Who Wrote the Gospels? Rabbi Tovia Singer Has No Clue!

Rabbi Tovia Singer is an orthodox Jewish rabbi and the founder and director of Outreach Judaism. He is widely known for his counter-missionary polemics and his criticism of the New Testament presentation of Jesus as the Hebrew Messiah (see his two volume set, Let’s Get Biblical: Why doesn’t Judaism accept the Christian Messiah? [1]). In a video published this week, titled “Who Wrote the Gospels? Christians Have No Clue!”, Singer repeats the common myth that we have no justification for attributing the four canonical gospels to their traditional authors — that is, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. He asserts that the gospels were originally written and circulated anonymously and that nowhere in the text do they identify themselves. Moreover, Singer asserts that “These are church traditions — and in fact they are late church traditions, meaning these ascriptions are assigned about a century after the gospels are written” by Irenaeus of Lyons. It is not my purpose in this article to provide an exhaustive scholarly treatment of the authorship of the gospels (that would require a large book). However, I will offer a brief rebuttal to Singer’s objections to traditional authorship, and sample a few lines of argument that confirm traditional authorship.

Is Third Person Narration a Good Objection to Traditional Authorship?

Singer contends that the author of the first gospel expressly distinguishes himself from Matthew the tax collector, since he speaks of Matthew using the third person in Matthew 9:9. But this objection was refuted some 1600 years ago by Augustine of Hippo, who wrote in response to Faustus who made this same point (Against Faustus, 17.4),

“Faustus thinks himself wonderfully clever in proving that Matthew was not the writer of this Gospel, because, when speaking of his own election, he says not, He saw me, and said to me, Follow me; but, He saw him, and said to him, Follow me. This must have been said either in ignorance or from a design to mislead. Faustus can hardly be so ignorant as not to have read or heard that narrators, when speaking of themselves, often use a construction as if speaking of another. It is more probable that Faustus wished to bewilder those more ignorant than himself, in the hope of getting hold on not a few unacquainted with these things. It is needless to resort to other writings to quote examples of this construction from profane authors for the information of our friends, and for the refutation of Faustus.”


Indeed, many ancient works speak of the author in the third person when narrating a scene in which the author is present. Rabbi Singer accepts that the Torah was written by Moses, which often refers to Moses in the third person. Various secular authors also wrote of themselves in the third person when describing scenes in which they were present, including, Josephus, Julius Caesar, and Xenophon. So, this is hardly a convincing argument.

A better argument may be made by noting that it is unlikely that Matthew, if he be in fact the author, would depend so much upon the account of one — namely, Mark — who was not an eyewitness. But if (as the early church consistently maintained) Mark’s gospel is based upon the testimony of the apostle Peter, it is not implausible that Matthew would have used it as a source. Indeed, there are other examples of eyewitnesses who relied on the testimony of others when composing biographies of their own teachers. For example, Xenophon, when composing his account of the death of his teacher Socrates, utilized reports from another disciple, Hermogenes (Apology 1.2, 10) — the reason being that Hermogenes was present for the trial and death of Socrates, whereas Xenophon was not.

I would also add that Matthew, though he is dependent upon Mark, often adds additional details, some of which may be corroborated. This suggests that he has reliable independent access to the historical events beyond the material in Mark. For example, consider the following two parallel texts:

  • Mark 6:14-16: 14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
  • Matthew 14:1: At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, 2 and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.”

Clearly, this is an instance where Matthew is textually dependent upon Mark (notice the similarity in wording between Mark 14:14 and Matthew 14:1). Both narratives tell us that Herod was saying that Jesus was John the Baptist who had been raised back to life. Nonetheless, Matthew adds an additional detail. This was said “to his servants.” Did Matthew make up this detail? Or does he have independent reason to think that this was said to Herod’s servants? When we turn to a different gospel, namely, Luke 8:1-3 (which is not a parallel account and concerning quite different subject matter), we learn that one of Jesus’ female disciples who followed him from Galilee was Joanna, who was married to Herod’s household manager — someone in the highest ranks of Herod’s employment. This dovetails neatly with Matthew’s statement that this was said by Herod to his servants, even providing an explanation for how Matthew could come to know what Herod was saying, presumably in the privacy of his own palace. This (among other examples) supports that Matthew has reliable access to the historical events independently of what he has read in Mark.

But Weren’t the Disciples Uneducated Fishermen?

Singer does not make this objection in this video, though he has made it elsewhere and it is one of the most popular objections — so I would be remiss not to include it here. Bart Ehrman claims that [2], 

“There are good reasons for thinking that none of these attributions is right. For one thing, the followers of Jesus, as we learn from the New Testament itself, were uneducated lower-class Aramaic-speaking Jews from Palestine. These books are not written by people like that. Their authors were highly educated, Greek-speaking Christians of a later generation.”


However, we know very little about Mark (who is only alluded to in Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37-39; and Colossians 4:10). So, this critique can hardly be applied to him. Luke was a medical physician (Colossians 4:14), so can hardly be considered to be uneducated. Matthew was a tax collector and therefore probably literature, and likely would have known how to write in Greek, the primary language of commerce at the time. Indeed, Bart Ehrman notes in Misquoting Jesus, “Throughout most of antiquity, since most people could not write, there were local ‘readers’ and ‘writers’ who hired out their services to people who needed to conduct business that required written texts; tax receipts, legal contracts, licenses, personal letters, and the like,” (emphasis added) [3]. It is thus not at all implausible that Matthew was literate. This critique, then, only applies to John. But John seems to have been relatively well off (Mark 1:19-20 indicates that his father, Zebedee, was sufficiently wealthy that he could afford to pay hired servants). This means that he could plausibly have afforded an amanuensis (scribe) or even learned Greek at some point (the early church indicates that John wrote his gospel when he was well advanced in years). It may also be observed that John’s Greek is replete with characteristics that suggest the author’s first language was Aramaic. Such characteristics include his simple syntax and limited vocabulary, and his use of conjunctions — for instance, his frequent use of καί for adversative in addition to coordinative conjunction, like the Aramaic. Furthermore, when quoting the Old Testament, the text often more closely resembles the Hebrew text than it does the Greek Septuagint (e.g. John 12:14-15; 12:40; 13:18; and 19:37).

