God’s Reliable Word

“The law (rule and instruction) of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony (witness) of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple…” (Psalm 19:7).

One very popular Evangelical preacher in America recently said, “Christianity does not exist because of the Bible.” He then offered what he called a ‘grown up’ version of Christianity to those who feel less-than-confident about the Bible. Outside of the Christian community, scholars and critics are loudly casting doubt upon the Bible. The barrage of skepticism and ridicule has left many Christians and non-Christians alike with little (if any) trust in the reliability of the Bible.

Amid all of this, many faithful Christians are simply naïve in their own understanding about the reliability and credibility of the Bible. Many try to hold and defend unwarranted views, and this can cause even more fear and frustration.

The faithful translations of the Bible we have today are indeed trustworthy.

Even the most skeptical researchers admit that 99.5% of the original New Testament text is clearly recorded in our Bibles. Furthermore, the tiny number of lingering uncertainties are all documented in any modern English translation, and they have no impact whatsoever on any doctrine or historical fact of Christianity.

The vital point we must remember is that 100% of the original New Testament text is in our Bible, but a very tiny portion of it is either in the main text or in the footnotes. Since we are not sure which variation is original, each possible rendering is included, and the most likely rendering is placed in the main text.

Simply put, we have 100% of the original New Testament, we have honest and trustworthy renderings of the original Scriptures in our Bibles today, and there is no uncertainty about what the Bible intends to teach.

The Synoptic Problem

The so-called Synoptic Problem does not seem to be a problem at all, in the useful sense of the word.  It seems to me that a better title for this issue would be the Synoptic Production or the Synoptic Compilation.  Yet, the Synoptic Problem it remains, and Clements describes the matter by saying, “Even a quick reading of the four Gospels reveals that three of them (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are alike, especially when contrasted with John.“ He goes on to say that these similar three are called “synoptic” for the very reason that they share a common view of the life, ministry, sayings, works, death and resurrection of Christ.  “A more detailed comparison, however,” says Clements, “reveals a wide variety of differences as well as similarities… From a literary point of view, these facts raise difficult questions. How did the Gospels originate? Did their authors use each other’s work, and did they have other materials available to them?”[1]

The problem, then, is in the mind of the form, source and redaction critics.  This is not to say that the questions are not interesting or worthy of our time, but the questions themselves are not problems.  However, some of the answers provided by the critics who ask these questions are problematic indeed.

In 1771 G. E. Lessing posited an explanation as to the similarities found among the Synoptic Gospels.  He suggested that there was a single Hebrew or Aramaic gospel already in circulation, which the Synoptic Gospel authors used as a source for their own.[2]  Later on, J. G. Herder, and later still J. K. L. Gieseler, theorized that the body of this original source was not written but “a relatively fixed oral summary of the life of Christ.”[3]  Then a theologian by the name of F. Schleiermacher argued that Papias’s (an early Christian bishop Hierapolis, in the Phrygian part of the Roman province of Asia[4]) ‘logia’ (his collection of teachings and sayings of early Christian elders – possibly as many as two disciples) made reference to one of several progressively developing written fragments, small pieces of gospel tradition, that eventually were subsumed into the Synoptic Gospels.[5]

Finally, though chronologically the earliest postulated explanation of the similarities, there is also the theory of Interdependence.  This solution to the synoptic problem asserts that two of the gospel writers used one or more of the other Synoptic Gospels in their own composition.  Advocates of this view are not forced to deny the use of another source(s) now lost, and maintain, “only borrowing at the final literary level can explain the degree of similarity among the Synoptic Gospels.”[6]  This interdependent view of the compilation of the Synoptic Gospels is nearly universally accepted among present-day New Testament scholars.

With a view toward the interdependence of the Synoptic Gospels there are three significant arrangements suggested as a pattern for production.  The Augustinian Proposal gets its name from St. Augustine, the legendary North African theologian, who first maintained it.  This patter begins with Matthew, then Mark borrowed from Matthew, and finally Luke borrowed from both Mark and Matthew.  Not only did the early Church believe that Matthew had originally written his gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic (based on an obscure quote from Papias),[7] but until the nineteenth century the Augustinian Proposal “was the standard view of those who saw a literary relationship among the Synoptic Gospels.”[8]

TheTwo-GospelHypothesis is another view towards a pattern of development.  J. J. Griesbach held that Matthew was indeed written first, but that Luke was second and then Mark pulled much of his gospel from both Matthew and Luke.[9]  This accounted for the vast similarities and almost verbatim quotes between Mark and Matthew, and Mark and Luke.

