Category Archives: New Testament

No need to list Old Testament books in New Testament


{\mathfrak {P}}46 is the earliest (nearly) complete manuscript of the epistles written by Paul in the new Testament (courtesy ‘biblical manuscript’, Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This was an audacious request on a Christian forum that did not seem to indicate too much thought about the question: ‘Where in scripture does it tell us which books of the bible are to be included in the bible? (table of contents)’[1]

How should I respond?

1. No need to inform first century Christians

There was no need to tell the Christians of the first century.[2] They knew which books were included in the OT canon. That’s why Paul could say to the Berean Christians in Acts 17:11 (ESV): ‘Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so’. Which Scriptures?

Isn’t that amazing that the Book of Acts does not need to articulate a list of the Books of the OT so that the Berean Christians would know which books were in the OT and which were out of it? Paul did not have to list them and say, ‘Here is a list of the books contained in Scripture that you should use to check the authenticity and validity of my teaching’. They knew which books were in the OT canon.

And they did not include the Apocrypha in the Hebrew OT (Wayne Grudem).

In the four NT Gospels, I do not read that there was any dispute between Jesus and the Jewish leaders over the extent of the OT canon.

2. Persistence: No list of books in the canon

The forum fellow persisted in another thread: ‘Scripture does not give us a list of books that are to be in the Bible. How do we know we have the right books in the Bible? Scripture is silent about it’.[3]

My response was:[4]

Because the OT and NT do not give a list of books that are inspired of God to be included in the Bible does not mean that what we have is illegitimate. In fact, the word, Bible, appears nowhere in the Bible (that I’m aware of), so why are you supporting the use of the term, Bible?

However, God gave teachers to the church (1 Cor 12:28 ESV; Eph 4:11 ESV) who guide us through that process. These teachers themselves are not perfect in their understanding as Paul told the Bereans (Acts 17:11 ESV) that they were to check his teaching against the Scripture. Which Scripture? The OT. Paul didn’t say in Acts 17, here’s a list of the OT books that you need to use to check my teaching. They knew what they were as affirmed by the Jews.

3. Pseudo-gospels readily available

In the first century and beyond, there were plenty of fake gospels available. Do you want the pseudo-gospel of Peter (GPet) to be in the NT? It was rejected by the early church fathers because of its heretical teachings. It was found with the Qumran documents. It was mentioned by early church historian, Eusebius in his Church History (3.3.1-4; 3.25.6; and 6.12.3-6).

Why not also the Gospel of Thomas (written about mid to late second century)?[5]  If you read the Gospel of Thomas and compare it with each of the 4 Gospels in the NT, you will notice the marked difference in content.  I’d suggest a read of Nicholas Perrin’s, Thomas, the Other Gospel (Perrin 2007).  Perrin concludes his book with this comment:

Is this the Other Gospel we have been waiting for? Somehow, I suspect, we have heard this message before. Somehow we have met this Jesus before. The Gospel of Thomas invites us to imagine a Jesus who says, ‘I am not your saviour, but the one who can put you in touch with your true self. Free yourself from your gender, your body, and any concerns you might have for the outside world. Work for it and self-realization, salvation, will be yours – in this life.’ Imagine such a Jesus? One need hardly work very hard. This is precisely the Jesus we know too well, the existential Jesus that so many western evangelical and liberal churches already preach.

If the Gospel of Thomas is good news for anybody, it is good news to those who are either intent on escaping the world or are already quite content with the way things are (Perrin 2007:139).

This Gospel of Thomas is a different Gospel, “a Christianized self-help philosophy” (Perrin 2007:139). See my article of assessment: Is the Gospel of Thomas genuine or heretical?

4. The walking, talking cross of Gospel of Peter

(walking, talking cross: image courtesy NT Blog, Mark Goodacre)


As for the Gospel of Peter [GPet], please read this assessment by C L Quarles (2006).  Here are a few grabs from Quarles’ critique of GPet:


Such compositional projection and retrojection [of GPet] are absent from the canonical Gospels. This suggests that the authors of the canonical Gospels were constrained to preserve faithfully the traditions about Christ, but that the author of GP felt free to exercise his imagination in creative historiography. The compositional strategy of projection suggests that the GP shares a common milieu with second-century pseudepigraphical works and casts doubt on [John Dominic] Crossan’s claim that the GP antedates the canonical Gospels….

