Truly, the knowledge of the authors of the documents of the Holy Bible, especially those of the four Gospels in the New Testament, has been included in some of the most important discussions and debates involving the historicity of the New Testament documents in recent centuries. Christian Scholars, Bible Scholars and Historians have gone back and forth on this issue, coming to the four proposed authors for the Gospels in the Holy Bible, being Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If the four Gospels are not ascribed to these four men, then the Gospels are anonymous. Now, we shall begin examining the extensive historical record and much evidence confirming the authors of the Gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
To begin with, one must note that the Holy Bible says absolutely nothing about who wrote the four Gospels. From the beginning to the end, there is not a single verse throughout the entire Holy Bible that says anything about Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John writing any of our Gospels. This claim is not a religious belief, it is not a Christian belief, it is not a doctrine of Christianity by the slightest conceptual idea, it is a claim of antiquity, one of history. In knowledge of this, any claim that these people wrote the Gospels is a historical claim, not a theological one. Secondly, we shall also define who these figures are, before establishing their authorship of the Gospels.
Historically speaking, Matthew was a tax collector, meaning he was both literate in the Greek and Hebrew languages, and he is also the only author we are talking about who is actually mentioned in his own Gospel, in Matthew 9:9. He was also of the twelve disciples. Mark was the interpreter of Peter. Luke was both a historian and physician, and John, as far as we know of, was just a disciple whom Jesus loved. To note, only Matthew and John knew and saw Jesus, whilst Luke and Mark are not eyewitnesses, but were merely historically associated with the twelve disciples to some degree, such as Peter and Paul (although Paul himself wasn’t a disciple either). Now, let us begin with the evidence. To confirm the authorship of these men, we shall behold both external and internal evidence.
Throughout the early ages of the expansion of Christianity, the ancient authors who confirmed the historicity of Matthew’s writing of a Gospel, and thus establish much sources and records showing Matthew wrote the Gospel attributed to him, are very great. We will now document them.
Papias, writing from 95-110 AD, says this:
“Matthew compiled the sayings in the Hebrew language and each interpreted them as best he could”
-preserved in Church History, Book 3, Chapter 39, Verse 16
Papias tells us about his reliability as well in the following manner;
“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.”
-preserved in Church History, Book 3, Chapter 39, Verse 3
Irenaeus, writing in 180 AD, whom knew a student of the disciples named Polycarp, writes;
“Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.”
Tertullian, in 200 AD, writes about how the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the Gospels and the variation of the order of the narratives of the Gospels by these men;
“Of the apostles, therefore, John and Matthew first instill faith into us; while of apostolic men, Luke and Mark renew it afterwards. These all start with the same principles of the faith, so far as relates to the one only God the Creator and His Christ, how that He was born of the Virgin, and came to fulfill the law and the prophets. Never mind if there does occur some variation in the order of their narratives, provided that there be agreement in the essential matter of the faith, in which there is disagreement with Marcion…
… Inasmuch, therefore, as the enlightener of St.Luke himself desired the authority of his predecessors for both his own faith and preaching, how much more may not I require for Luke’s Gospel that which was necessary for the Gospel of his master.”
Origen, writing from 185-254 AD, writes;
“In his first book on Matthew’s Gospel, maintaining the Canon of the Church, he testifies that he knows only four Gospels, writing as follows: 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 publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism, and published in the Hebrew language.”
Now, we shall attest to the great internal evidence confirming this. To note, Matthew is this mans Greek name, whilst his Hebrew name was Levi, and so he is also mentioned and historically confirmed as a tax collector in passages that you may not have known of, such as Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27. Matthew was also a Palestinian Jew, and as a tax collector, would have known both Hebrew and Greek (for to maintain this occupation, he would need to be working for Greek-speaking Romans and collecting taxes from Hebrew-speaking Jews). We have attested this, as it is important information for showing the internal evidence that proves Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew.
