DATING THE GOSPELS: WHEN WERE THE GOSPELS WRITTEN?

bibleThe Bible is a very odd book. It is a compilation of books written by forty different authors over a 1500 year period. Who wrote each of the books? When was each book of the Bible written? The authors and the dates are often in dispute.  Why? Well, there are obvious problems.

  • Much has been forgotten. What we have left is tradition. Yet it is what the Bible contains that causes the real problem. The Bible includes prophecies.  Those who don’t believe the Bible do not believe God actually inspired His prophets to predict future events. Therefore, they (logically, from their perspective) choose to date each book subsequent to any prophecies in that book.
  • The material on which the Gospels was written has decayed and rotted. So only copies survive, and we can only radiocarbon date the copies. Therefore, even if radiocarbon dating could be done sufficient accuracy to resolve the disputes, we don’t have the documents we need to conduct the analysis.
  • Christianity started in about 33 AD after the execution of its principal leader. Even though Jesus rose from the dead, He soon departed, leaving His small group of followers with a seemingly impossible task. Soon thereafter Jewish and Roman authorities began persecuting the Christians. Therefore, Christians spread the Gospel in defiance of the authorities. Events forced them to complicate the task of dating the Gospels. They had to hide and protect the evidence (documents sacred to the church) that we now want to date.

Even today we have dedicated critics of Christianity, and these critics want to date the Gospels as late as possible. The critics don’t want the Gospels to be what they purport to be, what people who knew Jesus saw of His life, death, and resurrection.

Hence, determining when each of the Gospels was written is problematic. That is why one of my favorite websites begins its answer to my question with these words.

Question: “When were the Gospels written?”

Answer: It is important to understand that the dating of the Gospels and other New Testament books is at best an educated guess and at worst foolish speculation. For example, suggested dates for the writing of the Gospel of Matthew range from as early as A.D. 40 to as late as A.D. 140. This wide range of dates from scholars indicates the subjective nature of the dating process. Generally, one will find that the presuppositions of the scholars greatly influence their dating of the Gospels. (continued here (www.gotquestions.org))

The author continues, making a case he admits is speculative for an early date for the Gospels.

What do others say? Well there are traditional dates.

Jesus’ ministry was from A.D. 27-30. Noted New Testament scholar, F.F. Bruce, gives strong evidence that the New Testament was completed by A.D. 100.3 Most writings of the New Testament works were completed twenty to forty years before this. The Gospels are dated traditionally as follows: Mark is believed to be the first gospel written around A.D. 60. Matthew and Luke follow and are written between A.D. 60-70; John is the final gospel, written between A.D. 90-100. (from here (bible.org))

The bible.org article dates Matthew, Mark, and Luke prior to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which Jesus predicted. So some dispute those dates, but that article meticulously lays out the evidence. When were the Gospels written and by whom? (carm.org) lays out the evidence in a similar fashion.

Consider that Christianity is a belief system rooted in a historical event, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Thus, the four Gospels form the core of the Bible, at least for Christians, and each tells the story of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Each tells a story that threatens the worldview of those who refuse to believe.  Therefore, to rebut the notion that the Gospels are myths, Christians must write articles like this one: Are the Gospels Myth? (www.catholic.com).

Conclusion

Although many scholars have been Christians, Christianity is not a scholarly pursuit.  Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Just as we get to know a friend by spending time with him, we get to know Jesus by spending time with Him. Of course, that raises questions. Where is Jesus?  How can I spend time with someone I can neither see nor hear?

Psalm 139 New King James Version (NKJV)

God’s Perfect Knowledge of Man

For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.

139 O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.
You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
12 Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

13 For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.

17 How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
18 If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
When I awake, I am still with You.

19 Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God!
Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men.
20 For they speak against You wickedly;
Your enemies take Your name in vain.
21 Do I not hate them, O Lord, who hate You?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
24 And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.

Our questions should cause us to chuckle.  If Jesus is God, how can we avoid Him? Because He created the world, we know His majesty. Because He gave each of us a conscience which plagues us when we do wrong, we know His character. Because He gave us the Bible, we know how much He loves us. Because he gave us each other, we too can learn how to love.

So what then is the true measure of the authenticity of Bible? How can we know that the Bible speaks the word of our Creator? We can read it.

There is no point in obsessing over evidence which does not prove anything one way or the other. What we need to do is do what we can do. We can study the Bible carefully. We can scrupulously search the Bible for contradictions and falsehoods. We can marvel at the Bible’s wisdom — what it says about and to our hearts — and finally, we can trust the Bible.

