Were the Gospels Written and Circulated Anonymously? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1 we started looking at Richard Bauckham’s case against the anonymity of the Gospels. He offered three main reasons for rejecting this view. We were right in the middle of the first reason, and that is where we pick up. Bauckham explains why the Gospel of Luke could not be anonymous:

The clearest case is Luke because of the dedication of the work to Theophilus (1: 3), probably a patron. It is inconceivable that a work with a named dedicatee should have been anonymous. The author’s name may have featured in an original title, but in any case would have been known to the dedicatee and other first readers because the author would have presented the book to the dedicatee.

Of course, this in itself does not guarantee that the author was named Luke; the attribution to Luke could be later and erroneous. But we are not, at this point, concerned with establishing the real authorship of each Gospel, only with refuting the idea that the Gospels were presented and received as anonymous works whose contents would have been taken as coming from the community rather than from known authors.

Bauckham then examines the Gospel according to John:

In the case of John’s Gospel, 21: 23 is important in showing that the Beloved Disciple — ostensibly, at least, the author (21: 24) — was an identifiable figure, someone about whom a rumor could circulate, at least in some circles. Although he remains anonymous within the Gospel, its first readers must have known his name.

Finally, the Gospel according to Matthew:

The case of Matthew is more complex. It requires the connection of two facts about the Gospel. One is that the figure of Matthew, who in the other Gospels appears only as a name in the lists of the Twelve in Mark and Luke, acquires a higher profile in the Gospel of Matthew. In this Gospel, he is dubbed “the tax collector” in the list of the Twelve (10: 3), while in the story about the call of a tax collector, whom Mark and Luke call Levi, the tax collector is named Matthew (9: 9). This definite, albeit quite small, emphasis on the character Matthew within the Gospel cannot be unconnected with the other relevant fact: that the title of the Gospel associates it with Matthew (“ according to Matthew”) in a way that, while it may not necessarily indicate authorship as such, certainly treats the apostle Matthew as in some way this Gospel’s source.

We shall consider the titles of the Gospels shortly, but here we need take the title of Matthew simply as evidence from some early stage of the Gospel’s transmission. It is hardly likely that the Gospel came to be associated with Matthew on the basis of the references to him in 9: 9 and 10: 3. These references are surely not prominent enough to have made readers think Matthew must be the author. Much more likely, the author was responsible both for these references to Matthew and for the attribution of the work to Matthew, which would therefore have been original, presumably included in a title.

In part 3, we will look at Bauckham’s second reason for rejecting the anonymity of the Gospels.