Category Archives: Bibliology

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.

Does Mark 16:9-20 belong in Scripture?

By Spencer D Gear

Bible Open To Psalm 118

If you want to get into an animated discussion in some churches, raise the possibility that Mark 16:9-20 is not in the earliest manuscripts and should not be included in the Bible. I encountered this when a person complained to me about the verses that had been left out of the New International Version (NIV), so he will not read the NIV.  I said that it was probably the other way around: Those verses excluded from the NIV were those that had been added to the KJV. Now that did get the theological juices boiling for both of us. Let’s take a read of theses verses in the KJV:

Mark 16:9-20 (King James Version)

9Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.

10And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.

11And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.

12After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.

13And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them.

14Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.

15And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

16He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

17And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

18They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

19So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.

20And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

Those who support the King James Version of the Bible tend to prefer the long ending of Mark 16 because it is located in that translation. They include vv. 9-20 in Scripture, but most modern translations indicate somehow that there are doubts that these verses should by in Scripture. For example, the English Standard Version places Mark 16:9-20 in double square brackets with the note at the end of v. 8, ‘Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20’. The New International Version (2011 edition) has this note before v. 9, ’The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20’.

Here are some statements by supporters of the long ending of Mark 16:

  • ‘Does not Mark end funny in the texts you’re relying on[ending with 16:8]? Is it not apparent that something is missing?’ (Christian Forums #204).
  • ‘Would you care to show us how the ending of mark is a corruption from mankind? Please use scripture [this is from a supporter of the longer ending]’ (Christian Forums #217).
  • ‘Is there anything in any passage here [Mark 16:9-20] that is false, that can be proven to be false by the body of scripture we have? If so, point it out’ (Christian Forums #230).
  • ‘The case of Mark 16:9-20 allows us the opportunity to demonstrate first-hand the spuriousness of the Westcott-Hortian paradigm as it is applied to textual criticism. Based upon the evidence of a small, corrupted handful of Greek manuscripts and little else, modern textual critics remove the verse even despite the overwhelming amount of evidence in its favour’ (Why Mark 16:9-20 belongs in the Bible).
  • ‘Do verses 9-20 belong in Mark 16? I don’t see how anyone could reasonably say they don’t. The rest of the Scripture supports them. The words of Jesus clearly support them. I think it’s clear that they belong there. Beware of those who try to tell you otherwise ‘ (‘Does Mark 16:9-20 belong in the Bible?’ Scott Morris).

Some of the issues

Let’s examine some of the matters relating to whether Mark 16:9-20 should in the Bible or have been added.

I could go into further detail as to why I reject vv. 9-20 as part of the New Testament. However, I consider that Kelly Iverson has summarised the material extremely well and to my exegetical and textual satisfaction in the article, “Irony in the end: A textual and literary analysis of Mark 16:8“. Iverson presents this material in footnote 6, based on the internal evidence that includes this examination of the long ending of Mark 16 (I have transliterated the Greek characters in the article to make it more accessible for the general reader):

The longer ending (vv 9-20) is clearly the most attested reading. It is validated by almost all of the extant Greek manuscripts, a significant number of minuscules, numerous versions, and scores of church Fathers. Geographically it is represented by the Byzantine, Alexandrian, and Western text types. However, one should be careful not to reduce textual criticism into an exercise of manuscript counting. Though the longer ending is widely attested, the vast bulk of manuscripts are from the generally inferior, Byzantine text type dating from the 8th to the 13th centuries (except Codex A which is a 5th century document). Due to the solidarity of the Byzantine text type we may assume that this represents at least a fourth century reading (Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 3rd ed. [New York: Oxford University, 1992], 293).

The abrupt ending (1) is found in the two oldest Greek manuscripts. These Alexandrian uncials a B, both 4th century manuscripts, are supported by the Sinaitic Syriac manuscripts, approximately one hundred Armenian texts and two Georgian manuscripts from the 9th and 10th centuries, and several church Fathers including Clement of Alexandria and Origen. That this reading was more prominent is supported by Eusebius and Jerome who claimed that vv 9-20 were absent from almost all known manuscripts (ibid., 226). It is also significant that Codex Bobiensis (k) omits the longer ending as this is deemed the “most important witness to the Old African Latin” Bible (ibid., 73). The genealogical solidarity of the two primary Alexandrian witnesses suggest that this reading can be dated to the 2nd century (Metzger, Text of the New Testament, 215-216).

To say the least, the evidence is conflicting. One should be careful not to make a firm decision one way or the other regarding Mark’s ending based on the external data alone. Though the majority of New Testament scholars believe that vv 9-20 are not original, virtually none come to this conclusion based purely on the external evidence. Even Farmer must confess that, “while a study of the external evidence is rewarding in itself and can be very illuminating in many ways . . . it does not produce the evidential grounds for a definitive solution to the problem. A study of the history of the text, by itself, has not proven sufficient, since the evidence is divided” (Farmer, Last Twelve Verses of Mark, 74).

Most text-critics appeal to the internal evidence in order to demonstrate that vv 9-20 are non-Marcan. One is immediately struck with the awkward transition between vv 8 and 9. In v 8, the subject, “they” referring to Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (16:1) is implicit within the third, plural verb, ephobounto. But in v 9 the subject changes to “He” (from the third, singular verb ephan?). The transition is striking because the subject is unexpressed. Furthermore, in v 9 Mary Magdalene is introduced as though she were a new character even though her presence has already been established in the immediate context (15:47; 16:1) while Mary the mother of James and Salome disappear from the entire narrative. This awkward transition coupled with numerous words and phrases that are foreign to Mark, suggest the decidedly inauthentic nature of this ending.

Several examples should prove the point. In 16:9 we find the only occurrence of the verb phainw in the New Testament with respect to the resurrection (though the same verb is used in Luke 9:8 to describe Elijah’s re-appearance). Equally as unusual is the construction par hes ekbeblekei , which is a grammatical hapax. In v 10, the verb poreuvomai which is found 29 times in Matthew and 51 times in Luke is not found in Mark 1:1-16:8, but repeatedly in the longer ending (vv 10, 12, 15). In v 11, The verb theaomai which occurs in Matthew (6:1; 11:7; 22:11; 23:5) and Luke (7:24; 23:55) finds no parallel in Mark except for its multiple occurrence in the longer ending (16:11, 14). In v 12, the expression meta tauta which occurs frequently in Luke (1:24; 5:27; 10:1; 12:4; 17:8; 18:4) and John (2:12; 3:22; 5:1, 14; 6:1; 7:1; 11:7, 11; 13:7; 19:28, 38; 21:1) has no precedence in Mark. phanerow which neither Matthew or Luke use to describe resurrection appearances is found in vv 12 and 14 (J. K. Elliott, “The Text and Language of the endings of Mark’s Gospel,” TZ 27 [1971]: 258). The phrase heteros morph? is also unique to Marcan vocabulary. Neither heteros nor morph? occur elsewhere in Mark and morph? only appears in Paul’s description of the kenosis (Phil 2:6, 7). In v 14, husteros, although used by the other evangelists, is a decidedly non-Marcan term having no precedence in 1:1-16:8. Mark seems to prefer eschatos over husteros as evidenced by several parallel passages in which Mark opts for the former over the later term found in Matthew (cf. Matt 21:37Mark 12:6; Matt 22:27Mark 12:22). In v 18, aside from other lexical and syntactical phenomenon one is struck by the unusual exegetical hapax. No other text in Scripture provides a promise for the handling of snakes and imbibing deadly poison without adverse repercussions. In v 19, though Mark sparingly uses the conjunction ?u, the phrase men ou is not found in 1:1-16:8. The longer ending concludes in v 20 with a litany of non-Marcan vocabulary: sunergeww is not found in Mark or the Gospels and appears to be a Pauline term (Rom 8:28; 1 Cor 16:16; 2 Cor 6:1) but it is never used with Jesus as the subject, and bebaiow along with epakolouthew are also foreign to the Synoptic Gospels.

As is somewhat evident, the internal evidence raises significant problems with Mark 16:9-20. The awkward transition between vv 8 and 9 and the non-Marcan vocabulary has led the vast majority of New Testament scholars to conclude that the longer ending is inauthentic. In fact, even Farmer (Last Twelve Verses of Mark, 103), the leading proponent for the authenticity of the last twelve verses, must confess that some of the evidence warrants this conclusion.

Iverson’s article provides an overall analysis of some of the major issues in the short vs. long ending of Mark 16. I highly recommend it.

Yes, there is false teaching in this ‘Scripture’

Is there any teaching within Mark 16:9-20 that would be questionable when compared with the rest of Scripture? There most certainly is teaching in this passage that is false when judged by other Scriptures. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Take Mark 16:16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved”. This promotes the false doctrine of baptismal regeneration that a person needs to be baptised to be saved. What does the rest of the Bible teach?

  • ‘But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God’ (John 1:12 ESV).
  • “’And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” ‘(Acts 16:31).
  • ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast’ (Eph 2:8-9).
  • ‘Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom. 5:1).
  • ‘and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith’ (Phil 3:9).

These Scriptures are very clear that no works (e.g. baptism) are required to become children of God and obtain salvation. It is all by grace through faith. Therefore, to teach that “Whoever believes AND is baptized” is saved, is teaching false doctrine. Baptism is not a means to salvation. Baptismal regeneration, as taught in Mark 16:16, is contrary to Scripture. See John Piper’s article, ‘What is baptism and does it save?’ See also, ‘Twisting Acts 2:38 – The question of baptism by water for salvation’ by Watchman Fellowship; and Robin Brace, ‘Baptismal regeneration refuted’.

Let’s get it clear with the teaching of Acts 2:38. Those who teach baptismal regeneration love to use this verse for support.

Acts 2:38 in the ESV reads, ‘And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”’.

This verse has been used regularly by those who support baptismal regeneration (i.e. baptism is necessary for salvation) as they indicate from this verse ‘baptized … in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins’.

The Greek grammar helps us to understand that this is not supporting baptism for the remission of sins. The command to repent is to ‘you’ plural, second person. The command to be baptised is given in singular number and third person. Therefore, it is not correct to identify ‘forgiveness of your sins’ with baptism otherwise it would mean that each person was baptised for the forgiveness of sins of all those who were present.

If we were to take baptism as that which is linked to (causes) the forgiveness of sins, the text would say something like this: ‘Let him be baptised for the remission of all your sins’, and “let him (another) be baptised for the forgiveness of all your sins’, and “let him (yet another person) be baptised for the forgiveness of all your sins’, and on and on for each person in the group.

Therefore, each person would be baptised for the forgiveness of the sins of all the people in the group.

This is not what the verse teaches. Baptism is not linked to the forgiveness of sins in Acts 2:38.

Simon J. Kistemaker in his commentary on the Book of Acts (Baker Academic 1990, p. 105) confirms this position that Acts 2:38 does not teach baptismal regeneration:

In Greek, the imperative verb repent is in the plural; Peter addresses all the people whose consciences drive them to repentance. But the verb, be baptized, is in the singular to stress the individual nature of baptism. A Christian should be baptized to be a follower of Jesus Christ, for baptism is the sign indicating that a person belongs to the company of God’s people.

