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Don Stewart :: When Were the Four Gospels Written?

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Don Stewart

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 City Of Jerusalem And The Temple Were Still Standing

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 Book Of Acts Gives A Clue To Its Date

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.

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 28:30-31).

The inference is that Acts was written while Paul was still alive, seeing 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.

Luke's Gospel Was Written Earlier

If Acts were written about A.D. 62, then this helps us date the gospels, since 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.

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 have sent along with him the brother whose fame in the gospel has spread through all the churches (2 Corinthians 8:18).

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.

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.

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.

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 this is true, then we have a third independent source about the life of Christ written during the eyewitness period.

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.

Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name John (20:30:31).

John also wrote.

This is the disciple who bears witness of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his witness is true (John 21:24).

There Is Internal Evidence Of An Early Date For John

There is also internal evidence that John himself wrote before A.D. 70.

Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes (John 5:2).

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 while the city of Jerusalem was still standing.

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.

Summary

When all the evidence is in, it shows that the four gospels were written soon after the events they recorded. An examination of the Matthew, Mark and Luke show that each gospel 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 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 that Luke may have used Mark as a source 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.

There is also internal evidence from the gospel of John that it was written before Jerusalem was destroyed.

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.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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