Dating the Gospels: Harder than You Might Think


By Joseph Manning. One scholar places the upper limit of the final dating for the four-fold Gospel Canon at around the year Frederick C. This is only an upper limit, and the Gospels were probably finalized much earlier; but even is relatively early in church history. The Gospels necessarily had to be finished around that time: unwritten texts cannot be canonized, and the contemporary agreement of Irenaeus , Tertullian , and Clement of Alexandria was that the canonicity of the four Gospels was accepted by the end of the second century. Tatian , who was writing even slightly before Irenaeus and the others also held a view of four Gospels. The church widely regarded the Gospels as having been written by apostles or their followers rather early; and these texts were canonized quite soon after they were all written. The Four Evangelists represented by their four symbols: Matthew , a winged man; Mark , a winged lion; Luke , a winged bull or ox; and John , an eagle. The church conceivably only needed one Gospel — four seems fairly arbitrary; the early church probably had some reason for selecting four Gospels. That a single authoritative Gospel existed in one community did not preclude the existence of other equally authoritative writings in other communities.

What are the dates when the four gospels were first written? How do we know?

The traditional authors of the canonical Gospels—Matthew the tax collector, Mark the attendant of Peter, Luke the attendant of Paul, and John the son of Zebedee—are doubted among the majority of mainstream New Testament scholars. The public is often not familiar, however, with the complex reasons and methodology that scholars use to reach well-supported conclusions about critical issues, such as assessing the authorial traditions for ancient texts.

To provide a good overview of the majority opinion about the Gospels, the Oxford Annotated Bible a compilation of multiple scholars summarizing dominant scholarly trends for the last years states p.

In all four Gospels, the story of Jesus is presented as a continuation of the history So, we do have references to works written by Matthew and Mark, which date.

T he discovery of gospel accounts other than those found in the New Testament , many of them among the Nag Hammadi documents uncovered in Egypt in the s, sparked a veritable firestorm, and not only in theological circles. Popular writers have also taken up the debate so that it has gained traction even among the general population. More recently the publishing of the Gospel of Judas has added fuel to the fire. Many claim that these other gospels, a good number of which were written in the second and third centuries, have been deliberately marginalized and should have had a place in the canon of Scripture.

Many perhaps picture councils of bad-tempered bishops voting on which books to include in the Bible one minute, and voting to execute heretics the next. What else is there to be known? Has material been suppressed? How can we be certain that the Gospel accounts contained in the New Testament are both authentic and authoritative, and that omission of these additional accounts was no mistake—deliberate or otherwise?

The concern expressed by Pagels and others is valid if the books that make up the New Testament, and the Gospels in particular, were selected for inclusion centuries after being written, as many people believe. One popular idea is that the final makeup was engineered by order of Emperor Constantine in the fourth century—an idea popularized by Dan Brown in his bestseller The Da Vinci Code.

How Many Gospels Are There?

If orthodoxy gospels not a late imposition, how do we know that precisely these four gospels are special? Why are the considered inspired accounts of the life gospel When, and—as C. This gospels a question that gospel at the heart gospels Christianity as dating have received it, a dating catholic appreciated by Catholics, who do not believe that Scripture gospels self-evidently inspired or that it can explain itself.

But it is often unrecognized by Protestants except when pushed by gospel with anti-Christian axes gospels grind. Hill, who is after all a professor at a Catholic seminary.

This article will discuss dating, authorship, and provenance of each Gospel and then summarize the distinctive witness of Jesus Christ that each account.

Skeptical New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman offers a brief look at how many Bible scholars estimate when the Gospels were written. These estimates are very popular, and not just among skeptical scholars. Many conservative scholars accept them as well. My own view is that they are too late by a couple of decades, but Ehrman correctly reports their popularity in the scholarly community. Before trying to assign dates to particular Gospels, it can be helpful to try to identify a broader range of years in which they were composed.

To begin with, none of the Gospels appears to have been known to the apostle Paul, writing in the 50s. This point is largely fair. He does echo a lot of things we find in the Gospels, but that could be due—and likely is due—to his use of oral tradition about Jesus. Luke was a travelling companion of Paul Acts , , , ; cf. When it came time to write his Gospel, he likely used the Pauline version of the words of institution that he was familiar with.

