“There is nothing attractive about the gospel to the natural man; The only man who finds the gospel attractive is the man who is
convicted of sin.”
When Were The Gospels Written?
by Mark Karapetyan
One of the arguments skeptics use to discredit the Four Gospels is that they were written after 70 AD by weary, old men whose memories were failing them in the latter days of the first century. The implication is that their accounts of the events of Jesus’ life can’t really be trusted. Are these skeptics correct? Were the gospels really written much later after Jesus’ death?
There are good reasons to believe that the Gospels were written closer to Jesus’ death than is currently popularly believed. In fact, there are good reasons to believe that the first gospel accounts were written less than 30 years after Jesus’ death.
To establish the reliability of ANY historical document, one of the first questions to be raised is: “How soon after the events took place were they recorded?”
It is worth noting that no gospel author mentions the destruction of the Jewish Temple in A.D. 70 by the Romans. This is very crucial because Jesus had prophesied concerning the destruction of Jerusalem when He said: “there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.” (Mark 13:2).
If the gospels were written after A.D. 70, why didn’t the authors write about and celebrate Jesus’ accurate prophecy? Moreover; don’t you think that at least one of the gospel writers would have mentioned this cataclysmic event? I believe that this event was not included because the gospels were written before A.D. 70.
Suppose you read a book about the History of America in the 21st century, and the 911 terrorist attacks are not mentioned at all. Wouldn’t you reasonably conclude that the book was written before the tragic events of 2001? Is it logical to assume that all Four Gospel writers forgot to mention the destruction of Jerusalem?
Even before the temple was destroyed, the city of Jerusalem was under assault. No aspect of this three-year siege is described in any New Testament document, in spite of the fact that the gospel writers could certainly have pointed to the anguish that resulted from the siege as a powerful point of reference for the many passages of Scripture that extensively address the issue of suffering. 1
In this short study, I will examine each gospel separately and present evidence that they were in fact written early by the traditional authors, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
The Gospel of Matthew
In 1994, a segment of the Greek text of Matthew’s Gospel known as Magdalen Papyrus, P64 was discovered.
Although Matthew did not record his name within the text itself as the author (a common practice in the ancient world), the first book found in the New Testament has historically been attributed to the writing of Matthew, a tax collector named ‘Levi’, and one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. 2
In fact, there is not a single tradition that even suggests that anyone but Matthew himself wrote the book. Some skeptics claim that the Gospel of Matthew was forged by someone else then attributed to Matthew. Why would anyone forge a book and then credit it to a tax collector who was hated by the Jews? What an odd choice ! Why not credit it to a major character like Peter or John?
Matthew was a Jewish tax collector. As a literate Jew, he must have been able to read and write Hebrew. Historians Eusebius and Jerome attest to this fact. As a tax collector for the Romans, he must also have been able to read and write Latin. He chose to write the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew because he was writing for the Christians of Judea. Most of the first Christians of Judea were originally Jewish. Many were illiterate, but those who did learn to read and write most often learned Hebrew. It is unlikely that Matthew could read and write Greek. 3
Matthew’s gospel is written for a Jewish Christian audience living within the immediate proximity of the homeland itself. He uses monetary and tax collector terms in his writings. For example, he uses “Forgive us our debts” versus Luke’s “forgive us our trespasses.” 4
Matthew’s is the most Jewish of all the gospels. As part of this, Matthew’s Gospel has far more references and allusions to the Old Testament than any other New Testament book. It systematically identifies Jesus’ life with the history of Israel and the book of Israel (Old Testament). His formula “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet” occurs again and again. 5
More than any other author in his Gospel, Matthew deals very harshly and strictly with the Pharisees and the legalists. One commentator sums up, “there is no gospel which so sternly and consistently condemns the Scribes and Pharisees. … There is no chapter of condemnation in the whole New Testament like Matthew 23 which is the condemnation of the Scribes and the Pharisees.”
Matthew’s Gospel is saturated with the Old Testament to prove that Jesus is the Messiah. More than fifty direct quotations have been taken from the Old Testament. No other author drew upon the Old Testament writings as Matthew did. It is the only gospel that is arranged topically and NOT chronologically.
Readers of the gospel are impressed with certain general characteristics that distinguish it from other writings in the New Testament, one of which is the systematic way in which the contents of the gospel have been arranged. For example, the document as a whole falls into five distinct divisions, with an introductory section preceding the first division and a concluding section following the last. Each of the five divisions is composed of a portion of the narrative concerning Jesus’ activities, together with a group of his teachings. The words “When Jesus had finished saying these things” end each division. This five-fold division of the Gospel of Matthew corresponds in a general way to the divisions found in various parts of the Old Testament. 6 It was widely accepted that Matthew’s Gospel was written between A.D.40-66.