For one, is the fact that in Matthew’s own Gospel in verses we have already shown, such as Matthew 9:9 and Matthew 10:2-4, he used the name for himself Matthew, whilst outside his Gospel in Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27, the name Levi was used. This is because Matthew believed his apostolic name was nobler than his other name, Levi, and so it was common for authors to use their nobler names in their own writings. For example, in Paul’s epistles, he always refers to himself as Paul, even though his previous name was Saul [of Tarsus]. Paul viewed his apostolic name as nobler, and thus he used it. Another example is Peter, in 1 Peter 1:1, Peter uses his apostolic name (Peter), instead of his common name which was Simeon (or Simon), even though outside of Peter’s writings, he was referred to as Simeon, such as in Luke 7:43 or Acts 15:14 (although at times ‘Peter’ was also used). Likewise, the fact that in the Gospel of Matthew, the apostolic name for Matthew is used, whilst the other Gospels use his apostolic name as well as his common name when referencing him, shows Matthew was composing this document and attributing to himself what he viewed as his nobler name.
Furthermore, as Matthew is a tax collector, we would expect him to be very knowledgeable and interested in financial manners. Indeed, we see in numerous Matthean passages (17:24-27; 18:23-35, 20:1-16, 26:15, 27:3-10, 28:11-15) the discussion financial manners, which attests to Matthew being the author of the Gospel of Matthew. Furthermore in regards to financial manners, let us read another of Matthew’s passages on this, not mentioned above.
[Matthew 22:19] Show Me the coin used for the tax.” So they brought Him a denarius.
Now, what is interesting about this verse? When the term ‘coin’ comes up, we do not see the simple Greek word used for this, being δηνάριον (dēnarion), but rather a more precise term, νόμισμα (state coin). In contrast, the other Gospels, such as in Mark 12:15 and Luke 20:24 when they describe this same event, they never use the more advanced financial term νόμισμα, rather they only use δηνάριον. This provides further confirmation of Matthew, as a tax collector, being the author of the Gospel of Matthew, because as as Keith Thompson notes;
“This lends more evidence towards the position that we are dealing with Matthew the tax collector who was familiar with and concerned about accuracy regarding financial terminology”
Moving forth, as Thompson continues to note, Matthew’s Gospel is the only one to mention Jesus saying ““give no offense to them [tax collectors]”, and also to pay the temple tax in the region of Capernaum when they are asked to. This phrase concerns tax collectors, so Matthew himself being a tax collector would feel the need to mention this saying of Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel is also the only Gospel to refer to gold, silver, and copper (such as in Matthew 10:9).
Moving forth, let us re-note that the historical Matthew was a Palestinian Jew. As David Malick notes, whom has a Masters in Bible Exposition and has received honors from Dallas Theological Seminary, Matthew’s Gospel bears great knowledge in Palestinian geography (Matthew 2:1,23; 3:1,5,13; 4:12,13,23-25; 8:5,23,28; 14:34; 15:32,39; 16:13; 17:1; 19:1; 20:29; 21:1,17; 26:6), Matthew’s Gospel is very familiar with Jewish tradition, customs, and classes of people (Matthew 1:18-19; 2:1,4,22; 14:1; 26:3,57,59; 27:2,11,13), is familiar with Old Testament scriptures (Matthew 1:2-16,22-23; 2:6,15,17-18,23; 4:14-16; 8:17; 12:17-21; 13:35; 21:4-5; 27:9), and even his terminology is Jewish (Matthew 2:20,21; 4:5; 5:35,47; 6:7,32; 10:6; 15:24; 17:24-27; 18:17; 27:53). David Malick has thus provided us with great substantiation that the author of the Gospel of Matthew is indeed Matthew.
Donald Guthrie concludes;
“there is no conclusive reason for rejecting the strong external testimony regarding the authorship of Matthew”
-Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, [InterVarsity Press, 1990], p. 53
“The early church unanimously held that the gospel of Matthew was the first written gospel and was penned by the apostle of the same name”
Moving forwards, we shall now list the documentation of the authorship of the Gospel of Mark, showing that Mark is indeed the man who wrote the Gospel of Mark.
Papias writes, in 95-110 AD;
This also the presbyter said: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no errorwhile he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely.
-preserved in Church History, Book 3, Chapter 39, Verse 15
Irenaeus, writing in 180 AD, states;
“After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.”
Tertullian, writing in 200 AD states;
“that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s whose interpreter Mark was.”
