Bible · Christianity · New Testament · religion

Were Christ & his disciples illiterate?

Sea_of_GalileeAs 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

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17 thoughts on “Were Christ & his disciples illiterate?

  1. So if we assume that Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote the texts named for them why is it that they don’t agree on various items? Why is it that such a thought does not agree with biblical scholarship? The three are seen to be copies or retellings of John. About half of the NT seems to have been written by Paul. The idea that the first four books were written by Jesus’ apostles has many more problems than the idea that they were illiterate. How do you approach those problems?

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    1. Your concerns are simply assumptions that are often made to try to ding the NT, but a careful reading of the gospels just reveals different eyewitnesses giving different details or perspectives of what they saw. A good book that explains all this is John MacArthur’s “One Perfect Life” which is a harmony of the four gospels that explains Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and shows how the seeming contradictions actually complement each other.

      [Why is it that such a thought does not agree with biblical scholarship?]

      Because “biblical scholarship” is not always Biblical. God isn’t a liar, man is. Man is also limited in his knowledge or bases knowledge on his biases, myself included. But “biblical scholarship” is a term that can refer to the Jesus seminar group that hates the supernatural divinity of Christ or it can refer to the seminary trained liberals pushing a socialist agenda using fake Christianity or it can refer to a genuine believer expounding the truth of God’s word. So your question is rather broad.

      The NT doesn’t really have problems, people who don’t want it to be true are the ones with the problems because they love picking it apart by pretending they are knowledgeable about it when they aren’t and just pick up skeptical arguments from their favorite atheist or skeptic who is also not knowledgeable. It’s an epic case of the blind leading the blind.

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      1. ==Your concerns are simply assumptions that are often made to try to ding the NT…==
        That Jesus was resurrected is nothing more than an assertion…

        ==God isn’t a liar, man is.==
        This is another assertion without evidence.

        On “biblical scholarship” — The COMMON knowledge is “Authorship is an area of longstanding and current research and debate, with different works posing different problems for identification. While the various works have traditional ascriptions of authorship, these ascriptions are in some cases defended by scholars, and in other cases disputed or rejected.[25] None of the Gospel authors is thought to be an eyewitness, and none claims to be. There is a broad consensus that many of the books of the New Testament were not written by the people whose names are attached to them.[26]” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Testament
        Actual scholarly study of the bible gets a bit more detailed, say at semminary or divinity schools. The fact is that many of the books were written by liars… for whatever reason, they were not telling the complete truth. It does not necessitate that all of what is written is a lie, but one cannot be certain of motives nor accuracy or veracity.

        The NT doesn’t really have problems — clearly you have not looked into the matter seriously. You should. For your own sake.

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      2. [That Jesus was resurrected is nothing more than an assertion]

        Hardly. The historical record shows beyond a reasonable doubt that he resurrected. Even Roman records from the 1st century show that the disciples ran for their lives upon Jesus’ arrest and remained in hiding. However, they eventually came out of hiding and boldly proclaimed the gospel and even died martyrs. Now how is it that cowards suddenly turned bold even in the face of their lives being threatened? If they knew they were lying about Jesus’ resurrection, they wouldn’t have died for it. People will die for lies that they believe to be true, but they would hardly die for a lie that they know they started themselves. And then there’s the glaring question about where Jesus’ body is. Archaeologists have uncovered the bones of Jesus’ family members and his disciples and other people like Caiaphas who lived during his time, but where’s Jesus’ body? The Romans had possession of it and were guarding his tomb and the disciples never organized a revolt to steal his body because they were too scared at the time. All the Romans had to do was parade Jesus’ body around to prove the disciples wrong after they became bold enough to proclaim his resurrection. But they didn’t because Jesus resurrected. And the disciples turned bold because they saw Jesus after he resurrected.

        Resurrection is real and is still occurring today as witnessed by these occurrences– https://sunandshield.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/god-raises-newborn-girl-in-brazil-from-the-dead/

        https://sunandshield.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/father-in-ohio-is-raised-from-the-dead-after-teen-son-prays/

        The fact that miracles occur proves that someone more powerful than space, time, matter, and energy is involved in the affairs of men.

        [None of the Gospel authors is thought to be an eyewitness, and none claims to be. There is a broad consensus that many of the books of the New Testament were not written by the people whose names are attached to them]

        This so-called broad consensus is nothing more than broad assertions. God’s truth is not based on fallible Wikipedia articles or on fallible broad consensus. The historical facts that one discovers mentioned in the Bible prove the NT books are eyewitness accounts. Archaeological findings have proven it correct on the facts of Pontius Pilate’s existence and when he ruled, the details about crucifixion, rulers who were in power during Tiberius Caesar’s 15th year, the pool of Bethesda and its five porches, the depths of the coast off Malta when Paul was on the ship that wrecked in Acts, and many more facts mentioned in the NT. The manuscript evidence backing the NT is also impeccable and more reliable than manuscripts about Julius Caesar, Aristotle, Plato, and other historical figures.

