My questions are about authorship of the gospelsWe know that the first man to say that the second gospel was written by Mark was Papias, However some skeptics say that it’s a long time between Mark (who may have died in 60s) and Papias (who may have been born at about the same time). It’s not probable that Papias met Mark, and some Muslims say that we don’t know how Papias knew this information. I know that he said that he knew this information from the presbyter John, but Muslims ask how did the Presbyter John know this information? They say that Presbyter John should say the source of his information and the source of his source… ending to Mark himself. Their Hadith is based on this way.

The case of Luke and John is more complicated because Papias didn’t say anything about them. The first to say that they were written by Luke and John was Irenaeus in 175 AC. Isn’t it a long time between Luke and John and Irenaeus? Another argument that I have read was that Irenaeus may not have thought that the apostle John the son of Zebedee was the writer of the fourth gospels because he always referred to the writer of the fourth gospel as “the disciple of the Lord” while he always referred to other disciples as “apostles”. Remember that Papias said that there were 2 Johns; John the apostle and John the the presbyter, so the fourth gospel may have been written by John the presbyter. Remember also that Eusebius said that the book of Revelation may have been written by John the presbyter.  What’s your opinion?


First of all, you need to remember that this Muslim person has zero interest in knowing the truth about these questions.  I know this from much experience with such people.  They are only trying to cause trouble so that they can sow doubts in your mind.  They are not open-minded, and they are not really interested in the serious question of who wrote these gospels.  They already believe that the gospels are corrupt, not because of the evidence, but because they were told by their mullahs, and because, as a Muslim, the gospels MUST be corrupt.  They already believe that Jesus was not crucified and that he did not claim to be God.  Then they look to the Bible, not to know what it says, but in order to prove what they already have decided.  You cannot have a reasonable or useful discussion with such people.  Anyone who believes that the gospels are SO corrupt that they get the death of Jesus wrong cannot take a single thing in the entire New Testament to have any validity.  They must believe that Paul was not even a real person and that none of the gospels have any factual information in them at all.  This view is completely insupportable from the evidence, yet they want to discuss the “evidence” with you!!!!   This is a purposeless discussion, unless they are willing to consider the possibility that their scripture—the Qur’an is not from Allah.  So, I will provide an answer, but be aware that this answer will almost certainly not help your Muslim friend.

About Mark.  The church father Papias tells us that the gospel was written by Mark (and that Matthew wrote Matthew).  He tells us this about fifty years after the gospel was written.  Is that a long time?  Well, I am sixty-three years old.  I can definitely remember the names of my teachers from middle school when I was 13 years old.  I guarantee you that there were people alive when Papias wrote these words who were alive and read Mark when it was originally written.  Could Papias have it wrong?  The answer is yes, he could have it wrong.  But if he has it wrong, it would not be because it was such a long time.  He would have it wrong because someone had started a false belief that Mark wrote it, and the rumor was passed along, and Papias believed the false rumor.  We cannot prove that Mark wrote the book of Mark.  It is very likely that he did.  The Church surely would have carefully guarded such information.  How did Papias know who wrote Mark?  The answer is that everyone in the Church knew Mark wrote Mark.  This was common knowledge of the day.  I say that there is a miniscule chance that they got it wrong, and besides, when Papias wrote, there were people still alive who knew Mark and knew who wrote the book.  This Muslim is trying to sew doubt in your mind where there is virtually no doubt.  They are not seeking truth here.  Besides, our faith is not based on who wrote Mark, but on whether the book is true.  The evidence is very strong that Mark wrote Mark, but we cannot prove it.  What we can prove is that its account of the death of Jesus is true and accurate, and therefore the Qur’an cannot be the inspired Word of God.  Mark was accepted by the Church as an inspired gospel by the end of the first century.  This is an indisputable fact.

The elder John does not have to tell his source just as I do not need to tell my source as to why I believe that Richard Nixon was president fifty years ago.  Everyone knows that Nixon was president fifty years ago.  Why would I need to quote a source on a piece of information that everyone knows is true?  These Muslims are demanding information which it is ridiculous to demand.   It would be like asking Ali in 690 AD to tell you his source for the information that Muhammad wrote the Qur’an.  Ali does not need to quote a source, because everyone knew who dictated the Qur’an.  This statement that “The Hadith is based on this way” is a complete non-sequitur.  This is mere rhetoric.  Many things about Muhammad were common knowledge in 690 AD just as the authors of the gospels were common knowledge when Papias wrote.  And remember, our faith that these accounts are true are not based on who wrote them.