Compositional strategies that were popular in the second century can readily explain how the author of the GP produced his narrative from the canonical Gospels….

The GP is more a product of the author’s creative literary imagination than a reflection of eyewitness accounts of actual events (Quarles 2006:116, 119).

Charles Quarles has an online assessment of GPet HERE.

Of the Gospel of Judas, the National Geographic reported:

Stephen Emmel, professor of Coptic studies at Germany’s University of Munster, analyzed the Gospel of Judas and submitted the following assessment.

“The kind of writing reminds me very much of the Nag Hammadi codices,” he wrote, referring to a famed collection of ancient manuscripts.

“It’s not identical script with any of them. But it’s a similar type of script, and since we date the Nag ‘Hammadi codices to roughly the second half of the fourth century or the first part of the fifth century, my immediate inclination would be to say that the Gospel of Judas was written by a scribe in that same period, let’s say around the year 400.”

Here is another assessment of the ‘other gospels’ in an article on ‘the historical reliability of the Gospels’ by James Arlandson. He wrote:

The Gnostic authors often borrowed the names of Jesus’ disciples to attach to their texts, such as the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Mary. The Gospel of Judas has been discovered, restored, and published most recently. Using the disciples’ names or other Biblical names gives the appearance of authority, but it is deceptive. The original disciples or Bible characters had nothing to do with these writings. The teaching of Jesus, the names of his disciples, and the four Gospels traveled well. Gnostics capitalized on this fame.

All of these (late) Gnostic documents would not be a concern to anyone but a few specialists. Yet some scholars, who have access to the national media and who write their books for the general public, imply that Gnostic texts should be accepted as equally valid and authoritative as the four canonical Gospels, or stand a step or two behind the Biblical Gospels. At least the Gnostic scriptures, so these scholars say today, could have potentially been elevated to the canon, but were instead suppressed by orthodox church leaders. (Orthodox literally means “correct or straight thinking,” and here it means the early church of Irenaeus and Athanasius, to cite only these examples).

This series challenges the claim that the Gnostic texts should be canonical or even a step or two behind the four Biblical Gospels. The Gnostic texts were considered heretical for good reason.

5. Reasons to reject ‘other gospels’

There are scholarly and practical reasons why the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter (GPet), the Gospel of the Ebionites, Gospel of Marcion, the Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Mary and other pseudo-gospels were not chosen over the four NT Gospels.

I examined why some of the content of these pseudo-gospels are not included in the NT in my doctoral dissertation. Take a read of the Gospel of Peter (online) and it should become evident why such fanciful imagination is not included in the NT. This section of GPet states:

35 Now in the night whereon the Lord’s day dawned, as the soldiers were keeping guard two by two in every watch, 36 there came a great sound in the heaven, and they saw the heavens opened and two men descend thence, shining with (lit. having) a great light, and drawing near unto the sepulchre. 37 And that stone which had been set on the door rolled away of itself and went back to the side, and the sepulchre was

X. 38 opened and both of the young men entered in. When therefore those soldiers saw that, they waked up the centurion and the elders (for they also were there keeping 39 watch); and while they were yet telling them the things which they had seen, they saw again three men come out of the sepulchre, and two of them sustaining the other (lit. the 40 one), and a cross following, after them. And of the two they saw that their heads reached unto heaven, but of him that 41 was led by them that it overpassed the heavens. And they 42 heard a voice out of the heavens saying: Hast thou (or Thou hast) preached unto them that sleep? And an answer was heard from the cross, saying: Yea.

Here we have a walking and talking cross that came out of the sepulchre – fanciful nonsense! One does not have to be very astute to reject this kind of extra ‘gospel’, yet John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar believes GPet is the original Cross Gospel from which the other Gospels derived this information (Crossan 1994:154-155).

6. Questions about formation of the NT canon

I still have some questions about the formation of the NT canon that remain unanswered at this time. Historically, there was a partial list available, known as the Muratorian Canon (ca. AD 170-200).[6] My questions surround the process of formation of the canon that included the procedure used to determine if a book was theopneustos (breathed out by God – 2 Tim 3:16-17 ESV). I had questions about two church councils in the late third century that finally affirmed the NT canon.

