Curtis Mitch on the Authorship of the 4 Gospels

Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament

I’m currently teaching a New Testament course and I have been re-reading a lot of great material dealing with all aspects of New Testament studies. I’m re-reading—among other things—Curtis Mitch’s work. I thought this was especially well-written, and a good synthesis of modern scholarship. The excerpt below comes from the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The New Testament, which Curtis Mitch co-edited with Scott Hahn. With regard to the traditional attributions of authorship of the four Gospels—i.e., that Matthew wrote Matthew, Mark wrote Mark, Luke wrote Luke, and John wrote John—Mitch writes the following:

“every extant Gospel text with a surviving title page includes a superscription with the name of the evangelist as given by tradition. If untitled Gospels ever existed, none has survived to confirm the assertion….Some would argue that the titles and traditions linked with the Gospels are historically unreliable. But if the Gospels were initially disseminated as anonymous works, and only decades later ideas about their origin began to crystallize and take hold throughout the Christian community, then we are left with a situation that is very difficult to explain. Not only are the names of the evangelists unanimously attested in the second century, but one is hard-pressed to account for why these names and not others were chosen and universally agreed upon. The apostle John may be thought an obvious choice to credit with a Gospel, given the extent of his influence in early Christianity. [But] why attribute the other Gospels to figures such as Matthew, Mark, and Luke? Even though Matthew was one of the Twelve, he appears only a few times in the New Testament and never in such a way that later generations would conclude that he was a figure of towering importance. Even more, it is unlikely that a Gospel addressed to readers from a Jewish background [at that time] would be attributed to a tax collector, since tax collectors were generally despised by Jews [of that time] as morally corrupt, ritually unclean, and politically traitorous. The problem is even more acute in the case of Mark and Luke, neither of whom was an apostle and neither of whom appears in the writings of the New Testament as a prominent authority figure in the earliest Christian community. If churchmen in the second century were merely speculating about the authorship of the Gospels, one might reasonably expect them to have preferred more illustrious personalities such as Peter or Paul. At the very least, one would expect more than one opinion to have made itself heard in the annals of Christian history.”1

In a footnote, Mitch includes the following: “The Book of Hebrews provides a counterexample. Because its author is never identified in the book, and no name is supplied in its title, there was much speculation in the early centuries about who wrote it. No such speculation surrounded the authorship of the four Gospels.”2

I highly recommend the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. I use it weekly, sometimes daily.

  1. Curtis Mitch, “Introduction to the Gospels,” in The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The New Testament, ed. Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, xv-xxiii (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), xvi. []
  2. xvi n. 2. []

About Jeffrey L. Morrow

Jeff Morrow is Associate Professor of Theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. He also serves as a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. Jeff earned his Ph.D. (2007) in Theology at the University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio, in the program on the U.S. Catholic Experience, where he focused on historical theology and the history of biblical exegesis. He earned his M.A. (2003) in Theological Studies, with a focus on Biblical Studies, also at the University of Dayton. He earned his B.A. (2001) at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, where he double majored in Comparative Religion and Classical Greek, and minored in Jewish Studies. Jeff originally comes from a Jewish background; he attended Hebrew school and had a bar mitzvah. In 1997 he became an evangelical Protestant and was heavily involved with para-church ministry as an undergraduate student. He entered the Catholic Church, Easter Vigil 1999. Jeff is a popular speaker who speaks regularly at parishes and schools, as well as at larger events. He has made popular presentations at the Applied Biblical Studies and the Defending the Faith Conferences at Franciscan University of Steubenville, as well as with the Coming Home Network International. He has also published in popular periodicals including This Rock, The Catholic Answer and New Oxford Review. Jeff's scholarly work is primarily in the history of biblical interpretation, but he has also presented academic papers, and published scholarly articles, on a variety of topics related to theology, religion and the Bible. He has published scholarly works in academic journals including New Blackfriars, Pro Ecclesia, Toronto Journal of Theology, and the Evangelical Review of Theology. He has also made scholarly presentations before a number of learned societies, including the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature and the College Theology Society. He currently resides with his wife Maria (a doctoral candidate in Theology, specializing in Moral Theology) their four children Maia, Eva, Patrick, and Robert, in New Jersey.
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14 Responses to Curtis Mitch on the Authorship of the 4 Gospels

  1. Nathan says:

    Great stuff. Does Mitch cite Hengel, whose work he must be drawing on here?

    • Jeffrey L. Morrow says:

      Dear Nathan,

      No, although Mitch and Hahn both put a tremendous amount of scholarly research into the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, as it is for the laity and not scholars, the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible does not have citations of scholarly literature. Certainly Mitch relied upon the works of Hengel and others.

  2. Al says:

    Dear Curtis Mitch!
    On xv page of New Testament of the RSV Second Catholic Edition you wrote ”Jesus was”. Why ”was”? He is eternal, and consequently he is. How much you try to prove the original of four Gospels! It is clear enough. Let me prove it. As any writing thing I know, that the better some book is the less is its price. How much four Gospel cost? Without any doubt it is original. My e-mail:

  3. Al says:

    Dear Curtis Mitch!
    There is no wonder, that I recognized Trinity at once. Just say, that you are writer, and you will have only Trinity to associate with.

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