4 Gospels or 4 Forgeries

4 Gospels or 4 Forgeries?

My name doesn’t carry much weight. I’m not that big of a deal in popularity or authority. There is no need for a press release when the words “by C. Michael Patton” appear on a post.

Because of my lackluster, I could have tried to manipulate things in order to ensure that you read this post. I could have said John Piper wrote it. After all, I do have control of the admin panel and could create Dr. Piper as an author. He’s so busy, he’d probably never know.

Dr Piper is so busy. He’d probably never know.

I might do that because my name doesn’t have as much weight as John Piper’s. I might have thrown out a broader net and said this post was by Billy Graham. Or I could have gone for a whole different audience, if I said it was by Pope Benedict XVI. In any case, were I to pull off such deception, my message would (in theory) be held in higher esteem. Now, I am a Christian. While sinning is something I (unfortunately) practice, I don’t think I could ever stoop to such a low place, even if it gave me more credibility (at least initially).

Free Video – Session 1 from the Church History Boot Camp

Forgeries, Pseudepigrapha, and Plagiarism in the Early Church

The practice of taking credit for the work of another is called forgery. Pseudepigrapha (“false writing”) is the formal name of the genre. Today, we simply call it plagiarism. It may surprise you to know that this practice was not unheard of in the early centuries of the church. Very often, people of undignified stature would attempt to give strength to their ideas and beliefs by attaching another’s name to it. This is especially the case in the story of Jesus.

Within a hundred years of Christ’s death, pseudepigrapha began to arise.

Within a hundred years of Christ’s death, pseudepigrapha began to arise. Among the earliest known forgeries is the Gospel of Thomas. The author of this work claimed the Apostle Thomas as its originator in mind and hand. The work begins with these words: “These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded.” The general consensus of scholarship, both conservative and liberal, is that Thomas did not write this work. It probably does not date before A.D. 100, many years after Thomas died. This is not the only work which claimed the name of an apostle. Dozens sprang to life over the next few hundred years:

  • The Gospel of Peter
  • The Acts of John
  • The Acts of Paul
  • The Apocalypse of Peter
  • The Gospel of Judas
  • The Infancy Gospel of James
  • The Gospel of Mary (who would be more credible than the mother of Christ?)

Piggybaking Someone Else’s Fame

The common characteristic of all of these works is that they attempted to solidify their testimony by tagging it with the name of a credible eyewitness. After all, if someone in the third-century wants to teach some new idea about what Jesus did or said, it wouldn’t do much good unless it came from an eyewitness. Why? Because if the person was not there. At the very least, they need to have received their information from someone who was and would vouch for them. We have no reason to believe them if they came hundreds of years later.

Often, they would name their writing the “lost” or “secret” teaching, hoping this would explain why it took so long to surface.

Many people would claim to be Apostles when they penned their work. Often, they would name their writing the “lost” or “secret” teaching, hoping this would explain why it took so long to surface. The early church hardly gave these spurious writings a second thought. Why? Because they knew that they were not written by a credible source. They knew they were fakes.

The Gospels Aren’t Forgeries (Technically Speaking)

This brings up an interesting point about the four canonical (i.e., accepted into the Bible) Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Tradition holds that all of these were written either by eyewitnesses (Matthew and John) or by writers who received their information from eyewitnesses (Luke and Mark). These traditions go back to the earliest days of the church. The first church fathers, who wrote at the end of the first century and the beginning of the second century, tell us that these Gospels were accepted as true and written by their namesake. However, it is very interesting to note that they are not forgeries. They can’t be. It’s impossible. Why? Because these Gospels don’t ever claim to be written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. They are nameless. Go ahead. Check for yourself. I’ll wait.

The anonymity of the Gospels doesn’t hurt their credibility, it supports it!

Told ya. While there are many reasons we can be confident that their current names do accurately represent their authorship, it isn’t because these guys claimed such. Of course they could have. They could have all started their respective works with, “I [author’s name] have written this story of Jesus.” Most people would be happier if they did. But they didn’t. And do you know what? I am glad. Their anonymity serves as one of the many reasons why I believe their stories with so much conviction. Because the Gospel writers left their names off the accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we can be more confident that Christ is truly risen. Hang with me.

