The gospels

“when” and who wrote the gospels?

More to the point “when” was the pen put to paper; rather than stories handed down about Jesus ~b~.

You’ll get a wide variety of repsonses…most conservative believers give the gospels a fairly early period of their writing. I believe the Catholic church puts Matthew first…but I don’t think that’s carved in stone.

I believe they were written toward the end of the first century and the beginning of the second. I believe Mark was written first with Matthew and Luke using Mark as a template. John was written more as a statement of faith for a “Johannine communtiy” with a very developed Christology.

If Paul’s letters were written first we see a progression of understanding…Jesus was proclaimed God’s Son at his resurrection in Paul’s early letters…in Mark he was God’s Son at his baptism…in Matthew and Luke he was God’s Son at his birth and in John, he was God’s Son before he entered our world.

You will get different understandings I’m sure…chose one you’re comfortable with and one that conforms to your faith tradition.

One thing to keep in mind, that we moderns often forget, is that the people back then put a high value on memorization, and that most could probably repeat verbatim something meaningful that they heard. Like those of today’s Muslims who memorize the Quran, many 1st century Jews could recite the OT verbatim.

In fact, I have two documents that show this kind of ability as recently as the US Civil War. They are written copies, from memory, of the eulogy for my great-great-granduncle, who died in that war. Two different people wrote them, and they are almost word-for-word identical.

That’s why I don’t believe that the 3 synoptic Gospels were all based (as some scholars suggest) on one unknown manuscript (called “Q”) that was lost. I believe Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels are similar because they were based on their writers’ memories of Jesus’ ministry.

Just my 2 cents,


The people who wrote the gospels are anonymous. It is only tradition that calls them Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.

The first gospel wasn’t written until about fifty years after Jesus’ death.

I don’t take the gospels as a infallible source of who Jesus really was for these reasons. But validity doesn’t really matter to me, since the messages of love and forgiveness and timeless, whether Jesus really spoke them or not.

One thing to keep in mind, that we moderns often forget, is that the people back then put a high value on memorization, and that most could probably repeat verbatim something meaningful that they heard. Like those of today’s Muslims who memorize the Quran, many 1st century Jews could recite the OT verbatim.

That’s a good point.

But it is much harder to memorize something that you are being told than it is to memorize a writing.

Also, I’m guessing that most if not all the Apostles were dead by the time the gospels were starting to be written. That means, if the four gospels really did come from the Apostles, they could possibly be somewhat disorted. It’s like the game when you whisper a phrase down a line of people. “A man in France” turns to “There’s a guy singing chants”.

And there also must be a lot of faith in trusting whoever wrote the gospels. Remember, they were anonymous.

Oh, and who knows what the early Christian Councils could have edited out or put in. And there were many gospels. Only four were chosen, the rest declared heretical. What gave them this authority? I know some will say Peter, but is that what really happened, or only what they wrote.

There are just too many questions that are impossible to answer…

“Only tradition”. Yes, tradition that has existed side by side–and indeed **predated **the actual ‘canon’ of the Bible.

“Only tradition”.

It was “only tradition” which tells us that the books in the Bible are to be in the Bible. After all, nobody here was alive in the 4th century AD, were they? How do we know how the books to be ‘written down’ as The Bible are ‘the right ones?" There were no written directions given–it was all oral until the last words were spoken, the books chosen were assembled, and given the title of "the Bible’, and the Holy Spirit guided the Church to say, "Amen. So be it. These are the books and none other.’

It is amazing to me that people will take the Bible itself as self-interpreting and ‘above question’. . .even though what we possess are not the original documents but copies. . and will say (even though the Bible itself does not make the claim FOR itself) that Scripture is inerrent.

IOW, the same people who claim inerrent Scripture are relying on ‘only tradition’ which told those who brought the Scriptures together what to bring, and that it, and it alone, would be inerrent and God-breathed.

I’d surely rely on ‘only tradition’ from maybe 100 years ‘after the fact’ (when many people would have had parents or grandparents alive who had been witnesses or known witnesses, and would have been the first to correct a ‘lie’ just as they did other heresies and errors) instead of people deciding to ‘reject’ tradition and claim that 'well, once you take out anything that isn’t ‘written down’ exactly at the time it happened and with all sorts of other ‘outside’ proof’–well, gee, I guess it ‘didn’t really happen.’

I think of myself as a reasonably literate person, with a decent background in history. . .but many so-called modern ‘historians’ are so caught up in expressing their own worldview (usually one of ‘we can only speculate but since** I personally **happen to believe that X would believe or do Y, then X probably believed and did Y and you can’t prove he didn’t’ - even though there is ‘only tradition’ that X in fact did Z, and condemned Y) that they are far more ‘biased’ than the ‘rock bound traditionalists’ they sneer at and despise for such ‘blind faith’.

Better blind faith than blind idol worship and blind folly.

A good book…IMO…that gives the history of the NT is “Pre-Nicene New Testament” by Robert M. Price, gives the “formative texts” those writings used in those first centuries as “scripture” by various Christian communities ranging from Gnostic, Proto-Orthodox, Marcionite, Ebionite, etc.

He provides history of each book and traces it’s history and why it wasn’t included in the New Testament canon in it’s final form.

It’s a good read…of course most conservative believers won’t like much of it’s content…but it’s a good tool for balance.

I personally hold to the older dating: Matthew and Mark by the end of the 40’s, Luke (and Acts) before 60, and John prior to 70. I have my reasons, one being that none of them actually mention the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. Jesus did say that it was going to happen, but none of them prove his prophacy true.

I do like the Traditional views that Mark was written under guidance from St. Peter, while John was written so that the last eye-witness account might not be lost.

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