The Truth is …
Who wrote the synoptic gospels?
“None of the synoptic gospels name their author or authors. In each case authorial attribution dates from the second century CE. “
Dr. Ian Bond, Pastor, Missionary, Evangelical
Much of what is present in this section I learned from a Christian with excellent Christian credentials, Ian Bond, who who closes his webpage with “Yours, In Christ”. His web page, “Who Wrote The Synoptic Gospels” is much better and shorter than mine. I encourage you to read what he has to say and then come back.
No Mention of Gospels Until 2nd Century
Christians believe that the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were written by those whose names appear in the title of the books. Most also believe that they were written in the same order as they appear in the Bible.
The truth is, all of the author’s names are sheer guesswork, or pious fraud. The titles “According to Matthew,” etc., were not added until late in the second century. All four Gospels were originally anonymous, none claim to be written by eyewitnesses, and all contain giveaways that they were written generations later, by well-educated Greek-speaking theologians, not illiterate Aramaic speakers.
There are extant writings accredited to the Apostolic Fathers, Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp; written, for the most part, early in the second century. These writings contain no mention of the Four Gospels. This also is admitted by early Christian scholars. One of whom is Dr. Henry Dodwell who wrote: :
“We have at this day certain most authentic ecclesiastical writers of the times, as Clemens Romanus, Barnabas, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp, who wrote in the order wherein I have named them, and after all the writers of the New Testament. But in Hermas you will not find one passage or any mention of the New Testament, nor in all the rest is any one of the Evangelists named”
(Dissertations upon Irenaeus, Henry Bodwell, 1689).
In other words, the four gospels were unknown to the early Christian Fathers. Justin Martyr, the most eminent of the early Fathers, wrote about the middle of the second century. His writings in proof of the divinity of Christ would have demanded the use of these Gospels, had they existed in his time. He makes more than three hundred quotations from the books of the Old Testament, and nearly one hundred from the Apocryphal books of the New Testament; but none from the Four Gospels. The Rev. Dr. Giles says: “The very names of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are never mentioned by him [Justin] — do not occur once in all his writings” (Christian Records, p. 71).
Even though the Gospels go under the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, they were, in fact, written anonymously. These names first appeared in the second century and were assigned to the anonymous writings to give the writings apostolic authority. The Gospel of Mark was written before any of the other canonical gospels and was written after the fall of the second temple which occurred in 70 CE.
They do not purport to have been written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Their titles do not affirm it. They simply imply that they are “according” to the supposed teachings of these Evangelists. As Renan says, “They merely signify that these were the traditions proceeding from each of these Apostles, and claiming their authority.”
Concerning their authorship the Rev. Dr. Hooykaas says: “They appeared anonymously. The titles placed above them in our Bibles owe their origin to a later ecclesiastical tradition which deserves no confidence whatever” (Bible for Learners, Vol. III, p. 24).
Finally, Recognition of “authorship”in mid 2nd century
Theophilus, who wrote after the middle of the latter half of the second century, mentions the Gospel of John. Irenaeus, who wrote a little later, mentions all of the Gospels, and makes numerous quotations from them. In the latter half of the second century, then, between the time of Justin and Papias, and the time of Theophilus and Irenaeus, the Four Gospels were undoubtedly written or compiled.
(The previous four paragraphs were shamelessly borrowed from “The Christ” by John E. Remsberg. )
The Gospel According To Mark
The Gospel According to Mark is the most important of the synoptic gospels because it is the primary source for Matthew and Luke. Seventy six percent of Mark is reproduced almost word-for-word in both Matthew and Luke. An additional 18% of Mark is reproduced in Matthew but not in Luke, and an further 3% of Mark is in Luke but not in Matthew. This means that 97% of Mark is reproduced in Matthew and/or Luke.
Matthew contains 606 of Mark’s 661 verses. Luke contains 320 of Mark’s 661 verses. Of the 55 verses of Mark which Matthew does not reproduce, Luke reproduces 31; therefore there are only 24 verses in all of Mark not reproduced somewhere in Matthew or Luke.
The diagram below is lifted, without permission, from his writings. I hope he is understanding. Clicking on the diagram takes you to his website, so it’s kinda like not copying it.
