Passover and the Gospels – Are They In Sync?

Final days of Jesus of Nazareth were set during the annual Passover observance in Jerusalem surrounded by his trial, execution and Resurrection. Interwoven throughout the Gospels are 21 references to the Passover by name and 6 references to either “the feast” or “the festival.” Are the Gospel accounts consistent with Jewish legal requirements? Not everyone agrees.[1]

Moses defied Pharaoh some 3500 years ago in Egypt ending with the 10th plague, death of the firstborn.[2] Hebrews were spared when the angel of death passed over their homes bearing the blood of the sacrificial lambs over their doorposts.

God declared His act of salvation was to be observed annually by the Hebrews to “sacrifice the Passover to the LORD your God “in the place where the LORD chooses to establish His name.”[3] Strict requirements appear in the books of the Law of Moses – Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.[4]

Passover began at twilight of Nissan 14, the day when the Pascal Lamb was to be sacrificed, marking the beginning of Nissan 15; then the Feast of Unleavened Bread was to be eaten.[5] A key distinction, Jewish days begin at twilight just after sunset while Western societies begin the new day at midnight.[6]

Most Western societies would consider this evening meal to be the dinner event for the day of Nissan 14 while the first meal of the next day would be breakfast. The Law of Moses, however, considered the evening Feast of Unleavened Bread to be the very first meal of Nissan 15.

Roasted lamb from the Pascal sacrifice offered earlier that day of Nissan 14 became the main course.[9] It was literally a feast intended to feed 10 to 20 people; a festive and joyous occasion to celebrate God’s deliverance from bondage – freedom.[10] Any leftovers by midnight were to be promptly burned.

Sunrise brought the initial daylight hours of the first day of Passover, Nissan 15, along with the daily necessities still to come. People were busy with required and traditional activities including meals and sacrifices.

Jewish Talmudic law defined the sacrifices for each day including the meal plan for the first day of Passover. An entire tractate in the Babylonia Talmud entitled Chagigah is devoted to addressing the various expectations and requirements.[11] Two Chagigah sacrifices were associated with the Passover.[12]

First was the optional Chagigah sacrifice that could be offered on Nissan 14 as an optional festal offering intended to supplement the Paschal sacrifice ensuring there would be enough meat to feed a large Passover company.[13] It was “in all respects equal to the paschal sacrifice itself” expected to provide for “the duty of enjoying the festival.”[14]

If this optional festal sacrifice was to be offered, it was to occur before the Pascal sacrifice so that there was no interruption between it and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.[15] Like the Paschal lamb, it had to be consumed by midnight with any leftovers to be burned.

By tradition, the second Chagigah sacrifice was traditionally offered on Nissan 15, the first day of Passover, coming to be called exactly that, the Chagigah. It was to be offered under different circumstances than the first with a different purpose and rules. As an obligatory, private “peace offering,” it was to be offered by an individual at the Temple with the assistance of a Priest who became a beneficiary to it.[16]

A portion of the sacrifice was to be given to God, a portion to the Priest as a tithe for his own meal, and the remaining portion of meat was to be taken home by the offeror for his own Chagigah meal.[17] For this reason, a priest had a vested personal interest to assist in the sacrifice.

Meat from this obligatory Chagigah sacrifice was to be prepared during the afternoon and served before evening as the main course of the first meal of Passover day.[18] It was to be consumed over the course of two days and one night – the first and second days of Passover, Nissan 15 and 16, and the night in between.

Things get interesting as it relates to the Gospels’ accounts describing the final hours in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, especially John 18:28.[19] After the “Last Supper,” the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Jesus was arrested and put on trial that night. During the trial, Jesus was taken by the Jewish leadership to Pilate at the Praetorium where the priests refused to enter, as referenced in John 18:28, “so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.”[20]

Two actions are mentioned that are a cause of contention, the first being “eat the Passover.” Anyone not familiar with the two Passover Chagigah meals might easily conclude John referred to the Feast of Unleavened Bread rather than the second Chigigiah meal during the first daylight hours of Passover. Second is “so they would not be defiled.”

