Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lazarus part 2: the Gospel

Its amazing what one small doubt can lead to. A couple of days ago I posted an article about Lazarus, and someone called Jim replied. But his blogspot ID had a link to a web page, a web page about Lazarus. And it turns out that he's written a book, a book about Lazarus. And the web page and the book both contain one fantastic doubt, so I simply have to blog about it here.

Before I summarise this big doubt, I'll state up-front that this is one of those fantastic doubts that it really doesn't matter what you end up believing on the issue. If conventional belief is wrong on this point, nothing changes, nobody loses salvation and we don't really get any new revelation of understanding about God or Jesus. But maybe we get an interesting bit of detective work and a little bit more truth than we had before. But anyway, on with the doubting...

Who wrote the gospels? Matthew, Mark, Luke, John? Where does it say?

Nowhere does it say that Matthew wrote the gospel that we attribute to him, although the character of Matthew does feature more in that book than in any other.

The gospel of Mark makes no mention of anyone called Mark. Indeed, he only appears briefly in Acts chapters 12 and 15.

We know that both the books of Luke and Acts were written for someone called Theophilus, but they don't say who wrote them (although the narrative in Acts occasionally switches from 'them' into 'us' language, so it is clear that the author of Acts was one of Paul's companions at some points, and so Luke, who he names in a few epistles, is a pretty good guess).

And nowhere does it say that the gospel of John was written by John. All we know is that it was written by 'the disciple whom Jesus loved', whoever that may be.

Does it matter who wrote each of the gospels? Well, yes and no. It matters because we need to have some assurance that whoever wrote these books had some connection to Jesus and to the events they describe. If the books were simply made up by someone who knew very little about Jesus a long time after the events, then they would be of little value. But it doesn't matter if the books were written by someone named in the story, they could have been written by someone who was there on the periphery, who saw things but never really played a role. That would be fine.

Convention has it that the second gospel (which may have been the first to be written) is, essentially, the Gospel of Peter. But as Peter was mostly illiterate, it was written through his young friend John, also called Mark. But then again, maybe 'Mark' was just a pure guess and named thus because Mark (or Marcus) was simply the most common name in that part of the world at that time. Oddly enough, Luke was the second most common name, so maybe that was a guess too. Maybe these were named this way to be 'everyman' gospels - the gospel according to Joe Bloggs or John Smith. But anyway, I digress, this post concerns the gospel commonly attributed to John.

Why do we think this was written by John? Well, we have three epistles by John, and the dominant theme of these epistles is love. God is love. They really sell the love angle. And what is one of the main features of the 4th gospel? It was written by someone whom Jesus loved. It really sells the love angle. So, unless other evidence is presented, it is not unreasonable to believe that John wrote the 4th gospel. (By the way, the argument that the John who wrote Revelation is the same John who wrote the epistles is les compelling. Revelation never claims to be written by any particular John, and the style is quite different from the gospel or the epistles, but I digress again...)

So, who wrote the 4th gospel? Who is the disciple whom Jesus loved?

Well, only two characters in the 4th gospel are referred to as being 'loved' by Jesus. Guess who? Yes, its the author of the book and Lazarus. And furthermore, the 'disciple whom Jesus loved' isn't mentioned in the narrative until the chapter after Lazarus is raised from the dead. He wasn't part of the story until then. And, oddly enough, Lazarus is never mentioned from there on in either. You'd think he might hang around with Jesus after being resurrected wouldn't you, I mean, he literally owed his life to Jesus. And that's not all. This 'disciple' whom Jesus loved is occasionally referred to as 'the other disciple', not part of 'the twelve', but John was clearly one of the twelve.

The web page and the book (which you can read in its entirety online) both go into this in far more detail than I have done here. They make a compelling case. It could be that Lazarus wrote the 4th gospel. Of course, that doesn't change my faith in any way, the gospel istelf is still the same, but its an interesting idea.

But one final question (which I don't think is adequately answered by the book; although I only skimmed it and didn't read the whole thing in detail) remains:

Why is the story of the raising of Lazarus not in the three other gospels?

Surely this is one of the most amazing miracles? Yet Matthew, Mark and Luke (or whoever) make no mention of it at all. Why?


Anonymous said...

As most are unwilling to even consider the idea that their tradition could be wrong I commend you on being willing to check out the book. But skimming is hardly fair and it leaves you saying things that are not Biblical.

For example you wrote: "it is not unreasonable to believe that John wrote the 4th gospel" when it this IS unreasonable because the Bible proves that whoever this person was he could not possibly have been John. And no amount of non-Bible source quotes will change this fact.

You also wrote: "Why do we think this was written by John? Well, we have three epistles by John, and the dominant theme of these epistles is love." But of course such rationale was NOT offered by those who originally mislabeled the fourth gospel. THEY erroneously assumed that John was "the disciple whom Jesus loved" because they relied on a non-Bible source. Besides this, if you would have read the Q&A page on the book site you would have seen that this line of argumentation doesn't hold water becasue the anonymous letters that were attributed to John were done so by comparing them to the gospel -- so to then go backward as you have done is to engage in circular reasoning and this is a logical fallicy.

You also wrote: "Revelation never claims to be written by any particular John" but then you fail to see that by the standard you set forth here your arguments about a comparison to the letters fails. For if you just applied your own standard then it makes no sense to think that the anonymous letters should be assumed to be from "any particular John". So I hope you will revisit the Bible evidence presented in the book and give it a fair hearing -- since (A) there is not a single verse that would justify teaching the John idea (which is why you couldn't cite one) and (B) the facts in the plain text of scripture prove that the unnamed "other disciple whom Jesus loved" could not have been John.

PS Check out the KWRD radio interview re: the raising of Lazarus not being in the three other gospels

Ricky Carvel said...


Thanks again for the comment. You'll possibly have noticed that I'm not a bible scholar and so make erroneous comments about the bible here and there. This is not intentional.

When I wrote that "it is not unreasonable to believe that John wrote the 4th gospel" I was basing this statement on everything I'd heard on the subject of who wrote the book up to Monday of this week (i.e. the day before I came across your website). And what I'd come to understand by Monday of this week is that we have absolutely no idea who wrote this gospel, but the tradition is that it was someone called John (not necessarily the John, but commonly believed to be). Given that centuries of theologians more learned than I refer to this book as being written by John, who am I to say that their studies are unreasonable?

Also thanks for correcting my mistake that we actually know who wrote the three epistles of John. I made an assumption there which seemed reasonable on the basis of the facts as I remembered them. I do not have a perfect memory.

Also, sorry that I have merely 'skimmed' your book. But I only learned of its existance on Tuesday and currently have a pile of about 8 books on my 'to read' list. I'll get around to reading it eventually, probably in hard copy rather than online, I don't like reading long articles online.

If/when I get an opportunity, I'll have a listen to the radio interview.



Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I completely disagree with you Jim, and you stand contrary to an astounding number of scholars, biblical evidence and non biblical evidence that the author of the 4th gospel is John (and some editors following him). Saying that it is unreasonable does not make it so, except in your mind.
For example, why is John always missing among the disciples in the 4th gospel?
Further, why do you choose to disallow non-biblical evidence? Does John's disciple's opinion not count for anything? (Polycarp>Iraneaus) And why is his opinion less important than yours?
Rather than have a pointless list, I recommend Blomberg on the historical reliability of John or Carson's commentary on John for balanced and good surveys of the authorship question.

God bless both of you, Ricky and Jim.

Jason, brother in Christ