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Anonymous Gospels

May 8, 2018

Although early in their circulation the NT Gospels were ascribed to the familiar four figures (probably sometime early 2nd century), they actually originated as anonymous, which deserves more notice than scholars have typically given to the matter.  Noting that many OT books and several NT books are anonymous, David Aune judged this “a striking literary feature” that, nevertheless, “has been almost completely neglected.”[i]

For, in the literary environment of the authors of the Gospels, the overwhelmingly customary practice was for authors of literary works (such as historical or biographical narratives) to identify themselves, and claim credit for their works.  This was often done as part of the formal prologues to their works.[ii]  So, to release substantial works such as the NT Gospels anonymously was very unusual, amounting to a significant departure from literary practices of that time.[iii]

In looking for scholarly attention to the matter, the most recent discussion I could find was an informative article by Armin D. Baum.[iv]  This study documents Greek and Roman literary conventions, showing how striking the anonymity of the NT Gospels is.  But Baum notes that anonymity of what he calls “historiographical” texts (narratives) is also characteristic of OT writings of this type, and, he contends, and was practiced more widely in the Ancient Near East.[v]

So, it appears that the authors of the NT Gospels may have been influenced by the pattern of authorial anonymity in the OT narratives that they considered scriptures.  It is dangerous to try to explore their intentions.  Did they consciously imitate the anonymity of these OT texts, perhaps thereby wishing to link their narratives with those?  Greek and Roman authors identified themselves, wishing credit for their works.  Did the authors of the NT Gospels think it inappropriate to identify themselves as the authors of these texts, wishing instead simply to foreground the contents and simply serve the message/cause?  In any case, the evident individuality of the four Gospels reflects the work of four authors.  But, for whatever reason, they did not wish to foreground themselves, and that is noteworthy.

As we move into the second century, however, the four Gospels were ascribed to the now-traditional authors.  But, as others have noted, the “superscriptions” that identify them, for example, “the Gospel according to Matthew (κατα Μαθθαιον) are all unusually phrased.[vi]  More typically, the name of an author was placed it in a genitive construction in relationship to the work.  The phrasing of these superscriptions identifies “the Gospel” as the subject shared by all four texts, each one of which presents a version of it.

The anonymity of the NT Gospels also contrasts with the more direct authorial claims of subsequent “apocryphal” gospels.   For example, the opening lines of the Gospel of Thomas identify the text as “the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke, as Judas Thomas wrote them.”  These later texts tend to claim some unique revelation or insight granted to this or that named individual (and denied to all other disciples of Jesus).

Typically, commentaries take little note of the anonymity of the Gospels, but it deserves more attention, given how unusual it apparently was.


[i] David E. Aune, The Westminster Dictionary of New Testament and Early Christian Literature and Rhetoric (Louisville/London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 35.

[ii] This practice was typically followed by Jewish authors of the Greco-Roman period too.  E.g., the prologue to Josephus’ Jewish War, 1.1-3.

[iii] In John 21:24, an unidentified “we” vouch for the truthfulness of “the disciple who witnesses about these things and wrote these things,” which appears to point to the putative author of the preceding Gospel of John.  But this figure is not named.  Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1 address these texts to a Theophilos (not otherwise known), but the author does not identify himself.

[iv] Armin D. Baum, “The Anonymity of the New Testament History Books: A Stylistic Device in the Context of Greco-Roman and Ancient Near Eastern Literature,” Novum Testamentum 50.2 (2008): 120-42.

[v] Baum notes, on the other hand, that OT Wisdom and Prophetic texts typically were linked to named figures.

[vi] Martin Hengel, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ (London: SCM, 2000), 48-53.

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  1. focusonfocusblog permalink

    Who was the author in the early 2nd century that attributes authorship to the gospels we know? Justin Martyr in the mid-2nd century doesn’t attribute authorship to specific writings.

    • Grant: Justin knows of multiple gospels authored by “apostles” and others (again multiple) by figures associated with the apostles. That = at least 4, at least two by apostles and at least two by others. The familiar four NT Gospels do nicely, two ascribed to apostles (Matt & John) and two to others (Mark, Luke). Justin doesn’t name them in the Dialogue or Apologia, probably because the names would have meant nothing to those he styles himself as addressing. On the emergence of the titles, see, e.g., Martin Hengel, The Four Gospels and the One GOspel of Jesus Christ (London: SCM; Harrisburg,PA: Trinity Press International, 2000), esp. 48-56.

