According to the prolific New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, “Some books, such as the Gospels… had been written anonymously, only later to be ascribed to certain authors who probably did not write them (apostles and friends of the apostles).” Bart Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted (2011), pp. 101-102 Technically, Ehrman is right that the gospels are “anonymous”, but only in the sense that the authors didn’t identify themselves in the main body of text. Nowhere in the main body of text do the authors explicitly identify themselves with phrases such as “This is a record of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. I, Matthew, a former tax collector followed him for three years until he was taken up to Heaven.” or “I, John of Zebedee, wish to tell you the good news of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Now, first, Jesus existed in the beginning with God. He was God and was with God.” However, Ehrman’s conclusion that the gospels were probably not written by the men whose names these books bear is what philosophers call a non-sequitur. That’s just fancy philosophical talk for saying that the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise. Just because Matthew, for example, didn’t explicitly tell us that he wrote the gospel doesn’t mean that we can’t know that he is the one who wrote it.
In fact, this was par for the course for authors of that time period. As philosopher and Christian Apologist Michael Horner explains; “In ancient times the omission of an author’s name in a text was not an unusual practice. We have literature written by Plato, Plutarch, Lucian, and Porphyry that do not contain their name in the text itself and are every bit as ‘anonymous’ as the Gospels, in that sense. But this by no means suggests that we have no idea who the authors were.” Michael Horner, “The Gospels Anonymous?”, https://thelife.com/are-the-gospels-anonymous
The reason why scholars can identify that Plato really wrote the works ascribed to him, that Plutarch really wrote the works ascribed to him, and so on, is on the basis of some of the same arguments I’ll be giving in this blog post to show how the Tax Collector Matthew really wrote the gospel of Matthew and Luke (Paul’s traveling companion) really wrote the gospel of Luke.
The evidence comes in two different forms;
1: External Evidence
2: Internal Evidence.
External evidence has to do with other written works that ascribe a person to a written work. Works by people who would have been in contact with and close enough in time to have a good degree of certainty that “Matthew wrote Matthew” or “Mark wrote Mark”. Internal evidence will be passages within the gospels themselves that make the most sense under the assumption that a certain person wrote it.
Why Does This Matter?
You might be wondering why this matters. When I began researching and writing this series, I believed this was a pretty low stakes issue. After all, the gospel authors can be verified at numerous points by extra biblical sources and archeological evidence. However, as you’ll see at the end of this series, if you wish to run a short form argument for Jesus’ resurrection without using a minimal facts approach. Traditional authorship is essential.
If it can be demonstrated that the gospels are written by the authors traditionally ascribed, then this is a huge step forward in establishing their trustworthiness. After all, who would be in a better position to know what Jesus said and did than men like Matthew and John who walked with him during his time on Earth? Better yet, who would be in a better position to know if he really rose from the dead and appeared to His disciples than the very people to whom He appeared to? In narrating the postmortem appearances, we would have eyewitness testimony to the risen Jesus! This is important because the resurrection of Jesus is the central truth claim to Christianity. If it’s true, Christianity is true.
As I wrote in the introduction of my blog post series defending The Minimal Facts Argument;
“First of all, there is strong historical evidence that Jesus claimed to be God. If Jesus said that he was God but he wasn’t, then he was either a lying heretic or else he was crazy. If that were the case, there’s no way God The Father would resurrect Jesus from the dead knowing that that would vindicate his blasphemous claims and lead many people astray. God would never raise a heretic and a blasphemer. But if God did raise Jesus from the dead, then God implicitly put his stamp of approval on everything Jesus said and did. If Jesus rose from the dead, then that means God The Father agreed with Jesus’ claims for which his enemies killed him as a blasphemer. If God The Father raised Jesus from the dead then that means He agrees with Jesus’ claims to be divine.
If that’s the case, then whatever Jesus teaches carries a lot of weight. Well, what did Jesus teach? He taught (1) that the Old Testament was the divinely inspired Word of God. He believed and taught that every word in The Old Testament was true. (2) Since he handpicked the writers of the New Testament, this means the New Testament is divinely inspired given that Jesus is God, (3) He also seemed to believe that Adam and Eve were historical individuals, that (4) the flood story in Genesis 6-9 actually happened, that (5) angels and demons really do exist, and (6) that if you place your faith in him, you will have eternal life but that if you don’t place your faith in Him, you’ll end up in Hell (John 3:16-18, John 8:24).
So if Jesus rose from the dead after allegedly blaspheming the One who raised him, we can believe all of these things as well simply because Jesus believed them. This is why you’ll often hear Christian Apologists say “I don’t believe in Jesus because I believe The Bible. I believe The Bible because I believe in Jesus”. Evan Minton, “The Evidence For Jesus’ Resurrection – PART 1: Why This Matters”, March 24th 2015 — https://cerebralfaith net/the-evidence-for-jesus-resurrection-2/
On the other hand, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then the apostle Paul writes “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17).
Even though the historical reliability of the gospels wouldn’t absolutely crumble without the traditional authorship of the gospels, establishing traditional authorship would make a strong case even stronger. After all, we all know how valuable eyewitness testimony can be. Hearing the facts from people who were actually there to witness X is always considered greater evidence than from people who heard the story second or third hand. This is true whether one is doing history or whether one is practicing law. and it should be said that while secondhand testimony is inadmissible in a court of law, historians have no such ban. Indeed, eyewitness documents are rare when it comes to historical events. The … Continue reading In a court of law, prosecutors and defense attorneys always want to examine the testimonies of people who claim to be witnesses to the crime.
Matthew – External Evidence
- The Early Church Fathers All Agreed That Matthew Wrote Matthew
Every person in the earliest days of Christianity all agreed on the fact that Matthew was the writer of the first gospel. Papias, Irenaeus, Pantaenus, and Origen all report Matthew as the writer of the First Gospel. Papias was the bishop of Hierpolis in Asia Minor. Papias was born in 60 A.D and lived until around 130 A.D. As such, Papias is one of the earliest of the early church fathers. Papias wrote “Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.” Papias, “Fragments of Papias,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene … Continue reading Although, if Matthew did originally write his gospel in Hebrew and only later did Greek copies come into being, we have no surviving copies of that. the early church father Jerome reported actually seeing a Hebraic copy of the gospel of Matthew. However, whether this is the same, we cannot be sure.. Papias also wrote “But I shall not hesitate also to put down for you along with my interpretations whatsoever things I have at any time learned carefully from the elders and carefully remembered, guaranteeing their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those that speak much, but in those that teach the truth; not in those that relate strange commandments, but in those that deliver the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and springing from the truth itself. If, then, any one came, who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders — what Andrew or what Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice.” Papias quoted in Eusebius, Church History, III.39.3-4
In the latter passage, Papias testifies that he personally knew the apostles and wanted to hear what they had to say about Jesus. So, not only was Papias in a great position temporally, but he was in a great position geographically. And knowing the apostles (or at least their companions), he would be in a great position to know if Matthew really penned the gospel that bears his name.
Keith Thompson notes of this passage that “There are some crucial features about this quotation which bear out Papias’ reliability: 1) Papias carefully learned and remembered things from the first and second century elders or presbyters alive in his day who got their information from the apostles. According to Papias this was done to guarantee that he held to truth and not error. 2) Papias would avoid unreliable people who spoke a lot or recited the commandments of others and would instead listen to those who spoke truth traced back to Christ and the apostles. 3) When Papias encountered someone who followed the elders he would question them as to what they learned from the eyewitnesses of Jesus such as the 12 apostles or those who knew them such as Aristion and John the elder. 4) Papias was not concerned with early writings. He was concerned with what could be traced back to Christ and the apostles.
Therefore, when Papias affirms that the apostle Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew, according to his discernment method and based on how he says he ascertained knowledge about the Gospel of Mark (see section on Mark), he affirmed Matthaean authorship because he had proper authoritative apostolic confirmation. Papias being a God-fearing man concerned with truth would not assert Matthaean authorship unless this view could be traced back to the apostles and those who knew them. And according to Eusebius Papias’ works testified that he personally knew friends of the 12 apostles from which he derived his information.” Keith Thompson, “Who Wrote the Gospels? Internal and External Arguments for Traditional Authorship”, https://answering-islam.org/authors/thompson/gospel_authorship.html
Now let’s turn to Irenaeus who was a second-century writer and who personally knew Polycarp. Who was Polycarp? I’m so glad you asked. He was a student directly under the teachings of the apostles. Polycarp personally knew the apostles John and Peter. What does Ireneus have to say about the authorship of Matthew’s gospel?
Irenaeus wrote: “Matthew published his Gospel among the Hebrews in their own language, while Peter and Paul were preaching and founding the church in Rome.” Irenaeus quoted in Eusebius, Church History, V.8.2
One of the “Criteria Of Authenticity” that readers of my Minimal Facts blog posts will be familiar with is called the criterion of multiple attestation. This criterion asserts that if X is reported in two or more independent sources, then it’s more likely to be historically true than not. Why? Because the more and more independent sources you have for an event, the less and less likely it becomes that all these different people fabricated the same lie. In the case of Matthean authorship, so far we have two independent witnesses. Papias said Matthew wrote Matthew, and Iraneus says that Matthew wrote Matthew! Not only that, but both authors knew the authors! Let’s assume that we have a biography of Donald Trump written by an author who doesn’t name himself in the work. The front page is devoid of his name, and he doesn’t tell us that he wrote the book anywhere in the pages. Let’s say that a man named Bob Bobertson writes a news article saying that he personally knew Sam Samson and that Sam was the one to write the biography. Since Bob knew Sam, and since Bob lives in America during the century in which both Trump and Sam lived, then this would be pretty good evidence that Sam wrote “The life of Donald Trump”. Not irrefutable evidence, but it would still be pretty good. Now, let’s suppose we have another author named Richard Richardson who also writes a news article attributing Samian authorship to “The Life Of Donald Trump.” With two independent sources claiming they knew Sam Samson and that Sam is the author of Trump’s biography, what are the odds that both are lying? Low. What if some third author comes along who was born near the time and place Trump lived and said “Yeah, Sam wrote this book.” It would be even more unlikely that Sam Samson is not the author of “The Life Of Donald Trump”.
