When were the Gospels written?Much research and many views have been proposed regarding the dates for the authorship of each of the four Gospels. However, the following provides a clear overview of the most likely scenario for each Gospel.
It is clear that the Gospels were not written prior to the time of the events (approximately 27-33 AD). If authored by the traditional authors, each Gospel must have been completed within their lifetime (no later than 100 AD). In addition, these works were already being cited in other works (such as 1 Clement) before the end of the first century, clearly proving their existence prior to the end of the first century.
Matthew was written by the apostle Matthew, with dates ranging from the 40s to 80s. Of much debate is whether it was completed before or after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 AD. If one accepts that Jesus foretold of this event, then the book may have been written before the Temple's destruction. Further, many argue Mark was the first Gospel and that Matthew followed, indicating a date likely in the 60s or 70s. Beyond this, much debate remains, though conservative scholars suggest the evidence may favor a date in the mid to late 60s.
Mark, as mentioned, was likely the first written Gospel. Church history teaches it was produced by John Mark, cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:3), with inconsistent testimony from church history that states it was completed before or after the death of Peter in Rome in the mid 60s. The traditional African chronology (Coptic Church) teaches Mark was written in approximately 62 AD and was brought to North Africa by Mark where he was the leader of the church. According to tradition Mark died in or near Alexandria in 68 AD. Though uncertain, there is no strong reason why this could not have been the case.
Luke is perhaps the Gospel with the strongest evidence regarding the date of its writing. Luke and Acts were written as two parts of a single work (Acts 1:1-3). Since Acts concludes with Paul under house arrest in Rome in approximately 62 AD, many believe Luke-Acts was written during this general time period. Many Lukan scholars suggest dates from 60-65 AD.
John was likely written after the other four Gospels, something affirmed in early church history. Since church history also records him living until near the end of the first century, John could have been written any time between the 60s and approximately 100 AD. Some argue for an earlier date based on the mention of the Sheep Gate in John 5:2 in the present tense as still being in existence at the date of writing (meaning prior to its destruction in the late 60s AD). Most others suggest a post-70 AD date, usually 80s-90s, due to its advanced Christology and other internal factors. Any time between 65-95 AD is possible.
What is clear is that all four Gospels were written by apostles or those associated with them to present the life and teachings of Jesus Christ so others may believe. As John 20:31 notes, "these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."
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What is the Synoptic Problem?
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Truth about the Bible