Even if John’s identity as a Galilean fisherman (prior to joining Jesus’ ministry) establishes a low prior probability of him being able to compose the fourth gospel, I would contend that the positive evidence is sufficiently compelling to nonetheless yield a high posterior likelihood, as we shall see.

Did the Gospels Circulate Anonymously?

Are the gospels really anonymous, as Singer suggests? This question is more complex than it might first appear. The gospels are anonymous in the technical sense that the name of the author is not explicitly given in the text itself. However, this does not necessarily imply that the name was not found on the original manuscript. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus does not name himself as the author in the text of Antiquities of the Jews, nor does the Greek philosopher Xenophon in his works. Prefatory self-references are also absent from the writings of notable Greek historians such as Polybius, Diodorus Siculus, and Arrian. The late first century church leader Clement of Rome, in his epistle to the Corinthian Christians, likewise omits his name from the text, though we know Clement wrote it from information supplied by Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.3.3). Clement was writing his epistle to Christians in the city of Corinth. Presumably, those believers knew the identity of the one addressing them and thus it is very probable that the name was written somewhere on the original manuscript. Likewise, the author of the third gospel was writing to a particular official, of whom we know little, by the name of Theophilus (Luke 1:1-4, Acts 1:1). Presumably, Theophilus knew from whom this volume came. It is thus, in my judgment, unlikely that Luke’s gospel was originally circulated anonymously.

The gospel of John also appears to identify himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. In John 21:24, we read, “This [the beloved disciple] is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” Though one might object (as many do) that this verse is better read as indicating that multiple authors are in fact distinguishing themselves from the beloved disciple (hence, “we know that his testimony is true”). But if this sentence is distinguishing the author of those words from the beloved disciple, then just those two verses may be a tiny coda to the book, referring to everything else in the book, which was in fact written by the beloved disciple. So those two verses may be written by an anonymous person (or persons) authenticating the rest of the book, rather like when an amanuensis suddenly speaks up in a Pauline epistle and sends his greetings: “I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.” (Romans 16:22). A similar statement is made in John 19:35: “He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe,” (earlier in this chapter, in verse 26, the narrator indicates that the beloved disciple was standing by the foot of the cross). Moreover, the author explicitly claims elsewhere to have been an eyewitness of Jesus’ public ministry. In the epistle of 1 John (which is generally recognized as having been composed by the same author as the fourth gospel), the author states: 

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, (1 John 1:1-3).


Notice the careful distinction in this text between “us” and “you.” Thus, he is not simply talking in general terms about humanity having looked upon and touched with our hands the word of life. Rather, he is claiming to be a member of a special group who physically interacted with Jesus during his earthly ministry. Though I acknowledge that there are a few scholarly views regarding the specific identity of the beloved disciple (e.g. Ben Witherington’s thesis that he is Lazarus, or Richard Bauckham’s thesis that he is another individual by the name of John the Elder, also an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry), I will not provide a detailed review here. Suffice it to say that I am persuaded that the best identification of the beloved disciple is that he is John the son of Zebedee, which is also consistent with the Patristic evidence. For a good critical response to Bauckham’s thesis I recommend the appendix of The Eye of the Beholder by Lydia McGrew. [4] In brief, the reason I believe John to be the best identification is by a process of elimination. He has to have been either Andrew, Peter, James, or John, based upon the lists of those present in some of the scenes (1:35ff; 21:2), including cross-references with the other gospels. Peter is present with him in the same scene in chapter 21, hence Peter is excluded. It cannot be James the son of Zebedee, since he was martyred too early by Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:1). Our final shortlist therefore contains only Andrew and John. If the “two disciples” listed in John 1:37-40 included the beloved disciple (which is plausible, though not definite, since only one of them, Andrew, is specifically named while the other remains unnamed), then the beloved disciple and Andrew would also be present in the same scene together. This suggests that John the son of Zebedee is the most probable candidate, which is consistent with the patristic attestation.

Another problem with the anonymous gospel theory is that not a single Greek manuscript (that is sufficiently complete) has ever been discovered that lacks the name of the traditional author, or which attributes it to anyone else. Consider the following table, excerpted from Brant Pitre’s book, The Case for Jesus [5]:

As you can see, though there are minor variations in the precise title, all without exception — in diverse parts of the world — attribute the gospels to the traditional authors. Contrast this with the following chart, which lists various manuscripts of the letter to the Hebrews, which really was circulated anonymously [6]:

As you can see, there are diverse attributions of the epistle to the Hebrews in our surviving manuscripts, precisely what we would expect of an anonymous document. The same comparison may be made in regard to the Patristic attestation. Early church attributions of authorship for Hebrews included Clement of Rome, Barnabas, the apostle Paul, Luke, Priscilla, and others. By contrast, when it came to the gospels, there was unanimous attribution to the traditional authors — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — again, in diverse parts of the world. It is to this subject that I now turn my focus.

