Defending the Gospels: Answers to Problems by John McClymont
in reply to "Shredding the Gospels" by Diogenes the Cynic


Defending the Gospels: Answers to Problems by John McClymont (in reply to "Shredding the Gospels")

Below are some attempts to respond to some problems raised by the article on your website which I have been corresponding with you about. I shall phrase the problems in my own words and respond. The problems are not necessarily in order of occurrence in the article and at some places I may have answered questions the article wasn't asking. But here goes anyhow, for your perusal. Acknowledgements are due to Lee Strobel (The Case for Christ) and other sources I have looked at (sources consulted or recommended below).

 1. Traditionally Mark's Gospel is said to have been written by a disciple of Peter who is presented in an embarrassing light.
 2. Doesn't Mark show signs of having been written after the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 AD?
 3.Why would Matthew quote verbatim another eyewitness, Mark?
 4. Was the Evangelist Luke the same one who knew Paul?
 5. Does John claim to be an eyewitness?
 6. Where did John, an illiterate fisherman, get his Hellenistic philosophy?
 7. Isn't John an anti-Jewish Gospel?
 8. Could all the words attributed to Jesus have been said by him and memorized exactly by John?
 9. Josephus relates that Theudas of Galilee came after Judas the Galilean not before him as Acts 5 suggests.
10. Since the permanent excommunication of Christians from the synagogue didn't take place till much later, why does John represent it as happening in Jesus' lifetime?
11. Would the Jews have tolerated it if Jesus had claimed to be God as John says?
12. Don't Matthew's and Luke's genealogies contradict one another?
13. Why are references to Jesus' flight to Egypt missing outside Matthew?
14. Does the story of the Magi suggest the Holy Family lived in Bethlehem rather than Nazareth?
15. Luke seems to locate Jesus' birth during the census of Quirinius in AD 6 whereas Matthew locates the birth before the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC.
16. Did the Sermon on the Mount take place on a hill or on the plain?
17. When was Passover in the year of Jesus' death: Thursday night or Friday night?
18. When was Jesus crucified, and when did Jesus die?
19. What were Jesus' last words?
20. Who bought the field in which Judas died?
21. In Mark 6:45, 53, if the disciples were journeying to Bethsaida, on the north eastern shore of the sea of Galilee, how come they ended up at Genessaret on the north-western shore, where presumably they were starting from?
22. If Jesus was journeying from Jericho to Jerusalem, would he have passed through Bethphage and Bethany in that order as Luke 19 suggests?
23. The Resurrection.
24. How is Jesus' route from the region of Tyre, through Sidon and then up through the midst of the territory of the Decapolis (Mark 7:31) geographically possible?
25. How can pigs from the territory of the Gadarenes or Gerasenes run directly into the sea of Galilee?
26. How can Bethany be "beyond the Jordan" if it is on the western side? (John 1:28).
27. How can Jesus (Mark 10:1) cross the Jordan into Judea from Capernaum, both of these being in the West?
28. Does Mark 10 make Jesus assume that a woman has a right of divorce under Jewish law?
29. Is Mark mistaken when he attributes to "all the Jews" practices relating to levitical conditions of purity?
30. Was Jesus' trial illegal in terms of Jewish law, being held on a festival day and imposing the death penalty for words that are not blasphemous?
31. Do the Gospels disagree with Josephus as to the date of John the Baptist?
32. Isaiah's prophecy generally applied to the virgin birth refers to an almah or young woman, not a virgin.
33. Matthew applies to Christ prophecies that literally apply to Israel.
34. What prophecies are being fulfilled in Matthew 26:56?
35. Why does Matthew attribute a prophecy of Zechariah to Jeremiah?
36. Why is Pilate called hegemon (procurator) when he was really prefect?
37. Why does Luke represent Lysanias the tetrarch as living in the days of John the Baptist when he died in the previous century?
38. Annas and Caiaphas were never simultaneously High Priest in John the Baptist's time.


Problem #1: Traditionally Mark's Gospel is said to have been written by a disciple of Peter. Yet the Gospel presents Peter and the other apostles in an embarrassing light and also omits a Petrine witness to the resurrection.

Applying to this question the principle of parsimony, we may note that it is a simpler theory to identify the author of Mark with the Mark mentioned elsewhere in tradition and in 1 Peter than to postulate distinct personages. The burden of proof is therefore on those who say it is a different Mark who wrote the Gospel.