Historical details include the following:

The first historical reference listing the exact 27 writings in the orthodox New Testament is in the Easter Letter of Athanasius in 367 AD. His reference states that these are the only recognized writings to be read in a church service. The first time a church council ruled on the list of “inspired” writings allowed to be read in church was at the Synod of Hippo in 393 AD. No document survived from this council – we only know of this decision because it was referenced at the third Synod of Carthage in 397 AD. Even this historical reference from Carthage, Canon 24, does not “list” every single document. For example, it reads, “the gospels, four books…” The only reason for this list is to confirm which writings are “sacred” and should be read in a church service. There is no comment as to why and how this list was agreed upon (Baker 2008).

Church historian, Earle Cairns, answers some of these issues with this assessment of the development of the list of books that became known as the NT:

People often err by thinking that the canon was set by church councils. Such was not the case, for the various church councils that pronounced upon the subject of the canon of the New Testament were merely stating publicly … what had been widely accepted by the consciousness of the church for some time. The development of the canon was a slow process substantially completed by A.D. 175 except for a few books whose authorship was disputed (Cairns 1981:118).

Cairns explained further why there was a delay in accepting certain NT books as canonical:

Apparently the Epistles of Paul were first collected by leaders in the church of Ephesus. This collection was followed by the collection of the Gospels sometime after the beginning of the second century. The so-called Muratorian Canon, discovered by Lodovico A. Muratori (1672-1750) in the Ambrosian Library at Milan, was dated about 180. Twenty-two books of the New Testament were looked upon as canonical. Eusebius about 324 thought that at least twenty books of the New Testament were acceptable on the same level as the books of the Old Testament. James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation were among the books whose place in the canon was still under consideration.[7] The delay in placing these was caused primarily by an uncertainty concerning questions of authorship. Athanasius, however, in his Easter letter of 367 to the churches under his jurisdiction as the bishop of Alexandria, listed as canonical the same twenty-seven books that we now have in the New Testament. Later councils, such as that at Carthage in 397, merely approved and gave uniform expression to what was already an accomplished fact generally accepted by the church over a long period of time. The slowness with which the church accepted Hebrews and Revelation as canonical is indicative of the care and devotion with which it dealt with this question (Cairns 1981:118-119).

Eusebius (ca. AD 265-330)[8] wrote this of the disputed and rejected NT writings:

3. Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name.

4. Among the rejected writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles; and besides, as I said, the Apocalypse of John, if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, but which others class with the accepted books (Eusebius 1890, 3.25.3-4).

7. An eminent church historian’s assessment

Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church is considered one of the most comprehensive expositions of church history by a near-contemporary scholar. He wrote:

The Jewish canon, or the Hebrew Bible, was universally received, while the Apocrypha added to the Greek version of the Septuagint were only in a general way accounted as books suitable for church reading, and thus as a middle class between canonical and strictly apocryphal (pseudonymous) writings. And justly; for those books, while they have great historical value, and fill the gap between the Old Testament and the New, all originated after the cessation of prophecy, and they cannot therefore be regarded as inspired, nor are they ever cited by Christ or the apostles.[9] (Schaff n.d., vol 3, § 118. Sources of Theology. Scripture and Tradition).

8. Which books were confirmed in the Hebrew OT?

Image result for picture Hebrew Bible public domain

Page from an 11th-century Aramaic Targum manuscript of the Hebrew Bible (Wikipedia)


Which books were included by the Jews in the Hebrew Bible?

I reject the inclusion of the Apocrypha (Deutero-Canonical books) in the OT. This is the position adopted by Roman Catholic authority, Jerome (ca. 347-420),[10] who, in his preface to the Vulgate version of the Apocrypha’s Book of Solomon stated that the church reads the apocryphal books ‘for example and instruction of manners’ but not to ‘apply them to establish any doctrine’. In fact, Jerome rejected Augustine’s unjustified acceptance of the Apocrypha.[11]

The Jewish scholars who met at Jamnia, ca. AD 90, did not accept the Apocrypha in the inspired Jewish canon of Scripture. The Apocrypha was not contained in the Hebrew Bible and Jerome knew it. In his preface to the Book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible, he rejected the apocryphal additions to Daniel, i.e. Bel and the Dragon, and Susanna.[12] Jerome wrote:

The stories of Susanna and of Bel and the Dragon are not contained in the Hebrew…. For this same reason when I was translating Daniel many years ago, I noted these visions with a critical symbol, showing that they were not included in the Hebrew…. After all, both Origen, Eusebius and Appolinarius, and other outstanding churchmen and teachers of Greece acknowledge that … these visions are not found amongst the Hebrews, and therefore they are not obliged to answer to Porphyry for these portions which exhibit no authority as Holy Scripture ” (in Geisler 2002:527, emphasis added).