Craig A Evans, an evangelical historical Jesus’ scholar, states:

The last twelve verses of the Gospel of Mark (Mk 16:9-20) are not the original ending; they were added at least two centuries after Mark first began to circulate. These passages – one from Mark, one from Luke, one from John – represent the only major textual problems in the Gospels, no important teaching hangs on any one of them (unless you belong to a snake-handling cult; see Mk 16:18 (2007. Fabricating Jesus. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, p. 30).

This is a sample of Bruce Metzger’s assessment of the long vs. short ending of Mark 16:

Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart, 1971), pages 122-126.

Mark 16:9-20   The Ending(s) of Mark.

Four endings of the Gospel according to Mark are current in the manuscripts. (1) The last twelve verses of the commonly received text of Mark are absent from the two oldest Greek manuscripts (Aleph[1] and B), from the Old Latin codex Bobiensis (it k), the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, about one hundred Armenian manuscripts, and the two oldest Georgian manuscripts (written A.D. 897 and A.D. 913). Clement of Alexandria and Origen show no knowledge of the existence of these verses; furthermore Eusebius and Jerome attest that the passage was absent from almost all Greek copies of Mark known to them. The original form of the Eusebian sections (drawn up by Ammonius) makes no provision for numbering sections of the text after 16:8. Not a few manuscripts which contain the passage have scribal notes stating that older Greek copies lack it, and in other witnesses the passage is marked with asterisks or obeli, the conventional signs used by copyists to indicate a spurious addition to a document.

(2) Several witnesses, including four uncial Greek manuscripts of the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries (L Psi[2] 099 0112), as well as Old Latin k, the margin of the Harelean Syriac, several Sahidic and Bohairic manuscripts, and not a few Ethiopic manuscripts, continue after verse 8 as follows (with trifling variations): “But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” All of these witnesses except it k also continue with verses 9-20.

(3) The traditional ending of Mark, so familiar through the AV and other translations of the Textus Receptus, is present in the vast number of witnesses, including A C D K W X Delta Thi Pi Psi[3] 099 0112 f13 28 33 al. The earliest patristic witnesses to part or all of the long ending are Irenaeus and the Diatessaron. It is not certain whether Justin Martyr was acquainted with the passage; in his Apology (i.45) he includes five words that occur, in a different sequence, in ver. 20. (tou logou tou ischurou hon apo Ierousalem hoi apostoloi autou exelthontes pantachou ekeruxan).[4]

(4) In the fourth century the traditional ending also circulated, according to testimony preserved by Jerome, in an expanded form, preserved today in one Greek manuscript. Codex Washingtonianus includes the following after ver. 14: “And they excused themselves, saying, ‘This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits [or, does not allow what lies under the unclean spirits to understand the truth and power of God]. Therefore reveal thy righteousness now — thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them, ‘The term of years of Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was delivered over to death, that they may return to the truth and sin no more, in order that they may inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness which is in heaven.’ ”

How should the evidence of each of these endings be evaluated? It is obvious that the expanded form of the long ending (4) has no claim to be original. Not only is the external evidence extremely limited, but the expansion contains several non-Markan words and expressions (including ho aiwn houtos, hamartanw, apologew, alethinos, hapostrephw[5]) as well as several that occur nowhere else in the New Testament (deinos, apos, proslegw[6]). The whole expansion has about it an unmistakable apocryphal flavor. It probably is the work of a second or third century scribe who wished to soften the severe condemnation of the Eleven in 16.14.

The longer ending (3), though current in a variety of witnesses, some of them ancient, must also be judged by internal evidence to be secondary. (a) The vocabulary and style of verses 9-20 are non-Markan. (e.g. apistew, blaptw, bebaiow, epakolouthew, theaomai, meta tauta, poreuomai, sunergew, usteron[7] are found nowhere else in Mark; and thanasimon[8] and tois met autou genomenois[9], as designations of the disciples, occur only here in the New Testament). (b) The connection between ver. 8 and verses 9-20 is so awkward that it is difficult to believe that the evangelist intended the section to be a continuation of the Gospel. Thus, the subject of ver. 8 is the women, whereas Jesus is the presumed subject in ver. 9; in ver. 9 Mary Magdalene is identified even though she has been mentioned only a few lines before (15.47 and 16.1); the other women of verses 1-8 are now forgotten; the use of anastas de[10] and the position of prwton[11] are appropriate at the beginning of a comprehensive narrative, but they are ill-suited in a continuation of verses 1-8. In short, all these features indicate that the section was added by someone who knew a form of Mark that ended abruptly with ver. 8 and who wished to supply a more appropriate conclusion. In view of the inconcinnities[12] between verses 1-8 and 9-20, it is unlikely that the long ending was composed ad hoc to fill up an obvious gap; it is more likely that the section was excerpted from another document, dating perhaps from the first half of the second century.

The internal evidence for the shorter ending (2) is decidedly against its being genuine. Besides containing a high percentage of non-Markan words, its rhetorical tone differs totally from the simple style of Mark’s Gospel.

Finally it should be observed that the external evidence for the shorter ending (2) resolves itself into additional testimony supporting the omission of verses 9-20. No one who had available as the conclusion of the Second Gospel the twelve verses 9-20, so rich in interesting material, would have deliberately replaced them with four lines of a colorless and generalized summary. Therefore, the documentary evidence supporting (2) should be added to that supporting (1). Thus, on the basis of good external evidence and strong internal considerations it appears that the earliest ascertainable form of the Gospel of Mark ended with 16.8. At the same time, however out of deference to the evident antiquity of the longer ending and its importance in the textual tradition of the Gospel, the Committee decided to include verses 9-20 as part of the text, but to enclose them within double square brackets to indicate that they are the work of an author other than the evangelist.

Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), pp. 269-270:

… we may find it instructive to consider the attitude of Church Fathers toward variant readings in the text of the New Testament. On the one hand, as far as certain readings involve sensitive points of doctrine, the Fathers customarily alleged that heretics had tampered with the accuracy of the text. On the other hand, however, the question of the canonicity of a document apparently did not arise in connection with discussion of such variant readings, even though they might involve quite considerable sections of text. Today we know that the last twelve verses of the Gospel according to Mark (xvi. 9-20) are absent from the oldest Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and Armenian manuscripts, and that in other manuscripts asterisks or obeli mark the verses as doubtful or spurious. Eusebius and Jerome, well aware of such variation in the witnesses, discussed which form of text was to be preferred. It is noteworthy, however, that neither Father suggested that one form was canonical and the other was not. Furthermore, the perception that the canon was basically closed did not lead to a slavish fixing of the text of the canonical books. Thus, the category of ‘canonical’ appears to have been broad enough to include all variant readings (as well as variant renderings in early versions) that emerged during the course of the transmission of the New Testament documents while apostolic tradition was still a living entity, with an intermingling of written and oral forms of that tradition. Already in the second century, for example, the so-called long ending of Mark was known to Justin Martyr and to Tatian, who incorporated it into his Diatesseron. There seems to be good reason, therefore, to conclude that, though external and internal evidence is conclusive against the authenticity of the last twelve verses as coming from the same pen as the rest of the Gospel, the passage ought to be accepted as part of the canonical text of Mark.


See, ‘the ending of Mark’ in Bible Research. Overall, the problems raised above suggest that Mark 16:9-20 is an addition to the biblical text. In Craig Evans’ view, the longer ending was not added until 2 centuries after the Gospel of Mark was written.

However, taking this view should not separate us from Christian fellowship with those who accept the longer view of Mark 16.


[1] The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is used and I have transliterated the letter.

[2] Capital Greek letter was used.

[3] Greek characters were used for these Greek capital letters.

[4] Bruce Metzger’s commentary used the Greek characters but my homepage will not accept Greek characters so I have transliterated the Greek.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] ‘Inconcinnity’ means ‘lack of proportion and congruity; inelegance’ [, available at: (Accessed 11 January 2012)].

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date:  30 July 2019.

Image result for clipart horizontal line

Should Mark 16:9-20 be in the Bible?

Papyrus Roll Clip Art

By Spencer D Gear

One fellow claimed there were only three options and he put it into a poll:

Poll: Should the resurrection account of Mark 16:9-20 be removed from the bible?

Be advised that this is a public poll: other users can see the choice(s) you selected.

Poll Options

Should the resurrection account of Mark 16:9-20 be removed from the bible?



I do not know

View poll results

His assessment was:[1]

Should the resurrection account of Mark 16:9-20 be removed from the bible?

Many new bible versions question whether Mark 16:9-20 should be in the bible. This is done in footnotes or the use of single or double brackets around the passage. As far as I know not a single bible actually leaves out the passage, which contains the description of the resurrections of the Lord Jesus, a record of the apostles and some others seeing Him, words that Jesus Christ spoke and a declaration of His ascension into heaven.

In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Paul declares that gospel of salvation as the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Lord. So the resurrection, as the apostles as eyewitnesses, should be in the Gospel according to Mark.

Here is the passage from the King James Bible: Mark 16:9-20

9 Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.
10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.
11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.
12 After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.
13 And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them.
14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
Should the resurrection account of Mark 16:9-20 be removed from the bible?

He asked for those who voted ‘yes’ to reply. I did:[2]

I voted ‘yes’

Why? I voted in the affirmative because my research has found that some of the earliest MSS (manuscripts) do not include Mark 16:9ff. I support the statement that precedes these verses in the ESV, ‘Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20’.
In addition, I believe this section teaches false doctrine. It seems to have an apocryphal flavour. This false doctrine includes:

  1. Baptismal regeneration (Mk 16:16);
  2. Picking up serpents with their hands and drinking deadly poison will not hurt people (16:18).
  3. ‘They will lay their hands on the sick, and THEY WILL recover’ (16:18). We know that there is no guarantee that laying hands on the sick will lead to recovery from sickness. That is the Lord’s sovereign work.

There are 4 actual endings in the MSSs from v 9ff. Which one do you support?

The long ending, Jerome told us, was in Greek copies in his day.

There are 17 non-Markan words in Mk 16:9ff and the lack of a smooth transition from 16:8-16:9 indicates that there are features in 9ff that were added by someone who knew something of a form of Mark’s Gospel that ended abruptly at 16:8 and he/she wanted a smoother conclusion.

There is an Armenian MSS of the Gospels copied about AD 989 that contains 2 words at the end of v 8 and before vv 9-20. They are Aristion eritsou (‘of the Presbyter Aristion’). Some have interpreted this to refer to Aristion, a contemporary of Papias in the early 2nd century. Papias has been traditionally understood to be a disciple of the Apostle John (this information from Bruce Metzger 1991:227). Could it be that Aristion added these words?

So there are a number of reasons why I reject Mark 16:9-20 as being in the original text.

You are wrong!

Here is his response to my post:[3]

Mark 16:16 is not baptismal regeneration at all. It is baptism by the Holy Spirit. The verse itself shows that.
Paul in Acts 28 did have viper bite him and it had no effect. This is string evidence that Mark 16:9-20 is indeed original.
Paul also laid his hands on someone who recovered in Acts 28. This is string evidence that Mark 16:9-20 is indeed original.
These signs do disappear in the New Testament but that too matches Mark 16:9-20.
The rest of your response is full of assumptions and presuppositions.
Your extraordinary claim that all English Bibles are in error must be proved beyond all doubt.

My reply was:[4]

He claimed: ‘Mark 16:16 is not baptismal regeneration at all. It is baptism by the Holy Spirit. The verse itself shows that’.

My response: The context doesn’t indicate Spirit baptism but ‘whoever believes and is baptized will be saved’.