The embarrassing picture of Peter does not contraindicate the idea of a single Mark since it can be explained by the idea that Mark is telling the truth and the apostles really were as bad as Mark paints them. Mark also presents stuff that is embarrassing for Jesus himself (the agony in the garden, the arrest in the fashion of a common criminal, desertion by his disciples, the words "My God my God why have you forsaken me") so it is not just Peter and the apostles who come off second best. The purpose of this material would not be to make Jesus look bad per se, but may be explained by the fact that Mark believes what he relates to have happened and seeks simply to tell the truth.

The hypothesis of "simply telling the truth" is a simpler one prima facie than the idea of some anti-Peterite agenda behind the text, and the burden of proof is on those who see an anti-Peterite agenda here. It seems psychologically improbable that an anti-Peterite Christian would try to embarrass Peter and the disciples, and then expose Jesus himself to similar embarrassment. People normally don't try to slander their rivals AND the people they admire. But if they are telling the truth they may uncover facts embarrassing to both. On the assumption of psychological normality in Mark (again parsimony favors a presumption in favor of the norm) it seems arguable that Mark uncovers facts embarrassing to both the apostles and Jesus because he is telling what he believes to be the truth, not covering up awkward stuff.

In explaining why there is no Petrine witness to the resurrection we need to take a position on the disputed ending. If Mark does cut off at 16:8 it is a simple matter to say that obviously stuff that happened to Peter later would not be included because the Gospel was never finished. But what if the ending is genuine?

The disputed ending of Mark (16:9-20) continues the Marcan tradition of Embarrassing Material in two ways. Firstly, it shows how the apostles, those great heroes of faith, not only disbelieved the initial reports of the resurrection but were rebuked for it by the risen Jesus. (There is a version of this ending which has the apostles defending themselves against Jesus' rebuke, that even if spurious shows how embarrassing this passage can be.)

Secondly, it places in Jesus' mouth a promise of miraculous power for the church which places believers in an awkward position if called to put up or shut up. This promise is not something that early church leaders would be likely to fabricate, particularly if they were unsure of their ability to handle snakes or drink poison on demand. Not that there aren't theological answers etc. to the difficulties raised here: but it is unlikely that unscrupulous churchmen (or believers) would purposely invent something that would cause embarrassment to them later. Miraculous gifts, OK; but not drinking poison.

Mark 16:20 clearly believes in apostolic authority. So anything that makes the apostles look bad makes the author of the disputed ending look bad and is unlikely to be a fabrication. Thus when the author of Mark 16:9-20 describes the skepticism of the apostles about the resurrection he is telling the truth.

On the principle that anything in a given narrative text either (1) was sincerely experienced, (2) was made up, (3) derives from a sincere experience, or (4) derives from a source that made it up, we may argue that embarrassing material which for any reason is unlikely to have been fabricated within the Christian community is therefore based on something genuinely experienced. Hence I conclude that Jesus DID actually make the promises related in the disputed ending.

Why then is this ending missing in ancient manuscripts? Conventional critical scholarship says it was added later. But there is another possibility: that the ending was DELETED because it was an embarrassment. This allows for a single authorship of Mark's Gospel and its disputed ending, which parsimony favors prima facie over the theory of double authorship.

If the apostolic skepticism (and the other embarrassing material in the Gospel) is true, then a Petrine experience of the risen Jesus is likely to have been a doubting Thomas kind of experience, placing Peter in an awkward position. And what would the risen Jesus have to say about Peter's denials? Possibly an individual Petrine apparition would cause problems for an admirer of Peter and paradoxically would be more likely to be passed over in silence. (Even in Luke the Petrine apparition is delicately glossed over: we are not told in explicit detail how the risen Lord made Peter eat his crow.) In any case we do have in the disputed ending a Petrine apparition in the sense of an apparition to Peter and all the disciples together. This corporate experience would be more important than a personal one and, though embarrassing for the rebuked community, would have the advantage of embarrassing all the apostles equally rather than singling out Peter for special treatment.

Problem #2: Doesn't Mark show signs of having been written after the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 AD?

Mark's prophecy says that "one stone will not be left upon another." But one who was writing after 70AD would have known that the Wailing Wall was still standing. While this can be reconciled with the facts (maybe Jesus only indicated some of the buildings, not all of them, as destined for destruction) nevertheless on first reading it suggests a state of affairs incompatible with the Wailing Wall and it poses awkwardness. It is not likely therefore to be a fabrication after the fact (which I would expect to avoid such awkwardness), but an original saying of Jesus. And it is the only evidence in Mark that could prove a post-70-AD awareness of the temple, since the reference to the abomination of the desolation is found in Daniel and could simply be an acceptance of Daniel's prophecy as applying to the end times.

