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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Which Written Records about Jesus Are Trustworthy?

Don Stewart :: Did Jesus Write Anything?

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Did Jesus Write Anything?

Which Written Records about Jesus Are Trustworthy? – Question 14

The New Testament gives the account of the life of Jesus Christ written by His disciples. The question is often asked about Jesus is, “Why don’t we have anything in writing from Him?” Would He have been able to write? If so, then why didn’t He leave us with any written record?

These are fair questions. We can make the following observations in response to them.

1. Jesus Could Read and Write

The New Testament informs us that Jesus could both read and write. The Gospel of Luke tells us of an incident where Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah. It reads as follows:

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21 NRSV)

From this passage we can see that Jesus certainly had the ability to read. He found the place in the scroll where He wanted to read and read the desired portion. He stopped reading at the appropriate time. Thus, His ability to read a text is beyond all doubt. Jesus could read.

2. Jesus Wrote Something on the Ground

There is a passage found in John’s Gospel that demonstrates Jesus also had the ability to write. It reads as follows:

As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and Pharisees brought a woman they had caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, stone her. But let those who have never sinned throw the first stones!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. (John 8:3-9 NLT)

The fact that Jesus could write is taught in this passage. We should not assume that He just doodled on the ground. He wrote something that caused the religious leaders to leave the scene. Exactly what He wrote has been the subject of endless speculation. However, no one knows for certain what He wrote.

Although the authenticity of this passage is in dispute since it does not exist in some early manuscripts of Johns’ gospel, almost everyone agrees that it reflects an actual occurrence in the ministry of Jesus. Therefore, from the evidence we can conclude that Jesus could both read and write.

3. Why Didn’t He Write Something for Us?

If Jesus could read and write, then why didn’t He leave behind anything for humanity? The answer is we simply do not know why Jesus did not write any texts setting down His teachings, or give us any firsthand knowledge of His innermost thoughts.

These questions, which have been a puzzle to people since the first century, have no real answer.

Do We Have a Letter from Jesus?

There is an ancient letter that purports to have been written from Jesus. It is known as, “The Letter to King Abgar.” Abgar was a real king who reigned from A.D. 9 to A.D. 46 in what is in modern-day Turkey. As the story goes, King Abgar wrote first to Jesus requesting a miracle. He supposedly wrote,

And when I heard all those things about you, I considered that you are either God himself who has come down from heaven to act like this, or that you are the Son of God doing such things. Therefore I am writing to you and ask you to visit me and cure my illness. Incidentally, I have heard that the Jews are grumbling about you and wish you harm. I have a city, rather small, but noble, and it is sufficient for us both.

Abgar wanted a visit from Jesus. He had heard about Jesus’ healing ability as well as the unwanted attention He was receiving from the religious rulers. Abgar offered his protection.

The Reply of Jesus to King Abgar

It is recorded that Jesus replied by means of a courier. He began the letter by a saying that is found in John’s gospel:

Blessed are you, who has believed in me without having seen me.

Jesus, according to His letter, declined Abgar’s invitation because He had not fulfilled His public ministry. However, Jesus wrote that He would send one of His disciples after His ascension, “so that he may cure your illness and give life to you and to those who are with you.” According to this letter, Jesus would honor Abgar’s request for help.

There Was a Happy Ending to the Story

According to the fourth century church Father Eusebius, the story had a happy ending. He said that Jesus’ disciple Thaddeus went to Abgar and healed him. Eusebius did not doubt that Jesus could write. He also said that in the archives of Edessa he had actually seen the correspondence between the two. It did not seem to bother Him that this writing from Jesus did not find its way into the New Testament.

This Letter Was Copied Many Times

Between the third and eighth century this purported letter of Jesus was inscribed on stone, papyri, and broken pieces of pottery. The letter was also written on amulets. Obviously many people assumed that it was authentic.

The Authenticity of the Letter Is Disputed

The letter was not accepted as authentic by all early church authorities. Jerome and Augustine, writing about seventy years after Eusebius, state that Jesus did not leave anything in writing.

Though most scholars have rejected the story as legendary, an explanation has to be given why Eusebius would have argued for its authenticity. There is no apparent motive that he would have had for vouching for the story if he did believe it to be true.

Some modern scholars are giving this story a second look. At best, we can say that it is not impossible that Jesus could have written this letter.

Summary – Question 14
Did Jesus Write Anything?

While the four gospels contain the words of other people about Jesus we know that He had the ability to both read and write. These abilities were demonstrated in the New Testament.

In a synagogue in Nazareth, we are told that Jesus opened the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and read from a chosen part. There is no indication whatsoever that He had trouble reading the text. Indeed, He found the part in the scroll, read it, and then re-rolled the scroll. The inference is that He did this with ease. Thus, we have every indication that Jesus had the ability to read.

We also know that Jesus Christ had the ability to write. In the story of the woman taken in adultery that is found in John’s gospel, we are told that Jesus wrote something on the ground that forced the religious leaders to leave Him and the woman alone. While we do not know exactly what He wrote it was specific enough to cause the religious leaders to leave Him and the woman.

Though this portion of John’s gospel is disputed because it is not found in the earliest manuscripts almost everyone agrees that this is an actual event. We can thus conclude that Jesus could both read and write though He did not leave us anything which has become part of Holy Scripture.

There is also an ancient tradition that Jesus actually wrote a letter to a king named Abgar. In response to Abgar’s written request that Jesus visit him to bring him back to health, Jesus allegedly wrote back in return. From other sources we know that Abgar was an actual king who lived during the time of Christ. While it does not seem possible to confirm this story there are a number of scholars who believe it did take place and that Jesus actually wrote something to this ancient king. All that we can know for certain is that Jesus could have written letters or books if He so wished.

Why Jesus Christ did not leave anything for us in writing, whether it be a systematic arrangement of His teachings, or His inner thoughts, we simply do not know. Because the Bible does not tell us why we do not have anything written from His hand it is best not to speculate about why this is the case. Indeed, our job is to read and study what He did leave us through His specially chosen people, the New Testament.

Are the Four Gospels Historically Accurate? ← Prior Section
What about Alleged Sayings of Jesus That Are Not Found in the Four Gospels? Next Section →
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