The Gospel of Mark
The fact that the Gospel of Mark is attributed to such a minor character is actually evidence that Mark had a hand in writing it. 7
John Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark, is the shortest of the four canonical gospels. It is widely believed that Mark wrote this gospel in Rome to a Roman audience. Most Biblical scholars regard Mark as being the oldest of the four (A.D.55-65) and a primary source for much of the material contained in Luke and Matthew. Mark, the traveling companion of Paul, was a very young man at the time of the crucifixion. Some scholars believe he was the one who ran away naked when Jesus was arrested. The early church apparently met often in his home in Jerusalem, and it is there that Mark learned from the original disciples the stories and teachings he includes in his gospel. How could a very young man like Mark get his account accepted by the early church?
Mark’s connection with the second gospel is mentioned by Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia (Asia Minor). His statement about the second gospel is recorded in Eusebius’s History of the Church (Historia Ecclesiastica).
“Mark became Peter’s interpreter [hermëneutës] and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not indeed, in order, of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord, nor had he followed him, but later on, as I said, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them.” 8
Other Christian writers also confirm that Mark was the author of the second gospel and that he depended on Peter for his information: Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.1.2 (AD180); Tertullian, Adv. Marc. 4–5 (c. 200); Clement of Alexandria, Hypotyposes (c. 200), according to Eusebius (H.E. 6.14.5–7), Origen, Comm. on Matt. (early third century), again according to Eusebius (H.E. 6.25.5).
Mark’s Gospel is arranged chronologically, narrating events in Galilee, and is also characterized by fast-paced action, portraying the non-stop work of Jesus, making frequent use of the word ‘immediately’ (appears 42 times). His abundant use of the historical present tense, peppered with many personal touches, leaves the impression that the story is unfolding before the reader’s eyes. 10
Mark obtained his first-hand information of the events and teachings of Jesus directly from Peter. He focuses more on the miracles and the deeds of Jesus than he does on His teachings. He speaks often on the wide range of Jesus’ emotions and suffering more than any other gospel writer.
He describes and details events vividly that show that there was some eyewitness testimony behind his gospel. For example, Mark is the only author who mentions that “the grass where the five thousand sat on was green.” 11How could have Mark possibly known that the multitude sat on green grass when he wasn’t even there? It would be reasonable to assume that an eyewitness such as Peter told him about the event.
In another example, Mark describes the disciples as ‘cowards’, ‘fearful’ and ‘spiritually blind’. 12 Mark was a minor biblical character and not an eyewitness. He couldn’t have been able to criticize the original disciples and call them names. Only an apostle would have been able to harshly label the twelve in such manner, someone like Peter.
The Gospel of Luke
The author’s name does not appear in this book, but much unmistakable evidence points to Luke. This Gospel is a companion volume to the book of Acts, and the language and structure of these two books indicate that both were written by the same person. 13
Early church fathers Irenaeus and Tertullian unanimously agree that Luke is the author of this book.
Both books, Luke and Acts are addressed to “Theophilus.” This is a Greek name meaning “friend of God.” This was a common name, and in Luke the name is prefaced with the designation “most excellent,” a customary title given to rulers, similar to our “your honor.” Theophilus seems to have been a real man, a Greek, who was a ruler.
In his gospel, Luke refers many times to sicknesses and diagnoses. Being a Greek and a doctor would explain his scientific and orderly approach to the book, giving great attention to detail in his accounts. 14
Luke, the only gentile author, spelled out his purpose for writing in the first four verses of chapter one not only as a great historian, but also as a medical doctor. He paid great attention to detail, including dates and events that happened throughout the life of Christ. For example, Luke is the only author that mentions Jesus sweating drops of blood (a medical condition known as Hematidrosis) before His arrest.
Luke devoted much time to interviewing those who “from the beginning were eyewitnesses.” He was able to give the most thorough account of the events surrounding the human birth of Jesus, as well as the preceding birth of John the Baptist. He alone reported the beautiful account of the two disciples who met Jesus after His resurrection as they traveled home to Emmaus as well as a number of other events recorded nowhere else in the other three gospels. 15
Luke also recorded the only story we have in the New Testament about Jesus’ boyhood. When Jesus was twelve years old, he went to Jerusalem with his parents to attend the Feast of Passover. On the way home, when his parents discovered that he was not with them, they returned to the Temple and found him involved in a profound discussion with prominent Jewish rabbis. 16
Luke is careful to give a detailed and accurate record of his investigation so that readers can trust with certainty that Jesus is God. This gospel gives special emphasis to prayer, miracles and angels as well. Interesting to note, women are given an important place in Luke’s writings.
