Volume 2, Issue 12
July 19, 2012
A Believers' History of the New Testament    
Its composition and earliest publication!

Paul and Peter in Rome's Maritime Prison


The Bible is filled with history that is crucial to the message of salvation. But however central the history of Jesus and the Apostles to the gospel, careful reading of the New Testament reveals that the chief message is Jesus himself, his teachings, and his Kingdom. The four gospels and the book of Acts include extensive narratives, but there are large gaps in the life of Jesus and the Apostolic Church that skeptics and revisionists have exploited, while believers are hungry to know what did transpire in those periods. The same is true of the writing of the New Testament. Aside from brief information in the epistles, the prologues of Luke's gospel and book of Acts, and John's description of his circumstance in the writing of Revelation, the New Testament has no narrative covering its writing. Skeptics and revisionists have likewise exploited that, but believers also want to know how we got our New Testament.

For the Christian faith to have validity, we need not have the words of Jesus precisely as he spoke them so long as we have an accurate summary of his teaching and of the crucial things that he said and did. John declared that it would have been impossible to record everything that Jesus did. (John 21:25) The Holy Spirit would have brought such things to the Apostles' memory as was needed for the gospel. But importantly, the New Testament must actually preserve the testimony and teachings of the Apostles, something that "believing" scholars may overlook. That is because Jesus declared that his message would be conveyed to the world through his Apostles whom he chose specifically to witness his days on earth.

It informs our understanding of Jesus to know how the Apostles understood him prior to his resurrection. They reckoned him as Israel's Messiah, but how did anyone in Israel then understand the Messiah? The New Testament makes it plain that it was not until after the resurrection that the Apostles understood Jesus' teachings about the Kingdom of God. Their understanding may not be altogether from his post resurrection appearances. Jesus declared that the Holy Spirit would bring the needed understanding to the Apostles, a record of which their scribes or pens wrote down.

What this means is that any supposed development in understanding Jesus that scholars may see in the New Testament had to take place during the ministry of the Apostles as more was revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. Any new teaching of the Holy Spirit would have added more light to what had come before. Else we do not have the witness of Jesus and the incarnation was to that extent a waste! Who cares what was written by those who were not inspired by Jesus, whether by Gnostic writers or orthodox church men!

Responding to ancient skeptics and revisionist teachings about Jesus and to the questions of believers, the Early Church fathers compiled a bit more information about Jesus and the Apostles than appears in the New Testament. Some of it concerned the writing of the gospels. That even the Early Church fathers had the same questions as we do today about what the New Testament did not say, add so little to what it did say, and used much the same extra-biblical sources (apostolic fathers, Josephus, pagan Roman writers) suggest that this history was lost from the earliest days of the church. That needs explaining, but all that was ever vital was the testimony of the Apostles.

This also indicates that the New Testament books had become established from a far earlier day than presently acknowledged. If prominent churchmen of the early centuries questioned certain books, as is still the case for those who do not like what those same books say, there could hardly have been a long process of canonization as current scholarship pretends.

Interestingly, the fathers of the Enlightenment such as John Locke and the first liberal (Unitarian) churches in America declared with the Early Church and against orthodox theologians of their day that the Christian faith had been established by the great and public miracles of the Apostles. For them, that was the reasonable way in which the Christian faith had become established. In fact, the traditional histories from the Early Church served believers until the rise of the skeptical histories of the eighteenth century. Those began as rationalist attempts to explain away the New Testament miracles, attributing the New Testament to a creation of the Church rather than having originated with the Apostles. That resulted in a late dating of the New Testament, most of it supposed to have been written well into the second century.

