Biblical Research & Education Resources
Blaine Robison, M.A., M.R.E.
Witnesses of the Good News
Published 2 January 2012; Revised 12 July 2021
Sources: The meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the article. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ) and Besorah/Besorot (gospel/apostolic narratives).
Four apostles wrote narratives of Yeshua's life and ministry and his continued work through the apostles empowered by the Holy Spirit. The narratives of Yeshua's life were written by Jews to Jews about Jews living in the land of Israel. So their point of view should be considered in labeling these works of literature as well as defining their contents. Few Christians when reading any of the apostolic writings stop to consider, as David Stern says, that the "New Testament is a Jewish book, written by Jews, largely about Jews, and meant for both Jews and Gentiles" (ix). Bivin also affirms that the religion, traditions and concepts of the New Testament are Hebraic (4). Avi Brickner of Jews for Jesus says, "We see nothing in the New Testament that is non-Jewish or anti-Jewish. To the contrary, it is interwoven with Jewish hope and prophetic promise." The apostolic narratives as the letters are thoroughly Jewish works. See my web article The Jewish New Testament.
In Christianity the first four of the apostolic narratives are known as the "Gospels," but the apostles do not use this term to describe their literature. Matthew uses Grk. biblos, "book" (Matt 1:1) and Mark uses Grk. euangelion, "good news" (Mark 1:1). Luke uses Grk. diēgēsis, "narrative, account, or record" (Luke 1:1). John uses Grk. marturia, "testimony" (John 19:35; 21:24) and biblion, "book" (John 20:30) to describe his historical narrative of Yeshua. Given the origin of "gospel" in Old English ("gōd-spell"), many Jews regard the word as a distinctively Christian word.
The word "gospel" in Christian Bibles is a translation of Grk. euangelion, which originally meant a reward for good news and then simply good news. The term is formed from Grk. eu, "good," and angelia, "message, announcement." In the Septuagint (LXX) euangelion renders besorah, which may mean either a reward for good news (2Sam 4:10; 18:22) or glad tidings (2Sam 18:20, 25; 2Kgs 7:9). The good news proclaimed by the Jewish apostles was that God had fulfilled His promises given to Israel through the prophets and sent His Messiah in Jewish flesh to provide deliverance and atonement and to establish his kingdom on the earth (Matt 1:1, 20-23; Mark 1:1; Luke 1:30-37, 68-75; 24:44; John 1:29; 20:31; Rom 1:1-4, 16).
Bible scholars often write about the differences between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, giving them different audiences and different purposes. Let's consider first the commonalities between these books.
The apostles present Yeshua's life and teachings in a compelling portrait quite foreign to the culturally-defined "Jesus" present in art and other visual media. Yeshua has been variously depicted as a suffering victim, apocalyptic prophet, gentle shepherd, everyone's good buddy or blue-eyed hippie spouting peace and love. The physical appearance rarely approaches the semblance of a first-century Jewish rabbi who grew up in a Jewish home in the small town of Nazareth and lived and traveled solely in the holy land. Yeshua called Jews (not Gentile Christians) into His service as apostles and called all his followers to a radical obedience.
The purpose of the apostolic narratives is declared wherever the word "Christ" appears, but most Christians are ignorant of the fact that "Christ" is a Jewish word. In the Besekh the Greek word Christos is the expected fulfiller of the hopes of Israel for an end-time deliverer, the Anointed One or Messiah (Danker). In Greek culture christos had no religious connotation at all, but described someone smeared with whitewash, cosmetics or paint, and was anything but an expression of honor. As a personal reference it even tended toward the disrespectful (DNTT 2:334). Christos was chosen deliberately by the Jewish translators of the LXX to render Mashiach ("Anointed One") and in so doing infused new meaning into the Greek word.
In a significant sense there are not four narratives but one, namely, the Good News of who Yeshua is and what he has done in the flesh and through his Spirit. The apostolic narratives are not simply biographies as much as theological narratives telling of God's works in the Land of Israel and the Diaspora, i.e., His-Story. Each apostolic narrative presents this Good News in its own way, just as four honest witnesses to an event will each have his own version of what happened. However, all of them present Yeshua as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the Son of Man of Daniel, the Messiah of Israel, the King of the Jews and the Son of God. In him the Kingdom of God came and took up reign in the hearts of faithful disciples.
Not only do the apostolic narratives reflect authentic Jewish culture but they bear the marks of Spirit-inspired Scripture. Not often considered by scholars is that about A.D. 67 when Paul wrote "All Scripture is inspired" (2Tim 3:16) he not only meant the sacred writings that Timothy knew from his youth (the Tanakh), but also the apostolic works (cf. 2Pet 3:15-16). By A.D. 67 the apostolic narratives had been written and in circulation and they were "sacred" to followers of Yeshua. During the last supper Yeshua gave this promise to his apostles, "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26 mine). Thus, we may be confident that with divine inspiration and their own personal remembrance the apostles left an accurate record of Yeshua's teaching.
The apostolic narratives were written by men who knew Yeshua personally. All the narratives reflect this kind of first-hand experience. The fact that none of the narratives makes a claim of authorship is not a problem for assuming apostolic composition. "Unlike the Greek, the Jew had no personal pride in authorship, probably because he so often felt himself the vehicle of something before which his own personality sank into insignificance" (Tarn & Griffith 229). While none of the narratives contains a superscription by the author, early church fathers were unanimous in their conviction that the narratives were authored by the well-known Evangelists.
Irenaeus (120-202 A.D.): "2. Matthew published his Gospel among the Hebrews in their own language, while Peter and Paul were preaching and founding the church in Rome. 3. After their departure Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also transmitted to us in writing those things which Peter had preached; and Luke, the attendant of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel which Paul had declared. 4. Afterwards John, the disciple of the Lord, who also reclined on his bosom, published his Gospel, while staying at Ephesus in Asia." (Eusebius, Church History, Book V, §8)
Jewish culture dominates the landscape of the apostolic narratives. While there are mentions of various non-Jewish cultures, they only occur as they impact the main Israelite characters of God's Story. Christian scholarly works tend to minimize this Jewish characteristic by substituting references such as "biblical culture" or "Mediterranean culture." The God of the Bible is concerned with life in Israel and among His people. References to the Jewish identity of the principal characters in the narratives abound. These include the genealogies, the many references to Jewish groups, institutions and religious practices of the Jews.
The vocabulary, literary style and grammar of all the apostolic narratives are thoroughly Jewish. Christian scholars typically describe the Greek of the Besekh as Koiné ("common") that reflects the Hellenistic culture of that time. However, the Greek of the narratives (as well as the rest of the Besekh) is the Greek common to the LXX, the Greek translation of the Tanakh completed two hundred years before Yeshua. The syntax of the LXX is not the classical style of Athens, but an adapted Greek designed to convey the meaning of the Hebrew language within Hebraic grammatical style, often infusing totally new meaning into the Greek words. As David Hill of The University of Sheffield affirms, "Not only word-meanings in the New Testament, but also the structure and syntax of New Testament language bear the impress of a special Hebraic influence channeled, for the most part, through the Septuagint" (14).
Christian scholars typically say that Matthew was written especially for the Jews, Mark for the Romans, Luke for the Greeks and John for all nations (DSB 1002). However, this approach is somewhat simplistic given that none of the apostolic narratives makes such claims. The narratives are not evangelistic tracts in the strict sense of the term with an appeal at the end of the story. The narratives are not really "seeker friendly," that is, geared to introduce the non-believing pagan to a loving culture-neutral monotheistic deity. The narratives with their particular content, like the Good News itself, were intended first for the Jews, whether in the land of Israel or the Diaspora.
The intended community may be seen in the very manner of writing. The Narratives are all written by Jews within the context of Israel. Much of the story of Yeshua's life would be incomprehensible for anyone ignorant of Israel's Scriptures, history and culture. In fact, the apostles frequently insert explanatory notes to help the non-Jewish reader understand aspects of Jewish culture. The frequent appeal in the Narratives to the Tanakh as being fulfilled has relevance only to Israel, not Rome or Athens. As Paul says, the Good News is for the Jew first (Rom 1:16) and the Narratives reflect this sensitivity.
