In previous posts, I have been reviewing a book by Muslim polemicist/apologist Abu Zakariya (in particular, chapter 5 of the book). So far, we have seen that Zakariya’s objections to the gospels as inspired Scripture and to Messianic prophecy have fallen far short of convincing. Here are links to my two previous rebuttals to Zakariya:
In this third installment, I am going to be reviewing Zakariya’s third wave of attack, which is against the gospels as eyewitness testimony.
The External Attestation of Authorship
When we scrutinise the Gospel authors in the light of their identities and content and date of their writings, we will find that they are not credible eyewitnesses to the crucifixion. To begin with, it’s important to recognise that the Gospels themselves are, strictly speaking, anonymous. While today in the New Testament you see the headings “The Gospel according to…” at the start of each of the Gospels, it’s important to note that none of the authors identify themselves by name within the texts. They were quoted anonymously by Church Fathers in the first half of the second century (i.e. 100-150 CE) and the names by which they are currently known appeared suddenly around the year 180 CE, nearly 150 years after Jesus. We find this in the writings of early church apologists such as Justin Martyr who was writing in the middle of the second century. Justin quotes from the gospels on numerous occasions, but the striking ting is that he does not call the Gospels by their names. Instead, he regularly calls them “Memoirs of the Apostles.” He does not say that he thinks the disciples themselves wrote the books, only that these books preserve their “memoirs” (meaning, their recollections of the life and teachings of Jesus). These are some of the reasons that have led scholars to believe that the names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were assigned to the Gospels long after they were first authored.
Given that we do not possess the original autographs for any of the four gospels (but only copies of copies), how can Zakariya state so confidently that the gospels were originally published anonymously? In fact, every extant Greek manuscript we have of one of the gospels that possesses a front page lists the author to whom it has been traditionally attributed. True, front pages tend to be rare the earlier you go back (the beginning and end of books tend to take the most damage), meaning that the majority we have are later — but my point is, how can we be so sure that the original gospel autographs were anonymous, given that we do not have access to them? Moreover, Luke must surely have been known by Theophilus to whom he addressed both his gospel and his Acts of the Apostles.
Furthermore, during the time of the papyrus scroll, the name of the author would often not be mentioned in the text. Herodotus and Thucydides did mention their names in their respective texts, whereas Suetonius and Plutarch did not. Even Josephus doesn’t state his name in the text of Antiquities of the Jews. Names were often placed not in the text itself but rather at the end of the manuscript.
Even the first century church father, Clement of Rome, does not mention his name in the text of his still-extant epistle to the Corinthians. Rather, we know who wrote it from the testimony of Irenaeus of Lyons. Irenaeus of Lyons, by the way, is an important witness in regards to the authorship of the gospels, for he was himself (by his own confession) a disciple of Polycarp of Smyrna who was himself, Irenaeus tells us, a disciple of John the apostle. This makes Irenaeus remarkably close to the apostolic generation, and boosts his credibility as someone likely in a position to know the true authorship of the gospels — especially for John’s gospel which he attributes to John the apostle.
The authorship of Matthew is attested by Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus of Lyons, and Papias of Hierapolis. The authorship of Mark is attested by Tertullian of Carthage, Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, and Papias of Hierapolis (incidentally, all of these witnesses also attest that Mark based his gospel on the eyewitness testimony of the apostle Peter). The authorship of Luke is attested by Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian of Carthage, and Irenaeus of Lyons.The authorship of John is attested by Tertullian of Carthage, Irenaeus of Lyons and Clement of Alexandria. Moreover, the authorship of all four gospels is attested by the Muratorian fragment, the earliest canonical list of the New Testament books (dating to around 170 C.E.).
Papias of Hierapolis, by the way, who attests to the traditional authorship of Matthew and Mark, wrote around 125 C.E. So Zakariya is not entirely correct that there are no attributions of authorship in the first half of the second century. We don’t have Papias’ original work but what we do have is preserved in quotations from the fourth century church historian Eusebius of Caesarea. Nonetheless, Papias is an early second century witness. According to Irenaeus, he was “an ancient man who was a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp.” In fact, Papias himself tells us (in a quotation preserved by Eusebius — Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3–4):
I shall not hesitate also to put into ordered form for you, along with the interpretations, everything I learned carefully in the past from the elders and noted down carefully, for the truth of which I vouch. For unlike most people I took no pleasure in those who told many different stories, but only in those who taught the truth. Nor did I take pleasure in those who reported their memory of someone else’s commandments, but only in those who reported their memory of the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the Truth itself. And if by chance anyone who had been in attendance on the elders arrived, I made inquiries about the words of the elders—what Andrew or Peter had said, or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and John the Elder, the Lord’s disciples, were saying. For I did not think that information from the books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice.
If Papias really was connected to John and/or other apostles, and a companion of Polycarp, then he was in a key position to know the authorship of the gospels.
