A Question I Was Asked:

"Can You Tell Us More About the Gospel Writers?"

The Actual Question

"Can you tell us some more about the Gospel writers, when they wrote, and how they finally died."

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, in this reply, I am partly indebted to the clear and succinct way in which Paul James-Wright has listed some of these points, although other points are my own.

Firstly, it has been claimed that if you knew where to look, you could pretty much reconstruct the Christian gospel message simply through the Old Testament. Moreover, around 300 prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus. The following are just a few examples of things revealed in the Old Testament:

  1. Messiah, the Son of God: Psalm 2; Isa. 9:6-7.
  2. Crucifixion for our sins: Psalm 22:1,13-18; Psalm 69:21; Isa. 53; Zech. 12.
  3. Resurrection: Psalm 16:8-11; Isa. 53:10-11.
  4. Ascension: Psalm 68:18.
  5. Outpouring of the Holy Spirit: Joel 2.
  6. Judgement: Zech. 14.

The above is not comprehensive, there is more, but perhaps it illustrates the point. Obviously these words were written several hundred years before the time of Christ. Now let's consider the New Testament gospel writers:

He originally wrote in Aramaic, but his book was translated into Greek during his lifetime. Matthew probably wrote in the 40s AD, and primarily addressed his gospel account to the Jewish people.

In Exegetical Writings, by Papias, bishop of Hieropolis (AD 120), Matthew is confirmed as the writer. Portions of this work of Papias still survive, but not all of it. Papias had been taught by the apostles and is a highly authoritative source for some of this information. Through such sources we may learn that, as a tax collector, Matthew would have been used to writing in a form of shorthand which was used at the time. This was very rapid, and one may well imagine Matthew using shorthand to record things which Jesus said, such as in the 'sermon on the mount.'
Matthew is thought to have been beheaded for his Christian Faith in Ethiopia somewhere between AD70-80.


Mark, according to the traditions of the Coptic Church, was born of Jewish parents in the city of Cyrene in Pentapolis, the western part of Libya. Mark was one of the very first Church evangelists. Tradition identifies him with the 'John Mark' mentioned as a companion of the apostle Paul in Acts, and who later is also said to have become a close companion of Peter (Irenaeus, c. AD180, Against Heresies, III, 1, 1).
John Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas on Paul's first missionary journey. After a sharp dispute, however, Barnabas separated from Paul, taking Mark to Cyprus with him (Acts 15:36-40). Later, Paul called upon the services of Mark (2 Timothy 4:11), and Mark was named as Paul's fellow worker (Philemon 24). Several traditions teach that Mark was one of the attendants who served at the feast in Cana of Galilee at which Jesus turned water into wine. So John Mark became Peter's scribe, or writer. His gospel is really Peter's Gospel, as recorded by John Mark around AD47.

Mark is stated to have been dragged to death by horses in Alexandria, Egypt in AD68.


Luke wrote his gospel around AD57 and he later wrote the 'Acts of the Apostles,' in AD62.
Luke is a very careful and meticulous writer, a historian who uses the approach of a historian. One of the greatest archaeologists of all time was Sir William Ramsay. He studied under the famous German historical schools in the mid-nineteenth century, which taught that the New Testament was a religious treatise written in the mid-200s AD, and not an historical document recorded in the first century. Ramsay was so convinced of this teaching that he entered the field of archaeology and went to Asia Minor to specifically find the physical evidence to refute Luke's biblical record. After years of field study, however, Ramsay completely reversed his entire view of the Bible and it's first century history. He later wrote:

"Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy, he is possessed of the true historic sense...in short, this author should be placed along with the greatest of historians." (Sir William M. Ramsey, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, Hodder and Stoughton, 1915).

Without question, Luke, who was a doctor and a Greek, went around checking his sources and the claims about Jesus which were made, rather than simply recording every claim which he heard. Luke shows particular interest in the place of the needy and continually stresses the importance of the role of women in the events of the passion. The writings of Luke are considered highly reliable, even by many who are otherwise sceptical towards the various biblical accounts.


John the Apostle probably wrote his gospel somewhere between AD65-68. He is no longer considered to be the very late writer as was once thought to be the case; Bible commentators now recognise that there is no reason why he should have delayed writing to a period later than the 60s AD. Even the Book of Revelation, in the opinion of many, is now better dated to around AD68-69 than to the 90s AD (obviously, not all agree).
As to approach, John took care to read the other three gospels before writing his own on the advice of his spiritual peers of the time. He set out to record many of the incidents in the life of Jesus which he clearly recalled, but which had been neglected by the other gospel writers. Good examples of this are the early miracle of turning water into wine at Cana, maybe thought unimportant by the other Gospel writers in view of what happened later, but of great meaning to John. Also, John is plainly keen to record Jesus' discussion of salvation with a Samaritan woman. In comparison, Matthew may have been reluctant to record this incident in view of his strong Jewish sensibilities, but to John, clearly deeply interested in the gospel going to the Gentiles, and to all the world, this was an episode of great importance.

John became bishop of Ephesus for many years. He was tortured for his beliefs by being put into boiling water, but was divinely protected, the water having no ill-effects upon him. After this, he was left alone to die of old age in exile on the island of Patmos. The source for much of this information is in Papias, Irenaeus and the Muratorian Canon.
Robin A. Brace, July 25th, 2009.