A follow up on our discussion about the likelihood of Matthew being the original author of the Gospel bearing his name – or at least being intimately involved with the work that brought that book together ( The Case for Matthew ). Let’s look at the shortest Gospel, Mark – and the longest Gospel, Luke.
The Case for Mark
Internal evidence that Mark wrote, oversaw or authorized the Gospel with his name:
- Just like all the Gospels, no anonymous manuscripts exist; every copy of this Gospel has the name of Mark in the title.
- Mark had the means – he was a well-known, well-connected figure in both the Jerusalem and Rome church and had access to first-hand eyewitnesses; he was a cousin of Barnabas, a companion of Paul’s (even stayed in jail with him once!), and was considered a “son” by Peter; he even knew Luke, who is mentioned alongside him in three of Paul’s letters.
External evidence that Mark wrote, oversaw or authorized the Gospel with his name:
- Papias (disciple of John, in Asia Minor, around AD 130) admitted Mark neither heard nor followed the Lord but was Peter’s interpreter and made it his goal to record accurately Peter’s teaching, though not chronologically
- Eusebius (historian, Palestine, early AD 300’s) adds that Papias learned about Mark’s Gospel from John the disciple himself
- Irenaeus (disciple of one of John’s disciples, in France, around AD 180) agrees Mark was Peter’s disciple and interpreter and put into writing the things Peter preached
- Clement (disciple of elders who knew the apostles, in Egypt, around AD 200) says Peter’s listeners begged Mark to write down his teachings and that Peter sanctioned writing it down for Christians to study
- Clement claimed Mark was sanctioned while Peter was alive. This argues for an early writing time along with Irenaeus, who says it was written “after their [Peter and Paul’s] departure” – possibly a reference to their death in the mid-60’s under Nero. The Gospel could have been sanctioned as early as the 60’s and finished any time after.
- No Gospels include later details that might have seemed incredibly relevant to the Christian narrative – such as the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD that fulfilled prophecies Jesus made – making it even more likely Gospels were completed at an earlier rather than later date by the men who are credited
The Case for Luke
Internal Evidence that Luke wrote, oversaw or authorized the Gospel with his name:
- Just like all the Gospels, no anonymous manuscripts exist; every copy of this Gospel has the name of Luke in the title.
- Luke was also connected and well-known. He appears in several of Paul’s letters as a companion (Philemon, Colossians, 2 Timothy) and often stayed with Paul in prison. He knew Mark as well, so had access to Peter’s testimony.
- Luke was a physician by trade, a man of education and highly capable of writing.
- The Gospel’s prologue (Luke 1:1-4) admits other Gospels were already written and Luke admits he did not see the events but that he did his due diligence by interviewing eyewitnesses.
- Acts often lapses into 1st person when talking about Paul’s travels, an indication that this author of both Luke and Acts was a fellow traveler of Paul’s. These “we passages” indicate the author accompanied Paul at these parts in the journey – and we know Luke accompanied Paul. (Check out Acts 16:10-17, 20:5-15, 21:1-18, 27:1-28, and 28:1-16)
- Luke & Acts are dedicated to “Theophilus.” Acts begins “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,” a clear indication that the same person authored both and meant them to complement each other.
- The dedication to “Theophilus” likely honors a patron. Richard Bauckham points out: “The clearest case is Luke because of the dedication of the work to Theophilus (1:3), probably a patron. It is inconceivable that a work with a named dedicatee should have been anonymous.” In other words, a Gospel that could get you killed for writing it would not likely throw a dedicatee under the chariot yet keep the author safe in anonymity. Luke, whose name accompanies all manuscripts of this Gospel, is likely the true author.
External Evidence that Luke wrote, oversaw or authorized the Gospel with his name:
- Irenaeus (disciple of one of John’s disciples, in France, around AD 180) says Luke followed Paul and “put down in a book the gospel which was preached by him.”
- The Muratorian Canon (Italy, around AD 180) says Luke the physician wrote this Gospel and admits he “had not seen the Lord in the flesh” but traveled with Paul
- Tertullian (apologist, in North Africa, early AD 200’s) admits Luke was not an apostle but as a disciple of Paul wrote a Gospel of Paul’s testimony
- Origen (theologian, Egypt, early AD 200’s) says Luke wrote the third Gospel, for the Gentiles, and that Paul praised it in 2 Corinthians 8:18-19 where the Greek says “famous in the gospel” (not, “famous for his preaching of the gospel”) – Origen, a native Greek speaker, believed Paul referred to Luke’s Gospel that was already becoming well-known in the churches by the 60’s AD before Paul was killed; Eusebius and Jerome shared this interpretation.
- Early writers admit Luke was not a disciple or eyewitness – his authorship is more likely as he’s a less likely candidate to be added later for credibility. The open inclusion of details that might otherwise be an embarrassment helps build the strong case for Luke’s involvement.
As you can see, while none of these points are necessarily “bullet proof” (is any evidence ever?), they accumulate to make an incredible case that the Gospels were really written by people in the know. Additional arguments such as the date they were written and the intent to tell the truth can be found here: Who Wrote the Gospels? and Gospels: History or Folklore?