If someone was selling fiction as fact (as many claim the Gospels do), there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t also claim it was from someone more credible. We see it every day. Yet in a world where this is common, the Gospel writers left their names out. Now, if they had included their names, this wouldn’t mean they weren’t eyewitness accounts. However, by leaving their names out while claiming the historicity of their accounts, an element of embarrassment is provided that seems hard to account for if the story they wrote about is untrue. They had every reason to include their names, since their names would have provided immediate value… but they didn’t. John Piper, Billy Graham, and the Pope sign their names to everything they write because their names have established value and credibility. But, by being anonymous, the Gospel writers demonstrated that they were not fabricating their testimony.

Rebranding the Gospels for Marketing Purposes

The earliest Christians show the same formidable character, since they didn’t attempt to ascribe the Gospels of Mark and Luke, who were not apostles, to any of the original Twelve, or Paul. Mark, as early traditions claim, was a sort of biographer for Peter. Luke was a convert and companion of Paul. However, no one in the subsequent early years attempts to call Mark, “The Gospel According to Peter” or Luke, “The Gospel According to Paul.”

The early church showed great integrity by not trying to rebrand the Gospel of Mark with St. Peter’s name.

While the early church is not without its imperfections, this is one place where it shows great integrity. If the early church fabricated Christ’s story, why use people such as Mark and Luke to do so? Who were they? It would have been easy enough to upgrade the value of the testimony to Peter and Paul. Ironically, this act, two thousand years later, gives the story of Christ and his resurrection not less credibility, but more!

My friends Ed Komoszewski, Dan Wallace, and Jim Sawyer write about this in their excellent work, Reinventing Jesus. Concerning the Gospel of Mark they write:

The treatment of the Gospel of Mark in the ancient church ought to serve as a bold reminder that the early Christians took seriously the question of authorship. Especially when a particular book was anonymous, it allowed any influential person to fill in the blank with his favorite apostle. But this was not done with the Gospel of Mark. Surely the impulse to claim that Peter wrote one of the Gospels was especially strong. That the church refrained from this, claiming only that Mark got his Gospel from Peter, shows remarkable restraint. In fact, the claim has all the earmarks of authenticity. (p. 139)

I am not John Piper and I would never claim to be (even if Piper was not around to defend himself). That the Gospel writers did not claim their own names in their writings is beyond extraordinary.

In an incredibly unforeseen (by men) and ironic way, their act of humility (leaving out their names) gives us even more cause today to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, saying, “It is really true.” Who wrote the Gospels? Those who were confident enough in their testimony to leave their names out.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    45 replies to "4 Gospels or 4 Forgeries"

    • the Old Adam

      When I see C. Michael Patton’s name on it, I’ll read it.

      I wouldn’t read it if John Piper’s name was on it. I have heard too many lousy sermons of his to expect anything good from him now.

      • Ross

        Old Adam, that is purely negative, derogatory, and inappropriate. As of right now, I cease to read comments on blog posts that I read.

    • D Murrell

      Technically speaking, plagiarism and the pseudopigrapha are opposites, not the same thing. Plagiarism is taking a blog post written by John Piper and putting your name as the author; it is stealing content and passing it off as your own. They are both forgeries in a sense, but entirely different in the manner of deception.

      • Clark Bunch

        I think perhaps Michael understands the definitions correctly but miscommunicated in the post. He states “The practice of taking credit for the work of another is called forgery.” A sentence or two later he says “today we simply call it plagiarism.” That would be correct. Pseudepigrapha is exactly the opposite; I think perhaps the sentences are out of order and not that he doesn’t know what the words mean. It is awkward at best.

    • Staircaseghost

      “If someone was selling fiction as fact (as many claim the Gospels do), there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t also claim it was from someone more credible.”

      Well that’s odd.

      I have been told over and over and over again that no one would dare sell fiction as fact, specifically because potential converts were all a bunch of 1st Century Amazing Randis running around verifying every claim.