In contrast to the Two-Gospel Hypothesis, TheTwo-SourceHypothesis flips this pattern on its head.  This developmental system sees Mark as the pioneer gospel writer while Matthew and Luke drew from his work and another text independently from one another to pen their own gospels.  This other conceivable text is known only as ‘Q’, and it is perhaps a lost collection of Jesus’ sayings.[10]  The Two-Source Hypothesis perceives the similarities between Matthew and Luke, which are not shared by Mark, to be that material received from the mysterious ‘Q.’ Referring back to the earlier question of some possible written and/or oral gospel tradition, it is entirely plausible that ‘Q’ may be defined as some very early combination of both written and oral stories about and sayings from Jesus.

There is not unanimity concerning the theories above, but many do hold the Two-Source Hypothesis.  The postulation of Mark being the first gospel written does seem appealing for several reasons.

First, Mark is shorter and more abrupt than Matthew and Luke.  Mark’s brevity can have any number of causes, and shorter does not necessarily mean earlier.  Yet, because Matthew and Luke both contain much of Mark, it seems hardly worth the time for Mark to write the gospel he did if he did so after the other two.  Quoting G. M. Styler, “Given Mark, it is easy to see why Matthew was written; given Matthew, it is hard to see why Mark was needed.”[11]

Second, Matthew and Luke often agree with Mark when there are areas of similarity, but Matthew and Luke agree less frequently.  This makes sense best if we see Mark as the available text to each of the other two authors as they wrote independent from one another.[12]

Third, Mark’s gospel has more of an awkward style and a greater number of Aramaic expressions than do Matthew or Luke.  The reason that this is an argument for the earlier writing of Mark is that it would seem inconceivable that an author would take material from a smooth format and break it up.  Rather, the opposite is what an author would do, and this plausible authorial process fits better with a view from Mark to the others instead of Mark from the others.  Additionally, the Aramaic expressions in Mark are translated to the Greek culture or eliminated altogether in Matthew and Luke.  It simply does not make sense that Mark would pull an expression back from its translated context or insert it in the material already well written.  These three individually nudge one in the direction of accepting Mark’s earlier authorship than the other two Synoptic authors, but collectively they seem to unavoidably point to an earlier arrival of Mark.

I have already “tipped my hand,” as it were, in this last paragraph.  My position is that of the Two-Source Hypothesis.  It seem most plausible to me that Mark was written first, and that all three Synoptic Gospel authors were familiar with gospel traditions that were included in their works.  These gospel traditions were certainly oral, and many of them were likely contained in some written form (possibly ‘Q’) as well.[13]

There are no doubt questions that this hypothesis does not answer, and there are men smarter than me who hold another view.  However, ultimately the answers to these questions are that God superintended the development of these documents through His sovereignty and providence.

Divine inspiration of Scripture is not to be confused with automatic writing, dictation, or any other obliteration of human authorship.  In fact, the beauty of God’s word is that it comes through the means of such common instrumentality.  Historical developments, culture, personal research, education, life experiences, and a host of other influences came to bear on the gospel writers, but none of these stifled the divine revelation they conveyed as they themselves were being carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).

I agree wholeheartedly with Clements when he says, “Scholarly work on history and literature should therefore not be despised, since it often sheds light on the text. On the other hand, our confidence in the truth of Scripture does not rest on the ability of specialists to sort out literary problems, but on God’s power to fulfill His promises (Is. 55: 10,11; 2 Tim. 3: 16,17). “[14]


[1] Clements, Don K. New Geneva Introduction to the New Testament. Edited by R. C. Sproul. Narrows, VA: Metokos Press, 2006.

[2] Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.  89.

[3] Ibid.  90.

[4] Lovell, Graham Davis. “Papias on Mark and Matthew.” Papias on Mark and Matthew. May 25, 2012. http://newtestamenthistory.blogspot.com/2012/05/papias-on-mark-and-matthew.html.

[5] Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.  90-91.

[6] Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.  91.

[7] Ibid.  143.

[8] Ibid.  93.

[9] Ibid.  93.

[10] Ibid.  94.

[11] Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.  96.

[12] Ibid.  97.

[13] Ibid.  101.

[14] Clements, Don K. New Geneva Introduction to the New Testament. Edited by R. C. Sproul. Narrows, VA: Metokos Press, 2006.

To whom was the Letter to the ‘Galatians’ written?

Recently, I taught a bible study course through the Galatian epistle and began the first lesson by discussing only the first three words of the text, “Paul, an Apostle…”[1] ‘Who is Paul?’ and ‘What is an Apostle?’ seemed to be two questions that needed to be asked and answered before we could move on to anything else. There is another pressing question, however, that has been asked at the outset of this same letter.