Furthermore, consider the geographical spread of the attestation of gospel authorship, as represented by the figure below:
As can be seen, the attestation to the authorship of the gospels is very geographically widespread. Irenaeus lived in Gaul (what is modern day France); Papias lived in Asia Minor; Clement lived in Egypt; and Tertullian lived in North Africa. Given the unanimity of the authorship traditions (there were no competing traditions of authorship), this evidence suggests that the authorship traditions go back quite early (since word took time to spread).
Given the fact that the gospels were much earlier being quoted without names being attached to them (just as Old Testament Scripture was quoted), this suggests that the early church fathers could anticipate their respective audiences being familiar with the gospels and associating them with apostolic authority. Indeed, had there been controversy and debate about the authorship of the gospels, we should expect to see that reflected in the later second century when names are attached to all four gospels. But there was no such controversy or debate. The four canonical gospels — and only those four — were ever accepted as part of the New Testament. And there was no debate about who wrote them. This is especially striking given that Mark and Luke were rather unknown characters. Any attempt to falsify the authorship tradition would have undoubtedly attributed these gospels to higher profile figures.
Indeed, as Zakariya correctly notes, Justin Martyr speaks of the “memoirs of the apostles” which are “called gospels” (e.g. First Apology, chapter 66). In chapter 106 of his Dialogue with Trypho (dated around 160 A.D.), he writes,
And when it is said that He changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter; and when it is written in the memoirs of him that this so happened, as well as that He changed the names of other two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means sons of thunder.
Justin says that in these “memoirs of him” it is written that Jesus changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter and also changed the name of the sons of Zebedee to Boanerges, meaning sons of thunder. Neither of these is found in the extant portion we have of the so-called Gospel of Peter, but both of them are included in the Gospel of Mark. The statement about calling the sons of Zebedee “sons of thunder” is found only in Mark (3:17). Since Papias also tells us that Mark was the interpreter of Peter, this suggests that the Mark being referred to by Papias is indeed our canonical Mark. It seems unlikely that the gospel of Mark would have gone from being called the memoirs of Peter by Justin Martyr to being universally known as the gospel of the much more obscure John Mark — unless of course Mark really was the author who wrote the gospel.
The Internal Indicators of Authorship in Luke-Acts
At the beginning of his gospel, Luke states his purpose for writing and methodology of research (Luke 1:1-4):
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
About Luke’s prologue, Zakariya writes,
There are some important points to note here. The author speaks in the first person (“us”), but they do not say who they are.
Zakariya only quoted the first two verses of Luke. Had he quoted the following verse, he would have learned who “us” are. He is addressing his friend Theophilus. The “us”, then, presumably refers to Luke and Theophilus. There are, moreover, internal indicators of Luke’s authorship. For one thing, the external and internal evidence in Acts provides very powerful evidence that Luke was a travelling companion of Paul, and we know that Luke was a travelling companion of Paul from Paul’s own testimony in Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, and Philemon 1:24 (it is clear that the author who wrote Acts also wrote Luke’s gospel).
How do I know that the author of Luke-Acts was a travelling companion of Paul? First, he claims to be (as indicated by the “we” passages from Acts 16ff). The evidence that corroborates Luke’s claim is extensive and cumulative, and can be found internally to Acts and the epistles of Paul (in the form of undesigned coincidences) as well as externally (in the form of external corroboration). I will present three examples of each.
For our first example of evidence internal to the New Testament, consider the following two texts from the first letter to the Corinthians from Ephesus.
- 1 Corinthians 4:17: That is why I sent you Timothy…
- 1 Corinthians 16:10: When Timothy comes…
Now, we know that Paul was writing from Ephesus because in 16:8 he says “But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost” and in 16:19 he sends greetings from Aquilla and Priscilla, who had met him in Corinth and who traveled with him as far as Ephesus, as we learn from Acts 18). Ephesus is directly across the Aegean sea from Achaia (where Corinth is). So presumably Paul would have sent his letter directly by boat from Ephesus to Corinth.
From the two texts given above, it is evident that Timothy had already been dispatched by the time of his writing, but nonetheless that he expected his letter to arrive before Timothy got to Corinth. We therefore can infer that Timothy must have taken some indirect route to Corinth. When we turn over to Acts 19:21-22, which concerns Paul’s stay in Ephesus, we read,
21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.
Thus, Timothy (accompanied by Erastus) did take such an indirect overland route to Corinth from Ephesus. This artless dovetailing is best explained by the historical reliability of Acts on this detail. The map below shows the respective locations of Ephesus and Corinth and the route taken by Timothy through Troas and Macedonia.
Let’s take a second example. In Acts 18:1-5, we read of Paul’s arrival in Corinth:
After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.
We learn that Paul worked as a tent maker with Aquilla and Priscilla, and on the Sabbath day would reason with the Jews in the synagogue. But when Silas and Timothy arrive from Macedonia, apparently Paul changed his ministry model such that he was now fully occupied with his ministry. What caused this change? Luke doesn’t tell us — indeed, Luke may not even have known the reason. But when we turn over to 2 Corinthians 11:7-9, we have our answer:
7 Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need.
Thus, again, Paul in his own words, in an artless and undesigned manner, corroborates a detail from Acts.