      Were these apologists wrong?

      • Clark Coleman

        It all depends on when the books in question were written. Whether the audience was a good check on the writing of fiction depends on whether a book was written in 60 A.D., with lots of living people who saw and heard Jesus when he was alive (including those who never accepted him as Messiah), or written in 160 A.D., when attaching an apostolic name could help with credibility and all living witnesses were dead.

        If modern scholarly ideas about proto-gospel accounts (e.g. the Q document, or perhaps two early source documents) are true, then we have gospels written in the 60’s A.D. (lots of witnesses to object to fiction) using apostolic compilations that were circulating for a couple of decades in a different form (with even more living witnesses to object to those early documents). So, if Mark and Matthew and Luke grabbed material verbatim from Q or something similar, then they were using a document that got vetted pretty early.

        However, if we could establish that a certain canonical book was written in 140 A.D. or 160 A.D., then the vetting process is entirely different and any apostolic authorship claim would obviously be pseudoepigraphal.

        • Staircaseghost

          I wasn’t talking about the relative chances of successful forgery between early and late documents. I was talking about the double-standard. The inconsistent, opportunistic methodology.

          As I quoted from C Michael Patton’s article, when the apologist wants anonymity to be good evidence of reliability, he says there is “no reason to think they wouldn’t also claim it was from someone more credible”. Got that? No reason.

          But when the apologist wants the content of those documents to be reliable, all of a sudden he can think of a very very good reason for the writers not to make false representations, viz., that potential converts would have formed a 1st century CSICOP to try to investigate and try to debunk them. After all, they say, Christianity is “the world’s most falsifiable religion,” and “[i]f I decided to start a religion, deceptively or not, I would not make false claims to recent historic events that did not happen. Why? Because I know those claims could be tested. Also, I would not give details about the time, place, and people involved.”

          Can you guess which apologist those quotes are from? 😉

        • Clark Coleman

          My posting was not a defense of the original article; the article author can do that if he wishes. It was an attempt to understand the truth of the matter. I do not agree with every statement made in the article.

          For example, I can think of a good reason why someone would not claim a false apostolic authorship: If he wrote during the lifetime of those apostles, then the apostle whose name was falsely attached to the document would be able to publicly repudiate it. On the other hand, if this were 150 A.D., the situation is quite different.

          So, contrary to the article, I believe we have to think hard about possible authorship scenarios that are quite different when the authorship dates change. If composed in 150 A.D., I would expect a gospel to have a false authorship name attached to it, but not if composed in 60 A.D. So, we have to look at all possible combinations of authorship, date of writing, and author name vs. anonymous to see what makes sense. I don’t think it is as simple as saying that ALL anonymous documents suggest their own authenticity via their anonymity.

        • Staircaseghost

          “I do not agree with every statement made in the article.”

          Of course, that was not merely a remark CMP tossed off in passing, it was his central argument for the main thesis of the article, so I hope you can forgive my confusion when you appeared to object to my comment instead of challenging him directly. But it’s good to know at least one other person agrees with me in finding the reasoning in the article inconsistent and not compelling.

    • mjazzguitar

      What also authenticates the Gospels, for me, is that no one tried to smooth out the contradictions.

      • Wayne

        What gets me about this logic is that it’s “heads, I win. Tails, you lose” logic. If there aren’t contradictions in the text, then it’s “Wow, look at the majesty of how all the texts hang together so perfectly. This is the work of Divinity”. If there are contradictions in the text, then it’s “Wow, these are really ‘authentic’. No one tried to smooth over the contradictions, so I know they are the real deal”. Do you see how this works?

    • Tom Howard

      Well, we dont need to dispute who wrote the gospel according to Paul as he lets us know clearly that its by revelation directly from Jesus himself, as It was neither taught him nor given to him by man. Being such, it also comes with a specific warning not heard of any previously. Galatians 1:8. What is this Gospel? The Son of God revealed in him. Galatians 1:16.

    • Jimmy Lang

      I find it interesting that the examples given are never canonical. Its a pretty small crew that contends for Pauline pastoral authorship.

