Timothy McGrew Lecture: Who Wrote the Gospels?

I’ve often seen people challenge the authorship of the gospels and I found a superb lecture on the traditional view of this. This is lecture one in a series done by Dr. Timothy McGrew, who is a philosophy teacher at Western Michigan University. In it, he gives various angles on why the the gospels really aren’t from anonymous sources as charged, he cites internal and external evidence, which includes “hostile” witnesses, writings from early Christians etc. On the Apologetics 3:15 website, you can find more information on this. Enjoy!

Time-stamps for the lecture:

■4:38 He will appeal to only evidence and criteria that can be applied to any historical document, without inserting theology.

■7:40 Assessing Genuineness

External tests
•Attributions of authorship
•Early use in other works
•Integration with other historical sources

Internal tests
•Overall consistency
•Undesired coincidences
•Other internal marks of authenticity (“fingerprints” of the author)

10:44 In 400 AD Faustus had an argument with St. Augustine on Christianity. This is the first record we have of a person by name, denying that the gospels weren’t written by the names attributed to them.

■11:16 Augustine’s criterion for authorship
•Why does no one doubt the genuineness of the books attributed to Hippocrates? •”[B]ecause there is a succession of testimonies to the books from the time of Hippocrates to the present day, which makes it unreasonable either now or hereafter to have any doubt on the subject.”

■11:24 “How do we know the authorship of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Varro and other similar writets, but by the “unbroken” chain of evidence?” -Against Faustus 33:6 (AD 400) WE HAVE THE SAME CHAIN OF EVIDENCE FOR THE GOSPELS

■12:18 The early attestations of authorship (a partial list, not all that exist)
•Tertullian of Carthage (~207)
•Clement of Alexandria (~180)
•Irenaeus of Lyons (~180)
•Muratorian Fragment (~170)
•Justin Martyr (~150)
•Papias of Hierapolis (~125) (John the disciple died at the turn of the first century)

■14:00 What Tertullian tells us (~207)
•The Gospels were written by Matthew and John, who were apostles, and Luke and Mark, who were “apostolic men.” Mark’s Gospel is the record of Peter’s preaching. •They tell the same basic facts about Jesus, including his virgin birth and his fulfillment of prophecy.
•They bore the names of their authors from antiquity, and the ancient churches vouch for them and no others. (Churches that Paul founded)

■17:00 What Clement tells us (~180) (lived in Egypt)
•Mark wrote his Gospel, by request, from his knowledge of Peter’s preaching at Rome.
•Matthew and Luke were published first; they are Gospels containing genealogies. •John’s Gospel was the last one to appear. It was written at the urging of his friends.

■18:00 What Irenaeus tells us (~180) (lived in France)
•Matthew’s Gospel was the first one written; it was originally written on the “Hebrew dialect”.
•Mark, a disciple of Peter, handed down in his Gospel what Peter had preached.
•Luke, a companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him.
•John, the disciple of the Lord, published a Gospel while living at Ephesus in Asia.

■19:00 The Muratoria fragment (~170)
•The early part is lost, but virtually all scholars agree that it referred to Matthew and Mark.
•Luke, the physician and companion of Paul, wrote his Gospel from the reports of others, since he had not personally seen Jesus.
•John, who was an eyewitness, wrote his Gospel after the rest, at the urging of some friends.

■20:24 There is no other tradition of the authorship of the gospels.

■22:00 What Justin Martyr tells us (~150)
•The Christians possessed “memoirs” of Jesus, which were also called “Gospels”
•These were written by apostles and by those who were their followers.
•They tell us of such events as the visit of the Magi at Jesus’ birth and his agony in Gethsemane.
•Justin’s pupil, Tatian, produced a harmony of our four Gospels, the Diatessaron. (We didn’t have a copy of this Diatessaron, meaning four, until the 19th century)

■25:40 There was an enemy of Christianity named Celsus (lived in the second century) and he mocked Christianity profusely. Every single point that he names to attack, comes from the four gospels. Nothing he writes comes from the Gnostic gospels or anything else. To reinforce the point, he said: “I could have written many other things about Jesus but I have chosen these things from your own writings in order to wound you with your own weapons.” (We have a hostile non believer, verifying that these writings (the gospels) were considered to be the only authoritative records of the life of Jesus, by the church at the time of his writing in the second century)

■27:27 What Papias tells us (~125) (As quoted by Esubius)
•Mark, having been the interpreter of Peter, wrote down what Peter had preached accurately, though not necessarily in order.
•Matthew wrote “oracles” (a reference to his whole Gospel? to the sayings of Jesus?) in the Hebrew language.

■29:30 The writings of such men as Papias, Martyr, Irenaeus etc come from the four corners of the Roman empire; spread out, not from some centralized location. (This is not a case of comparing notes to make a story fit)

■33:15 Early use of the four Gospels
•Many early writers make use of the Gospels without naming or describing their authors.
•This evidence takes us back even earlier than the evidence of attribution.
•For these authors to make use of the Gospels as authoritative sources means that they expected their audience to recognize their quotations and allusions and to accept them as authentic.

■34:37 A few examples of early use of the Gospels
•Ignatius, Letter to Polycarp (~107): “In all circumstances be ‘wise as a serpent’, and perpetually ‘harmless as a dove.’” Cf. Matt. 10:16.
•Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians (~108): “[B]lessed are the poor and those persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.” Cf. Luke 6:20.

