It always helps to know who wrote what you are reading, and Bible books are no exception. The four gospels, in particular, present interesting questions of how the narratives were composed and who did the composing.
The Traditional View
LDS materials generally affirm the traditional view: that Matthew was authored by Matthew (one of the Twelve, also known as Levi), John was authored by John (one of the Twelve), Mark was authored by John Mark (a young associate of first Paul, then Peter), and Luke was authored by Luke (the physician and travelling companion of Paul, referred to by name in Acts and in some of Paul’s letters).
The LDS Bible Dictionary, article “Gospels,” does not directly endorse traditional authorship, and even tiptoes around it at some points: “[T]he records of [Jesus’s] mortal life and the events pertaining to his ministry are called the Gospels; the four that are contained in our Bible are presented under the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” Nevertheless, traditional authorship is more or less assumed in the text — while differences of content, emphasis, and style between the gospels are noted, the question of authorship is not raised or discussed.
Talmage’s Jesus the Christ, for years the standard LDS text on the gospels, does not appear to address the authorship issue anywhere in the text. Likewise with Elder McConkie’s Messiah series, which follows Talmage’s format of combining and harmonizing the four gospels into one stream of events, with no discussion of sources or authorship.
An interesting if ultimately disappointing article is Frank Judd’s “Who Really Wrote the Gospels? A Study of Traditional Authorship,” in How the New Testament Came to Be (the 35th Annual Sperry Symposium book). Judd gingerly explains to readers that Mark and Luke were not eyewitnesses to the events recorded in Mark and Luke. After discussing the Didache and Justin Martyr, where Matthew and Mark, respectively, were quoted but not cited by name, Judd notes:
The above references suggest that the Gospels may originally have been anonymous. Thus, it is entirely possible, as some scholars had suggested centuries earlier, that the title of each of the Gospels was added after the fact. It is important to note, however, that this premise does not necessarily imply that traditional authorship is inaccurate.
No, but if titles were not applied to the four gospels until the middle of the second century or later, that does suggest that those who assigned the titles had no personal knowledge of who actually wrote them.
And the Winner Is …
The outstanding Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament (Deseret Book, 2006) does devote some discussion to questions of authorship. For example:
John Mark … has been identified as the author of the Gospel from the earliest period, a tradition that purportedly stretches back to the first century. Although the superscription … is late, the traditional ascription of the Gospel’s authorship to Mark is almost universally accepted by scholars. (p. 80.)
If that seems a little too pat, I’ll add that there are sidebars discussing Q (with a chart showing the dependence of Matthew and Luke on Mark and Q) and even the Secret Gospel of Mark. And here is part of Holzapfel, Huntsman, and Wayment’s straightforward discussion of the authorship of Matthew:
Connecting the apostle Matthew with the author of the Gospel bearing his name is no simple matter historically. The earliest manuscripts of the New Testament carry no appellations or designations that would clearly indicate authorship. By the third and fourth centuries, and sometimes even as early as the second century, the Gospels began carrying the titles “according to” Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. The Gospel of Matthew, when noted, always carries the name of the Apostle Matthew, and no ancient tradition suggests anyone else wrote it. However, the vast majority of scholars today question the first Gospel’s authorship because of an apparent lack of eyewitness details in its accounts. (p. 66)
Even longer discussion of the other authors is given: four paragraphs to the authorship of Luke (p. 108-09) and four paragraphs to the authorship of John (p. 126-27). So if the question of authorship of the gospels is a fair indicator of depth of discussion, Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament is easily the best LDS treatment of the four gospels available. If you don’t own it, go buy it while we’re still talking about the New Testament in Sunday School.
Does Authorship Matter?
I was going to include the views of some non-LDS scholars, but the post is long enough already. Instead, I’ll close with a couple of questions for thought. First, does it really matter whether Matthew wrote Matthew or Mark wrote Mark? There is no dispute that these are ancient documents. But it would matter for some whether the specific events described in the narratives were written by eyewitnesses or by someone who was only relying on oral tradition along with earlier written documents of uncertain or unknown provenance.
The second question: Why are LDS scholars so attached to traditional ascriptions of authorship? After all, Mormons are not biblical inerrantists. It may have something to do with Correlation. It may have something to do with BYU retention policies. It may have something to do with the practice of some LDS authors of granting various statements by Joseph Smith and other LDS leaders de facto inerrancy, a practice that does not seem to be required by LDS doctrine.