Clement Of Alexandria (circa 150-215 AD) wrote “And in the Gospel according to Matthew, the genealogy which begins with Abraham is continued down to Mary the mother of the Lord. ‘For,’”’ it is said, ‘from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon till Christ are likewise other fourteen generations,’”’ Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata Book 1, Chapter 21 Clement also wrote “In the same way spiritual poverty is blessed. Wherefore also Matthew added, ”Blessed are the poor.’ How? ‘In spirit.” And again, ‘Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after the righteousness of God.'” Clement of Alexandria, Who is the Rich Man that Shall Be Saved?
Although Clement is farther removed from the Twelve Disciples than Papias and Ireneus, he is still an ancient witness to Matthean authorship.
Regarding Matthew’s gospel, In his Ecclesiastical History, the church historian Eusebius (A.D. 265-339) quotes Origen (A.D. 185-254), stating,
“Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publician, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism.” Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book 6 Chapter 25, 3-6
- Why Would Forgers Choose These Names?
In his book The Historical Reliability Of The Gospels, New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg writes “That two of the four Gospels were attributed to individuals as comparatively obscure in early Christianity as Mark and Luke also inspires confidence in the tradition. John Mark was a companion of both Peter and Paul but best known for having ‘defected’ from the Pauline mission (cf. Acts 13:13 with 15:37). Luke was Paul’s ‘beloved physician’ (Col. 4:14 AV) and travel companion throughout those portions of Acts written in the first person plural, but is known by name in the New Testament only from brief references in the closing greetings of three of Paul’s letters (see esp. 2 Tim. 4:11 and Phlm. 24). Even Matthew, though one of the twelve apostles (also known as Levi, a converted tax-collector), would not have been a natural choice for someone falsely ascribing authorship to a Christian authority, given his ignominious background as a Jew who had worked for the hated Roman invaders. Only John, son of Zebedee, and one of the inner core of three closest associates of Jesus (along with his brother, James, and Peter) makes sense as a candidate for pseudonymous attribution, though a good case can be made for the accuracy of this tradition as well.” Craig L. Blomberg. “The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.”, IVP Academic, 2008
This argument applies to all of the gospels (except John), but I include it here as its technically external evidence for Matthean authorship. It’s not external evidence in the sense of being written sources basically saying “Matthew wrote the gospel of Matthew”, but it is a logical argument for Matthean authorship that doesn’t stem from inside the text itself. I think Blomberg makes a good point here. Why would forgers or pseudepigraphical authors choose the names Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Although Matthew quit being a Tax Collector, it is still the case that he used to be one. As a gospel unanimously agreed upon to be written to a Jewish audience, choosing someone who used to serve the enemies of the Jewish people is an odd choice to say the least. Mark and Luke are rather obscure characters who don’t show up that often but in a handful of references. They weren’t even followers of Jesus, why choose these men to ascribe authorship? The only name that makes sense for pseudonymous attribution is John the son of Zebedee.
This argument is even more forceful when you consider what names were chosen for the later apocryphal gospels. What are the apocryphal gospels, you ask? These were documents written in the second, third, and fourth centuries. They often wrote Jesus in such a way as to promote what the church considered heresy, such as Gnosticism. Examples include; The Gospel Of Peter, The Gospel Of Mary, The Gospel Of Thomas, The Gospel Of Phillip, and so on. It’s easy to see why you’d choose Peter, Mary, Thomas, Phillip, James, et. al. to be your pseudonyms. These were all major players in the life of Jesus. Peter was one of Jesus’ “inner three”, Thomas was one of the twelve, as was Phillip. The gnostic authors clearly wanted their later invented fabrications of Jesus to carry authority in the Christian church. That’s why they came up with the names that they did. Were the orthodox Christian church wanting to increase the credibility of the authoritativeness of the canonical gospels, they surely would have attributed them to less obscure people.
Matthew – Internal Evidence
When you are recounting events that you’ve experienced, you may notice or emphasize different things than someone else. Every person is different. We all each have individual personalities. We all each have different interests, different likes and dislikes, different goals to achieve, and as a result of all these things that make us who we are, this means that what may stand out to me when remembering a story may not be the same as what stood out to you when it happened. For example, let us suppose that I go visit a church I’ve never been to before. I invite my friend Kenneth along. Kenneth is an art major and has produced many wonderful paintings. He has a strong appreciation for aesthetics. I, on the other hand, am a huge theology nerd who studies theology and apologetics as much as I can. I’m also a metalhead and a bit of a weeb. During our visit, we meet the pastor who invites us to wait in his office until the service starts. The reason is that we arrived early. Afterwards, we go into the sanctuary. The sanctuary is covered from wall to wall with beautiful stain glass windows. When we return home, we tell our mutual friend, Sam, about our visit.
Here’s my version;
“So, last Sunday, Kenneth and I decided to visit a church we’ve never been to before. We arrived a bit early, so the pastor invited us to wait in his office until everyone else arrived. I saw that he had several bookshelves in his office. He had the entire collection of Craig Keener’s commentary on the book of Acts. I’ve never read that before, but it’s been a commentary series I’ve been wanting to read for a long time. Right below the shelf with the Keener commentaries, there was a shelf with lots of books by N.T Wright! He had ‘The Resurrection Of The Son Of God’, ‘The Meal That Jesus Gave Us’, ‘Surprised By Scripture’, ‘The Case For The Psalms’ and several others. It was hard not to feel jealous. After that, he took Kenneth and I into the sanctuary where we sat down. People filled the pews rather quickly. This wasn’t a formal church, although from the looks of it, you’d never guess that that was the case. People were in all kinds of different clothing. Some wore shirts while others dressed more casually. There was even a guy with a Skillet t-shirt on. Skillet’s my favorite group of all time! There was also this dude in a Naruto hoodie. When the pastor preached; the message that morning was on recognizing supernatural influences in the world. I was pleasantly surprised to hear him cite Michael Heiser’s book ‘The Unseen Realm’. After the service was over, Kenneth and I left and we had pizza for lunch.”
Here is Kenneth’s version;
“Last Sunday, Evan and I decided to visit a church we’ve never been to before. We arrived very early. I told Evan we had plenty of time to get there, but Evan was concerned about traffic. Pastor James invited us into his office to wait until everyone else arrived. I was in awe at the beautiful paintings he had hanging in his office. One of them was of Jesus walking side by side with a man in modern clothes down a beach. Jesus had his hand on the fellow’s back. There was also a Greg Olson painting. It was the one with Jesus of Nazareth lying on the ground looking up at the stars. After some time had passed, Pastor James invited us into the sanctuary. What struck me most of all were the stain glass window paintings depicting different characters of The Bible. I was surprised at how quickly the pews were filled. It wasn’t a formal church. You could find people in suits, but you could also find people in t-shirts and jeans. The pastor got up to preach and the message was on recognizing supernatural influences in our lives. He quoted someone named Michael….something or other. His book was called ‘The Unseen Realm’ and Evan really told me that it was a fascinating read, and that I should read it sometime. After the service was over, Evan and I left and we had pizza for lunch.”
Because of our different interests, you get two versions of the same story, but with different details. In my version, you get references to the pastor’s impressive library, and mention of a Skillet and Naruto hoodie. In Kenneth’s version, you have mention of Greg Olson paintings, and how beautiful the stained glass windows were. Reading both accounts, you get a fuller picture. But notice something else; given that I’m a theology nerd and metal head, you got some details that weren’t picked up by Kenneth, who is more of a Jazz fan and isn’t the least bit into anime. You get mention of the pastor’s name in Kenneth’s version, but not in my version. Why? Because although I can remember faces with ease, I struggle with names. So, I chose to just refer to him as “the pastor”. Kenneth, by contrast, can remember names the moment he hears them, so referring to “Pastor James” was no problem for him.
What if the gospel of Matthew mentions things that someone with a background in Tax Collecting and a Jewish upbringing would be apt to mention, but maybe not so much a gentile like Luke? Matthew 9:9 tells us that Matthew was a tax collector.
- Matthew Focuses On The Money
Matthew contains some financial details found only in this gospel. For example, in Matthew 17:24-27, we read that “After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, ‘Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?’ ‘Yes, he does,’ he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. ‘What do you think, Simon?’ he asked. ‘From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?’ ‘From others,’ Peter answered. ‘Then the children are exempt,’ Jesus said to him. ‘But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.'”
This account of tax collectors coming and demanding the temple tax from Peter and Jesus is only found in the gospel of Matthew. It would be just like a former tax collector to remember a story involving taxes and want to include it. Just as I noticed a pew sitter in a Skillet t-shirt while Kenneth didn’t (just generally mentioning that only some wore suits), so Matthew is the only one to recount this.