The Protestant canon of 39 OT books, excluding the Apocrypha, coincides with the Hebrew 22 books of the OT.

There are many other reasons for rejecting the Apocrypha. Any reasonable person, who reads Tobit, and Bel and the Dragon, knows how fanciful they become when compared with the God-breathed Scripture.

Here are “Some reasons why the Deutero-Canonical material does not belong in the Bible“. Here are examples of theological and historical “Errors in the Deutero-Canonical” books. It was Jerome who introduced the change from calling these books the Apocrypha to Deutero-Canonical.

See my article, Should the Apocrypha be in the Bible?, that gives reasons why the Apocrypha should not be included in the Bible as Scripture.

9. Conclusion

There was no need for the apostles to provide the people of the first century with a list of the OT Books contained in Scripture. It was a given as Paul, the redeemed Pharisee, made evident with his comment to the Berean Christians in Acts 17:11 (ESV). In addition, the Jewish OT canon did not include the Deuterocanonical Books (the Apocrypha).

The Hebrew scholars who met at Jamnia about AD 90 confirmed the 22 OT books in the Hebrew canon of Scripture (which are 39 books in the Protestant canon).

There are good reasons why Gnostic and other gospels were not included by the teachers of the early Christian church in establishing the NT canon. A reading of the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Judas, and other pseudo-gospels makes evident that fanciful, speculative, creative content was evidence that these ‘other gospels’ were not the genuine product to include in the NT.

At least 22-23 of the 27 NT books had been affirmed as authoritative for the canon by the late second century. The remainder were questioned because of uncertainty of authorship. However, by the end of the third century, all of the NT canonical books had been gathered and affirmed by church use.

10. Works consulted

Baker, R A 2008. How the New Testament canon was formed. Early Church History – CH101. Available at: (Accessed 25 October 2016).

Crossan, J D 1994. Jesus: A revolutionary biography. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Eusebius 1890. Church history. Tr by A C McGiffert. Ed by P Schaff & H Wace, from Nicene and Post-Nicene fathers, 2nd series, vol 1. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co. Rev & ed for New Advent by K Knight at: (Accessed 28 October 2016).

Geisler, N 2002, Systematic theology: Introduction, Bible, vol. 1. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House.

Kirby, P 2016. The Muratorian canon. Early Christian Writings (online), 28 October. Available at:

Perrin, N 2007. Thomas, the other gospel. London: SPCK.

Quarles, C. L. 2006, The Gospel of Peter: Does it contain a precanonical resurrection narrative? in R B Stewart (ed), The resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N. T. Wright in dialogue, 106-120. Minneapolis: Fortress Press,

Schaff, P n.d. History of the Christian Church: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity, A.D. 311-600, vol 3. Available at: Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), (Accessed 25 October 2016).

11.  Notes

[1] Christianity Board 2016. When did the universal Church first mentioned in 110AD stop being universal? (online), tom55#231. Available at: (Accessed 10 October 2016).

[2] Ibid. This was my response as OzSpen#232.

[3] Christianity Board 2016. What Do You Think Would Have Happened If… (online), tom55#16. Available at: (Accessed 10 October 2016).

[4] Ibid., OzSpen#20.

[5] Perrin (2007:viii).

[6] Kirby (2016).

[7] Eusebius (1890, 3.25).

[8] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:143).

[9] Heb. xi. 35 ff. probably alludes, indeed, to 2 Macc. vi. ff.; but between a historical allusion and a corroborative citation with the solemn he graphe legei there is a wide difference.

[10] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:144).

[11] This information is from Geisler (2002:526).

[12] From Geisler (2002:527).


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 October 2016.

Did Moses write the Pentateuch?