Just after his own introduction, the Apostle Paul addresses his letter’s recipients, “To the churches of Galatia… (ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῆς Γαλατίας).”  Who were the Galatian Christians to whom the Apostle Paul wrote? This question may or may not have a similar bearing on interpretation and application to my previously recommended inquiries, but the question is an important one nonetheless. The perceived destination of this letter can have an impact on the interpretation of such a text, but an interest in a destination of the Galatian epistle certainly has a great deal to do with the dating of its authorship. Therefore, questions regarding the recipients and the destination of any biblical text are important for more than just critical scholars.

In the first century B.C. the province of Galatia, variable in size over the years, was under the rule of the Celtic king Amyntas. At its peak expanse, Galatia stretched from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and always covered the central land area that was home to many Celts, including three Celtic tribes – referenced later in the ‘North Galatia’ theory. Having been willed to Rome in 25 B.C. and modified at its frontiers, in the Apostle Paul’s day the province of Galatia still encompassed vast parts of Lycaonia, Pisidia, and Phrygia.[2] It is apparent that the term ‘Galatia’ certainly has the potential to be less than helpful in discovering the exact audience of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

According to scholars, there are only two conceivable destinations for this letter. One possibility is that the letter was written to “three Celtic tribes akin to the Gauls,” which Cole says were known as Galatians, “who had invaded and subsequently occupied Asia Minor in the third century before Christ.”[3] This is the theory that the Apostle Paul used the term Galatia in what is described by Fung as the “enthnogeographical sense,”[4] referring to the ethnic group located in the northern part of the province of Galatia. This is known as the ‘North Galatian’ theory.

The other plausible option is that the epistle was written to a broader group defined by Cole as the “radically mixed inhabitants of the Roman province of Galatia, and the name ‘Galatians’ was simply used as a handy common term to cover them all.”[5] This is the theory that the Apostle Paul used the term Galatia to denote an expansive Roman province, referring to the general composition of churches he had established across the southern part of the Roman province of Galatia. This is known as the ‘South Galatia’ theory. Common geographical and ethnic labels (especially those used by the Apostle Paul), the varying composition of the Roman province of Galatia, the chronology of the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys, and the correlation of many of the details of the Apostle Paul’s life experiences recorded in this letter as compared to other New Testament writings will all contribute to the discussion concerning which of these two theories best provides the most plausible destination.

North Galatia Theory

The ‘North Galatia’ theory maintains that the Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Celtic group of believers in Northern Galatia, the area of modern day Turkey. The ‘North Galatia’ theory was the position held by the early Church fathers, and was the dominant view of scholarship until the nineteenth century.[6] Tucker, an associate professor of New Testament at Moody Theological Seminary, said that there are more commentaries from the early Church fathers on Paul’s epistle to the Galatians than from than any other New Testament book.[7]

The endorsement of the patristics, however, is not a sure road to certainty on any New Testament matter; and Martin Luther did not seem to know of the theory when he wrote in the sixteenth century in his commentary on the epistle, “Paul had preached the Gospel throughout Galatia, founding many churches which after his departure were invaded by the false apostles.”[8] It appears that Luther understood Paul’s letter to have been destined for those churches about which he also read in Luke’s record of Paul’s journeys. He mentions no thought of unnamed churches in northern Galatia being the addressees of such an inspired communiqué.

At any rate, the Galatia of the early Church fathers’ day had already been significantly pruned from the expansive territory with the same name in the Apostle Paul’s lifetime. The Galatia that the patristics knew was virtually comprised only by the Celtic heartland, which is the home of three Celtic tribes – the claimed audience of the ‘North Galatia’ theory. This, it would seem, makes the position of the Church fathers a good assessment of their contemporary common viewpoint, but no real indicator as to the actual intended audience of the Apostle Paul.

J. B. Lightfoot, Fung declares, is the classical proponent of the ‘North Galatia’ argument, and James Moffatt as well as others joined him in the debate. This view remains widely held, “predominantly but not exclusively in Germany.”[9] The adherents to this view are not without warrant, and there are a number of reasons that one may find the ‘North Galatia’ theory appealing. In fact, Carson and Moo list as many as eight points of positive argument for the proposition. For the discussion here, several will surely suffice.