Clement of Alexandria, writing in 180 AD, states;
“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.”
-preserved in Church History, Book 6, Chapter 14, Verse 6
Origen, writing from 185-254 AD writes;
” 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.’ ”
-preserved in Church History, Book 6, Chapter 25, Verse 5
According to an anti-Marcionite Prologue from 160-180 AD;
“Mark declared, who is called ‘stump-fingered’ because he had short fingers in comparison with the size of the rest of his body. He was Peter’s interpreter. After the departure of Peter himself, he wrote down this same gospel in the regions of Italy.”
-Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Mark quoted in Adam Winn, The purpose of Mark’s Gospel: An Early Christian Response to Roman Imperial Propaganda, [Mohr Siebeck, 2008], p. 47
“EXTERNAL EVIDENCE strongly supports John Mark as the author of the Gospel of Mark in association with the Apostle Peter”
Justin Martyr, writing in 150 AD, affirms Mark’s writing based on Peter’s memoir;
And when it is said that He changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter; and when it is written in the memoirs of Him that this so happened, as well as that He changed the names of other two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means sons of thunder; this was an announcement of the fact that it was He by whom Jacob was called Israel, and Oshea called Jesus (Joshua), under whose name the people who survived of those that came from Egypt were conducted into the land promised to the patriarchs.
According to Philemon 1:24, the actual Mark was placed to be residing in Rome, and we know this is where Peter lived during the latter of his life , meaning that Mark was in the correct location to receive the Christian traditions from Peter in order to write a biography. Furthermore, in 1 Peter 5:13, Peter refers to Mark as his son (Keith Thompson notes this likely is meant to be taken in a ministerial sense, not biologically).
This is confirmation that Mark was associated with Peter, and evidence that the author of the Gospel of Mark utilized Peter as an authority is very strong, especially because of the fact that the author of the Gospel of Mark utilizes inclusio in regards to Peter. What inclusio is, is a literary device, in this case, where someone would reference the inspiration of their work in the beginning and ending of the document. We do indeed see Peter (or as we noted earlier, his other name being Simeon/Simon) being mentioned in the Gospel of Mark around the beginning of this Gospel (Mark 1:16) and around the ending of it (Mark 16:7), showing that Peter was the authority witness that was used by the author of the Gospel of Mark, which perfectly fits with the extensive historical records that confirm above that Mark was the interpreter of Peter, and transcribed his Gospel by Peter’s sayings to him.
Further confirming Peter as the authority behind the Gospel of Mark, F.F. Bruce says this in his book The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable;
“Further confirmation of the Petrine authority behind Mark was supplied in a series of acute linguistic studies by C.H. Turner, entitled ‘Marcan Usage’, in the Journal of Theological Studies for 1924 and 1925, showing, among other things, how Mark’s use of pronouns in narratives involving Peter seems time after time to reflect a reminiscence by that apostle in the first person. The reader can receive from such passages ‘a vivid impression of the testimony that lies behind the Gospel: thus in 1:29, “we came into our house with James and John: and my wife’s mother was ill in bed with a fever and at once we tell him about her” ”
In consideration of all this information, it is greatly evident that the author of the Gospel of Mark, is indeed Mark.
We shall now see the lengthy historical records affirming that Luke has indeed authored the Gospel of Luke.
Irenaeus, writing in 180 AD states;
“Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him.”
An early canon written in 170 AD documents;
“The third book of the gospel is according to Luke. This Luke was a physician who Paul had taken after the ascension of the Christ to be a legal expert. Yet he had not seen the Lord in the flesh. So, as far as he could, he begins his story with the birth of John.”
According to an anti-Marcionite Prologue written in 160-180 AD;
“Luke, a Syrian of Antioch, doctor by profession… Luke, under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, wrote his gospel in the region of Achaia.”
-Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke quoted in Vincent P. Branick, Understanding the New Testament and its Message: An Introduction, [Paulist Press, 1998], p. 138
Tertullian, writing in 200 AD states;
“the evangelical Testament has apostles for its authors, to whom was assigned by the Lord Himself this office of publishing the gospel… therefore, John and Matthew first instill faith into us; while of apostolic men, Luke and Mark renew is afterward… Now, of the authors whom we possess, Marcion seems to have singled out Luke for his mutilating process.”