Other References

  • Gospel and Gospels (www.newadvent.org): Here is an article on The Gospels in the Catholic Encyclopedia. The focus here is which Gospels actually belong in the Bible.
  • Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John Written (www.nationalgeographic.com): Here we have an article on when the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written.  A discussion of “The Lost Gospel of Judas” provides the context.
  • Dating the gospels (www.timeshighereducation.com): Here is an article that describes a specific controversy with respect to dating the Gospels.
  • Why I Know the Gospels Were Written Early (coldcasechristianity.com) and Dating the Gospels: Harder than You Might Think (www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/): These two posts illustrate the nature of the debate.
  • Dating and Origins of Mark’s Gospel (atheism.about.com): Here we have arguments for a later date.
  • The Synoptic Gospels (www.biblica.com): Describes the two basic views with respect to dating the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
  • The Dating of the Gospels (www.bc.edu): Here is article that advocates later dates for the Gospels. What is interesting is how we teach such things as we have all the facts and there is relatively little controversy. We just say “the vast majority of researchers believe….” or “this scholarly consensus holds that….”
  • When were the Gospels written? (www.compellingtruth.org): This article promotes  earlier dates. For example:

    Luke is perhaps the Gospel with the strongest evidence regarding the date of its writing. Luke and Acts were written as two parts of a single work (Acts 1:1-3). Since Acts concludes with Paul under house arrest in Rome in approximately 62 AD, many believe Luke-Acts was written during this general time period. Many Lukan scholars suggest dates from 60-65 AD.

    The point here is that Acts ends with the Apostle Paul still alive. He is believed to have died in 67 AD, perhaps sooner, but we don’t know for certain when Paul died (see Apostolic Beheading; the Death of Paul (www.christianity.com)). And, of course, the mere fact Acts ends with the Apostle Paul alive won’t satisfy the critics anyway.

GODS OF OUR OWN CREATION

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Heinrich Hofmann, 1889 (from here)
Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Heinrich Hofmann, 1889 (from here)

On The Nature Of The Choice

The creation story in Genesis says God made us in His image, but what does that mean? Consider what happens when someone takes a photograph of you. That photograph is an image of you. Now imagine the absurd. What if that photograph thought it was you?

It is a silly thing we do, but we do it anyway. What is that? We create the gods we desire. When we create gods of our own desire, we put our own desires — our own will — before that of the One in whose image we were made.

How does this irrational process work? We begin by trying to “reason” our way out of a dilemma. From the day of our birth, we have two basic choices.

  • It is all about me.
  • It is all about the One who made Everything.

The First Choice

What if we choose the first choice. Selecting the first choice quickly leads to desperation, even insanity. It confronts us with an insurmountable obstacle. It raises a question we cannot answer. If it is all about me, why then am I not God, the One in control of All That Is?

Therefore, we reason. We scheme. We devise alternatives and solutions. Instead of turning to the One who made Everything, we make our own, less fearful gods.

What are less fearful gods? Because they are of our own making, these are gods we can understand and manipulate or they are simply softies.

We can proliferate a seemingly infinite variety of gods. Thus, we have the Greek and Norse mythologies, the Great Spirit of the Indians, the Hindu pantheon, the nirvana of Buddhism (that is atheistic “god”), an austere and vengeful Allah, and so forth.

The Egyptian god Anubis (a modern rendition inspired by New Kingdom tomb paintings) (from here)
The Egyptian god Anubis (a modern rendition inspired by New Kingdom tomb paintings) (from here)
The Chariot of Zeus, from an 1879 Stories from the Greek Tragedians by Alfred Church. (from here)
The Chariot of Zeus, from an 1879 Stories from the Greek Tragedians by Alfred Church. (from here)

On the other hand, some just pretend to ignore the choice. These worship the world itself. They adore the power of the state. They strive to continually dwell in pleasure such as that we call sex. They accumulate stuff. Or they endlessly seek to elevate themselves above all others (until we put them six feet below everyone else).

Others worship more distant gods. Deists worship a god who made everything and just walked away from all His Works. Some who call themselves Christians worship an endlessly forgiving, supposedly loving god, a softy who does not hate sin. What we do does not matter to this god. Because “God is Love,” salvation is for everyone including those who refuse to repent of their sins. What sins?

Galatians 5:19-21 New King James Version (NKJV)

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

No matter what kind of god we create, unless we worship the One True God our lives remain meaningless (Ecclesiastes).

The Second Choice

The second question threatens our egos with annihilation.  If it is all about God, then “I” don’t matter. “I” am just here today and gone tomorrow, all as if “I” had never been. All my loves and all my works matter not.

