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BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (7) – Does internal evidence in the Gospels concord with the external evidence?

[PHOTO] Four small panels from the South Window, All Saints Church, Selworthy

– Rev José Mario O Mandía

Having studied what other works (external evidence) say about the authors of the four Gospels, let us now compare what they say with what we find inside each one of these Gospels. If what we find coincides with the external evidence, then we have further proof of the authorship of these texts.


External evidence provided by writers such as St Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Eusebius declare that (1) Matthew is the author of the first Gospel; (2) he addressed it to the Jews; (3) it was originally written in the Aramaic language; and (4) it was intended either to strengthen converts from Judaism or to attract prospective ones.

When we examine the Gospel attributed to Matthew, we will discover that: (1) it often uses and refers to the Old Testament, which the Jews are familiar with; (2) it quotes prophecies of the Old Testament that point to the Messiah; (3) it mentions Jewish customs and traditions but – unlike the other Gospels – does not explain them since it is assumed that the readers understand the customs that this Gospel speaks about.


Writers like Papias, St Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Tertullian associate St Mark with St Peter, and confirm that Mark was asked by the early Christians in Rome to write down St Peter’s preaching. This is what external evidence tells us.

When we look into this Gospel, what do we find? 1 Peter is mentioned 24 times (in Matthew, 26 times; in Luke, 29 times; in John, 41 times, but at least twice as often as all the other apostles), but unlike the other Gospels, Peter is portrayed with his frailty. What this shows is that Mark simply followed the preaching of St Peter, who spoke humbly of himself. (2) In contrast with Matthew, this Gospel does not make any references to either Old Testament prophecies or Jewish customs. (3) Many of the events he narrates are those that St Peter witnessed personally and therefore preached about.


We can find external evidence provided by St Jerome, Eusebius, Origen, Tertullian, St Irenaeus, St Polycarp and St Justin Martyr, who attest that the Third Gospel was written by Luke, a Gentile, a physician and a close associate of St Paul. He was writing to the non-Jewish converts to Christianity.

When we read this Third Gospel, we can note the following: 1 The grammatical construction shows that the author is not a Jew. (2) St Paul refers three times to his association with “Luke, the beloved physician.” Luke, who is also regarded as author of the Acts of the Apostles, refers to his association with St Paul in the book of the Acts. (3) He employs a physician’s way of describing diseases when he speaks about the cures worked by Jesus Christ. (4) He addresses the converts and encourages them. He speaks a lot about the joy of conversion.


St Irenaeus, a disciple of St Polycarp, who was in turn a disciple of St John himself is an outstanding witness that St John wrote this Gospel. Eusebius, Justin, and many others attest also to the authorship.

There is more direct internal evidence here, than in the other three. St John says in 19:26: “When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’” And then, in verse 35 of the same chapter, he adds, “He who saw it has borne witness–his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth–that you also may believe.”

Furthermore, he identifies himself in chapter 21:20-24.


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