If the most outrageous claims of the skeptics have been refuted by careful historical research, if different motives drive the writing of new revisionist histories, if the dates of the gospels have been lowered to the later years of the first century, and if new techniques have been added to the profession, the methods of literary criticism introduced by the skeptical scholars launched the way that modern biblical scholarship is still being done. To understand, I quote from another author who worked on New Testament history from outside, A.H.N. Green-Armytrage in his John Who Saw (1951):

There is a world - I do not say a world in which all scholars live but one into which all of them sometimes stray, and which some of them permanently inhabit - which is not the world in which I live. In my world, if The Times and The Telegraph both tell one story in somewhat different terms, nobody concludes that one of them must have copied the other, nor that the variations in the story have some esoteric significance. But in that world in which I am speaking this would be taken for granted. There, no story is ever derived from facts but always from somebody else's version of the same story....


In my world, almost every book, except some of those produced by government departments, is written by one author. In that world almost every book is produced by a committee, and some of them by a whole series of committees. In my world, if I read that Mr. Churchill, in 1935, said that Europe was headed for world, we applaud his foresight. In that world, no prophecy, ever how vaguely worded is ever made except after the event. In my world, we say 'The first world war took place 1914-1918.'  In that world, they say the world-war narrative took shape in the third decade of the twentieth century.' In my world men and women live for a considerable time - seventy, eighty, even a hundred years - and they are equipped with a thing called memory. In that world (it would appear), they come into being, write a book, and forthwith perish, all in a flash, and it is noted of them with astonishment that they 'preserve traces of' primitive tradition' of things that happened well within their adult lifetimes.

In short, such literary criticism of the Bible is not about men, events, and the great acts of a living God, but about texts, traditions, and theological agenda. The product - God help us! - is a New Testament in the image of literary scholars, but not what anyone should want to know. Disappointingly, even conservative studies of the New Testament follow the same principles of literary criticism and thus are but modifications of the composition histories of the nineteenth century. Whatever new methods scholars now employ, they preserve the original focus on texts and traditions rather than on men and events, the Holy Spirit turned into mere theology (theory). Worse, "conservative" New Testament histories accept the notion that some of our New Testament books do not date from the Apostles. Any work of scholarship ought to be an honest judgment of the facts, but if our New Testament is truly not the testimony of Jesus' Apostles, that is deadly to the life and power of biblical faith.

Ironically, the first modern challenge to the revisionist histories in favor of an Apostolic era dating of the New Testament came from a scholar more famously known for launching the 'God is dead' controversy of the sixties. I had the privilege of hearing the brilliant Bishop John A.T. Robinson, then Dean of Cambridge's Trinity College, not long after the publication of his Redating the New Testament. Robinson's thesis was that due to the lack of reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 as an accomplished event, all the books of the New Testament had to date prior to A.D. 70. Though I disagree with many details of his chronology, Robinson's main thesis is substantially sound. He avoided much discussion of authorship, but Robinson well knew that his early dating was compatible with these writings being substantially the work of the Apostles.

There is another historical event that Robinson might have better used for dating the New Testament. This was the day that Emperor Nero instituted orders that turned Christianity into an illicit religion, resulting in the cruel persecution of the Christians and the martyrdom of Peter and Paul a few years prior to A.D. 70. Aside from a single passage near the ending of the gospel of John and the abrupt ending of the book of Acts, there is no hint in the New Testament of these Apostles' actual demise. Nor is there explicit mention of the great Neronian persecution, so famous in the ancient world and of great significance for the Church. Some attribute the Apocalypse of John to that event. Though I am not convinced of that, I submit that the Neronian persecution is very present in several of the letters of the Apostles and explains why these same epistles are so cryptic in terms of authorship and narrative and so proper with regard to the Roman authorities.

I suggest that this sudden outlawing of the Christian faith in the Roman Empire also explains the great gap in reporting Christian history immediately following the New Testament. I strenuously disagree with the claims that this persecution was limited to the Christians of Rome. If the Emperor did not himself extend it, his edict would have soon come to the attention of the enemies of Christians throughout the Empire. It became the first occasion for Jews to separate themselves from the Nazarenes, Jewish Christians. Though for the next several centuries, persecutions were driven by local opposition, the Imperial decision had to remain effective. We see prosecutions focused on Christian allegiance to the Emperor.

