Stolen Valor is a situation where a regular civilian, with no military experience, dresses in a service uniform wearing ribbons, medals, badges, or patches that they did not earn. In other words, someone who commits the act of stolen valor is “faking it” as if they’ve served in the U.S. Armed Services when they haven’t. They mislead the everyday civilian and garner unwarranted praise and trust, yet often many believe their stories. In his book Forged Bart Ehrman claims that the original text of the Gospels did not have Matthew, Mark, Luke and John attached to the documents but instead, they were anonymous. Is this true? If so, dos this shake the foundation of the Christian faith?
In answering this popular objection, it should be understood that no one, not even Bart Ehrman, has seen the original text of the New Testament. Thus, the claim that the originals didn’t have any names on them, is technically an untrue statement, we just do not know either way.
Second, even if the originals were left anonymous, there is still good reason to believe that the authors credited with writing the Gospels were, in fact, the original authors. For example, the ancient writer Plutarch is the most prolific biographer in antiquity. He credited with writing about sixty-biographies during his lifetime, four dozen of these remain. Furthermore, he wrote during the early second century, within a couple of decades of when the Gospels were written. The fascinating aspect of Plutarch’s work is that of the forty-eight remaining biographies his name never appears on any of the documents. Did Plutarch forge these documents? Did he take credit from another ancient writer and commit textual “stolen valor”? How do we know he wrote these biographies? The tradition had been passed along by other ancient writers who understood that Plutarch wrote these documents; they may have quoted Plutarch or attribute a specific work to Plutarch. It is practically unquestioned by modern scholars that Plutarch wrote these biographies.
In the same manner, if the original documents of the Gospels were anonymous, we have good reason to believe that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the original writers of these documents because of the testimony of the early Church fathers who either quoted or attribute authorship to these men. For example, Papias, who wrote around A.D. 120 (Thirty years within the writing John’s gospel), notes that the gospel of John was written by the Apostle John, who travelled with Jesus. He gets his information from The Elder John (he was called this to distinguish himself from the apostle John), who knew the apostles. While this is just one example, this type of pattern holds for the other three gospels. Which begs the question, if historians can justify the authorship of forty-eight biographies in antiquity to Plutarch, with no named attached to any of them, by citation or on the tradition passed down by others why is it not justified to do the same for the Gospel accounts?
In conclusion, the Christian can, with a high degree of certainty trust the names associated with the Gospels are the names of the original authors and not the product of textual “stolen valor.”