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The Alleged Anonymity of the Canonical Gospels

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Gathercole, SJ 


The apparent anonymity of the Gospels is a neglected topic in New Testament studies. The present article offers an investigation of the theme. Initially, there is a survey of the work that has been done specifically on the subject, as well as how it is treated in Gospels scholarship more broadly. The main body of the argument is in two parts. First, anonymity cannot be inferred from an absence of authorial self-reference in the body of the work, and therefore the argument that the Gospels are anonymous because they do not contain the authors’ names is invalid. Secondly, and more positively, while the titles contained in the earliest Gospel manuscripts may well in their present form be secondary, this does not exclude earlier attributions of authorship made in some other way. Practical considerations make the presence of author’s names very likely. Second-century Christian literature is replete with references to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as authors of Gospels, and there is never any sense that the Gospels were anonymous or written by others. The most likely conclusion to be drawn is that the attributions of authorship are original.



43 History, Heritage and Archaeology, 4303 Historical Studies, 50 Philosophy and Religious Studies, 5004 Religious Studies, 5005 Theology

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Journal of Theological Studies

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Oxford University Press