Early Church Attestation

Augustine of Hippo had this to say regarding the value of the Patristic evidence for the authorship of the gospels (Against Faustus 33.4):

How can we be sure of the authorship of any book, if we doubt the apostolic origin of those books which are attributed to the apostles by the Church which the apostles themselves founded, and which occupies so conspicuous a place in all lands, and if at the same time we acknowledge as the undoubted production of the apostles what is brought forward by heretics in opposition to the Church, whose authors, from whom they derive their name, lived long after the apostles? And do we not see in profane literature that there are well-known authors under whose names many things have been published after their time which have been rejected, either from inconsistency with their ascertained writings, or from their not having been known in the lifetime of the authors, so as to be banded down with the confirmatory statement of the authors themselves, or of their friends? To give a single example, were not some books published lately under the name of the distinguished physician Hippocrates, which were not received as authoritative by physicians? And this decision remained unaltered in spite of some similarity in style and matter: for, when compared to the genuine writings of Hippocrates, these books were found to be inferior; besides that they were not recognized as his at the time when his authorship of his genuine productions was ascertained. Those books, again, from a comparison with which the productions of questionable origin were rejected, are with certainty attributed to Hippocrates; and any one who denies their authorship is answered only by ridicule, simply because there is a succession of testimonies to the books from the time of Hippocrates to the present day, which makes it unreasonable either now or hereafter to have any doubt on the subject. How do we know the authorship of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Varro, and other similar writers, but by the unbroken chain of evidence? So also with the numerous commentaries on the ecclesiastical books, which have no canonical authority, and yet show a desire of usefulness and a spirit of inquiry. How is the authorship ascertained in each case, except by the author’s having brought his work into public notice as much as possible in his own lifetime and, by the transmission of the information from one to another in continuous order, the belief becoming more certain as it becomes more general, up to our own day; so that, when we are questioned as to the authorship of any book, we have no difficulty in answering? But why speak of old books? Take the books now before us: should any one, after some years, deny that this book was written by me, or that Faustus’ was written by him, where is evidence for the fact to be found but in the information possessed by some at the present time, and transmitted by them through successive generations even to distant times? From all this it follows, that no one who has not yielded to the malicious and deceitful suggestions of lying devils, can be so blinded by passion as to deny the ability of the Church of the apostles—a community of brethren as numerous as they were faithful—to transmit their writings unaltered to posterity, as the original seats of the apostles have been occupied by a continuous succession of bishops to the present day, especially when we are accustomed to see this happen in the case of ordinary writings both in the Church and out of it.

Our earliest explicit affirmation of the authorship of the gospel is by Papias of Hierapolis (~125 A.D.). Though none of his work survives, he is quoted by the fourth century church historian Eusebius of Caesarea. He wrote concerning Mark (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 13.39.15),

“Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.”


Papias also asserted that “Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could,” (Ecclesiastical History 13.39.15). Scholars are generally persuaded (with good reason, in my judgment) that our Greek Matthew is not a translation from Hebrew. For this reason, many are understandably quite suspicious of Papias’ statement. Furthermore, Papias describes Matthew as being the “oracles” of the Lord, which may suggest that he has in mind a sayings gospel. Interestingly, besides Papias, Jerome (On Illustrious Men, chapter 3 & 5), Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.1) and Origen (quoted by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.25.4) all assert that Matthew was composed in Hebrew. Though Josef Kürzinger has proposed a re-reading of Papias’ use of the phrase Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ as “Hebrew style” as opposed to the Hebrew language [7], this reading is rather contrived. The modification of διαλέκτῳ with the name of an ethnic group and the use of the verb ἑρμηνεύω suggest strongly that a language is in view. Moreover, I have been unable to find a single case of the use of διαλέκτῳ to refer to anything other than language or dialect in the New Testament, Septuagint, apostolic fathers, pseudepigrapha, Josephus, or Philo.

Strikingly, though, when quoting the Matthew’s gospel, the church fathers without exception quote our Greek Matthew, which is almost certainly not a translation from a prior Hebrew text. It is also curious that the church fathers believed Matthew to have been the first gospel composed, whereas I am quite convinced by the internal evidence (as are most scholars) that Mark was composed first (though this conclusion is not beyond question). These considerations lead me to be sympathetic towards the view that there existed a sayings gospel, composed by Matthew in Hebrew, which was then expanded (plausibly under Matthew’s own guidance) into our Greek Matthew that we now find in our New Testaments. This may also illuminate part of the answer to our question, raised previously, as to why Matthew (supposing him to be an eyewitness) would depend so heavily on Mark, even regarding his own calling (Matthew 9:9). On this view, it is quite plausible that narrative material from Mark (which was already extant in Greek) was incorporated to fill out the gospel. Given that Mark’s gospel was a record of the preaching of one of Jesus’ inner circle (i.e. Peter), I see no problem here.

Justin Martyr, writing around 155-157 (derived from the reference to Lucius Munatius Felix as a recent prefect of Egypt), refers to the “memoirs composed by [the apostles], which are called Gospels,” (First Apology 66, c.f. 67). He also refers to “the memoirs which I say were drawn up by [Jesus’] apostles and those who followed them…” (Dialogue with Trypho 103). The attribution of the gospels to the “apostles and those who followed them” is very consistent with Matthew and John (being apostles) and Mark and Luke (being those who followed them). In fact, Justin Martyr’s student composed a harmony of the four gospels, called the Diatessaron, specifically of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And so it is highly probable that Justin Martyr has our four canonical gospels in mind. It is also striking that he refers to “the memoirs of [Peter],” noting that it is written therein that Jesus “changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter” and that “he changed the names of other two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means sons of thunder,” (Dialogue with Trypho 106). Neither of those is found in the extant fragment we possess of the so-called gospel of Peter. But both are in Mark, and the incident concerning the sons of Zebedee is found only in Mark. This suggests that he is referring to the gospel of Mark. How striking, then, that he refers to it as the memoirs of Peter. Given this, it seems improbable (supposing Mark was not the author) that the second gospel would go from being called “the gospel of Peter” to universally referred to as the “gospel of Mark” who preserved the testimony of Peter (as stated by Papias, Irenaeus, and Clement of Alexandria). The apocryphal gospels are uniformly attributed to high profile figures such as Peter and Thomas. Mark, though, is an obscure character in the New Testament, who is alluded to twice in Acts (12:25, 15:37-39) and is best known for having abandoned Paul in Pamphylia and causing a sharp falling-out between Paul and Barnabas. He thus seems like a surprising choice for a false attribution of authorship.

