Bible books contents
| Introduction | Authorship & dates| the Synoptcs | summary |
The first four books of the New Testament are referred to as the 'Gospels'. Of course there is only but one Gospel, but what is meant is that these four books are accounts of the earthly life of the Lord Jesus Christ. But why four, and not say five? Each book is written from a different a perspective and to a different initial audience. In them we see different aspects of the Lord's life and ministry emphasised.
1. Authorship and dates
The modern view that the gospels, particularly the synoptics, were written quite late after the events is designed to discredit the gospel accounts. Some place the dating of the gospels 50-60 years after the crucifixion! The traditional dating of the gospels still holds up and has yet to be disproved beyond doubt by those who question it. It is beyond the scope of this page to deal with the technical details, but we will give an outline of the arguments for an early dating. For a more detailed study the reader is directed to the book Redating Matthew, Mark & Luke (Hodder & Stoughton) 1991 John Wenham
1.2 AuthorshipAs far as authorship goes the testimony from the second century is unanimous that the four gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The dating is early because we know that the so called ' church fathers' quoted from the NT in their writings. For example Clement of Rome quoted the gospels in his letter to Corinth in 95 AD. Why does this matter? Simply because if they were written early we have first hand witness accounts of the life of Jesus.
1.3a LukeThe key is the dating of Acts. We know from the opening verses that it was written by the same person as the third gospel. This is accepted as being Luke the beloved physician. Luke finishes his account when Paul was at Rome and had spent two years there. He never mentions Paul's first appearance before Nero (II Tim.4:16) as Paul did in his letter to Timothy, let alone his martyrdom.
So we can conclude that Acts was written c. AD 62.
This would also mean that the third gospel was written pre- AD 62. Now let us consider the following scripture:
Thus we conclude that at the time of the writing of I Timothy, Luke's gospel was already in circulation and was accepted by apostolic authority as being scripture. It is also believed by some critics that the scripture below is a reference to Luke and the third gospel:
If that be the case then we have a mid AD 50s dating for Luke's gospel. So we can safely say that that the third gospel was written c. 50 - 60 AD, giving a wide margin for error. But note it is still an early date!
1.3b Matthew & MarkMatthew and Mark can not be dated by the internal evidence of the NT. unless one takes Luke's introduction as meaning Matthew and Mark, we can not determine if this be the case or not.
We are left to consider external historic evidence; this is technical and controversial . However we note that Eusebius, a church historian, places Matthew at about 40 AD. The second gospel account was , according to Eusebius, written by John Mark under the direction of Peter whilst in Rome, which would put its dating at c. 45 - 50 AD. The fourth gospel is accepted as being written by John the apostle at the end of the first century.
Whilst acknowledging the debate surrounding the issue, it is interesting to note that the above scenario was accepted until the 19th. century.
The first three gospels are called the synoptics, because they give a similar view to the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus. Because of this many academics have proposed that they used a same source, called Q, in preparing their accounts. No such document has been found to date; in any case such discussion is irrelevant to the message and is an unnecessary distraction anyway. The fact is that these books are inspired and are therefore part of God's written word.