Here’s another example. The entire New Testament emphasizes loving your neighbor, loving your enemies, forgiving those who have wronged you, and so on (e.g Luke 6:27-38, Luke 23:34, Ephesians 4:32). Luke 17:3-4 contains Jesus’ teaching that you should forgive your brother 7 times in a day. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus also teaches that you should forgive your brother if he sins against you 7 times in a day, and 7 times repents, but in Matthew’s case, he records a parable to go along with this command of Jesus. This parable is often called The Parable Of The Unmerciful Servant. In this parable, we read;
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.'” (Matthew 18:23-35)
Prior to giving this parable, Peter asks Jesus “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” to which Jesus responds “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Luke’s account is similar, but only Matthew includes this lengthy parable about a man being forgiven of his tax debt but then refuses to show that same forgiveness to someone else in the same situation. As a tax collector, Matthew would have known firsthand just how horrible it is for a man to be unable to pay his taxes. The Romans showed no mercy. And it’s plausible to think that Matthew probably carried some guilt for helping the Romans in this very area, which would make harsh stories about being thrown into prison for being unable to pay up even more vivid in his mind. This parable is only in Matthew’s gospel. Just as Kenneth and I both would have remembered sitting in the pastor’s office prior to service, but Kenneth remembered the artwork while I remembered the impressive library of books, so too Luke was concerned with recording Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness, but Matthew made note of the financially themed parable on forgiveness.
Here’s a third Matthew-only example. It’s another parable of Jesus involving money. That parable is called The Parable Of The Laborers In The Vineyard. Matthew 20:1-16 is the reference. In this parable, a man hires someone to work for him for a day’s wage (a denarius). As the day goes on, the employer goes out and finds more and more people to join in on working on the vineyard. At the end of the day, when it’s time for everyone to get paid, all of the employees get paid exactly the same wage. Those who were there since early in the morning were indignant, thinking that those who worked for fewer hours then them shouldn’t get paid as much as themselves who had worked for the full day, to which the vineyard owner basically tells them “Hey, you agreed to a denarius. That’s what I gave you. Besides, it’s my money and I can do whatever I want with it.”
- Matthew Is A Very Jewish Gospel
Out of all of the gospels, Matthew is considered to be the one most Jewish of them all. Matthew begins his gospel with a long list of “begats” in order to show that Jesus is a descendent of David in order to fulfill the Old Testament prophesy that the Messiah would be the son of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16). In Matthew 1:22-23 we find Isaiah 7:14 quoted: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).” In Matthew 2:5-6, we find a reference to (Micah 5:2 cited as a fulfillment of prophesy. This was in response to the visit of the Magi. The religious leaders identify Bethlehem as the birthplace of the coming ‘King of the Jews’. Later on in Matthew 2, when King Herod realized the Magi weren’t returning to tell him where to find the baby Jesus (for Herod believed the messiah was born and threatened to take his kingdom away from him, and Herod, therefore, wanted to kill the baby Jesus), Herod decides to send soldiers to kill all baby boys from ages 2 and under. The angel Gabriel appears and warns Joseph in a dream to flee for Egypt. So, Joseph grabs his wife and newborn child and does exactly as the angel directs. In this incident, Matthew cites two Old Testament passages as being fulfilled in this passage; the first is Hosea 11:1 and the second is Jeremiah 31:15 which say “Out of Egypt, I called my son”, and “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” Then we get a time skip of about 30 years and we come to the ministry of John The Baptist in Matthew 3. Matthew 3:1-3 says “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” The Old Testament passage cited as being fulfilled in John The Baptist is Isaiah 40:3. Some skeptics have argued that Matthew is taking some of the Old Testament verses out of context and are incorrectly applying them to the events he records. It is not my aim to defend Matthew’s … Continue reading
I could go on and on with examples where Jesus says or does something and Matthew says something to the effect of “This happened to fulfill the scripture that says…” and then goes on to quote a verse from The Old Testament. But this small sampling should suffice for my purposes here.
These are just a couple of pieces of internal evidence that point to Matthew being the author of the gospel that bears his name. While the internal evidence isn’t nearly as strong as the external evidence is (at least in my own opinion), when all the internal evidence is combined with the external evidence, it presents a powerful cumulative case.
It should also be said at this juncture that no one in the ancient world contested that Matthew wrote Matthew. Whenever authorship was brought up, everyone was unanimously in agreement that Jesus’ disciple named Matthew, the former tax collector, was the one who wrote this book.
Mark – External Evidence
The early church was unanimous in their acceptance that John Mark was the writer of the Second Gospel and that he documented the teachings of Simon Peter. Papias provides the earliest account. Papias of Hierapolis (A.D. 60-130) writes,
“And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.” Papias, “Fragments of Papias,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene … Continue reading
Irenaeus (A.D. 130-200) also writes, “After their departure, Mark, the disciple, and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.” Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The … Continue reading
Tertullian (A.D. 160-220) writing in Carthage northern Africa affirms “that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s whose interpreter Mark was.”Tertullian, Against Marcion, IV.5
Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-215) likewise affirmed that “The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it.” Clement of Alexandria quoted in Eusebius, Church History, VI.14.6
In his commentary on Matthew Origen (A.D. 185-254) also confirms that “The second is by Mark, who composed it according to the instructions of Peter, who in his Catholic epistle acknowledges him as a son, saying, ‘The church that is at Babylon elected together with you, salutes you, and so does Marcus, my son.’” Origen Commentary on Matthew quoted in Eusebius, Church History, VI.25.5
These earlier church leaders and students of the apostles were in a position to know whether or not Mark authored the gospel of Mark and whether or not he got his information from Peter. Time and time again, they affirm that the Gospel of Mark is indeed written by Mark and that Mark was acting as Peter’s scribe. Regarding Ireneus, remember that he was a student of Polycarp who in turn was a student of the apostle John. This means that they were in the best position of all to comment on whether John wrote the gospel of John. I can imagine Polycarp sitting at John’s feet listening to John telling him all about what Jesus said and did, and then at the end, John says “By the way, Polycarp. I’m currently writing a book on this. You’ll be able to get it at Barnes and Noble in a few weeks”.
Mark – Internal Evidence
Now let’s look at the internal evidence.
- Forensic Statement Analysis
J. Warner Wallace talks about this procedure in chapter 5 of his book Cold Case Christianity. Forensic Statement Analysis (FSA) is “the careful study and analysis of the words (both written and spoken) provided by a suspect, witness, or victim. The purpose of Forensic Statement Analysis is to determine truthfulness or deception on the part of the person making the statement.” J. Warner Wallace, “Cold Case Christianity”, David C Cook, page 88 FSA is the art of hanging on to every word that a person says. In the work of a homicide detective like Wallace, when they are interviewing witnesses about the events of a crime, detectives carefully scrutinize and dissect every word the witness includes in his or her statement to see if it provides them with any clues about their involvement or lack thereof in the crime. In Wallace’s book, he provides two examples of this. In the first example, Wallace recalls interviewing a man whom he called “Scott” about the murder of a young woman in his city in 1981. His question, the same as it was to the other witnesses he interviewed, was “How did you feel about this woman’s death?” Scott’s response was surprising. “Well, I was sorry to see her dead, you know. We didn’t always get along, but it’s never good to see anyone die”. The detectives knew that the killers stood over the victim’s body and made sure she was dead by nudging her. So, Wallace wrote, “it could be reasonably inferred that the killer ‘saw her dead’”. Of course, this isn’t enough to convict someone of murder. But it is a clue that pointed them in the right direction. The statement was only one piece in a large collection of evidence that ended up indicting him.
In J. Warner Wallace’s investigation of the gospels’ reliability as eyewitness testimony, he applied Forensic Statement Analysis to the text to determine whether the gospels were really written by the people whose names are attached to them. And the amount of FSA clues actually makes for a pretty powerful cumulative case for the traditional gospel authorship. Let’s look at some of Wallace’s findings with regard to the gospel of Mark.
The way the gospel of Mark is worded strongly hints at Peter being the source of the information. As we’ve seen above, the early church’s testimony was unanimous that Mark’s gospel was actually Peter’s gospel.
1: Mark mentioned Peter with prominence.
Peter is featured frequently in Mark’s gospel. He referred to him 26 times in his gospel. Matthew referred to Peter only 3 additional times in his much longer gospel.
2: Mark Identified Peter with the most familiarity
Mark is the only writer who never once used the term “Simon Peter”. He uses the words “Simon” and “Peter” but never “Simon Peter”. This may seem like a silly and frivolous thing to point out, but not when you consider that “Simon” and “Peter” were the most popular male names in 1st-century Palestine. Mark never makes an effort to distinguish between the Apostle Simon with the boatloads of other Simons running around. Compare this to John’s referring of the apostle as “Simon Peter” 17 times.
3: Mark Used Peter As a Set Of “Bookends”
In Cold Case Christianity, Wallace points out that out of the 12 disciples, Mark identifies Peter first (Mark 1:16) and he mentions him last at the very end of his gospel (Mark 16:7). Wallace said that scholars describe this as “inclusio” and noticed this same thing occurring in other ancient writings where the document is attributed to an individual. In these other ancient writings, it was the individual being “bookended” that was also the one who wrote the thing.
4: Mark Omitted Peter’s Embarrassments
If you’re writing a biography of someone and you’re heavily involved in their life, you’d probably have a tendency to leave unflattering and embarrassing details about yourself out, right? You would paint yourself in a much gentler light than someone else would. We find Peter painted in the kindest possible way in Mark’s gospel, far more kinder than the other 3 gospels which recount the same events. For example, while Matthew 14:22-23 calls Peter a doubter and a “man of little faith”, Mark 6:45-52, which records the same event, omits Peter’s involvement altogether. Luke 5 records Jesus’ miracle of the catching of the fish in which Peter doubts Jesus’ wisdom. Yet Mark’s parallel account omits Peter’s cynicism altogether.
