Majority of Scholars agree: The Gospels were not written by Eyewitnesses

“I don’t know who the Gospel writers were and nor does anyone else.”

NT Wright, New Testament scholar, John Ankerberg Show, 2001

Conservative Christian NT scholar, Richard Bauckham:  

“The argument of this book [Jesus and the Eyewitnesses]–that the texts of our Gospels are close to the eyewitness reports of the words and deeds of Jesus–runs counter to almost all recent scholarship.  As we have indicated from time to time, the prevalent view is that a long period of oral transmission in the churches intervened between whatever the eyewitnesses said and the Jesus traditions as they reached the Evangelists [the authors of the Gospels].  No doubt the eyewitnesses started the process of oral tradition, but it passed through many retellings, reformulations, and expansions before the Evangelists themselves did their own editorial work on it.”  p. 240   

Mark Pierson, Adjunct Professor of Theology and Philosophy, Concordia University, Irvine (Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod), co-author ofMaking the Case for Christianity”: 

The current consensus in the academy [of NT scholars]…suggests that only those who shut their eyes and ears to the facts can maintain traditional beliefs about Jesus.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Gospel of Matthew:

The questions of authorship, sources, and the time of composition of this gospel [Matthew] have received many answers, none of which can claim more than a greater or lesser degree of probability. The one now favored by the majority of scholars is the following.

The ancient tradition that the author was the disciple and apostle of Jesus named Matthew (see Mt 10:3) is untenable because the gospel is based, in large part, on the Gospel according to Mark (almost all the verses of that gospel have been utilized in this), and it is hardly likely that a companion of Jesus would have followed so extensively an account that came from one who admittedly never had such an association rather than rely on his own memories. The attribution of the gospel to the disciple Matthew may have been due to his having been responsible for some of the traditions found in it, but that is far from certain.

Source:  here

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Gospel of Mark:

Although the book is anonymous, apart from the ancient heading “According to Mark” in manuscripts, it has traditionally been assigned to John Mark, in whose mother’s house (at Jerusalem) Christians assembled (Acts 12:12). This Mark was a cousin of Barnabas (Col 4:10) and accompanied Barnabas and Paul on a missionary journey (Acts 12:2513:315:3639). He appears in Pauline letters (2 Tm 4:11Phlm 24) and with Peter (1 Pt 5:13). Papias (ca. A.D. 135) described Mark as Peter’s “interpreter,” a view found in other patristic writers.  Petrine influence should not, however, be exaggerated.  The evangelist has put together various oral and possibly written sources—miracle stories, parables, sayings, stories of controversies, and the passion—so as to speak of the crucified Messiah for Mark’s own day.

Traditionally, the gospel is said to have been written shortly before A.D. 70 in Rome, at a time of impending persecution and when destruction loomed over Jerusalem. Its audience seems to have been Gentile, unfamiliar with Jewish customs (hence Mk 7:3411). The book aimed to equip such Christians to stand faithful in the face of persecution (Mk 13:913), while going on with the proclamation of the gospel begun in Galilee (Mk 13:1014:9). Modern research often proposes as the author an unknown Hellenistic Jewish Christian, possibly in Syria, and perhaps shortly after the year 70.

Source:  here

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Gospel of John:

Critical analysis makes it difficult to accept the idea that the gospel as it now stands was written by one person. Jn 21 seems to have been added after the gospel was completed; it exhibits a Greek style somewhat different from that of the rest of the work. The prologue (Jn 1:118) apparently contains an independent hymn, subsequently adapted to serve as a preface to the gospel. Within the gospel itself there are also some inconsistencies, e.g., there are two endings of Jesus’ discourse in the upper room (Jn 14:3118:1). To solve these problems, scholars have proposed various rearrangements that would produce a smoother order. However, most have come to the conclusion that the inconsistencies were probably produced by subsequent editing in which homogeneous materials were added to a shorter original.

Other difficulties for any theory of eyewitness authorship of the gospel in its present form are presented by its highly developed theology and by certain elements of its literary style. For instance, some of the wondrous deeds of Jesus have been worked into highly effective dramatic scenes (Jn 9); there has been a careful attempt to have these followed by discourses that explain them (Jn 56); and the sayings of Jesus have been woven into long discourses of a quasi-poetic form resembling the speeches of personified Wisdom in the Old Testament.

Source:  here

Does the Catholic Church believe that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses?