The record of Irenaeus quoted above suggests the sequence of writing, as well as the influence of Peter and Paul on the work of Mark and Luke. Irenaeus is clear that the histories of Yeshua were written within the lifetimes of the authors. In the first century context, "published" and "transmitted" are synonymous terms. The qualification of Luke's narrative that it was that which "Paul declared" probably refers to the Luke-Acts as a single work. Clement does address the matter of sequence:
"6. The Gospels containing the genealogies, he says, were written first. The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. 7. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it. But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel." (Eusebius, Book VI, §14:6-7)
At one time liberal Christian scholarship ascribed very late dates to the Narratives (70 to 100 A.D.), especially John, even into the second century. A small minority of scholars have suggested that the Narratives are the invention of the Church and contain little of the actual words of Yeshua. E. Earle Ellis explains the assumptions of 19th century literary criticism that resulted in late dates for the apostolic writings:
A. Early Christian theology underwent a dialectical development that may be traced in the New Testament and that New Testament writings may be progressively dated, then, in terms of their theological divergence from the books among them identified as the earliest.
B. Authorship of the New Testament books was an individual enterprise in which the author alone originated and dictated his book and that, consequently, genuineness of authorship may be tested in terms of the author's style and vocabulary elsewhere or in terms of what is considered appropriate to him.
C. Jews living in the Land had a distinctive Semitic linguistic, cultural, and religious thought-pattern and that, therefore, New Testament documents reflecting "Hellenistic" idiom and ideas cannot have been written by Yeshua's disciples and belong to a subsequent stage of development.
John A.T. Robinson in his landmark book Redating the New Testament depicts the assumptions of the literary critics similarly: First, a period of oral tradition preceded and was in turn succeeded by the period of written tradition. The writing down of traditions did not begin until after a considerable stretch of oral transmission, its passing being marked by the passing of the first apostolic generation or the fading hope of the Second Coming. When the writing began, the traditions were transmitted and mutually influenced almost exclusively by the processes of literary dependence, as one writer "used", "copied", or "altered another" (346).
Second, the Jewish origin of the apostolic community meant that the first generation of Yeshua followers did not speak Greek, whether they were from Galilee, Jerusalem or the Diaspora. Therefore the Hellenistic language of New Testament writings indicates a later (post A.D. 70) development. Robinson says, "There is nothing inherently impossible about the notion that both the epistle of James, and the first draft of the gospel of John could be very Jewish and very early and be written in Greek" (347). Indeed, the existence of the Septuagint is prima fascia evidence of the facility of Jews in the first century with the Greek language.
Third, "there was an indefinite number of totally unrecorded and unremembered figures in the history of early Christianity who have left absolutely no mark except as the supposed authors of much of its greatest literature" (347). He says that scholars invoke pseudonymity as if it were an accepted and acceptable way of life at a date and to an extent for which we simply have no evidence. The fact is that the apostolic writings reveal none of the telltale marks associated with works belonging to the Pseudepigrapha.
Robinson is one of the few scholars who advocates early dates for all the Narratives, including John. (Most Christian scholars date John from 80 to 100 A.D.)
These early dates are not just for the Narratives, but the entire Besekh. (See the dating chart of Robinson here.) Robinson wonders at the fact that there is not even a hint in the apostolic writings of Nero's persecutions after A.D. 64 or of the execution in A.D. 62 of Jacob ("James"), the Lord's brother. There is not the slightest mention of the Jewish revolt against the Romans, which began in A.D. 66, or of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. In his opinion Matthew—John were written before Paul's first imprisonment, and all the books before Jerusalem's destruction. Robinson offers extensive proofs which have never been effectively rebutted.
Risto Santala (1929-2012), a Lutheran scholar and expert in Hebrew and early Jewish literature concurred with Robinson:
"Critics have generally drawn their conclusions regarding the authenticity of the gospels and of the words of Jesus on the basic assumption that the New Testament is no more than the expression of the beliefs of the early church 50-80 years after Jesus' death. If this were the case then it would be quite natural for Hellenistic thought to have already affected the content of the gospel. But if it transpires that the gospels were put into the Greek form we know today as early as 50-60 AD and that their background too betrays a Hebrew draft stage, then the content of the gospels also receives a new trustworthiness. In this way the New Testament will present a picture of the "historical Jesus" and will transmit to us much more than "the faith of the early church" and that church's experience of the "redemption event." (47)
Christian scholars generally ignore Robinson and persist in their inaccurate assumptions and prejudices in spite of the internal evidence for pre-70 dates.
· Presence of the Sadducees: Matthew speaks of the controversy and opposition of the Sadducees, who essentially disappeared after the destruction of Jerusalem. Caesar Vespasian favored the Pharisee leader Yochanan ben Zakkai and permitted him to establish a rabbinical school at Yavneh (Jamnia). Notice the present tense of Matthew 22:23; Mark 12:18; and Luke 20:27, "who say there is no resurrection" not "who used to say." John does not speak of the Sadducees by name, but we may infer their existence by his reference to priests and scribes (1:19; 7:32; 8:3; 11:47, 57; 12:10; 18:3, 35; 19:6, 15, 21), who were almost without exception Sadducees. The Besekh gives no hint of the end of the Sadducees.
· Mention of Jerusalem and Temple: The apostolic narratives mention Jerusalem for a total of 125 times and the temple for a total of 84 times without any hint that they no longer existed. The destruction of the city and temple was a cataclysmic event in the history of Israel. It's unthinkable that the Jewish authors writing as historians would neglect to describe the fulfillment of prophecy if they were writing later than A.D. 66, especially in passages of prophetic destruction where a mention would be logical, such as Matthew 24:2; Mark 13:2; Luke 21:20-24 and John 4:21. In reality, it is Josephus who provides a first-hand account of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in his work The Wars of the Jews. The date of the destruction of Jerusalem, the 9th of Av, thereafter became an annual fast day for Jews. It is unthinkable that the Jewish authors of the Narratives would fail to mention the cause of continuing sorrow.
· Landmarks: There is a mention in John 5:2 of the presence of the sheep gate near the Temple. Note the present tense of the verb, "there is," not "there was." Consider the mention of Bethany in John 11:18. Versions translate the opening clause "Now Bethany was near Jerusalem." The Greek is literally "Being and (or but) Bethany near." The first word in the sentence is the verb eimi (following Hebrew construction) in the imperfect tense. The imperfect tense is an auxiliary to the present tense, built on the present stem, functioning for it in the indicative to refer to continuous action in past time. The imperfect is a sort of moving panorama designed to help you see the course of the act (DM 186). John is not saying that Bethany no longer existed when he wrote this, but he is making an event of Yeshua's life as vivid as possible, kind of like "You are there."
· Prophecy of Peter's Death: Yeshua predicted that Peter would die before John (John 21:18-19), but nowhere in the Besekh is the death of Peter mentioned has having occurred. If John's narrative had been written as late as generally assumed, then Peter's death would likely have been mentioned in conjunction with its prediction.
There is no external evidence for a date later than A.D. 70 for any of the narratives and no justifiable reason for ignoring the internal evidence. Any claim of a later date has the effect of impugning the integrity of the authors.
By A.D. 200 the apostolic narratives had been clearly recognized along with other apostolic writings as having the authority of Scripture. In terms of classification the first three are may be considered as Synoptic Narratives (the word "synoptic" means "same viewpoint"), since many of the same incidents are reported in two or three of them, often in similar or even identical language. Scholars have attempted to explain the differences and similarities in the Synoptics, often by postulating that one writer copied from another, or, that two or all three of them had direct or indirect access to the same oral or written sources. For a discussion of this subject see my web article The So-Called Synoptic Problem.
The great apostle bore two names. He is identified as 'Matthew' (Grk. Matthaios), the Greek form of the Hebrew name Mattiyahu, ("gift of YHVH"). The name Matthew hearkens back to a great Israelite hero, Matthias the Maccabean and Jewish priest, who rallied Jews against the tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes. Matthias has a central role in the story of Hanukkah. Matthew also had another Hebrew name, Levi (Grk. Leui), and is identified as the son of Alphaeus (Mark 2:14) and the brother of the apostle Jacob ("James") the Less, or, Jacob, son of Alphaeus (Matt 10:3). Levi means "attached" in Hebrew (Gen 29:34). In the Tanakh, Levi is the third son of Jacob and Leah, and his tribe was a strong supporter of Moses during the wilderness years (Ex 32:26).
It seems significant that unlike other apostles with two names of different languages (e.g., Simon Peter), Matthew had two Hebrew names, both distinguished in Israelite history. One could hypothesize that perhaps like his namesakes, Matthew-Levi the apostle was of the tribe of Levi.
The Tax Collector
Matthew is spoken of five times in the Narrative, beginning at Matthew 9:9 (para. Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27) where he is called by Yeshua. Matthew was working as a tax collector in Capernaum at the time of his call (Matt 10:3).
