When were the Gospels written?Question: "When were the Gospels written?"
Answer: It is important to understand that the dating of the Gospels and other New Testament books is at best an educated guess and at worst foolish speculation. For example, suggested dates for the writing of the Gospel of Matthew range from as early as A.D. 40 to as late as A.D. 140. This wide range of dates from scholars indicates the subjective nature of the dating process. Generally, one will find that the presuppositions of the scholars greatly influence their dating of the Gospels.
For example, in the past many liberal theologians have argued for a later dating of many of the New Testament books than is probably warranted or valid, in an attempt to discredit or cast doubts upon the content and authenticity of the Gospel accounts. On the other hand, there are many scholars who look to a much earlier dating of the New Testament books. There are some that believe there is good evidence to support the view that the whole New Testament, including Revelation, was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. It is our contention that the evidence supports the earlier dating more than it does the later dating.
There are scholars who believe the Gospel of Matthew was written as early as ten to twelve years after the death of Christ. Those who hold to this earlier dating of Matthew believe he first wrote his Gospel in Aramaic, and then it was later translated into Greek. One of the evidences of this earlier dating of Matthew’s Gospel is that early church leaders such as Irenaeus, Origen, and Eusebius recorded that Matthew first wrote his gospel for Jewish believers while he was still in Israel. In fact Eusebius (a bishop of Caesarea and known as the father of church history) reported that Matthew wrote his Gospel before he left Israel to preach in other lands, which Eusebius says happened about 12 years after the death of Christ. Some scholars believe that this would place the writing of Matthew as early as A.D. 40-45 and as late as A.D. 55.
Even if the Gospels were not written until 30 years after Christ’s death, that would still place the writing of them prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This presents no major problem with their authority or accuracy. Passing on oral traditions and teachings was commonplace in the Jewish culture of that day, and memorization was highly cultivated and practiced. Also, the fact that even at that time there would have been a considerable number of eyewitnesses around to dispute and discredit any false claims, and the fact that none of the “hard sayings” of Jesus were taken from the Gospel accounts, further supports their accuracy. Had the Gospels been edited before being written down, as some liberal scholars contend, then it was a very poor job. The writers left far too many “hard sayings,” and culturally unacceptable and politically incorrect accounts that would need explaining. An example of this is that the first witnesses of the resurrection were women, who were not considered reliable witnesses in the culture of that day.
The bottom line for Christians is this—whether the Gospels were written soon after the death of Christ, or not until 30 years after his death, does not really matter, because their accuracy and authority does not rest on when they were written but on what they are: the divinely inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). We should also remember that one of the promises Jesus gave His disciples was that He would send them “another helper,” the Holy Spirit, who would teach them all things and “bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26). So, whether it was few years or many after Jesus’ death that the Gospels were written, we can have total confidence and faith in their completeness and accuracy, knowing that they were written by “men moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21), who accurately recorded the very words of God.
Recommended Resource: The Canon of Scripture by F.F. Bruce.
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