Oxford Annotated Bible

Neither the evangelists nor their first readers engaged in historical analysis. Their aim was to confirm Christian faith (Lk. 1.4; Jn. 20.31). Scholars generally agree that the Gospels were written forty to sixty years after the death of Jesus. They thus do not present eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings.

Source: p. 1744

Gary Greenberg, Biblical historian:

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John did not write the Gospels says biblical historian Gary Greenberg in his latest book, Who Wrote the Gospels? Why New Testament Scholars Challenge Church Traditions. At least, not the Matthew, Mark, Luke or John of Church tradition, he adds. Controversial as this view is, he notes that it is widely accepted among New Testament scholars. Yet few members of the lay public know about this modern scholarly consensus, let alone why scholars hold these views.

Source:  here

Early Christian Writings:

It is the near-universal position of scholarship that the Gospel of Matthew is dependent upon the Gospel of Mark. This position is accepted whether one subscribes to the dominant Two-Source Hypothesis or instead prefers the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis.

It is also the consensus position that the evangelist was not the apostle Matthew. Such an idea is based on the second century statements of Papias and Irenaeus. As quoted by Eusebius in Hist. Eccl. 3.39, Papias states: “Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.” In Adv. Haer. 3.1.1, Irenaeus says: “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and laying the foundations of the church.” We know that Irenaeus had read Papias, and it is most likely that Irenaeus was guided by the statement he found there. That statement in Papias itself is considered to be unfounded because the Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek and relied largely upon Mark, not the author’s first-hand experience.

Source:  here

Catholic blog, About Catholics:

Quote:  They [the Gospels] were anonymously written. In fact most scholars today do not believe that the evangelists were eyewitnesses for the simple reason that their chronology of events and theological interpretations are different. The titles of the gospels were added in the second century and very well could designate the authority behind the finished gospel or the one who wrote one of the main sources of the gospel. The [Roman Catholic] Church takes no official stance on their authorship. It is important to understand that the Church by its authority and the guidance of the Holy Spirit canonized these four gospels over many others that were circulated and read in the early centuries.

Source:  here

Roman Catholic scholar Raymond Brown (who very much believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus):

That the author of the Greek Gospel was John Mark, a (presumably Aramaic-speaking) Jew of Jerusalem who had early become a Christian, is hard to reconcile with the impression that it does not seem to be a translation from Aramaic, that it seems to depend on oral traditions (and perhaps already shaped sources) received in Greek, and that it seems confused about Palestinian geography.  (An Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 159-60)

Source: here

Raymond Brown:  No gospel identifies its author.  The common designations placed before the Gospels, e.g., “The Gospel according to Matthew” stem from the late 2d cent. and represent an educated estimate of the authorship by church scholars of that period who were putting together traditions and guesses pertinent to attribution.  To this a caution must be added:  The ancient concept of authorship was often less rigorous than our own, at times amounting to identifying only the authority behind a work (however distant) rather than the writer.   …Among the four, John manifests the most detailed knowledge of Palestine.

Jesus did not write an account of his passion; nor did anyone who had been present write an eyewitness account.  Available to us are four different accounts written some thirty to seventy years later in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, all of which were dependent on tradition that had come down from an intervening generation or generations.  That intervening preGospel tradition was not preserved even if at times we may be able to detect the broad lines of its content.  When we seek to reconstruct it or, even more adventurously, the actual situation of Jesus himself, we are speculating.

Source:  The Death of the Messiah, pp. 4-5

Raymond Brown:  I have already said that I do not think of the evangelists themselves as eyewitnesses of the passion; nor do I think that eyewitness memories of Jesus came down to the evangelists without considerable reshaping and development.

Source:  The Death of the Messiah, p. 14

Robert Kysar, New Testament scholar, writes the following on the authorship of the Gospel of John:

The supposition that the author was one and the same with the beloved disciple is often advanced as a means of insuring that the evangelist did witness Jesus’ ministry. Two other passages are advanced as evidence of the same – 19:35 and 21:24. But both falter under close scrutiny. 19:35 does not claim that the author was the one who witnessed the scene but only that the scene is related on the sound basis of eyewitness. 21:24 is part of the appendix of the gospel and should not be assumed to have come from the same hand as that responsible for the body of the gospel. Neither of these passages, therefore, persuades many Johannine scholars that the author claims eyewitness status. Source:  The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v. 3, pp. 919-920)


