When were the gospels recorded?

SHARE

By BibleAsk Team


The recording of the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—in the New Testament of the Bible is a topic of profound historical, theological, and scholarly interest. These texts are foundational to Christianity, providing accounts of the life, ministry, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Understanding the timing and circumstances of their composition involves exploring historical evidence, manuscript studies, and theological implications.

Introduction to the Gospels

The Gospels are the first four books of the New Testament, traditionally ascribed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each Gospel presents a unique perspective on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, tailored to its specific audience and theological objectives. These texts are not only historical narratives but also theological documents that proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, Son of God, and Savior of humanity.

Overview

  1. Gospel of Matthew: Written primarily for a Jewish audience, Matthew emphasizes Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, presenting Him as the Messiah and King of the Jews.
  2. Gospel of Mark: The shortest Gospel, Mark emphasizes Jesus’ actions and miracles, portraying Him as the suffering Servant who came to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.
  3. Gospel of Luke: Written for a Gentile (non-Jewish) audience, Luke emphasizes Jesus’ compassion for the marginalized and presents Him as the universal Savior, the Son of Man who came to seek and save the lost.
  4. Gospel of John: The most theological of the Gospels, John emphasizes Jesus’ divinity and presents Him as the eternal Word of God incarnate, who came to reveal the Father’s love and provide eternal life through faith in Him.

Historical Context and Dating

Determining the dates when the Gospels were written involves examining both external evidence (historical testimonies, early Christian writings) and internal evidence (references to historical events, theological developments). While the exact dates are debated among scholars, there is general consensus on the following approximate timeframes:

  1. Gospel of Mark: Traditionally considered the earliest Gospel, Mark is believed to have been written around AD 60-70. Mark’s Gospel reflects the urgency of spreading the Gospel message amid persecution and focuses on Jesus’ ministry and the events leading to His death and resurrection.
  2. Gospel of Matthew: Matthew is dated to around AD 70-80. Matthew’s Gospel emphasizes Jesus’ teachings, especially His ethical and moral teachings, and presents Him as the authoritative interpreter of the Law and the fulfillment of Jewish hopes and expectations.
  3. Gospel of Luke: Luke is dated to around AD 70-80 or slightly later. Luke’s Gospel emphasizes Jesus’ compassion for the marginalized and includes unique stories and parables not found in the other Gospels, such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.
  4. Gospel of John: John is believed to have been written in the late first century, around AD 90-100. John’s Gospel emphasizes Jesus’ divinity and presents Him as the eternal Word of God incarnate, who came to reveal the Father’s love and provide eternal life through faith in Him.

External Evidence for Dating

Early Christian Testimonies: Early church fathers and writers provide valuable external evidence regarding the authorship and dating of the Gospels. For example:

  • Papias: An early second-century bishop and disciple of the apostle John, Papias provides insights into the origins of the Gospels. He mentions Matthew and Mark as having composed their Gospels based on the teachings of Jesus and eyewitness accounts.
  • Irenaeus: In his work “Against Heresies” (AD 180), Irenaeus explicitly refers to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the authors of the Gospels, dating them to the latter half of the first century.
  • Clement of Alexandria and Origen: These early Christian scholars also affirm the traditional authorship of the Gospels and their composition in the first century.

Internal Evidence for Dating

Historical References: The Gospels contain references to contemporary historical events and figures that provide clues to their dating. For instance:

  • Destruction of Jerusalem: Jesus’ prophecy regarding the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple (Matthew 24, Mark 13) serves as a marker for the composition of these texts before or shortly after AD 70.
  • Roman Occupation: The political and social context of Roman occupation in Judea and Galilee is reflected in the Gospels’ narratives and teachings, indicating a first-century setting.

Theological Developments: Each Gospel addresses specific theological concerns and perspectives relevant to its audience:

  • Matthew: Emphasizes Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and the authoritative interpreter of the Law.
  • Mark: Emphasizes Jesus’ role as the suffering Servant and focuses on His actions and miracles.
  • Luke: Emphasizes Jesus’ compassion for the marginalized and presents Him as the universal Savior.
  • John: Emphasizes Jesus’ divinity as the eternal Word of God incarnate, who came to reveal the Father’s love.

Manuscript Evidence and Transmission

The transmission of the Gospels through manuscript copies provides further insights into their early composition and circulation:

  • Early Papyrus Fragments: Fragments of the New Testament manuscripts, such as Papyrus P52 (dated to around AD 125), contain portions of the Gospel of John, indicating the early circulation of Gospel texts within the first century.
  • Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus: Complete or nearly complete manuscripts of the New Testament, such as Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus (both from the fourth century), include the Gospels among their contents. These manuscripts attest to the early preservation and transmission of the Gospel texts.

Theological Implications of Dating

The dating of the Gospels has theological implications for understanding the reliability and authority of these biblical texts:

  • Eyewitness Testimony: Early composition dates affirm the eyewitness nature of the Gospel accounts, rooted in the apostolic witness to Jesus’ life, teachings, death, and resurrection.
  • Historical Accuracy: The Gospels provide reliable historical accounts of Jesus’ ministry and the early Christian movement, shaping foundational beliefs about Jesus’ identity and mission.
  • Spiritual Significance: The Gospels continue to shape Christian faith, doctrine, and discipleship, inviting believers to encounter the person and work of Jesus Christ through their testimonies.

Biblical Perspective

The Bible is a sacred book and as God moved His messengers to write its pages, He did so by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). God only moved His authors to write the most pertinent details and information. In the case of the gospels, the date of their written authorship was not an essential detail. The most important detail of these books is introducing the Savior Jesus Christ to the world. His character of love and mercy are revealed in its pages. Getting to know Him as one’s personal Savior is the main focus (John 5:39).

While the exact dates are not sure, the messages of these precious books are certain and can be trusted. These books contain the history of the Savior of the world, His lineage, His life, His teachings and the account of His death and resurrection for the salvation of our lost world. These gospel accounts were recorded by God’s chosen authors who, thorough their careful report, have kept the precious stories and truths of Jesus alive for generations to come. The Scriptures affirm, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29, NKJV).

Contemporary Relevance

The Gospels remain relevant today as authoritative texts that proclaim Jesus Christ as the Savior of humanity:

  • Spiritual Guidance: The Gospels provide spiritual guidance and teachings that continue to inspire and transform lives, offering hope, forgiveness, and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.
  • Cultural Impact: The Gospels have influenced art, literature, music, and ethics throughout history, leaving a profound cultural and intellectual legacy.
  • Mission and Outreach: The Gospels empower believers to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), making disciples of all nations.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—were recorded in the first century AD, reflecting the historical, theological, and manuscript evidence supporting their early composition. The dating of the Gospels to around AD 60-100 situates them within the lifetimes of eyewitnesses and early Christian communities, affirming their reliability as primary sources about Jesus Christ. As foundational texts of Christianity, the Gospels continue to shape faith, doctrine, and discipleship, inviting believers to encounter the person and work of Jesus Christ through their testimonies. Their enduring significance lies not only in their historical content but also in their spiritual message of salvation and hope for all who believe.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

We'd love your feedback, so leave a comment!

If you feel an answer is not 100% Bible based, then leave a comment, and we'll be sure to review it.
Our aim is to share the Word and be true to it.