Steven Carr's Third Followup Email

Thank your for your email. This will be my last email before my concluding summary. Your email raises some interesting points.


You wrote about Luke 1:1-4 'I mentioned the importance of this in my opening statement, and I don't think you've responded to my comments except to say that Luke couldn't have done very good research, since he did not know Aramaic.'

Of course, my arguments about Luke's Gospel used more than this. I would not debate somebody with a First in Theology from Cambridge armed only with the fact that Luke struggled with Aramaic, although it is an important point.

I did use other arguments, which you have hardly acknowledged, let alone answered. I asked why Luke would use Mark's Gospel so much, if he had contact directly with Peter. Why use a second-hand source when you have spoken to a first hand source?

I pointed out how stories in Luke paralleled Old Testament stories in much the same way that stories in the Qu'ran parallel stories about Jesus and from Christian legend.

I pointed out how Luke quoted from letters and meetings that he could never have access to.

How can we tell for certain that Luke did not use oral sources for the vast bulk of his Gospel? We know he did not use oral sources, talking to eyewitnesses, because he used written sources. He used 360 verses of Mark's Gospel and he used either 230 verses of Matthew's Gospel or 230 verses of 'Q', depending upon whether you think the written source called 'Q' existed.

These 230 or so verses are very interesting. Not one of them uses the word 'Christ' , or has any knowledge of the death of Jesus. Here we have a large block of identifiable Christian material, identifiable from the Gospels themselves, which has a radically different view of Jesus.


While his introduction does state that he considers his Gospel to be superior to previous attempts at writing about Jesus, that was just the standard way of 'selling' your work in those days. Josephus makes the same claim for the superiority of his history in his 'Jewish Wars'. He writes that others have written vain and contradictory stories from hearsay , but nowhere the accurate truth of the facts and that he, as an eyewitness, is going to write accurately about the war and the miseries it brought. This claim to accuracy did not stop Josephus having a pro-Josephus bias in the work, or composing all the speeches himself, as historians did in those days.

Claims that one's work is setting the record straight and superior to all other efforts on the subject are hardly unique to Luke.

As I pointed out in my opening statement, claims such as Luke's must be evaluated on their merits, not on their face value. It is not convincing to say that Luke's Gospel must be accurate, simply because Luke says that it is.

I also pointed out how he put words from the Septuagint into the mouths of Aramaic speaking Jews, which leads nicely onto the next section.


You write that Jesus and the disciples would in all likelihood have known Greek and that Greek was a 'lingua franca', so Luke would have faced no language barrier.

This ignores the fact that Luke used written, not oral, sources, and it overlooks the fact that Luke did face a language barrier and he did struggle with Aramaic in his Gospel.

It is also symptomatic of an approach to conservative scholarship where objections can be dismissed with sweeping generalisations in which 'could' becomes 'did' , on very little evidence.

The reasoning seems to be that because some Jews knew Greek , therefore the disciples may have known Greek. Therefore the disciples did know Greek. Therefore Peter may have known how to write a little Greek. Therefore Peter may have been able to write the 'rugged Greek' of 2 Peter. Therefore Peter did write the rugged Greek of 2 Peter, as your book 'Men with A Message' suggests. And while we are here, why not have him as familiar with the Greek translation of the Old Testament as the author of 2 Peter was?

And if they could speak Greek, obviously they could talk to Luke. Therefore, they did talk to Luke and all problems are solved.

While my main argument is that Luke used written, Greek sources, it is interesting to see what the Biblical picture of the disciples is.

Acts 4:13 describes Peter and John as illiterate and unschooled (idiotei). Luke never dreams of contradicting this impression and it hardly corresponds to your claim that the disciples of Jesus had had a 'Jewish education' which 'focused upon training the memory and learning by heart'. The claim that Jesus's disciples would have had the benefit of a Jewish education enabling them to memorise 3 years of teachings is just another sweeping generalisation to brush away problems. Mark's Gospel does not portray the disciples as intellectual powerhouses. Their inability to grasp the obvious is quite startling.

Acts often depicts Peter as speaking in Aramaic and has Jesus himself speaking to a fluent Greek-speaker like Paul in Aramaic (Acts 26).

When Acts wants to show how a language barrier was crossed in Acts 2, the apostles speak in different languages. I wonder why it never occurred to them to use the 'lingua franca'.

Mark depicts Jesus as teaching in Aramaic. Peter is a Greek name, but it seems Paul only knew of Peter by his name 'Cephas'. Did Jesus rename Peter 'Petros' (Greek) or 'Cephas' (Aramaic)?

Even 2 Peter has the Aramaic form 'Simeon' , showing that somebody thought an Aramaic name would be more credible than a Greek name, notwithstanding the claim in 'Men with A Message', that Peter's original name was the Greek 'Simon'.