    • sam

      here for me is the reason i believe the bible has been corrupted bible ;earth a flat circle fixed in place does not move 6000 yrs young noah flood worldwide’ all contradict science

      • Robert

        What about the beginning of the Universe?

    • geneww38

      I walked away from Biblical faith when a “professor” taught that the Bible was a collection of fables, compiled by political leaders who called themselves priest and put fear into the masses by a ‘bogie man’ god.

      almost 20 years [1977] later, Dr Morris’ 5 part sermon with a title like “Biblical Evidence” convince me of the truth and I returned.

      After 9/11/01 I tried to help others see that the Koran was Satanic and Bible of God. However, however well documented, I concluded no person will read numerous pages to prove themselves wrong.

      With that I developed an absolute 100% proof at http://www.GodAuthoredBible.com . I never had a valid rebuttal to it, even though I went line by line with an Imam and other anti-god professors.

    • josef

      place the doomsday in the burn bucket as another media hoax

      I will share this (The real TRUTH)
      Besides rejecting Bible truth, many so-called Christians have renounced Bible standards of conduct in favor of popular morality. God’s Word foretold this development, saying: “There will be a period of time when they [people professing to serve God] will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled.” (2 Timothy 4:3) These religious frauds are also described as “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.” The Bible goes on to say: “Their end shall be according to their works.”—2 Corinthians 11:13-15.
      Their works include “loose conduct,” which is a brazen disregard for high moral principles. (2 Peter 2:1-3, 12-14) Do we not see an increasing number of religious leaders and their followers adopting—or at least condoning—unchristian practices, such as homosexuality and sex outside of marriage? Please take a moment to compare these widely accepted views and lifestyles with what the Bible states at Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:26, 27; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; Hebrews 13:4; and Jude 7.
      “Test the Inspired Expressions”
      In view of the foregoing, we should heed the apostle John’s words not to take our religious beliefs lightly or for granted. “Do not believe every inspired expression,” he warns, “but test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God, because many false prophets have gone forth into the world.”—1 John 4:1.
      Consider the good example of certain “noble-minded” people who lived in the city of Beroea in the first century. They “received the word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things [spoken by Paul and Silas] were so.” (Acts 17:10, 11) Yes, while eager to learn, the Beroeans made sure that what they heard and accepted was firmly rooted in the Scriptures.
      Today, too, genuine Christians are not influenced by the ebb and flow of popular views but cling firmly to Bible truth. Wrote the apostle Paul: “This is what I continue praying, that your love may abound yet more and more with accurate knowledge and full discernment.”—Philippians 1:9.
      If you have not already done so, make it your aim to acquire “accurate knowledge and full discernment” by learning what the Bible really teaches. Those who imitate the Beroeans are not deceived by the “counterfeit words” of antichrists. (2 Peter 2:3) Instead, they are set free by the spiritual truth of the real Christ and his true followers.—John 8:32, 36.
      The word “antichrist” applies to all who deny what the Bible says about Jesus Christ, all who oppose his Kingdom, and all who mistreat his followers. It also includes individuals, organizations, and nations that falsely claim to represent Christ or that improperly ascribe to themselves the role of Messiah by presumptuously promising to achieve that which only Christ can do—bring about true peace and security.

    • Hugh

      “But, by being anonymous, the Gospel writers demonstrated that they were not fabricating their testimony.”

      That statement is a bit of a stretch. Why and when were names of writers eventually attached to the 4 gospels?

      • josef

        You hold title to your car new .. Your proud
        If old and not so pretty , ready for junk yard so if
        A name on bible book has words of value, so has a error why trash all the wisdom
        Of the 3 bowls gold silver and wood which do value the most ?
        Why do you make God on same level as man
        Read Job then in your self employed mind make the Creation better

    • wonderer

      not quite sure how to understand being nameless lends credibility. Especially when you say “It may surprise you to know that this practice was not unheard of in the early centuries of the church. Very often, people of undignified stature would attempt to give strength to their ideas and beliefs by attaching another’s name to it.”

