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  • Writer's pictureLaurie Larsen

Who Were the Authors of the Gospels? (Part 2 of 2)


Welcome back to the second part of this topic: Who were the authors of the gospels?  A quick summary: the first four books of the New Testament are called the gospels.  They document the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and they were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. 

In this two-part blog series, I’m covering what we know about these four important men.  Part One covers Matthew and Mark and is right here. If you haven’t read that yet, please do. Now we’ll continue to study the final two. 

First, Luke.  Luke was not a follower of the living Jesus.  There is no reason to believe that he ever met Jesus in the flesh. As he opens up his gospel, Luke makes it clear that he is not writing it based on firsthand knowledge: (Luke 1:1-4, NIV): Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Before we go any further, let’s try to answer this question: who the heck is Theophilus?

Theophilus is mentioned just twice in the New Testament, both in books written by Luke.  This Luke chapter 1 mention is the first one, and then the name appears later in Acts of the Apostles, a book Luke also wrote. There are several theories among biblical scholars about who this man was, and what relationship he had with Luke.

Most Excellent Theophilus:  The title “Most Excellent” was a Roman title of respect and generally refers to a Roman official. If Theophilus was a Roman official, it’s possible he was Luke’s financial benefactor or sponsor while Luke was off evangelizing to Gentiles about the growth of Jesus’ church.

A Gentile (non-Jewish person): Luke’s phrase “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” gives the impression that Theophilus may be a Gentile with whom Luke has studied about Christianity. Luke wants to prove to Theophilus that what he has learned about Jesus is in fact true.  (My thanks to BibleInfo’s article, Who is Theophilus in the Bible Books of Luke and Acts for this info.)

Not a person at all: Some people think that Theophilus was not actually an individual person. The Greek word “theophilo” translates to “friend of God” and could be an all-inclusive term Luke uses to refer to the audience who will read his books. According to this idea, Luke simply meant that they were all “loved by God.”

Regardless of who the mysterious Theophilus was (if anyone), the main point of this essay is, who was Luke?

Luke lived in the first century AD and he was a very learned and educated man.  By trade, he was a physician.  We know that because the apostle Paul, writing to the new Colossian church says, “Our dear friend Luke, the doctor … sends greetings.” (Colossians 4:14, NIV). From the way Luke opened up his gospel, we know he dug deep into written papers and interviews with others in order to get to an honest, accurate document of Jesus’ life. This thoroughness would’ve come naturally to him after medical school and practice.

Luke hooked up with the Apostle Paul when Paul was sent out to grow the church of Christianity to the Gentiles. In fact, he was a frequent travel partner to Paul as he traveled around on his missionary trips.  Paul mentions Luke being with him in several of his letters to the early churches, including Philemon 1:24, 2 Timothy 4:11, and 2 Corinthians 8:18.

The other reason we know Luke was heavily involved in growing the church after Jesus was gone was that he wrote the Acts of the Apostles, which is the book that documents that movement. And unlike the Gospel of Luke where he doesn’t claim to be present for the events he’s describing, in Acts, he writes in first person (I, we, etc.) because he was there.  Starting with Acts 16:10: After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (NIV)

Between his gospel, and the Book of Acts, Luke ended up writing 27.5% of the New Testament! Luke has won his place in Christian history for being a devoted spiritual leader and documenter of the early Church.

I’ll close this section about Luke with this quote from Ryan Nelson’s 2019 article, Who Was Saint Luke, The Beginner’s Guide, “For someone who wrote so much of the New Testament, we don’t know very much about Luke. But while the details of his life have largely been lost to history, Luke’s contribution to Christianity and the world live on in the Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts.

Without this doctor-turned-historian, we would have massive gaps in our understanding about what happened after Jesus’ ascension. But thanks in no small part to his careful attention to detail and meticulous documentation, nearly 2,000 years after his death Christians around the world are still following in the footsteps of the original apostles.”

