Who Really Wrote the Gospels?

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The “Gospel of Matthew” and “The Gospel of John” portions of this transcript were submitted as part of a discussion board for NBTS 521 at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.  The class was taught by Dr. R. Wayne Stacy, author of the book “Where Jesus Walked: A Spiritual Journey Through the Holy Land.”  Due to the integration of the text with the post, Turabian format (with footnotes) is used for the “The Gospel of Matthew” and “The Gospel of John.”  MLA format is used for “The Gospel of Mark” and “The Gospel of John.”   My apologies beforehand for any confusion.

Progressive scholarship has taken over much of New Testament studies.  Some would have you believe that the gospels are a product not from apostolic authority, but by communities.  Even if communities wrote in honor of an apostle, would that not imply that the texts presented came from the apostle?  However, as you examine the evidence and not simply conjecture, you find that the evidence does not support a belief in a community based authorship of the gospels.  Rather, you find that tradition has been correct all along in that these gospel texts do indeed come from writers presenting eyewitness testimony concerning the life of Jesus.

The Gospel of Matthew

When it comes to the Bible and the authorship of the gospels, I am a traditionalist.  By “traditionalist” I mean that I hold to what the patristic fathers wrote about who the authors were.  Let’s be honest.  Despite the world-class scholarship we have today, we are still almost 2,000 years removed from the events.  We can speculate, but I believe the early church fathers knew who wrote the gospels.  That does not mean that they were correct necessarily in everything they wrote, but I believe they were correct in most of what they wrote.  As we look to the gospel of Matthew, I believe that Matthew the apostle was the author of at least most of what we have in the gospel today.  This is supported by internal and external evidence.

-external evidence for authorship

The early church fathers all agreed that Matthew the apostle was the author of the gospel.  Why dispute that claim when these men were writing very close to the time of the original church?  Eusebius writes, “The other followers of our Lord were also not ignorant of such things, as the twelve apostles and the seventy, together with many others: yet of all the disciples, Matthew and John are the only ones who have left us recorded comments, and even they, tradition says, undertook it from necessity.  Matthew also having first proclaimed the gospel in Hebrew, when on the point of going also to other nations, committed it to writing in his native tongue and thus supplied the want of his presence to them by his writings.”[1]  Why is it impossible to think that Matthew first wrote a Hebrew version of the Gospel and later reworked a Gospel in Greek?  Even if you supposed that Matthew borrowed material from Mark that does not negate the fact that Matthew still could have written the text we now possess.  If the Greek version was more appropriate, why hang on to the Hebrew version?  Matthew could still be the author of both.

-internal evidence for authorship

Carson and Moo give two, among many other, internal evidences for Matthean authorship: “1. Only this gospel refers to “Matthew the tax collector” (10:3)…3. The assumption that Matthew was a tax collector (essentially a minor in customs official collecting tariff on goods in transit) and was the author of this gospel makes sense of a number of details…A number of peculiarly Matthean periscopes do depict financial transactions (17:24-27; 18:23-35; 20:1-16; 26:15; 27:3-10; 28:11-15).”[2]

-Date

Most likely, Matthew was written either in the late 50s or the early 60s.  Some has postulated that Matthew was written after 70AD during the destruction of the Temple.  However, if Luke wrote both Acts and his Gospel which did not record any event after 64 AD and he used Matthew as an eyewitness account, then Matthew must have been written prior to 64AD.

-purpose

I personally believe that Matthew wrote first to show that Jesus was the Messiah.  The book may have been a sort of apologetic for a Jewish audience.  Along those lines, I think Matthew wrote his gospel to show that Jesus, or Yeshua, was the Messiah who had long been prophesied and was the fulfillment of the Hebrew Bible’s prophecies.  As Carson and Moo write, “Because Matthew devotes so much space to Old Testament quotations, some have suggested that he wrote his gospel to teach Christians how to read their Bibles—what we refer to as the Old Testament.”[3]

-intended destination

I believe Matthew intended his gospel for the Jews first perhaps in Syria.  However, as Carson and Moo write, “Matthew wrote his gospel with certain kinds of readers in mind, rather than readers in a particular location.  Moreover, the strong arguments of Bauckham and others, to the effect that the gospels were first written to be read by all Christians, should not be lightly set aside.”[4]

The Gospel of Mark

The Gospel of Mark is short, sweet, and to the point.  Mark is thought to be the earliest completed Gospel that we possess in our modern New Testament.  But, who wrote the Gospel?  It would appear that John Mark wrote the gospel under the tutelage of the Apostle Simon Peter.  I feel that for this reason that this Gospel could be called “The Gospel of Simon Peter.”  Evidence, externally and internally, exists for this fact.

