My Muslim friends and acquaintances frequently tell me that The Bible is not a reliable document because the Family Names of the Gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are unknown. Because we don’t know their last names, their argument runs, it is impossible to know who these people were, hence their credibility is not established, hence their testimony to the life and teachings of Jesus is unreliable.
A Muslim teacher, Khalid Yasin, is shown making this argument here, along with a large number of very serious and obvious errors which I will detail at a later time.
My Muslim friends also say that it can be shown by internal evidence in The Bible that that neither Matthew, Mark, Luke or John were eyewitnesses to the life and teaching of Jesus, hence their testimony, and therefore The New Testament, is unreliable.
This post will demonstrate that the Gospels were written by companions of Jesus who are eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus and compiled from eyewitness testimony, that the identity of the Gospel writers is known and that their testimony is reliable.
Jews Did Not Use Family Names In First Century Israel
First, though, the simple reason that the Gospel writers did not use family names is that Jewish societies of that time did not use Family Names at all. Jews typically identified by Patronymic or Matronymic names (Son Of or Daughter Of).
Jews only began to use Family Names when forced to by Gentile authorities in the nations to which they were dispersed after being evicted from Israel by invading armies. The use of surnames amongst Jews only began to appear in the 10th Century.
Consequently the assertion of Muslims that the identity of the Gospel writers is unknowable since they did not state their family name is based on ignorance of Jewish naming conventions
If Muslims wish to state that the lack of a Family Name makes a person’s testimony unreliable, they will have to take this argument to God who chose to deliver the Tawrat, Zaboor, Injeel (i.e.Torah, Psalms and New Testament) and all books of the Jewish prophets to people who did not have Family Names and yet wrote Holy Scripture.
While Jews were often named by Patronymics, they could be named in a variety of ways as this article describes. Jews could be named by Tribe, Occupation, Place Of Birth, Place Of Residence, by Reputation, by Title (e.g. Jesus Christ) or by a descriptive honorific. An example of the last is the Gospel writer John who with his brother James were called Boanerges (Sons Of Thunder) in description of their personality or Richard, King of England named Richard Lionheart in honour of his courage.
Sometimes a new name, different to one’s birth name, could be bestowed on a person by a teacher or by their community, or taken upon oneself to indicate a change of destiny, circumstances or attitude. Furthermore a Jew in First-Century Israel might be known by two names, a Hebrew name given to them at birth and also a Greek name which was adopted by them to function more easily in the Roman-dominated society of that time and place.
These sorts of naming conventions were used all over the Ancient Middle East and in many places in ancient times. There was simply no need for Family Names in many societies and even where Family Names were used these many other ways of identifying a particular person could be used and functioned as unique identifiers i.e. names.
So the names of the Gospel writers are:
Matthew; Levi Son Of Alphaeus Mark 2:14 (New name adopted or bestowed)
Mark; John Mark Acts 15:37 (Jewish/Greek names combined)
Luke The Beloved Doctor Colossians 4:14 (Named by profession)
John Son Of Zebedee Matthew 4:21-22 (Patronymic)
But even these names are not required to identify the Gospel writers as they are known by the greatest honour of all, that of being the writers of the Gospel accounts and Companions of Jesus, or trusted servants and students of the Companions Of Jesus.
So it is when someone mentions, for example, Matthew in the context of The Bible, all people know that the reference is to the Matthew who was a Companion Of Jesus. This is how Matthew was identified amongst the earliest followers of Jesus from the very start. Matthew The Disciple and Companion Of Jesus is, fundamentally, the name of the Gospel writer, which identifies him uniquely amongst all other Matthews.
When someone mentions Matthew or Mark in the context of the Gospels. There is only one Matthew or Mark they can possibly mean: Matthew, Companion Of Jesus or Mark Companion of Peter, Companion of Jesus.
One name is sufficient because the context is so obvious.
This fact is proven by an unbroken chain of reliable testimony from the time of Jesus as we will see below in the section entitled The Identity Of The Gospel Writers Is Validated By Reliable Testimony.
In the Qu’ran, Mohammed is regularly mentioned without his family name. Would Muslims seriously say ‘Which Mohammed do you mean ?’
The Qu’ran Teaches That The Bible Is Reliable
Muslims are, in fact, faith-bound to accept that the New Testament is reliable because no less authority than the Qu’ran asserts that The New Testament (or Injeel as it is known to Muslims) is reliable.