  2. Big question: What other writings of the time period identify themselves as the author other than Josephus?

    Thanks for pointing this out.

    [ii] This practice was typically followed by Jewish authors of the Greco-Roman period too. E.g., the prologue to Josephus’ Jewish War, 1.1-3.

    • See those cited in Baum’s article.

    • Simon Gathercole permalink

      Notably, Josephus does mention himself in War, but not in Ant. And not in his autobiography either – so is Josephus’s Vita anonymous?!!

      • Well, Simon, that’s not quite a match. After all, Josephus’ Vita is totally first-person, and with lots of identifying information. And, moreover, the present title, Iosepou Bios, is likely his own for the work (it certainly fits the syntactical pattern for such titles). And Josephus’ Antiquities has a lengthy preface in which he goes on in first-person, mentioning among other things his previous work on the Jewish War. But the NT Gospels don’t tell us anything about the authors (in the case of GMark and GMatthew), or very little (as in the case of GLuke). So, I do think that there is a distinction to be noted.

      • Dear Sirs Gathercole & Hurtado:

        A question:
        Are either of you aware of any scholarly writings which specifically reference 𝖕1, as ammunition in the “the Gospels were anonymous” claim in the last century?

        Out of the five earliest titled (or title-less) fragments (𝖕1, 𝖕4, 𝖕62, 𝖕66 and 𝖕75), 𝖕1 is the only one where we might expect to find a title and none is there.

        The other four (𝖕4, 𝖕62, 𝖕66 and 𝖕75) suggest that titles were present from the moment two were put together, or at least in the titulus (𝖕1 could have had it at the separation of Matthew from Mark as we see in Luke to John in 𝖕75)

        There is, therefore, no solid evidence that the Gospels were ever distributed (together) anonymously in the first century, and the use of the titulus in libraries also suggests that some kind of identification was used, therefore it is also possible that they were NEVER distributed without names of some kind.

        Perhaps Matthew (Aramaic, prior to Mark) originally simply had the title “τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ις Χς”

        I welcome your corrective comments.

        (𝖕1 of the first page of Matthew with no title, discovered 1897, published 1898 by Grenfell and Hunt, )

        Bart McNeely

      • Bart: I don’t know why P.Oxy 1.2 (GA P1) isn’t included in Gathercole’s article: Simon Gathercole, “The Titles of the Gospels in the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts,” ZNW 104 (2013): 33-76. It is dated early enough to have been included, and, you’re correct, that it is a particularly interesting item in that the fragments preserve the opening lines of GMatthew.
        Dated to sometime 3rd century, it would be odd for it not to have a version of the traditional ascription somewhere, but this could well have been appended at the end (a practice well attested).
        Just to clarify and correct your comments: There is no claim that the NT Gospels had no attribution once they began to be circulated together or even thought of as a closed circle (though copied individually). The proposal is that the traditional ascriptions were added to them at precisely the point when they were collectively treated as a “fourfold gospel” set.
        Oh, and the notion that Matthew was written in Aramaic and prior to Mark has hardly any support, and in any case is a red-herring.

  3. Ironic that you posted on this subject, since I’m writing on the topic. I look forward to hearing your reaction to Gathercole’s article, which I’d read some time ago. I’m now of the opinion that they stopped being ‘anonymous’ as soon as there were two in circulation together, ….

    I used the term ‘anonymous’ to describe the Gospels for decades, and what I’ve since concluded has been a very huge, about-face-turn, that had me spinning…. dizzy.

    Bless you, sir.


    • I agree that as soon as there was more than one gospel circulating, especially given the similarities of the “synoptic” ones, a title form to distinguish them was needed. Hengel contended that the titles were added as early as the late first century.

  4. Tim Henderson permalink

    Along the lines of the argument of Hengel and others, from a purely practical perspective it would seem that any Christian community that possessed more than one “gospel” would necessarily have to ascribe a title to the two (or more) similar works in order to distinguish them. They wouldn’t merely speak of “that one that has this detail” or a similar clumsy reference.

    Moreover, might the prologue to Luke’s gospel imply that at the time of its composition there was already a recognizable genre of literature (i.e., gospels), since the author places his work in the same category as what “many others” had done before him? This would imply that there were “many” gospels circulating at the time Luke was written, thus necessitating a way for scribes/readers/hearers to distinguish them from one another even prior to that point.