-external evidence for authorship

As with Matthew’s Gospel, the early church leaders unanimously agreed that John Mark wrote the Gospel that bears his name.  Eusebius writes, “This also the presbyter said: ‘Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III.39.15).  Peter shows that John Mark was with him for a time in Rome (called Babylon “symbolically”), “Your sister church here in Babylon* sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark” (1 Peter 5:13, NLT).  Peter shows that Mark was with him and this adds credibility to the patristic father’s writings about Mark.

-internal evidence for authorship

Internally, clues exist that John Mark was the author.  First, several references exist pertaining to Peter.  In Mark, we find references to Peter’s rejection of Jesus during Jesus’ trial (chapter 14:66-72).  The structure of Mark’s gospel even is comparable to Peter’s messages found in the Book of Acts.  Secondly, discipleship is key to Mark’s gospel.  This would have been a major them of Peter’s messages, too.

Also, we are perhaps met with John Mark in an incident in his Gospel that is recorded nowhere else.  It has been noted that John Mark’s home may have been the place where the Last Supper was held.  But, more noteworthy is the reference in Mark 14:51-52, “Then all his disciples deserted him and ran away. 51 One young man following behind was clothed only in a long linen shirt. When the mob tried to grab him, 52 he slipped out of his shirt and ran away naked” (Mark 14:50–52).  It has been held that the young man may have been John Mark himself.

-Date

Evidence is mounting that Mark wrote sometime in the 50sAD.  New fragments have been found that may have been dated from Mark’s Gospel to the 50s, but we will have to wait to hear more from these discoveries.

-purpose

Mark’s main purpose may have been for evangelism.  He wanted to write an easy-to-read book that would show the life of Christ in a brief, compact way; similar to a gospel tract.  Mark may have also written to show the importance of perseverance despite mounting persecutions.

-intended destination

Lea and Black give us our answer as they write, “Internal evidence suggests that Mark wrote for a Roman audience.  His explanation of Jewish customs implies that he wrote to a Gentile audience unacquainted with Jewish practices (7:3-4).  He frequently translated Aramaic expressions so that his Roman audience could understand them” (Lea and Black, The New Testamant: Its Background and Message, 144).

The Gospel of Luke

The Gospel of Luke is among the most exquisite books among ancient Greek texts.  Some have argued that Luke’s equal in the fluency of Greek is found only in Homer’s Iliad.  When Greek students seek to learn biblical Greek, they do not start with Luke.  They start with John or Mark.  They end with Luke because of Luke’s complex writing style.  Evidence suggests that Luke, the physician and companion of Paul, wrote the Gospel that bears his name.

-external evidence for authorship

As with Matthew and Mark, early church leaders unanimously contributed Luke’s Gospel to the physician Luke, who was also the companion to Paul.  Luke not only wrote the Gospel but he also wrote the book of Acts.  Acts ends with Paul in Rome.  The personal pronoun “we” is used to show that the author was with Paul in Rome.  Of those listed in Rome with Paul in his letters: Epaphras (Col. 4:12), Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25), Timothy (Phil. 2:19), Tychicus (Col. 4:7), Mark (Col. 4:10), Jesus called Justus (Col. 4:11), Aristarchus (Col. 4:10), Onesimus (Col. 4:9), Luke (Col. 4:14), and Demas (Col. 4:14); only Luke is qualified to be the author of the Gospel.  As Lea and Black write, “Of the companions, Aristarchus, Tychicus, Timothy, and Mark are mentioned in the third person at some point in Acts and thus could not be the author of the book.  Demas later deserted Paul (2 Tim. 4:20) and is not likely the author of the book.  Epaphroditus joined Paul after his arrival in Rome and could not have described the voyage to Rome.  Epaphras also apparently arrived in Rome at a later date (Col. 1:7).  No tradition supports the authorship of the third Gospel by either Jesus (Justus) or Onesimus.  Logically Luke becomes the best choice for the author of the book.  Since the author of Acts is also the author of the third Gospel, we suggest that Luke authored both writings” (Lea and Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd Edition, 147).

-internal evidence for authorship

Within the Gospel of Luke, medical conditions are listed in more precise details than in any other Gospel.  This would be evidence of someone who had medical knowledge.  Paul writes in Colossians 4:14, “Luke, the beloved doctor, sends his greetings, and so does Demas” (Col 4:14).  So, the inclusion of medical knowledge in the text adds to the veritability that Luke, the physician, wrote the text.  We also find that the author was interested in writing down an accurate and orderly account of the life of Jesus.  Luke writes, “

Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. 2 They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples.* 3 Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theophilus, 4 so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught” (Lk 1:1–4).