5: Mark mentions details that can best be attributed to Peter
J. Warner Wallace explains that “Mark alone included a number of seemingly unimportant details that point to Peter’s involvement in the shaping of the text. Mark alone told us that ‘Simon and his companions’ were the ones who went looking for Jesus when He was praying in a solitary place (Mark 1:35-37). Mark is also the only gospel to tell us that it was Peter who first drew Jesus’ attention to the withered fig tree (compare Matt 21:18-19 with Mark 11:20-21). Mark alone seemed to be able to identify the specific disciples (including Peter) who asked Jesus about the timing of the destruction of the temple (compare Matt 24:1-3 with Mark 13:1-4).” J. Warner Wallace, “Cold Case Christianity”, David C Cook, page 93
Given this cumulative set of FSA pieces of evidence, the best explanation is that Mark really did write Mark and that he really did get his information from Peter. This conclusion from Forensic Statement Analysis is only made stronger by the testimonies of the early church fathers, and the fact that Mark isn’t a likely name you’d make up if you wanted to forge a gospel.
Luke – External Evidence
Once again, the early church was unanimous that Dr. Luke, a traveling companion of Paul, wrote the gospel of Luke. Irenaeus (c. 130-202) writes, “Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him.” Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies” 3.1.1., in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. … Continue reading Irenaeus wrote “Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him.” Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III.14.1
Justin Martyr (c. 100-165), before quoting from the Gospel of Luke and the other Gospels, notes that “the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them.” Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin” 66, in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, … Continue reading Marcion, a heretic who thought the Old Testament God was evil, liked Luke’s gospel since it was written by a gentile, i.e Luke. Although, even then, Marcion only allowed a shortened version of it in his own personal canon. Irenaus said that “Marcion, mutilating that according to Luke, is proved to be a blasphemer of the only existing God, from those [passages] which he still retains.” Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” 3.11.7, 428.
In his commentary on Luke, New Testament scholar Leon Morris writes “Tradition unanimously affirms this author to be Luke. This is attested by the early heretic Marcion (who died c. ad 160; Luke was the only Gospel in his canon), the Muratorian Fragment (a list of the books accepted as belonging to the New Testament; it is usually held to express Roman opinion at the end of the second century), the anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke (which also says that Luke was a native of Antioch, that he was a physician, that he wrote his Gospel in Achaia, and that he died at the age of eighty-four, unmarried and childless), Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and others.” Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 3, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 19–20.
With so many extra-biblical witnesses to Luke being a historian, and given the fact that Luke is an obscure person in early church history and ergo would be unlikely to be a chosen pseudonym, there is every reason to believe that the medical doctor and traveling companion of Paul authored this work.
Luke – Internal Evidence
- The Author Says He Wasn’t An Eyewitness
In Luke 1:1-4, we read “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 eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”
From the beginning of the gospel, the author emphasizes that he was not an eyewitness of the things he was about to record, but states that he did get his information from eyewitnesses. Scholars debate over whether the reference to the “Many” who have “undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us” is a reference to the earlier gospels Matthew and Mark. However, would “two” really be referred to as “many”? It’s possible that Luke is merely referring to the widespread oral tradition and the “many” people who recite the stories about Jesus in various churches across the land. But none of this is germane to our task here. What we can see is that Luke was intending to record historical events, record them accurately, and that he had to consult reliable witnesses in order to gather his information. This is consistent with the early church tradition that the gospel was written by Luke.
- Advanced Greek
I’m not a speaker or reader of the Greek language (yet), but according to those who are and have studied the gospel of Luke in its original language, Luke’s grammar is quite refined. It’s advanced. It’s not the kind of crude Greek you’d expect from a lowly fisherman like Peter or John. This is consistent with the view that Luke was the author. After all, doctors were among the most educated of people in the ancient gentile world.
- Attention To Medical Details
Remember how Matthew focused on financial details that the other gospel authors didn’t include? Well, here again, we see how someone’s unique personality can affect how they tell a story. Leon Morris said “Paul speaks of Luke as ‘the beloved physician’ (Col. 4:14) and in earlier days the case for the Lucan authorship was held to be strongly supported by the medical language which many discerned in Luke–Acts. But H. J. Cadbury has convinced most people that the language is not especially medical, by pointing out that most of the examples cited can be paralleled in writers who were not medicos. It seems generally agreed now that there was no special technical medical language in our sense of the term, for writers such as Hippocrates and Galen seem to have used the ordinary language of educated people. But if Cadbury has made it difficult to think of the language of Luke–Acts as proving that the writer was a physician, he seems to have turned up nothing inconsistent with the hypothesis. At least on occasion, there are indications of medical interest. Thus where Matthew and Mark speak only of a fever, Luke particularizes it as a ‘high’ fever (Matt. 8:14; Mark 1:30; Luke 4:38). Similarly he speaks of a certain man not simply as having leprosy, but as ‘full’ of leprosy (5:12, i.e. he was an advanced case). Again, if he was a medical man it is a very human touch that he omits the statement that the woman with the hemorrhage had spent all her money on doctors (8:43; cf. Mark 5:26).” Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 3, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 22–23.
One example of a medical detail that sticks out to me is something recorded in Luke’s version of Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke 22:44 says “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Leon Morris notes in his commentary on Luke that “Some very good MSS omit these verses and rsv puts them in the margin; but the probability is that they should be included. In a day when … Continue reading
There is a medical condition known as hematidrosis. Debra Jailman MD explains in a Web MD article that “Hematidrosis, or hematohidrosis, is a very rare medical condition that causes you to ooze or sweat blood from your skin when you’re not cut or injured. Only a few handfuls of hematidrosis cases were confirmed in medical studies in the 20th century.” Debra Jailman MD, “What Is Hematidrosis?” January 26th, 2022 — https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/hematidrosis-hematohidrosis She goes on to say that doctors believe that hematidrosis is triggered by the body’s fight or flight response. ibid. Or as Dr. Alexander Methrell explained in his interview with Lee Strobel; it was brought on by high stress. We can easily imagine Jesus, knowing the horrors of crucifixion that he was about to endure, would be in great distress indeed! Unfortunately, this did more than just produce droplets of blood out of the sweat glands. Dr. Methrell told Strobel that this made the skin extremely fagile and sensitive to the touch. Strobel, Lee; Strobel, Lee. Case for Christ Movie Edition: Solving the Biggest Mystery of All Time (Case for … Series) . Zondervan. Kindle Edition. As if the pre-crucifixion scourging wasn’t painful enough (as we’ll see later on when I discuss “The Swoon Theory”)), the pain was intensified all the more by this!
Isn’t it interesting that the other accounts of Jesus’ distress in the Garden Of Gethsemane don’t include this detail? This makes sense if the author of this gospel really was a medical doctor. Of course, it’s possible that someone not medically trained would include this. One should not be under the assumption that this point is a slam-dunk argument in favor of Lukan authorship. Rather, what I’m doing in this section on Luke (and indeed, what I’ve done with all of the gospels) is present a cumulative case for traditional authorship. None of these individual pieces of internal evidence would be very compelling on their own, but when they accumulate, they become pieces of evidence of a cumulative case. Lots of cold cases that J. Warner Wallace has worked weren’t solved on the basis of a single piece of evidence (say, the murderer’s coat being at the victim’s house, or the murderer driving the same type of car that was seen leaving the victim’s house the night of the murder), but was built on a cumulation of circumstantial evidence.
I’ll end this section with a quote from Allison Taylor’s commentary on Luke. “…while vocabulary and style do not decisively prove that Luke was a physician, the evidence of Luke-Acts reveals an author who was deeply concerned about human pain and suffering (see 4:38; 13:10–17; 14:1–4; Acts 9:32–42; 28:8–9).” Allison A. Trites, William J. Larkin, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 12: The Gospel of Luke and Acts (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2006), 5.
And here, like Morris, Taylor notes that the author of the gospel of Luke didn’t use any special medical terminology that the average Joe didn’t use. However, he did have an eye for medical details, which is consistent with Luke being the author and supplements the external evidence.
- The Book Of Acts
At this point, it’s worth pointing out that many scholars believe the author of Luke was also the author of Acts, so any evidence for Lukan authorship is also evidence for who wrote Acts and vice versa. Why do people think this? For one reason, Luke 1 and Acts 1 are both addressed to a person named Theophilus.
In Luke 1:1-4, we read “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 eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (emphasis in bold mine)
Acts 1:1 says “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach” (emphasis mine)
The author of Acts 1 claims that he previously wrote a book to a man named Theophilus. Luke’s gospel was also written for a man named Theophilus. And in Acts 1, the author explicitly says that he had written a prior work on the subject of what Jesus said and what Jesus taught. Now, what kind of book addressed to Theophilus pertaining to the subject of Jesus’ deeds and words could possibly be in view here other than Luke? The gospel of Luke is the most likely candidate.
Another piece of evidence is the many “We” passages in the book of Acts. These passages indicate that one of Paul’s traveling companions had joined him on his missionary journeys. For example, Acts 16:10 says “After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” Read Acts 16:10–17; 20:5–15; 21:1–18; 27:1–37; and 28:1-16 for the complete list.
“We set sail from Troas to Samothrace,” “We remained in Philippi some days,” “As we were going to the place of prayer,” etc. The most obvious explanation is that the author of Acts had joined Paul on his journeys. Skeptics have really tried hard to avoid this conclusion. They say that the first person language in Acts shouldn’t be taken literally. They say that this was just a literary device common in ancient sea voyage stories. There are two problems with this; the first is that the vast majority of Paul’s journey were on land, not on the sea. The second problem is that there’s no evidence that this kind of literary device was used in antiquity. It is, as Dr. William Lane Craig calls it on page 243 of his book “On Guard”, a “Scholarly Fiction”!
Although the book of Acts isn’t the focus of my study here, I bring it up because Luke and Acts are so tightly linked on the basis of these two strong pieces of internal evidence that whatever can be said about the reliability of one book can be said about the reliability of the other. And whatever can be said about the UNreliability of one can be said about the other. Since they have the same author, they stand or fall together. So, for example, in “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist”, Christian Apologists Frank Turek and Norman Geisler use the research of Colin J. Hemer which shows that Acts is extremely reliable to argue backwards towards Luke’s reliability. This is important because one of the two arguments against Lukan authorship which I’ll address later on in this essay partly presupposes Luke and Acts share the same author. So, I wanted to inform the reader ahead of time of this fact in case he or she was not aware of it.