First, many ‘North Galatia’ proponents contend that the term Galatia carried the intended meaning of referring to the locale of the Gaul inhabitants of the north.  Their point is that the term was simply acceptable shorthand for the audience they claim as most likely. Next, it is argued that Phrygians would not have found the label of Galatians very appealing as a designative term to include them. It is said that both Phrygians and Lycaonians would have perceived the term as an insult to them because it would remind them of their Roman rule.[10] Cole says that some ‘North Galatia’ theorists claim that calling someone a “Galatian” at that time would have been the equivalent of calling them a “country bumpkin.”[11]

Then there is the example of Luke’s denotations of geographical locations in Acts 13 and 14. In both of these chapters Luke uses specific designations for certain cities in relation to their geography.  Antioch is called “Pisidian” (Acts 13:14), and Lystra and Derbe are referred to as “cities of Lycaonia” (Acts 14:6). These two citations are interesting when compared with Luke’s reference to “the region of Phrygia and Galatia” (Acts 16:6). The North Galatia theorist says, “we must understand him to mean geographic Phrygia and geographic Galatia – that is, North Galatia.”[12]

The Apostle Paul was a traveling evangelist if he was anything, and his missionary journeys are famous. While some would dismiss the ‘North Galatia’ theory on the grounds that the Apostle Paul simply could not have evangelized the area claimed by the theory, the arguments against such a possibility seem inconclusive. In fact, those who hold the ‘North Galatia’ view find tremendous evidence for a Pauline visit to north Galatia in the text of Acts 16 as it relates to the Apostle Paul’s physical disease (Galatians 4:13-14) and his resulting providential stay with the Galatians. It would be perfectly in keeping with what we know of the Apostle Paul to consider his interest in making the most of an opportunity provided him by God to proclaim the Gospel to the people of north Galatia. According to this view, the Galatian epistle is a follow up letter to Paul’s divinely orchestrated encounter with the northern Galatians.

Probably the most curious argument I found in favor of the ‘North Galatia’ theory was that of the potentially conflicting records concerning the Apostle Paul’s experience of opposition. The record we find in Acts of Paul’s missionary journeys includes one account after another of persecution and hardship concerning the response of the hearers and the reception of the Gospel. Yet, there is no mention of any opposition experienced by Paul in any Galatian city. It seems that a reasonable explanation for this confusion lack of persecution would be that the Apostle was writing not to several cities across the Roman province of Galatia, but to a particular people group – namely the Celtic tribes – in northern Galatia.

While the ‘North Galatia’ theory does have the benefit of longstanding adherence, and it poses some interesting arguments, this theory seems less than completely convincing. The reasons listed here are all, with the exception of the last one mentioned, provided with a retort and even dismissed as they are listed in most of the material investigated for this essay. The ‘North Galatia’ theory is accompanied by the postulation of a later date for the authorship of the letter as well, and this appears (at least to the present writer) to hurt rather than help its case. Far from providing a coherent chronology through the use of geographical sequence, the ‘North Galatia’ theory seems to ring its own death knell in its dating options.

South Galatia Theory

While the ‘South Galatia’ theory is fairly new, when compared with its antagonist, it has overtaken the place of majority scholarly adherence if at least in the English speaking world.[13] This transfer of dominance is due to many things, but it seems that one of the greatest evidences for the ‘South Galatia’ theory is the preponderance of familiarity that the New Testament has with the southern locale in the Roman province of Galatia. Carson muses, “We have information about people and places Paul knew and visited in the southern region, but none at all in the north (at best Acts 16:6 and 18:23 may indicate work in the north, but neither passage says that Paul founded churches there).” Carson concludes, “This is in striking contrast to his work in other areas.”[14] It is a noticeable dissimilarity indeed.

As mentioned earlier, Galatia was a large Roman province that included a much greater expanse than the Celtic tribal loci. In fact, the cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe were all included in the southern region of Galatia. The significance of these cities and their general collective location lends great weight to the ‘South Galatia’ theory because they are all included in the list of recorded cities visited by the Apostle Paul, and the New Testament has great familiarity with them. Luke writes of these named cities as places where the Apostle Paul founded churches on his first missionary journey, which is documented in Acts 13:13 through Acts 14:28.[15]

In a telling statement, Carson quotes the ‘North Galatia’ theory’s spearhead, Lightfoot, who said, “It is strange that while we have more or less acquaintance with all the other important Churches of St. Paul’s founding, with Corinth and Ephesus, with Philippi and Thessalonica, not a single name of a person or place, scarcely be preserved in either the history or the epistle.”[16] With these words, Lightfoot acknowledges the inconceivability of his own theory in light of the total absence of any explicit Pauline visit, much less any record of the Apostle planting a local church among the northern Galatian Celts. This ground of the debate is so vital that it hardly needs stressing, and one might think there be no reason to continue the discussion in terms of uncertainty regarding the destination of the letter to the Galatians. Yet, there is more.

Fung suggests the ‘South Galatia’ theory is correct for at least three reasons, which he says are particularly cogent.