Irenaeus is particularly significant, since he was self-confessedly a disciple of Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John (Against Heresies 5.33.4). This puts him at only one remove from the apostles themselves. This is of especial significance in corroborating the authorship of John’s gospel (though it is of relevance to the other three as well). In Against Heresies 3.1.1, he writes,

“Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.”


Clement of Alexandria stated that “Mark, the follower of Peter, while Peter publicly preached the Gospel at Rome before some of Cæsar’s equites, and adduced many testimonies to Christ, in order that thereby they might be able to commit to memory what was spoken, of what was spoken by Peter, wrote entirely what is called the Gospel according to Mark. As Luke also may be recognized by the style, both to have composed the Acts of the Apostles, and to have translated Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews,” (Fragments). He also notes, “And John the apostle says: ‘No man hath seen God at any time. The only-begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him,’—calling invisibility and ineffableness the bosom of God. Hence some have called it the Depth, as containing and embosoming all things, inaccessible and boundless,” (Miscellanies 5.12).

Tertullian of Carthage wrote concerning the gospels (Against Marcion 4.2),

“We lay it down as our first position, that the evangelical Testament has apostles for its authors, to whom was assigned by the Lord Himself this office of publishing the gospel. Since, however, there are apostolic men also, they are yet not alone, but appear with apostles and after apostles; because the preaching of disciples might be open to the suspicion of an affectation of glory, if there did not accompany it the authority of the masters, which means that of Christ, for it was that which made the apostles their masters. Of the apostles, therefore, John and Matthew first instill faith into us; whilst of apostolic men, Luke and Mark renew it afterwards.”


The Muratorian fragment, the earliest canonical list of the New Testament books, dating to the late second century, lists the “third book of the gospel” as Luke and the “fourth gospel” as John. Unfortunately, it is incomplete, but it is very likely that Matthew and Mark were also listed since Luke and John are listed as the third and fourth books.

In addition to these stated attributions, the church fathers (including those discussed above) often quote from the New Testament books, often indicating which of the four gospels using their traditional attribution. Though the gospel is not always explicitly named when it is quoted (e.g. by Clement of Rome, Ignatius, or Polycarp), quotations of the Hebrew Scriptures are also not always explicitly cited. There was a widespread and unanimous acceptance of our four gospels as being canonical from as far back as we have records. This implies that, unlike the apocryphal forgeries, the canonical gospels were vested with authority because they were of recognized apostolic origin. Consider the chart below, which represents the early church attitudes towards the canonical and apocryphal gospels. Along the top are listed seventeen early authorities, including Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Marcion (early heretic), Valentinus and his followers (early heretic), Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, the Muratorian Canon, Origin, Eusebius, Codex Sinaiticus, Athenasius of Alexandria, Didymus the Blind, the Peshitta (a Syriac translation of the scriptures), and the Vulgate (a Latin translation). A tick represents that the book in question was accepted as canonical, as evidenced by it being quoted or referred to approvingly. A tick with a cross through it (found only in the case of the heretic Marcion’s attitude towards Luke) signifies that it was considered acceptable but only with changes. A question mark signifies that the book was considered dubious. A dotted cross indicates that it was considered to be spurious (in the classification of Eusebius). A cross signifies that it was explicitly rejected as canonical, as evidenced by its being quoted or referred to disapprovingly. A dot indicates that the book is not mentioned or quoted from in any surviving work.

As shown in the chart, there was an overwhelming acceptance of the canonical gospels as being authoritative, in sharp contrast to the early church attitude towards the apocryphal gospels. I mentioned earlier that the epistle to the Hebrews is attributed to various authors, both in the surviving manuscripts as well as in early church references. By sharp contrast, there was never any debate among the early church as to who wrote the four canonical gospels. Moreover, this attestation is geographically widespread, suggesting that the traditions concerning authorship date back quite early. Below is a map that reveals the geographical locations of Clement, Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Papias:

The unanimity of the attributions of authorship, coupled with the geographical spread (Irenaeus in Gaul, modern-day France; Papias in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey; Clement in Egypt; and Tertullian in North Africa) is surprising if the gospels were allowed to circulate anonymously for considerable time after their composition. As Martin Hengel notes [8],

“[I]f [the Gospels] had first circulated anonymously and had been given their titles only at a secondary stage and independently of one another in the different communities, because a title was needed for announcing reading in worship, this must necessarily have resulted in a diversity of titles, as can be illustrated by many examples from antiquity…. There is no trace of such anonymity.”

Furthermore, as Graham Stanton observes [9],

“[A]s soon as Christian communities regularly used more than one written account of the actions and teachings of Jesus, it would have been necessary to distinguish them by some form of title, especially in the context of readings at worship.”


This makes it all the more striking that the authorship of the gospels is so unanimously attested, both on every single one of our manuscripts (those that are sufficiently complete) and in every single one of the patristic sources that comments on it.

