Were the Gospels originally anonymous?

Sometimes it is fun to play with ideas, and fun to play with common accepted standpoints, whether of so-called ‘common’ knowledge, or ideas prevalent and generally accepted in much research. If no-one dares to plays with ideas, challenge them, maybe even turn them up-side-down, there will be little progress in research.

Some ideas about the origins of the New Testament Gospels are more widely accepted then others, that is, more generally accepted, even though you can always find deviating, or better, opposing positions.

The idea or standpoint that the NT gospels are, even though they by now wear titles, originally anonymous gospels; that is, that they were issued, having no authorial names attached to them, are one such idea.

Most lay people, and some conservative theologians, takes the names like ‘Gospel according Matthew’, Mark, Luke, or John as genuine authorial statements; but many don’t. It seems to be an accepted dogma in scholarly circles that the titles are later additions…

However, Brant Pitre has now published a little book in which in which he challenges the common scholarly opinion, arguing that the names Matthew, Mark. Luke and John may in fact be references to the ‘real’ authors of the Gospels.

Dr. Brant Pitre, Professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary, in New Orleans, Louisiana – has come up with a book that challenges many of the more common conceptions about the origins of the gospels:

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

I wont say I buy all he is trying to argue in this book, but it is an enjoyable and refreshing reading – so far, but I haven’t read all yet. But have a look at the arguments he presents in favor for the view that the Gospels were in fact not anonymous.

But first, the mainline view of the anonymity of the Gospels:

First, according to this theory, all four Gospels were originally published without any titles or headings identifying the authors.

Second, all four Gospels supposedly circulated without any titles for almost a century before anyone attributed them to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.

Third, it was only much later— sometime after the disciples of Jesus were dead and buried— that the titles were finally added to the manuscripts.

Fourth and finally, and perhaps most significant of all, according to this theory, because the Gospels were originally anonymous, it is reasonable to conclude that none of them was actually written by an eyewitness.

Then, we have the counterarguments of prof. Pitre:

“The first and perhaps biggest problem for the theory of the anonymous Gospels is this: no anonymous copies of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John have ever been found. They do not exist. As far as we know, they never have. . . . When it comes to the titles of the Gospels, not only the earliest and best manuscripts, but all of the ancient manuscripts— without exception, in every language— attribute the four Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. 14.” *

“Second, notice that there is some variation in the form of the titles (for example, some of the later manuscripts omit the word “Gospel”). However, as New Testament scholar Michael Bird notes, there is “absolute uniformity” in the authors to whom each of the books is attributed.”

“Third— and this is important— notice also that the titles are present in the most ancient copies of each Gospel we possess, including the earliest fragments, known as papyri (from the papyrus leaves of which they were made). For example, the earliest Greek manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew contains the title “The Gospel according to Matthew” (Greek euangelion kata Matthaion) (Papyrus 4). Likewise, the oldest Greek copy of the beginning of the Gospel of Mark starts with the title “The Gospel according to Mark” (Greek euangelion kata Markon).”

“The second major problem with the theory of the anonymous Gospels is the utter implausibility that a book circulating around the Roman Empire without a title for almost a hundred years could somehow at some point be attributed to exactly the same author by scribes throughout the world and yet leave no trace of disagreement in any manuscripts. 20 And, by the way, this is supposed to have happened not just once, but with each one of the four Gospels.”

“Finally, if things happened the way the anonymous theory proposes, then why aren’t some copies attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, but other copies attributed to someone else— for instance, Andrew, or Peter, or Jude? If the Gospels really got their titles from scribes falsely adding them to manuscripts up to a century later, we would expect to find both (1) anonymous copies— which, as we’ve already seen, don’t exist— as well as (2) contradictory titles, with some scribes attributing one copy of a Gospel to Matthew and another attributing the same Gospel to Peter or Jesus or whomever.”