He claimed: ‘Paul in Acts 28 did have viper bite him and it had no effect. This is string evidence that Mark 16:9-20 is indeed original’.

My reply was that Paul’s being bitten by a viper in Acts 28:3f and not being killed, is very different theology from ‘picking up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them’.

He claimed: ‘Paul also laid his hands on someone who recovered in Acts 28. This is string evidence that Mark 16:9-20 is indeed original.’

My response was that laying hands on a person and that person is healed is different from the theology of Mk 16:18, ‘They WILL lay their hands on the sick, and they WILL recover’. Many people have had pastors and elders lay hands on the sick and pray for them and they HAVE NOT recovered from that sickness. I’m one such person. Healing from laying hands on the sick is not guaranteed. That’s determined by the sovereign God and there is no guarantee THEY WILL recover.

He came again: ‘These signs do disappear in the New Testament but that too matches Mark 16:9-20.’

Not according to Mk 16:17, ‘These signs will accompany those who believe’. It is expected that there will be ‘those who believe’ from the time of Jesus to the time of his second coming. See also John 14:12.

His view was, ‘The rest of your response is full of assumptions and presuppositions.’

Yes, I have presuppositions, but I try to back them with evidence. Let’s not overlook that both of us operate from presuppositions.

He claimed, ‘Your extraordinary claim that all English Bibles are in error must be proved beyond all doubt.’

My response was: I have never made such a statement. You have misrepresented my view.

Options for Mark 16:9-20 being in canon of Scripture

At one point this fellow stated: ‘Yes, no, or I do not know does indeed covers (sic) all choices’ (of his poll re Mk 16:9-20 being included in the Bible).[5]

My response was:[6]

These could be some of the choices:

  • Yes
  • No
  • I do not know
  • Some oldest MSS do not include 16:9-20;
  • Early MSS & other ancient witnesses don’t have 16:9-20;
  • There is serious doubt about whether 16:9-20 belongs in Mark;
  • Some ancient versions add 16:9-20; others leave it out.

These are but examples. There are more than 3 options.

Some further points

These are some further points I made:

clip_image002 The statement was made by another, ‘Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 declares that the gospel of salvation includes the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore the gospel according to Mark must have it. It would never have been accepted if it did not have it’.[7]

My response was:[8]

This is circular reasoning. Just because 1 Cor 15:1-4 declares the gospel of salvation involving Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, that does not place a requirement on what should appear in Mark’s version of the resurrection.

What God has permitted for Mark 16:1-8 to be Mark’s version of the resurrection and what is in the other gospels, is what God provided in his authoritative Scripture.
I Cor 15:1-4 does not dictate the extent of what should be in Mark when the other details of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus are in the FOUR Gospels.
It is circular reasoning to require that 1 Cor 15 dictates what should be in Mark.

clip_image002[1]’We need to be clear on something about Jesus’ resurrection. We have no record of any eyewitnesses who saw the actual resurrection of Jesus. Not a single person saw the resurrection – based on the NT evidence.

We do have evidence of people who spoke with, touched, and ate with Jesus after his resurrection. But that is not the same as these people being eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection’.[9]

clip_image002[2] A person wrote:[10]

The Bible gives warnings about adding to or taking away from the Bible.

Deuteronomy 4:2
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
2 You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you

Deuteronomy 12:32
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
32 “[a]Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.

Revelation 22:18
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book.

My brief reply was:[11]

Proof texting does not help this discussion for these reasons:

1. You quote 2 verses from Deuteronomy about not adding to the Word. But what does the New Testament do? It ADDS to the Word of the OT. There are issues of interpretation that must be dealt with to understand what’s going on here. Quoting from Deut without this discussion is not helpful.

2. Then you quote Rev 22:18, which is a common one for questioning those who discuss whether or not Mk 16:9-20 should be in or out of Scripture. But you did not discuss these matters:

  • Rev 22:18 was written at the end of a single book when it was composed. It was not in the canon of Scripture when originally written. Therefore, how can it relate to the entire OT and NT when it seems more likely to apply only to the Book of Revelation? There needs to be questions around this question rather than providing proof texts.
  • Also, how do you know what is the exact content of the canon of Scripture to know that one is adding to or subtracting from it? Does the canon include Mk 16:9-20 or is it an addition? This question of bibliology needs to be pursued. This is not possible with proof texting.
  • I find that proof texting leaves too many questions unanswered – and especially in a discussion like this.

A fellow replied:[12]

That makes two doubting Thomases?
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe’ (John 20:27).

My response was:[13]

Sounds like there are 3 of us.

I’m one who wants to be honest with the evidence from the Gospels. We have records of eyewitnesses who walked and talked with Jesus AFTER his resurrection and BEFORE the ascension. But, to my knowledge, there was not a single witness to his actual resurrection.

In many ways I’m pleased about that as such people could have found it difficult to maintain their humility. However, we have all the evidence in the NT that the Lord wanted us to have.

Works consulted

Metzger, B M 1992. The text of the New Testament. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press.



[1] SavedByGraceThruFaith#1, Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘Should the resurrection account of Mark 16:9-20 be removed from the bible?’ 27 December 2013. Available at: (Accessed 2 January 2014).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#6.

[3] Ibid, SavedByGraceThruFaith#19, available at:,

[4] Ibid., OzSpen#21, available at:

[5] Ibid, SavedByGraceThruFaith#5,

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#27,

[7] Ibid., SavedByGraceThruFaith#8,

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#27,

[9] Ibid., OzSpen#25.

[10] Ibid., SharolL#20,

[11] Ibid., OzSpen#29.

[12] Ibid., SkyWriting#30.

[13] Ibid., OzSpen#31,

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 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.

Woman caught in adultery: In or out of New Testament?



By Spencer D Gear

Are there chunks of the Bible that should not be there? Even to raise this topic may cause some some conservative Christians to doubt my salvation: ‘How dare you suggest that you know better than what is in the Bible’,a small number have said to me. What they fail to realise is that they are accepting what is in their English Bible (for many it is the KJV) as the authentic word of God – all of it. They treat their Bible version as the original, inspired text.

However, like it or not, there are issues with a few small sections of Scripture as to whether they should be in the Bible or not. One such example, which I will discuss here, is John 7:53-8:11 which deals with the woman caught in adultery.

The latest edition of the New International Version states at the beginning of this passage: “The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53” (BibleGateway).

For the English Standard Version, latest edition, immediately prior to John 7:53, there is this statement, ‘The earliest manuscripts do not include John 7:53-8:11’ (BibleGateway).

Should this passage of John 7-8 be included in the New Testament or not? Let’s look at the evidence. There are two sides to the discussion. Yes! and No! Firstly, let’s those who support the retention of this portion in the NT.

1. Support for John 7:53-8:11 to remain in the NT

Who are the supporters of this passage remaining in Scripture?

1.1 Supporters of the Majority Text of the NT

What is the Majority Text? Michael Marlowe explains that

The “Majority Text” is a statistical construct that does not correspond exactly to any known manuscript. It is arrived at by comparing all known manuscripts with one another and deriving from them the readings that are more numerous than any others. There are two published Greek texts which purport to represent the Majority readings — Hodges & Farstad 1982 and Pierpont & Robinson 1991 (in ‘What about the Majority Text?’).

The Majority Text is the Greek text behind the King James Version and the New King James Version of the Bible – New Testament. The text of modern Bible translations for the NT is known as the ‘Received Text’. This is the text behind the RSV, NRSV, ESV, ERV, ASV, NASB, NIV and NLT to mention a few. Michael Marlowe gives an excellent assessment of the issues and his summary is reasonable:

The idea that the majority of existing Greek manuscripts (i.e. the numerous medieval copies) somehow represent the original text better than any of the oldest manuscripts known to us is an idea that is very hard to defend intellectually. One would suppose, even on common-sense grounds, that a consensus of the earlier copies is likely to be closer to the original text. Against this, it is said that perhaps all of the early manuscripts known to us have derived from a deviant kind of text which gained currency only in the area around Alexandria, where these very old manuscripts were preserved on account of the dry climate. But this hypothesis fails to account for the readings of the ancient versions (e.g. Latin and Syriac) which frequently agree with the older Greek copies against the later ones. We cannot reasonably suppose that the Latin and Syriac versions were based upon manuscripts that were not circulating in Italy and Syria. And then there are the scripture quotations from ecclesiastical writers who lived outside of Egypt, which likewise often support the earlier manuscripts. It is very hard for a Majority Text advocate to overcome this evidence, and certainly it cannot all be brushed aside with an hypothesis about “Alexandrian” deviations. For this reason, very few competent scholars have argued in favor of the Majority Text.

1.2 Dean John Burgeon

Dean John Burgeon supports its inclusion in the NT. See his arguments in John 8:1-11. They include:

  • The historical circumstance and burden of proof lies with those who challenge its authenticity;
  • The Gospel context – John 8:1-11 is an integral part of the immediately antecedent and following narrative;
  • The content and meaning – it ‘carries on its front the impress of Divine origin’;
  • Style and diction – it is ‘woven on a heavenly loom’;
  • Alleged textual evidence against – in spite of the trail of opponents, ‘these twelve verses exhibit the required notes of genuineness less conspicuously than any other twelve consecutive verses in the same Gospel’.

Burgeon explains further:

Section 9: – Evidences Re-Examined: The Old Latin
Section 10: – Patristic and Versional Support

Sidebar: – The Ferrar Group (Family 13)

Section 11: – The Cause of the Omission
Section 12: – The Ancient Lectionary Tradition
Section 13: – Silence of Early Commentators Explained
Section 14: – The Voice of the Early Church Identified
Section 15: – Critical Theories Fail to Explain Facts
Section 16: – Spiritual Bankruptcy of the Critical Position

1.3 Peter Ruckman

Another promoter of this passage in John 8 to remain in the NT is long-term KJV-onlyism advocate, Peter Ruckman of Pensacola Bible Institute. See Ruckman on ‘James White’s Seven Errors in the King James Bible’. See James White’s reply, ‘A response to Dr Ruckman’.

1.4 Trinitarian Bible Society

The Trinitarian Bible Society has a statement in its Constitution:

This Society shall circulate the HOLY SCRIPTURES, as comprised in the Canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, WITHOUT NOTE OR COMMENT, to the exclusion of the Apocrypha; the copies in the English language shall be those of the Authorised Version.

1.5 Gail Riplinger

See Gail Riplinger’s website, ‘Authorized Version Publications’ for her view of keeping the section on the adulterous woman in John’s Gospel.

2. Support for John 7:53-8:11 to be excluded from the NT

But there is support for excluding this passage from the NT.

