As a way of trying to tear down what the four gospels have to say, skeptics often launch an attack by stating that the 12 disciples were illiterate, uneducated men who couldn’t read or write. Therefore, they could not have written the four gospels and/or the epistles that bear their names, especially since the manuscripts are in koine Greek, a language they didn’t know.
Are the skeptics’ arguments valid? To back up these claims, they often quote the following scriptures (which is odd, considering they claim the scriptures are false, then turn around and assume them to be true for their illiteracy arguments):
14 Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught.15 And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned? John 7
13 Now when they [the Jewish council] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. Acts 4
However, like they do all the scriptures, skeptics quote such things out of context and then draw their conclusions in error. The context of both passages is of the leaders of the Jews taking note that neither Jesus nor his disciples had formal training in teaching scripture and explaining the meaning of the scripture. They had not attended the rabbinical schools of their day, yet they knew how to quote and explain scripture better than the rabbis.
If skeptics took the time to read the whole New Testament and learn about the culture of Israel, they would discover that Jesus and his disciples were not only literate, but knew Greek. When Alexander the Great conquered Israel, it became a colony run and occupied by Greeks who lived alongside the Hebrews and many Jews became Hellenists, meaning they adopted the language and customs of the Greeks. Israel became a bilingual nation. Then when Rome took over, the third language of Latin was introduced. This is why Pilate had the inscription above Jesus’ head on the cross written in the three prominent languages of that day in Israel.
But we have several places in scripture that show us Christ’s literacy and the literacy of his disciples. In Luke 4:16-21, we find that Jesus went to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth and stood up to read from the book of Isaiah and after he finished reading it to the congregation he told them he was the fulfillment of the prophecy.
In Acts 15, when a dispute arose in the Church about obeying Jewish customs, the disciples/apostles came to the conclusion that they would not burden Gentiles with Jewish customs and they decided to write letters to all churches throughout the Greek-speaking world about their decision (Acts 15:19-20, 23). It’s obvious they knew how to write and speak Greek. Then when you add to the fact that Matthew was a tax collector, the idea of illiteracy among the disciples is a fallacy that continues to fall like a house of cards. As a tax collector for Rome, Matthew would have to have kept detailed written records of his transactions. He would have also been required to know Hebrew, Greek, and Latin to demand taxes from the population in the district to which he was assigned and to report to his Roman bosses.
Additionally, Luke, who was a Gentile doctor that converted to Christianity after Christ’s ascension, tells in chapter 1 of his gospel that many of the eyewitnesses who participated in Jesus’ ministry had written what they saw and were the inspiration for him writing his gospel (Luke 1:1-3). So the idea that Jesus’ original apostles could not have written the gospels or epistles because they’re in Greek, is a hyped-up error by those who portray themselves as knowing a lot when they are really deceivers who really don’t know what they don’t know.
Harry A. Gaylord