Thursday, February 25, 2010

Were the Gospels Written by Eyewitnesses?

It is often alleged that the Apostles of Jesus couldn’t have written the Gospels because they were illiterate. Bart Ehrman, Truth and Fiction in the DaVinci Code, writes:

“The only explicit reference to their literacy comes in the book of Acts, which indicates that two of the chief disciples, Peter and John, were in fact illiterate (Acts 4:13). What about the others? There’s little reason to think the story was different for them.” (p. 107)

When people make such claims, we always need to examine their supporting evidence. In this case, Ehrman offers only one piece of evidence:

Acts 4:13 – When they [the Sanhedrin] saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled (“agrammatos” = “illiterate?”), ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

By itself, it’s hard to gauge what “agrammatos” means. It is only used one time in the NT. Therefore, we are restricted to deducing its meaning from the context, which I think argues decisively for “unschooled.”

Notice that this had been the assessment of the educated Sanhedrin, the ruling spiritual body of Israel. This body formed their opinion about Peter and John based upon what they “saw” and “realized” about them! They couldn’t see or gauge whether or not they were illiterate – they would have needed a written test to assess this – but they could see that the two were simple, “unschooled and ordinary men.” Clearly, these disciples weren’t graduates of the “University of Jerusalem.”

I am not aware of even one Bible translation that translates “agrammatos” as does Ehrman. Given the context, this is entirely unsurprising. Why then does Ehrman promote such a counter-evidential conclusion?

Even if the Apostles were illiterate, what was there to prevent them from dictating their Gospels to a scribe? Only the presuppositions of our present-day scholars!

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