So much of one’s interaction with atheists is just mind-numbing. Their repetition of false statements. Their belief in fallacious arguments. Old, old, old propositions, and long refuted atheist suppositions seem to get regurgitated in the atheist community every forty or fifty years. One of the most tiresome comments made by atheists goes something like, “No one knows who wrote the Gospels.” Or they say that the Gospel's are so late dated that they can't be trusted.
I’ve been interacting with a couple atheists, I can’t even tell them apart anymore, but they have used every atheist cliché that’s ever been tried; the one about the Gospel writers included. As everyone knows, atheists are fond of accusing we Christians of living by faith. I think that is supposed to be some sort of insult. Well, if it makes them happy then so be it. It’s true that the righteous shall live by faith. On the other hand, we Christians have an enormous abundance of historical evidence from which we can solidify our faith. We have a solid, solid foundation of evidence-based data upon which to build our journey in Christ Jesus. Atheists are very fond of evidence - usually. The problem is, because atheists begin with the presupposition that God does not exist, whenever they run into evidence that points toward God, the atheist has to pretend to h/herself that the evidence was manufactured and that it therefore is not true.
When it comes to the authors and authority of the Gospels, what these two atheists don’t seem to know is that extra-biblical testimony unanimously attributes the Gospels to their traditional authors. The term “Extra-biblical” is important to atheists because if something was written, and it was later included into the Bible, well, they automatically view that document as a lie. So what is this evidence for who wrote the Gospels?
1) The Gospels and Acts are cited by a series of reports, regularly employed to establish authorship of secular works; and when this test is applied to the Gospels, their authenticity is firmly established. This chain of testimony exists from the Epistle of Barnabas (a contemporary of Jesus and His disciples), the Epistle of Clement, and the Shepherd of Hermas, all the way to Eusebius. In fact, as has been repeatedly stated, there is better testimony for the authenticity of the New Testament books than for ANY classical work of antiquity.
Sadly, this doesn’t make any difference to atheists because they use a different standard for judging documents of antiquity IF they’ve been included into the New Testament. What is that standard you ask? Well, if any document from that time has been included into the New Testament, um, it's judged to be a lie, a fiction, untrustworthy, tampered with etc. etc. The only criteria for the atheist’s exclusion of the work, is its inclusion into the New Testament.
2) The Scriptures were quoted as authoritative and as one-of-a-kind. Theophilus, the writer against Artmon, Hippolitus, Origen and many others saw them as such.
3) The Scriptures were collected very early into a distinct volume. Ignatius refers to collections known as the Gospel and the Apostles, which is the same that we now call the Gospels and the Epistles. According to Eusebius, Quadratus distributed this same collection to converts during his travels. Irenaeus and Melito refer to the same collection of writings that we call the New Testament.
4) These writings were held in high regard by Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Dionysius, Irenaeus and others refer to them as Scriptures and Divine writings.
5) These same documents were publicly read and taught. Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, and Cyprian each wrote about this.
6) Copies, commentaries, and harmonies were written on these books. Noteworthy in this connection is Tatian’s “Diatessaron,” which is a harmony of the four Gospels.
Listen now because this is important.
With the single exception of Clement’s commentary on the Revelation of Peter, NO commentary was ever written during the FIRST THREE HUNDRED YEARS afer Christ on ANY BOOK outside the New Testament.
7) The Scriptures were accepted as authentic by all heretical groups as well as by orthodox Christians. Examples include the Valentinians, the Carpocratians, and many others.
8) The Gospels and Acts, thirteen letters of Paul, 1 John, and 1 Peter were received without doubt as authentic even by those who doubted the authenticity of other books now in the canon. Origen reports that the four Gospels alone were received without dispute by the “whole Church of God under heaven.”
9) The early opponents of Christianity regarded the Gospels as containing the accounts upon which the religion was founded. Celsus admitted that the Gospels were written by the disciples. Porphyry attacked Christianity as found in the Gospels. The Emperor Julian followed the same procedure.
10) Catalogues of authentic Scriptures were published, which always contained the Gospels and Acts. This is supported by quotes from Origen, Athanasius, Cyril and others.
11) The apocryphal books of the New Testament were NEVER treated with this kind of respect. With a single exception, no apocryphal gospel is ever even quoted by a known author during the first three hundred years after Christ. In fact, there is no evidence that any inauthentic gospel whatever existed in the first century, in which all four Gospels and Acts were written.
The apocryphal gospels:
. were never quoted,
. were not read in Christian assemblies,
. were not collected into a volume,
. were not listed in the catalogues,
. were not noticed by Christianity’s adversaries,
. were not appealed to by heretics and
. were not the subject of commentaries or collations,
but were nearly universally rejected by Christian writers of succeeding ages.
Reality is, the external evidence strongly confirms the authenticity of the Gospels. It can not in any way be denied that the Gospels contain the story that the original apostles proclaimed and for which they laboured, suffered and died. This is regardless of what your local atheist tries to tell you.