Do the 153 fish in John 21 count for anything?

There has been quite a lot of discussion online about the significance (or otherwise) of the 153 fish mentioned in John 21.11, which comes in the lectionary gospel reading for this Sunday coming. There seem to be no end of possible meanings for the term; here is a sample:

1. The catch of fish tells us of the salvation of humanity, but humanity cannot be saved without keeping the 10 commandments. But, on account of the fall, we cannot even keep the commandments without the help of grace and the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the number 7 signifies holiness, since God blessed the 7th day and made it holy (Gen 2:3). But 10 plus 7 equals 17, and if all the numbers from 1 to 17 are added together (1+2+3…+17), they equal 153. Hence, the 153 fish signify that all the elect are to be saved by the gift of grace (7) and the following of the commandments (10). (St Augustine, Commentary on John, 72.8)

2. 153 consists of 100 (the great number of gentiles to be saved), plus 50 (the smaller number of Jews to be saved), plus 3 (the Trinity who saves all) (St Cyril; this kind of reading is very similar to that of his brother Methodius in reading the number 1260 in Rev 12). Others follow St. Cyril, but modify this as follows: 100 (the multitude of married lay faithful in the Church), plus 50 (the many faithful who commit themselves later in life to continence either living as widows or living with their spouse in a brother-sister relationship), plus 3 (the precious few who commit their whole lives to celibacy as virgins) equals 153 (the whole Church taken together as a single body).

3. It was thought at that time that there were only 153 species of fish in all the world. Hence, the disciples caught 153 fish, signifying that people of every class and time would be saved through the Gospel. (St Jerome, Comm. Ez. 47.6-12).

4. Pythogoras was associated with catches of fish, and he had calculated that 153 is the denominator of the closest known fraction to the square root of 3 (265/153), and this was also the ratio of a fish shape drawn between two overlapping circles which are centred on each other’s circumference. This shape is therefore known as the vesica piscis or the mandorla and the ratio was called by Pythagoras the ‘measure of the fish’. If the two circles represent God and humanity, then the overlap represents Jesus as God incarnate, along with his followers, whose sign becomes the sign of the fish.

5. 153 written in base 120 is 18,360 days, which indicates the delay in the coming of the Millennium, but means that September 2017 will be a significant date in the ‘end times’ calendar.

What may occur on September 11, 2017 is speculation. Is it a final hit on the United States to prepare the way for the invasion into Israel? Will it at least be a warning that the coming “Flood” is about to come upon the world? We shall see…

We shall indeed!

6. The square root of 153 is 12.369, which is the number of lunar months in a solar year, and it therefore points to the moon which waxes and wanes, which is visible one minute and hides itself another. Just as the moon can hide itself, in Isaiah 8 the Lord spoke of hiding his face from Israel and binding up his testimony among the disciples.  The fish and the number 153 are for signs and symbols.  “Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion” (Isaiah 8:11-18).

7. My favourite: fishermen are prone to exaggerate. Thus the writer of the Fourth Gospel tells us the exact number of the catch, so that we can believe that it was a miraculously large catch of fish, and we don’t dismiss it merely as Peter’s exaggerated claim!

How do you respond to these theories? You might think (as I am inclined to) what fun it is, and how creative people have been in their reading of this single text! On the other hand, you might also come to the same conclusion as Raymond Brown in his commentary on John (with which I also have some sympathy):

One cannot deny that some of these interpretations (they are not mutually exclusive) are possible, but they all encounter the same objection:  we have no evidence that any such complicated understating of 153 would have been intelligible to John’s readers (Gospel according to John XIII-XXI, 1075).

When teaching on numerology in Revelation, I begin not with any of these at times esoteric theories, but in proposing three principles for how we read any text. After all, making sense of a particular number in the text is nothing more than a special case of how we interpret texts generally, and what we allow ourselves to do will depend on how we understand what texts are, and what we are doing when we read them. These are my ‘Principles for avoiding crazy readings’:

  1. The claim made must fit the data of the text. This might sound like a very obvious principle, but it is in fact amazing how often people claim that a text says something when, on closer examination, the text says nothing of the sort.
  2. The reading must have been a possible meaning for the author of the text and its first readers. This is the principle that Raymond Brown is assuming—but it depends on understanding Scripture as both ‘God-breathed’ and the product of human authorship at the same time. That is, it depends on a specific understanding of Scripture as the inspired writings of particular people, in quite a different way (for example) from the way that Muslims generally view the Quran.
  3. Any ‘deep’ or ‘hidden’ meaning must cohere with the ‘surface’ meaning of the text. I think this principle is less obvious, but again it depends on an assumption about the way God communicates with us. Whilst Jesus taught in parables as a strategy to challenge his listeners to think again about God and the kingdom, it is a serious Christian conviction that God wants to communicate with us and make things clear, and not play tricks on us and tease us with esoteric codes and hidden meanings. Christianity is not gnostic, and the Bible is not a code book in the way that Kabbalism (and other esoteric traditions) treat it.

With these principles in mind, what then are we to make of the 153 in John 21.11, and the various theories above? Some can be dismissed outright, such as the end-times timescale; here the number is simply a jumping-off point into a theory that has no connection with the text, with the Fourth Gospel, or with the first-century world. The three patristic ideas, of Augustine, Cyril and Jerome, are more difficult to evaluate; was it important to the writer and his readers that 153 was a ‘triangular’ number (the sum of successive integers) and did they believe that 153 signified all the fish in the sea? Here we are sharply reminded that, whilst Scripture is ‘close’ to us, in that we hear God speaking to us through it by his Spirit, as it gives testimony to the Son, at another level to read the Bible is to go on a cross-cultural journey, since we think of numbers in quite a different way from first-century people.

There are not very many large numbers mentioned in the New Testament: this is one; Luke mentions that there are 276 people who are saved from the shipwreck in Acts 27.37; and the number of beast in Rev 13.18 is 666. It is striking mathematically that all three of these are ‘triangular’ numbers, as several of our theories note, which is a much more important thing in a world where you primarily count using physical objects, rather than in our world where numbers are more like abstract concepts. In fact, the word in the New Testament for ‘to calculate’ (psephizo) derives from the word for ‘pebble’ (psephos).

If 153 as the triangle of 17 is important, then perhaps we need to think about the significance of 17 itself. Commentators struggle to make much sense of the list of regions whose residents were at Pentecost in Acts 2.9–11; Ben Witherington in his socio-rhetorical commentary (pp 136 to 137) notes the anomalies, and the failure of things like astrological theories to make any sense of the list. But, taking the ‘Jews and proselytes’ from Rome as two groups, we have a list of 17, and perhaps Luke here is simply communicating that people hear the message from all over the known world. (Luke is clearly interested in numerology himself; the late Martin Menken pointed out that Peter’s Pentecost speech consisted of two halves of 444 syllables each, the total 888 being the gematria value of Jesus’ name in Greek. And Joel Green draws on Menken’s work to note that, in stories like the raising of the widow of Nain’s son, the word for ‘compassion’ comes at the numerical centre of the narrative.)

The connection with the nations of the world is also suggested by a connection with Ezekiel 47, which is the context for Jerome’s reflection.

In Ezekiel 47, we see baptismal waters flowing from the overturned Bronze Sea of the Temple, flowing out to the boundaries of the Land. Remember that Jesus claims to be the source of such living waters. In Ezekiel 47:9, we are told that “very many fish” will live in the (formerly) Dead Sea as a result of these living waters. In verse 10 we read, “And it will come about that fishermen will stand beside it; from En-Gedi to En-Eglaim there will be a place for spreading of nets. Their fish will be acording to their kinds, like the fish of the Great [Mediterranean] Sea, very many.”

The Dead Sea is the boundary of the new land after the exile, and a place of contact with gentiles. The fishes are clearly gentile nations. The fact that the sea is formerly dead and now is brought to life surely indicates the influence of Restoration Israel over the nations before Christ, and points to the greater influence of the Kingdom after Pentecost.

Now, it is well known that Hebrew letters are also numbers: the first nine letters being 1-9, the next nine being 10-90, and the last five being 100-400. “Coding” words with numbers is called gematria. If we substract the “En” from En-Gedi and En-Eglaim, since “en” means “spring,” then the following emerges:

Gedi = 17 (ג = 3; ד = 4; י = 10)

Eglaim = 153 (ע = 70; ג = 3; ל = 30; י = 10; מ = 40)

Again, this seems too close to the mark to be a coincidence. Once again, we have the number 17 (Gedi, mentioned first) and its relative 153 (Eglaim, mentioned second) connecting to the evangelization of the gentiles, symbolized by fishing.

Conclusion: The number 153 represents the totality of the nations of the world, which will be drawn in the New Creation.

This connection is also made by Richard Bauckham, in what is perhaps the most comprehensive study of this issue in print, in the final chapter of his The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple. (It is worth noting the other connections with Ezekiel in both the Fourth Gospel and the Book of Revelation.) Bauckham further connects the numerology here with the opening chapters of the gospel, thus arguing that this ‘second’ concluding chapter was always part of the whole work, contrary to the dominant view in the previous generation that chapter 21 was a later addition. (Mark Stibbe also makes the case for unity on the basis of literary features of the text.)

Where does all this get us, and how might it shape our preaching?

First, we just need to recognise that these texts are, in some important ways, strange to us, so we do need to enter into the world of the text with a sense of disciplined imagination.

Secondly, there is a good case, supported in multiple ways, for seeing the 153 as having both real and symbolic significance. I don’t see any reason to doubt that someone counted the number (fishermen would be in the habit of doing so, surely?) but like many other things in this gospel, the reality also has symbolic significance.

Thirdly, the connections with the number 17 at Pentecost, and the parallels in this episode with the commissioning of the disciples in the similar experience in Luke 5, do suggest that the symbolic significance has to do with gospel ministry which will draw on people from all over the world. This is a ‘hidden’ meaning which simply says the same thing as the narrative in Luke 5, though in a distinct way and using distinct language and symbolism.

Fourthly, this does make the meaning of the narrative strongly focussed on the theme of restoration and renewing commissioning, a theme that is reinforced in Jesus’ threefold restoration of Peter in the next pericope. The disciples are once again, beyond their failure and fear, being called to proclaim the good news about Jesus to all the world.

Happy preaching! Happy listening! And happy reading!

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media, possibly using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizoLike my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?

Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Do engage with the subject. Please don't turn this into a private discussion board. Do challenge others in the debate; please don't attack them personally. I no longer allow anonymous comments; if there are very good reasons, you may publish under a pseudonym; otherwise please include your full name, both first and surnames.

351 thoughts on “Do the 153 fish in John 21 count for anything?”

  1. “149… 150… 151… 152… Last one: 153. Wow, 153 fish. That’s pretty deep, that. I wonder what Pythagoras and Augustine would have to say about this mathematically and theologically significant number, Lord.”

    “Never mind all that, Peter; look, just stick a few on the barbie will you, we’re all getting a bit peckish.”

    • There were some fish already on the barbie – but why?

      Note that the fish did not appear at all in the crumbs in the 500 episode. Is this because bread casues crumbs and fish don’t? Or are there other sorts of reasons more congenial to John?

      This in the context of several echoes of the 5000 story in 21.1-14.

      The 2+153 fish make 155 (the Hebrew gematria of ‘Cana’ which is mentioned in context, 21.2).

      2 of the 3 Cana contexts share that they are abundance out of lack: no wine 2.3, no food (not just no fish) 21.5.

      Cana (a word whose associations are emphasised by John more than is strictly necessary) was already a suspect for gematria , being in Greek 72 or in Hebrew-ised Greek (omitting vowels) 70. This 70/72 thing is everywhere in biblical thought: Ex. 24.1 (Nadab and Abihu / Moses and Aaron as additional 2s), Luke 10.1 with its variant readings, Letter of Aristeas & variant traditions of whether 70 or 72 translated the Septuagint. The root cause could be that Hebrew MT has 70 nations in Gen 11, Septuagint has 72.

      Some do link 153 to a putative number of nations – if so, the already-existing 2 fish could be the pre-existing Israel and Judah who are *already* sons of God (by the 2stage logic, rather typical of the NT, in 11.50-2 etc.).

      The 153 are likely to be the scattered sons of God if we import Caiaphas’s speech here – there is Hebrew gematria (quite widely accepted) ‘bney ha-Elohim’ (sons of God) = 153. ‘Sons of god’ echoes Gen 6 (see below on Gen 4.1). There was a tradition from 2nd century (or earlier?) that the daughters of men were daughters of Cain, and therefore the sons of god had Cainite offspring and became a Cainite people. (Not for long, to be sure – the Flood saw to that.)

      Hebrew Qanah 4.1 is rare and is the beginning and end of Cain’s name etymologically. However it is closer to ‘Cana’ than to ‘Cain’, so John may be taking up Eve’s wordplay with this particular word. That Gen 4.1 was in John’s mind is certain (16.21, ‘getting’ a ‘man’ rather than a baby is distinctive). The word qanah implies a new and remarkable type of creation, a 2nd generation kind of birth, Cain and bros being of the 2nd generation (cf.: ‘born again’). 1.12-13 is the same as what Eve is saying Gen 4.1 as she marvels: this birth or new creation has come directly from the Lord, rather than by any of the 3 means or motivations listed in 1.13. (Cain was of course the first and archetypical childbirth.)

      The Cain link with the fishcatch then slots into a sequence:
      Adam and enephusesen (breathing life into) – cf. Easter Day evening
      Eve and opening up of pleura (side/rib) – cf. Thomas
      Scattered sons of God (Cain) – cf. 153 fish
      Shepherd who dies (Abel) – cf. Peter
      The one who (a) remains/abides, (b) is substituted (‘Seth’ etymology) for the one who predeceased him, and (c) is the true image of Gen. 5.3 (Jn 19.27: has same mother as Jesus; the formation of this new one-male-one-female is the final creation after which ‘it is finished’) (Seth) – cf. John (21.20-4).

      Further on the idea that the extra 2 are Israel and Judah: There are a couple of new characters Nathanael and Nicodemus – the one has Adam typology (hidden, under tree, figs, without guile) and the other Abraham typology (disbelief at new birth when old, meeting with the divine at night, gave only Son). One is from Israel (Cana in Galilee) and one from Judah (see above on the extra 2s: 153+2 = 155; 70+2 = 72). They form a pair by beginning with the rare-ish letter N and not being found in other gospels. A (Adam and Abraham) is archaios/old and initiates the initial cycle (aleph/alpha = 1 in Hebrew and Greek). N (Nathanael and Nicodemus) is neos/new and initiates the new cycle or else completes the overall cycle (n = 50 in both Hebrew and Greek, and the jubilee cycle is in mind: cf. above on 2.3, 21.5). It looks like the 153 scattered children of God are being welcomed to the company of the existing 2. That being the case, the other unnamed disciple of 21.2, together with John the Elder, could be perhaps Nicodemus, by now fully convinced and reborn. Both these historical figures were arguably prominent in Jerusalem pre-war; they were contemporaries and quite possibly friends. Few writers would leave Nicodemus’s status hanging tantalisingly and unresolved – is his new birth only to be promised and unfulfilled despite his promising steps (chs 7, 19) in the right direction?

      • I spoke the other day on the ‘Are there different loves?’ thread about John’s fondness for 2+5 patterns. Cana, which is a name and concept beloved of John which he is actively pushing, encapsulates 20+50 (kappa = 20, nu = 50) – same sort of thing, same ratio, but incorporating the ’50’ idea that we find with Nathanael and Nicodemus: N=50.

        Just like Cain/childbirth appears as a gratuitous gift ex nihilo, but postdating the original sequence of creations, so too with the wine ex nihilo and food ex nihilo in chs 2, 21.

        Many see the main structure of John as being the reenactment of the Gen 1 creations to show that Jesus is God because he does the works of God. The Adam-Eve-Cain-Abel-Seth ‘greater works’ in John 20-21 are tacked onto the end of all this, as promised (after ‘It is finished’ which corresponds to the start of Gen2) just as in Genesis. They focus not just on these 5 people but more especially on their origins and the first thing that is said about them, which often equates to the way they were created.

  2. Dear Ian,
    Thank you for your article. I am currently preparing a session for our Kingdom Arts Group ( on the 153 fish. We shall be creating patterns with 153 small sticky coloured dots. Certainly we shall be aware of numbers like 7, 10, and 17. I found the hexagonal number 153 particularly interesting (hexagons, one inside the other, ever increasing, with two sides overlapping). This gives the appearance of a net reaching out – at each hexagon step a perfected work, yet always reaching out to gather in more.
    Yes, I’m sure fishermen count their catch – whether for competition or for business. But then again you can’t shake off the feeling that the number must have had some sort of significance for John. Great stuff for imaginative art!

  3. Luke’s mention of the 276 souls on board ship in Acts 27 is just one of his multiple use of recursions, depicting Paul as Jesus. Acts 27:33-38 is aligned to correspond to Luke 9:12-17. Both episodes occur in a remote place, at a late time of day or night, hunger threatens, both use “took bread, gave thanks, broke it, ate,” the hungry were satisfied, with leftovers of a sort. Luke uses many intertextual threads—including the mention of numbers (about 5,000, 276) to compose the recursion (One of multiple examples Luke composed to argue that Paul was Jesus legitimate successor, albeit a temporary one.

    • That’s interesting…and there are some clear parallels. Though the actual location is quite different, and I am not sure that fully explains the number, which has long been recognised as having some sort of symbolic significance.

  4. Is this why the children were given ‘pebbles’ in Knowing?! That seems to have been based on Ezekiel too. I thought the last image was impressive…

  5. Regardless of whether 153 was understood to have any symbolic significance (by the fishermen at the time, or later by the author of John’s gospel), it’s reasonable to argue that the number was remembered precisely because it was triangular. If your catch is large, you naturally want to count the fish. And it could well be a time-honoured method to put them down on the ground in lines, each of which is one fish longer than the one above it. If you finished line 17 with no remainder, you might think, “Neat! I’ll not forget that.”

  6. How about this possible explanation: The author was describing a supernatural event (an historical event or theological fictional embellishment we will never know). He wanted to get across two points to his readers by specifying the exact number of fish. One, that it was a big miracle, so a very large quantity of fish. Any fisherman will tell you— hundred fifty three fish is a lot of fish! Second, he wanted the number to sound realistic not invented. Saying that the disciples caught “100 fish”, “300 fish”, or “500” fish sounds artificial and invented. So he picked “153” out of thin air!

    I would be curious to know if it was a common practice among first century writers to place big or odd numbers into their works when their story involved a supernatural event.

    • I think Ian is right, that the 153 has a meaning to John and his readers. Otherwise he could have just said ‘The boat’s net was full of fish’. That in itself would have shown the miraculous as the contrast is made between the fishermen’s overnight failure to catch any fish, and the sudden catch of a large number simply because Jesus has arrived on the scene. So by being specific with a number, John is saying more than a miracle.


      • Certainly possible, but of course we are both speculating. The real issue is the historicity of the story itself.

        • I think what you say could be questionable, Gary. There are several reasons why John would like the number 153 anyway – almost too many – and that fact renders the theory of seemingly-random verisimilitude redundant.

          Also, I think it’s dangerous to say ‘The real issue is…’ – very often there will be more than one real issue, and it is never best (given than many angles exist) to look at only one angle and then think that no more needs to be done.

          • You are correct. If one’s primary concern is WHY the author used this number in his story then it is irrelevant if the event described actually occurred.

            It is certainly possible that the author of the Gospel never meant this story to be understood as a literal event. He may have intended this story to be a parable. The specific quantity of fish meant to emphasize a particular theological point; a point his readers would have recognized but one that baffles us today.

            It is always interesting to speculate about “hidden clues” in ancient texts. A more famous hidden clue is of course the alleged “inclusio” in the Gospel of Mark.

          • Yes – but you have decided in advance what the primary concern should be. On what basis? The other questions do not go away, so we should be asking all of them. See my comment above.

            If the theological point baffles the scholarly students of the most studied book of all, then it follows that perhaps there is none.

            I think bedrock is that the ‘fish’ message (‘Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God’) and the ‘153’ message (‘sons of God’) are so similar. This cannot be coincidence, and therefore is likely to be an intentional message. As to whether we call it theological, I’m sure our categories of reality, theology and scripture were inextricable and almost indistinguishable to John.

      • My small contribution to the debate would be to suggest that the number was meaningful to John, but he does not necessarily assume that the number would be meaningful to the readers (and hearers).

        Perhaps it was like this:
        1) The fish are counted, there are 153 of them.
        2) John, resisting the temptation to arrange them in a 17-sided triangle, notices the interesting number, being a well-educated lad.
        3) Because it is an interesting number, it sticks in his memory.
        4) So he includes it in the story as a detail when writing it up many years later. It is like the detail of Peter putting his clothes on before plunging in the water.
        5) Perhaps he did think, “I wonder what folk will make of this number” and be very pleased with this discussion!

        For my part, all the supposed relationship to the gathering of people from the nations would fit much better in the Luke 5 incident, when Peter etc. are to be changed from catchers of fish to catchers of men. In John 21 the emphasis is on the restoration of Peter, and his commissioning in a pastoral, rather than an evangelistic, ministry.

        • Yes, but it is a restoration to this global ministry, and if I am right, then the 153 reaffirm the promise that the ministry will indeed be efficacious and fruitful.

          In other words, it move beyond being a merely personal and emotive affirmation, but one the includes a restoration to wider fruitfulness.

  7. The non-theological interpretation (would a fisherman have been likely to count how many fish he caught?):

    Tax man: “Peter, how many fish did you catch today?”

    Peter: “153”

    Tax man: “OK, I’ll calculate your tax.”

      • Only if honesty, truth and integrity were not important to Hebrew believers, let alone Christ’s disciples even if they were “mere” fishermen would that imputation apply,Ian.

  8. Rollcall of factors that shed light on ‘153’, in approx. order of importance:

    1. John as a whole is a 1-5-3 work. It presents a jubilee-style 9day week (Lev.22), both in its microcosm (the 1.1-2.13 week) and in its macrocosm. This begins with a Sunday sabbath (ONE), then Mon to Fri (FIVE); then leaves out Saturday, and extends the sabbath to the ninth day (THREE). John has very many sevens, but where these are nines, the extra 2 always come at points 1 and 7 or 2 and 3 for this reason – the jubilee-style extension in sabbath-territory.

    2. If we look at the microcosm days and divide them into 1-5-3, we get trinitarian titles in gematria, where total numbers of syllables indicate order of importance, and the Father is flanked by Son and Spirit as in Ascension of Isaiah: the 1 is 496 (monogenes, for Christ), the 5 is 1181 (georgos, for the Father), and the 3 is 432 (panta, for the Spirit – see 3.34 and Eph 4).
    The most obvious breaks in 1.1-2.13 are indeed after 1.18 and 1.51.
    (One bit of more detailed research: The 9 matrices of John’s Periodic Table, whence he derives his content, are also divided into 1-5-3. Matrix 1, the I AMs matrix entitled ‘Monogenes’, is unlike the others in that much of its material is from the Farewell Discourses section. Matrices 7-9 are also unlike the others because they are the only uniform [‘panta’] ones: every item in matrix 7 is a sum, in matrix 8 a scripture, in matrix 9 a title. Further, within these matrices, the 7 sections or Days of the gospel evince the pattern 1-5-3, because the first Day is the microcosm, and the final Day, no.7, is the only one that is not simply sequential, but has material in 3 areas – roughly chs 12, 17, 20-1.)
    Also, section 1 in microcosm and in macrocosm is separated off by having a non-sequential number ‘arche’ (1.1, 2.11) whereas other day-sections are not non-sequential in this explicit way.

    3. John is a Genesis work because its structure is the Genesis 1 works (the Greater Works of Resurrection and Ascension are then followed by 5 new works which correspond in order both to the further creation of the family of Adam and to the fivefold ministry of Eph 4). In light of this, it is interesting that the number of instances of the Tetragrammaton (Divine Name) in Genesis is apparently 153. This I have not checked.

    4. When we lay out the Johannine numbers in order in a triangle 9 high with 17 numbers, 153 being 9×17 (see Stone Jars thread), we find that they form a 4-3-2 levels pattern, and that the 3 levels indicate 153+126+153 = 432 (PANTA), these being the only 3 ways of combining 3 different numbers that together total 9. So a 4-3-2 level pattern totals 432.

