Unlike the epistles, which have the author's name at the beginning, the gospels do not say who wrote them. How did the names Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John get attached to them, and how certain can we be that these are the actual authors?

  • 1
    This sounds like 4 different questions :)
    – Flimzy
    Dec 14, 2011 at 7:10
  • 1
    This question is too broad, you should ask separate questions on particular authors and books. Dec 16, 2011 at 16:40
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    @LanceRoberts: That would be redundant. The same tradition gives us all four names. Dec 16, 2011 at 16:46

1 Answer 1


They are named that way by tradition and we cannot be 100% sure that the tradition is accurate.

  • While the early Christians say that Matthew was written in either Hebrew or Aramaic, more recent scholarship suggests otherwise. Our only sources, though, are from at least a half generation later.
  • The only evidence we have of Mark's authorship are writings over a generation later.
  • Luke/Acts's author can partially be inferred from contents of the New Testament, but we still can't be sure.
  • John also has tradition associated with it being written from Patmos (and there are some apocryphal stories which date back to the early Christian era), but the long and the short is that we can't even guarantee that everything attributed to John in the New Testament is actually by the same man.

Then there are questions like how does Q measure into this, or was their a Q to begin with? (My Hebrew professor actually believed in the traditional order Matthew-Mark-Luke). (Personally, my guess is that there actually was a gospel penned by Matthew in either Hebrew or Aramaic, it was then translated into the Greek and amended to become the Gospel we know today, the original would serve as Q, however. Of course, I am a programmer, not a theologian).

  • Is the Patmos tradition based solely on identifying the gospel writer with the author of Revelation? Dec 16, 2011 at 16:47
  • The documents for the location and circumstances of John the Evangelist in the late first century are better laid out here then I can explain here. Dec 16, 2011 at 17:06
  • There are 2 copies of Matthew in Hebrew (Aramaic is different and this is definitely Mishnaic Hebrew). I saw a copy of one of them. Both mss. are medieval but they raise the question of why would it be translated from Greek into Hebrew? There isn't a good answer for that one. However, going from Hebrew into Greek makes perfect sense as the church spread.
    – Frank Luke
    Mar 2, 2012 at 15:21
  • @FrankLuke My guess is that the original version, like Q, was lost... assuming it existed. Mar 2, 2012 at 15:55
  • @cwallenpoole, Sure. I think these two Hebrew copies of Matthew were copies of the lost Hebrew original.
    – Frank Luke
    Mar 2, 2012 at 16:55

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