Origen, in 185-254 AD states;
“And the third by Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul, and composed for Gentile converts. Last of all that by John.”
As we shall see, the internal evidence is also greatly favoring Luke as the man who transcribed the Gospel of Luke.
First of all, it is important to note that the author of the Gospel of Luke is also the same man who is the author of the Book of Acts. Scholars entirely agree on this, as there the confirmation is simply undoubtable, as we can see when we contrast Luke 1:1-4 with Acts 1:1-3. Moving on, Paul makes it clear to us that he is with Luke, in various places, including very notably Colossians 4:14, Philemon 1:24 and 2 Timothy 4:11. Allow us to quote just one of these passages;
[2 Timothy 4:11] Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry.
Paul claims only Luke is with him here, thus we can know that Paul associated himself with Luke.
Now, there is something very interesting about the Book of Acts. Michael A. Reynolds says the following about what are called the ‘we’ passages in the Book of Acts;
The “we” passages are found in the second half of Acts in 16:10-17, 20:5-15, 21:1-18,and 27:1-28:16. As introduced above, these passages are ones in which Luke uses the first-person plural pronouns “we” and “us” unexpectedly and without explanation. They all take place in the context of a voyage (especially 27:1-28:16) or a travel narrative, and all include sea travel in particular.
Biblical Scholars and Historians of the New Testament have recognized a set of passages in the context of a voyage in the work of the Book of Acts, in which the author employs the term “we”, in which he is suddenly accompanied by an un-identified traveler on his voyage. One must simply ask, who is this traveler, accompanying the author of the Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts? We know the author of Luke-Acts is one of the men on this voyage, but just who is this other figure with him? The answer is… Paul.
[Acts 16:10-17] After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them. Then, setting sail from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, the next day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, a Roman colony, which is a leading city of that district of Macedonia. We stayed in that city for a number of days. On the Sabbath day we went outside the city gate by the river, where we thought there was a place of prayer. We sat down and spoke to the women gathered there. A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was spoken by Paul. After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. Once, as we were on our way to prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit of prediction. She made a large profit for her owners by fortune-telling. As she followed Paul and us she cried out, “These men, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation, are the slaves of the Most High God.”
In this passage, the author of Luke-Acts identifies himself as on part of the trip with several uses of the word ‘we’, and we are also made abundantly clear that Paul was also on this trip. So, the author of Luke-Acts was travelling with Paul, according to the author of Luke-Acts, and Paul was travelling with Luke, according to Paul as we have seen. The other we passages that confirm Paul being associated with the author of Luke-Acts in the Book of Luke including Acts 20:5-15, Acts 20:1-18 and Acts 27–Acts 28:16, giving us astonishing confirmation of this. Thus, to sum up, Paul claims to be travelling with Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke claims to be travelling with Paul. This is unambiguous confirmation of Luke having authored the Gospel of Luke. In fact, Irenaeus in 180 AD, whom we have already quoted several times so far, has called Luke and Paul “inseparable companions” . Michael A. Reynolds thus concludes;
“The conclusion that Luke was present in the “we” passages and was writing as an eyewitness to the events at hand is the most reasonable conclusion to arrive at in the midst of the current arguments.”
Irenaeus, writing in 180 AD, states;
“John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia… those who were conversant in Asia with John, the disciple of the Lord, [affirming] that John conveyed to them that information. And he remained among them up to the times of Trajan… Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles.”
Tertullian, writing in 200 AD writes;
“The same authority of the apostolic churches will afford evidence to the other Gospels also, which we possess equally through their means, and according to their usage — I mean the Gospels of John and Matthew…”
Clement of Alexandria, writing from 180 AD says;
“John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel.”