    5. The immediate gematria for 153 is ‘sons of God’ (see above, re Caiaphas prophecy interpretation; 1.12-13; Genesis 6) – maybe as the fish are just a symbol of these rather than being the real sons of God this was a good context for mysterious gematria which could seal the identification of the symbol with the real thing, this not being obvious at first sight.

    6. The association of 153 with the theme of fish has appropriate backgrounds in the Pythagorean vescia piscis and the Ezekiel pattern found by Emerton. I would suspect only one of these is deliberate. However, John will have needed no persuading to emphasise fish, since the ancient Christian symbol is an acronym which precisely sums up what he has (deliberately, with the fish pattern in mind) given as the summary of the message of his gospel: [on the basis of the signs,] Jesus is (cf. Greek ‘on’) the Christ, the Son of God: 20.31. The form of ichthus with the 153 is the genitive ichthuon.

    7. There are good reasons why John would like 153 intrinsically. It has been called the master triangular number, and he is writing a gospel where threes are important – his week structure of Days 123456123 (leaving out Saturday) is a set of three threes. In a world of 3s, it is seen as a master number for this reason. Any number, when you cube the digits separately and add the cubes and go on doing so, will revert to 153, 370, or 371. So 153 is the lowest number that can be reverted to. It reverts to itself at the 3rd time of asking. Further, it has 3 digits, and is the sum of its own three digits when they are all cubed (i.e. magnified to the power of three).

    8. Combinations of 1,3,5 are the only way of making up a sub-10 number (John’s favourite number, 9) from 3 different numbers all of which are likewise odd. [Of course, John will not have been like us who call a bus ‘number one-four-three’ as opposed to onehundred-forty-three; but his use of 666 and [see above] 432 shows him to be not too dissimilar from us in this respect

    9. (More complex, can be ignored:) By juxtaposing his 153 to a 200, the difference between the two being 47, John has attained the number (47) that’s most useful in reaching the totals he wants to make with other numbers in context, namely 2, 7, 40, 49. This point relates to matrix 7 mentioned above.

    10. 153 is approximately the square of the number of lunar months in a year. This being so, John may have thought it was exactly the square. However, lunar years are not so central to his thought as to command his one and only clear non-veiled instance of gematria. Nor are they central to this particular context, despite the dawn. Even the number 153 is not the actual relevant number but is at one remove from it. And even then the calculation or mathematical match-up is not exact.
    Strachan spoke of the Pythagorean right-angled triangle with sides 3 and 12, and we cannot deny that the squares of all 3 sides are of interest to John: 9, 144, 153. 153 therefore combines 2 numbers John already likes. But there are stronger points.

    11. To diktuon (the net) is 8×153 = 1224, so too is ichthues (fish); add the number 153 and we get 17×153, or 17x17triangular. The total here is 2601 which number could be by gematria the name of God (26) plus the unity of God or the idea of being gathered into one (01).

    12. Farrer thought that the 1 Kings 5.15-16 153,300 men were relevant especially as this is the context where we have the biblical precedent for 666. This may be something John had noted, but again the number is not exact (it is a thousand times too big, and what about the extra 300?), nor are temple-building-workers relevant, nor is there any reason to go to this passage when we have sufficient reasons in other quarters for John to take interest in 153.

    13. It is possible that John likes 17 because it is the 7th prime. But is he really into primes?

    14. Saxby Expository Times 1992 (I think it is) wants to press the point that 154 = hemera and there was one fish already on the fire. In this light, who knows whether the omicron plus psi that is popular here (opsias, opsarion), which is 70+700 = 770, = 5x 154, is relevant? It seems too many steps of only possible relevance to achieve an end that is even then not fully convincing or relevant in itself. On 155 and the 2 fish of chapter 6, the gematria of ‘Cana’ and the links between chs 6 and 21, see my first comment above.

    In short, the odd situation of there being so many reasonably convincing reasons why John would like 153 becomes less odd when we see that (a) the whole gospel is a 1-5-3 gospel so there is bound to be a lot of data; (b) the different backgrounds were each relevant at just one stage or level of the overall process.
    In my view, the main steps in his thought are: first, he envisages a 9day jubilee-style week as basis (a step beyond the structures he employed in Rev.); second, he sees that this means in terms of sabbaths and weekdays 1-5-3; third, he finds a good gematria puzzle that works for 153, which is independent of the other puzzle (the ichthus acrostic) which he deliberately puts directly alongside it. The other things are less important. Thus, he holds no special brief for the number 17. The fact that 1,5,3 add up to 9 is of no importance since it was with 9 that he started anyway, and only then divided it up into 1,5,3. None of the Pythagorean considerations are actually necessary. As he was to choose only one central special number, he could choose any number he liked, and therefore was bound to choose one that was special in as many ways as a number could be. 153 instances of God’s name in Genesis (given that his is a Genesis gospel) is something he may have known about: the name of God is not unconnected with 153 in his use of it. The 2+153=155 Cana device is perhaps secondary, but his having the name Cana in his gospel is his own choice anyway, so he was at liberty to construct a suitable gematria as he wished; nor is this direct ‘fish’ connection between 153 gematria and Cana gematria (in a gospel not exactly replete with gematria) likely to be coincidental. Nor should the numbers table (stone jars thread) cause wonder, since once he had established the 153 principle, other numbers could be carefully selected to fit it. The fact that ‘153’ comes at the end of the gospel emphasises that this has been a 1-5-3 gospel, and we have now entered upon the third of the final 3 days. Likewise in the microcosm, we have a statement about 3 final days from Jesus 2.19 at a point when the 3-3-3 (or 1-5-3) days have now been enacted so that we are on the final one of the last 3, and within a section (2.14-25) that has 333 syllables.

    • …which makes it a ‘3-narcissistic’ number, along with 370, 371 and 407. Cubic numbers are in some places in scripture associated with the presence of God because the holy of holies was cube shaped (see my commentary on Revelation) but not as far as I can see with anything trinitarian…

  9. Probably no major significance for John 21, but 153 is also the sum of the first 5 factorials, ie 1!+2!+3!+4!+5!

      • (Perhaps not. It is evident that not all triangular numbers are a sum of sequential factorials starting at 1 nor that all such sums of sequential factorials are triangular numbers. E.g. the third triangular number is 6, and the sum of the first three factorials is 9. If the 17th triangular number is the sum of the first 5 factorials, then there just are not enough such sums to go round. Asymptotically, triangular number are O(n^2) but factorials are O(n^n).)

  10. Ye Gods ! I clearly can’t be a real Christian, I don’t have a degree in Mathematics ! Can 153 angels dance on the head of a pin ? I like the idea that 153 is the number of gentile nations, so as the disciples must go on to be ‘fishers of men’, taking the Gospel across the world, they must catch ‘153 men’ so they will have caught all the gentile nations. That is quite deep enough for 99.99 % of all past, present, and future believers. Maybe I’m too much of a puritan, but I would condemn detailed numerology as superstition, I really would.

    • I agree. You can read anything into numbers.

      When I was a teenager (in the 70’s) the members of my fundamentalist branch of Protestantism believed that the pope was the Anti-Christ. Why? Because if you assigned certain numbers to the letters in his name, add them all up, you would get 666. Of course when that particular pope died and had not inaugurated 7 years of The Great Tribulation, we were left scratching our heads. How could we have been so wrong??? I also remember being told from the pulpit that certain numbers in the Book of Revelation when added up pointed to the year 1983 as the year of the Second Coming.

      Oops. That one didn’t turn out either.

    • Thanks Jonathan (and Gary)—I have had that response from quite a few people in different contexts!

      But it is worth noting a few things.

      First, the moment you suggest *anything* other than that there simply that number of fish (e.g. that this indicates the number of nations) then you are moving away from a ‘literal’ reading, and need to justify that.

      Second, people will find all sorts of speculative interpretations. Trying simply to reject them all will not work—which is why I actually propose a method, rooted in our understanding of what Scripture is, for discerning between them.

      Thirdly, we really must bear in mind that these texts do belong to another human culture, different from ours, which interprets numbers in a different way from us. If those interpretations do look a little more like crazy dispensationalist symbolic readings…well, we still need to let the Fourth Gospel be what it is.

      Fourthly, as my third ‘rule’ emphasises, this is not about a carte blanche to let hidden meanings take us away from the text. The connection with Acts 2 and with Ezekiel 47 actually reinforce the ‘surface’ meaning of the text…in a way that crazy dispensationalist readings don’t…and also point to the text being a remarkable theological exposition of Jesus as the one who discloses the reality of God both to his disciples and (if they will receive it) to the whole world. (See Philip Seddon’s comment below).

      So, take heart. You don’t need a degree in maths. But we all need to allow Scripture to be both far from us (culturally) and near to us (spiritually) in speaking to our world.

      • Thank you Ian, I value your thoughtful presentations a great deal. Yes, but if I were preaching on this text and felt the need to talk about the story as a kind of parable of how the Disciples must conduct themselves in the future (and the subsequent questioning of Peter very much points at this), I would merely say that the fishing miracle is a good parable, and the number of fish is thought by some people to represent something about the world which needs to be saved.

        I remember talking to some German friends who had become fascinated by the theories of hidden codes in the order of the letters of the words of the Bible, and the mysterious messages apparently hidden therein, and I said that it may well be that God has intended some people to find meaning this way, but that there’s plenty to read into the Bible without looking for codes.

        • I should perhaps add that what I put in these blog posts are not the texts of sermons, but the background that you might want to think about in preparing to preach…

          I would never dump all this info on a congregation if I were preaching on it.

  11. ‘If 153 as the triangle of 17 is important, then perhaps we need to think about the significance of 17 itself’ (Ian Paul, above). Indeed; but neither secondary illustrations (Acts 2:9-11), nor mathematical calculations and gematria concerning square roots, prime and triangular numbers are sufficient to convince. What we need is a theological explanation – which is that ‘the number 17 is the “small” numerical value of the Tetragrammaton’ (Israel Knohl, ‘Psalm 68: Structure, Composition and Geography’, in the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, Vol. 12, Art. 15, n. 25); Knohl mentions this in passing as indisputable: 17 is a ‘substitute’ for the name of God, alongside a whole range of letter-abbreviations, in Israelite and Jewish history and understanding (Jacob Lauterbach, ‘Substitutes for the Tetragrammaton’, Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, Vol. 2 (1930-1931)): first letter (Y, YY – ‘from very early times’), first and last letters YH (the most common), final letter H, etc.).

    The commonly accepted numerical value of YHWH is 26 (10 + 5 + 6 + 5), as noted by Sr Edmée Kingsmill (The Song of Songs and the Eros of God, 40, via Rabbi Marc Solway), and confirmed more generally by Casper Labuschagne (Numerical Secrets of the Bible, 89; cf. Bauckham, ’The 153 Fish’, n.12), Loren Bliese (Count God In, 4) and Duane Christensen (Deuteronomy, WBC 6A, ciii).

    ‘[T]he “small” numerical value’ of 17 derives from a different form of the divine name (YHWH), viz. an archaic form ahweh (instead of the present text ehyeh, but both with initial aleph (= 1): ‘I AM’, Ex 3:14), where 1 + 5 + 6 + 5 = 17 (e.g. Christensen, Deuteronomy, 9). All the above authors concur: alongside 26, 17 represents the divine name YHWH. This is the theological, not merely a mathematical, starting-point for discussion.

    In line with some of the connections that Richard Bauckham himself makes, I offer two related angles for thinking about 17 and 153: 1) a general point about the relationship between the numbers; and 2) a specific point about the beginning and end of the Gospel.

1) If there is any validity in the references back to Pythagoras, then John is taking up the use of mathematical triangulation theory to offer a new early triangulatory – ‘trinitarian’ – vision of who the One God – YHWH/ AHWEH – is: Jesus is the One who, throughout the Gospel, consistently points away from himself to the Father (5:19), and points forward to the gift of the Spirit (1:50, 6:63, 7:38), who is poured out through his death (19:30), and then breathed onto the disciples as the Spirit of the new creation after his resurrection (20:22). The Farewell Speeches also particularly highlight the promise of the Spirit in a way that no other Gospel does. The One God of Israel (numerologically 17) is – literally – broken open to reveal the humility and grace of a Triune God.

    2) If we are dealing with the full meaning and disclosure of the divine name in Jesus and the Spirit, the final chapter clearly and deliberately refers back to the final verse of the Prologue, 1:18: ‘No one has ever seen God: monogenēs theos (‘the only God’, referring to Jesus: Bauckham, top 276) who rests in the Father’s lap – that is the One, that is the Person who has exēgēsato him – revealed, expounded, exposited him.’ Accordingly, the entire Gospel, culminating in the final chapter with its ‘“small” numerical value of 17’ is itself an ‘exposition’ – an exegesis – of the God whom no one has ever seen – YHWH/ AHWEH – in such a way that that 17 explodes into a 153, revealing all the multiple preparations for the Gospel (praeparatio evangelii) that the Gospel (and especially the Prologue) itself contains, whether Israelite and Jewish, or Greek and Hellenistic; all contribute to the revelation of the glory, grace and truth (1:14, 17) of the Word made flesh. The account is not just about a catch of fish, but about a staggering revolution – which we can hardly adequately grasp or ‘haul in’ (21:6) – in our understanding of God.

    There are certainly dangers of numerological fantasies and obsessions (as some of the literature cited shows); but the baby must not be thrown out with the bath-water; and Bauckham’s essay makes it clear that numerology plays a notable role in John’s Gospel, with – to give one clear example – ‘Gedi’ and ‘Eglaim’ in Ezek 47, for example, being referred to Jesus as the new temple from which, and the One from whose side, the living water flows (John 7:38, 19:34).

    • Philip,
      Interesting. What I’m getting from this is that the 153 as the 17th triangular number, is about the revelation of God, rather than the gathering in of the nations. IMVHO, I think that fits better the context, and perhaps links with “It’s the Lord” – the recognition of the figure on the beach.

      • Thank you, David. 1. I like your reference to Peter’s ‘It is the Lord’: that’s very apposite – i.e. (for the benefit of the reader) ‘It is the Lord’ (kurios) we are dealing with here (cf. Mary Magdalene’s ‘I have seen the Lord’ in 20:18), i.e. the Risen Lord, the Creator, Provider and Re-Creator of life.

        2. Yes, I have been emphasising the revelation of God primarily, on the basis that 153 is ‘back-related’ to 17, and 17 is the number-name for YHWH (in the person of Jesus, the Lord), perhaps because too much of the discussion focusses on the secondary issue of the mathematics of counting fish. ‘The Lord’ is the central point of identification.

        But I do not deny that the catch of fish, alongside Jesus’ command to Peter to ‘Follow me!’ (21:22), does also represent the outreach to the nations, along the lines of Matt. 28:19, noting that the fulfilment of the Ezek 47 passage(s) is located in Lake Galilee (cf. Matt. 4:15), not the Jerusalem Temple, and that it is the Dead Sea that is to be filled with the ‘living water’ that Jesus provides (ch 4!). The gathering in of the nations depends absolutely on the revelation of who Jesus is.

        The Gospel then ends with both the ‘Cost of Discipleship’ for Peter, and a flash-back to the catch of fish in a possible hint that, though the net was not broken by holding so many fish (21:11), it would be impossible for the very world (kosmos) itself to contain all the books that would have to be written (21:25) to expound the fullness of who Jesus is (‘153’). Here again we see the impossibility of limiting God’s magnitude and plenitude.

        • Hi Philip

          I like the way you want to retain the ingathering of nations which I think is essential here.

          It is certainly interesting that the large and peculiar NT numbers are regularly triangular. 153, 276, 666. Because of genre there is a possibility that 276 is only coincidentally triangular. While with 666 the interest is clearly in the 666 rather than its root 36. So in order to establish an interest in 17 (for John’s interest in 153 is undeniable in its own right) one would have to establish for example that the Divine Name thing you and others posit was something John is likely to have been aware of. This is something I have no idea about, but is clearly well worth looking into: the history of regard for 17 as a Divine Name number and whether it would have been sufficiently well established in John’s time and milieu.

          • Christopher, I am looking into this at the moment, so will not say much except that I am fairly confident that not only gematria in general (as Richard Bauckham says) but the specific use of the number 17 for the Divine Name was known – and also maybe used in structuring some of the biblical material. I am checking article and books. Only if we assume that John would deliberately exclude some earlier Hebrew or Greek material in order to proclaim ‘Jesus and the Resurrection’ and the glory of God could we be certain that ‘he could not have known’ X, Y or Z from the many centuries of material available to him when writing his Gospel. Whether Ezekiel knew of such matters is also part of the above quest.

    • Philip (or anyone), is there a chance that Ezekiel himself was aware of the AHWEH=17 convention and therefore perhaps already knew the numerical significance of Gedi and Eglaim at the point when he wrote it? When writing Revelation, John had cause to pay great attention to the final chapters of Ezekiel. There is a possible scenario where he finds this, judges it the neatest numerical thing he knows, and later uses it in the gospel. This existing association of the author with these chapters may well make Ezk 47 shade the Pythagorean and/or Archimedean vescia piscis as John’s likeliest reason for associating the 153 principle with a fishcatch. But I still think the fact that the ichthuon acrostic (not ‘acronym’ as I once said above) has the same ‘S/son[s] of God’ message as the number 153 has – this is the crucial consideration that trumps them both in deciding why 153 is associated with fish.

  12. Thanks, Ian. – I should have added perhaps that my two concluding points are very much in line (and, I think, accord) with an earlier article of Richard Bauckham’s in The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple, namely ‘Monotheism and Christology in the Gospel of John’ (ch. 11), notably the sections on The Divine Prerogatives (w. special ref. to 5:19-30) and The [NB 7] “I Am” Sayings. The final sentence of the article reads: ‘Thus, without contradicting or rejection any of the existing features of Jewish monotheism , the Fourth Gospel redefines it as christological monotheism, a form of monotheism in which the relationship of Jesus the Son to his Father is integral to who the one God is.’

    In terms of your article and my exposition, ‘Jewish monotheism’ is a One-ness, with the divine name represented numerologically by 17; ‘christological monotheism’ is an exploded, triangulated, Three-in-One Triple Unity represented numerologically by 153: a fullness, an abundance and a richness of the divine life and name (!Jn 17:6, 11-12) – in fact, precisely a plērōma (‘fullness’) from which we have all received (Jn 1:16),which reaches out to include the ‘many’ of Isa 53:10-11 in the astounding catch of fish (Jn 14:17b, 20, 17:23).

    • Philip
      so good to read your contribution here
      I have thoroughly enjoyed this thread and learned a lot.

      I confess I have always balked at reading John’s 153 numerologically and saw it as less Platonic n mathematic and more pragmatic (fisherman counting fish) and emphatic of the extraordinary abundance of the miracle (153 fish is a an awful lot) – but this thread really convinces me of the importance of the number symbolically, even if I aint convinced by some of the interpretations of the number.

      I particularly appreciate the emphasis and clarity of Philip for a ‘theological exposition’ of 17 as the ‘divine name’ and love the concept of 153 being a triangulated explosion of the fulness of the trinitarian God. awesome. That’ll preach.

      thanks everyone & especially Ian for directing this

      • I also think that equating 17 with the Divine Name is very fruitful. If John is to treat something as his special number, it requires an awful lot to justify that – but the Divine Name fits the bill.

        Then triangulating 17 into 153 reminds us of the triangulation of the Divine Name that is close to John’s heart, since the book of John still today is by far the major player in our doctrine of the Trinity.

        Thanks Philip. Will have to see how that top insight merges into the overall theory I suggested above.

        • You bring up an interesting point, Christopher: “the book of John still today is by far the major player in our doctrine of the Trinity.”

          Does anyone else think it odd that our most explicit expression of the concept of Trinitarianism comes not from the Synoptic Gospels or from Paul, but from a book written near the end of the first century, by an author whose identity is contested even among conservative evangelical scholars such as Richard Bauckham?

          • No I don’t think it is that odd. In fact, the most explicit trinitarian language is found in Revelation, and if that had influenced debate I think Nicea could have been settled much earlier. But it was set aside because of its popularity amongst ecstatic and chiliastic sects in the second century and after.

            I think Bauckham and Goodacre are right when they point to John making explicit in his narrative what is present but most implicit in the Synoptics. Doctrinal formulation is the next stage of making implicit claims explicit.

          • I don’t think it is end of first century, rather around early to mid 70s. It precedes Matt, who has no post-70s indicators known to me. It quite likely also precedes 2 Peter, which itself precedes Matt. It precedes 1-3 John, which precede Matt. Anchors for the 90-100 date are few and far between, and people often hold to that only by default not for any overwhelmingly positive actual reason.

            Bauckham is setting out a positive case for who the author is – and I happen to agree – this is not ‘contesting’. Introducing ideological categorisation often brings inaccuracy and clouds the issue, since the issue is historical investigation.

  13. My dear Simon – How lovely to get your comment! Thank you. – I’m also not at all taken (to be honest) by many of the interpretations, though it is clear that John is far more sophisticated than many of his modern readers assume! He is often working at a double level (at least): the historical and the spiritual, where each can play off against the other, adding depth of meaning. – And I’m delighted you like my extravagant exposition of 153 (!): after all, the the Gospel is about God’s extravagant grace and truth, love and judgement (12:33), glory and peace in the Spirit.

    Blessings to you always, Philip

  14. Not convinced by any of it. And I am deeply frustrated by much of it.
    Extreme mathematical allegory in my view, even though I accept there is numerical symbolism in scripture, (more in some than others). I’d be pleased to know where else in the Gospel of John, such convoluted means of expressing the Good News of Jesus Christ is employed?
    There seem to be many assumptions in place that are used to support the theses.
    What do we do with all specific numbers cited in the Old Testament? An easier example, might be the 5 stones shepherd David collected to use against Goliath.
    If the number represents a triangulation, as I commented in a different earlier blog it doesn’t appear to represent an “equilateral triangle” of, perhaps, the trinity that is the fullness of God, as Triune monotheism. It is a very thin thread on which to hang the doctrine, reality of the Trinity, particularly in context.
    Why not number 1 represents first day of creation, an 5, the 5th day and perhaps 3 represents resurrection and new creation and a spreading out of the commission, or perhaps 3 represents Christ’s third (last?) post resurrection appearance to a collection of the disciples. And no, I’m not putting this forward as a credible eisegesis let alone exegesis.
    How would any of it be preached in context and away from scholarly “this may be” and “may be that” and rhetorical questioning, supposition? Simon gives his answer, but I’d suggest that it may too tenuous and tortuous to arrive at a conclusion that is evident with straightforward clarity in other scripture.
    I contrast the response to this article with Ian Paul’s earlier article on Revelation 5, which I find deeply edifying and a much “quieter” place to be.
    But, and this is obviously a big but, as this is a scholar’s blog, who am I as a lay Christian, to pour cold water on the generated heat of evident enjoyment.

    • I think a lot of the misunderstanding stems from the idea that this is a feature of ‘Scripture’. It isn’t. John is far from the only scriptural author to show an interest in the intrinsic etc properties of numbers, not to mention later rabbinic and kabbalistic attention to each letter of the text – but he is way off average. Most scriptural writers do not have anything like the same interest in number that John has – the five stones are just five stones. As for why number is important:

      (1) it is a key dimension of reality, and we are dealing with reality not with religion;
      (2) The spectrum of different genres of literature in the bible speak to different personalities and people with different specialisms. Maths and logic is far too major a thing to leave out in that respect.

      • I’m convinced Christopher
        My Father has always been into this and I not – but he is a gifted Hebraist and I’m not and I suspect his agility in the language and familiarity with the ancient culture makes him more aware of numbers’ significance to the ancients.

        • I suppose all these things fit together – numbers, astronomy, musical frequencies, the music of the spheres, the nature of reality. We’re in a big world, and theories that are only 1-dimensional or 2-dimensional are therefore wrong; anything that maximises awe and comprehensiveness is on the right track. Different people with different aptitudes can highlight and share different dimensions. It is all mind-expanding and our brains begin to hurt. One of the types of ecstasy I had to look at for my thesis was ‘the oceanic experience’ when people get captured by or caught up in the sheer immensity or infinity of everything. The danger is sometimes to leave out the personal dimension (this is a big danger, because the sheer hugeness of the universe can make some pursue the line that it is cold and impersonal, and we are insignificant) – Christians are far better than Buddhists at being comprehensive enough to include personality with all its warmth at the heart of everything. As C S Lewis said, God is so very personal that He is beyond personality.