First, “what is known of the geographical situation at the time: none of the main roads in Asia Minor even passed through North Galatia, so that had Paul wanted to go to preach the gospel there he would not have set our from Lystra (cf. Acts 16:1, 6).”[17] This argument is from practical travel ability; Paul simply could not have gone the route postulated by those of the ‘North Galatia’ theory. If the Apostle Paul would have actually made the trek north to the Celtic tribes located there, he would have started at another beginning point. Yet, Lystra being the doubtful starting point of a trip north, the ‘North Galatia’ theory has no other textual springboard to which it may point.

Second, “Paul’s evangelistic strategy: it is obvious from Acts that Paul consistently concentrated his efforts on the main roads and centers of communication in the Roman Empire, and until the end of the third century South Galatia was more important than North Galatia and correspondingly more developed.”[18] Again, Fung appeals to all that we know to be true about the Apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7-8). Paul was repeatedly traveling to the cities and along the routes that would provide him the greatest numerical audience and farthest possible reach for his message. Southern Galatia’s cities simply enjoyed higher population numbers and greater influence that did those of Northern Galatia. Paul would most certainly have gone anywhere and preached to anyone, but he was a masterful tactical evangelist.

Third, “the silence of Acts regarding the establishment of churches in North Galatia: this silence, over against the author’s explicit mention of churches in South Galatia, would be extremely difficult to explain if the controversy reflected in Galatians had been a controversy with the churches in North Galatia.”[19] This is similar to the argument already encountered, but it is noteworthy to mention not only the general lack of evidence for any Pauline visit, but also the specific lack of evidence regarding a Pauline planted church in north Galatia. Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia is directed at a plurality of churches, and it is tremendously personal as well as relational.

The churches of North Galatia seem less likely to go unnoticed by the New Testament text than does a single church in northern Galatia. While it is possible, it is all the more unlikely that the audience is multiple unknown churches northern Galatia. Additionally, the experiences of the Apostle Paul among the churches of Galatia recounted in the letter that bears the name are personal and seemingly extended over time. Lastly, the churches of Galatia can hardly be thought to have gone completely unnamed while seemingly enjoying such broad knowledge and even guests from other places. These churches of Galatia knew (or at least knew of) Peter, James, John, Barnabas, and Titus (Galatians 2:1-9). They were even significant enough as to have received the same message as was carried by the “men from James or Jerusalem” (Galatians 2:12), namely that Christians were only true Christians if they lived according to Jewish laws and customs.

Dating the Epistle to the Galatians

One can hardly attempt an address of the potential destination of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians without recognizing that the date of its authorship has a direct correlation. One commentary says, “The question of the letter’s date is intertwined with the problem of its destination.”[20] The two questions are linked, and how one answers the question of one will affect the options he has in answering the other. The writer goes on to draw out the dating dilemma,

“When we follow the course of Paul’s first and second missionary journeys (Acts 13; 14; 15: 36-18: 22) we discover that this question has implications for the epistle’s date and for its relationship to Paul’s other letters. Paul visited Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe (all cities in south Galatia) on his first and second missionary journeys. If Paul wrote to southern Galatia, he probably wrote to those churches early in his career, shortly after the first missionary journey, or about the time of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15; cf. Gal. 2: 11-14). The date most often given by those who hold this view is A.D. 49. If this is correct, Galatians may be Paul’s earliest epistle in existence today.”[21]

Indeed, this would prove to be incredibly noteworthy. If the Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the churches of Galatia in or about 49 A.D., that would have a tremendous impact on the discussion concerning an early construction of Christian theology, early ecclesiastical interaction (see especially Galatians chapters 5 and 6), and an amazingly fast spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the time of His death, resurrection and ascension. Christians would have good reason to see the foundational structure of the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3) delivered specifically to the saints of Galatia very early on (Galatians 1:6). Not only would this put Paul in the midst of church planting about 15 years after the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ; it would move that date even further in the past. We would not expect that Paul means only a few weeks when he admits his astonishment at the seemingly speedy desertion of the Gospel by his letter’s recipients. It would be prudent to understand Paul’s church planting work and coherent Gospel presentations to have been prevalent and effective some significant amount of time before this epistle was written.

The same commentary already referenced goes on to explain the dating options for the opposing view of intentional destination.

“Many scholars think that Galatians was written to the ethnic Galatians in the north. If this view is correct, Paul probably wrote the letter after passing through “Galatia and Phrygia” (Acts 18: 23) on his third missionary Journey. Many who follow the “north Galatian theory” believe that Paul wrote the letter either during his two-year stay in Ephesus (Acts 19) or as he was traveling through Macedonia on his way to Greece at the end of his third missionary journey (Acts 20: 1-6; cf. 2 Cor. 2: 13). If this is correct, Galatians was probably written in A.D. 54 or 55.”[22]

Rather than placing this letter between the Apostle’s first and second missionary journeys, the later proposed time of composition would date it near the end of Paul’s third missionary journey. The two date options are not significantly different regarding the passing of time; 5 years is certainly not an extremely long time. However, the significance of the timely arrival of the material in the letter is diminished at this later date. Again, the dating of this letter may be weightier because of the possibility that it is the first and earliest of all New Testament texts. At any rate, the ‘North Galatia’ theory seems less likely on the scale of geography and the recorded church planting activity of the Apostle Paul. Therefore, the later dating may not have any feet on which to stand before it even attempts the act. However, there is also good reason to accept the earlier date on its own terms.