    • Jason Pratt

      Worth noting: while GosMatt was (by the surviving evidence) the most popularly used Gospel, I don’t recall reading much in the Fathers talking about how great he personally was. Whenever GosJohn’s author is discussed, they’ll praise him all over the place as being the Beloved Disciple or the Apostle closest to Christ, etc. Luke doesn’t get as much praise but he’s liked as the companion to Paul. Mark might be called “stubby-fingers”, but they generally respect him as a companion to both Peter and Paul, and as (eventually) the first bishop of Alexandria — they’ll even attribute the creation of the catechetical university there to him.

      Matthew… not so much. They don’t diss him, but they don’t go out of their way to exorbitantly praise him either. Maybe because he was a Roman tax collector! He’s practically the least socially credible apostle to attribute a Gospel’s composition to, aside from Iscariot himself.

      So it isn’t only that two of the canonical four are attributed to surprisingly low-key authors, if they’re forgeries (weighing thus inversely in favor of their traditional attestation being correct.) All three of the Synoptics are attributed to surprising authors for trying to sell them as authoritative: two non-apostles (one with a bit of a poor reputation as a troublemaker while on mission), and the most naturally hated apostle aside from the outright traitor.

    • C Michael Patton


      Yes, it evidences their truthfulness. Alone this evidence does not do enough , but together with so many other marks of historicity, it is helpful.

      But, again, it is hard to understand why they would be nameless, especially if they are not associates of their namesake. If you are making this stuff up, fake the name as well.

      • Wayne

        I think this misunderstands the question. Why would two disciples of Jesus (Matthew and John), if there were to write first person accounts of their time with Jesus not let people know who they were? It defies logic. It’s not boasting. It’s just saying “Hey, this is who I am and this is what I saw.”

        The only reason to add the names of the apostles or the associates of apostles to the Gospels later was to bolster their credibility at a time when their was competition for authoritative claims. That’s the reason books like the Pastorals and 1 and 2 Peter make the authorship claims that they do.

    • paul warren

      What has been written over time is not the elements of fact. The Facts are the events which have taken place over time. Therefore why did these events take place. The lessons for us are hidden in the events which took place not the written text.

    • Wayne

      And yet the early church claimed that 1 and 2 Peter were written by the disciple Peter, a claim that only ‘evangelical’ scholars still cling to. So if the anonymity of the Gospels is somehow ‘proof’ of their integrity, then does this mean that the authorship claims in 1 and 2 Peter are a strong indication that they are, in fact, pseudepigrapha as most scholars believe today? Can’t have it both ways.

      • Clark Coleman

        Actually, you can have it both ways. The question to be resolved is: Why would an author in that era claim authorship or not claim authorship? It is possible that claiming authorship could be done for two reasons: To gain credibility for an epistle that will be circulated far from the author, who will not be there to attest to it as it is circulated; or to deceive (pseudoepigrapha). I can think of one reason to not claim authorship: The author might be anticipating circulation only within a small community close to him, which would not question the authenticity of what he gives them. The fact that the writing eventually circulates far beyond that community and last for millennia was not on his mind when he wrote it.

        So, the gospels and Hebrews could have been given to communities close to the authors (e.g. Matthew and Hebrews to Jewish communities in Judea originally, Mark to a Roman audience initially) and the lack of authorship claims could indicate that the author was not self-conscious about his authorship being credible. Meanwhile, Pauline and Petrine epistles were written to be circulated afar, hence they were signed. Or, Pauline and Petrine epistles could have been signed because they were pseudoepigrapha. The authorship claim alone cannot settle which of these two possibilities is the truth.

        • Wayne

          I’ll definitely give you a few points for creativity. But you would agree that what you have written is speculation, no? And that there has been no scholarly research to show that this actually happened or that there are any examples to back this up in antiquity, right?

          But let’s leave that. It still leaves open this question that I have never heard an answer to: If Matthew was an eye-witness, why would he rely on Mark for narrative? If Matthew was an eye-witness, why would he need to rely on a ‘sayings Gospel’ as his source for what he heard Jesus say?