Problem #3: Why would Matthew quote verbatim another eyewitness, Mark?

If Mark was genuinely a companion of Peter he would have a perspective on events, and know details, that Matthew did not. (Acknowledgements due to Lee Strobel here.)

Problem #4: Was the Evangelist Luke the same one who knew Paul?

According to parsimony the burden of proof is on those who postulate two Lukes instead of one. Moreover, the lack of mention of Paul's or Peter's death in Acts suggests an early date for Acts. We may also note that the attribution of the Gospel to Luke and not to somebody more impressive (like Peter or Thomas cf. the apocryphal Gospels) points in favour of genuine authorship.

Problem #5: Does John claim to be an eyewitness?

In John 19: 35 he does make this claim: the parallel with 20: 31 suggests it is the same person who witnessed the crucifixion and has written the Gospel so that people might believe. (Also why would a narrative make people believe if it had no authority behind it, or was not based on eyewitness material? Eyewitness status is claimed whether or not we agree that it was claimed truly.) John also, by giving a more complete picture of events (e.g. Jesus' words at the last supper, the doubting Thomas incident) places himself in an eyewitness position.

Problem #6: Where did John, an illiterate fisherman, get his Hellenistic philosophy?

From Philo Judaeus who was pre-Christian and whose phraseology (including "theos" without the definite article) is mirrored in John 1 although not followed exactly. Apart from John 1 there is nothing remarkably philosophical in the Gospel that I have noticed. There is nothing John could not have picked up in Jerusalem or somewhere by word of mouth from other more educated Jews: after being called by Jesus as a fisher of men one would assume he didn't stay a mere fisherman of fish all his life. (Note that the fact of being written in Greek already means there is Hellenistic influence on ordinary Jewish culture. Not all hellenistic-influenced persons lived in the 2nd century AD, particularly with the Septuagint and the very philosophical and pre-Christian Wisdom of Solomon already circulating among the Jews in Jesus' time.)

Problem #7: Isn't John an anti-Jewish Gospel?

In John 4:9, 22 Jesus is identified as a Jew and speaks in defense of Judaism although he admits that a new dispensation is in the offing. The Gospel is not totally anti-Semitic.

Problem #8: Could all the words attributed to Jesus have been said by him and memorized exactly by John?

The words attributed to him by John take about an hour to recite slowly, so it is possible for Jesus to have said the words of both John and the Synoptics during his lifetime. Differences between the Synoptics make it likely that the Evangelists are giving the gist of what Jesus said rather than the exact words and this may be the case during the discourse of the Last Supper. On the other hand, John also claims that the Holy Spirit would assist the apostles in remembering what Jesus had said to them so a Christian will not view exact memory of Jesus' words with the holy Spirit's help as a priori impossible.

Problem #9: Josephus relates that Theudas of Galilee came after Judas the Galilean not before him as Acts 5 suggests.

There may have been two Theudases. Josephus' Theudas was a magician and a false prophet but the Theudas of Acts is not identified as such and there is nothing to differentiate him from an ordinary trouble maker, possibly one of those who made trouble after the death of Herod the Great.

Note that from a parsimony perspective the postulation of a mistake amounts to a complication. So the theory of "only one Theudas, and Luke made a mistake" proposes two complications versus the one complication of an extra Theudas. If the mistake of Luke is explained as a misreading of Josephus then there is the further complication of an extra Luke postulated, since a Luke who read Josephus couldn't have been one who knew Paul. Parsimony therefore seems to favor the hypothesis of one Luke and two Theudases. There is a school of thought that regards Luke as a reliable historical source for conditions in the first century and thus is less inclined to admit he made a mistake with Theudas.

Problem #10: Since the permanent excommunication of Christians from the synagogue didn't take place till much later, why does John represent it as happening in Jesus' lifetime?

In addition to the birkat ha-minim, an extremely harsh treatment given by Jews to heretics, which was first applied to Christians in the LATTER half of the first century, history records milder degrees of excommunication that, while being revocable and remedial in intention, were nevertheless pretty grim and involved temporary exclusion from the congregation and other restrictions. John is probably referring to one of these milder kinds when he talks of people being cast out of the synagogue (aposynagogos).

