Is the New Testament Trustworthy: Anonymous Gospel Writers

By Luke Lancaster

Amongst secular, nonbelieving Bible scholars, it is assumed that the original writers to the four Gospels were written anonymously. This is a theory that works well with a secular view of the Bible, for it allows one to totally disregard the historicity of the stories surrounding the man, Jesus. Such a view is actually rather ahistorical, though, for scholars claiming to be "historical-critical" scholars. This is because the ancient manuscripts title the authors of the Gospels, the ancient Jewish scribes knew the authors, and because the authors would have been likely candidates to have written the Gospels.

First, based on all of the manuscript evidence on the four Gospels, every single one of them has the author we know from history. Of the over 5,800 ancient copies, not one copy was without a title. Yes, you read that correctly. Every. Single. One. There were zero anonymous copies. The Gospel according to Matthew is titled in every ancient manuscript copy we have of it as, "The Good News According to Matthew." The same is true of Mark, Luke, and John. To assume that the four Gospels were, without a doubt, written anonymously, should actually have some evidence. Just one anonymous manuscript to Luke's Gospel would be a starting point to the theory, yet there are zero.

Second, if the Gospels were written anonymously, then why are there 2nd century Jewish scribes writing against "The Gospel According to Matthew" or "The Gospel of John"? This really does not make sense if the documents were written anonymously. These Jewish scribes (from Egypt, Gaul, Asia Minor, Italy, etc.) did not want to believe in Jesus, yet they all knew the authors of the Gospels. Should not one Jewish scribe from Egypt claim that Nicholas wrote the Gospel of Matthew, and another from Italy claim Jacob wrote the Gospel of Matthew? If they did, that would help this "anonymous gospel" theory. Yet, historically speaking, they were all unanimous.

Take for example the New Testament document, "The Letter to the Hebrews." This document does not claim an author. Some of the manuscripts claim it was written by Paul. Others claim it was written by Barnabas. Still others claim Paul wrote it in Hebrew, and Luke translated it into Greek. There are a multiplicity of authors claiming to have written this New Testament document, and this is because it was originally written anonymously. However, the four Gospels do not have this variation in authorship. The manuscript evidence is unanimous.

Third, the authors of the Gospels make sense to have been Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Some will attempt to claim that the Gospel writers were unlearned fishermen, so they could not have been written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. However, this argument does not stand up either, for not all of the apostles were unlearned. Consider the four below:

1. Matthew was a Roman tax collector, which implied literacy in writing. It was apart of his job to be able to write documents in both the language of the people (Aramaic in Israel) and the language of the Romans (Latin). See Matthew 9:9. If the apostles were illiterate, they would want a respected, learned Roman writing about Jesus.

2. Mark was a follower of Paul and Peter. The early Christians said he was Peter's scribe, which makes sense, since Peter was an illiterate fisherman. Mark was a Jewish man who possessed two names, like many people in the Greco-Roman world: John (a Hebrew name) and Mark (a Roman name). Read about him in Philemon 23-24, Acts 12:12-14, Acts 15:36-41, and 1 Peter 5:12-13.

3. Luke was a doctor that followed Paul around (Colossians 4:7–17; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11). This was why he used medical terminology in his Gospel (Luke 13:11-13, 14:1-4; Acts 28:8-9). Luke claimed to have been writing as a historian recounting historical events, "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account..." (Luke 1:1-3).

4. John the Beloved Disciple was the only Gospel-writer who claimed to have written his own Gospel. He said in John 21 that, "Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?”...This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true" (John 21:20, 24). John wrote about Peter, Jesus, and the "disciple whom Jesus loved," which he identified as himself. Now, although John was illiterate, he would have followed the immensely popular custom in the Greco-Roman world of dictating letters to a scribe. So he cannot be dismissed as the author simply due to being illiterate.

As we have seen, the Gospels are, historically speaking, written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Every copy of their Gospels (over 5,000) have their names written on them. Non-Christian scribes in the 2nd century knew which person wrote which manuscript. The authors themselves can be identified in Scripture and were not all illiterate. There is little reason to assume the Gospels were anonymous.