D. A. Carson wrote:

“Despite the best efforts of Zane Hodges[1] to prove that this narrative was originally part of John’s Gospel, the evidence is against him, and modern English versions are right to rule it off from the rest of the text (NIV) or to relegate it to a footnote (RSV). These verses are present in most of the medieval Greek minuscule manuscripts, but they are absent from virtually all early Greek manuscripts that have come down to us, representing great diversity of textual traditions. The most notable exception is the Western uncial D, known for its independence in numerous other places. They are also missing from the earliest forms of the Syriac and Coptic Gospels, and from many Old Latin, Old Georgian and Armenian manuscripts. All the early church Fathers omit this narrative: in commenting on John, they pass immediately from 7:52 to 8:12. No Eastern Father cites the passage before the tenth century. Didymus the Blind (a fourth-century exegete from Alexandria) reports a variation on this narrative, not the narrative as we have it here. Moreover, a number of (later) manuscripts that include the narrative mark it off with asterisks or obeli, indicating hesitation as to its authenticity, while those that do include it display a rather high frequency of textual variants. Although most of the manuscripts that include the story place it here (i.e. at 7:53-8:11), some place it instead after Luke 21:38, and other witnesses variously place it after John 7:44, John 7:36 or John 21:25.[2] The diversity of placement confirms the inauthenticity of the verses. Finally, even if someone should decide that the material is authentic, it would be very difficult to justify the view that the material is authentically Johannine: there are numerous expressions and constructions that are found nowhere in John, but which are characteristic of the Synoptic Gospels, Luke in particular.

On the other hand, there is little reason for doubting that the event here described occurred, even if in its written form it did not in the beginning belong to the canonical books. Similar stories are found in other sources. One of the best known, as reported by Papias (and recorded by the historian Eusebius, H. E. III. xxxix. 16)[3] is the account of a woman, accused in the Lord’s presence of many sins (unlike the woman here who is accused of but one). The narrative before us also has a number of parallels (some of them noted below) with stories in the Synoptic Gospels. The reason for its insertion here may have been to illustrate 7:24 and 8:15 or, conceivably, the Jews’ sinfulness over against Jesus’ sinlessness (8:21, 24, 26) [Carson 1991:333-334].

Bruce Metzger’s (1971:219-222) assessment is:[4]

[John] 7.53-8.11 Pericope of the Adulteress

The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming. It is absent from such early and diverse manuscripts as Papyrus66.75 Aleph B L N T W X Y D Q Y 0141 0211 22 33 124 157 209 788 828 1230 1241 1242 1253 2193 al. Codices A and C are defective in this part of John, but it is highly probable that neither contained the pericope, for careful measurement discloses that there would not have been space enough on the missing leaves to include the section along with the rest of the text. In the East the passage is absent from the oldest form of the Syriac version (syrc.s. and the best manuscripts of syrp), as well as from the Sahidic and the sub-Achmimic versions and the older Bohairic manuscripts. Some Armenian manuscripts and the old Georgian version omit it. In the West the passage is absent from the Gothic version and from several Old Latin manuscripts (ita.l*.q). No Greek Church Father prior to Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century) comments on the passage, and Euthymius declares that the accurate copies of the Gospels do not contain it.

When one adds to this impressive and diversified list of external evidence the consideration that the style and vocabulary of the pericope differ noticeably from the rest of the Fourth Gospel (see any critical commentary), and that it interrupts the sequence of 7.52 and 8.12 ff., the case against its being of Johannine authorship appears to be conclusive.

At the same time the account has all the earmarks of historical veracity. It is obviously a piece of oral tradition which circulated in certain parts of the Western church and which was subsequently incorporated into various manuscripts at various places. Most copyists apparently thought that it would interrupt John’s narrative least if it were inserted after 7.52 (D E F G H K M U G P 28 700 892 al). Others placed it after 7.36 (ms. 225) or after 7.44 (several Georgian mss.) or after 21.25 (1 565 1076 1570 1582 armmss) or after Luke 21.38 (f13). Significantly enough, in many of the witnesses which contain the passage it is marked with asterisks or obeli, indicating that, though the scribes included the account, they were aware that it lacked satisfactory credentials.

Sometimes it is stated that the pericope was deliberately expunged from the Fourth Gospel because it was liable to be understood in a sense too indulgent to adultery. But, apart from the absence of any instance elsewhere of scribal excision of an extensive passage because of moral prudence, this theory fails “to explain why the three preliminary verses (vii 53; viii 1-2), so important as apparently descriptive of the time and place at which all the discourses of chapter viii were spoken, should have been omitted with the rest” (Hort, “Notes on Select Readings,” pp. 86 f.).

Although the committee [that is, the editorial committee of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament] was unanimous that the pericope was originally no part of the Fourth Gospel, in deference to the evident antiquity of the passage a majority decided to print it, enclosed within double square brackets, at its traditional place following John 7.52.

Inasmuch as the passage is absent from the earlier and better manuscripts that normally serve to identify types of text, it is not always easy to make a decision among alternative readings. In any case it will be understood that the levels of certainty ({A}, {B}) are within the framework of the initial decision relating to the passage as a whole.[5]

My conclusion

Since I accept that the MSS that are closer to the originals are deemed to be the most accurate (see the arguments above), I accept that John 7:53-8:11 is an addition to the original MSS and should not be included in the NT.

Works consulted

Carson, D A 1991. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Metzger, Bruce M 1971. A textual commentary on the Greek New Testament: Acompanion volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (3rd ed). London / New York: United Bible Societies.


[1] BibliothecaSacra 136, 1979, pp. 318-372; 1980, pp. 41-53.

[2] Carson’s footnote at this point was, ‘For a convenient summary of the evidence, cf. Metzger, pp. 219-222. He is referring to Metzger (1971).

[3] This was in Ecclesiastical History 3.39.16, available at: (Accessed 14 May 2012).

[4] Available at: (1) Bible Research, ‘The story of the adulteress in the eighth chapter of John’, available at: (Accessed 14 May 2012); (2)

[5] The last paragraph was not in the URL. I copied it from the actual text.


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



What is the nature of the Bible’s inspiration?

clip_image002Courtesy ChristArt

By Spencer D Gear

Is the Bible a book that contains errors of history, contradictions of various sorts, and can still be described as the authoritative word of God?

There are heretical groups like the Jesus Seminar that want us to believe that ‘Eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him’ (Funk et al 1998:5).

What about John Dominic Crossan’s assessment? (He’s also a fellow of the Jesus Seminar)

What happened after the death and burial of Jesus is told in the last chapters of the four New Testament gospels. On Easter Sunday morning his tomb was found empty, and by Easter Sunday evening Jesus himself had appeared to his closest followers and all was well once again. Friday was hard, Saturday was long, but by Sunday all was resolved. Is this fact or fiction, history or mythology? Do fiction and mythology crowd closely around the end of the story just as they did around its beginning? And if there is fiction or mythology, on what is it based? I have already argued, for instance, that Jesus’ burial by his friends was totally fictional and unhistorical. He was buried, if buried at all, by his enemies, and the necessarily shallow grave would have been easy prey for scavenging animals. We can still glimpse what happened before, behind, and despite those fictional overlays precisely by imagining what they were created to hide. What happened on Easter Sunday? Is that the story of one day? Or of several years? Is that the story of all Christians gathered together as a single group in Jerusalem? Or is that the story of but one group among several, maybe of one group who claimed to be the whole?…

The Easter story at the end is, like the Nativity story at the beginning, so engraved on our imagination as factual history rather than fictional mythology. (Crossan 1994:160-161).

If that is your view of the Bible, what is your view of Christ’s death on the cross and his atonement for sins? Crossan takes offense at the substitutionary atonement:

What are his statements about the nature of Christ’s atonement? His view is that blood sacrifice should not include suffering and substitution and should not include ‘substitutionary suffering’. He stated that ‘worst of all, imagine that somebody brought together sacrifice, suffering, and substitution….That theology would be a crime against divinity’. While it is correct to call Jesus’ death a sacrifice, but ‘substitutionary atonement is bad as theoretical Christian theology just as suicidal terrorism is bad as practical Islamic theology. Jesus died because of our sins, or from our sins, but that should never be misread as for our sins’ (Crossan 2007:140).

Crossan’s presuppositions about the atonement

What are the presuppositions that underlie this theology that opposes substitutionary atonement?

On Christian Forums I was discussing the nature of Scripture when I stated that in about 50 years as an evangelical Christian, I’ve come across a few apparent contradictions, but with some further study all of them have been resolved to my satisfaction.

My starting point is that the God of Scriptures tells the truth and I’ve provided this biblical evidence for this in a previous post on this thread. Since God is the God of truth, we will not tell me a lie or present a real contradiction to me. It may be an apparent contradiction in Scripture from my human perspective, but I’ve been able to resolve/harmonise them to my satisfaction.[1]

Pointless exercise

Ebia’s response was:

Because its (sic) a pointless exercise, like worrying about whether the Maths textbook has got their height of the tower of Pisa correct. No – correct that – a worse than pointless exercise. “resolving” the discrepancies ends up devaluing the actual messages of the texts in order to hang on to some inappropriate notion of truth that reflects a particular cultural hang-up.
Sure, one can convince oneself that anything is not a contradiction if one is prepared to go far enough to do it. The question is whether that’s a good idea.[2]

There was a back and forth between us in which there were differences between us of the meaning of biblical authority.

Ebia responded to another of my posts:

‘Because the discrepancies [in Scripture] tend to exist for a reason; they result from the differences in what different authors are trying to say. A best resolving them risks flattening out the accounts and drowning out those messages, at worst it produces a farce like some of the attempts to harmonize the cock-crow/denial accounts or the resurrection morning accounts. And either way it’s a distraction. In no case does it – can it – do anything actually useful. Assuming that the gospels are “God’s word (TM)”, it’s the gospels as written that are that, not some harmonization of them’.[3]

In another she asked:

What do I take from the letter to Timothy? That scripture is a unique gift from God, useful and reliable for teaching,… And in some sense a living thing. That it has authority in the sense Tom Wright talks about.[4]

I was asking for her understanding of the meaning of theopneustos (‘inspiration’ or ‘breathed out by God’) in 2 Tim. 3:16.

How would you respond to her continuing emphases?

  • ‘You’re going around in circles because you are trying to force an answer in terms of a framework that is not one that I or Tom [N T Wright] accept.

I don’t accept that inconsistency in factual detail is an error in texts that aren’t trying to communicate that level of factual detail (see my Maths textbook analogy) and therefore to keep framing the question on those terms is, to me, to misformed (sic) the question’.[5]

  • ‘It takes two to tango. But the reason we are both going around in circles is that the way you keep framing the question fits your worldview assumptions but not mine, instead of being prepared to consider what I actually have to say.
    In particular I don’t share your view that a discrepancy in a factual detail – lets say the name of Joseph’s great-grandfather in the male line – constitutes an error in a meaningful sense.
    Tom Wright leaves out what I would want to leave out because it’s the wrong question to be asking.
    Of course we aren’t going to agree. Is the only point of a conversation to make people agree with you?’[6]
  • ‘You claim it’s a “conflict with the nature of God”. I don’t agree because I don’t see a discrepancy in factual detail to be an “error” if the concern of the text is not accuracy in that detail but something entirely different.
    Your question is “wrong” because it has an underlying assumption about tangential factual details that I don’t share.
    It’s a bit like keeping asking “have you stopped beating your wife yet; yes or no?”’[7]
  • ‘Discrepancies [in Scripture] tend to exist for a reason; they result from the differences in what different authors are trying to say’.

Presuppositions imposed on biblical text

I find it impossible to have a rational discussion with this person and her views on the nature of the origin of the Bible because her presuppositions are based on an imposition on the biblical text. The view of Scripture is not that expounded from the Scriptures themselves. This is my assessment:

(1) If we try to resolve the discrepancies in the text, it ends up devaluing the actual messages of the texts is her statement. Her view is that the message of the Bible can contain discrepancies (i.e. errors), but that doesn’t affect the message. My presupposition is that the God of truth does not tell lies and the original documents of the Bible would not have been given by God to contain errors if he is the God of truth and justice as I’ve attempted to show in this article.