The famous archeologist, and New Testament scholar Sir William Ramsay is said to have been converted partially through his surprised realization of the precise accuracy of Luke’s depiction of conditions in the first century. In his epochal work, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (1915), Ramsay said:“Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness” (p. 81). He added later: “. . . this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians“ (p. 222).
Interestingly, Luke never once refers to himself, so that in the twenty-four chapters of the gospel of Luke he never mentions his name, and in the twenty-eight chapters of the book of Acts he never mentions his name. He is content to be humbly hidden behind his massive and marvelous two-volume inspired writings. 17
It is widely believed that Luke was written before the book of Acts and Acts does not mention “Nero’s persecution of the Christians in A.D. 64 or the deaths of James (A.D. 62), Paul (A.D. 64), and Peter (A.D. 65).” Therefore, we can conclude that Luke was written before A.D. 62. “Luke’s Gospel comes before Acts. The date of Acts is still in dispute, but the early date (about A.D. 63) is gaining support constantly.” 18
The Gospel of John
The author is John the Apostle, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (No mention of his name was necessary since his original readers clearly understood that he was the gospel’s author).
John’s Gospel is generally considered to be the last of the Four Gospels to be written, and it contains a variety of statements and information about Jesus not contained in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).
Early writers such as Irenaeus and Tertullian say that John wrote this Gospel, and all other evidence agrees. 19
The Gospel of John has many touches that appear to reflect the recollections of an eyewitness—such as the house at Bethany being filled with the fragrance of the broken perfume jar.
John’s style and focus is very different from the other Three Gospel accounts. John’s Gospel is more reflective, profound, and spiritual. Augustine of Hippo likens John to the eagle who can soar higher than any other bird, because John’s “spiritual understanding compared to the eagle, has elevated his preaching higher, and far more sublimely, than the other three.” 20
John goes beyond the literal message and historical facts to help people understand the deeper spiritual meaning of Jesus Himself – including his teaching, life, and miracles.
John’s Gospel is the only one of the other four that contains a precise statement regarding the author’s purpose (20:30, 31). He declares, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ.” John is also the only author that records the ‘doubting Thomas’ incident.
This gospel includes only seven miracles that John calls them “signs”. Some stories such as the raising of Lazarus are found only in John. His is the most theological of the four Gospels, and he often gives the reason behind events mentioned in the other gospels. In John’s Gospel, even though Jesus performs far fewer miracles, those he does undertake are performed openly and with great spectacle. Jesus heals privately in the Synoptic, while in John he does so publicly. 21
Many ancient manuscripts of the Fourth Gospel list the author’s name as John. For example, Papyrus 66 and Papyrus 75, both dated around A.D. 200, call the gospel euangelion kata Iōannēn, meaning “Gospel According to John.” And Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, both written in the middle of the fourth century A.D., call it simply ‘kata Iōannēn’, meaning “according to John.” 22
It is generally believed that John’s Gospel was written in the 90’s AD. But is it possible that John wrote his Gospel prior to this time?
Take a look at John 5:2: “Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades.”
These colonnades, along with the rest of the temple, were destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. If John wrote his gospel after A.D. 70, why didn’t he mention their destruction? 23
John’s Gospel was written by an elderly man to a generation that no longer had access to eyewitnesses of Jesus. That’s why it appears to have ‘High Christology’, portraying Jesus as equal to God. John saw the urgent need to reinforce the concrete , evidential nature of Jesus before he died.
When all the evidence is in, it shows that the Four Gospels were written soon after the events they recorded. Over five thousand Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in whole or in part are extant today. By comparing the manuscript evidence for the Gospels with the evidence for other important ancient writings, we see that the gospels are uniquely well attested. The work best preserved after the New Testament is Homer’s Iliad, represented by 647 manuscripts. Many other works rest on a very tenuous foundation. There are only nine or ten copies of Caesar’s Gallic War, and none is earlier than A.D. 800. Livy’s history is based on only twenty manuscripts, Tacitus’s history on only two. Of the eight manuscripts of Thucydides’ history, only one is earlier than A.D. 500.