In 1 BC Caesar Augustus imposed a direct form of taxation in which each province was required to pay a wealth (or income) tax of about 1% and a flat poll tax of one drachma on each adult. The Roman government also created a wide variety of taxes on commerce such as sales taxes, highway tolls, customs at border crossings and assorted government fees. The income and poll taxes relied on a regular census being taken to evaluate the taxable number of people and their income/wealth status (UNRV).
After the death of Herod the Great and the appointment of a Roman procurator, Jewish tax collectors in Judea worked directly for the Imperial Treasury under the supervision of foreign publicani and assisted in the census taking and collecting the taxes that had been assessed. However, in Galilee tax collectors served Herod Antipas directly. Similar to the publicani, Jewish tax collectors were independent contractors, not civil servants, and earned their income from fees charged to individual taxpayers for banking services.
The toll-house in Capernaum where Matthew worked was an important center commanding both the routes from the Sea of Galilee and also the great land road that ran from Damascus to the Mediterranean, the "way of the sea" (Matt 4:15). Custom could thus be levied on all goods carried by ship or caravan. Tariff rates on travel and commerce were often vague and indefinite, and this arbitrariness made the system oppressive. Archaeological evidence from the region concern the toll on fish, and it is possible that a toll on catches of fish was collected at Capernaum as well. If so, Matthew would have known the fishermen-disciples, and probably Yeshua himself, who used Capernaum as his headquarters. This would explain Matthew's immediate and total response to Yeshua's call to discipleship (DNTT 3:757).
Jewish tax collectors were considered sinners, primarily because of who they worked for, not their fiduciary competence. Moreover, the tax collectors were disobeying the Torah prohibition of numbering and thus helping to perpetuate tyranny of the Romans and the Herod family. Paying taxes using the Roman coins with Caesar's imprint was tantamount to declaring that Caesar replaced God as the rightful King of Israel. Finally, the taxes being collected were regarded as too heavy and the equivalent of robbery. By virtue of this viewpoint a tax collector was automatically considered a robber and therefore a "sinner."
While commentators generally assume that the Jewish tax collectors in the first century were all crooks, nowhere in the apostolic writings is the integrity of any Jewish tax collector impugned nor is any tax collector actually accused of theft. To shred someone's reputation with broad generalizations and no evidence of actual wrongdoing is called defamation.
Being labeled a "sinner" the Jewish tax collector faced a number of restrictions. He was generally a religious outcast, which meant he would be unable to attend synagogue services. He could not serve as a judge or give testimony as a witness in a court case. No alms would be accepted from him if the money came from tax profits. Living as a pariah to the religious elite one can easily understand how tax collectors, such as Matthew, were happy to have Yeshua's company.
Unfortunately, the narrative does not satisfy our curiosity of how Matthew, especially if he was a Levite, should become a tax collector. As a tax collector he would have been literate in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic and Latin, experienced in keeping records and probably knew shorthand.
The Apostle of Yeshua
The apostolic record gives little information on the activity of Matthew. Some believe he had become a disciple of Yochanan the Immerser (cf. Acts 1:21-22), which may explain Matthew's immediate response when called by Yeshua (Mark 2:14-17). He was not of the inner circle, but he is especially noted for the feast he hosted in honor of Yeshua (Luke 5:29). The occasion was marked by complaints from certain Pharisees and Yeshua's response "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32). Later Matthew is mentioned in conjunction with the mission of the Twelve (Matt 10) to proclaim the good news and heal the sick (Matt 10:7-8) and finally he experiences the empowerment of the Holy Spirit with the other apostles on Pentecost (Acts 1:13; 2:4).
Christian tradition says that after Pentecost Matthew probably remained in the Holy Land for 15 years and ministered among the Jewish people. After this, encouraged by the reports of the success of other leaders among the Jews (the Diaspora) and also among the Gentiles, he went forth on several missionary journeys, including to Persia and Ethiopia. The Christian community since early times has commemorated him as a martyr, but nothing is known of when or how he died.
Matthew was a gifted writer, an ardent disciple, and was perhaps the best educated of any of the original Twelve Apostles, with the possible exception of John. By the unanimous opinion of the church fathers he was the writer of the book of Matthew.
Greek MSS bear the title Kata Matthaion. The preposition Kata lit. means "down," but with the accusative case of Matthaios, it means "according to." However, the preposition retains a nuance of its literal meaning in that Matthew wrote down the words that appear in his narrative.
See the discussion of this topic in the General Overview above. The book of Matthew is unique among the apostolic narratives, being thoroughly Hebraic. In fact, church fathers claimed that Matthew originally wrote his book in Hebrew. Jerome says that the Hebrew manuscript was still in existence in the 4th century.
Papias (d. 155): "So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able." Church History, Book III, §39.16
Irenaeus (120-202): 2. "Matthew published his Gospel among the Hebrews in their own language, while Peter and Paul were preaching and founding the church in Rome." Eusebius, Church History, Book V, §8.2.
Hippolytus (170-235): "Matthew wrote the Gospel in the Hebrew tongue, and published it at Jerusalem." On the Twelve Apostles 7.
Jerome (347-420): "Matthew also called Levi, apostle and aforetimes publican, composed a gospel of Christ at first published in Judea in Hebrew for the sake of those of the circumcision who believed, but this was afterwards translated into Greek though by what author is uncertain. The Hebrew itself has been preserved until the present day in the library at Caesarea which Pamphilus so diligently gathered. I have also had the opportunity of having the volume described to me by the Nazarenes of Beroea, a city of Syria, who use it. In this it is to be noted that wherever the Evangelist, whether on his own account or in the person of our Lord the Savior quotes the testimony of the Old Testament he does not follow the authority of the translators of the Septuagint but the Hebrew. Wherefore these two forms exist "Out of Egypt have I called my son," and "for he shall be called a Nazarene." Lives of Illustrious Men, Chap. 3
· Whether Matthew was written first, its position as first in the list of apostolic narratives is certainly appropriate. This book forms a natural bridge between the Tanakh and the rest of the Besekh.
· As indicated in the first chapter Matthew's purpose is to declare to the Jewish people that Yeshua is the long-expected Messiah, Son of David, Son of Abraham and Son of God.
· Matthew is the second longest narrative; 28 chapters, 1071 verses.
· The Hebraic character is evident in it purpose, content, literary structure and grammatical structure.
The book is carefully structured with six narrative sections alternating with five discourse sections:
· Matthew is a teaching narrative containing 31 parables and five discourses:
· Kingdom Ethics (Sermon on the Mount), Chapters 5—7
· Mission Instructions, Chapter 10
· Great Harvest, Chapter 13
· Community Building, Chapters 18—19
· Kingdom Consummation (Olivet Discourse), Chapters 24—25
The book also has these unique elements, all of which illustrate that Matthew wrote especially for Jews.
· Matthew is the only narrative to use the phrase "Kingdom of heaven" (32 times). Jews used "heaven" as a euphemism for God to avoid saying the name of God as much as possible. This supports the notion that Matthew wrote especially for Jews, whereas the other apostolic writers wrote for both Jews and Gentiles.
· Matthew has a special fondness for the messianic prophecies in Isaiah (1:23; 2:23; 4:15-16; 8:17; 12:17-21) and other prophets (Matt 2:6; 2:17; 21:5; 26:31). He clearly regarded these as incomplete without Yeshua.
· Matthew has almost twice as many verses of any other narrative that focus on the Law (Torah) and interpretation of Torah.
· Matthew includes Yeshua's birth narrative through the lineage of Yosef (Joseph), Chapters 1—2.
· Matthew also has the most eschatological parables (13:24-30; 13:44-50; 18:21-35; 22:1-14; 25:1-30).
These unique elements and the literature structure are all designed to proclaim the advent of the Kingdom of God in the person of Messiah Yeshua.
Mark (Grk. Markos) is a common Roman name. His Hebrew name "Yochanan," (Grk. Iōannēs), translated as "John," represents his Jewish lineage. His name occurs only eight times in the Besekh, the first mention being in Acts 12:12. How and why John Mark acquired a Roman name is unknown.
His mother's name was Miriam (Acts 12:12), and the home is spoken of as hers. The father was probably dead. The description of the house (with its large room and porch) and the mention of a maidservant, suggest a family of wealth. Mark was a cousin of Barnabas (Col 4:10), and probably like him came originally from Cyprus (cf. Acts 4:36; 15:39).
When first mentioned, Mark and his mother are already disciples of Yeshua (44 AD). He had apparently accepted Yeshua through Peter's ministry (cf. 1Pet 5:13). According to Hippolytus (170-236), Mark was among the seventy apostles Yeshua sent on the mission described in Luke 10 (On the Seventy Apostles).