(2) Her view is that an inconsistency in factual detail is not an error in texts. That is a loose view of the authority of Scripture that allows or glosses over errors in factual details in the Bible. Therefore, how do we decide which are the factual errors and which are not? Is the ex nihilo (creation out of nothing) creation of the universe and all that is in it, according to the Genesis record, a factual inconsistency when compared with the theory of evolution? Is the virgin birth of Christ and inconsistency or factually true? I find it better to study the Bible inductively – from the biblical texts. Listen to what the biblical text states. There may be statements that I don’t yet understand with my limited knowledge and there may be apparent inconsistencies, but to date I have not found an alleged discrepancy for which there has not been an adequate explanation provided with study.

(3) According to this poster, the discrepancies are there for a reason and are because different authors are trying to say different things. But, what about the God of truth and what he is overseeing? If he is the God of truth, shouldn’t that guarantee the truth of what he superintends, no matter which author is writing?

(4) I ask you: Is ebia on the correct path when she compares my view of wanting to know if the Bible is an infallible document or not, with ‘like keeping asking “have you stopped beating your wife yet; yes or no?”’ Is the requirement to know the origin of the Bible, whether it is infallible or not, in any way like asking, ‘have you stopped beating your wife yet; yes or no?’ I object strongly to such an interpretation of my views. I find ebia to be promoting a weak view of the Scripture and she is trying to justify her view.

I hope you see that this interchange is important because it helps to uncover the presupposition we both have with regard to the Scripture. Ebia believes that the Bible can make errors in tangential factual details and still be regarded as Scripture. My view is that the God of truth and righteousness will always tell the truth and never lie. What he tells us in Scripture is inerrant in the original manuscripts.

See the articles that follow that I have written, except for the first one:

Apparent contradictions and inerrancy’ by my son, Paul Gear;

The Bible’s support for inerrancy of the originals;

Can you trust the Bible? Part 1

Can you trust the Bible? Part 2

Can you trust the Bible? Part 3

Can you trust the bible? Part 4

I have a copy of the American edition[8] – and have read all of it – of N T Wright’s The Last Word (HarperSanFrancisco 2005). He begins his preface to the American edition with,

Writing a book about the Bible is like building a sandcastle in front of the Matterhorn (p. ix).

He states that the central claim of this book is

that the phrase “authority of Scripture” can make Christian sense only if it is a shorthand for “the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through scripture” (p. 23, emphasis in original).

Later, under the heading, ‘Inspiration and “the Word of YHWH”‘, he stated

“Inspiration” is a shorthand way of talking about the belief that by his Spirit God guided the very different writers and editors, to that the books they produced were the books God intended his people to have. This is not the subject of the present book, but we should note that some kind of divine inspiration of scripture was taken for granted in most of the ancient Israelite scriptures themselves as well as in the beliefs of the early Christians (p. 37).

He admits that

many of the accusations not merely of diversity but of flat contradiction arise not from historical study proper but from impositions on the texts of categories from which later Western thought (from, for instance, the sixteenth or the nineteenth century (p. 52).

He explains that

‘the Reformers’ sola scriptura slogan was part of their protest against perceived medieval corruptions. Go back to scripture, they insisted, and you will find the once-for-all death of Jesus but not the Mass, justification by faith but not purgatory, the power of God’s word but not that of the pope…. Nothing beyond scripture is to be taught as needing to be believed in order for one to be saved (pp. 71-72, emphasis in original).

He stated that his major conclusion was

that the shorthand phrase “the authority of scripture,” when unpacked, offers a picture of God’s sovereign and saving plan for the entire cosmos, dramatically inaugurated by Jesus himself, and now to be implemented through the Spirit-led life of the church precisely as the scripture-reading community” (p. 114, emphasis in original).

He goes on to explain that he has argued in this book that

“the authority of Scripture” is really a shorthand for “the authority of God exercised through scripture”; and God’s authority is not merely his right to control and order the church, but his sovereign power, exercised in an through Jesus and the Spirit, to bring all things in heaven and on earth into subjection to his judging and healing rule. (Ephesians 1 sets this out more spectacularly than most passages.) In other words, if we are to be true, at the deepest level, to what scriptural authority really means, we must understand it like this: God is at work, through scripture (in other words, through the Spirit who is at work as people read, study, teach and preach scripture) to energize, enable and direct the outgoing mission of the church, genuinely anticipating thereby the time when all things will be made new in Christ (p. 138).

However, after reading his book, I find that N. T. Wright is skirting around or avoiding the issue of the nature of the Bible and how it was given in the original documents – infallibility or inerrancy are far from his keyboard, but he does admit that ‘the church clearly can’t live without the Bible’ (p. ix). My question is, ‘What kind of Bible?’ Is it one that includes inaccuracies and contradictions, or as ebia, a supporter of N. T. Wright’s view, states that it does not matter if in factual detail there is an error in the texts?

Wright does include in the preface the statement that he has tried

to face head on the question of how we can speak of the Bible being in some sense “authoritative” when the Bible itself declares that all authority belongs to the one true God, and that this is now embodied in Jesus Himself (p. xi).

But how do we know this book is a reliable and trustworthy document? Did the God of truth, perfection and justice (Deut. 32:4; Ps 19:9; John 17:17; 2 Tim 3:16; Rev 15:3-4; 16:7; 19:1-4) who gave us the Bible, give his revelation in a document that includes errors and contradictions in the original manuscripts?

These questions need to be answered and I do not think that N. T. Wright did that in his book on the authority of Scripture, The Last Word (HarperSanFrancisco 2005).

Major problem of omission

After I wrote the above, I sought out reviews of Wright’s, The Last Word. Theologian John Frame measured my theological pulse when he wrote:

By way of evaluation[9]: So far as I am aware, there is no statement in the book that I simply disagree with. And the book contains some excellent insights about Scripture, on its kingdom context, the canon, and Scripture’s relations with tradition, reason, and experience. Wright also has valuable things to say here about biblical interpretation: on how the New Testament fulfills the Old, and on what a “literal” interpretation ought to mean.

But there is a major problem of omission. If one is to deal seriously with the “Bible wars,” even somehow to transcend them, one must ask whether and how inspiration affects the text of Scripture. Wright defines inspiration by saying that “by his Spirit God guided the very different writers and editors, so that the books they produced were the books God intended his people to have” (37). But the same can be said about the books in my library: that God moved writers, editors, publishers, et al., so that the books in my library are the ones God wants me to have. Nevertheless, there are some horrible books in my library (which I keep for various good reasons). So it is important to ask whether inspiration is simply divine providence, or whether it carries God’s endorsement. Is God, in any sense, the author of inspired books?

Wright doesn’t discuss this question, but Scripture itself does. The Decalogue was the writing of God’s finger (Ex. 31:18). The prophets identified the source of their preaching by the phrase “thus says the Lord.” Jesus attributes David’s words to the Spirit (Matt. 22:43). Paul says that the Old Testament Scriptures were God-breathed, i.e., spoken by God (2 Tim. 3:16). And Paul connects this God-breathed quality with the authority of Scripture, indicating that biblical authority is not only the authority of divine power, but also of divine speech.
Or look at it this way:  “Word of God” in Scripture, is not merely “a strange personal presence, creating, judging, healing, recreating” (38).” It is all of these things, but it is also, obviously, divine speech (as Wright himself recognizes on 34). When God creates, for example, he creates by speech, by commanding the world to exist. Prophecy and Scripture are “word of God,” not only in their power, but also as speech and language: not only power, but also meaning.

Wright is right to say that God’s word, and specifically Scripture, is more than doctrines and commands. But if inspiration confers divine authorship, and if God’s word is true speech, then it becomes very important, within the context of the kingdom narrative, to believe God’s doctrines and to obey God’s commands. Indeed, as Wright notes, the very nature of narrative poses the question of whether the events described “really happened:” that is, what should we believe about them, and how should we act in response. But then narrative itself implies doctrines to be believed and commandments to obey.7
That is what the Bible wars are about. One can believe everything Wright says about the narrative context of biblical authority and still ask responsibly whether the words of Scripture are God’s words to us. Wright’s book does not speak helpfully to this question, nor does it succeed (if this was Wright’s purpose) in persuading us not to ask it. So, like the worship books mentioned earlier, The Last Word does not discuss what is most relevant to the controversy. It proposes a context, but a context is not enough. Two people who accept Wright’s proposal may nevertheless differ radically on the question of whether the Bible is the word of God.

Many of us would like to get away from the debates of the liberal/fundamentalist controversy. But if Scripture is God’s very word, then we cannot be indifferent to its doctrinal and ethical authority, or silent against attacks on that authority. Wright has done some great work in defending the truth of Scripture, and it is evident in the present volume that he has scant regard for the scholarship of enlightenment skeptics like those of the Jesus Seminar. So he has himself entered into the Bible wars. But are these wars merely contests to see who is the better scholar, or is the word of God itself at issue? If the latter, much more must be said and done (Review of N. T. Wright, The Last Word. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2005, by John M. Frame).

How did ebia respond to the above?

You’re going around in circles because you are trying to force an answer in terms of a framework that is not one that I or Tom accept.

I don’t accept that in inconsistency in factual detail is an error in texts that aren’t trying to communicate that level of factual detail (see my Maths textbook analogy) and therefore to keep framing the question on those terms is, to me, to misformed the question.[10]

My response is that it is not I who is going around in circles. Ebia seems to like Tom Wright’s perspective where he doesn’t want to admit to the infallibility of Scripture in the original documents, which affirms the origin of Scripture, which is consistent with the nature of the God of truth who does not lie.

John Frame picked that one well. It is what Wright leaves out that is what I consider of critical importance. Is Scripture truthful (infallible) or does it include discrepancies, even in minor factual details?

However, ebia and I are not going to agree on the infallibility of Scripture because our presuppositions are very different.[11]

Works consulted

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

Crossan, J D 2007. God and empire: Jesus against Rome, then and now. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Funk, R W, Hoover, R W & The Jesus Seminar 1993. The five gospels: The search for the authentic words of Jesus. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.


[1] OzSpen #89, Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘Bible contradictions’, available at: (Accessed 7 April 2012).

[2] #91 ibid.

[3] #93, ibid.

[4] Ebia #99, ibid, available at: (Accessed 7 April 2012).

[5] Ibid. #101.

[6] Ibid, #103.

[7] Ibid. #105.

[8] This information I posted as OzSpen at #100, ibid.

[9] He is reviewing N T Wright 2005. The Last Word. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

[10] Ebia #101, Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘Bible contradictions’, available at: (Accessed 7 April 2012).

[11] Ibid., #102.


Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.



Apparent contradictions and inerrancy

(public domain)

By Paul Gear

I’ve been studying the Gospel of John at college this semester, and one view that i’ve encountered is the view that John’s chronology of the Passion week, in particular the day of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion, contradicts that of the Synoptic Gospels. This article by Barry D. Smith explains some of the issues and argues for the view that there is no contradiction.

This got me thinking about the implications of this view for the doctrine of inerrancy. Inerrancy is a presupposition in this case (the only one that i’m prepared to bring to biblical studies), but i think it is a reasonable one based on inductive study of the Scripture. Wayne A. Grudem, “Scripture’s Self-Attestation and the Problem of Formulating a Doctrine of Scripture”, in Scripture and Truth, ed. D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1992), argues decisively that Scripture itself gives Christians no option but to accept inerrancy.