    • To your first I give my assent. To your second, it’s not so clear to me that the Luke preface means a lot of earlier gospels, only that prior authors had written about Jesus. Sayings collections, passion narratives, kerygmatic summaries, etc.??

  5. Dr. Hurtado, I am only mildly familiar with this discussion. Where was it established that the Gospels were circulated without the headings? I’ve seen this claim frequently. Is it meant that the Gospel narratives do not mention or refer to their authors, and from this it is thought the titles were absent in the earliest accounts?

    • 1) the authors don’t identify themselves in their texts; (2) the grammatical form of the traditional titles suggests that they were coined after two or more gospels of likeness were circulating and needed to be distinguished.

  6. Claude Pavur permalink

    Perhaps more attention should be given here to the origins of the gospel in Jesus and in worship.

    1. Jesus is imagined / remembered / presented as determining the content of the gospel, most explicitly at 14:9: “Amen, I say to you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which she hath done [therefore the gospel involves narrative], shall be told for a memorial of her.” (So this amplifies the point already made…Jesus’s gospel, not Mark’s as such: as Larry as pointed out in Mark 1:1.)

    2. Most agree that the passion-narrative was pre-Mark, hence an *anonymous*, likely liturgically situated piece. Mark could *not* claim “ownership” of the whole text. It was something organic with the tradition going back to Jesus’s career. The liturgical setting also disposes the communication to a transindividual, universalistically relevant revelational mode–it is from and about the life given for “the many.”

    If Mark’s core is the anonymous passion-account, which is really the tale of the workings of God’s salvation in Jesus (revelation), why would Mark want to foreground himself? The other parts he did arrange artistically and dramatically, but he was probably not thinking of himself as “creative” but rather as a facilitator in representing “the Word” or the revelation that the world has received.

    But on the analogy of other texts read at religious services, the word was not excluded from grounding in a human authorial source. So the issue of the name of the redactor is not entirely set aside.

    • Claude Pavur permalink

      An addendum: this likely liturgical dimension separates Mark’s text from most other ancient texts that so many people use for comparison. This parallel simply does not hold, so it can be very misleading from the start to put Mark next to a biography, for example, without reference to this distinction.

      Also, Mark has the Septuagint behind him. It is another element that simply would not have a parallel in most other ancient texts. (I don’t mean simply that the LXX is a literary model or source of models for Mark but that the LXX is an intrinsically powerful mysteriously present “undertext” and “context” for the entire gospel narrative.)

      • Claude, we don’t know how early any of the gospels was read “liturgically.” By Justin’s time certainly. But, yes, the LXX was no doubt for earliest Christians a powerful influence.

  7. Mark P. permalink

    Would it have been common in the 1st century literary environment of the Gospels to have written such works as Luke and Acts without contributing any other works of literature? Plutarch wrote dozens of biographies, for example. So is it realistic to think that someone could have written Matthew and only Matthew, without leaving any other written works of the same genre and caliber? Or would this have been more conventional for a Jewish-Christian author?

    • The authors you mention were “professional” authors, or at least writing books was a major part of their life’s work. The authors of the Gospels, by contrast, don’t appear to be such people, who wrote for fame and influence. Instead, they seem to have been moved to write these particular works. Their motive was their faith-commitment.

  8. Donald Jacobs permalink

    How do we know for sure they were originally anonymous? Are there extant copies that have a blank title?

    As I understand it, each text contains clues to the named author anyway: the beloved disciple in John, the man who ran naked in Mark, the “we”passages in Luke/Acts. These presumably preceded the titles. Unless these elements of the texts were added during the period when the text was fluid.

    • Donald: The traditional titles “the Gospel according to X” are quite obviously secondary, and framed only when the “fourfold Gospel” had been formed. The text of none of the NT Gospels indicates its author. And also we don’t have the lst person narrative that often characterized Roman-era historical narratives.
      But, yes, it’s a good bet that the traditional titles reflect an ascription of authorship that likely circulated earlier. My point wasn’t to raise the issue of the VALIDITY of the ascription, but simply that the authors themselves felt no need to identify themselves.

