Who Wrote Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?
Different Opinions on Jesus – who to believe?
Many people today have an opinion about who Jesus really was and what he
taught. Muslims say that Jesus was a prophet, a miracle worker, but not
the Son of God. They even deny he was crucified. The Qu’ran makes various
claims about what Jesus said and did. But the author of the Qu’ran did
not see any of these things as an eyewitness.
New Agers and cult leaders also have a great deal to say about Jesus.
There is even a writing entitled, “The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ”.
Again, this is channelled literature. It was not penned by an eyewitness.
It also makes claims about Jesus – his message and ministry – casting Christ
as a new age teacher.
It seems that many want to get up and make claims about Jesus. Even
the Church of Scientology, well known for its mind bending techniques,
has a place in its system for Jesus. According to them, Jesus Christ comes
at about two thirds up their chart of psychic attainments. Was this assessment
based on eyewitness information about Christ? Of course it wasn’t.
The Importance of Eyewitnesses
If we want to know who Jesus really was, we would do well to find eyewitness
accounts of his life and ministry. The evidence of eyewitnesses
always counts for more in a court of law than hearsay evidence. So, in
your decision about Jesus Christ, who He is or isn’t, you would do well
to consider the accounts of the eyewitnesses.
Christians claim that we have preserved the accounts of eyewitnesses,
or, in the case of Mark and Luke, the reports of those who had access to
the lives of the eyewitnesses and were able to record these stories accurately
and faithfully. This is a very important claim. The accounts of these eyewitnesses
are also known as the four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Who were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?
But who were these people, and did they really pen the books which bear
Matthew (who was also known as Levi) was a Jewish tax collector who
became a disciple of Jesus. He was actually chosen as one of the twelve
apostles. We don’t know a whole lot more about Matthew from the Bible.
He didn’t talk a lot about himself in his gospel. That in itself is interesting.
Usually when people write a story in which they were personally involved,
they draw attention to themselves. But not Matthew. He was focusing almost
entirely in his gospel on who Jesus was, and what Jesus did. Matthew sought
to demonstrate to Jewish readers that Jesus was the long promised Messiah,
the King of Israel, the Son of David.
Irenaeus wrote in about 180 A.D., “Matthew published his own Gospel
among the Hebrews in their own tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching
the gospel in Rome and founding the church there. After their departure,
Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us
in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching.”
Mark was a young man at the time of the events he recorded in his gospel.
Papias, an early Christian, wrote in about A.D. 125, specifically affirming
that Mark had carefully and accurately recorded Peter’s eyewitness observations
concerning the life and ministry of Jesus.
So Mark’s gospel was a recording of an eyewitness account. We know a
few other things about Mark from the New Testament. He accompanied Paul
and Barnabas at the beginning of one of their missionary journeys. It is
likely, but not certain, that Mark’s family owned the Garden of Gethsemane
where Jesus was betrayed, because Mark was there in the garden when Jesus
was arrested, and was forced to run off naked. Mark was a helper to various
apostles at various times. There is evidence that he came from a wealthy
Jerusalem family that was supportive of Jesus. Certainly, Mark was a man
close to the events and also to the founders and early apostles of Christianity.
He is therefore most qualified to give us an accurate account of the events
in the life of Jesus, having dealt with both Peter and Paul closely, and
having been personally present at certain key events in the life of Jesus.
Luke was a doctor and a historian. He accompanied Paul on parts of Paul’s
missionary journeys. Luke sought to compile an accurate and orderly account
of the events concerning the life and ministry of Jesus, and the early
years of the church. Irenaeus, an early church father wrote that “Luke,
the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by his teacher.”
Paul spent time with Peter, James and other eyewitnesses of Jesus during
his pre-crucifixion ministry.
John was one of the twelve special apostles who accompanied Jesus during
his public ministry. John was part of the innermost circle of Christ and
may well have been a cousin of Jesus. He knew Jesus perhaps better than
any of the others. He is known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. Here
we have a man who is well qualified to tell us with authority what Jesus
was on about.
Is there any reason to doubt that these men penned the gospels which
bear their names?
Now earliest Christian tradition claims that the New Testament writers
of the story of Jesus were men who lived at the time of Jesus. In many
cases they were there when it happened. Matthew and John were of the “twelve”
– disciples of Jesus who were chosen by Jesus to be apostles.
Some modern scholars refer to a mysterious source document called “Q”,
which is supposed to have been the source of much of the material found
in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. But “Q” is nothing but an academic
hypothesis. We don’t have any manuscripts with “Q” – for all we know it
is merely the invention of certain skeptical academics.
There are no serious competitors for the authorship of the gospels.
If someone was writing a false account of the life of Jesus, they would
be unlikely to claim that they were written by Mark or Luke, because they
were not even of the twelve. Very little is said of Matthew in any of the
gospels. When people in the second and third centuries later did write
fanciful accounts of the life of Jesus they chose the names of much more
prominent figures for pretended authorship – Peter, Mary and James. Those
apocryphal gospels just don’t have the same ring of truth that Matthew,
Mark, Luke and John have.
We have the witness of Papias and Irenaeus – second century writers
– that these gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These
gospels are obviously based on eye-witness material. They report the same
event sometimes from slightly different angles. At times one writer includes
details that another writer leaves out. This is consistent with what we
would expect from eyewitness sources.