Looking through some old posts, I ran across this one (that I’d forgotten about) that answers a question I get at least a couple of times a year.   Why didn’t the authors of the Gospels name themselves?  (They have long been called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, of course, but you’ll notice that the authors themselves never indicate who they are; the first record we have of anyone actually quoting these books *and* calling them Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is in Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, written about 185 CE — that is, about a century after the Gospels themselves were written and placed in circulation.    Anyway, here is the post, giving a reader’s question and my attempt at an answer.



Among the interesting questions I’ve received recently is the following.   It’s on something other than How Jesus Became God!  Rather than type out a completely new answer, I’ve resorted to the discussion I set out in my book Forged, cited here, as relevant, in full.


I still can’t quite grasp why the Gospels were written anonymously. What is the prevailing theory? Why did the authors not attempt to pass themselves off as disciples by stating so at the beginning of their writings?


It is always interesting to ask why an author chose to remain anonymous, never more so than with the Gospels of the New Testament.  In some instances an ancient author did not need to name himself because his readers knew perfectly well who he was and did not need to be told.  That is almost certainly the case with the letters of 1, 2, and 3 John.  These are private letters send from someone who calls himself “the elder” to a church in another location.  It is safe to assume that the recipients of the letters knew who he was.

[ome people have thought that the Gospels were like that: books written by leading persons in particular congregations who did not need to identify themselves because everyone knew who they were.  But then as the books were copied and circulated, names were still not attached to them.  As a result the identities of the authors were soon lost.  Then later readers, rightly or wrongly, associated the books with two of the disciples (Matthew and John) and with two companions of the apostles (Mark the companion of Peter and Luke the companion of Paul).

Another option is that the authors did not name themselves because …

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