The final gospel writer is John.  Like Matthew, John was a member of Jesus’ tribe of Twelve, and witnessed his earthly ministry firsthand.  Mark 3:13 says, Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. … verse 17: James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”).

So, we see that John and his brother James became Jesus’ disciples together. They weren’t the only set of brothers who joined the Twelve: Simon and his brother Andrew were also chosen.

Earlier in the book of Mark (chapter 1 verse 19 and 20) we read, When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Do you wonder why these two brothers dropped out of their family business, leaving their father on his own, and immediately followed Jesus?  They would have to have a compelling reason to do so.  We get a clue of that in the book of Luke, chapter 5. Both sets of fisherman brothers (Simon and Andrew, James and John) were fishing all night long, were exhausted, frustrated and a little desperate because they hadn’t caught a single fish. They were smelly, angry and probably fighting amongst themselves. But Jesus, who was standing beside the lake preaching to a gathering, stopped what he was doing and told them to go back and try again. Reluctantly, they did, although they didn’t expect any change in their luck.

But verse 6 records this amazing scene, “When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.” (NIV)

Who were those partners? James and John!  All four fisherman brothers experienced Jesus’ miracle and dropped everything to go follow him.

Why does Jesus call James and John the Sons of Thunder?  The Bible doesn’t tell us why, but this is a subject that many have theorized about.  Here are some:

·        James and John may have had loud and boisterous personalities and speaking voices.

·        James and John may have had such enthusiasm and zeal for preaching that their voices carried on the air like thunder.

·        Maybe they were "puffed up" or arrogant because Jesus had given the disciples the ability to heal the sick and cast out demons. (Mary Oelerich-Meyer’s article, Who Are the Sons of Thunder in the Bible?)

·        They were fast to anger. Luke 9:51-55 tells this story which may be proof to this possibility: As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. (NIV)

Any these reasons could be true why Jesus gave them the nickname Sons of Thunder, but I think it’s pretty cool that Jesus gave them a nickname at all.  I love nicknames among close friends. They are born often out of love and affection; a sense of camaraderie. When close friends call you a nickname, you feel accepted like into a family.

One thing I chuckle over regarding John is, he often refers to himself as the disciple that Jesus loved. John 13:23 (NIV): One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. John wrote that about himself. 

Another reference: John 19:26: When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son.”

And here’s another one. John 20:2: So she (Mary Magdalene) came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

What do you make of John repeatedly describing himself as the most beloved disciple? To me, it comes across as attention-seeking. You know when kids from a big family assert, “Mom always liked me best!” It’s often the point of view of the sibling who feels the opposite but asserts the unpopular position to raise his own self-esteem.

In her article, Why Is John “The Disciple Jesus Loved?” Hope Bolinger provides her take on this issue: “We can throw egotism out of the question – John didn’t use this name to draw attention to himself. The opposite, rather, seems more likely. John wanted to make himself anonymous. Those who read the Gospel who had born witness to the events would have known John’s identity from some key factors he points out. For instance, he doesn’t mention his name explicitly and mentions he leaned on Jesus’ bosom during the Last Supper.

But John appears to draw the spotlight away from himself in the narrative by removing his name and putting in a nickname instead, a trait: someone loved by Jesus.”

John wrote a great deal of the New Testament.  In addition to his gospel, and three epistles that bear his name (1 John, 2 John and 3 John), John wrote the entire book of Revelation, the final book of the Bible. Jesus chose John to receive a visit from an angel to reveal to him the events that will eventually happen.  It’s the ultimate final prophecy.  Only Luke and the Apostle Paul penned more of the New Testament than John did, and he played a major role in the early church.

Now that we’ve learned more about these four authors, it’s clear that each gospel complements the other, and provides a multifaceted look at Jesus’ ministry and teachings.


Dear God, we’ve learned a great deal about the four men who authored the books that teach us about Jesus and we know the learning will never be complete.  We thank you for new insights and concepts that help us to grow ever closer to you and your son. Amen.



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