John – External Evidence
Referencing the Fourth Gospel’s author, early church father Irenaeus (c. 130-202 AD) writes,
“Further, they teach that John, the disciple of the Lord, indicated the first Ogdoad, expressing themselves in these words: John, the disciple of the Lord, wishing to set forth the origin of all things, so as to explain how the Father produced the whole, lays down a certain principle,—that, namely, which was first-begotten by God, which Being he has termed both the only-begotten Son and God, in whom the Father, after a seminal manner, brought forth all things.” Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies, 1.8.5.” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The … Continue reading
Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215 AD), as quoted by the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 263-339 AD) writes the following:
“Again, in the same books Clement has set down a tradition which he had received from the elders before him, in regard to the order of the Gospels, to the following effect. He says that the Gospels containing the genealogies were written first, and that the Gospel according to Mark was composed in the following circumstances:—
Peter having preached the word publicly at Rome, and by the Spirit proclaimed the Gospel, those who were present, who were numerous, entreated Mark, inasmuch as he had attended him from an early period, and remembered what had been said, to write down what had been spoken. On his composing the Gospel, he handed it to those who had made the request to him; which coming to Peter’s knowledge, he neither hindered nor encouraged. But John, the last of all, seeing that what was corporeal was set forth in the Gospels, on the entreaty of his intimate friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel.” Clement of Alexandria, “Fragments of Clemens Alexandrinus,” in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander … Continue reading
Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35-108 AD) quotes John’s Gospel quite frequently as he writes an epistle to the Antiochians. Ignatius is noted as a disciple of John the apostle along with Polycarp. The Martyrdom of St. Ignatius notes the following:
“Wherefore, with great alacrity and joy, through his desire to suffer, he came down from Antioch to Seleucia, from which place he set sail. And after a great deal of suffering he came to Smyrna, where he disembarked with great joy, and hastened to see the holy Polycarp, [formerly] his fellow-disciple, and [now] bishop of Smyrna. For they had both, in old times, been disciples of St. John the Apostle. Being then brought to him, and having communicated to him some spiritual gifts, and glorying in his bonds, he entreated of him to labour along with him for the fulfilment of his desire; earnestly indeed asking this of the whole Church (for the cities and Churches of Asia had welcomed6 the holy man through their bishops, and presbyters, and deacons, all hastening to meet him, if by any means they might receive from him some spiritual gift), but above all, the holy Polycarp, that, by means of the wild beasts, he soon disappearing from this world, might be manifested before the face of Christ.” Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., “The Martyrdom of Ignatius,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, … Continue reading
John – Internal Evidence
The internal evidence for Johannine authorship is summarized very nicely in Colin G Kruse’ “John: An Introduction and Commentary” which is part of the Tyndale New Testament commentary series.
Kruse writes; “The Fourth Gospel itself does not disclose the name of its author. In this respect, it is the same as the other three canonical Gospels (the titles that appear in the NT today were added by early editors of the NT canon). However, in the Fourth Gospel, we find the following statement: ‘This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true’ (21:24). This statement is found in the epilogue and contains the testimony of others (‘we’) to the truthfulness of the things written by the beloved disciple. The beloved disciple is mentioned five times in the Gospel (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20). Also in several places mention is made of ‘the other disciple’ or ‘another disciple’ (18:15, 16; 20:2, 3, 4, 8), who is identified as the beloved disciple in 20:2. Can the beloved disciple be identified more explicitly?
The Fourth Gospel mentions the Twelve (i.e. the twelve disciples whom Jesus chose) four times (6:67, 70, 71; 20:24). We may infer that the beloved disciple was one of the Twelve, because he was present at the Last Supper, and other Gospels indicate that Jesus celebrated this supper with the Twelve and apparently the Twelve only (Matt. 26:20; Mark 14:17). The Fourth Gospel mentions five of the Twelve by name: Simon Peter (1:40–42, 44; 6:8, 68; 13:6, 8–9, 24, 36–37; 18:10–11, 15–18, 25–27; 20:2–4, 6; 21:2–3, 7, 11, 15–17, 20–21), Andrew (1:40, 44; 6:8; 12:22), Philip (1:43–46, 48; 6:5, 7; 12:21–22; 14:8–9), Thomas (11:16; 14:5; 20:24, 26–28; 21:2) and Judas Iscariot (6:71; 12:4; 13:2, 26, 29; 18:2–3, 5). It refers to ‘the sons of Zebedee’ (21:2) without mentioning their names (their names were, of course, James and John: Matt. 4:21; 10:2; Mark 1:19; 3:17; 10:35; Luke 5:10). That the apostle John is not mentioned by name in the Fourth Gospel leaves open the possibility but does not prove, that he was the beloved disciple and therefore the Gospel’s anonymous author.” Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 26–27.
So Why Do Some Still Deny It?
The evidence for the traditional authorship of the gospels seems quite strong. So why don’t all scholars accept the traditional authorship of the gospels? In this section, I’m going to examine some of the reasons scholars give for rejecting traditional authorship and why I don’t think they stand up under scrutiny. I will only address a few for each gospel in order to prevent this article from becoming even longer than it already is. Also, I’ll be examining these arguments as they pertain to each individual gospel in the same order in which the positive case was given above.
- Arguments Against Matthew
1: Matthew Refers To Himself In The Third Person!
Some skeptics of traditional authorship bring up the fact that Matthew is a character in the book and he is referred to in the third person. For example, when Jesus comes and calls Matthew to follow him, we read; “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” (Matthew 9:9-13, emphasis mine in bold)
If Matthew were really the author, these skeptics argue, he would surely refer to himself in the first person, right? The narrative would read “As Jesus went on from there, he saw me, Matthew. I was sitting at my tax collector’s booth at the time. He said to me ‘Follow me’, so I got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at my house….” The fact that the author of this gospel refers to Matthew in third person is best explained by the fact that Matthew was not the author of his gospel. Or so goes the argument.
The problem is that it wasn’t uncommon during this time period for authors to refer to themselves in the third person when writing narratives involving themselves. Craig Blomberg notes that “ancient parallels can be adduced for one writer referring to himself in the third person and first-person plural, as well as the ordinary first-person singular (Jackson 1999).” Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel: Issues & Commentary, [InterVarsity Press, 2001], pp. 37-38
The New Testament scholar Craig Keener cites several examples of this in “John, Jesus, and History, Volume 2”. On the seventeenth page of this work, he cites Thucydides (who lived from 460-395 B.C) and his work The Peloponnesian War 1.1.1; 2.103.2; 5.26.1 as an example. Other instances of this which are worth bringing up are the Greek historian and philosopher Xenophon’s work Anabasis 2.5.41; 3.1.4-6 and Julius Caesar’s works Gallic War 1.7; 2.1; 3.28; 4.13; 5.9; 6.4; 7.11 and Civil War 1.1.
We might also point out that Jesus often refers to himself in the third person in the gospel narratives. For example, John 17:1-5, “After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.'”
If a speaker within the narrative can refer to himself in the third person, I don’t see why a writer couldn’t refer to himself when writing the narrative.
2: Matthew Copies A Lot From Mark. If He Were An Eyewitness, He Wouldn’t Do This.
D.A Carson explains that “If the two-source hypothesis is correct, then (it is argued) it is unlikely that the eyewitness and apostle Matthew would depend so heavily on a document written by Mark, who was neither an apostle nor (for most events) an eyewitness.” D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 17.
For those unfamiliar, the “Two Source Hypothesis” is one of the theories surrounding “The Synoptic Problem”. What is The Synoptic Problem? The Synoptic Problem is a term that scholars invented upon discovering that not only do Matthew, Mark, and Luke contain a lot of the same stories, but those stories are worded in exactly or nearly exactly the same way. Any professor who examines essays written by three students and finds entire paragraphs written word-for-word would immediately conclude that someone copied from someone else! The odds that the exact same words would reappear in exactly the same order with little to no variation is extremely unlikely. The inference to plagiarism is justified. However, “Copy-pasting” from another’s work wasn’t as frowned upon back when the gospels were written as it is today. The Synoptic Problem isn’t that the gospel authors somehow sinned by stealing one of the other gospels’ words. This happened all the time when compiling documents in antiquity and no one batted an eye. The problem is in figuring out who copied who. Did Matthew and Luke take their material from Mark? Did Luke and Mark take their material from Matthew? Your answer to this question will depend largely on which gospel you think was written first. The majority view is that Mark was written first, and then Matthew and Luke came later, with John being the last one to be written down. Of course, this is a debate within New Testament scholarship which would take us way too far afield here. All I’ll say is that the Synoptics are definitely not 100% independent of each other, but at the same time, they’re not 100% dependent either. There are features in Matthew that you can only find in Matthew, there are details and events in Luke that you only find in Luke, there is material that Matthew and Luke (or Mark and Luke) got from Mark/Matthew (depending on which side of the Matthew-first, Mark-First debate you fall on), and of course, there’s John who includes lots of materials none of the Synoptics have. Just to point to some examples of independence, we’ve seen in this very blog post how Matthew has details pertaining to finances that none of the other gospels have and that Luke mentions a rare medical condition Jesus had in the Garden Of Gethsemane, which no other gospel mentions.
The objection here to Matthean authorship assumes Markan priority (i.e that Mark wrote his gospel first) and that Matthew copied a lot of his material from Mark. Why would Matthew, someone who traveled with Jesus, heard him speak with his own ears, saw the miracles with his own eyes, etc. rely so heavily on Mark? Why not just rely on his own memories? The best explanation, the argument goes, is that Matthew was not the author of the gospel that bears his name. Rather, it was written by someone else who, like Luke, had to consult eyewitnesses in order to compile his gospel.