By Spencer D Gear

The Pentateuch consists of the first five books of the Bible – Genesis to Deuteronomy. Here is an overview of the JEDP theory:[1]



The JEDP theory (sometimes called the Graf-Wellhausen or Documentary Hypothesis) was developed in the 18th and 19th century by critical scholars of the Bible. Under this view, the Pentateuch was not written by Moses. Instead, it was the result of a later author/editor, who pieced multiple sources together. Among these sources were:

J: From the German “Jahweh” or Yahwist source (dated ~950-850 BC).

E: From the Elohist source. Northern kingdom (~750 BC).

D: From the Deuteronomistic source. Southern kingdom (~650 BC).

P: From the Priestly source. Post-exilic (~587 BC).

An online discussion re JEDP

I engaged in discussion online with Jim, a promoter of the JEDP theory. Here is a copy of the discussion:[2]

OZ: The biblical evidence is right before us of Mosaic authorship.

JP: Does that evidence include Moses referring to himself in the third person and writing about his death, burial and 30 days of mourning AFTER he died?  believe it is from Moses’ time but not necessarily from his hand. (He was rather busy, you know.)

OZ: The Pentateuch claims in many places that Moses was the writer, e.g. Exodus 17:14; 24:4–7; 34:27; Numbers 33:2; Deuteronomy 31:9, 22, 24.

JP: It also has many places where Moses is referred to in the third person. So what? That means that Moses is reported to have written portions of “the Book of Moses.” It does not require that he wrote the whole thing. (Unless you are willing to hold to his continued, post-mortem, writing.)

OZ: Many times in the rest of the Old Testament, Moses is said to have been the writer, e.g. Joshua 1:7–8

JP: “Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you”.That does not say Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch. It says he commanded Israel to keep the Law.
Joshua 8:32–34 Ditto.  Judges 3:4 Ditto.

Here’s what the Bible DOES say Moses wrote:

Exodus 24:4, And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD. (The Laws)  And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel (NKJV).

Numbers 33:2, Now Moses wrote down the starting points of their journeys at the command of the LORD. And these [are] their journeys according to their starting points:

Deuteronomy 31:9, So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel.

Deuteronomy 31:22, Therefore Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it to the children of Israel.

OZ: In the New Testament, Jesus frequently spoke of Moses’ writings or the Law of Moses,

JP: This is a very common and simplistic “proof.” The Torah was referred to as “The Book of Moses.” That name does not carry with it a statement of authorship. I have a “Webster’s Dictionary.” I have no misconception that it is a copy of what Noah Webster personally wrote.

OZ:   it seems likely that a sole author was responsible. Their exhaustive computer analysis conducted in Israel suggested an 82 percent probability that the book has just one author.

JP: I think Genesis is the work of a sole author. And a sole author can include more than one tradition and relating of the same story. It takes a great deal of skill and sophistication to do it well. I believe it was written by a sole author, most probably a contemporary of Moses and probably at the direction of Moses.

You seem to be rejecting out of hand, without consideration, the possibility that there could be more than one version of the creation and flood stories among these ancient people. That flies in the face of the existence of a variety of creation and flood stories among the ancient Mesopotamian people.

You also seem to be hung up on the idea that one author would, of necessity, have only one view to relate. That is not only unnecessary but, considering the text, it is unreasonable.

Further, you seem to assume that if I can see more than one tradition reflected in the text that I must agree with the whole of the documentary hypothesis, lock, stock and barrel. I do not. I think it is the result of over-analyzation combined with fertile imaginations and the need to publish.

I do see the two traditions, both representing valid recitals of the story of beginning from God’s creation of the heavens and earth through the dispersion. (Gen 1:1 – 11:9).

The dispersion is followed by a genealogy which connects the creation story to the story of the Hebrews who are the sons of Abraham, the descendant of Shem (SHem means “Name” and apparently refers to those who called upon Ha-Shem) the descendant of seth the son of Adam.

There is a felt need among many people that only Moses be allowed to be the author of the Pentateuch. It is an irrational need that flies in the face of the words of which Moses is demanded to be sole author. It is an imposition of man’s desire upon the word of God which detracts from it by restricting our understanding of His message to the views of one sect among God’s people.

Let my people go.

The Pentateuch and the JEDP theory

See my brief article, ‘JEDP Documentary Hypothesis refuted’.

