When were the Gospels published?

The Gospels have been much maligned as being copied one from another, not from independent witnesses (for Matthew, Mark and Luke) and that they were written a long time after the events, hence lack eyewitness statements. The Wikipedia page on this notes:

Although some claim that all four canonical gospels meet the five criteria for historical reliability, others say that little in the gospels is considered to be historically reliable. … Most scholars hold to the two-source hypothesis which claims that the Gospel of Mark was written first. According to the hypothesis, the authors of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke then used the Gospel of Mark and the hypothetical Q document, in addition to some other sources, to write their individual gospels. These three gospels are called the Synoptic gospels since they are all very similar.1

Dr Floyd Nolen Jones responds to claims like these in an article2 “The Gospel Colophons.” In the following I reproduce it in full.

Because the first three Gospel’s contain so much material in common that they may be arranged as a synopsis, they have been labeled the “Synoptic Gospels”. New Testament criticism alleges that:

Matthew and Luke used practically all of Mark in preparing their respective Gospel accounts,

Matthew and Luke recorded nearly identical matter for much that is not found in Mark; therefore they both used a second source in common (i.e., “Q” for the German word “quelle” meaning “source”),

“Matthew and Luke make improvements in many places”. “Matthew smoothes [sic] … introduces words he prefers”, etc., and/or

Mark wrote his gospel under the influence of Simon Peter, etc.

The above commonly appear in Biblical literature and have come to be known as part and parcel of the so-called “Synoptic problem”. To account for the similarities and differences between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the critics have devised this hypothesis wherein they assert that Mark was written first and Matthew and Luke consulted his Gospel along with “Q”. Thus, these Gospels are said to be the result of interdependence among the three “Synoptic” writers. Indeed, the claim is even made by many that Matthew and Luke handled Mark “critically” (i.e., as text critics).

Dates of GospelsIn 2008, Dr. Wilbur N. Pickering3  discovered colophons in numerous ancient manuscripts that contained the Gospels. Colophons are inscriptions, usually placed at the end of a book or manuscript, which normally contain the name of the owner (or scribe) and an attempt at dating the writing. Dr. Pickering states that 16-18% of the 3,000+ extant NT manuscripts (c.500) belong to the Byzantine (Textus Receptus) sub-group designated as f35 (critics subdivide the NT manuscripts into four artificial families: the Alexandrian, Byzantine, Western, and Caesarean). Dr. Pickering has 54 manuscripts (in 2009) of the f35 sub-group that contain the 4 Gospels, and he states that c.95% of these have colophons. About 1,800 of the extant MSS-mss contain the Gospels (some are fragments), and Dr. Pickering extrapolates that 50% have colophons.

Thus, approximately 50% of the 500 f35 manuscripts of the Gospel of John have “published 32 years after the ascension of Christ” in the colophons and: 30 + 32 = 62 AD, rather than 85-95! For 50% of the f35 mss to have this information implies that the tradition is ancient, and Pickering has further shown that the f35 sub-family goes back to at least the 3rd century AD. The colophons also record that Luke was “published 15 years after the ascension of Christ” (30 + 15 = 45 AD, not c.60).

The same sources have Matthew “published (or “given out”) eight years after the ascension of Christ” (30 + 8 = 38 AD, rather than c.50)! The colophons also say that Mark was “published 10 years after the ascension” and 30 + 10 = 40 AD, not c.68 AD. Now 40 AD for Mark’s Gospel is two years after Matthew, not before as the text critics would have it. Thus, not only were the four authors of the Gospel accounts of Christ Jesus eyewitnesses of the events, many others were still alive when the Gospels appeared. This would include most of the over 500 that actually saw Him [our Lord] after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:6). (emphasis added)

The f35 sub-group of the Byzantine family is without equal in the MS tradition – about 500 of all the 3,000+ extant manuscripts are f35. Since the f35 mss come from a large, diverse geographic region (Jerusalem, Sinai, Trikala, Mt. Athos, Constantinople, and Rome), the likelihood that they do not represent the main line of transmission is nil. Thus, beyond any reasonable doubt, the f35 Gospel colophons must be seen as valid ancient witnesses and their dates taken as absolutely legitimate. Since they testify that Mark was written two years after Matthew, the so-called “Synoptic problem” is forever slain. The critics merely have theories; we have the facts, and facts are stubborn things.