Moreover, as alluded to previously, Mark (given his obscurity) is a very surprising candidate for a false attribution. To this, one might also add Luke, who is a similarly obscure character. Though one might respond in the case of Luke that the early church was constrained to find a non-eyewitness, given that Luke essentially denies having been an eyewitness in the prologue of his gospel (Luke 1:1-4). However, there were nonetheless more prominent figures from whom to choose, such as Barnabas. One might also note that Matthew, given his profession as a tax collector (who were seen by the Jews as being traitors) is also a somewhat surprising choice for a false attribution. Furthermore, Papias, according to Irenaeus, was a disciple of the apostle John himself (Against Heresies 5.33.4). Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp, a disciple of John (Against Heresies 5.33.4). Finally, the external evidence reviewed here is consistent with the internal indicators of authorship, and it is to this subject that I now turn.

Confirming John’s Identification as the Beloved Disciple

There is also specific internal evidence that confirms the author’s identification as the disciple whom Jesus loved (and by extension corroborates that he was John the son of Zebedee). In John 18:10, the author gives us a piece of information not found in any other gospel — the name of the high priest’s servant whose ear Peter struck off — Malchus. Given that this detail is found in no other account, one might well wonder how John came to know the name of the high priest’s servant. The author apparently also knows that one of those who inquired of Peter in the high priest’s courtyard was a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off (John 18:26-27) — again, a detail supplied by none of the other gospels. In John 18:15-16, we learn that “Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in,” (emphasis added). In John 19:26, we learn that the disciple whom Jesus loved was standing by the foot of the cross, and in John 20:2-3, Peter is listed along with another individual who is designated “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.” We can infer, then, that the disciple who followed Jesus along with Peter was in fact the disciple whom Jesus loved. Given that this is also the claimed author of the gospel (John 21:24), this illuminates why this author uniquely knew the name of the high priest’s servant and that the other individual in the high priest’s courtyard was a relative of this man. One might of course object that it would be unlikely for a Galilean fisherman to be known to the high priest. But this is to do a priori history — determining, some two thousand years removed, who could have known who — and there is no further information on what precisely the nature of their acquaintance was. This argument, therefore, tends to confirm the identification of the author as the disciple whom Jesus loved, and by extension John the son of Zebedee.

Another interesting observation, though I would rate this as a much weaker (but nonetheless significant) point, is the absence of a disambiguator associated with John the Baptist (contrast this with the narrator’s quite meticulous distinction between the two individuals called Judas — Iscariot and “not Iscariot” in John 14:22). John was the fifth most popular male Jewish name in the region of Palestine at this time, and every other high frequency name in John’s gospel, with this lone exception, is given a disambiguator. Lydia McGrew comments that [10],

“If the author himself was named John, he would not have been in the habit of disambiguating his own name, because he would not commonly be speaking of himself in the third person, and the only other prominent person in his narrative named John would be, in fact, John the Baptist. Perhaps under those circumstances John the Baptist would simply become ‘John’ in the mind and voice of the author when telling these particular stories.”


It is also not insignificant that the scenes where the beloved disciple is said to have been present (such as the conversation at the last supper, or the events in Caiaphas’ courtyard) are those scenes that contain the most detail and vividness.

Corroborating Specific Details in John

There are also various specific details in John’s gospel that we can confirm and corroborate. Here, I will only provide a sample, though I and others have published many more examples elsewhere. Regular readers of my work will be familiar with the argument from undesigned coincidences, where different gospel accounts dovetail in an artless and casual way, in a manner that confirms the veracity of the account, often corroborating quite specific aspects of the text. An example can be found in the accounts in Luke and John concerning the last supper. Below are the relevant texts.

  • Luke 22:27 – “For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” 
  • John 13:4-5 – “[Jesus] laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet…” 

A reader of Luke’s gospel might ask what Jesus is referring to when he says, “I am among you as the one who serves.” John’s account, however, illuminates the broader context. Jesus gave the disciples an object lesson in servanthood by washing the disciples’ feet, an event not recorded in Luke’s account of the same occasion. A reader of John’s gospel might ask, why does Jesus wash their feet? What prompted this object lesson in servanthood? The answer is given in Luke 22:24 – “A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.” John reports the object lesson in servanthood, whereas Luke reports the occasion that gave rise to it — namely, the dispute among the disciples over who was the greatest. Thus, Luke explains John, and John explains Luke. These two undesigned coincidences corroborate the historicity of the event.

A further example can be found in the accounts concerning Jesus’ approach towards Bethany and his triumphal entry into Jerusalem the following morning. In John 12:1-2,12-13, we read:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table… 12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”


John has given us a very specific extraneous detail (not found in any other gospel’s account of this event): Jesus arrived at Bethany six days before the Passover, and the following day rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (which would have been five days before the Passover). Can we confirm John’s accuracy on this? Yes, we can. Turn back to Mark 11:1-11, which parallels the arrival at Bethany (although Mark does not give us the time-stamp supplied by John):

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it… 7 And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. 8 And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. 9 And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” 11And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.


Mark does not tell us that Jesus approached Bethany six days before the Passover, nor that it was the following day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. However, it appears implicit that they fetched the colt early in the morning. This may be inferred since the disciples fetch the colt, there is the triumphal entry and Jesus and the disciples entered the temple and “looked around at everything” (which was presumably a whole day’s activities). If then, we assume that Jesus entered Jerusalem five days before Passover (explicit in John and implicit in Mark), then we can begin counting off the days narrated in Mark’s gospel, to see if the narrative synchronizes with that of John. Verses 12-14 narrate the cursing of the fig tree, which according to verse 12 happened “the following day” (i.e. four days before the Passover, assuming John’s time-stamp to be correct). Jesus then cleansed the temple and according to verse 19 “when evening came they went out of the city.” In verse 20, we read, “As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots.” Checking our timeline, we are now three days before the Passover. In Mark 13, we read of the Olivet discourse on the Mount of Olives. This, we can assume, took place in the evening, since the Mount of Olives was mid-way between the temple in Jerusalem and Bethany where Jesus and the disciples were staying. The event marks the end of three days before the Passover. When we turn over to Mark 14, we read in verse 1, “It was now two days before the Passover…” We see that Mark and John calibrate perfectly, in a manner that supports the historical reportage model. They corroborate the time-stamp given to us by John thereby confirming one of John’s extraneous details.