        [The fact is that many of the books were written by liars]

        Another assertion on your part. If the NT books are lies, then how is it that it’s prophecies are coming true? Christ prophesied his teachings would spread worldwide, and they have. It was predicted earthquakes would become more frequent, and they have. It predicts Christians would continue to be severely persecuted through the centuries, and they have. It predicted that the world would move toward one world government and one world religion, and that’s exactly the direction things are moving in. It predicts the world would move toward a universal financial system, and that’s happening. It predicts that mankind would never stop warring against each other and that wars would become worse, and despite our best efforts to bring in world peace, wars continue to happen, our weapons continue to get more deadly, people continue to become more violent and more people continue to die than died in the wars of ancient times. So if the NT is such a lie, why are such a huge amount of these prophecies coming true? It seems to me if we wanted to show the Bible was a lie we would be trying to do the opposite of these prophecies to prove it wrong.

        What’s really a lie is atheism. There really is no such thing as atheism since all humans have the inherent knowledge built inside them of God’s existence. We are his intellectual property with his built-in trademark stamped in our very DNA. You claim to be an atheist, but you know full well you’re lying to yourself by using such a term to describe yourself. You know God exists but you lie to yourself because God doesn’t act the way you want him to act and/or you blame him for something he really isn’t responsible for, and/or you love the sins you participate in but have to deny his existence so you won’t feel guilty for them. You, like the rest of us humans, need Jesus in your life because the path you’re on leads to the destruction of your body, soul, and spirit and your path can never give you the peace you really long for deep inside. Only the Prince of Peace, Jesus, can ever give you what you really need.

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      3. If Jesus Christ was a real God he would write his personal book. I would accept that Mathew, Luke, Mark, John, Paul and Timothy did wonderful job because they personally wrote New Testament. Without them I would not know about great promise of human salvation. How about Jesus who ran away from his parents… and haven’t written a single sentence.. I have nothing to say.

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  2. You are definitely out there drinking the cool-aid. Those examples of resurrection happened while doctors were caring for them. They were not dead three days. No, it didn’t happen at John’s Hopkins. You do know there are differences in capabilities of hospitals? The word hospital or doctor does not mean top flight facilities and second to none medical carers. You are not doing yourself any favors calling those miracles or evidence of resurrection unless you want to call doctors gods.

    You’re ready and willing to reject any evidence put in front of you if it clashes with your world view. You’ll believe anything which confirms your biases.

    The real question I have here is why would you think that is convincing to anyone but another believer? Clearly you have not done your research and are not willing to. Good luck with that.

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    1. Blah, blah, blah. Deny the miracles all you want. The doctors in the cases I presented had given up on the patients and had stopped working on them. They themselves admitted that these were miracles. Dead is dead, whether it’s 5 minutes or 5 hours. Funny, how atheists claim they’re all about science, then when science presents facts they don’t agree with they deny the science. How convenient. Anyway, bottom line is that you know God exists, you’re lying to yourself, and no matter how long you argue against the truth you need to repent of your sin and to call on Jesus for the salvation of your lost soul.

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      1. You are exactly the kind of person that gives religion a bad name.

        “The brain, however, appears to accumulate ischemic injury faster than any other organ. Without special treatment after circulation is restarted, full recovery of the brain after more than 3 minutes of clinical death at normal body temperature is rare.[6][7] Usually brain damage or later brain death results after longer intervals of clinical death even if the heart is restarted and blood circulation is successfully restored. Brain injury is therefore the limiting factor for recovery from clinical death.”

        What you linked to falls well within the range of recovery after clinical death is declared. Why do they have a special term for it? Because it happens more often than we think about. Your miracles are no such thing… that’s normal operating procedure for hospitals.

        You don’t have to accept the truth, you can delude yourself for all of your life. It’s sad, but you can do it.

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      2. You proved my point that the previous links I gave were in fact miracles. Did you read this info in your comment? The man who died had no oxygen making it to his brain, no brain activity, and no pulse (no circulation) for 45 minutes. The brain sustains injuries faster than any other organ. After 3 minutes of his clinical death, he should have brain damage. The fact he didn’t shows it was indeed a miracle. The same case applies to the baby in Brazil who was laying in the coffin unattended for 3 hours after it died. Then it came back to life with no medical assistance. Thanks for proving my point and showing yourself up as someone who really doesn’t understand science or medicine. You just all but admitted I’m right.

