Authorship And Anonymity In The New Testament Writings -- By: Gregory Goswell

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 60:4 (Dec 2017)
Article: Authorship And Anonymity In The New Testament Writings
Author: Gregory Goswell

Authorship And Anonymity In The
New Testament Writings

Gregory Goswell*

* Gregory Goswell is Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Christ College, 1 Clarence Street, Burwood NSW 2134, Australia. He may be contacted at

Abstract: The attribution of authorship to the NT writings is a hermeneutical issue, for it shapes the expectations of readers. This is especially the case for anonymous works (the four Gospels, Acts, and Hebrews). The act of ascribing texts to authors connects the texts of the NT writings in a web of associations, and this has the tendency to affirm the unity of the NT witness to Jesus Christ. The names of Mark and Silvanus serve to connect Paul and Peter, just as Timothy is a link between Paul and the author of Hebrews. The connection of Mark and Luke with Paul leads the reader of the NT to expect that the teaching of the Pauline Corpus will be consistent with the presentation of the person and work of Christ in the Four Gospel Collection. The book of Acts depicts the partnership of Peter and John in gospel ministry and draws a picture of the harmonious relations between Paul and James. In fact, Acts plays a key canonical role in displaying the unity of the early Christian leaders and, in this way, affirms the compatibility of the teachings attributed to them.

Key words: author, anonymity, book titles, Acts, unity

This survey of the NT writings is based on the supposition that consideration of the (possible) authorship of Bible books is hermeneutically significant and productive of an increased understanding of the biblical text.1 This is by no means the agreed basis upon which NT scholars carry on their work, and so I will need to argue for the viability of the approach I will take. Often the effort to identify the biblical author is viewed as an irrelevant concern for the exegete, and the “implied author” is seen as “a more helpful construct for interpretation,”2 or else the traditionally-assigned authorship of the various biblical books is stoutly defended but few or no hermeneutical implications are drawn from the position taken. For any book that is, strictly speaking, anonymous (e.g. the four Gospels, Acts, and Hebrews),3 the attribution of authorship is a paratextual phenomenon as opposed to a textual one. As in the case of book order and the book titles, the attribution of authorship to anonymous texts is an aspect of the biblical paratext because affixing an

author’s name to a book allows the grouping o...

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