Christian writers understood that publishing details about the apostles and the church would have put both those who protected the apostles and the affected churches in grave danger. But, as would be the case of the persecutions in the centuries just before and after the Reformation, outlawing the faith made the need for Scriptures all the more important. Because and in spite of these dangers, I submit that it was immediately following the martyrdom of Peter and Paul that the New Testament books were first collected and published as a definite collection.

A big reason for the lack of scholarly attention to this persecution is due to Roman Catholic exploitation and Protestant bias against the ministry of Peter in Rome. That should be relegated to the past. Everyone should better know the traditions preserved in Rome of the imprisonment of Paul and Peter. We may have no ancient record of the Maritime Prison as the site in Rome where Paul and Peter awaited their execution, but that doesn't mean that the traditions about this prison can be ignored. Aside from what seems a few medieval accretions, these traditions have more the flavor of the accounts of the Apostles in the New Testament.

I have in mind the reports of a revival in the prison as Paul and Peter awaited their execution, memorialized in the bronze casting (pictured above) that visitors today see inside the Maritime Prison. A revival isn't a very Catholic type of thing to remember, but revivals in prisons are not unknown in the New Testament. Not just the letters of Paul, but even the gospels and the book of Acts give much attention to imprisonment. Those imprisoned on account of their ministry had an altogether different kind of 'prison ministry' as we see today. As we learn from this tradition, every prisoner awaiting in this cell along with the prison warden himself was converted while Paul and Peter were awaiting their execution.

It is fitting to the entire context of what we know about these things that the Imperial warden of the prison would have been none other than Theophilus, for whom Luke wrote his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. The synoptic nature of the gospels and the particular epistles included further suggest that Luke and Theophilus published the first New Testament. Their publication would have included all the books aside from those written by the Apostle John. The book of Jude may have accompanied this distribution as one of the living brothers of the Lord confirming the New Testament as the faith once and for all entrusted to the saints.

One reason for believing this is that the books of the New Testament so envelop the contacts and travels of that one man who gave us our only history of the New Testament Church. Consider that Luke would have possessed not just the gospels he reports to have consulted, but also the letters of the Apostle Paul, his own hand having been involved in the penning of many of them. Obtaining copies of the epistles that Peter wrote from the same city would have been no less inconvenient. As I will explain, this same team may have delivered another important letter from the Apostles to the Hebrews in Jerusalem.

If I venture to speculate about these matters, I do so as did John A.T. Robinson, in careful consideration of the chronology and character of these times. Those constraints are far better than can be said of the speculation of unheard of texts and undocumented traditions that scholars regard as fair game in their profession. As in the case of Robinson, I am not in the least dogmatic about what I see as excellent possibilities that should be tested against all that we know about these men and their  times.

There are several things that distinguish my attempt at obtaining a New Testament history. The most import is a focus on historical men rather than supposed texts. Added to this is my deep conviction that the Apostles and the brothers of Jesus worked in one unified body, just as the New Testament and church fathers attest. From these primary sources, we learn that Peter, John, Matthew, Paul, Barnabus, Silas, Apollos, and Philip the Evangelist worked in the same cities. The Apostles often used the same assistants such as Mark, Timothy, Titus, if not also Luke and numerous others such as Priscilla and Aquila mentioned in their writings. They lived and worked as a one big family. I also believe that all the Apostles traveled frequently if not so greatly as Paul, though Luke had the most acquaintance with Paul and Peter.

Another difference is my assumption that all the Apostles, including Peter were literate. They may not have been trained in the classic style, but the Apostles were not peasants. They were freeborn Jews instructed from early age in the Law of Moses. Religious teachers especially needed to read and write. Of course, one wanted the best hand if not a specially trained scribe to assist in writing letters. Much of New Testament scholarship ignores the evidence of widespread basic literacy among the Jews as they also ignore the impact of Christianity in spreading common literacy. Like the Judaism that preceded it, Christianity requires literacy and produces the literacy that it requires. Christian missionaries have bestowed the tradition of common literacy to the entire world.