        This is proof that atheists will go to any lengths, including lying, to try to deceive people. Which is no surprise considering they lie to themselves by saying they’re atheists, when they know God exists. But you sidestepped the points I brought up earlier about prophecies in the Bible being fulfilled in the way the world is heading. And where’s Jesus’ body? Avoiding the obvious facts won’t make them go away and won’t detract from the fact you are a sinner in need of the Savior who died for your sins. The fact you lie shows that you are inherently evil. If you don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God, you will die in your sins and will suffer for eternity. You need to repent before it’s too late. “For God so loved the world [including “atheists”] that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

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  3. Sir harry i have this friend at school who is fanatic about people like degrasse tyson, richard dawkins, and christopher hitchens. He said to me how do you justify eternal hell. he said to me imagine if you were a really good person but you didnt believe in god because god makes himself invisible and all the miracles like jesus resurrection are from thousands of years ago. If you can help me answer him i would very much appreciate it

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    1. Nick, the first problem your friend has is assuming people are really good. No one can be good without God, as I pointed out in this post: https://sunandshield.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/none-of-us-can-be-good-without-god/

      Your friend also assumes God makes himself invisible when, in fact, he has proven his existence all over his creation and by prophecies the Bible predicts that were then fulfilled. The Bible is historically, scientifically, and spiritually accurate in its claims as I point out in several posts such as these:

      https://sunandshield.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/contradicting-the-bible-reveals-astronomers-weaknesses/

      https://sunandshield.wordpress.com/2007/04/04/10-prophecies-predicted-in-the-bible-fulfilled-in-history/

      https://sunandshield.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/bible-critics-ignore-the-fact-history-proves-its-very-exact/

      Here’s a post to help you understand the real truth about atheists: https://sunandshield.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/since-atheists-deceive-themselves-theyll-deceive-you-too/

      I know this is quite a bit to read, but there are all kinds of angles to use to answer atheists, but only God can soften their hardened hearts. You might also want to do a search on Dawkins and his recent controversial comments on pedophilia to ask your friend if Dawkins is really someone to look up to.

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      1. Harry I hope the bible makes you a better person. But maybe not. Maybe it makes you an arrogant fool who thinks that nobody can criticize him because you are chosen and you are God’s ambassador and God is on your side. I am personally noway to be convinced that Jesus Christ is good and Bible is 100% accurate. Yeah, I think that Biblical God is a liar and really mean creator full of immeasurable degree of hatred. Maybe He hates me. I don’t care – because I don’t believe in Him. I do believe in possibility of God, but I am sure that he is not the One who was described in the bible. I tend to think that God whom I worship is a lovely colossal woman. Peace to you. Feel free to hate me. Amen.

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  4. But i have one more question. how do you explain hell to an atheist, in other words they think it’s irrational of god to give anybody that sort of punishment

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    1. You can explain hell like this. Hell is a prison originally created by God to punish the devil and his angels [Isaiah 14:12-14, Matthew 25:41] as punishment for rebelling and creating war against the righteous God. Then when man chose to follow sin over God, hell enlarged itself [Isaiah 5:14] to accommodate humankind. Just like man created a justice system with jails and prisons to hold lawbreakers, God was the original creator of prisons to hold those who break his laws.

      We all deserve hell because we have all broken God’s laws as shown by the post on the 10 commandments in my last response to you. But God has given us a “get out of jail free” card by sending Jesus to die for our sins. If we accept Jesus, we never have to worry about being sent to his prison–hell. Man’s justice system is similar, but not exactly the same. People who are guilt of breaking the law, if it’s a minor infraction, can avoid jail or prison by paying a fine or doing community service if they admit their guilt. Rejecting Jesus is the worst sin against God and is the equivalent of Satan and his angels rebelling and warring against the perfectly righteous God who did nothing but good things for them and rejecting Jesus deserves the penalty of hell.

      God, who created this universe, has the right to create a prison to punish the guilty, just like man has the right to make jails and prisons to punish the guilty. Humans only go to hell because they refuse to follow the law, which means humans aren’t good without God. They choose to go to hell to pay for their own sins. But if they repent, admit their guilt, and call on Jesus, who paid their punishment for their sins, then God’s requirement for punishment has been met by Jesus and they don’t have to pay the penalty themselves. They go to heaven.

      “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23.

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  5. I know of the existence of God and the Lord, from the time of conception I had a non caring mother of sorts. An opposing view of Christianity of any kind, is self centered bigotry. Any one who feels they can change my mind and or my soul, you need not reply to this post, but to reply here on this post falls on deft ear, save your breath for your last day of mortal life. I challenge a face to face debate, not here on the net, but to my face. So you might say that is an unreasonable request, and you are right, so in the mean time I will change those like you, that I encounter in place of you, till you get here. There are Christian Lions, and Christian Lambs. I am a Christian Lion that lays in peace with the Christian Lambs, and that is an encounter non believers have not had an easy trek.

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