The bibliography for this article includes quotes and/or references from the New American Bible.
One might say: why is it so important to hear about who the authors of the four gospel accounts of Jesus were? After all, God sent his Son Jesus as the Redeemer to forgive our sins, and died to accomplish that through the Paschal Mystery. All four gospels cover that truth, especially with the Passion narrative.
Each of the Synoptic Gospels’ authors was telling us a story about that Paschal Mystery and reached out to a particular audience and cultural group that would convince the listeners to believe and follow the truth that God intended.
I have not included John’s Gospel since most of it is authored by the Apostle John or followers of him. His gospel is different in its structure since the theme throughout is showing Jesus Christ is God. That is why it is commonly known as a Book of Signs which portrays Jesus as God.
My main concern relies on just who were the initial writers of each of the three Synoptic Gospels? A simple definition places the synoptic gospels side by side, appearing to be the same on the outside but with some basic differences on the inside. There has always been confusion as to the who and what as far as origination and author of each book. I hope to dispel some of these discrepancies.
Mark, also known as John Mark, was a companion of Paul and Barnabas. His Gospel is believed to be the first written narrative of Jesus’ ministry and describes in detail more about the Lord than either Matthew or Luke. It is likely that Mark’s gospel was the first written around 70 AD or shortly before. His audience must have been Gentile, unfamiliar with Jewish customs preparing Christians to remain faithful in the face of persecution.
From Acts 12: 1 ff, when Peter was arrested and ultimately released by an angel, he realized the Lord sent an angel to rescue him. He then went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who is called Mark. Being a companion of Peter Mark was able to glean quite a lot of history about Jesus with which he could write about the Lord. He also went with Barnabas and Saul (Paul) after they had completed their relief mission and returned to Jerusalem. From these facts can be seen that Mark was able to gather information which he included in his gospel account. As you will notice in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke much of what they wrote is almost word for word in parallel from Mark. Even though Matthew and Luke did not know each other it shows that they used Mark’s Gospel as one of their sources for their common reference.
Matthew, who was not the tax collector mentioned in his gospel, has a very particular way of preparing his narrative. Note the use of the number 14 which becomes a clue to his composition. Using the perfect number 7 is a sign Matthew uses and 14 becomes a multiple of 7. The number 7 times 2 represents a double measure of spiritual perfection. Keep in mind that Matthew is writing for Jews who have turned to the New Way in Jesus Christ and it is important as he follows the traditions of the Jews by referencing their understanding of the Old Testament and symbolism.
In the first chapter he records the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. “Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah, fourteen generations.” Throughout this gospel you will see that number is important in his message. Another sign of symbolism is how his narrative is structured. The Pentateuch is made up of five books. So, in addition to a birth narrative and a final conclusion the remainder of his gospel is divided into five books. The way to see how this reads, each book ends with, “And when he finished with this teaching he moved on to the next place.” Mt. 7: 28, 11: 1, 13: 53, 19: 1, and 26:.1. His most astounding discourse is the Eschatological narrative. Perhaps the most intriguing parable is chapter 25: 31-46 where the final judgment is spoken. Herein there is no other discourse that spells out the final judgment and how to follow that mandate.
Even though he refers to the tax collector in the third person there are questions regarding that if Matthew was the evangelist as well as the tax collector why does he, like Luke, use Mark as a source almost word for word as mentioned above? Also, if Matthew was an apostle why did he write this narrative around 35 years after the Resurrection of Christ? He could have written his narrative as an individual writer without referring to another author for information. The best information is besides using Mark he also used Q, stands for Quelle the German term meaning source. This source is said to be notes that the Apostle Matthew left writings or notes and this accounts for some believing that the writer was the Apostle Matthew. In addition to these sources there is the letter M where the information is just found in Matthew, only.
Like Luke, Matthew used Mark for some of his narrative and the remainder was his own informative sources. It is presumed that this gospel was written at least a decade after Mark’s and the location is believed to be in Antioch, around 70 AD.
One of the most intriguing facts about Luke’s Jesus, he like John was very interested in the poor. He calls the Christian disciple to identify with the master Jesus, who is caring and tender toward the poor and lowly, the outcast, the sinner, and the afflicted. See the parables of the Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son, The rich man and Lazarus, and others reflecting on the disenfranchised whom no one cared about. Luke’s Gospel was dependent on Mark for much of his narrative, as can be seen from parallel teaching of Matthew which adds fuel to the fact that neither was an apostle of Jesus. He also used Q and his own input exclusive to Luke alone. One major theme in Luke is Jesus’ affiliation to tax collectors, prostitutes, and Samaritans. No doubt this particular element had a lot to do with the anger and plan of the Pharisees to condemn Jesus. The time was also around 70 AD and could have been in Antioch as well.
Another factor about Luke is he can be considered a back-door ministry since his approach to the needs of people is not based on a “look at me” scenario, but someone who brings love and compassion to those who reflect need, instead of you come to me if you want help. His parables select that understanding, just like his Father.
Using information, such as recorded here, the reader will have a concise understanding as to why each author wrote as he did. He was reaching an audience in which the other two could not since each writer knew his audience better.
Ralph B. Hathaway, Spring 2021