Who Wrote the Gospels?
May 17, 2009 48 Comments
“Enterprising spirits responded to this natural craving by pretended gospels full of romantic fables, and fantastic and striking details; their fabrications were eagerly read and accepted as true by common folk who were devoid of any critical faculty and who were predisposed to believe what so luxuriously fed their pious curiosity. Both Catholics and Gnostics were concerned in writing these fictions. The former had no motive other than that of a Pious Fraud.” Catholic Encyclopedia
How true are the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Can you trust them to be genuine and inspired? Well, for starters, they were not written by the Apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We don’t actually know who wrote them, but the men who did, did not know Jesus first hand, they were writing from oral stories being passed along. They were originally written in the Greek language from 30 to 65 years after Jesus was crucified. It is doubtful that any of the original Apostles could write Greek. In the world at that time reading literacy was probably 10% or less, writing literacy 2% to 3% and we don’t know that any of the Apostles were literate outside of their native Aramaic.
Outside of the Gospel of Matthew no other author, Biblical or otherwise, mentions that King Herod slaughtered children around Bethlehem or anyplace else in his kingdom. It seems to be a story made up by Matthew alone, perhaps like John makes up the account of Jesus’ death, to make some kind of theological point.
In Luke we have the story of an empire-wide census that has people traveling to birth places of their 1000 year removed ancestors…in itself a pretty silly premise. We happen to have very good records of the reign and times of Caesar Augustus, and there is no mention at all, outside of Luke, of such a census at anytime. Why on earth would Joseph or any other citizen of the empire have to return to an ancestral home they probably didn’t even know? Can you imagine the economic upset this would cause? I really doubt that Caesar Augustus was that stupid.
Another thing to consider is that Luke mentions that Quirinius was governor of Syria when Jesus was born. The other gospels say that Jesus was born during Herod’s reign. We know from several other historical sources, including Tacitus and Josephus and from several ancient inscriptions that Quirinius did not become governor of Syria until 6 AD, or 10 years after Herod died.
The genealogy of Jesus is also problematical. Matthew and Luke are the two gospels that give the family line of Jesus; one of the problems is that they disagree. Both of them trace his lineage through Joseph to the Jewish ancestors, but when you get to the end they disagree as to who is Josephs father, patrilineal grandfather, and great-grandfather. In Matthew the family line goes from Joseph to Jacob to Matthan to Eleazar to Eliud and into the past. In Luke it goes from Joseph to Heli to Mathat to Levi to Melchi and on into the past.
Another problem that is as big as the genealogy lineage is the ancestral heritage. Jesus was supposed to be in the line of David. The line of David comes through Joseph, but Joseph was not the father of Jesus, God was. Luke explicitly says that the bloodline is of Joseph, not Mary. There is no blood of David in Jesus. The two authors of the genealogies, of course, had no idea that their gospels would end up in a Bible and subject to side-by-side comparisons.
We are pretty certain that Mark was the first of the gospel writers and that Matthew and Luke got many of their stories from him…that is why there are so many verbatim agreements between them. In the story of the baptism of Jesus; Matthew, Mark, and Luke all agree that Jesus left immediately for the wilderness. John writes that on the next day Jesus was gathering his disciples around him and launched into his public ministry by turning wine into water.
Depending on which gospel you read Judas either hangs himself in remorse over betraying Jesus or he falls down and his bowels spill out over the ground. Matthew has him hanging, Luke in his writing in Acts has Judas falling and spilling his guts. There is major disagreement on two other points of the Judas story. Who purchased the field where he died…the Priests (Matthew) or Judas (Acts), and why was it called the field of blood…because it was purchased with blood money (Matthew) or because Judas bleed all over it (Acts).
We don’t have originals (autographs) of any of the four gospels, only copies, and in many cases these are copies made centuries later. For one part of the resurrection narrative scholars are pretty certain that the final twelve verses of Marks Gospel are not original and were added by scribes in a later generation. Three of the gospels have different endings for Jesus’ last words or time on the cross.
Another bunch of discrepancies is to be found in the resurrection stories of the Apostles. There seems to be very little agreement to any of them. All four agree that on the third day after the crucifixion Mary went to the tomb and found it empty, but on practically all other details they disagree.
Who went to the tomb?
Mary alone (John)
Mary and another Mary (Matthew)
Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus and Salome (Mark)
Women who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem…maybe Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary mother of James and others. (Luke)
Had the stone already been rolled away from the tomb?
An Angel rolled it away while the women were there (Matthew)
What or Who did they see there?
An Angel (Matthew)
A young man (Mark)
Two men (Luke)
No one (John)
What were the women told?
Tell the disciples to go to Galilee where Jesus will meet them. (Mark)
Remember what Jesus had told them while in Galilee, that he would die and rise again. (Luke)
Then the women tell the disciples what they heard and saw (Matthew)
They do not tell anyone (Mark)
These two different stories will have great significance later that appears to be irreconcilable.
If they tell someone, who is it?
The eleven disciples (Matthew)
The eleven disciples and “others” (Luke)
Simon Peter and another anonymous disciple (John)
What do the Disciples do?
Nothing because Jesus immediately appears to them (Matthew)
They do not believe the women (Luke)
They go to the tomb to see for themselves (John)
Remember that the writers of these stories had no idea that their works would end up side-by-side in a single book. The gospels aren’t written by who they say they are and there are many many discrepancies.
Do these books testify to an “inerrant word of God” being passed down?
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