When were the gospels written?

Many people who are skeptical of the claims of Christianity argue that the books which record the life of Christ, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, were written decades or even a century or more after Jesus. Because of this time gap, they argue that the gospels cannot possibly be accurate records of the events which occurred in Jesus’ lifetime.

Jesus was crucified, died and rose again in AD 30. The closer the books of the New Testament were written to that date, the easier it is to accept them as accurate records of the events that took place during His time on earth. So, when were the Gospels written? Although estimates vary (with skeptics typically arguing for a later dating), mainstream scholars conservatively date the authorship of the four gospels as follows:

Matthew - AD 65-85
Mark - AD 60-75
Luke - AD 65-95
John - AD 95-100

Additionally, it is generally believed that the gospels (with the exception of John) were based upon written source materials known to scholars by names such as “M” and “Q”, etc. Like the autographs of the gospels, these documents are no longer in existence, but they would have pre-dated the gospels themselves by as much as decade or more.

In addition to this written pre-gospel material, the oral tradition and the testimonies of eyewitnesses who were still alive and able to speak about what they had seen and heard were available to the authors of the gospels. The existence of these two sources could push the dating of the gospel message back by many years – even to the days of the events themselves.

There are numerous pieces of evidence to support an earlier dating of the gospels.

[LIST=1]
*]The New Testament does not mention the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem which is known to have occurred in AD 70. Therefore, the gospels must have been written before AD 70.
*]The New Testament fails to mention the siege of Jerusalem which began before the Temple was destroyed. Therefore, the gospels must have been written before AD 68-69.
*]In the Book of Acts, Luke fails to mention the deaths of Paul and Peter which took place in AD 64 and AD 65 respectively. In fact, the Book of Acts, Luke’s follow-up to his gospel, ends with Paul still in prison. Therefore, the Book of Acts must have been written before AD 64.
*]In the Book of Acts, Luke fails to mention the death of the James, leader of the Church in Jerusalem, in AD 62. In contrast, Luke does record the stoning of Stephen and the death of James the brother of John and the mention of these two martyrdoms makes the absence of the martyrdom of James more conspicuous. Therefore, the Book of Acts must have been written before AD 62.
*]Luke’s Gospel predates his Book of Acts according to his own statement in Acts. Thus, if Acts was written before AD 62, the Gospel of Luke must have been written much earlier than AD 62.
*]Paul appears to have quoted a portion of the Gospel of Luke in his Letter to Timothy which is thought to have been written in AD 63-64. Therefore, this corroborates the idea that the Gospel of Luke must have been written before AD 63.
*]Paul’s letters echo the claims of the gospel writers about Jesus’ life and divinity, and these letters are typically thought by scholars to have been written between AD 48 and AD 64. Thus, the gospel message which Paul preached was firmly in place before AD 48-50.
*]Paul wrote his Letter to the Galatians around AD 50, and in this letter he mentions that after his conversion, he had spent three years in Arabia before going to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles there. Then after fourteen more years, he took a second trip to meet with the apostles in Jerusalem. Subtracting these seventeen years from AD 50 places the time of Paul’s conversion around AD 33 or within five years of the resurrection of Christ. This is why Paul was able to tell the Corinthians in his first letter to that church in AD 53-57 that they could verify his gospel by conferring with many of the people who had witnessed the resurrected Jesus and who were still alive.
*]Paul appears to have quoted Luke’s Gospel in the First Letter to the Corinthians which is thought to have been written approximately ten years before the Letter to Timothy. Therefore, the Gospel of Luke must have been written before AD 53.
*]Luke quoted Matthew and Mark repeatedly in his gospel. Therefore, either Matthew and Mark were both in existence before AD 53 or all three of these gospels relied on common source documents that were written before AD 53.
[/LIST]

If correct, the dating of the earliest written record concerning the life of Jesus may have been produced as early as 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and this small gap is well-within the lifetime of many eyewitnesses who would have been able to correct any errors that were recorded by the gospel writers. Thus, it may be argued that contrary to the claims of skeptics, the gospels were produced early enough to be accurate in their accounts of all that Jesus said and did.

