Episco-Fact #89
April 26, 2018

The Gospel's each are attributed to someone by name. Is there any information on who these people are?

The attributions of each Gospel in the Bible are to men who received the stories they tell about Jesus, either from their own personal witness or the witness of those encountered him. Therefore, the Gospel According to Matthew is attributed to the Apostle Matthew, the tax collector (Mat. 9.9, 10.3). The Third Gospel, Luke, who most likely also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, is attributed to another companion of Paul who is identified as a physician. And the Fourth Gospel is attributed to John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee, who along with Simon Peter, and James, part of an inner circle of disciples who was present at some of the most important moments of Jesus' life in the Gospels.

I have saved the information about the Gospel of Mark to the last because this Wednesday, April 25, is the observance the major fixed day feast of St. Mark, the Evangelist (it is also the fixed day remembrance of the rector's birthdate and wedding anniversary).

Papias, a church elder who lived from the mid-first to the mid-second century, is known to us through the writings of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, and himself a disciple of Polycarp (Bishop of Smyrna and leading figure in the second century Church), tells us who the Gospel writers are. As you can read from this account, the connections are imprecise and based mostly on oral traditions.

According to Papias' account, Mark becomes the interpreter of Simon Peter, and from his time with him in Rome, is able to compose an accurate account of the life of Jesus. Mark is further identified as John Mark, who is the cousin of St. Barnabas, a Jewish Levite in the church of Cyprus, who partners with St. Paul on his first missionary journey, setting out from Antioch. John Mark, for reasons which fails to satisfy Paul, turns back, and later accompanies Barnabas to a mission to Cyprus.

In the late third and early fourth Century, Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, disputes this attribution. According to his Church History, Mark becomes the first bishop of Alexandria, a tradition carried on in that church to this day. There is also a tradition that holds that Mark went to Venice to be bishop there.

As this review highlights, there is less historical certainty about the actual identities of the authors of the Gospels than either church tradition or the magisterium suggests. But there is no reason for our purposes to look for other attributions. The Gospels of the Great church tradition have other points of agreement about the person, ministry, and reality of Jesus.