A post from Jonathan McLatchie, writing on the Christian Apologetics Alliance blog.
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. Further, I contend that John’s gospel likely pre-dates AD70. 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!
[…]So, what about the dating of the gospels? It is generally agreed among scholars that Mark was written first, and Matthew and Luke subsequently utilised Mark’s gospel as source material, and then John was written last (and independently). Luke is likely to have been the latest of the synoptics. But Luke is quoted elsewhere in the New Testament, by Paul. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:18, “For Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages.’” This latter citation is from Luke 10:7. Clearly, then, Luke (or, at the very least, the source material upon which Luke is based) must pre-date the writing of 1 Timothy (we’ll come to the dating of 1 Timothy shortly). The appeal to the quoted text as coming from “Scripture” would also seem to militate against a possible objection that the quoted phrase was a popular cliche which was independently quoted by Luke and Paul.
Paul also quotes from Luke’s gospel, in connection with the Lord’s supper, in 1 Corinthians 11:
“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
In addition, 1 Timothy 6 also makes reference to Pontius Pilate, suggesting that its author (in my view, Paul) was aware of the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ trial. Paul is also evidently aware of the 12 disciples (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15).
So, what then can we conclude? If – as I maintain – the pastoral epistles are genuinely Pauline, then Luke’s gospel (or, at the very least, Luke’s source material) must predate AD60 by far enough to be regarded as Scripture at the time of the writing of 1 Timothy (probably the early 60s). Furthermore, I would argue, it is likely to also predate the writing of 1 Corinthians in the early 50’s.
This is also consistent with evidence from other areas. For example, the Acts of the Apostles (which post-dates Luke’s gospel) does not mention the destruction of the temple in AD 70, nor the death of Peter or Paul, nor for that matter the persecution of Christian martyrs under Nero in the 60s or the Great Fire of Rome from which it resulted. If such events had already taken place by the time Luke wrote Acts, one would expect to find a pertaining description. But, instead, Acts leaves us hanging, by ending after Paul has been placed under house-arrest.
So the three points to note here about dating the gospels are as follows. If one book Y cites another book X, then X is earlier than Y. Second point, a person who dies in the year X must have written before the year X. And third point, if a source doesn’t mention some cataclysmic historical event, then it predates that event. For example, a history of the United States that does not mention the 9/11 /01 attack was written before that date.