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How do we know who wrote the Gospels?

Published: 15 August 2020 (GMT+10)

B.C. from the U.S. writes:

Hi! I like using the resurrection of Christ when discussing with Atheists as I believe it’s the best evidence we have. I like Lita’s article on gospel reliability but the question always comes up about how we know the gospels were written by their namesakes. Lita provides good reasoning for gospel dates and links to other helpful articles but what’s the best evidence the gospels were written by their namesakes? And as a second question, whenever brought up, skeptics always ask for a list of scholars who believe this, so is there a good list of a few good scholars who believe this so I have it?

, CMI-US, responds:

Thank you for your kind words. The Gospels are formally anonymous. While the letters of Paul, for instance, start with an explicit claim to authorship by the Apostle Paul, there is no such internal claim of authorship in the Gospels. The names come from very early, unanimous tradition. One reason that the traditional authorship is trustworthy is that we have lots of false gospels, and we know the sort of people they attribute them to—the very important characters from the New Testament like Peter, James, and John. Matthew was not very prominent in among the apostles, Mark was most famous for deserting Paul on a mission trip, and Luke was also one of Paul’s more minor assistants. John is the only prominent apostle who is credited with writing a Gospel, but again the tradition is very reliable, goes back to people who actually would have known John, and there was no other proposed author.

This is all important because we know that people cared about who an author of a document was. In ancient literature, you can see people disavowing things attributed to them that they did not write. 2 Thessalonians 2:2 has Paul repudiating a letter that someone wrote in his name. In many ways Bart Ehrman is a charlatan, but his survey of pseudonymity in ancient literature in Forgery and Counterforgery, which I reviewed for Journal of Creation, is actually quite helpful.

As for a list of scholars who maintain the traditional authorship, there are problems with even coming up with a list. Who qualifies as a scholar? Skeptics would dismiss the faculties of evangelical seminaries out of hand because they have a stake in maintaining their conservative credentials. But the sad fact is that there are more unbelievers in biblical studies than believers. For every D.A. Carson, there’s a Bart Ehrman. For every Douglas Moo, there’s a Marcus Borg. It’s rather sad, but we must remember that truth is not determined by majority vote. Just as biblical creation is true regardless of the majority of biologists who are evolutionists, the traditional authorship of the Gospels is true, and there is good evidence for it, despite there being many liberal scholars who would see such a stance as naive.

I would recommend reading the linked Journal of Creation review for some more in-depth information. I hope these few thoughts are helpful.