Let’s consider one final example of this internal evidence for Luke being a travelling companion of Paul. Here is Acts 15:36-40:
36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.
Why was Barnabas so desirous to take Mark with him even though Mark had proved himself unfaithful, having withdrawn from Paul and Barnabas previously in Pamphylia? Luke doesn’t tell us. However, when we turn over to Colossians 4:10, we have our answer:
Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him)
Thus, Paul in his letter to the Colossians explains the reason for the sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas. Now it is evident that Paul did not add this reference to Mark being the cousin of Barnabas in order to explain Acts, for there is no indication in Colossians of there having been any disagreement or falling out involving Mark (by the time Paul wrote to the Colossians, the dispute appears to have been resolved). And nor is Luke in Acts adding his narration of the conflict based on Colossians, for he makes no mention of Mark being the cousin of Barnabas (which would have in such a case been natural to include).
With these three examples of internal evidence, let me now offer three examples of external corroboration.
When Luke tells us about the riot in Ephesus, he says that the city clerk tells the crowd “There are procounsuls” (a Roman authority to whom a complaint may be taken). Usually there would only be one, so why does Luke use the plural form of the word? As it turns out, just as this particular time there would have been two. This is because the previous proconsul Silanus had been assassinated by poisoning in the fall of A.D. 54 at the urging of Nero’s mother, by the two imperial stewards. This is independently documented by Cornelius Tacitus in his Annals (13.1). Since we know when Silanus was poisoned, Luke’s accuracy here has allowed historians to date the event narrated by Luke with incredible precision.
As a second example, consider Paul’s encounter with Ananias the high priest, reported in Acts 23:2-5:
2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” 4 Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” 5 And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”
As it turns out, Ananias was not the high priest, even though he was sitting in judgment in that assumed capacity. Rather, he had formerly held the office, his replacement Jonathan had been murdered by the order of Felix and another had not yet been appointed to the station. So, in the meantime, he had himself of his own authority assumed the office for himself (Josephus’ Antiquities 1.20. c. 5, sect. 2; c. 6, sect. 2; c. 9, sect 2.). It was precisely in this interval (between the death of Jonathan and accession of Ismael, who was subsequently appointed high priest by Agrippa) that the Apostle Paul was brought before the Jewish council.
As a final example, consider that Luke gets right the titles of local officials. For example, he gets right the precise designation for the magistrates of the colony at Philippi as στρατηγοὶ (strategoi) (16:22), following the general term ἄρχοντας (archontas) in verse 19; the proper term (politarchs) used of the magistrates in Thessalonica (17:6); the term Areopagites, derived from areios pagos, as the correct title for a member of the court (17:34); the correct designation of Gallio as proconsul, resident in Corinth (18:12) (this reference nails down the time of the events to the period from the summer of 51 to the spring of 52).
One might be tempted to say that of course Luke is going to get certain details right about the first century. After all, he lived in the first century. But we must be careful not to commit a ‘Wikipedia fallacy’. There was no access to google and Wikipedia, and Luke consistently gets hard things right. This suggests strongly that Luke was in fact an eyewitness to the events he reports on Paul’s travels.
A further detour into this cumulative body of evidence would significantly lengthen the size of this blog post, and so I will refrain from delving too deeply into this material right now. Here are a few book recommendations, however, for those wanting to investigate this evidence for themselves:
- Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts (Dr. Lydia McGrew)
- Horae Paulina (William Paley)
- The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Dr. Colin Hemer)
Furthermore, I recommend this session I hosted on the Apologetics Academy, featuring Dr. Tim McGrew on the historical reliability of Acts.
Since Paul tells us in Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 1:24 that Luke is with him during his first Roman imprisonment, this dovetails nicely with Acts 27:1-2, in which we read of Paul’s journey to Rome:
And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius. And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica.
Since Paul’s voyage as a prisoner to Rome (on which, as it happens, he gets shipwrecked) is one of the texts in Acts where the author uses the inclusive personal pronoun “we”, we can infer that in all probability Luke ended up alongside Paul during his first Roman imprisonment. Aristarchus, who is also mentioned in this text, is likewise mentioned in both Colossians and Philemon as being present with Paul in Rome.
Another point worth considering is Paul’s mention that Luke is a physician (Colossians 4:14). It is interesting, then, that the author of Luke-Acts pays particular attention to medical details. For example, while the other gospels simply speak of Christ as “healing a leper” and of curing a man who had “a withered hand,” Luke says the former was “full of leprosy“ (Luke 5:12) and it was the right hand of the latter which was withered (Luke 6:6). The other gospels say Peter’s wife’s mother lay “sick of a fever,” but Luke writes that she “was taken with a high fever,“ (Luke 4:38). In the account of the healing of the centurion’s servant, Matthew simply says the servant “was sick with a fever,” but Luke with more fullness records that “he was sick and at the point of death,“ (Luke 7:2). He is the only author to mention that in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus “sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground,” (Luke 22:44). In reporting Peter cutting off the ear of the servant of the high priest, Luke is the only writer to mention that Jesus “touched his ear and healed him,” (Luke 22:51).
