I have just released a Bible Study that goes along with the popular book, The Case for Christ. (Now a popular movie on at theatres now.) Here is an excerpt:
“Tell me this,” I said with an edge of challenge in my voice, “is it really possible to be an intelligent, critically thinking person and still believe that the four gospels were written by the people whose names have been attached to them?”
Blomberg set his cup of coffee on the edge of his desk and looked intently at me. “The answer is yes,” he said with conviction.
He sat back and continued. “It’s important to acknowledge that strictly speaking, the gospels are anonymous. But the uniform testimony of the early church was that Matthew, also known as Levi, the tax collector and one of the twelve disciples, was the author of the first gospel in the New Testament; that John Mark, a companion of Peter, was the author of the gospel we call Mark; and that Luke, known as Paul’s ‘beloved physician,’ wrote both the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.”
“How uniform was the belief that they were the authors?” I asked.
“There are no known competitors for these three gospels,” he said. “Apparently, it was just not in dispute.”
Even so, I wanted to test the issue further. “Excuse my skepticism,” I said, “but would anyone have had a motivation to lie by claiming these people wrote these gospels, when they really didn’t?”
Blomberg shook his head. “Probably not. Remember, these were unlikely characters,” he said, a grin breaking on his face. “Mark and Luke weren’t even among the twelve disciples. Matthew was, but as a former hated tax collector, he would have been the most infamous character next to Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus!
“Contrast this with what happened when the fanciful apocryphal gospels were written much later. People chose the names of well-known and exemplary figures to be their fictitious authors—Philip, Peter, Mary, James. Those names carried a lot more weight than the names of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. So to answer your question, there would not have been any reason to attribute authorship to these three less-respected people if it weren’t true.”
That sounded logical, but it was obvious that he was conveniently leaving out one of the gospel writers. “What about John?” I asked. “He was extremely prominent; in fact, he wasn’t just one of the twelve disciples, but one of Jesus’ inner three, along with James and Peter.”
“Yes, he’s the one exception,” Blomberg conceded with a nod. “And interestingly, John is the only gospel about which there is some question about authorship.”
“What exactly is in dispute?”
“The name of the author isn’t in doubt—it’s certainly John,” Blomberg replied. “The question is whether it was John the apostle or a different John.
“You see, the testimony of a Christian writer named Papias, dated about AD 125, refers to John the apostle and John the elder, and it’s not clear from the context whether he’s talking about one person from two perspectives or two different people. But granted that exception, the rest of the early testimony is unanimous that it was John the apostle—the son of Zebedee—who wrote the gospel.”
“And,” I said in an effort to pin him down further, “you’re convinced that he did?”
“Yes, I believe the substantial majority of the material goes back to the apostle,” he replied. “However, if you read the gospel closely, you can see some indication that its concluding verses may have been finalized by an editor. Personally, I have no problem believing that somebody closely associated with John may have functioned in that role, putting the last verses into shape and potentially creating the stylistic uniformity of the entire document.
“But in any event,” he stressed, “the gospel is obviously based on eyewitness material, as are the other three gospels.”
Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ Movie Edition: Solving the Biggest Mystery of All Time (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017).
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