Who Wrote Mark and What Were His Sources?
Not even the Bible claims that Mark was an eye witness to Jesus’ ministry. Modern, non Christian biblical scholars believe that the gospel of Mark was written in Syria by an unknown Christian no earlier than AD 70, using various sources including a passion narrative (probably written), collections of miracles stories (oral or written), apocalyptic traditions (probably written), and disputations and didactic sayings (some possibly written). These stories were in circulation year after year, told in different languages and in different countries from that of Jesus.
That’s it. The source for the gospel of Mark is other peoples’ stories and writings. In other words, all of Mark’s sources were at best, second hand, more likely fifth or sixth hand. What happens to stories that circulate orally for years? Obviously, they come to be changed in the retelling. Thus, the source for much of the synoptic gospels is no more than hearsay.
Apologists dismiss the charge of “hearsay” by pointing to the strength of the “oral tradition”. The simple childhood game of “Telephone” is sufficient to illustrate the point that stories told mouth to mouth for 35 years or more can’t possibly retain their original content.
The Gospel of Mark is the first of the Gospels to proffer quotes allegedly from Jesus. We question how authentic these quotes could possibly be, given the convoluted path from Jesus’ lips to “Marks” writing and the years that passed since the words were allegedly spoken. We have written a treatise on the impossibilities of Jesus’ actual words being accurately recorded 40+ years after they were spoken.
Click HERE to read more about who wrote the gospel of Mark.
Who Wrote Matthew and What Were The Sources?
By the end of the 2nd century the tradition of Matthew the tax-collector had become widely accepted, and the line “The Gospel According to Matthew” began to be added to manuscripts. For many reasons scholars today believe otherwise—fifty five percent of the gospel is copied from Mark, and it seems unlikely that an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry would need to rely on others for information about it. They believe instead that it was written between about 80–90 AD by a highly educated Jew, intimately familiar with the technical aspects of Jewish law, standing on the boundary between traditional and non-traditional Jewish values.
A widespread theory holds that the author drew on three primary sources, each representing a distinct community: a hypothetical collection, or several collections, of sayings (called “Q“, and shared with Luke); the Gospel of Mark; and material unique to Matthew (called “M”, some of which may have originated with Matthew himself).
He wrote for a Jewish audience: like “Q” and “M”, he stresses the continuing relevance of the Jewish law; unlike Mark he never bothers to explain Jewish customs; and unlike Luke, who traces Jesus’s ancestry back to Adam, father of the human race, he traces it only to Abraham, father of the Jews. The fact that his linage differs significantly from that of Luke is a real problem for those who claim that the Holy Spirit’s hand guided the writers of the gospels.
The content of “M” suggests that the community for which this gospel was written, was stricter than the others in its attitude to keeping the Jewish law, holding that they must exceed the scribes and the Pharisees in “righteousness” (adherence to Jewish law); and of the three only “M” refers to a “church” (ecclesia), an organised group with rules for keeping order. Biblical scholars generally hold that Matthew was composed between the years c. 70 and 100.
Click HERE to read more about who wrote Matthew.
Who Wrote Luke and What Were the Sources?
Most modern critical scholarship concludes that Luke used the Gospel of Mark for his chronology and a hypothetical sayings source Q document for many of Jesus’ teachings. Luke may also have drawn from independent written records. Traditional Christian scholarship has dated the composition of the gospel to the early 60s, while higher criticism dates it to the later decades of the 1st century. While the traditional view that Paul’s companion Luke authored the gospel is still often put forward, a number of possible contradictions between Acts and Paul’s letters lead many scholars to dispute this account.
Click HERE to read more about who wrote Luke.
Who Wrote John and What Were the Sources?
John differs significantly from the synoptic gospels in theme, content, time duration, order of events, and style. Only ca. 8% of it is parallel to these other gospels, and even then, no such word-for-word parallelism occurs as we find among the synoptic gospels. The Gospel of John reflects a Christian tradition that is different from that of the other gospels. It was rejected as heretical by many individuals and groups within the early Christian movement. It was used extensively by the Gnostic Christians. But it was ultimately accepted into the official canon, over many objections. It is now the favorite gospel of many conservative Christians, and the gospel least referred to by many liberal Christians.