  9. Bill Wortman permalink

    Great post, generating a lot interest. As I recall, Nepos identifies Atticus to whom he devotes his biographies, but doesn’t identify himself in his prologus. Somewhat of a parallel to GLuke. Happy to be corrected if my memory is faulty.

    • Simon Gathercole permalink

      Yes, I think I mention Nepos in my forthcoming article.

  10. D. Popov permalink

    Allow me to suggest that asserting that the four Gospels “actually originated as anonymous,” is too categorical. It might be more accurate to say “many scholars believe that the four Gospels lacked written attribution at first, but there is no proof, either way.” Even if the earliest copies lacked “KATA X,” oral identification of the authors is possible.
    .. . . . The general public is often aware of the Gospel of Thomas or even the Gospel of Judas, but is not aware of what Papias, Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen may have said about the four Gospels—and what was said against the other gospels. For example, few may know Origens’ categorical statement “But the Church of God accepts only the four” [Tà dè téssera móna prokrínei hē toû Theoû Ekklēsía] (Origen of Alexandria, Homilies on Luke, 1, ed. Rauer, GCS 49, trans. Orchard 1987: 137, modified). Irenaeus was equally categorical, but his reference to the four winds is ridiculed in popular presentations, so his point is obscured for the general public. Not enough people know that a similar attitude (four and only four accepted) was most likely already present in the early second century. A problem is that serious scholars have put forward widely divergent opinions on when Papias wrote his Exposition and what gospels were available to him. Did Papias have the canonical four in AD 110 (possibly identified somehow with the four names)? Or did he have only two in AD 130 or later?

    • Mr Popov, I’ve edited out some of your sidelong comments that are not relevant. You seem to miss my point as well. MY point was simply that the authors of the NT Gospels didn’t include a self-identification in their texts.

  11. It could be that the authors were just writing down traditions from their local Christian community attributed to said figures (who may have played a formative role in the community). That would explain anonymity (the authors saw themselves as mere redactors) and name attribution (as reference to the main or most authoritative source behind their tradition).

    • But the individual Gospels show quite a bit of authorial control and distinctiveness. They are the product of authors, not simply individuals pulling together bits of tradition.

      • I definitely agree that the gospel writers used their sources in their own individual way. They were authors, just as any one writing a harmony of the four gospels today would be. But maybe in their context, the gospel writers didn’t think they were authors. Their sources were received through their communities and they arranged their narratives (at least partially) according to communal concerns, priorities and/or theological focus.

      • But my point is that they don’t “read” like a committee text or just a collection of traditions. Each has its own set of “authorial” features.

      • Please, be patient with me. Could you spell out for me what you mean by “authorial features”? I think we both agree about their source material and that each writer used it their own way. Do you mean that each writer tried to be original in the way they used their sources; as if they were trying to present their own take on Jesus?

        If that’s the case, do you think that anonymity and name attribution are unrelated?

      • Authorial features include distinguishable literary style, vocabulary, emphases, arrangement, etc.

  12. Is is possible that they are anonymous since they were giving them to those who already knew who authored them?

  13. Torrey Seland permalink

    Hi Larry.
    Do you have any comments to these arguments of Brant Pitre concerning the non-anonymity of the Gospels? ( from his apologetic work The Case for Jesus 2016.

    1) 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.

    2) 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.

    3) The third major problem with the theory of the anonymous Gospels has to do with the claim that the false attributions were added a century later to give the Gospels “much needed authority.” 26 If this were true, then why are two of the four Gospels attributed to non-eyewitnesses? Why, of all people, would ancient scribes pick Mark and Luke, who (as we will see in chapter 3) never even knew Jesus?

    BTW, did you miss the article by S. Gathercole, ‘The Titles of the Gospels in the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts,’ ZNW 104 (2013) 33-76. ?

    • Dear Torrey,
      Pitre’s first argument is irrelevant. The earliest extant copies of the Gospels are commonly thought to date to the late 2nd century, which = about 100 yrs after their composition. We can’t simply can’t say when names were attached to them, although it must have been early.
      His second argument distorts what scholars claim. We don’t claim that the Gospels circulated for a century or so without names. Instead, Hengel, Stanton, et alia, judge that within a few decades at most the now-traditional names were added.
      His third argument also misrepresents what others claim. The names weren’t added to give the texts authority. They had already acquired a wide circulation and acceptance. The names were added to distinguish them from one another, at the point when the fourfold Gospel was being formed.
      And, yes, I did miss the Gathercole article,which I’ll now aim to read. Thanks for the tip.