          • Christopher – i’d love to read your doctorate- is it published? Accessible online? Could you email me a pdf?

      • Christopher,
        I hear what you say.
        From what view of the Old Testament do you seem to arrive at the the suggestion there is no symbolic meaning to numbers therein, that come from within scripture, not from without?
        Any symbolism in the days of creation? In the number of generations in Genesis, in the number of festivals or feasts (7), the sign of Jonah? In the genealogies in the Old Testament?
        The dimensions of the Ark (three storeys) dimensions not as – see Alastair Roberts here
        Any symbolisms in the numbers, 40, 50? In number 10, plagues, commandments? (see link below.

        Or even the number 5 I mentioned above, see this (5=grace of God)
        (I have no idea who the authors are)
        I agree that a number is a key dimension of reality, but that reality is not always a symbol of “other,” a greater reality. Yet, a numerical reality does not always equate to the supremacy of the symbol , symbolic meaning.
        The number of 135 fish, of reality, to be extrapolated symbolically so extravagantly seems to go well beyond the genre (and personality?) and the earlier numerical symbolism within the gospel of John as we have it. However, to my mind 135 doesn’t reach anywhere like the profundity of the triune Glory God in Christ (and extent of mission) revealed in the I am sayings, which do not need the “hidden” mathematical formulations of the number 135.
        To me it(maths in this case) seems to seek to diminish or sidetrack the logic of the reality of the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus, which is the epitome of the Glory of the Triune God in the resurrected Christ. There are too many in the church who deny that reality, who look upon it as symbolic only. (I’m not suggesting that you do.)
        Something which hasn’t been mentioned in any of this, is a point made by Colin Kruse in his TNTC Commentary on John.
        It is this: Chpt 21: 4-6 “He called out to them “friends (lit. “children ), haven’t you any fish?” The word translated “fish” (prosphagion) was used for a relish used with bread, often small pieces of fish.” (That contrasts with the miraculous catch of large fish, and 153 haul)
        (Although Kruse comes down against symbolism in a footnote he points out: Jerome noted that Greek authors believed there existed 153 species of fish and the entire range of species symbolised the universality of Christian mission.)
        Imagine that, the bodily risen Lord having a humorous exchange, asking if his children had any relish for his meal, the one he’d prepared for them at the dawning of a new day after toiling unsuccessfully in the dark, night. We all come to Him empty handed, nothing to offer, without his resurrection intervention – the text swiftly moves onto Jesus asking them to bring fish they’d just caught and his invitation, Come and have breakfast. (Perhaps symbolic of Jesus sharing his inheritance with children, at end times!)
        I’l finish now having said far too much, out of my place, my natural Christian habitat.

        • Numbers have context and historical resonance, and are often selected for a reason. But I would counsel very strongly about generalising about the whole of the Old Testament. It will include plenty of non-symbolic numbers.

          • So would I Christopher, counsel against generalisation, against the symbolism of all numbers and against the removal of all numerical symbolism from within the text of the OT as it relates of the whole of scripture taken together.
            But where are the lines to be drawn? Ian Paul has set out some guidelines in relation to Revelation.
            It would be an interesting (perhaps lengthy) thread if this could be opened up to cover the use of symbolic numbers in the whole of scripture, the Old Testament in particular and how the symbolism coalesces in the person of Jesus Christ, in the person of our Triune God.
            It goes without saying that there already may be much reliable work done on this. And it seems that Alastair Roberts is no so shy to draw out symbolism from OT testament numbers, or counting, though, as always, I stand to be corrected.

    • Geoff
      I have preached John21 perhaps more than any other passage in Scripture (along with Rom3 & Eph3) – I have generally never made anything of 153 beyond it being a magnificent miracle and always assumed it showed real fisherman who cared about real details were involved.
      I have balked at seeing it in terms of Archimedes & algorythms n secret meanings – hints of the occult. But if the ancients understood numbers differently than this old preacher who is rather mathematically dyslexic & failed his Math’s O level twice, and if the ancients seeing a number saw a meaning, not so hidden, then that is exciting, especially if that number shouts to the glory of God as Philip’s offer does.

  15. As to the division of the whole of John’s gospel into 1-5-3, this is signalled by three passages that precisely begin with ‘Cana’ (see above on Cana) and precisely end with enumeration 1-2-3.

    These are the *only* such enumerations in the gospel (as recognised by [misguided] Signs Source advocates) and it has long been wondered why the other signs receive no enumeration.

    Likewise these are the *only* mentions of Cana in the gospel.

    Thus all the few mentions of Cana come right near all the few sign-related-enumerations – and, more, the Cana mentions come at the start of the story and the enumerations at the end of it.

    See 2.1,11 [2.11 has an additional Cana too]; 4.46,54; 21.2,14. In each case the entire story is bracketed in this way.

    This structural device separates off the initial sign and ‘Day’ territory (1.1-3.21) from the succeeding 5 (Days 2-6: 3.22-19.42) and then from the 3 days of chs 20-21. One-five-three. It is a way of showing this threefold division.

  16. Christopher: “Bauckham is setting out a positive case for who the author is – and I happen to agree – this is not ‘contesting’. Introducing ideological categorisation often brings inaccuracy and clouds the issue, since the issue is historical investigation.”

    Most scholars, including most Roman Catholic scholars, doubt the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. With few exceptions, the only scholars who believe in the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels are evangelicals and fundamentalist Protestants.

    Most scholars also believe that the Gospel of John was written at the end of the first century. Only evangelical and fundamentalist scholars would date the Gospel of John as early as you are suggesting. Therefore, if the Gospel of John was a non-eyewitness writing near the end of the first century, it is entirely possible that Trinitarianism was a late theological development. It is entirely possible that the earliest Christians believed Jesus to be the messiah and the son of God, but not Yahweh, the Creator of the universe. The idea that the early Christians only spoke of this concept in “implicit” terms is silly, in my humble opinion. The idea that Jesus, a man, was Yahweh, the Creator of the universe, would have been the most earth-shattering belief ever to appear among Jews. If this is what Jesus was teaching, even implicitly, he and his disciples would have been stoned on the spot. Are we to believe that Jesus taught that he was Yahweh for three years, his disciples taught that he was Yahweh for three years, and yet the Jewish authorities allowed Peter to preach in the Temple itself after Jesus’ execution on Pentecost. Preposterous!

    • “the only scholars who believe in the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels are evangelicals and fundamentalist Protestants.”

      And the Apostolic Church that treasured and transmitted them
      And the persecuted who refused to surrender them on pain of death in the great Persecution under Diocletian and went instead themselves to the flames
      And the Patristic scholars who gave their lives to study them
      And the post Apostolic succession & ecumenical creedal councils who ratified and codified them
      And the Reformers and the …..but, hey, just a bunch of ignorant evangelicals and fundamentalists, what do they know when it comes to ‘scholarship’ – we’re so much cleverer now and so much more able to get near the true authorship not the self authenticating, church legitimating one. That would be preposterous.

      • Hi Simon,

        Why do you think that most Roman Catholic scholars today reject the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels? If there is good evidence that the Church catholic has always held that eyewitnesses and their associates wrote the Gospels, why would most modern Roman Catholic scholars reject that position?

        • ‘most Roman catholic scholars today reject the eyewitnesses/associate of eyewitness authorship of the gospels’ …. ‘why would most modern Roman Catholic scholars reject…’

          Gary, where do you get this from? I simply dont believe that there has been a wholesale rejection of tradition by Catholic scholars – who are you reading?

          • From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

            “The questions of authorship, sources, and the time of composition of this gospel [Matthew] have received many answers, none of which can claim more than a greater or lesser degree of probability. The one now favored by the majority of scholars is the following.

            The ancient tradition that the author was the disciple and apostle of Jesus named Matthew (see Mt 10:3) is untenable because the gospel is based, in large part, on the Gospel according to Mark (almost all the verses of that gospel have been utilized in this), and it is hardly likely that a companion of Jesus would have followed so extensively an account that came from one who admittedly never had such an association rather than rely on his own memories. The attribution of the gospel to the disciple Matthew may have been due to his having been responsible for some of the traditions found in it, but that is far from certain.”

          • Roman Catholic blog, “About Catholics”:

            Quote: “They [the Gospels] were anonymously written. In fact most scholars today do not believe that the evangelists were eyewitnesses for the simple reason that their chronology of events and theological interpretations are different. The titles of the gospels were added in the second century and very well could designate the authority behind the finished gospel or the one who wrote one of the main sources of the gospel. The [Roman Catholic] Church takes no official stance on their authorship. It is important to understand that the Church by its authority and the guidance of the Holy Spirit canonized these four gospels over many others that were circulated and read in the early centuries.”

            Roman Catholic scholar Raymond Brown states in his books that it was his job as a New Testament scholar to study the textual evidence and then present this evidence to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. He then obediently accepted the Magisterium’s interpretation of that evidence, whatever that may be.

          • From Father Raymond Brown, one of if not the preeminent Roman Catholic New Testament scholar of our time:

            “Jesus did not write an account of his passion; nor did anyone who had been present write an eyewitness account. Available to us are four different accounts written some thirty to seventy years later in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, all of which were dependent on tradition that had come down from an intervening generation or generations. That intervening preGospel tradition was not preserved even if at times we may be able to detect the broad lines of its content. When we seek to reconstruct it or, even more adventurously, the actual situation of Jesus himself, we are speculating. On the other hand, when we work on the level of the evangelists, we are on much more solid ground, for their accounts need not be reconstructed.”

            Source: The Death of the Messiah, pp. 4-5

          • Raymond Brown:

            I have already said that I do not think of the evangelists themselves as eyewitnesses of the passion; nor do I think that eyewitness memories of Jesus came down to the evangelists without considerable reshaping and development. —The Death of the Messiah, p. 14

          • United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (from their website):

            Critical analysis makes it difficult to accept the idea that the gospel [of John] as it now stands was written by one person. Jn 21 seems to have been added after the gospel was completed; it exhibits a Greek style somewhat different from that of the rest of the work. The prologue (Jn 1:1–18) apparently contains an independent hymn, subsequently adapted to serve as a preface to the gospel. Within the gospel itself there are also some inconsistencies, e.g., there are two endings of Jesus’ discourse in the upper room (Jn 14:31; 18:1). To solve these problems, scholars have proposed various rearrangements that would produce a smoother order. However, most have come to the conclusion that the inconsistencies were probably produced by subsequent editing in which homogeneous materials were added to a shorter original.

            Other difficulties for any theory of eyewitness authorship of the gospel in its present form are presented by its highly developed theology and by certain elements of its literary style.”

          • This summarises the consensus of about 45-50 years ago. The arguments for the integrity of 21 within 1-21 are very strong, and the counter-arguments correspondingly weak. John is exceptionally tightly-knit, and 21 is so very much part of that logically-patterned whole in a way that 7.53-8.11 clearly is not. As for 15.1-17.26, the arguments against its secondary nature number 34 so far by my count, but I cannot find one good argument pro.

          • Good morning, Simon:

            So what do you think of the evidence I gave you in regards to the Roman Catholic position on the authorship of the Gospels?

          • Gary – sorry – missed this yesterday

            what do I think of the evidence you marshall? Well, I think it aint evidence as such, it is stated opinion by those who you agree with.
            You as non specialist, cherry pick from a small pond of sources, trained in one school of scholarship, that offer one view, reflecting a consensus of scholarship that is both late-modern and out of date.

            Theological scholarship shifts – what is held as a given in the last generation can be changed quickly in this. I studied theology as undergrad and post grad some 3 decades ago – many scholars & scholarship that was de-rigeur then hardly gets a look in now – yet then they seemed enshrined as truth. The consensus of scholars 30 years ago when Brown wrote were influenced by a previous generation or two of scholars – whose historical critical liberal theology was not always reliable or faithful. I would also add, conservative thought rarely gets published widely. It is often the new, novel, radical insights that seem to be published and promoted.

            So I’ll stick with the views I expressed earlier and which you passed over, that the very reason the gospel texts were deemed so sacred, and treasured and transmitted, when many others that presented themselves as sacred/apostolic etc were dismissed, was both the reliability of content aligning with the Faith as once delivered and the integrity of source, known connection to Apostles & 1st hand witnesses. I find it an intellectual arrogance that scholars today think they know better than those on the ground at the time who, often under threat of death, treasured and transcribed and transmitted the texts. The journey of the formation of the canon and presuppositions for inclusion, are more authoritative to me than the opinion of scholars, who gain their livelihood by their scholarship and who must publish or perish, and whose life has not been on the line for their handling of Scriptures, unlike those in the second half of the C1st century.

            Prof Richard Baukham occasionally pitches in here – I would love to hear from him.

          • You believe I am cherry picking from scholars who agree with me??

            I am not arguing for one position, I simply pointing out the fact that there is a significant majority opinion (consensus?) on the authorship of the Gospels. I am not saying that the majority is right or wrong, only that a significant majority scholarly opinion exists.

            I am not asking anyone to concede that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses only to admit that this is the position of a significant majority of scholars. That’s it.

            I quoted from the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Bishops of the Catholic Church agree that “most scholars” do not believe in the traditional/eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. How is that cherry picking?

    • Hi Gary

      If I understand your paragraph beginning ‘most scholars’ correctly, then you are painting an odd picture. You are saying that the idea that the person who is making strong eyewitness claims for himself or for another is most likely not telling the truth, but is also banking on his readers believing him, and on his work getting wide circulation. How does that work?

      Secondly, John is a specialist area of mine, and what you say about the positions scholars hold is inaccurate (partly for the reason stated).

      Thirdly, you continue to talk about conclusions and positions, when all conclusions and positions are are the distillations of arguments and factors – it is, therefore, arguments and factors that get discussed in scholarly company. After all, fixed positions are the refuge of the closed minded.

      Fourthly, one can’t just count scholars, one has to count first those who have done most specialist and/or groundbreaking work in this particular area. Many scholars will rely on what introductions say, and by that means introductions are to some degree self-perpetuating in what they present as mainstream.

      Fifthly, when you say ‘only evangelical and fundamentalist scholars would…’:
      – I give the lie to that as an independent truthseeker;
      -Evangelicals are not at all concerned to date John early. 90-100 is very standard among evangelicals as a date for John.
      -It would, indeed, by highly problematic to date it any later than this standard evangelical dating. In my view it is also problematic to date it that late.

      Sixthly, you will probably be aware of books on early Trinitarianism – ones I know are Wainwright and Harris. Final verse of 2 Corinthians and all that.

      • Hi Christopher,

        “If I understand your paragraph beginning ‘most scholars’ correctly, then you are painting an odd picture. You are saying that the idea that the person who is making strong eyewitness claims for himself or for another is most likely not telling the truth, but is also banking on his readers believing him, and on his work getting wide circulation. How does that work?”

        Absolutely not. I do not believe that the Gospels are the works of liars intent on deceiving their readership. What I do believe is that the Gospels are not modern history texts or biographies in which every claim of fact must be historically accurate. Embellishments to the core facts were acceptable. Most scholars believe that the belief that Jesus had been bodily resurrected began very early in the Christian movement. The big question is: Why? Did the alleged eyewitnesses claim to have seen a walking, talking, broiled fish eating resurrected corpse or did they claim to have seen a bright light or some other illusion that led them to believe that Jesus had been bodily resurrected? Even scholars who believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, such as Raymond Brown, believes that there is considerable embellishments in the Appearance stories in Matthew, Luke, and John.

        Raymond Brown (deceased) was an expert on the Gospel of John. His final conclusion was that neither John the Apostle nor any other eyewitness or even an associate of an eyewitness wrote the Gospels. I don’t pretend to be an expert, so I can not tell you why the author of John seems to suggest that he or an associate was an eyewitness. The majority of scholars say he was not.

        Are you a New Testament scholar, Christopher? Do you have a PhD in New Testament studies? I do not. I am a non-expert regarding the New Testament. I have done quite a bit of reading, but I would never challenge the consensus opinion of experts. Respect for the consensus opinion of experts is what holds together advanced, industrialized nations.

      • Hi Christopher,

        Are you a New Testament scholar? Do you have a PhD in New Testament studies? I do not. I am a non-expert in this field. Although I have read quite a few books on the subject I would never challenge the consensus of scholars on these issues. Did you realize that even many evangelical scholars recognize that a consensus does exist on this issue? I will post a quote by Richard Bauckham below.

        • “The argument of this book [Jesus and the Eyewitnesses]–that the texts of our Gospels are close to the eyewitness reports of the words and deeds of Jesus–runs counter to almost all recent scholarship. As we have indicated from time to time, the prevalent view is that a long period of oral transmission in the churches intervened between whatever the eyewitnesses said and the Jesus traditions as they reached the Evangelists [the authors of the Gospels]. No doubt the eyewitnesses started the process of oral tradition, but it passed through many retellings, reformulations, and expansions before the Evangelists themselves did their own editorial work on it.” p. 240

          –Richard Bauckham, conservative Christian New Testament scholar

          “almost all recent scholarship” means that a consensus exists.

          • Yes and yes.

            As Bauckham says, the issue is more nuanced, less black and white. There is little denial that Eyewitnesses played a role. There can also be little denial that they were alive up till around the time when the first gospel was written. No-one places the death of the last Apostle earlier than 68; no-one places the first gospel later than circa 73-75. No-one denies that Luke’s preface accords a role to Eyewitnesses, nor that Luke implies that this role affects the quality of material available to the evangelists. No-one denies that our other earliest source about how the gospels are written is Papias, who says that Mark based his book on Peter’s preaching (a commonsensical and likely thing to have done).

            However, in earlier comments I was (and I thought you were) concentrating more on Bauckham’s view of John, rather than his broader thesis in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. These are not precisely the same issue.

            Your use of ‘conservative’ needs examination, since there are numerous ways of classifying scholars, which only goes to show the one-eyedness of any who repeatedly use only one type of classification only (avoiding all the others), especially when that one type is essentially nothing but crude labelling. To be a scholar at all, let alone a world class and widely cited one, is (one would have thought) to be open minded and independent and non ideological – it is non scholars who are less likely to possess those disciplines and characteristics. There is no way that anyone can or should avoid stating what they believe the evidence points to, and by the law of averages I suppose that that will 50% of the time be more conservative than not. (Also so-called conservative stances are regularly the same as simple commonsense stances.) The alternative to stating which way one thinks the evidence points is to lie.

          • But of course there will have been nonApostle eyewitnesses (among whom we may number John the Elder, Aristion, etc.) and these were alive at an beyond the dates when the first gospels were written.

  17. Regarding “implicit” teachings: One can find what one wants to find—implicitly—in almost any text. Both Muslims and Mormons claim that the Christian Scriptures implicitly prophesy about the coming of their prophet. Jews claim that this is exactly what Christians did with the Hebrew Scriptures—Christians scoured the Hebrew Scriptures to find implicit prophesies about a virgin-born, crucified, resurrected messiah—and to no one’s surprise, they found them!

    Nowhere in the Synoptic Gospels does anyone explicitly state that Jesus is Yahweh, the Creator. Nowhere in Paul’s epistles does Paul explicitly state that Jesus was Yahweh, the Creator of the universe. Does this prove that Trinitarianism is a later theological development among later generations of Christians? No. But it certainly makes this possibility very plausible.

    • Hi Gary,

      While there is nowhere in the Synoptics that I can think of which states that Jesus is the Creator, Jesus makes some very significant claims for himself. (I cannot find my copy of “The Man they Crucified” by Dick France, which expresses this well). For instance, Matt 7.21-23 and Matt 25.31-46 place Jesus in the place of the Judge of all the World.
      It is clear from the synoptics that at Jesus’ trial before the chief priests that it was his claims about who is was which led to the charge of blasphemy.

      While you might discount Colossians as non-Pauline, perhaps precisely because of the high Christology expressed in 1.15ff*, it is harder to avoid the same property of Phil 2.5-11 which is more generally

      Finally, that ‘Jesus is Lord’ was a fundamental Christian confession is very significant given the Jewish voices which spoke it. The word ‘Lord’ in Greek was precisely the word used in the LXX in place of the tetragrammaton.

      *There seems to be a circular argument here. “Colossians cannot be Pauline because the ideas expressed are post-Pauline.”

      • Yes – it is a truism that someone’s latest writings will go beyond any of the earlier, while if there’s a gap of 4 years between the early Thessalonian correspondence and the next letter (1 Corinthians) this will mean that the Thessalonian correspondence forms a group. Chronology and chronology alone determines that. The idea has sometimes been that a letter is less likely to be authentic if its style is not sufficiently close to those written in the middle of Paul’s letter-writing career. The fallacy is obvious. If someone without cause selects precisely the chronologically central letters as most normal and typical, it is a mere truism that they will be. This is a matter of chronology alone, not of authenticity.

  18. In the last couple of days I have watched (on iPlayer) “David Suchet – In the Footsteps of Saint Peter”. It is very interesting (and there were not too many things said which I might take issue with). Somewhat relevant to the present discussion, in the first programme there is evidence shown of first century fishing from Bethsaida, and the famous 1st century Galilean boat, and a modern replica. There was also a modern fishing boat, which was shown making its catch – many, many sardines, but also some larger fish – but less than 153. It helped me keep a grounded view of John 21.

  19. In reply to Christopher. Excellent, then you are a NT scholar.

    However, I must again point out that most NT scholars do not believe that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses OR associates of eyewitnesses. In addition, most scholars believe that the Evangelists were Christian writers one or more generations removed from the events they allegedly describe. Here is a quote from one of the preeminent Roman Catholic scholars of our time, Raymond Brown:

    “Jesus did not write an account of his passion; nor did anyone who had been present write an eyewitness account. Available to us are four different accounts written some thirty to seventy years later in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, all of which were dependent on tradition that had come down from an intervening generation or generations. That intervening preGospel tradition was not preserved even if at times we may be able to detect the broad lines of its content. When we seek to reconstruct it or, even more adventurously, the actual situation of Jesus himself, we are speculating.

    Source: The Death of the Messiah, pp. 4-5

    Regarding the author of Luke: the author of Luke may have BELIEVED that the information he had received came originally from eyewitnesses but that is no guarantee that it did. Note that the author of Luke never explicitly claims that he received his information directly from an eyewitness or eyewitnesses.

    • One of these men, John known as ‘the Elder’ (and you will see the logic of the point that only one person could have that odd and counter-intuitive nickname at any one time), actually provides our first known comments on Mark (preserved in Papias, who was alive at the same time)
      (1)- that it was based on Peter’s preaching
      (2) but given the nature of preaching the fact that he had heard the individual stories did not enable him to place them in chronological order
      (3) and that Mark endeavoured not to leave anything out.

      I have rarely heard scholarly doubt that Papias has good claim to be regarded as pretty much our earliest witness to gospel writing – therefore Papias’s eyewitness source is certainly to be held in even higher esteem than Papias himself.

      I don’t understand your position – it is universally agreed that the most important eyewitnesses of all, Peter and John the Apostle, were alive till a couple of years before the first gospel was written (maximum 6-7 years, let us say), so however much oral tradition there was, it was never without a living apostolic eyewitness corrective till the year 68, nor without a nonapostolic eyewitness corrective ever. I must press you on why you are quoting fixed positions without anything to back them up. Even if majorities do hold to positions – which may not be true since those positions are being stated in an unnuanced way – that is of no worth unless they do so for a reason. Any position held will be held for a reason. Our present dialogue is me giving reasons and you stating apparent positions and consensuses. That ought not to continue, since positions and consensuses, even if accurately stated without generalisation, are nothing unless they faithfully reflect the evidence. So our dialogue ought to consist of evidence alone, not ‘80% of scholars say X’ which is an impossible statement even for a scholar to make honestly (since it is impossible to read all scholars, know exactly who classifies as a scholar etc) let alone for a layperson!

      It was actually probably the greatest weakness of the great scholar Raymond Brown that sweeping statements on the topic of consensus can be found which are highly questionable. Mark Goodacre has taken him to task re his treatment of the Mark-without-Q theory. Also in the Brown Introduction it is stated that the positions given represent the consensus (Philippians written from Ephesus?) and that those who do not follow suit can be sidelined as those who claim to be cutting edge (I paraphrase). But what if people’s work actually is cutting edge? This is wrong, because dogmatic orthodoxies become self-perpetuating which is against the scholarly and critical spirit.