Because the traditions report that the Apostles were not killed in the earliest Neronian persecutions, likely neither Peter nor Paul were in Rome when the persecutions began. Peter may have fled, as tradition tells us, just as he had fled Herod's earlier attempt to kill him. Jesus instructed his disciples to flee persecution. (Matt 10:23). But these men were too prominent not to have been main targets of Nero's injunction. It was too easy for the Emperor to summon them to Rome. Jesus had warned Peter that when he was old, he would be bound and taken where he did not want to go. (John 21:18-19) Neither Jesus nor Peter would have wanted believers to be martyred without joining them in their suffering.

The Apostles would have been brought to Rome as dignitaries for execution, with plenty of opportunity to write letters from prison. It is reasonable to suppose that both letters of Peter and perhaps Paul's second letter to Timothy were written from Rome after the time of their summons. If Peter was was in Asia when summoned to Rome, there is reason to suspect that the believers there may have experienced the same burnings (1Pet 4:12) as occurred at Rome. In this is the case, Peter wrote his first letter back to those he had just left.

In a recent newsletter (click here for article bottom left in Volume 2, Issue 10), I mentioned the possibility of the book of Hebrews being a joint composition of Peter and Paul written during their joint imprisonment in Rome to the Church in Jerusalem following the death of James, the brother of Jesus. It is sometimes claimed that the canonical status of the book of Hebrews was slow to be accepted in Rome and the West. What is actually the case in Rome and the West was reluctance to attribute this book to the Apostle Paul. Those in Rome would have remembered a more complex history for this letter. Paul may have been involved, but the voice is more that of Peter. The easy authority concerning the Hebrew Christians following the death of James has certainly to be Peter's alone.

Silence and ambiguity about the author of Hebrews is explained by the circumstance of its writing. Not that it would so much affect the fate of Peter and Paul, but it would surely incriminate Theophilus and Luke. Reference to the Apostles in Heb 2:3,4 as someone other than the writers is justified by the letter being a joint composition and necessary to protect the official who allowed this letter to be composed and delivered after the Imperial edict. Was Theophilus (lover of God) the prisoners' nickname for their beloved warden. Perhaps, Luke avoids mention of Paul's latest journeys in the book of Acts not only because Theophilus already knew about Paul's last activities but also to protect those in the provinces who had given Paul shelter after the issue of Nero's edict

Their lower profiles may have enabled Theophilus to protect Luke and release Timothy, as noted at the end of the epistle to the Hebrews. If the Apostles words end with the Amen at the end of verse 21, as often mark the end of books, I don't think "in few words" in verse 22 applies to this long book, but to what was added.

Heb. 13:22-24 And I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation: for I have written a letter unto you in few words: I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you. Greet all your leaders and all God's people. Those from Italy send you their greetings.

In verse 13:19, the chief author of the epistle to the Hebrews is still in captivity, but the author of this note is free to accompany Timothy on a journey. If that is Luke speaking, he may be signaling his intention to bring the first New Testament to the church in Jerusalem. Luke and Timothy may have been planning a mission to carry the first New Testament to all the major churches.

The first publication of the New Testament may have been less simple than the picture I have just given, but the simplest explanation is surely the place to begin. Whatever the actual case, it should be clear that scholars have little considered how the composition of the New Testament so well fits the last days of the Apostles, and how the publication of the New Testament fits the time immediately following their martyrdom. How else to explain the rapid acceptance of these writings throughout the church had they not reached the hands of those who knew the Apostles?

