A sketch of the life of S. John as a whole has been given in the Introduction to the Fourth Gospel. Here it will not be necessary to do more than retouch and somewhat enlarge what was there said respecting the closing years of his life, in which period, according to all probability, whether derived from direct or indirect evidence, our three Epistles were written. In order to understand the motive and ton,e of the Epistles, it is requisite to have some clear idea of the circumstances, local, moral, and intellectual, in the midst of which they were written.
(i) The Local Surroundings-Ephesus
Unless the whole history of the century which followed upon the destruction of Jerusalem is to be abandoned as chimerical and untrustworthy, we must continue to believe the almost universally accepted statement that S. John spent the last portion of his life in Asia Minor, and chiefly at Ephesus. The sceptical spirit which insists upon the truism that well-attested facts have nevertheless not been demonstrated with all the certainty of a proposition in Euclid, and contends that it is therefore right to doubt them, and lawful to dispute them, renders history impossible. The evidence of S. John’s residence at Ephesus is too , strong to be shaken by conjectures. It will be worth while to state the main elements of it.
Accurate STEPBible data is now freely available. Tyndale House has decided to release their STEPBible data on a more flexible public licence to make it easier for other free Bible projects to build on accurate information about the Bible text. Inaccurate data can lead to errors and public humiliation – as I’ll describe below.
The data behind STEPBible originated with the usual free sources that many enthusiasts have assembled in the past – to whom everone owes huge gratitude. At Tyndale House we set ourselves to test everything and improve its quality, and then feed this back into the community. The Repository of this updated data is on Github at Tyndale.github.io/STEPBible-Data, where anyone can inspect it, suggest corrections, and also download it for their own projects.
The licence (Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0) allows anyone to use and adapt the data to fit their project. They can also make corrections, though changes should be recorded for users to see, and we’d prefer they check with Tyndale House first, so our experts can verify it. Tyndale House previously posted this data with a “No Development” (ND) restriction, to help ensure the data remains accurate, but this imposed a difficult legal restriction for some projects, so we are using this different strategy.
Bodies such as the SBL Biblical Humanities Group have campaigned for Bible data to be more open, so that anyone can use it freely, with less duplication of effort, and to encourage the spread of good research. In Copenhagen this year, ETEN facilitated the meeting of representatives from several organisations, including STEPBible, SIL, UBS, ETCBC, Perseus, Door43 and others, to explore how much private data could be made public. This was the Davos of Bible software, and ground-breaking commitments were made there. One of the results is that STEPBible data will now remove the ND restriction.
The concern that previously prevented this, was that errors might accumulate, unintentionally or even maliciously, so that the trustworthy expertise of Tyndale House scholars might be diluted. Legally, any changes should be reported, but of course this doesn’t always happen. To ensure continual trustworthyness, the original Tyndale House data will always be available in the STEPBible Repository. This includes accurate Greek and Hebrew texts with variants, tagged with vocabulary and parsing, along with simple and detailed lexicons based on academic publications, as well as other datasets analysing the Bible text.
In the past, free software has relied on older data sets which did contain errors. A few years ago I was preparing for a radio debate about a controvertial book with ‘new revelations’ about the family of Jesus. The author’s conclusions turned out to result from his mixing up of two Greek words. He claimed that tekton (‘artisan’ or ‘carpenter’ in Mat.13.55; Mark 6.3) “is derived from the root Greek word ‘timoria‘” (‘punishment’). He added that Jesus’ father was ‘a just man’ (Mt.1.19) and concluded that Joseph was a justice of the peace with the power to judge and punish malefactors! He then published a book based on this ‘discovery’.
The author wasn’t a biblical scholar, but he was nevertheless an intelligent man who was well trained in another profession – so how did he make this embarrassing mistake? After hunting around I traced the source of his error to the commonly distributed electronic version of Strong’s Index, which is used by most free software. Due to an uncorrected typo (‘5098’ instead of ‘5088’) it said that tekton comes from timoria.
Sitting with him in the studio, before the red “broadcasting” light turned on, I quickly explained what I’d found, and said that I’d only mention it if he mentioned his ‘discovery’. This removed my killer point in the debate, and left him little to talk about, but at least it prevented his public humiliation.
This experience hardened my resolve to develop accurate tools for intelligent people to rely on. Just because someone isn’t trained in Biblical Studies shouldn’t stop them studying the Bible in as much depth as they want, using information that is checked by scholars and trustworthy. This spurred me to work on STEPBible, and now to make the data available to everyone to use.
In the case of some of the books of Scripture, the questions of their authorship and of their canonical authority are quite independent of one another. Many books are anonymous, many have their authors known only by a post-canonical tradition; and the rejection, in any case where it may be called for, of this tradition need not and ought not to involve a denial of the divine authority of the book. Even in cases where the supposed author is named or unmistakeably indicated in the book itself, it does not always follow that the book must either be written by him, or can owe none of its inspiration to the Spirit of truth: the person of the professed author may be assumed dramatically without any mala fides. On the other hand, there are books which plainly exclude any such hypothesis, and must either be forgeries, more or less excusable but hardly consistent with divine direction, or else must be accepted as genuine and inspired works of their professed authors.