Who Wrote the Gospels?

four-gospelsTimothy Paul Jones writes:

So who really wrote the Gospels? How do we know that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John dictated the books that bear their names? According to skeptics, these four first-century personalities had little or nothing to do with the four New Testament Gospels. One scholar of the more skeptical sort has described the process in this way:

[The New Testament Gospels] were written thirty-five to sixty-five years after Jesus’ death, … not by people who were eyewitnesses, but by people living later. … Where did these people get their information from? … After the days of Jesus, people started telling stories about him in order to convert others to the faith.[i] … When … Christians recognized the need for apostolic authorities, they attributed these books to apostles (Matthew and John) and close companions of apostles (Mark, the secretary of Peter; and Luke the traveling companion of Paul).[ii]

In other words, Christians didn’t connect the Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John because these individuals actually wrote the Gospels. Early believers fabricated these connections to make the documents seem more authoritative.

Now, it is indeed quite likely that the earliest Gospel manuscripts didn’t include titles in the manuscripts themselves (though the possibility titles on tabs hanging from manuscripts or inscribed at the end of each book should not be ruled out). But there’s a serious problem with the skeptics’ reconstruction.[iii] By the late first and early second century, the Gospels had spread throughout the Roman Empire.[iv]

If second-century Christians had simply added names to each Gospel to make that Gospel seem authoritative, what would have happened? (Remember, there was no centrally-recognized authority to force congregations to connect a certain name to each Gospel—no executive director, no denominational board, no international convention of Christians.[v] And it wasn’t as if one pastor could stop by an office and email fellow-pastors about how to name a certain Gospel!)

Here’s what would likely have occurred: One church might have dubbed a Gospel with the name of Andrew, for example, while another congregation ascribed the same Gospel to Peter or Thaddeus or Bartholomew. As a result, each Gospel might have a half-dozen—or more!—different names, depending on where your ship happened to land.

But that’s not even close to what we find when we look at the ancient manuscripts.

Here’s what we do find: Once titles begin to appear in the manuscripts, every titled manuscript of the Gospel that we know as Matthew identifies Matthew as the source. And this happens not only with the Gospel According to Matthew but also with the other New Testament Gospels. Although the precise form and wording of the titles may vary, every titled manuscript of the Gospel According to Mark identifies Mark as the Gospel’s author—and the same pattern also marks manuscripts of the Gospels According to Matthew, Luke, and John. The literary form of the titles changes from one manuscript to another, but the ascribed author remains the same in every titled manuscript.

How did this happen?

Here’s the explanation that seems to make the most sense: When churches received each Gospel, they also received information about that Gospel’s origins, telling them whose eyewitness testimony this Gospel represented. Because they received clear oral traditions when they received each book, when Christians began adding titles to these manuscripts, every congregation connected each Gospel to the same author.

They already knew where each Gospel came from. Nothing less can explain the early consistency of the titles.

Who Really Wrote the Gospels?

So it seems that, from the time when the texts first began to circulate, the content of the New Testament Gospels was thought to have originated with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If indeed Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the sources of the books that bear their names, each New Testament Gospel derives from eyewitness testimony about Jesus.

What’s recorded in the Gospel According to Mark is the testimony of Simon Peter, recalled and preserved by John Mark. Luke’s Gospel integrates written and oral sources gathered by Paul’s personal physician. The materials that are unique to the Gospel According to Matthew came from Matthew, a tax collector who deserted his profession to follow Jesus. And the stories in the Gospel According to John? They originated in John Bar-Zebedee—one of Jesus’ first followers.

[i] B. Ehrman and W. Craig, “Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?: A Debate between William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman” (March 28, 2006): Retrieved August 1, 2006, from .
[ii] Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 235.
[iii] In the New Testament world, a theretofore-unknown idea had been emerging for some time—the requirement that a trustworthy work be reliably connected to a specific author. Otherwise, the work was subject to suspicion as a forgery. See D. Dungan, Constantine’s Bible: Politics and the Making of the New Testament (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2007) 34-35, 47.
[iv] By the early to mid-second century, the Gospels had probably reached most, if not all, primary population centers of the Roman Empire by this time.
[v] The Easter controversy makes it clear that no universally-recognized authority figure existed in the second century. Two bishops of Rome—Anicetus and Victor—tried at different times in the second century A.D. to standardize the date of Easter celebrations among Christians. Yet churches in the eastern half of the Roman Empire—primarily Asia Minor—persisted in celebrating Easter at a different time than the churches around Rome. The matter was still not settled in the fourth century A.D., as is clear from the proceedings of the Council of Nicea. For various accounts of this controversy, see Raniero Cantalamessa, et al., Easter in the Early Church: An Anthology of Jewish and Early Christian Texts (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1993) 34-37; Eusebius, 5:23—28; Francis A. Sullivan, From Apostles to Bishops: The Development of the Episcopacy in the Early Church (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2001) 140-153.