-preserved in Church History, Book 6, Chapter 14, Verse 7
Origen, from 185-254 AD writes;
“Last of all that by John”
-preserved in Church History, Book 6, Chapter 25, Verse 6
An anti-Marcionite Prologue from 160-180 AD writes;
“John the apostle, whom the Lord Jesus loved very much, last of all wrote this gospel, the bishops of Asia having entreated him, against Cerinthus and other heretics…”
–Anti-Marcionite Prologue to John quoted in Ben C. Smith, The Latin Prologues (textexcavation.com/latinprologues.html)
Theophilus of Antioch affirms John as the author of the Gospel of John when he writes the following;
“And hence the holy writings teach us, and all the spirit-bearing [inspired] men, one of whom, John, says, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, showing that at first God was alone, and the Word in Him.”
An early canon from 170 AD writes;
“John, one of the disciples, wrote the Fourth Gospel. When his fellow disciples and the bishops urged him to do so, he said, ‘Join me in fasting for three days, and then let us relate to one another what shall be revealed to each.’ The same night it was revealed to Andrew, one of the apostles, that John should write down everything in his own name, and they should all revise it.”
In the Gospel of John, the author identifies himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved”.
[John 21:20-24] Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.
So, can it be shown that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was John? Before this is done, we must first note that in this passage, John 21:20-24, the author identifies himself as an eyewitness either way. However, can it be shown that this is John in specific? F.F. Bruce argues for this very fact, in the following manner;
“… of the twelve, there were three who were on occasion admitted to more intimate fellowship with the Master – Peter, James and John. It was these three, for example, whom he took to keep watch with Him during His vigil in Gethsemane after the Last Supper (Mk 14:33). We should naturally expect that the beloved disciple would be one of the number. He was not Peter, from whom he is explicitly distinguished in John 13:24, 20:2, and 21:20. There remain two sons of Zebedee, James and John, who were included in the seven of chapter 21. But James was martyred not later than AD 44 (Acts 12:2), and therefore there was little likelihood that the saying should go abroad about him which went abroad about the beloved disciple, that he would not die. So we are left with John.”
-F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1981], p. 45
Bruce seems to provide us with very good evidence and argumentation that this eyewitness who wrote the Gospel of John, is in fact John. Thus, it may seem that we have thoroughly shown that true authors of the four Gospels, are the traditional authors that we hold to today — that being Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Indeed, we have endless early attestation of the original authors of these four writings. Furthermore, there exists no competing tradition on who truly wrote these documents, meaning that as any Scholar would admit, the entire early Church was in complete agreement that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote these four Gospels. Thus, Christians can understand that our scriptures are written by eyewitnesses to the events that they write of, whom are Matthew and John, and that one of the other authors of our Gospels is both a Historian and physician, being Luke, whom was greatly associated with Paul, and the last of our authors of scripture was a student and interpreter of Peter, whom himself was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, our God, Lord, and Savior. Concluding, our scriptures are very reliable, and are in fact evidence for Christianity, for the Gospels were written by those who were directly associated of the Christian miracles, such as the Resurrection. Just to note, John was John the Elder, not John son of Zebedee. John son of Zebedee was one of the actual twelve disciples of Jesus, whereas John the Elder was a different John but still knew Jesus. John the Elder wrote the Gospel of John, 1 John, 2 John and 3 John, whereas John son of Zebedee wrote Revelation. This thesis, that the Gospels can be traced to eyewitness testimony, is supported by the book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, a book published in 2006 by the world-class scholar Richard Bauckham, described by academics in the field as the most important contribution to the entirety of New Testament scholarship in perhaps the last century.
Note : Good credit to Keith Thompson, whoms work greatly helped me find many sources in which I used to produce this blog from this link that I cited earlier.
- Keith Thompson writes; “Writing to the Christians in Rome in the 1st century Ignatius of Antioch states “I do not command you, as Peter and Paul did” (Ignatius, Letter to the Romans, Ch. 4). In the 2nd century Irenaeus reports that “…the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul…” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies Book 3 Ch. 3). Eusebius reports a tradition provided by Dionysius (A.D. ? – 171) bishop of Corinth: “And that they both suffered martyrdom at the same time is stated by Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, in his epistle to the Romans, in the following words: You have thus by such an admonition bound together the planting of Peter and of Paul at Rome and Corinth. For both of them planted and likewise taught us in our Corinth. And they taught together in like manner in Italy, and suffered martyrdom at the same time” (Eusebius, Church History, II.25.8).”