There is no direct evidence that this John is the son of Zebedee, and some scholars have suggested an alternative ‘John the Elder’. However, there is no direct evidence for the existence of this alternate John, and it is reasonable to assume that early church writers would specify if ‘John the Disciple’ was different to ‘John of Zebedee’, since the latter is so prominent in the Synoptic Gospels.[4]

One may accept the internal biblical data and the external evidence as proof that John, son of Zebedee wrote the Gospel. However, one may later change one’s opinion like Raymond E. Brown, author of the Anchor Bible commentary, who rescinded his earlier commentary opinion: “I now recognize that the external and internal evidecne are probably not to be harmonize” (Brown, 1979, p. 34).–Rcnabi260 23:33, 8 December 2010 (UTC)

Source:  here

Matthew Ferguson, doctoral candidate in Classics:

The traditional authors of the canonical Gospels–Matthew the tax collector, Mark the attendant of Peter, Luke the attendant of Paul, and John the son of Zebedee–are doubted among the majority of mainstream New Testament scholars. The public is often not familiar, however, with the complex reasons and methodology that scholars use to reach well-supported conclusions about critical issues, such as assessing the authorial traditions for ancient texts. To provide a good overview of the majority opinion about the Gospels, the Oxford Annotated Bible (a compilation of multiple scholars summarizing dominant scholarly trends for the last 150 years) states (pg. 1744):

Neither the evangelists nor their first readers engaged in historical analysis. Their aim was to confirm Christian faith (Lk. 1.4Jn. 20.31). Scholars generally agree that the Gospels were written forty to sixty years after the death of Jesus. They thus do not present eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings.

Unfortunately, much of the general public is not familiar with scholarly resources like the one quoted above; instead, Christian apologists often put out a lot of material, such as The Case For Christ, targeted toward lay audiences, who are not familiar with scholarly methods, in order to argue that the Gospels are the eyewitness testimonies of either Jesus’ disciples or their attendants. The mainstream scholarly view is that the Gospels are anonymous works, written in a different language than that of Jesus, in distant lands, after a substantial gap of time, by unknown persons, compiling, redacting, and inventing various traditions, in order to provide a narrative of Christianity’s central figure–Jesus Christ–to confirm the faith of their communities.

As scholarly sources like the Oxford Annotated Bible note, the Gospels are not historical works (even if they contain some historical kernels). I have discussed elsewhere some of the reasons why scholars recognize that the Gospels are not historical in their genre, purpose, or character in my article “Ancient Historical Writing Compared to the Gospels of the New Testament.” However, I will now also lay out a resource here explaining why many scholars likewise doubt the traditional authorial attributions of the Gospels.

Source:  here.

From the website Cross Examined:

End of post.


49 thoughts on “Majority of Scholars agree: The Gospels were not written by Eyewitnesses

  1. The majority of historical-critical scholars, perhaps, but certainly not historical-grammatical scholars. Don’t paint your headlines with such broad strokes.


    1. It’s about time, JB! Where have you been???

      My statement is that the “majority of NT scholars…”, that means ALL NT scholars, not just one category. However, please provide a source which states that the majority of historical-grammatical scholars believe that Matthew, John Mark, Luke the companion of Paul, and John the son of Zebedee wrote the Gospels.


    2. Hi JB,
      Gary’s statement that the majority of NT scholars do not believe that the gospels were written by eyewitnesses (Matthew, John) or that they were based on those who were (e.g. Mark on Peter), seems to be generally accepted. This applies not only to historical-critical scholars but also to many (but maybe not the most) of those scholars who hold to historical- grammatical methods.

      Most of those scholars who hold to historical grammatical methods seem to belong to theological institutions which have statements of faith which include belief in the inerrancy of the bible in the original manuscripts and such scholars must subscribe to this view in order to teach at such institutions. Implied threats of losing one’s job, if one deviates, does not exactly encourage independence of thought if such a scholar (due to his research) comes to the conclusion that historical critical techniques are more probably correct.


      John Arthur

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi JB,

        No doubt, you are aware of the drift of scholars in many conservative theological institutions towards higher critical methods, yet maintaining (through elaborate mental gymnastics) their profession of upholding the conservative theological standards of their institutions.

        In the 70’s Harold Lindsell wrote two books detailing what he believed was a drift towards neo-orthodoxy and liberalism occurring in many of these institutions. Included among these was Concordia.