-Date

Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and Acts.  Some even think that it may be one unified book, although I have my doubts about that.  Nonetheless, Acts ends with Paul in Rome.  Paul and Peter were martyred in 67AD.  But, Paul was under house arrest long before that time.  So, 64AD has been tossed around as the probable date of Acts composition.  Since the Gospel was written earlier than Acts, the Gospel must have been written around 61-63AD.

-purpose

Luke wrote to a Gentile audience and showed that Jesus ministered to the outcasts, the Gentiles, and the poor.  It is in Luke we find the only listing of the beautiful parables of “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” and “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” given by Jesus.  Luke provided eyewitness testimony from several that were unlisted by Matthew and Mark.  Internal evidence suggests that Mary, the mother of Jesus, may have been interviewed for the text.

-intended destination

Rome is a probable location for Luke’s original destination.  One thing is for sure; Luke wrote for Gentile believers in Christ.

The Gospel of John

John’s gospel has always been my favorite.  Now I know by our readings that some speculate that John of Zebedee was not the author, but I personally do not see how.  The only reason I can guess is that some would not desire an apostle, or eyewitness, to be the author of a New Testament text.  Nonetheless, strong internal and external evidences show that John the apostle, son of Zebedee was the author of the Gospel that bears his name.

-external evidence for authorship

Several patristic fathers wrote that John wrote the gospel.  Some indicate that John was a pastor in Ephesus before he died.  On that several patristic fathers wrote about John composing his gospel, Carson and Moo writes, “Not only did Irenaeus but Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian provide firm second-century evidence for the belief that the apostle John wrote this gospel.”[5]

-internal evidence for authorship

I think it is simply logical.  Many things could be said about the internal evidence for John’s authorship being the apostle.  Carson and Moo provide two of three powerful internal arguments for John of Zebedee being the author of the gospel that bears his name, “1. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls compels us to recognize that it is unnecessary to resort to a person of expansion into the Hellenistic world to account for John’s characteristic expressions…2. …that at least in some instances John’s quotations are closer in form to the Hebrew or Aramaic than to the Greek.”[6]  For me the most powerful evidence comes from John’s conclusion.  Throughout the gospel we read of the “beloved disciple.”  Then John ends with this, “This disciple is the one who testifies to these events and has recorded them here. And we know that his account of these things is accurate.  Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.”[7]

-Date

Strong tradition holds that John wrote while pastor in Ephesus.  It would seem that John wrote around 80AD or sometime in the 80s AD.

-purpose

Eusebius quotes Clement in saying, “But John, last of all, perceiving that what had reference to the body in the gospel of our Savior, was sufficiently detailed, and being encouraged by his familiar friends, and urged by the spirit, he wrote a spiritual gospel.”[8]  So, I think John filled in the gaps and wrote a more theologically based gospel showing the person of Jesus.

-intended destination

Because there are strong reasons for holding that John lived in Ephesus at the time of the gospel’s composition, it could have been that John wrote to Ephesus first.  Carson and Moo write, “If John the son of Zebedee wrote this book while residing in Ephesus, then it might be inferred that he prepared the book for readers in this general part of the empire.”[9]

Why authorship is an important issue in today’s times?

In a world that is becoming more skeptical, I think it is important to show that the New Testament is built upon strong authority.  Showing apostolic authorship to Matthew and John, while also showing John Mark building his gospel from the teachings of Simon Peter and Luke’s from Paul and other early eyewitnesses, gives more credence to the New Testament text.  My faith was damaged when John Dominick Crossan and others of the Jesus Seminar claimed that the New Testament showed little about Jesus.  However, I was led to the works of some great New Testament scholars who showed otherwise.  This is one reason why I am proud to be part of a university that stands on truth and not popularity.  Being shown that the New Testament was built upon apostolic authority was one of the steps that God used to bring me back to the faith that I once enjoyed.  So, I think the issue of displaying apostolic authorship and authority is essential.

Bibliography

 Carson, D. A. and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005)

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History.

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007).

Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd Edition (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2003).

[1] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III.24.5-6.

[2] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 147-148.

[3] Ibid, 157.

[4] Ibid, 156-157.

[5] Ibid, 231.

[6] Ibid, 236.

[7] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Jn 21:24–25.

[8] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, VI.14.7.

[9] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 267.