Authorship of the New Testament

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For it is so written in

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The Author is a certain functional principle by which, in our culture, one limits, excludes and chooses: (…) The author is therefore the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning.
—Michel Foucault[1]

The authorship of Biblical New Testament texts was traditionally attributed to legendary figures from early Christianity. Following Jewish tradition of Pseudepigraphal works, an anonymous writer would "speak" in the name of a historical figure. The gospels, it was felt, would more likely be viewed as accurate, authentic, and persuasive if it was believed they were written by the disciples of Jesus, eyewitnesses to his ministry. The Canonical Gospels reflect this attitude. In addition, Paul was one of the most fundamental figures (some would argue, more influential than Jesus himself) to what was to become the Christianity of the Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church. His letters held (and hold) an authority unlike any other theological writings of the day. Hence, convincing the Priestly Elite that a specific letter was written by Paul increased its likelihood of being included in the formal and final Canon (3rd Century CE).

Contents

[edit] Determining Authorship

Determining authorship of any historical work generally starts by looking for a claim within the work of who wrote it. Scholars then look at the language used in a text to see if a single voice or multiple voices are present. Such style clues include: Level of education of the writer which is determined by grammatical accuracy, choice of vocabulary, slang or linguistic codes (yo'dude vs. hello, sir); preferred vocabulary and choice for names of people or important figures (Mr. Obama, vs. President Obama; YHWH vs. Elohim); knowledge of topic, area, or history (Palin's comments on the Middle East vs., Biden's comments). Those same linguistic clues identifying multiple voices can be compared against the claimed author.

Scholars try to date a work, again based on language clues (in English, the word "lol" would indicate a book was written after 1990), on references to historical events ('after the temple burned, people were desperate for leadership' - such a line could not be written before 70CE), and references to other writings or people.

Scholars also look for confirming or dis-confirming records in other sources that would list the writing in question. For example, many of Plato's (Socrates') works were mentioned by name by his students and contemporaries.

If two or more works are said to be by the same author, then scholars compare the stylistic markers with each other, looking for inconsistencies.

At this point scholars can state with a greater or lesser sense of confidence that a book was written by:

  1. the person who is named in the book,
  2. someone else, who has been identified,
  3. someone who has not been identified, but who has also written particular other texts, or
  4. an unknown author.

Most of the New Testament books, other than Paul's writings, fall into the last category.

[edit] The Canonical Gospels

Figuring out the authorship of the Gospels stands to be nearly impossible. The Gospels as some finalized collection of the Story of Jesus aren't mentioned in Paul's Epistles. What was to become the Catholic Church does not mention the Gospels by name or content until roughly 150CE, when Justin Martyr mentions several unnamed writings on the life of Jesus, in his First Apology. The Gospels are not mentioned by name until 180CE in Irenaeus of Lyons's book On Heresies. The earliest physical copy of a Gospel is from 125CE: a scrap of papyrus with 13 words from John 18:13. A papyrus containing fragments of Luke and John is the next oldest, dating from 175-225CE. Acts, likely written before Paul's death, mentions a collection of the sayings and deeds of Jesus, the diagesis, but there is no evidence to say these writings are or are not the Gospels. Ignatius of Antioch (98CE) does not mention any of the four Gospels, nor the Didache nor Clement. Finally, the two earliest writings of Paul's Church, beyond his epistles, the First Epistle of Clement (96CE)[2] and the Didache, do not mention the Gospels. On the other hand, none of the four Canonical Gospels mention each other, and neither Clement nor the Didache mention each other.[3] This leads to the likely conclusion that though the words that would become the Synoptic Gospels were around in the first century, the associated names and traditional "authorship" does not come about till the second and even third century.

[edit] Gospel of Mark

The first written account of the ministry of Jesus, the Gospel of Mark, was penned in about 65 to 80 CE, 30 or more years after Jesus was allegedly executed.

Tradition has it that the author of Mark was John Mark, an associate of Peter the Apostle. Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 323 CE) quotes Papias of Hierapolis (c. 130 CE) as hearing from one "presbyter" that Mark had written Peter's memoirs - something generally called "hearsay" in legalese, and not overly reliable, nearly 300 years after the fact. Also, several late second-century sources indirectly allude to John Mark's association with Peter. These claims have long been challenged by scholars, primary because John Mark was a known Palestinian Jew.