The Ministry of Mark
Mark had early won a large place in the esteem of the brethren, as is shown by his being chosen to accompany Barnabas and Saul to Antioch a little later. The home of his mother Miriam was a meeting place for early disciples, so that Mark had every opportunity to become acquainted with apostolic leaders.
Mark accompanied Barnabas and Saul to Antioch to disciple the Jews who had accepted Yeshua as Messiah. Acts 13:5 identifies Mark's role for the apostles as hupēretēs, which refers to one who renders service and may be translated as helper or attendant. Just what that term implies is not clear. There is considerable speculation as to the nature of Mark's duties. Some suggest that Mark was nothing more than a personal assistant or servant, which seems highly unlikely in the context.
In all the passages where the term occurs the individuals had significant authority and responsibilities, some working for judges and others for the chief priests (Matt 5:25; 26:58, Mark 14:65, John 7:32 and Acts 5:22, 26). The term hupēretēs is used of a synagogue "attendant," chazzan (Luke 4:20). A chazzan had many congregational duties, including prayer, preaching and care of scrolls. However, in several passages hupēretēs refers to one who was involved in disseminating the story of Yeshua or advocating the cause of the Messiah (Luke 1:2; Acts 13:5; 26:16; 1Cor 4:1). Surely, this is the sort of service Mark rendered in Antioch.
The intriguing question is why did he turn back from the work at Perga (Acts 13:13)? The reason is not disclosed, but it hardly seems likely that it was because of a domestic reason, or fear of the perils of the journey. No ordinary reason would have occasioned the sharp conflict that eventually resulted between Barnabas and Paul over the matter (Acts 15:38). Indeed the text indicates that Paul regarded Mark's disassociation as desertion. Only a challenge to the authority exercised by Paul who had gained preeminence over Barnabas or the nature of the mission could adequately explain Mark's decision to return home.
On both issues the root of the divide may be found in what happened at Paphos when the Roman Sergius Paulus became a believer Acts 13:5-12. At that time Paul (the change of name is here noted by Luke) assumed the leader role, and henceforth, with the exception of Acts 15:12, 25, where naturally enough in the meeting of the Jerusalem council of apostles the old order is maintained, Luke speaks of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:42, 43, 46; 15:2, 22, 35), not Barnabas and Saul. Perhaps, too, Mark was less able than Barnabas himself to see the latter take second place.
Mark may have also objected to the offer of salvation to the Gentiles on condition of trust alone. There are hints that Mark's family, like Paul's, were Hebrews of the Hebrews, and it is not without significance that in the Paphos narrative he is given only his Hebrew name (Acts 13:5, 13). In addition, Paul includes Mark in the list of those who were part of "the circumcision" in Colossians 4:10-11. The label does not simply describe the surgery, which would be a superfluous comment, but a Judaizing group, which Paul mentions in Romans 4:12; 15:8; Galatians 2:12; and Titus 1:10.
The circumcision party had insisted on Brit Milah (ritual circumcision) of Gentile disciples for them to be considered a part of the Messianic Kingdom (Acts 15:1). As the apostle to the Gentiles nothing stirred Paul's feelings more deeply than the grace God had extended to those outside Israel. Paul stood almost alone initially in his opposition to the Judaizers who insisted on the Brit Milah of Gentile disciples to make them proselytes. Barnabas, for a time, had fallen prey to this error (Gal 2:13) and in this Mark may have been influenced by his cousin.
According to patristic records Mark accompanied Peter when he went to Rome during the reign of Claudius, c. 42/43 A.D. (Eusebius, Church History, II, 14:1-6; 15:1-2). About 11 years transpire before Mark is mentioned again. In his letter to the congregation at Colossae Paul encourages them to give Mark a warm welcome (Col 4:10). Then in the personal letter to Philemon Paul identifies Mark as a fellow laborer (Phm 1:24). During Paul's last imprisonment he writes to Timothy to bring Mark with him to Rome, "for he is useful to me for ministry" (2Tim 4:11).
The last reference to Mark comes from Peter in Rome in which Peter affectionately refers to him as "my son" (1Pet 5:13). Mark has been reconciled to Paul and laboring with the two great apostles in Rome. It's worth noting that while Paul considered Mark a fellow worker, he is never called an apostle anywhere in the Besekh.
According to Hippolytus, Mark went to Alexandria, founded the congregation there, and become its first bishop. Eusebius gives additional information.
"1. And they say that this Mark was the first that was sent to Egypt, and that he proclaimed the Gospel which he had written, and first established churches in Alexandria. 2. And the multitude of believers, both men and women, that were collected there at the very outset, and lived lives of the most philosophical and excessive asceticism, was so great, that Philo thought it worth while to describe their pursuits, their meetings, their entertainments, and their whole manner of life." Eusebius, Church History, Book II, §16.
That Mark labored in Egypt is stated also by the fourth century fathers Epiphanius and Jerome. Eusebius goes on to say in Chap. 24 that Annianus succeeded Mark as a leader of the Alexandrian Church in the eighth year of Nero (62-63), thus implying that Mark died in that year; and Jerome gives the same date for his death. But if the tradition that he wrote his narrative in Rome under Peter (or after Peter's death, so Papias and Irenaeus) be correct, then Jerome made an incorrect assumption. Eusebius could be correct about the succession in Alexandria if Mark was called to Rome to assist the apostles as he had done in the past. In any event most of Mark's life and ministry reside in obscurity.
The narrative of Mark is a powerful and valuable witness to the life and ministry of Yeshua.
Greek MSS bear the title Kata Markon. The preposition Kata lit. means "down," but with the accusative case of Markos, it means "according to." However, the preposition retains a nuance of its literal meaning in that Mark wrote down the words that appear in his narrative.
See the General Overview above for discussion of this topic. Early church fathers provide unambiguous information on the authorship and date of this book:
Papias (70-105) "Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord's discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely." (Eusebius, Book III, §39.15)
The early tradition of Christianity is that Mark accompanied Peter to Rome in A.D. 42/43 and while there was entreated to produce a narrative of Yeshua (Eusebius, Church History, Book II, 14:1-6; 15:1-2). Eusebius also said,
"The Gospels containing the genealogies, he says [Clement of Alexandria, 150-215], were written first. The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it." (Eusebius, Book VI, 14:6)
Another witness to the authorship of the narrative known as the Anti-Marcionite Prologue in many Old Latin MSS (ca. 160-180) provides a few more interesting details:
"Mark declared, who is called "stump-fingered", because he had rather small fingers in comparison with the stature of the rest of his body. He was the interpreter of Peter. After the death of Peter himself he wrote down this same gospel in the regions of Italy." (quoted in Lane 9)
In terms of fixing a date for the Mark's book, 55-65 would be a reasonable time frame considering Mark's presence with Peter the second time he went to Rome (1Pet 5:13), although Robinson's earlier date is worth considering. Christian scholars typically believe that Mark was written at a time when disciples in Rome were enduring persecution under Caesar Nero. However, the suffering Messiah was someone with whom Jewish disciples could relate in earlier decades given the hostile opposition of unbelieving Jews recorded in the book of Acts and Paul's letters. Unfortunately, Mark offers no information that would conclusively settle the debate about the contemporary situation.
· Mark's purpose is to declare that Yeshua is Messiah and Son of God who has inaugurated the Kingdom of God and fulfilled the promises made to the patriarchs.
· Mark is the shortest narrative; 16 chapters, 678 verses, although 16:9-20 is found only in late MSS.
· Mark is fast paced; he seems to hurry to the passion narrative; he takes only 13 chapters whereas Matthew takes 25 and Luke takes 21.
· Mark focuses much more on Yeshua demonstrating the power of the Kingdom than his teaching. Mark relates only 13 parables, compared to the 30 in Matthew and 36 in Luke. Two parables (The Growing Seed, 4:26-29; The Watchful Doorkeeper, 13:32-37) occur in Mark alone. Of the 56 specific miracles Yeshua performed Mark relates 26, close to the 33 of Matthew and 35 of Luke. Two miracles (healing a deaf and dumb man, Mark 7:31-37; and healing the blind man at Bethsaida, Mark 8:22-26) are unique to Mark.
· Mark divides Yeshua's ministry into two parts: in Galilee (Chaps. 1-9) and then in Judea (Chaps. 10-16).
· Mark begins his story with the entrance of Yochanan the Immerser. Assuming Matthew and Luke were written before Mark, as Clement of Alexandria says, then Mark apparently considered inserting a genealogy and nativity narrative to be superfluous.
