Are the Four Gospels Anonymous?
By Carey Bryant
If you open a Bible to the first page of the Gospel of Matthew, you will usually see the words “The Gospel According to Matthew.” Verse 1 of the gospel, however, begins with “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.” Have you ever wondered why “The Gospel According to Matthew” isn’t part of the first verse?
Most scholars think that the original gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John didn’t included their names in them. In other words, when the Gospel of Matthew was originally written, the document didn’t say “The Gospel According to Matthew” like it does in our English Bibles. This would be different compared to most of the epistles in the New Testament, which contain the name of the author. So in this sense, the four gospels were probably anonymous when they were first written.
With that said, there is no evidence that the four gospels ever circulated without their titles. But if the four gospels were originally anonymous, how and when did the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John become attached to their respective gospels? What do we make of this?
Before we look at how these names became attached to the gospels, what does the New Testament say about these four people? What can we learn about them?
The first gospel refers to Matthew as “the tax collector” (Matt. 10:3). Levi, one of Jesus’ followers, was called from his role as a tax collector in Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27. All three synoptic gospels name Matthew as one of the apostles (Matt. 10:2-4; Mark 3:16; Luke 6:13-16). It is reasonable to think that Matthew and Levi are the same person: a tax collector and one of Jesus’ apostles.
A man named John Mark is mentioned in Acts (12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; 15:37) and in four of the New Testament epistles (Col. 4:10; Philemon 24; 2 Tim. 4:11; 1 Peter 5:13). According to Acts 13, (John) Mark traveled with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey but left before it ended for unknown reasons. Peter refers to Mark as his son, indicating that they had a close relationship.
Luke is a companion of Paul and is mentioned in three of Paul’s letters (Col. 4:10-14; 2 Tim. 4:11; Philemon 24). The Colossians passage is significant because it calls Luke “the beloved physician.” It can also be inferred from this passage that Luke was a Gentile Christian, since he wasn’t included in Paul’s list of “the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers.” It is generally agreed upon that the author of Luke also wrote the book of Acts. The latter half of Acts contains several “we” passages indicating that the author joined Paul at some point in his travels.
The fourth gospel comes the closest to naming its author…
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