Entering the Praetorium was one of those things that could place a priest in a state of defilement.[21] Although John does not explain the reason for the defilement, one possibility was due to the Jewish legal concept known as “abortus” – touching a dead body or home that once contained a dead body (the presumption of a Gentile’s home).[22]

After sunset, a ritualistic purification bath by the priest absolved the defilement; however, it was too late. Meat from the Chagigah sacrifice offered on the first day of Passover was to be prepared and cooked that same day before evening.[23]

A priest who was “defiled” could not offer any sacrifice that day meaning he would not receive his lawful portion of the Chagigah sacrificial meat for his own meal.[24] For a priest whose personal financial support came directly from his duties performed at the Temple, it was a major incentive not to be in a state of defilement on the first day of Passover.

Evening began the second day of Passover, Nissan 16, with the traditional ritual of a barley reaping in preparation for the Wave Sheaf also known as the Omar offering. It was required to be offered on the second day of Passover to celebrate the Feast of First Fruits of the harvest.

Are the Gospel references to the Passover during the final days in the life of Jesus of Nazareth in agreement with Jewish Law defined in the Old Testament, the Tenakh, and the Talmud?

 

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Wells, Steve. <u>The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible</u>. 2017. “423. When was Jesus crucified? <http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/passover_meal.html>  “101 Bible Contradictions.” Islamic Awareness. n.d. Contradiction #69. <https://www.islamawareness.net/Christianity/bible_contra_101.html>
[2] Exodus 8-12. Roth, Don. “What year was the first Passover?” Biblical Calendar Proof. 2019. <http://www.biblicalcalendarproof.com/Timeline/PassoverDate>
[3] Deuteronomy 16. NASB.
[4] Exodus 12; Leviticus 23; Numbers 9; Deuteronomy 16. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Temple%20by%20Alfred%20Edersheim.pdf>
[5] Exodus 12; Leviticus 23; Numbers 9; Deuteronomy 16. Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. 1826-1889. “The Roasting of the Lamb.” pp 66 – 67, 71-72. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Temple%20by%20Alfred%20Edersheim.pdf>
[6] Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 71.
[7] Deuteronomy 16. Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. “The Roasting of the Lamb.” p 75.
[8] Gill. John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible. John; chapters 18-19 commentary.  <https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/john-18.html> Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. pp 70-71, 76, 79, 81-82.  Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Trans. and commentary William Whitson.  The Complete Works of Josephus.1850. Book VI, Chapter IX.3.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. p 1324. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Life%20and%20Times%20of%20Jesus%20the%20Messiah.pdf
[9] Talmud Bavli. Sefaria. Trans. William Davidson. n.d.  <https://www.sefaria.org/texts/Talmud>
[10] Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. “The Three Things.” pp 70-71.
[11] Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1324.
[12] The Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson. Tract Pesachim, Book 3, Chapter VI. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/t03/psc09.htm> Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. pp 1324.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. pp 70-71.  Gill. John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible. John chapters 18 & 19 commentary.
[13] The Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson. Tract Pesachim, Book 3, Chapter V.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 79.
[14] Leviticus 3. Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1383-85. Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 70.  Streane, A. W, ed.  A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud. 1891. Chagigah 7b, Gemara. Pages 35 – 36. <http://www.archive.org/stream/translationoftre00streuoft/translationoftre00streuoft_djvu.txt>
[15] Leviticus 7.  Streane. A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud. Glossary:  “Chagigah.” pp 147-148.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. pp 41, 82.
[16] Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1382.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 70. The Babylonian Talmud.  Rodkinson.  Book 3. Tract Pesachim Chapters VI, VIII, IX.
[17] Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-2 3; John 18-19.  Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1384.
[18] NASB.
[19] Numbers 9. Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p. 83. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. “Introduction to Seder Tohoroth.” #2. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/talmud/tohoroth.html> “Priest.” Jewish Encyclopedia.
[20] Leviticus 22. Edersheim.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. pp 1383-1385.
[21] Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1382.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 70. The Babylonian Talmud.  Rodkinson.  Book 3. Tract Pesachim. Chapters VI, VIII, IX.
[22] Leviticus 22; Numbers 9, 19. Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. “The First Day of the Feast” pp 82-83, 85, 130-131, “Appendix.” pp 130-131.  “Priest.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12358-priest>  Streane. A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud. Glossary:  “Chagigah.”  p 148.