Setting "tradition" aside, modern linguistic scholarship on the Gospel actually suggests that Mark has two sources/authors, one dating from the 60s, and a second, possibly an editor, dating from the 80s or 90s[4] It should be noted that one passage often cited as being added is the passage about Jesus' resurrection, suggesting that the original author of Mark may have been part of a church that had not yet invented the Resurrection Story[5][6][7]. The author of Mark has long been seen as a collector and compiler of stories and theological ideas.[7] Biblical scholars generally state that the author of Mark had not seen or heard his stories directly, but was compelled to include legend, rumor, and history in his work.[5][6][7][8] It is fairly well accepted among historians and biblical scholars that the errors regarding Palestinian geography and customs, as well as the author's need to explain Jewish law and ideas, indicate the author of Mark is not a Palestinian Jew.[5][7]

The language, theology, and style of Mark suggest that Mark was written for the Gentile, not for practicing Jews.[5][8][7]

Some more extreme theories suggest the Gospel of Mark's intention was solely to write a fictional allegory based on scripture,[9] possibly despite the absence of a historical Jesus.[10]

[edit] Matthew

Like the other of the Canonical Gospels, the authorship of Matthew is unknown. The earliest known reference for the tradition of an author, Matthew, comes from Papias of Hierapolis, 120-140 CE. Quickly, the "Matthew" mentioned by Hierapolis is associated with "Matthew the tax collector".[7]

Matthew is traditionally (historically) understood to have originally been written in Hebrew, sometime between 50s and 70s, then translated, edited, and added to by the actual author of Matthew sometime in the last part of the first century, or even as late as the second century. However, linguistic markers in the Greek version of Matthew do not support this theory.[11] There is, however, some linguistic evidence to support the idea that a few distinct passages in Matthew could have been written in Hebrew[11]. The theology of Matthew does suggest that the author was a Jew, and not a gentile. The language is more strongly connected to the Old Testament and to fulfillment of OT prophecy, and the theology is generally marked by a more traditional Jewish flavor than by Greek philosophy and religion. [5]

Biblical Scholars and linguists generally accept that Matthew is a compiled work from three different sources: Mark, the Q Document, and the religious "church" community the author of Matthew would have been part of. Based on the same language analysis, the author of Matthew was likely a highly-educated Jew who wrote in Greek, but with a Jewish worldview and schooled in Jewish law.[5][8] He and his community were on the edge of Jewish society, and his non-Pauline Christianity was in no way mainstream. [12]

[edit] Luke/Acts common authorship

The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were almost certainly written by the same person[13]. They bear significant similarities, both in terms of their theology and in terms of their language use and style; indeed, both books are dedicated to a certain 'Theophilus' in Luke 1:3[14] and Acts 1:1,[15] but there is no evidence of who this person was. In and around the era of Acts Theophilus was both a common name and an honorary title for the learned of a community.

[edit] John and the Johannine texts

What do we know about John? Very little. Interestingly, John was the last gospel to be written, yet the general consensus of scholars[16] is that it contains the only snippets (and they are very, very small snippets) of what might be actual eye witnesses to the events.[17] From literary and linguistic analysis, scholars today point to three different levels of writing in the text. The first is a second-person retelling of a witness's story (likely written well before the temple's destruction), the second level adds to that the Johannine theology, and the third edit levels it into the clear, accessible text it is today.

The authors, and there is little doubt it is many authors, of John are also responsible for the First, Second and Third Epistle of John, as well as the Book of Revelation. The Johannine community, and therefore the authors of John, is clearly Gnostic in theology, positing a non-human, Divine Jesus who simply "wore the cloak of humanity" to bring his message (despite their Gnostic theology, it and the other Johannine texts remain part of the canon even after the Gnostic texts were purged in the third century). The text also shows the community is clearly anti-Jewish.[5]

[edit] Paul's Letters

By far the largest section of the New Testament is made of the Epistles that are attributed to Paul of Tarsus. Paul lived between 5 and 67 CE, so the dating of his authentic works is generally fairly easy. His influence on the theology, rituals, and cultural beliefs of what is to become "Christianity" in its popular form is far more significant than the (supposed) words of Jesus himself. There are fourteen letters (Epistles) attributed to Paul. Of these, seven are generally undisputed as authentic.

Three of the letters are ones that are debated by scholars as to their authenticity. In several cases, it is argued he wrote part of them, but that they were later highly edited and supplemented.

