Authorship of the Four Gospels
Part 6 – Basic Catechism on the Bible
One of the greatest tragedies of the current age is that we have lost all manner of common sense. Things that in the past were obvious to most are now considered “primitive” or “outdated.” Nowhere is this mentality more evident than in the realm of contemporary biblical scholarship. In my last article we investigated the traditional teaching of Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Bible. In this article we will investigate the traditional understanding of the authorship of the four canonical Gospels.
The English Catholic author G.K. Chesterton is famous for his expression of the “democracy of the dead,” by which he means tradition. Not without wit, he declares that a true democracy of the ideas would entail deference to the ideas of our ancestors. The idea being that our predecessors have already considered virtually all of life’s questions, therefore we should consult their consensus. This is one of the reasons we rely with confidence on the Sacred Tradition of the Church.
As discussed in previous articles, the Pontifical Biblical Commission has provided definitive answers on important matters of biblical scholarship. Not only has the PBC clarified concerns on Old Testament authorship, but it has also ratified what was always understood about the authorship of the Gospels. Around the turn of the 20th century, there was an influx of erroneous Protestant-based biblical criticism in academia. Among other things, the authorship of the Gospels was called into question.
The most absurd hypothesis put forth is the so-called “Q Source” theory. The proponents of this fantasy suggest that there is a “lost” Gospel or unknown collection of writings that the Gospel authors appeal to in their authorship. Those who support this idea claim that the similarities between the Gospels are proof that a mysterious Gospel must be the source material. It is truly characteristic of the modern scholar to educate himself out of common sense. Imagine a detective combing through a series of witness statements, only to conclude that the witnesses independent of each other, were appealing to a lost witness statement never discovered. It is insane. The reason that the Gospels share so much in common is because the authors wrote down either what they saw or what they scribed from those who did see. Understanding that this eye-witness testimony was handed-on (‘tradere’ in Latin, from where we derive the word ‘tradition’) in an oral culture makes far more sense of the evidence we have than positing imaginary written sources for which there is no factual evidence.
Concerning the holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew, the PBC expresses that we are restricted from even holding the opinion that Matthew’s authorship is to be doubted, let alone that he appealed to some sort of Q source. As regards the holy Gospels of Saint Mark and Saint Luke, the PBC is clear that Mark wrote as a disciple of Peter, and Luke wrote as a disciple of St. Paul. This means that the Gospel of Mark is largely inspired by Saint Peter. The first Pope serves as his primary source. Furthermore, it has always been held that Mark was in fact one of the seventy-two disciples who followed Christ. St. Peter’s authority as a source even demonstrates the teaching authority of the Pope from the earliest age. Also, Luke in the beginning of his Gospel explicitly and unequivocally writes: “According as they have delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word: It seemed good to me also, having diligently attained to all things from the beginning, to write to thee in order, most excellent Theophilus.” (Luke 1:2-3)
Not only do we trust that Saint Luke was guided by the Holy Ghost, but we also see that Luke is a first-class scholar. Like Moses, he appeals to the tradition, both oral and written, in order to provide an inerrant account. Furthermore, in the second chapter of his Gospel, Saint Luke writes at the end of the Nativity and Visitation narrative that Mary “kept all these words in her heart.” This means that these are the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary, scribed by Saint Luke. Regular women remember every single detail of their birth-story; how much more accurate must be the memory of the perfect and immaculate Theotokos?
The holy Gospel according to Saint John is also included in the replies of the PBC. In fact, the Commission makes clear that no other is to be acknowledged as the author of the fourth Gospel. It is important to note that the PBC did not simply make these statements in an autocratic manner. Rather, a careful and thorough study shows that the authorship of the Gospels by the historical disciples of Christ named St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John is universally held by the ancient Church Fathers. The sacred authorship was already being challenged in the second century because gnostic heretics were publishing numerous fake gospels using various pseudonyms, such as the ‘gospel of Peter’ or the ‘gospel of Mary Magdalene’ or the ‘gospel of Thomas.’ Thus the great saints and leaders of the early Church had to be sure the canonical Gospels were of apostolic authenticity, and they had to be well-prepared to defend this truth against the heretics of their day. Modern scholars once again demonstrate their loss of all common sense when they expect us to believe that Protestant academics living in nineteenth-century ‘ivory towers’ would have more sure knowledge regarding who wrote the Gospels than saintly bishops and Church Fathers battling in second-century trenches to save the souls of their flock from cunning gnostic heretics and pagan imperial power.
Another area of contention amongst modern scholars is the dating of the Gospels. Often the dates of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are pushed back decades from the traditional understanding. Although many give lip-service to the guidance of the Holy Ghost, it must be admitted that decades between Christ’s earthly life and penning the Gospels only adds seeds of doubt in the minds of skeptics. Again, the PBC makes it clear that all three synoptic Gospels were written before the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem in 70 A.D. In other words, these Gospels were already being faithfully transmitted by the first generations of Christians! Many of these errors would not have a foothold if Catholics remained faithful to the official English Bible of the Church, the Douay-Rheims. In the introduction to each Gospel, the Douay-Rheims translation appeals to the Tradition and Fathers to give us accurate dates of each Gospel that correspond with the established teachings.
In the end, the “democracy of the dead” is our best approach, as our Fathers in Faith who were much closer to the source, have given us firm ground on which to stand.