Luke – the Investigative Reporter

Many have endeavored for centuries to prove or disprove  the account about the life of Jesus by the Gospel of Luke. Some have focused on the integrity of the content, others on the identity of the unnamed author. Debate will continue; however, there is substantial evidence to consider.

Among the first to document the identity of the author was a student of Polycarp who was in turn a pupil of John, one of the original 12 Disciples of Jesus.[1] Irenaeus identified the author as the Gentile doctor name Luke, the inseparable traveling companion of the Apostle Paul.[2] Educated as a doctor and being a source just one generation removed from the Disciple John, how likely is it that Irenaeus was wrong?

Credibility of a statement, this Gospel included, can be determined regardless of the identity of the author. The Gospel author’s first defining point of credibility is his report being addressed to a specific person.

Named as Theophilius, it is this same person to whom was written the Book of Acts. This fact establishes both accountability and consistency. Very clearly Luke describes the basis of his investigation:

LK 1:1-4 “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (NIV)

Not himself an eyewitness, instead Luke identifies the sources of his investigation as being original eyewitnesses. Evidence of this can be seen in the quotes and reference parallels found in the older Gospels of Matthew and Mark and corroborating information by John. Further evidence can be seen in his omissions of certain witness accounts  and certain miracles that are mentioned in the other Gospels.[3]

Nearly half of Luke’s content is unique in which 6 miracles are reported, including the resurrection of a dead boy, and 15-17 parables (was it an illustration or a parable?).[4] Included, too, are the exclusive accounts of the birth circumstances of John the Baptist; the identity of his father, Zachariah and mother, Elizabeth, and her role with Mary during their pregnancies; his naming by the angel Gabriel with his messages from God delivered separately to Zachariah and Mary; and Mary’s hymn of praise.

Focusing deeper, found only in Luke and Acts are the two Greek words, apographo and apographe – a verb and a noun – cited as the motivation for Joseph to take his nearly 9-month pregnant wife, Mary, to Bethlehem 90 miles away. Neither Greek word translates to the equivalent English word of “census,” often imprecisely used in Matthew’s  Christmas Nativity story.[5]

Seven government rulers are identified in Luke, all corroborated in secular history including Caesar Augustus , Tiberius Caesar, Judean King Herod, and Tetrarchs Herod and Philip.[6] Two “governors,” Quirinius and Pilate, were both identified using the exclusive Greek word hegemoneuo, meaning to act with authority as governors, though not necessarily official “governors.” [7]

Two specific crucifixion scenarios are found only in the Luke’s Gospel. Quoted is the conversation between the criminals being crucified with Jesus. Upon his death, the distraught witnesses reacted by “beating their breasts” in severe mourning.

Distinctively identified and quoted are Resurrection witnesses. Most notable is Cleopas with his traveling partner heading home to Emmaus after being with some of the Disciples that weekend.[8] Unrecognized, Jesus joined them walking down the road and asked what they were discussing so intently.

Cleopas was incredulous how this stranger could not know what had just transpired in Jerusalem. He is quoted explaining the sequence of events involving the encounter by the women of Galilee with angels at the empty tomb who proclaimed Jesus was alive and how the empty tomb was confirmed by other unnamed witnesses.[9]

Corroborating John’s eyewitness Gospel account of the gathering of Disciples and followers in the locked room that Sunday evening, Luke adds a distinguishing depiction of events. Cleopas and his partner had rejoined the gathering telling of their encounter with the resurrected Jesus and, in turn, they were told Jesus had also appeared to Simon (Peter).

Terrified, the excited group encounter is described by Luke when Jesus suddenly appeared in the locked room. Thinking they were seeing a ghost, Jesus calmed their fears saying “Do you have anything here to eat?”[10] Jesus then ate some fish to prove he was not a ghost.

Omitted is key information which could otherwise enhance the Resurrection account if the author had chosen. Missing is the name of Cleopas’ traveling partner; Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus and John running with Peter to see the empty tomb, all occurring that astounding morning. One possible reason for the omissions is revealed in Cleopas’ statement.