To see that this is a good Jewish Aramaic name , compare Luke 3:30 or Revelation 7:7, or Acts 15:14 where Luke, trying to show that this is an authentic conversation between Jews, uses the Aramaic 'Simeon'. The fact that they then go on to quote the Greek Septuagint translation of Amos 9 rather spoils Luke's picture.

Pilate put the notice on the cross in Aramaic, Latin and Greek (note the order). John is hardly implying that this was an early example of political correctness, insuring equal representation of the main languages. It was to ensure that everybody who could read , would have a language to read it in.

What language did people use? The Dead Sea Scrolls, produced by highly literate scribes, were almost exclusively in Aramaic and Hebrew. There is one cave with a few Greek fragments, but they are not numerous.

The highly educated and cosmopolitan Jew, Flavius Josephus, wrote 'Jewish Wars' in Aramaic, and needed some help translating it into Greek. It took him many years in a Greek culture for him to learn Greek.

How are the disciples presented? They first appear in Mark as peasant fisherman. Simon Peter is presented as the lowest class of fisherman, not even possessing a boat, but casting with a net from the shore.

How much education did they have? These people worked 6 days a week (It was the law!) and travelled no more than half a mile on the Sabbath. Festivals were spent in Jerusalem. Peter may have picked up a little Greek on trips to Sepphoris, Tiberias (only built in 25 AD), or Scythoplis, but it would have been only enough Greek to sell fish. It is worth noting that these towns are totally ignored by Jesus and the disciples.

However, your claim is far more than that Jesus and the disciples knew a few words of Greek.

What sort of level of Greek would Peter, and other people in the Gospels, have to have , to make certain scenes in the Gospels and Acts credible?

This brings me neatly around to John's Gospel, which I have not looked at much so far.


In John, Jesus often uses the phrase 'ego eimi' (I am) which is taken as an expression of divinity , even by Jesus's opponents.

It would have taken a phenomenal knowledge of Greek for people to have spotted this.

It is very obscure, so readers may have to bear with me for a few minutes.

It is hard to say 'I am' in Hebrew or Aramaic. In the Hebrew Bible, we usually have 'I Yahweh' (ani yhwh) or 'I he' (ani hu). The Greek translation used 'ego eimi' (I am) for these (eg Isaiah 41:4,43:13,48:12,Deut. 32:39)

Many people have taken Exodus 3:14 as a Hebrew expression of 'I am', as they rightly recognize that Jesus's opponents may not have spotted these obscure Greek references Jesus is supposed to have made.

However, the difficult Hebrew in Exodus 3:14 is better translated as 'I will be'. The Hebrew verb "ehyeh" is never translated in the present tense at any other place in the Bible, as far as I have been able to check. Was Greek so much of a lingua franca that Jesus's opponents immediately spotted these theological points?

More to the point, when the 'speira' of Roman soldiers (a cohort of 500) come to arrest Jesus, Jesus replies to a question with 'ego eimi' (I am). They at once fall to the ground (John 18:6). Is it really credible that Roman soldiers had studied the Greek translation of Exodus 3:14, so that they could recognize the divinity of someone who said 'I am'?

What sort of knowledge of Greek is needed to make Acts credible?


In Acts 10, when Peter is asked to eat unclean food, he says 'By no means, Lord' (Medamos, Kyrie). This is the exact phrase that occurs in the Greek translation of Ezekiel 4:14. Was Greek such a lingua franca that Peter would quote an appropriate phrase from the Septuagint at such a moment of drama?

It was Luke, not Peter, who had such a profound knowledge of Greek. In Acts 26:12, Luke says that Paul heard Jesus say , in Aramaic or Hebrew, 'It is hard for you to kick against the pricks'. 'Kick against the pricks' (laktizo pros kentron) was a well known *Greek* saying, which first seems to appear in line 790 of Euripides' Bacchae.

In Euripides' Bacchae, line 447, we read the following 'Of their own accord (autamato), the chains were loosed from their feet and keys opened the doors (thura) without human hand.' In Acts 10:12, we read how doors opened for Peter of their own accord (automatos) and in Acts 16:26, we read how an earthquake loosed the chains from everybody and all the doors opened by themselves.

Did an earthquake really loose a chain from a prisoner, not a noted result of seismic activity? Or did Luke base his account of Peter and Paul's escapes on Euripides' play about the persecuted followers of a persecuted and misunderstood deity, the son of Zeus and a young , mortal woman?

Links to Euripides' play can be found at Euripides and here

Is it not truly startling that classical Greek literature was used in this way in Acts?


It is interesting that you write that Jesus's 'distinctive' method of teaching was the parable.

What are we to make of John's Gospel which never uses any parables?