In addition, there are many thousands of ancient manuscripts preserving versions of the New Testament in languages other than Greek . Among these versions are the Old Latin and Old Syriac (Aramaic), both of which originated well before A.D. 200. Others represented in the manuscripts include the Armenian, Georgian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Arabic, Gothic, and Slavonic.
The many manuscripts and versions agree with each other to a remarkable extent. Most variant readings are misspellings or other obvious errors. It has been estimated that doubt attaches to only one word out of a thousand, and none of the words in dispute is crucial to deciding any question of history, ethics, or doctrine. The striking consensus among so many ancient manuscripts and versions of the Gospels guarantees that the text transmitted through the ages to us must be substantially the same as the original text. We can be sure, as we read the gospels, that we have what the authors wrote rather than a text filled with late corruptions, reflecting the thinking and fancy of men who lived long after the time of Jesus. 24
P 52, also known as the St. John’s fragment, is a fragment from a papyrus codex, measuring only 3.5 by 2.5 inches (8.9 by 6 cm) at its widest; contains parts of seven lines from verses 37–38. It is the oldest New Testament manuscript ever discovered.
 Cold Case Christianity. J, Warner Wallace/Why I know the Gospels were written early.
 Toughquestionedanswered.org/Who wrote the Gospel of Matthew
 Catholicplanet.com/The writings of the Gospels. Matthew.
 Christ-Centered Apologetics/Joel Furches
 Religioustolerance.org/The gospel of Matthew
 Cliffsnotes.com/Summary of the Gospel of Matthew
 Christ-Centered Apologetics/ Joel Furches
 The quotation is taken from the translation by Kirsopp Lake inEusebius: Ecclesiastical History, vol. l, LCL (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1926).
 Theologynetwork.org/Understanding the Gospel of Mark. Douglas Moo
 Theopedia.com/Gospel of Mark
 Theologynetwork.org/Understanding the Gospel of Mark. Douglas Moo
 Theologynetwork.org/Understanding the Gospel of Mark. Douglas Moo
 Biblica, Luke
 Christianity.about.com/Gospel of Luke
 ICR/ Dr. Henry Morris. Doctor Luke.
 Cliff’snotes.com/summary of Luke
 Gty.org/Luke Physician and Historian
 McDowell, 80.
(In his Harmony of the Gospels 1.6.9).
 Columbia College/Historical Context for John
 Jonathan McLatchie/Crossexamined.org
 The Moorings/The Reliability of the Gospels
APOLOGETICS - ARTICLES AND INFORMATION
- What is Apologetics?
- The Lost Truth
- Logic & Reasoning
- Truth & Reality
- Does God Exist?
- The Cosmological Argument
- The Design Argument
- The Moral Argument
- Who is Jesus?
- Satan’s Wish!
- God’s Dilemma!
- Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?
- Does God Answer Prayers?
- When Were The Gospels Written?
- Was Noah's Flood Real?
- Are Miracles Possible?
- The Apostle Peter
- Does Archaeology Support The Bible?
- Science & The Bible
- How Can Jesus be the only Way to Heaven?
- Don’t All World Religions Teach the Same Thing?
- Undesigned Coincidences
- Are All Men Created Equal?
- Is the Bible Really the Word of God?
- Amazing Bible Facts
- The Blind Atheists
- Jesus Meets Einstein
- Did the Gospel Writers Tell the Truth?
- The Evolution Fairytale
- The Day Common Sense Died!
- The Philosophy of Jesus
- The Report (Part 1)
- The Report (Part 2)
- Are All Religions True?
- Are There Contradictions in the Bible?
- Are All Religions True?
- Why Does God Allow Evil & Suffering?
- Bible Prophecy
- New Age Christianity
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- When God Cried
- What Happened to America?
- Don’t All Good People Go to Heaven?
- Jesus at the United Nations
- False Teachers
- The Conference
- Jesus & the Woman at the Well
- The Day You face God
- Was Jesus Really Crucified?
- The Blind & the King
- Is Jesus God?
- The Meaning of Life
- Hero & the Fake
- The Insanity of Pluralism
- Who is God?
- The Tree of Good & Evil
- The Confused Agnostic
- Lazarus Come Forth!
- When God Seems Silent
- Case #1101
- The Proposal
- The Prayer
- Roman Catholicism
- Jesus Meets the Pope
- First Century Jesus
- The Patterns of False Religions
- Timid Christianity
- The Foolishness of Life without God
- An American Thanksgiving
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