Cleopas ended his witness statement at the point when he departed for home that Sunday morning – before anyone had reported seeing the resurrected Jesus. Luke had to be aware of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with resurrected Jesus through his investigation, by knowing Paul, contacts with the Disciples and interviews of other witnesses.[11] The omission is a big clue.

Only twice in the entire Gospel of Luke is Mary Magdalene mentioned.[12] She is one of the three named women generally reported to have run back from the empty tomb to tell the Disciples of their experience. Just once previously, Mary Magdalene was identified as the one from whom Jesus expelled seven demons early in his ministry.

No statements are specifically attributed to Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of Luke and therein lies the potential reason for the omission. If Luke did not have direct access to her as an eyewitness source, as such he chose not to include the secondhand information.

Likewise are similar reasons for not identifying the traveling partner of Cleopas and omitting John running with Peter to see the empty tomb. (In his own eyewitness Gospel, John identifies himself as the “other disciple” who joined the race to the tomb.) [13]

Forthright acknowledgements, exclusive specific details, omissions of key information from other Gospels; corroboration by secular history; named witnesses; quotes; lack of personal opinions or injections; and ignored opportunities to embellish – all are characteristics of a straightforward, true investigative report. What then do these characteristics say about the validity of Luke’s account of the Resurrection of Jesus?

 

