The Christian Scriptures (New Testament)
The Gospels of Matthew, Luke, & John
An early church father, Papias (circa 130 CE), named Matthew as the author of this
gospel. He is identified as a tax collector in a list of the twelve disciples in Matthew
10:3. He is probably the Levi, son of Alphaeus, referred to in Mark 2:14
and Luke 5:27. Papias also believed that the gospel was originally
written in Hebrew. This belief has little support today.
Conservative Christians generally assert that the gospel was written by the disciple
Matthew, perhaps 45 CE or earlier. The Scofield Bible states that the traditionally
accepted date is 37 CE, only 4 to 7 years after Jesus' execution.
Liberals believe that the name of the author is unknown. It was written after the
destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 CE, because it describes the event in
Matthew 24. Various authorities date Matthew about 85 CE. 5,6,7,8
The Easton Illustrated Dictionary comments that: "The Gospel is
full of allusions to those passages of the Old Testament in which Christ is
predicted and foreshadowed. The one aim pervading the whole book is to show that
Jesus is he 'of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write.' This Gospel
contains no fewer than sixty-five references to the Old Testament, forty-three
of these being direct verbal citations, thus greatly outnumbering those found in
the other Gospels."
In early Christianity, most theologians believed that this gospel was
originally written in the Hebrew, or perhaps Aramaic, language. It was later
believed to have been translated into Greek, either by the original author
or by some anonymous person. A near consensus of modern theologians
disagree. They believe that the gospel was written in Greek, as were the
remaining gospels, epistles and other writings in the Christian Scriptures.
The Easton Illustrated Dictionary also notes that "Matthew uses
the expression 'kingdom of heaven' (thirty-two times), while Luke uses the
expression 'kingdom of God' (thirty-three times)." The author of Matthew
was apparently writing to a Jewish audience; he seems to have avoided
referring directly to God, in order to avoid offending his audience.
Some theologians believe that Matthew did not originally include a
nativity story. They suggest that the first two chapters of Matthew were
written later by a forger, and joined as a prefix to the autograph copy of
Matthew, or an early copy, which contained only chapters 3 to 28.
Matthew, along with the other synoptic gospels, stresses the humanity of Jesus. It the
only gospel that contains the word "church" (Matthew 16:18 and 18:17).
Judgment, Hell are major themes. The author wrote from a Jewish perspective, with about 50
quotations and over 75 references to Old Testament passages. It incorporates many passages
from the gospel of Mark and the gospel of Q.
"Luke" was motivated to write the gospel and its sequel, the book of Acts,
because he felt that previous gospels written by eyewitnesses to Jesus' ministry lacked
accuracy. Most of the gospel was copied from Mark and Q; about one third of the passages
came from another source unique to Luke, often referred to as "L". This special material
includes some of the most important passages about Jesus in the Bible: the parables of the Good Samaritan, of
the Prodigal Son, and of Lazarus, as well as the story of Martha and Mary. Luke is
also the only synoptic gospel to present Jesus as a savior (Luke 2:11).
The gospel was aimed at an international audience of Greco-Roman readers.
Luke is commonly believed to have been a physician. But recent analysis of his
writings indicates that his knowledge of medicine was no greater than that of a
typical educated person at the time.
One interesting feature of the gospel is the use of duplicate parables: one
involving a man and another a woman. This, the emphasis on Mary in the first two
chapters of the gospel, and other internal evidence, has led one theologian to
suggest that the author of Luke was a woman.
Estimates of the date of writing range from the late 50's to the 90's. A date closer to
90 CE is likely, because the author comments on the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, and
because of its dependence on Mark. Most conservative Christians believe that Luke was a
doctor who accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys. 1,2,3,4
Most liberal Christians believe that Luke was an educated person whose identity is
The purpose of Luke appears to be the promotion of Pauline Christianity among the
The early church father, Irenaeus, recorded the church tradition that this gospel was
written by John, son of Zebedee. Others claimed that the author was an Elder John from
Ephesus. Still others, attributed it to John, the "beloved disciple."
Throughout most of the history of the church, the Gospel of John was believed to have been
written by Jesus' disciple. Most liberal scholars today believe that it was written by a
group of authors about 70 years after Jesus' execution. 1,2,3,4
There is speculation that much of
the gospel was written by a single, unknown writer, and that a second, later individual
reworked the text in order to make it conform to contemporary church teaching.
"John" contains a great deal of anti-Jewish sentiment.
It holds the Jews and their descendants responsible for the
execution of Jesus. It is largely responsible for inspiring Christians to violent anti-Semitic acts in the centuries since it was written.
Because of its theological principles and the emphasis on Jesus as the Son of
God, it rapidly became the favorite gospel. It has remained the favorite today,
particularly among conservative Christians.
It was probably written between 85 and 100 CE, after believers in Jesus were
expelled from Jewish synagogues. Chapter 20 appears to be the original ending of
the gospel. Chapter 21 describes the miraculous catch of fish, and the
reinstatement of Peter, appears to be a later addition.
Conservative Christians typically believe that the entire gospel, including the
addition, was written by John, the disciple. 1,2,3,4
Liberal Christians typically believe that it was written by a group of authors, and that
Chapter 21 was added by a later editor of the gospel. 5,6,7,9
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Rev. C.I. Schofield, "The Schofield Reference Bible," Oxford
University Press, New York, NY
H.H. Halley, "Halley's Bible Handbook," Zondervan, Grand
Rapids, MI, (1965)
H.L. Wilmington, "Wilmington's Bible Handbook," Tyndale,
Wheaton, IL, (1997)
P.N. Benware, "Survey of the New Testament," Moody Press, Chicago, IL,
Burton L. Mack, "Who Wrote the New Testament?", Harper Collins, San
Robert J. Miller, Ed., "The Complete Gospels", Polebridge Press, Sonoma
CA, (1992), P. 249-300.
F.V. Filson, "The Literary Relations among the Gospels," essay
in C.M. Laymon: "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible,"
Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, (1991)
"The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible,"
Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, (1991)
"Matthew," Updated Bible Version, at:
Copyright © 1996 to 2009 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-SEP-22
Author: B.A. Robinson