Yet this second choice is only rational choice. Because God is God, because He created All that is, All Creation speaks of Him.

What happens if we turn to the Creator, the One who made Everything?

Christianity tells us — Jesus tells us — God loves us, that we matter because we matter to Him.

From the Bible we learn that God is Love. We also learn that God is Truth, God is Just, God is full of Grace and Mercy, God is Faithful, God is Wisdom….. From the Bible we learn that God is not like us. He is a Spirit, and He is Holy. What is surprising is that God still cares about us. God is not one-dimensional, just about love, nor is He a softy, but He still loves us, and that in spite of the fact we are sinful.

Because God loves us, out of an abundance of Grace Jesus paid in full the price of our sins. He died for us. Tortured to death by members of our own race, He died for us upon a bloody cross, and He forgave us even as our brothers took His life.

What sort of God is it who requires such a price for sin and then pays that price Himself? He is the One True God in whom we can place our trust.

Solving The Riddle That Is Sin

What is it then that separates us from God? Why do we struggle to know and trust our Creator? Is it Satan? Does Satan keep us from God. No. Satan is a symbol of evil, but he is not the counterpart of God. Satan is an archangel whose pride in himself drove him from God. His counterpart is Michael the Archangel.

What then is Satan to us? He is our model for bad behavior. He is our tempter. When we refuse to turn to God, refuse to love our Creator and disobey our Maker, we behave as Satan behaves. Satan, not Jesus, then becomes our role model.

God, because He wants us to love Him of our own will, has given each of us a choice. Just as Satan did, we can choose to make it all about me. We can rationalize, pretend we are not doing just that. We can even admire our skill using the gift of reason. But the first choice, making it all about me, while it might seem “rational,” is still a choice to separate ourselves from God. Thus, that first choice will still lead to desperation and perhaps insanity.

What can we do instead? What is our alternative? Just as countless saints have done before us, we can choose to follow the example of Jesus Christ.

Because He loves us, we can depend upon God to keep us whole. Therefore, for our own sake we learn must love Him in return. Eventually, because God is God, we will love Him just because He deserves our love.

Does it seem unfair that God should confront us with such a choice? If it does, it is because we still imagine a God made in our own image. Because we do not deserve to be worshiped, no God made in our image deserves to be worshiped.

Romans 8:31-39 New King James Version (NKJV)

God’s Everlasting Love

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”[a]

37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Primal Creation — reblogged

The garden of Eden with the fall of man (from here) *74.3 × 114.7 cm *signed b.l.: PETRI PAVLI RVBENS FIGR. *signed b.r.: IBRUEGHEL FEC *circa 1615
The garden of Eden with the fall of man
(from here)

madblog has a thoughtful post on marriage, The Primal Creation. Here she discusses what defines marriage.

Oddly, given that Christians supposedly do not discuss sex, ‘s post is fundamentally about the definition of sex. Yet there is nothing obscene in what she has written. It something we should all know about, but many don’t.

What makes a marriage a marriage? We need to define it before we re-define it.  What is distinct about it?  What makes marriage…marriage?

I think we misunderstand it, and that is pure tragedy.

Man and woman were made in the image of God. They were created beings who were able to relate to God; sentient and self-aware; in His image because they possessed spirits. Out of all that God created, man is the only being who is able to commune with God.

God called this creation something special. Together they were His joy, His most cherished creation. We were created for this relationship with God, and cultivating this relationship with God is man’s responsibility and his privilege.

God created man. Then woman was made from man. Note that she was not created a separate being or species.  They are two manifestations of the same created being.  She was made from him. So intrinsically was she created to be the one who completed him. They are inseparable.

Genesis 2: 23-25:

The man said,

         “This is now bone of my bones,

         And flesh of my flesh;

         She shall be called Woman,

         Because she was taken out of Man.”

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

(continued here)

What is the problem that results from a meaningless definition of marriage? We call the family the building block of society. What if that building block disappeared? What if an all-powerful state became THE FAMILY? What if women just served as breeders.  What if all children, especially those with “potential,” were raised by a true nanny state? What if Big Brother becomes our children’s and grandchildren’s reality?

HOW DO THE BEST AND BRIGHTEST BECOME MEEBOTS?

Luca Giordano – Dream of Solomon – God promises Solomon Wisdom. (from here)
Luca Giordano – Dream of Solomon – God promises Solomon Wisdom. (from here)

The Subject Of This Post

About a year ago ColorStorm defined what it means to be a meebot.

