Archive for July 25th, 2012


Continuing with our series on the attack against traditional authorship of the Gospels by some Muslims, here is the last part of the series that will be focused on the Gospel of John.

Arguments for Traditional Authorship of John

Here is what Irenaeus says in the first century concerning John being the author,

John, the disciple of the Lord…expresses himself thus: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; the same was in the beginning with God’” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.8 [ANF, 1:674]).[1]

On another note, Irenaeus (c. A.D. 180) is the first to clearly say that John the apostle wrote the Gospel of John and that he published it too at Ephesus where John resided.[2]

As for Turtullian, here is what he says in second century about the Gospel of John and the other Gospel writers,

The same authority of the apostolic churches will afford evidence to the other Gospels also, which we possess equally through their means, and according to their usage—I mean the Gospels of John and Matthew—whilst that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s whose interpreter Mark was.  For even Luke’s form of the Gospel men usually ascribe to Paul (Tertullian, The Five Books Against Marcion 4.5 [ANF, 3:657]).[3]

Augustine says this in the fourth century concerning John and the apostles

Certain of them also—namely, Matthew and John—gave to the world, in their respective books, a written account of all those matters which it seemed needful to commit to writing concerning Him” (Augustine, The Harmony of the Gospels 1.1.1 [NPNF, 6:160]).[4]

Augustine also said this about Apostle John,

The most eminent of the four evangelists” (Augustine, The Harmony of the Gospels 2.6.18 [NPNF, 6.235]).[5]

In light of the external evidence that have been provided regarding the authorship of the fourth Gospel being from John himself, we too must cover the internal evidence in order to effectively rebuttal the attacks from rationalists like F.C. Baur who argued that the fourth Gospel was not written until A.D. 160.  If it was written during that time as suggested by F.C. Baur, then that means John could not be the author.  John wrote earlier than that.  Since he wrote earlier, evidence heavily favors John as the author of the fourth Gospel.[6]

Sadly, some Muslim apologists will implement the sources that runs parallel to liberal scholars in order to justify their reasoning that there is no evidence to know who wrote the Gospels.  Their method, which is not really different from rationalists who implement the higher-criticism method, is an attempt to contaminate the authenticity and historicity of the Gospels.  The implication is that if one cannot have evidence for who the authors are, then how can Christianity account for reliability in authenticity?  Also just a footnote—not only does the discovery of a papyrus fragment (P52) of the Gospel of John in the collection of the John Rylands Library (“dated at least at A.D. 150 and perhaps as early as A.D. 130”), demolished the liberal and rationalists’ view, because papyrus fragment (P52) points to the idea that the Gospel of John is easily pushed back into at least the first century when the Apostle John was alive.

On another note, internal evidence, which stands on its own feet, makes it evident that John clearly wrote the Gospels even though the author does not identify himself by saying, “I, John, wrote the this book,” etc.[7] .  The Gospel of John is not like the Book of Hebrews, whereas the author does not disclose his identity, but John, like the other three Gospel writers, makes it evident that he wrote it .  External evidence proves it and internal evidence proves it too.

In light of internal evidence, the writer claims to be an eyewitness in these following passages: John 1:14; 19:35; 21:24-25.[8]  Other internal evidence would be his implementation of an accurate knowledge of Jewish customs and Palestinian topography before Jerusalem’s destruction in A.D. 70; and also his implementation of vivid details as an eyewitness of Jesus ministry (2:6; 6:19; 21:8).[9]  Clearly his style of writing was Semitic because John was a Jew.[10]  Another potent internal evidence would be the author’s reference to himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” as indicated in John 21:20, 24.  By process of elimination—in relation to the phrase the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” James could not be the author because he was martyred early in church history (Acts 12:1-5); and it cannot be Peter as indicated in John 13:23 and 21:7.[11]  Cleary, by process of elimination, it had to be John, the son of Zebedee, even though he is not identified by name in the Gospel of John.[12]


Some maybe asking by now, why does it matter who wrote the Gospels? Instead some propose that we should focus our concerted efforts on defending the reliability of Gospel rather than discussing traditional authorship.  However, knowing who wrote the Gospels, is linked to the reliability of the Gospels.  To deny authorship, poses problems because it opens up the door for a discussion of dating and the use of the higher-criticism method.

In response, I believe that quoting Professor Gary W. Derickson, a professor at Western Baptist College at Salem, Oregon best describes the danger of anti-traditional authorship view.  He eloquently answers the question  by saying,

The church fathers were unanimous in naming Matthew as the first Gospel to be written and in identifying the apostle Matthew as its author. Their testimony indicates that it was the dominant Gospel in the early church and contains nothing about any literary dependence between writers of the two Gospels. The issue of apostolic authorship is at stake in one’s viewpoint on this matter. If at any point a Gospel writer, be it pseudo-Matthew or any other Gospel writer, has embellished eyewitness testimony to promote his own theological viewpoint, that is a violation of biblical inerrancy that lies outside the boundary of evangelicalism.” [13]

Clearly, there are many pertinent points Professor Derickson stated, but what hits the nail on the head, is the notion of one who denies traditional authorship, is one who has an agenda in promoting one’s own theological agenda (i.e. undermine the supernatural, inerrancy, destroy the historical reliability of Christianity, etc.); and clearly, it is a “violation of biblical inerrancy that lies outside the boundary of evangelicalism.”