Carson lists four reasons that the earlier date is better supported. One, “In protesting that he had a divine commission and not one derived ‘from any human source’ (1:12), Paul lists his contacts with the Jerusalem apostles.”[23] These contacts include two visits to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1-2), which seem to correspond to the visits recorded in Acts 9:26 and Acts 11:28-30. After he lists these encounters, he resolves “I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie” (Galatians 1:20). This line of reasoning goes on then, “Paul’s list must be complete, else his argument would be vitiated (see 1:20).”[24] Therefore, he cannot have left out the Acts 15 visit, unless that visit had not yet occurred, and remain true to his word.

Two, “Paul does not mention the decree of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), which would have been very suitable for his purpose. This suggests a visit [that is a visit to the letter’s recipients in Galatia] before the council.”[25] The suggestion of a visit before the council on the ground that Paul does not mention the decree of it alone is not sufficient, because Paul does not mention the decree in other of his writings that were authored demonstrably later. However, the point is notable nonetheless as it would have been significant to mention it and beneficial to his argument.

Carson’s third point is that “Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship with the Gentiles (2:12) is more likely to have been before rather than after the council.”[26] While the Apostle to the Jews, Peter (Galatians 2:7-8), was certainly not a beacon of tact and propriety in some notable moments of New Testament history, it still does not make sense that he would make the statements that he does at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:7-11) and then later act in such a contradictory way (Galatians 2:12). It would make more sense to understand Peter’s vacillation on table fellowship with Gentiles to have occurred prior to his bold and courageous statements in front of the most notable Jewish leaders of his own day.

Fourth and finally, Carson asserts, “The early date is not invalidated by Paul’s words ‘I first preached the gospel to you’ (4:13), which some suggest means ‘on the first of my two visits’ (NEB) and points to a date later than Paul’s second missionary journey.”[27] This point is a bit more academic than the previous three, but a great one to add at this juncture. Some would argue that Paul’s expression cited above indicates that he visited the Galatian churches more than once, and this is simply not the case with the southern Galatian churches who would have been the recipients of the letter according to the ‘South Galatia’ theory. However, Carson defends his statement with some linguistic instruction of his own.

“In classical Greek the expression means on the former of two occasions, but in Hellenistic Greek it signifies ‘formerly, in the past’ (as in John 6:62; 9:8; Heb. 4:6, etc.). In any case, Paul visited his South Galatian churches twice during his first expedition (see Acts 14:21), so that even if the Greek expression is taken to mean ‘on the first of my two visits,’ the second visit may have been the return swing on the first missionary journey (Acts 12:21-26), rather than something later.”[28]

Therefore, it is possible that Paul was writing to the same churches posited as the recipients in the ‘South Galatia’ theory. Moreover, the preponderance of evidence demonstrates that it is not only possible, but also incredibly likely that this was the case. It is the view of the present writer that the ‘North Galatia’ theory is not tenable, and the ‘South Galatia’ theory is reasonable.

Additionally, the earlier dating (circa 49 A.D.) of the letter makes it a fascinating study as the earliest New Testament document. This has huge implications for both textual criticism dialogues and apologetic exchanges. The interpretation of the Galatian epistle does not seem to be impacted by the implications of a northern or southern destination, and this also points to the significance in the early dating. The letter addresses universal truths concerning law, grace, gospel, faith, sin, true freedom, and God’s steadfast commitment to all those He chooses to call His own. These theological articulations at such an early point of Christianity’s chronology is very interesting to say the least.

Bibliography

Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Second ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.

Clements, Don K., comp. New Geneva Introduction to the New Testament. Edited by R. C. Sproul. Narrows, VA: Metokos Press, 2006.

Cole, R. A. Galatians: An Introduction and Commentary. Edited by Leon Morris. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008.

Fung, Ronald Y. K. NICNT: The Epistle to the Galatians. Edited by Gordon D. Fee. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1988.

Hendriksen, William. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002.

Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001.

Keller, Timothy J. Galatians for You. [Purcellville, VA]: Good Book Company, 2013.

Lightfoot, Joseph Barber. Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. A Revised Text with Introduction, Notes and Dissertations. London: Macmillan and, 1890.

