Thursday, July 12, 2007

When Were the Gospels Written?

It's surprising how many Christians believe that the gospels are inspired...inerrant while at the same time believing the most current consensus among New Testament scholars regarding the dates and authors of the gospels. Until recently, I was one of those Christians as well. I have since put quite a bit of thought into the subject and have changed my opinions.

The current consensus is Mark was written first about 68 AD - followed by Matthew & Luke written in the 70s or possibly 80s. John was written around 100 AD. Many also deny that they were written by eyewitnesses or even close to eye witnesses.

Some fringe scholars actually place the gospels much later, but even some secular scholars place the dates earlier. I would say though, that the dates above represent the predominant view among both Christian and secular scholars.

I found this article on Matthean Priority to be extremely helpful on the subject and would highly recommend reading it. The problem is, if Mark wrote first and Matthew & Luke came later - adding their own theology into Jesus' mouth, then their gospels aren't really inspired at all. They're not Scripture if they're not true.

Though I have seen some convincing reasons to believe in Markan priority, I think there are even more convincing reasons to believe in Matthean priority. Here are a few quick reasons... In Luke's gospel, Jesus' prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem uses very specific language - the city will be surrounded by an army etc... In Mark Jesus says no such thing, if Luke wrote after Mark and after 70 AD this means that Luke was changing Jesus' words to fit history. Unacceptable for orthodox Christian belief.

If Luke wrote so late and also wrote Acts (which is uncontested as far as I know) then why did he leave out the martyrdom of Peter and Paul? Why did he leave out the destruction of Jerusalem? Outside of the Resurrection and Pentecost, these are three of the most significant events in early Christian history... The argument from silence may be a weak one when it comes to history, but there is a thin line where it crosses from a weak argument to a no-brainer... Luke not mentioning these events would be the equivalent of a 21st century historian who focused on Islamic terrorism not mentioning 9-11. It's inconceivable.

All the Fathers place Matthew first. Is it so hard to conceive of that they were privy to some evidence that we no longer are? On the contrary, I would argue that it's inconceivable that they weren't. In fact, I would say it's a certainty that they not only had some additional evidence, but a substantial amount of additional evidence.

From various patristic sources it is as certain of a historical fact as anything else that Matthew's gospel was originally written in Hebrew (or Aramaic). We know this because of the Church fathers' testimony including St. Jerome who stated that it was still extant in his day. He would never write such a thing were it not.

How can his gospel have been written in Hebrew originally if Mark was written first since so much of the Greek is verbatim? Again, this is conceivable as a physical possibility - but in reality, we can instantly recognize that it's not true.

Eusebius records that when Pantaenus visited India, he found a copy of Matthew's gospel in the original Hebrew. We know that Thomas went there in the year 52 AD and Bartholomew also evangelized in India.

It is therefore my opinion that Matthew wrote in Hebrew (or actually Aramaic) before 52 AD but it saw limited circulation and did not eventually survive. Perhaps one of the only copies was taken by Thomas or Bartholomew to India. Luke wrote his gospel based on a Greek translation of Matthew's gospel and careful research of other documents extant at the time but no longer extant now. (Some of the Gnostic gospels such as Thomas may have also used some of those sources). Luke then proceeded to write the Acts of the Apostles probably in the early 60s. Between 62 & 67 AD (probably closer to the latter) Mark wrote his gospel. Mark's gospel was based on shorthand notes of a homily from St. Peter in Rome (at the request of the Christians there) based on St. Matthew's gospel. Mark, in compiling the shorthand notes into full length also reconciled accounts using a copy of Luke's gospel but was 'careful to change nothing'.

St. Peter approved the gospel and Mark took it to Alexandria (where he had founded the Church earlier but had been succeeded by Anianus as bishop). This timeline is certainly not what typical scholars believe - but it reconciles 98% of patristic witness on the subject and is easily conceivable as actual history.

John wrote his gospel after 70 AD - probably towards the end of the 1st century - as a supplement to the synoptics.

I don't believe that any of the apocryphal gospels extant today were written before any of these gospels. The so called gospel of Hebrews may possibly precede John's but it's impossible to know. I don't believe the gospel of Thomas was forged until about 120 AD.

Again, I highly recommend reading the above article which makes a much more detailed argument than I did. I'm simply challenging readers to rethink their current suppositions on the gospel dates (and authors).

1 comment:

Tiber Jumper said...

Thanks for the research GFF.
My brain always feels a little fuller, and hurts a little too after reading your blog :)
God bless