“In short, the theory of the anonymous Gospels suffers not only from a lack of manuscript evidence but also from a lack of logic. It simply does not pass muster when it comes to basic criteria of historical plausibility.”

These are the main arguments of prof. Pitre in chapter 2 of his book; if your are interested in the rest of his arguments, get the book; it is available in paper as well as in a Kindle edition.

*(I’m sorry, I have no exact page references as I use a Kindle version)




How do you do your research?

Prof. James D.G. Dunn (Emeritus Lightfoot Professor of Divinity, University of Durham) is probably one of those New Testament scholars whose books I have read most up through the years. I have never had any close contact with him, but have followed his career since his first book (Baptism…), and have both enjoyed and profited much from his research.

Now NIJAY GUPTA has similar experiences, and in one of his latest posts on his blog CRUX SOLA, he has an interview with prof Dunn, mainly concerning his ways of doing research.

I shall not repeat all of what he writes (you can read it for your self here), but I quote here one of the questions and answers that I found most interesting:

How do you approach research as a whole? Do you have a big-picture strategy? Do your research all at once, and then write? Do you do some sketching and reflecting on paper and then dig into research? Do you go back and forth?

My practice over the past 40 years or so has been to identify an issue or subject I want to write on, but to confine my reading to a few major works (to ensure I am alert to the main issues) and to work directly on the text(s) to draft out what seems to me to be the main concerns and arguments.   Only then, with a paper in first draft, do I go into intense study of as much of the main secondary literature as I can lay my hands on.   This may explain why in most of my writings most of the argument with other scholars comes in the endnotes.

There is a nice Literary biography and bibliography on J.D.G. Dunn here.

Reading more in Gupta’s blog, I see that he has also posted the same questions to a couple  other scholars; you can read about Michael Gorman, and  Michael F. Bird too.

Update March 4: Gupta now also has an interview with David A. deSilva

Update April 3: Gupta has now added interviews with Craig Blomberg, Helen Bond, and David Horrell.

Another review of ‘Reading Philo’

In the most recent issue of Catholic Biblical Quarterly (78 (2016):185-187), Michael Cover (Marquette University, Milwaukee, USA) has a review of Reading Philo. A Handbook to Philo of Alexandria (Grand Rapids, Mi., Eerdmans, 2014).

The review is quite positive, commenting briefly on the various chapters of the book, and ends up with the following conclusion:

“In sum, despite some niggling concerns, any student of Philo will receive much from reading this volume. It is more than a handbook: it is a contribution, a celebration, and an invitation. In the words of its editor: Tolle lege.


Danningens Filosofihistorie

omsl.Danningens filosofihistorieOppdaget en bok i dag jeg burde ha oppdaget før, siden den kom ut så langt tilbake som i 2013:

Ingerid S. Straume,
Danningens Filosofihistorie.
Gyldendal Norsk forlag, Oslo 2013.

Gleder meg til å lese i den. Boken består av en rekke enkeltstående kapitler, skrevet av forskjellige forfattere. Halvor Moxnes, f.eks., skriver om’Jesu dannelse av disiplene i Markusevangeliet.’ Hallvard J. Fossheim skriver om ‘Platon og Aristoteles om dannelse’, og Hermund Slaattelid om ‘Ein danningstradisjon i romersk historie,’ for å nevne de som ligger nærmest mitt forskningsfelt. Boken inneholder i alt 28 kapitler, og er innom både Kofusiansk og Muslimsk dannelsetradisjoner (2 kapitler), mens resten fokuserer på vestlig filosofi opp til vår egen tid.

Men burde her ikke også ha vært et kapittel om jødiske dannelsesidealer? Jeg savner det, og ville selvfølgelig også vært overbegeistret om et avsnitt også  hadde handlet om Jøden Filon av Aleksandria! Tror Peder B vil være enig med meg i det!

Men boken representerer likevel et interressant nytt tilskudd til våre  innføringsbøker til filosofienss historie.