The Titles of the Gospels
History says Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the books with those titles. People seem to have a highly variable standard in their assessment of what ancient writings are genuine, especially the Bible. What do we mean? Here is an example:
Most people accept Alexander the Great as a real historical figure. Yet, the two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written by Arrian and Plutarch more than 400 years after the Great One’s death 323 BCE. Legends about him developed centuries after these two writers. Alexander’s true, accurate is preserved for hundreds of years, prior to these legends.
Let’s clear up a misunderstanding about the titles of the Gospels: There was no “uniformity of the titles.” There were many variances. The one thing that is 100% consistent about the titles is that they attributed writership to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John respectively. The wording of the titles in various early manuscripts were different, not the same.
But in every single instance, the names included Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John respectively. While there was not uniformity of the titles, there was agreement on writership.
Textual criticism expert Bart Ehrman claims that the titles of the Gospels were added by later scribes. But as is well known, even experts can be wrong. Ehrman’s theory about the titles contradicts the facts.
An interesting point to note here is that while there are four gospel accounts, there is in reality only one gospel that runs through the entire New Testament – the Gospel of and about Jesus Christ. As Mark opens his account:
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (NASB)
The Gospel is the theme of the four accounts of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection. Hence, the titles were drawn from this. Notice:
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Mt 4:23)
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Lk 4:18)
While John never used the word “gospel,” his theme is the same, as he explicitly states:
“But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:31)