Bart Ehrman on Whether the Gospels Originally Had Titles

All four Gospels are anonymous. One would think this is an uncontroversial statement but there are some (i.e. pop-apologists) who contend the opposite. Nevertheless, as far as all the internal evidence is concerned, the Gospels are completely anonymous. (And even the external evidence is highly questionable.) It is unlikely that the original Gospel writings had titles or, if they did, they resembled what what they do today. Bart Ehrman offers a couple of reasons for why this is the case. Here is one of them:

There is one other reason for thinking that the Gospels did not originally circulate with the titles “According to Matthew,” “According to Mark,” and so on.   Anyone who calls a book the Gospel “According to someone,” is doing so in order to differentiate it from other Gospels.  This one is Matthew’s version.  And that one is John’s, etc.   It is only when you have a collection of the Gospels that you need to begin to differentiate between them to indicate which is which.  That’s what these titles do.  Obviously the authors themselves did not give them these titles:  no one entitles their book “According to … Me.”   Whoever did give the Gospels these titles was someone who had a collection of them and wanted to identify which one was which.

I think this is a good point and one that stands against the standard evangelical position that the titles of the Gospels can be taken for granted. They can’t.

Read the rest of Ehrman’s post here.

Featured image: By Anonymous – This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons by as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. See the Image and Data Resources Open Access Policy, CC0,

2 thoughts on “Bart Ehrman on Whether the Gospels Originally Had Titles

  1. Surely “Mark” actually has a title
    Chap 1 vs 1 “This is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” (NIV emphasis mine)

    And I wonder whether “Mark” is consciously echoing Genesis 1:1 with his “This is the beginning …”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do think that Mark is echoing Gen 1:1 but I’m not certain that Mark 1:1 is functioning as a title. There is actually some debate among commentators on that point. I waffle on what I think it actually functions as.

      Liked by 1 person

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