by Thomas Daniel Nehrer,
Paul almost certainly wrote seven of the books attributed to him, and possibly an eighth — based on writing style and content. Biblical scholars have concluded (in general, as some doubtless differ) that the other books attributed to him were written by someone else. Their style and content differ considerably.
And all of the other books of the NT, 19 or 20 of them were anonymous — with names attributed to them either attached later or applied at the time to give greater believability to the work. These are logical conclusions based on scholarly research. For example, whoever wrote Matthew drew heavily from the writings attributed to “Mark” — many passages are copied, some revised a bit to correct errors or eliminate accounts deemed uncomplimentary to Jesus.
If Matthew were indeed the tax-collecting disciple of Jesus, he wouldn’t have had to copy the older writing. And he would have recounted the stories as “we” did such and such, or “we” then went to so-and-so. In fact, these gospel writers’ names and all the rest of the NT documents were assigned, i.e, made up, names that lent credibility to the works.
Putting your own name as title would garner no authority, but falsely applying the name John or Peter, noted disciples, or Jude or James (brothers of Jesus) — now that would get your epistle read and accepted, get your own ideas heard.
So that’s what they did — unknown characters, putting their own ideas into play.
NT books were all written in Greek, dating maybe 40 years after Jesus’ time (Mark) to perhaps 60 years (John), maybe more. Clearly, the illiterate peasants who followed Jesus, including his disciples, couldn’t write in fairly good quality Greek — and didn’t — so the gospels’ authors are all unknown.
While you don’t know their names, you can conclude who they were.
By 70 CE, about when Mark was written, the Romans had invaded Jerusalem and most proto-Christians had long since fled Judea. The early religion was still stuck to Judaism, but had started to attract non-Jews — thanks in part to Paul introducing the notion that Jesus was divine to Greeks and others in the region. Few Jews bought into the idea — their notion of a Messiah wasn’t a guy strung up as a common criminal, but would be a great leader come to free them from external control (like the Romans).
But when Mark was composed, info on Jesus was sparse — that was four decades after Jesus’ likely crucifixion. His Galilean culture was illiterate, so only personal stories of his travels and teaching survived. But that, passed by word of mouth for 40 years among illiterate, uneducated, superstitious peasants, grew in myth and aggregated lore at each retelling. That was several generations, as people didn’t live long then.
Early Christians — particularly the Greek contingent intermingled in the population of Syria, Asia Minor and Egypt — had only the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) to reference for their directives. And they had those old, exaggerated tales of Jesus. About year 70, then, some fairly literate follower collected stories he’d heard and wrote them down. These eventually were reputed by later generations to have been written by Mark, companion of Peter — but that was simply added myth. Earliest manuscripts have no byline. But the writer was Greek, not Galilean.
Scholars don’t reliably know even where Mark was composed, let along by whom — Syria? Asia Minor? Nobody knows. What it contains, though, is clear. It contains the viewpoint of that anonymous writer and his community — stories they’d heard and believed. What it doesn’t contain are biographical facts — ancient writers weren’t objective reporters: they wrote to pass along ideas, not report true events.
Both Matthew and Luke — similarly, written by unknown Greeks — take Mark and expand on it. Of 660 verses in Mark, Matthew takes some 600, Luke 300, and revises them to clear up errors and make Jesus appear ever more heroic and divine.
The author of Mark, writing in 70 CE, knew nothing about a virgin birth or resurrection. (Nor had Paul, writing his letters around year 50.) Matthew and Luke both had to make up those stories to glorify Jesus — so they invented stories to get him to grow up in Nazareth (which everybody knew) but yet come from Bethlehem (where lore claimed a great teacher would come from).
However those two writers weren’t aware of the other’s fiction: if you read both accounts of the birth of Jesus, they couldn’t both be true. Same with the death and resurrection. As Mark knew nothing about these stories, clearly they were invented later.
So, clearly exaggeration and myth-growing were at work here. By the time John was written, likely around the end of the century, the Jesus myth had grown even greater — he was now equated with god, had been in existence forever, etc. (This certainly wasn’t written by John, son of Zebedee, who would have been about 100 by then, in a time when 30 was old.) (And the Jesus depicted in John is radically different from the Synoptic Gospels in many ways.)
So, who wrote the New Testament? Superstitious, credulous, extremely naïve Greeks.
Everybody in the first and second centuries — outside of a small group of sincere, searching folk in Alexandria and maybe a few thinkers remaining in Athens — was in that category. They had no idea they inhabited a planet orbiting a sun, no recognition of weather patterns, continental drift, economics, political science, world cultures, history, pre-history, geography, mathematics, bacteria, objective thinking, critical thinking — or much of anything else we take for granted.
The New Testament writers were stating their primitive notions, based on generations of accrued myth, exaggerated lore — and a total misunderstanding of Jesus’ parables. Where Jesus spoke of a Kingdom “within” — find it within yourself and you’ll be blessed, i.e, good things will happen to you — the NT writers latched onto and expanded Paul’s archaic ideas: God would be coming any day now to establish his kingdom on earth.
Who they were is unknown. What they wrote is easy to see — if you look with an open mind.