Thursday, November 15, 2012

The 4 Gospels are not written by Mark, Matthew, Luke and John?

"Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not write the Gospels. [...] all the Gospels were written anonymously, and none of the writers claims to be an eyewitness. Names are attached to the titles of the Gospels (“the Gospel according to Matthew”), but these titles are later additions to the Gospels, provided by editors and scribes to inform readers who the editors thought were the authorities behind the different versions. [...] The persons who gave it that title are telling you who, in their opinion, wrote it. Authors never title their books "according to."" 
(Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them) [USA: HarperOne, 2010], pp.5, 103-104)

Michael Kruger, Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, gives 3 reasons suggesting that the Gospels are written by the attributed authors:
1.  The manuscript evidence.  Although we possess a limited number of gospel manuscripts from the second and third centuries that preserve the title pages, the ones we do possess have the title present. In other words, we do not find “title-less” gospel manuscripts from this time period.  Examples of early gospels manuscripts with titles are P66 (John), P4-64-67 (Matthew and Luke) and P75 (Luke and John).  Put simply, as far back as we can see in the manuscript tradition the titles are present.

2. The uniformity of the titles.  Perhaps one the most compelling reasons to think the titles were added early is the fact that there is such uniformity in these titles within the early centuries of the faith.  If the titles were added late, we would have expected a substantial amount of diversity to have developed.  After all, the users of these gospels had to have called them something (especially if they had more than one gospel), and since they were anonymous it is reasonable to think they would have called these gospels by different names.  In fact, when the ancient writer Galen published his works without a title, he acknowledges that “everyone gave them a different title.” But, incredibly, the titles of these four gospels are consistent—Mark is always called “Mark,” Luke is always called “Luke,” etc.   Such uniformity cannot pop into existence over night.  It suggests these titles had been there a while.

3. The inclusion of Mark and Luke.  If the titles were added in the late second century, as some suppose, then it is difficult to imagine that Mark and Luke’s names would have been included.  If names were arbitrarily chosen, we would hardly expect these two.  If one wanted to get quick credibility for a gospel, it would have been named after an apostle—indeed, this is what happened with so many of our apocryphal gospels (e.g., Thomas and Peter).  Yet, here we have two gospels named after non-apostles.  It would have been especially easy to name Mark’s gospel after Peter, given the historical connections between the two men, but the early church resisted. This, I would suggest, is a sign of authenticity.

But, this still leaves the question of why the gospel writers didn’t just include their names in the actual gospels accounts themselves.  Why write a gospel that is formally anonymous?  For one, this did happen from time to time with Greco-Roman biographies.  We do have examples of formally anonymous biographies, so this would not have been unheard of (e.g., Lucian’s Life of Demonax, Secundus the Silent Philosopher, Lives of the Prophets, Arrian’s Anabasis, and Sulpicious Severus’ Life of St. Martin).


Yik Sheng Lee said...

To avoid being hunted down by the Roman authorities? Seems by that time, telling the story of another son of God would be a direct challenge to the emperor worship cult at the pain of death?

Sze Zeng said...

That is possible too, Israel. :)

Yik Sheng Lee said...

Of course, equally possible is that first century Christians had no qualms in writing down what they heard and memorized (living in an oral tradition milieu) from the apostles as if what they penned down was literally the apostles' words, a cultural process which Paul believed in as well when he wrote to the Corinthians, claiming that what he passed on to them were the words of the apostles themselves. ;-)