Of course, these considerations do not prove that Luke is the author of Acts, but it is at the very least suggestive evidence, which is consistent with the external evidence from the witness of ante-Nicene fathers. In any case, whether the author was Luke or not, there can be no question that the author was a travelling companion of Paul, a responsible historian of the first rank, and someone who had access to eyewitnesses.
They claim that many others — who are also not named — preceded them in writing an account of “the things that have been fulfilled among us.” These “things”, of course, are the events of Jesus’s life. The predecessors based their accounts on traditions that had been handed down by “eyewitnesses and servants of the word”. The author of Luke does not say that they themselves have had access to eyewitnesses, only that the materials that both they and their predecessors provided in their books were based on reports that ultimately go back to eyewitnesses and ‘servants of the word.’
As already stated, there can be no question that Luke would have had access to eyewitnesses — for Luke himself was a travelling companion of the apostle Paul. Furthermore, the book of Acts reveals Luke to be an extremely responsible historian.
There is ample evidence in Luke’s gospel that the author had access to eyewitnesses. For example, the nativity narrative in Luke (Luke 1-2), being told from the perspective of Mary, suggests that Luke had access to Mary, who was an eyewitness. Let’s consider a few examples of undesigned coincidences in Luke, confirming his accuracy on points of detail, and also an example of external corroboration.
In Matthew 14:1-2, we read,
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, 2 and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.”
Two questions arise from reading this passage. First, why is Herod talking about this matter with his servants? Second, how did Matthew know what Herod had said to his servants? The gospel of Luke gives us some illumination. Take Luke 8:1-3:
Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.
Thus, one of Jesus’ disciples was married to Herod’s household manager, illuminating why Matthew records Herod’s conversation with his servants about Jesus. This indicates that Luke had access to reliable information about Jesus’ female disciples.
Luke also has access to reliable information about which women went to the tomb on Easter Sunday morning. We can infer from the previous chapter (Luke 7:1ff) that Jesus and his disciples are in Galilee (Capernaum is on northern shore of sea of Galilee). It is also supported that the women are from Galilee because Joanna was the wife of Herod’s household manager. Herod was tetrarch of Galilee. In Mark 14:40-41, we read,
40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.
The names overlap only partially with Luke 8. In Mark and Matthew the names are Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome. There is no mention here of Joanna or Susanna. Luke 8 doesn’t mention Mary the mother of James or Salome. It doesn’t at all look like Luke added the passage in chapter 8 in order to “put” the women in place earlier in Jesus’ ministry and thus fit his narrative together with Matthew and Mark concerning the women at the cross, because the names are only partially the same. Luke would have presumably included Mary the mother of James, and Salome, and probably left out Susanna if he had fictionalized the verses in chapter 8 on the basis of Mark’s mention of the women at the cross. Luke himself mentions the women who came from Galilee at the cross and burial (23:49, 55) but doesn’t even name any of them there. Both accounts, therefore, confirm apparently independently that there was a group of women who had begun following Jesus in Galilee and who continued to do so and who helped Jesus in concrete ways (“ministering” or “providing”).
But there’s more. Consider Luke 24:6-8 where the angels speak to the woman at the empty tomb:
6 “He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they [the women who had come with him from Galilee – see 23:55] remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles.
This makes it clear that these women really were personally with Jesus in Galilee and heard what he said there. When Luke names various women who brought the disciples news of the empty tomb and the message of the angel (24:10), he names Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Joanna (and says there were other women as well). Once again, he doesn’t seem to be trying to reproduce his own list from chapter 8, for Mary the mother of James was not in that list, and Susanna isn’t mentioned in 24:10. Nor is he reproducing Mark’s list of women at the cross nor Mark’s list of women who came to the tomb (Mark 16:1), since Salome isn’t included in Luke’s list, and Joanna (who is unique to Luke) is not included in Mark’s list. Luke seems to be listing women whom he really knows were present for the events on Easter morning; evidently he isn’t sure about Susanna’s presence or just doesn’t bother to mention her, and he knows that Mary the mother of James was there on Easter morning even though she isn’t listed in his chapter 8. Thus, this is also an undesigned coincidence internal to Luke, a way in which fairly distant parts of Luke’s own narrative fit together in an apparently casual and non-deliberate way: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and various other women were with Jesus in Galilee and heard there Jesus’ own prediction of his crucifixion and resurrection. They subsequently went with him to Jerusalem and were present at the cross, burial, and empty tomb.
Let’s consider one further example in Luke. Take the narrative of Jesus before Pilate in John 18:28-33:
28 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30 They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” 31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
The question arises, where did Pilate get the idea from of Jesus being king of the Jews? The answer is in Luke 23:1-5:
Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” 3 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” 4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” 5 But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”
Another interesting point that arises from this narrative in Luke is that immediately after Jesus answers in the affirmative, asserting Himself to indeed be Christ, a king, Pilate announces “I find no guilt in this man.” This is very strange. Jesus has just pleaded guilty! But when we look at John’s account (18:33:38), we find the missing piece of the puzzle:
33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.