Problem #11: Would the Jews have tolerated it if Jesus had claimed to be God as John says?

An explicit statement that "I am the Lord God! Bow down and worship me you puny mortals!" would indeed have hastened Jesus' death. Perhaps for this reason his claims of divinity are made very indirectly: for example in John 5:23 he says that all must honour the Son as they honour the Father. The conclusion that "therefore Jesus is God" is left to be inferred but not specifically shoved in the Jews' faces.

Problem #12: Don't Matthew's and Luke's genealogies contradict one another?

Luke calls Jesus the son, "as it was THOUGHT" of Joseph etc. So Luke is saying that the genealogy he gives was THOUGHT to be the true genealogy. He does not affirm that it actually was the true genealogy. He is simply mentioning it as a point of interest. Thus a belief in scriptural inerrancy is compatible with the belief that Luke's genealogy is inaccurate. To affirm that "Jesus was thought to be born of XYZ" is not equivalent to saying "Jesus was actually born of XYZ". The first can be true while the second is false: and Luke effectively affirms the first without committing himself to the second.

Problem #13: Why are references to Jesus' flight to Egypt missing outside Matthew?

Since the Gospels are not comprehensive accounts (intended to omit no detail whatsoever) we should not be surprised that stuff is mentioned in one Gospel that is not in another, and even that in different versions of the same story characters are mentioned in one version that are not mentioned in another and event B is mentioned as intervening between A and C in one account but not in another. Each Gospel is an incomplete picture of the facts and the truth is found by pooling the input of all of them.

So if Mark does not mention the flight into Egypt and the flight really happened, then Mark is incomplete but not necessarily in error or contradictory.

The reasons why the evangelists highlighted some events and not others (redaction criticism) is of course a legitimate area of research and compatible with a belief in biblical inerrancy.

Problem #14: Does the story of the Magi suggest the Holy Family lived in Bethlehem rather than Nazareth?

The only evidence of this is a reference to "the house". But this house was not necessarily owned by the Holy Family itself.

Problem #15: Luke seems to locate Jesus' birth during the census of Quirinius in AD 6 whereas Matthew locates the birth before the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC.

The Greek "prote...hegemoneuontos tes Surias Kureniou" may be translated as "before Quirinius was govenor of Syria." The protos + genitive construction is also seen in John 1:15 and postulating it here is not an anachronism. If Luke's census took place before Quirinius was governor of Syria then it was not in AD 6.

Problem #16: Did the Sermon on the Mount take place on a hill or on the plain?

It took place in both locations, because probably Jesus, like other popular speakers on religion even in our day, repeated similar stuff to different audiences.

Problem #17: When was Passover in the year of Jesus' death: Thursday night or Friday night?

The seven days of the Passover festival in Orthodox Judaism, according to Graubart's article on PASSOVER in Collier's Encyclopedia, start with TWO holy days, on each of which a Seder is eaten. In the year of Jesus' death Thursday and Friday night were both Seder nights.

Another solution proposed is that Jesus' disciples followed an Essene dating of the Passover which was different from the mainline dating.

Problem #18: When was Jesus crucified, and when did Jesus die?

Jesus was affixed to the Cross (crucified) shortly before the sixth hour or 12 noon. When Mark describes him as being crucified at the third hour, the third hour is a reference to the QUARTER that starts with the third hour (9-12 am). This "quarter" system is reflected in the monastic system of "hours" of prayer at three-hour intervals: Prime, Terce, Sext and None. Jesus died at the ninth hour or 3 pm.

Problem #19: What were Jesus' last words?

Jesus' last words were a cry: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. John has Jesus saying "It is finished" and then dying, but does not imply that death was immediate and that Jesus said nothing at all after "It is finished."

Problem #20: Who bought the field in which Judas died?

The field was brought by the priests with Judas' money, for strangers and possibly Judas himself to be buried in. When Acts says Judas acquired a field with the proceeds of his wickedness, the Greek (ektesato) need not imply that Judas bought the field himself: it is compatible with the state of affairs where Judas de facto "gets" a field for his own burial as a result of the priests buying it for him with his own money. Judas acquired the field not by buying it himself, but in the sense that the field was bought for him.

Problem #21: In Mark 6:45, 53, if the disciples were journeying to Bethsaida, on the north eastern shore of the sea of Galilee, how come they ended up at Genessaret on the north-western shore, where presumably they were starting from?

