WHERE WE ARE AT
In this series of posts I will defend the Survival Theory (TST) against the nine objections that Peter Kreeft puts forward in Chapter 8 of Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA). Kreeft’s nine objections to TST can also be found in an online article at the Strange Notions website.
Kreeft mistakenly takes aim at the Swoon Theory, but in Part 1 of this series, I argue that he must take on the more general skeptical theory that Jesus SURVIVED crucifixion, what I call the Survival Theory or TST.
In Part 2 of this series, I argued that seven out of Kreeft’s nine objections against TST are problematic because they are based on the questionable assumption that the Gospels are historically reliable (or that various passages in the Gospels are historically reliable).
Two of Kreeft’s objections, however, are NOT based on dubious Gospel passages: Objection #1 (about the deadliness of Roman crucifixion) and Objection #8 (the Where did Jesus Go? objection).
In Part 3 of this series, I argued that Objection #1 (about the deadliness of Roman crucifixion) FAILS, because one of the reasons given by Kreeft for this objection provides only weak support for his conclusion, so that there is still a good chance his conclusion is FALSE, even if we assume his premises to be true, and because he fails to provide ANY historical evidence to support the historical claims that this reason is based upon. The second reason Kreeft gives for this objection is either so strong that it begs the question at issue, or else it is a very strong historical generalization for which he provides ZERO historical evidence, an historical claim that seems likely to be FALSE.
I pointed out in Part 4 of this series that Peter Kreeft’s argument constituting Objection #8 against the Survival Theory (TST) is UNSOUND, because a key premise of that argument is clearly and obviously FALSE.
In Part 5 of this series I evaluated a revised and improved version of Kreeft’s argument constituting Objection #8, and concluded that a key premise of that improved argument was FALSE, making that version of Objection #8 a FAILURE as well.
FOUR OBJECTIONS BASED ON THE 4TH GOSPEL
The fact that Kreeft bases four of his objections against TST on dubious passages from the 4th Gospel in an indication of how weak his case is against TST. Objections #2, #3, #4, and #5 are all based on dubious passages from the 4th Gospel.
THE LEAST RELIABLE OF THE FOUR GOSPELS
The 4th Gospel is considered by Jesus and NT scholars to be significantly less historically reliable than the other (“synoptic”) gospels.
Marcus Borg is a leading Jesus scholar, and he writes this about the 4th Gospel:
Cumulatively these differences [in how the 4th Gospel portrays Jesus vs. how the other gospels portray Jesus] have persuaded scholars that a foundational choice must be made: The historical Jesus was either more like the Jesus of the synoptics [Matthew, Mark, and Luke] or more like the Jesus of John [the 4th Gospel]. The differences are so great that the synoptic and Johannine portraits of Jesus cannot be harmonized into a single whole. For mainline scholars the choice is the synoptics.
(“The Historical Study of Jesus and Christian Origins” by Marcus Borg, in Jesus at 2000, p. 132, edited by Marcus Borg)
E.P. Sanders is a leading NT scholar, and after pointing out a number of differences between the 4th Gospel and the synoptic gospels, he writes this about the 4th Gospel:
It is impossible to think that Jesus spent his short ministry teaching in two such completely different ways, conveying such different contents, and that there were simply two traditions, each going back to Jesus, one transmitting 50 per cent of what he said and another one the other 50 percent, with almost no overlaps. Consequently, for the last 150 or so years scholars have had to choose. They have almost unanimously, and I think entirely correctly, concluded that the teaching of the historical Jesus is to be sought in the synoptic gospels [Matthew, Mark, and Luke] and that John [the 4th Gospel] represents an advanced theological development, in which meditations on the person and work of Christ are presented in the first person, as if Jesus said them.
(The Historical Figure of Jesus, by E.P. Sanders, p. 70-71)
Dwight Moody Smith is a leading scholar on the 4th Gospel, and his view of the 4th Gospel agrees with that of Borg and Sanders:
Because the Synoptics [Matthew, Mark, and Luke] do not generally present Jesus as proclaiming himself, i.e. presenting Christological doctrine, and because the issues they portray him dealing with are largely indigenous to early first-century Palestinian Judaism, historians have rightly preferred their renditions particularly of Jesus’ teaching but also of his healing activity and his death [over those of the 4th Gospel].
