Who wrote the four Gospels? From a historical perspective, it doesn’t quite matter who wrote the Gospels. What matters is whether the Gospels are true. However, if we know the authors, when they lived, and how closely they associated with Jesus, we will be in a better position to determine whether their writings can be trusted. The four Gospels are named after their traditional authors, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew was a tax collector and disciple of Jesus. Mark was an associate of Peter, a disciple of Jesus. Luke was a traveling companion with Paul, one of the first missionaries who claimed to have encountered Jesus. John was also a disciple of Jesus, and one of the closest among the twelve. This puts all four of these men in a good position to write about Jesus.
You may have heard people say that the four Gospels are anonymous. This, I believe, is an oversimplification of the issue. Our earliest copies include descriptions at the start which say “The Gospel according to Matthew” or “Mark” or “Luke” or “John.” From a literary perspective, scholars consider this to be unusual, and so they suggest that these words were added when the four gospels started to circulate together, maybe sooner. Whatever the case, we don’t need to have names explicitly written down. There’s other reasons for believing the Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. For instance, there is no competing tradition for the four authors. The only exception I’m aware of would be a small group who denied the authorship of John near the end of the second century, but that didn’t last. The ancient writer Irenaeus is one important author who gave us the authors of the four Gospels. He personally knew Polycarp who knew John, the disciple of Jesus. This puts him in a great position to know who wrote the four gospels, especially John. Many other names could be given, and they write about the authors as if there is no doubt, probably because there’s wasn’t any doubt. As far as we can tell, the whole church knew the authorship of these Gospels. It appears these writings always had a name associated with them, even if the name wasn’t written down. In that sense, they really weren’t anonymous.
Some modern scholarship has denied one or more of the authors, although it’s usually after ignoring the early church writings or dismissing them far too quickly. For instance, some would say that Matthew is not the author of the first gospel, because Matthew was an eye-witnesses disciple of Jesus and yet he appears to have drawn from Mark. So they ask: why would an eyewitness need to use a source? Well, maybe the Gospel of Mark had so much acceptance by the early church that Matthew knew it would be good to use in his material, and he didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. Others point out that the first gospel comes from a perspective that shows a deeper relationship with the Jews than one would expect to find in Matthew. But who’s to say Matthew didn’t know how to speak to his audience? Others look to Papias who said Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, and they think Papias was wrong about Matthew because he was wrong about Hebrew. But everyone is wrong about some stuff and right about other stuff. It seems to me that the modern scholars who write against the traditional authors of the Gospels are speculating far too much. I think we would be justified to push against them because of the unanimous understanding from all the writers who lived within the first few hundred years of Jesus. These early authors would have had many more resources that we don’t have today. They would have had more connections with other people who knew about the Gospels. They would have been in a much better position to know who wrote the Gospels than those of us living nearly two thousand years later.
Another reason for rejecting the traditional authors is that we have writings of Jesus from early Christians who falsely attributed names to their writings. They say that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John might be similar. For instance, the Gospel of Peter was not written by Peter. The Gospel of Thomas was not written by Thomas. For these books, we have good reasons to deny their authorship, and it’s no surprise that the early church rejected these books because they knew it just as well as we do. But it doesn’t follow that we would deny Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. You have to evaluate these books on a case-by-case basis, and that’s what I’ve been doing. In fact, you look at the Gospel of Peter or Thomas, those are exciting names to have as Gospel! Gosh, wouldn’t it be cool if we had a Gospel of Jesus written by the legend Peter himself? Certainly! That’s why his name was falsely attributed to the Gospel of Peter. It adds credibility. It draws interest. Same with Thomas, Philip, and others. Matthew, on the other hand, yes, he was a disciple of Jesus. But he was a tax collector. Jews did not like tax collectors. If you wanted to falsely attribute a name to the first Gospel, you wouldn’t use Matthew. Mark and Luke were not disciples at all, so their names were unlikely to have been fabricated. John would have been a compelling name to use if somebody wanted to, but based on everything else I’ve shared earlier in this video, I don’t think there’s good evidence for us to go there.