When Were The Gospels Written?
by Jonathan Mclatchie
When were the gospel biographical accounts of Jesus written? One popular claim by skeptics is that the gospels were written so long after the events which they narrate that their historical and biographical value is suspect. While virtually all scholars maintain that all of the gospels were written in the first century, within liberal scholarship it is conventionally thought that all four gospels were written post-70AD. It is my own view, however, that this proposition is largely arbitrary, and based largely on a false presumption that a prediction, on the part of Jesus regarding the destruction of the temple in AD70, must have been composed after-the-fact. If, however, one takes seriously the proposition that prophecy by a divine figure is possible, then the justification for the post-70AD dating largely disappears.
I am going to propose something radical — namely, that all of the synoptic gospels (that is, Matthew, Mark and Luke) pre-date AD60 and perhaps even AD50, thus being removed from the passion events (33AD) by possibly less than 20 years, with the underlying source material behind the gospels dating back even further still. Moreover, I am going to argue that we possess at least two sources from the 30s AD, being removed from the passion events by only two or three years!
When compared to other ancient biographies, these sources are very early indeed. Sources for Roman and Greek history are usually biased and removed one or two generations (or, in some cases, even centuries) from the events that they detail. The two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great, for example, were penned by Arrian and Plutarch more than 400 years following his death. But classical historians still regard them as being trustworthy. The legends which concern Alexander the Great didn’t develop until centuries after those two writers. A.N. Sherwin-White argues in his book, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament that “Herodotus enables us to test the tempo of myth-making, and the tests suggest that even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core of the oral tradition.” Sherwin-white further argues that, for the gospels to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be “unbelievable”…
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RECOMMENDED RESOURCE: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham
Noted New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham challenges the prevailing assumption that the accounts of Jesus circulated as “anonymous community traditions,” asserting instead that they were transmitted in the name of the original eyewitnesses. To drive home this controversial point, Bauckham draws on internal literary evidence, study of personal names in the first century, and recent developments in the understanding of oral traditions. He also taps into the rich resources of modern study of memory and cognitive psychology, refuting the conclusions of the form critics and calling New Testament scholarship to make a clean break with this long-dominant tradition. Finally, Bauckham challenges readers to end the classic division between the “historical Jesus” and the “Christ of faith,” proposing instead the “Jesus of testimony.” Jesus and the Eyewitnesses will be valued by scholars, students, and all who seek to understand the origins of the Gospels.
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