        • Clark Coleman

          If Matthew, Mark and Luke each used an early document such as Q, then it reflects their trust in the document. Such a document was not doubt produced by an apostle or group of apostles; who else would record it? If the apostles had accepted this document for years, why not quote from it?

          Furthermore, if Mark and Matthew quoted verbatim from portions of Q, then this would be indistinguishable from the case in which one quotes from the other. Whatever conclusions we draw (Matthew quoted from Mark, they both quoted from Q, or whatever) are speculation to an extent. That includes any conclusions you draw. We are all in the position of hypothesizing what the Gospel authors might have done, based on what seems reasonable for writers at that time and place.

        • Wayne

          This presupposes that Matthew the Disciple was the author of “Matthew”. Again, if Matthew had his own independent recollection of the words and actions of Jesus he would not need to copy someone else’s word or someone else’s narrative. Honestly, if Dave Grohl was writing a biography of Kurt Cobain based on his experience with him in Nirvana, would Grohl copy extensively from someone else’s biography of Cobain? He was there. He saw, he heard. Copying from another second-hand account defies all logic.

          There’s no evidence at all that the supposed sayings Gospel Q originated with any of the twelve apostles. Even according to the gospels themselves, Jesus had many followers and was recorded to have sent out 70 at one point. A sayings gospel could have originated from many sources other than the named disciples.

          Here’s what I can’t figure out. Why is it so important, despite most evidence to the contrary that Matthew wrote the gospel designated as “Matthew”? What’s the payoff to holding a conclusion with scant supporting evidence and considerable logic and evidence to the contrary?

        • Clark Coleman

          If a reliable Q document existed with apostolic authority and agreement, then Matthew could use that document while adding his own additional recollections and interpretations. The additional material would be the motivation for Matthew writing the gospel in the first place. How does it “defy all logic” that Matthew would accept a Q document as being in agreement with his recollections, then add stories that he remembered that were not in the Q document, instead of writing it all from scratch?

          As for all the “evidence” that Matthew did not write his gospel, please present it. I think you will find that both sides of such a discussion have to engage in a certain amount of speculation, but you seem to think it is all on one side.

        • Wayne

          I’m afraid that the onus of proving something with scant to no evidence is on the person making the claim. If someone claims that you are beating your wife because they saw a bruise on her arm and asks you give evidence that you didn’t, you’re going to be in a tough place if you try to prove a negative.

          I can’t stress this enough: The only evidence that the disciple wrote Matthew comes from the 2nd century AD assertions of Papias and Irenaeus who at the same time assert something that is quite unlikely: that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew. If Matthew was originally written in Hebrew then why would it be word for the word the same in places as Mark in Greek? A miracle? The people who translated Matthew from Hebrew to Greek just happened to translate large sections so that they came out word for word the same as the Greek in Mark? Is there other actual evidence (not speculation) that Matthew wrote Matthew other than the 2nd century assertions of Papias and Iraeneus, who appear to be quite wrong about a related assertion concerning the document’s original language?

    • Jeffrey

      “But, by being anonymous, the Gospel writers demonstrated that they were not fabricating their testimony.”

      This requires simultaneously arguing that:
      A. We should realize anonymity shows credibility.
      B. Liars could not have realized that many people would believe anonymity shows credibility.

      Pretty much any argument for the first is simultaneously an argument against the second. When a sign of truthfulness is easy for a liar to duplicate, we should expect them to do so, thus invalidating the sign of truthfulness. For something to be a sign of authenticity, it must be impossible or at least difficult for a liar to replicate.

      Leaving something anonymous is easy for a liar to do. It’s not even evidence of authenticity.

      • Clark Coleman

        The question is: How did people in the first two centuries view anonymity vs. claims of authorship, and how do we view them in hindsight? If the views have changed, then we could view anonymity in hindsight (e.g. in contrast to second century pseudoepigrapha) in a different way than it was viewed at the time.

        So, a first or second century writer would not view anonymity as evidence of authenticity. In order to perceive that it would someday be considered evidence of authenticity, he was have to possess a prophetic understanding of how a future scholarly culture would look back at his era.

