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The Christian Scriptures (New Testament)

The Gospels of Matthew, Luke, & John

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The Gospel of Matthew:

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.

bullet 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. 1,2,3,4
bullet 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. 9

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.

The Gospel of Luke:

"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 unknown. 5,6,7,8

The purpose of Luke appears to be the promotion of Pauline Christianity among the Gentiles.

The Gospel of John:

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.

bullet Conservative Christians typically believe that the entire gospel, including the addition, was written by John, the disciple. 1,2,3,4
bullet 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

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Rev. C.I. Schofield, "The Schofield Reference Bible," Oxford University Press, New York, NY
  2. H.H. Halley, "Halley's Bible Handbook," Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, (1965)
  3. H.L. Wilmington, "Wilmington's Bible Handbook," Tyndale, Wheaton, IL, (1997)
  4. P.N. Benware, "Survey of the New Testament," Moody Press, Chicago, IL, (1990)
  5. Burton L. Mack, "Who Wrote the New Testament?", Harper Collins, San Francisco, (1995)
  6. Robert J. Miller, Ed., "The Complete Gospels", Polebridge Press, Sonoma CA, (1992), P. 249-300.
  7. 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)
  8. "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, (1991)
  9. "Matthew," Updated Bible Version, at:

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Copyright 1996 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-SEP-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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