This great persecution and turning Christianity into an officially illicit religion explains the great silence in Christian writing in the generation immediately following the death of the Apostles. The silence is all the more remarkable when one considers the evidence that the new faith exploded throughout the world in the days of the Apostles, far more than currently acknowledged. During all ages of the faith, persecution has been directly proportional to Christianity's expansion, not the other way around as many today improperly teach. During the days of the Apostles, the faith was known by nearly everyone in all parts of the Roman Empire and in many regions beyond. This is not to say that many circles of ancient Jews and pagans were much interested in what sophisticated pagans perceived as a particularly pernicious Jewish superstition, but everywhere folks were aware of its existence if only from the riots and disturbances due to the impact of the faith on ancient religion.

It is fitting that the testimony that became the foundation of our faith came after many years of Apostolic service and in the midst of their greatest persecution. To keep the testimony of those who knew Jesus undiluted and confused by later writings, the Early Church recognized how important that the testimony about Jesus be restricted to those who actually knew him and the writing of their testimony to those who assisted the Apostles. So far as concerns the faith, there was far less need for writings about Jesus following the death of those who knew him and who Jesus had commissioned to make his testimony. 

Regards to all,

Philip Williams
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Welcome. If this is your first newsletter or even if its not, you may find a lot of interesting articles in the:
archive of earlier newsletters.

In this issue
* A Believer's History of the New Testament
* A Correction!
* Why Israel's Messiah has also to be the Lord
* The synoptic "problem" solved
* Why John is so different from the synoptic gospels
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A Correction!

In the last newsletter, I wrote concerning Jude 5: "Most translations have the Lord saving a people out of the land of Egypt, but the ESV follows the majority of manuscripts which contain the word Jesus." I should have written  "Most translations have the Lord saving a people out of the land of Egypt, but the ESV follows the oldest manuscripts which contain the word Jesus.

Italics are added to point out the corrected words. Thanks to Vlatko Dir for pointing out my mistake.

Why Israel's Messiah has also to be the LORD
A follow-up note on the topic of the last newsletter, and why a Heavenly King is essential to man's freedom 
In my last newsletter, I noted that the earliest church fathers understood Jesus as none other than the Lord God of the Old Testament, though distinguishing him from Jesus' Father, God Most High. Of course they also understood him as the promised Messiah. The Apostles refer to Jesus as both Christ and Lord. There is no clear record in the New Testament about Jesus teaching the Apostles that he was the only Creator as the Apostles did in fact teach, but that automatically follows if one understands Jesus as the Lord Jehovah. A subject that I did not address is whether anyone in Second Temple Judaism understood the promised Messiah would be none other than the Lord himself. For sure, Rabbinic Jews of today do not understand their future Messiah this way.

In fact the coming of the Lord may be a greater theme in the Old Testament than the coming of the Messiah. The coming of the Lord was more associated with judgement; the coming of the Messiah, with justice. But these must occur together. As to how much the Messiah and the Lord were equated in the non-canonical writings of Second Temple Judaism, I leave to other scholars. Here I will explain why all Jews should have expected that the Messiah and the Lord would be one and the same and why Jewish expectation of a Messiah who is not the Lord himself can never fulfill the Old Testament promises.

I begin with a matter from the Old Testament that troubled me from the beginning of my faith due to the fact that I had not been taught to see the Lord of the Old Testament as also the promised Messiah. I have in mind the passage from the book of 1Samuel pertaining to the Lord's indulgence in permitting Israel to have a king like the nations (gentiles).
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.  They said to him, "You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have." But when they said, "Give us a king to lead us," this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. [1Sam 8:4-7]

In asking for an earthly king, Israel rejected the Lord as their king.  Before this point, Jacob had lived without an earthly king for four hundred years. Israel could exist as a nation without a central government because Israel had a government of laws: the Law of Moses given by the Lord. Their national history was tied to their Lord God. That maintained their identity so long as Israel remained separate from the nations who served other gods.  
Every Israelite, family, clan, and tribe had voluntarily to respect and enforce these laws because Israel had no standing government. Nor did they need a government to protect them from the surrounding nations who knew how Israel's God had delivered them from Egypt and drove out the nations who had dwelt in the land before them. Those things did happen and the world of that day knew about it. Impressing fear upon the surrounding nations was one reason that the Lord delivered Israel from Egypt using a mighty hand and why he brought them into the Promise Land by acts that would become widely known. For long periods during the era of the Judges, the nations left Israel alone. But when Israel sinned, the Lord would bring the king of some other nation to subject Israel until the Lord's nation sought their Heavenly King. Rule by a Heavenly King meant charismatic anointing, judges who the Lord raised up to deliver his people. Israel of those days may have been the freest nation in all of history. 