Why are there no contemporary writings of Jesus’ life and miraculous deeds? It was alleged that whole villages watched Jesus cook breakfast for the Apostles after he resurrected, and not one person in that whole village ever wrote down what they saw. Hundreds of people watched Jesus exorcise demons, raise Lazarus from the dead, heal the blind man, cure the lepers, and yet not one person wrote what they witnessed.

The only piece of written material based on Jesus’ life is found 20 years later at best, and hundreds of years later at worst, written by unknown authors, about obscure and out-of-this-world events that took place in the dessert thousands of years ago. This is a good enough reason to base my whole life and trust in the Catholic Church again because why?

There was no printing press in the first century. Writings of that day are very rare. The Gospels are accounts that were known to the disciples. They didn’t have to wait until the Gospels were written to know what Jesus said or did. To put it another way, the Gospels came out of the Church; the Church did not come out of the Gospels.

Most people then couldn’t write; there was no discretionary time, few teachers, and no pens or papers available. That was why there were scribes: if you needed writing you paid someone to do it.

As to the Gospels, most estimates are between AD 50 and AD100.

ICXC NIKA.

Hi Randy: I think you are on to something as I have had the same thought about when the Gospels were written. I think it was much earlier then previously thought.

Let’s take your standard and apply it today.

Let’s get a group of people, have some incredibly significant events happen to them in the 1980’s. And then they go on to tell everyone they can find about these event, in group settings, again and again and again. They will tell of these events at least once a week, among those who were actually there and knew about it and experienced the events.

Now are you telling me that these people would be unable to write an authoritative book about these events in 2015?!?!?!?

Why? And why would you not consider them contemporary when actual witnesses wrote them?

How do you arrive at the conclusion that nobody in the village wrote it down? Are you assuming that if it had been written down, then it would also have been passed down from generation to generation, and copied by hand when the old documents became worn from age?

Here’s something to ponder:

Hyperides was a contemporary of Demosthenes, and was one of the ten canonical orators of antiquity. However, it was thought that, unlike Demosthenes, the scrolls that contained Hyperides speeches were never copied into manuscript books, and that therefore his speeches were unknown in the Middle Ages.

In 2002 Natalie Tchernetska identified lost speeches by an Attic orator called Hyperides.

The truly stunning discovery while working on the Archimedes Palimpsest was that the manuscript contained other erased texts from the ancient world, texts that were not by Archimedes at all.

From the Archimedes Palimpsest
Link:
archimedespalimpsest.org/about/scholarship/

Two things:

  1. You assume that no one wrote anything down. I argued in my OP that there were pre-gospel accounts that the Gospel writers relied upon in part. This is pretty much a given fact accepted by scholars who studied the gospels.
  2. You seem to assume that literacy was so common that there should have been lots of diaries and written records of all these things. But you overlook the fact that this was a predominantly ORAL culture that did not rely on written documents like we do today. The oral traditions of the communities that witnessed Jesus’ miracles would have been carefully preserved.

[he only piece of written material based on Jesus’ life is found 20 years later at best, and hundreds of years later at worst

I argued for an early dating, so you can let go of the “hundreds of years” bit…that is just an excuse by folks who are intellectually lazy.

, written by unknown authors, about obscure and out-of-this-world events that took place in the dessert thousands of years ago. This is a good enough reason to base my whole life and trust in the Catholic Church again because why?

First, we know who the authors were: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. There is every reason to believe that the traditional authorship is the most likely.

Second, you can believe the Catholic Church because the man who promised to rise from the dead and did also promised to build that one Church upon Peter, the rock, who was the first head of the Christian community which later began to call itself the Catholic Church.
[/quote]

:thumbsup:

This argument is not original with me…I have re-worked and posted material I’m reading for future use in this forum.

We are talking about one of the most crucial moments in the history of all mankind. If it were that miraculous and that important, I am sure someone, regardless of literacy, would have paid someone to do it for them.