      This being the case, Brown’s is one of the less helpful opinions that could be quoted in this particular context. In any case, the quotation you give presents no evidence! Anything with no evidence goes to the bottom of the pile, which is not to say that no evidence was in mind at the time of writing.

      The fact that you are generalising about ‘the Gospels’ also shows that you are working at a far too high level of generalisation. These are 4 different documents, and the situation is different with each of the 4.

      Luke is most likely to have been a close companion of Paul who was the same age as Jesus. In the real world, real people know other real people and have memories and don’t just pop in and out of existence and ‘preserve traces of primitive tradition’ as Green-Armytage put it.

      Do name any evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant scholars you have in mind, then I can get a grasp on what is being talked about.

      • I did a Google search under: “Christopher Shell, New Testament scholar” and nothing came up other than your comments here on Psephizo. Would you kindly refer me to some of your published work on the New Testament? I apologize for my ignorance.

          • Gary – What do I mean? I mean that instead of simply defending your point & responding to Christopher’s points, you went after the man, and you insulted Christopher by questioning his academic pedigree due to a lack of publications as if to imply that disqualified his arguments. He is a first rate scholar, who holds more degrees in theology from Oxbridge than most Christians have read theology books. First you insult him by questioning his academic pedigree on the basis of publications and then you feign an apology. Listen, publications aint all that – I’ve written 10 books and I’m proof you can publish and not be too smart! Christopher has published none but is one of the smartest chaps I know, crystal clear thinker, and a good n godly man. But here what matters is the quality of his argument. By all means go after Christopher’s argument, but I think you slighted him. And if I misread or misconstrued what you wrote above, then I do sincerely apologise. Play the ball not the man.

          • I meant no offense to Christopher. I am new to this blog and am not acquainted with all the “regulars”. There are Christians bloggers on the internet with a masters in theology who believe that they are a “scholar”. That does not qualify as a “scholar” in my opinion. I simply wanted some evidence since I had never seen anything published by him. But you are correct, just because he is not published does not mean he is not a scholar. If he has a PhD in New Testament studies he is a scholar. Period.

        • I’m not a published author in NT but a professional retailer who prioritises family. I am qualified to PhD level and sometimes talk at NT conferences, Hawarden, Tyndale, BNTC. I have not submitted anything for publication – in fact I once wrote a 70 page piece for publication on another topic and it half killed me!! – not at all good for amount of time spent with growing family. I am not able to spend time in libraries, although I have my own pretty large one, but in any case I work on large scale topics for which the main requirement is devotion to the primary sources.

          • It was largely in New Testament studies, but also involving New Testament background (mostly Greco-Roman) and patristics. Not at all in theology.

  20. Christopher: “But of course there will have been nonApostle eyewitnesses (among whom we may number John the Elder, Aristion, etc.) and these were alive at an beyond the dates when the first gospels were written.”

    Interesting. I’ve only heard evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant scholars make this claim. Can you provide evidence that this is a majority scholarly opinion?

    I do not doubt that there were people alive at the time of the writing of the Gospels who had been alive during the lifetime of Jesus. What I question is whether we have good evidence that any eyewitnesses to the alleged events described in the Gospels were given the opportunity to proof-read and comment on the historical accuracy of these books. Many Christians assume that there were eyewitnesses still alive who reviewed the Gospels for accuracy, but I have seen no convincing evidence to support this position. All I have seen is conjecture, assumptions, and minority scholarly opinion. That is not good evidence.

    • I presume in this when you say “majority scholarly opinion” you actually mean “majority modern scholarly opinion.” Why do you discount the scholarly opinion of preceding centuries? I hope it is not “chronological snobbery” (a phrase of C.S. Lewis, I believe). If the majority in the past were wrong, perhaps the majority in the present are wrong.

      Have you asked yourself why the view of the Gospels in particular and the NT documents in general shifted from the older view? What new evidence presented itself? Or was it a shift in position of the scholars and their own prior beliefs?

      There have been shifts back in recent years, partly prompted by real new evidence. Richard Burridge’s work on the Gospels in comparison with the 1st century ‘bios’. One part of Richard Baukham’s thesis uses name evidence from bone boxes discovered by archeologist in recent decades. Part of the basis for the “new perspectives on Paul” is the result of a new understanding of 2nd Temple Judaism.

      • “Have you asked yourself why the view of the Gospels in particular and the NT documents in general shifted from the older view? ”

        Why do modern scientists have different views than scientists who lived hundreds of years ago? Answer: Our techniques for evaluating evidence have been refined and/or new evidence has been discovered.

        You seem to be suggesting that modern scholars have a bias against the traditional apostolic/eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. But how is this the case when even most Roman Catholic scholars, as I have demonstrated above, also hold this view? Why would Roman Catholic Bible scholars—who believe in the supernatural, Jesus’ miracles, modern miracles, the Virgin Birth, and the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus—have a bias against the traditional apostolic/eyewitness authorship of the Gospels?

  21. David Wilson: “There seems to be a circular argument here. “Colossians cannot be Pauline because the ideas expressed are post-Pauline.”

    Hi David. I am not a NT scholar (expert). Therefore, I defer to the experts on this subject and most NT scholars doubt that Paul wrote Colosssians.

    I defer to majority expert opinion on ALL issues about which I am not an expert, including New Testament scholarship, which is essentially a subclass of history. For instance, most scholars believe in the historicity of Jesus’ empty tomb. Therefore I believe in the historicity of Jesus’ empty tomb. Most scholars doubt the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels, therefore I do not believe in the eyewitness/associate eyewitness authorship of the Gospels.

    Just as I would not take medical advice from a guy who claims to have studied medicine on the Internet for years, but has no medical degree, I believe that we should all be very hesitant about disregarding majority expert opinion on the authorship of the Gospels and following our own or someone else’s non-expert opinion.

    • But why listen to those who have never studied the topic but have obtained their viewpoint from a New Testament Introduction, books which often seem to give the consensus of a generation ago, a self-perpetuating process?

      It is clear that a much better method is to listen to those who have done first hand work on this specific topic. There is no way that their views are equal to those who just imbibe what they are informed is a consensus.

      • If someone, expert or non-expert, asked me to debate him on the evidence for a “flat earth” I would not indulge him. I would simply tell him that the majority of experts rejects his position. Ditto regarding the consensus expert opinion on the authorship of the Gospels. I do not need to debate you, Christopher, regarding the evidence on this issue since I trust majority expert consensus opinion, as do most educated people in western, industrialized societies.

        • Yes – but how do you know how to obtain accurate information on what majority educated opinion actually is? You fall for the ruse that if one person (apart from me) says it is, then it is.

          • Hi Christopher. I have given you quotes from the following authorities on this issue:

            –United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
            –Raymond Brown, probably the preeminent Roman Catholic scholar of our time, a believer in the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus
            –Richard Bauckham, probably the preeminent evangelical Christian NT scholar of our time
            –NT Wright, a highly respected NT scholar who also believes in the bodily resurrection of Jesus has said, “I do not know who wrote the Gospels, nor does anyone else.”

            I will give you more quotes below.

          • Oxford Annotated Bible

            Neither the evangelists nor their first readers engaged in historical analysis. Their aim was to confirm Christian faith (Lk. 1.4; Jn. 20.31). Scholars generally agree that the Gospels were written forty to sixty years after the death of Jesus. They thus do not present eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings.

            Source: here

          • Gary Greenberg, Biblical historian:

            “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John did not write the Gospels says biblical historian Gary Greenberg in his latest book, Who Wrote the Gospels? Why New Testament Scholars Challenge Church Traditions. At least, not the Matthew, Mark, Luke or John of Church tradition, he adds. Controversial as this view is, he notes that it is widely accepted among New Testament scholars. Yet few members of the lay public know about this modern scholarly consensus, let alone why scholars hold these views.”

            Source: here

          • Early Christian Writings:

            “It is the near-universal position of scholarship that the Gospel of Matthew is dependent upon the Gospel of Mark. This position is accepted whether one subscribes to the dominant Two-Source Hypothesis or instead prefers the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis.

            It is also the consensus position that the evangelist was not the apostle Matthew. Such an idea is based on the second century statements of Papias and Irenaeus. As quoted by Eusebius in Hist. Eccl. 3.39, Papias states: “Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.” In Adv. Haer. 3.1.1, Irenaeus says: “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and laying the foundations of the church.” We know that Irenaeus had read Papias, and it is most likely that Irenaeus was guided by the statement he found there. That statement in Papias itself is considered to be unfounded because the Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek and relied largely upon Mark, not the author’s first-hand experience.”

            Source: here

          • Roman Catholic blog, “About Catholics”:

            Quote: They [the Gospels] were anonymously written. In fact most scholars today do not believe that the evangelists were eyewitnesses for the simple reason that their chronology of events and theological interpretations are different. The titles of the gospels were added in the second century and very well could designate the authority behind the finished gospel or the one who wrote one of the main sources of the gospel. The [Roman Catholic] Church takes no official stance on their authorship. It is important to understand that the Church by its authority and the guidance of the Holy Spirit canonized these four gospels over many others that were circulated and read in the early centuries.”

            Source: here

          • Robert Kysar, New Testament scholar, writes the following on the authorship of the Gospel of John:

            “The supposition that the author was one and the same with the beloved disciple is often advanced as a means of insuring that the evangelist did witness Jesus’ ministry. Two other passages are advanced as evidence of the same – 19:35 and 21:24. But both falter under close scrutiny. 19:35 does not claim that the author was the one who witnessed the scene but only that the scene is related on the sound basis of eyewitness. 21:24 is part of the appendix of the gospel and should not be assumed to have come from the same hand as that responsible for the body of the gospel. Neither of these passages, therefore, persuades many Johannine scholars that the author claims eyewitness status.”

            Source: The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v. 3, pp. 919-920)

          • Theopedia:

            There is no direct evidence that this John is the son of Zebedee, and some scholars have suggested an alternative ‘John the Elder’. However, there is no direct evidence for the existence of this alternate John, and it is reasonable to assume that early church writers would specify if ‘John the Disciple’ was different to ‘John of Zebedee’, since the latter is so prominent in the Synoptic Gospels.[4]

            One may accept the internal biblical data and the external evidence as proof that John, son of Zebedee wrote the Gospel. However, one may later change one’s opinion like Raymond E. Brown, author of the Anchor Bible commentary, who rescinded his earlier commentary opinion: “I now recognize that the external and internal evidecne are probably not to be harmonize” (Brown, 1979, p. 34).–Rcnabi260 23:33, 8 December 2010 (UTC)

            Source: here

          • Fundamentalist Protestant, Mark Pierson, Adjunct Professor of Theology and Philosophy, Concordia University, Irvine (Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod), co-author of “Making the Case for Christianity”:

            “The current consensus in the academy [of NT scholars]…suggests that only those who shut their eyes and ears to the facts can maintain traditional beliefs about Jesus.

          • You are not by any chance related to the excellent Mark Matson, are you?

            You have got the wrong guy – I have already repeatedly said that I agree about Matthew, and I also distinguish the author of John from the Beloved Disciple (as, in rather a tricksy way, does the author himself IMHO).

            Several of the other statements are laughably general and brief, collapsing four separate (and complex!) issues into one. Who would listen to that? They would, instead, read the detailed arguments of the authors in question. As for

            Relying for information on statements the briefer the better? It’s pretty much like saying ‘The less you know the better.’

            The stuff you quote I am aware of as I inhabit this world.

            Early Church writers do specify that John the disciple is not the son of Zebedee – namely, the earliest of all, Papias.

            Theories of the origins of Mark and Luke that ascribe them otherwise are not notable either for having been worked out in the slightest detail nor for being widely agreed upon between different modern writers. But anything whose details are not worked out does not qualify as a theory at all. Nor do ideas not widely shared qualify as anything approaching a consensus.

          • Re Gary Greenberg I have been saying for some time that John is interacting with Mark, especially the bits (Gethsemane) that don’t suit his high Christology. I believe that RH Lightfoot thought the same.

          • Gary, that Tom Wright video is interesting. However, you cannot have part of it without the whole. For one, if he says that nobody knows who wrote the Gospels, that means that whatever consensus exists is fairly negative. So, your instistence on following “the consensus of (modern) scholars” is an admission of ignorance not knowledge. What he does say is that the question of authorship is not the vital question (which you seem to be harking on about). The important question is whether the four Gospels provide a reliable witness to the life of Jesus of Nazareth. I would think that the right reverend professor would say that they did. Remember that his original academic background was in ancient history. In this he would be following the trend as the pendulum swings away from the ideas of ‘the Jesus of History’ vs. ‘the Christ of Faith’.

          • Tom Wright was educated in Oxford philosophy. When he says ‘we don’t know’ it is another way of saying there is no proof, we are not 100%. In this case we are often a good deal less than 100%. Know is a very ultimate and extreme word.

            But, Gary, you try to use this less-than-100% to further a picture of 0%. Yet there is literally all the difference in the world between 0% and 100%. The truth is somewhere in the middle, which is why we must be specific and not generalise. So often I get the idea from what you write that the more sceptical something is the more scholarly it is. The logic (?) of that will escape people, since they have always assumed that the more accurate or evidenced something is, the more scholarly it is.

        • Plus – you would need to be clued up on the topic to tell whether the situation was analogous to flat earth or not. You are not, you say, clued up on it. So how can you be expert enough to classify a second point of view (when often there will be 5 or 6) as being a totally left field (or up-the-wall) perspective? You are not. You know only that it is different from the first one that you heard, not that it is extreme. People who know the field are much better able to judge that sort of thing.

  22. Christopher: “This summarises the consensus [regarding the non-eyewitness authorship of the Gospel of John] of about 45-50 years ago.”

    45-50 years ago?? Really? Raymond Brown’s “The Death of the Messiah” was published in 1994 (only 25 years ago) and he clearly states that he does not believe that the author of the Gospel of John was an eyewitness or an associate of an eyewitness.

    The posts from the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops are current. You can check the website yourself.

    Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” was published in 2006. See his comment above regarding the authorship of the Gospels. What he states very clearly is that even in 2006 (just 13 years ago) a consensus existed among scholars that the Evangelists were not eyewitnesses or associates of eyewitnesses. He disagrees with the consensus but he admits the consensus exists.

    I would strongly encourage you, Christopher, to check out the current status on this issue among your colleagues. You seem to be a little out of date. 🙂

    FYI: Just because neither eyewitnesses nor associates of eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels, per most scholars, does not mean that eyewitness material is not present in those four books. The million dollar question is, however: Which material is eyewitness material and which material is legendary or theological embellishment??

    • The contents of your square brackets are inaccurate. The consensus of 45-50 years ago -no longer a consensus- that I was referring to was on ch21 and chs 15-17 being secondary insertions.

      Whereas the consensus that Matt is relying on Mark remains, and remains a good argument.

      If I am out of date, which date am I at? The consensus is now far closer to what I say than it was in the 1960s-early 80s. I know that these consensuses existed a generation ago.

      What RF Bauckham writes is of course a generalisation and one would need to examine the situation with each of the 4 gospels individually. It is scarcely going to be the same situation for each of the 4.

      For Matt and Luke, the case partly holds. It is very difficult to avoid that Luke would have encountered Peter in the 60s or at least been able to do so, as they were both in Rome.

      Mark being an associate of Peter has always been held by a good proportion. John has been difficult to place. Those who have avoided the options of John Apostle or Elder have never been able to come up with a likely or agreed alternative – the ‘proliferation’ of Ephesus Johns just underlines that point. Nor have the very strong eyewitness claims been able to be satisfactorily explained, given that the book gained traction and a wide public.

      I mentioned earlier that consensuses are irrelevant – they are only as good as the arguments they are based on – they are the summaries of those arguments. This is the key point, and is the one you’d need to address.

      • for RF Bauckham read R Bauckham.

        How do you know that what people say about consensuses is accurate? You quote one person giving a general summary of what is agreed by all to be a complex matter, and another person gives a slightly more nuanced view – you then assume (why?) that the first and less detailed one was the more correct – but the only way to know what is correct is to study a broad range of writings.

        • Good morning, Christopher.

          Can you provide me with a published quote from any NT scholar, other than yourself, within the last 30 years who states that the consensus scholarly opinion is now that the Gospels WERE written by eyewitnesses or associate of eyewitnesses?

          • I said (twice) that any statement that starts ‘the gospels’ is an unacceptable generalisation. Do you accept the point (1) that there are 4 gospels and that therefore this is 4 questions not 1?

            And the further point (2) that we should always be trying to avoid generalisation since the more generalisation the less accuracy?

            I addressed this already above. A high proportion of scholars think Mark’s links with Peter should be to the forefront of the discussion of Mark’s origins. A good proportion think the gospel of Mark was written by John Mark. More relevantly, our earliest primary sources do.

            John the Elder is a popular choice as author of John. The idea that he was a younger disciple and eyewitness is also popular. If he were not, our earliest sources would be wrong, which is unlikely.

            Matthew is not thought to be a direct eyewitness work. It comes however from a milieu close to James the Lord’s brother.

            Luke is likely to have known Peter in Rome, but certainly knew Mark well – whose mother hosted the earliest church (which included Jesus’s mother etc). He was aware of the accurate eyewitness situation vis-a-vis the gospels. ‘From the first’ in his preface makes no sense whatever unless he is saying how good the information in the gospels is.

            Post-Mark, the degree of contact with the events lessened – and the other 3 gospels are not even totally in the same category of Mark. They have a higher percentage of fulfilment-material than he has, and rely on him greatly for their record of events (except John) – he took care, says Papias our first source, not to leave anything out. To the extent that Matt could even be seen as a second edition of Mark.

            So – any scholar worth their salt would treat the 4 gospels separately in this regard, and give different answers for each one. The more generalised, the less scholarly. The more nuanced, the more scholarly. That is why it is so important not to headline generalisations, as it seems to me that you are doing. Generalisations come at the very bottom level when the goal is accurate understanding.

          • Plus – I don’t know why you say ‘other than yourself’, since I have already above put Matt and partly Luke in different categories than that to some degree. Even John did not apparently much witness the vital Galilee ministry. And I thought my thinking was generally regarded as independent in the extreme.

      • “I mentioned earlier that consensuses are irrelevant – they are only as good as the arguments they are based on – they are the summaries of those arguments. This is the key point, and is the one you’d need to address.”

        What you are saying is this: I don’t care what the majority of experts say, I want to debate you, Gary, a non-expert, on the evidence.

        That isn’t what educated people in advanced, industrialized societies do, Christopher. Educated people accept majority expert opinion on all issues about which they are not experts. I do not debate flat-earthers regarding their evidence. I do not debate climate-change deniers regarding their evidence. I do not debate creationists and young-earthers regarding their evidence. Why? Because the experts have reached a consensus on these issues.

        Imagine a society in which every person believes that he or she is the final arbiter of truth on every issue. Utter chaos!

        • Gary – you are IMHO so wrong.

          (1) Everyone everywhere accepts that a ‘conclusion’ has no existence over and above the actual arguments on which it is based, arguments you are not allowing to take centre stage.
          -Jumping to conclusions, in other words, which is what the least thoughtful people do, not the most thoughtful. This jumping straight to conclusions has something in common with doegatism and fundamentalism. Yet everyone knows that if the arguments have not been addressed, the conversation has not yet even started.

          (2) Everyone everywhere accepts that someone saying something is a consensus is a generalisation…
          and, further, a generalisation which pays no attention to how expert the people are on that sub-topic…
          nor to whether or not the more expert people disagree (as they fairly regularly do).

          (3) Everyone everywhere accepts that one person saying something is a consensus does not mean that others will agree with that assessment.

          (4) Everyone everywhere admits that if one person says that something is a consensus and another person says it is not, there is no reason yet to believe one person above the other.

          The more sweeping the generalisation, the more you want to prioritise it? It’s tolerably clear that it should be the other way round.

          And that is before we get onto the way that handbooks and introductions are so often widely at variance with the sub-discipline experts.

        • If I am not in an industrialised society, or living in denial of industrialisation, am I to be imagined as a local yokel chewing an ear of corn? What they call a hick? A simpleton country bumpkin? Come off it, Gary! Most enjoyable contretemps though. 🙂

  23. Gary,
    For your delectation and maybe education, to remove this from the personal aspect of some of your comments.
    1 Can we trust the Gospel?:

    2 Persistent myths about the New Testament:

    3 No, the church didn’t create the Bible:

    4 You can trust the four Gospels:

  24. Gary, are you related to Mark Matson? His theory is a typical example of how ‘consensus’ can weigh nothing. The vast majority of scholars never even considered the option ‘Luke used John’ and on the flimsy basis of never having considered all the main options, they then framed things as the following consensus: ‘The John and the Synoptics issue is unsolved, but opinion swings between John having used the others and common oral tradition’. But of those who studied John’s relation to Luke with all possibilities on the table, most came to plump for Luke’s use of John or similar.

    When anyone makes an accurate discovery, they are at that moment in time in a minority of one. The very opposite of a consensus.

  25. No, I am not related to Mark Matson.

    Yes, the majority of experts can always be wrong. But usually they are right. I strongly suggest trusting the expert consensus until and when the majority of experts revise their position. Conservative Christians do this in most other areas of their lives. They trust majority medical opinion. They trust majority expert opinion on the safety of automobiles and airplanes, etc., etc..

    • I would believe you if you addressed, let alone gainsaid, the several points I made:

      (1) How do you identify what is and what is not a consensus?

      (2) How many in the consensus have thought independently? For we know that every single person who does not think independently will join which side? Always the consensus side. Whereas independent thought increases as scholarliness increases.

      (3) Everyone who has a new accurate discovery is not merely in a minority but actually in a minority of one.

      (4) Talk of ‘consensus’ fails to make the crucial distinction between those who have specialised in an area and those who haven’t.

      (5) Ideas being presented as ‘consensus’ in introductions and primers can be a self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating process. It makes the next generation of scholars regard them as consensuses. By which time the thing has been a consensus so long that to challenge it seems bravado.4

      (6) Talk of consensus is talk of conclusions only. Therefore it involves vast generalisation. But generalisations, from the scholarly point og view, are at the very bottom of the pile.

      (7) Conclusions are worth absolutely nothing beyond the arguments and evidence that they are based on. Where such arguments and evidence are not cited, then one cannot be optimistic for the quality of the discussion or of the understanding.

      (8) The argument from authority is a philosophical fallacy.

      (9) It might be a consensus that X is not ‘known’, but knowing implies 100% certainty, which is a rare thing. So X is not known even when there is (say) 99% certainty.

      (10) For that 99% (or 57% or whatever) to be dressed up as though it were 0% is a very large inaccuracy indeed.

      I can only say that when I have studied topics in detail it has not been rare for the consensus to seem not to be the strongest theory.

      A true illustration. I rang a journalist because they had misrepresented the science. Two of three meta-analyses (together with other very strong evidence) pointed one way. They said they would not consider any of this any more than they would consider flat earth science (something which is *not* supported by two of three meta-analyses nor by other strong evidence). A cheap riposte, and they could not finish the conversation soon enough. But I cannot help thinking that it had something to do with which things were and were not politically correct.

      • I’m not interested in playing word games with you, Christopher. Consensus, significant majority…

        Here are the facts:

        –The Roman Catholic Church no longer claims that eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels. On the contrary, even the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops specifically states that “most scholars” doubt the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

        –Why would the Roman Catholic Church, which believes in the supernatural, miracles, the Virgin Birth, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus, change its position on the traditional authorship of the Gospels if the evidence for the traditional/eyewitness authorship was even mediocre? Obviously, they do not believe the evidence for your position is good.

        The challenge for you is to provide a list of NT scholars who believe in the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels who are not evangelicals or conservative Protestants. I will bet that you cannot find even five. Evangelicals and conservative Protestants do not have a magisterium to whom they can look for the final say on doctrinal issues. These Christians only have the Bible as the final arbiter of Christian truth. And if the Bible was written by non-eyewitnesses/non-associates of eyewitnesses the reliability of their only source of doctrinal authority becomes very shaky indeed. I suggest that is why conservative Christians such as yourself are so reluctant to accept the evidence which clearly indicates a consensus scholarly position on this issue.