Now, Israel wants to be like the other nations, depending for their security on an earthly king rather than the unseen Lord. The kings of Israel and Judah would eventually lead these nations to apostasy and exile. In fact the Lord had long warned what would happened if Israel decided for an earthly king. (Deu 17). Samuel warned them again. The problems occurred even among the Davidic line of kings. David himself had many wives and called for a census that would be used to tax and conscript Israel. What King of Israel accumulated more silver or gold or had more wives than Solomon? Foreign wives of Davidic kings introduced foreign gods to Israel.

Problem is: considering the Messianic promise to David, how could the Lord ever again become Israel's only King? That might suggest a permanent regression in the plan of God. Does the Davidic promise mean that Israel is destined to be like the other nations in rejecting the Lord as their only king? But the Lord had a way to solve the problem. He would himself become the promised Messiah. 
Earthly kingship among the separated people of God is even less taught in the New Testament. The distinction between the separated people of God (the church) and the world is essential. Jesus taught his disciples to honor worldly authorities, but he specifically declared kingship as the way of the Gentiles, the way of the world. He instructed his disciples to become servants rather than lords of one another. (Matt 20: 25-27, Mark 10:42-44, Luke 22:25-27). No one but Jesus is to be called Master (Matt 23:8). Different factions of the Corinthian church wanted to follow some or another Apostle. Paul shames them for wanting kings. (1Cor 4:8) He teaches in this same letter: Christ is the head of every man, a challenge not to the clear need for hierarchy among those of the world who are not obedient to Christ, nor for those who do not know how to follow Christ because they have not surrendered their lives to his Lordship, but to every attempt at lordship rule among those who do have Christ. Christ still rules his earthly family through his unseen but present Spirit if indeed his family follow and are obedient to his Spirit. Again, this is something that only those with the Spirit can accept and understand, but scholars do observe the replacement of the Spirit in the Apostolic Church by an increasingly institutionalized church and the Hellenic mind crowding out the dynamic Hebraic way of the Spirit.

Importantly, it is not only monarchy (one man rule) that replaces the rule of our Heavenly King but any governing structure other than the Spirit of the invisible and living Jesus who rules over all things from the throne of God. Any fellowship on earth that follows the Spirit of Jesus functions as a spiritual family, the body of Christ. Moreover, no one should confuse leading with lording or leadership with lordship. Leadership to serve, even to correct and instruct through the Spirit is not the same as lordship, assuming authority by position rather than by the Spirit. The Lord used prophets to correct his people, but prophets were never kings. Neither were his Apostles lords of his church, though they had been given great authority to do the work of God. The book of Acts depict the Apostles being led by the Spirit, the rest of the faithful either following them or following the Spirit with them. 

The priesthood of believers became a rallying cry of the Reformation, but the headship of Christ is not possible aside from a community wholly separated from the world. Not surprisingly, in surveying the history of the Christian Church, Geoffrey F. Nuttall [cf. The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience (1946, 1992)] sees a great eclipse in mention of the Holy Spirit during the medieval church, but a return of attention to the Holy Spirit among the Puritans most concerned with separation. The only way to avoid a king is to be governed by the Spirit of Jesus, available to unite all who believe. Thus, we see self-governing churches and extension of government in New England to all members of the church. Self-government in America began with the experience of self-government in the first American churches. Likewise, the famous "leveling" of American society that occurred in the Great Awakening was due to the new direct personal relationships with a Heavenly King. That can only happen in the case of an unseen King who is very present among those living in the earth, one who can bring both unity and peace. 

