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?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


A stray thought occurred to me the other day. There is a pervasive belief in modern evangelical Christian circles that this life is kind of insignificant compared to 'eternal life in heaven' - the bit of life which starts after we die. This bit of life is really just to give us the chance to get to know Jesus so that we can be saved and then go to heaven when we die. Then the fun begins.

If that's the case, the story of Lazarus raises two problems.
  1. Why does Jesus cry?
  2. Why does Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead?
I mean, clearly Lazarus had the thing which modern evangelicals believe to be required for salvation, he had a personal relationship with Jesus. The text makes it absolutely clear, Jesus loved Lazarus (John 11v3&5). If anyone's salvation was assured it was this friend of Jesus's!

But Jesus cries at the news and then goes on to raise Lazarus from the dead. Why would Jesus cry if Lazarus going to heaven was an entirely good thing? Why would Jesus choose to pull Lazarus back out of eternal life into this fallen world?

OK, so some would say that the point is that Jesus is here demonstrating his power over death, but why restore someone destined for heaven? Why not give life back to someone who had died in their sins and give them a second chance? I'm sure there are countless ways Jesus could have demonstrated his power over death without pulling his friend out of paradise and back into this fallen world.

Or are we missing the point? Is life in this world more important than we have been led to believe? Did Jesus bring Lazarus back to this life because this life is good?

Perhaps we should focus more on this life than we sometimes do?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Doubtful fame...

Its not often I get named and quoted by preachers in their sermons. And I don't think this blog has ever been advertised in a sermon before. But last Sunday my friend Dave Meldrum (that's him on the right there), who is Associate Minister at St Michaels Southfields in London did both in a sermon entitled 'Living with Doubt'.

You can download it here or subscribe to their podcast.

Very good, well worth a listen.

And it does contain some great insight from Dave's 'friend with a blog' - whoever that is ;o)