Here are some quotes from his article (emphasis in the original in all cases):

God’s words, especially God’s words as spoken and written by men … are viewed consistently by the Old Testament authors as different in character and truth status from all other human words; … In truth status they are seen as being different from all other human words, for human words invariably contain falsehood and error (Ps. 116:11), but these do not; they are spoken by God who never lies (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29). They are completely truthful (Ps. 119:160) and free from impurity or unreliability of any kind … (p. 35)

Perhaps it has not been stated emphatically enough that nowhere in the Old Testament or in the New Testament does any writer give any hint of a tendency to distrust or consider slightly unreliable any other part of Scripture. Hundreds of texts encourage God’s people to trust Scripture completely, but no text encourages any doubt or even slight mistrust of Scripture. To rely on the “inerrancy” of every historical detail affirmed in Scripture is not to adopt a “twentieth-century view” of truth or error; it is to follow the teaching and practice of the biblical authors themselves. It is to adopt a biblical view of truth and error. (p. 58-59)

To believe that all the words of the Bible are God’s words and that God cannot speak untruthfully will significantly affect the way in which one approaches a “problem text” or “alleged error” in Scripture. To seek for a harmonization of parallel accounts will be a worthy undertaking. To approach a text with the confident expectation that it will, if rightly understood, be consistent with what the rest of the Bible says, will be a proper attitude. (p. 59)

I have looked at dozens of [“problem texts”], and in every single case there are possible solutions in the commentaries. If one accepts the Bible’s claim to be God’s very words, then the real question is not how “probable” any proposed solution is in itself, but how one weighs the probability of that proposed solution against the probability that God has spoken falsely. Personally I must say that the “difficult texts” would have to become many times more difficult and many times more numerous before I would come to think that I had misunderstood the hundreds of texts about the truthfulness of God’s words in Scripture, or that God had spoken falsely. (pp. 367-368; 59n84)

The last two paragraphs quoted above are particularly relevant here. It seems to me there are a few possibilities in the particular case of John’s Passion chronology:

  1. John might or might not have been aware of the Synoptics, and was unaware that his account contradicted theirs. (This might also include such views as that John was written before the Synoptics.)
  2. John was aware of the Synoptics, was aware that his account contradicted theirs, but didn’t care because he wasn’t seeking to be historically accurate.
  3. John was aware of the Synoptics, was aware that his account contradicted theirs, and was consciously seeking to correct them.
  4. John might or might not have been aware of the Synoptics, or might or might not have been aware that his account contradicted theirs, but decided to change which night the Last Supper was on for theological, thematic, stylistic, or other reasons.
  5. Neither John nor the Synoptics was being precise about their use of Passover festival terminology, thus there is no contradiction.

Smith’s article seems to prefer solution #5. There may be other options that i haven’t considered. I’d be happy to hear about them if you have any references.

Based on the principles outlined in Grudem’s article, i would make the following conclusions about each option:

  1. John, while not specifically contradicting the Synoptics, may nonetheless be guilty of historical blunder.
  2. John is not specifically contradicting the Synoptics, but is working at a lower level of precision. This runs aground on the fact that his language is specifically locating the events in question on certain days, so it would be hard to argue that he is aiming for less precision.
  3. At least one of the two chronologies (John or the Synoptics) is historically incorrect.
  4. John, in specifically employing an unhistorical approach, is saying that these details are inconsequential, and secondary to his greater purpose, which is to engender faith. This runs aground on the same issue as #2 (his specific language about days), and also raises the question, “Why should i believe in a Jesus presented by someone who has deliberately muddied the waters about the details of the object and origin of that belief?” Or, put another way, “How does setting Jesus’ upper room discourse and crucifixion on days on which they did not really occur help to promote belief in Jesus? Rather doesn’t it diminish belief in Jesus?”
  5. This view seems to take appropriate account of the facts marshalled by Grudem, while acknowledging that the level of precision used by the Gospel writers does not meet with 21st century expectations of precision (the so-called “videotape view of history”).

Assuming i have a reasonable grasp of the available options, i can’t see any reasonable option for Evangelicals but to choose #5 (or possibly a combination of #1 & #5, although i think this is infeasible on other grounds).1

Of course, there is another alternative: that the biblical authors were incorrect (either by mistake, or by deliberate misrepresentation) in asserting that the Scriptures are without error and that God cannot lie, and that we should not require ourselves to believe what they believed. (I am discounting the possibility that Grudem’s conclusion about Scripture’s self-attestation is wrong. He brings literally hundreds of Scriptures to bear on the problem, and the evidence marshalled is overwhelming.) My question in response is: if the biblical authors were wrong hundreds of times about the trustworthiness of Scripture, what were they right about? If i am to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but at any point he could be lying (because in this view, God can lie) about Scripture, salvation, or anything else of consequence, that is not a Jesus i am willing to believe in.


See Richard Bauckham, “John for Readers of Mark” in The Gospels for All Christians: rethinking the Gospel audiences, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1998. Bauckham’s argument is that John assumed knowledge of Mark on the part of his readers, and left specific markers in the text to enable readers to calibrate his chronology with Mark’s.


Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.

Blue Greek Key With Lines Border by GR8DAN - A blue greek key based border.

Does the New Testament contain history or myth?

No Fairytale
(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

It is not unusual to hear both scholars and laity proclaim words that the Bible is not an historical document but is mythological. These are challenging days in which mythology is following a certain definition as pursued by postmodern people, whether scholars or laity.

The third edition of the Australian, The Macquarie Dictionary (1997:1425) gives this as the first definition of myth: Myth is

a traditional story, usually concerning some superhuman being or some alleged person or event, and which attempts to explain natural phenomena; especially a traditional story about deities or demigods and the creation of the world and its inhabitants.

One such scholar who pursues this understanding of myth in the Gospels is Burton Mack. He stated that

The narrative gospels can no longer be viewed as the trustworthy accounts of unique and stupendous historical events at the foundation of the Christian faith. The gospels must now be seen as the result of early Christian mythmaking (1993:10).

Please understand that this perspective contains Mack’s presuppositions about the Gospels. He admits that in the early church ‘an explosion of the collective imagination signals change’ in the creation of these new myths that formed the gospels.

These are indeed challenging days when postmodern deconstructions like these intrude into discussions about Scripture and the historical Jesus.

Using this kind of definition of myth, scholars of the Jesus Seminar or of similar persuasion, have made comments like this by John Dominic Crossan:

What happened after the death and burial of Jesus is told in the last chapters of the four New Testament gospels. On Easter Sunday morning his tomb was found empty, and by Easter Sunday evening Jesus himself had appeared to his closest followers and all was well once again. Friday was hard, Saturday was long, but by Sunday all was resolved. Is this fact or fiction, history or mythology? Do fiction and mythology crowd closely around the end of the story just as they did around its beginning? And if there is fiction or mythology, on what is it based? I have already argued, for instance, that Jesus’ burial by his friends was totally fictional and unhistorical. He was buried, if buried at all, by his enemies, and the necessarily shallow grave would have been easy prey for scavenging animals. We can still glimpse what happened before, behind, and despite those fictional overlays precisely by imagining what they were created to hide. What happened on Easter Sunday? Is that the story of one day? Or of several years? Is that the story of all Christians gathered together as a single group in Jerusalem? Or is that the story of but one group among several, maybe of one group who claimed to be the whole?…
The Easter story at the end is, like the Nativity story at the beginning, so engraved on our imagination as factual history rather than fictional mythology. (Crossan 1994:160-161).

Please understand that Crossan places a certain interpretation on the supernatural. Crossan deconstructs miracles as he does Christ’s resurrection. He says that he accepts them, but he redefines them with a new radical definition. He could affirm Jesus’ healing ministry, but then he asks:

What, however, if the disease could not be cured but the illness could somehow be healed? This is the central problem of what Jesus was doing in his healing miracles. Was he curing the disease through an intervention in the physical world, or was he healing the illness through an intervention in the social world? I presume that Jesus, who did not and could not cure that disease or any other one, healed the poor man’s illness by refusing to accept the disease’s ritual uncleanness and social ostracization. Jesus thereby forced others either to reject him from their community or to accept the leper within it as well…. Such an interpretation may seem to destroy the miracle. But miracles are not changes in the physical world so much as changes in the social world (1994:82, my emphasis).

Now to the laity: ‘The biblical texts were not historical nor scientific – they were myth…. There was never any “original” text. All texts were initially transmitted orally’.[1]

Biblical text as myth

If the biblical texts are not historical but contain myths, in what sense are they myths? By myth, does this lay person mean that they are like fairy stories that have been invented?

This is how Burton Mack explains his understanding of mythology and the Gospels:

The mythology that is most familiar to Christians of today developed in groups that formed in northern Syria and Asia Minor. There Jesus’ death was first interpreted as a martyrdom and then embellished as a miraculous event of crucifixion and resurrection. This myth drew on Hellenistic mythologies that told about the destiny of a divine being (or son of God). Thus these congregations quickly turned into a cult of the resurrected or transformed Jesus whom they now referred to as the Christ, or the Lord, as well as the Son of God. The congregations of the Christ, documented most clearly in the letters of Paul from the 50s, experienced a striking shift in orientation, away from the teachings of Jesus and toward the spirit of the Christ who had died and was raised from the dead. It was this myth that eventually made the narrative gospels possible (Mack 1993:2).

Please understand that this perspective contains Mack’s presuppositions about the Gospels. He admits that in the early church ‘an explosion of the collective imagination signals change’ in the creation of these new myths that formed the gospels and

Christians have never been comfortable with the notion of myth or willing to see their own myths as the product of human imagination and intellectual labor…. Early Christians imagined their myth as history’ and these ‘myths of origin were written and imagined as having happened at a recent time and in a specific place (Mack 1993:207).

In his book, Mack has assumed the authenticity of the historical-critical method and then proceeds to use those methodological presuppositions to drive his agenda. In fact, his book on the so-called Q hypothesis begins with these words, ‘Once upon a time’ (1993:1) and I suggest that the book should conclude with similar words, ‘Once upon a time Burton Mack imagined’, as they are Mack’s fanciful invention of what he wants the New Testament to be – a book that contains ‘myths of origin’ that were imagined to have happened by the early Christians. These, for Mack, comprise a story where ‘myths project an imaginary world in which a people are themselves reflected at a distance’ (1993:208).

Bible as history or not

The lay person and Burton Mack quoted above reflect the anti-historical views of the historical sceptical scholars of the Jesus Seminar[2] and those of similar ilk who follow the historical-critical method and its denigration of the Bible as containing history and of the historical nature of Jesus’ intervention in history.

However, there are historical Jesus scholars who disagree profoundly with this assessment. One is noted historical Jesus researcher, N. T. Wright, who claims that Mack’s proposal concerning Q

is an historical hypothesis, to be verified according to the normal canons; and by those canons it fails.[3] It does not do justice to the data: it chops up texts with cheerful abandon and relocates them all over the place, radically misreading first-century Judaism and completely marginalizing the theology and religion of Paul – which is the one body of literature we not only actually possess but which we know for certain was produced within thirty years of the crucifixion. Mack’s scheme has no simplicity of design, except in regard to Jesus himself, who is grossly oversimplified. The only area on which it seems to shed light is the analysis of twentieth-century American religion (Wright 1996:43, emphasis in original).