They have a totally different agenda in mind for their audience than did the authors of the synoptic gospels. The authors of the synoptic gospels were writing to their fellow Jews and trying to convince them that they could accept Jesus as the Messiah and still remain Jewish. Matthew even indicates that the men should still be circumcised .
John’s teachings , as summed up in John 3:16 are just the opposite of those of the writers of Mark, Matthew and Luke. Whereas John welcomes anyone into the fold, Mark, Matthew and Luke write for and to Jews only. They see Jesus as the Jewish Messiah who has come to return Israel to its former glory.
The gospel identifies its author as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The text does not actually name this disciple, but by the beginning of the 2nd century a tradition began to form which identified him with John the Apostle, one of the Twelve (Jesus’s innermost circle). Today the majority of scholars do not believe that John or any other eyewitness wrote it and trace it instead to a “Johannine community” which traced its traditions to John; the gospel itself shows signs of having been composed in three “layers”, reaching its final form about 90-100 AD.
Click HERE to read about who really wrote John
The canonical gospels upon which the Christian faith is built, the ones which present the words of Jesus are writings by unknown authors writing to buttress the particular points they wished to make. The quotations allegedly from Jesus were most likely, made up by the authors to support their positions.
- The titles in our English Bibles are later additions; they are not original to the Gospels themselves.
- The Gospel narratives are always written in the third person.
- The tradition that they were written by two disciples (Matthew and John) and by two companions of the apostles (Mark and Luke) is first attested in the 2nd century!
- What we can say for certain about the authors is that they were all highly educated, literate, Greek-speaking Christians of (at least) the second generation, contrast this with the apostles of Jesus, who were uneducated, lower class, illiterate, Aramaic-speaking peasants.
Even IF the gospels had been written by the “eye-witness” apostles, Matthew and John, it is unlikely that they reported everything accurately. Remember that their “testimony” comes thirty years (Matthew) and sixty years (John) after the fact. This would-be “eyewitness” testimony is, at a minimum, 30 years after the events it purports to describe and the authors were in or nearing their dotage. In any event, recent research has found that eyewitness testimony is not reliable. Read an excerpt from an article entitled “34 Years Later, Supreme Court Will Revisit Eyewitness IDs” By Adam Liptak Published: August 22, 2011, NY Times.
Discrepancies And The Holy Spirit
Irrespective of the above, Christians argue that the authors of the Gospels and in fact the authors of all the books of the Bible, were guided by the Holy Spirit and therefore cannot be in error regardless of who wrote the words. We would like to throw out just a few of the discrepancies that one finds between the same story told by the different authors.
- For example, the accounts of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke are strikingly different from each other.
- In addition to major discrepancies in Luke’s and Matthew’s versions of the birth of Jesus, and his family’s relocation from Bethlehem to Nazareth, there are historical problems.
- These include the nature of the miraculous star in Matthew that leads the wise men to the exact location of Jesus’ birth, and the census in Luke that required knowing where one’s ancestors were from. Moreover, this census involved the entire Roman Empire, and there is no account of such a huge census anywhere except in Luke.
- The genealogy of Jesus given to us by Matthew is much different that the genealogy given by Luke.
- John has Jesus teaching for three years; Mark, Matthew and Luke present a one year ministry.
- Mark and Luke follow this with an account of teaching and healing in Galilee, then a trip to Jerusalem where there is an incident in the Temple climaxing with the crucifixion on the day of the Passover holiday.
- John, by contrast, puts the Temple incident very early in Jesus’ ministry, has several trips to Jerusalem, and puts the crucifixion immediately before the Passover holiday, on the day when the lambs for the Passover meal were being sacrificed in Temple.
- And the accounts of Jesus’ death in Mark and Luke are strikingly different.
Additional Proof Can be Found Here
A 606 page treatise entitled The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager completely presents the evidence for the fact that the Books of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were not written by who Christians think they were. The book presents massive evidence from real biblical scholars (those who did not attend Moody Bible College or Dallas Theological Seminary, et. al.) that the authorship of the Gospels is unknown.