How to Write a Gospel: Borrow + Edit = Scripture

Woman Four Fingers

Photo by Tom Plouff on Unsplash

Do the four Gospels of the New Testament accurately represent the historical ministry of Jesus? The case that they do would seem more plausible if the Gospels were authored by eyewitnesses of Jesus’s ministry, or at least by those closely connected to them.

The traditional view is that, in fact, the Gospels’ were authored by such people. As I suggested in my last post, it seems plausible to attribute the Gospel according to Mark (“Mark”) to a close associate of the Apostle Peter. Similarly, traditionalists hold that the Gospel according to Matthew (“Matthew”, or the “first Gospel”) was composed by one of Jesus’s original disciples, Matthew the tax collector, mentioned in Matthew 9:9 and 10:3Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, and Acts 1:13.

In chapter 3 of How Jesus Became God, Bart Ehrman rejects this traditional view. He claims that the authors of the Gospels were Christians “of a later generation” who wrote after (or almost after) Jesus’s original disciples had died, thereby casting doubt on the connection between the Gospel accounts and the historical Jesus.

In this post, I continue a series in which I respond to Ehrman’s skeptical claims. (If you’d like to read from the beginning, the series starts here.) In my next post, I plan to defend the traditional view of the authorship of Matthew.

However, first I need to lay a little groundwork by explaining the dominant view of the literary relationships between the canonical Gospels, which I will do in this post. The Gospels are very similar in many ways, and yet they are so different…How should we explain those facts? Continue reading

Who Wrote the Gospel according to Mark?

Basilica di San Marco, Venice

Basilica di San Marco, Venice. Photo credit: Ricardo André Frantz, 2005.

According to the traditional view, the four Gospels in the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (the “canonical” Gospels)—were written either by eyewitnesses to Jesus’s ministry or by those closely connected with eyewitnesses. For example, on the traditional view the Gospel according to Mark (“Mark” or the “second Gospel”) was written by a personal secretary to the Apostle Peter—one of Jesus’s original disciples.

In Chapter 3 of How Jesus Became God, Bart Ehrman raises doubts about this traditional view. As I noted in my last post, Ehrman argues that the authors of the Gospels were Christians “of a later generation” who wrote after (or almost after) Jesus’s original disciples had died. But, if the authors of the Gospels were not closely connected to Jesus or his disciples in time and space, as Ehrman suggests, then it looks less plausible to attribute the content of the Gospels to the historical Jesus.

In this post I will begin responding to Ehrman’s argument about the authorship of the Gospels by considering who wrote Mark. Continue reading

The Historicity of the Gospels: Bart Ehrman’s Skeptical View

The Four Evangelists, by Jacob Jordaen

The Four Evangelists, by Jacob Jordaens (Louvre Museum)

In Chapter 3 of How Jesus Became God, Bart Ehrman begins with a story from his days as a student at Moody Bible Institute in the 1970s. He tells how, as part of the practical Christian ministry component of his education, he served as a youth pastor at a church in a suburb of Chicago and developed a close mentoring relationship with the senior pastor there.

At that time, Moody was a bastion of Christian Fundamentalism—a late-19th- and 20th-century reaction to liberal currents in Protestant theology. Protestant liberals sought to adapt their theology to developments in the sciences and social sciences, including critical historical analysis of the Bible and evolutionary theory. Fundamentalists rejected this adaptation in favor of biblical literalism and an affirmation of the inerrancy of the Bible.

After his Fundamentalist beginnings, Ehrman pursued advanced degrees at Princeton Theological Seminary. He recounts how, during those studies, he came to doubt some of the central tenets of orthodox Christian theology, including the divinity of Jesus. He was impressed by the fact that Jesus is only rarely referred to as divine in the New Testament, and that Jesus only ever refers to himself as divine in the Gospel of John—the historicity of which is often viewed as dubious.

While wrestling with these doubts, he returned to Chicago to visit his former pastor, in the hope of receiving some guidance. The pastor responded by encouraging him to “hold on to the basics,” and by quoting Jesus’s claim in the Gospel of John, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Ehrman responded, “But what if Jesus never said that?” Continue reading