The Gospels, as well as the other books of the Bible, are clearly written as to be self-evident that the authors are portrayed as first-hand witnesses and/or direct receivers of divine revelation. By the very demand of Scripture, nothing less would suffice as a legitimate and legal testimony.

Codex Gregory 676 - Last page of Luke

References

  1. Historical reliability of the Gospels, Wikipedia, accessed 10 February 2015.
  2. The Gospel Colophons, published in The King James Bible Easy Reader, KingsWord Press, Humboldt, TN, USA, pp. 542,543.
  3. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary in Greek Exegesis, Ph.D. University of Toronto in Linguistics.

About John Gideon Hartnett

Dr John G. Hartnett is an Australian physicist and cosmologist, and a Christian with a biblical creationist worldview. He received a B.Sc. (Hons) and Ph.D. (with distinction) in Physics from The University of Western Australia, W.A., Australia. He was an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award (DORA) fellow at the University of Adelaide, with rank of Associate Professor. Now he is retired. He has published more than 200 papers in scientific journals, book chapters and conference proceedings.
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4 Responses to When were the Gospels published?

  1. gary says:

    Christians should not be surprised that authors of some of the books in the New Testament “plagiarized” the writings of other New Testament authors, ie, the authors of Matthew and Luke copying huge chunks of Mark, often word for word, into their own gospels.

    This habit is not new in the Bible. There is evidence that Old Testament writers did the exact same thing. An example: the entire chapters of II Kings 19 and Isaiah 37 are almost word for word identical!

    If the Bible is the inspired Word of God, why would God have the author of one inspired book of the Bible copy almost word for word large sections, sometimes entire chapters, from another inspired book of the Bible? Is that how divine inspiration works?

    So should we simply accept this “word for word copying” as the will of the Almighty, accepting it blindly by faith, continuing to insist that God wrote the Bible, or should we consider the overwhelming evidence that the books of the Bible are human works of literature, no more divinely inspired than any other work of fallible human authors?

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    • The evidence presented in this article supports the notion that Matthew was written before Mark and Luke written after Mark. Then it would be impossible that Matthew copied from Mark. So actually Christians should be surprised if Matthew copied from Mark because that would involve some sort of time travel. But it is also possible that some Scripture is copied or quoted at a later time. We do see that in NT authors quoting from the OT. Also I have no issue with the Holy Spirit leading one author to copy from another as the need may arise. (A lot of Exodus is repeated in Deuteronomy.)

      The accusations presented against the Scriptures often are a no win situation. This is especially true for the Gospels. If the writers had more closely (than even we currently read) written the same exact details they would be even more so accused of plagiarism, hence the inference is that they cannot be independent witnesses. But if they were even less similar in their details than we currently read, they would be accused of making up the stories. In eyewitness accounts of modern day events the eyewitnesses to the same event often report some details differently. Maybe the fact that a lot of the written account in Matthew, Mark and Luke are similar but not identical in all details is evidence of their veracity?

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      • gary says:

        Actually, the Synoptic Gospels read almost identical until you get to the events after the women find the empty tomb, then the stories diverge dramatically. Why? The original version of Mark ended without any post-resurrection appearances. That ending was not satisfactory.

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      • Why are you just repeating what the textual critics claim? It is not possible to use the word ‘actually’ here, because you have no basis other than the texts themselves to prove the so-call Synoptic Gospel claim. The whole point of this article is to show contrary evidence to that claim. There are many websites where they would agree with you but I do not. As to the allegations regarding Mark’s ending read Why are Mark 16:9-20 missing in most modern Bible translations? and the Comments. The original Greek text of Mark’s Gospel did have post-resurrection narrative, and we still have it. Again you are repeating the false unprovable claims of the textual critics.

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