The first rejection of earthly kingship in modern times seems to have been by John Eliot (1604-1690), America's first missionary to the Indians. Eliot sought to establish a covenant among what were known as the Praying Indians, a self-governing community among the Indians modeled on Plymouth Rock. Published in England in 1659, he also proposed The Christian Commonwealth: or the Civil Policy of the Rising Kingship of Jesus Christ. Eliot called for Christ as the head of every man. Though forced to retract his publication, his thoughts on a self-governing contract among American natives surely influenced the political writings of John Locke. If coming from the people as in the case of ancient Israel, social contracts still result in kings or earthly governments. True freedom can only come from direct leadership by a Heavenly King who governs through his Spirit. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. [1Cor 3:17]

The Spirit is indeed the same as life and liberty.
Freedom for mankind can exist only within a community in which each (earthly) autonomous person is directly subject to a Heavenly King, all that is really needed for people to live in unity and peace. The Jewish idea of a future Messiah as merely an earthly king will ever fail that test.
 The synoptic "problem" solved
The three gospels is the viewpoint of Peter 

Carl Bloch's Sermon on the Mount

The word synoptic refers to a common view: the similar sequence and words by which the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke describe Jesus' ministry. How can that be unless the writers of these gospels are copying one another? This synoptic "problem" is usually combined with the presumed 'priority of Mark' and the presumption that Matthew and Luke wrote from two sources: the gospel of Mark and a list of so-called Q sayings. According to this theory, Mark and Q give Matthew and Luke their similarities, neither depending on direct Apostolic testimony of Jesus.

But all that is just a theory due to focusing on texts rather than the Apostolic witnesses of Jesus. In truth, everything we learn about the gospels from the Church fathers confirms their Apostolic testimony: the Apostle Matthew wrote the gospel that bears his name. Mark, who interpreted (probably meaning translated into Greek or Latin) for Peter, wrote the gospel that bears his name. Luke, the companion of Paul, wrote the gospel that bears his name. If, as I contend above, the Apostles worked as a close-knit group, the first gospels written would indeed have influenced those written later, helping create the synoptic view. But each gospel had at least one, while others had two or more direct apostolic sources.  

Even a cursory reading of these gospels ought to make clear that there is one dominating source for these gospels that further explains their synoptic nature. Astonishingly, New Testament scholars ignore just how much Peter appears in all three gospels. There is even one account of Jesus healing Peter's mother-in-law. We have discovered Q and it is Peter. The recognized chief spokesman of the Apostles had to impress his way of presenting the gospel on the entire community of Christians.

Most scholars do recognize Peter as the source of Mark's gospel, but Peter had also to be a major source for Luke, who had many opportunities to speak with Peter, surely his major source for the early chapters of the book of Acts. Note how much Peter also dominates Luke's account of the earliest history of the Church.
Matthew is an independent source of his own gospel, but there were important things he recorded that predate his calling or involved only Peter, James, and John alone with Jesus. Matthew could have gotten his information about these things from James and John, but Peter's account had also to have been known to Matthew. Matthew's reporting of things witnessed by other Apostles was typical of the Apostles' humility. The things that Peter reports about himself were hardly heroic.

Matthew was formerly a tax collector. His vocation as a tax collector, then becoming the first Apostle to record of the oracles of Jesus, likely stems from his coming from a family of Levites, the tribe of Israel especially trained in writing. That is my guess due to the fact that Matthew's nickname Levi, as he is known in the gospels of Mark and Luke, was not a common proper name. Like the rest of us, Matthew probably preferred referring to himself by his proper name rather than by his nickname.  

The church fathers tell us that Matthew wrote his gospel in the Hebrew (Aramaic) language. But Christians preserved the New Testament only in the Greek language. The excellent Greek composition of Matthew's gospel may have been helped by the existence of the gospels of Mark and Luke in the Greek language prior to the translation of Matthew's gospel. That also becomes another source, in addition to Peter's witness, influencing commonality in wording. I believe that Luke himself translated Matthew for the publication of the first New Testament!

