Recently, I read and listened to material on the truthfulness of the gospels. Since the 19th century there has been a spike in skepticism of the New Testament, particularly the Gospels, with questions questioning their reliability, including: “Were the Gospels anonymous?”, “The Gospels were they written significantly after the time of Jesus?”, and “Do the evangelists claim that Jesus was God? These are just some of the important questions that people have raised and, although I can only address these issues in a limited way in this article, I hope to present the reader with an understanding of the Gospels that appreciates the ancient Jewish worldview that founded the authors and their contemporaries. highly recommend Brant Pitre’s book The Case of Jesus: Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christfrom which I will draw the material for this piece.
To answer the first question, the Gospels have been do not anonymous. The theory of the anonymity of the gospels is that the four gospels were written in the first century and then repeatedly published without any titles or headings naming the authors until the second century. The big problem with this theory is that zero anonymous copies of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John exist and, according to our current knowledge, they never existed. On the contrary, as New Testament scholar Simao Gathercole has shown, the ancient manuscripts are unanimous in attributing these books to the apostles and their companions. In fact, the first Gospel manuscripts that we possess date from the second century and are entitled: “Gospel according to Matthew”, “Gospel according to Matthew”, “Gospel according to Luke”, “Gospel according to [J]ohn” and “Gospel according to John”. Moreover, the Church Fathers, those early writers and leaders of the apostolic era of the Catholic Church, all affirm that Matthew, one of the Twelve Apostles and tax collector; Mark, disciple of Peter; Luke, disciple of Paul; and John, one of the twelve apostles and beloved disciple of Jesus at the foot of the cross, wrote the four gospels.
The gospels were written shortly after the life and death of Christ. The fact that Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 was not celebrated, or at least mentioned, as fulfilled by the gospel writers shows that they were written before AD 70. Also, in Mark 13, Jesus says to “pray [the Temple’s destruction] will not take place in the winter”, but according to the accounts, the real destruction took place in the summer. If it has happened before, why would Jesus be portrayed as someone who wanted his disciples to pray that it wouldn’t happen in another season? It would be very unlikely. Also, Luke suddenly stops his Acts of the Apostles during Paul’s imprisonment in AD 62 in AD 80 or 85 as many scholars postulate. Not including Paul’s martyrdom here, despite its heroic nature, would have been like someone writing a biography of Abraham Lincoln and not including any details of his death, but only up to a certain day in 1864. If should one find a biography like that, all other things being equal, it would be safe to assume that the author was writing without knowing what happened in 1865 and, therefore, was writing in 1864.
Finally, we can be sure that the gospel writers thought that Jesus was God. The Gospel of John very explicitly associates Jesus or the Word with God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). Matthew, Mark and Luke are less explicit, but just as clearly depict Jesus as God. The calming of the storm mentioned in these three gospels shows a storm that terrorizes the disciples of Jesus on the Sea of Galilee, which is then calmed by Jesus. This is no ordinary miracle in the Jewish tradition, because Jesus controls what God in the Old Testament has only and Many times showed dominion over: sea and wind (cf. Job 26:11-2, Ps. 104:1-7, Ps. 107:23-30). The reaction of the disciples of Jesus, saying “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” demonstrates that they understand their own context (Mark 4:41). Also, in the story of Jesus walking on the water, Jesus says “I am”, a phrase reserved for God in the Old Testament and accepts that the disciples worship him as the Son of God after he has accomplished. Additionally, Jesus is repeatedly shown forgiving people’s sins, which is an ability reserved only for God in Hebrew tradition.
These are only introductions to the answers to these questions and are by no means exhaustive. I encourage the reader to dig deeper into these questions, read Pitre’s book, and find comfort in the fact that Faith in Christ and His Church and raison through historical analysis and logic have asserted themselves and still assert themselves today.
Image courtesy of David Moseley via Wikimedia Commons