The journey described in Mark 6 started not from the north-western shore but from a point on the eastern shore - a lonely place where the feeding of the five thousand happened. From there the disciples were told to cross over to Bethsaida on the north eastern coast. This route would have taken them past the mouth of a river if I have read the map correctly. The envisaged crossing to Bethsaida was not over the sea of Galilee as a whole from west to east or vice versa, but between two points on respectively the eastern and north-eastern shore, over the mouth of a river emptying into the sea east of Bethsaida. From Bethsaida they would move on to Capernaum, to the west, if I interpret John 6 correctly.

It seems however that while the disciples set out in the direction of Bethsaida from the east coast they were blown off course in a storm and ended up at Genessaret on the north-western shore, whence they proceeded to their original planned destination of Capernaum.

Problem #22: If Jesus was journeying from Jericho to Jerusalem, would he have passed through Bethphage and Bethany in that order as Luke 19 suggests?

Luke is saying that Jesus approached (drew near to) the general area containing Bethany, Bethphage and the Mount of Olives. He does not imply that the locales were visited in that order.

The Tektonics apologetics website not only has a refutation of the "Luke knew Josephus" position, but it actually replies to the very article which Diogenes' post links to IIANM. Would it be lazy of me to not bother answering the "Luke knew Josephus" question off my own bat since anything I said would pretty much be a paraphrase of that article? (Holding has anticipated my reply to the question of the confusion of the sicarii and the Egyptians, suggesting that the confusion may be the centurion's rather than Luke's.)

Problem #23: The Resurrection.

Out of interest I will include some problems that Diogenes did NOT raise since in trying to harmonize the narratives completely I noticed that they came up.

The principle of non-comprehensiveness applies to any problems arising from simple omission of details or of apparitions. None of the accounts of the resurrection in the Evangelists or Paul claims to be a comprehensive account.

(a) Who was the first person to see Jesus alive?

The first people to see Jesus alive were Mary Magdalen and her female companions (Mary mother of James, Salome). John concentrates on Mary Magdalen only. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 does not mention the women but starts with the male testimony, this being authoritative in Jewish law.

(b) How many angels appeared at the tomb, and where were they located?

There were two apparitions:

1. One of an angel on his own moving the stone from the tomb, sitting on it, and frightening the soldiers;
2. The other one, within the tomb, of the same angel with a companion. Mark mentions only the angel on the right side, possibly because he had a superior status and was running the show.

(c) When did the stone get rolled away?

Apparition 1 took place before the women got there. Matthew 28:2-4 is an explanatory flashback (indicating that there HAD been an earthquake, the angel HAD moved the stone etc. before the women got there). The use of the simple past instead of the pluperfect is an Aramaism.

(d) Did Peter pay some early visits to the tomb? How often?

According to John Mary Magdalen found the tomb empty and told Peter, who verified the empty tomb with John. Then Peter and John left, leaving Mary Magdalen (and co. according to other Gospels) and after that Apparition 2 of the angels took place. The omission in the synoptics of the Petrine visit, between the women finding the stone moved and entering the tomb, proves incompleteness in the synoptic account but does not prove error.

John says that Peter found Jesus' linen clothes with the napkin for his head lying separately. This visit precedes the vision of the angels.

Luke says that Peter visited the tomb after the vision of the angels and found the linen clothes without the napkin. This passage is missing in certain ancient manuscripts and if it is not spurious, it indicates a second visit. If so, Peter's surprise mentioned by Luke may be because the napkin seen on his first visit has mysteriously disappeared.

(e) Did Peter and John believe in the risen Jesus during their first visit?

According to Mark 16:11, 14 the answer to that seems to be NO. When John says that the beloved disciple "believed" this could mean that he believed the tomb was empty: NOT that he believed the resurrection as yet. We may compare the view of the disciples at Emmaus in Luke: they believed the tomb was empty but NOT that Jesus was risen.

(f) Did the women and Mary Magdalen see Jesus suddenly as they turned back from the tomb, or some time after they had left it?

At the close of the apparition the women started to turn back and run to tell the apostles what they had seen. They saw Jesus standing there: and then Jesus came up to meet them. Matthew 28:9 need not imply that the women had got very far before Jesus met them: it is compatible with John's scenario where Jesus was visible the moment Mary Magdalen turned her back.