I Have Many In This City

Acts 18:1-11

On leaving Athens, Paul comes to Corinth and finds a place to live, a place to work, and a place to preach. Perhaps discouraged at the thought of what awaited him, the Lord intervened by means of a vision.

Romans 9 – Look at the Book

Look at the Book is John Piper’s latest effort to help teach you to read the Bible for yourself. It’s an ongoing series of 8–12 minute videos in which the camera is on the text, not the teacher. As part of this new initiative, Desiring God is catalyzing regional events focused on certain passages of Scripture. Below, you can find all four sessions from our Look at the Book weekend on Romans 9.

Session 1: Has the Word of God Failed? (Romans 9:1–5)

The Word of God Has Not Failed // Session 1 from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Session 2: God’s Good Purpose in Election (Romans 9:6–13)

The Word of God Has Not Failed // Session 2 from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Session 3: God Has Mercy on Whomever He Wills (Romans 9:14–18)

The Word of God Has Not Failed // Session 3 from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Session 4: My Heart’s Prayer to God for You (Romans 9:19–10:4)

The Word of God Has Not Failed // Session 4 from Desiring God on Vimeo.

The United Work of the Trinity in Salvation


This excerpt is taken from Pillars of Grace by Steven Lawson

Divine sovereignty in salvation involves each of the three persons of the Godhead—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three work in perfect unity to rescue the same undeserving sinners. Within the Trinity, there is one saving purpose, one saving plan, and one saving enterprise. Those whom the Father chooses are precisely those whom the Son redeems and those whom the Spirit regenerates. The persons of the Godhead act as one Savior. The Trinity is not fractured in its saving activity. It is not divided in its direction and intent, as if each person of the Godhead seeks to save a different group of sinners. Instead, each member of the Trinity purposes and irresistibly proceeds to save one and the same people—God’s chosen people.

Sadly, many believe otherwise. They insist that the Father saves only the few sinners whom He foresees will believe in Christ, thus mistakenly confusing foreknowledge (Acts 2:23; Rom. 8:29–30; 1 Peter 1:2, 20), which means “forelove,” with mere foresight. They also imagine that Christ hypothetically died for all sinners—a different group from that which the Father saves—naively assuming there is only one meaning for the scriptural words world and all. They further claim that the Spirit saves yet another group, that is, some sinners whom He woos. Sadly, they mistake His internal, saving call (1 Cor. 1:2, 9) for a general, non-saving conviction (Heb. 6:4–5). According to this leaky scheme, the three persons of the Godhead are purported to be pursuing three different groups of individuals—few, all, and some. Thus, the persons of the Godhead are sorely divided in Their saving activity. Even worse, the sinner—not God—reigns as determinative in his or her salvation.

But the Bible teaches otherwise. Scripture reveals a perfect unity within the Trinity, a perfect oneness between the Father, Son, and Spirit in Their saving activities. God’s Word teaches that the Godhead acts as one Savior in saving one people. The truth is that man is not sovereign in salvation—God is.

All three members work together with absolute sovereignty and unwavering resolve to save the very same people for Their own glory.

This is accomplished through the free exercise of the supreme authority of all three members of the Trinity. Consider the part that each plays in this cohesive salvation.

The Sovereignty of the Father

Before the foundation of the world, God chose individuals—undeserving and unworthy though they are—to be the objects of His saving grace (2 Tim. 1:9). The apostle Paul writes, “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4a). That is to say, He chose His elect by Himself and for Himself—a sovereign choice not based on any foreseen good works or faith on their part. This divine election originated within Himself, by His own gracious choice (Rom. 9:16). For reasons known only to God, He selected whom He would save.

