~~ Authorship of the Gospels ~~

~~ Authorship of the Gospels ~~

The stories of Jesus reside in the gospels and these gospels form the basis for the Christian faith. Who couldn't be forgiven for thinking that the Gospel of Luke was written by Luke or that the Gospel of John was written by John, however it is a well-established fact that nobody knows who wrote the Gospels of Mark (c. 65-70), Matthew (c. 80-85), Luke (c.80-85), or John (c. 90-110). The authors of these works are anonymous. None of the authors had any first-hand accounts. Let me repeat that - none of the actual authors who put ink to papyrus ever actually met Jesus. Each of these texts was written many decades after Jesus died. Everything was originally passed down verbally and original manuscripts of the Gospels do not exist. As we will discover, we are instead left with thousands of fragments of copies of copies - many with clear signs of later interpolations.

A 2011 USA Today/Gallup poll showed that nearly 80% of Americans believe the Bible to be either the actual word of God or at least divinely-inspired by God. Nearly 1 out of every 3 Americans thinks the Bible should be interpreted literally. While more than three quarters of our neighbors believe that the creator of the universe authored a perfect book of wisdom and morality, few understand how the book they hold in their hands on Sunday came into existence. Ask the average Christian about the creation of the Bible and you'll find many holding the assumption that it was created exactly as it appears sometime within the last 19 centuries. The truth is that there are over 25,00046 complete or fragmented manuscripts of the New Testament with the vast majority being fragments. Most date to between the 10th and 15th centuries but some go as far back as 125 AD47. The preeminent New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman states "It is true, of course, that the New Testament is abundantly attested in the manuscripts produced through the ages, but most of these manuscripts are many centuries removed from the originals, and none of them perfectly accurate. They all contain mistakes - altogether many thousands of mistakes. It is not an easy task to reconstruct the original words of the New Testament."48 While some differences between manuscripts were likely due to legitimate errors in translation or understanding, biblical scholars are reasonably certain that many were the result of explicit interpolations (insertions made into the text by new authors oftentimes many years after the original).

The King James Bible is only 400 years old, and if we look at just the Gospel of Mark, we'll find that it ends at Chapter 16 Verse 20. This is a problem because the earliest fragments of manuscripts end at Verse 8. Verses 9 through 20 do not exist in any of the earliest manuscripts or other ancient texts, yet these verses claim that Jesus visited Mary Magdalene as well as others after he had risen. Pentecostal preachers embrace Verses 17 and 18 because it says that they can drink anything deadly and handle snakes without harm as well as heal the sick with a simple lying of their hands. The Gospel of Mark ends with Jesus' resurrection to the right hand of God. Again, this is problematic because the earliest known Gospel of Mark doesn't end that way. These were enhancements added centuries later.

The story in John 7:53-8:11 about the adulterous woman whom the scribes and Pharisees wanted stoned gives us the famous phrase "Let the one who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her". The problem here is that the earliest manuscripts of John do not contain this pericope. The first time we see it like this is in the late 4th or early 5th century, which begs the question of who wrote it?

Biblical scholars will confirm all of this. You can read the entire King James Bible and never know for sure what verses were actually in the original manuscripts. It just seems highly illogical that the creator of the universe, the being we credit for creating the laws of physics, couldn't have the original manuscripts preserved. God can simply will every complex creature into existence including mankind but is somehow unable to create papyrus that would survive more than a few years. While these deficiencies in the Bible have been known to scholars for centuries, this isn't the type of thing that gets mentioned during Sunday service, is it? This seems to be a rather precarious foundation upon which to build and sustain a belief in Jesus as the son of God.