Jesus had also said that his kingdom is not of this world (a statement which Luke, in his independent account omits). Thus, Pilate takes Jesus to be a harmless religious fanatic and declares that he finds no guilt in this man. This evidence reveals that both Luke and John had access to reliable information about the trial before Pontius Pilate.
Before moving on, let’s consider an example of external corroboration in Luke. Turn to Luke 3:14, which concerns when John the Baptist was baptizing in the Jordan river:
Soldiers also asked him [John the Baptist], “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
The Greek word translated “soldiers” here is στρατευόμενοι (strateuomenoi). It is a present participle and is literally rendered “those soldiering” or “those being soldiers” (see BibleHub interlinear for confirmation of this). These soldiers are thus men on active duty. So how is that to be fit together with the fact that this period near the beginning of Pilate’s decade-long term is one of peace in Palestine? There was only one military conflict going on at this time. Aretas IV (king of the Nabateans) had started a border war with Antipas after Antipas divorced Aretas’s daughter. Antipas had a fortress — Macherus — at the northern corner of the dead sea. He hired a mercenary army to carry on the war. These soldiers are on their way down to bolster the garrison at the fortress. The Jordan river flows north to south into the dead sea. This is the only military conflict at the time, and it’s exactly where John is baptizing.
Internal Indicators of Authorship in John
On the gospel of John, Zakariya quotes John 21:24:
This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
The disciple seems to be a reference to the “disciple Jesus loved” who is mentioned five times throughout the Gospel of John (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21:2). Although this beloved disciple is traditionally associated with John the Evangelist, this is a view rejected by modern scholarship. They are another anonymous figure and we can only speculate as to their true identity.
The statement that “This is a view rejected by modern scholarship” is an appeal to authority. The field of Biblical scholarship is frankly a mess and needs to be reformed. In a great number of cases, the consensus of modern Biblical scholarship goes against the overwhelming evidence. Let’s look at some of the evidence that John the disciple is the author of John’s gospel.
First,the author was clearly Jewish and a native of Palestine. He is intimately familiar with Jewish opinions and customs. He is accurate in his knowledge of places and topography, and he gives us an unerring portrait of the role of the Sadducees (whom he never calls by their name) in the religious life and legal deliberations of Judaism.
The author himself (in a letter also written by the same author) claims to have been an eyewitness. Here is 1 John 1:1-4:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
In support of this, John in his gospel gives us many very specific details (as pointed out by Dr. Tim McGrew) involving:
- persons (John 6:5, 7 (contrast Matthew 14:14 ff), 12:21; 14:5, 8, 22),
- numbers (two disciples in 1:35; six waterpots, each holding twenty to thirty gallons in 2:6; forty-six years in 2:20; five husbands in 4:18; thirty-eight years of sickness in 5:5; twenty-five furlongs [or three and a half miles] in 6:19; four soldiers in 19:23; two hundred cubits [or a hundred yards] in 21:8; a hundred fifty three fish in 21:11);
- times (Passover in John 2:13, 23; the New Year in 5:1; a second Passover in 6:4; the feast of Tabernacles in 7:2; the Feast of Dedication in 10:22);
- more specific and detailed marks of date in 1:29, 35, 43, 2:1, 11:1, 12, 13:1, 19:31, 20:1
- time of day in 1:40, 3:2, 4:6, 52, 6:16, 13:30, 18:28, 19:14, 20:19, 21:4).
These are far too specific and numerous to be the result of falsification of details or passing on of oral traditions. Indeed, there are many details of scenes and objects that are unique to John’s gospel:
- The loaves at the feeding of the five thousand were barley loaves (6:9)
- The house at Jesus’ anointing at Bethany was filled with its fragrance (12:3)
- The branches used at the triumphal entry were palm branches (12:13)
- It was night-time when Judas went out to betray Jesus (13:30)
- Jesus’ tunic was without seam (19:23)
- The head cloth at the empty tomb was wrapped together in a place by itself (20:7)
The author is familiar with scenes where only the disciples are present:
- Their calling in John 1:19 ff;
- The journey through Samaria in 4:1 ff;
- The feeding of the five thousand in 6:1ff;
- The visits to Jerusalem in chapters 7, 9, and 11.
- The author frequently describes their thoughts, feelings and reactions (2:11, 17, 22; 4:27; 6:19, 60 ff; 12:16; 13:22, 28; 21:12).
- He knows both what they said to Jesus (4:31; 9:2; 11:8, 12; 16:29)
- He knows what they said among themselves (4:33; 16:17; 20:25; 21:3, 5).
- He knows the places where they would go as a group without the company of strangers (11:54; 18:2; 20:19).
- He knows the misimpressions they had that were later corrected (2:21 ff; 11:13; 12:16; 13:28; 20:9; 21:4).
- He knows Jesus’ motives and meaning as only one intimately acquainted with him could (2:24 ff; 4:1-3; 5:6; 6:15; 7:1; 16:19).