· The adjective euthus, "immediately" or "at once," occurs 40 times in the book. Mark uses a unique expression kai euthus ("and immediately") 25 times, 18 of which introduce verses. The specific combination occurs only four other times in the Besekh (once in Matthew, once in Luke, once in John and once in Acts), but none of them introduce sentences. The small number of usages in the other Narratives argues strongly against Mark being copied by the others.
· Mark often provides explanation of Jewish words and customs for his non-Jewish readers: 3:16, 17; 5:41; 7:2, 3, 11, 19, 34; 14:36; 15:16, 21, 22, 34, 42; more than any other narrative.
· Mark is the only narrative that includes the phrase in 7:19, rendered by most versions as "Thus He declared all foods clean." This inaccurate translation has caused most Christians to erroneously believe that Yeshua canceled the Torah food regulations. See my article Did Yeshua Cancel Torah Food Laws.
Some believe that Mark's book does not openly declare Yeshua to be the Messiah because on several occasions, particularly after a deliverance or healing, Yeshua warns someone not to speak of him (1:34, 44; 3:12; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26, 30; 9:9).
· The prohibitions of speaking of Yeshua's miraculous works that identified him as the Son of God are not unique to Mark. They are also found in Matthew and Luke in parallel passages as noted above.
· Yeshua's prohibitions to certain individuals whom he had healed relate to special circumstances. He healed people from the beginning of his ministry, but like the man with leprosy (1:40) Yeshua wanted the requirements of Torah to be respected more than he wanted any attention because of the miracle.
· In the case of silencing demons, if the demons knew who he was, then his true identity was not a secret and in recounting these incidents Mark himself does not conceal the supposed secret.
· In the early part of his ministry Yeshua did not publicize the fact that he was the Messiah, because the people expected a Messiah who would liberate Israel from Rome and rule in glory, not one who would die a criminal's death. Had he been publicly identified as the Messiah, the people would have tried to make him king then and there, as they did soon after (John 6:15). Had the attempt succeeded, with Yeshua ruling in glory, he would not have fulfilled Isaiah 53's prophecy of a Messiah who must suffer and die. Only at his Second Coming will Yeshua fulfill the prophecies concerning the Messianic Age of world peace (Stern 34f).
· Conversely, Yeshua could have faced a premature arrest and trial for inciting rebellion. In fact, at one point Herod tried to arrest him (Luke 13:31).
· The prohibitions occurred in Galilee in the early part of his ministry, but not in his later ministry in Judea. In many ways from the beginning of his public ministry Yeshua declared that the was the Messiah.
Luke, Grk. Loukas, which Delitzsch transliterates into Hebrew as Luqas. Loukas is a contracted form of Loukanos (Latin Lucanus), since it was not uncommon in Hellenistic culture to abbreviate proper names (ISBE). Little is said of Luke in the Besekh and his name appears only three times. He was a physician (Col 4:14) and he was a companion and fellow worker of Paul (2Tim 4:11; Phm 1:24). While Luke does not mention himself by name in either of his works, his presence with Paul on missionary journeys is indicated by various "we" passages (Acts 16:10-13, 16; 20:5-7, 13-15; 21:1-7 etc.). Although referred to as an apostle by patristic writers, the Besekh does not accord him that honor.
Eusebius said that Luke was from Antioch, presumptively Syrian Antioch (Church History, Book III, §4:7), as does Jerome (Lives of Illustrious Men, Chap. 7). Based on this patristic comment Christian scholarly sources identify Luke as a Gentile, possibly Greek, who converted out of heathenism to Christianity (ISBE, HBD, NIBD). This conclusion is based on a faulty premise that the first disciples in Antioch were Gentiles. Antioch had a large Jewish population and the first disciples there were in fact Jewish. (See my article The First Christians) Luke's first appearance with Paul at Troas (Acts 16:8-10) is seen as supporting this supposed Gentile ethnicity, even though Luke makes no such connection.
Some have suggested that Luke and Titus were brothers (cf. 2Cor 8:18; 12:18), but this is only a guess. On Paul's second missionary journey, Luke accompanied him on the short voyage from Troas to Philippi (Acts 16:10-17). On the third journey, Luke was present on the voyage from Philippi to Jerusalem (Acts 20:5−21:18). Some believe Luke spent the intervening time in Philippi. Luke remained close to Paul during his imprisonment in Caesarea. A third "we" passage in Acts gives a dramatic narrative of the shipwreck at Malta (Acts 27). Paul indicates in his letters to Philemon and Colossae that Luke was with him while under house arrest in Rome.
Messianic Jewish writers are likewise not convinced of the Jewishness of Luke. Stern seems to include Luke when he says that "the New Testament is a Jewish book, written by Jews" (ix), but says that some think Luke was a proselyte (xi). The introduction to "Luke" in the TLV by Dr. Jeffrey and Pat Feinberg has this note: "The Gospel of Luke was written by a doctor─but possibly not a Jewish one! Luke may have been one of the "God-fearers, a large group of Gentiles who frequented the synagogue and observed some Jewish customs" (1111). Shulam says, "Colossians 4:12-14 indicates that Luke is not Jewish (xxx).
When we consider the historical record it's noteworthy that Eusebius and Jerome do not say that Luke was a Gentile, only that he came from Antioch. There was a large Jewish population in Antioch. Let's consider Paul's reference to Luke in the description of his ministry team in his letter to the congregation in Colossae.
"My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings; as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You received instructions about him - if he comes your way, welcome him.) 11 Yeshua who is called Justus also sends his greetings. These are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God that are from among the circumcision - they have been a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of your own, a slave of Messiah Yeshua, greets you. He is always laboring in prayer on your behalf, so you may stand complete and fully assured about everything that is God's will. 13 For I testify that he has gone to much trouble for you and for those in Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14 Luke, the dearly loved physician, sends you greetings, and so does Demas." (Col 4:10-14 TLV)
Luke seems to be distinguished by Paul from those of "the circumcision" (Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus, verses 10-11). Epaphras, Luke, and Demas supposedly form the Gentile group (verse 12-14). Against the assumption of Gentile ethnicity there are four important factors to consider.
1. Paul used the label "the circumcision" (Col 4:11) to identify the radical Circumcision Party (Rom 4:12; 15:8; Gal 2:12; Titus 1:10) as does Luke (Acts 10:45; 11:2; 15:1). This zealous group had insisted that Gentile converts complete Brit Milah to be considered a part of the Messianic Kingdom (Acts 15:1). The membership of the Circumcision Party consisted of legalistic Torah-observant Jews, a sub-group of the Pharisees (Acts 15:5). In Colossians 4 Paul simply illustrates the diversity of his ministry team. The point about mentioning "the Circumcision" is that those who had once been his opponents in the circumcision controversy were now his devoted fellow workers. In the Diaspora many Hellenistic Jews had ceased performing circumcision (Tarn & Griffith 224). However, not being a member of the Circumcision Party does not mean that Luke had not been circumcised any more than Paul who did not belong to this party.
2. Opening his narrative Luke declares, "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us" (1:1). While Luke does not say "among the Jews" or "in Israel," he clearly means "us" as including himself as among those with whom Yeshua conducted his ministry. Luke's emphasis on research is to provide a more complete story of Yeshua than what might have been told from just his own personal experience. This is also true of Matthew who could not have been present for the nativity, but we know was a Jewish disciple and apostle.
3. According to patristic tradition Luke was one of the seventy apostles sent out by Yeshua (Luke 10:1; Hippolytus, 170-235, On the Seventy Apostles). Origen (184-253), Dorotheus (255-362) and Epiphanius (310-403) also include Luke in the same list. As for the mission of the seventy it is highly unlikely that Yeshua would have chosen any Gentiles for this early mission, since the charge to the seventy was patterned after the mission of the Twelve (Matt 10). The mission was expressly directed to the lost house of Israel (Matt 10:5-6) and the seventy were sent to cities in which Yeshua planned to minister (Luke 10:1). There is no record of Yeshua going into any Gentile city. It is noteworthy that Luke is the only one to mention the mission of the seventy.
Luke provides no information on the recruitment of the seventy disciples. Many of them may have already been disciples since Yeshua had many followers besides the Twelve from the earliest days of his Galilean ministry (Matt 5:1; Mark 2:15; 3:7). While Luke emphasizes his research for the narrative of Yeshua's life (Luke 1:3) he also includes himself among those who experienced Yeshua's ministry (Luke 1:1). It is very possible that Luke was an eyewitness of many of the events that only he records (Luke 9:52-56; 10:1-20; 12:1−18:14; 19:1-27, 39-44).
