evidence against it…, and we must conclude that in all probability all the original leaders were by then dead.  (HOJ, p.151-152)

NOTE: Carrier’s statistical remarks above are based on “the data provided in T.G. Parkin, Demography and Roman Society…Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992…You can see some calculations for survival odds at http://www.richardcarrierinfo/lifetbl.html…” (footnote #207).

If “only one in five teenagers would reach age 65”, then even if John the Apostle was only 15 years old when Jesus was crucified (about 30 CE), then John would have beeen about 65 years old in the year 80 CE and Polycarp would be only about 11 years old that year.  Although this is a possible scenario (Polycarp becoming a disciple of John the Apostle in the 80s) the probability of this scenario is significantly less than .2  (less than one chance in five), because (a) John the Apostle was probably in his twenties or thirties when Jesus was crucified (not a teenager), and (b) this survival rate does not factor in wars, famines, and persecutions, which did happen in the first century.  At best the probability of John the Apostle teaching Polycarp in the 80s or 90s is .1  or one chance in ten, based on survival rates.

Given that we have insufficient reliable historical evidence to support a claim that John the Apostle lived beyond the year 50 CE, let alone that he survived beyond the year 80 CE, and given that the rate of survival makes it IMPROBABLE that someone who was a teenager or in his twenties in the year 30 CE would have survived beyond the year 80 CE, we must conclude that in all probability John the Apostle died before he had an opportunity to become a teacher of Polycarp.

 

Q5: How Reliable is Irenaeus Concerning John the Apostle?

In the above discussion, we saw that three scholars with expertise on this issue (William Schoedel, Henry Chadwick, and John Meier) clearly do NOT view Irenaeus’s assertion that John the Apostle was the teacher of Polycarp as constituting significant evidence for that claim.  Thus, these well-informed scholars do NOT view Irenaeus as a reliable source of information about John the Apostle.

According to Irenaeus, the following are true claims about John the Apostle:

  1. John the Apostle was the “beloved disciple”. (Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 1, Section 1)
  2. John the Apostle wrote the Gospel of John(Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 1, Section 1)
  3. John the Apostle wrote the 1st Epistle of John. (Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 16, Section 5)
  4. John the Apostle wrote the 2nd Epistle of John. (Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 16, Section 3)
  5. John the Apostle wrote Revelation. (Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 20, Section 11)

Each one of these claims is probably false, so it is very probable that at least three of these claims are false.  Thus, it is very probable that Irenaeus asserted at least three false claims about John the Apostle.  But if Irenaeus asserted at least three false claims about John the Apostle, then Irenaeus is an unreliable source of information about John the Apostle.

In the ABD article on John the Apostle, Raymond Collins makes the following relevant comment:

The [ecclesiastical] tradition maintained that John was once banished to the island of Patmos, an island not far off the coast of Asia Minor relatively near Ephesus, but that he later returned to Ephesus where he lived until the time of Trajan.  Since the [ecclesiastical] tradition ascribed all five books in the NT’s Johannine corpus (John, 1-2-3 John, Revelation) to John, the Patmos exile allowed for John’s presumed composition of Revelation (Rev. 1.9).  Historical criticism has, however, convincingly shown that all five works could not have been written by the same author and that it is highly unlikely that John, the son of Zebedee, was the author of any one of them.  (ABD, “JOHN (DISCIPLE)”, see section E. Ecclesiastical Tradition, emphasis added)

Just as scholars have generally set aside “Ecclesiastical Tradition” about the authorship of the Johannine corpus (which includes Irenaeus’s assertions about the authorship of those writings), so we should set aside the assertion of Irenaeus that John the Apostle was the teacher of Polycarp.

Given all of the above reasons in this post to doubt the truth of premise (1) of Hinman’s argument, and given that Irenaeus is an unreliable source of information about John the Apostle, we ought to reject premise (1) on the grounds that it is probably false.

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