(“John, the Gospel According to” by Dwight Moody Smith in The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, revised edition, edited by Paul Achtemeier, p.533-534)
THE AUTHOR OF THE 4TH GOSPEL
The 4th Gospel is also called “the Gospel of John” because it was traditionally believed to have been authored by John the son of Zebedee, one of Jesus’ inner circle of twelve disciples, sometimes referred to as “the twelve”. If the 4th Gospel were written by John the son of Zebedee, then it would contain a fair amount of eyewitness information about the words and actions of Jesus and events in the life of Jesus. But most NT scholars do not believe that this Gospel was written by John the son of Zebedee, nor by an eyewitness of the events it relates.
The traditional view of the authorship of the 4th Gospel is often based on the following reasoning:
1. John the son of Zebedee was the “Beloved Disciple”.
2. The “Beloved Disciple” was the author of the 4th Gospel.
3. John the son of Zebedee was the author of the 4th Gospel.
But premise (1) is probably FALSE, and premise (2) is probably FALSE, so it is very probable that this argument is UNSOUND.
It should be noted that doubt about premises (1) and (2) is NOT limited to just a few liberal or skeptical scholars, but is common enough to be promoted by an Evangelical NT scholar in a published scholarly commentary on the 4th Gospel:
On the basis of these texts [some relevant passages in the 4th Gospel] it is possible to make some tentative statements concerning the Beloved Disciple and his relation to the author of the Fourth Gospel.
(a) The Beloved Disciple is presented as a historical figure among the early disciples of Jesus and in the continuing Church. …
(b) The Beloved Disciple is not a member of the Twelve, nor a well-known person in the early church. …
(c) The Beloved Disciple is not the author of the [4th] Gospel–neither of chaps. 1-20 nor of chap. 21. …
(Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 36: John, 2nd edition, by George Beasley-Murray, p. lxxiii)
Since John the son of Zebedee was one of “the Twelve”, point (b) clearly implies that premise (1) is FALSE, and point (c) directly asserts that premise (2) is FALSE.
PREMISE (1) IS PROBABLY FALSE
There are a number of plausible alternative candidates (to John the son of Zebedee) who have been proposed as being the Beloved Disciple:
- Ben Witherington III, an evangelical NT scholar, argues that Lazarus was the Beloved Disciple. J.N. Sanders supports this view in “Who was the Disciple Whom Jesus loved?” in F. L. Cross, ed., Studies in the Fourth Gospel (1957), pp. 72-82. If Lazarus was the Beloved disciple, then premise (1) is FALSE.
- In his book The Beloved Disciple: Whose Witness Validates the Gospel of John?, Jesus scholar James Charlesworth, Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, argues that Jesus’ disciple Thomas was the Beloved Disciple. If Thomas was the Beloved Disciple, then premise (1) is FALSE.
- James D. Tabor, professor of Christian Origins and Ancient Judaism in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, argues that the Beloved Disciple is James, brother of Jesus. Robert H. Eisenman argued for this view in his book James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls (1997). If Jesus’ brother James was the Beloved Disciple, then premise (1) is FALSE.
- N.T. scholar and theologian Richard Bauckham, Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of St Andrews, Scotland (until 2007), has argued that John “the Elder” was the beloved disciple and was NOT John the son of Zebedee, in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. If John the Elder (as distinct from John the son of Zebedee) was the Beloved Disciple, then premise (1) is FALSE.
- Pierson Parker, who was professor of New Testament at the General Theological Seminary in the 1960s, argued that John Mark was the Beloved Disciple. If John Mark was the Beloved Disciple, then premise (1) is FALSE.
- Brian J. Capper, an N.T. scholar and historian of early Christianity who is currently Reader in Christian Origins at Canterbury Christ Church University, argues that the Beloved Disciple was an unknown priest in Jerusalem (see his article: ” ‘With the Oldest Monks…’ Light from Essene History on the Career of the Beloved Disciple? “, Journal of Theological Studies, 49, 1998, pp. 1–55). If an unknown priest in Jerusalem was the Beloved Disciple, then premise (1) is FALSE.
- Ramon K. Jusino argues that Mary Magdalene was the Beloved Disciple. If Mary Magdalene was the Beloved Disciple, then premise (1) is FALSE.