The sheer number of examples of such corroborations and the degree of specificity suggests that the fourth gospel is the work of an eyewitness.

Confirming the Identity of Luke

Numerous points of evidence confirm that the author of the third gospel (who also composed the book of Acts) was a travelling companion of Paul. The evidence for this is, in my judgment, so overwhelming so as to put the conclusion nearly beyond question. Here, again, I will list only a small handful of examples. First, there are the famous “we” passages, beginning in Acts 16, which are best understood as indicating the author’s presence in the scenes he narrates. Craig Keener observes that the “we” pronouns trail off when Paul travels through Philippi, only to reappear in Acts 20 when Paul passes once again through Philippi. This is suggestive that the author had remained behind in Philippi and subsequently re-joined Paul when Paul returned through Philippi. [11] Moreover, Keener notes [12],

It is no coincidence that the “we” narratives provide the most detailed accounts in Acts (the missionaries’ brief time in Philippi receives more detailed attention than eighteen months in Corinth and as much as two years in Asia [18:11; 19:10]); that scholars often attribute the many accurate details of travel in 21:1–3, 7–8 to a diary; and that Paul’s two years in Judea (21:17–27:1) are the most detailed portion of the book.


There are also numerous undesigned coincidences between the book of Acts and Paul’s letters. I will only give a small sample here. Let us consider Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which was written around 52-53 A.D from Ephesus in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). We know Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus, because Paul sends greetings from Aquilla and Priscilla in 1 Corinthians 16:19, whom Paul had met in Corinth (Acts 18:1), and who travelled with Paul as far as Ephesus (Acts 18:26). Paul also alludes to his intention to “stay in Ephesus until Pentecost” (1 Corinthians 16:8). Corinth, the capital city of Achaia, on the other hand, was across the Aegean sea from Ephesus.

Now, consider the following two texts from 1 Corinthians:

  • 1 Corinthians 4:17: “That is why I sent you Timothy…”
  • 1 Corinthians 16:10: “When Timothy comes…”

From the two texts given above, it is evident that Timothy had already been dispatched by the time of his writing, but nonetheless that he expected his letter to arrive before Timothy got to Corinth. Given that Ephesus is directly across the Aegean sea from Achaia (where Corinth is), presumably Paul would have sent his letter directly by boat from Ephesus to Corinth. We therefore can infer that Timothy must have taken some route to Corinth that is less direct than that taken by the letter. When we turn over to Acts 19:21-22, which concerns Paul’s stay in Ephesus, we read:

Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.


We can see therefore that Timothy (accompanied by Erastus) did take an indirect overland route to Corinth from Ephesus. Note that Corinth is not mentioned explicitly in Acts as Timothy and Erastus’ destination. The connection is thus quite indirect. Moreover, in Acts 20:1-4, we read,

After the uproar [in Ephesus] ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. 2When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. 3There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. 4Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus.


It is apparent that Timothy did in fact make it to Corinth, in Greece, confirming our prediction based upon the subtle clues in 1 Corinthians. Take note of how indirect this connection is. It thus corroborates the historicity of Acts.

Going back to our text in Acts 19:21-22, we see that Timothy’s travelling companion is specifically named as Erastus. In Romans 16:23, Erastus is said to be the city treasurer of Corinth (the epistle to the Romans was composed during Paul’s three month stint in Corinth, alluded to in Acts 20:2-3). There is even an archaeological discovery – a pavement slab, recovered from the ruins of ancient Corinth, which states that “Erastus bore the expense of this pavement.” How fitting, then, that Timothy, on route to Corinth, should be travelling with someone whom we know on independent grounds was residing in the city of Corinth.

Let’s take a second example. In Acts 18:1-5, we read of Paul’s arrival in Corinth:

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tent makers by trade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.


We learn here that Paul worked as a tent maker with Aquilla and Priscilla, and on the Sabbath day would reason with the Jews in the synagogue. But when Silas and Timothy arrive from Macedonia, Paul seems to have shifted his work focus, to become fully occupied with ministry. What caused this change? Luke doesn’t tell us – indeed, Luke may not even have known the reason. But when we turn over to 2 Corinthians 11:7-9, we have our answer:

7 Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge? 8I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. 


In his own words, Paul corroborates the detail from Acts in a seemingly undesigned manner. We also learn that the brothers who came from Macedonia provided Paul with financial aid: a detail not supplied to us by Acts.

Another example of an undesigned coincidence may be found in Acts 17. We read that Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica was cut short by a mob of Jews who stirred up trouble for Paul and Silas, leading them to depart in haste for Berea (Acts 17:10). The text indicates that “when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds,” (Acts 17:13). Paul thus left had to leave hurriedly for Athens, leaving behind Silas and Timothy (Acts 17:14). This is an unexplained allusion in Acts since there is no account provided as to the cause of Paul’s separation from Silas and Timothy. However, in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5, Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica:

Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, 3 that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 4 For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. 5 For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.


Under these circumstances, Timothy had been commissioned by Paul to return to Thessalonica to check on how the Christians there were doing, and then report back to Paul in Athens. This clarifies what is otherwise an unexplained allusion in Acts, doing so in an ostensibly undesigned manner, which in turn corroborates the history we read in Acts.