What an amazingly pointed and overt assessment of Mack’s thesis with Wright’s claim that it does not do justice to the data and comes to conclusions that fail.

Graham N. Stanton is another opponent of the anti-historical contingent. He states that

at least some aspects of the portrait of Jesus are essential to faith, for if historical research were ever able to prove conclusively that the historical Jesus was quite unlike the Jesus of the gospels, then faith would certainly be eroded. The gospel is concerned with history: not in that it stands if its claims could be verified by the historian, but in that it falls if the main lines of the early church’s portrait of Jesus of Nazareth were to be falsified by historical research (1974:189).

A scholar who has investigated the reliability or otherwise of the Gospels, Dr. Craig Blomberg, states that:

Biblical faith is fundamentally commitment to the God who has intervened in the history of humanity in a way that exposes his activity to historical study. Christians may not be able to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that the gospels are historically accurate, but they must attempt to show that there is a strong likelihood of their historicity. Thus the approach of this study is always to argue in terms of probability rather than certainty, since this is the nature of historical hypotheses, including those which are accepted without question…. A good case can be made for accepting the details as well as the main contours of the gospels as reliable…. Even if a few minor contradictions genuinely existed, this would not necessarily jeopardize the reliability of the rest or call into question the entire basis for belief (1987:11).

Here’s an interview with Craig Blomberg that contains some helpful information about NT reliability.

Australian Anglican historian, Dr. Paul Barnett, has written Is the New Testament History? (2003). Barnett confidently asserts as an historian who has taught history at Macquarie University, Sydney, that the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, based on these canons, judge Luke as ‘an exceptional historian’ (2003:4). The whole argument of Barnett’s book is to affirm that ‘Jesus and the first Christians are genuine figures of history and that they are faithfully and truthfully written about in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. These documents were written close in time to the events. They are historical and geographical in character. I am convinced that we are able to read these texts assured of their integrity and authenticity’ (2003:5-6).

Then Barnett sets out to prove his case. He has written extensively on the historicity of the New Testament. See his Jesus and the Logic of History (1997) and Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity (1999). He has two recent volumes: The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years (2005) and Paul: Missionary of Jesus (2008).

All of these volumes provide documented evidence that is contrary to the historical scepticism that ‘the biblical texts were not historical nor scientific – they were myth’.[4] Yes, there are many anti-historical hypotheses regarding the historical veracity or otherwise of the Bible that have been promoted by sceptical, historical-critical promoters. There are others who oppose the sceptical, anti-historical view. These include John Warwick Montgomery’s two volumes, History and Christianity (1965) and Where Is History Going? (1969) which refute the claims.

I do not find the sceptical, liberal theological views weigh in with substantive assessment when we investigate the historical Jesus and the reliability of the NT as historical documents.


What is a presupposition? The Australian Macquarie Dictionary (1997)  states that ‘presuppose’ means ‘to suppose or assume beforehand; to take for granted in advance’. As it relates to a thing, it means ‘to require or imply an antecedent condition’ (Macquarie 1997:1693). For Anthony Thiselton, presupposition ‘conveys the impression of rooted beliefs and doctrines which are not only cognitive and conceptual, but which also can only be changed and revised with pain, or at least with difficulty’ (1992:45). For Crossan (1998:109), by presuppositions he does ‘not mean positions beyond current debate or even future change’ or ‘theological commitments’. He means ‘historical judgments based on present evidence and requiring constant future testing against new theory, method, evidence, or experience’. He claims to have learned these presuppositions from scholarly tradition that he has studied internally and tested externally and he finds them ‘consistently more persuasive than their alternatives’. However, he rightly admits that ‘if they are wrong, then everything based on them is questionable, and if they are proved wrong, then everything based on them is will have to be redone’ (emphasis in original).

Crossan (1998:103) admits that all people must decide their ‘presuppositions about gospel traditions before reconstructing either the historical Jesus or earliest Christianity. Everyone must. Everyone does’.

I don’t submit to the kind of presuppositional or researched scepticism of Burton Mack, the Jesus Seminar scholars, J. D. Crossan and the doubting laity when there are more reliable assessments of the data.

A way out of the postmodern dilemma

How do we get out of the relativistic and postmodern quagmire of recent and contemporary historical studies into the historical Jesus? Montgomery has rightly stated that we need to transparently acknowledge ‘the subject-object distinction as the starting point for all genuine understanding of the past’. Von Wright has demonstrated by a reasoned argument that the inductive method, which presupposes the subject-object distinction ‘is the only entrée to verifiable knowledge of the external world: “its superiority is rooted in the fact that the inductive character of a policy is the very criterion by means of which we judge its goodness”‘. Montgomery’s view is that if we try to circumvent the inductive method when examining the past, we ‘destroy all objective knowledge of man’s history, and therefore … eliminate in principle a Christian philosophy of history’ (Montgomery 1969:193).


Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital

(courtesy Wikipedia)

Imagine trying to merge the subject-object distinction in reading the local newspaper. As I am writing this article, there is an article in the Brisbane Courier-Mail, 3 October 2011, on ‘Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital tells foreigners: Go home’. The story began:

QUEENSLAND‘S biggest public hospital has secretly banned some treatments for non-Australians in a bid to save money.

The Courier-Mail can reveal the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital recently began rejecting overseas students and visitors from certain countries, telling them to find a private hospital or go back to their own country.

The so-called “ineligible patients” are those from countries not listed among the nine nations with which Australia has reciprocal healthcare agreements allowing costs to be recovered.

Those exposed to the ban include all Asian, American and African nations and many across Europe.

Let’s adopt a reader-response interpretation of this statement. By reader-response, we mean that ‘all reading is ideological and guided by certain interests…. The text, with no aims nor interests of its own, is at the mercy of the reader. With only slight exaggeration, Mark Taylor characterizes interpretation as “a hostile act in which interpreter victimizes text”‘ (Vanhoozer 1998:28).[5]

Therefore, I, using a postmodern reader-response interpretation of the Courier-Mail article, could make it mean that authority of the state in Queensland has been victimised by multiculturalism, so the state must take a stand so that Aussies are not put on a lower pedestal. The mother country has the supreme authority and will not be held to ransom by any entity. This newspaper’s statement is an endorsement of the doctrine of the origin of human races.

If I read this newspaper article in this way, you would have every reason to send me to the mental asylum. But that is how postmodern interpreters like John Dominic Crossan deconstruct[6] the biblical text. He wrote that what he means by ‘prophecy historicized’ is that

I do not intend the apologetical or polemical use of biblical texts as prophecies about Jesus, as if such texts were uniquely and exclusively pointing to Jesus the future Messiah. Prophecy historicized means that Jesus is embedded within a biblical pattern of corporate persecution and communal vindication (Crossan 1998:521).

As a further example of Crossan’s playing reader-response with the text, he says of Christ’s conception:

My position as an historian trying to be ethical and a Christian trying to be faithful is this: I do not accept the divine conception of either Jesus or Augustus as factual history, but I believe that God is incarnate in the Jewish peasant poverty of Jesus and not in the Roman imperial power of Augustus (1998:29).

Let me transfer that kind of understanding to the Courier-Mail‘s story above: I do not regard it as an historical event that the Royal Brisbane Hospital has turned anyone away from that hospital and told them to go away. I believe it is a statement about social justice that is a fundamental in the need for hospitals to treat Aussies first and that multiculturalism goes on the back burner in the priorities of any State government in delivering medical services.

You would justifiably think that I should be assessed by a psychiatrist if that was my view, but that kind of thinking is rife within postmodern interpretation whether it is in culture in general or in the theological world. This is especially so in light of the reader-response theories of postmodernism. Kevin Vanhoozer (1998) and D. A. Carson (1996) have effectively refuted the reader-response claims in my understanding. Carson admits that ‘postmodernism has convinced many of the absolute relativity of all truth claims, not least religious truth claims’ (1996:182) and his tome successfully refutes the relativity of truth claims.

Postmodern methodology involves deconstruction which, in Derrida’s strongest form, Carson (1996:73) understands that meaning is bound permanently with the reader/knower rather than the text. Words only refer to other words, but with ‘irony and ambiguity’. Thus, the alleged plain meaning of the text ‘subverts itself’ and language cannot refer to objective reality.

By contrast, Vanhoozer maintains that ‘the author is the sovereign subject of the sign, the one who rules over meaning’ (1998:48). That is not so for postmodern advocates such as Stanley Fish or Jacques Derrida. Fish has stated that ‘it is interpretive communities, rather than either the text or the reader, that produce meanings and are responsible for the emergence of formal features’ (in Carson 1996:75). Fish (1989:4) writes that literal meaning does not exist if one wants clarity and lucidity, no matter the context and what are in the speakers’ and listeners’ minds. His view is that literal interpretation places a constraint on hermeneutics.

Following that line, I will need to meet with a group of like-minded people to decide on the meaning of that Courier-Mail article as the intent of the author and my personal reader-response cannot be used for interpretive purposes.

We truly are in dark, pluralistic days if we dare to follow postmodern, relativistic hermeneutics.


John Warwick Montgomery

I close with the assessment of leading apologist and lawyer, John Warwick Montgomery. He was in a forum discussion with opponents in the Chicago area regarding Christ’s resurrection when he made the following statements.[7]

It is fairer to compare the resurrection [of Jesus Christ] to other events of classical times, because it’s in the same general time area and therefore the amount of data is perhaps more comparable. I majored in classics in college, and to my amazement I never heard any questioning of the events of the classical period as to their per se historicity despite the fact that these are based on much less data than the resurrection of Christ. For example, the existence of Plato depends upon manuscript evidence dated over a thousand years later. If we must begin with sheer faith in order to arrive at the event-character of the resurrection, then we are going to drop out not simply the resurrection but a tremendous portion of world history, which I don’t think we’re prepared to do….

I say only that the historical probabilities are comparable to those of other events of classical times. Therefore there is an excellent objective ground to which to tie the religion that Jesus sets forth. Final validation of this can only come experientially. But it is desperately important not to put ourselves in such a position that the event-nature of the resurrection depends wholly upon “the faith.” It’s the other way around. The faith has its starting point in the event, the objective event, and only by appropriation of this objective event do we discover the final validity of it. The appropriation is the subjective element, and this must not enter into the investigation of the event. If it does, the Christian faith is reduced to irrelevant circularity….

The Christian faith is built upon Gospel that is “good news,” and there is no news, good or bad of something that didn’t happen. I personally am much disturbed by certain contemporary movements in theology which seem to imply that we can have the faith regardless of whether anything happened or not. I believe absolutely that the whole Christian faith is premised upon the fact that at a certain point of time under Pontius Pilate a certain man died and was buried and three days later rose from the dead. If in some way you could demonstrate to me that Jesus never lived, died, and rose again, then I would have to say I have no right to my faith (1965:106, 107, 108).

The Bible makes historical claims that can be verified according to the canons of historical research that are used to verify any person, thing or event from history. If Jesus’ claims have no historical verification, then what the Apostle Paul stated is profoundly true: ‘And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins’ (1 Corinthians 15:17 ESV).[8]

Works consulted

Barnett, P W 1997. Jesus and the logic of history. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.