This is not the place for a detailed critique of JEDP, but a few criticisms given by R. N. Whybray, who is certainly not a conservative, are in order:

1. While those espousing the documentary hypothesis assume that the biblical writers avoided repetitions, ancient literature from the same period reveled in repetitions and doublets as a mark of literary artistry.

2. The documentary hypothesis breaks up narratives into different sources thereby destroying their inherent literary and artistic qualities.

3. The source critics assume that variety in language and style is a sign of different sources, but it could just as well be a sign of differences in subject matter that carry with them their own distinctive vocabulary and style.

4. Inadequate evidence exists to argue for a sustained unique style, narrative story line, purpose and theological point of view in each of the four main documents that are thought to be the sources for the contents and message of the Pentateuch (cited in Kaiser 2001:137).

This we know from Scripture

The Pentateuch often refers to Moses as the author (eg Ex. 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Num. 33:1-2; Deut. 31:9). Christ and the apostles gave unequivocal support for Moses as the author of the Torah (Law), eg John 5:46-57; 7:19; Acts 3:22 [cf. Deut. 18:15]; Rom. 10:5.

Works consulted

Kaiser Jr., W C 2001, The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable & Relevant? Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.


[1] This summary of JEDP is provided by James Rochford of Xenos Christian Fellowship, ‘Authorship of the Pentateuch’, Evidence Unseen, available at: (Accessed 31 July 2013).

[2] This is based on an interaction I (ozspen) had with Jim Parker on Christian Fellowship Forum, Contentious Brethren, ‘Dawkins won’t debate creationists’, FatherJimParker #41, 5 June 2012, available at: (Accessed 6 June 2012).


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 November 2015.

How were the New Testament documents transmitted in the first century AD?

Folio 41v from Codex Alexandrinus contains the Gospel of Luke with decorative tailpiece (courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

It is not unusual to get this kind of theory propounded. Here it was on a large Christian forum on the Internet:

It’s blatantly obvious that there is a question to be answered: the three Synoptics have a lot of the same material – often word-for-word identical. How did that happen?
However much you bluster, any theory of authorship that fails to explain that overlap – in all its detail – is not satisfactory.[1]

The conversation continued by the same person (with interaction from others):

That would work [memorising a Rabbi or teacher’s words, word-for-word] if oral sources worked quite like that and if the overlaps between the gospels consisted of only context free words of Jesus.

But oral sources don’t work like that, and the overlaps include narration.
“Q”, if it ever existed , would appear to be a collection of sayings – which is the biggest problem with any hypothetical Q as a reconstructable stand-alone document.
but the overlaps between Matthew and mark, say, include narrative.[2]

This poster continued her scepticism towards the Gospel material:

It doesn’t matter how clearly “Matthew” and Peter remember the same events – their narration of those events won’t be word similar or remotely close to it unless one is copying the other. You can’t have “Matthew” and Peter independently writing accounts and have the similarities we have – it just would not happen. One has to have access to the other and be copying from it. Or they both have to be copying from a shared source.[3]

My response was as follows:[4]

Courtesy Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

I suggest that you read a Swedish scholar (former professor of exegetical theology, Lund University, Sweden) who challenges your view. He is Birger Gerhardsson and has published his investigations in Memory & Manuscript: Oral Tradition and Written Transmission in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity and Tradition & Transmission in Early Christianity. I have these two volumes in one publication published by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (Grand Rapids, Michigan). Mine is a 1998 edition but they were originally published by Gerhardsson in 1961 and 1964. I have referenced them below as 1998a and 1998b.[5]

Gerhardsson searched for a model to demonstrate how oral formulations and oral tradition could have taken place. His aim was to find knowledge of possible techniques (1998a:xxxi). He set out to answer what he considered were three crucial questions:

  1. ‘To what extent did the Pharisaic teachers apply the Rabbinic principles of pedagogics during the first century A. D.’?
  2. ‘To what extent are we justified in regarding the pedagogics we find among the Pharisaic teachers as representative of the normal practices of the Jesus milieu as a whole, i. e. even outside the bounds of Pharisaism proper?’
  3. ‘To what extent did the teaching and transmission of Jesus and the early Church follow the principles of practical pedagogics which were common in their milieu, and to what extend did they create new forms?’ (Gerhardsson 1998b:12)

One of his conclusions from a long and extensive study is:

It is one thing to state that traditions have been marked by the milieu through which they passed; another to claim that they simply were created in this secondary milieu [a hypothesis of the form critics]. The evidence suggests that memories of Jesus were so clear, and the traditions with which they were connected so firmly based that there can have been relatively little scope for alteration (Gerhardsson 1998b:43; emphasis in original).