In his book “The Case For Christ”, Lee Strobel raised this objection in his interview with New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg. Blomberg said that it makes sense that Matthew would take material from Mark if the gospel of Mark really was written by John Mark who was Peter’s secretary. After all, Blomberg notes, Peter was one of Jesus’ “inner three”, and was therefore privy to seeing and hearing things the other disciples didn’t. Matthew wasn’t even called to be a disciple until Matthew 9, so he would certainly need sources to know everything that happened before that. And Matthew would need sources for what happened at Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 26-28) since he had fled the scene. So despite being an eyewitness, it makes sense for Matthew to rely on Peter’s version of events as transmitted through Mark. Strobel then conceded that this response made sense and formed an analogy in his own mind. Strobel writes “I recalled being part of a crowd of journalists that once cornered the famous Chicago political patriarch, the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, to pepper him with questions about a scandal that was brewing in the police department. He made some remarks before escaping to his limousine. Even though I was an eyewitness to what had taken place, I immediately went to a radio reporter who had been closer to Daley, and asked him to play back his tape of what Daley had just said. This way, I could make sure I had his words correctly written down.” Lee Strobel, “The Case For Christ”, Zondervan, pages 27-28.
3: The Greek Of The First Gospel is Too Good To Have Come From a Galilean Jew.
New Testament scholar D.A Carson responds to this argument by saying that it ignores “the possibility that Matthew greatly improved his Greek as the church reached out to more and more Greek speakers (both Jews and Gentiles), and the discussion of Gundry (Use of OT pp. 178–85), who argues that Matthew’s training and vocation as a tax gatherer (9:9–13; 10:3) would have uniquely equipped him not only with the languages of Galilee but with an orderly mind and the habit of jotting down notes, which may have played a large part in the transmission of the apostolic gospel tradition.” D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 18–19.
- Arguments Against Mark
1: Peter Died In The 60s Before Mark Was Written.
One argument against Markan authorship is that all of our historical sources agreed that the apostle Peter died in the 60s A.D during the harsh persecution by Nero Caesar. Peter was crucified upside down and died around the same time as Paul, who was beheaded. If this is the case, then even if John Mark was the author, his source couldn’t have been Peter. Most New Testament scholars date the gospel of Mark after A.D 70, with Matthew and Luke being compiled shortly after, with John in the 90s.
However, let’s examine the reason that scholars date Mark so late. The argument for late dating is that in Mark 13, Jesus predicts the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. Flavius Josephus records that the temple actually was indeed destroyed. This obviously means that the gospel of Mark had to have been written after that event because it’s not like he could have known about it ahead of time. The problem with this argument should be immediately obvious to the astute reader, but just in case it isn’t, let me spell it out for you. This presupposes that Jesus of Nazareth couldn’t have had the supernatural ability to predict the future. It presupposes a non-Christian worldview. Now, scholars are free to believe whatever they want to believe just as any layperson is, but if we’re doing objective history, we should not make arguments that presuppose our particular worldviews. We need to leave our worldviews aside. Now, at this point, you might point out that my purpose in writing this series is to establish the historical truth claims of Christianity. That is true. However, look at how I’m going about it; I’m not presupposing the gospels are divinely inspired scripture. I’m simply treating them as ancient documents which claim to be biographies about a certain man (Jesus) and I’m providing historical evidence from both within and without of these documents that establish that these documents are trustworthy sources. If I were presupposing that the gospels were divinely inspired and inerrant, I wouldn’t be writing a blog post series that could fill a book! I could just quote some passages that says Jesus said and did certain things, and be like “Well, there you have it. Jesus performed miracles. He claimed to be God. He died and rose again. Christianity is true!” However, that’s not how I’m using the gospels in my case for Christianity. So, I’m not presupposing my Christian beliefs to establish my Christian beliefs. Someone who wants to make a case against Christianity shouldn’t presuppose their non-Christian beliefs. It’s only fair that the arguments and evidence both sides put forth don’t bring forth any worldview commitments. My conclusion at the end of this series will be that the Christian worldview is true, but you can accept the arguments I use to get there whether you’re already a Christian or not!
Now, of course, the other alternative is to believe Jesus actually predicted a future event down to nitty-gritty details examine The Olivet Discourse in conjunction with Josephus and other ancient extra-biblical authors in my article “The Case For The Preterist Reading Of Matthew 24” if you’re … Continue reading. So one might respond at this point that my conclusion of Markan authorship commits one to supernaturalism. However, I think if there are powerful reasons for early dating, these can overcome that. The dating of the gospels is the subject of the next blog post in this series, so I’d rather not say anything more about it here. But I would add that the evidence for Markan-Petrine authorship is very strong, and it doesn’t seem wise to interpret historical evidence in light of a worldview bias. One should at least be open to the possibility that Jesus predicted the future with divine knowledge. Or if that truly spooks your non-Christian sensitivities, you can always ad-hoc postulate that Mark 13 was a later edition, or maybe Jesus got lucky and predicted the future by chance. Hey, the atheist readers of mine attribute The Fine-Tuning of the universe to chance, so why not?
2: Papias Was Too Unreliable For Us To Accept His Testimony To Markan/Petrine Authorship
Bart Ehrman, in a collab YouTube video he made with Paulogia worded this argument as follows; “To say that ‘because Papias said that Mark’s gospel was based on the sayings of Peter, in other words what Mike [Licona] is saying is that John told Papias that Mark relied on Peter. So in other words it’s fourth hand by the time they get to it, fifth hand by the time we get to it. But there’s even bigger problems. For one thing; Papias is not talking about what the apostle John told him. He’s quite explicit – he’s talking about people who knew the disciple John said these things to him based on what they had heard from the followers of John. What Papias says is that people who have been disciples of John had been given this information. Ok, but beyond that, if Mike [Licona] really wants to think that because Papias says so, it’s true, what does he think of the other things Papias says? I can tell you right now Mike does not think that Papias tells what is true in his other statements. For example, Papias says the people who knew the disciple of John told him that Jesus said that ‘in the future kingdom of God every grapevine will have a thousand bows and and every bow will have a thousand branches, and every branch will have a thousand twigs, and every twig will have a thousand clusters of grapes, and every cluster of grapes will have a thousand grapes, and each grape will yield gallons of wine!’ That’s a lot of wine per grape! Does Mike think that Jesus really taught that? It’s what Papias says.” “Bart Ehrman counters Mike Licona – Trust The Gospels?”, Paulogia, — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laYoOFPtY-k
Over personal correspondence, Erik Manning told me how he’d deal with this objection. He said;
“What I’d say in response to that is I believe it’s worth considering whether we can rely too heavily on the idea that “the ancients” were skilled at maintaining accurate chains of oral tradition to record what someone said. These sayings do not align with Jesus’ teachings in the other Gospels, and Papias reports that the elders claimed John said that Jesus said this! This creates many opportunities for confusion. For instance, it’s possible that the elders claimed John said something that Jesus did not actually say. However, identifying the author of the Gospel of Mark is a much simpler and more reliable fact that is easier to pass down through tradition with less potential for confusion. Additionally, the fact that Mark is a relatively unknown figure (as far as I know, Papias does not clearly connect him with John Mark in the book of Acts) supports the accuracy of this attribution. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that the gospel is carefully attributed to a follower of Peter rather than just to Peter himself.”
In other words, it’s a lot harder to get the author of a book wrong than it is to get the teachings of a rabbi wrong. Additionally, people are fallible. We’ve all known instances in which someone said that someone said something they didn’t really say. A good example quotes that are misattributed to famous teachers like C.S Lewis or Albert Einstein. There’s even a meme circulating on the internet with Abraham Lincoln’s face that says “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.” with the words attributed to Lincoln! Obviously, this one is a joke, but C.S Lewis may not have said things like “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” But does this mean we can’t know what Lewis actually DID say? Of course not, there are still people around who knew Lewis and could tell us of what he said and believed. Perhaps there’s a disanalogy as C.S Lewis actually wrote his words down whereas Jesus of Nazareth never actually authored anything (which wasn’t unusual for wise teachers of that era – their students wrote down what they said). But would anyone, ANYONE, seriously get it wrong about which books Lewis wrote? Would we attribute Mere Christianity to J.R.R Tolkien or Billy Graham by accident? Manning’s point is that even though someone could mistakenly get a teaching of Jesus wrong, getting the author of a book wrong is a much different sort of error.
I’ve made some quotation blunders here on this blog and people have called me out on it. “Augustine never said that”, “Spurgeon never said those things”. However, I’m not infallible. I made good-faith errors, and when people called me out on it, I immediately took action. I either removed the quote from the article, or I added the disclaimer “Augustine [or whoever] is attributed as saying….” Sometimes I do the latter because the quote contains good wisdom whether the man attributed those words said it or not. So why should we treat Papias or his sources any less charitably?
Besides, as we’ve already seen in this lengthy blog post err…essay, we’ve got plenty of internal evidence that bolsters the claim that Mark wrote the gospel of Mark and got his information from Peter. This increases the probability that whatever Papias may have got wrong, this wasn’t one of them.
