In this post, I want to highlight another two issues that Strobel's presentation on pp 33-34 raises:
1) Dr. Craig Blomberg states that the fact that the gospels were named after lesser figures as opposed to the 'superstars' that the apocryphal gospels are named after, adds to the credibility that the canonical gospels were authored by those named (thus bolstering their authenticity).
2) On p34, Dr. Blomberg states that John's gospel was 'edited later, by someone closely associated with John'.
1) Using the naming of the gospels to decide authenticity.
Comparing the naming of the canonical gospels to the naming of the apocryphal gospels, claiming (by inference) that the canonical gospels were 'authentic' because they were named after lesser figures, and then, by comparison, making the apocryphal gospels to be inauthentic, is not quite the full picture.
To burst the Fundamentalist bubble, it is simply not the case that there are only four gospels. There are approximately forty gospels that were written by Christians in the first three centuries of Christianity's existence, ranging from the Gnostic Gospels (Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Marcion, Gospel of Mary, etc.), the Jewish-Christian Gospels (Gospel of the Hebrews, Gospel of the Nazarenes, etc.), Infancy Gospels (Protoevangelium of James, History of Joseph The Carpenter, etc.), amongst many others.
However it was Irenaus, Bishop of Lugdunum (now Lyon) who declared that:
"But it is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the church has been scattered throughout the world, and since the 'pillar and ground' of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life, it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing incorruption on every side, and vivifying human afresh. From this fact, it is evident that the Logos, the fashioner demiourgos of all, he that sits on the cherubim and holds all things together, when he was manifested to humanity, gave us the gospel under four forms but bound together by one spirit."
- Against Heresies 3.11.8
Read: because everything in nature pointed to the number 4, there should only be four gospels - no more and no less.
Irenaus here confirms the belief that there were four zones in the world in which people lived. This was a classic belief of Flat Earth-ism at the time.
A guy who believed the earth was flat somehow became in charge of deciding what you should be reading about Jesus.
But this doesn't answer the question - how did it come to be that Matthew, Mark, Luke & John's gospels were chosen? The long answer, I don't know, but the short answer is church politics.
At the time that Irenaus was busy pushing his version of Christianity, there was another guy, Marcion of Sinope (85 - 160 CE) who had a version of Christianity that followed a Gnostic theology which was also popular - in short, the church was split. In fact, Marcion had his own canon long before our standard canon was confirmed!
The Marcion form of Gnostic theology (in brief) was that Jesus wasn't actually a human and was completely different from the God of the Old Testament, whereas the orthodoxy held that Jesus was God, the God of the Old Testament, in human form.
So it was clear that the church of the time was split, in the same way that the church is split now, such as the divisions between Catholicism, Protestantism, Mormonism, the Christadelphian faith, the Jehovah's Witness faith, Seventh-Day Adventism, et al, though there is a lot less intra-faith persecution happening now.
So in order to shore up support for and belief in an historic, walking and talking Jesus, the church fathers (in my opinion) selected gospels that closest reflected the beliefs that they wanted you to accept, as opposed to the canon of the Marcionites and others.
But because there were so many gospels and so many different theologies around at that time, there then exists a trilemma for Fundamentalist Christianity:
a) If we assume, for arguments sake, that all of the apocryphal gospels were blatant, outright forgeries, then this means that forgery must have been the norm of the early Christian movement.
Let's say there were 40 apocryphal gospels (forgeries) and only 4 authentic gospels (the canonical gospels). This represents a ratio of forged accounts to authentic accounts at 10:1, which means over 90% of the Christian literature produced was apocryphal forgery.
In a field of literature that has a 90% forgery rate, what guarantees and what safeguards do we have that the canonical gospels aren't also forgeries, aside from the opinions of the proto-orthodox church fathers? Just because these select gospels made the canon is no testament to their authenticity - it was only a testament to their acceptance by the early church fathers.
And opinion is not evidence.
b) If some of the apocryphal gospels were not forgeries, but genuine retellings of the life of Jesus and of the things of God, then this means that the church fathers could have accidentally left out things that were true, thus the Bible is not a completely true and accurate record of the life and theology of Jesus.
c) If some of the apocryphal gospels were not forgeries, but genuine retellings of the life of Jesus and of the things of God, then this means that the church fathers could have deliberately left out books and writings that had truth to them.
So what did the church fathers have to lose by including these apocryphal texts? Surely, more truth and more information is welcome in a religion attempting to establish itself as The Way.
However, if the apocryphal gospels indeed had some dangerous truth in them, what were the Proto-Orthodox church fathers trying to hide?
So then, what about the names attached to those apocryphal gospels? We see that some of the gospels were named after 'superstars' such as Mary and Joseph and Thomas. But then we also see there was a gospel of Judas, i.e. the guy who betrayed Jesus for money, and also a Gospel of Philip, and also a Gospel of the Egyptians. Judas, Philip and the Egyptians hardly represent names you would hitch your credentials to, especially Judas.
In my opinion, the argument that the naming of the gospels after lesser figures testifies to their authenticity is no testament to their truth - only their acceptance (read: opinion) of the church fathers.
And again, opinion is not evidence.
2) Dr. Blomberg claiming that John's gospel was edited by a close associate, but in no way detracts from the overall gospel.
If John's gospel was edited by an associate, then this raises the question - how MUCH did John's editor chop and change things, especially since we don't have the original manuscripts to compare against?
Given the apparently late time of authorship (scholars hold that John was written well after the Synoptic gospels were written. The advanced theology John contains should help prove this point), and the apparent rate of forgery (see previous point above), as well as very marked differences between John and the Synoptics such as:
a) Lazarus being the disciple Jesus loved - why does no other gospel mention this?
b) Jesus clearing the temple at the start of his three year ministry, not at the end of his one year ministry.
c) John's Jesus being incredibly obsessed with 'the Jews' that he mentions 'the Jews' 63 times - as opposed to 16 times in total in the Synoptics, and of those 63 references, 31 are hostile.
Did John (or his editor) decide that the Synoptics didn't hate the Jews enough and they needed to ramp up the anti-Semitism, while conveniently forgetting the fact that Jesus himself was a Jew, as well as his followers?
I don't accept that explanation that John merely sat back, waited for the Synoptics to be written and disseminated, then decades later write his own account as a way of tying the message of Jesus up in a neat little package, while a later editor tidied things up.
We have to consider, which hypothesis best explains the evidence?
a) That John wrote his gospel by having separate copies of the other three gospels in front of him for cross-referencing, then wrote his own to fill in the missing details. Or;
b) At a time when there was 10:1 ratio of forgery to authentic texts, that John wrote his gospel as a response to Matthew and Luke's gospels (not as a supplement), hereby giving John the license to add new details not found in the other gospels (in some cases completely contradicting them) while using his text as a theological get-square against the other gospels and against the other Christianities at the time.
And then we add the admission of an 'editor' into the mix, which leads to the big question:
If all scripture is God-breathed, and John was so divine as to even be considered among the contenders for 'the disciple that Jesus loved', then why did God's spirit-inspired word need an editor?
Until next time, be good to each other, and stay skeptical!
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