So Gerhardsson’s extensive research comes to rather different conclusions to yours. May I suggest a careful read of Gerhardsson’s seminal material that has been radically criticised by Morton Smith and Gerhardsson (1998b) has addressed Smith’s critique.


[1] Christian Forums, Apologetics, ‘Which gospel was first’, ebia #56, available at: (Accessed 4 July 2013).

[2] Ibid., ebia #62.

[3] Ibid., ebia #65.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen #70.

[5] Some of this material is made available online by Google Books HERE. Birger Gerhardsson has also written a smaller version, The Reliability of the Gospel Tradition (2001. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers).
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.

How does the Old Testament apply to Christians?

Good Book


By Spencer D Gear

Thoughtful Christians often ask questions like this:

How does one determine what parts of the Old Testament are directly applicable to life now? For example, does Leviticus 15 still hold true? If not, how does one explain Matthew 5:17-20? Thanks for your serious consideration of these questions.[1]

My initial response was:

Why don’t you read this brief article, ‘Why do Christians not obey the OT commands to kill homosexuals and disobedient children?‘ (CARM)

Here is explained why most of the OT is not applicable to Christians living under the New Covenant. I try to read through the entire Bible, OT and NT, every 2 years. As a NT believer, it is important for me not to demote the OT, but the rules and regulations of the Old Covenant for Israel are not applicable to me as a NT believer. As this article demonstrates, the Old Covenant is obsolete – not for NT believers (this should read: ‘the Old Covenant and its punitive punishments have been done away with; they are not for NT believers). However, the death penalty of Genesis 9:6 is affirmed by the use of the ‘sword’ for punishment by governing authorities (Rom 13:4).

However, the creation of the world, God’s revelation of his nature, the Psalms, and examples of how God acted in Covenant with his people, are important for me to understand. The Old Covenant sacrificial system was fulfilled in Christ’s sacrifice.

However, my focus is on the New Covenant. We do not need to know what in the Old Covenant applies to NT believers as it is done away with, it is obsolete.[2]

The original poster made this observation:

I tend to gravitate toward similar views to those you state, but I still am not completely comfortable meshing this with Mat 5:17-19. What do you make of these verses?[3]

This is a good question.

How do we interpret Matt 5:17-19?



These verses read:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (ESV).

There seem to be three issues in this passage to help us gain a biblical understanding of how the OT relates to NT believers.[4] Was the Law or the Prophets abolished when Jesus fulfilled them? Note that it states ‘Law OR the Prophets’ and not ‘Law AND the Prophets’.

3d-red-star1. There’s a time factor here that we need to consider. These words are dealing with issues prior to Jesus’ death. While Jesus was on earth he kept the Law (of Moses). Remember what happened according to Matt. 8:4? He told the people to offer the sacrifice that Moses commanded. Jesus Himself went to Jewish festivals privately as we are told in John 7:10. What about the Passover lamb? According to Matt. 26:19, Jesus and the disciples kept the Passover.

BUT, we need to understand that prior to his death, Jesus violated the false traditions of the Pharisees. The Pharisees had developed these extra traditions around the Law (see Matt. 5:43-44). What did Jesus say to them according to Matt 15:6?

So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God (ESV).

So, there is a time factor involved in Jesus’ keeping the Law and fulfilling the Law or the Prophets. It was BECAUSE OF the cross that Jesus FULFILLED the Law. We know this from verses such as Gal. 3:28: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek … for we are all one in Christ Jesus (ESV)

3d-red-star2. We know from some (not all) references in the NT that the aspect of the Law that was done away with, dealt with OT ceremonies and types. These types from the Law of Moses were fulfilled through Jesus, our Passover lamb (see 1 Cor. 5:7). Jesus fulfilled the laws that predicted his first coming (see Hebrews, chapters 7-10). So, I think we can safely conclude that Jesus did away with the ceremonial and typological aspects of the Law of Moses. This Law was not destroyed by Jesus but it was fulfilled in Him.