Each of the above theories has a significant chance of being true, so it is very likely that one of those alternative theories is correct:
(A) It is very likely that EITHER Lazarus OR Thomas OR Jesus’ brother James OR John the Elder (as distinct from John the son of Zebedee) OR John Mark OR an unknown priest in Jerusalem OR Mary Magdalene was the Beloved Disciple.
If (A) is true, then it follows that it is very likely that premise (1) is FALSE, because if ANY of these alternative theories is correct, then premise (1) is FALSE.
PREMISE (2) IS PROBABLY FALSE
The heavyweight Catholic NT scholar Raymond Brown is an expert on the 4th Gospel and he makes the following assertion in his one-volume reference work An Introduction to the New Testament:
As with the other Gospels it is doubted by most scholars that this Gospel [the 4th Gospel] was written by an eyewitness of the public ministry of Jesus. (p. 368-369)
If “most scholars” doubt that the 4th Gospel was written by “an eyewitness” of Jesus’ ministry, then most scholars doubt that the “Beloved Disciple” wrote the 4th Gospel. The “Beloved Disciple” is referenced only in the 4th Gospel, and this person is clearly described as being an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus. Thus, it is clear that in order for a person to BE the “Beloved Disciple” that person must be an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus. Any NT scholar who is familiar with the 4th Gospel knows that the denial that the 4th Gospel was written by an eyewitness of the public ministry of Jesus LOGICALLY IMPLIES the denial of the claim that the “Beloved Disciple” wrote the 4th Gospel.
Since “most scholars” doubt that the 4th Gospel was written by the “Beloved Disciple”, this supports the view that premise (2) is probably false.
Furthermore, we can expand upon Raymond Brown’s point here by noting that there are NT scholars from a variety of theological leanings that agree that the 4th Gospel was probably not written by the “Beloved Disciple”. Evangelical NT scholars, Moderate NT scholars, and Liberal NT scholars have taken this position on the 4th Gospel. I have already mentioned that the Evangelical NT scholar George Beasley-Murray takes the view that,
The Beloved Disciple is not the author of the [4th] Gospel–neither of chaps. 1-20 nor of chap. 21.(Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 36: John, 2nd edition, p. lxxiii)
InterVarsity Press is an Evangelical publisher, and they have published a scholarly series on the NT, including a volume called Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. That volume contains an article on the 4th Gospel by an Evangelical NT scholar named Marianne Meye Thompson. Here is what Thompson has to say about the author of the 4th Gospel:
A common understanding of the Beloved Disciple is that he is a person who heard and followed Jesus, although he was not one of the Twelve. That there clearly were such persons is obvious from the rest of the NT (Acts 1:21-26). He exercised a role of leadership in one group of early Christian congregations, probably gathering a circle of disciples around him. One (or more) of his disciples wrote the Gospel, but who this author is remains unknown to us. He preserved, shaped and interpreted the witness of his master, the Beloved Disciple, who had in turn interpreted the teaching of the Master himself.
(“John, Gospel of” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, p. 370)
So, we have here a second Evangelical NT scholar who is an expert on the 4th Gospel who rejects the claim that John the son of Zebedee was the Beloved Disciple and who also rejects the claim that the Beloved Disciple was the author of the 4th Gospel. Thompson holds the view that the Beloved Disciple was “not one of the Twelve” and thus was NOT John the son of Zebedee. Thompson also holds the view that the 4th Gospel was written by an unknown disciple(s) of the “Beloved Disciple,” and thus that it was NOT written by the “Beloved Disciple” himself.
Rodney Whitacre is another Evangelical scholar who clearly has doubts about the claim that the “Beloved Disciple” is the author of the 4th Gospel. He thinks that John the son of Zebedee was the “Beloved Disciple”, but he thinks that this Gospel may have been written by a disciple of John’s:
I will refer to John as the author not in the sense that he necessarily wrote it all as it stands, but in recognition that it is his witness that is presented here and that he at least caused it to be written (21:24).
