P2 The reliability of Luke’s Gospel and early church history testify about the Four Gospels: Why it matters

Luke 1:1-2 “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 it seemed fitting for me as well,having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.  (NASB)

Introduction and review:                                                                                                             Today’s post is a continuation from yesterday’s post on “P1 The reliability of Luke’s Gospel and early church history testify about the four Gospels.” What follows below will also serve to give the reader reasons as to why we can trust the canonical ordering of the Four Gospels as they appear in our New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The reader is also invited to view a current 11 part series on discovering Jesus’ identity, with part 4 today being about how His identity is revealed in Matthew’s Gospel at: http://pastormahlon.blogspot.com/2013/12/p411-discovering-identity-of-jesus.html

The testimony of post-apostolic church history on the four Gospels of the New Testament

1. Papias of Heiropolis (130 A.D) states “So then Matthew recorded his oracles in the Hebrew tongue, and each interpreted to the best of his ability”. Papias then writes concerning Mark’s Gospel: “Mark became the interpreter of Peter and he wrote down accurately, but not in order, as much as he remembered of the sayings and doings of Christ”.

2. Irenaeus of Lyons (180 ): “Matthew published his gospel among the Hebrews in their tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel in Rome and founding the church there. After their departure Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching. Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the gospel preached by his teacher. Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on his breast, himself produced his gospel, while he was living at Ephesus in Asia.”

3. The Muratorian Canon, the earliest canonical list of the New Testament we have, begins: “…at which he (?S. Mark) was present and thus set them down. The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke….the Fourth Gospel is that of John…” Admittedly in this quote, none of the fragments we have of the Canon have the first words. Most scholars assume the book before Luke is Mark.1

4. The great church historian Phillip Schaff notes: “The Problem of the relationship of the Synoptists (Matthew, Mark and Luke) was first seriously discussed by Augustine (d. 430) in his three books De Consensus Evangelistarum..He (Augustine) defends the order of our Canon. First Matthew, last John and the two Apostolic Disciples in the middle. His view prevailed during the Middle Ages and down through the eighteenth century. The verbal inspiration theory checked critical investigation. The problem resumed with Protestant freedom by Storr (1786), more elaborately by Eichhorn (1794) and Marsh (1803).” Schaff mentions several others, ending with Baur in his day and time in 1847. Schaff makes this statement: “There is no good reason to doubt that the canonical arrangement which is supported by the prevailing oldest tradition correctly represents the order of composition” (280) 2

Conclusion: Why it matters to know the history of how our Four Gospels came into being

So why is it crucial for us as Bible believing Christians to know the history of how our New Testaments (and the four Gospels in particular) came into being?

1. For one thing there is constant, persistent attack occurring against the validity of the Four Gospel accounts as historical, inerrant and infallible records of the life and mission of Jesus Christ.

2. Secondly, we are told in the scripture in 1 Peter 3:15 “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear”.

3. Then finally, such historical investigation does not serve to “prove” the Bible true, but rather to affirm what we already know to be the case: that the scriptures are the inspired, inerrant, infallible, sufficient & clear words of God.


1. Henry Bettenson: “Documents of the Christian Church”.  Bettenson is an example of a scholar who makes the assumption that the Gospel of Mark appears before Luke in the Muratorian Canon fragment. Bettenson’s work is also where I derive the quotations of the church fathers included in this post.

2. Phillip Schaff “History of the Christian Church, vol 1”, page 281


About pastormahlon

By the grace of God I was converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 10 and called into the Gospel ministry by age 17. Through the Lord's grace I completed a Bachelors in Bible at Lancaster Bible College in 1996 and have been married to my beautiful wife since that same year. We have been blessed with four children, ranging from 7-18 years of age. In 2002 the Lord enabled me to complete a Master of Arts in Christian Thought at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield PA. For nearly 25 years I have been preaching and teaching God's Word and have been studying the original languages since 1994. In 2016 God called my family and me to move to begin a pastorate at a wonderful Southern Baptist Congregation here in Northern New York.
This entry was posted in Biblical Inerrancy, Biblical Infallibility, Canonicity, Four Gospels, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to P2 The reliability of Luke’s Gospel and early church history testify about the Four Gospels: Why it matters

  1. Pingback: Nazarene Commentary to A Factual and Logical Statement | Belgian Biblestudents - Belgische Bijbelstudenten

  2. Pingback: Why Evangelicals Doubt Historical-Critical Theories About the Gospels (Pt. 2 – On the Synoptics) – The Aristophrenium