4. Luke coined the term for Greek-speaking Jews, Hellēnistēs, which occurs in Acts 6:1; 9:29 and 11:20. David Flusser (1917-2000), professor of Early Christianity and Judaism of the Second Temple Period at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, used the term "Hellenized" to describe these Greek-speaking Jews. The "Hellenized Jews" were zealous for the Temple and Torah and certain circles of them were greatly influenced by the Essenes (Flusser 75). The Hellenized Jews preferred Greek as their primary language and the Greek translation of the Torah (Septuagint) for synagogue services. In contrast, "Hellenistic Jews" practiced or held to the principles of Greek culture and philosophy.
(NOTE: Epaphras and Demas would also have been Hellenized Jews. Nothing is said of their of their background and merely having Greek names does not mean they were Gentiles. Only consider that Peter, Andrew and Philip were all Hebraic Jews with Greek names. Demas is also included in the list of seventy apostles by Hippolytus with the added note that he became a priest of idols.)
5. See also the section below on the literary character of the book. Could a Gentile, even a proselyte, produce a thoroughly Jewish work? Not likely.
The narrative of Luke is a powerful and valuable witness to the life and ministry of Yeshua. Luke addresses his narrative to an individual named Theophilus ("lover of God"), which many scholars believe was a Greek. However, Theophilus could easily have been a Jew, since many Jews had Greek names (e.g., Peter, Philip, Andrew, Thomas and the Hellenized Jews listed in Romans 16).
Greek MSS bear the title Kata Loukan. The preposition Kata lit. means "down," but with the accusative case of Loukas, it means "according to." However, the preposition retains a nuance of its literal meaning in that Luke wrote down the words that appear in his narrative.
While the book contains no superscription by the author, early church fathers were unanimous in their conviction that the narrative was authored by Luke, the companion of Paul, and third in order of publication. See the discussion on this topic in the General Overview above.
Luke confirms that "many" others had attempted to reduce the life and ministry of Yeshua to writing (Luke 1:1), but in the providence of God only the efforts of four survived. Any of the twelve or the seventy who had followed Yeshua could have undertaken the task. However, the number was limited by a variety of circumstantial factors. Initially there would have been no rush to produce a biography given the expectation of Yeshua's imminent return. Only after Paul produced his reality check on the Second Coming in his Thessalonian letters and the increasing pressure of persecution would the need for preserving a record of the acts and words of Yeshua become urgent.
· Luke sets forth his purpose in the prologue (Luke 1:1-3) and while he was doing what others before had attempted he also wished to provide a concise history for the sake of an important man who wanted to know the truth about Yeshua. The book is but the first half of his book with Acts forming the second part. For the first part the purpose may be inferred from the closing speech of Yeshua in chapter 24:44-45. Messiah came in fulfillment of prophecies given in the books of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms and in accordance with those revelations the Messiah would suffer and be raised from the dead on the third day. The final chapter of the narrative also lays the foundation for Acts in which repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
· Luke is the longest narrative with 24 chapters and 1,151 verses.
· The personal introduction of the author (Luke 1:1-4) shows that he was a man of culture. He was a man of the schools, and his Greek has a literary flavor only approached in the Besekh by Paul's writings. The Greek of the Luke's narrative is Jewish Greek, containing many Hebraic idioms. He often follows rules of Hebrew grammar. The author displays an intimate knowledge of Jewish religion, rituals and culture. Surely, no ordinary Gentile historian in ancient times could have produced such a work. Norval Geldenhuys offers this observation of Luke's story.
"Something very striking in Luke's language and style is his literary versatility. We find, for instance that he commences his Gospel with an accurately balanced sentence written in irreproachable, pure, literary Greek. After the preface, however, in the description of the nativities of John and Jesus he immediately switches over to a Hebraistically tinted language corresponding to that of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. This transition from the one kind of style to the other shows that Luke is consciously an artist. He could, had he chosen have retained throughout the distinguished literary style with which he had commenced. But in order to adapt his style better to the nature of the events that had taken place in a Jewish environment, he changes to a more Hebraistic diction in the description of such events…. In his descriptions of stories with a Jewish background Luke is Semitising throughout, but in stories with a Greek background (as repeatedly occur in Acts) he writes in a purely Greek style." (36-37).
While Geldenhuys recognizes the Hebrew character of Luke's writing style, it leaves unanswered as to exactly how this was accomplished if Luke was a Gentile. How does Luke switch to an "Hebraistic diction" unless he knows Hebrew fluently? And, how does Luke not only know the basic vocabulary and grammar of Hebrew, but also the nuances of idiomatic language if he was a Gentile? Scholars such as Robert Lindsey have demonstrated that Luke's narrative can be easily translated from the Greek back into Hebrew with no difficulty (20). Would being a proselyte provide sufficient explanation of Luke's proficiency with Hebrew?
Luke's Hebraistic diction is not just a stilted word-for-word translation of an original Hebrew text, but a skilled grasp of the idiosyncrasies of Hebrew idioms, which are not always translated correctly in Christian Bibles prepared by committees of scholars with many years of study and doctoral degrees. Surely, only a Jew could have such proficiency, and especially a Hellenized Jew, which gave him proficiency in Greek as well.
Luke has more unique material than Matthew and Mark. These are the main ones.
· Geographical Mentions. Since there were at that time two kinds of provinces, those subject to the Senate and those subject to the Emperor, Luke presents six provinces from each group.
· Nativity. Luke provides important details for dating the nativity narrative, 1:5; 2:1; 3:1-2. No other apostolic narrative gives dating for his narrative as Luke does in his opening chapters. Luke also provides unique birth narratives: Yochanan the Immerser's birth narrative; the birth narrative/childhood of Yeshua; and Miriam's genealogy.
· Brit Milah. Luke includes the Brit Milah of Yeshua. He is the only one to mention this important ritual. You would think that Matthew would have mentioned it, having written for the Jews. The inclusion of the ritual illustrates powerfully the Jewishness of the Messiah.
· Personalities. Luke is the only one of the evangelists who mentions emperors by name - Augustus and Tiberius. Luke introduces several characters not found in the other apostolic narratives: Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna, Joanna, Susanna, Zacchaeus and Cleopas.
· Holy Spirit. Luke is the only one of the apostolic narratives that speaks of characters being empowered or filled with the Holy Spirit - six in all and in the first four chapters of his first book: Yochanan the Immerser, 1:15; Miriam, 1:35; Elizabeth, 1:41, Zechariah, 1:67; Simeon, 2:25-26; and Yeshua himself, 4:1.
· Women. Luke tells significant stories of women, including two women directly connected to the nativity story of Yeshua not mentioned in the other narratives. Luke reports extraordinary healings of four specific women (4:38-39; 8:41-56; 13:10-17). Luke provides seven stories of women as good examples (7:37-50; 8:1-3; 10:38-42; 11:27-28; 15:8-10; 18:1-5; 21:1-4). Luke also gives us the accounts of women that witnessed the crucifixion (23:27, 49); prepared spices to anoint Yeshua's body (23:55-56); the first to find the tomb empty (24:1-3); the first to be told that Yeshua had risen (24:4-8); and the first to tell the other disciples (24:9-11).
"John" is the English name given to the Grk. Iōannēs, which attempts to transliterate the Heb. Yōchanan and means "the Lord is gracious." There were ten prominent men with the Hebrew name Yochanan mentioned in the Tanakh (Barker 193f), three who were priests (1Chr 6:9-10; Ezra 10:6; Neh 12:13, 42) and the rest from other tribes. In all cases the name is transliterated as "Johanan" in standard English versions. In the Besekh there are four other men with the name Iōannēs: (1) the son of Zechariah, John 1:6; (2) the father of Simon Peter, John 1:42; (3) a relative of the high priest, Caiaphas, Acts 4:6; and (4) the nephew of Barnabas, Acts 12:12.
Iōannēs was rendered as "Iohannes" in the Latin Vulgate (AD 405), but beginning with the Wycliffe Bible (1395) English Bible versions inexplicably shortened Iōannēs to four letters by dropping the last syllable and changed the pronunciation. Not only is there no "J" letter or sound in Hebrew, Greek and Old Latin, but there is also no "Jahn." If those early translators had been consistent with their usage in the Tanakh they would have used "Iohanan" for both the forerunner of Yeshua and the apostle of Yeshua. Even so there is no explanation as to why Christian Bibles translate the name as "Johanan" in the Tanakh and "John" in the Besekh. Changing the name in such a dramatic fashion might be viewed as trying to make "John" appear more Christian and less Jewish.