Editor’s Note: When ordinary Catholics first hear of these wild theories, such as the hidden “Q” source or the Gospels being written by ‘committees of redactors’ decades after the death of the Apostles for whom they are named, they naturally ask “What would motivate people to postulate such notions?” While there may be many varied motives, it seems clear that an underlying cause – conscious or not – is a lack of faith.
If a “Q” source were to exist, then this would imply there was a more original source to Jesus’ teachings, and hence a more “authentic” source. Yet since “Q” has never been discovered, every scholar is allegedly free to use his ‘evidence’ of choice to postulate that this or that teaching is, or is not, found in “Q”. For example, a gnostic might argue that “Q” only contains “sayings” of Jesus and none of His actions. This supports the gnostic heresy that Our Lord was not hypostatically united to a human nature. Someone who does not favor Church structure could claim that “Q” does not contain passages such as Matthew 18, for they are obviously ecclesial in scope.
If the Gospels do not come from eye-witnesses and disciples of Christ, but were written generations later, then it is easy to posit that whatever one disagrees with was in fact added “later on.” If they were added decades, or centuries, later then one can argue this is not part of Jesus’ real message and hence may be ignored, even contradicted. One then ‘discovers’ the ‘real Jesus’ and a more authentic Christianity which is stripped of all ‘accretions’ added on by various human leaders of the Catholic Church.
Note that this methodology goes hand in hand with the principle of personal and private interpretation of the Bible. If I can decide on my own what a particular passage of the Bible means, then it is a logical next step to decide on my own which passages are authentically part of Scripture and which were “added later on” and may therefore be ignored. A lack of faith amongst Protestant scholars may not surprise Catholics too much, for we know that if one consciously rejects one infallible dogma of the Church, one losses the supernatural gift of faith. However, knowing that most Catholic biblical scholars have accepted and promoted these errors should cause us grave concern and help open our eyes as to the depth of the crisis within the Church.
In the end, suggesting that a “Q” source exists, and that the Gospels were not written by Christ’s disciples, is a way of re-creating Christianity and the Church according to our liking. Man can then adapt it to “modern times” and even make Christ’s Gospel politically correct by today’s standards. In effect, this leads to man is refashioning God according to his fallen image, which is nothing less than idolatry and a violation of the First Commandment.
 The “Q Source” theory derived its name from the German word “Quelle,” which simply means ‘source’. It took this generic name because it is a hypothesis which postulated that the Gospel authors used as a source an unseen collection of Jesus’ sayings. Yet this “Q” has never been discovered and no ancient source makes any reference to it! Even worse, it is a blatant disregard for the Church’s official teaching. Thus, it would make sense to regard as heresy the belief that some “Q” source exists.
 “Can even probable arguments be given in support of that opinion of certain recent writers according to which Matthew did not write a Gospel properly and strictly so-called, such as has been handed down to us, but merely a collection of the sayings or discourses of Christ which were drawn on by another anonymous author, whom they make the editor of the Gospel itself?
Answer: In the negative.”
(Concerning the Author, the Date, and the Historical Truth of the Gospel according to Matthew, PBC 1911)
 “Does the clear verdict of tradition showing extraordinary unanimity from the beginnings of the Church and confirmed by manifold evidence, namely the explicit attestations of the holy Fathers and ecclesiastical writers, the quotations and allusions occurring in their writings, the use made by ancient heretics, the versions of the books of the New Testament, almost all the manuscripts including the most ancient, and also internal reasons drawn from the text of the sacred books impose the definite affirmation that Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, and Luke, the doctor, the assistant and companion of Paul, were really the authors of the Gospels that are attributed to them respectively?
Answer: In the affirmative.”
(Concerning the Authors, Dates, and Historical Truth of the Gospels according to Mark and Luke, 1912)
 There is also a tradition found in the Church Fathers that when the Church prayed for Peter, who was set to be executed by Herod, they gathered in the house of Mark’s family (see Acts 11).
 “Does the constant, universal, and solemn tradition of the Church dating back to the second century and witnessed to principally: (a) by the holy Fathers, by ecclesiastical writers, and even by heretics, whose testimonies and allusions must have been derived from the disciples or first successors of the Apostles and so be linked with the very origin of the book; (b) by the name of the author of the fourth Gospel having been at all times and places in the canon and lists of the sacred books; (c) by the most ancient manuscripts of those books and the various versions; (d) by public liturgical use in the whole world from the very beginnings of the Church; prove that John the Apostle and no other is to be acknowledged as the author of the fourth Gospel, and that by an historical argument so firmly established (without reference to theological considerations) that the reasons adduced by critics to the contrary in no way weaken this tradition?
Answer: In the affirmative.”
(Concerning the Author and Historical Truth of the Fourth Gospel, 1907)
 If you ever hear someone talking about a popular modern novel called The Da Vinci Code, know that it is based upon the heretical gnostic so-called ‘gospel of St. Thomas.’ This is one reason why it is filled with so many errors and attacks against Holy Mother Church. This “gospel” had been shown to be false by the Church Fathers centuries ago! The devil keeps recycling his lies in his effort to deceive souls.
 “Can the composition of this original text (Matthew) be postponed till after the time of the destruction of Jerusalem?
Answer: Negative.” (PBC 1911)
“Is it lawful to postpone the date of composition of the Gospels of Mark and Luke till after the destruction of the city of Jerusalem?
Answer: Negative.” (PBC 1912)