(John, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: 4, p.21)
The word wrote [in John 21:24] does not necessarily mean John actually did the writing. Indeed, one tradition of the church names his scribe as Prochorus. Or perhaps there were a number of disciples involved. But wrote does mean that the Beloved Disciple is at least responsible for what was written…
(John, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: 4, p.500)
And there are, as one might expect, moderate and liberal NT scholars who do not believe that the Beloved Disciple is the author of the 4th Gospel. Raymond Brown is a liberal NT scholar who rejects the view that the Beloved Disciple is the author of the 4th Gospel. Another liberal NT scholar named Gail R. O’Day wrote the commentary on the 4th Gospel for the excellent multi-volume commentary set The New Interpreter’s Bible. Here is what O’Day has to say about the author of this Gospel:
The key to any discussion of authorship of the Gospel is the Gospel’s own evidence about the relationship between the beloved disciple and the author of the Fourth Gospel. The “disciple whom Jesus loved” first appears at 13:23 and plays a prominent role in the last chapters of the Gospel (19:26-27; 20:3-10; 21:1-14, 20-24; see also 19:35). It is difficult to imagine the author of the Gospel, who is so insistent on maintaining the anonymity of the disciple, would nonetheless refer to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” More important, there are two verses that explicitly distinguish the witness of the beloved disciple from the work of the author. Both 19:35 and 21:24 use a third-person pronoun to refer to the beloved disciple and his testimony and stress that this testimony is true. John 21:24 is especially important in this regard, “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true.” The author of the Gospel thus claims eyewitness authority for the accounts in the Gospel, but points to another, the beloved disciple, as the source of that witness. The beloved disciple, therefore, is not the author of the Gospel, but is presented as the authorizing voice of the traditions that are recounted in the Gospel.
(from “The Gospel of John” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX, p.500)
Charles Kingsley Barrett and Stephen S. Smalley are both NT scholars who have written commentaries on the 4th Gospel. Neither are Evangelical scholars, and neither are liberal scholars; their views of biblical inspiration are somewhere in between the view of Evangelical scholars and the skeptical view of liberal scholars, but they both reject the view that the “Beloved Disciple” is the author of the 4th Gospel. Both Barrett and Smalley think that John the son of Zebedee was the “Beloved Disciple”, but they both reject the view that the “Beloved Disciple” is the author of the 4th Gospel. Rather, they believe that a disciple of the “Beloved Disciple” was the author of this Gospel. For Barrett’s views see his scholarly commentary The Gospel According to St. John (2nd ed., pages 117-119, and 132-134). For Smalley’s views see “John, the Gospel According to” in The Oxford Companion to the Bible (p.375).
So, not only is it the case that MOST NT scholars who study the 4th Gospel doubt or reject the view that the “Beloved Disciple” wrote that Gospel, but that there are NT scholars from a wide range of theological viewpoints, including Evangelical NT scholars, who doubt or reject this view. So, premise (2) is probably FALSE.
Because premise (1) is probably FALSE, and premise (2) is also probably FALSE, it is very likely that the key argument for the claim that John the son of Zebedee wrote the 4th Gospel is an UNSOUND argument, an argument based on at least one FALSE premise.
THE EVIDENCE AGAINST JOHN THE SON OF ZEBEDEE BEING THE AUTHOR
Not only is the main argument for John the apostle being the author of the 4th Gospel probably an UNSOUND argument, but there are very good reasons for doubting or rejecting the conclusion that John was the author of this Gospel.
Here are a few reasons mentioned by the Evangelical NT scholar Ben Witherington III:
REASON 1: Zebedee Stories are Missing from the 4th Gospel
One of the things which is probably fatal to the theory that John son of Zebedee is the Beloved Disciple and also the author of this entire document is that none, and I do mean none, of the special Zebedee stories are included in the Fourth Gospel (e.g. the calling of the Zebedees by Jesus, their presence with Jesus in the house where Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter, the story of the Transfiguration, and also of the special request for special seats in Jesus’ kingdom when it comes, and we could go on). In view of the fact that this Gospel places some stress
on the role of eyewitness testimony (see especially Jn. 19-21) it is passing strange that these stories would be omitted if this Gospel was by John of Zebedee, or even if he was its primary source.
REASON 2: Almost None of the Special Galilean Miracle Stories Appear in the 4th Gospel
Also telling is the fact that this Gospel includes none or almost none of the special Galilean miracle stories found in the Synoptics with the exception of the feeding of the 5,000/walking on water tandem. The author of this document rather includes stories like the meeting with Nicodemus, the encounter with the Samaritan woman, the healing of the blind man, the healing of the cripple by the pool, and the raising of Lazarus and what all these events have in common is that none of them transpired in Galilee.