  26. Haven’t you heard Gary that when you get four medical practitioners in a room you get 12 different opinions?
    You may be be edified or educated to a degree, by the following links, but it seems highly unlikely from the evidential “balance of probabilities” of your comments taken as a whole.
    Taking into account the title of the original post of Ian Paul , to me your motives, agenda, purposes for advocacy are a little redolent of piscine odour. For someone who is lay, you seem to have read stockpiled and catalogue and great number, to shoot from the hip and lip. Why?, particularly when scholars may be contemporary, such as Bart Ehrman, little is new, textual criticism, and has been known, and the question has long been asked, “Is the Jesus of faith the same as Jesus of History”? by the likes of Albert Schwartz with the the scholarly farce that was known as the “Jesus Seminar” was a number of years ago.
    1. Persistent Myths about the New Testament:
    2. The best arguments for and against the Gospels:
    3. No, the church did not create the Bible:
    4. Can you trust the four Gospels?:

    I don’t intend to get involved with any exchanges with you. As there is more than enough in the links to reveal my position, as a adult convert to Christ.
    Who do you say Jesus is?
    Can you with heart and mind truthfully subscribe to the catholic creed, the Apostle’s Creed as can believing Catholics and Protestants, no matter how scholarly or dim we all may be.? Here we have commonality, equality of belief, a consensus. Or do you dismiss this all as Conservative. Is that your hidden agenda, mystery revealed?
    Truth needs to be conserved, preserved, not neglected. Today, there is a deep halitosis of progressive “truth decay.”
    Truth does not grow old, does not age.
    Hope it goes well with you. Geoff

    • Many Catholics believe in the resurrection of Jesus by faith, in particular, faith in the testimony of the magisterium of the Church Catholic. I have no issue with that honesty. What I am concerned about is the false teaching that there is good historical evidence for this event. There is not.

        • I am not an expert in climate science. That is why I do not debate climate-change deniers regarding the evidence for climate change. I trust the majority expert opinion on this issue. Debating a climate-change denier regarding his “evidence” is a waste of my time.

          I am not an expert on the shape of the earth. That is why I do not debate “flat-earthers” on the shape of the earth. I trust the majority expert opinion on this issue. Debating a flat-earther regarding his “evidence” is a waste of my time.

          I am not an expert on the age of the universe or of the earth. That is why I do not debate “young earthers” on the age of the universe. I trust the majority expert opinion on this issue. Debating a young earther regarding his “evidence” is a waste of my time.

          I am not a biologist. That is why I do not debate creationists regarding evolution. I trust majority expert opinion on this issue. Debating a creationist regarding his “evidence” is a waste of my time.

          Likewise, I am not an expert on ancient middle eastern texts. That is why I do not debate believers in the traditional authorship of the Gospels. I trust the majority expert opinion on this issue. Debating a “traditionalist” regarding his “evidence” is a waste of my time.

          I’m not here to debate the evidence, only to point out that your position contradicts the expert opinion of most experts in this field.

    • Hi Geoff,

      I am a board certified physician. If you get four board certified physicians in a room you will NOT get 12 different opinions. Your analogy is false. You do not know what you are talking about, my friend. When you or a family member is very sick, in danger of death, do you go to a board certified physician for help or do you go to the local pastor for healing? I think we all know the answer. The fact that you would most certainly call the paramedics to take your loved one to the hospital (and not the church), is a good sign of the reliability of (science based) western medicine over and above the skills of faith based theologians.

      The truth is there are only two groups of experts who can never seem to agree on anything: philosophers and theologians!

      You said: “You may be be edified or educated to a degree, by the following links, but it seems highly unlikely from the evidential “balance of probabilities” of your comments taken as a whole.”

      I take the truth claims of conservative Christianity VERY seriously. I grew up in a conservative Christian home. I baptized my children in a conservative Christian church. But then I decided to look at the evidence for the truth claims of traditional/conservative Christianity and was SHOCKED at the amount of assumptions and conjecture upon which conservative Christianity is based. I did not leave Christianity willing. I loved my faith. I loved Jesus. I loved my church. I left the Christian religion kicking and screaming. But I did leave. I left because the evidence is overwhelming that the Christian faith is not based on good evidence.

      Below I will post a list of all the books I have read on this subject. Note that I have read books by scholars of all persuasions, fundamentalist, conservative, moderate, liberal, and atheist/agnostic. I am not an expert, but I am informed. I am not just “shooting from the hip/lip”.

      • I’m a retired lawyer and well know that specialist conflicting medical opinion can be obtained for plaintiff and defence. As can specialist legal opinion. A legal case in point in the UK was the high profile Supreme Court Case to decide an almost unique question of Constitutional law over Brexit, the relationship between the executive and the House of Commons/Lords.
        And while lawyers/the bar have a convention that they are to operate the “cab rank” convention, that is, take the next case to come along, I’d claim that theologians/scholars approach their subject from pre-suppositions, such as an anti-supernatural supposition.
        You say you grew-up in a conservative home. I didn’t, and was an unchurched, unbelieving lawyer at a supernatural conversion to Christ at the age of 47. It was then that I accepted that the Bible is both God’s revelation and human. And notwithstanding doing some subsequent study which opened me up to higher /form skeptical criticism as a former practicing lawyer.
        Did you ever know, experience the reality of the Triune God of Christianity.
        as a lawyer with a grasp of of the rules and laws of evidence, and of jurispriduence, I’ve little difficultly in accepting the Gospels, all of scripture.
        Could I suggest you add to your reading list, “New Evidence that demands a verdict” Josh McDowell.
        And He Walked Among Us: free here:
        What weight and standard of evidence would satisfy you? Probably none.
        Gary I’m always interested in the points I raised ,which you didn’t answer.
        Such as the Creed, your motives, the Jesus Seminar. (The Jesus Seminar was replete with Bible Scholars)
        Again I hope it goes well with you. Which Jesus did you love and how. Were you converted or did you just go along with your upbringing? There seem to be deeper aspects to this than “evidence”. What are your motives here? What are you hoping to prove?
        With all your reading, you probably have come across Tim Keller and his books “The Reason for God” and the prequel “Making Sense of God”.
        And while you seem to centre on biblical scholars and dismiss any argumentation from those you see as theologians you also seem to link biblical scholars with scientists.
        Indeed you list reading Dawkins swathes of which are hardly scientific.
        You could compare and contrast Dawkins with the writings of polymath prof Oxford John Lennox. He draws out the distinction between science and the underpinning philosophy of science, of scientism, what amounts to pre- assumptions of most scientific endeavour today, similar to the pre-assumptive “consensus” of much biblical scholarship.
        As a trained lawyer, I here make a claim to end with: truth exists nothwithstanding evidence for or against, or no evidence at all. Truth exists, before evidence.
        Again, I hope it goes with you and your family. Geoff

        • Thank you for the kind words, Geoff.

          I agree with you. Truth does not depend on evidence. But evidence is the only means for mortals to determine the probability of any truth claim. Without evidence, we are left stumbling in the dark of superstition.

          As a lawyer, would you agree, Geoff, that the strength of the evidence for the central supernatural claim of traditional Christianity, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, becomes very tenuous indeed if the stories in the Gospel about this alleged event are not eyewitness accounts?

        • Regarding medical experts in court: You are correct, pay someone enough money, and he or she will say whatever you want him or her to say. But put the same experts in an emergency room, directly responsible for the care of a critically ill patient, and it is amazing how quickly they will find a consensus on how to proceed.

          Can the same be said of four theologians?

          A Catholic priest, a conservative Lutheran pastor, a Presbyterian pastor, and an evangelical pastor all come across a dying victim of a car injury. The Catholic and the Lutheran want to immediately baptize the poor man but the two argue over whether the man will need to do a good work to keep his salvation before he dies. The evangelical snickers and says, “Good grief. The last thing this guy needs is to get wet!” and bends down to ask the dying man if he would like to accept Jesus Christ into his heart to be his personal Lord and Savior. The Presbyterian rolls his eyes, looks at the man and sniffs, “I can tell just by looking at him that he is not one of the Elect. Let’s not waste our time, gentlemen.”

    • -“The Resurrection of the Son of God” by NT Wright
      –“Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” by Richard Bauckham
      –“The Death of the Messiah, Volumes I and II” by Raymond Brown
      –“Making the Case for Christianity” by Maas, Francisco, et al.
      –” The Resurrection Fact” by Bombaro, Francisco, et al.
      –“Miracles, Volumes I and II”, by Craig Keener
      –“The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona
      –“Why are There Differences in the Gospels” by Michael Licona
      –“The Son Rises” by William Lane Craig
      -“The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus” by Raymond Brown
      –“The Resurrection of Jesus” by Gerd Luedemann
      –“Resurrection Reconsidered” by Gregory Riley
      –“John and Thomas—Gospels in Conflict?” by Christopher Skinner
      –“The Argument for the Holy Sepulchre” (journal article) by scholar Jerome Murphy-O’Connor
      –“Israel in Egypt” by James Hoffmeier
      –“The Bible Unearthed” by Finkelstein and Silberman
      –“The Resurrection of Jesus in the Light of Jewish Burial Practices” by Craig Evans, (newsletter article) The City, a publication of Houston Baptist University, May 4, 2016
      –“Has the Tomb of Jesus Been Discovered?” by Jodi Magness, SBL Forum
      –“Genre, Sub-genre and Questions of Audience: A Proposed Typology for Greco-Roman biography” (article) by Justin M. Smith, St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews, Scotland
      –“Cold-Case Christianity” by J. Warner Wallace
      –“The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel
      –“Misquoting Jesus” by Bart Ehrman
      –“Jesus, Interrupted” by Bart Ehrman
      –“How Jesus Became God” by Bart Ehrman
      –“Jesus Before the Gospels” by Bart Ehrman
      –“Did Jesus Exist?” by Bart Ehrman
      –“Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus” by Asher Norman (endorsed by Talmudic scholars for its accuracy in presenting a Jewish perspective of Jesus and the Christian New Testament)
      –“The Book of Miracles” by Kenneth L. Woodward
      –“Why I Believed, Reflections of a Former Missionary” by Kenneth W. Daniels
      –“Why Evolution is True” by biologist Jerry Coyne
      –“Masters of the Planet-the Search for our Human Origins” by Ian Tattersall
      –“A Manual for Creating Atheists” by philosopher Peter Boghossian
      –“Can We Trust the Gospels?” by Peter Williams
      –“The Outsider Test for Faith”, by John W. Loftus
      –“God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion by physicist Victor J. Stenger
      –“Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be The Only Humans on Earth” by paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer
      –“Evidence that Demands a Verdict” by evangelical apologists Josh and Sean McDowell
      –“The Blind Watchmaker” by biologist Richard Dawkins (currently reading)
      — “The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry” by Michael Alter (currently reading)

  27. Further, once the perception (inaccurate or accurate) gets around that something is a ‘consensus’, it stops people feeling the need to investigate it at all. But dissenters chip away, and eventually (at times) the old paradigm collapses.

    In many different areas, a high proportion of the detailed work done on a topic is done from a dissenting point of view, and for this very reason. Q. The date of Revelation. The Luke-John relationship.

    At other times, as soon as the paradigm is questioned, a lot of people say ‘Actually, we never believed that anyway’. As in – the ‘communities’ of the evangelists.

    Even slightly inhabiting the world of NT studies encourages one to take ‘consensus’ with a pinch of salt. It is more the principle of ‘consensus’ that I am talking about – that is not the same as saying most consensuses are incorrect.

    As the politicians have found, ‘consensus’ is largely about perception (or sometimes, less wholesomely, about jamming a certain message). Also about not wanting to be seen as eccentric or outside the mainstream, e.g. where tenure or organisational structures are involved. Less so when educated people are involved, but I suspect we’d all be surprised.

    • A consensus exists regarding climate change. Yes, there are a few scientists who dissent, but who should the layperson believe, the overwhelming majority of scientists or the fringe few? Or, should every layperson investigate the evidence for climate change him or herself to come to a conclusion?

      Educated people in advanced, western societies accept majority expert opinion on all issues about which they are not an expert. If you, Christopher, are a New Testament scholar, you are welcome to hold the minority/fringe position, but the rest of us as non-experts should accept the consensus/significant majority position as we do on all other issues in life.

    • I’m not suggesting that we stop examining the evidence. Not at all! That is what is great about the scientific method. There are no sacred cows. Any “law” of nature is open to revision or complete rejection.

      I am not suggesting that scholars such as yourself accept the majority opinion and roll over dead. I am simply suggesting that you admit that a significant majority (consensus?) position exists on this issue and that non-scholars such as myself and others should accept the consensus majority position until that position is overturned. That is what most educated people do on all other issues in life.

      • Gary, I’d encourage you to answer the ten points I listed above. A large number of points have been made, even outside those ten, that require a critical view of the concept ‘consensus’. Once you address those, we can proceed.

      • Anyway, when was the issue the eyewitness authorship of something called ‘the gospels’? We have said again and again that because there are 4 different gospels there may be as many as 4 different answers to this. I gave 4 different perspectives myself – it depends what gospel one is talking about, unless unscholarly over-generalisation is taking place.

        So I’d suggest – address or acknowledge that this is 4 issues rather than 1, and then reframe the question.

  28. It was the widely published consensus of 93 of Germany’s leading scholars, including some of her most famous Professors of theology, that hoodwinked a nation and justified and fuelled widespread support for the German’s wicked starting of WW1. Scholarly consensus? CAVEAT LECTOR!!!!

    Not everyone bought the demonic kool aid – thank goodness for the likes of Karl Barth who saw the spirit at work, discovered the whole new world in the Bible and hoisted the colours of the Kingdom and rallied the Church.

    • I believe that the issue you are referring to involved “theologians”, not New Testament scholars. There is a very big difference.

  29. Here is a relevant comment by C.S. Lewis on the whole enterprise of ‘modern scholarship’:

    “Only the other week a reviewer said that a fairy-tale by my friend Roger Lancelyn Green was influenced by fairy-tales of mine. Nothing could be more probable. I have an imaginary country with a beneficent lion in it; Green, one with a beneficent tiger. Green and I can be proved to read one another’s works; to be indeed in various ways closely associated. The case for an affiliation is far stronger than many which we accept as conclusive when dead authors are concerned. But it’s all untrue nevertheless. I know the genesis of that Tiger and that Lion and they are quite independent.

    Now this surely ought to give us pause. The reconstruction of the history of a text, when the text is ancient, sounds very convincing. But one is after all sailing by dead reckoning; the results cannot be checked by fact. In order to decide how reliable the method is, what more could you ask for than to be shown an instance where the same method is at work and we have facts to check it by?

    Well, that is what I have done. And we find, that when this check is available, the results are either always, or else nearly always, wrong. The ‘assured results of modern scholarship’ as to the way in which an old book was written, are ‘assured’, we may conclude, only because the men who know the facts are dead and can’t blow the gaff.

    …We think that different elements in this sort of theology have different degrees of strength. The nearer it sticks to mere textual criticism, of the old sort, Lachmann’s sort, the more we are disposed to believe in it. And of course, we agree that passages almost verbally identical cannot be independent.

    It is as we glide away from this into reconstructions of a subtler and more ambitious kind that our faith in the method waivers; and our faith in Christianity is proportionally corroborated. The sort of statement that arouses our deepest skepticism is the statement that something in a Gospel cannot be historical because it shows a theology or an ecclesiology too developed for so early a date.”


    • Yes. Stephen Neill ([1961] 1986): 151-2 quotes Gertrude Bell a co-traveller with Sir William Ramsay, and adds (152n1)
      ‘My use of this quotation presents source critics with an interesting problem. Anyone who has read Dr W F Howard’s delightful ‘Romance of NT Scholarship’ is likely to remember that he has quoted the same book and part of the same passage. How does it come about that we have both quoted a book that stands rather remote from our immediate theme? The obvious solution is that I have just cribbed from Howard. The real answer is much less likely. [Neill had quoted the whole thing from memory, and only later consulted Howard and seen that he too had fixed on the appropriateness of the selfsame passage.]’

      • Sir William Ramsay died in 1939. The majority of archaeologists has drastically revised its position on the accuracy of “biblical archaeology” since his time.

        • My comment was not on the topic of biblical archaeology – but you outdo yourself in generalisation.

    • Thanks David,
      It reminded of an essay by Lewis, “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism” printed in “New Evidence that Demands a Verdict” (1999) by Josh McDowell, which is an end piece to a section entitled, Biblical Criticism and the New Testament. It seems that quotation you cite is abstracted from the fuller essay, but I’ve not done a detailed comparison :
      The full essay is here:

    • Hi David. Conservative Christians love to quote CS Lewis. And I agree that he was a very intelligent man. But he was a theologian, not a New Testament scholar. A person can be both a theologian and a New Testament scholar, but Lewis was not one of them.

      Theologians base at least some of their beliefs on “faith”. Evidence is not the only method of determining truth in their profession. Not so with (most) New Testament scholars. Evidence is the one and only authority. That is why we can find much more consensus among NT scholars than we can among theologians. Theologians can’t even agree on the central doctrine of Christianity: the means of eternal salvation! Is it faith alone? Is it works and faith? Theologians are all over the place.

      The overwhelming majority of NT scholars believe:

      -Jesus was a real historical figure.
      -Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher.
      -Jesus was crucified by the Romans.
      -Shortly after his death, his followers believed that he had appeared to them in some fashion.

      I accept all these claims as facts, simply because the overwhelming majority of scholars say they are historical facts. I don’t need to research these claims myself. I trust the experts. I believe that mythicists are foolish. Most of them are not scholars yet they pretend to know more than the scholars/experts. And I believe that lay Christians are equally foolish when they take positions contrary to the majority scholarly opinion. I believe that both of these groups defy majority expert opinion for the simple reason that…THEY DON’T LIKE THE MAJORITY EXPERT OPINION.

      By the way, I also believe in the historicity of Jesus’ empty tomb. Even though a smaller majority holds the Empty Tomb to be historical, I still accept its historicity since a majority of scholars/experts believes in its historicity.

      • Well Gary,
        It appears that you don’t mention the incarnation. How is that to be proved to your satisfaction?
        And the bodily resurrection doesn’t seem to be proved to your satisfaction.
        This may be a simplistic conclusion, but the difficulty you have appears to be the supernatural, and supernatural intervention.
        A materialist world view, is indeed a world wide “consensus,” a dominant philosophy of science and a presumptive consensus of much biblical scholarship (Yes I know I haven’t done research, but there a those who comment on this blog who seem to be in prominent positions in the CoE who would accept the points you do, not incarnation . not bodily resurrection . In fact it seems that you’d be welcome to apply for ordination in the Anglican, Episcopal church.)
        Was the Jesus you loved, God incarnate, distinct but indivisible from God the Father and God the Holy Spirit?
        Again you didn’t answer the question I asked about the creed. No matter, now. You’ve come away, from Christ but not quite, it seems. Why not ask and keep asking him to make himself, the evidence of his presence real, to be the way, the truth, the life?
        By the way, you may also be interested in Alaister McGrath’s “The Dawkins Delusion”, a PhD scientist and theologian and CoE minister (I think)
        I have read that and a couple of books by John Lennox “God’s Undertaker – Has science buried God” and “God and Stephen Hawking, “. They may also be added to your library, with some advantage and advancement in thinking.
        Yours, Geoff

        • If I remember your question, you wanted to know what I believed when I was a Christian. Is that correct? Here is my story. I will try to make it brief:

          I was the son of a Baptist minister. I believed in the Apostle’s Creed. I believed that Jesus was God incarnate; the son of the virgin Mary; a healer and miracle worker, that he died for my sins on the cross; that he was bodily resurrected on the third day; that he ascended into heaven where he currently rules as Lord of heaven and earth; that he is God the Creator of the universe.

          I made a profession of faith in Jesus as my Lord and Savior at the age of nine. I was baptized shortly thereafter. In my twenties I stopped attending church to any significant degree until I became a father in my 40’s. I wanted to raise my Christian in the faith but was turned off by the emotionalism of evangelicalism. I baptized my first child in an Anglo-Catholic church (the conservative branch of Anglicanism). The Episcopal Church, to which my Anglo-Catholic church reluctantly belonged (literally), was too liberal for me and I finally decided that the Anglo-Catholic Anglicans were just too anti-Protestant for my liking. (It’s funny. They even refuse to capitalize the “p” in Protestant in their literature!)

          I baptized my second child in an LCMS Lutheran church (very conservative Protestants). I was very happy in conservative Lutheranism. One day while surfing the internet, I came across the blog of an ex-evangelical pastor turned atheist. I was shocked and horrified by his blasphemy against my beloved Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I made a decision to try and bring this “black sheep” back to his Savior. So, I engaged him in discussion regarding the evidence for traditional Christianity.

          …Four months later, after much study and much anguish…I was an agnostic. I was devastated at the loss of my faith, but as a medical professional, evidence matters to me. I cannot believe something by blind faith.

          • But surely evidence is nonnegotiable for everyone, be they medical professional or otherwise.

          • Gary,
            1 You clearly have had a struggle, but you reduce coherence in some points you seek to make with erroneous comparisons (the Emergency room is certainly not an equivalent to the Sitz im Leben of the Gospels and all the NT writers-) and simplistic and adopting the language of some rabid atheist in the categorisation of Christians being of “blind faith”.
            2. Neither do you address any of the points relating to a closed material, anti-supernatural, scientism, pre-supposition world view.
            3 Neither do you do your advocacy any favours by dismissing out of hand the writings of CS Lewis, who wasn’t really seen as a theologian as that was not his profession, a profession that enabled him to make highly relevant comments on Biblical scholarship. If you want a slight, but relevant aside here is a recent article which demonstrates that biblical scholars can and do operate and conclude and view through a lens of presumption: )
            4 My mother died in hospital. At the point of death she tried to escape the bed and bed rails with wire from the life support machines trailing. She died with a mask of terror on her face.
            5 That manifested, some three years, later in full blown clinical depression: monosyllabic, grunting, and a cotton -wool-mind. Consultant Psychiatrist said it was existential depression and it certainly was. At that time I was a partner in a law firm, I’d started.
            6 Some 4 years my dad died. On Christmas Eve he was on his way to stay with wife and me, when he blacked out, fell down, broke his ankle and was taken to hospital where he died in 5 weeks later. His heart was too weak to permit an operation on the ankle and he had a stroke and was unable to speak. All medication was withdrawn. A though came to mind that there should be a bible in bedside table, and there was a NT and Psalms, placed by the Gideon’s Society. I didn’t know that a bible came with scripture reference readings ad I read over time, days the relevant references, and ended with John 21 and the call, of Jesus to Peter to “follow me.”
            7 Then at about 2am, my wife on one side of the be, me the other, I couldn’t stand it any longer, the distress my dad was in. I got up from the chair and as I walked to the end of the bed I said to a God I didn’t know existed, ” I know Dad’s not been perfect, but if you think he’s suffered enough, would you please deliver him up” I didn’t know what I was asking, and had not worked out what to say.
            By the time I got to the end of the bed, my dad was sitting upright, eyes wide open, with a wonderfully wide smile. Dad you look wonderful. Yes, he replied, Dad do you feel wonderful? Yes, he said. Do you want then to give to something to make you more comfortable? Yes, he said.
            I didn’t know what was happening and got the nurse. Dad repeated the same to the nurse.
            8 I was stunned, but more than that, I was jealous of Dad -not his dying but he had a peace I’d been searching for all my life. Three simple thoughts came to mind: Do I have to wait just before I die? What happens if there is no one there to pray for me? And this last, What happens if I get run over by a bus?
            9 My wife and I then left the hospital, to shower and sleep, only to get a phone call to say Dad had died.
            The hospital staff knew that something extraordinary had happened and insisted that I take the Gideon’s, which I wanted to leave for anyone else’
            10 I spoke about this with the Minister who carried out dad funeral. “You need an Alpha Course”, he said, as I left meeting him with CS Lewis “Mere Christianity” and Frasncis Schaeffer’s “He is there and He is not silent in hand. And on that course my wife and I became Christians, born from above, filled with the Spirit, slayed. My wife had been raised in Methodism, attended a local Church of England School and in her teens attended Assemblies of God. But she says she now knew she had become a Christian, whereas before she hadn’t been. Now with an inner- dwelling of God the Holy Spirit, we are fools for the Lord.
            11.While there are many individual, different, testimonies of conversion there is much consensus in experience of born from above, “heart strangely warmed”-Wesley, “surprised by joy”-CS Lewis, and the evidence of millions of change lives, down the centuries. Even as you now mock and belittle it all as blind faith.
            12. Is your main aim in setting out your comments to de-convert those you are in fact of enlightened, eyes wide open intellectual, rigorous, reasonable, logical consistent Creedal faith?
            God bless you and your family. May you come to know and have that evidence of personal relationship, for which we exist. Geoff

          • Hi Geoff,

            In response to your comment about the tragedies in your life and the unusual events at the bedside of your father, I just want to say that I sincerely empathize with your pain. It is very, very hard to lose someone we love. I lost my mother at age 62 to brain cancer.

