My name is Matthew. I’m a speaker and author with Josh McDowell Ministry. After you watch this video, feel free to leave a comment here or via my social channels, listed below. I’d love to hear from you and be a small part of your wrestling with these important questions about Jesus. I also invite you to subscribe to my channel!
Are the Gospels Reliable? | When Were They Written?
Many date the Gospels after the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. One reason is because Jesus predicted the temple’s destruction, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, which occurred 40 years after His death. As these skeptics consider predictive prophecy impossible (conveniently overlooking Jesus predicting His own death and resurrection, which He literally fulfilled), they assert that Mark must have been written after the event happened.
If the Gospels are reliable sources of Jesus, then we can trust that Jesus really was sent from God, performed miracles, and made predictions that have so far proven 100 percent accurate. We must be careful to not insert anti-supernatural bias into the Gospels in our attempt to determine whether or not they are true. If we do this, we will inevitably determine that they aren’t true before we even begin the investigation.
I would agree with those who advocate for an earlier dating of the Gospels. One important reason is that the Gospel of Luke was composed by the same author who wrote the book of Acts. Acts tells about the life of Paul, Peter, and the events happening in Jerusalem and the early Church. But Acts has an abrupt ending that doesn’t sound like a proper way to close. It ends as if the author caught up to real time. This is where it gets interesting. Curiously, Acts tells us nothing about the deaths of Peter or Paul. It doesn’t mention the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., or the siege that took place before then. Those were cataclysmic events!
Now imagine that you read a book on Abraham Lincoln, but the book said nothing about Lincoln’s assassination. It would be reasonable to assume that the book was written before 1865 when he died. If you read a book about the history of New York City, but the book didn’t mention the attack on the World Trade Center, you would reasonably assume that the book was written before September 2001, when the Twin Towers were destroyed. The deaths of Peter, Paul, and the destruction of Jerusalem were just as significant for the early Church. It’s hard to imagine they would be left out of Acts, unless Acts was written earlier, probably in the mid-60s. We know the book of Luke was written before Acts, so that places Luke even earlier. Luke appears to have drawn from Mark, placing Mark even earlier than Luke, long before the temple’s destruction, well within the time frame of Jesus’s generation.
As for Matthew, the early church writer Irenaeus says that he wrote while Peter and Paul were preaching and founding the church in Rome. That puts him in the 60s, close to Luke. This fits. Matthew includes teachings of Jesus that would have felt more relevant to his contemporary audience while the temple was still standing. His writing includes features common at the time. And, there’s evidence that Luke quoted from Matthew, placing his writing earlier than Luke’s.
John’s dating is probably the hardest to nail down. For a while, it was thought to have been very late, near the end of the 2nd century, because the Gospel makes some of the strongest statements of Jesus’s divinity. Scholars suggested that such high views of Jesus did not develop until later, although after a manuscript of John dating to 130 A.D. was discovered, scholars realized that John must have been written earlier. After looking at tradition, linguistic evidence, and historical context, New Testament Scholars D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo suggest that John’s most likely dating is between 80 and 85 A.D., which would have been closer to the end of John’s life. With this earlier dating, the authorship of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is entirely possible. But this doesn’t really matter if they hadn’t intended to record real events in history.
Obviously, if the Gospels were intended as allegories or inspirational bedtime stories, we wouldn’t want to treat them like actual history. We’ll discuss that next week. See you then!