Denial of the traditional authorship of the Gospels poses great concern because one of the major key issues that is at stake is that of apostolic authority.[14]  While some may say it is not important to know who wrote the Gospels or not, it does matter because men like Peter, Paul, and John all appealed to apostolic authority.[15]  For example, John says that he saw, heard and handled the embodied Eternal Life (1 John 1:1-4).[16]  Not only was John an apostle, but he witnessed and experience what Christ did.  As for Peter, the validity of his writings grew out from his eyewitness relationship with Jesus Christ when he was on earth as well (2 Peter 1:16-18); and Paul based his authority on direct revelation that he received from Christ (Galatians 1:11-12).[17].

The legitimate recognition of Peter and Paul as the apostles of Christ is a very fundamental point at stake because the non-apostolic Gospels such as the Gospel of Mark and Luke as well as the epistles of the NT all had apostolic connections that resulted in their acceptance by the early church.[18]  To say that we do not know who wrote the Gospels would dismember the apostolic connection between the non-apostolic Gospels and the epistles of the NT that all had connections to the apostles.

Since this series is mainly about the traditional authorship of the Gospels, it is important to emphasize that denying traditional authorship opens up the door to rationalism and speculation.  However, as argued already throughout this series, rationalism and speculation of who wrote the Gospels, can be avoided because internal and external evidence supports the orthodox understanding of authorship.  The church fathers relied on the evidence of the apostles and the evidence from eyewitness accounts.  In the context of this series, the early fathers and the early church recognized the four authors of the Gospels.  To deny them, opens up the door to accepting frauds who were never apostles and those who never had apostolic connections.

As Christians, we must be careful with the critics’ attack against the authorship of the Gospels.  Their attacks against traditional authorship of the Gospels are a smokescreen for their humanistic endeavors against the reliability of the inspired, supernatural Gospels governed by God.

To attack the traditional authorship of the Gospels is an attack not only in the face of external evidence, but also internal evidence.  To attack external evidence is to jeopardize patristic evidences from historical people who were closer to the times of Jesus than we are; and to attack internal evidence is to undermine inerrancy and the supernatural Words of God, in favor for the idolatry of rationalism.

For the Muslim apologists or any other critique against the Gospels, his or her attacks are attempts in justifying their reasonings that Christianity is an unreliable faith that cannot account for truth.  On another note, it is also opportune to keep in mind that if a Muslim was to ever attack Christians for using patristic evidence to establish the traditional authorship of the Gospel, it would be decorous to point out to Muslims that they too must also appeal outside the Quran to establish their major aspect of the Islamic faith such as the story of Muhammad, and the Muslim account of the origin of the Qur’an.  If they are skeptical of the Bible, we too must be skeptical of the Qur’an and the Hadith.    And if they say that Christianity cannot account for truth because we do not know who wrote the Gospels, then they need to provide answers to verses from the Qu’ran that upholds the Gospel and other books of the Bible (Surah 2:59; 2:79; 2:106; 3:78; 4:136; 4:46; 4:157; 5:13; 5:46-48; 29:46; 53:36; etc.).  Even in their own books, the Qu’ran upheld and upholds the Holy Bible.  Please see SLIMJIM’s work explaining the Qu’ran’s support of the Bible: Are there verses in the Quran that shows the Bible’s corruption? Part 1: IntroductionAre there verses in the Quran that shows the Bible’s corruption? Part 2: Surah 4:46Are there verses in the Quran that shows the Bible’s corruption? Part 3: Surah 5:13Are there verses in the Quran that shows the Bible’s corruption? Part 4: Surah 2:79Are there verses in the Quran that shows the Bible’s corruption? Part 5: Surah 4:157

Moreover, here are some important quotes from the early church fathers that I would like to share that substantiates the claim of traditional authorship.  The first one is from Justyn Martyr (second century) regarding his acceptance of traditional authorship of the Gospels,

For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them” (The First Apology of Justin 6 [ANF, 1:185]).”[19]

Tertullian in the second century said,

The evangelical Testament has apostles for its authors…since there are apostolic men also, they are not alone, but appear with the apostles and after apostles” (The Five Books Against Marcion [ANF, 3:347]).