They did not necessarily understand properly the angels' message about the resurrection to start with, judging by the question Mary Magdalen asks about where Jesus' body has been put. (For someone who believes the resurrection is on the last day, the phrase "he is risen" in a present sense may not make immediate sense as it would for someone who has 2000 years of Christianity as a background.)

(g) Did the women tell their vision to anybody?

They did not tell any of the passers-by they met on the road (Mark 16:8) but eventually the apostles and the other disciples were informed (Luke 24:9).

(h) Does Mark 16:9 relate a different apparition from the one in 16:8?

Not necessarily. Oriental prose style permits one to re-approach the same subject from different perspectives instead of sticking rigidly to a linear sequence (cf. problem c. above). Thus it is possible that having described how the women escaped from inside the tomb and went home, speaking to nobody on the way, the author then zeroes in on Mary Magdalen personally, referring to what she saw and what she then did. This double take makes Mary Magdalen a particularly important witness of the resurrection in comparison with the other women (as does John's concentration on her alone.)

(i) After the apparition to Peter, did the apostles believe the reports of the people on the road to Emmaus?

Believing the latter does not follow from believing the former. It is conceivable that when the disciples from the road to Emmaus related their experience, the congregation believed in the apparition to Peter (Luke) but doubted the apparition to the disciples at Emmaus (Mark). This would be particularly the case if the time and place gap between the apparitions seemed unbelievable to them, seeming to have happened too soon and too far away in relation to Peter's apparition. The idea that a resurrected body has the power to travel anywhere at the speed of thought would not have been familiar to them.

(j) Was Thomas in the room when the disciples from the road to Emmaus were relating their experience?

According to Luke he was. Luke however states that while the disciples from the road to Emmaus were still speaking the risen Jesus appeared. But John says Thomas missed that appearance. Luke and John may be reconciled by assuming that Thomas left the room in the midst of the report given by the disciples who had been on the road to Emmaus.

(k) Did Jesus rebuke Thomas only or all the disciples for their lack of faith in his resurrection?

He rebuked all of them (Mark). John concentrates perhaps on the one whose expression of disbelief was most intense.

(l) Where did the ascension take place?

On the mount of Olives in the vicinity of Bethany. Luke describes Jesus as going "towards Bethany" and probably describes a journey into the Bethany region (where the mount of Olives was) rather than a visit to the city.

The Galilee apparition in Matthew 28 is not necessarily the ascension apparition, although it is the last one mentioned by Matthew. The Marcan apparition, given its Pentecostal reference to miraculous gifts (maybe Acts 1:8 was expanded on and Acts gives us only part of what Jesus said), may have been the final one (cf. verse 19). See above for further stuff on the resurrection and the Petrine appearance.

About the general geographical problems raised: The Gospels have Jesus going from the REGION OF TYRE through Sidon etc., not from the actual city of Tyre: and similarly he goes to the REGION of the Gadarenes/Gerasenes not to their actual city. I take the region to be the territory in a broad sense which the city in question is found. The region of Tyre = Syrophoenicia generally and the region of Gadara/Gerasa = the Decapolis generally. So Jesus may have gone from a point in Syrophoenicia NORTH of Sidon, down through Sidon and further southward, then turning east and going around the south of the Sea of Galilee to reach the south-eastern coast in the Decapolis region. Also: "beyond" the Jordan is not necessarily east of it but can also be SOUTH of it, south of the point where it enters the Dead Sea: see the position of Bethany on the map. Could this solve difficulties raised on the geography of places "beyond the Jordan."?

Problem #24: How is Jesus' route from the region of Tyre, through Sidon and then up through the midst of the territory of the Decapolis (Mark 7:31) geographically possible?

The "region of Tyre" is not the city but the general region where Tyre is i.e. Syrophoenicia generally. Land north of Sidon belongs in "the region of Tyre" as so defined. Jesus could have gone from a point north of Sidon southward through Sidon (and Tyre itself) and along the coast, before turning east and going round the sea of Galilee on its southern edge and then upward along the eastern shore, in the process going "up through" the northwest of the Decapolis region.

Problem #25: How can pigs from the territory of the Gadarenes or Gerasenes run directly into the sea of Galilee?

The "territory" of the Gadarenes or Gerasenes where Jesus met the demoniac is not the city of Gadara or Gerasa but the region where the city is found i.e. the Decapolis generally (cf. 24 above). The south-east shore of the sea of Galilee lies within this region, and it is here that he met the demoniac.

