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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Amazing Historical Accuracy of the Bible

Don Stewart :: When Were the Four Gospels Written?

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When Were the Four Gospels Written?

The Amazing Historical Accuracy of the Bible – Question 10

The evidence shows that the four Gospels were written in a relatively short time after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Examining the internal evidence of the New Testament itself can make this plain. The evidence is as follows:

1. The City of Jerusalem and the Temple Were Still Standing When the Gospels Were Written

The first three Gospels, and possibly also the fourth, were apparently written while the city of Jerusalem was still standing. Each of the first three Gospels contains predictions by Jesus concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21), but none records the fulfillment. We know that Titus the Roman destroyed the city and Temple in A.D. 70. Hence, the composition of the first three Gospels most likely occurred sometime before this event, otherwise their destruction would have been recorded. The fact that all four gospels are written from the perspective that the city of Jerusalem and the temple had not been destroyed gives evidence of an early date.

2. The Book of Acts Gives a Clue to the Date of the Gospels

The Book of Acts also provides us with a clue as to when the gospels were written. Acts records the highlights in the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. The book concludes with Paul at Rome awaiting trial before Caesar. It says:

And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him. (Acts 28:30-31 KJV)

The New Living Translation reads:

For the next two years, Paul lived in his own rented house. He welcomed all who visited him, proclaiming the Kingdom of God with all boldness and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him. (Acts 28:30-31 NLT)

The inference is that Acts was written while Paul was still alive, seeing that his death is not recorded. Since there is good evidence that Paul died in the Neronian persecution about A.D. 67, the Book of Acts can be dated approximately A.D. 62.

3. Luke’s Gospel Was Written Earlier than Acts

If Acts were written about A.D. 62, then this helps us date the four gospels. The Book of Acts is the second half of a treatise written by Luke to a man named Theophilus. Since we know that the Gospel of Luke was written before the Book of Acts, we can then date the Gospel of Luke sometime around A.D. 60 or before.

4. The Brother Who Was Well-Known May Have Been Luke

There may be further evidence for an early date for Luke’s gospel. Paul wrote of a brother who was well-known among the churches for the gospel:

And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. (2 Corinthians 8:18 TNIV)

There is ancient testimony that this refers to Luke and his written gospel. If this is speaking of Luke and the gospel he composed, then we have it well-known in the mid-fifties of the first century.

5. Mark May Have Been a Source for Luke

There may be a reference in the writings of Luke that he used Mark as a written source. John Mark is called a “minister” by Luke in Acts 13:5 (the Greek word huparetas). In 1:2, Luke says he derived the information for his gospel from those who were “eyewitnesses” and “ministers” of the word. The term translated “minister” is the same Greek word huparetas. It is possible that this could be a reference to Mark as one of his written sources.

6. Mark Was Likely Written Before Luke

Furthermore, modern scholarship has generally assumed that the Gospel of Mark was written before Luke. If this is the case, then we are somewhere in the fifties of the first century when this book was composed. Since Jesus’ death and resurrection occurred approximately in the year A.D. 33, these two gospels were written during the time when eyewitnesses, both friendly and unfriendly, were still alive. These eyewitnesses could either verify or falsify the information contained in the gospels.

7. Matthew Was Always Believed to Have Been Written First

We now go a step further by considering Matthew’s gospel. According to the unanimous testimony of the early church, Matthew was the first gospel written. The church father Eusebius places the date of Matthew’s gospel in A.D. 41. If the ancient testimony is true, and there is no reason to doubt it, then we have a third independent source about the life of Christ written during the eyewitness period.

8. John Was an Eyewitness to the Events

The Gospel of John is usually assumed to have been the last of the four gospels composed. John testified that he was an eyewitness to the events that he recorded. He said:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31 ESV)

The New Living Translation puts it this way:

Jesus’ disciples saw him do many other miraculous signs besides the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life. (John 20:30:31 NLT)

John also wrote:

This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. (John 21:24 ESV)

It is clear that John claimed to have been there when the events in the life of Jesus transpired.

There Is Internal Evidence of an Early Date for John

There is also internal evidence that John himself wrote before A.D. 70. We read the following description of Jerusalem in the fifth chapter of John:

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool called Bethesda in Aramaic, which has five covered walkways. (John 5:2 NET)

John describes the sheep gate as still standing at the time he wrote. He could not have made this statement after A.D. 70—there was no sheep gate. The sheep gate was destroyed in the year A.D. 70, along with the rest of the city of Jerusalem. This could very well be an indication that John wrote his gospel before the city of Jerusalem was destroyed.

Conclusion: There Is Evidence for an Early Date for the Four Gospels

When all the historical and textual evidence is amassed, it becomes clear that the four gospels were composed at a very early date either by eyewitnesses, or those who recorded eyewitness testimony. Therefore, we have every reason to trust what they wrote.

Summary – Question 10
When Were the Four Gospels Written?

When all the evidence is in, it shows that the four gospels were written soon after the events they recorded. An examination of the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke show that each one has Jesus predicting the destruction of the city of Jerusalem as well as the temple.

However, none of these writings records the fulfillment. Since the city and temple were both destroyed in the year A.D. 70, there is good reason to believe that these three gospels were written before this destruction took place. The same is true with the Gospel of John. It is written from the perspective of the city of Jerusalem still standing. This would make all four gospels written during the period when eyewitnesses, both friendly and unfriendly, were still alive.

There is also some possible evidence from the Book of Acts as to the early date of the gospels. Acts is the second part of two books written by Luke. There is internal evidence from Acts that it should be dated before the death of Paul. If this is true, then it was composed before A.D. 68. Since Luke’s gospel was written before Acts, that would place it in the early 60’s of the first century or earlier.

Add to this the possibility that Luke may have used Mark as a source; this would mean that we have an earlier date for Mark. Finally, the early church unanimously believed Matthew was the first gospel written. This places the writing of the first three gospels within thirty years of the resurrection of Jesus.

Therefore, between the lack of the recording of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, as well as working back from the end of the Book of Acts we have internal evidence from the New Testament that the gospels were composed fairly soon after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Were the New Testament Writers Qualified as Witnesses to the Events They Recorded? ← Prior Section
How Does the Apostle Paul Testify to the Accuracy of the Four Gospels Next Section →
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