Busted: The Book of Acts Agrees With the Skeptics!?
by Craig Dunkley
Many anti-Christian commentators argue that the gospels and other New Testament documents, contrary to Church teaching, could not have been written by direct eyewitnesses to the events they describe. This is because, they argue, Jesus and his disciples were just simple, illiterate, Aramaic-speaking peasants who probably couldn’t write their own names, let alone a Greek gospel account. The argument is weak, and we have countered it in other articles (here and here).
However, there is another angle to this argument that we should address. Let’s allow Matthew Ferguson, a Ph.D. hopeful—and activist atheist—from UC-Irvine to lay it out for us:
Yet, from what we know of the biography of John the son of Zebedee, it would (be) rather improbable that he could author such a text. John was a poor rural peasant from Galilee, who spoke Aramaic. In an ancient world where literary training was largely restricted to a small fraction of rich, educated elite, we have little reason to suspect that an Aramaic-speaking Galilean peasant could author a complex Greek gospel. Furthermore, in Acts 4:13, John is even explicitly identified as being ἀγράμματος (“illiterate”), which shows that even evidence within the New Testament itself would not identify such a figure as an author.1
Basically, Ferguson informs us that in Acts 4:13, the Bible itself says that the disciples (at least Peter and John) were illiterate, thereby unwittingly confirming what anti-Christian scholars have been saying all along! Wow, how devastating to Christianity! Or is it?
Well, no. Not only has Ferguson repeated a tired argument about near-total illiteracy that has been blown away by scholar Alan Millard, he has also shown an unwillingness to share the true meaning of the text in Acts 4:13.
Let’s look at the English translation of Acts 4:13 (NIV):
13When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
The word on which Ferguson has focused is ἀγράμματος, or “agrammatos.” In the verse above, it is translated as “unschooled,” but Ferguson renders is as “illiterate.”
Let’s turn to some leading scholars to tell us what this really means…
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