It is also possible that the "Gadarenes" or "Gerasenes" are a corruption of a reference to "Gergesenes" in the original texts. Gergesa is directly on the shore of the sea of Galilee.

Problem #26: How can Bethany be "beyond the Jordan" if it is on the western side? (John 1:28).

According to the Jerusalem Bible's map there was another Bethany just north-east of the Dead Sea in addition to the Bethany outside Jerusalem. 

Problem #27: How can Jesus (Mark 10:1) cross the Jordan into Judea from Capernaum, both of these being in the West?

The text doesn't say that he "crossed" the Jordan. According to the text he went "beyond" the Jordan. This can be understood of going beyond the Jordan in a southward direction i.e. past the southernmost point of the Jordan where it enters the Dead Sea. In other words Jesus went "beyond the Jordan" to the south, not the east.

Problem #28: Does Mark 10 make Jesus assume that a woman has a right of divorce under Jewish law?

Jesus' words discourage divorce by women. His words in 10:5-9 are expounding the nature of the marriage of Adam and Eve, which has implications for Gentiles as well as Jews, and it is possible his disciple's query "on the same matter" (v. 10) involves the implications of Adam and Eve's marriage for Gentile as well as Jewish conduct. Thus the divorce by women he refers to may be a Gentile rather than a Jewish practice.

Problem #29: Is Mark mistaken when he attributes to "all the Jews" practices relating to levitical conditions of purity?

Although the Sadducees restricted the levitical conditions of purity to the priests alone (while many of them practiced these conditions being priests themselves) the Pharisees were divided on this matter, some extending the laws of purity beyond the priesthood. The Essenes extended these laws to everyone. Thus in each of the main sects of Judaism there were Jews who observed the laws Mark refers to. "All the Jews" may be understood not as every individual Jew but all the sects of Judaism. Each of the three sects, at least in part, observed these laws. (Acknowledgements to Gedalyahu Alon).

Problem #30: Was Jesus' trial illegal in terms of Jewish law, being held on a festival day and imposing the death penalty for words that are not blasphemous?

The scriptures say that the Sanhedrin tried Jesus. The word is ambiguous since it could mean the formal court of the Sanhedrin itself, or the people who normally composed the Sanhedrin albeit not convened formally as a court. Gedalyahu Alon argues that the conduct of the High Priest does not resemble a formal Sanhedrin session so probably the people who tried Jesus were not convened formally as a court. (Hence we may explain the place it was held and the irregular time of day.)

A trial which was not a formal judicial investigation and conviction, but a mere ascertainment of the facts and a judgment of guilt based on evidence provided by the accused, was permitted on a Sabbath day or festival. Jewish law allowed people accused of being instigators to be put to death even on a festival day without formal trial, and Jesus was handed over to Pilate in his capacity as a troublemaker (John 18:30). The inscription on the cross said "King of the Jews" which his accusers wanted to be changed to "this man said, I am the King of the Jews."

Jesus' claim of divine sonship, understood as a claim of divinity, would have appeared blasphemous to the Jews. Hence the High priest and company deemed him worthy of death for blasphemy, even though they were not constituted formally as a proper court and could not legally sentence him to death for blasphemy in terms of Jewish law. They could however have him declared guilty of instigation without convening a formal court, and bring him before Pilate on that basis, and that is what they did. In this way Jesus would get what they thought he deserved.

On my treatment of the problem of the irregularity of Jesus' trial: I feel I should add that the idea that instigators could under Jewish law be put to death without formal trial refers to an interpretation that Gedalyahu Alon says was held at the time, if I understand him correctly. Whether the Holy Spirit would have agreed with this interpretation is another story.

Note: on whether my answer is compatible with Catholic teaching -- I think the Catechism (CCC 591) is compatible with my position because I believe that the priests deemed him worthy of receiving the death sentence as a blasphemer although under the circumstances Jesus, if I understand matters correctly, could not be formally tried and convicted of blasphemy on a festival day, and they had him brought before Pilate on an alternative charge of being a troublemaker.

Problem #31: Do the Gospels disagree with Josephus as to the date of John the Baptist?

Josephus does not AFAICS give indications of a date for the death of John the Baptist, but does give indications for a later event in Herod's life viewed as punishment for the death of John the Baptist. John the Baptist could have died any time before this.

Problem #32: Isaiah's prophecy generally applied to the virgin birth refers to an almah or young woman, not a virgin.