Surah Yunus 10:94 instruct Muslims to verify the truth of the Qu’ran by checking it against the Injeel (i.e. New Testament) and the Tawrat (i.e. Torah or Holy Books given to Moses). Obviously if the Injeel were unreliable it would be impossible to verify the Qu’ran against the Injeel, yet this is what Muslims are told to do. Hence the Qu’ran teaches that the New Testament is reliable. Surah Yunus 10:94 says:
But if you are in doubt as to what We have revealed to you, ask those who read the Book before you; certainly the truth has come to you from your Lord, therefore you should not be of the disputers.
Surah Al-Ma’idah 5:47 instructs Christians to live according to the New Testament. Of course this would not be possible if the New Testament were unreliable. Yet this is what the Qu’ran commands Christians to do. Surah Al-Ma’idah 5:47 says
Let the People of the Gospel judge by that which Allah hath revealed therein. Whoso judgeth not by that which Allah hath revealed: such are evil-livers.
A large number of further Ayahs (i.e. verses) from the Qu’ran could be adduced to this list to further show that the Qu’ran absolutely testifies to the reliability of Gospel writers and The Bible as a whole.
The Identity Of The Gospel Writers Is Validated By Reliable Testimony
This section relies heavily on the article Who Wrote the Gospels? Internal and External Arguments for Traditional Authorship by Keith Thompson.
The identity of the Gospel writers is given in The Bible and is validated by the testimony of early Christians of Jesus who knew Jesus and the twelve companions of Jesus (i.e. twelve disciples or twelve Apostles) who were directly taught by Jesus.
This means that the authorship of the Gospel writers is attested by reliable testimony back to the original source in exactly the same way that Muslims state the the Hadith (i.e. Islamic Traditions) are attested.
The identity of Matthew is given in the following Bible verses: Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27-29, Matthew 9:9 and 10:3. This authorship is attested by early followers such as Papias of Heirapolis, who said of Matthew
Matthew compiled the sayings [logia of Christ] in the Hebrew language
Papias of Heirapolis, who lived from approximately 70 AD to 163 AD goes on to say that he obtained his information by those who directly knew the Twelve Companions of Jesus
If, then, any one came, who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders — what Andrew or what Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say.
For I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice.
In short, Papias says that the Gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew, one of the Twelve Companions of Jesus, and that he got this information from people that directly knew Matthew and the Companions of Jesus, such persons including Aristion and John The Presbyter.
If the preceding two quotations from Papias were an Islamic Hadith it would read like this:
Papias said that Ariston said that Matthew was taught directly by Jesus. Papias also said that Ariston said that Matthew wrote down the teachings of Jesus in the Hebrew language.
I will leave it to the reader to consult the Thompson article to perform the same proof of validation of the authorship of the Gospel Of John who was the other gospel writer who was one of The Twelve Companions of Jesus, an eyewitness of his life, death and resurrection and directly taught by Jesus.
In short, the authorship of the Gospel writers is validated by an unbroken chain of reliable witnesses going back to the original source. Since this is the way that Muslims validate their own traditions, they must accept the same validation for Christian traditions.
And as we have shown above, the argument given by some Muslims that the Gospel writers are unreliable witnesses because they didn’t give their Family Names is based on ignorance since traditional Jewish society didn’t utilize Family Names, instead typically using Patronymics.
In any case The Qu’ran itself testifies to the reliability of the Injeel (New Testament) which makes acceptance of the reliability of The Bible mandatory for Muslims.
Mark and Luke Not Companions
Muslims are correct to state that the Gospels of Luke and Mark were not written by Companions Of Jesus. Nevertheless these Gospels have the same authority as the other Gospels as they were written under the supervision of Companions to Jesus who lived with Him and bring us the teaching of The Holy Injeel Of Jesus.
In addition, though Mark was not a Companion of Jesus, it is probable that Mark was a disciple of Jesus in his outer circle, lived in Jerusalem and was a eyewitness of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. I detail this below.
The Gospel Of Mark was written by Mark under the teaching of Peter, who was one of the Twelve Companions of Jesus. Peter lived with Jesus and was taught directly by Jesus. Mark became an assistant to Peter and lived with Peter as Peter taught the message of The Injeel. John The Presbyter, who knew the Twelve Companions Of Jesus, told Papias that Mark had accurately written down the teaching of Peter, who himself had received them from Jesus
This also the presbyter said:Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ
If this were an Islamic Hadith it would say
Papias said that John The Presbyter said that many of the Twelve Companions said that Mark accurately wrote down the teachings of Peter who received them from Jesus.