John's father was Zebedee (Matt 4:21) and he and had a brother Jacob, though erroneously dubbed "James" by English Bible versions beginning in the 14th century. When Yeshua first called John to discipleship, he was engaged in mending fishing nets along with his father and brother (Matt 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-19). John and Jacob had a close working relationship with Simon Peter in fishing (Luke 5:10). He may have been younger since he is always mentioned second after Jacob, but this is not certain. It is generally thought that Salome was John's mother (cf. Matt 27:56; Mark 15:40). In addition, Salome may have been the sister of Yeshua's mother mentioned in John 19:25, and in that case John would have been a blood cousin of Yeshua.
The numerous allusions to the Temple in the narrative of John and Revelation suggest that John may have been of priestly lineage or had at least served there. Alfred Edersheim persuasively argues for the former (Temple 106). The fact that the family of Zebedee engaged in fishing does not preclude priestly lineage or relations. Consider the fact that Miriam, mother of Yeshua, was a blood relative of Elizabeth, a priest's wife descended from Aaron (Luke 1:5, 36), and thereby John through his mother Salome, sister of Miriam, would have had priestly connections.
Edersheim goes on to point out the following facts and inferences. The name Yochanan had a priestly connection being given to the son of the priest Zechariah (Luke 1:13) and occurring in the names of those of high priestly descent in Acts 4:6. Having priestly descent would account for John's personal acquaintance with the high priest (John 18:15, 16), which gave John access into the council-chamber itself with Yeshua at His trial, while Peter, for whom he had gained admittance to the palace, remained outside in the porch area.
Though residing in Galilee, the house of "his own" to which John took the mother of Yeshua (John 19:27) was probably at Jerusalem, like that of other priests, and where Miriam of Magdala found John and Peter together on the morning of the resurrection (John 20:2). Moseley agrees that John came from a family of priests, pointing out that in John 20:5 Peter rushed into the tomb while John hesitated outside (24). According to Jewish law, he would have been defiling himself had he entered a room where there was a dead body. The evidence for John's connection with the Jerusalem temple is very strong.
Disciple & Elder
John was likely a disciple of Yochanan the Immerser before Yeshua, because in John 1:35 two disciples of the Immerser are introduced, but one is left unnamed. Among the disciples of Yeshua John was distinguished as a leader, and one of the three privileged to witness the extraordinary meeting between Yeshua, Elijah and Moses (Matt 17:1).
Yeshua nicknamed John and his brother Boanērges (Mark 3:17), which is a transliteration of a Hebrew word, possibly B'nei-Regesh, lit. "sons of feeling," emotional people" or "people who get excited easily." Another possibility is B'nei-Rogez, lit. "sons of anger," that is, people who easily become angry" (Stern 89-90). The Markan text explains the meaning as "thunderers." The latter Hebrew word may be reflected in the account of the two brothers offering to call down fire out of heaven on a village that didn't receive Yeshua (Luke 9:54). This may be the occasion that gave rise to Yeshua giving the nickname. Another time the two brothers sparked the anger of the other disciples by asking Yeshua if they could sit on his right and left in glory (Mark 10:35-45).
Bible scholars have historically recognized that "the disciple whom Yeshua loved" who reclined next to Yeshua during the last supper (John 13:23-26), stood at the cross with Yeshua's mother (John 19:25-27), ran with Peter to the empty tomb (John 20:2-10), recognized the risen Lord after the great catch of fish (John 21:7) and was prophesied to outlive Peter (John 21:20-23) was John.
After the ascension of Yeshua, John continued in a prominent position of leadership among the disciples (Acts 1:13). He was with Peter when the lame man at the Temple gate was healed (3:1 ff). Together with Peter he bore witness before the Sanhedrin to his faith in Yeshua. The ruling body considered John and Peter "uneducated and untrained," but this assessment referred to an ordinary person or layman who had not received advanced Rabbinic training common to the Pharisees and Sadducees (Stern 233).
John went with Peter on the mission to Samaria (8:14 ff). His action is ironic considering that the village he wanted to destroy previously was in Samaria. This trip was a testament to a radical change. After the execution of his brother in Acts 12 by Herod Agrippa I, John is not mentioned in Luke's narrative. However, Paul testimony of John being one of the "pillars" of the Body of Messiah (Gal 2:9) indicates that John continued to hold a leadership position. This passage also indicates that John was classified along with Simon Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, a fact that bears consideration in interpreting John's testimony.
The rest of John's life is the subject of varied tradition in the writings of the church fathers. Tradition says that at some point John moved to Ephesus and it was while living there that he was banished to the island of Patmos after being plunged, unhurt, into boiling oil. Church fathers clearly identify Domitian as the one who banished John, although many modern scholars believe the exile was ordered by Nero. (See my analysis on this topic at my Introduction to Revelation.) After the exile order was quashed by Emperor Nerva, John returned to Ephesus, where he died sometime after Trajan became emperor in AD 98.
John had a keen intellect and produced a significant contribution to the apostolic canon in the form of the narrative of Yeshua, three letters and the book of Revelation. There is no good reason to reject his authorship of any of these works. John left a literary legacy in Scripture that puts his writings on a par with Moses, Isaiah and the apostle Paul. The scholarly opinion that the second and third letters of John were written by another person because he chose to identify himself as "the elder" lacks understanding of the Jewish background of the author. He could rightly call himself "the elder" (Heb. zaken; Grk. presbuteros) because:
· He was over 60 years of age and in Jewish culture this was the minimum age to be a ruling elder. (Pirke Avot 5:22)
· He held a ruling office in the Body of Messiah (Gal 2:9), the standard meaning of the term in the Tanakh and in the Besekh. Yeshua had promised that his apostles would judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19:28).
· In the Talmud zaken is assigned to the scholars. The title was regarded as equivalent to a sage, "one who has acquired wisdom" (Kiddushin 32b). Thus, leaders of the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel are identified as zaken (Berachot 11a). John's letters reflect his inspired wisdom.
· When he wrote the second and third letters he was the only surviving apostle at that point and held in high esteem. He was the only apostle who did not suffer martyrdom, as Yeshua prophesied (John 21:22).
Greek MSS bear the title Kata Iōannēn. The preposition Kata lit. means "down," but with the accusative case of Iōannēs, it means "according to." However, the preposition retains a nuance of its literal meaning in that John wrote down the words that appear in his narrative.
See the discussion on this topic in the General Overview above. While the book contains no superscription by the author, and does not mention John's name or the name of his brother Jacob ("James"), early church fathers were unanimous in their conviction that the narrative was authored by John, the disciple whom Yeshua loved, and fourth in order of publication. In spite of the opinion of many Christian scholars the literary evidence suggests an early date for its publication, 50-60 A.D. While Christian commentators generally consider John's audience to be principally Gentile, the internal evidence indicates primarily a Jewish audience. (See the General Overview above.)
· John's purpose is to convince Jews, proselytes and God-fearers that Yeshua is the expected Messiah of Israel and Davidic Son of God and that by believing in him they would have eternal life (19:35; 20:31).
· The narrative of John is the third longest with 21 chapters and 879 verses.
· At one time John's book was thought to be the least Jewish of the narratives and much too theologically advanced to have been written by a simple fisherman. Now that scholars have learned more about first-century Judaism, especially through study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the book of John is recognized as very Jewish (TLV 1157; Santala 68f).
· The discourses in the book resemble rabbinic commentary or midrash that develops theological ideas, ethical teachings, philosophy, and other interpretations that are not explanations of religious practice. Sometimes the discourses are from John himself that expand on a teaching of Yeshua.
· Many passages point to Jewish traditions and institutions established in the Torah.
· Due to its priestly and rabbinic orientation John's book does not contain some of the familiar content found in the Synoptic narratives, such as the nativity story, the immersion of Yeshua, the mission of the Twelve and the Seventy, the Lord's Prayer, the Olivet Discourse and the New Covenant ritual in the Last Supper.
There are many special and unique features in the book of John. Here are some of them.
· Unique Narratives. John relates stories not found in the Synoptic narratives. In fact, each of the first five chapters are somewhat self-contained: Chapter 1 tells the reader of the great discovery of Messiah's identity by Yochanan the Immerser; Chapter 2 of a marriage celebration in Cana; Chapter 3 of the encounter between Nicodemus and Yeshua; Chapter 4 of the encounter between a Samaritan woman and Yeshua and Chapter 5 of Yeshua's healing of the invalid man at the pool of Bethesda. The later chapters of 7—11, 13:1-20 and 14—17 are also found only in John.