In fact, the passage is normally taken as a reference to a brother Christian who was famous for preaching the gospel—not for having written a Gospel some Bible versions even translate the verse that way.


It was prepared for those who were converted from Judaism to the faith, and was written in Hebrew letters. The second was that of Mark, who composed it under Peter’s guidance The third, the Gospel which was praised by Paul, was that of Luke, written for gentile converts. Last of all, there is that of John. It is John who gives us the theology of Christ as revealed in this deep mystery in which the promised Messiah comes to fulfilled the Old Covenant in His sacrifice and death on the cross, and through His resurrection to establish the New Covenant which transforms man’s relationship with God through the gift of the redemption and salvation of mankind.

Some Comparative Overview Charts of the Four Gospels. approximate date? first written “Gospel”; very late 60’s or early 70’s (Jewish War.

Of course, this correct understanding of the canon raises an important question: why these books and not others? These are called canonical Gospels because they are in the canon. What is so special about these four Gospels? I want to give four reasons why the four Gospels stand out as unique among all other Gospels in early Christianity. First, they were recognized. Many people have a faulty understanding of how the New Testament canon was originally assembled.

They mistakenly believe that individuals with authority used their authority to pick which books to include and exclude. On this view, the early church created the canon based on subjective feelings. In reality, it was the books with authority in themselves that just were the standard, or canon. On this view, the early church recognized the canon based on objective facts. This distinction is fundamental to properly understanding the formation of the canon.

Historical reliability of the Gospels

Jump to navigation. Dating the gospels is very important. If it can be established that the gospels were written early, say before the year A. If they were written by the disciples, then their reliability, authenticity, and accuracy are better substantiated. Also, if they were written early, this would mean that there would not have been enough time for myth to creep into the gospel accounts since it was the eyewitnesses to Christ’s life that wrote them.

Peter died in AD 64 or 65; dates earlier than that for the composition of the fourth Gospel seem unlikely. Those who hold to a date before 70 point.

Many people who are skeptical of the claims of Christianity argue that the books which record the life of Christ, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, were written decades or even a century or more after Jesus. Jesus was crucified, died and rose again in AD The closer the books of the New Testament were written to that date, the easier it is to accept them as accurate records of the events that took place during His time on earth.

So, when were the Gospels written? Although estimates vary with skeptics typically arguing for a later dating , mainstream scholars conservatively date the authorship of the four gospels as follows:. Like the autographs of the gospels, these documents are no longer in existence, but they would have pre-dated the gospels themselves by as much as decade or more. In addition to this written pre-gospel material, the oral tradition and the testimonies of eyewitnesses who were still alive and able to speak about what they had seen and heard were available to the authors of the gospels.

The existence of these two sources could push the dating of the gospel message back by many years — even to the days of the events themselves. Therefore, the gospels must have been written before AD Therefore, the Book of Acts must have been written before AD In contrast, Luke does record the stoning of Stephen and the death of James the brother of John and the mention of these two martyrdoms makes the absence of the martyrdom of James more conspicuous.

Therefore, this corroborates the idea that the Gospel of Luke must have been written before AD

Why Scholars Doubt the Traditional Authors of the Gospels (2017)

Bust of Roman Emperor Domitian r. Wikimedia Commons Luke was likely composed during Domitian’s reign. Written a generation after the death of Jesus ca. E , none of the four gospel writers were eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus. Our earliest extant sources of information about Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings remain the letters of the apostle Paul.

when he explains the date of Mark. The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ, 5) John Chapman, “St Irenaeus on the Dates of the Gospels.

Although the Gospel is ostensibly written by St. Moreover, the facts that several episodes in the life of Jesus are recounted out of sequence with the Synoptics and that the final chapter appears to be a later addition suggest that the text may be a composite. This motive pervades the narrative, as do a kind of mystic symbolism and repeated emphasis on the incarnation. Gospel According to John. Article Media. Info Print Cite. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica Encyclopaedia Britannica’s editors oversee subject areas in which they have extensive knowledge, whether from years of experience gained by working on that content or via study for an advanced degree See Article History. Read More on This Topic. John is the last Gospel and, in many ways, different from the Synoptic Gospels.

The question in the Synoptic Gospels concerns the extent Learn More in these related Britannica articles:.

Why Do We Have Four Gospels?

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