I wonder what the author of Matthew would make of your calling Jesus a Rabbi? In Matthew's Gospel, only Judas Iscariot ever gets to call Jesus a Rabbi.

It is true that the Gospels say that Jesus "taught as one who had authority, and not as their scribes" (Matt. 7:29).

Matthew applies these words from Mark to the Sermon on the Mount. Mark puts them in a totally different context. In Mark 1, Jesus is shown as giving a 'new teaching'. Matthew drops 'new teaching' entirely and applies the 'authoritative teaching' to a Sermon which says that not an iota or tittle will pass from the Law. In the same way, Matthew drops Mark's statement 'Thus he declared all foods clean'. Luke also drops this statement. In Luke's version, foods are not declared clean until Acts 10.

Surely this is not just writing from a different perspective. It is clear that Luke and Matthew did not regard Mark as being 'on message'. Yet Mark was their main source of information about Jesus.


Of course, the disciples could have learned Jesus's teachings by heart, although this begs the question of whether the Gospels record what the disciples said.

This is another place where we must see if 'could' became 'did'.

We just have to glance at the parables to answer this question. The parable in Luke 19:11-27 exists in a radically different retelling in Matthew 25:14-30. There is nothing wrong in principle with Jesus telling stories in different forms, but if he did not think it vital to learn his own parables by heart, why should the disciples?

Did the disciples really learn Jesus's words by heart? Three times Jesus predicted exactly what would happen in Jerusalem. It still seemed to come as a surprise to them. Which of the sayings on divorce did the disciples learn by heart? Which of the versions of the Lord's Prayer did Jesus tell his disciples to learn by heart?

In 'The Living Text of The Gospels', page 199, D.C.Parker writes' It is often argued that, in a culture in which oral tradition was more significant, the memories of Jesus's hearers will have been better prepared to retain his words with perfect accuracy. This may or may not be the case. But the more important question than whether they could is whether they *tried* to remember them with perfect accuracy. The variation between the Gospels answers the question with regard to the earliest oral tradition, and the variation between the manuscripts with regard to the written tradition.'


There is not really space to analyse 1 Cor.15, so I will content myself with just a few points.

I compared the claims in Corinthians with the miracles and signs which we read about in Josephus, Tacitus and Suetonius. I would be interested to know if you believe the signs that Josephus claimed happened in his book 'Jewish Wars', written less than ten years after the supposed events.

Paul may have really wanted to rub home the idea of a physical resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, but you don't do that by writing 'Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.' As people have argued about what 1 Corinthians 15 means for 2,000 years, Paul's message was clearly not rubbed home.

Paul says that Jesus died and rose 'according to the scriptures' (kata tas graphas). We might say 'According to the Times today...', or 'According to the BBC World service...'. This a perfectly natural way of reading 'kata tas graphas'. After all, all the Gospels are called 'Kata Matthew', 'Kata Mark' , 'Kata Luke' or 'Kata John'. Romans 1:2 is another place where we learn that Paul 'learned' about Jesus's life by reading Scripture. Acts 17:3, Acts 19:28 also backs up the idea that people talked about Jesus by quoting Scripture, not eye-witnesses. I have already given examples where stories from the Old Testament became stories about Jesus.


I am glad that you agree with Skeat that p4,p64 and p67 can be dated no earlier than 175 AD. People like Carsten Thiede put p67 at 50 AD, which is just absurd. These manuscripts are very fragmentary indeed.

I assume p72 is a typo for p52. p52 contains about 20 letters from John's Gospel. p72 is more substantial and contains Jude and 1 and 2 Peter and various non-canonical works, such as The Nativity of Mary,the eleventh Ode of Solomon,Melito's Homily on the Passover,the Apology of Phileas etc. Gospels were not the only works Christians put into book form.

The Pseudo-Clementine literature, which does draw upon second century sources, has an intriguing view of Paul. It never describes his conversion and tells how he tried to murder James.

Chapter 70 of the Recognitions of Clement says 'Therefore he began to drive all into confusion with shouting, and to undo what had been arranged with much labour, and at the same time to reproach the priests, and to enrage them with revilings and abuse, and, like a madman, to excite every one to murder, saying, `What do ye? Why do ye hesitate? Oh sluggish and inert, why do we not lay hands upon them, and pull all these fellows to pieces? When he had said this, he first, seizing a strong brand from the altar, set the example of smiting. Then others also, seeing him, were carried away with like readiness. Then ensued a tumult on either side, of the beating and the beaten. Much blood is shed; there is a confused flight, in the midst of which that enemy attacked James, and threw him headlong from the top of the steps; and supposing him to be dead, he cared not to inflict further violence upon him."

I'm not sure what it has to do with the reliability of the New Testament, but isn't it intriguing that one brand of Christianity tries to write Paul out of history?

Stephen Motyer's Third Email

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