What is a meebot? It is a person of any gender or age, which views everything and everyone through his own selfishness. It is a person who has a pet, and wants to make it the pet for everyone. It is a person who lacks respect for authority. It is a person with the loudest of voices who has the least to say. It is a person who lacks manners, and it is a little thoughtless machine. (more here)

In his post, explains how a poorly disciplined child can become a meebot. Yet what about our best and our brightest? How do people who have supposedly received a proper education become adult meebots? To tell us, the Bible gives us an example, King Solomon. Tradition says Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. Therefore, it seems quite strange that he could have become a meebot, and yet it seems for a time he was one.

What The Bible Tells Us

Solomon started off with promise. Imagine having the dream that Solomon experienced (1 Kings 3:1-15). What could go wrong after that? What dream? Not too long after his crowning as King of Israel, Solomon slept, and as he slept God spoke to him. God said, “Ask! What shall I give you?” Because God was pleased when Solomon asked for wisdom, God also gave him a long life and riches.

So what went wrong? Well, God did not want the Israelites to be like the Peoples of other nations, but He knows our disposition. He knew the Israelites would insist upon having a king (1 Samuel 8). So He warned them, but Solomon, wise though he was did not heed God’s warning.

Deuteronomy 17:14-20 New King James Version (NKJV)

Principles Governing Kings

14 “When you come to the land which the Lord your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,’ 15 you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16 But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall not return that way again.’ 17 Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself.

18 “Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, 20 that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.

Solomon acquired horses (1 Kings 4:26-28), and he had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots.  Solomon horded great wealth (1 Kings 10:14-29). Each year he received 666 talents of gold. Yet these things did not turn Solomon’s heart from God. 

What did turn Solomon from the Lord?

1 Kings 11:1-8 New King James Version (NKJV)

11 But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites— from the nations of whom the Lord had said to the children of Israel, “You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not fully follow the Lord, as did his father David. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, on the hill that is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the people of Ammon. And he did likewise for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.

Reading that passage above you may wonder, “so what if Solomon worshiped foreign gods?” Well, putting anything before the One True God leads to sin, and worshiping the gods that Solomon’s wives led him to worship led to the most heinous sins. The worship of Molech (or Milcom), especially gruesome, involved sacrificing one’s firstborn to a red-hot iron idol.

Was Solomon saved? Probably. If we repent of our sins, God will forgive us, and it seems Solomon did repent. Tradition gives King Solomon credit for writing three books of the Bible: the Song of Songs, the Book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

The relevant book here is Ecclesiastes. In Ecclesiastes Solomon wrote of his attempts to find happiness without God. He did not succeed. In fact, Ecclesiastes is the story of a life spent fruitlessly, pointlessly, and unhappily. It is the story of a sad, lonely, hopelessly and desperately bored cynic. Solomon had every material thing a man could want. Yet because he had turned from God, he found himself with nothing and no one he cared about.

Strangely, Ecclesiastes says nothing about the worship of evil gods. Why not? I suspect the reason is this. No one loves a god such as those Solomon worshiped. Instead, foolish men sacrifice their virtue for the sake of what they hope an evil god will give them as a reward. Therefore, Ecclesiastes belittles the material rewards of this world. Without the One True God there is no reward that makes life worth living.

Today’s Application

Today most Americans raise their children in a secular environment. Today’s Biblically untutored parents raise their children with the same values that their parents passed on to them. We teach our children that what matters — what is important — is our personal status and wealth.

Hence, our  child:

  • Wants to be thought of as a good person, that is, admired. We equate that to respectability.
  • Wants a high position. We equate that with being in charge of people and material goods.
  • Wants to be rich. We equate wealth with importance and accomplishment.
  • Wants — expects — every relationship to be about “me.” Others exist to make “me” happy, including sex partners.

What we forget is that we did not create this world, much less this universe. Creation is about God. When we do not please our Creator by loving Him and each other, we cannot find happiness. God did not design us to find happiness in selfish, prideful behavior.

So what should we teach our children? What wisdom should we insist that the best and brightest among us — our leaders — learn, understand, and exhibit?

Psalm 127 New King James Version (NKJV)

Laboring and Prospering with the Lord

A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon.

127 Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman stays awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them;
They shall not be ashamed,
But shall speak with their enemies in the gate.

What does that last verse mean? Here is a translation that provides the same idea in contemporary language.

Psalm 127:5 Living Bible (TLB)

Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. That man shall have the help he needs when arguing with his enemies.[a]

Footnotes:

a. Psalm 127:5 when arguing with his enemies, literally, “when they speak with their enemies in the gate.”

If there is no one who knows we care about them, why should we expect anyone to care about us?