Updated November 14, 2021.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Schaff, Philip. “Introductory Note to Irenæus Against Heresies.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I. n.d. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2005. <http://m.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.i.html Schaff, Philip. “Introduction Note to the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I. n.d. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2005. <http://m.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.iv.i.html Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies. Book III, Chapters I.1, X.1, XIII.3, XIV.1, XIV.1, XIV.2 quoting Luke 1:2, XIV.3, XV.1, 3, XXIII.1. Philip Schaf, ed. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2005. <http://www.ccel.org/search/fulltext/Heresies
[2] Colossians 4; Philemon 1; 2 Titus 4. Irenaeus, Heresies. Book III, Chapter XIV.1.  Aherne Cornelius. “Gospel of Saint Luke.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 9. 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09420a.htm>
[3] Swete, Henry Barclay. The Gospel According to St. Mark,  pp. xxxvix – xl, LXX, LXXII, LXXIV-LXXV. 1902. <https://books.google.com/books?id=WcYUAAAAQAAJ&lpg=PA127&ots=f_TER300kY&dq=Seneca%20centurio%20supplicio%20pr%C3%A6positus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false Smith, Barry D. “The Gospel of Mark.”  Crandall University. n.d. <http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/NTIntro/Mark.htm> “Introductions to Matthew.” Ryrie Study Bible. Ed. Ryrie Charles C.  Trans. New American Standard. 1978. “Introductions to Matthew.” Ryrie Study Bible. “Introduction to the Book of Mark.” Ryrie Study Bible. “Introduction to the Book of Luke.”&Ryrie Study Bible.  “New Testament.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11498-new-testament>  “gospel.” ReligionFacts.com. 2016. <http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/texts/gospels.htm>  Gloag, Paton J.  Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. pp 45, 204.. 1895. <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595>
[4] Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. pp 38-42. 1895. <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595> Smith, Barry D. “The Gospel of John.”  F. 5.3.3.  Crandall University. 2015. <http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/NTIntro/John.htm Sween, Don and Nancy. “Parable.” BibleReferenceGuide.com. n.d. <http://www.biblereferenceguide.com/keywords/parable.html Sween. “Parable.”  Swete. The Gospel According to St. Mark, pp. LXXIV, 83. 1902. <https://books.google.com/books?id=WcYUAAAAQAAJ&lpg=PA127&ots=f_TER300kY&dq=Seneca%20centurio%20supplicio%20pr%C3%A6positus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Luke.” Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary. 3rd Edition.  Christian Classics Ethereal Library. n.d. <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002300.html#T0002331>  “Parable.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.  2018. <http://www.internationalstandardbible.com/P/parable.html> “The Parables of Jesus.” Ryrie Study Bible. “The Miracles of Jesus.” Ryrie Study Bible. Fairchild, Mary. “37 Miracles of Jesus.” ThoughtCo. 2017. <https://www.thoughtco.com/miracles-of-jesus-700158
[5] Luke 2; Acts 5. Net.bible.org. Greek text. “aprographe <582>.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d.  <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/0582.html>  “apographo <583>.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/0583.html>  The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson. 1850.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=census&f=false
[6] Luke 2, 3. Net.bible.org. Luke 2:1 footnote #5 and Greek text. “hegemoneuo <2230>” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book VIII, Chapter XV; Book X, Chapter IV; Book XIV, Chapter IX, & XII; Book XVIII, Chapter VI. The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. William Whitson. http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false> Josephus, Flavius. The Life of Flavius Josephus. #9, 17. The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. William Whitson. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Book I, Chapter XXVII. The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. William Whitson. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Josephus, Flavius.  Against Apion. Book II, #22. The Complete Works of Josephus.  Trans. William Whitson. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false> “Pontius Pilate.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2014. <http://www.livius.org/pi-pm/pilate/pilate01.htm> “legate.”  Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/legate-Roman-official>
[7] Net.bible.org. Luke 2:1 footnote #5 and Greek text. “hegemon <2232>.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible.  n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/2230.html>  Josephus. Antiquities. Book VIII, Chapter XV, Book X, Chapter IV; Book XIV, Chapter IX, X, XII; Book XVIII, Chapter VI; Book XX, Chapter XVIII.  Josephus. The Life of Flavius Josephus. #9, 17.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXVII.  Josephus. Against Apion. Book II, #22.
[8] John 19. Luke 24:18 footnote Ryrie Study Bible.  “Cleopas.” Bible-history.com. n.d. <http://www.bible-history.com/links.php?cat=43&sub=1173&cat_name=Bible+Names+A-G&subcat_name=Cleopas>
[9] Sapir, Avinoam. LSI Laboratory for Scientific Interrogation, Inc. n.d. <http://www.lsiscan.com/index.htm>  “SCAN – Scientific Content Analysis (Statement Analysis).” Advanced Polygraph. 2011. <http://www.advancedpolygraph.com.au/scan.htm>
[10] NET, NIV, NLT. Luke 24. CR Mark 16.
[11] 2 Timothy 4; Philemon 1; Colossians 4.
[12] Luke 8, 24.
[13] Luke 24; John 20. Smith, Barry D. “The Gospel of John.”  Fonck, Leopold.  “Gospel of St. John.”  The Catholic Encyclopedia.  Volume 8. New York:  Robert Appleton Company.  1910. New Advent. 2014. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08438a.htm>  Kirby, Peter. “Gospel of John.” EarlyChristianWritings.com. 2014. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/john.html> “The Book of John.”  Quartz Hill School of Theology. 2017. <http://www.theology.edu/biblesurvey/john.htm>  “Gospel of John.”  Theopedia.com. Encyclopedia of biblical Christianity. n.d. <http://www.theopedia.com/Gospel_of_John>

Are Today’s Gospels Authentic, Same as the Originals?

Gospel manuscript evidence dates back to the lifetimes of the Disciples with a fragment of Matthew dating as early as 50 AD, just 10 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. The earliest nearly complete Gospel manuscripts are dated to about 300 years later.[1] How can there be confidence today’s Gospels bare the same content as the originals?

Patristics is the science of comparing early Christian writings to Gospel manuscripts to help bridge the gap of the “dark period” – that 300 year gap from the originals to the first complete manuscripts. Expert Bible textual critics,  Westcott and Hort, viewed patristics to be of “the highest degree exceptional” in their comparisons.[2]

Writing about the teachings of Jesus in the form of letters, called “Epistles,” was a common means of written communication by the second and third generation disciples known as the Ante-Nicene Fathers.[3] Four author sources – Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Papias – were taught personally by the Apostles, the original Disciples of Jesus.[4]

Within these Epistles appear quoted phrases and verses. The premise of patristics is that these quotes had to come from older, pre-existing Gospel sources. As such, these Epistles serve as “witnesses” that “attest” or “testify” to the content of older, now non-existent Gospel manuscripts, in some cases quite possibly the originals.[5]  

One, The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, was written in Rome to the church in Corinth, Greece, around 96 AD. The Epistle is named for Clement of Rome, the reputed author, who studied under the Apostle Paul and knew Luke, the presumed author of the Gospel bearing his name.[6]

Another is The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians written in Smyrna, Turkey, to the church in Philippi, Greece. Named for its author, Polycarp, was a disciple of the Apostle John, one of the original Disciples of Jesus and the presumed author of the Gospel.

