A Defense of the Authorship of the 4 Gospels
These subjects have been treated of in hundreds of books and articles written by people far more knowledgeable and qualified than I. However, I seek here to enumerate some of my favorite refutations to some common objections regarding the authorship of the 4 Gospels.
1. We have not just 4 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), but many other Gospels from that time period. This undermines the historicity of the 4 Gospels.
Virtually all New testament scholars agree that the 4 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were written first. The other apocryphal/non-canonical “Gospels” (such as the “Gospel of Thomas”) were all written at least a century later than the 4 original Gospels. (Nearly all scholars of the ancient world agree that: the closer an ancient document was written to the event that it describes, the better.) The early Church, from the beginning, accepted the 4 Gospels as historical/canonical, and the other “Gospels” as not.
See this chart from biblical scholar Brant Pitre’s The Case for Christ:
The internal evidence in these documents suggests that they are pseudepigraphical (forgeries - falsely ascribed to these people [Thomas, Judas & Peter]). These documents were falsely ascribed to eyewitnesses in order to give them much-needed credibility.
Even liberal biblical scholar John P. Meier argues that from a purely empirical, historical, not faith-based point of view, the apocryphal works cannot be placed on the same level as the canonical gospels because it is clear that works such as the Coptic Gospel of Thomas do not contain the most independent, ancient qualities that canonical gospels do.
2. We have no way of verifying whether or not Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were even real people.
On the contrary, we can read the writings of the Apostolic Fathers (the first generation of the Church Fathers/patristics who either knew the apostles OR knew people who knew the apostles) and see that they said that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were real people.
3. The 4 Gospels were not originally signed “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” The 4 Gospels were anonymously-written. We don’t actually know who wrote the 4 Gospels. This vastly reduces the 4 Gospels’ historical credibility.
On the contrary, we see that the earliest manuscripts that we have of these documents were all signed.
Even if the Gospels were originally anonymous, with titles added later (as some scholars, like Bart Ehrman, claim), it is extremely unlikely that scribes all over the Roman Empire would have all magically attributed the documents to the same person. Furthermore, why would an anonymous Gospel writer name his or document after Luke (Paul’s companion) and Mark (Peter’s scribe in Rome), neither of whom were eyewitnesses? Sure enough, someone writing an unhistorical Gospel would name their Gospel after someone who was there, like Judas (see the Gospel of Judas).
On the other hand, the letter to the Hebrews is one that the early Church and contemporary scholars agree may or may not have been written by Paul:
4. None of the Gospel authors were eyewitnesses, which reduces the Gospels’ historical credibility.
Matthew and John claim to be eyewitnesses (because they were); Mark and Luke never do (because they weren’t).
5. How do we know that Matthew and John were there?
We have internal evidence in the documents themselves that Matthew the tax collector and John the fisherman/beloved disciple really wrote these Gospels. Not only are the earliest manuscripts of Matthew and John’s Gospels signed with their names, but in the documents themselves, Matthew refers to himself as “Matthew the tax collector”, and in the Gospel of John, John writes of himself as the “beloved disciple” who was at the foot of Jesus’ cross with the women. John also writes in the last chapter of his book: “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.”
6. Eyewitness testimony doesn’t even mean that much anyway, in determining the truth of something. We need more than that as evidence for the resurrection.
Any lawyer will affirm that most of the evidence presented in courts of law is eyewitness testimony. It is upon this evidence that cases are decided. Similarly, upon the eyewitness testimony presented in the New Testament, should a case for Jesus’ resurrection rest.
7. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (and Paul) would not have been literate; therefore, they would not have been able to write Gospels. This brings us back to the fact that the 4 Gospels were anonymous, which reduces their historicity.
As a tax collector, Matthew is the one Gospel author who would certainly have been literate.
It is extremely likely that Luke, a doctor (which we learn from the book of Acts, which Luke also wrote), was also literate.
Mark was Peter’s scribe in Rome. Scribes obviously had to be literate in order to do their job.
Paul, an educated scholar (a Pharisee - a lawyer/scribe), who displays much knowledge of Greek platonic philosophy in his epistles, would have also certainly been literate.
It is less likely that John, a fisherman from rural Galilee, was literate. It is likely that John took part in the common ancient practice of dictating to an amanuensis - a scribe. We can suppose that John’s scribe and scribes all over the ancient world would have written accurately, because:
1) we have a remarkable number of similarities between the many different manuscripts of not just John’s Gospel, but the 3 synoptic Gospels as well,
2) we know that punishments for intentionally copying inaccurately were severe.
It is also very possible another disciple (like Matthew the tax collector or even Luke the physician) or even Jesus himself taught John to read and write. From the time of John’s meeting Jesus in 30 AD up until the penning of John’s Gospel, there would have been many years for John to learn to read and write.
It is of course also possible that illiterate John was miraculously able to write this Gospel due to the grace of God - indeed, with God, all things are possible. Of course, this idea presupposes that God exists, which is less of a historical question and more of a philosophical one, which I address here.