Let us examine a further example from Acts. Here is Acts 15:36-40:

And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.


Why was Barnabas so desirous to take Mark with him, despite Mark proving himself to be unfaithful, having withdrawn from Paul and Barnabas previously in Pamphylia? Luke does not tell us. However, when we turn over to Colossians 4:10, we have our answer:

Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions – if he comes to you, welcome him) [emphasis added].


Colossians supplies us with a plausible explanation for the sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas – Mark and Barnabas had a familial relationship, being cousins. Now, it is evident that Paul did not add this reference to Mark being the cousin of Barnabas in order to explain Acts. There is no indication in Colossians of there being any disagreement or falling out involving Mark. By the time Paul wrote to the Colossians, the dispute appears to have been resolved. Nor is Luke in Acts adding his narration of the conflict based on Colossians, for he makes no mention of Mark being the cousin of Barnabas (which would have in such a case been natural to include).

To take one final example, Acts 20:4 lists several companions of Paul who are stated to be travelling from Greece to Troas. Curiously, Acts carefully notes both their names and their city of origin. It is quite plausible that these individuals served as representatives of the various churches from whom Paul at this time was making a collection for the relief of the saints in Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-27; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:1-4, 9:1-5). We learn from Paul’s letters that Paul considered it to be of great importance that he was above reproach in financial matters, and he desired that people know that he was not trying to extort people for money. This is a major theme in both of the Corinthian epistles. In 1 Corinthians 16:3-4, Paul writes, “And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.” He thus suggests that someone else might accompany the contribution of the Corinthians to Jerusalem rather than himself – and if it were advisable that he himself go then that person would go along with him. This makes sense of why Paul was accompanied by such a large group, with their names and cities of origin carefully listed – they were there to ensure that he would not abscond with the money and presumably also to provide security for the collection with which Paul was travelling. This coincidence is particularly striking given that Acts never even mentions the collection except in a highly indirect allusion to it in a speech to Felix in Acts 24:17.

There are also numerous points of external corroboration of Acts. To gain a sense of this evidence, let us consider the account of Paul’s voyage and shipwreck in Acts 27. The report of that voyage notes, in verses 3-6, that,

3 The next day we put in at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for. 4 And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. 5 And when we had sailed across the open sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. 6 There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy and put us on board.


Colin Hemer comments, “Myra, like Patara again, was a principal port for the Alexandrian corn-ships, and precisely the place where Julius would expect to find a ship sailing to Italy in the imperial service. Its official standing here is further illustrated by the Hadrianic granary. Myra was also the first of these ports to be reached by a ship arriving from the east, as Patara had been previously from the reverse direction.” [13]

Verses 13-14 indicate that they “…sailed along Crete, close to the shore. But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land.” In confirmation of Luke’s report, there is indeed a well confirmed wind that rides over Crete from the Northeast, and which is strongest at this exact time near Passover. [14] Acts 27:16 describes how the ship was blown off course towards a small island called Cauda. What is impressive is that the island of Cauda is more than 20 miles west-southwest of where the storm likely struck the travelers in the Bay of Messara. This is precisely where the trajectory of a north-easterly wind should have carried them, and it is not the sort of information someone would have inferred without having been blown there. Ancients found it nearly impossible to properly locate islands this far out. Colin Hemer notes that [15]:

In the places where we can compare, Luke fares much better than the encyclopaedist Pliny, who might be regarded as the foremost first-century example of such a source. Pliny places Cauda (Gaudos) opposite Hierapytna, some ninety miles too far east (NH 4.12.61). Even Ptolemy, who offers a reckoning of latitude and longitude, makes a serious dislocation to the northwest, putting Cauda too near the western end of Crete, in a position which would not suit the unstudied narrative of our text (Ptol. Geog. 3.15.8). 


Numerous other points of detail throughout the book of Acts may be confirmed. For example, Luke gets right the precise designation for the magistrates of the colony at Philippi as στρατηγοὶ (Acts 16:22), following the general term ἄρχοντας in verse 19. He uses the correct term πολιτάρχας for the magistrates in Thessalonica (17:6) and gets right the term Ἀρεοπαγίτης as the appropriate title for the member of the court in Areopagus (Acts 17:34). Luke also correctly identifies Gallio as proconsul, resident in Corinth (18:12), an allusion that allows us to date the events to the period of summer of 51 A.D. to the spring of 52 A.D., since that is when Gallio served as proconsul of Achaia. Luke uses the correct title, γραμματεὺς, for the chief executive magistrate in Ephesus (19:35), found in inscriptions there. He even uses the correct Athenian slang word that the Athenians use of Paul in 17:18, σπερμολόγος (literally, “seed picker”), as well as the term used of the court in 17:19 — Ἄρειον Πάγον, meaning “the hill of Ares”. Acts16:14 mentions Lydia, a seller of purple dye or fabric, from Thyatira, a city in Asia Minor. That city was in fact a center of the trade in purple dye. Luke also gets right numerous points of geography, sea routes and landmarks. For example, he gets right a natural crossing between correctly named ports (Acts 13:4-5). He names the proper port, Perga, for a ship crossing from Cyprus (13:13). He names the proper port, Attalia, that returning travelers would use (14:25). Luke correctly names the place of a sailor’s landmark, Samothrace (16:11) and correctly implies that sea travel was the most convenient means of travelling from Berea to Athens (17:14-15). In Acts 20:13-14, we read, “But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land. And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene.” One might wonder how it was that Paul expected to travel on foot from Troas to Assos on the tip of Asia Minor, having the ship on which his friends were sailing pick him up at Assos, since presumably the ship would travel faster. Colin Hemer explains that “Paul’s staying behind at Troas and travelling overland to rejoin the ship’s company at Assos is appropriate to local circumstances, where the ship had to negotiate an exposed coast and double Cape Lectum before reaching Assos.” [16]