Polycarp received teaching from the Apostle John as well as other Apostles and met others who had witnessed Jesus. Date of authorship of his Epistle is unknown although it had to be written before Polycarp’s martyrdom in the arena of Smyrna about 155 AD when he professed to have served his King (Jesus) for 86 years.[7]

An example of how patristics work can be seen using the three verses of Luke 6:36-38 that are quoted in both the Epistles of Clement, Corinthians, and Polycarp, Philippians. These two authors were separated by time and hundreds of miles. Their quotes as compared with two modern Bible translations:[8] 

The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians [9]

“forgive, that it may be forgiven to you; as ye do, so shall it be done unto you;

as ye judge, so shall ye be judged; as ye are kind, so shall kindness be shown to you;

with what measure ye mete, with the same it shall be measured to you.”

Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians [10]

“Judge not, that ye be not judged;

forgive, and it shall be forgiven unto you;

be merciful, that ye may obtain mercy;

with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again…”

King James Version, Luke 6:36-38:

Be ye therefore merciful as your Father also is merciful, v36

Judge not and ye shall not be judged…v 37

…forgive and ye shall be forgiven.v37

For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.v38

New American Standard Bible:  Luke 6:36-38:

Be merciful just as your Father is merciful…v36

Do not judge, and you will not be judged…v37

…pardon and you will be pardoned. v37

…For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.v38

Attestations from these Corinthians and Philippians Epistles are not word perfect matches, but neither are the more modern KJV and NASB versions due to translator variations. Both Epistles referenced Luke to support the message of their letters – the quotes were not intended to be a transcription of Luke’s Gospel, yet they match very closely.[11] The point of patristics being that these quotes came from an older source or sources.

A treasure trove of patristic attestation is found in Adversus Haereses  (Against Heresies) written about 180 AD by Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp. The Epistle quotes from over 600 verses in all four Gospels and over 300 verses from other New Testament books.[12] Again, the premise is that to quote them, Irenaeus had to reference existing sources.[13]

Patristics has a secondary consequence – producing evidence that challenges a theory alleging the Gospels and Christianity evolved from legend over a long period of time.[14]

Do the Gospel verses quoted in the Epistles written by early church leaders bear witness to preexisting Gospel manuscripts and thereby provide evidence that today’s Gospel content is consistent with the original manuscripts?

 

Updated September. 27, 2021.

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REFERENCES:

[1] “The Magdalen Papyrus P64: possibly the earliest known fragments of the New Testament (or of a book!)” University of Oxford | Magdalen College.  30 October 2013. <http://www.magd.ox.ac.uk/libraries-and-archives/treasure-of-the-month/news/magdalen-papyrus>  “The Magdalen P64 Papyrus Fragments of the Gospel of Matthew (Year ~ 50 A.D.).”  Archaeology. <http://www.lavia.org/english/archivo/magdalenen.htm>  Smith, Ben C. “Gospel manuscripts – The manuscripts extant for the four canonical gospels.” TextExcavation.com.  13 Jan. 2014. <http://www.textexcavation.com/gospelmanuscripts.html
[2] Westcott, Brooke F. & Hort, John A. The New Testament in the Original Greek. “Introduction.”  CR page 112. https://books.google.com/books?id=0xtVAAAAMAAJ&pg=ACfU3U33CMW3331Vv20NgGvjyOs52I1mlA&vq=%22will+not+be+out+of+place+to+add+here+a+distinct+expression+of+our+belief+that+even+among+the+numerous%22&source=gbs_quotes_r&cad=2_0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
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[12] Davis, Glen. “Irenaeus of Lyons.”  NTCanon.org.  25 July 2008.  <http://www.ntcanon.org/Irenaeus.shtmlEncyclopædia Britannica. 2021. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Irenaeus>
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