Do we have ideas on who really wrote the Gospels? I know they are only attributed to people who “followed” Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—but what about the people who actually wrote down the words?
In short, the answer is NO, we do not really know who put pen to paper for each of the Gospels. We do know that each of the Gospels went through an oral phase, consisting of up to several decades, before they were recorded in writing. Each of the accounts is attributed to a specific person – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – who was a contemporary of Jesus and/or the Apostles.
Matthew, also referred to as Levi, was one of the Apostles as was John. Mark (referred to as John Mark in the Acts of the Apostles) is believed to have been a cousin of Barnabas who accompanied him and Paul on a missionary journey and is mentioned in letters of both Paul and Peter. Luke, is believed to have been a companion of Paul and is mentioned in several of his letters.
Scripture scholars tell us that the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) were most likely recorded in writing between the years 70-80 AD, some forty or fifty years after the Resurrection making it very unlikely that the named authors were still alive. This is even more unlikely in the case of John’s Gospel which was not written down until about the year 100 AD. It was customary, however, in biblical times, to attribute writings to authors who were long deceased, based on the knowledge that their message had been preserved and transmitted faithfully over the course of many years. The individuals who recorded the Gospels in written form remained anonymous so as not to detract from the reliability of these accounts that came from people who walked with Jesus and his Apostles. The anonymity of the actual writers is an example to all of us of how we are to receive a message that is not our own, embrace it, and faithfully transmit it (proclaim it) to others.