The Authorship of the Gospels

That was hardly the point, was it.

No - what happened is that instead an anonymous editor didn’t attach a name to John’s gospel, but wrote at the end: “This is the disciple who testified to these things and wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.”

So, it’s either an eyewitness account, of a man who modestly calls himself “the discpile whom Jesus loved,” which has additional bona fides attached in the epilogue, or it’s a fraud because it claims to record the eyewitness testimony of a disciple.

The title “ΚΑΤΑ ΙΩΑΝΝΗΝ” (According to John) appears, like the corresponding titles of the other three gospels, in every manuscript that’s complete enough to bear a title at all, and appears to be a way of distinguishing the four accepted accounts, rather than bagging a famous name (and, as I said in my previous post, neither Luke nor Mark are famous names, and only John is of the inner circle of apostles, and in the tradition of Papias may well be a non-apostle of the same name, “John the Elder.”)

Neither of these claims appears well attested in the genre in question, or even as a general phenomenon. We know ancient authors because they are authors of famous books - the number of misattributions or pseudoepigrapha are few (think Pseudo-Dionysius - how many of those are there?).

There are exceptions that prove the rule: Jewish apocalypses were, by genre convention, named for famous ancient figures like Moses or Enoch. The Revelation of John is exceptional in being named for the prophet who wrote it instead.

And I’ve already mentioned Christian Pseudoepigrapha, which are quite distinct in genre: for example, the apocryphal gospels are lacking the historical and geographical detail of the canonical gospels, and appear to be, as I have already said, platforms for sectarian ideas. In such cases, using the name of a famous apostle has obvious validation benefits… but you need to ask how those names became famous in the first place? Answer - they are described in the canonical gospels, and are universally recognised by Christians as major associates of Christ.

As for the “great many dubious claims” the early church accepted, can you name one, without arguing circularly that the gospels and the events they describe are dubious, which is the matter to be demonstrated?


What would be historical evidence that a gospel was written by someone?

I leave that for the experts in the relevant field to decide. I am not so arrogant as to presume I can do their job better than they can.

It’s been shown several times in this thread that even the experts do not say that there is no evidence for traditional gospel authorship. There is some evidence for it, but not enough to convince the majority of scholars.


Secondly, it’s also not productive to portray one side of the debate as having “no evidence”. This reminds me of fundamentalists who say there is “no evidence” for evolution. Fundamentalists (whether religious or not) tend to think of things in black and white. Either there is definitive evidence for some position, or there is no evidence at all. That is not how the real world works, especially in a field like NT studies or ancient history. And constructive discussion doesn’t happen when you refuse to concede that there are any supporting arguments or evidence, even weak ones, against your position.

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Why, think of Caesar’s Gallic Wars which was found in a Roman Bank Vault sealed with Caesar’s own wax seal and accompanied by three independently attested affidavits by witnesses who saw him write it… [:smirk: heavy sarcasm]

People seem to forget that the gospels are historical evidence to the same degree as any evidence we might find. They exist - one needs to find additional historical evidence to show them by historical method to be other than they claim to be.

A document by a historian like Josephus calling out inaccurate gospels would do it. But in fact, both the retrodacted minimalist text of scholars removing probable later Christian interpolations ("…a large majority of modern scholars accept … partial authenticity - Wikipedia), and a 10th century Arabic manuscript, have him tell:

(a) That in Pilate’s time there was a virtuous and wise man called Jesus.
(b) That many Jews and Gentiles became his disciples.
© That Pilate had him executed.
(d) That his disciples reported his appearance to them three days after his crucifixion.
(e) That there is a plausible case that he was the expected Messiah.
(f) That at the time of writing (93-4) the “tribe of Christians” had not disappeared.

Josephus was a legit. historian of the time - he would have got this story from public records or witnesses (and he himself was born in Jerusalem maybe 5-7 years after the crufcixion): had he simply been quoting secondhand Christian propaganda he would have said so.


Accepting those claims as true does not mean the Gospels are historically accurate. It just confirms that Jesus existed, was executed, and his followers believed he rose from the dead. Those points are not generally in dispute.

Looks like verification he fulfilled the OT prophecies.

On the contrary the arguments for late, anonymous documents are usually about the supernatural features of Jesus arising over decades or more, through pious legend. But Josephus suggests the early origin of those beliefs. If the gospels were written much later than the events, by anonymous authors, and yet represent the earliest layers of Christian belief, then disputing their date and authorship is futile.

In fact, given their general accuracy over geographical, historical and cultural detail, which is increasingly seen by scholars to fit the time of the events, and not the situation later on (as the apocryphal and pseudoepigraphic documents themselves do), then arguing the toss about their authenticity is increasingly misguided, as well as futile.