Are these details the result of eyewitness memory, or of an imposter trying to pass himself off as an eyewitness? To find out, we can look at some of the specific extraneous details and see whether any of them can be independently corroborated. Here, I will discuss three examples.
In John 6:1-9, we read,
After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. 3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”
Two specific details I want to focus on here relate to individuals mentioned in the story. John here is very specific about which disciple Jesus turned to in order to ask where to buy bread for the people to eat — Philip (verse 5). He is also very specific about another disciple who got involved in the reply — Andrew (verse 8). Can we independently confirm that John is accurate concerning these specific details? Let’s turn over to John 12, which is six chapters later and a completely unrelated context. In John 12:
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
Thus, we learn that Philip is from the town of Bethsaida. Now turn over to John 1:44:
Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
Therefore, not only is Philip from Bethsaida, but so are Andrew and Peter. Now turn over to Luke’s account of the feeding of the five thousand, in Luke 9. Luke does not mention that Jesus spoke to Philip, nor does he mention Andrew’s involvement in the reply. However, in Luke 9:10, we read,
On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida.
Thus, Luke adds the missing piece of the puzzle — the event took place in Bethsaida. Now we have a cogent explanation for why Jesus spoke to Philip in John 6:5 — Philip was a local person and he would have known where the shops were to buy bread. We also have an explanation of why Andrew got involved in the reply in John 6:8 — Andrew is also from Bethsaida. This sort of artless dovetailing, or undesigned coincidence, is expected on the hypothesis that John is getting the specific extraneous details right, but is very surprising on the hypothesis that he is getting them wrong.
For our second example, let’s stay in the same text and focus on verse 4, which tells us the specific time of year that the event took place (again, this is not found in any of the other three gospels). Does John also get this extraneous detail right? To find out, turn over to Mark 6 (Mark’s parallel telling of the feeding of the five thousand) and pay attention to verses 31 and 39.
30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat…39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass.
While Luke does not tell us the time of year, he mentions the color of the grass (green) and that there were people coming and going (indicating the business of the place). This, then, once again artlessly dovetails with our account in John 6:4 which tells us that the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was at hand.
For one further example, consider John 12:1-2,12-13:
Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table…12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
Again, John has given us a very specific extraneous detail (which none of the other gospels gives us): Jesus arrived at Bethany six days before the Passover, and the following day rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (which would have been five days before the Passover). Can we confirm John’s accuracy on this? Yes, we can. Turn over to Mark 11:1-11, which parallels the arrival at Bethany (although Mark does not give us the time-stamp):
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it…7 And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. 8 And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. 9 And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” 11 And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Mark does not tell us that Jesus approached Bethany six days before the Passover, nor that it was the following day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. However, it appears implicit that they fetched the colt early in the morning — since the disciples fetch the colt, there is the triumphal entry and Jesus and the disciples entered the temple and “looked around at everything” (which was presumably a whole day’s activities). If, then, we assume that Jesus entered Jerusalem five days before Passover (explicit in John and implicit in Mark), then we can begin counting off the days narrated in Mark’s gospel, to see if the narrative synchronizes with that of John. Verses 12-14 narrate the cursing of the fig tree, which according to verse 12 happened “the following day” (i.e. four days before the Passover, assuming John’s time-stamp to be correct). Jesus then cleansed the temple and according to verse 19 “when evening came they went out of the city.” In verse 20, we read, “As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots.” We are now therefore at three days before the Passover. In Mark 13, we read of the olivet discourse on the Mount of Olives. This we can assume took place in the evening, since the Mount of Olives was mid-way between the temple in Jerusalem and Bethany where Jesus and the disciples were staying. This, then, marks the end of three days before the Passover. When we turn over to Mark 14, we read in verse 1, “It was now two days before the Passover.” Mark and John thus calibrate perfectly, thereby corroborating the time-stamp given to us by John — once more, we have confirmed one of John’s extraneous details.
We can also use internal evidence to corroborate that John’s gospel was composed by John the disciple (the son of Zebedee). As Zakariya himself notes, the gospel claims to be written by the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 21:24). Consider John 18:10:
Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus).
John is the only gospel author to mention the name of the high priest’s servant, Malchus. But how did John know the high priest’s servant’s name? Furthermore, John 18:26-27 tells us,
One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.
John is again the only gospel author to give us this detail. How did John know that this individual was a relative of Malchus, whose ear Peter had cut off? In John 18:15-16, we read,
Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in.
Thus, we learn that the other disciple who followed Jesus along with Simon Peter was known to the high priest, and so he is allowed to enter the high priest’s courtyard, while Peter stands outside at the door. Who is this other disciple that followed Jesus to the cross? To find out, we can turn to John 20:2-3:
So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb.
Thus, we learn that the other disciple who had followed Jesus to the cross along with Simon Peter was the disciple whom Jesus loved, whom the gospel purports to be authored by. This is further corroborated by John 19:26, in which we learn that the disciple whom Jesus loved was indeed a direct witness of the crucifixion:
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!”
