By: Christos Terzis
This needs to be addressed as an accumulative case. Many factors contribute to answer the claim.
An ancient historical work is authentic if it gives substantial truthful account of the events it reports.The genuineness also needs to be addressed.
So here it is:
1 – NAMES
1a- If one is to pick a name to give credibility to a Gospel, then why not pick one of the big ones?Why pick Mark for instance? What was his reputation? He failed to finish his first missionary journey and caused a split between Paul and Barnabas. How does attaching his name to a Gospel give it credibility?Why not pick Peter or James? Even Luke was a minor figure. As a matter of fact the only real big name in the 4 gospels is John.
1b- Pseudogospels appeared eventually with those names (Peter, James etc)….but they came out during the 2nd century…when all the disciples and most of the disciples of the disciples had died… Exactly because no one could have published anything in their name while alive.
2 – TITLES
2a- Let’s suppose the Gospels circulated anonymously for the first 100-200 years. That means that many people had copies of the gospels but knew not who wrote them. So as is the case each person would put the copy in their library and name it as he wished i.e. the Gospel according to John, Peter, Sanavalat.
One today would expect to see a variety of titles on them.But in fact the titles on manuscripts of the Gospels are strikingly uniform. “The Gospel according to Matthew, The Gospel according to Luke etc”.
Martin Hengel writes that “the uniformity of this unusual form of title strongly suggests that the titles were not secondary additions but part of the manuscripts as they originally circulated.” They were not added to the gospels secondarily
2b-The titles are said to be unusual because the normal way to name a book would be to put the name of the author first and in the possessive/genitive form, e.g. Plato’s Republic. It shows that the way of titling was set early on and then followed by those who made the copies.
3 – ATTESTATION
3a- Augustine in his “Against Faustus” gave the measure by which we can tell not only how the Gospels, but also how any book can be attributed to the one whose name it bears.
Why for instance is there no doubt about the genuineness of the books by Hippocrates? “Because there is a succession of testimonies to the books, from the time of Hippocrates to this day, which makes it unreasonable either now or hereafter to have any doubt on the subject.”
“How do we know the authorship of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Varro and other similar writers, but by the unbroken chain of evidence?”
The following is just a handful of information on the matter. Just the tip of the tip of the iceberg.
Some early attestations of authorship, far nearer to the day than we are:
Tertullian of Carthage (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 basic facts about Jesus including his virgin birth and his fulfilment of prophecy.”
“They bore the names of their authors from antiquity and the ancient churches vouch for them and no others”
If one should say that Tertullian was wrong….then one should consider that he writes 150 years after these events and that’s about the time between us and the industrial revolution…or the American civil war… Too close to be disputed.
Yet we have others…even closer to the events.
Clement of Alexandria (180)
“Mark wrote his Gospel, by request, from his knowledge of Peter’s preaching at Rome.”
“Matthew and Luke were published first; they are the books containing the genealogies”
“John’s Gospel was the last to appear and it was written at the urging of his friends”
Irenaeus of Lyons (180)
“Matthew’s Gospel was the first one written. It was originally written in 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”
Lets go even further back.
Justin Martyr (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 the 4 Gospels, called the Diatessaron/Διατεσσάρων.
This fact is VERY interesting….since beginning in the 19th century some “theologians” insisted that the Gospel of John…hadn’t even been written yet! Yet we see here that it was written and interweaved with the other three in the Diatessaron by Tatian.
The reason being that the Diatessaron was lost and not discovered until 1888….yet many modern “theologians” capitalise on the older writings ignoring the fact. And this explains the position of many today.
Papias of Hierapolis (125)
This is about a century before Tetullian and the stories are essentially the same. It was Eusebius who presented Papias work in his own.
“Mark, having been the interpreter of Peter, wrote down what Peter had preached accurately, though not necessarily in order”
“Matthew wrote the “Λόγια” (Οracles), a reference to his whole Gospel in the Hebrew language”
Notice that all 5 of the above scholars lived many hundreds of miles from each other, yet said essentially the same things! It means that on all four corners of the Roman world the authors of the Gospels were taken as fact and not something that was cooked afterwards. Christians everywhere agreed.
-So the attestation of authorship is not only significant and early, it’s also geographically diverse, coming from every corner of the Roman Empire.-There is no rival tradition of authorship of any of the four Gospels. No one contests the authors at this early time, anywhere.
We also have early use of the Gospels. This goes to dispute that they are not from God….since people who were almost contemporary with the events used them.
-Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians 2:3 mentions Luke 6:20, Mathew 5:3,10 and others.
He doesn’t give verses but he sites his writings in a way that he expects his readers to recognise what he’s saying and the books he’s using. Not only when quoting the NT but also the OT. That means they already had in their possession a written account…that was in 108 AD…!
Ignatius in his letter to Polycarp 2:2, 107 AD sites Matthew 10:16.
Clement of Rome, 1 Clement 46:7-8, 95 AD sites Matthew 26:24, Mark 14:21, Luke 17:1-2. Interestingly Clement in this epistle names Fortunatus….who is also mentioned in Corinthians by Paul. SO FAR BACK!
The following is a very interesting chart. It shows the 4 Gospels and below them a bunch of Gnostic Gospels (fakes).
On the horizontal line we have the Church Fathers.
Every blue checkmark represents a distinct usage of the Gospels or the fakes. Dots indicate no information available that there was ever any recognition of that.
The authorities cross the top are in turn Clement of Rome (he’s left of the red line because he’s first century), Ignatius, Polycarp, two heretics in red, Marcia and Valentinus, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, the Morian Canon, then Tertullian, Codex Sinaiticus, Athanasius, the Vulgate and others.
A look at the post chart says it all…
There’s more……Justin Martyr writes…
“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; . . .” —First Apology, chapter 67
Notice he puts the writings of the Apostles in the same level as the writings of the prophets. So they have a high standard among the believers. The same standing as the Old Testament which was accepted by all as the Word of God.
For the Gospels to be read as Scripture in weekly services, they must have been extremely highly regarded and well known to Christians throughout the world. Such high regard takes time to filter through a community.
Early Use: Summary of the Facts
The 4 Gospels and Acts are copiously used by the church fathers. Even early heretics tacitly acknowledge they’re genuine, which they would not have done if they could help it.
None of the Apocryphal so-called “gospels” are even remotely so widely used. And this concludes the evidence albeit just by scraping the top of the matter.
Type of Evidence: Evaluation
Names: Unlikely to be invented
Titles: Too consistent for anonymity
Attribution: Strong, Widespread and Consistent
Early Use: Overwhelming