Over the past few weeks I’ve had several people ask me about why the Gospels of the New Testament are attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It’s a great question, and one that I want to do some more intense thinking and reading about myself. So I thought I would lay out some of the basics here in a series of posts, and think aloud a bit about why I think the Gospels got the names they did.
To begin with, it’s important to recognize that the Gospels themselves are completely anonymous. None of the authors identifies himself by name. The Gospels are all written in the third person about what “they” – other people – were doing (including, of course, and principally, Jesus).
There are only a couple of exceptions to the third-person narratives of the Gospels, and even in these cases the authors do not given their own names. The first is in the Prologue to Luke’s Gospel, Luke 1:1-4, where the author says:
Just as many have attempted to write a narrative about the things that have been fulfilled among us, as they were handed over to us from the beginning by eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, so it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for a long while to write an orderly account to you, most excellent Theophilus, so you might know the secure truth about the things of which you have been informed.
There are lots and lots of things that could be said about this opening to Luke’s Gospel. For my purposes here, I’ll restrict myself to a couple of key points:
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