A popular objection here is that it is hardly surprising that a first century author would write accurately about the first century world in which he lived. However, it is naïve to suppose that, in the first century world in which Luke lived, the geographical, political, terminological, and other subtle facts that the book of Acts gets right would have been widely and easily known or accessible. As Dr. Timothy McGrew often puts it, the argument for Acts being based on eyewitness testimony is that the book of Acts gets hard things right. We must not anachronistically think of the ancient world as being able to easily look up these facts, using modern resources like Google or Wikipedia, and include them in a fictional story. Indeed, in the case of the book of Acts, which was written in a world without the ease of access to information that we enjoy today, the author would have had to travel around all of those same places or, at the very least, interview people who had been there to get those hard things right. Luke would also have to include those very specific facts in an account of historical fiction: a genre that did not even exist at the time.

The evidence cumulatively, in my judgment, decisively indicates that the author of Luke-Acts was a travelling companion of the apostle Paul.

Having established that Luke was a travelling companion of Paul (and apparently travelled with Paul to Rome), we can narrow our shortlist of potential candidates to the individuals who are listed as being present with Paul during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment in Colossians 4:10-14 (c.f. Philemon 23-24). These are Aristarchus, Mark, Jesus who is called Justus, Epaphras, Luke, and Demas. Aristarchus is clearly distinguished from the author on route to Rome in Acts 27:2 (and in 20:4-5) and thus may be excluded. Demas deserted Paul according to 2 Timothy 4:10, and thus is an unlikely candidate. Luke was almost certainly not a Palestinian Jew, given his interpretation of Judaism and his geographical competence. He was also very probably a gentile, as suggested by the fact that Luke apparently travelled with Paul to Jerusalem as a representative of the gentile churches (Acts 20:1-5). That eliminates “the men of the circumcision”, namely, Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus who is called Justus. Craig Keener also notes that “the author’s lack of interest in the Lycus Valley might rule out Epaphras,” who was from Colossae (1:7; 4:12). [17] Thus, the most probable candidate of our shortlist is Luke the Physician, which is consistent with the Patristic evidence.

On the Authorship of Matthew and Mark

The internal evidence for the authorship of Matthew and Mark is considerably less strong than that for Luke and John. The traditional authorship of Mark seems to be quite probable in view of the reasons discussed already (in particular, his obscurity as a character). Given that the patristic sources can be demonstrated to get at least two and probably three of their attributions correct, this suggests that their sources of information regarding authorship are reliable. This provides some reason to trust their attribution of the first gospel to Matthew the tax collector. Nonetheless, regardless of who wrote Matthew (or any of the other three gospels), what we can be confident of is that they are composed by individuals who are well informed, close up to the facts, and habitually scrupulous (as demonstrated by numerous internal and external confirmations) — either being eyewitnesses themselves or otherwise individuals who were closely associated with eyewitnesses.


The convergence of the internal and external evidence upon the traditional attributions of authorship points strongly towards the conclusion that the historical attribution of authorship is correct. In the end, we may be extremely confident in the traditional authorship of Luke and John, fairly confident in the traditional authorship of Mark, and sufficiently confident in the traditional authorship of Matthew (at least the original publication in Hebrew). Rabbi Singer’s hasty dismissal of traditional authorship is ill-informed, and lacks engagement with the strongest positive arguments.


1. Tovia Singer, Let’s Get Biblical! Why Doesn’t Judaism Accept the Christian Messiah? Volume 1 (RMBN Publishers, 2014).

2. Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (HarperOne, 2014), kindle.

3. Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (HarperOne, 2006), 38.

4. Lydia McGrew, The Eye of the Beholder: The Gospel of John as Historical Reportage (DwWard, 2021).

5. Brant Pitre, The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ (Image, 2016), 16.

6. Ibid., 21.

7. Josef Kürzinger, “Papias von Hierapolis und die Evangelien des Neuen Testaments,” Regensberg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet, 1983.

8. Martin Hengel, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ, Trinity Press International, 2000).

9. Graham N. Stanton, Jesus and Gospel (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 79.

10. Lydia McGrew, The Eye of the Beholder: The Gospel of John as Historical Reportage (DwWard, 2021). 203.

11. Craig Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Vol. 1 (Baker Academic, 2012), 431.

12. Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: 15:1–23:35, Vol. 3 (Baker Academic, 2012–2013), 2350–2351.

13. Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, ed. Conrad H. Gempf (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 134.

14. R. W. White, (2002). “A Meteorological Appraisal of Acts 27:5-26,” The Expository Times, 113(12), 403–407.

15. Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, ed. Conrad H. Gempf (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 331.

16. Ibid., 125.

17. Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary & 2: Introduction and 1:1–14:28, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012–2013), 411.

2 thoughts on “Who Wrote the Gospels? Rabbi Tovia Singer Has No Clue!”

  1. Pingback: mid-week apologetics booster (6-29-2023) – 1 Peter 4:12-16

  2. It should be noted that the term ‘logia’ – often translated as ‘oracles of the Lord’ – were used by early Christian writers, contemporary or near-contemporary writers, i.e., Philo (cf. Questions and Answers on Genesis, 3:14), Clement of Rome (cf. 1 Clem. 53), Irenaeus (cf. Adversus Haereses 3:1:1), and Clement of Alexandria (cf. Paedagogus 2:11) to refer to scripture, and sometimes narratives in scripture. See J.B. Lightfoot’s “Essays on Supernatural Religion”.

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