“We Do Not Know Who Wrote the Gospels”

Many of our high school and college students will hear this skeptical claim and others like it on their campuses from those who are opposed to the Christian faith.   As a result of not knowing how to answer these skeptical claims, many of this generation will fall away from the Christian faith when confronted by skeptics. In my time investigating different crimes throughout my law enforcement career, oftentimes, it was necessary to obtain documents to prove one of the elements of a criminal offense.

For instance, if I came across a man with a weapon when patrolling, I would conduct a check of his criminal history to see if he had been convicted of a felony. If the check revealed that the man was a convicted felon, then I would charge the suspect with possession of a firearm by a felon. In preparation for the court proceedings, I would order historical records (certified copies of his conviction) held by the court where he was convicted for the original offense in order to prove that he was indeed a convicted felon. When the court proceedings came along, I would present a certified copy of the court order showing the conviction to the judge or jury for their inspection. This procedure also applied to several other crimes that I prosecuted persons for in the federal system during my tenure with the U.S. Marshals Service (sex offender registry violations, escape from a federal prison, etc.).

As noted in the title of the blog article, some skeptics claim that we do not know who the authors of the New Testament are.  Dr. Richard Carrier is one such scholar. Regarding their identity, he states, “But we don’t know who Mark is, either, or when or where he wrote or who his sources were…nor do we know who Luke or John were, or when or where they wrote, or who any of their sources were (Carrier, R. 2010. ‘Why the resurrection is unbelievable’ in The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails).”

Are there any historical documents that shed light on Carrier’s claim of unknown Gospel authors? The answer is “yes.” There is evidence in a number of historical documents that gives guidance on this issue. The first group of documents is the New Testament books themselves:

  • The apostle Paul mentions two of the writers (Mark and Luke) in one passage together on several occasions (Philemon 1:24, 2 Timothy 4:11, and Colossians 4:10-14)
  • Mark is mentioned not only by Paul as observed above, but he is also mentioned by Peter as well (1 Peter 5:13)
  • Luke mentions Mark on a number of occasions in the book of Acts (12:12; 12:25, 15:37-39)
  • John is mentioned by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul
  • Matthew is mentioned by Mark, and Luke (Acts)

The second class of documentary evidence is other documents that were written by the authors outside of the Bible:

Mark

  • Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis and hearer of the apostle John, wrote that Mark was the author of the Gospel that bears his name and that Mark had obtained his information for his Gospel from Peter
  • Other early church leaders such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, and Clement of Alexandria write that Mark was the author of his Gospel

Matthew

  • Matthew is affirmed as author of his Gospel by the writings of second century Bishop of Lyons, Irenaeus
  • Papias also writes that Matthew is the author of his Gospel

Luke

  • Luke is mentioned as the author of his Gospel by the Muratorian fragment, a second century document which is a listing of the books of the New Testament as authenticated by the early Christian church
  • The writer of the Anti-Marcionite prologues of the late second century endorsed Luke as the author of the third Gospel
  • The oldest known manuscript of the Gospel of Luke, The Bodmer Papyrus XIV (A.D. 175 to A.D. 225) attributes authorship of the Gospel of Luke to Luke
  • Early church leaders who affirm in writing that Luke is the author of his Gospel are Tertullian and Irenaeus

John

  • John is attributed authorship to his Gospel by the writings of Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian
  • The Book of John itself mentions that he (John) was an eyewitness and wrote these things down
  • The second century anti-Marcionite prologues and Muratorian Fragment mention John as the author
  • A 2nd century enemy of the early Christian church, Celsus, identifies in writing that two of Jesus’ disciples wrote two of the Gospels even while he attacks Christianity

Just like when I would collect historical documents to prove an element of a criminal offense against a defendant, I can also view copies of historical documents that show that the Gospels were written by those named as authors in the New Testament. Furthermore, it is clear that other authors of the New Testament also knew the Gospel writers.   As you can see by the aforementioned list, there is ample documentary evidence to establish that we can know who the authors of the Gospels are. We need to let others know about this great evidential support for Christianity because Dr. Carrier and others are making spurious claims as if they are factual.  Just one more reason we should be prepared to “Contend for the faith (Jude 3).”

2 thoughts on ““We Do Not Know Who Wrote the Gospels””

  1. Thank you for your research regarding this and other topics used by critics to question our faith and beliefs. I, and my fellow FCCM men, look forward to your Apologetics’ presentations at our Men’s Fellowship on Tuesday/Saturdays. Have a blessed day. And thanks, again.

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