Manuscript Evidence Proves the Gospels Were Not Anonymous

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Skeptical New Testament scholars argue that the Four Gospels in our New Testament are anonymous. There was no original “Gospel According to Matthew,” and the same goes for Mark, Luke, and John. Their titles were left blank originally. Or so the theory goes.

These four gospels allegedly were distributed without titles for almost a hundred years before scribes attached them to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, well after these apostles were dead. Names got assigned to give the four gospels more prestige. Skeptics like Bart Ehrman go on to conclude that because these books were anonymous, they probably aren’t based on eyewitness testimony.

While many NT critics have latched onto this anonymous Gospel theory, I believe that it suffers from some serious flaws. Let’s take a look.

There are no anonymous copies of the four gospels

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Source: The Case for Jesus, Brant Pitre, p 18

The anonymous gospel theory strains credulity

You have a book floating around the Roman Empire without a title for nearly a century. But somehow, at some time, it ends up being associated with the same author repeatedly — in fact, every single time. We have 0 traces of disagreement.

And this didn’t just happen once — it happened four different times, throughout the vast Roman Empire. Somehow, by sheer luck, Christians living in Africa, Rome, Syria, and so forth attributed these gospels to the same four guys. All this without the help of email, text, social media, or Google.

If the anonymous gospel theory were correct, we’d expect to see at least some disagreement over who wrote what. But we have no contradictory titles. We don’t have a ‘Gospel According to Mark’ attributed to someone like Peter, Andrew, Simon the Zealot, Bartholemew, or whomever.

Why Mark and Luke?

Also, think about the book of Hebrews for a moment. People throughout church history have debated over who wrote it. Was it Paul? Barnabas? Timothy? We do have ancient manuscripts attributing Hebrews to all three of these different writers. To this day we have no idea who wrote Hebrews. But there is no debate in church history about who wrote the four Gospels.

The anonymous gospel theory fails

New Testament scholar Martin Hengel was on the nose when he wrote:

“Let those who deny the great age and therefore the basic originality of the Gospel superscriptions in order to preserve their “good” critical conscience give a better explanation of the completely unanimous and relatively early attestation of these titles, their origin and the names of the authors associated with them. Such an explanation has yet to be given, and it never will be.” The Four Gospels and One Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 55

Originally published at https://isjesusalive.com on December 15, 2020.

Written by

I am the Reasonable Faith Chapter Director in Cedar Rapids and the writer for isjesusalive.com. I’m interested in the intersection of Christianity and history.

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