Luther, Martin. Commentary on Galatians. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1979.

Tucker, Brian J. “Galatians and Ephesians.” Galatians and Ephesians. http://www.slideboom.com/presentations/380085/Galatians-and-Ephesians.


[1] Galatians 1:1a.  All Biblical citations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated.

[2] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 458.

[3] Cole, Galatians: An Introduction and Commentary, 21.

[4] Fung, NICNT: The Epistle to the Galatians, 1.

[5] Cole, Galatians: An Introduction and Commentary, 21.

[6] Fung, NICNT: The Epistle to the Galatians, 1.

[7] Tucker, Galatians and Ephesians.

[8] Luther, Galatians 1:2b

[9] Fung, NICNT: The Epistle to the Galatians, 1.

[10] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 460.

[11] Cole, Galatians: An Introduction and Commentary, 24.

[12] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 460.

[13] Fung, NICNT: The Epistle to the Galatians, 2.

[14] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 458.

[15] Fung, NICNT: The Epistle to the Galatians, 1.

[16] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 458.

[17] Fung, NICNT: The Epistle to the Galatians, 3.

[18] Fung, NICNT: The Epistle to the Galatians, 3.

[19] Fung, NICNT: The Epistle to the Galatians, 3.

[20] Clements, New Geneva Introduction to the New Testament.

[21] Clements, New Geneva Introduction to the New Testament.

[22] Clements, New Geneva Introduction to the New Testament.

[23] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 462.

[24] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 462.

[25] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 462.

[26] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 462.

[27] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 462.

[28] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 462.

The Authorship of 2nd Peter

Many scholars say the canonical text known as Second Peter was not actually written by the Apostle to whose name the work is attributed.  In fact, Hampton Keathley observes, “most critical scholars [conclude 2nd Peter] to be pseudepigraphal literature.”[1]  Pseudepigraphy (pseudo – false, epigraphos – superscription) is the attribution of a work to a writer who was not the genuine author.  This is similar, though not identical, to pseudonymous (pseudo – false, onoma – name) or falsely named writing.[2]  Each of these designations are not extremely uncommon among ancient writings, but there would certainly be serious implications if any of the biblical texts were placed under either label.  Laying aside these concerns for the moment, it is helpful to understand why one might consider identifying the text of 2nd Peter as pseudepigraphical.

Michael Gilmour’s article was very helpful to summarize 10 reasons why Petrine authorship of 2nd Peter is questioned.  Among those reasons cited, he listed 2nd Peter’s relationship to Jude (there are similarities between them), differences in style between 1st and 2nd Peter (distinctions may point to differing authors), and the early Church was reluctant to accept the text as canonical.[3]  He went on to explain that the similarities between the texts of 2nd Peter and Jude would suggest that the author might have been one and the same for both.  This would not allow Petrine authorship for the text in question.  Lending credibility to this argument, there are distinct differences in style between 1st and 2nd Peter.  This would seem to also point to an author other than Peter for this second epistle that bears his name.

Furthermore, the early church had three primary measures for canonicity concerning the many texts, which they weighed and either rejected as untrustworthy or received as God’s holy word.  One of the criteria was that the text must have been written by an Apostle or one very close to an Apostle (i.e. endorsed and/or supported by an Apostle).[4]  Each of these ‘problems’ is worth examining, but one must not conclude too early that these are cause to jettison Petrine authorship specifically or accept the notion of pseudepigraphical texts in the New Testament generally.

First, the similarities between 2nd Peter and Jude may be explained by the authors of each having close relationship to one another.  John Piper says 1st Corinthians 9:5[5] may imply that Peter and Jude, Jesus’ brother, traveled together.[6]  This would be a possible justification for the similarities found in each of their writings.  It is not necessary that they copy one another’s written text; traveling partners would inevitably speak regularly to one another and tend to gravitate towards a common vocabulary when speaking of frequently mentioned subjects.  This reasonable explanation need not be proven for the possible explanation to hold.  Unless demonstrated impossible, the possibility remains and is indeed plausible.

Second, the dissimilarities between 1st and 2nd Peter may be explained by the use of a secretary in authoring one or both of these texts.  Piper says that the explanation of stylistic and vocabulary differences may be explained by positing Jude as Peter’s scribe or amanuensis to help Peter write the second epistle.[7]  If we allow for the previously posited theory, namely that Peter and Jude were travel partners for some time, then is would also be a reasonable possibility that Jude may have served Peter in this way.  John MacArthur, on the other hand, says that the solution is found in the scribal provision of Silvanus for the first letter (1 Peter 5:12).[8]  Whether one suggests scribal assistance for 1st or 2nd Peter, or both, the use of such would provide plenty of room for style and verbiage variance.