The witness of Basilides (~125) (He was a Gnostic heretic, not even a Christian but still is using scriptures)
•”That each man has his own appointed time, he says, the Savior sufficiently indicates when he says, ‘My hour is not yet come.’” Cf. John 2:4.
•”…this, he says, is what is mentioned in the Gospels: ‘He was the true light, which lights every man coming into the world.’” Cf. John 1:9.

■38:38 Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians (~108) quotes from or alludes to:
-1 Corinthians
-2 Corinthians
-1 Thessalonians
-2 Thessalonians
-1 Peter
(Polycarp was a disciple of John)

■39:54 (View the “Early use of the Gospels and Acts” chart)

■41:05 The so called missing “gospels” (Gnostic works/books) of the Bible were almost entirely ignored by all of the early sources.

■42:04 Early use: summary of the facts
•The four Gospels and Acts are used copiously by the early church fathers.
•Even heretics tacitly acknowledged their genuineness, which they would have not done if they could help it.

■42:18 Justin Martyr on the reading of scripture
•”And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits;…” –First Apology, ch. 67
•For the Gospels to be read as scripture in weekly service, they must have been extremely highly regarded and well known to Christians throughout the world.

■45:00 Bart Ehrman on Matthew’s description of Matthew
•Matthew’s Gospel is written completely in the third person,…Even when this Gospel narrates the event of Matthew being called to become a disciple, it talks about “him”, not about “me.” –Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted (The first gospel speaks of Matthew in the third person)
•Matthew 9:9: As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

A very old argument
•Around the year AD 400, Augustine encountered this very argument from the Manichean Faustus.
•”Faustus thinks himself wonderfully clever in proving that Matthew was not the writer of this Gospel, because, when speaking of his own election, he says not, He saw me, and said to me, Follow me; but, He saw him, and said to him, Follow me…”

■45:26 Bart Ehrman, meet Augustine
•”This must have been said either in ignorance or from design to mislead. Faustus can hardly be so ignorant as not to have read or heard that narrators, when speaking of themselves, often use a construction as if speaking of another. It is more probable that Faustus wished to bewilder those more ignorant than himself, in the hope of getting hold on not a few unacquainted with these things.” –Augustine, Against Faustus 17.1.4

■46:56 Xenophon refers to himself in the third person throughout the Anabasis
•”There was in the army a certain Xenophon, an Athenian, who accompanied the army neither as a general nor as a captain nor as a private soldier; but Proxenos, an old acquaintance, had sent for him.”
–Xenophon, Anabasis 3.1
–See also Anabasis 1.8.15; 2.5.40; 3.1.10, 47, etc.
–See also Caesar’s Commentaries, Josephus’s Jewish War, Nicolaus’s History, Dexippus’s Scythia, etc.

■48:07 Bart Ehrman on the tension between Matthew and John
•In Matthew, there is not a word about Jesus being God; in John, that’s precisely who he is. –Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted

Let’s check Matthew on that…
•Matthew 1:3: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
•Isaiah 9:6: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. {cross reference} Matthew a Jew speaking to Jews clearly is making a point on who Jesus really is.
•Matthew 3:3: For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of the one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’”
•Isaiah 40:3: A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” {cross reference}
•Matthew 9:2-6: And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.”… (The Jews knew that only God can forgive sins)
•”But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”

■45:00 Bart Ehrman on the authors of the Gospels
•[T]heir ignorance of Palestinian geography and Jewish customs suggests that they composed their works somewhere else in the empire… —Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted

An example of an “error” in Mark
•”Mark 7:3 indicates that the Pharisees ‘and all the Jews’ washed their hands before eating, so as to observe ‘the tradition of the elders.’ This is not true: most Jews did not engage in this ritual.” —Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted

■53:40 What’s the evidence that Mark is wrong?
•In Exodus 30:18-21; 40:30-32 and Leviticus 20:1-16, the priests are called to observe hand washing practices, but the people in general are not.
•But did the Jews of Jesus’ time, who were heavily influenced by the Pharisees, engage in the practice even though the written Law did not require it of them? (The second temple period Jews, were fanatical and put all kinds of restrictions on people. Like making people ceremonially wash their hands, calling it law?)

■53:23 Evidence from the Gospel of John
•John 2:6: Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
•Perhaps John, too, is just in error about Jewish practices?

■57:14 Some Jewish evidence
•”And as is the custom of all the Jews, they washed their hands in the sea and prayed to God,…” –Letter of Aristeas (~200 BC), sec. 305
•The law “does not look upon those who have even touched a dead body, which has met with a natural death, as pure and clean, until they have washed and purified themselves with sprinklings and ablutions;…” Philo (~AD 30), The Special Laws 3.205
•See also the Mishnah, tractates m. Yadayim 1.1-2.4, m. Hagigah 2.5-6, etc.

■59:40 Modern scholarly opinion
•The concepts of purification and impurity were central to Jewish life in Jesus’ day.
•They applied to everyone—priest and peasant, rich and poor, Pharisee and Sadducee and sectarian.
•Jews in the “diaspora” observed these rituals at least as concerns hand washing.

About Razor Swift

The mission of Razor Swift is to open hearts and minds through apologetics, sharing the Christian worldview with reasoned answers while encouraging those in the faith.
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