Dr. Stephen Boyce said this in his FACTS Podcast; “We have to remember that though there are twelve apostles, when we look at Luke’s gospel, for example, he lets us know that there were more followers than that, more followers of Jesus. Depending on which Greek manuscripts you follow and agree with, there were either 70 or 72 who went out and Jesus sent them out ’two by two’. It is believed that Papias had contact with these two in particularly who were with Jesus during his ministry who were known as Aresteon and John the Elder. They were a part of that 70 or 72, if you would. Now, there is much dispute and there is good reason to dispute whether John the Elder is John The Apostle. ….I want you to keep in mind that he at least had two of the eyewitnesses of Jesus around him, and investing with him, and talking with him, but it’s possible that there were three if there are two Johns. Now, with that there are also the four daughters of Phillip which means he would have received a large amount of information from them alone which we’ll talk about here in just a few minutes.” Dr. Stephen Boyce, FACTS, “Papias and The Eyewitnesses”, — https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/papias-and-the-eyewitnesses/id1571501925?i=1000553298760
I recommend the reader click on the link in the footnote and listen to the entire podcast episode when the reader has the time. He makes a powerfully positive case for Papias’ reliability that, in my opinion, overwhelms any doubt that the weird grape thing Ehrman mentions would cast upon his testimony. The episode will only take you half an hour to get through. But in his conclusion, he rightly says that Papias had multiple, multiple eyewitness sources who knew the disciples, knew what the disciples taught and that the “chain of custody” links Papias and the other church father witnesses who say that Mark wrote Mark go back to these witnesses. Boyce also emphasizes that the testimony to Mark being the author are all unanimous.
- Arguments Against Luke
Arguments against Lukan authorship are a bit harder to come by. This may be due to the fact that Luke wasn’t an eyewitness, and ergo, skepticism doesn’t lose as much if Luke was the author. I had to do quite a bit of digging even to learn of what arguments to respond to in this section. It’s just not talked about as much as Matthew and John. Even Mark gets more attention by liberal and skeptical scholars.
1: The Gospel Of Luke Looks Like It Was Penned By A Woman
In Randel Helms’ book “Who Wrote The Gospels” he offers an original thesis of his that I frankly never heard of before researching for this blog series. What is that thesis? Well, the author of the gospel of Luke was not Luke, but was actually a woman in the early church. Helms’ argument in a nutshell is that Luke’s portraits of women are so sympathetic, and his portraits of men often so unflattering, that only a woman could have written Luke’s gospel.
First, Helms doesn’t deal with the external attestation to Lukan authorship, nor the internal evidence which is consistant with Lukan authorship, both of which make a powerful cumulative case, in my opinion. Whatever probability the unflattering picture of men and positive feature of women might be thought to cast doubt on Lukan authorship is just swamped by the positive case. But besides that, I think J.P Holding of Tektonics ministries gives a good brief response to Helms in his review of his book. Holding writes
“But this [i.e unflattering picture of men, flattering picture of women] can be found in every gospel, so perhaps what we see there is more a reflection of the unsubtle nature of men than anything else. But what of that only a woman could write so highly of women? Why not also a male physician, a person highly sympathetic to human suffering, much of which was (and still is) inflicted upon women by men? Could not Luke have been a male physician who attended childbirths, addressed plagues, saw the loving care that women bestowed upon others, and came to empathize with them? Can Helms not conceive of such a soul prior to the 20th century?” J.P Holding, “Randel Helms’ ‘Who Wrote the Gospels’: A Critique” — http://www.tektonics.org/gk/helmsr02.php
2: Luke Was Dependent On Josephus.
Steve Mason has argued that the Gospel of Luke is dependent upon Josephus. This would make Luke too late to be written by Luke the companion of Paul since it would date to long after Luke’s death. Therefore arguments for Luke’s dependence upon Josephus are, by implication, arguments against the traditional authorship of Luke.
This is a really dense discussion that would take us too far afield to cover in significant depth here. I’ll offer some reasons why this doesn’t work, and defer the reader both to Steve Mason’s sources as well as to works arguing against him at the end of this section.
The argument that Luke used Josephus is as follows; Luke and Josephus cover a lot of the same material. (e.g the census throughout the Roman world under Quirinius, Herod Agrippa kicking the bucket, that there was a tetrarch named Lysanias,).
However, there are many problems with such a view. Here are just a few of them;
First, the evidence marshaled in favor of Luke using Josephus as a source could just as well support the opposite conclusion; that Josephus used Luke. Why conclude that Luke used Josephus when Josephus using Luke is just as viable of an option? Secondly, why didn’t the author of the gospel of Luke quote Josephus if he was using him as a source? Luke readily quoted Mark in many of the parallel accounts, so why not do the same with Josephus? Thirdly, Josephus and Luke appear to be in conflict in certain places. As Erik Manning said in a Facebook comment; “Josephus and Luke are in apparent conflict over the census, which is a big one. The critics also say that Luke contradicts Josephus over Theudas. None of these apparent problems are irresolvable contradictions but if Luke was carefully poring over Josephus then this doesn’t make sense, he could’ve easily smoothed these things out.“
For these reasons, I think it’s implausible to say that Luke used Josephus. For those wanting to delve deeper, check out Steve Mason making his case here — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvfPxFQCpCU and for more in-depth rebuttals, see
- Arguments Against John
We now turn to the negative case against Johannine authorship.
1: How Could A Simple Fisherman Write Greek?
This is perhaps the most common argument against the author of this gospel being John The Son Of Zebedee. Acts 4:13 tells us that John was an uneducated fisherman. Surely someone like this probably didn’t know how to read or write, and if he couldn’t read or write, then there’s no way he could produce a gospel or any other kind of written work, right?
Well, there are several problems with this argument. First, John was a young man when Jesus first called him. Some have suggested he was even as young as his mid teens. If the gospel were written in the 80s or 90s, that’s quite a bit of time between what we read about John son of Zebedee in the gospels VS. the John who finally wrote Jesus’ words and deeds down. It is entirely possible that John learned how to read and write within those decades. People do pick up new skills as they go through life, after all. However, even if he didn’t, he could have hired a scribe to write for him.
As Erik Manning says; “Saying John couldn’t write his Gospel is like saying a person with a grammar school education couldn’t write Macbeth. There are conspiracy crackpots on the internet that cast doubt on the writings of Shakespeare. But we aren’t obligated to take their arguments that seriously in light of the other evidence, so likewise with John.
Furthermore, John’s father had enough money to have ‘hired servants’ according to Mark 1:19-20, suggesting John was more well-to-do than most have realized. John 18:15-16 says that John had access to Caiaphas’ courtyard. It’s safe to assume the high priestly family wasn’t eating the cheap fish. It’s not unreasonable to think a well-off fisher would have a chance to sell to the Jerusalem elite. John was no simple fisherman.” Erik Manning, “Busting 7 Arguments Against The Traditional Authorship Of John”, August 15, 2020, https://isjesusalive.com/busting-7-arguments-against-the-traditional-authorship-of-john/
2: Doesn’t Early Christian Testimony Indicate That John’s Gospel Was A Community Project?
In studies of the gospel of John, you will discover a concept that is called “The Johannine Community”. This is a theory that John’s gospel wasn’t compiled by one man, but by a community. This community may have been under the teachings of the apostle John, or they may not have been. But the alleged evidence for this theory comes from John 21:24 which says: “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”
There are a few things I have to say in response to this. First, as Erik Manning points out in the aforementioned article, 1 John 1:1-5 uses “We” a bunch of times. The entire letter contains 44 uses of it! And 1 John is believed to have been written by the same John who wrote the gospel of John. Are we to suppose that 1 John had many authors as well? I don’t know of any New Testament scholar who argues for that, but consistency would demand such an inference. Secondly, when you are writing to someone, it is not uncommon for authors even today to use the first person plural. I bold and italicized an example a few sentences ago in which. I, Evan Minton, a lone individual, used the word “we”. I didn’t even do this consciously to make the point. I did it subconsciously and only after I had typed “Are we to suppose that 1 John had many authors as well?” I was like “Hey! That’s a pretty good object lesson right there!” So, I went back and added the bold and italicized font. We do this all the time in our writings, don’t we? Very often, even in modern books, you will find sentences like “It is to this subject that we now turn”, or “In the previous chapter, we examined the evidence for X”. Yet no one thinks that this blog post or these books were the product of a community instead of one man. Why make that inference with the gospel of John?
3: Doesn’t John’s Use Of “Logos” Indicate That He Was A Hellenistic Jew Steeped In Greek Philosophy?
“Logos” is what, in our English translations, is rendered “Word”. John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The concept of the Logos (which could also be translated as reason or logic) which created and governed reality was a concept in Greek philosophy. Yet how or why would a Jew like John son of Zebedee use this term to describe Jesus/God? Moreover, how would a Galilean fisherman have even learned of this concept in the first place?
To answer the last question first, remember that it’s entirely possible that John either learned how to read later in life, or already did. Moreover, as a traveling Evangelist who shared the gospel with whoever he could, it would be unthinkable that he wouldn’t learn of what his non-Christian audiences believed (cf. Acts 17). Moreover, as Leon Morris wrote in his commentary on John; “…though [John] would not have been unmindful of the associations aroused by the term, his essential thought does not derive from the Greek background. His Gospel shows little trace of acquaintance with Greek philosophy and less dependence upon it. And the really important thing is that John in his use of Logos is cutting clean across one of the fundamental Greek ideas. The Greeks thought of the gods as detached from the world, as regarding its struggles and heartaches and joys and tears with serene divine lack of feeling. John’s Logos does not show us a God who is serenely detached, but a God who is passionately involved. The Logos speaks of God’s coming where we are, taking our nature upon Himself, entering the world’s struggle, and out of this agony winning men’s salvation…“The “Word” irresistibly turns our attention to the repeated “and God said” of the opening chapter of the Bible. The Word is God’s creative Word (v. 3). The atmosphere is unmistakably Hebraic” Leon Morris, The Gospel of John, pp. 116-18
New Testament scholar BF Wescott wrote “Philo and St John, in short, found the same term current and used it according to their respective apprehensions of the truth. Philo, following the track of Greek philosophy, saw in the Logos the divine Intelligence in relation to the universe: the Evangelist, trusting firmly in the ethical basis of Judaism, sets forth the Logos mainly as the revealer of God to man, through creation, through theophanies, through prophets, through the Incarnation. . . In short, the teaching of St John is characteristically Hebraic and not Alexandrine”. BF Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, pp. xvi-xvii
So, John wasn’t writing from a Hellenistic perspective, but a Hebraic one.