  3. Abby says:

    Pastor Mahlon, I told you I wouldn’t post here again. Please forgive me. This is only for you privately again. I guess I am persona non grata now. I sent Gary this list of programs and he did not post them. So I would like to give them to you in case you might be interested. (I sent them to the “Does anyone have evidence . . .) I also might have said something to offend him.
    I feel that Gary has already crossed the bridge. He is refusing both Scripture and faith now. And, it seems to me, that he is on the mission of the atheists to deconvert others. I hope I am wrong.
    God bless you, Abby
    Here is the list. These programs do not cover the material in an exhaustive way. Most are up to about an hour long:
    Evidence for the Resurrection Dr John Warwick Montgomery (apologist, lawyer, and he is on the bar of the Supreme Court of the U.S. — he is LCMS)
    The Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Craig Parton
    The Resurrection According to Mark’s Gospel Dr James Voelz
    The Resurrection of Jesus According to Matthew Dr Jeff Gibbs
    A Scholar’s Look at the Resurrection Bishop NT Wright
    The Resurrection in John’s Gospel Dr Walter A Maier II
    Alternate Theories of Jesus’ Resurrection Dr John Warwick Montgomery
    Responding to Objections to the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus
    Apparent Contradictions in the Bible The Resurrection of Jesus Dr Jeffrey Kloha
    Apparent Contradictions in the Bible The Timing of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection Dr Jeffrey Kloha
    Responding to Arguments against Christ’s Resurrection Dr Steven Hein
    The Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 Dr Greg Lockwood
    Apparent Contradictions in the Bible: The Location of the Ascension Dr Peter Scaer

  4. pastormahlon says:

    Absolutely. Thanks for the resources.

  5. Abby says:

    Dear Pastor Mahlon, This is my last word here. I believe you may know this, but it has been nagging me to tell you. You do not fail anyone. God doesn’t fail anyone. When people go their own way it is the same as when Adam and Eve sinned. Even from perfection — from a perfect relationship with God — they sinned. They listened to Satan. And God did not fail because He couldn’t keep that from happening. It is no one’s fault but our own sin.

    Gary may change. He keeps repeating that everything is waiting and resting on what evidence John Bombaro is going to give for the Resurrection. Poor Pastor Bombaro if he is feeling the weight of this. He’s not going to live up to the expectation. Honestly, I just hope he won’t try to respond to this at this point. Because I believe Gary desires the community of his atheist friends. They have enlightened him.

    But we’ll see what happens.

    I have said this before. You are a very good and wise Pastor. May God keep and strengthen you always.


    • pastormahlon says:

      To Abby: Thanks for the encouraging words. I am saddened by Gary’s current stance. I have been seeing the drastic changes on his site. Clearly the flow of atheist and skeptical traffic confirms what appears to be a switch. In some ways its too soon to tell how far he is really going to go. I agree with you about Pastor Bombaro and I imagine he is going to take a similar stance that i am relunctantly but needfully taking: to severely limit my interractions or cease them all together.

      For what it is worth, you are more than welcome to continue coming to this blogsite. I also have a second one that is a daily blog and is the main one i write at: pastormahlon.blogspot.com.

      Pastor Mahlon

    • pastormahlon says:

      To Abby:

      I agree with you statements. I have seen a drastic change in Gary’s blog site, from a title change to changing the picture from Jesus on the cross to a more nicer looking, docile Jesus. I’m not sure how far he is going to go, but he certainly has attracted the attention of the skeptics and atheists. Probably Pastor Bombaro is eventually going to either limit is interactions with Gary or cease altogether. Certainly Bro. Bombaro is not lacking in concern nor ability to engage and critique the Atheists and Gary’s rhetoric. However I imagine he has a wise man of God knows that sometimes the best thing you can do is leave a person alone when all they want to do is argue and not listen.

      I for one am choosing to greatly limit my interactions on Gary’s site and may eventually stop altogether. I pray for him and it has shown me how much we all need the grace of God and how vigilant we all need to be to those subtle attacks of the enemy.

      You are more than welcome to come on this blogsite here. I publish ever so often and have dedicated this blogsite to trying to bridge the gap between the scholarly world and reader at large.