      • Professor Hurtado,

        Could you provide a brief summary of the reasons why scholars judge that the Gospels were originally anonymous? It is not obvious to the general reader, as evidenced by the responses here.

        A couple of points that are not clear to me:

        If anonymity was a deliberate choice on the part of the Gospel authors, adding the names seems to defeat the purpose. Surely there are ways of distinguishing the four gospels while maintaining the anonymity of each, e.g., 1st Gospel, 2nd Gospel, etc.?

        If the anonymous Gospels had already gained acceptance and been in circulation for up to a few decades before names were added to them, one would expect that some of them would continue to be copied and without a name. Dr. Pitre’s argument seems reasonable: Why is there not one copy of the anonymous Gospels left?

      • Nemo: We have to distinguish between the action of the authors (in this case, not including their names in their text), and the actions of readers/users (who, at a very early point, perhaps from the outset, added an explicit indication of the identities of the authors). The absence of authors’ names in the text contrasts with the explicit claims of texts such as GThomas.

      • Professor Hurtado,

        You’re obviously better acquainted with the differences between authors and readers/editors. What is unclear to me is this: Whoever added the names couldn’t have been unaware of the authors deliberate choice to remain anonymous, but they for some reason chose to override, not just one, but all four authors. Presumably they were committed to the same faith as the authors, and understood their purpose. Surely there needed to be a better reason for overriding them than just to distinguish the four Gospels?

      • You’re presuming that the explicit ascription of names to the texts “overrode” something. I see no such note of combativeness in the process. But the point is that the formal titles “the gospel according to X” must have appeared when the fourfold gospel collection was formed. The phrasing is unusual and particular to the gospels. But this may well have only made explicit a view of who the authors were that had been circulating for some time previous.

      • Professor Hurtado,

        The explicit ascription of names overrode/nullified the authors’ deliberate choice and purpose of anonymity. Yes? I’m assuming that whoever made the ascription were aware of the authors’ choices, and respected, if not understood, them, but they went ahead anyway. So there must have been a good reason for the ascription. I doubt it was to distinguish the four gospels from one another, for there are ways of doing that while maintaining the anonymity of each author.

        As far as I can tell, that last point is my only disagreement with you, and I’m hoping to get some clarification on. I’ll stop here lest my comments are perceived as combative. 🙂

      • Nemo: I’ll try once more. The *ascription* of names to the texts may well have reflected a common view of their authorship. The attachment of the titles (in which the names appear) was rather clearly to distinguish them from one another, as the Greek phrasing indicates: “the gospel ACCORDING TO X, Y, Z”. (And disagreement is ok, so long as you bring some expertise to the argument. Otherwise, it’s just being “combative”.)

  14. Hon Wai Lai permalink

    By the time of composition of 1 Peter, as evident by explicit reference to Paul’s letters as scripture, Christian communities were already starting to accept books as scriptural in addition to the Hebrew Bible / Septuagint. Is there any evidence in the text of the gospels (and Paul’s letters) suggesting the authors viewed their own writings to be comparable in authority and divine inspiration of their extant scriptures?

    • We have no direct claims to that effect. But note that the author of Revelation comes pretty close in his warnings about tampering with his text (chap 21). And note also that Paul makes high claims for himself and his letters, as in 1 Cor 14:37-38.

  15. Are there any NT scholars today who argue that the Gospels weren’t formally anonymous? For example, I’ve heard the argument that most of the manuscript evidence and early Christian writings seem to identify the same four authors without significant variation. Thus it is unlikely that the four gospels could have circulated for decades without the traditional names attached to them as we would expect greater variation if this were the case. Or is that kind of view absent from NT scholarship today?

    • I think that scholars who have examined the matter tend to judge that the names were added, not to bestow an authority on the texts, but to identify and distinguish them when they were beginning to be thought of as comprising a fourfold Gospel circle.

  16. Robert permalink

    Do you think that the author of Acts was trying to falsely imply that he had been a companion of Paul in the “we” sections?

    • The “we” sections have received varying suggestions from scholars. If they serve to claim tacitly that the author was a participant in the events related in these sections, the falsity or validity of the claim is another matter.

      • Robert permalink

        Do you think the author of Acts was trying to tacitly imply that he had been a companion of Paul in the “we” sections? I know there are a variety of suggestions by scholars. I’m asking for your thoughts on the matter.