        In some institutions, some of these “liberal” professors were dismissed or encouraged to move on under threat of dismissal. In others, these trends were allowed to continue.

        If there is little freedom to express one views openly and to detail the findings of one’s research, how does this promote scholarship? Clamping down on dissidents might temporarily keep the pastors who are studying at them within the confessional standards of their denomination. But once pastors, and non trained members of the church, begin to find out what higher critical techniques are about and become convinced that they are more likely than conservative techniques to represent what the bible is teaching, won’t many of them see that they have been deceived and leave their conservative churches?


        John Arthur

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi John Arthur,

          As usual, JB refuses to provide the evidence for his assertions. JB is great at telling everyone else how they are wrong, but not so good about proving that he is right.


  2. Gary –

    Good try. You made the initial assertion, without proof.

    And since that would involve each of us doing a long, exhausting head count.

    Again – I wouldn’t doubt what you say were you speaking of just Histo-crit scholars. All?

    Prove it yourself, first. “-)


  3. I received this email today from an LCMS pastor:

    Mr. Matson,

    I clicked on your link below and it is broken – “Oops! The page cannot be found,” or something to the effect. After looking at your website I see that Bart Ehrman is referenced as being highly influential in your turning away from Jesus. I assume this is the Bart Ehrman to whom you refer: Please do watch the interview (it’s quite short). I cannot fathom how it will be for you when you stand before your Creator, having chosen this dimwit (and his ilk) over Jesus Christ.

    Pastor R


    1. Below is my response to this conservative Lutheran clergyman:

      Hi Pastor R,

      I agree with you. If Jesus rose from the dead and is God, I am in BIG trouble.

      However, what if I can show you that there is very good evidence that the belief in Jesus’ resurrection is very probably NOT based on eyewitness testimony? If no eyewitness testimony exists for this ancient claim, I hope you would agree that it is most likely legendary and not an historical fact.

      That is my dilemma. How can I continue to believe a very improbable, ancient, supernatural claim when there is no good evidence for it?


      Dear Readers: This is how Christianity and many other supernatural based belief systems have maintained control over their adherents for thousands of years: FEAR. Indoctrinating young children and gullible, uninformed adults, that when they die, a vindictive Boogeyman is going to get them good if they do not remain in the “fold” and follow its rules.

      There is a term for this kind of belief system: a Cult.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. My response:

      You obviously are not up to date on modern scholarship, Pastor. Even NT Wright says that no one knows who wrote the Gospels. It seems the entire LCMS clergy has their heads firmly planted in the sand regarding the authorship of the Gospels.


      When young people, who are Internet savvy, learn that you guys have been feeding them this outdated scholarship…they are going to leave the Church in droves.



      1. His response:

        Actually we’re enjoying a great upsurge from young people who want the truth, not your revisionist lies. AND, yes, obviously you are falling for those with an anti-Christ agenda.


        1. My response:

          If that is true, then your congregation is the outlier, not the norm. Maybe you have added attractions to your worship service like a praise band, dancing bears, or a circus act. 🙂

          However, the statistics from the LCMS show that young people are leaving the LCMS in droves. I predict this mass exodus will increase as young people realize that their pastors are not telling them the truth about the evidence for Christianity, in particular, that modern scholars do NOT believe that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses. In the next comment is a link to an excerpt from the LCMS regarding the overall decline in membership:

          I know you see me as the enemy, Pastor, but I am actually a friend. I am attempting an intervention: of you and your congregation from the ancient superstition that deceives you and controls your lives.



  4. Yes, the vast majority of scholars agree that the gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. Only two of the gospels, however, were ever claimed to be written by eyewitnesses in the first place: Matthew and John. The evidence for apostolic authorship of John is, to say the least, minimal. The evidence for apostolic authorship of Matthew is somewhat better, but not good. My view tends to come closer to the Griesbach Hypothesis, but even on that view, I don’t see Matthew as a clear eyewitness

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Stein. Nice to hear from you!