Third, Apostolic authorship of any first-century text, or the endorsement of and contribution to such a text, was very important to the patristics – especially those who carried the burden of accepting or rejecting a given text’s canonicity.  The fact that 2nd Peter was not immediately recognized as canonical does not exclude it from being Apostolic in authorship, but it does demonstrate the close examination that each text was given.  It would seem that the slow and painstaking process of receiving a work as God’s holy word would lend to its credibility rather than take from it.  If one work was scrutinized more than another, one is not exactly wise to conclude that the findings are less credible.

At the end of the chatter, one is left with a decision between two serious choices.  On the one hand, one may choose to consider these plausible explanations and others credible and understand the text of 2nd Peter as authentic to the Apostle Peter.  On the other hand, one can allow for the possibility that 2nd Peter was written by someone other than the Apostle Peter and thereby call into question the text itself.  It is worth noting that the label of pseudepigraphy is in direct opposition to the assertions of the text.  The very first phrase of the work is a declaration of authorship, “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1a).  Because of this, and several other reasons, a choice of the latter option means more than most who choose it are willing to acknowledge.

Because of the author’s designation in the first verse there is an immediate question that becomes nagging.  Why refer to this work as pseudepigraphical but not pseudonymous?  If Simeon Peter is not the true author, then the false author has taken a false name for some reason or another.  This, it seems, is the definition of pseudonymous writing.  Therefore, one is not merely looking at an anonymous document that some believe may have been written by Simeon Peter; instead, one is forced either to recognize Simeon Peter as the true author or to acknowledge that the author is intentionally misleading his or her readers from the beginning.  It is not hard to see that the stakes are quite high here.

What we are considering is not just who may have actually been the author of 2nd Peter, but whether or not the author of text labeled ‘2nd Peter’ can be trusted.  By extension, if the author of 2nd Peter cannot be trusted, then there is reason enough to question the trustworthiness of at least some other New Testament texts.  Finally, if there is even one untrustworthy text in the whole of the canon of Scripture, then there is cause enough for the average person to distrust the Bible generally.

Because of these high stakes it behooves us to ask what reason we have for throwing such contempt upon the Scriptures in this way.  Is it because there is strong evidence to suggest that 2nd Peter is not trustworthy?  Is it because there is something in  Peter that contradicts the rest of sacred Scripture?  Is it because someone has discovered that there was a conspiracy among the patristics that included the adoption of this text in spite of its pseudonymous authorship?  No, is the answer to all of these questions.  There is no strong evidence that would suggest the text is unreliable.  There is no contradiction between the text and the remainder of the Scriptures.  There is no evidence of any patristic conspiracy.  In fact, there is good reason to receive the text at face value, there is perfect harmony in this text and the other canonical books, and everything that we know of the patristics indicates that they would have thrown this text out in a second if they thought it pseudonymous.

The bottom line is that 2nd Peter simply does not make sense as a pseudepigraphical or pseudonymous writing.  After weighing the text, John MacArthur says that it does not introduce any new doctrine or teaching, and therefore it would not make sense that a false author would attribute such an inconsequential text to Peter.  A false writer would need the weight of an apostolic name only if he were intending some significant thrust in the work.  MacArthur says, “[I]f 2 Peter were a forgery, it would be a forgery written by a fool for no reason at all.” He determines, “This is too much to believe.”  Then MacArthur asserts, “The conclusion to the question of authorship is that, when the writer introduced the letter and referred to himself as Peter, he was writing the truth.”[9]  I concur with Mr. MacArthur.


[1] Keathley, Hampton, IV. “The Authorship of Second Peter.” Bible.org. June 3, 2004. https://bible.org/article/authorship-second-peter.

[2] Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.  337.

[3] Gilmour, Michael J. “Reflections on the Authorship of 2 Peter.” The Evangelical Quarterly 73, no. 4 (October 2001): 291-309. Accessed November 21, 2013. http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/eq/2001-4_291.pdf.

[4] Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.  736.

[5] “Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” (ESV)

[6] Piper, John. “Who Wrote 2 Peter?” Desiring God. April 27, 1982. http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/who-wrote-2-peter.

[7] Piper, John. “Who Wrote 2 Peter?” Desiring God. April 27, 1982. http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/who-wrote-2-peter.

[8] MacArthur, John. “Grace To You.” Second Peter. Accessed November 22, 2013. http://www.gty.org/resources/Bible-Introductions/MSB61/Second-Peter.

[9] MacArthur, John. “Grace To You.” Second Peter. Accessed November 22, 2013. http://www.gty.org/resources/Bible-Introductions/MSB61/Second-Peter.