            It is certainly possible that an invisible supernatural being saw your despair that day and answered your prayers. I would never attempt to disprove the reality of the supernatural. The supernatural by definition defies the scientific method, the very method I choose as the most reliable indicator of universal truths.

            But what I can say is that odd events happen to people of all faiths and even to atheists. Could all these odd, rare events be miracles? Maybe. But they could also just be odd, rare events. And until I see a laws-of-nature defying event myself, I will not believe.

            In my worldview, the parable of Thomas the Doubter, found in the last canonical Gospel, has it all wrong. It should read: “Blessed is he who verifies all universal truth claims with good, unbiased evidence, and shame on the unwise man or woman who believes universal truth claims based on feelings, personal perceptions, wishful thinking (faith), and fringe expert opinion.”

      • Hi Gary,
        Conservative Christians love to quote CS Lewis. And I agree that he was a very intelligent man. But he was a theologian, not a New Testament scholar. A person can be both a theologian and a New Testament scholar, but Lewis was not one of them.

        I think you have missed the point. Lewis is not arguing from the point of view of biblical studies as such, or from theology. This argument stems from him being an author, and knowing other authors. As I understand his argument, it is that people have applied the same kind of ‘higher textual criticism’ which is applied to the NT documents to more modern texts, including those by Lewis. The problem is that the conclusions reached by these techniques, according to Lewis, are generally (or, at least, often) found to be wrong in cases where it is possible to test the conclusions.

        The idea that the people who study the NT in the 20th century have better means for studying the text that people in earlier centuries must be called into question. How can we know that the conclusions are more accurate that earlier understanding?

        Trust in experts is good when the area of expertise is one where verification is possible. An expert doctor is to be trusted if they have consistently made diagnoses which prove to be accurate. If your doctor makes a bad diagnosis, then your trust in them should waiver.

        You have used a couple of examples of your trust in experts. The basic issue of climate change, and the core evidence does not require trust in experts. It is understandable by any reasonably intelligent and unbiased individual (e.g. how the level of ‘greenhouse’ gases in the atmosphere affects global temperatures, and the ‘hockey stick’ graph of global average temperatures over time). If you want see evidence that the earth is not flat, go down to the beach at West Wittering, and watch one of the huge container ships set off from the Solent out into the English Channel. I’m not sure trust in experts is needed in either case.


        • Hi David,

          If it were only liberal and atheist scholars (scholars who are skeptical of the supernatural) who reject the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels, I could be persuaded to believe that their position on this issue is due to a bias. But why do most Roman Catholic scholars today also reject the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels? What possible bias would lead so many Roman Catholic scholars to the conclusion that the traditional authorship of the Gospels is nothing more than…tradition?

        • Hi David,

          If it were only liberal and atheist scholars (scholars who are skeptical of the supernatural) who reject the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels, I could be persuaded to believe that their position on this issue is due to a bias. But why do most Roman Catholic scholars today also reject the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels? That is the big factor for me to conclude that the evidence for the majority position must be good and not just a matter of bias. What possible bias would lead so many Roman Catholic scholars to the conclusion that the traditional authorship of the Gospels is nothing more than…tradition?

  30. See the following on ‘consensus’ from a leading liberal NT scholar:

    ‘Scholarship tends to label any current synthesis a ”consensus”. But while such an accord does include some permanent gains, it may *in large measure* [my italics] represent a truce resulting from exhaustion or a period of false calm between storms.’ Whereas the disturbing of a consensus ‘urge[s] everyone to re-examine fundamental presuppositions’.

    • I have no problem with a “consensus” being challenged by SCHOLARS. My issue is with non-scholars assuming that their four years of online google searches on the issue qualifies them as “experts” on the subject.

  31. Christopher stated above that since the publication of Richard Bauckham’s book, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, the scholarly consensus has changed regarding the authorship of the Gospels. The evidence demonstrates otherwise, however.

    Here is a statement by Richard Bauckham himself in the preface of the SECOND edition of his book, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, published in 2016:

    “I always expected the book to be controversial. After all, it proposed a new paradigm for understanding the origins of the Gospels. It is right that any such proposal should be tested in the fires of criticism and debate. Responses ranged all the way from enthusiastic support to (in just a few cases) unqualified disapproval. Most reviewers judged it as an important book, even if they were not persuaded or not fully convinced by its arguments.”

    –Richard Bauckham
    November 1, 2016

    Gary: That certainly doesn’t sound as if Bauckham believes that the scholarly consensus has changed since his original statement in the first edition in which he stated that nearly all recent scholarship (a consensus) rejects the eyewitness/associate eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. In this second statement, he is merely stating that his book has provoked a lot of discussion and controversy, which is true. While it may be true that many evangelical pastors and online apologists find Bauckham’s book to be “devastating”, that hardly seems to be the case when it comes to actual New Testament scholars…even by Bauckham’s own admission.

    • I stated nothing of the kind. I did state that the Catholic body reflected the ‘orthodoxy’ of 45-50 years ago.

      • Or if I did say it (and I cannot have said something I do not believe, nor can I have committed such a rather gross generalisation) point out where.

        • I can’t find the quote so if I misquoted you, Christopher, I apologize. But someone commented that since and because of the publication of Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” in 2006, the consensus of scholars on the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels has changed back to the traditional/eyewitness authorship.

          Bauckham’s quote from the preface of the second edition of his book, published in 2016, as quoted above, certainly does not suggest that Bauckham himself believes that the consensus has changed.

          And I will bet that the only scholars who will agree with you on this recent “change” in consensus, Christopher, are fundamentalist Protestants and evangelicals who find Bauckham’s research “devastating”. If you can find FIVE non-fundamentalist, non-evangelical NT scholars who are quoted in print saying that the new consensus of NT scholars has changed in the last few decades; that the current consensus of scholars is that eyewitnesses and/or associates of eyewitnesses authored the Gospels, I will eat my hat!

          I don’t think you can do it, Christopher.

          • See what I said on this being circular- if you classify even the world’s leading NT scholars and most exhaustive employers of evidence with these labels purely on the flimsy grounds of their conclusions (and what truthful person can help the conclusions they come to? the only alternative is to lie) – then It is certainly very odd that you label me in that way. It is certainly true that traditional conclusions did not become traditional by accident but rather by being arrived at by many; and that the law of averages will mean that around 50% of conclusions will always be more conservative than not; and that so-called conservative conclusions can be the same thing as commonsense/obvious ones whereas radical ones (to their disadvantage) cannot. But it stands to reason that truthseeking has eclectic (and sometimes new) results, which may at various times be any of: familiar, moderate, paradigm-shifting, ‘different’ – what on earth is fundamentalist about my provisional conclusions about whether Revelation’s predictions were fulfilled, or about where Matt got much of his teaching material from, or about the role of oral tradition post Mark? (3 random examples.) On the date of John and the existence of Q I differ from most recent evangelical scholarship. In a context of truth seeking how can it be otherwise?

  32. Christopher, May 7: “A high proportion of scholars think Mark’s links with Peter should be to the forefront of the discussion of Mark’s origins. A good proportion think the gospel of Mark was written by John Mark. More relevantly, our earliest primary sources do.”

    These are bold assertions with ZERO references to sources! The fact is that you can search the blogs and writings of every non-fundamentalist Protestant/non-evangelical NT scholar and find that they do NOT believe that John Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark nor that there are links between the author of Mark to Peter. Raymond Brown states in “The Death of the Messiah” that the author of Mark was most likely not an eyewitness and had probably never stepped foot in Palestine!

    You are repeating false fundamentalist propaganda, Christopher. This is what disturbs me the most about conservative Christianity. They assert scholarly majority opinion as the final authority of matters if history ONLY when it benefits their theology (the historicity of Jesus, the historicity of the Empty Tomb). But when the majority scholarly opinion hurts their theological position, such as the non-eyewitness authorship of the Gospels, they use every deceitful ruse in the book to obfuscate the truth. It is shameful.

    Please provide quotes from FIVE non-fundamentalist Protestant, non evangelical scholars living within the last 50 years who agree with your assertions above. I don’t think you can do it. Please provide sources for your assertions. I have.

    • First – Scholars qua scholars are neither catholic, protestant nor anything else, just truth seekers.

      Second – supposing anyone had conclusions of that nature, you would forthwith classify them as fundamentalist etc anyway – so the argument is circular.

      Focus on conclusions not on arguments is a more primitive form of discourse, and a question-begging one, as has been said.

      I do not classify people in that way – more importantly they do not classify themselves that way. And most importantly of all, if anyone fell without fail into one ideological group, would they be a scholar in the first place? A scholar’s labelling if any (and it is only really laymen who persist in labelling, so why would anyone attend to it?) would arise from the positions they arrived at after study, not vice versa.

      You quote me as saying 3 things. Of these the first and the third are undeniable, while the second is a mild claim about ‘a good proportion’ – since that claim is mild, who could take exception to that claim either? As a nonspecialist you are less in a position to have a view on Papias, let alone an unnuanced one. Was everything the man said untrue? Did he get his wife’s name wrong?

      What you call shameful would be shameful if it happened, and also is shameful when it does happen. But if you say you are a nonspecialist, it follows that you are not in a position to say when it is or is not happening, and this is something you cannot have both ways. It stands to reason that sometimes what you see as conservative conclusions are often just (a) commonsense, (b) conservative because by the law of averages 50% of the time correct conclusions will be more conservative than not. I am sure that anyone who knows my work can vouch that it ends up being remarkably (and above-average) eclectic as between moderate, conservative, radical and original, which is not surprising since I make a big thing of fleeing ideology.

  33. Christopher, May 7: “John the Elder is a popular choice as author of John. The idea that he was a younger disciple and eyewitness is also popular. If he were not, our earliest sources would be wrong, which is unlikely.”

    Popular among whom??? Answer: Evangelicals and fundamentalist Protestants! Even Raymond Brown, one of the most renowned Johannine scholars, came to believe that the author of John was not an eyewitness and therefore not a disciple of Jesus. Where are you getting this fundamentalist material, Christopher? Once again, give me quotes from just FIVE non-fundamentalist, non-evangelical scholars who agree with you on this. The fact that only evangelicals and fundamentalist Protestants believe that the Gospel of John was written by an eyewitness, AND the fact that evangelicals and fundamentalist Protestants can’t even agree on the identity of this alleged eyewitness—some say he was John the Apostle while others say that he was John the Elder of Ephesus (not the apostle)—is excellent evidence of exactly how POOR the evidence is for the identification of the author of this Gospel!

    • A lot of scholars don’t come down firmly one way on this one, which is not surprising since John is setting puzzles for his readers – and one main view (Streeter, Hengel) is that he is being ambiguous as between 2 Johns.

      Hengel and Bauckham – two peerless scholars in terms of their knowledge of the evidence – take this view of authorship – and obviously others will follow them and/or take their evidence seriously. Evidence is what scholars like, and evidence can point any way at all. That is the nature of evidence.

      Others who champion John the Elder as author – Von Hugel, Bousset, Burney, Dibelius, Witherington, Stibbe. Take the first 4 of those, add Streeter, and you have your 5. But the point is that none of them has analysed the question to the level of Hengel and Bauckham, 2 great scholars not to be damned with faint praise or with labelling.

      • I specifically said: “non-fundamentalist, non-evangelical scholars of the last 50 years.”

        Von Hugel died in the 1930’s. Not exactly current scholarship, Christopher. So take one off your list of five.

      • Bousset died in 1920. Not exactly recent scholarship.

        This is the problem with fundamentalists and some conservative Christians who still make the false claim that “most scholars” believe in the traditional authorship of the Gospels! They appeal to scholarship that is almost 100 years old or to the biased scholarship of their little niche of Christianity! What about the position of modern Roman Catholic scholars and moderate/liberal Protestants??? Completely ignored.

      • Charles Fox Burney died in 1925. You are appealing to scholarship that is 100 years old or more!

        I never claimed that most New Testament scholars of the last 2,000 years reject the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels, only that most scholars TODAY reject this position.

      • Martin Dibelius died in the 1940’s. At least his work was not published 150 years ago as was the work of the previous scholars you have mentioned. But, are you claiming that Martin Dibelius believed in the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels??? Since when? Read this:

        Although source criticism brought scholars to the conclusion that Mark and Q were likely sources for Matthew and Luke, and that Mark, Q, Matthew, and Luke were all most likely inuenced by the dogmatic views of the early church, it could not bring scholars to the “pure” historical sources that would allow them to arrive at an “unbi-ased primitive view of the earthly Jesus.”19 As Dibelius puts it, “We are able to say now how our Gospels arose from their sources, but we cannot yet say how this whole literature arose. We have some conception how the order, increase, and variation of the materials took place, but not how they came to be handed down and collected.”

        Gary: So what if Dibelius thought that a “John the Elder” wrote the Gospel of John. If he did, he certainly did not believe that this “Elder” was a disciple of Jesus or an eyewitness as you are claiming. That is my contention.

          • The difficulty is that scholars of that generation were often better trained both in the classics and the historical critical method. So although they lived long ago, they would still be cited when it comes to questions like this.

            I left Witherington and Stibbe out of the list because of your stringent requirements – however, the majority of scholars would put the discusisons of Hengel and Bauckham at or near the top of their list so all else is irrelevant.

            When I or anyone works on questions like this, we are dealing with the detailed data, not focussing on ‘conclusions’ or (God forbid) ideologies.

          • In reply to Christopher’s comment:

            I am not discrediting the opinions of these scholars. However, my initial premise was this: “The current consensus of New Testament scholars is that eyewitnesses/associates of eyewitnesses did not write the Gospels”.

            Please provide a published quote from even ONE living NT scholar who states that this consensus or even majority scholarly opinion has changed; that “most scholars now believe that eyewitnesses/associates of eyewitnesses DID write the Gospels”.

      • Ben Witherington

        Here is a quote from Wikipedia: “Witherington is Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary and on the doctoral faculty at St. Andrews University in Scotland. He is now considered one of the top evangelical scholars in the world, and is an elected member of the prestigious Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, a society dedicated to New Testament studies.”

        “top EVANGELICAL scholar”

        ixnay on Witherington.

        I asked for five non-fundamentalist, non-evangelical New Testament scholars who have published something in the last 50 years. I’ll let you stretch that to 100 years!

      • I don’t know anything about (Mark) Stibbe and I couldn’t find much bio info on the internet other than a statement that he is a charismatic. Charismatics are fundamentalist Protestants, but since I don’t know anything about the man, I can’t say for sure.

        • He is an ideologically independent scholar and a John specialist, specialising in literary questions more than in the historical-critical ones.

      • Streeter died in 1937.

        Come on, Christopher. Give me FIVE non-evangelical, non-fundamentalist New Testament scholars who have published their position on the authorship of the Gospels within the last 50 years. No wonder you believe that the majority of scholars favor the traditional authorship of the Gospels. The scholarship you seem familiar with is over 100 years old!

  34. Christopher, May 7: “Matthew is not thought to be a direct eyewitness work. It comes however from a milieu close to James the Lord’s brother.”

    Thank you for admitting that most scholars doubt the eyewitness authorship of the Gospel of Matthew!!!

    In fact, even Richard Bauckham agrees with this majority opinion. Bauckham states in “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” that the Apostle Matthew may have written a gospel in Hebrew, but the Greek Gospel we have in our modern bibles is not the same as this Hebrew gospel. Bauckham states that unknown authors of the Greek Gospel may have used Matthew’s Hebrew Gospel as a template, but they redacted and added material. Bauckham even believes that the author(s) of the (Greek) Gospel of Matthew inserted fictitious accounts into the gospel!

    • This is an untruth. You said I ‘admitted’ something. To ‘admit’ you would need to have first denied, and then retracted. I neither denied (as you know) nor retracted (again, as you know). This is the sort of thing scholars look for when seeking evidence on whether a writer is biased or not. Plus – your ‘thank you’ is bound to come across as patronising (though not quite as much as your ‘industrialised’ remark). It is not the role of one who is less of a specialist to be inquisitor of one who is more of a specialist.

      • You are a master of obfuscation, Christopher.

        I can admit that most scholars accept the history of the Empty Tomb, even though the historicity of the Empty Tomb can be used to support the traditional Christian account of the resurrection of Jesus. I accept the historicity of the Empty Tomb without attempting to spin the facts. Why can’t you be honest and admit that most scholars reject the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels, Christopher? Why must you exert so much energy to “spin” the facts?

        • I am? Why then did you not address the questions? 🙂

          The empty tomb? That just means that the disciples did not find the body where they expected to. Of course you accept it, because what is the alternative? The alternative is that they did find the body where they expected to.

          ‘Why can’t you just be honest?’
          Because I am already being, and always am – I make a point of it. But it is not possible to get inside another person’s mind and say whether they are being honest or not. It is something that we sometimes deduce from what they say.
          The same applies to ‘spin’. Anyone who knows me knows that I utterly abhor spin. It summarises all I stand against.

          ‘Most scholars’
          Have you read ‘most scholars’? You have read the conclusions – but not the detailed arguments – of many.

          • Once again…

            I do not need to read all the detailed research of “most experts” to tell a person who believes in a flat earth that most experts say that he is flat wrong.

            Ditto with the issue of the authorship of the Gospels.

            I have given you numerous respected sources, including a fellow conservative scholar, Richard Bauckham, who all confirm that “most experts” reject the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. You don’t want to accept it because you know it is devastating for the believability of your theology. That is why you are so desperately engaging in “spin”.

          • This answer repeats several of your main points that have already been taken to task in ways you have maybe ignored.

            (1) To cite ‘flat earth’ is to know where a view comes on the spectrum, which you can’t if you are not a specialist. Secondly, citing ‘flat earth’ is used as a ploy by those who want only one perspective to gain a hearing, however evidenced other ones are. It was used in this way to me by a Times journalist, as detailed above.

            (2) If I am spinning then I am a liar.

            (3) ‘Theology’ is something I less often engage in. I have here been preoccupied with NT studies rather than with theology.

            (4) As for your thinking this all comes down to what I ‘want’, that is a point that I regularly grill others on, but my life is dedicated to exalting truth at the expense of what people may or may not ‘want’, which last is a consideration irrelevant to truth.

            (5) You persist in thinking the 4 gospels can all be spoken of in one breath.

            It is very strange that you single out an individual whose preliminary conclusions are as eclectic (ideologically – which is the only perspective you are keen to employ) as they come. It leads me to think that you must be stereotyping, as was already suggested by your putting all scholars into ideological ‘boxes’. Are there no honest people on the planet?

            All these points have been questioned already, yet you return to them without engaging with the question marks that have been raised.

            That’s my last comment here, but do email me.

  35. Christopher, May 7: “Luke is likely to have known Peter in Rome, but certainly knew Mark well – whose mother hosted the earliest church (which included Jesus’s mother etc). He was aware of the accurate eyewitness situation vis-a-vis the gospels. ‘From the first’ in his preface makes no sense whatever unless he is saying how good the information in the gospels is.”

    Gary: This may be your personal scholarly opinion, Christopher, and that of most evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant scholars, but I challenge you to provide a reputable source which states that even a bare majority of all NT scholars believes this! Most scholars believe that the author of Luke was a Pauline Christian, but was not a companion or even a contemporary of Paul.

    Note that the author of Luke never claims in his introduction to the Gospel of Luke that he obtained his information DIRECTLY from eyewitnesses. He may have sincerely believed that his information originated from eyewitnesses, but there is a gigantic chasm between believing something is eyewitness testimony and knowing it to be. For all we know, Luke’s sources were people who had heard the Jesus Stories for the 100th telling, but assured Luke they were “certain” all the details in these stories were the same as when the eyewitnesses told the stories themselves, decades earlier. How can we know??? Answer: We can’t!

    Christopher, May 7: “Post-Mark, the degree of contact with the events lessened – and the other 3 gospels are not even totally in the same category of Mark. They have a higher percentage of fulfilment-material than he has, and rely on him greatly for their record of events (except John) – he took care, says Papias our first source, not to leave anything out. To the extent that Matt could even be seen as a second edition of Mark.

    Gary: Yes, if one reads Raymond Brown’s two volume work, “The Death of the Messiah”, in which Brown compares each pericope of the Passion in Mark, with the same story in the other three Gospels, one sees that Matthew is in essence a second edition of Mark. However, you are still asserting that the author of the Gospel of Mark was John Mark who carefully wrote down the testimony of Peter, and, that Papias is a reliable source of information for this fact. With few exceptions, the only scholars who believe that Papias was a realiable source regarding the authorship of the Gospel of Mark are evangelicals and fundamentalist Protestants. Why is that? Again, why do most Roman Catholic scholars consider Papias to be a questionable source of information? I suggest that evangelicals and fundamentalist Protestants have no choice but to appeal to the wacky writings of Papias, simply because without Papias, the house of cards that is the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels comes crashing down! And if the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels is proven false, conservative Protestantism’s final authority (the Bible) is most probably nothing more than ancient hearsay and legend.

    • (1) In order to say Luke did not come across Peter at Rome, you would need to say that the ‘we’ passages of Acts are not what they seem (which privileges a contorted theory above a straightforward one, which is bad methodology), or that they somehow eluded each other, even when Luke’s intimates Mark (and Silas) were more within Peter’s inner circle than anyone (as 1 Peter shows whether or not it is a pseudepigraph; I think it is not). Specifics, please, on this one?

      (2) How then to explain Acts 12 on the household of Mark? What ‘s the likelier theory, and why is it likelier?

      (3) How do you understand the significance of ‘from the first’ in the preface?

      (4) There is no such thing as a ‘personal’ scholarly opinion. If opinions are scholarly at all, they are evidenced not personal. Evidence is a public thing.

      (5) Your ‘for all we know’ is a weak argument. It states that something is possible. Almost anything is *possible*, so why select this particular possibility at random. It is possible that Simon Cowell will be PM and Elvis return. The odds of each of these were less than Leicester City winning the Premiership a couple of years ago – but they still did.

      (6) How could anyone know that Papias was so remarkably unreliable when we have only fragments and no contemporaries to check him against? He was not treated as unreliable by those who came after – and they knew more than us. In truth you are creating a false all-or-nothing. Many are very agnostic about Papias, but agnosticism is no closer to disbelief than to belief.

      (7) I don’t understand your category RC scholar. A scholar is a scholar: a truth seeker.

      (8) It is difficult to have another view of Mark. First, the early church fathers do not speak of more than one Mark. Second, Papias’s information dovetails well with the independent information from 1 Peter which shows a close Mark-Peter relationship. Third, Mark was the most common name in the Roman Empire, but not apparently in the church – it is selfdefeating to give a common name as a distinguishing nickname but that is what the Christians did to counter the fact that they had more than one John.

      (9) At the end you return to generalisation by speaking of ‘the gospels’ – and anything at that level of generalisation is at a lower level of discourse.

      • I am a layperson. You are a NT scholar. It would be ridiculous for me to even attempt to debate you on the evidence for the authorship of the Gospels. But what I can do is refer you to multiple reliable sources (which I have done above) which clearly state that the majority of scholars, in fact, not just a “majority”, but “most scholars”, reject your traditionalist view of the authorship of the Gospels.

        That is the best I can do, Christopher. If you have an argument, take it up with “most scholars”.

        • But if I am a NT specialist and you are a layperson what is ‘referring’ me to sources all about? I would already be aware of those sources.