Summary and Conclusion
In this chapter, we’ve seen that the early church fathers were unanimous in their attribution of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to the four gospels that bear their names. Some of these early church fathers lived very close in time to the lifetimes of Jesus’ twelve disciples. Some of them either knew disciples like Peter and John directly (e.g Polycarp, Ignatius) or they were students of the students of the disciples (e.g Ireneus, Papias), and ergo were in the best position both temporally and spatially to know whether or not Matthew and John, in particular, wrote the gospels that bear their names. But they also attest to the fact that Luke, Paul’s “beloved physician” wrote the gospel of Luke and that Mark, who acted as Peter’s secretary, wrote the gospel of Mark.
Moreover, if people in the early church were picking names in an attempt to make their favorite documents sound more authoritative, it is unlikely that they would have chosen obscure names like Luke and Mark. And it’s unlikely they would have attributed the gospel to a Jewish audience to Matthew, who used to be a tax collector and worked for Rome, whom the Jews hated. If they were pseudonyms, it is far more likely they would have picked more lofty and well-known names like Peter, Andrew, Phillip, or hey, even say that Jesus wrote an autobiography! This what the authors of the second, third, and fourth century gnostic gospels did!
In addition to all of this external evidence for authorship, there are a lot of internal pieces of evidence as well. The gospels contain things that you would expect under the hypothesis that the traditional authors really wrote them. After all, we’re all unique individuals, and some of us will notice some things in recounting a story that another person might not. The gospel of Matthew mentions money a lot, and in fact, this gospel contains many financially themed sayings and teachings of Jesus that other gospels don’t record, such as Jesus’ conversation with Peter on paying the temple tax and The Parable Of The Unmerciful Servant. Mark omits many of the embarrassing details of Peter, and even tends to paint Peter in a better light. Mark’s gospel bookends Peter. These things are exactly what one would expect if Peter was the primary or only source behind the gospel of Mark. The gospel of Luke opens up with the author admitting that he wasn’t an eyewitness of the things he’s about to write down and that he instead investigated the testimonies of those who were. Luke’s gospel is written in much more refined Greek than the other three gospels which fits well with the idea that he was a physician who had a high level of education. Luke’s gospel also speaks of medical issues in a way that’s more characteristic of a doctor than someone who isn’t a doctor, and there’s even a peculiar reference to what appears to be Hematidrosis in the Lukan account of Jesus’ agony in the Garden Of Gethsemane. John’s gospel also contains numerous internal pieces of evidence of Johannine authorship as Colin G Kruse nicely summarizes in his commentary on the gospel of John.
We’ve also examined some of the arguments against traditional authorship and found them fallacious.
In conclusion, I find the evidence for traditional authorship of the gospels to be extremely powerful and persuasive. The reasons that skeptics try to marshal against Matthean or Johannine authorship are really weak, and the positive evidence is really strong. There really are no good evidential grounds to deny that the gospels were written by the men the church has always said they were written by. I didn’t even get into The Manuscript Evidence attesting to traditional authorship. The reason I didn’t was that this essay is pretty lengthy as is. However, if anyone wants to look into it, I highly recommend this video by my fellow Christian Apologist Erik Manning over on his YouTube Channel called Testify. The video is called “Manuscript Evidence Proves That The Gospels Were Not Anonymous”.
Now that we know what the gospels originally said as well as who wrote them, it’s time to look at the issue of dating. In the next entry in this series, we will look at arguments pertaining to when Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote their gospels.
|↑1||Bart Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted (2011), pp. 101-102|
|↑2||Michael Horner, “The Gospels Anonymous?”, https://thelife.com/are-the-gospels-anonymous|
|↑3||Evan Minton, “The Evidence For Jesus’ Resurrection – PART 1: Why This Matters”, March 24th 2015 — https://cerebralfaith net/the-evidence-for-jesus-resurrection-2/|
|↑4||and it should be said that while secondhand testimony is inadmissible in a court of law, historians have no such ban. Indeed, eyewitness documents are rare when it comes to historical events. The skeptic should not insist on dismissing second-hand sources as “hearsay”. That’s just a stupid thing to do in the reconstruction of historical events. Often, all the historian has are second-hand or third-hand sources. I remember one ornery atheist who kept throwing the word “Hearsay” at me in a Twitter discussion on the issue of whether or not Jesus existed. She would not accept Josephus’ testimony about the existence and crucifixion of Jesus even GIVEN the partial authenticity of the passage. This is something I’ll get into later in this series when I talk about extra-biblical evidence that corroborates events in the gospels. For now, I just wanted to footnote this since on the traditional view, Mark and Luke would be considered secondhand sources since neither of them knew Jesus. Luke explicitly says in chapter 1 of his gospel that he compiled reports from eyewitnesses he investigated.|
|↑5||Papias, “Fragments of Papias,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 155.|
|↑6||the early church father Jerome reported actually seeing a Hebraic copy of the gospel of Matthew. However, whether this is the same, we cannot be sure.|
|↑7||Papias quoted in Eusebius, Church History, III.39.3-4|
|↑8||Keith Thompson, “Who Wrote the Gospels? Internal and External Arguments for Traditional Authorship”, https://answering-islam.org/authors/thompson/gospel_authorship.html|
|↑9||Irenaeus quoted in Eusebius, Church History, V.8.2|
|↑10||Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata Book 1, Chapter 21|
|↑11||Clement of Alexandria, Who is the Rich Man that Shall Be Saved?|
|↑12||Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book 6 Chapter 25, 3-6|
|↑13||Craig L. Blomberg. “The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.”, IVP Academic, 2008|
|↑14||Some skeptics have argued that Matthew is taking some of the Old Testament verses out of context and are incorrectly applying them to the events he records. It is not my aim to defend Matthew’s use of Old Testament prophecy here. My goal in this series is to show that the gospel authors were truthful and accurate recorders of history. Whether or not they were good exegetes as well as is a topic for another time. I’m not defending biblical inerrancy in this series, but the historical reliability of the gospels. If it were the case that the gospel authors engaged in proof-texting, it would be theologically problematic, but it wouldn’t undermine the case for their historical reliability.|
|↑15||Papias, “Fragments of Papias,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 154–155.|
|↑16||Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 414.|
|↑17||Tertullian, Against Marcion, IV.5|
|↑18||Clement of Alexandria quoted in Eusebius, Church History, VI.14.6|
|↑19||Origen Commentary on Matthew quoted in Eusebius, Church History, VI.25.5|
|↑20||J. Warner Wallace, “Cold Case Christianity”, David C Cook, page 88|
|↑21||J. Warner Wallace, “Cold Case Christianity”, David C Cook, page 93|
|↑22||Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies” 3.1.1., in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 414.|
|↑23||Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III.14.1|
|↑24||Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin” 66, in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 185.|
|↑25||Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” 3.11.7, 428.|
|↑26||Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 3, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 19–20.|
|↑27||Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 3, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 22–23.|
|↑28||Leon Morris notes in his commentary on Luke that “Some very good MSS omit these verses and rsv puts them in the margin; but the probability is that they should be included. In a day when scribes were sure of the deity of their Lord, some would find difficulty in the thought of his being strengthened by an angel, and they would see the striking details of the agony as pointing to a Jesus all too human. There would be every reason for omitting the words if they were original, but it is difficult indeed to imagine an early scribe inserting them in a text that lacked them.” – Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 3, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 330.|
|↑29||Debra Jailman MD, “What Is Hematidrosis?” January 26th, 2022 — https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/hematidrosis-hematohidrosis|
|↑31||Strobel, Lee; Strobel, Lee. Case for Christ Movie Edition: Solving the Biggest Mystery of All Time (Case for … Series) . Zondervan. Kindle Edition.|
|↑32||Allison A. Trites, William J. Larkin, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 12: The Gospel of Luke and Acts (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2006), 5.|
|↑33||Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies, 1.8.5.” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 328.|
|↑34||Clement of Alexandria, “Fragments of Clemens Alexandrinus,” in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. William Wilson, vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 580.|
|↑35||Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., “The Martyrdom of Ignatius,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 130.|
|↑36||Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 26–27.|
|↑37||Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel: Issues & Commentary, [InterVarsity Press, 2001], pp. 37-38|
|↑38||D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 17.|
|↑39||Lee Strobel, “The Case For Christ”, Zondervan, pages 27-28|
|↑40||D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 18–19.|
|↑41||examine The Olivet Discourse in conjunction with Josephus and other ancient extra-biblical authors in my article “The Case For The Preterist Reading Of Matthew 24” if you’re interested|
|↑42||Hey, the atheist readers of mine attribute The Fine-Tuning of the universe to chance, so why not?|
|↑43||“Bart Ehrman counters Mike Licona – Trust The Gospels?”, Paulogia, — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laYoOFPtY-k|
|↑44||Dr. Stephen Boyce, FACTS, “Papias and The Eyewitnesses”, — https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/papias-and-the-eyewitnesses/id1571501925?i=1000553298760|
|↑45||J.P Holding, “Randel Helms’ ‘Who Wrote the Gospels’: A Critique” — http://www.tektonics.org/gk/helmsr02.php|
|↑46||Erik Manning, “Busting 7 Arguments Against The Traditional Authorship Of John”, August 15, 2020, https://isjesusalive.com/busting-7-arguments-against-the-traditional-authorship-of-john/|
|↑47||Leon Morris, The Gospel of John, pp. 116-18|
|↑48||BF Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, pp. xvi-xvii|