        • Jeffrey

          My understanding is that anonymity would have looked suspicious in the first two centuries. My understanding is also that anonymity still looks suspicious. The main post, for instance, didn’t walk us through “I thought about leaving the post anonymous, because this is the 21st century where we’ve come to respect the opinions of anonymous posts”, because anonymity still is not viewed as evidence of credibility.

          We know the following with mathematical certainty: If fact X is evidence that Y is true, it logically follows that not-X is evidence that Y is false. The magnitudes of the evidence might be different, but it must go in these directions. Using conditional probability notation, if P(Y | X) > P(Y) this implies P(Y | not-X) < P(Y).

          For example, a "Matthew" signature would be evidence it was written by Matthew. The magnitude and sufficiency of the evidence would be highly debatable, but it's clear which way the evidence points. It follows that the lack of a "Matthew" signature is evidence against Matthew being the author.

        • Clark Coleman

          What is your evidence that anonymity provoked suspicion in the first two centuries?

    • Clark Bunch

      I first thought you were misusing the word plagiarism, as in you didn’t understand the definition correctly. Looking at that paragraph again (Forgeries, Pseudepigrapha, and Plagiarism) maybe you do understand the various definitions but didn’t present them clearly. I got confused at any rate, but maybe I’m alone.

      Plagiarism is taking the work of another an claiming it as one’s own. Pseudepigrapha is exactly the opposite, writing something original and claiming it was written by someone else. We wouldn’t call pseudepigrapha plagiarism today, which is what I first thought you were saying.

    • C Michael Patton

      You can have it both ways. In fact, if you could not it would mean that any time anyone attached their names to a document, then it was false. This is something I clearly said in the OP.

      The fact that the writers left their names off is a mark of embarrassment. In this sense it provides AN evidence for their authenticity as it would seem much more likely, if they were fabrications, to have included a name to gain viability.

      • Wayne

        “The fact that the writers left their names off is a mark of embarrassment”.

        Really? Why would Matthew and John be embarrassed about their time with Jesus. Surely they knew Jesus saying about “Being ashamed of the Son of Man”, no?

    • Pete again

      We must understand that, in Jesus’ time and for many centuries thereafter, oral tradition was MORE CREDIBLE than written tradition.

      Hard for us to imagine in our day, but that was the case.

      A copy of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians? Could have very easily been forged. Hearing the gospel from one of his disciples, e.g. Luke? Highly credible.

      This is the main reason why the first Gospels weren’t written down until 30+ years after Pentecost. At some point, Christians looked around and suddenly most of the original 12 apostles had gotten wacked (only John escaped a martyr’s death), and someone said “oh yeah, we might want to write this stuff down”.

      The Gospel of John was written much later than the others, so it is very different on purpose. Why write another synoptic gospel? That’s why his Gospel is mystical.

      The first recorded time that the words “Holy Scriptures” were used to refer to the books that we now know as the “New Testament” was around 180 AD. Up until that time, when Christians said “Scriptures” they meant “Old Testament”.

      The books that make up the New Testament were selected because they were deemed by the Church to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, and were written during the 1st century. Authorship had nothing to do with it. 2 Peter not written by Peter? Not a problem, when you believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Church. Hebrews not written by Paul? Not a problem, when you believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Church.


    • C Michael Patton


      I really think you misunderstand what is being said here. In one way your comments are only restating the premise of the post with an assumed opposing conclusion. The mark of embarrassment is not present it the apostles actually wrote it. Marks of embarrassment are historical markers, not actual blush markers. 🙂