REASON 3: The Judean (Southern Palestine) Focus of the 4th Gospel
When we couple this with the fact that our author seems to have some detailed knowledge about the topography in and around Jerusalem and the historical particulars about the last week or so of Jesus’ life (e.g. compare the story of the anointing of Jesus by Mary of Bethany in John to the more generic Markan account), it is not a surprise that Lincoln [Andrew Lincoln is an Evangelical NT scholar who published a commentary on the 4th Gospel in 2005] and others reflect a growing trend recognizing the Judean provenance of this Gospel. Recognition of this provenance clears up various difficulties not the least of which is the lack of Galilean stories in general in this Gospel and more particularly the lack of exorcism tales, none of which, according to the Synoptics, are said to have occurred in Jerusalem or Judea.
John the son of Zebedee was a Galilean fisherman, so he worked and lived in Galilee, which is in northern Palestine, but Judea was a region in southern Palestine, and the city of Jerusalem is in that southern region.
REASON 4: No Interest in the Twelve as the Twelve or as Galileans
Furthermore, there is absolutely no emphasis or real interest in this Gospel in the Twelve as Twelve or as Galileans. If the author is a Judean follower of Jesus and is not one of the Twelve, and in turn is sticking to the things he knows personally or has heard directly from eyewitnesses this is understandable.
John the son of Zebedee was one of “the Twelve”, part of an inner circle of disciples that Jesus had gathered from Galilee. So, we would expect John to show interest in “the Twelve” as “the Twelve” and in “the Twelve” as Galileans.
REASON 5: The Beloved Disciple was Probably from Judea and NOT a Galilean
At John 13.23 we have the by now very familiar reference to a disciple whom Jesus loved … as reclining on the bosom of Jesus, by which is meant he is reclining on the same couch as Jesus. … It was the custom in this sort of dining that the host would recline with or next to the chief guest. The story as we have it told in Jn. 13 likely implies that the Beloved Disciple is the host then. But this in turn means he must have a house in the vicinity of Jerusalem. This in turn probably eliminates all the Galilean disciples.
In John 18:15-16, the “other disciple,” who many interpreters take to be the “Beloved Disciple”, helps Peter to gain entrance to the courtyard of the High Priest’s house (in Jerusalem):
… it was always problematic that the BD [Beloved Disciple] had ready access to the High Priest’s house. Who could he have been to have such access? Surely not a Galilean fisherman.
If the Beloved Disciple was the key source for many of the traditions used in the composition of the 4th Gospel, and if the Beloved Disciple was a Judean rather than a Galilean, then that would explain the Judean focus of the 4th Gospel, and why the special Galilean miracle stories are missing from the 4th Gospel, and why the Zebedee stories are missing, and why there is no interest in the Twelve as “the Twelve” or as Galileans. If the 4th Gospel reflects the experience and viewpoint of the Beloved Disciple (whether written by himself or by one of his own disciples), then the 4th Gospel was NOT written by John the apostle, who was a Galilean fisherman.
In his commentary The Gospel According to St. John (2nd ed.), C.K. Barrett also lists a number of implausible aspects of the view that John the apostle was the author of the 4th Gospel. Barrett argues that it is IMPROBABLE that John is the author of this Gospel:
The crux of the problem of the origin of John lies in (i) the moral certainty that the gospel was not written by John the son of Zebedee; (ii) the probability that the tradition…that the gospel was written by John the son of Zebedee…was not pure fiction, but had some foundation. (p.132)
In a footnote, Barrett justifies his confidence in rejecting the view that John the apostle wrote the 4th Gospel:
The apostle may have lived to a very great age; he may have seen fit to draw on other sources in addition to his own memory; he may have learnt to write Greek correctly; he may have learnt not only the language but the thought-forms of his new environment (in Ephesus, Antioch, or Alexandria); he may have pondered the words of Jesus so long that they took shape in a new idiom; he may have become such an obscure figure that for some time orthodox Christians took little or no notice of his work. These are all possible, but the balance of probability is against their having all actually happened. (from footnote #2, p. 132)
John the apostle was an uneducated Galilean fisherman. He, like Jesus and the other apostles, was probably illiterate. He, like Jesus and the other apostles, spoke Aramaic, and probably did not speak Greek. As Barrett says, it is possible that John the apostle wrote the 4th Gospel, but this theory involves MANY implausible assumptions, so the theory is probably FALSE.