This then explains how the author came to know the name of the high priest’s servant, and thereby corroborates the gospel’s claim to be written by the beloved disciple. It is also worth noting that the scenes where he is recorded as being present correlate with the portions of the narrative where the episodes are recounted with particular detail and vividness (such as the scene by the fire at the house of Caiaphas, or the conversation at the last supper). But who is the beloved disciple? He has to have been either Andrew, Peter, James or John (from examining the lists of those present in some of the scenes and cross-references with the other gospels). And Peter appears with him in John 21, so neither can it be him. James was martyred too early (Acts 12:1). Thus, by elimination, we conclude that the beloved disciple was in fact John the son of Zebedee, in confirmation of the statements of the early church. This also explains why John the disciple is almost never named in any episode in John’s gospel, despite being a prominent figure in the other three gospels.
It is also worth noting that in John 1:6, we read, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” He does not add a qualifying phrase such as “the Baptist” to distinguish him from the other John who was a disciple of Jesus. This is plausibly explained by the fact that the other John, the disciple, was the author of the gospel that bears his name, and therefore he had no need to distinguish himself from John the Baptist, since his readers would have known who he meant.
Returning to Abu Zakariya, he goes on,
We can turn to the content of the Gospel of John to reach a conclusion on whether it is a reliable first-hand account of the life of Jesus. Before that, let’s imagine ourselves in the shoes (or perhaps that should be sandals) of the disciple John who walked, talked and lived with Jesus. If you were to write an account of your personal experiences with Jesus, would you write using the first or third person narrative? For example, if you witnessed Jesus making a particular speech, would you record this in the first person as “I heard Jesus say…”, or in the third person as “Jesus said to John…”? Human beings typically write in the third person when they are reporting something they heard from someone else, so if you really did witness the speech first-hand you would most likely write your account from a first person perspective. When we analyse the narration style of the Gospel of John, we will find that the disciple that Jesus loved, who is said to be the author of the Gospel, is referred to in the third person so the author clearly can’t be the disciple: “One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him” [John 13:23]. This disconnected, third person style narrative is employed throughout the Gospel of John, and in fact the other Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke as well. Clearly, the Gospels were not written by first-hand witnesses of Jesus, but rather later authors who had no connection with the events they narrate, hence the detached third person narrative — much like that of a history being — being employed throughout their writings.
With due respect to Abu Zakariya, this again is a horrid argument. Indeed, the use of the third person singular is used in many ancient authors in reference to themselves — including Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, and Josephus. Augustine of Hippo himself, as far back as the late fourth century, in his Against Faustus Book XVII, chapter 4, wittingly wrote:
Faustus thinks himself wonderfully clever in proving that Matthew was not the writer of this Gospel, because, when speaking of his own election, he says not, He saw me, and said to me, Follow me; but, He saw him, and said to him, Follow me. This must have been said either in ignorance or from a design to mislead. Faustus can hardly be so ignorant as not to have read or heard that narrators, when speaking of themselves, often use a construction as if speaking of another. It is more probable that Faustus wished to bewilder those more ignorant than himself, in the hope of getting hold on not a few unacquainted with these things. It is needless to resort to other writings to quote examples of this construction from profane authors for the information of our friends, and for the refutation of Faustus. We find examples in passages quoted above from Moses by Faustus himself, without any denial, or rather with the assertion, that they were written by Moses, only not written of Christ. When Moses, then, writes of himself, does he say, I said this, or I did that, and not rather, Moses said, and Moses did? Or does he say, The Lord called me, The Lord said to me, and not rather, The Lord called Moses, The Lord said to Moses, and so on? So Matthew, too, speaks of himself in the third person… Evidently this style is common in writers of narratives… This may suffice to satisfy inquirers and to refute scoffers.
Another interesting point about the author of the Gospel of John is the way they present Jesus. In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus preaches in parables and short, compact sayings. However, in John, the method is with long discourses — Jesus sounds like a Greek philosopher. If the Gospel of John were read in isolation, then one would never guess that the parable was a common teaching method of his (John 15:1-8 being a rare example of a parable in the Gospel of John).
This again is a hopeless argument. Simply because John’s gospel does not report Jesus speaking in parables does not imply that Jesus did not teach in parables. And as Zakariya concedes, there is an instance of a parable in John, in 15:1-8:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
For another example of a parable in John’s gospel, here is John 10:1-6:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
In the synoptics, Jesus tells the parable the lost sheep (e.g., Matthew 18) which corresponds to Jesus’ “I am the good shepherd” saying in John, and also his repeated portrayal of himself as the shepherd of his own sheep in John. Likewise with the saying, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ in Matthew 26:31. For a fuller discussion of artless similarities between the sayings of Jesus in John’s gospel and the synoptics, I refer interested readers to Stanley Leathes’ book, The Witness of St. John to Christ, p.300ff. See also this article by Dr. Lydia McGrew.