      I am currently reading conservative Christian NT scholar Richard Bauckham’s book, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”. I was surprised to learn that he does not believe that ANY of the Gospels were written by a member of the original Twelve. Bauckham does not believe that Matthew was written by the Apostle Matthew. He believes that the Gospel of John was written by John the Elder, not John son of Zebedee, the Apostle. Bauckham believes that John the Elder (and Aristion) were actual disciples/companions of Jesus based on a statement by Papias.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Gary, I’ve read the book as well. As I may have told you on TheologyWeb, I’m of mixed feelings towards it. Bauckham’s approach is certainly an interesting one, but I’m skeptical of his argument for eyewitness testimony based on the “inclusio,” as well as his argument that John the Elder had to have written the gospel. As a friend of mine who reviewed a later work of Bauckham’s said, Bauckham has to make everything else complex to get to a rather simple conclusion.

        Outside of conservative evangelicals, I doubt you’d find many scholars who adhere to Matthean authorship or John of Zebedee as the author of John. John the Elder doesn’t strike me as incredibly unlikely, but Bauckham’s argumentation strikes me as unpersuasive at best.


        1. “Bauckham has to make everything else complex to get to a rather simple conclusion.”

          That is a very accurate summary of Bauckham’s style, at least by my reading of “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”.

          What do you think of Bauckham’s argument that the early Christians selected “tradents” to memorize the individual “Jesus stories” so as to pass them on intact, and it was these memorized Jesus stories upon which the Gospel authors wrote their Gospels. Bauckham uses the reserach of Baily and Vasinia (sp?) as sources for the reliability of oral traditions, but I don’t see how one can assume that the behaviors of modern oral cultures in maintaining oral traditions automatically translates to hard and fast rules for the oral traditions in first century Jewish Christian communities in Palestine.


          1. I don’t know anything about Vasinia (?) but I can say that Bailey’s model of oral tradition has been challenged. There were several articles about in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus. Bauckham’s point wasn’t that you can automatically transfer how one oral culture operates to another one.

            As for Bauckham’s points about someone in charge of memorization, I don’t necessarily know. I don’t think the tradition was so strongly controlled that one person was in charge of it. There may have been a group of people. To be honest, this isn’t an area I really know very much about; I’m currently focused on the Synoptic Problem.


  5. There are definitely huge problems with this post; the largest is that it is superficial, not responding to any actual arguments from the book itself, and citing sporadic decades-old quotations (with few relevant ones) to back up the position taken in this post (that Bauckham’s addition is not correct).

    One obvious problem is that this response attempts to claim that Matthew didn’t write the Gospel of Matthew, however it is not in Bauckham’s opinion that Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew (he thinks a companion of Matthew wrote it). Indeed, nowhere does the book argue for such a thing. In fact, the book only argues that based upon the evidence available to us, *one* of the Gospels can be considered eyewitness testimony, not all four. Thus, there appears to be an inherent misrepresentation here.

    Secondly, Bauckham’s volume is a largely authoritative document. It has been called perhaps the most important contribution to New Testament studies in the last half century. So of course, several decades-old quotations where some people claim that they think they don’t know who wrote the Gospels is not of relevance. A much more problematic quotation is the one claiming that we don’t know if Luke was a companion of Paul, however the consensus of scholars is that Luke was in fact a companion of Paul. Funnily enough, this post seems to weigh the opinion of the ‘consensus’ of scholars quite a lot… Except when it doesn’t suit it.


    1. Now here’s a giant non-sequitur. Maybe the reason why so many secular NT scholars buy scholarship is because they have shown, again and again, that they can buy this sort of argument:

      “Scholars generally agree that the Gospels were written forty to sixty years after the death of Jesus. They thus do not present eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings.”

      The missing premise here is that people cannot ever remember an event from 40 years ago. Given that I myself achieved this impossible feat, while still in my 40s, and given that most of Jesus’ followers would have been young (as in every other mobile revolutionary movement), I’d call that quite a gap in the argument, to put it mildly.


      1. There is other evidence for believing that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. One of the best is the fact that Matthew and Luke copied so much of Mark, often verbatim. Why would an eyewitness (Matthew) and someone who alleges to have received his information from eyewitnesses (Luke) so extensively copy someone who even conservative Christians agree was not an eyewitness (John Mark)?

        What’s more, conservative Christians can’t even agree on the eyewitness authors!!! Conservative darling Richard Bauckham believes that Matthew did not write the Gospel of Matthew and also believes that John the Apostle, son of Zebedee, did not write the Gospel of John. If the majority of scholars who believe in the traditional authorship of the Gospels (almost exclusively evangelicals or fundamentalist Protestants), who already represent a minority of scholarship, can’t even agree on which eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels, their position is very weak indeed.


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