Skeptics say “we don’t know who wrote the gospels, but it wasn’t Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John”. They’re using a double standard.
Double standards are the worst.
Have you ever been on the other side of a double standard? Of course, you have.
Take for example the subject of women’s breasts. OK, that was me shamelessly trying to get your attention. But now that I got your attention, hear me out. In America, it’s perfectly acceptable for breasts to be on display on newsstands in the grocery aisle. But if you pull a breast out at Walmart to feed a baby — you know, what breasts were actually made for — you’ll get all kinds of awkward looks. My wife can attest to this. It often meant she’d have to go sit in the backseat of a cold van to nurse one of our kids. During the Iowa winter, that’s not fun.
OK, so what does that have to do with the gospels? Because when it comes to the gospels, there are huge double standards. They are presumed to be guilty until proven innocent. Normal ways of doing history seemingly get thrown out the window. And a big example of this is when it comes to the debate authorship of the gospels.
We have very good external evidence that the gospels were written by the names traditionally ascribed to them — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Let me just quote to you some of the early church fathers.
Tertullian of Carthage (ca. 160–225; Against Marcion 4.2.1–2):
“I lay it down to begin with that the documents of the gospel have the apostles for their authors, and that this task of promulgating the gospel was imposed upon them by the Lord himself. . . . In short, from among the apostles, John and Matthew implant in us the faith, while from among the apostolic men Luke and Mark reaffirm it.”
Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150–215; Adumbrationes in Epistolas Canonicas on 1 Peter 5:13):
“Mark, the follower of Peter, while Peter was publicly preaching the gospel at Rome in the presence of some of Caesar’s knights and uttering many testimonies about Christ, on their asking him to let them have a record of the things that had been said, wrote the Gospel that is called the Gospel of Mark from the things said by Peter, just as Luke is recognized as the pen that wrote the Acts of the Apostles and as the translator of the Letter of Paul to the Hebrews.”
Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 130–200; Against Heresies 3.1.1–2; cf. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History5.8.1–4):
“So Matthew brought out a written gospel among the Jews in their own style, when Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel at Rome and founding the church. But after their demise Mark himself, the disciple and recorder of Peter, has also handed on to us in writing what had been proclaimed by Peter. And Luke, the follower of Paul, set forth in a book the gospel that was proclaimed by him. Later John, the disciple of the Lord and the one who leaned against his chest, also put out a Gospel while residing in Ephesus of Asia.”
Papias of Hierapolis (ca. 125 AD, Recorded in Eusebius 3.39)
“So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able.”
“Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely.”
Muratorian Fragment. (ca. 175 AD)
“The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke. Luke, the well-known physician, after the ascension of Christ, when Paul had taken with him as one zealous for the law, composed it in his own name, according to [the general] belief. Yet he himself had not seen the Lord in the flesh; and therefore, as he was able to ascertain events, so indeed he begins to tell the story from the birth of John. The fourth of the Gospels is that of John, [one] of the disciples.”
So we have early external confirmation of our four gospels where they mention the writers by name. These attestations come from church leaders in just about all four corners of the Roman empire.
I could go into a lot of details of how often the gospels are quoted in the Christians writers of the late first century and second century, but here’s a link to a chart that has all of it for you.
The Double Standard of Biblical Critics
Under normal circumstances, this is crazy good info. But we’re talking about the gospels, and they don’t get a free pass.
Critics will say the authors’ names were just added later to add authority. We don’t know who wrote the gospels. They were just people writing far away from the events.
These gospel writers were compiling, redacting and even inventing various traditions in order to confirm their faith. They certainly weren’t written by eyewitnesses or people who had real access to eyewitnesses. Bart Ehrman is a bestselling author who has written several books criticizing the gospels. He sums it up like this:
“A further reality is that all the Gospels were written anonymously, and none of the writers claims to be an eyewitness. Names are attached to the titles of the Gospels (‘the Gospel according to Matthew’), but these titles are later additions to the Gospels, provided by editors and scribes to inform readers who the editors thought were the authorities behind the different versions. That the titles are not original to the Gospels themselves should be clear upon some simple reflection. Whoever wrote Matthew did not call it ‘The Gospel according to Matthew.’ The persons who gave it that title are telling you who, in their opinion, wrote it. Authors never title their books ‘according to.’
So despite all the external confirmation that we have to the authorship and early use of the four gospels, that’s not good enough. We gotta view these books with a ton of skepticism and find ways to dismiss the external evidence. Yet this “no one knows who really wrote the gospels” isn’t anything new. But it’s notable that it wasn’t a criticism brought forward until around 400 AD by a guy named Faustus.
Now there were all kinds of critics of Christianity that we have a record of in the first three centuries of the church. Yet no one challenges who wrote the gospels until 400? Huh. Isn’t that interesting?
Augustine went full Thug Life with this objection. And I quote:
“Why does no one doubt the genuineness of the books attributed to Hippocrates? Because there is a succession of testimonies to the books from the time of Hippocrates to the present day, which makes it unreasonable either now or hereafter to have any doubt on the subject. How do we know the authorship of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Varro, and other similar writers, but by the unbroken chain of evidence?”
In other words: “double standards much!?!”. Historians normally drool over the kind of evidence we for the authorship of the gospels. It’s early. It comes from writers from all over the Roman empire. And there’s no rival tradition.
There’s a great book on this topic written in the 1800’s by a guy named Andrews Norton. You can even read it for free. Exposing the hypocrisy, he joins Augustine in going full thug life when he says:
“About the end of the second century, the Gospels were reverenced as sacred books by a community dispersed over the world, composed of men of different nations and languages. There were, to say the least, sixty thousand copies of them in existence; they were read in the churches of Christians; they were continually quoted, and appealed to, as of the highest authority; their reputation was as well established among believers, from one end of the Roman empire to the other, as it is at the present day among Christians in any country. But it is asserted, that, before that period, we find no trace of their existence; and it is therefore inferred, that they were not in common use, and but little known, even if extant in their present form. This reasoning is of the same kind as if one were to say that the first mention of Egyptian Thebes is in the poems of Homer. He, indeed, describes it as a city which poured a hundred armies from its hundred gates; but he is the first mention of it, and therefore we have no reason to suppose, that, before his time, it was a place of any considerable note.”
OK, so it’s bible nerd thug life, but it’s still pretty gangsta. Normal history just isn’t done the way many biblical critics do history. Not when it comes to this issue. It’s an obvious double standard, and I’m guessing it’s because miracles are just hard for people to deal with. And what the gospels ask for — our very lives — stands to upend our comfort. Yet it’s also the greatest news ever. Death has been defeated. Our sins are forgiven. What’s not to like?
Away with double standards.
For more, here’s a detailed lecture of the genuineness of the gospels by Dr. Tim McGrew. It goes into great detail of the external confirmations I mentioned here:
And here’s a short video by Dr. Michael Kruger, with some other arguments I didn’t mention here: