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.

18 thoughts on “DATING THE GOSPELS: WHEN WERE THE GOSPELS WRITTEN?

  1. Another stellar post, Citizen Tom!

    It’s a wonder that anything from Antiquity survived at all.

    I listen to the Bible or something biblical every night before I fall asleep and it is absolutely amazing how the consistency of message, mode and meaning ring through like wind chimes.

    Consistent exposure to biblical content over time, molds the heart and mind ever so gently but ever so surely.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Well said, Tom. Scripture is tried and true and full of wisdom. We can of course, launch theological debates or pursue carbon dating or engage in biblical archaeology and while these things are all great treasure hunts and appeal to the reason based part of our brains, scripture, like other literature, really has to eventually speak to our hearts. As you said, it is about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really enjoyed this post Tom, not only do you get in to the meaty parts of scripture and Biblical timelines but you match this with the mystical; our faith in Christ and the relationship we build step by step, each time we meditate on scripture, listen to a sermon or read literature by those with deeper knowledge and experience than our own.

    It’s impossible really to have a productive debate with anyone who has not gone through this. You’re both drawing from vastly different wells of knowledge.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @Tricia

      Thank you.

      You are right about the impossible debate. We talk pass each other so easily.

      The Great Commission calls upon us to spread the Gospel. It is the message itself that wins souls, but only for those who choose to be won, those with ears to hear. That can be hard for those who have been won to accept. Then we must turn to God and pray, put of hopes in His Hands.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Good stuff here CT. Are you aware of any other writing on earth which has been studied, maligned, applauded, debased, revered, despised, said to be the best of books ever, said to be the worst of books ever?

    People have a tendency when complaining of the scriptures, to find authors or others who agree with their assertions that the bible is full of defects and cannot be trusted. Hmm, where have we heard THAT before, as in that whisper: ‘hath God said………….?’

    And for what its worth, the idea that the Lord only appeared to His own after His resurrection, is just so darn awesome; the Lord was no fool if I can reverentially say. The few on the way to Emmaus found out that the law, the prophets, and the psalms all spoke of this One. Yeah, like that happens all the time.

    So appreciate your word that ‘God gave us a conscience to plaque us when we do wrong.’ We certainly do not need the four gospels for that, but they are confirmed again and again.

    Anyhow, keep bringing these important essays, God knows we need them. And the critics? Ha, they would fault a gorgeous sunset complaining there is not enough blue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @ColorStorm

      Thank you for the kind words. Coming from someone who writes as well as you do, those are very kind words.

      God willing, I intend to write more such essays. My political diatribes get more hits, but I enjoy the Bible studies far more. I just hope that pleasure is a little encouragement from our Maker.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. @ColorStorm, who wrote:

      Good stuff here CT. Are you aware of any other writing on earth which has been studied, maligned, applauded, debased, revered, despised, said to be the best of books ever, said to be the worst of books ever?

      I’m only at the computer for a few minutes, and I’ve been in the hospital for the past week or so. But there is another book that qualifies for every verb on your list: Atlas Shrugged

      Best wishes,

      ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

      Liked by 1 person

      1. @Keith

        We have missed you. I hope you are feeling better after your stay in the hospital and manage spend a bit more time at home on the computer.

        The gibe at ColorStorm’s comment on the Bible just underscored his point. Why could you not resist?

        There are many other books: The Koran, Das Capital, The Spirit of the Laws, The Age of Reason,……Yet you know the Bible is in a class of all of its own. You have read it, and you are a good student of history.

        Here is a list of religious texts. => https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_text

        Yet the Bible rises above them all.

        Matthew 10:34-39 English Standard Version (ESV)

        Not Peace, but a Sword

        34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

        Which of them has stirred your heart more?

        Like

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