The Gospels are Historical
By Dennis Barton
Christians have always maintained that the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark,
Luke and John) provide accurate historical accounts of the life and
teachings of Jesus. The early historians all agreed that the Apostle
Matthew wrote first and John last. Both had lived with Jesus. Mark and
Luke were close assistants of the Apostles. It was obvious that
some copying had taken place between Matthew, Mark and Luke.
asked themselves why there were grammatical errors in Mark’s Gospel? Why
does his Gospel end at chapter 16, verse 8? Why does it then continue in
a different style? Did someone add these extra verses? Why did some
historical authors list Luke before Mark, while others listed Mark
Used as a basis
for prayer, these questions do not matter but, when an enquirer is
looking to see if Christianity is true, these questions may cause
problems. Critics of Christianity say that if Mark copied verses from
Matthew he would not have changed good grammatical Greek into Greek
containing errors. So these critics claim Mark must have written prior
to Matthew and, therefore, all the ancient historians are unreliable.
Critics claim the unanswered questions throw doubt on the Gospels. They
claim the Gospels were written by people who didn’t live at the time of
I was interested
in these questions before I met the renowned Scripture scholar Fr.
Bernard Orchard osb. He claimed to have found the answer to the
questions. He held that Matthew wrote for the Jews and then Luke wrote
for the Gentiles. Luke, not having lived with Jesus, asked the Apostle
Peter to show his approval of his Gospel.
Peter did so by
giving a talk in which he quoted alternatively from Matthew and Luke.
Peter’s secretary, Mark, recorded the talk in Greek shorthand. Peter, a
Jewish fisherman, didn’t know and speak Greek well, so Mark’s shorthand
record included Peter’s errors of pronunciation and grammar. This
explains how Mark’s Gospel came to include ‘poor’ Greek.
is supported by the ancient historians. When Peter was killed, Mark left
Rome. Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons tells us: “Mark went to Egypt to
preach the Gospel which he had written down”. He became bishop of
Alexandria. Years later, Clement of Alexandria became head of the
Alexandrian Catechetical School. So he was then able to refer to the
diocesan archives when he wrote his books.
Clement’s books have perished. But when bishop Eusebius of Caesaria
wrote: The History of the Church, he was able to
copy detailed information from Clement’s works. This included the
details of a special crowded meeting. The audience at the meeting were
not satisfied with hearing Peter’s talk once only. So they persuaded
Mark to leave them a written version. “And so became the cause of the
Scripture called the Gospel according to Mark”.
“Peter was pleased by the zeal of the audience, so ratified the
scripture for study in the churches. The bishop of Hierapolis named
Papias confirms him”. [Papias, a child when Peter was martyred, knew
the early Christians]. Clement also said that the earliest priests
reported that: “those Gospels were first written which include the
genealogies”. [I.e. Those by Matthew and Luke].
Clement’s historical account agrees with Orchard’s theory. We can see
that Mark published quickly. The author of a later Preface tells us that
Luke didn’t published until he was back in Achaia. So Luke wrote
prior to Mark, but published after him. This was the
reason for variations in the listings. Jerome, in his Vulgate,
placed them in the Matthew-Mark-Luke-John order. Yet in his: On
Illustrious Men treats Luke before Mark.
Augustine, in his first book gives the order in which he received the
gospels (Luke’s after Mark’s). But in his forth book, he writes:
“Mark …appears rather as one who goes with Mathew … or, … more probably
goes in step with both. … he agrees with Matthew in many things, yet in
some things he agrees with Luke”. So Augustine judged Mark as
writing after the other two. Today many churches in the East use the
Matthew-Luke-Mark order in their liturgies.
talk stimulated questions and his answers were recorded in Mark’s
chapter 16: 9 onwards. Clement reports that two editions of Mark’s
Gospel were published. Archaeologists confirm this. They say the editions
can be distinguished by one edition omitting from 16: 9 onwards. Peter
would have spoken in a different style when answering questions, so
another ‘problem’ is solved. The answers can be linked to the pre- 16:9
before he could fully promote his ideas. So I collected them and, with
extra supporting evidence, they can be read on the:
www.churchinhistory.org website, under the title: The Clementine
The Church, in Dei Verbum, sections 7, 18 and
“ … Christ the Lord … commissioned the Apostles to
preach to all men that Gospel which is the source of all saving truth …
This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the Apostles who, by their
oral preaching, … handed on what they had received from the lips of
Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, … The commission was
fulfilled, too, by those Apostles and apostolic men who … committed the
message of salvation to writing.
… the Gospels are the principal witness for the
life and teaching of our saviour. The Church has always and everywhere
held and continues to hold that the four Gospels are of apostolic
origin. For what the Apostles preached in fulfilment of the commission
of Christ, afterwards they themselves and apostolic men, … handed on to
us in writing … the fourfold Gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke
Holy Mother Church … continues to hold, that the
four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church
unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, really did
and taught …” (Vatican
For more details: see www.churchinhistory.org
How the Gospels Were
Written - By Dennis Barton -
How the Synoptic
Problem Was Solved - By Dennis Barton -