  36. David, May 7, 7:54 PM: “Gary, that Tom Wright video is interesting. However, you cannot have part of it without the whole. For one, if he says that nobody knows who wrote the Gospels, that means that whatever consensus exists is fairly negative. So, your instistence on following “the consensus of (modern) scholars” is an admission of ignorance not knowledge. What he does say is that the question of authorship is not the vital question (which you seem to be harking on about). The important question is whether the four Gospels provide a reliable witness to the life of Jesus of Nazareth. I would think that the right reverend professor would say that they did. Remember that his original academic background was in ancient history. In this he would be following the trend as the pendulum swings away from the ideas of ‘the Jesus of History’ vs. ‘the Christ of Faith’.”

    Gary: Of course NT Wright believes that there is eyewitness material in the Gospels. So did Raymond Brown. So do the American bishops of the Catholic Church. Even I believe that there is probably some eyewitness testimony in the Gospels! The problem is: If we don’t know who the authors were, nor are we certain that the authors were eyewitnesses, how do we today determine which parts of these books are accurate (eyewitness) testimony, and which parts are legend or theological fiction??? (Even conservative scholars such as Richard Bauckham and Mike Licona believe that there is some fictional material within the Gospels.)

    • There are all kinds of tools we can employ to help us along that path. Have you come across Maurice Casey? He explains in detail in ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ the reasons why he treats certain passages as eyewitness and others not.

  37. I’ve made a more extensive response to you above Gary,
    And I’m going to again as a lawyer I’ve little difficulty accepting that the Gospels are based on eyewitnesses or their accounts. The idea that they are or contain legend has been well refuted in New Evidence that demands a Verdict- Josh McDowell and I approach it from a knowledge of the rule and laws relating to evidence, to ensure reliability, including truthfulness of the witness and purpose. And where is there theological fiction. The whole Bible hangs together with many different theological strands, which coalesce in the person of Jesus Christ, in the Triune, Father Son, Holy Spirit.
    I do not know know if any biblical scholars have approached there subject from any position outside the academic scholarly bubble.
    From a lawyer’s view I’d propose that the scriptures, would have carried the evidential weight of what we know as Documents of Public Records (UK) that can be adduced admitted as evidence of the contents., without having to prove the contents. They are uncorrectable, as are the scriptures in the form, as we have them.
    So it comes down to Baukham’s “belief.”

    • Hi Geoff. You said: ” The idea that they [the Gospels] are or contain legend has been well refuted in New Evidence that demands a Verdict- Josh McDowell and I approach it from a knowledge of the rule and laws relating to evidence, to ensure reliability, including truthfulness of the witness and purpose.”

      I’ve read Josh and Sean McDowell’s book. It has a lot of interesting statements but unfortunately these evangelical authors/apologists make the same mistake as most other evangelical/fundamentalist Protestant authors: They start off their books assuming the Gospels are reliable, eyewitness accounts which would be accepted in a court of law as would any other eyewitness testimony. They do no quote any scholar (that I remember) who is not evangelical or a very conservative Protestant on this issue. The repeat the false mantra that most scholars accept the traditional authorship of the Gospels. This might have been the case in the first 1800 years of Christianity, but certainly not in the last 100-200 years.

      This is biased research, Geoff.

      If many modern scholars are on record saying that “most scholars” reject the Gospels as eyewitness accounts, as I have quoted above giving sources, I highly doubt that you as an attorney could get the Gospels entered in a modern court of law as “eyewitness testimony”. In fact, if I were the opposing attorney, I would probably need to call just one expert witness to prevent you from getting these documents admitted as eyewitness testimony: NT Wright. Wright is favorite scholar of many evangelicals, who is on record as saying, “I don’t know who the authors of the Gospels were, nor does anyone else!”

      If you want to be informed on this issue, I strongly urge you to read scholarship for all sides.
      If you read my reading list above, you will see that I have read fundamentalist scholars (such as William Lane Craig), conservative scholars (such as Richard Bauckham and Michael Licona), moderate scholars (such as Raymond Brown) to rank liberal scholars (such as Gerd Luedemann). I would suggest that anyone who believes in the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels read the work of a highly respected MODERATE New Testament scholar: Father Raymond Brown; his two volume masterpiece, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”. Both conservatives and liberals consider Brown to be fair and objective. Brown (deceased) believed in the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, the reality of miracles, and the empty tomb, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. However, he rejected the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels based not on his theology but based on the evidence.

      • Gary, your talk of ‘both sides’; shows a lack of understanding. One cannot be an ideologue and a scholar – and even if there were ‘sides’ why would there be precisely two. I wrote a lot about this in What Are They Teaching The Children?

        There are millions of different issues to study. How can a person by coincidence be ‘fundamentalist’, ‘liberal’, ‘moderate’ on *all* of these issues? Have you never heard of the quest for truth, which is what all scholarship is, which means that conclusions will typically be (what will seem like) ideologically eclectic, because the quest does not have ideology in mind in the first place?

        On N T Wright you fell into the same trap already exposed about what the word ‘know’ means.

        I suggest we pursue this further by email.

        • “Gary, your talk of ‘both sides’; shows a lack of understanding. One cannot be an ideologue and a scholar.”

          Ha! Tell that to all the evangelical and conservative Protestant scholars who have signed statements of faith with their university employers, promising not to publish or verbally promote any scholarly position which is contrary to the doctrinal beliefs of the denomination employing them!

          We should reject the scholarship of all “scholars” who have signed such a blatantly biased document as their objectivity and honesty are always suspect in whatever they say or publish.

          Take a look at the doctrinal statement of Liberty University, Gary Habermas’ employer, for instance. Look at what happened to Michael Licona when he dared to express his honest opinion that Matthew’s story of dead saints being shaken out of their tombs was a theological embellishment. Scholars CAN be biased. That is why I am cautious, for the most part, of scholarship from the extremes. That is why I find the scholarship of Roman Catholic scholars such as Raymond Brown so refreshing. He believes in the supernatural and the bodily resurrection of Jesus but is not afraid to point out embellishments in the Gospels or that eyewitness did not write these books.

      • McDowell you cite is not the one I refer to which is the New Evidence that demands a Verdict (759 pages with much garnered and cited research and scholars from both “sides”) And you could take a look at the PDF I linked “He walked amongst us”.
        Your scientism: the God of scientism, shines through (see your comment on doubting Thomas of 12 May and in that regard all your comments are therefore pointless as are any replies) as does your biased skepticism, despite your contention you are being even handed in your reading and, you quote selectively no to support your. (You say to Christopher that you as a lay person you couldn’t debate him, but you do and you do, repeatedly by you citations). You are wasting everyones time in even seeking to respond as according to your own words you’ll never be convinced.
        And you are falling into the trap highlighted by CS Lewis by looking at it from the lens of a Court of law today. : and do not deal with points made and while you are keen to categories scholars as moderate, conservative, catholic, you do not include atheist scholars. And dismiss McDowell as study and research coming from a believers perspective.
        Yet you deny that what has been consistently put to you: scholars of are of a persuasion, attended to research with many presumptions which affect conclusions drawn.
        And as a non lawyer you are speaking as a lay person outside your area of expertise as regards evidence and evidence at the time of the gospels.
        I asked above if your motives were to seek to de- convert. Simon asks a similar question on your motives. To you pore scorn, sometimes it semes with a hardness of heart: we are all blind faith believers, the evidence of changed lives through conversion, down the centuries you dismiss out of hand. It’s been interesting but not particularly edifying, having been drawn into something I didn’t intend. May you come to know revelation of the reality of our Triune God.

        • Josh McDowell is the same McDowell as the book I referred to.

          I seek the truth…whatever it is, even if it is ugly and horrifying. I seek the truth. If there were good evidence for Christianity, I would believe it. I loved Christianity. I left it reluctantly. I left due to evidence not due to any other reason.

          It is my belief that supernatural beliefs, in particular, religious supernatural beliefs are the greatest threat to world peace and stability today. These beliefs are primarily based on ancient texts which no one today can verify for accuracy. Think about this: Even if the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses, should we believe the fantastical, laws-of-science defying claims within them? Would any of you believe an ancient “eyewitness” claim that 500 people saw a man flying on a cow into the heavens? Of course not. It is a silly, silly claim that no modern educated person should believe. And the same goes for the claim that 500 people saw a walking, talking, broiled fish eating corpse, who later levitated into the clouds. It is a silly supernatural tale. IT IS A SUPERSTITION. Modern, educated people should not believe in the reality of superstitions.

          If you would not believe an ancient “eyewitness claim” of 500 people claiming to have seen a man flying on a cow into the sky 2000 years ago, then why on earth do you believe an ancient claim that a crowd of people saw a resurrected corpse fly into the sky 2000 years ago?

          The truth for many theists is that the primary evidence for your religious supernatural beliefs is not historical evidence, but the wonderful feelings of peace, comfort, security, and hope that your supernatural beliefs give you. The question for you is this: Are feelings and personal perceptions sufficient evidence to evaluate the veracity of universal truth claims?

  38. Gary – why are you so keen to press this? Cleary you have thought long n hard and read widely. What is it that is driving this quest?

    The Gospels were treasured and transmitted because of the authority of their ‘content’ and the reliability of their witness. They were regarded as being written with Apostolic authority, whether direct or indirect, were written at a time when many were still alive to refute the content (John probably less so), read by those who had first hand experience if the content or second hand oral tradition as teaching foundation in their churches. The authors are writing at a time when to follow Jesus remains dangerous and life threatening depending on the volatility of crowd & Caesar at that moment. The gospels are transcribed, transmitted and treasured because they were deemed to be true. There were other gospels accounts rejected by the universal church (even if accepted by small pockets of religious) precisely because their authorship was unreliable and divorced from Apostolic witness and their content did not agree with that of the Faith as once delivered.

    The late apostolic Church and early patristic church werent stupid and ignorant of questions of reliability, integrity, historicity, verifiability.

    And of course, some of us trust in the process of inspiration of the Spirit and preservation by the Lord. That is fideistic but not unreasonable. Would God inspire a text that presents itself as eyewitness account or studied second hand account when in fact it was not & would the early church, late Apostolic & early patristic be duped into authorising something that 1900 years later some often unbelieving scholars question as to the historicity of? That seems unreasonable.

    Praying you have a day filled with revelation

    • Hi Simon.

      Why am I so passionate on this subject? Answer: Because I believe that supernatural beliefs are the greatest threat to world peace, stability, and prosperity. I believe that all supernatural beliefs are superstitions, and although some superstitions may be harmless for children, in the hands of adults, superstitions are usually dangerous and even deadly. They divided us. They separate us into “the righteous” and the “the unrighteous”; the “chosen ones” and the “pagans”; “the blessed” and “the infidels”.

      Step out of the darkness of ancient superstitions, Simon, derived from the writings of ancient, scientifically ignorant, superstitious people, and into the light of reason, rational thought, and science.

      Peace and happiness to you, my friend!

      • Gary

        You have fought a good rear guard action
        but me thinks thou dost protest too much
        let me introduce you to Jesus

        JOY, not just happiness to you

        • I’d be curious as to why you think I am protesting too much, Simon. Are you sure you aren’t simply inserting your own presuppositions into my comments?

          I was raised evangelical. I know all about “feeling” Jesus in your heart.

          Since my deconversion from Christianity, I am frequently asked by Christians if I ever had a personal relationship with Jesus. This is my response: How do you know that the voice you hear in your heart (head) is not just…YOU? How do you know that all the feelings and perceptions you have that you attribute to a relationship with the invisible and inaudible Jesus are not simply the consequences of your own internal dialogue with yourself?

          Christians usually respond: “I know that it is Jesus speaking to me because of the miracles I have experienced in my life related to my prayers (conversations) with Jesus.” Really? Can you provide even one example of a “miracle” (a violation of the natural order of the universe) or can you only provide examples of very odd, even rare, events which could just as well be odd, even rare, coincidences? An how would you be able to tell the difference if the event did not violate the natural order of the universe?

          • “protests too much” – cos you have written reams on here arguing against what you want someone to convince you of.
            You argue against something from an absence of knowing that someone.

            Its like telling a lover they are not in love.
            I as a Christian have both Evidence & Experience
            I speak from what I do know – you speak against what I know from what you dont know.
            Yet you read like someone saying “prove it…..please”

            Yes, I could offer many examples of miracles known to me, but you would not trust them, and find a way to deconstruct and dismiss –

            You claim to deconvert, nah it aint possible – if you are born you cannot be unborn, if you are born again you cannot be un-born again. So you were either never converted or kidding yourself. but doesn’t mean you ever met the Lord.

            I think you have rejected the God you never really knew and spend much emotional and intellectual energy reading theology books and trying to argue with Christians on Christian blogs. Why? To shake our faith? Nah. That’s like fighting a Tiger Tank with a feather duster.

            You want to believe but have a real battle going on inside your head n soul – maybe its a painful experience, maybe its intellectual doubt, maybe its plain old rebellion and sin, but you that wrestle goes on. Your mind is not made up or you would not care two hoots. But you do, and you remain to be convinced. You have worked yourself up to not believing, only thats a stark and barren place. And all the while the Lord is chasing after you and you don’t know whether to shout in anger at him to go away, or turn and run to the God running after you.

            This week Gary I’m praying for a miracle and you are at the centre of it – sorry, but now you’re in trouble, of the best kind 🙂

          • Reply to Simon’s comment:

            Simon: How do you know that your relationship with the invisible, inaudible Jesus is any different from the relationship of a child with his invisible, inaudible, (imaginary) friend?

            Unless you can give me good evidence that the evidence for your invisible friend is better than the evidence for a small child’s invisible friend, why should I take your claims seriously?

          • Scale, history, influence, circumstantial evidence

            Little Sammy’s invisible pony friend is only known by little Sammy
            But My invisible friend is known by 2billion today, and many more throughout 2 millennia.

            Little Sammy’s invisible pony does not have the support of history to his existence, influence, death, claimed resurrection and world impact. Non Christian C1st historians, Josephus & Tacitus as well as believers who wrote gospels recorded that Jesus was real, crucified, claimed to appear to those who thought him dead and then were willing to die for such a belief.

            I’m a bear of a small brain, but even I can see your analogy of correspondence breaks down instantly. Besides, it aint an argument, its a smoke grenade as you beat a retreat.

            What is ironic is how you wish to use a comment from Bauckham about scholarly consensus being against gospel eye witness, yet this professor and the majority of those scholars believe and trust in this invisible Lord, regardless of their take on source theory.

            anyway – this is boring – more imnportantly how was your day? I talked this morning to my ‘invisible friend’ about you – I’m excited – interesting day?

          • Simon: “But My invisible friend is known by 2 billion today, and many more throughout 2 millennia.”

            And Muslims say that 1.5 billion people today “know” Allah, and many more throughout the last 1.5 millennia.

            Simon: “Little Sammy’s invisible pony does not have the support of history to his existence, influence, death, claimed resurrection and world impact. Non Christian C1st historians, Josephus & Tacitus as well as believers who wrote gospels recorded that Jesus was real, crucified, claimed to appear to those who thought him dead and then were willing to die for such a belief.”

            1.5 billion people say that history, influence (Islam is projected to overtake Christianity in the near future as the largest world religion), and claimed miracles strongly indicate the existence of their invisible, inaudible friend, Allah. I know you reject their evidence because you don’t think their evidence is good, but that is exactly why I reject the Christian supernatural claims—your evidence is not good.

            In reality, you have no hard evidence for the existence of your invisible, inaudible friend other than your intense feelings and personal perceptions. Feelings and personal perceptions are highly unreliable methods of evaluating universal truth claims, Simon.

          • Simon: “What is ironic is how you wish to use a comment from Bauckham about scholarly consensus being against gospel eye witness, yet this professor and the majority of those scholars believe and trust in this invisible Lord, regardless of their take on source theory.”

            Yes, and there are many very intelligent, very educated, scientists, engineers, textual scholars, etc., etc, who believe that the prophet Mohammad flew on a winged horse into outer space and that the invisible, inaudible Allah exists and hears their communications.

            Religion is not like science. Science never asks you to have faith. It asks you to believe the evidence.

      • 1.8 Billion Muslims believe in Allah – which simply means God;
        2.2 billion Christian believe in God
        1 billion Hindus believe in the one God – Brahman

        5 billion people believe in one God, in an age of reason. sure we disagree over revelation and salvation but we all agree God is.

        Do you really think all 5billion are talking to an invisible not existent friend? Do you know everything? of course not. Can you stand in splendid isolation and vet everything so as to say there is no God? of course not.

        Come on Gary – your scientific positivism, rationalism, empiricism, verifiability, deference to the Trinity of Dawkins, Atkins, Hitchens, it aint resolved things for you has it? You still have immortal longings in you. You still have a restless heart. You still feel guilty of wrong doing. You still want peace and joy and unconditional love. You still huger and thirst after righteousness. You still mourn. You still fear God. Come on man, give in, stop running, stop this temper tantrum with God; swallow your pride and get on your knees and say YES to Jesus who has never given up on you and who always says Yes to you.

        • “5 billion people believe in one God, in an age of reason. sure we disagree over revelation and salvation but we all agree God is.”

          At one time, the entire population of the planet believed that illness is caused by evil spirits. The majority of people have believed a lot of silly things.

          Yes, most of the world’s population still believes in the supernatural. What does that prove? Nothing. Trust science, not faith. Science has a much better track record of accuracy and reliability. When was the last time that science adjusted its position due to the Bible? Ever? When was the last time Christians reinterpreted their holy text to keep up with science? Answer: All the time! Approximately 100 years ago, the Catholic Church gave us fighting evolution and embraced it. Today, even some evangelicals are now adopting Darwinian evolution into their theology. My LCMS Lutheran (fundamentalist Protestants) pastor even taught in a catechism class that apes and humans were related!

          The Bible says whatever the current generation of Christians wants it to say. Science is much more reliable.

          • Gary

            it aint gonna work trying to drive a wedge between science and religion and suggesting they are distinct and the latter more reliable and suggesting science leads to non faith. My son is a young scientist (I haven’t the foggiest what his work is Neutron Spectroscopy) but he spent last night worshipping at church with many other scientists.

            I happen to be part of a remarkable church. We once counted 100 Drs/PHDs in our church – the majority scientists or medics, a few humanities. Our part time receptionist is a retired world class medic with 3 earned doctorates 🙂 We have world class profs in biology, and climatology. Your attempt to create a polarity between science and religion wont work brother.

            (Try googling and listening to youtube clips by Prof John Lennox, Prof Ard Louis, Prof Alistair McGrath – they love Jesus and love science)

            If it isnt too personal, what does you wife think of your new found rejection of faith?

          • The main mosque in my large metropolitan city counts many scientists, academics, and other intellectuals as members. Does that prove that the supernatural claims of Islam are true? Of course not. Just because a lot of educated people believe in a particular supernatural claim is not good evidence that that supernatural claim is true.

          • It suggests it’s not unreasonable – indeed it suggests it is very reasonable if so many intelligent people of different scientific based disciplines believe in such. It shows that you are unreasonable to doubt it.
            Anyway – goodnight sir
            I’ll talk tomorrow to the Lord about all this and you 😉

          • Is it reasonable that so many intelligent, educated Muslims believe that the prophet Mohammad flew into outer space on a winged horse? Of course not. They believe this silliness primarily by faith, not due to evidence.

            Is it reasonable that so many intelligent, educated Christians believe that a three day brain dead corpse came back to life and teleported into outer space ? Of course not. They believe this silliness primarily by faith, not due to evidence.

      • Coming in late here.
        You have been consistently skirting close to the ad hominem fallacy, where you reject an argument based upon the person making that argument, rather than addressing the argument itself.

        Now I see that the reason for your argument is that you need to ‘deny the antecendent’. If the Gospel do bear a reasonable witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, then your rejection of what you call ‘superstition’ is mistaken.

        What experts are you relying on for your view that supernatural beliefs are the ‘greatest threat to world peace’ etc. or is this something which you have determined for yourself? The consensus which I hear in these days is that the greatest threats are climate change, loss of biodiversity, destruction of soil quality.

        For peace, there is plenty of evidence from the last 100 years that societies which reject ‘superstition’ are no better at treating people well. On the contrary, they seem to be worse. The common factor between the religious and the irreligious is their humanity. It seems clear that humans are capable of great good and great evil. Except that…

        If there is no supernatural, how do you define good and evil? If there is nothing beyond this material world of space and time and physics, what are we? Surely the logic which rejects the supernatural reduces us to curious assemblages of complex molecules, ‘living’ on a small rock circling an unremarkable star in the unfashionable western spiral arm of one galaxy in 100,000,000,000 galaxies in the observable universe. You and I, Gary, if you are right, have no value, meaning or significance, for these must come from outside ourselves. Any self-constructed meaning is no better that the ‘superstitous’ beliefs which you condemn.

        Look out at the night sky, and according to your lights, see its blind, impersonal, cold (2.7K!), pitiless indifference. What are you? This is not a new question, although our scientific knowledge makes the dilemma worse. A teenage boy, keeping sheep on the hillside, asked exactly the same question perhaps 3000 years ago. But he found an answer which is not one of despair – a significance in being loved.

        May you find that same, ancient answer.

        • You seem to be suggesting that unless I can come up with a better answer for the origin of morality and the purpose of the universe, you win and I lose. But we are not in a contest regarding who can come up with the prettiest, most comforting explanation for all the mysteries of the universe. I for one, search for the truth. And what if the truth is that: The supernatural does not exist; there is no such thing as universal, objective morality; and there is no purpose to the universe. It simply exists.

          You might find that ugly and scary but if that is what the truth is, your feelings on the subject are irrelevant. The reason why I don’t believe in the supernatural is not because I don’t like it, it is because there is no good evidence for it.

          A recent study found that 40% of Americans under the age of 30 now identify as “non-religious”. Imagine what the numbers are like in Europe! I believe that within not too many generations, belief in gods and devils (at least in the educated West) will be seen as just as silly as belief in witches and goblins.

  39. Also what has not been said is that

    -liberals are generally notable by their absence from the list of commentary writers and NT introduction writers (Michael Hampson notes how there is a liberal tendency to flee the measurable and tangible in favour of the mysterious and uncertain).

    -When they express an opinion on introductory issues, it is often less well documented. At worst it appears in the form ‘everyone knows these days’ or similar. But there are exceptions e.g. Pervo, Sanders. Sanders’s swallowing whole of some perceived orthodoxy of which Paul letters are genuine didn’t seem to me to be backed with sufficient argument. The acceptance of Q by e.g. JM Robinson, Patterson, H Koester needs, IMHO, more justification which is not provided.

    -Of all possible authors, John the Elder is most popular choice. Including among the leading scholars.

  40. There are also atheist or agnostic scholars who impress one as truthful and as truth seekers. Goulder, Casey.

    Do email me (dot between my names, uk web services provider that translates as yippee).

  41. Gary,
    Richard Baukham: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.
    I’m slightly disappointed, but not surprised, that by using selective quotes from Baukham you seem to have sought to pull the wool over eyes, unless you have misread, misunderstood, coming at it from a position of unbelief, skepticism, as from this review, the theme and conclusion of the book , thesis, is the very opposite from what you would have it say. It seems that he scholarly contends against the “consensus” of school of form criticism and oral tradition which deny eyewitnesses and testimony. (Note the legal terminology of “testimony”.)
    This is my last comment last, hopefully for all concerned.
    While I’ve not read Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, I’ve now looked at the following review, which, from my skimming, undermines and refutes what you have said about it: indeed , it is a refutation, and give the lie to you comments. Indeed your comments seem to be a misrepresentation of Baukham. Baukham challenges the oral tradition consensus approach of form criticism (as did McDowell).

    Here is an extensive quotation from the review. Please read VERY carefully all of it:
    “…Another is the significance of named secondary characters in the Gospels: the Gospels focus on a small number of key figures (Jesus, the Twelve), and so you would expect that most other people in the narrative would be unnamed; and this is indeed the case; which makes it all the more significant that some are named. For Bauckham, this is the Gospel writers specifying that these named characters are the living eyewitnesses from whom the tradition is drawn. So, for example, the reason we know that the little girl Jesus raised from the dead was “the daughter of Jairus” is because Jairus himself is the eyewitness source of the story; presumably, Jairus joined the Christian movement, and then told his story (and was frequently asked to tell his story) within the Christian movement, and very naturally became an eyewitness source when it came time to write down the Gospels.

