Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy maintained and continues to maintain, that the four Gospels [Matthew, Mark, Luke and John], whose historicity she unhesitatingly affirms, faithfully hand on what Jesus, the Son of God, while He lived among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day when He was taken up. (Dei Verbum, No. 19)
After the ascension of Jesus, the Apostles went forth preaching the Gospel, handing on to others what our Lord had done and taught. Having been instructed by the Lord and then enlightened by the Holy Spirit, they preached with a fuller understanding. Eventually, the "sacred authors" wrote the four Gospels. Each author, guided by the Holy Spirit, selected from the events and teachings of our Lord which perhaps they had witnessed or which had been handed on either orally or in written form.
Sometimes the authors may have synthesized some of these events or teachings, or may have underscored parts or explained parts with a view to a certain audience. This is why the Gospels oftentimes tell the same story, but each will have certain details not included by the others. In a similar way, if each member of a family had to write a family history, each member would tell basically the same story, but each member would also highlight certain details he considered important and would keep in mind who would be reading the family history. Nevertheless, the sacred authors wrote "in such a fashion that they have told us the honest truth about Jesus" (No. 19). Therefore to suggest that the third-century Church "wrote" the Gospels in some kind of vacuum, almost to "create" Jesus, is without foundation.
So did Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John write the Gospels? Is the sacred author also the saint? Remember only St. Matthew and St. John were among the Twelve Apostles. We must keep in mind that in the ancient world, authorship was designated in several ways: First, the author was clearly the individual who actually wrote the text with his own pen. Second, the individual who dictated the text to a secretary or scribe was still considered the author. Third, the individual was still considered the author if he only provided the ideas or if the text were written in accord with his thought and in his spirit even though a "ghost writer" did the actual composition. In the broadest sense, the individual was even considered the author if the work was written in his tradition; for example, David is given credit for the Psalms even though clearly he did not write all of the Psalms.
Interestingly, with the recent scholarship on the Dead Sea Scrolls, new evidence points to the authorship of the traditional authors.
Since, therefore, all that the inspired authors, or sacred writers, affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Sacred Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error, teach that truth, which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures. (No. 11)So no matter who actually put the finishing touches on the sacred Scriptures, each is inspired.
Perhaps some mystery surrounds these texts and the identity of the authors. Nevertheless, we hold them as sacred, as inspired and as truly the Word of God.
One last point: Given the blasphemous book The Da Vinci Code and its promotion of the Gnostic gospels, why were the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John included in the canon of the New Testament and no other supposed gospels? The simple reasons for their inclusion is as follows: First, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are rooted in the apostolic tradition and can be attributed to apostolic authorship, as noted above. Second, these Gospels are orthodox in their teaching, particularly about the identity and person of Jesus. Third, they were used in the Mass and other liturgical functions. Fourth, they were accepted by the whole Church, not just by some sect. The Gnostic gospels do not fit any of these criteria, and therefore were rejected and condemned by the Church.
Saunders, Rev. William. "Gospel Authorship." Arlington Catholic Herald.
This article is reprinted with permission from Arlington Catholic Herald.
Fr. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls and professor of catechetics and theology at Christendom’s Notre Dame Graduate School in Alexandria. Father has been writing his weekly "Straight Answers" column for the Arlington Catholic Herald since 1993. The above article is one of those "Straight Answers" columns. Father Saunders is the author of Straight Answers, Answers to 100 Questions about the Catholic Faith, a book based on 100 of his columns and published by Cathedral Press in Baltimore.
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