The Nameless Gospels

The Anonymous Gospels of the New Testament

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

Dean at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Keith Fullerton Nickle informs his readers that the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are anonymous literature. We simply have zero clue who wrote them.

“We must candidly acknowledge that all three of the Synoptic Gospels are anonymous documents.” [1]

The names given to the four gospels that everyone takes for granted were actually imposed upon documents that were literally nameless. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were names that were forced upon the documents by unscrupulous persons such as Iranaeus, who according to G. A. Wells was about the first individual to designate the gospels with those four apostolic titles which would have certified those anonymous documents, as was the patristic intention, as apostolic hence making them authoritative as divine scripture. Noting this most important point, Senior Lecturer in Studies in Religion at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia Dr. Rick Strelan writes:

“The Gospels are anonymous texts — to say it again — but later authority issues among Christians forced them to identify Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as authors of the Gospels, and, in turn, to associate these names with apostolic auhority.” [2]


The late Jesuit priest Father Daniel J. Harrington, who was Professor of New Testament and Chair of the Biblical Studies Department at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, has it that:

“All four of the Gospels are anonymous, that is, they themselves do not tell us who their authors were. The Fourth Gospel indicates, as we shall see, that “the disciple Jesus loved,” who figures prominently in the second half, was responsible for this Gospel, but even he is anonymous. In the second century the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were attached to the Gospels, and near the end of the century John was identified as the Apostle John. It is unlikely that the Fourth Gospel as we have it was written by an apostle, but it may embody a tradition of interpreting Jesus that originated with an apostle, and of course we can neither prove nor disprove that it was John.” [3]


[1] Nickle, K. F. (2001). The Synoptic Gospels: An Introduction. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. p. 43

[2] Strelan, R. (2007). Luke the Priest: The Authority of the Author of the Third Gospel. England: Ashgate Publishing Limited. p. 11

[3] Achtemeier, P. J., Harrington, D. J., Karris, R. J. et. al. (2002). Invitation to the Gospels. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press. p. 328

For a fuller treatment on the anonymity of not only the first three gospels but all four gospels of the New Testament, do proceed to my article on the topic, which I wrote in 2009:

The Anonymous Four Gospels

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