How do we know who wrote the Gospels?
B.C. from the U.S. writes:
Hi! I like using the resurrection of Christ when discussing with Atheists as I believe it’s the best evidence we have. I like Lita’s article on gospel reliability but the question always comes up about how we know the gospels were written by their namesakes. Lita provides good reasoning for gospel dates and links to other helpful articles but what’s the best evidence the gospels were written by their namesakes? And as a second question, whenever brought up, skeptics always ask for a list of scholars who believe this, so is there a good list of a few good scholars who believe this so I have it?
Thank you for your kind words. The Gospels are formally anonymous. While the letters of Paul, for instance, start with an explicit claim to authorship by the Apostle Paul, there is no such internal claim of authorship in the Gospels. The names come from very early, unanimous tradition. One reason that the traditional authorship is trustworthy is that we have lots of false gospels, and we know the sort of people they attribute them to—the very important characters from the New Testament like Peter, James, and John. Matthew was not very prominent in among the apostles, Mark was most famous for deserting Paul on a mission trip, and Luke was also one of Paul’s more minor assistants. John is the only prominent apostle who is credited with writing a Gospel, but again the tradition is very reliable, goes back to people who actually would have known John, and there was no other proposed author.
This is all important because we know that people cared about who an author of a document was. In ancient literature, you can see people disavowing things attributed to them that they did not write. 2 Thessalonians 2:2 has Paul repudiating a letter that someone wrote in his name. In many ways Bart Ehrman is a charlatan, but his survey of pseudonymity in ancient literature in Forgery and Counterforgery, which I reviewed for Journal of Creation, is actually quite helpful.
As for a list of scholars who maintain the traditional authorship, there are problems with even coming up with a list. Who qualifies as a scholar? Skeptics would dismiss the faculties of evangelical seminaries out of hand because they have a stake in maintaining their conservative credentials. But the sad fact is that there are more unbelievers in biblical studies than believers. For every D.A. Carson, there’s a Bart Ehrman. For every Douglas Moo, there’s a Marcus Borg. It’s rather sad, but we must remember that truth is not determined by majority vote. Just as biblical creation is true regardless of the majority of biologists who are evolutionists, the traditional authorship of the Gospels is true, and there is good evidence for it, despite there being many liberal scholars who would see such a stance as naive.
I would recommend reading the linked Journal of Creation review for some more in-depth information. I hope these few thoughts are helpful.