An almah is a young woman of marriageable age so virginity is suggested. Also the birth is said by the prophet to be a sign: but a non-virgin birth is not miraculous and so arguably would not be a sign.

Problem #33: Matthew applies to Christ prophecies that literally apply to Israel.

Scripture has many levels, and the events it describes in Israel's life were treated by early Christians as symbols of still other events, mainly Christological ones. Nothing prevents a prophecy from having multiple meanings, referring at one level to Israel and at another level to Christ. It is true that the extra level of meaning will not be obvious to people who look at the old Testament without Christian spectacles. Thus the quoting of prophecy by the New Testament is not always apologetic in purpose but may be a way of meaningfully relating Jesus' life to the Old Testament background, drawing connections between the Old Covenant and the New.

Problem #34: What prophecies are being fulfilled in Matthew 26:56?

Probably the prophecies of the Messiah being put to death in Isaiah 53 and elsewhere.

Problem #35: Why does Matthew attribute a prophecy of Zechariah to Jeremiah?

The prophecy in Matthew 27 is not an exact quotation of Zechariah, so we don't know for certain it was from Zechariah at all. It may be a saying of Jeremiah not handed down in the scriptures.

Problem #36: Why is Pilate called hegemon (procurator) when he was really prefect?

The word hegemon means "leader" and is applicable to procurators, prefects, emperors and Presidents of the United States of America. The mistake here is in the English translation, not the original.

Problem #37: Why does Luke represent Lysanias the tetrarch as living in the days of John the Baptist when he died in the previous century?

Archaeology has discovered a second Lysanias who was tetrarch in Abila in the time of Tiberius.

Problem #38: Annas and Caiaphas were never simultaneously High Priest in John the Baptist's time.

Although Annas was deposed from his high priesthood, he would not necessarily have voluntarily relinquished his title (cf. people who carry on calling themselves Captain even after they have left the army.). Initially the office of high priest was for life, and the later circumstance of its being held for a shorter period was regretted by pious Jews.

John McClymont

STTJOHMC


Sources Consulted or Recommended

  • Jews, Judaism and the Classical World: Studies in Jewish History in the time of the Second Temple and Talmud by Gedalyahu Alon (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1977)
  • Jews in the Hellenistic World: Philo by P. Williamson (Cambridge Univ Press, 1989)
  • The New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible edited by H. S. Gehman (The Westminster Press, 1970)
  • The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume VII by G. Kittel, et al (Eerdmans Publishing, 1971)
  • An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon by Liddell and Scott
  • The Question Box by B. L. Conway (The Paulist Press, 1929)
  • "PASSOVER" by D. Graubart in Colliers Encyclopedia, Volume 18 (1966)
  • "JOHN THE BAPTIST" by C. W. Davis in Colliers Encyclopedia, Volume 13 (1966)
  • Josephus IX, Jewish Antiquities Books XVIII-XX translated by L.N. Feldman (William Heinemann LTD, 1965)
  • The Jerusalem Bible (especially the biblical map at the back)
  • The Case For Christ edited by Lee Strobel (book and available as DVD)
  • The Case For Faith edited by Lee Strobel (book and available as DVD)

P also highly recommends these works of conservative evangelical and Catholic scholarship:

  • The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by F. F. Bruce (Intervarsity/Eerdmans, 1981 sixth edition)
  • The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg (Intervarsity, 1987, revised/updated 2nd edition, 2007)
  • An Introduction to the New Testament by Raymond Brown (Doubleday, 1997)
  • Can We Trust the Gospels? by Mark D. Roberts (Crossway Books, 2007)
  • What are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography by Richard Burridge (Cambridge / Eerdmans, 1992, 2004)
  • Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham (Eerdmans, 2006)
  • The Evidence for Jesus by R.T. France (Intervarsity Press, 1986) 
  • A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (volume 1) by John P. Meier (Anchor / Doubleday, 1991)
  • Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus edited by Wilkins / Moreland (Zondervan, 1995)
  • The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels by L.T. Johnson (HarperSanFrancisco, 1996)
  • Jesus and the Victory of God by N. T. Wright (Fortress, 1996)
  • The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ by Gary Habermas (College Press, 1996)
  • Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels by Craig Evans (Intervarsity, 2006)
  • The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition by Eddy / Boyd (Baker Academic, 2007)

John McClymont -- October 2008


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