    • ian banks

      Mathew as , a genuine apostle , seems to have no insights or unique stories about Jesus of his own but uses huge portions of Mark , word for word ( 82% I understand) Now that IS plagiarism. According to Ignatius..Mathews writings were just the sayings of Jesus in Hebrew and needed to be translated. So some Syrian believer has translated them and put the sayings into a context using the narrative of Mark. He doesn’t know the bible very well , because he quotes scripture to justify his take on who Jesus is. Yet he misquotes the virgin birth from Isaiah, which was fulfilled by Isaiah’s wife. He had Jesus riding into Jerusalem on 2 donkeys (the others one). And has the story of the 30 pieces of silver in Jeremiah ! He also “has” a Trinitarian baptismal formula that was never used in Acts (always only baptised in Jesus name, and so for another 150 years!) The writings attributed to Mark and John also have additions at the end. So we are dealing with expansions and possibly redactions. Which makes the original testament (OT) the more reliable. Its perhaps a good thing that we cannot trust the NT implicitly and take it at face value , as man has started to change things to support his doctrine we cannot be sure exactly how much is real, But the good thing is that this uncertainty should stop us from turning the book into God, (if only it did)instead we have to travel through the words and meet up with The Spirit Who inspired these thoughts in the first place . We would need to meditate, call out for wisdom , intensely study the OT and be prepared to change..however these disciplines are unwelcome in a busy world of instantness and staying in control……and if you do find these blessed states ..you will get another one shortly after…persecution. Happy days!

      • Wayne

        Ian, I could not have said it better. Summarizing: Worship God, not a book about several communities’ experience of God.

    • Rev.Dr. K. Maydell

      Brother Michael; I certainly am of a different opinion than what you describe about the four Gospels. In my research for my soon to be released book ONE GOD FOR ALL, which deals with a Universal religion, I have come across some amazing facts, including getting a present from a Jewish Rabbi, the Present is an original Sinai Bible, as well as the 13 Principles that Judaists live by; and principle # 12 states that the Messiah is yet to come. (and it does not mean the second coming). and when I conferred with other theologians in Germany and Poland, yes I speak those languages as well, and told them that I found over 1,000 contradictions of New testament writers against prophecies of the Old testament they almost laughed me out of the house, saying: Karl, you are just an amateur at this, we have found over 150.000 errors, omissions and insertions in the New testament, all made so that the Old Testament prophecies actually took place as prophesied. Here just one such question. read 2nd Timothy 1:9 — Which clearly states that we were saved, in God’s eternal plan and purpose, before Adam and Eve, so why send a Saviour? I do not believe that God, the Father, would make the error, so it had to be mankind.
      Furthermore, Jesus was known as a rabbi, who had a divine connection, and thus with the power of God could heal people, similarly some prophets to day have the same divine connection (and I tell you, it is a wonderful experience), and He was known as such till 150 A.D., after which, and not by co-incidence, at the end of the Roman-Jewish War, He was renamed as the Noble Healer, and in 1854, about 30 years after the discovery of the female ovum was discovered to be present for a woman to get pregnant it was not only the man’s sperm, as previously believed, It was then in 1854 He was given the title of Saviour. Now just take a logic view of this and this is just an example. Two people committing the same crime, for which the sentence by law of that country is the death penalty, and the same crime only separated by three years, would both criminals get the same . of course they would, So the question here: Why was John , the Baptist get beheaded and his death penalty is recorded in Roman archives, and yet Jesus who did exactly the same , got crucified, and there are no records anywhere in Roman Archives ? Furthermore anyone who got crucified was denied a burial place,they were left on the crosses, till carrion eating vultures and other creatures would pick the body right down to the skeleton. after which the skeletons were burned and the ashes thrown to the wind. as anyone who was crucified was not to be buried in graveyards amongst the “honest people”. As a last thought, when I did missionary service as part of my Master.s degree in theology, I never tried to get someone, whom I approached, to join my church association, nor did I tell them to get saved, that indeed they already were, so I only explained what they should do, knowing they were saved by the grace of God, and live the truth, as truth of God is the purest form of religion, God created us in His image, and that image is LOVE, as he loved us before we opened our eyes to this world.

    • sam

      Grace alone will not do..james brother of jesus cursed paul for his invention the dead sea scrolls were written in paul’s time…it describes paul as a ‘wicked priest’…..roman paganism seaped into Christianity with paul/Constantine…god never came to earth thru Mary’s birth canal after he sat in gestation for 9 months…that’s blasphemous..oy vey

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