    Beyond individual arguments, what makes Bauckham’s thesis extremely compelling is the intrinsic plausibility meta-story into which they fit. As Bauckham recounts, the meta-story that the early 20th century form critics of the Gospel told (most often implicitly, as is the case with meta-stories) and their key assumption was that the Gospels were works of oral tradition, meaning anonymous stories passed down and through the community, and going through iterations and improvisations and changes as they do so, through various changes, until they end up being written down into the Gospels. And as Bauckham notes, even as more recent Biblical scholarship has dismissed most of the actual findings of the form critics, it has never really stopped taking for granted this assumption that those findings were based on. And even the form critics themselves never really, at least coherently and thoroughly, argued for this view–it was the axiom they used as the starting point for their work. For example, one of the key assumptions of the form critics was that Jesus-stories were modified or even made up by the Gospel writers in response to later controversies within the Church; but as N.T. Wright and others have noted, we actually know from Paul’s earlier letters what the controversies within the Church were (whatever we make of Paul’s take and “spin” on them), and the Jesus of the Gospels actually never addresses them, which in itself is striking. Another key assumption of the form critics was that the Christians of the first century did not really care that much about what the historical person of Jesus did or said because they were all about the “spiritual” Jesus that they experienced mystically, and the Gospels was really the product of this mystical experience, only tangentially related to historical events. The form critics never really argued for this view but took it for granted, and Bauckham marshals considerable evidence, both external and internal, that, as one would expect, actually, the Christians who worshipped Jesus really did care a lot about what he actually did and said. Finally, what makes the “oral tradition” model for the Gospel not credible is that “oral traditions” develop over many generations, precisely when there are no longer any living eyewitnesses (if there were any) to what the tradition describes; but it is precisely the case that the Gospels were written in the generation following Jesus, when eyewitnesses were still alive. A lot is frequently made of how “late” the Gospels were written after the life of Jesus; a first answer is that compared to many other works of ancient history that contemporary historians find credible, they really weren’t written very late; but the second answer is that it’s just not true: they were written in the generation following Jesus, and one very credible reason for their being written at the time when they were written was that the eyewitnesses were getting old and the evangelists wanted to preserve their testimony for future generations.

    In a way, it’s amazing that this actually needs to be said, and this is why Bauckham is so useful. The meta-story he puts forward is much more compelling. And even though he’s too careful a scholar to put it this way, it’s just common sense. And it’s that the earliest Christian community, which worshipped Jesus–very naturally–actually cared a very great deal about the specific events and sayings of his life. That in the earliest Christian community, specific witnesses (particularly the Twelve but not only them) were known and recognized and told their stories, and were asked by other Christians (very naturally) to tell their stories, and that these stories were particularly valued precisely because they were told by the eyewitnesses who had lived through them. And finally, that the Gospels conformed to, or at the very least were aware of, and aspired to, and consciously modeled themselves after, the best-practice historiography of the Ancient world. In Ancient historiography, history was contemporary history. The best historian was the one who had actually participated in the events he recounted, because that made him a key “inside source”; failing that, the second-best source is living eyewitnesses of the events whom the historian interrogates to get the true story. And Bauckham marshals considerable evidence to say that the Gospels, either explicitly (as in the Prologue of Luke) or implicitly, claim and self-consciously model that best-practice. In other words, the Gospels are not the product of oral tradition, they are the product of oral history.

    This is Bauckham’s most valuable contribution. The meta-story of the form critics, even as most of their findings have been discredited, was never really questioned, and has been taken for granted by most biblical scholars, even though nobody really thought too much about it, and even though it doesn’t really make any sense on close scrutiny. By contrast, Bauckham’s meta-story is extremely compelling. It just makes sense that early Christians would care a great deal about the events of Jesus’ life. It makes sense that living eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life would be known within the Christian community and that, once it came time to write down the events of Jesus’ life, they would be privileged sources. It makes sense that as they did so, the evangelists would look to the best practice of the historiography of their culture as a guide for how to go about doing it.
    As Bauckham writes, finally, looking at the Gospels under the category of testimony brings together the “Jesus of History” and the “Jesus of Faith.” It is because of the testimony of the Gospel that we Christians believe in Jesus. And it is by looking at the Gospels as testimony that historians can actually do justice to these important pieces of evidence we call the Gospels, and do justice to their craft (which, of course, does not entail taking this testimony uncritically).

    That, in a nutshell, is the overall argument of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. At least I hope I’ve done justice to it. But within this overall argument, Bauckham makes a lot of fascinating arguments about the specific Gospels that I think merit discussion.”
    As always I stand to be corrected, but, from your comments in total, it’s highly unlikely I’d trust your citations, as to use another legal phrase, you have purposes of your own to serve, notwithstanding protestations from you of a desire for even handed scholarship.

    • My goodness, Geoff. I have read the book, cover to cover, and reviewed it on my blog. I have cross-referenced Bauckham’s claims with those of other scholars. Yet you, who has not read the book, want to use REVIEWS of the book to challenge my assertions.


      Read the book, Geoff. And while you are at, read a book by someone who is not going to parrot your conservative beliefs. Read the work of a brilliant, highly respected NT scholar, who believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but rejected the eyewitness authorship of any of the Gospels. Read Raymond Brown’s “The Death of the Messiah”. It will be an eye opening experience for you.

      Peace and happiness to you.

  42. Fascinating discussion.

    However, if we are to accept that the gospels are in any form eyewitness testimony, we are forced to ask: eyewitness testimony to what, exactly?
    And to this the only thing that really matters is evidence.
    Was ”Matthew ” eyewitness to dead people rising from their graves going walkabout in downtown Jerusalem?

    Is it reasonable to accept the eyewitness testimony that Lazarus was raised from the dead in front of numerous witnesses, apparently, and yet it is not recorded or even alluded to by a single non-biblical source of the time?

    Are we surely to put our trust in supposed eyewitness testimony that Jesus rose from the dead and reappeared openly in society for around 40 days, not even sparking a glimmer of interest from Roman authorities or those Jews who are claimed to have been responsible for his arrest and death?
    And there a plethora of similar fantastical examples we could trot out, for which it would be reasonable to expect that should they have occurred they would have been noted by others besides these supposed eyewitness.

    Take faith out of the equation and you are left with a story that could have come from any number of fantasy/epic tales.
    Eyewitness testimony? No. And I would wager this is why those that consider any such notion are invariably Christian and more than likely very conservative and fundamentalist in their Christian outlook.

    To quote a line from the movie Life of Brian: ”He’s making it up as he goes along.”

    • ‘Is it reasonable to accept the eyewitness testimony that Lazarus was raised from the dead in front of numerous witnesses, apparently, and yet it is not recorded or even alluded to by a single non-biblical source of the time?’

      Yes, entirely, and this is where we need to question assumptions. We have more written about an obscure peasant in a corner of the empire than we do about just about all of the Roman emperors. This is a world where literature was sparse. So your criterion is way off beam.

      • Just because many books have been written about Jesus is that evidence that he walked on water, raised the dead, and levitated into the clouds? Isn’t it possible that some of the stories in the Gospels are true and some are legend or theological embellishment?

        We should treat the stories in the Gospels as we do any other story from Antiquity. Believe them if there are multiple, independent, corroborating sources but be skeptical of them if the only sources for the story come from biased authors who clearly state they are writing for evangelization purposes, two and maybe three of which scholars believe borrowed material and concepts from the first.

  43. Gary,
    From a number of the reviews of Baukham’s book I see there is a Scholars consensus and that consensus leads me to conclude that you have misrepresented him. The whole theme or thesis is in support of eyewitness testimony not the School of Form Criticism and Oral Tradition. (Bearing in mind you are NOT a NT scholar- something you are keen to put across) It is the VERY opposite of what you’ve said. It follows that I’d rather trust that consensus of scholarship review- and as Brown pre published and pre-deceases Baukham I’d think it highly likely that Baukham addresses the points raise by Brown, which are unlikely to be new. I have Brown’s 2 volume commentary on the gospel of John.
    But again you change horses, now you are citing Brown and discounting Baukham, (only because you say he’s a conservative conservative?). As no doubt you will do so on the same fallacious grounds, of NT scholar Dr Peter J Williams’ book “Can We trust the Gospels”.
    To me, you have done yourself no credit, hoisted by your own petard by you own admissions above. Some, less generous, less gracious who as a jury member would not give you the benefit of the doubt, may consider that you’ve sought to deceive for you own ends rather than misunderstood the burden of the Baukhams book. The end.
    God bless and keep you. Geoff

    • I have a challenge for you, Geoff, or for any other of my conservative Christian friends here on Psephizo blog: Write Richard Bauckham. Write Richard Bauckham and ask him this one question:

      Dear Dr. Bauckham:

      In 2006, in the first edition of your book, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, you said this:

      “The argument of this book [Jesus and the Eyewitnesses]–that the texts of our Gospels are close to the eyewitness reports of the words and deeds of Jesus–runs counter to almost all recent scholarship. As we have indicated from time to time, the prevalent view is that a long period of oral transmission in the churches intervened between whatever the eyewitnesses said and the Jesus traditions as they reached the Evangelists [the authors of the Gospels]. No doubt the eyewitnesses started the process of oral tradition, but it passed through many retellings, reformulations, and expansions before the Evangelists themselves did their own editorial work on it.” p. 240

      Today, in 2019, would you say that the “prevalent” view among New Testament scholars, which you described in 2006, as: that the texts of our Gospels are NOT close to the eyewitness reports of the words and deeds of Jesus—is still the prevalent view among scholars or has the prevalent scholarly view changed since the publication of your book?


      The readers of Psephizo blog

      • Gary, I have not followed all the discussion in this thread, and it might be that a warm embrace rather than a refutation of facts might be more winsome for you.

        But you do appear to be treating theology as a discipline as though it were physics, where there are objective touchstones that all pay attention to. There are not. What does the ‘consensus of scholarship’ tell us? Well, mostly, what is the currently dominant ideology and philosophy in the academy. Not *much* more than that.

        That is not to say that there are good, even objective arguments around—and that is why I value Richard B’s work, since it is rooted in historical and textual data, and is ready to question the ‘consensus’ when the ‘consensus’ relies on people repeating some questionable assumptions.

        It’s good to debate, but there’s not much store in assuming the ‘consensus’ offers us a factual basis for our conclusions without looking at the actual arguments.

        • You are absolutely correct, Ian. Just because the majority of experts have reached a consensus on an issue, does not mean they are correct. The majority of experts can always be wrong. However, usually they are not. That is why most educated people in western societies trust majority expert opinion on all issues about which they themselves are not experts. That is how technologically advanced societies function. A society in which everyone distrusts the experts and every individual believes that he or she is an expert on all issues is a society in chaos.

          My argument has never been that there is zero evidence for the eyewitness/associate eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. My argument is rather: How good can that evidence be if most NT scholars reject it? And even worse, how good can that evidence be if even a significant percentage of NT scholars who believe in the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus reject it? As I have demonstrate above, multiple sources indicate that most Roman Catholic scholars, who believe in the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus, reject the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels.

        • One big problem today is that the internet has contributed to the spread and believability of conspiracy theories. I was fishing the other day at my favorite lake and got into a conversation with a fisherman next to me. He is an engineer. He told me that he believes that the world is flat. That there is a conspiracy among scientists to spread the lie that the earth is a sphere. He believes that the photos of earth taken from the moon are “doctored” and that the astronauts were lying about what they saw. A university educated engineer!!!

          We must trust consensus expert opinion on all issues about which we are not experts or our technologically advanced culture will collapse.

  44. @ Ian

    Yes, entirely, and this is where we need to question assumptions. We have more written about an obscure peasant in a corner of the empire than we do about just about all of the Roman emperors. This is a world where literature was sparse. So your criterion is way off beam.

    An obscure peasant? I was under the impression he is regarded by believers as Yahweh in human form, performing miracles right left and centre with a huge following and a reputation that spread far and wide.

    Unfortunate you did not address the raised saints wandering around Jerusalem.
    I am sure you are aware that Licona wrote in his book that this episode should not be taken literally, and he was hounded by fellow evangelical fundamentalist Geisler ( and other) until forced to resign from his teaching post.
    And then is the tale of the ”500 witnesses”. No evidence.

    Also unfortunate you did not address the notion that Roman authorities sat back and did nothing while an executed criminal was gallivanting around their jurisdiction for 40 days in plain sight, especially when I am sure you are aware of their view regarding grave robbing.

    Why do think they behaved in this fashion? Why does it not strike you as completely out of character when one considers Pilate’s reputation for being unnecessarily brutal?

    None of these incidents suggest eyewitness testimony.


    • I agree that ‘should not be taken literally’ is an untenable position, *if* indeed that was his position. The possibilities are
      (1) true, and known by writer to be true
      (2) false, and known by writer to be false
      (3) true, and writer did not know either way
      (4) false, and writer did not know either way.

      Matthew may well have heard people say that was what happened, and that is how he got his information.

      ‘Not taken literally’ means that there was some other way it was true if it was literally false. Perhaps a ‘metaphorical’ way, within a literal narrative. Which raises 6 questions a lot of people seem blithely unaware of! –
      (1) How does that work?
      (2) What would the ‘metaphorical meaning’ be?
      (3) Is ‘the’ metaphorical meaning something subjectively decided in different ways by different people or is there one correct metaphorical meaning?
      (4) Who has the authority to decide about (3)?
      (5) Does ‘metaphorically true’ mean anything?
      (6) If so, what?

      • “Matthew may well have heard people say that was what happened, and that is how he got his information.”


        And the authors of the Hindu Scriptures may well have heard people say that the Buddha caused a water buffalo to speak in a human language for 45 minutes.


        Should modern, educated people believe ancient hearsay about talking water buffalo and broiled-fish eating corpses?

        • What are the alternative ways of obtaining information? No-one who writes a history witnesses all the events, nor even all the important events? So what do you do next in a pre-technical age?

          • I never said that ancient people should not record the rumors and legends circulating in their day. I simply suggest that modern, educated people take these claims with a grain of salt unless they can be corroborated from multiple, independent sources. The four Gospels do not qualify as “multiple, INDEPENDENT sources”.

      • Trying to put a semantic spin only confuses the issue and to me suggests a degree of obfuscation.

        Geisler was adamant that Licona was undermining the bible by suggesting the raising of the saints tale in Matthew did not actually happen.
        To save face, Licona also tried to put a spin of the event to justify his view – I forget the exact term he used, but he has raised the issue a number of times in debates – but this did not satisfy the conservative members who were adamant he should apologise and retract.
        He didn’t.
        Whether the writer of Matthew heard the tale from some other source – which is not suggested – such an event, had it happened would not have gone unnoticed.
        Are you suggesting that it did happen?

        Perhaps you would like to address the other points ?

        • Nonsense, Ark – one thing I will never do is obfuscate – and you scarcely know me.

          Every time you want further clarity I will give it.

          Your ‘perhaps’ is sarcastic. I will certainly address the said points (which are they?) and do address mine too. I will also correspond with Gary if he emails me.

          I have no idea how common such faculty events are. Having no boundaries at all does not and cannot work. People in the UK regularly lose their jobs for not subscribing to political correctness – evidence can go hang, it looks like.

          • @ Christopher.

            So let’s keep it simple. Do you think the biblical accounts I have mentioned from Matthew are true?
            A simple yes or no will do.
            If you think they are, please list the evidence to support this view.

          • That is a simple answer. Your position is naive because you think that people 2000 years later are able to give a simple yes or no. Non-naive positions list the following factors:

            (1) We look for the number of eyewitnesses

            (2) We look for signs that apparitions increase at moments of high drama (e.g. Edge Hill, Mons, Everest, preJewish War, Persian Wars).

            (3) We look at the pattern of Matt’s use of sources. What are the things he adds to Mark. There is a whole stratum he adds to Mark that is the sort of thing that Herodotus found on his researches – the sort of stories that get told. Apparitions. Dreams. Fluteplayer and fishes. Coin in fish’s mouth.

            (4) We look at the situation logically. If your information does not come from what people are saying, where else is there for it to come from?

            (5) We look at the whole question of apparitions. Maybe certain events and atmospheres (e.g. being in love, bereavement) heighten or change people’s perception. International analogies. Are apparitions real? If real they are rare. I have one such experience which I have not been able to explain in 46 years, and if the presupposition is that ‘We already know everything so anything that does not conform to our theory is unreal’ then it is doomed from the start because the initial part of the assertion is obviously quite untrue.

    • Ark,
      Still on the dark side of the moon?
      Seems as though you’ve taken up trolling Christian sites.
      Any idea that you are really, genuinely, seeking answers ought to be discounted and discredited here and now as an atheist who has mocked Christianity and Christians and trotted out similar stuff on another blog as, you well know.
      In fact, if I remember correctly, from once visiting your blog, Gary may have been one of your virtual group along with a.n.other.
      For anyone else who may read this, please indulge the first sentence, from an exchange with Ark from another site.
      God bless you, Arc.
      But, and this may be a big but, Christopher may have given you something to chew on.

      • “Ark: Any idea that you are really, genuinely, seeking answers ought to be discounted and discredited here and now…”

        Ark seeks the truth, as do I, whatever that truth may be. Give Ark good evidence for your position, whatever that position is, and he will accept it. Give him conjecture, assumptions, and fringe expert opinion, and he will contest it.

        If this site is reserved for those who are like-minded, I suggest that you post this at the top of the blog. I for one believed that this site was upon to sincere debate and discussion, regardless of one’s point of view.

  45. Ark,
    Here is my contribution, comment on Ian Paul’s Article, “Are there contradictions in the Resurrection Accounts/” where I see Gary may have may his dangled his atheist bait for the first time on this site.
    It’s quite remarkable how in the past you’ve harped on about Christians de-converting and happenstance, along comes de-converted Gary on this site, again like you, seeking to bait Christians >
    But here it is, my comment. Enjoy:

    “Matthew 27:51-54
    Following David Wilson pointing out the prior resurrection of Jesus, perhaps some scholarly cognisance may be taken, or stimulated, (it already may have been as far as I know) of biblical theology, of all echoes, allusions, symbols, themes, types,shadows of the substance, all scripture in the Old Testament , all fulfilled and culminate in Christ Jesus, the Messiah.
    It may place into some context the “…many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised and coming out of the tombs AFTER his resurrection they went into the city and appeared to many.” Matt 27 :52, 53

    The following is from writings Messianic Jews, believers in Christ as they consider the “Fall Feasts of Israel” (Dr Mitch and Zhava Glaser) and “The Seven Festivals of the Messiah” Edward Chumney). There seems to be some overlap in the significance of the themes the festivals.
    1 The feast of trumpets, shofar (Rosh Hashanah, meaning the “Head of the Year,” “Day of Awakening Blast/Shout”) with a primary role of spiritual significance of preceding the Day of Atonement, at the time of Christ. It served as the conclusion and beginning of the ancient calendar, an old/new age.
    1.1 Awake, is a term or idiom for Rosh Hashanah.
    1.2 Awakening/shout/shofar is associated with the coming, advent of the Messiah,(Isaiah 51:9, Zechariah 9:9, 14. 16) 31:7. Also see Isaiah 42:11, 44:23; Jeremiah 31:7; Zephaniah 3:14
    1.3 Shofar ushers in the day of the lord (Joel 2:1)
    1.4 Awakening speaks of resurrection (Isaiah 26;19) “Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. you who lie in the dust awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the departed spirits.”
    1.5 Isaiah chapter 12 puts shouting in the context of the reign of the Messiah,
    1.6 Usually linked with an end times theme, Matthew show familiarity with the feast in 2:29-31 with a darkening of the sky, judgement, blowing of the shofar, and an ingathering of the elect.
    1.7 Again usually linked with the end times 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17 The dead in Christ will be resurrected first before the living. They are in effect the firstfruits of the ingathering.
    1.8 “It was already common Jewish teaching that the shofar would announce the resurrection of the dead.” (Glaser)
    1.9 Resurrection of the dead will be at the “last Trump” 1 Corinthians 15;52
    1.10 The blowing of the seventh Trumpet in Revelation 11:15-18 ” The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ: and he will reign forever and ever. 11:15
    1.11 The resurrection of the dead in Matthew, following the resurrect of Christ could be seen as the firstfruits of the ingathering, a taster of the inauguration of the Messianic Kingdom of God, the new age, of, as it were, D Day (victory -over-death-day) with VE day yet to come.
    1.12 The biblical theme of awakening of sleepers is prominent here.
    1.13 Shofar and the Feast is a celebration of the birth of creation. Here it is the Messianic new birth, new creation.

    2 Feast of Passover, unleavened bread. (7 days feast to the Lord)
    During passover there is an extra Sabbath, a High Sabbath (identified in John 19.1)
    The shofar was blown in the Temple on Sabbath days.

    3 Feast of First fruits. The day following the Sabbath during Passover, (the High Sabbath) is called the Feast of First fruits, or first born.
    3.1 A theme of this festival is Resurrection and Salvation.
    3. Jesus is :
    first begotten of the Father.Hebrews 1:6
    firstborn of every creature Colossians 1:15
    first begotten from the dead Revelation 1:5
    firstborn of many brethren Romans 8:29the first fruit of the resurrected ones .1 Corinthians 15:20, 23
    20 “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” ESV

    A stunning surprise and reprise is the resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus Christ and of the dead, a foretaste, a foreshadowing of destiny of those who belong to him, all complete fulfilled in him.”

  46. @ Geoff.
    Christianity is fully deserving of mockery, ( as are all unsubstantiated superstitious/supernatural based beliefs/religions ) as it has never produced any verifiable evidence for its primary/foundational claims and has largely been obliged to resort to fear-based indoctrination.
    However, be that as it may, I am always interested in interacting with believers from the many varied sects of Christianity, and as you note, there is always the opportunity to find ”something to chew on”

    And it would appear you also like to ” troll(ing ) Christian sites.” It always brings a smile to read your erudite, intellectual contributions.

    Perhaps you would like to engage the topics I raised with Ian and Christopher?

    Oh, and may the gods bless you too, Geoff, you old softy!

    • Ark, one of your replies (the obfuscation one) suggests you are nonplussed when people do not fall into your stereotypes, e.g. ‘fundamentalist’. But people are infinitely variable, and typecasting people and their ideas (which normally is inaccurate, generalising and unscholarly) never brings clarity to the actual issues. Our discussion is about evidence alone.

      • No, Christopher. You want the discussion to revolve around YOUR scholarly opinion. I respect your degree, however, you are not the only expert on the New Testament. We should no more accept your word as the final say on this issue as we should not take the word of a climate-change denying scientist. There are outliers in every group of experts. Your position, that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses, is a fringe position.

        And I don’t need to debate you on the evidence for the authorship of the Gospels any more than I need to debate a climate-change denying scientist on the evidence for climate change. I only need to point out that your position as a scholar is with the fringe of scholarship (fundamentalist Protestants and evangelicals, for whom the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels is a must for their theology).

        • Then why is my position not summarised by ‘the eyewitness authorship of the gospels’? You know well that I said that one at most were not written by eyewitnesses (also Mark was conceivably a boy at the time) and three at least were not.

          All readers, stand and marvel. After circa 100 comments between us, Gary summarises my position at least 75% wrong, as can easily be ascertained from many of those comments. Should we take that as a barometer of your general accuracy, or is there another explanation? I do encourage you to email me.

          • My assertion all along has been that the majority of scholars reject the claim that ANY of the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses. You on the other hand believe that at least one was an eyewitness and that at least one other (Mark) was an associate of an eyewitness (Peter).

            Your position is fringe scholarship. It is the scholarship of fundamentalists and evangelicals for whom, if the Gospels are not eyewitness accounts, their entire theology collapses.

          • Then why have I said from the beginning that most of them are not? Answer the question.

  47. @Geoff
    To your larger post:
    As evidence is generally all the non-Christians who are confronted with Christian/biblical claims seek, don’t you think quoting reams of biblical verses a tad silly, not to say pointless?

    Surely you are not expecting one such as me to take such ramblings at face value, especially from one such as you who incessantly displays such conservative and strait views?

    Come on, Geoff, even you cannot be so naive, surely?


  48. Ah… that’s more like it… true to form, Ark. Couldn’t hold out. Like Gary, wasting time.
    I’m certainly not naive, particularly about you and your comments. There is no need for the gift of prophecy with you… with “one such as you”. But I’ll not clog Ian’s Paul’s blog with prolonging this. Others might be amused to engage you. Demonstration of fruit of the Spirit is a requisite.
    May you come to know the reality of Ephesians chapters 1&2.


Leave a comment