The fact that Papias did not say who wrote Luke does not tell me much.  In fact, for all we know he did, but we simply do not have that particular statement.  It was the consensus of the Church all along that Luke wrote Luke.  Let us concede that Irenaeus is the first one to write this down (not true, by the way, but…).  What about it?  Here is the bottom line.  The whole Church since the first century had known that Luke wrote Luke.  What is the most reasonable conclusion?  It is that Luke wrote Luke.  In AD 150 everyone knew that Luke wrote Luke.  In AD 120 everyone knew that Luke wrote Luke.   In AD 90 everyone knew that Luke wrote Luke.  Does the Muslim have even the slightest evidence that anyone else wrote Luke?  Of course not.  So, where is the doubt coming from?  There is no reasonable doubt. So, why are we having this conversation?  Because the Muslim is trying to sew doubt where there is no reasonable doubt.  Besides, does it really matter who wrote Luke?  No, it does not. The only thing that matters is that what is said in Luke is true.  It is true that Jesus was killed on a cross, as Luke records and as the Qur’an denies.  Which is more reliable?  The book of Luke, written about AD 63, or a statement by an Arab merchant six hundred years later who never met a single one of the early Christians? Which should I believe more?   Besides, the reason we know that Luke wrote Luke is that in the Book of Acts he tells us that he wrote Acts and the Book of Acts is the sequel to the Book of Luke. All scholars agree that the same person wrote Acts and Luke.  So, the earliest witness that Luke wrote Luke is Luke himself.   Your Muslim friend is wrong to say that the first to say that Luke wrote Luke is Irenaeus.  Luke tells us that he wrote Luke.  His gospel is certainly at least as reliable as anything Irenaeus wrote. 

I will concede that from what Irenaeus wrote it is not an absolute slam dunk that John wrote John. True.  Irenaeus could possibly be wrong, but this was the consensus when he wrote in the mid-second century.  By the way, the information your Muslim friends have been feeding you is not correct.  Irenaeus was quite explicit about John and the Gospel of John.  Here is a quote from Irenaeus:  “Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who had also leaned upon his breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia” (taken from Against Heresies 3.1.1).  Clearly, Irenaeus believed that the apostle John, who was at the Lord’s Supper wrote a Gospel while living in Ephesus.  Could he be wrong?  I suppose he could be.  But who is more likely to be correct; Irenaeus who knew Papias who knew John or a Muslim critic two thousand years later? 

Again, who wrote John is not essential to Christian faith.  The book of John is inspired and the Book of John tells us that Jesus was crucified.  The Qur’an says that he was not crucified.  Which is the correct account?  The answer is so obvious that it does not even deserve discussion.  The Book of John has been an accepted inspired gospel from the beginning of the first century, as is shown by the dozens of quotes from it in the second century and as shown by the Rylands Papyrus from AD 130 in the Rylands library in Manchester.  This claim of Muslims that John is in doubt is a red herring.  Whether Papias knew only one John or two Johns is irrelevant to the most reasonable conclusion that John wrote John.  The author of John clearly claims to be the same John as the apostle John in the gospels.  Besides, remember that your Muslim friend has no interest in the actual answer.  All they want to do is sew doubt in your mind.  Is there any doubt at all who wrote the book?  Yes, there is some reasonable doubt.  Is there any reasonable doubt that Jesus claimed to be God or that he was crucified or that he was raised from the dead?  No, there is no reasonable doubt about this, so we are really wasting our time to debate over the small amount of doubt about whether John wrote John.  Who wrote is not the key question. The key question is whether what it says is true.  Even Muhammad admitted that the Injil was the inspired Word of God.  Muslims have no evidence that the Book of John of the Book of Luke was substantially corrupted, yet they say it anyway.  Such evidence-free claims are good reason to not listen to their evidence-free criticisms.

That is my response.

John Oakes

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