As for Irenaeus during the second century, he said,

The opinion of the apostles, therefore, and of those (Mark and Luke) who learned from their words, concerning God, has been made manifest” (Against Heresies 3.15.3 [ANF, 1:440]).[20]

It is my prayer and hope that Christians all over the globe will not be staggered by the attacks of opponents of traditional authorship of the Gospels.  As Christians, we must have confidence on the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  They were men who were used as instruments of God to write.  These were men moved by the Holy Spirit and men who wrote for the glory of God.  2 Peter 1:20-21 points this truth out,

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

These were not men who wanted to write for their own interests.  In terms of what they wrote which is inspired, here is what 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says,

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

Paul clearly points out in the second letter to Timothy that God’s Words are inspired (θεόπνευστος), meaning God-breathed.  Since God’s Word’s are God-breathed, we need to be bold in our defense and proclamation of God’s truth.  No matter what methods opponents use to attack traditional authorship in order lacerate away the supernatural origin and historical reliability of the Bible, we must hold the fort and not be staggered.

In closing, here is a wise saying from Dr. Robert Thomas regarding the battle Christians face from the book titled, The Jesus Crisis: The Inroads of Historical Criticism into Evangelical Scholarship.

The Jesus crisis should be a source of serious concern for the Christian church.  God will somehow overcome the crisis.  His Word will remain intact for He is sovereign and omnipotent.  His truth will prevail.  He will not allow gospel truth to disappear.  But He will carry out His will as the church, Christ’s bride, reasserts the integrity of His Word.  Believers should exert themselves to alleviate the crisis.  Believers do so by maintaining an uncompromising stand on what He has written and not questioning its accuracy at any point.  Hopefully, the church will do so immediately by raising her voice against the enemy who already has his foot in the door and is seeking to pry it wide open.[21]

Christians who take the issue of historical-criticism or rationalism lightly should be seriously concerned because it is a tool used by the enemy to undermine biblical inerrancy and the supernatural reliability of Scripture.  The rationalists along with their presuppositions towards the Holy Bible are attackers of our omnipotent and sovereign God.  But they can’t win and they will never prevail in the war.

Because souls are at stake, God will never allow His Word to be in a state of confusion or in a state where the Word is not able to withstand hostile enemies of His Word.  As soldiers of Christ, we must be maintaining our stance as Dr. Thomas said:

By maintaining an uncompromising stand on what He has written and not questioning its accuracy at any point.”

If we compromise, we open up the doors for people to attack, which will cause doubts on the accuracy of God’s Word.  And those who are feeble and gullible will fall prey to the rationalists’ instruments.

In light of all the arguments made so far, I believe that traditional authorship glorifies God because they were the people authorized to write on God’s behalf.  If people try to unauthorize them, they will have a difficult time accounting for consistency, truth, and reality.  And that will not glorify God.


Abbott-Smith, George. A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament. 3d ed. Edinburgh, England: T. & T. Clark, 1950.

Derickson, Gary W.  “Matthean Priority/Authorship and Evangelicalism’s Boundary.”  The Masters Seminary Journal 14, no. 1 (Spring,  2003): 87–103.

Linnemann, Eta. Historical Criticism of the Bible Reflections of a Bultmannian Turned Evangelical: Methodology or Ideology. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001.

Pentecost, Dwight J. The Words. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1891.

Reymond, Robert L. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian. 2nd ed. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 1998.

Thompson, Keith. “Who Wrote the Gospels? Internal and External Arguments For Traditional Authorship.” Answering Islam: A Christian-Muslim Dialog. http://answering-islam.org/authors/thompson/gospel_authorship.html (accessed May 31, 2012).

Thomas, Robert L. Charts of the Gospels and the Life of Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.

Thomas, Robert L., and F. David Farnell. The Jesus Crisis: The Inroads of Historical Criticism into Evangelical Scholarship. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998.

Thomas, Robert L., and Stanley N. Gundry. The NIV/NASB Harmony of the Gospels. Peaboy, Massachusetts: Print Press, 2003.

[1] Robert L. Thomas, Charts of the Gospels and the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 79.

[2] Robert L. Thomas and Stanley N. Gundry, The NIV/NASB Harmony of the Gospels (Peaboy, MA: Print Press, 2003), 299.

[3] Robert L. Thomas, Charts of the Gospels and the Life of Christ, 78.

[4] Ibid, 80.

[5] Ibid, 80.

[6] Robert L. Thomas and Stanley N. Gundry, The NIV/NASB Harmony of the Gospels, 299.

[7] Ibid, 299-300.

[8]Ibid, 300.

[9]Ibid, 300.

[10]Ibid, 300.

[11] Ibid, 300.

[12] Ibid, 300.

[13] Gary W. Derickson, “Matthean Priority/Authorship and Evangelicalism’s Boundary,” The Masters Seminary Journal 14, no. 1 (Spring 2003): 87.

[14] Ibid, 100.

[15] Ibid, 100.

[16] Ibid, 100.

[17] Ibid, 100.

[18] Ibid, 100.

[19] Robert L. Thomas, Charts of the Gospels and the Life of Christ, 78.

[20] Ibid, 79.

[21] Robert L. Thomas and David F. Farnell, “The Jesus Crisis: The Inroads of Historical Criticism into Evangelical Scholarship,” 383.

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