In this series of posts on the authors’ names associated with the New Testament Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – we have so far seen that the texts themselves are completely anonymous. The authors of two of these works (Luke and John) do speak in the first person in a couple of instances, but they do not say who they are. By the end of the second century, roughly a century after the books were written, they were being called by the names that are familiar to us today. So naturally one might wonder, when were they given these ascriptions?
Contrary to what you may sometimes have heard, there is no concrete evidence that the Gospels received their familiar names early on. It is absolutely true to say that in the manuscripts of the Gospels, they have the titles we are accustomed to (The Gospel according to Matthew, etc.). But these manuscripts with titles do not start appearing until around 200 CE. What were manuscripts of, say, Matthew or John entitled in the year 120 CE? We have no way of knowing. But there are reasons to think that they were not called Matthew and John.
Here are some factors to consider. First, the titles almost certainly cannot be what the authors themselves called their works. It is widely thought among critical scholars that Mark did give a kind of descriptive title to his work, in what is now the first verse: “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” This is probably not simply an introduction to what is to follow. It may well be Mark’s own title. Notice that his own name (whatever it was) is left out of it.
The other three Gospels…
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