The traditional authors of the canonical Gospels—Matthew the tax collector, Mark the attendant of Peter, Luke the attendant of Paul, and John the son of Zebedee—are not held to be the Gospels’ actual authors by the majority of mainstream New Testament scholars. Christian apologists nevertheless produce a lot of material advocating the view that the Gospels are the eyewitness testimonies of either Jesus’ disciples or their attendants. Much of the general public is unfamiliar with the mainstream scholarly view that the Gospels are anonymous works, written in a different language than that of Jesus, in distant lands, after a substantial gap of time, by unknown persons compiling, redacting, and inventing various traditions in order to provide a faith narrative of Christianity’s central figure, Jesus Christ. While Matthew Wade Ferguson has previously discussed why scholars do not consider the Gospels to be historical documents, in this essay he explores a number of internal and external reasons why scholars doubt the traditional authorial attributions of the Gospels.
Published on the Secular Web
Unlike historical writing, the New Testament Gospels read like ancient prose novelistic literature. Outside of Luke, the Gospel authors say nothing about any textual sources for Jesus that they consulted, and even Luke does not name, explain, or discuss the relevance of any historical sources. In fact, Luke only mimics historical prose for a few brief lines before merely venerating Jesus in the stories that he relates. None of the Gospel authors explain how they came to learn of the alleged events that they relate (though John claims an unnamed eyewitness disciple of Jesus that he probably invented). Instead, the Gospels narrate “events” from an all-knowing perspective that places them within a literary genre unlike that of actual historical works from antiquity. In this essay Matthew Wade Ferguson discusses ten important ways in which the Gospels fall short of the research, independent corroboration, methodology, and critical investigation typical of the historical writing of their time.