Furthermore, John records Jesus’ early Judean ministry, which is not reported by the synoptic gospels. Indeed, most of Jesus’ teaching in John takes place in Jerusalem, where the learned classes congregate, and in a synagogue in Galilee. Thus, Jesus gives his more cryptic teachings in the very place where people (being well-versed in the Scriptures) are more likely to understand what he is getting at. Those are the teachings people would be least likely to remember who didn’t understand it. John, however, appears to be tuned into that frequency and thus he records many of Jesus’ more cryptic utterances.
Illiteracy in the Ancient World
According to Abu Zakariya,
We can also look to the social conditions of the Holy Land for further insight into the content of the Gospels. Illiteracy rates in first-century Palestine were staggeringly high. It has been estimated that the total literacy rate for Jews during the time of Jesus was likely less than 3 percent. This is not surprising, given that it was a predominantly oral society. Furthermore, the uneducated and the poor, who rerpesented the majority of the population, would have had little reason to learn to read and write as their primary lines of work were agriculture and fishing. We see these social conditions reflected int he New Testament which describes the disciples, including John, as being “unschooled” and “ordinary”: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and theyh took note that these men had been with Jesus” [Acts 4:13].
Yes the text says Peter and John were ἀγράμματοί (agrammotoi) / “unschooled”. But in context it seems that it is speaking of them being untrained in the Jewish law rather than being illiterate. Recent evidence indicates, furthermore, that literacy rates in the ancient world were in fact much higher than people realized even 20 years ago (e.g. see this article). Consistent with this, the New Testament documents themselves (for which we have thousands of Greek manuscripts) seem to have been copied by commoners rather than professional scribes. Even granting the premise that John and the other gospel authors were indeed illiterate, many people in the ancient world employed professional scribes. Why couldn’t this be the case here?
Dating the Gospels
Finally, Abu Zakariya, turns his hand to dating the gospels. He gives a range of 30-150 CE as possible dates for the composition of the gospels. Anything outside the first century, however, is ridiculous, since the gospels are very clearly associated with credible eyewitness testimony and are very obviously rooted in first century Palestine. Not to mention the fact that p52, a papyri fragment from John’s gospel (not the original autograph but a copy), dates to the first half of the second century (probably around 130 C.E.). Zakariya argues,
To narrow down the dates further, we can look to the writings of Paul. Paul wrote his letters around 50 – 60 CE. Paul never mentions or quotes any of the Gospels, so it seems that they were not written in his lifetime. Paul was an extraordinary well-travelled and well-connected person. So, if anyone would have known about the existence of written accounts of Jesus’s life, it would have been him. From this, it appears that the Gospels were not in circulation yet in the 50s. So, that narrows the dates to some time after 60 CE.
Zakariya is again simply in error here. Paul does quote from the gospels, specifically from Luke’s gospel (Paul quotes from Luke 10:7 in 1 Timothy 5:18, identifying it as Scripture on the same par as the Pentateuch). This then sets an upper date for the composition of Luke’s gospel to the early 60’s CE, when Paul wrote his letters to Timothy. But Luke is probably rather earlier than this, since by the time Paul quotes it in his letter to Timothy, it was apparently already in wide circulation and considered to be Scripture.
Furthermore, since Acts ends on a cliffhanger with Paul being placed under house arrest in Rome (with no mention of Paul’s death around 64 CE, or the death of Peter or Jesus’ brother James, or the great fire in Rome in 64 CE, or the persecution under the emperor Nero that ensued, or the siege of Jerusalem under Titus from 66 CE, culminating in the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. This suggests that Acts was written in the early 60’s CE, and thus Luke’s gospel must pre-date the book of Acts (since Acts is a sequel to Luke’s gospel, written by the same author.
Even John’s gospel, in John 5:2, speaks in the present tense, when he reports that “there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades.” These colonnades, along with the rest of the temple, were destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. This suggests that John’s gospel may also pre-date 70 CE, a conclusion argued by Dr. Daniel Wallace.
Abu Zakariya concludes,
In summary, when it comes to their dates, not one of the Gospels was written during the lifetime of Jesus, nor during the lifetimes of any witnesses, as the disciples would have most likely long passed away by that stage. When we also factor in their unknown identities together with the contents of the Gospels, we must conclude that they were not written by eyewitnesses.
Zakariya gives a range for his dating of the gospels as 70 – 100 CE. He claims that the disciples would have long passed away by this time. This isn’t necessarily the case for all of the disciples. Average life expectancy was rather low in the ancient world, but they are invariably skewed by the high infant mortality rate. There were many who lived to an old age. For example, John’s student Polycarp of Smyrna stated at his execution that he had served Christ for 86 years. Josephus the Jewish historian lived between 37 and 100 CE. Thus, it was by no means uncommon to live a long time, even in the ancient world.
In summary, again, we have seen that Abu Zakariya’s arguments, while they might be persuasive to the uninitiated, upon careful investigation fall flat. I apologize for the detail and thoroughness of this portion of my review. Even so, I have only scraped the very peak of the ice berg. I can hardly be blamed, however, for the fact that there exists so much compelling evidence for the truth of the gospel. In my next installment, I will interact with Zakariya’s discussion of whether the stories about Jesus were passed on reliably.