It is generally accepted by scholars that 4 are not his work

[edit] Other books

[edit] Hebrews

For most of the time between the fifth century CE and the Reformation, Hebrews was attributed to Paul, and marked as his fourteenth Epistle. Even today, lay persons and ministers with little formal training generally refer to it as one of Paul's letters. This tradition was almost immediately debunked as Lutheran ministers, acting as the first real biblical scholars, found significant evidence that Elders in the fourth and fifth century asked it to be included, and only at that time was it considered a letter of Paul's. There is no name, nor mention of any author even unnamed, within the text of Hebrews.

Theologically, it differs enough from the rest of the New Testament that many religious philosophers have argued over the centuries that it should not have been included in the Canon.

[edit] James

Though expressed in the form of a letter, James, unlike Paul's Epistles, does not have the hallmarks of a true correspondence, but rather a piece of literature. The candidates for James include Jesus' two different apostles, but the tenor of the writer is such that had he had direct knowledge of Jesus, he would have said so. There appears, from generic Christian sources, to be some tradition that the James here is James the Brother of Christ. The counter to this is that, like Matthew, the author of James has been educated in formal Greek, which is not likely for a Palestinian Jew. However, little scholarly work has been done on the actual authorship of James.[18]

[edit] First and Second Epistle of Peter

The First Epistle of Peter claims to be written by "Peter, an apostle of Jesus" (1 Peter 1:1), who would most likely (and traditionally) be Simon Peter. This was accepted without question until true scholarship on the Bible became commonplace, in the late 1700's and forward. Like Mark, the Greek used in the Epistle suggests someone highly familiar and skilled with formal cultured Greek, not a Jew speaking Aramaic. Further, references to the Old Testament come not from the Hebrew bible (which Peter would have studied), but from the Greek translations of the day. The majority of scholars working on 1 Peter date it between 70CE and 120CE. There is quite serious debate when trying to pin it down more precisely.[19]

The Second Epistle of Peter has really never been considered an authentic work of Simon Peter. The spelling of the name "Simon" (Siemon, in this Epistle) suggests it is not even the same author as the First Epistle. The accounts of what should otherwise be intimate moments between Jesus and Peter are formulaic and expedient, again suggesting there is no real knowledge of the actual events here. Ironically, after true biblical exegesis began, a small exception of scholars have challenged the long-held notion that this was "not" an authentic work of Peter's by looking at the less educated Greek that is used and by noting that details which are common in pseudepigraphical works are lacking here.

No one knows who might have actually written either Epistle. The audience for each seems to be Gentile, not Jew, and the letter is addressed to non-Pauline controlled areas of the Diaspora. But those facts tell us little of who might have written it.

[edit] Jude

The Epistle of Jude claims to be written by Jude brother of James the Just;[20] however the letter actually references the Epistle(s) of Peter, so it must have been written after Peter, and as was just described above, that means it would have been written only as early as the 70s, and therefore, unless Jude the Brother of James lived a really, really, really long time, it was likely not written by him.

Further, Jude, in a pattern seen quite frequently in the New Testament, was written in a well-educated Greek, and references Gnostic features, which both suggest very late first-century or early second-century authorship dates. Several comments in the brief letter suggest that the author had copies of Paul's writings, but did not completely agree with Paul's views, so he might have been a leader of a competing church.

[edit] See also


[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. What is an Author? Foucault
  2. interestingly, Clement does not even mention its own name.
  3. http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/datingthegospels.html
  4. Stephen D. Moore' Turning Mark Inside Out.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 J.D. Crossan, Who Killed Jesus (1995)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus, Crossian (1998)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Five Gospels, Funk, 1993
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Mack The Christian Myth 2001
  9. Price, R. G. (Oct. 20, 2007). The Gospel of Mark as Reaction and Allegory." rationalrevolution.net
  10. Jesus Myth - The Case Against Historical Christ, Robert Price
  11. 11.0 11.1 Dulling, 2010, The Gospel of Matthew
  12. Baumgarden, 1997 "Jewish sects in the Maccabian era".
  13. The History and Theology of the New Testament Writings, Schnelle
  14. http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%201:3;&version=69;
  15. http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=acts%201:1;&version=69;
  16. see the works of: Paul Anderson, Steven L. Harris, William Temple, Leon Morris as examples
  17. The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel: An Introduction to John By Paul N. Anderson, 2011
  18. Steven Harris, Understanding the Bible
  19. Stephen Harris, History of the New Testament, 2008
  20. Isn't it great someone in history finally decided to start using last names to help clarify things?
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