The Gospels Were Not Anonymous

by Craig Dunkley

The Christian church teaches that the four canonical gospels—the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ birth, teachings, death, and resurrection—were written by eyewitnesses to the events they describe, or by persons with access to eyewitness testimony.  Church history tells us that the gospels of John and Matthew, for example, were written by two of Jesus’ original twelve disciples.  The Gospel According to Mark was written, we are told, by a follower of Peter, another disciple.  Finally, The Gospel According to Luke was apparently written by a companion of Paul who interviewed disciples and other eyewitnesses.  As a result, the church argues that these documents reflect direct, eyewitness testimony, and are reliable historical documents.

The Critics “Know” A Lot

However, many people reject the idea that the gospels are eyewitness accounts.  They argue that the gospels were written anonymously by non-eyewitnesses many decades after the events they describe.  As a result, they contain significant amounts of legendary material and are not reliable as historical documents.

These skeptics cite several reasons to support their argument.  They tell us that none of the authors’ names appear in the manuscripts themselves.  In addition, the names Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not even associated with the gospels until the 2nd century A.D., most likely after the church assigned those names to them in order to bolster their credibility.  Some have argued that the similarity in format of the titles themselves (The Gospel According to Matthew, The Gospel According to Luke, etc.) is evidence that those titles were created by a central authority—the Church—and assigned to the documents.

The idea that the gospels were anonymous has been held by skeptical New Testament scholars for many decades, though more recent scholarship is changing that.  As scholar Richard Bauckham explains…

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