Having chosen His elect, the Father gave them to the Son before time began to be His royal inheritance. This gift was an expression of the Father’s love for the Son (John 6:37, 39; 17:2, 6, 9, 24). These chosen ones were selected for the highest purpose—that they would praise the Son forever and be conformed to His image (Rom. 8:29). The Father then, in eternity past, commissioned the Son to enter the world to purchase the salvation of the elect. Further, the Father directed the Holy Spirit to regenerate these same chosen ones. Thus, their salvation was foreordained and predestined by the sovereign will of God before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:5). The names of the elect were then written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 13:8; 17:8). Under the direction of the Father, all three persons of the Godhead irrevocably agreed to execute the salvation of these chosen people. This is the sovereign grace of God the Father in eternity past.

The Sovereignty of the Son

Having long ago received from the Father the individual names of the elect, Jesus Christ came into this world to purchase their salvation. With a singular intent, Christ purposed to die for His true church—those given to Him by the Father in eternity past. He declared, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15). Bound by devotion to His chosen bride, Christ “loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25b).

With this definite design in the cross, Jesus purchased with His own blood all those who were predestined to believe in Him (Acts 20:28). He did not merely make salvation possible. He did not make a hypothetical redemption. Rather, He actually saved. Christ was not shortchanged at Calvary, but acquired all those for whom He paid. Jesus truly secured eternal life for His sheep. Not one for whom He died will ever perish. This is the sovereign grace of God the Son two thousand years ago in His saving death.

The Sovereignty of the Spirit

Moreover, the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit into this world to apply the saving death of Christ to all the elect. As the gospel is proclaimed, the Spirit issues a special inward call to these chosen ones, those elected by the Father and redeemed by the Son. The Spirit powerfully regenerates their spiritually dead souls, raising them from the grave of sin to saving faith in Christ (Eph. 2:5–6). Jesus asserted, “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (John 6:37a). This saving enterprise is unalterably certain because God “draws” (6:44) all these “given ones” to Christ. The Spirit grants them repentance (2 Tim. 2:25) and authors saving faith within them (Phil. 1:29; 2 Peter 1:1).

In this effectual act, the Spirit opens the spiritually blind eyes of the elect to see the truth (2 Cor. 4:6). He opens their deaf ears to hear His voice (John 10:27). He opens their closed hearts to receive the gospel (Acts 16:14). He activates their dead wills to believe the saving message (John 1:13). The Spirit overcomes all resistance and triumphs in the hearts of the elect. This is the sovereign grace of God the Holy Spirit within time.

Why you can trust your Bible

Interview with Peter Williams here answering the following questions:

How should preachers and teachers handle Mark 16:9–20, which isn’t included in the earliest manuscripts?

How can churches better equip young people for challenges to their trust in Scripture?

Is inerrancy a helpful term?

How do you encourage Christians to trust their English Bibles are sufficient to equip them for every good work?

Are churches teaching people enough about humanity’s role in the transmission of the biblical texts?

What resources do you recommend for pastors and others on the trustworthiness of Scripture?

How do we know?

Dr. Michael Kruger is President and Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC. He is the author and editor of numerous books in defense of the Bible, including “The Question of Canon”, “Canon Revisited”, “The Heresy of Orthodoxy” and “Gospel Fragments”. In addition, he is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America.

Topic #1: The Self Authenticating Bible – How do we know the Bible is God’s Word?

Topic #2: “The Bible’s Missing Books?” – How do we know we have the right books in the Bible and why do we think that we do?

The Inflexible Schoolmaster

The Protestant Reformers were so certain of the importance of this doctrine (of Law and Gospel) that they declared that without it no one would be able to make sense out of Scripture. Martin Luther even declared of the person ignorant of this distinction that “you cannot be altogether sure whether he is a Christian or a Jew or a pagan, for it depends on this distinction.” – Hermann Sasse, Here We Stand: Nature and Character of the Lutheran Faith, trans. by Theodore G. Tappert, (New York: Harper & Bros., 1938). p. 114. Elsewhere Luther wrote, “Whoever knows well this art of distinguishing between the Law and the gospel, him place at the head and call him a doctor of Holy Scripture.”

“The true knowledge of the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is not only a glorious light, affording the correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, but without this knowledge Scripture is and remains a sealed book.” – C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.

Theodore Beza said that “confusion of law and gospel is one of the principal sources of the corruptions in the church.” Ursinus, primary author of the Heidelberg Catechism, said the same. The Bible will be an impenetrable mystery as long as we are confused about this.