      My other blogsite is really my main site wherein I write and post daily: pastormahlon.blogspot.com. It is dedicated to dealing with the supernatural, practical and doctrinal areas of the Christian life.
      You can access over 1,000 posts on all kinds of subjects.

      I may not be LCMS nor Lutheran, but I love Jesus and His word. Gary engaged me in one of my posts last year, which is how I came to know about him. He has taught me much about the Lutheran world and I have enjoyed reading the many articles and links he had posted on Lutheran doctrine and practice. I learned way more about Lutheran thought than I ever did in seminary. God has used Gary to help me strengthen in some areas of my Christian walk, which is why his shift is all the more saddening. I pray Gary will not leave the faith. May we all look to Jesus, the author and perfector of faith.

      Sincerely, for His glory
      Pastor Mahlon

  6. Abby says:

    Dear Pastor Mahlon, Please do not post this. I just need to commiserate with someone who is familiar with what has happened over the last few months to Gary. When I read his new statements, they are breaking my heart. They cause me distress even to tears. I’ve never witnessed this happen piece by piece to someone before. Someone go from having faith to denying it altogether. It is something I will never understand. It is hard to take. I will read there (though less) so that I am reminded to keep praying.

    I just discovered that Bruce G. left a comment to one of my comments. Even though I didn’t want to again I am thinking of a reply to him. Whether Gary will post it I don’t know. But I feel I have to respond.

    Just thank you for taking my note here. I know there’s nothing to do now. One thing I’m wondering(I read a few comments at “Ruth’s” blog) — the atheists there are saying that Gary’s Christian friends are going to abandon him, but that they are ready to move in and will be there for him. Would it be a good thing to leave a friendly response to him now and then? Maybe not even engaging with his topic. I know I will not again get involved in a “debate” or to try to persuade him.

    *** And yes, I had added you to my favorites list quite awhile ago. I will read here too. And I hope to not be annoying if or when I may comment. It doesn’t matter to me that you are not LCMS or a Lutheran. I live in an area of the country that is Christian Reformed land. I attend a Bible study with Reformed, Baptist, Undenom, — and I’m the only Lutheran. But they like me and I them, we enjoy each other immensely. They respect what I have to say and I always express myself as a Lutheran. Our Lutheran definition for saving faith (as it regards to other denominations) is that anyone who believes in Jesus Christ as their Savior will be saved. That covers us all and a lot of gray areas too it seems to me.

    If you don’t mind a little humor: “I learned way more about Lutheran thought than I ever did in seminary.” — maybe because they didn’t want you to become one? 🙂

    Bless you Pastor,

    • pastormahlon says:

      I too have never witnessed someone unravel and deny nearly every crucial doctrine of the the Christian faith from beginning to end. I have met many folks at the end of that process, or perhaps have known people who were in the beginning stages. However to see the whole process unfold greatly saddened, and caused me to be more urgent in my dependance upon God’s grace.

      Yes, I thought too of dropping Gary a line now and then. I’m not going to abandon him and sometimes in pastoring its a matter of being a presence and friend in that person’s life. I know in the frame of mind he is in he won’t hear nor can’t he hear. The golden rule is very apropos here.

      Yes, maybe you’re a little bit right about my exposure to Luther in seminary. We read many things about him. I went to a Reformed school, and no doubt Luther was taught to us in our church history courses. All that I knew of Luther and his thought was gleaned from church history books and attending Ligionier conferences.

      I felt I knew some things about Luther and Lutheran theology. Then four years ago I became good friends with a Lutheran scholar who spoke on American history and Christianity at a church. When I saw how much that man loved Jesus, I realized I needed to read more. I purchased as many of his books as I could, read the Formula of Concord online from beginning to end and read Luther’s Bondage of the Will.

      I think with my interractions with Gary and Jordon Cooper’s podcast these past 8 or 9 months, I have come to appreciate, respect and in some ways admire the nuances of Lutheran thought. I feel I am better for it and praise God for opportunities to be stretched and grown in the faith of our Pantocrator!

      Though I am still SBC, and am not ashamed to be so, and still hold to the distinctives that make SBC life in its own right so enriching. My main reasons for being in the SBC are two-fold: their stance on missions and their high view of scripture.

      I feel that the wider world of LCMS and Lutheran thinkers like Chemitz and others has greatly enriched my thinking and heart. I’m glad God has given me opportunity to interract with other Bible believing disciples outside the so-called SBC Zion.