Exactly. And if the deeds of Jesus were truly that miraculous, you’d think someone would have done just that. :thumbsup:

Yes, let us take that standard and apply it to today. Today, everyone can Twitter and Facebook their thoughts and experiences, we can read the writings of others from thousands of miles away instantly. With this in mind, we still cannot accurately tell what is truly being said or what occurred for something that was just written, spoken about, or occurred last week. We blame the media for twisting words, we blame agendas, and some folks are just plain human and make mistakes in delivering the message.

If we ever get past that obstacle, it doesn’t mean that what was accurately described is what actually happened. For example, the miracles of Sathiya Say Baba were witnessed by the thousands and very well-documented and recorded on tape in our lifetime. You could have gone to see him in person some years ago before he died. Even with this incredible amount of “proof”, it still doesn’t make any of it true. Sathiya was not a man-god or god.

I haven’t come across any of those writings, have you?

We are only talking about the greastest moment in human history, in which all souls ever created depend on, to be saved from eternal torment and damnation. You better believe I’d think it rational that people would write these things down, pass it on, and treat it with the importance it deserves. There are no other writings or evidence to corroborate what the Bible alleges. We just have to trust it, and that is becoming increasing harder to do in this day and age, where science is disproving many of the supposed historical things that have happened in the Bible. It’s hard to just take it at it’s word. Do I just stop thinking and trust in the Catholic Church? To be honest, they do not have the greatest track record of moral behavior, and the more scandals I hear about, the less it makes sense to even do that much.

Hi Randy: I understand. it is not new thinking but maybe now some will give it some real serious thought to it as I have tended to think the NT was written much earlier than has been the norm and what you have stated makes more sense than saying that they were written so much later.

And as I said in the OP, there are pre-gospel sources such as “M”, “Q” and “L” which did exist before the writing of the four gospels. You have not acknowledged this.

Yes, let us take that standard and apply it to today. Today, everyone can Twitter and Facebook their thoughts and experiences, we can read the writings of others from thousands of miles away instantly. With this in mind, we still cannot accurately tell what is truly being said or what occurred for something that was just written, spoken about, or occurred last week. We blame the media for twisting words, we blame agendas, and some folks are just plain human and make mistakes in delivering the message.

We are not an oral culture. I can’t remember a phone number (sometimes my own) because I have not trained my mind to record information precisely. I have a smartphone for that now. But that was not the case in the past. Consequently, people were able to remember big chunks of data verbatim because they PRACTICED doing so. You can train your memory just like you can train your muscles to perform athletic feats.

If we ever get past that obstacle, it doesn’t mean that what was accurately described is what actually happened. For example, the miracles of Sathiya Say Baba were witnessed by the thousands and very well-documented and recorded on tape in our lifetime. You could have gone to see him in person some years ago before he died. Even with this incredible amount of “proof”, it still doesn’t make any of it true. Sathiya was not a man-god or god.

Jesus was born in a backwater corner of the Roman empire. Yet, within a few decades of his lifetime, his followers had transformed the known world. Rising from the dead can have that kind of impact on people.

I haven’t come across any of those writings, have you?

Sure. Every time I read my Bible, I am reading the derivatives of those early accounts which Matthew, Mark and Luke used in the writing of their own books.

We are only talking about the greastest moment in human history, in which all souls ever created depend on, to be saved from eternal torment and damnation. You better believe I’d think it rational that people would write these things down, pass it on, and treat it with the importance it deserves.

Exactly. And that is why we have nearly 6,000 manuscript copies of the original autographs. These texts can be compared and studied to determine if variations or errors crept in due to copyist errors. From this science, we are EXTREMELY confident that we know with certainty what the original authors wrote.

There are no other writings or evidence to corroborate what the Bible alleges. We just have to trust it, and that is becoming increasing harder to do in this day and age, where science is disproving many of the supposed historical things that have happened in the Bible.

:nope:

If anything, archaeology is proving the Bible to be extremely accurate. Towns and villages that were named in the NT are being discovered when no one ever knew they were there. In just the past few weeks, the spot where Jesus was judged by Pilate was uncovered in Jerusalem.