      • The effect of the “we” passages in the literary conventions of the time would probably be to claim personal knowledge, companionship with Paul at those points.

  17. Claude Pavur permalink

    It is possible that at the origin the gospel (as the words and deeds of Jesus) were felt to be something that should be attributed to Jesus (even if delivered through or according to, kata, intermediaries). Jesus was the real “authorial source.” See *Jesus As Source: The Rise of the Written Gospel in Earliest Christianity* (Kindle book).

    • Claude, This may have been a factor for the authors, yes. Note the opening words of GMark (which probably serve as the title): “The beginning/foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” I.e., Jesus’ own activities form the “arche” of the subsequently proclaimed gospel.

  18. Simon Gathercole permalink

    Hi Larry,

    I’ve got an article coming out on this topic in JTS later this year or early next.

    In brief:
    “For, in the literary environment of the authors of the Gospels, the overwhelmingly customary practice was for authors of literary works (such as historical or biographical narratives) to identify themselves, and claim credit for their works. This was often done as part of the formal prologues to their works.”
    – not true at all! Authors of biographies, for example, hardly ever refer to themselves in their works.

    In fact, the attestation of Gospel authorships is very early, and widespread across all kinds of different theological movements, and there’s never any sense (as there is with Hebrews) that the Gospels were anonymous. Although the titles “Evangelion kata ktl” are later, this doesn’t mean that the attributions are.

    • Hmm. Simon, I’ll look forward to your article.

    • Griffin permalink

      Were say 1) the partial names of authors known? And if so, did anyone know 2) which specific persons were referenced? That is, there were lots of “Mark”s and “Matthew”s. Were there any specifiers?

      At one time, sermons looked at minor persons of that name in the gospels.

      • Griffin, I have no idea what your final sentence refers to or means. But in answer to your first two queries, no qualifiers were needed because the persons in question were noted figures in Christian tradition.

      • Griffin permalink

        Early readers might have remembered… or not. Later readers in any case, tried to get more biographical background. By looking at minor characters in the gospels, who at times might have had the same names or characteristics of the accredited authors. On the theory such characters might have presented secret cameo appearances of the authors.

        That approach has apparently been rejected?

      • Griffin: As often, I’m not sure what it is you’re trying to say. But if you’re asking whether “minor characters” in the Gospel narratives were ascribed the authorship of the Gospels, no. The figures ascribed as authors are all known figures in early Christianity.

      • Griffin permalink

        I’ve heard sermons that suggested that some of the then-minor characters pictured in the gospels, might have been the as-yet undistinguished, youthful versions of this or that later apostle.

      • Ah, sermons. That’s not a good source of scholarly knowledge, unfortunately.

      • Griffin permalink

        I agree sermons are unreliable. Which leaves a question relating to our concern here: we know very little about the authors of the Bible. We often have 1 )fragments of merely their bare name. And 2) almost no additional biographical material.

        So in effect, the authors are practically anonymus to us … today.

        To try to uncover additional info, as you noted, scholars did stylistic analysis of each gospel, to they outline any unique theology or school or author’s hand or mindset.

        In addition, my own approach has been to suggest that whoever the authors were, whatever else they were, they or their assistants were literate. And therefore could have been described somewhere as possibly “scribe”s or clerks.

        So I’ve become interested in investigating the exact nature and identity of contemporaneous writers, scribes, clerks.

        Your own studies of writing, publishing, in the early era, have been helpful. Do you also have information on any specific clerks of the time?

      • Griffin: The ascribed authors of NT writings aren’t “clerks” or “scribes.” Matthew and John were well-known apostolic leaders. Luke and Mark were well known associates of apostles (Paul and Peter respectively). It’s the identities of these figures in early Christian circles that is important. “Clerks” don’t come into it.

  19. Peter Turnill permalink

    Roland Deines wrote an article in two parts entitled ‘Did Matthew Know He Was Writing Scripture” where he explores this possibility, and anonymity is one of the possible indications that this was so. The article appeared in EJT 22:2 (2013) and 23:1 (2014).

  20. Frank permalink

    Could they be seeking to avoid martyrdom and hence remain able to verbally share the gospel?

    • No. Martyrdom wasn’t actually all that common. And Christians weren’t in hiding.

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