Now the bottom line is, of course, that authentic documents can still be interpreted as a pack of lies or errors. But that’s a different question - you can choose to believe or to disbelieve an eyewitness account, but it’s not the same thing as finding a document is a late forgery.


Well Josephus was clearly at best agnostic about Jesus. Nevertheless, as a pretty well-taught Jew it seems that he considered that if all these things were true, Jesus would fit the bill for the promised Messiah.

Josephus is interesting, in that as a rule he’s pretty cynical about his characters. But among those he seems most sympathetic to are John the Baptist, and James the brother of Jesus. He had clearly kept tabs on the growing Jesus movement in Judaea, and had some respect for it.


From book 18 3.3

  1. Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross,[9] those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day;[10] as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.


I deliberately didn’t quote the usual Josephus text, though most copies read thus, because it’s almost universally agreed that it’s unlikely he would have been so enthusiastic and so it’s thought some of the text was interpolated.

However, few believe the text ius entirely spurious, and as I suggested above, the kind of original that the scjholars propose matches a 10th century Arab text that is more lilkely to preserve the original than Muslim deletions.

The point is that even the “edited” text makes a good case for the gospel, as preached, as historically authentic.

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24 posts were split to a new topic: McGrew’s Argument of Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels

I have heard that also but look at this:
"> Now there was about

this time Jesus, a wise man,
if it be lawful to call him
a man. �For he was a doer of EUSEBIUS
"And there lived at that
time Jesus, a wise man, if
indeed it be proper to call
him a man. �For he was a

24 Judaism and the Beginnings of Christianity , p. 232.

25 φυλον.

26 See A.N. II.


wonderful works, a teacher
of such men as received the
truth with pleasure. �He
drew over to him both many
of the Jews and many of
the Greeks (Gentiles). He
was the Christ; and when
Pilate, at the suggestion of
the principal men among
us, had condemned him to
the cross, those that loved
him at the first ceased not,
for he appeared to them
thereafter again the third
day, as the divine prophets
had foretold these and ten
thousand other wonderful
things concerning him. �And
even now the Tribe of
Christians so named
from him is not

Another historian mid 200 AD used Josephus. So if this was forged it had to happen over 150 year window. I am new to this but am finding it odd that all the “scholars” doubt passages that support NT authenticity.


“And there lived at that
time Jesus, a wise man, if
indeed it be proper to call
him a man. �For he was a
doer of wonderful works,
and a teacher of such men
as receive the truth in glad-
ness. �And he attached to
himself many of the Jews,
and many also of the
Greeks (Gentiles). He was
the Christ. �When Pilate,
on the accusation of our
principal men, condemned
him to the cross, those who
had loved him in the begin-
ning did not cease loving
him. �For he appeared unto
them again alive on the
third day, the divine pro-
phets having told these and
countless other wonderful
things concerning him.
Moreover, the race of Chris-
tians, named after him, con-
tinues down to the present day.”

Partly it’s a question of apologetics: if there is justifiable doubt, it’s not such a good argument. Nearly all the manuscript evidence affirms the long rendition, so it may well be what Jospehus wrote, if we’re basing things purely on historical method rather than ideology.

On the other hand, by Eusebius’s time (early 4th century) Christianity was the official religion, and had even embraced Arianism in the politically powerful places - it was a situation in which propganda was more plausible.

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We have passed out of my depth, so I can have no coherent response.

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Knowledge of Greek is not mandatory! As in all these things, though, the devil is in the detail, so one can’t argue from blanket statements. Familiarity with the texts, and with the fields of study surrounding it, are really indispensible if one wants to avoid merely preferring authorities.

In my opinion, the more one looks into it, the more the gospel texts ring true. I’ve not found that to be so with other texts, such as the Book of Mormon (to cite another foundational religious text speaking on historical matters). But first I had to conclude it was worth the investment of effort. Rightly or wrongly, the claim of the Son of God rising from the dead seemed of sufficient importance!


How much have you studied Josephus work on Jewish history?


Not a huge amount. I’ve read (and have) an abridgement of Wars and Antiquities (basically the 400 pages most relevant to contemporary interests, including modern Judaism and Christianity). And I’ve worked in a bit more depth on his teaching on the Jewish sects and their views on divine action, for the blog.

I did buy my brother the unabridged Penguin Jewish wars for Christmas one year, much to his disgust, I suspect! Maybe I ought to get it back from him - it’s an interesting and pivotal period in history, especially for Christians. That’s the period he’s useful for, of course, since he lived through it and influenced it. Antiquities, by contrast, was for the older period based on biblical sources and was an apologetic treatment of the Jews for the Roman audience after the destruction of Jerusalem.