Barnett, P W 1999. Jesus and the rise of early Christianity: A history of New Testament times. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press.

Barnett, P W 2003. Is the New Testament history? 2nd rev ed. Sydney South: Aquila Press.

Barnett, P W 2005. The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years. Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Barnett, P W 2008. Paul: Missionary of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Blomberg, C L 1987. The historical reliability of the gospels. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.

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

Crossan, J D 1998. The birth of Christianity: Discovering what happened in the years immediately after the execution of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Fish, S 1989. Doing what comes naturally: Change, rhetoric, and the practice of theory in literary and legal studies. Oxford: Clarendon.

Funk, R W, Hoover, R W & The Jesus Seminar 1993. The five gospels: The search for the authentic words of Jesus. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.

Mack B 1993. The Lost Gospel: The Gospel of Q & Christian Origins. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.

The Macquarie Dictionary (3rd edn) 1997. Macquarie University NSW: The Macquarie Library Pty Ltd.

Montgomery, J W 1965. History and Christianity. Minneapolis, Minn: Bethany House Publishers.

Montgomery, J W 1969. Where is history going? A Christian response to secular philosophies of history. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

Stanton, G N 1973. Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament preaching. Cambridge: University Press.

Thiselton, A C 1992. New horizons in hermeneutics: The theory and practice of transforming biblical reading. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Vanhoozer, K J 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text? Leicester, England: Apollos (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press).

Wright, N T 1992. The New Testament and the people of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. (Series in Christian origins and the question of God, vol 1).

Wright, N T 1996. Jesus and the victory of God. London: SPCK. (Series in Christian origins and the question of God, vol 2).


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, “Bible changed by scribes”, #11, available at: (Accessed 3 October 2011).

[2] See Funk et al (1993).

[3] Here Wright referred to Wright (1992:98-109).

[4] See the lay person’s example above.

[5] Vanhoozer (1998) provides a superb critique of postmodern hermeneutics.

[6] Derrida is the father of deconstruction. ‘Deconstruction explores the “textuality” at work in all forms of discourse, thereby blurring what were once hard and fast lines between philosophy and literature…. The crucial task now is not the exegetical one of saying what a given text means, but the theoretical one of describing and explaining just what interpreters are after. It follows that the literary theorist must be conscious of the broader social and cultural context of the interpreter…. Whether there is something really “there” in the text is a question of the “metaphysics” of meaning’ (Vanhoozer 1998:19).

[7] One of Montgomery’s opponents, Prof. Dr. Jules L. Moreau, professor of church history, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL, stated, ‘The current preoccupation with the facticity of the circumstances surrounding the event called the resurrection reflects a concern for historical verification which is quite foreign to the attitude of the early church. The “proof” that God raised Jesus from among the dead was the experience of the living Lord in the community’ (in Montgomery 1965:109).

[8] Suggested by Montgomery (1995:15).


Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 October 2015.

Does the Gospel of Thomas contain heretical statements?

Nag Hammadi Codex II, folio 32, the beginning of the Gospel of Thomas

Courtesy Wikipedia

By Spencer D Gear

Is the Gospel of Thomas (GThom) heretical and does it include Gnostic-type teachings?[1] Could there be anything that is heretical in this document found with Gnostic documents near Nag Hammadi[2], upper Egypt, in December 1945?

There are scholars of the Jesus Seminar who use the Gospel of Thomas as authoritative as the 4 canonical Gospels. John Dominic Crossan affirms Patterson’s view that GThom contains “rudimentary Gnosticism” and the extent of this Gnosticism “is not yet fully charted” as it “is not a full blown gnostic gospel”. Crossan’s view is that it is “a borderline text that could have been pulled either toward or away from gnosticism” (Crossan 1998:271).

Let’s check out some statements from a translation of the Gospel of Thomas that should raise issues of conflict with NT Gospels:

GThom 1-7 states:

These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded.

1 And he said, “Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death.”

2 Jesus said, “Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all. [And after they have reigned they will rest.]”

3 Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father’s) kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is within you and it is outside you.</FATHER’S>

When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.”

4 Jesus said, “The person old in days won’t hesitate to ask a little child seven days old about the place of life, and that person will live.

For many of the first will be last, and will become a single one.”

5 Jesus said, “Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you.

For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. [And there is nothing buried that will not be raised.”]

6 His disciples asked him and said to him, “Do you want us to fast? How should we pray? Should we give to charity? What diet should we observe?”

Jesus said, “Don’t lie, and don’t do what you hate, because all things are disclosed before heaven. After all, there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and there is nothing covered up that will remain undisclosed.”

7 Jesus said, “Lucky is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human. And foul is the human that the lion will eat, and the lion still will become human” (emphasis added).

GThom 13 states,

Jesus said to his disciples, “Compare me to something and tell me what I am like.” Simon Peter said to him, “You are like a just messenger.” Matthew said to him, “You are like a wise philosopher.” Thomas said to him, “Teacher, my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like.” Jesus said, “I am not your teacher. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring that I have tended.” And he took him, and withdrew, and spoke three sayings to him. When Thomas came back to his friends they asked him, “What did Jesus say to you?” Thomas said to them, “If I tell you one of the sayings he spoke to me, you will pick up rocks and stone me, and fire will come from the rocks and devour you” (emphasis added)

GThom 22 states:

Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, “These nursing babies are like those who enter the kingdom.”
They said to him, “Then shall we enter the kingdom as babies?”
Jesus said to them, “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom]” (emphasis added)

GThom 114:

Simon Peter said to them, “Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.” Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven” (emphasis added).

The Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas is radically different from the Jesus revealed in the NT Gospels. GThom has a private, esoteric emphasis throughout and presupposes the teaching of Jesus in the NT but claims to record secret, hidden words that are radically different from the NT Gospels.

Recall what Jesus said about believers (his followers) having faith (e.g. John 3:16), but GThom 1 says that Jesus’ disciples should find “the interpretation of these sayings” and for these people, they will not taste death.

This is not biblical Christianity.

There are enough statements in GThom to indicate clearly that the source of these words is not Jesus. Like the quote I gave you from GThom 114, part of which stated,

Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven” (emphasis added).

This is so contradictory to what Jesus stated in the four canonical gospels. Do you think that Jesus would say that a female must make herself a male to enter God’s kingdom?

This is heretical Gnostic teaching or Gnostic-like teaching. So, why are you wanting to accept GThom as a source of Jesus’ teaching? GThom has many places of foreign, heretical teaching when compared with the NT Gospels?

The Gnostic Society Library states:

The Gospel of Thomas, one of the Gnostic texts found preserved in the Nag Hammadi Library, gives these words of the living Jesus:

Jesus said, `I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become drunk from the bubbling stream which I have measured out…. 12
He who will drink from my mouth will become as I am: I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him.’ 13

Of GThom 13, the Gnostic Society Library makes this comment, ‘He who will drink from my mouth will become as I am: What a remarkably heretical image!’[3]

That’s about as good a summary as we will get of the heretical teaching in The Gospel of Thomas.

These are some quotes in the Gnostic Bible from the Gospel of Thomas? These are some examples:

  • The Gospel of Thomas (12) says that heaven and earth came into being for the sake of James (Yaakov). The Gnostic Bible, p. 47;
  • The Gospel of Thomas (31) says that a doctor does not heal those who know the doctor. Apparently those who know the Gnostic Jesus are not healed by him! The Gnostic Bible, p. 53;
  • In The Gospel of Thomas (57) Jesus mentions they have to bear the cross like he did. The Gnostic Bible, p. 57;
  • In the Gospel of Thomas (100) Jesus said to give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, give to God what is God’s, and “give me mine.” The Gnostic Bible, p. 67.

What about these sayings from GThom?

In GThom 108, Jesus says, “Whoever drinks from my mouth will become as I am; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to him.”

In GThom 70, Jesus says, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not bring it forth, what you do not have within you will kill you.”

So the Gnostic Society and The Gnostic Bible both consider that the Gospel of Thomas has Gnostic content. This GThom radical content is far, far from biblical Christianity as revealed in the NT Gospels. It is regarded as containing heresy by the Gnostic Society Library.

Evangelical Christians should also regard The Gospel of Thomas as containing heresy.

Nicholas Perrin (2007) is a researcher on the nature of the Gospel of Thomas. He states that it ‘issued from a mid-to-late second-century Syriac milieu’ (2007:viii). Perrin’s assessment is that

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 (Perrin 2007:139).

What is heresy?

In New Testament Greek, the term from which we get “heresy” is hairesis. Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek Lexicon states that hairesis means ‘sect, party, school’. It was used of the Sadduccees in Acts 5:17; of the Pharisees in Acts 15:5. Of the Christians in Acts 24:5. It is used of a heretical sect or those with destructive opinions in 2 Peter 2:1 (“destructive heresies” ESV).

The article on hairesis in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Vol. 1, p. 182ff) states that its “usage in Acts corresponds exactly to that of Josephus and the earlier Rabbis” but the development of the Christian sense of heresy does not parallel this Rabbinic use. When the ekklesia came into being, there was no place for hairesis. They were opposed to each other. This author states that “the greater seriousness consists in the fact that hairesis affect the foundation of the church in doctrine (2 Pt. 2:1), and that they do so in such a fundamental way as to give rise to a new society alongside the ekklesia” (Kittel Vol I:183).

From the NT, we see the term, heresy, being used to mean what Paul called strange doctrines, different doctrine, doctrines of demons, every wind of doctrine (See 1 Timothy 1:3; 4:1;6:3; Ephesians 4:14), as contrasted with sound doctrine, our doctrine, the doctrine conforming to godliness, the doctrine of God (See 1 Timothy 4:6; 6:1,3;2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 10).

I recommend Nicholas Perrin (2007) and Craig Evans (2007:52-77) for excellent assessments of the Gospel of Thomas and how it contradicts the NT Gospels.


Crossan, J D 1998. The birth of Christianity: Discovering what happened in the years immediately after the execution of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco. Also available (online) HERE (Accessed 13 September 2011).

Evans, C A 2007. Fabricating Jesus: How modern scholars distort the gospels. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Kittel, G (ed) 1964. Theological dictionary of the New Testament, trans. & ed. by G. W. Bromiley (vol 1). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

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


[1] A person stated this on Christian Forums, the thread, ‘The Gospel of Thomas’: ‘What is so heretical about the gospel of Thomas, found in the Nag Hamadi (sic) scripture. Much of what is found in the text can be found in the bible. The gospel of Thomas should be viewed as a source of Truth.
‘Afterall, if much of it is the words of Jesus then why can’t the rest of it be the words of Jesus? It places a new perspective on the word of Christ if what can be found within it can be believed to be true’.

[2] See a discussion of the Nag Hammadi Library on Wikipedia at: (Accessed 13 September 2011).

[3] A person on Christian Forums, ‘The Gospel of Thomas’ thread, stated, ‘I wasn’t suggesting that the gospel of Thomas should be added to the canon. I was merely suggesting that it should not be viewed as such heresy when it clearly has value. When it clearly contains the spoken words of Jesus, it may be that the whole thing is in fact the gospel of his disciple, the one they called Thomas. It’s not so far out there and the words spoken within the text are very Christ-like’. This person does not want to view the Gospel of Thomas as heretical. Hopefully, the following quotes from GThom will help to show that there are heretical teachings in GThom when compared with the NT Scriptures.


Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 7 October 2015.