What Do We Mean When We Say the Gospels Were Originally Anonymous?

By Stephen Bedard

Although many Christians accept that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the Gospels attributed to them, scholars will state emphatically that the Gospels were originally anonymous.

But what does that even mean?

When we hear that the Gospels were originally anonymous, very specific thoughts come to mind. It sounds as if no one knew who wrote the Gospels and that the church had to later pick some names to go with these writings.

While some scholars might believe that, that is not exactly what is meant by anonymous Gospels. All that scholars are saying is that no where in the text of the Gospel does it say who wrote it.

Let me illustrate by giving an example of a Gospel that is not anonymous. The first verse of the Gospel of Thomas says this: “These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down.”

I don’t know of any scholar who really believes that Thomas wrote that Gospel, but at least an author is identified. The same is not true for the canonical Gospels. The text itself is silent about the author (other than John being by the unidentified Beloved Disciple).

Does this mean that no one in the first century knew who wrote these Gospels? I’m not so sure about that…

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What Do We Mean When We Say the Gospels Were Originally Anonymous?