The Historicity and Reliability of the Gospels
E. Daniel Box
Many people today—atheists and theists alike—have sadly come to accept as true the popular idea that the Gospel accounts were originally anonymous, and are therefore unreliable. However, when we examine the historical record, we see that there is zero basis for this common claim that is tragically taught as fact in so many schools today.
There are in fact no anonymous gospel accounts in existence—not even one. From our 2nd Century copies of the Gospels to the 5th Century copies of the Gospels, every single one, without fail, is attributed to either Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John (e.g. Papyrus 4, 62, 66, 75, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, Codex Washingtonianus, Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Ephraemi, & Codex Bezae).
Also, while there is plenty of documented debate among the first Christians regarding the authorship of the book of Hebrews, there is zero documented debate regarding the authorship of the Gospels. Instead, the historical record is unanimous in declaring that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the authors of the Gospels. As an example of this unanimous historical record, consider:
Papias, disciple of the apostle John (ca. 130 AD):
“Matthew composed the sayings in the Hebrew dialect, and each person interpreted them as best as he could."
"And the elder [John] used to say this: 'Mark, having become Peter's interpreter, wrote down accurately everything that he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, followed Peter, who adapted his teachings as needed but had no intention of giving an ordered account of the Lord's sayings. Consequently, Mark did nothing wrong in writing down some things as he remembered them, for he made it his concern not to omit anything that he heard or make any false statement in them."
St. Justin Martyr (ca. 140-165 AD):
--refers to the gospels as "the Memoirs of the apostles and their successors"
St. Irenaeus of Lyons, disciple of St. Polycarp, who was the disciple of the apostle John (ca. 180 AD):
"Now Matthew published among the Hebrews a written gospel also in their own tongue while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome and founding the church."
"After [Peter and Paul's] departure, Mark also, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the things which were preached by Peter."
"Luke also, who was a follower of Paul, put down in a book the gospel which was preached by him."
"Then [after the publication of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke], John, the disciple of the Lord, who had even rested on his breast, himself also gave forth the gospel, while he was living at Ephesus in Asia."
The Muratorian Canon, fragments listing the books in Scripture (ca. 180 AD):
"The third book of the gospel is that according to Luke. Luke, the well-known physician, after the ascension of Christ, when Paul had taken him with him as one zealous, composed it in his own name, according to [the general] belief. Yet he himself had not seen the Lord in the flesh; and therefore, as he was able to ascertain events, so indeed he begins to tell the story from the birth of John."
"The fourth of the gospels is that of John, [one] of the disciples. To his fellow disciples and bishops, who had been urging him to write, he said, 'Fast with me today for three days, and what will be revealed to each one let us tell it to one another.' In the same night, it was revealed to Andrew, [one] of the apostles, that John should write down all things in his own name, while all of them should review it."
St. Clement of Alexandria (ca. 200 AD):
"Of all those who had been with the Lord, only Matthew and John left us their recollection, and tradition says they took to writing perforce. Matthew had first preached to the Hebrews, and when he was on the point of going to others, he transmitted in writing in his native language the gospel according to himself, and thus supplied by writing the lack of his own presence to those from whom he was sent."
"But a great light of godliness shone upon the minds of Peter's listeners that they were not satisfied with a single hearing or with the oral teaching of the divine proclamation. So, with all kinds of exhortations, they begged Mark (whose gospel is extant), since he was Peter's follower, to leave behind a written record of the teaching given to them verbally, and they did not quit until they had persuaded the man, and thus they became the immediate cause of the scripture called "The Gospel according to Mark." And they say that the apostle [Peter], aware of what had occurred because the Spirit had revealed it to him, was pleased with their zeal and sanctioned the writing for study in the churches."
--continuing from the first quote..."John, it is said, used all the time a message which was not written down, and at last took to writing for the following cause. The three gospels which had been written down before were distributed to all, including himself; it is said he welcomed them and testified to their truth, but said that there was only lacking to the narrative the account of what was done by Christ at first and at the beginning of the preaching...They say accordingly that John was asked to relate in his gospel the period passed over in silence by the former evangelists."
Tertullian (ca. 200-220 AD):
"Luke, however, was not an apostle, but only an apostolic man...not a master, but a disciple, and so inferior to a master--at least as far subsequent to him as the apostle [Paul] whom he followed...was subsequent to others...Even Luke's form of the gospel men normally ascribe to Paul."
"We lay down as our first position that the evangelical Testament has apostles for its authors...Of the apostles, therefore, John and Matthew first instill faith into us; whilst of apostolic men, Luke and Mark renew it afterwards.
Origen (230-255 AD):
"And thirdly, that according to Luke, who wrote for those who from the Gentiles [came to believe] the Gospel that was praised by Paul."
Daniel Box lives in Chicago with his wife, but is a proud Texan (Fort Worth native) and Mexican-American. He is a practicing real estate and zoning attorney, after having clerked with the Thomas More Society and served as the Board Chairman of the Chicago chapter of Young Catholic Professionals in 2015 and 2016. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics from the University of Dallas in 2012.