Question:

Bart D. Ehrman says that the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) of the Christians Bible  don’t have names attached to them. The early church fathers who quote these gospels don’t say anything about them  being Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Here is what Ehrman claims: 1.The gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) don’t claim to be written by an eye witnesses or by people who knew eyewitnesses. The titles in our gospels were later added by later editor but not put by original authors.   2.None of the gospels claim to have been written by the persons whose names it bears. They don’t claim to be written by an eye witnesses and they don’t claim to be written by people named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This tradition  does not start appearing for about 100 years.   3. Irenaeus tells us that gospels which were widely being used don’t  have names to them. They were anonymous. The early church in the 2nd century got to associate them with the names of the apostles so they picked two people fraudulently Matthew and John as two of the apostles and appended the titles in the gospels.   4.Moreover, the early church in the 2nd century fraudulently represented the two chief apostles of Rome St. Peter and St. Paul. So, they associated fraudulently St. Peter version as written by Mark (St. Peter’s companion) and St. Paul version as written by Luke (St. Paul’s companion)   So, what they ( the early church in the 2nd century) did is they named these gospels in order to provide them with an apostolic credential which is completely fraudulent. Bart D.Ehrman says that the titles in our gospels( Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were added by a later editor not by the original authors (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Bart D. Ehrman also says that there are also lots of discrepancies in the gospels.   Is Bart D. Ehrman right?

Answer:

First of all, Ehrman is a top scholar and generally the facts he gives are accurate, but the interpretations he applies to these facts are often completely wrong. Ehrman is right to this extent: None of the gospels comes “signed” by its author.  That is true.  However, in the case of Luke and John, we can be very confident (but not sure) that Luke and John actually wrote these books, as I will explain below.  However, in the case of Mark and Matthew, the level of confidence that the actual Mark and the actual Matthew wrote these gospels is quite a bit less.  On balance, I would say that it is somewhat likely that the actual Mark and the actual Matthew wrote these, but I definitely would not stake a lot on this.  In other words, although it is absolutely true that the gospel authors did not sign these books, the implication that Ehrman gives to this fact is mere spin and it is deceitful spin at that.

Let us grant that we do not know absolutely for sure who wrote the four gospels.  Here is my question.  How would this change Christianity? I would say virtually not at all.  What matters is whether these books are true or not and whether they are from God or not, and not who wrote them.  Let us imagine that the Christians who told us that Mark wrote Mark were wrong.  How would that change Mark?  Since it is not signed by Mark, what is the significance of whether Mark wrote it? And what would be the significance if a second century believer happened to be wrong about who wrote these gospels (although I will argue below that this is not likely)? I say none at all, or perhaps more accurately, very little.

Now, let me look at the evidence.  The book of John was written by “the apostle Jesus loved.”  This is clearly John if you read the book.  John may not be signed by John, yet it is clear that John wrote it.  Either that or the one who did is deceiving us, but John is an inspired book–inspired by God, so clearly it is not a fake.  We can be very confident that John wrote John, even if we cannot “prove” it.  And John definitely was an eye-witness to the events!  So, Ehrman’s points are true, to some extent, but their implications are much less than he wants you to think.  The case is similar with Luke.  Even the most hardened skeptic will admit that whoever wrote Acts also wrote Luke.  It is true that neither book is signed.  However, by the fact that the author says “we” for the last ten chapters of Acts, we can be rather strongly assured that, unless the author is lying, the author is Luke.  Given that this is an inspired book–that it is inspired by God, then I say it is almost certain that it was written by Luke.

But… Ehrman would be right in this case, that Luke is not written by an eye-witness.  Actually, Luke was an eye-witness to much in the Book of Acts, but certainly not to the events in the life of Jesus. True, but here is my question.  Does this mean that Luke is a liar or that he is not a careful reporter of what happened?  Ehrman may be partially right in this case, but if Luke is inspired by God (and it is!), then what is the big deal here?  I say that in this case, what Ehrman says may be partially true, but it has no effect on our Christian belief at all.

Like I already said, we have less convincing evidence that Mark wrote Mark or that Matthew wrote Matthew.   This is true.  Nevertheless, it is not as if there is no evidence of their authorship.  And besides, as long as these books are inspired by God (and they are!) then, how does it affect our Christian faith?  I say that it does not at all.

So, I have conceded that the “proof” of authorship of these books (Mark and Matthew) is weaker, but it is not insignificant.  The fact is that it was the unambiguous consent of the churches in the middle of the second century that Mark was written by Mark and Matthew was written by Matthew.  Irenaeus knew Polycarp and Polycarp knew John.  Irenaeus, who believed Mark wrote Mark and Matthew wrote Matthew was a personal friend of a personal friend of the apostle John.  Is it possible Irenaeus was wrong? I suppose so, but the fact is that there were many believers alive in the second century who were also alive in the first century, and it was the consensus of those people that Mark wrote Mark and Matthew wrote Matthew.  Therefore, personally, I believe that Mark wrote Mark and Matthew wrote Matthew.  Given that Irenaeus knew Polycarp who knew John, the likelihood that he would be wrong about who wrote John is truly miniscule.  Yet Ehrman, which this anti-Christian bias, tries to spin the information (deceitfully, in my opinion) so as to imply that second century believers dishonestly attributed it to John.

Is it possible that these second century believers were wrong?  Yes it is, but it seems to me rather unlikely.  But please remember this: neither book is signed, so there is nothing at stake in this if in fact these books are inspired by God.  But that is the point.  Mark is inspired by God, as is Matthew.  In the end, what does the information coming from Ehrman do?  I say that it does virtually nothing to affect our confidence in the inspiration of the Bible and the accuracy of the accounts.  Two of the gospels were written by eye-witnesses and Mark was probably an eye-witness to some of the events, but was not an apostle.  Luke was a very careful researcher and historian.  We can be very confident in the four gospels.

In the above statements, you say that Ehrman claims it is fraudulent that Mark was written by Mark.  What is the evidence for this? I see zero evidence to support this libelous claim.  What is the evidence that Luke’s authorship is fraudulent?  This is a completely bogus and unsubstantiated claim.  It is absolutely unethical to make such an outrageous claim.  If we say that there is some doubt about the authorship of Mark, that is fine.  No problem.  Let us say that there is a small probability that the second century Christians got it wrong.  To say that they are mistaken is one thing, but to charge them with fraud????  This is unacceptable and no responsible person should say this.  You can utterly discount this spurious charge.

If Ehrman is saying that these names are fraudulent, then he should be ashamed of himself.  In fact, I am pretty sure he never said this.  I am pretty sure that someone else–someone very unscrupulous–is putting these words in Ehrman’s mouth, which is not acceptable.  This person owes Ehrman an apology and this person owes you an apology.  Good luck getting such an apology, however.  To say that there is some room for doubt as to authorship is not only acceptable, it is the correct thing to do.  But to charge second century Christians with fraud is irresponsible and such people should be called out for such bad behavior.  To say that someone might be mistaken is ethical and right, but to accuse of fraud with no evidence to support deceit, especially when common sense says that it is fairly likely that Mark wrote Mark is irresponsible.

My final comment. As I said above, the fact is that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are inspired books is established by the content of the books themselves.  Jesus walked on water, raised the dead, lived a sinless life and was himself raised from the dead.  The same God who brought about these events also caused the four gospels to be written.  Please do not let the somewhat leading, but mostly true statements by Ehrman obscure the truth, which is that these four gospels are the inspired word of God.

John Oakes

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