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Interview with Dr. Timothy McGrew.

AA: What is your view on the authorship of Gospels?

Dr. McGrew: I am persuaded that they were written, in more or less the form in which we have them today, by their traditional authors, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Nearly every piece of external evidence we have indicates that this has always been the view of the church. Contrary to what Bart Ehrman likes to say, there is no evidence that any of the Gospels ever circulated anonymously. And there is very strong internal evidence for the authorship of John, as well.

There are of course some difficulties with any view of the authorship of the Gospels. But that is true with almost any interesting historical investigation. The question is not whether there is some view that is free from all difficulties; it is which view suffers from the least difficulties, which view is open to the fewest objections. And I am firmly persuaded that the traditional attributions of authorship are open to the fewest objections.


AA: Why aren’t the Gnostic gospels considered to be historically reliable sources by most biblical scholars as well as theologians?

Dr. McGrew: The simple reason that the Gnostic “gospels” are not generally considered to be historically reliable sources is that we know they were written much later than the four canonical Gospels, that their authors had no firsthand or even secondhand knowledge of Jesus, and their content shows them to be works fabricated for the purpose of promoting Gnostic teaching, which did not become popular until the second century.
Take the Gospel of Thomas, for example. It is a string of unconnected aphorisms: “Jesus said ...; Jesus said ...; Jesus said ...; His disciples questioned him and said ...; Jesus said ...; Jesus said ...” Some of these sayings are drawn or adapted from the canonical gospels; some are just Gnostic weirdness. There is no context, no setting, no detail, no realism. The only geographical reference in the entire work is a vague mention of Judea in verse 60.
Open the Gospel of John almost anywhere and the contrast will be stark. In John 4, for example, Jesus is sitting at Jacob’s well talking to the Samaritan woman; he speaks to her of living water. She points out that her forefathers worshiped in “this mountain”—and Mt. Gerizim is, in fact, visible from Jacob’s well. When she goes back to town to tell her fellow Samaritans about Jesus, the disciples marvel that he was talking to a woman; he tells them to lift up their eyes to see the harvest; and grain fields are in fact visible to anyone sitting at that well. The integration of teaching and context is pervasive.
The prepositions built into the Greek verbs show us that the authors of the four Gospels were familiar with the geography of Palestine: Jesus goes down to Capernaum (John 4:46, 49, 51); he goes up to Jerusalem (John 5:1); in a parable he has a man going down to Jericho (Luke 10:30).

The cumulative effect of evidence like this—and there is much, much more of it—is overwhelming. As sources for the life and teaching of Jesus, the Gnostic “gospels” simply aren’t in the same league as the four canonical Gospels.


AA: Why don’t the Gospels cover the youth of Jesus Christ?

Dr. McGrew: I think some people, both Christians and non-Christians, have the mistaken idea that the four Gospels were intended to be complete accounts of Jesus’ life. That obviously wasn’t the point. They focus on his life and actions during a span of a little over three years, the years from the beginning of his public ministry until his resurrection. And even there, they are not complete records, as the authors themselves admit—look at John 21:25!