It’s hard to just take it at it’s word. Do I just stop thinking and trust in the Catholic Church?

That would be a mistake. Catholicism is for thinking adults, and many of the greatest minds in history in the fields of science, mathematics, medicine, philosophy and theology have been Catholics.

To be honest, they do not have the greatest track record of moral behavior, and the more scandals I hear about, the less it makes sense to even do that much.

Have you stopped watching college football because of the pedophilia scandal at Penn State? :rolleyes:

Most biblical scholars and new testament experts say Mark is first, written approx 40 years after jesus died…and each one to follow came at 10-15 years after the one before it.
They were written in literary Greek.
This is not the analyzing of “skeptics”…these are biblical scholars, who teach about the gospels at university and theology schools.

Twenty years is too early for Mark.
There are details mentioned there that make it much later than that.

At lot of details can change over 20 years tho, never mind 40.
You’ve played “broken telephone” before?

As a journalist who does interviews and must run back to my office and write the story immediately on deadline, I don’t remember quotes and details correctly even an hour later, never mind decades.
(i use a tape recorder to get it right).

.

I am not all that sure there was a Q M or L since the Apostles who did write would have no need of them as they were first hand witnesses.

We don’t know the date of Jesus’ birth or death.

Actually, Matthew may have been written in Hebrew/Aramaic first, and in Greek later.

From my Ignatius Study Bible Notes:

Matthew - before AD 70 (agreeing with the Pontifical Bible Commission of 1911)
Mark - before AD 70 (Peter was martyred in AD 65)
Luke - early 60’s (before the destruction of Jerusalem and the martyrdom of Paul)
John - late 90’s (though John refers in the present tense to the pool near the Sheep Gate which would have been buried under a pile of rubble after AD 70)

Twenty years is too early for Mark.
There are details mentioned there that make it much later than that.

Point #10 explains that Matthew and Mark rely in part on a common source that may have existed much earlier. Luke admits this freely here:

Luke 1:1-4
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

From this, we see that there were MANY written accounts of the life of Jesus in circulation before the gospels were written. However, like the autographs of the gospels themselves, these pre-gospel writings have not survived the passage of time.

At lot of details can change over 20 years tho, never mind 40.
You’ve played “broken telephone” before?

As a child, yes. The authors of the Gospels believed themselves to be transmitting the Word of God regarding eternal life. Big difference. :yup:

One other point that is not a proof but worth considering, if the gospel message is true, then the Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the New Testament. However, I do not use this point in my argument to avoid the charge of circular reasoning.

As a journalist who does interviews and must run back to my office and write the story immediately on deadline, I don’t remember quotes and details correctly even an hour later, never mind decades.
(i use a tape recorder to get it right).

Right. Because your mind has not been trained to remember the interviews verbatim. You have electronic devices for that. The Jewish people had huge passages of the OT memorized (Muslims do the same with the Qur’an and kids in ancient Rome memorized the Illiad and Odyssey in their entireties), so in some cultures, this would not have been a problem. But for modern Americans, absolutely. :thumbsup:

Hi thistle: That is true enough but we can be close as to when Christ was born. and also when he dies.

We know with enough certainty to say that the dating of the gospels is not a justifiable reason for rejecting Christianity. :thumbsup:

For Jimmy Akin’s answer:

jimmyakin.com/2013/04/what-year-was-jesus-born-the-answer-may-surprise-you.html

For Taylor Marshall’s answer:

taylormarshall.com/2012/12/christ-really-was-born-exactly-2013.html

So, although these two guys disagree, they only differ by two years at most…and possibly by only one year. Not bad after 2,000 years!

Most scholars say Mark was first; the Catholic Church says Matthew was first. Almost everyone says John was last. But John, the most unique gospel, was written with the most accurate archaeological details of the city of Jerusalem pre-70 destruction. See Dr. James Charlesworth, biblical scholar who has talked a lot about this.

Luke 1:1-4
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

From this, we see that there were MANY written accounts of the life of Jesus in circulation before the gospels were written. However, like the autographs of the gospels themselves, these pre-gospel writings have not survived the passage of time.

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