· Yeshua's Preexistence. John, in contrast to Matthew and Luke, does not begin with an infancy narrative, nor do Joseph and Miriam figure in Yeshua's origin. Rather, John declares forthrightly Yeshua's co-existence with the Father before creation and as the Father's agent in creation (John 1:1-5; 8:23, 58; 17:5, 24). Asserting Yeshua's deity fulfills his purpose of demonstrating that Yeshua is the Messiah and Son of God (John 20:31).
· Focus on Jerusalem and the temple. Out of 21 chapters in the book Yeshua is outside of Judea in only four of those chapters (2, 4, 6, 21). Three chapters he is in Bethany (1, 11, 12), which is only 2 miles from Jerusalem, and the rest, 14 chapters, he is in and around Jerusalem, often celebrating feasts, dialoging or debating with members of the Sanhedrin and present in the temple area.
· Seven signs. John does not include "ordinary" or providential miracles, but seven creation miracles, the kind of miracles only the Creator could manage (Kaiser 372).
Changing water to wine (2:1-11)
Healing of the official's son (4:46-54)
Healing a paralyzed man (5:1-9)
Feeding 5000 (6:1-15)
Walking on water (6:16-21)
Healing a man born blind (9:1-7)
Raising Lazarus from the dead (11:38-44)
· Seven "I am" sayings. The "I Am" statements are clearly intended to parody the revelation of God's name to Moses as alluded to in John 12:44. These metaphors are also found in the Tanakh as reflecting the nature of God and more particularly in Rabbinical writings as reflecting the personality of the Messiah.
"I Am the bread of life" (6:35, 41, 48, 51), alludes to God's provision of manna in the wilderness.
"I Am the light of the world" (8:12; 9:15), alludes to the creation of light in the beginning
"I Am the gate of the sheep" (10:7, 9)
"I Am the good shepherd" (10:11, 14)
"I Am the resurrection and the life" (11:25)
"I Am the way, the truth, and the life" (14:6) and
"I Am the true vine" (15:1, 5)
· Frequency of "Jews." The plural form Ioudaioi (sing. Ioudaios) occurs 163 times in the Besekh. In the Narratives: Matthew - 5; Mark - 6; Luke - 4; John - 64 times. In the Synoptic narratives the term is often neutral. However, in John's testimony over half the time the word is used in a negative way, referring to Judean leaders opposed to Yeshua, who slander him and eventually conspire to kill him. In three verses the "Jews" are a group to fear. This creates an odd tension in language since the disciples were Jewish and thousands of people who believed in Yeshua were Jewish (Acts 21:20). In reality the Ioudaioi were conservative orthodox Jews distinct from other groups with Jewish lineage, such as the Essenes, Hellenized Jews, Hellenistic Jews and Samaritans.
· Frequency of "Yeshua." In John the name "Yeshua" ("Jesus" in Christian Bibles) occurs 237 times, while Matthew, has 150 times, Luke has 89 times and Mark, 81 (Kaiser 372). In contrast Paul's letters (including Hebrews) has "Yeshua" 227 times. John's passion is to communicate the good news of Yeshua, whose name means salvation.
· Feasts. While all the Narratives mention the Feast of Passover, John also mentions the Feast of Booths or Sukkot (7:2) and the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah (10:22). In references to Jewish feasts, out of the 22 times the Greek word for a Jewish festival occurs in the apostolic narratives, 15 occur in John's book.
· Logos. Other Jewish writers of the period attribute divinity to the Word. In the Targums Aram. memra, "word," appears as a circumlocution for the God who reveals Himself (DNTT 3:1120). See my commentary on John 1:1.
· Messias. John transliterates the Hebrew title Mashiach (Messiah) as Messias in 1:41 and 4:25, two passages that address the identity of the Jewish Messiah. Messias occurs nowhere else in the Bible or Jewish literature, which suggests that John coined the word.
· Amēn. "Truly, truly (Grk. amēn, amēn) I say to you," occurs 25 times. This reflects an Hebraic conviction that God's words were to be reverently received. Grk. amēn means "so let it be" or "truly". In context of each usage in the narrative, Yeshua is answering someone and thus the "truly, truly I say to you" would have the force of "But I say to you" as in the Sermon on the Mount. "You say this, but I say this" and the double use of amēn reinforces the complete reliability and truthfulness of his teaching.
· Simon Peter. The Hebrew and Greek names of his fellow disciple occurs in combination twenty times in the Besekh; once in Second Peter, once in Matthew, once in Luke and 17 times in John.
· Rabbi. The title "Rabbi," occurs 9 times, which is more than the Synoptic narratives combined (1:38, 49; 3:2, 26; 4:31; 6:25; 9:2; 11:8; 20:16).
The last two verses of the narrative (21:24-25) were probably added by an editor ("we know") who felt the need to clarify what Yeshua had said about the death of the Beloved Disciple in the previous verses (20-23), but still retained the anonymity of the book.
This brief survey of the apostolic narratives is intended to introduce the Bible reader to a different perspective than commonly found in Christian commentaries. The Narratives are Jewish books, written by Jews for Jews and interested Gentiles, telling the story of the Jewish Messiah. Only by allowing these books to be what the authors intended in their own culture first can the reader properly interpret and apply their Scripture in our lives and in our culture.
Barker: William P. Barker, Everyone In the Bible. Fleming H. Revell Co., 1966.
Barnes: Mark Barnes, List of New Testament Hapax Legomena. Logos Bible Software Forum, 2013.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981.
Bivin: David Bivin, New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus. En-Gedi Resource Center, 2007
Brickner: Avi Brickner, The Jewishness of the New Testament. Jews for Jesus, January 1987 Newsletter. <accessed 6 October 2014>
Danker: Frederick William Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Delitzsch: Franz Delitzsch (1813-1890), Hebrew New Testament. Leipzig, 1877. Online. (Translation into biblical Hebrew.)
DM: H.E. Dana & Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. The Macmillan Co., 1955.
DSB: Henry Morris, Defenders Study Bible. World Publishing Co., 1995.
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 Vols. ed. Colin Brown, Zondervan Pub. House, 1975.
Dyer: Charles H. Dyer, "Do the Synoptics Depend on Each Other?" Bibliotheca Sacra 138 (551); 230-245.
Edersheim: Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889), The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. New Updated Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1993.
Ellis: E. Earle Ellis, "Dating the New Testament." New Testament Studies 26 (4): 487-502.
Eusebius: Eusebius (c. AD 263 – 339), Church History
Flusser: David Flusser, Jewish Sources in Early Christianity, Adama Books, 1987.
Gager: John G. Gager, Reinventing Paul. Oxford University Press, 2000.
Geldenhuys: Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1951.
HBD: Holman Bible Dictionary. Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1991.
Hill: David Hill, Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings: Studies in the Semantics of Soteriological Terms. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000.
ISBE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Edited by James Orr, published in 1939 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Website HTML, 2011.
Josephus: Yosef ben Matityahu, The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75–99 A.D.), trans. William Whiston (1737). Online. [Jewish historian]
Kaiser: Walter C. Kaiser, The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Zondervan, 2008.
Kasdan: Barney Kasdan, Matthew Presents Yeshua, King Messiah: A Messianic Commentary. Lederer Books, 2011.
Lane: William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1974.
Lindsey: Robert L. Lindsey, Jesus Rabbi & Lord: The Hebrew Story of Jesus Behind Our Gospels. Cornerstone Publishing, 1990.
Moseley: Ron Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Yeshua and the Original Church. Lederer Books, 1996.
NIBD: Nelson's Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible. Herbert Lockyer, ed. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986.
Philo: Philo Judaeus (c. 25 B.C.–A.D. 50), The Works of Philo. Online. [Jewish philosopher]
Robinson: John A.T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament. SCM Press, 1976.
Santala: Risto Santala, The Messiah in the New Testament in the Light of Rabbinical Writings. Trans. William Kinnaird. Keren Ahvah Meshihit, 1993.
Shulam: Joseph Shulam and Hilary Le Cornu, The Jewish Roots of Acts. 2 vols. Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry, 2011.
Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
Tarn & Griffith: Sir William Tarn and G.T. Griffith, Hellenistic Civilization. 3rd Edition. Edward Arnold Publishers, Ltd., 1952.
Temple: Alfred Edersheim, The Temple-Its Ministry and Services, Updated Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, 1994. Online.
TLV: Messianic Jewish Family Bible: Tree of Life Version. Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society, 2014.
UNRV: Taxes in the Roman Empire, UNRV History, accessed 11 October 2007.
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