Finally, we address the issue of why Matthew and Luke more often agree with Mark than with one another both in regard to words as well as chronology, chief reasons that modern scholars use to support the priority of Mark. What this actually supports is the priority of Peter, one of the three chief eyewitnesses to Jesus, whatever gospel may have been first written. Thus, Peter is not only the real Q, he is also the real "priority of Mark." Attention to persons rather than texts returns us to the most ancient history of the gospels  
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Why John is so different from the synoptic gospels
Because its source is John rather than Peter  

Christ's Farewell to his Apostles
by Duccio

If the perspective of the synoptic gospels is chiefly that of Peter, how appropriate that the remaining gospel would be from another of the three disciples of Jesus' inmost circle: Peter, James, and John. Why Jesus chose these three to witness his transfiguration may have been their boldness. But boldness comes from love: their love and trust in Jesus. Had James been living when Luke was traveling with Paul, we would know some other important information from the earliest days of the Apostolic Church. All we learn from Luke is that Herod chose to put James to death prior to going after Peter. The bold James had to have been a most visible leader among the Apostles.   

Skeptics claim to see a different Jesus in John's gospel than in the synoptics. What we actually see is a different kind of witness, one less focused on Jesus' actions, giving more attention to relationships and his teachings about the Holy Spirit. If the synoptic gospels give a broader view of Jesus as should be case given their source in multiple Apostles, the gospel of John gives our most personal and deepest view of Jesus. The circumstances of the writing of John's gospel, worsening relationships between Jews and Christians, may have caused the Holy Spirit in John to recall more of Jesus' own conflicts with the Jews.

We learn from Papias, a man acquainted with the Apostle John, that this disciple intended to provide information not given in the other gospels, in fact the case. One thing that only John gives is information about the Apostle's first acquaintance with Jesus following his baptism but prior to the imprisonment of John the Baptist. Peter's brother Andrew and John himself were the first to make the acquaintance of Jesus. This appears to have occurred just after Jesus' temptation when Jesus returned to the river where John was baptizing. These disciples themselves heard John the Baptist's testimony concerning Jesus. The synoptic gospels are a bit vague on that because Peter was not present on that occasion.

From that point, Jesus began drawing more disciples than John, Jesus' own disciples doing the baptizing. It may have been his concern for the reputation of the Baptist's ministry that Jesus chose to immediately withdraw to Galilee. Jesus may have sent his disciples home to await his call which would come immediately following the imprisonment of the Baptist? This would explain the second calling of the disciples by the Sea of Galilee, why the synoptics begin Jesus ministry then, and why the disciples were so immediately responsive to Jesus' call. They were expecting it.

Where there are differences in detail with the synoptics, John is ordinarily the gospel to be preferred. Archaeologists have discovered that John accurately remembers the location of places in the Holy Land as they existed prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The writer has himself to be an eyewitness from the earliest days of Jesus and of things which only the three disciples experienced.

The same cannot always be said of John's chronology, whether due to John himself or copying of John's gospel for publication. Between the end of verse 2:12 which begins with "After this" and "After this" in verse 3:22, where he should have continued, either John or a copiest has inserted a section of the gospel pertaining to the end of Jesus' ministry: his cleansing of the Temple and the nightly visit of Nicodemus. Whether writing or copying this section about Jesus' family, John or the copiest might have remembered the incident of Jesus' family asking why Jesus was not going to the Passover. (John 7:1-5) Not to waste that expensive scroll, just leave it there but leave it out where it chronologically belongs, near the Last Passover.
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Christian Leaders & Scholars is the newsletter and publication site of Philip Ernest Williams, author of The Archaeological Evidence of Noah's Flood (2011). The site is also a ministry not only to Christian leaders and scholars but all who are interested in the more difficult issues pertaining to the Bible and its implications for science and history. (Read more)