3d-red-star3. In our discussion here, there can be confusion over the morality taught in the Law or the Prophets in the OT and its application to Christians. Which of the OT moral laws still applies to the NT believer? We need to understand that:

bronze-arrow-smallAccording to Rom. 8:2-3, Jesus fulfilled the moral demands of the Law on our behalf and those OT moral requirements were for the national and theocratic nation of Israel. Therefore, God’s moral principles from the OT for Israel no longer apply to us because Jesus has fulfilled them for us.

bronze-arrow-smallTo be specific (and this may alarm some), NT believers are NOT under the commands as expressed in the Ten Commandments. Why? Because they were for the Jews as is clear from the context of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:12 which states,

Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you (ESV).

So this command (as well as the rest) of the Ten Commandments were for the people in the land of Israel, a theocratic kingdom. It is not for NT believers.

  • This should not alarm us as all but one of these ten commandments is expressed in the NT in a different context. The one commandment not to be obeyed in the NT is the keeping of the Sabbath. The moral principles of the NT are no longer for a theocratic Israelite nation. What does Paul state about those who honour their parents? ‘It may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth’ (Eph. 6:3 NIV). I find the NIV to be a more accurate translation of the Greek here than the ESV.
  • We also know that Christians are not under the commandment to worship on the Jewish Sabbath (as in Ex. 20:8-11, which was for the theocratic Israel). We know that after Jesus’ resurrection, the resurrection appearances and His ascension (all of which happened on what we call Sunday), Christians worship on Sunday instead. We know this from Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2. What was Sabbath worship according to Paul’s NT teaching in Col. 2:16-17? It was one example of an OT ‘shadow’ of the ‘substance’ which belongs to Christ.
  • There is an interesting NT comparison of the OT ten commandments and what we have in Christ in 2 Cor. 3:7, 13-14. What the OT offered was ‘carved in letters on stone’ but NOW ‘only through Christ is it taken away’ (ESV).
  • It would be an error to reject the moral principles that are in the Ten Commandments that are based on the unchanging nature of God. All of these principles, except the Sabbath (which has been changed to worship on the first day of the week), are restated in the NT. We must be careful to emphasise that NT believers are no more under the Israelite’s 10 commandments than they are under such Mosaic laws as circumcision (cf Acts 15; Gal 3) or to sacrifice a lamb in the temple.
  • However, we are bound by similar moral laws to the 9 commandments such as laws against adultery, lying, stealing, murder. Because there are similar laws in the NT does not mean we live under those OT laws. I live in the state of Queensland. The adjoining state is New South Wales. However, while many of the laws are the same in both States that does not mean that I’m living under the law of NSW. I’m a Queenslander. The comparison is to show that while there are OT and NT laws that are in agreement, often the penalties are different. Take adultery as an example. The OT law required capital punishment for this sin (Lev 20:10). In the NT, the punishment for adultery is excommunication from the church with the possibility of restoration if there is repentance (see 1 Cor 5:1-13; 2 Cor 2:6-8).


Therefore, as for the requirement of NT believers and what is in the OT, Jesus fulfilled the OT and we do not follow the OT moral, ceremonial or theocratic national laws. We follow what is fulfilled in Christ and what is affirmed as NT morality.

Verses 18 and 19 are covered with the above explanation.

We need to remember that even though Jesus didn’t come to destroy the Law or the Prophets, he said it was acceptable for the disciples when they broke the Jewish Law by working on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28). Jesus showed how he did away with the ceremonial law when he said that all meats were clean (Mark 7:18-19). We know that Jesus’ disciples rejected a considerable portion of the OT law including circumcision (Acts 15; Gal 5:6; 6:15). What did Paul state? ‘You are not under law but under grace’ (Rom 6:14 ESV). And as mentioned above, the Ten Commandments were engraved in stone but the stone has been ‘taken away in Christ’ (2 Cor 3:14).


[1] Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Old Testament applicability’, myles2chem #1, available at: (Accessed 2 October 2012).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #4.

[3] Ibid., myles2chem #6.

[4] In this explanation of Matt 5:17-18, I rely heavily on the exposition by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe 1992. When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, pp. 329-331.


Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.