So, the Gospel of Mark has reliable attestation to Jesus through Papias. Muslims are therefore obliged to accept the reliability of The Gospel Of Mark because it is reliably attested to the original source in the same way that Islamic Hadith are attested.
Mark, Disciple and Eyewitness
As a further note, while Mark himself was not a Companion Of Jesus, it is probable that he was an eyewitness to certain important facts in the life of Jesus including his arrest, trial and crucifixion. I make this claim based on the identification of Mark as the disciple who was seized by guards at Jesus’ arrest but who escaped and ran away.
Based on this identification, Mark lived in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus’ life and Jesus’ visits to Jerusalem and was able to personally witness the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus as well, it is logical to presume, many other things that Jesus did.
As a resident of Jerusalem, Mark was also therefore personally knowledgeable about many things about the History of Jesus such as how the general public responded to Jesus teaching and claims and events in the city.
The Authority And Reliability Of The Gospel Of Luke
The authority and reliability of The Gospel Of Luke comes about because Luke was a student of Paul who was directly taught by Jesus.
Muslims assert that Paul cannot be considered reliable because he didn’t know Jesus. In this they contradict God’s Holy Books.
The Injeel (New Testament) says that Paul did know Jesus and was directly taught by Jesus after Jesus’ ascension to Heaven.
Jesus did this by directly and personally appearing to Paul, teaching Paul by direct revelation. Paul later submitted his teaching to The Twelve Companions Of Jesus who verified that Paul’s teaching was correct, did come from Jesus and that Jesus should be regarded as a Companion (i.e. Apostle) of equal standing with them, qualified to teach the inspired and Holy Injeel. These events are recorded in The Bible in Galatians 1:13-2:9, Acts 9, 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Peter 3:14-16.
Since The Twelve Companions Of Jesus accepted Paul as an Apostle and affirmed his teaching as being the teaching of The Holy Injeel to us and all God’s people, we therefore accept Paul’s teaching as reliable.
These statements expressed as an Islamic Hadith would be
Peter The Companions of Jesus, John The Companion Of Jesus and James The Companion Of Jesus said that Paul teaches the true and Holy Injeel of Jesus with the same authority as they themselves do.
The Bible teaches in many places that Luke was a student of Paul. Again I refer the reader to the Thompson article for confirmation.
As for the other Gospels, the Gospel Of Luke is attested by reliable testimony back to original sources. Iranaeus, for example, affirms the Gospel of Luke saying
“Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him.
Iranaeus was a student of Polycarp who himself was a student of John The Companion Of Jesus. Hence the previous quotation if put into the style of an Islamic Hadith would read
Iranaeus said that Polycarp said that John The Companion Of Jesus said that Luke the companion of Paul, who was the Companion Of Jesus, recorded the teachings of Jesus in a book.
Once again we see that the attestation of the Gospel of Luke is provided by reliable testimony back to the original sources by an unbroken chain of transmission. Since this is how Muslims authenticate and accept Hadith then Muslims must accept the same attestation when it applies to The Bible.
Muslims say that the Gospel writers are unreliable witnesses since they did not include their Family Names in their writings. This means, they go on to say, that their identity cannot be verified and hence they must be regarded as unreliable.
This argument, made by Muslims, is invalid and based on ignorance. In fact, Jews of the First Century did not use Family Names. They instead typically used Patronymics. If Muslims wish to state that the lack of a Family Name makes a person’s testimony unreliable, they will have to take this argument to God who chose to deliver the Tawrat, Zaboor, Injeel (i.e. Torah, Psalms and New Testament) and all books of the Jewish prophets to people who did not use Family Names and yet wrote Holy Scripture.
Muslims further state that the Gospel writers cannot be regarded as reliable as they were not eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and teaching. In fact two of the Gospels were indeed written by eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and the other two were written by students of those who were eyewitnesses, directly taught by Jesus and were His Companions.
The reliability of the Gospels is authenticated by an unbroken chain of testimony of reliable witnesses going back to the original sources. Since this is how Muslims authenticate and accept islamic Hadith then Muslims must accept the same attestation when it applies to The Bible.