Who wrote the Gospels?

A friend asked: “How can we know who wrote the gospels?” They had an atheist telling them they can’t trust the Gospels since there’s no way to authenticate the authorship.

My response: About 180AD, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, names the four Evangelists. So it’s what we Orthodox happily call Tradition. (And Evangelicals just believe it because it’s what we’ve written at the top of the Gospels they got from us.)

These accounts are authoritative – not because they have the signature of some specific apostle on them, but because the first and second generations of Christians, in the 60s-90s AD, received them and *approved* them.

Say it is 70 or 90AD. You live in a town in Syria or Libya or Palestine, where your church community have been Christians for thirty or fifty years already. Your grandparents learned the Gospel from one of the Apostles, and for decades you have been practicing the Faith and all your life you’ve known Christians from all over the Mediterranean. Now for the first time you receive a written account of the work of your Lord Jesus Christ; your community’s elders read it publicly and *judge* it: Does it match what Paul or Barnabas or Peter taught your people a lifetime ago? Is this story and teaching familiar?

If not, then you’re going to discard and forget about it. But if this “gospel” document echoes what you and your community have already been practicing for generations, then you’re going to copy it and send it on to the next village or city.

That’s how the four Gospels were judged and became the normal readings for church communities everywhere, while so many other “gospels” were discarded, ignored, and are found only in fragments from the margins of history.

Bottom line: We trust the four Gospels because the Church has judged that they accurately express our faith in Christ.