Helpful Resources

How Did We Get Our Bible?
by Lita Cosner, Gary Bates
US $3.50
Soft Cover
Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Daniel T.
Lita, seriously, thank you very much .. What I will tell you has nothing to do with the article. It is to thank you for having responded before to another publication in which I needed help to sustain my FaithAlthough what I commented there was not relevant to the article either, you took the time to answer me. Seriously thanks, I needed help and didn't know who to turn to. Please, never stop posting :(, there are fans who come here as a great source of information and we trust that (forgive the redundancy) it is reliable. Here we sharpen our swords and clean our God-given armor. Seriously, thank you very much , Lita. God bless all of you CMI
John F.
Dr Gary Habermas's minimal facts of the resurrection is based on his research on what the majority of skeptical historians accept as reliable. He also states that skeptical historians accept Romans 1+2 For, Galatians,Phillipians and 1 Thessalonians as reliable texts. As for the reliability of the gospels I would recommend Sir William Michael Ramsay and his investigation into Luke and Acts. He stated that Luke as always accurate in his recording of names, titles and political facts.
Virgil B.
I would recommend F. F. Bruce’s Canon Of Scripture.
Bud B.
Asking for a list of names that support your position is setting up a straw man anyway. Even if you took the trouble to point out names, the response would be to question the veracity and scholarship of the people named and the discussion would veer off into one about the sources. Imagine that after the Second World War you said to someone “the war is over!” And they ask “who says so?” “Churchill, Truman, deGaulle“. The response might be, “well they are all politicians. Of course they will tell you the war is over.” You can say, “who cares? The war is over and the benefits of that will become evident” Christ is risen! It doesn’t matter who said it or who said that someone said it. Christ is risen and the benefits of that will Become evident and last forever.
Jeffrey C.
Indeed, "truth is not determined by majority vote"! Regardless of what any of us fallible humans believes, whether merely one of us or billions of us all together, reality is reality. I daresay, history has not been kind to "majority opinion"!
John Z.
God wrote the Bible, not human beings. "Author" is one who creates a work. I think it's better to refer to Paul and the rest as scribes.
Lita Cosner
God is the true author of Scripture, that's why we call it the Word of God. Yet He also allowed Paul to claim authorship of his epistles, and one can tell a marked difference in the Greek of Luke vs. the Greek of John. There are elements of human authorship such as style and vocabulary choice (but not error) that makes it inappropriate to call the human authors of Scripture simply scribes. Just as Jesus, the son of God, was also the son of Mary, Scripture is the Word of God, written by men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit. And just as Jesus is not made less God by His humanity, Scripture is not less God's word because it was written by men.
Giancarlo G.
Many of these atheists that demand scholars are also very prone to reject their claims so long as the same scholars differ significantly with them. You would think that this pathetic dismissive attitude towards believing scholars would only happen when it comes to creation vs evolution, but it also happens outside the origins debate. In any case, these atheopaths are not even to take seriously, in fact, I would go so far as to make fun of them after the fact. There are certainly some atheists who have better integrity than their Internet troll peers, but as for the childish bunch, I would not bother reason with them. Because no matter what reputable authority you cite on the matter, the troll atheist would just find ways to call out "aRgUmEnT fRoM aUtHoRiTy!!!" This attitude happened with James Patrick Holding when he was rebutting an atheist YouTuber named "TheMessianicManic". As a consequence, HP Holding proceeded to mockingly refute him while educating him on the matter. The matter is even worst with atheist mythicist. Even the critical scholars are no good to these looney toons. Let's be real: These atheists don't care about scholarship, they lip service their way to respect scholarship when it suits them, but they hardly bother to cite them. To answer the inquirer's question, any New Testament scholar that defends the thesis properly is good enough. Whether the atheist in question rejects it is completely irrelevant. Christians are not forced, nor should they be forced, to appeal to the arbitrary demands of evidence and authority credentials of these 14 year olds who haven't even bothered completing a high school education let alone a college degree.
Lita Cosner
I would agree that some atheists reject any scholar that disagrees with their conclusions, but I would say we should never respond in kind with mocking and insults. This is because first, as Christians, we should represent a Christ-like attitude, which does include strongly refuting any falsehood and even calling out people. But also, onlookers also see our attitude and may be won over by a strong logical refutation.
Yuki T.
The Beloved Disciple is clearly John the Apostle who wrote the entire Gospel of John, the Epistles of John and the Book of Revelation, there is no one else who could have written these, all of the realistic evidence shows that it is him and throughout the entire history everyone knew that it is him and he even had students who testified to it while he was still in this world. All of the canonical Gospels were definitely written by the people who they are named after and in the correct chronology Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The ridiculous anti-biblical conspiracy hypotheses such as the markian priority or johannite community or documentary hypotheses or deuteronmistic history came around the 19th century because that was when the false religion of naturalism was invented by the insane darwinists who believe in their own pagan nonsense as a failed attempt to escape from divine judgement. By straight out unreasonably denying the true authors and dates of the gospels which the entire history had complete knowledge, in favor of such ridiculous hypotheses that have zero basis on reality shows immeditely how extremely biased and afraid someone is due to their own depravity which causes them in starting from wrong assumptions of their own asisine worldview that worships the false religion of naturalism.

The truth is that all of the actual evidence has always been in the side of the Bible and its original authors rather than some depraved lunatics and their propaganda nonsense that came thousands of years later and will only doom themselves for eternity. Sadly no matter how much someone tries to hide from divine judgement it is inevitable. In the end, noone can escape from the truth.

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