Authorship of New Testament books

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Authorship of New Testament books


In evaluating authorship of New Testament books, it is important to remember that the source or authority of a book is usually not the same as the actual scribe of the book. "For example, one might ask who really wrote the epistle to the Romans in the New Testament. Most people would probably say that Paul wrote it. But Paul was not the person who actually took a writing instrument to a sheet of papyrus and wrote the epistle from beginning to end. Rather, Paul used the services of a scribe, to whom he dictated the contents of the letter: 'I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord' (Romans 16:22)."[1]:131 As another example, consider the question, "Who is the author of the Gospel of Mark? Recall that according to early Christian tradition, Mark was a missionary companion of the Apostle Peter and wrote down those things that Peter taught him about the life of the Savior. In this particular case, the scribe rather than the source of the information received credit for the Gospel. Thus, this Gospel might have been called the Gospel of Peter, but it is traditionally called the Gospel of Mark."[1]:132

Especially regarding authorship of the Gospels, it is helpful to remember that "the four Gospels are, by no means, the unchanged and unadulterated words of biographers or stenographers who followed Jesus around and recorded His utterances verbatim. They probably began, in common with other ancient scriptures, as oral traditions—collections of reminiscences, stories, proverbs, and anecdotes."[2] For example, based on modern-day revelation, Latter-day Saints affirm that the Apostle John is the authority or source of the Gospel of John (see Doctrine and Covenants 7) as well as the Book of Revelation (see 1 Nephi 14:27). However, this does not mean he is the actual scribe of the words that we have now. For example, the end of the Gospel of John includes these words: "This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true" (John 21:24), implying that a group of people helped put together the Gospel of John in its current form.

There are no other New Testament books whose source is given by revelation. Regarding statements by the Prophet Joseph Smith, one historian noted the following regarding the Epistle to the Hebrews but applicable to all New Testament books:

The Prophet Joseph Smith never made any direct statement regarding the complex issue of the authorship of Hebrews. He did, however, quote passages of scripture from the epistle to the Hebrews and attribute them to Paul. For example, he attributed a passage from Hebrews 6:17: “Paul said to his Hebrew brethren that God b[e]ing more abundantly willing to show unto the heirs of his promises the immutability of his council [‘]confirmed it by an oath.’” I feel that this type of statement, however, is not by itself sufficiently strong to definitively answer the question. In my view, Joseph was simply following the view of Pauline authorship as he read it in the title, “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews,” rather than making an overt statement about the authorship of Hebrews. On one occasion, Willard Richards recorded the Prophet saying, “St Paul exhorts us to make our Calling & Election shure.” We know, however, that these teachings appear in 2 Peter 1:10 and not in any of Paul’s writings. Certainly no one should use this statement as evidence that Joseph Smith considered Paul the author of 2 Peter. Thus the phrase “Paul said,” followed by a quote from Hebrews, does not necessarily mean that the Prophet was weighing in on the question of the authorship of Hebrews.[3]

President J. Reuben Clark, as First Counselor in the First Presidency, stated, "I am not really concerned, and no man of faith should be, about the exact authorship of the books of the Bible. More than one Prophet may well have written parts of books now collected under one heading. I do not know. There may have been ‘ghost writers’ in those days, as now."[4] And Elder Bruce R. McConkie, speaking specifically of the Epistle to the Hebrews but applicable to all New Testament books, noted, "The principles set forth in the Epistle are more important than the personage who recorded them; an understanding of the doctrines taught is of greater worth than a knowledge of their earthly authorship.”[5]


Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 Frank F. Judd Jr., "Who Really Wrote the Gospels? A Study of Traditional Authorship," in How the New Testament Came to Be, ed. Kent P. Jackson and Frank F. Judd Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2006).
  2. Alexander B. Morrison, ""'Plain and Precious Things': The Writing of the New Testament," in How the New Testament Came to Be, 3.
  3. Terrence L. Szink, "Authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews," in How the New Testament Came to Be, 251.
  4. J. Reuben Clark, On the Way to Immortality and Eternal Life (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1950), 210; as cited in Szink, "Authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews," 254.
  5. Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1973), 3:133; as cited in Szink, "Authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews," 255.