      My dear Grandmother was raised Lutheran, was converted in 1973 in an Assemblies of God church.
      She is 97 and was used of God in my formative years and is part of the reason, in God’s providence, why I am in ministry.

      In the final analysis, I truly fly no flag but Jesus. Blessings my friend.

  7. Abby says:

    “I truly fly no flag but Jesus” Me as well. To re-qualify a bit, I am what I am because I was raised Lutheran and have always loved it. (I had really good Pastors.) But it is because they gave me Jesus — it is all Him. We really don’t follow the man Luther. (In fact, the discussion arises often that we are “saddled” with the name Lutheran and people play with the idea of what we could rename ourselves.) Our confession is the BoC. (I am impressed that you read it all! And all the other things you’ve read!) Even Luther expressed that his writings should be burned and all that should be in place of them should be the Scriptures.

    If we do it properly, our distinction lies in the proper division of the Law and the Gospel. Last summer I read “Christian Freedom” (I loved it, really excellent)

    — this summer I plan to read “Law and Gospel” http://www.amazon.com/Law-Gospel-Read-Apply-Bible/dp/0758616880/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1402076813&sr=8-1&keywords=Law+and+Gospel

    Justification is our main theme. These quotes express my “Lutheranism” (The Solas):
    “From Dr. Luther to his friend, George Spenlein, a friar in the Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg, April 8, 1516. Spenlein abandoned monastic life and became an Evangelical clergyman.

    “Now I should like to know whether your soul, tired of its own righteousness, is learning to be revived by and to trust in the righteousness of Christ. For in our age the temptation to presumption besets many, especially those who try with all their might to be just and good without knowing the righteousness of God which is most bountifully and freely given us in Christ. They try to do good of themselves in order that they might stand before God clothed in their own virtues and merits. But this is impossible.

    Therefore, my dear brother, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to pray to him and despairing of yourself, say: “Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness, but I am thy sin. Thou hast taken upon thyself what is mine and hast given to me what is thine. Thou hast taken upon thyself what thou wast not and hast given to me what I was not.” . . . For Christ dwells only in sinners. On this account he descended from heaven, where he dwelt among the righteous, to dwell among sinners. . . you will find peace only in him and only when you despair of yourself and your own works.”
    “Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel” Edited and translated by Theodore G. Tappert, D.D., Litt.D., The Westminster Press

    “Faith . . . unites the soul with Christ, as a bride is united with her bridegroom. From such a marriage, as St. Paul says, it follows that Christ and the soul become one body, so that they hold all things in common, whether for better or worse. This means that what Christ possesses belongs to the believing soul, and what the soul possesses belongs to Christ. Thus Christ possesses all good things and holiness; these now belong to the soul. The soul possesses lots of vices and sin; these now belong to Christ. . . . Now is not this a happy business? Christ, the rich, noble and holy bridegroom, takes in marriage this poor, contemptible and sinful little prostitute, takes away all her evil and bestows all his goodness upon her! It is no longer possible for sin to overwhelm her, for she is now found in Christ.”

    Martin Luther, quoted in Alister E. McGrath, Christian Spirituality: An Introduction (Oxford, 1999), pages 158-159.

    It is precious to hear how you regard your Grandmother. I am hoping and praying to be such a Grandmother. (In this modern world it seems harder to me. I pray a lot.) I have four. The kids and I love to talk about faith things. They bring them up all the time and ask me questions. All four attend Lutheran parochial schools. My eldest daughter’s husband is on staff at their Lutheran church. My other daughter is a Lutheran grade school teacher. She teaches Religion and Art. I am in St. Louis right now to help with the care (and entertainment) of the kids for the summer. My husband converted to Lutheran from Eastern Orthodoxy. My two sons-in-law: one was Roman Catholic, and the other was SBC. Only by God’s grace — they are all active in church and school. But, bottom line, it is Jesus. “Here I stand . . .” (One of Luther’s quotes you left with Gary.) That is when Luther became my “super-hero.”

    Bless you Pastor,

    • pastormahlon says:

      To Abby:

      Thanks for sharing that marvelous testimony. My wife and I have four children (two teens and two younger ones). She is studying for Christian counseling and I’m very blessed to have a wonderful woman of God who has a passion for the Word. The Lord has us at a wonderful church that we love and I enjoy pastoring. My prayer is always that with whomever I talk or interact, that Jesus may be glorified. May God richly bless your husband, you and your family.

      For His glory
      Pastor Mahlon

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