According to Catholic tradition, the four Gospels
were written by four individuals called the four Evangelists. Many scholars
today, however, argue that the original authors were "anonymous," and that
the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were only later connected with
these four books. Which opinion is correct? Better yet, what difference
does it make? This workshop will explain why it is important for all Christian
teachers and students to know how, when, for whom, and by whom the Gospels
Official Church Documents (click here):
Introduction: The "Catholic" Approach to All Theology
"BOTH/AND" rather than "either/or" (avoiding one-sided extremes; embracing both sides)I) Revelation and Scripture: God as Author AND Humans as Authors
Documents: Dei Verbum (Vatican II: "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation"); Catechism of Catholic Church (§§ 51-141);II) Evangelists as Authors of "Good News":
Pontifical Biblical Commission: "Historical Truth of the Gospels" (4/21/64); "Interpretation of the Bible in the Church" (4/23/93)
Revelation of God's Self: in Creation, in Human Life, in the People of Israel, in God's Son Jesus
Transmitting God's Revelation ("Tradition"): apostolic preaching, sacred scripture, church teaching
Revelation in Sacred Scripture: Written under the Inspiration of the Holy Spirit, with God as Author
"Catholic" Christian Canon: universal message and audience; God's truth "for the sake of salvation"
Revelation in Human Language: Humans as "true authors" using their own "powers and abilities"
Awareness of Literary Genres; Four-fold Role of the Evangelists: selectors, arrangers, shapers, proclaimers
A) Literary / TextualFour Stages of Gospel Formation (usually three; cf. DV 19, CCC 126):
words and deeds of Jesus; oral traditions passed on; written collections compiled; full Gospels written
Original Titles are Unknown (cf. first verses or "incipits" of Gospels):
canonical titles added later: literally the "Gospel according to ____" rather than the "Gospel of ____"
Initial Texts were Anonymous (the authors are not named in the texts):
possible self-references: Mark 14:51-52; Matt 13:52; Luke 1:1-4; John 21:20, 24; 19:35 ?
B) Canonical / TraditionalIII) Why Should We Care?Patristic Traditions: Papias (~125 AD; in Eusebius, E.H. 3.39.15-16); Clement of Alexandria (~180 AD; E.H. 6.14.6); etc.C) Historical / Critical
Matthew - apostle (Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13); Galilean tax collector (Matt 9:9; 10:3; "Levi" in Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27?)
Mark - Jerusalem youth (Acts 12:12, 25 "John Mark"); missionary with Paul (Acts 13:5, 13; 15:36-40; 2 Tim 4:11; Phlm 24); "cousin" of Barnabas (Col 4:10); Peter's "son" (1 Pet 5:13); Peter's "interpreter" (Papias)
Luke - client of Theophilus (Luke 1:1-4); "co-worker" of Paul (Phlm 24; 2Tim 4:11); a Greek "physician" (Col 4:14)
John - brother of James, son of Zebedee (Mark 3:17, par.); the "beloved disciple"? (John 13:23; 19:26-27; etc.); the "elder"? (2John, 3John); the same "John" who wrote Revelation? (Rev 1:4,9) - probably not (see Eusebius, E.H. 3.39; 4.14; 7.25)Various types of "authorship"; Multiple stages of composition and expansion; Implied authorsD) Symbolic / Spiritual
Communities to/for whom the Evangelists wrote; When/Where; Socio-historical context; Implied readers
Mark - bi-lingual Aramaic/Greek interpreter; persecuted Gentile community; late 60's (Rome? later Alexandria?)
Matthew - Jewish-Christian scribe; educated community arguing with other Jews; 70's-80's (Galilee? Antioch?)
Luke - Gentile Christian historian; wealthier urban community becoming complacent; 80's (Antioch? Greece?)
John - Jewish Christian believers, in conflict with the "synagogue across the street"; 90's (Syria? later Ephesus?)Four "living creatures"(Ezek 1:1-14; Rev 4:6-9; 6:1-7; etc.); Jerome (~398 AD; Preface to Comm. on Matt.)
Matthew - begins with the HUMAN ancestry of Jesus (1:1-18); ends with Jesus' promise to be "with us always" (28:20)
Mark - begins with John the Baptist, roaring like a LION (1:2-8); ends with challenge: "do not be afraid or silent" (16:1-8)
Luke - begins and ends in the Jerusalem Temple, where OXen are sacrificed and God is praised (Luke 1:5-23; 24:53)
John - begins like a soaring EAGLE: cosmic hymn to the Logos (John 1:1-18); ends with divine life (20:30-31; 21:24-25)
Richness of the Four-Fold Gospel - Different Emphases for Different People in Different Situations:IV) Questions and Discussion
Multiple Levels of Meaning and Interpretation: Literary, Canonical, Historical, Spiritual - all valid and important
Poverty of One-Dimensional Views - Inadequacy of Uniform Harmonizations for Scripture and Religion:
Overemphasis or neglect of history; Desire for immediate relevance or simplistic answers; Do you care enough?
See my collection of Catholic Church Documents related to Biblical Studies
Return to the Homepage of Prof. Felix Just, S.J.